Monday, August 29, 2011

Part Two

"You what?" Jimmy was standing, leaning against his desks, arms crossed and eyes glaring at her. "Surely all three of you are smarter than this!"

She couldn't argue with him. She knew the rules as well as he did, and she should have passed the case on to someone else as soon as she realized it was her father. Bobby should have too, given his difficult relationship with Ryan.

"Anything? Anything at all to say? To defend this monstrosity of a potential lawsuit?"

She shook her head. "We got a suspect. Matthew--the little boy--he witnessed the attack."

"And who interviewed him? You? Does any of that speak to you? How is that going to play on the stand...that you interviewed your little brother for this crime? The defense is going to have a field day with this!"

She had never seen Jimmy so angry. "I know I made a mistake...but it's the right thing. I was able to get information from him that other cops wouldn't have gotten. We needed a name, Jimmy...and we got it. Goren and Eames are hunting him down as we speak."

He shook his head. "Maybe an hour with Carver would refresh your memory. If, and it's a big if, we're able to get this guy, every bit of that interview will be trashed by the defense. You're too close to this, Vanessa, and you know it!"

She stood back, close to the door, hearing his voice escalating. He had drawn one finger out, pointing at her and shaking it. Breathe, she reminded herself, breathe...he's only angry...

"We'll lose this case because of what you did," he was saying. "A judge will throw the boy's interview out because of conflict of interest." He shook his head again. "I can't believe you, of all people, would do this...and you know your father will sue as soon as he's able, saying you did it on purpose."

"We saved his life...we found the man who did this...and in case you've forgotten, we've saved multiple other men as well."

Deakins was fairly writhing with anger. He held his finger out at her one more time. "You're suspended. As of right now. Go home."

She laughed nervously. "You've got to be joking, Jimmy...okay, I made a mistake, but--"

"I mean it, Vanessa. You're good--you're one of my best--but I can't have you playing out your family drama in the squad room. And consider yourself fortunate it's a suspension...I'll have to kiss some serious ass for the brass to keep you on here." He sat at his desk, looking defeated. "We don't have the money or resources for this kind of mistake. This is training 101. It should never have been such a disaster."

She stood silently, thinking about everything he had said, knowing he was right. She knew as soon as she saw the address that she should have stayed away. But she couldn't. She needed to be there, needed to see what had happened. If she knew who did this, if she could solve the ultimate puzzle. And now it was a disaster, collapsing around her. And now...even if Goren and Eames could get this Luke, they still didn't know how the puzzle pieces all fit together. And now they might never know.

Deakins looked up from his desk. "Go. Go pick up your daughter. I'll let you know when you can come back."

She nodded and started to turn, then stopped. "Captain...I'm sorry. But they still need to figure out who Ford and Simon were. They're undercover, and this is big." She stopped speaking, seeing his head in his hands. "And one more thing," she said, straightening her back as much as she could, "I would appreciate it if you didn't approach me angrily and shaking your finger. It...wasn't necessary."

She opened the door and left the office, heading toward the elevator. Do not pass her own office, do not collect any files. She walked quickly to the elevator, trying to leave as soon as possible.

Deakins watched her go, secretly devastated at his actions, but knowing it was the only way to save her job. She would recover from a suspension. From a firing by the chief, not so much.


It was late again when he opened the bedroom door to undress. Even in the dark, she could read him; the stiffness in his spine, the sharp, short movements. He was angry. It poured off of him as surely as he was breathing. She just wasn't sure if he was angry with her or with Deakins.

Deciding to brave it, she asked, "You okay?"

She saw him stiffen briefly before responding, "Yeah, I'm fine." He sat on his side of the bed. "I didn't realize you were still awake....I guess I should be asking if you're okay."

She rolled over to face him, propping her head up on one hand. "I'm was a bad call on my part. Deakins will get over it in a few days and then I'll be back."

He wasn't moving, still looking at her, and it made her uncomfortable. "You know you almost got fired today," he finally said. "You really pushed the limit."

"Yeah...I know." She played with the comforter. "I needed to know about this. I needed to know why someone would do this to him."

He was still sitting stiffly on the edge of the bed. "You know why someone would do this with him. Anyone would do this to him. He's an asshole. He's lucky it hasn't happened before." He yanked the comforter back on his side before climbing in. "I would have given my eye teeth for my own chance to take him down. There's something inherently unfair in all of this."

She was quiet for a minute. "My little brother is really cute."

" know you can't see him again, right?"

"Yeah." She rolled over, looking at him again. "Are you angry with me?"

"No. I would have done the same thing...I can't blame you for anything." He paused. "I'm not supposed to tell you this, but Carver thinks he's got it under control. I think Deakins wants you to sweat a little bit. We got Luke...Luke Ellison. He was present as part of this poker club. We're still trying to identify Ford and Simon, but I tend to think you're right...they were undercover trying to bust something bigger. Your dad's an accountant...O'Donnell worked for world bank. I'm sensing a pattern."

She hmm'd, then looked at him. "Yeah, it's a pattern." She looked down for a second, then said, "I'm thinking of going to visit Kate tomorrow. Not my dad...but I'm sure Kate and Matthew could use some company."

She could tell he was frustrated. "I thought we just agreed that you couldn't see Matthew."

"Well, I agree it's not a good idea to have a relationship...but right now Ryan's in the hospital and he'll be there for a few weeks. She's scared and doesn't have anyone else to lean on."

"Tell her to lean on Ava! Isn't Ava the favored child? Ryan made it very clear you're not welcome in that home, and I don't want you to go there!"

"You're not being rational," she told him, trying to run a hand up his arm. But he pulled away from her. He was having none of it.

"Look...I don't put my foot down very often...probably not nearly as much as I should...but you're not going over there. You cut ties with that man over two years ago. I will not have Marlene exposed to him or even his family."

"I'm not talking about Marlene...I'm talking about me..."

He shook his head forcefully. "No. And I mean it, Vanessa. You're already suspended from work. Carver's figured out a legal maneuver to protect the interview. It's not going to hold if you're going over there making nicey-nice on your own time."

"Is that what this is about? The trial?"

"No." He was sitting up, glaring at her. "This is about your inability to draw firm boundaries around your abusive father. If you won't do it, I will. Stay away. That means from Ryan, from Kate, from Matthew, and from his sister--whatever her name is. Stay away from that house and that family. You cannot be involved with them. This case deserves more, but even more importantly, you deserve more. And so does Marlene." He took a breath. "And so do I."

She disagreed with him, disagreed vehemently, but it was nearly one in the morning and she didn't want to fight it out in the middle of the night with him. She could tell he was determined.

"Can we discuss this in the morning? It's awfully late to be having a cohesive discussion."

"No," he said flatly, flopping down on his back. "There's nothing left to discuss. I told you, I'm putting my foot down. It's done."

She watched him for a minute as he yanked the covers around him, knowing he was angry and not having an idea of what to do about it. "Bobby, this is my family. And I'm your wife. You don't have the right to 'put your foot down' and tell me what I'm going to do. I won't involve Marlene...but if my conscience tells me to visit Kate, I'm going to do that. You can't stop me and you'd be wise to remember you're my husband and not my father. The last father I had, things didn't end up so well."

"Great. Then go. Sink your job. Do it all by yourself. But don't say I didn't try to warn you." He punched at his pillow as though to get it comfortable. "Don't say I didn't warn you. And you'd do a lot better if you weren't so damn stubborn. Not everyone is against you, you know. That kid, Matthew, has two parents. You're not anyone to him. Before today he never met you. Before you get all into genetics and relationships, you need to remember that. You're nothing to him. Just some lady he talked to at the hospital about how his dad was hurt." He knew it was cruel, but he was angry. She never listened. She was so damn hard-headed.

She didn't answer him, and he listened out of guilt, convinced he'd hear her crying, but she didn't. She was incredibly quiet. He didn't know what that meant, if she was planning to follow his direction or if she would follow her original plan. As long as she didn't take Marly along, he would count this as a partial win. He rolled over and closed his eyes. Hopefully the morning would go better than this afternoon.

She was up making eggs and toast and five a.m.

She briefly considered adding bacon, knowing how he liked it, but considering the health effects, decided not to.  He was on early today, she knew, and figured he'd appreciate a good breakfast before he left.  But after several minutes, when he still hadn't made his way into the kitchen, she started to wonder.

She poured herself a cup of coffee and doctored it up before sipping on it.  Maybe he was still angry.  She knew instinctively he probably was, but she couldn't be concerned about that too much.  She knew him, knew he loved her more than life, and that as long as she didn't do anything reckless he would forgive her. Eventually.

She heard his heavy footsteps enter the kitchen and turned around to face him.  He was cleanly shaven and smelled lightly of soap and cologne, but the dark circles under his eyes gave away what a difficult night it had been for him.  And for the first time, she felt sorry--truly sorry that he was worried.

"I-um," she took a breath.  "I made you eggs and toast."

His smile was grim and forced, but it was there.  "Thanks...I'm just going to have toast and coffee..."

"Bobby," she blurted out, "I would never do anything to purposely worry or hurt you.  Or Marlene."

She watched him still, his back stiffen again, before he turned to face her.  His eyes were clouded with the intensity she had seen from many cases, but his words were gentle.  "I know...and it will be okay."

He leaned over and kissed her cheek, then grabbed his coffee mug.  "I'll see you tonight."  She watched him as he left the kitchen, and listened to the footsteps walk through the apartment and the front door open and shut.

Picking at an egg, she felt less secure than yesterday.  She tossed the eggs in the trash, then headed back to the bedroom for a shower.

He woke with a raging hard on, his first thought being about his wife. When he realized she wasn't there, his second thought merged into, "figures". He had been having a fantastic dream about incredible sex on his desk at work. He lay there silently, recalling their argument from the night before and listening to the shower running. Somebody, somewhere, should have warned him how hard it could be, married to your best friend and the most incredible lover you'd ever known. Especially if you had to work with her. And really especially if she was stubborn.

He debated, briefly, about taking matters into his own hands, because it didn't seem to be going away, and the images of her spread across his desk and urging him on were not disappearing from his stream of consciousness. Then he heard the water turn off and he closed his eyes. He wondered what his chances were in scoring this morning, if he were really, really understanding and nice. Then he wondered how manipulative that was. On a scale of one to ten, probably about a nine and a half.

She came into the bedroom wrapped in a towel and using another one to rub her head. When she turned around, she noticed he was awake. "Well, surprise, surprise," she said. "I figured you'd be sleeping in today after such a long night."

He shook his head. "Not in the cards. How about you--what are you doing today?"

She reached into her lingerie drawer, pulling out a pair of functional panties and a bra. "Taking Marly to the park," she replied. "Maybe cleaning the house a bit...I'm sure I'll be working on some puzzles at some point during the day. Cooking up soup for lunch and chicken for dinner. Washing some dishes, cleaning out the fridge. Does that all meet with your specifications?"

The tone wasn't as ugly as the implications were. She was pulling on her panties, then slipping into the bra, and he felt the frustration take over his body. Despite his freaking hard-on, he still felt irritated at her. Why couldn't she just let it go?

"Fine," he replied irritably. "That sounds like a great schedule. I hope you and Marly have a terrific day."

She turned around as he was getting out of the bed, heading toward the shower. "Bobby--wait--don't I need to take care of that for you? I mean, it's part of my duties, right?"

He was livid, so livid he wanted to hit her. Instead, he walked into the bathroom without a word and locked the door. He turned on the water in the shower, then leaned against the wall, taking a breath. Why couldn't she understand that he was just worried about her? About Marlene? That she came within a hair's breadth of losing her job yesterday? Jesus, somebody had to care. Why couldn't she? This--this act, like he expected sex from her, was over the top. He'd never, ever, not once, expected anything like that. He had vowed he never would after Forrester assaulted her. How dare she.

The water was warm and comfortable, and despite his anger his erection hadn't subsided. Damn the human body, he thought. He leaned against the wall in the shower, closing his eyes and thinking back to his dream, when there was no anger, only arousal, only excitement. His hand settled on himself, pushing the last bit of frustration out of his mind and focusing on his own pleasure.


They didn't make it to the park until that afternoon, after Marly's nap. The sandbox was empty and Marly settled down in it, digging and playing while Vanessa sat nearby. Shortly after she received a text from him, wanting to know where she was. She debated about responding, but finally texted him back that she was at the sandbox. Twenty minutes later he appeared, still in his suit, looking focused but hardly repentant.

He took a seat next to her on the edge of the sandbox. "Deakins got a call from your father today. He wants to see you."

"So what? Did you tell him my caveman of a husband has already decided I can't go? Apparently I'm unable to make those decisions for myself."

He was quiet for a minute, watching Marly digging in the sand. "If you want to go, then go. You're right. You're a grown up and entirely entitled to fuck up your life however you want. If you want to go invite trouble back in, be my guest. But don't expect me to sit around and let you bring that poison into our daughter's life. I won't do it."

"That's your problem, Bobby," she said, poking at the sand herself. "You never even gave me the chance to decide for myself. I had no intention of seeing him. I had an intention of seeing his wife, his son, to see how they were doing. The same way I see most victims, to see how they're doing. You're the one who started making demands about doing and not doing things. About needing to put your foot down about all sorts of shit. You're the one who needed to make the stand. So make it. I hope it makes you feel more...I don't know...manly, if that's what you're after." She shuffled her feet in the sand. "It's kind of disappointing that five years in you think so little of me that you're convinced I'm going to chase after Ryan for some sort of relationship. Not to mention hypocritical."

Now he was glaring out her. "What does that mean, hypocritical?"

She shook her head. "You can't make up your mind if you love or hate your mother, and in the meantime, you want to hold the whole family hostage while you figure it out. Go this week but not the next. Don't have a picnic but buy food from the cafeteria. You can hold the baby but for only so long. What the hell, Bobby? And since when did you stop trusting me and my own decisions? Since when did you decide I'm not balanced?"

He felt his cheeks flush. "I never said that," he argued. "I never said you weren't balanced...I've always thought you were amazing and I know you make decisions based on what you think is best for our family."


"But you make no sense when it comes to Ryan. You know that."

She stood up, dusting off the back of her pants. "Marly and I are going to go home. I'm done discussing this with you right now. You're not being fair and I refuse to listen to any more of this."

Before she could speak, he had grabbed her hand. "Stop." Seeing her expression, he added quickly, "Please."

She hesitated for a minute, then sat next to him again. "What?" she finally asked, unsure of where this was going.

"I do trust's your family I don't trust...and I know how easy it is to get sucked in to family issues...and I don't want to see you lose your love what you do."

She sat quietly, watching Marly's hole getting deeper. "I don't trust my family either. But I know that Matthew and Kate need help. I've lived in that house before...I know what their lives are like. Even if they can't admit it, I know." She shook her head. "I don't want to lose my job either. But some things are more important than a job. I know you know that. You just don't want to face the idea of me not coming back to work with you."

He exhaled a deep breath. "Maybe." He looked ahead of him. "So what do we do? Report this somehow?"

"There's nothing to report," she said, and he knew she was right. "That's why I was going to go back. I have a three week window to find out how to help them, before he comes home."

"You can't save the world, you know. Sometimes you have to let it go."

"Could you? If it was your four-year old half-brother? Your half-sister? Could you walk away?"

After a quiet moment, he shook his head. "No."

"If they fire me, then they fire me, Bobby...I can live with that, but I can't live with turning my back on that little boy." Her eyes focused on her own daughter, saw the delight on Marly's face. "I can't do that."

"Okay," he said finally. "But let me know before you go...and only when Marly is in preschool or with me. I have to know you're safe. The thought of losing you..." he shook his head. "You have to understand my side too."

For the first time she looked at him, saw the pain in his face and the fear. "I think I get it," she replied softly. They sat in silence for another twenty minutes before gathering Marly up and heading home.


The door opened and she smiled. "Hi, are you?"

"Vanessa." Kate's voice was relieved, she thought. "I'm fine. Please, come in."

Vanessa stepped into the house and followed Kate into the front room. "Have a seat." Kate motioned to the couch, and so Vanessa took a seat there and waited while Kate disappeared briefly from the room. When she appeared, Matthew and his sister were with her.

"I wanted you to meet my oldest, Hannah." She stroked the girl's hair,which was straight and dark. The child's eyes were empty, much as her brother's. "Hannah, this is your sister, Vanessa. She's one of your daddy's other children....she helped find the man who hurt daddy. She's a doctor."

"Hi," Hannah said quietly.  Her face was devoid of emotion, nearly robotic.  Vanessa knew what it was like to operate on that plane of existence.  "Thank you for helping my daddy."

She nodded. "I was glad to help, Hannah. It's very nice to meet you." Peeking around Kate, Vanessa smiled at Matthew. "Hi Matthew. It's good to see you again." The little boy smiled at her and hung closely to his mother.

"Ryan should be home in a couple of weeks," Kate said, easing herself down into one of the chairs. "I know he would like to see you."

Vanessa gave a quick nod and glanced at the children. "Would it be possible for us to talk privately?"

Kate looked surprised, but said, "Of course...Hannah, why don't you and Matthew go to the playroom?" Hannah's face lit up and she nodded quickly, taking Matthew by the hand and leading him into another room. Kate turned back to Vanessa. "What can I help you with?"

"Actually," Vanessa began, "I'm wondering if there's a way I can help you."

There was a silence between the two women as fear, then anxiety, crossed Kate's fine features. "I'm not sure what you're talking about," she finally responded.

"Has my father ever talked about my mom?"

"A bit." Kate was crossing and uncrossing her legs, clearly nervous.  It was clear to Vanessa that Kate knew exactly where she was going, and she could only imagine the poison her father had spewed about her mom.

Vanessa took a deep breath. "Kate, I'm here because I'm concerned about you and your children. I know my father and I know his propensities. I know what it was like to be a child in his house. He never laid a finger on me but he abused me as viciously as if he had beaten me every day of my life. Nobody is allowed a dissenting opinion in Ryan's house. Everything has to be perfect, doesn't it? Down to your remote controls? How many hours has he made Matthew stay in his room remaking his bed to get it perfect? How about Hannah? Does he praise her pretty hair, her self-control at the dinner table? Does he make her practice washing the dishes until they're perfect? And many times does he make you change before he takes you out to dinner?"

Kate's eyes were frozen, filled with tears, and Vanessa wasn't sure if it was from shame or anger. "He loves us," she murmured.

Vanessa nodded. "He loved my mother into suicide, me into drug addiction, and my sister into anorexia. He's poison, Kate. If what I'm saying doesn't sound familiar, then I'm really, really happy for you. But if it does, please don't make the same mistake my mother did...please don't wait until you can't take it any more. It's not worth it. He's not worth it."

Kate shook her head. "Vanessa...he told me...he told me how out of control you were...I'm glad you have your life back under control now, but..."

"Do you know what he did after I 'got my life back under control'?" She motioned the quotations in the air. "He got angry with me over something I said to him about my sister. So he sent photographs of me from ten years ago--photos of me with other men, dressed inappropriately, stoned--to my husband. To show him who he married. Actually, I believe what he said was my husband deserved to know the blood that was running through our daughter's veins."

Kate's face dropped, a nearly imperceptible break in her facade, but she didn't acknowledge what Vanessa had said.

"The day I came to your house...that's why. To return his filthy photos."

Kate stood, then turned away from her. After several minutes, she said, "Thank you for coming. I'll think about what you said." She turned around quickly. "Can I see you out?"

Vanessa shook her head. "I can do it, thank you. But please, if you don't believe me, you can talk to Ava...I just want you to know you're not alone."

Kate nodded. "I appreciate your concern." She swallowed hard, then smiled. "It was good to see you. I'll let the children know you said goodbye."

Vanessa forced a smile, then nodded and saw herself out the door. Closing it behind her, she pulled her sunglasses down and headed out into the April afternoon.

He closed the door behind him. "She's asleep. Early, I know, but I thought it would be nice to spend the time together."

She was changing into her pajamas. "Does this mean dinner and bad tv in bed?"

"Yep. And maybe sex too...but hopefully not bad sex."

She laughed at that and reached for her tank top.

"Eh, don't bother," he told her. "Just the panties are fine."

"Oh," she said, surprised. "Do I get to make the rules for you too?"

"Why not?" He shrugged and tossed his clothes in the hamper, only leaving his boxers on. She nodded in agreement. "Give me ten or fifteen minutes and I'll have you a dinner you'll never forget." She grinned and climbed into the bed, flipping through the channels.

She had settled it on a crime drama when he reappeared with their dinner--plates of whatever he could find or make quickly, as well as a bottle of wine. "What do you want first?" he asked.

"I'm not picky...any of it is fine with me. But I do want a glass of that wine." He nodded and after setting down the food, poured them each a healthy glass.

They nibbled as they watched, both making occasional comments about what was wrong with the procedural, laughing at some of the dialogue, until he finally said, "Are you still mad at me?"

She shook her head. "No. I was just...well, frustrated. You know. It was hard...sometimes doing what you think is right makes you really unpopular."

"Yeah," he nodded. "I get that."

She chucked a baby carrot at him. "You should have been nicer to me."

He caught it and tossed it back. "I'll consider what you said." Then, "I do love you, you know."

"I know, Bobby...I know."

He moved the plates out of the way but left the tv on, then pulled her closer to him, circling her nipples with his thumb and forefinger. She sighed.

"This is starting to become a habit of yours...some sort of weird nipple play." She smiled at him and stroked his hair. "What is it that makes this so enjoyable for you?"

He pulled the nipple up with his fingers, then relaxed it. "I don't know," he said thoughtfully. "I just think it's rather lovely. And it reminds me when you were nursing...and how beautiful I thought you were when you did that." He gently kissed the hardened tip, then said, "Come to think of it, I thought they were rather beautiful from the first time I saw were so soft and lovely and I just wanted to stroke them in my hands."

She couldn't help but smile. "Really? That's what you thought? You thought they were lovely?"

His mouth suckled the point gently, grasping it in between his teeth and pulling upward until she gasped. "Yes," he murmured. "That's what I thought. It's what I still think. I think your breasts are more beautiful now than they've ever been."  He laved the skin softly.   "But then, that's generally what I think about you anyway."

She closed her eyes and enjoyed the feelings seeping through her. She felt incredibly beautiful, knowing that she aroused him. His lips released one hard point and moved to the next. As his lips began to suck avidly at her nipple, she felt his fingers move up to her recently released breast and pleasure surrounding her as he twisted and tugged and pulled with his fingers.

She didn't want to rush him. It was sheer heaven, the way he was loving her, the knowledge that even after they had fought so fiercely the day before he could be so hot for her, so wanting. And so she lay, peacefully, enjoying his fingers and mouth performing such beautiful acts on her.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, his hand worked its way slowly down her belly, inch by inch, stroking the skin while his mouth continued to suckle on her as if he couldn't get enough. His fingers gently probed her; finding her pleasantly wet, his mouth began to follow his fingers in a predictable path.

"Bobby...we could mix this up..."

He stopped, clearly confused. "You want to? I thought you liked it this way..."

"I do," she affirmed quickly. "I just thought, maybe, we could play a little bit."

He slid his body back up to her mouth and kissed her. "What do you want to play? I'm really good at anything involving my tongue or my fingers."

She was laughing when his tongue twisted with hers and they began laughing together. "I don't know," she said. "Tell me your fantasies."

"I had one with a desk the other desk at really wanted to do it there..."

She snorted. 'I just don't think that will work, Bobby...we might get into trouble breaking into the office at this hour."

He nipped her neck and grinned. "Well, you're not thinking of something that would require me to wear a cape or anything, are you?"

She laughed. "Now that's an idea...a cape, huh? Would you prefer Batman or Superman?"

He snorted. "I thought you prefered Aquaman."

"He doesn't wear a cape. Besides, I'm not sure you can communicate psychically with the dolphins...and even if you could, I'm not sure it would affect our sex life."

"Maybe I could send psychic messages to know, like, 'spread your legs, I'm working my way down'?"

She punched his arm. "That's not psychic...that's just typical!"

"Fine...we'll do something a little different, then!" He picked up a couple pillows and moved them down the bed.

"Like what?"

"Trust'll like it. Come here." He pulled her closer to him, arranging her on the pillows. "Lay on your belly...I promise, you'll like it."

She did as he asked, and he propped her bottom up on the pillows. "Comfy?" he asked, grinning at her.

"Curious is more like it," she said, looking at him. "What are you going to do to me?"

His smile was naughty and he leaned over and sucked her shoulder. "I promise you'll like it...just a little different...relax and enjoy, okay?"

She glanced over her shoulder at him. "You're really pushing this, aren't you?"

He was sliding his tongue down her spine. "Yep. Probably." His mouth hit one of her ass cheeks, nipping gently, and she yelped, trying not to giggle at the sensation.

"Bobby!" she gasped, pushing down the giggles. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Trying something new!" he said with complete sincerity, nipping her again as he moved down to her upper thigh. Once there, he began to lick and suck at her intensely until she began to moan his name. "Bobby...why..."

He stopped. "Does it feel different? Do you like it?"

She buried her head in her pillow. "Mmm." She felt his hands stroking her thighs and her bottom again. One finger traced over her cheek to her thigh before she felt his mouth kissing her legs. After a few minutes, he propped her up higher, and she suddenly understood his purpose as he slipped two fingers into her from behind, then let his tongue follow.

Her breath caught immediately. He was right, they'd never tried anything like this before. Completely different position, completely different feeling, and she realized his tongue was deeply inside her vagina, swirling and tasting and pleasuring her as his fingers slid over her clit, and the feeling was incredible. She moaned into the pillow, enjoying the change of pace tremendously. She arched herself up for him and she heard him chuckle quietly, knowing she was feeling insanely good. "Bobby," she moaned softly, "I want to come...please...we could do it like this...feels good."

She felt his mouth move up and lave her ass cheek before slipping his fingers inside of her again, pumping in and out. "Bobby..."

He nipped her again, before whispering, "Don't worry...I want to get there with you." She felt his body moving against hers, pressing against her thighs, then gently slipping inside of her. "Beautiful," he murmured, thrusting gently inside of her fully, sheathed in her wetness. She moaned deeply. "So incredibly beautiful." He thrust again, this time a tiny bit harder and quicker, and she arched back against him.

He didn't speak again, just entangled one hand in the hair near her neck, pulling her back against him every time he pushed forward. God, she was beautiful. She glanced at him over her shoulder and caught a glimpse, enough to tell he was enjoying this at least as much as she was. His mouth was open, eyes closed, body tight and hips ready to spring forward repeatedly. Those hips. She loved his hips, his cock, his testicles, his ass. all of it. All of it that brought her so much pleasure in moments like this. She loved him, his essence. The eyes that were closed, the jaw that was slack, the face leaning back in sheer pleasure. "I love you, Bobby," she moaned softly, and he thrust again, guiding a deep and quick rhythm into her that was incredibly thrilling.

Her orgasm was deep and intense and took her breath away. She was still gasping when she heard him come, clutching her hips and kissing her shoulder and moaning her name. She had collapsed on the pillows and he was on top of her, gasping. "God, that was good," she groaned after several minutes.

"I'm squishing you," he gasped, still trying to catch his breath. "Sorry...I'll move...

'No!" She said it louder than she meant to. "You feel so good...God, baby, don't move...please don't move."

They lay there for several more minutes, catching their breath, until he finally said, "I have to move--" and pulled off her body, rolling onto the mattress next to her.

Shortly after, she yanked the pillows out from under her, still resting her head on the mattress. "You didn't have to move...I liked you there."

"I had slipped wouldn't have been comfortable." He reached over and stroked her back. 'it was wet."

She laughed. "Don't tell me after all this time you're a baby about the wet spot...there's one every time, Goren!"

He snorted. "Well, then, you should be very happy we used those nobody has to sleep in the wet spot!"

She was grinning when she rolled onto her back, stretching her breasts toward the ceiling. He took advantage of her stretch and cupped her nearest breast in his hand, enjoying the feel of the soft flesh. "These are perfect...I could just spend the rest of my life looking at your tits."

"That," she responded, "would be quite a waste of a life."

He laughed. "I don't think so...I think it would be a perfect life." His thumb ran over her nipple again and he leaned forward to kiss it, then closed his eyes and rested his head on her ribs. "You're so beautiful," he murmured. "I love you more than and your breasts."

She snorted at him, but ran her fingers through his hair. It was a beautiful salt and pepper gray these days. She knew it bothered him and he felt the difference in their ages when he looked at himself in the mirror. But she thought he was amazingly attractive, moreso now than ever, and she told him so. "I love your hair," she murmured to him. "You're so refined...distinguished."

He chuckled. "Those are words people use for old men."

'Interesting...I never thought an old man could fuck me quite like that," she teased him, running her hand down to his back. He burrowed his face into her belly, nipping and kissing her skin.

"You know what the worst part about this getting old business is?" he asked her, rubbing his stubble against her belly. "Not being able to get it up more than once in a night....maybe I should invest in some little blue pills."

"Are you kidding?" Her hand was still stroking his back, but she was fighting off the giggles with all her might. "Has it occurred to you that I'm perfectly happy with our sex life just how it is?"

He pulled his head up to look at her in the eyes. "So you're telling me one round is enough?"


"You are lying!" he exclaimed. "Don't lie to me! I know you!"

"One is enough...and any time I'm in the mood for more you take care of it. So no, I'm not lying."

"So you're saying that if I could get another hard on you'd turn it down in favor of, say, a little finger action?"

She made a face. "You're being incredibly crude know those pills are insane. I don't want you taking those. You're perfect exactly how you are. If you couldn't do it at all, then we could look at that, but jesus, Bobby...I think we get enough action together as it is...don't you?"

He grinned at her. "It's never enough action," he quipped, then kissed her navel.

She was shaking her head. "Yes. Sometimes it is enough. And you think so too."

His fingers were stroking her nipple again. "I love you, Beth. My beautiful Beth."

She smiled, then tangled her hands back in his hair again. "I love you too."

She could hear the rain against the window, and snuggled closer to him. His naked body was warm and he instinctively wrapped an arm around her.

She thought about the events of the last week, how angry and upset he had been, how worried. She wondered sometimes if the gray hairs were due to her, his worry about her behavior and the way that she insisted on doing things the way that made sense to her. He had been really angry this time, and she had been ugly. She hadn't meant to be, but she never did well with being told what to do. He of all people should know that.

She thought, with a bit of shame, how she had mocked him that morning, telling him it was her wifely duty to rid him of his erection. To his credit, he had briefly stared at her before locking himself in the bathroom. Any other man she had known would have lost it, right away. She didn't know why she did that. Rather, she knew why, but she didn't know why she felt it necessary to take it that far with him. The look on his face had been more than anger and betrayal. Underneath, there had been a fleeting sense of confusion. What had he done to make her so angry at him? Why could she not understand he only loved her? The thought broke her heart. Nobody had ever loved her as much as he had. His loyalty had been uncompromised; he had been absolutely devoted since the first day he had inserted himself into her life. He had always been honest and loving to her. She was ashamed of the way she had chosen to handle herself this week. Indeed, her actions had been a choice, and they had hurt him.

She was stroking his chest absently. She loved him more than she could express and only hoped he knew that. She couldn't blame him if he wondered about her dedication or commitment. Gently, she kissed his chest, thinking of how vulnerable he often felt with her; how painful everything was with his mother right now; how he had tried to turn to her but she had rationalized his feelings. She suddenly recalled the night a couple years before when she had taped so many photos of herself around the studio, and he had engaged in tearing every one from the walls with her. No rationalization, nothing but understanding and partnership and love. Deep, deep love.

She hugged his chest, the same chest she spent so much time memorizing and kissing and stroking. He was such an amazing man and she was at a loss in trying to figure out how God had brought them together; how she, a recovering drug addict and massive loser, had managed to land him, a sophisticated, brilliant man. She knew other people didn't see him that way. But she did. He was her hero.

She felt his hand stroke down her back, and at the realization he was awake, she suddenly felt self-conscious. "I'm sorry...I didn't mean to wake you," she whispered, but his hand continued to move up and down her back. She felt the need to say something, anything, to explain herself, and she finally said, "I was just thinking...about how much I love you."

He smiled to himself. "I love you too, Beth. I love you."

She lay her head back on his chest. "I'm sorry for the last week. I've been kind of a bitch...I just ...I don't know why, I don't know how to explain it."

His fingers were stroking her hair. "You're not a love your family...we just see things differently sometimes."

She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry about the other morning...when I made that crack about wifely duties and stuff...that was completely uncalled for and wrong."

His hand stilled, just for a second, then began moving again. Back and forth. As though she hadn't spoken, she thought. She didn't speak any further, and finally he said, "It's okay, Beth. I know you didn't mean it."

His response just devastated her more. She tried to will back the tears, knowing his feelings went far deeper than he was alluding to. Then, finally, "I know you meant it at the time. I know you were was I...but I'm not any more. I know you love me as much as I love you...we'll be okay. I really think so."

She lay still, unmoving, thinking of all the things in her life she wished she could take back. Usually it was the painful subject of her past, her ex-boyfriend and his requests, her wishes of listening to her gut and Bruce when Forrester had been over. But, she wished she could take back the words and the actions. The pain that she knew she caused him, the one person who understood and loved her more than anyone else in the world.

"Beth." His voice was quiet, peaceful, matching the hand moving back and forth across her. "Don't torture yourself like this...we both did and said things we shouldn't have that morning."

She nodded against him, not ready to move from his warm form. He wasn't ready either, and continued to stroke her skin. The silence was comforting, and they listened to the raindrops pelting the window until the doorknob turned.

"Mama?" The tiny voice emanated from the door, but neither of them moved, other than Vanessa's head tilting up just so to see her little girl.

"Hey, sweetie...bring your blankie and you can lay with us."

A minute later Marlene was climbing on the large bed, curling against both her parents, snuggling with her blanket. Marly's head rested on her father's ribs, and Vanessa gently stroked her cheek. "I love you, Marly Beth," she told her, and Marly began to suck her thumb sleepily.

Bobby stroked Vanessa's hair. "Look at us," he said mildly, "three loving people in love with one another." He smiled before he said, "This is the most love I've ever had in my life."

"Me too," Vanessa sighed, resting her head just above Marlene's, on his chest.

"Me too," came the little voice right beneath her, and they both laughed. "I wuv my mama and I wuv my daddy. An I miss my Bwucie..."

"Me too," Vanessa said softly, her hand lying on her daughter's curly hair. "Me too, Marly."


She was scrubbing the toilet vigorously, hair in a messy ponytail, and Marly next to her, wiping the floor. Marly loved to help, and Vanessa had found life went much easier when she gave her a reasonable, safe task to accomplish. Wiping the bathroom floor with a wet rag seemed innocuous enough while she scrubbed. She made a point not to let her near the toilet, on the off chance Bobby's aim wasn't as good as he thought it was. She happened to know it wasn't, but didn't see much point in trying to convince him to aim better. "I got it cwean, Mama!" Marly announced, holding up the rag.

"Good job, baby!" Vanessa grinned at her, taking the rag from Marlene and then flushing the toilet. One toilet down, two more to go. Who said you couldn't clean with a two-year old around?

The doorbell buzzed and Marly hopped up, yelling, "I get it!" before Vanessa could reach her.

"No!" she called after her. "Only Mommy and Daddy get to do that...hold on." She waited until she reached the door and rang down. "Yes?"

"Dr. Rayden, there's someone here for you who's not on your list...a Kate Rayden..."

Vanessa glanced at Marlene. "Okay," she said slowly. "Is she alone?"

"'s just her."

"Okay," she said suddenly. "Send her up."

She bent down to Marly. "Sweetie, Mommy has a friend who's going to come over for a little bit. Do you want to watch Dora while we talk?"

Marly nodded. "Otay...I wike Dora!"

Vanessa smiled. "Good...I'll get it all set up for you." She quickly set up the DVD player and slipped in Marly's favorite disc, turning it on. A moment later the doorbell rang.

"Go watch Dora," Vanessa instructed her daughter, and Marly climbed onto the couch for a more comfortable view. Vanessa opened the door to see Kate standing in front of her, in a pair of jeans and a blouse. She guessed this was probably as dressed down as Kate ever got.

"Hi," Vanessa said, "I was surprised to hear you had come over. Come on in." She led Kate into the house, through the living area where Marly was, and into the kitchen. They had almost made it when Marly burst over the back of the couch.

"Hi!" she bubbled, "I Marwy!"

Kate smiled. "I've heard about you. You're as pretty as your mama said."

Marlene sat up straight. "My daddy says I smart too."

Kate looked surprised, but nodded. "I'm sure he's right. It's good to be smart."

"Marly," Vanessa interrupted, "remember...Dora..."

"Wight, Mama!" And she disappeared onto the other side of the couch. Vanessa pointed Kate to the kitchen table, and the two women sat down.

"'ve thought a lot about what you said the other day," Kate began, twisting her wedding ring around her finger. "And I think you've got some of it wrong. Ryan isn't abusive to me or the children. Yes, he has high standards, but there's nothing wrong with that. The children are loved and cared for well....surely you saw that when you met them."

Vanessa nodded. "Kate, you do realize there are a lot of different ways to be abusive..."

"And there's a difference between abuse and high standards." She shook her head. "At any rate, I wanted to thank you for coming by...for speaking with me. I'm sorry things are the way they are between you and your father, but that doesn't mean he's still the same man. He loves our children...and so do I."

"Okay...I wasn't trying to criticize you as a parent or anything else. I'm sorry if I overstepped."

Kate smiled, then reached into her purse, pulling out a letter. "Here. This is for you, from Ryan. He wanted you to have it, to know how much he appreciates what you did."

She reached over slowly and took the letter. "Well, thank you for bringing it."

"You'll read it, won't you? At least see what he has to say?"

"Yes. I'll read it." She stood up, indicating their conversation was over, and Kate followed her. "Thank you for coming by. And please, give my regards to Hannah and Matthew."

Kate smiled. "You can't forgive him, can you? He said you wouldn't."

She hesitated, glancing at Marly watching Dora avidly on the television. "Every time I try, he gets me. There's no stopping, no release from the, it's best for us to stay apart."

Kate nodded. "Well, if you ever change your mind..."

Vanessa opened the front door. "I appreciate that, Kate. I really do."

With one last smile, Kate left the condo, and Vanessa shut the door behind her. She held the letter in her hand for a moment, staring at it and wondering what it said, before she heard her daughter.

"Mommy? Was I good?" Marly's face was anxious.

Vanessa grinned at her, then picked her up, wrapping her in her arms. "You were terrific, baby...I love you so much. Absolutely perfect."

Marly curled up in her mother's arms, allowing herself to be loved and snuggled more than usual, and Vanessa carried her back to the couch, where they both collapsed to watch more Dora.

He listened silently, trying to be patient with what she was telling him.

She was right--it wasn't her fault that Kate had come by, and she had done the best she could to keep Kate and Marly separated. She had done everything. And he could hear in her tone how horribly guilty she felt about it all.

He flicked his pen back and forth on his notepad as she was talking, waiting for her to finish, thinking about visiting Ryan in the hospital, just to make him piss himself in his bedpan. That would be amusing, at least to him. Probably to Ava too. Ava had that same kind of sick sense of humor.

"Bobby? Are you still there?" Her voice was nervous.

"Yeah, I'm here...look, there was nothing else you could do, Vanessa. It's okay. Don't worry, honey. So she saw Marly...lots of people will all be okay."

"Thank God," he heard the relief in her voice. "I was so worried you would be upset."

He chewed on the pencap, suddenly realizing how she had been sweating bullets because of him. Not because of Ryan or Kate or other people being stupid, but because of him. That hit him like a ball to the gut. He leaned forward, trying to make the conversation more private. "Ness," he said softly, "I'm not upset with you. You're a wonderful mother and I know you would never do anything to endanger our baby. I'm sorry you worried. Please, don't. I'll be home as soon as I can. You say he left you a letter?"

"Yes...she pulled it out of her bag and gave it to me. I didn't expect it and I haven't opened it."

"Well, I should be home around seven. Whatever you decide about the letter, I"m sure it will be fine."

Eames returned from the vending machine and tore into her skittles, looking at him peculiarly.

"You okay?" he asked a final time, the guilt weighing on him like a huge anchor.

"Sure. I'm fine, baby. I just wanted you to know."

"Okay...I love you and don't worry about it...I'll see you tonight. Bye." He hung up the phone, glancing at Eames, who was still staring at him.

"You have a skittle on your sweater," he told her, then pulled out the new file.

"Master of deflection," she commented, flicking the skittle off of her sweater and into her hand. "I'd ask, but then you'd tell me I have a skittle down my shirt."

It was late, far later than seven, when he opened the front door.

He hadn't intended for it to be going on ten. He had called her a couple hours before to tell her he was running super late. She had sounded slightly disappointed, but told him she'd see him when he got home.

The house was quiet, and he snuck into Marlene's room first. She was asleep, freshly bathed, her dark curls still wet from the water. He kissed her cheek gently and adjusted her blanket before leaving the bedroom and heading down the hall.

The bedroom was dark, and he figured she was sleeping, or trying to. He opened the door quietly and stepped immediately into the closet to hang his suit. He heard shifting on the bed, and wondered if she was still awake. He stripped down to his boxers, thinking of the conversation earlier. He hated the idea that she was so nervous about his reactions. He intended to correct that tonight, or at the latest, in the morning.

He stepped out into the bedroom and made his way to his side of the bed. He was about to pull his side of the sheets back when he glanced at her and froze. Surely he was imagining things. But no, she was completely naked, one arm bent and the hand gently teasing her nipples, the other lost in the crux of her thighs, moving steadily as she flexed her legs. She was masturbating.

He froze, fascinated in watching her. For all their sexual escapades, this was something she had never shared with him. He had only imagined this, her movements, her desires. What felt good. If left to her own devices, would she touch her breasts? Would she finger herself or just stroke her clit? Would she stroke her body? He felt himself immediately growing hard in his boxers, watching her. She had to know he was there. She had to know.

Her legs spread a little farther, and she pulled her knees up, resting her feet on the bed, fondling herself with one hand as the other twisted and pulled at a nipple. She was wet, he knew; he could smell her arousal as usual and had no desire to look away. Her body was stiffening and starting to writhe, and he knew she was getting close. He watched her in awe, as she manipulated her body to an intense, satisfying orgasm.

Her hips raised off the bed to meet her hand. He heard a soft, muffled moan escape her mouth and watched her carefully as both hands now moved down to her vagina, pleasuring herself completely. She moved in a beautiful motion, arching and moaning and stroking all in rhythm, and he watched intently, resisting the urge to stroke himself. She was beautiful, sexy, wanton. Everything he saw in her, he saw now. He wanted to watch her please herself intensely and knew she was incredibly close.

He was about to sit on his own hands to keep himself from engaging in the same sort of activity; suddenly, her heavy-lidded eyes opened to focus on him. He froze, unsure of what to do, when she whispered, "Are you going to help me or do you want to watch?'"

He didn't knwo what to say. "Both," he whispered initially, watching her staring at him as her hips moved rhythically, then the truth made its way from his mouth. "Watch," he whispered, sitting on the edge of the bed. "I want to watch you."

She smiled at him, then turned her head away and focused on the pleasure coursing through her body. Arching her hips one last time, she stroked her fingers quickly around her clit, leading her to climax, and she cried out softly, continuing to fondle herself. "Good," she murmured softly, "feels so good."

"God, you're beautiful," he whispered, leaning over to kiss her, and slowly moved his own hand down to take the place of hers. "Wanna touch you, Beth...please..." Her flesh was soft and warm, and incredibly wet, and he sank his fingers gently into her until he heard her moan against him.

"Too much?" he asked, kissing her neck, then her ear. She smelled of wine and sex and a touch of baby wash.

"Nooo," she moaned, shifting against him. "Not too much...perfect, Bobby, so perfect..."

His fingers fondled her gently, repeatedly, stroking her inside and outside, listening to her moans of pleasure. He knew he was erect. In fact, he wasn't sure how he had managed to keep the thing in his boxers up until now. She was arching erratically against him, and he knew she felt good, pleasantly good, turned on good, and he wanted more.

"Wanna be inside you," he whispered in her ear, and she turned her face to nip his lips. He let her, and they sucked on each other's lips repeatedly until the were soft and swollen and her fingers were pulling at the waistband of his boxers. "Is it okay?"

"Yes, yes..."his boxers slid down off his waist. "You feel so good...I want you inside me too...Bobby, make me come. Please, please make me come. I want you inside me."

He kicked the boxers down, letting them land on the floor, then covered her body with his. "You're so beautiful," he told her again. "You smell sex...God, I want to be inside you, baby..." She hadn't touched him and he didn't care. He began to align himself with her. Suddenly she reached between them.

"I want to touch you. I want to feel you,'re so soft, so hard, so amazing...." She caught his face with one hand. "I want to kiss you." When he leaned over her, she said, "No, not there...I want to kiss your cock. Please."

He was reticent, ready to enter her, but at the same time, her excitement at oral sex was so rare he almost didn't want to stop her. " Are you sure?" She nodded, and he rolled over onto his back.

As her mouth caught him, he gasped loudly. She lowered her lips on him, sucking longer and harder, and his hands began to stroke her hair. "Beautiful," he murmured softly, "so fucking beautiful." She sucked him, hard, until he was gasping and beginning to thrust softly forward, then she pulled back.

"Now,"she told him, "now you can fuck me...I want to feel you. So good."

He rolled her over, easily settling on top of her body and guiding her beautiful legs to his sides. Kissing her, he raised himself on his elbows and guided himself in, pushing slightly, into her body. She threw her head back and moaned, arching toward him again, and he pushed in farther, continuing to thrust until he was fully sheathed. Then he heard her moan. "God, Bobby...oh God." Her legs wrapped around his lower back and she ground her pubic bone against his.

He leaned down, kissed her fiercely, and began to thrust fully, immediately. There was no desire to work up to a pleasurable speed. This was pleasure. She was grinding into him, groaning in his ear, and with her body wrapped around his, the words were coming rapidly. "God, Bobby...fuck feels so feel so good so deep inside me...please, God, please...Bobby, please don't stop...just bring me...I want to come...I need to come with you..."

His chest brushed quickly over her own, his hips moving in a purposeful rhythm as she bucked and ground against him. He pressed his lips against her temple. groaning softly against her ear. "I love you good....feels so good..."

She arched hard against him, grinding upward as though she couldn't get enough of him inside her. "God, Bobby, God..." She was wrapped completely around him and felt her body give in to the pleasure, moving quickly and deeply against him. "Oh...." she cried out, and his mouth pressed against her neck, suckling firmly. "Yes...oh, yes..." Her orgasm washed over her with intensity and she felt him drive harder, faster into her. He felt incredible, and she rode the feeling out for as long as she could, until he finally clutched her hips himself, deeply impaled, and groaning fully into her ear and he came hard inside of her.

He groaned deeply, enjoying the pleasure of his wife's body, of the sexual relationship between them. Of how he had never in a million years imagined such an amazing sexual relationship with any woman. He was resting his head against her shoulder, feeling her kissing his ear sweetly. He was madly in love with her. There was no denying that. But he had been madly in love with her before they had ever made love. was just confirmation.

She was shifting against him, and he wondered if she was uncomfortable. She didn't try to untangle herself; instead she wrapped one leg around his and tangled a hand in his hair. "Sex God," she mumbled, snickering. "Fucking beautiful sex god." The she pulled his mouth against hers and they kissed deeply.

"I should move," he whispered, starting to pull off of her when one of her hand rested on his lower back firmly.

"The quicker you pull out, the less likely I get pregnant," she said, then slid her hand up his back gently.

He stopped moving, but said, "I didn't know we were still aiming for that."

"I thought it was what you wanted." Her hand ran slowly over his back, then down to his ass, finally stroking his testicles.

"Jesus!" He jumped and pulled out of her instinctively.

"Sorry," she blushed. "I was just...curious..."

He had landed on his back next to her. "Fine, but next time you're curious, give me a heads up, first, okay? Not only is it sensitive, but your hands are cold..not exactly what I was expecting right then, you know?" Hearing the criticism in his voice, he winced at himself, then said, " was just cold...caught me by surprise."

She smiled shyly. "Sorry...I really didn't mean to."

He kissed her again, then kissed her hands, warming them in his own. "Okay," he told her. "Now touch them."

She giggled. "Now I don't want to."

He laughed. "It's your big chance...testi-mania..."

She bit him on the nipple. "Dork."

"Mama!" Marly crawled into the bed with both of her parents. "You gotted some mail!"

Another rainy April morning. At least it was Saturday, she thought, glancing over at Bobby, who was drowsily trying to open his eyes and pay attention to his daughter.

"Mama--I see your boobies."

"Terrific," she responded, pulling the comforter up higher around herself. That had gotten Bobby's attention, and he had burrowed deeply under the covers.

"Wha's wrong wif boobies? Are you gonna read your letter?" And she handed the letter from Ryan to Vanessa.

"Uh, I'm not going to read it right now," she explained tiredly. "Wanna take a nap with me and daddy?"

"Why you cover up your boobies?"

"Because they're private, "Bobby said to her. "It's Mommy's private body parts."

"Then why she show then to you?"

Vanessa raised an eyebrow, as if to say, care to tackle that one?

Bobby sighed. "Because Mommy and I share everything. Anyway, do you want to take a nap? It's Saturday, and Daddy's day to sleep late...and it would be incredibly lovely to sleep past seven."

"Otay. I get my bwankie." She climbed out of the bed and headed back to her room.

Vanessa looked at him and winked. "You better get those boxers on, and yesterday, mister...before you end up explaining a lot more than boobies." He groaned but grabbed his boxers and pulled them back on. He no sooner swung his legs back on the bed than Marly had joined them once more.

"You putted your gown on," Marly noted to Vanessa. "Is pretty on you, Mama."

She smiled. "Thanks. You ready for that nap?"

"Yep. Daddy, you gotted your pajamas on?"

"Yes. I think we're all decent now...can we sleep?"

"Tay...I sweep in de middle." Marly curled between her parents and lay quietly for a few minutes. Suddenly she wrapped her arms around Bobby's neck. "Daddy."

His eyes opened slowly. "What, bean?"

She smiled at this new nickname. "We need a new doggy. Tan we go get a doggy today?"

Bobby stared into his daughter's chocolate eyes and kissed her head, meeting Vanessa's face over Marly's head. She was looking away.

"Maybe not yet, Marly. But maybe one day...when we don't miss Bruce so much still."

"Tay." Bobby began to snuggle her, but she turned away from him, snuggling up to her mother instead. "Iss otay, Mama. Bwucie loves you still. He loves us God."

Vanessa felt her daughter's tiny arms wrap around her body in comfort. "You're right, baby. Bruce still loves us."

Marly lay sandwiched between them, playing with the envelope in her hand for a minute.  "Here Mama," she finally said, "now you wead your letter."

Bobby's eyes opened slowly, gauging Vanessa's reaction.  She slowly took the envelope from Marly and tore it open.  He watched her reading, eyes scanning the page back and forth slowly.  After a few minutes, she folded it back up and lay it on the nightstand.

"Okay?" he asked, unsure of her response.

"Yeah, it's fine."  She turned back toward him and Marly, smiling at both of them, then closed her own eyes to rest.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Part One

"I no wike o-meal, Mama! I wike tee-we-os." Marlene pushed the bowl away from her and shook her head.

Vanessa sighed. Ever since she had mastered her mother language, Marly had used it to express herself thoroughly. "I know you like Cheerios, honey, but Daddy made you oatmeal today, so that's what we're eating."

Marly twisted in her high chair until she could see Vanessa. "You no eat o-meal. You got coffee!"

Huffing, Vanessa grabbed a spoon and took a bite from her daughter's bowl. "Here...see? Mommy eats it does's very good for you." Marlene watched her skeptically before picking up her spoon and taking a bite.

"Mama? Where my daddy?"

"Remember? I told you he had to go to work early. He said to give you big kisses...remember?"

Marly's tiny face was grumpy. "Yeah...I member..." She took another bite of oatmeal. "I go school today?"

"Yes...I'm taking you to school today." Vanessa sucked down her coffee as quickly as she could and tossed the dishes into the dishwasher. "Are you done, baby?"

"Yeah." Marlene handed her the half-filled bowl, and Vanessa scraped it before adding it to the dishwasher.

"Okay...let's get teeth brushed so we can go, okay? Mommy needs to get to work." She picked Marly up from the high chair and set her on the floor carefully, watching her toddle toward the bathroom. She bit her lip for a second. It seemed impossible that she was already two and a half.

They brushed their teeth together, Marly with her Dora brush with no paste and Vanessa with her sensitive tooth paste, then rinsed and gave each other a high-five. Grabbing jackets and backpacks, Marly gave Bruce a quick hug goodbye and they were on their way.

Eames knelt next to him at the crime scene, taking in the damage done to the victim. Broken ribs and a busted kneecap, but more noticeably, the huge head injury. "Somebody tried to rearrange his face," she commented dryly.

"Hmm, yeah." Bobby gently turned the man's head to the side and glanced up at Eames, who was making a face. "He's, uh, missing the back of his head."

"That's putting it mildly." Eames looked back at him. "What do you think is the weapon?"

"Not sure...something heavy...I don't see any particular pattern...blunt force trauma, obviously."

They stood back and watched CSU continue to process the scene. "This fits with the other two," Eames commented to him. "It's the same guy."

His nod was short, curt. "And he's going to keep going until we find him...third victim in three weeks."

Alex took the wallet from the investigator handing it to her. "Stephen Ford. Well, I guess we'll be paying a visit to Queens this morning."

"Great," he said. "This should be fun."

It seemed to him that ever since he became a father, delivering news about a victim's death had become insanely difficult. He was hoping beyond hope that he wouldn't find Stephen Ford had a widow and children. Looking into the eyes of a spouse who just lost his or her loved one was horrible. There was never a time that went by anymore that he wasn't reminded of his own family. He saw his wife and daughter in the eyes of every surviving family, even if just for a moment.

As they headed for the car, he heard it, the familiar lilt. "Goren! Eames!" Vanessa was approaching the crime scene. He guessed Deakins had sent her right over.

"Hey," Eames greeted her. "We've got a third vic."

Her eyes darted from Eames to Goren. "Shit." She glanced over to the crime scene. "Can you give me five minutes to take a look?"

"Yeah," he said, "let's go." Leading her over, they made their way through the multiple officers and CSU to the body. She bent down close to the vic, much as he and Eames had, and surveyed the body. After a minute, he spoke. "We're planning to go to Queens to meet with his family, after this."

"He's not wearing a wedding band," she noted, pulling on a pair of gloves and picking up the victim's hand. "No tan line, either. He may not have any family. Gordon Simon didn't either. do we know anything about this guy?"

"Nope. Just Stephen Ford, 231 Holland Street. And he has a hell of a lot of credit cards."

She looked up at him confusedly for a moment, then grinned. "By the way, Marly said to tell you hi."

He smiled then, joining her as she headed back to the SUV. "I missed seeing her off this morning...did she like the oatmeal?"

"As soon as she found out you made it," she lied. "Tell her anything about her daddy and she's into it, a hundred percent." She climbed into the back seat of the SUV while Goren climbed into the front, joining Eames behind the wheel. A minute later they were off toward Queens.

Stephen Ford's apartment was quiet and neat. Vanessa almost wanted to call it sterile. She wandered through it, taking note of the few books on the shelves, the lack of knick knacks or photos, the empty feel of it all. She opened the refrigerator and was hit immediately with the stench of rotten food. "Hey," she called, "take a look at this."

Eames met her first, and took a step back immediately. "That's pretty ripe," she said. Goren was right behind her, and didn't hesitate to reach inside and grab the carton of milk. "It expired almost a month ago," he noted. "And that's gray."

"Actually, I'd call that green," Eames told him, nose crumpled.

Vanessa stepped back from the refrigerator and took in the whole room. "Ever get the feeling," she said slowly, "that you're not where you think you are?"

"It's a front," Goren said. "Not his real place."

"I doubt it...there's nothing here that's identifiable." She turned to him slowly. "I think we need to run the name and the fingerprints...don't you?"

Eames smiled wryly. "And the hunt begins."

By the afternoon, they had confirmed that Stephen Ford wasn't really Stephen Ford and that he had died of blunt force trauma.

Rodgers didn't mince words. "They took him down with a blow to the knee, and then beat the holy hell out of the back of his head. His brain is literally compressed inside what's left of his skull."

Eames was making that face again, the one that she made when she smelled the rotten food, and Vanessa found herself thinking that if she didn't quit, it would freeze that way before they ever found this perp. "Anything else significant?" she asked, while Goren commenced at poking the victim's knee.

"Just this." Rodgers picked up the file with the vic's information. "I ran a tox screen, and it came back clean, but there was cocaine residue under his fingernails. And a lot of it. I could have gotten high sniffing his fingers."

Goren's eyes shot up. "Now that's an image I won't soon forget."

Rodgers smacked at his hand. "Stop poking the vic." She turned to Eames and Rayden. "Anything else you need?"

"We're trying to identify him," Eames told her. "Anything you have that can help, let us know."

Rodgers nodded. "I'll put together a profile of identifying characteristics." She looked at Vanessa. "Does he do this at home?"

"You don't want to know," she replied. "Thanks."

They headed to the elevator. Once on, Eames hit the button for the eleventh floor, and Goren poked Rayden on the shoulder. "I don't poke and prod things at home."

She glanced at him, then turned back to the elevator doors. "No, you just save that for my shoulder in the elevator."

He got off work before she did, and made his way through the rush hour streets to the small preschool Marly attended.

Vanessa had spent six months narrowing down preschools. He swore she had interviewed everyone in the five boroughs. Initially she had wanted someone to stay at home with Marly, but after interviewing so many different people, she couldn't find anyone she was comfortable with. The only person that he had thought was acceptable was a young, attractive girl attending NYU. When he had expressed his opinion, Vanessa had stared at him for a long time before saying, "You can tell a man's been married a long time when he can't even tell that a young girl is flirting with him." So that had been the end of that.

He had to admit he liked the preschool. It was cozy and comfortable, with small classes and a focus on the children getting along, rather than early academics. From everything he had read, he knew Marlene was precocious for her age. He wanted her to be able to have lots of opportunities to play with other kids, especially being an only child. And she loved her teacher, Sarah. "Sawah wuvs me," she had told them many times, and it made his heart happy to hear it. Marlene couldn't conceive of knowing anyone who wouldn't love her, and that was exactly what he wanted for his baby.

Vanessa had only been back to work for four months, and some days he wondered if she was still torn about the decision to return. Ideally, in his mind, she would have been done with it. She would stay home with Marly, and they would have had another child. They had actually tried to conceive for several months before she finally told him one night she was done. That she was frustrated and depressed at her lack of ability to conceive. That she missed profiling and being around adults. Deakins had been thrilled to have her back, and they had worked out a flexible schedule where she could work in the office three days a week and from home the other two. More than anything, Bobby wanted his wife to be happy, and she seemed, most days, to be satisfied with the arrangement. She had gone back to work, but neither of them had mentioned birth control again, and he still held out hope that at some point, somehow, they could have another child.

He opened the door to Marly's classroom and watched his little girl for a minute. She was sitting at a table with a puzzle, moving pieces around in the tray, her lips pursed and her face frozen in a serious expression. Suddenly another child said, "Hey Mawly, your daddy's here." Her head shot up, immediately looking at the door, and the concentration on her face was broken. She burst into a smile and ran to him.

"Daddy! I misted you!"

He scooped her up into a bear hug. "I missed you too! Are you ready to go?"

"Yeah...where's Mama?"

Bobby picked up Marlene's coat. "She's going to see us at home. I came to get you early today. How's that?"

"Good! Good good!" She wrapped her tiny arms around his neck and kissed his cheek.

Once outside, Marly tried to climb down from his arms, and he placed her on the sidewalk, taking her by the hand for the short walk home. She was growing more independent every day, and he loved seeing that in her, as much as he missed the tiny baby he used to snuggle.

He opened the front door to the apartment and she tore in, yelling, "Ma-MA!"

Vanessa appeared from the kitchen, laughing at her. "I'm right here, don't have to worry! Did you have a good day?"

"Uh-huh! I hungwy."

Vanessa rolled her eyes at Bobby, who as grinning at her. "Yeah, Mama, I'm hungry too...whatcha doing about that?"

"Pizza in the and Daddy go wash your hands, okay?"

"Tay...Come on, Daddy!" And she led him to the bathroom, telling him how he needed to sing the ABC song while he scrubbed to make sure all the germs had gone away.

She sighed softly against him, still clutching at his hips. His face was buried in her shoulder.

She supposed, sometimes, that she should try to make their sex life a bit more unpredictable, more exciting, but he seemed to enjoy the pattern of their Fridays. As Marly had gotten older, the pleasant Saturday mornings in bed together had disappeared, but they still had Friday nights. The beer was long gone, disappearing from their routine with the pregnancy, but the pizza and sex remained the same. Spinach pizza every Friday, followed by a toddler's bedtime routine, and finishing with an hour of slow, sexy lovemaking. She loved every minute of it.

She had worn the bra and panty set he had bought her a few months before, and watched with great pleasure as his lips twitched, belying his calm demeanor. He hadn't expected that. So score one for her, and her ability to keep things exciting.

Sometimes she thought about how much her body had changed since she met him, how self-conscious she had been early in their relationship of the scars on her abdomen left from the assault. The thought nearly made her laugh now. Her stomach wasn't nearly as flat as it had been before her pregnancy, and it was speckled with light stretch marks. Her breasts were larger and so were her hips, and her weight seemed to hold an extra ten pounds. Sometimes she looked at Eames, or Ava, with jealousy. They both were so tiny and never seemed to struggle with maintaing their figures.

Bobby had never complained though. For every complaint she made of being untoned, he told her she was soft; for complaints of larger boobs and hips she was more feminine. According to him, she was more beautiful and just as amazingly sexy as she had ever been. And she believed him. His enthusiasm for her had never dampened.

It wasn't only her--his body had changed too--he carried more weight as well than he had when they first met. His hair was growing more gray, a sophisticated salt and pepper that she almost found sexier than ever before. His chest was softer and his love handles were easier to clutch, but she loved every inch of him. He was absolutely perfect to her.

He kissed her forehead and rolled to the side, catching his breath. "This never gets old," he murmured. "I love you and I love Fridays."

She heard herself laugh out loud. "Me too...making love with you is anything but boring."

He buried his nose in her hair. "You feel good." He wrapped his arms around her. "Smell good too."

She nuzzled him. "You smell too many things...poke too many things too..."

His fingers slid over her belly before gently poking her in the side. "What are you saying? Like this?" She smacked his fingers away, both of them laughing. "I can't help it," he finally said, "I'm...driven."

"You're weird!" He was still grinning, and she caught his head and pulled it closer until she could kiss him, hard, feeling his lips opening to hers. She ran her tongue over his lips, his teeth, his tongue. After a minute, he pulled back from her, and she said, "Now we're even...I got to taste you."

His eyes took on that heavy-lidded look again, the one he got when he was fantasizing, and she knew instinctively what he was thinking about. "You kill me," she teased him. "Forty-five years old and you want as much as you did when you were twenty."

"You didn't know me when I was twenty," he objected.

"I'm making an educated guess."

"Well," he argued, "it didn't get good until I was forty, anyway." Rolling onto his back and crossing his arms defensively, he corrected himself. "Well, at least not really good."

She reached over and stroked his hair. "I think it's flattering you want me so much. Honest."

After staring ahead for a minute he looked at her, turning onto his side to face her. "Really? You're not...annoyed..."

She snorted. "Annoying is the hard on poking me in the ass on Wednesday mornings. You looking at me like I'm the most beautiful thing you've ever seen isn't's sweet. And the fact that you still look at me like that..." she shook her head. "I don't know why or how you can still feel that way, but I love you for it."

He leaned over and kissed her again, then cupped her breast in his hand, stroking her nipple with his thumb. "You only don't understand because you're you. If you were me, it would be clear as day." He sucked on her earlobe for a minute, then sighed, glancing down at himself, and said, "I wish the rest of me could keep up with my mind."

She laughed quietly at that. "Baby, nobody can keep up with that mind." She pulled his head against her belly, and he rested there quietly, still stroking her breast. "I love Friday nights too," she murmured happily. "The best."

Frances was sitting in the day room reading when they arrived. "Gwammy!" Marlene screeched, running across the room. Frances grinned, put her book down, the clapped her hands together and held out her arms.

"There's my girl!" she exclaimed as Marly jumped into her arms. "I missed you! Have you been busy with your mommy and daddy?"

"More like keeping us busy," Bobby commented, then leaned to kiss his mother. "How are you, Ma?"

"Good...good today." She kissed Marlene's head. "Guess what, baby? I have something for you!" She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small plastic figurine that looked to have come from a Happy Meal. "Huh? What do you think?"

"I wuv it, Gwammy!" She turned to look at Vanessa. "Wook, Mama! Issa girl!"

Vanessa smiled. "I see!" She stepped forward to hug her mother in law. "You look great, Frances."

"And you too, sweetheart. Bobby being good to you?"

She smiled, sensing Bobby's sudden awkwardness. "Of course. He wouldn't be anything but."

Marly climbed out of her grandmother's lap and began to play on the floor with the doll, as Vanessa and Bobby took a seat at the table next to Frances.

The visit went smoothly, as most visits did these days. Frances' medication had leveled her out most days, and it was very rare that she began agitated. Still, Bobby insisted on calling ahead before every visit to ensure a safe environment for Marly, and to date she had never been exposed to her grandmother's paranoid or delusional episodes. Vanessa had long given up the facade of being Bobby's security. Frances didn't even remember her episodes after they happened, so they never discussed them. The delusions wore most heavily on Bobby when they occurred, but the new medications had been a godsend. They spent the afternoon in pleasant conversation, enjoying a glasses of tea and bottles of water from the cafeteria. Around four, Vanessa hit the cafeteria for treats, and came back with cookies, a soft pretzel, a piece of pie, and a fruit bowl. Distributing the food, she settled back with the fruit bowl and watched Frances and Marly assembling a puzzle with Bobby's help.

It warmed her heart to see how Marlene has brought Bobby and Frances closer together. Marly wasn't shy about asking her father and grandmother to work together to help her. Sometimes Vanessa wondered if Marlene sensed the tension between the two and went about easing it in her own way. Although Frances still would ask if Bobby had heard from his brother, the conversations were shorter and less anxiety-producing for everyone. Often, when they worked together on a puzzle or another activity, Bobby and Frances would make eye contact over Marly's little head and smile at one another. Vanessa never said so, but she felt it was good for Bobby's soul. It was as if it were Frances' way of saying, 'See? I remember you, like this. I do.'

At five, the nurse came into the day room to remind Frances it was almost time for dinner, and Vanessa began to gather Marly's things. "Daddy," Marlene began, "I wanna eat wif my gwammy today."

Bobby shot a quick glance at Vanessa, then at Frances. "Baby," he said, kneeling to her level, "we have a long drive back to Manhattan...and Grammy has to get settled for the evening too."

Marlene nodded slowly, but he could see the tears beginning to shine in her eyes. He picked her up so he wouldn't have to look at her face. It was nearly impossible to deny her anything. He leaned to kiss his mother goodbye. "See you next week, you."

"Yeah, we love everyone...I love you too, Miss Marly...I'll have a picnic for you next week."

Marly's head shot up off of Bobby's shoulder. "You will? We tan eat togevuh?"

Frances nodded enthusiastically. "Of course, baby. Now give Grammy a kiss and don't cry anymore for your mama and daddy." Marly climbed down from Bobby's arms and gave Frances a kiss and a hug before taking Vanessa's hand to leave.

Vanessa drove the two hours back to the city, Marly napping in the back and Bobby quietly watching out the window. She had learned long ago that visits were often introspective times for him. Ever since their first visit to see his mother together, they had established a pattern of needing space, distraction. This ride was no different. His face was turned away from her, watching the countryside.

At last he said, "I don't know how she's going to do this picnic thing. I don't know why she says that stuff. Does she really think that Marly won't remember?" He turned his head, still resting it against the headrest, and looked at her. "She's going to end up lying to her."

Vanessa knew what he was getting at. It didn't take a genius to know that Bobby pretty much felt his entire childhood had been one big lie, and it was critically important to him that he not have that same dynamic with their child. "I think she has something in mind, Bobby...she gave Marly that little toy today. She's trying."

He sighed heavily. "She doesn't run the kitchen,'s not like she can have them just pack up some picnic for her. And who knows if she'll even remember? I just don't want Marlene to be disappointed."

She hesitated before answering him, afraid of sounding less supportive of him or too forgiving of his mother. "I think," she finally said, "that at some little doses...Marly is going to figure out that her Grammy is...well, quirky...."

He snorted. "Quirky? So that's what you would call it?"

She could hear the anger in his voice and she understood. She understood the base premise: 'you can gather it together for your grandchild but you couldn't for me.' But she didn't know if he could acknowledge it yet, nor admit that he had such strong, irrational feelings involving his family. "I think that if they both remember your mother will do something...maybe a pretend picnic..."

"Well, she's good at pretending..."

"It'll work out, Bobby. Really, I think it will." She reached for his hand, and he didn't pull away, but he didn't hold hers either. He turned back toward the window, watching as the city skyline came into view. He wouldn't speak again until they got home.


"Ma...Mama..." His whimpering woke her, and the sound of sadness in his voice rolled slowly over her like a sense of deep loss.

It wasn't the first time. In four years of marriage, there had been many nights when either one of them had disrupted sleep with nightmares. Some of it came from the job, much of it came from their pasts. But they always handled it as she did now--slow, soft touches to his cheek and gentle murmurs of reassurance. He rarely cried for his mother, despite how heavy she lay on his heart, like a lead spike he didn't have the courage to try to remove. But tonight, she had heard him. She had heard the little boy that was lost somewhere in his psyche, crying out for the mother he always needed but never had.

She ran a hand gently over his cheek, feeling the stubble he had neglected to remove before bed. His face was damp and she realized he had been crying. Crying in his sleep, for her. It hurt her heart. He shifted in the bed, turning his face into her hand. "Ma...Mama, please..."

"Bobby." She wiped the new tears away. "It's okay, honey. Wake up..."

His body twisted again, as if in pain, and the cry was louder and clearer, "Ma..."

His eyes flew open suddenly, and as if shocked by electricity, he yanked away from her hand. His body jerked up into a sitting position and he gasped involuntarily. Holding his own face, he slowly turned back to her.

"I was...was I..."

She sat up next to him. "It's were dreaming..."

He looked at her slowly, painfully, knowing she knew more but not being able to bring himself to ask. She tried to erase anything but concern from her face. "Are you okay?"

He nodded. "Yeah...I'm sorry I woke you...I'm sorry I've been..." He shook his head.

"Hush." She lay down again and held a hand out to him. "Come here."

"I'm fine...I--"

She waved her hand at him. "Here, Bobby...pretend for a minute I'm your wife..."

He stared at her for a moment, knowing she could see the vulnerability but praying the darkness covered it up. Slowly, he moved down into her arms, pressing his face into her breasts, and she wrapped her arms around him. "I'm sorry, Ness...really, I am..."

She could feel the tears wetting her chest but didn't say anything but "shush". Her hand stroked the back of his head, and after a long while, when the darkness began to ease in the room, she heard his breathing become steady again. He was sleeping. And then she allowed herself to drop off.

"So we have three dead vics and no leads." Deakins was pacing behind his desk, seemingly agitated.

"That about sums it up," she responded, knowing she sounded snarky but not able to keep it out of her voice.

His eyes darted to her sharply, but before she could respond, Eames was speaking. "Goren and I have tracked down all the leads we have. There's no witnesses. The dummy apartment is set up in Stephen Ford's name. We're still trying to track down his real place. And there's not a bit of coke in his place. CSU has been all over it. Goren's out there right now trying to run down any other prints in the place."

"So we've got a dummy apartment, a vic with a fake name and coke under his fingernails, two other vics with real names but no cocaine, all dead of blunt force trauma in the last week. Are we sure these are related?"

Eames and Rayden looked at each other. Vanessa gave a certain nod. "The MO's are too similar. This guy doesn't just bash a head in...he takes it to a whole new level. These vics have no back skull left. Besides, he always hits on the left knee to bring them down. It's a very...distinctive...MO."

"And our two other vics?" Deakins asked. "Are we sure of their names?"

"Yes. They both had families and work histories, social security numbers, credit, the whole thing..." She shook her head. "I don't know, captain. Somehow they're all related...we just have to figure out how."

He motioned to the door. "Well, don't waste your time in here...get out there with Goren and figure it out. Keep me posted."

Vanessa moved to the door first and Alex followed. "Well, that was fun," Eames muttered under her breath as they made their way toward Goren. He was on the phone, jotting notes down furiously on his legal pad.

"Yes...thank you." He hung up the phone and looked up. "We have something...the first victim, Evan O'Donnell...his fingerprints were found in Stephen Ford's apartment. He grabbed his jacket. "We need to get over to the O'Donnell's. With pictures of Ford and Simon."

Eames nodded and headed after him, then paused. "You coming?" she asked Vanessa.

Slowly, she said, "No...I'm going to do some work here..."

"Okay...we'll catch up this afternoon." She hurriedly chased after Bobby.

Vanessa headed back to her office and pulled out her notepad, jotting down the information she knew...three vics, two without families...the first a young father...

Turning on her computer, she began a search of Evan O'Donnell again, this time determined to learn more about the young man that had originally been thought to be a random victim of a mugging.

They returned in the late afternoon, a bit after four. She met them at their desks as soon as she saw they had rounded the corner.

"Guess what?" Eames asked, her tone already giving away the fact they had found pertinent, and probably obvious, information. "All three men knew each other. Poker games. Evan O'Donell's widow recognized both men, but only knew them as Gordon Simon and Stephen Ford. She said they got together regularly, along with some other guys, to play."

"This is to big to be a bet collection," Bobby said. "There's something else going on...drug related, in all likelihood, given the coke under Ford's fingernails. We need to figure out how these men met."

"Well," Vanessa smiled, handing him a file folder, "lucky for you I stayed here and ran some searches. I can tell you where they met. All three had charges to the credit cards at the Big Sky casino, upstate."

"The Indian casino?"

"Yes. It's not conclusive that they met there, but it's a damn good place to start." She grinned at her husband. "I know you were looking forward to an exciting day tomorrow...I'm only sad I can't accompany you." She swung her bag over her shoulder. "I have to go...somebody's waiting for me at preschool."

"Right," he said, half-aware of her, reading over the reports. He looked up suddenly, saying, "I guess I'll see you in a bit."

She smiled. "Guess so. Night, Alex."

Vanessa grabbed her plate of pasta and took a seat next to Marly. "Pasta is my favorite," she commented, watching Marly scooping up her noodles with a spoon.

"Me too, Mama...and Daddy too!" She took a huge bite of her elbow macaroni. Most of the sauce seemed to end up on her face, and Vanessa bit back a laugh as she wiped her daughter's mouth. "Where my daddy?"

"He's at work, remember?"

"Mama? What work? Why he go dere?" She took another spoonful of pasta.

"Remember, Daddy is a police officer? A detective? He helps keep people safe." She began to dig into her salad.

"I member." Marly stuck her finger into her salad and licked off the dressing. "I miss my daddy."

Vanessa smiled. "You're a daddy's girl, Marly. You love your daddy."

"Yep." She licked her finger again. "I wuv my daddy, and my mommy, and my Bwuce-y, and my Gwammy, and--" Her little eyes turned into round o's as she heard the front door open and close. "Iss my daddy!"

A minute later, she heard him. "It's your daddy!" he said, leaning to kiss her saucy face. "Mmm, spaghetti...Mommy was busy tonight!"

He joined them at the table quickly and soon were laughing as much as they were eating. After dinner, Vanessa began to clean the kitchen while Bobby went to draw the water for Marly's bath.

"Come on, Meg," he called her. "The water is ready and you're dirty!"

"Otay," she told him, bringing one of her baby dolls with her. "My dolly wants a baf, too."

He raised an eyebrow at her. "Are you sure? Is that okay with Mommy?"

"Mama likes us cwean."

He helped her undress and climb into the tub. "I hope you're right about that baby." He soaped up the washcloth and handed it to her, watching her splash it in the tub before rubbing it on the doll. "You're very thorough washing her...I wish you were that thorough washing yourself," he commented.

"Whas forough mean?" She rubbed the cloth on her face carefully.

He smiled. "It means you wash her very, very well."

She frowned. "I wash me too, Daddy, see?" She rubbed the cloth on her belly. "I wanna wash my hair now."

"Okay." He helped to wet her hair and began to shampoo the fine curls on her head carefully.

"I do it now, Daddy," she said, and he moved his hands away, trying not to laugh as she rubbed her head fiercely.

"Be careful...don't hurt yourself."

"I always tareful...jus like you and Mama," she said proudly.

This time he did laugh, and began to rinse her hair. "Oh really? How'd you know we're so careful?"

"Betause you say so," she replied logically. "Hey Daddy...tan I be a tective?"

"You want to be a detective? Why?"

"Like you," she replied. "I wanna be like you."

He was five, playing in the garage with his father's tools. He had picked up the hammer and was trying to hammer the workbench. On his third swing, he had hit his thumb--not hard enough to break it, but hard enough to bruise the nail. He was crying when his dad found him a minute later. "What the hell?" his father had yelled, yanking his hammer away and throwing it across the room. "Don't touch that again, Bobby. Damn it!" He had pulled Bobby into the house by the hand, a preface to the argument he was soon engaging in with Frances. Watch your damn kid, he had said. He'll kill himself if you don't...not an ounce of sense in his head.

"Daddy? Tan I get out now? I all cwean."

"Yeah...yeah, sweetie." He picked up the towel nearby and wrapped Marly in it, then drained the tub. He helped her pull on her nightgown and slip into a pull up.

"Fanks, Daddy," Marly told him as he combed her hair gently. "You my bestest dad."

"And you're my bestest girl. The best in the whole world."

She giggled, then turned into him and snuggled in his lap. "I wuv you, Daddy."

He kissed her head. "I love you too."

She woke suddenly. She had been dreaming about it again, about this new perp they were tracking; Bobby and Alex had gone upstate and encountered him. Thank God she woke before the dream turned violent. Those were the worst, causing her everything from anxiety to vomiting spells. She realized she was alone in the bedroom and breathed a sigh of relief. As much as he didn't want her to see him upset about his mother, she felt just as strongly about him seeing her waking from a nightmare. It never did either of them any good.

After several minutes, she decided to go get him. Instinctively, she knew where he would be. He always went to Marlene's room and sat in the rocking chair, watching her sleep. She padded down the hallway and peeked into her daughter's room. Marlene was asleep in her toddler bed, but the room was otherwise empty.

She was genuinely surprised, and headed toward the living room and kitchen, where she found him at the kitchen table nursing a beer.

"Hey," she said quietly, "kind of late to be drinking, isn't it?"

He looked up at her slowly, almost guiltily. "Probably. Did I wake you?"

"No." She caught his hand in hers, and this time he squeezed it back. "I'm worried about you, haven't been yourself lately."

"I know," he admitted. "I don't know why." He was turning the beer bottle around and around, slowly, watching the rings of moisture on the table. "I guess I always thought that being a good father would make the past right...and..." He took another breath. "And it hasn't." His eyes bore into hers, looking for connection. "Has it...for you?"

"No." She stroked his hand with her thumb. "But that's not why we became parents, was it?"

"Of course not." He pulled his hand away.

"Bobby...don't...don't pull away from me like that..."

He couldn't bring himself to look at her. "You think I'm trying to exercise demons through Marly, don't you?"

"No!" She said it a little more forcefully than she meant to and immediately regretted it; she saw him retreat even further into himself. "Bobby." She evened her voice. "No, I don't think you're using Marlene. I've never thought that. But I think you're human...just like me...and sometimes shit comes up. For whatever reason, it's your turn. It's your shit. And I can't help if you won't let me in." She stopped talking for a minute, unsure if he was even listening to her. The room was dark and she could only see the shadow of his body next to hers, could barely make out the sad, angry expression on his face. "I want to help and I won't give up. I won't give up on you, Robert Goren. You've never given up on me and I won't give up on you. Just...just...please, try to let me in."

He didn't move, continued to sit still and stiff. The bottle had ceased to move and he was so quiet she would have doubted he was breathing had she not known any better. She couldn't force him. God, if anyone knew that as well as he did, it was her.

She stood up and pushed the chair back into the table, then turned to go to the bedroom. She kicked her slippers off and sat on the edge of the mattress, thinking about how much pain he was in, how scared he had to be, wondering if he knew how much she loved and adored him. She lay down, covering her body with the comforter and closing her eyes. There was nothing she could do to make him talk. She'd have to trust that he would open when he was ready.

She felt the bed sink next to her, felt the hesitation in his movement before he turned and lay next to her. There was silence before he said softly, "I was never good enough...for anyone."

She moved closer to him, resting her head on his chest, and he pulled her against his body with one arm and tangled the other hand in her hair. "None of that was about know that," she whispered to him. "And you're more than good enough for us. We love you and need you."

He was silent again. She could feel the shudder in his chest, hear it in his breathing. After several minutes, he whispered, "I know."

She knew he didn't, because she didn't either. But she hoped that he was trying to believe it, like she did, every day. He deserved that. They all did. She kept her face pressed against his chest and rested her hand on top of the hair there. As she drifted off, she could see him, small and young and helpless, and she wished to God he hadn't been.


Marlene led the way up the sidewalk to Ava's, running with toddler speed, as Vanessa and Bobby followed. By the time they reached the door, Marly was tearing into the house and David was holding open the door and laughing. "Come on in...I think she's ready for the sleepover!"

"You think?" Vanessa teased, stepping inside. Bobby followed her, carrying Marlene's bag, pillow, and blanket.

Ava met them in the front room. "Where's my baby?"

"Right here," Bobby teased, holding his arms open. Ava smacked him in the arm and David snorted.

"I here!" Marlene called, appearing from around the corner. "I wooking for you, Antie Ava!"

"Well, I'm right here, sweet baby," Ava cooed, holding her arms out as Marly jumped into her arms. "We're going to have lots of fun tonight. Uncle David and Justin are going to pick up some pizza and we're going to watch princess movies!"

Vanessa turned to David. "You're watching princess movies?"

"No," David clarified. "Justin and I are going to watch football. Marly and Ava are watching princess movies...and trust me, she's got a ton of them..."

"Not that many," Ava scoffed. "Anyway, my baby needs lots of choices, right?"

Marly grinned and nodded. "Wight!"

"Well," Bobby checked his watch, "we need to get going...the play starts in an hour..."

"Well then," Ava said, still mooning over Marlene, "get out."

"Give me a kiss, sweetie...." Vanessa leaned over and got a kiss from her daughter, then Bobby followed suit, telling her he loved her. "So we'll pick her up tomorrow, around noon..."

"Yeah, we got it. Have fun!"

"Bye Mama...bye, my daddy..." Marly blew them kisses, and they left Ava's house, climbing into the SUV.

The drive was quiet for several minutes, until she glanced over at Bobby to see him smiling. "What?" she asked.

He chuckled. "That whole thing about a play...she believes it...I can only imagine what she would say if she knew we were just going home to have sex."

Vanessa laughed. "Well, as long as she gets time with Marly, she's perfectly happy. She could give a shit less what we're doing."

He pulled into their parking spot and killed the engine. After a second, he turned to look at her, and she felt shivers shoot straight from her eyes to her feet. Even as difficult as life had been lately, no one ever made her feel the way he did. Ever. He smiled at her then, knowing, and pulled the keys out of the ignition before getting out of the car. She caught her breath and followed him.

He opened the front door and held it for her, then closed and locked it. She turned to him and smiled. "You know, we forgot the pizza. It's Friday and we always get pizza...I think we're going to regret that..."

His smile was sly, and he backed her against the wall, one hand on either side of her shoulders. "I'm not hungry for anything but you," he murmured, still wearing that sexy smile, and leaning in closer, finally brushing his lips against hers so softly they barely touched. His eyes were open, staring into hers until she finally closed her own. She felt his fingers gently cup her chin before lifting it. "Hey," he murmured again, "open your eyes and look at me, Beth."

She did and although he was smiling and his eyes were still staring into hers, there was something else there now that hadn't been there a minute ago. Something more painful, more vulnerable. His fingers gently caressed her chin before moving to her cheek. "I love you. More than life itself..." One finger trailed down her cheek, to her chin, then to her neck. "I..." He stopped speaking, and she could sense his pain, his guilt and shame over his behavior in the last several weeks.

He had taken a step back from her, but she caught his hand in hers, and slowly led him back to the bedroom. Once there, she toed off her shoes then gently pushed him onto the bed. He was watching her, hesitancy written all over him, until she bent down and slowly removed his shoes and socks. Then she saw his surprise. She smiled. "For five years you've been taking care of me. Now I'm going to take care of you."

He shook his head. "No...we've taken care of each other..."

"And tonight it's your turn. Your turn to be loved. Your turn to know how precious you are. Your turn, Bobby."

His face took on a vulnerable, almost sad expression, and she stood up before straddling his lap. He was already growing stiff, and she wondered if he was feeling guilty about that as well. Her hand stroked his cheek gently. "Do you know," she began, feeling his hand move to rest on her hips, "that everything good started when I met you?"

"That's not had already been profiling..."

"I mean personally." She rested her other arm over his shoulder, then ran her fingers from his cheek into his hair. "Remember that night I showed up at your house because I needed my dog? I didn't realize it then, but what I really needed was you."

His eyes closed, mouth closed, and she saw him swallow hard. " need me too...and there's nothing wrong with needing me." She was stroking his hair softly and could feel his hands restlessly hooking into her jeans. She knew he wanted her to stop speaking so he could forget. But she was determined...determined not to forget so quickly. "I love you. Let me love you, care for's okay to be angry with them..."

"Please." His voice was hoarse. "I can' don't want..."

She caught his face in both hands. "I can handle whatever you throw at me, Bobby..."

"Nobody ever wanted me before you. Not like that," he corrected himself, meaning sexually. "But in any meaningful way. Nobody ever wanted me. She loves Marlene. She loves Frank. She even loves you...she's never loved me." His eyes opened slowly, meeting hers with a desperate vulnerability she had never seen before. "It's the only thing I've ever wanted and I'll never have it, will I?"

He was there, a tiny little boy lost in those eyes. And she saw him, mixed into the pain and the anger and the desperate fear. And she couldn't bring herself to lie to him. "Probably not," she admitted, wishing there was a way to soften the blow.

"I can't fuck this away, can I?" His voice was soft, his fingers stroking her hips. "I want to...I just want to shut out thinking. I want to be buried in you and shut everything else out, Vanessa. I don't want it to matter. It didn't use to matter so much. Why does it matter now?"

She held him close. "I don't know. I don't know why it matters right now instead of last year or next year or never. But it does, and you need to deal with it. It's hurting you, Bobby." She breathed him in, deep and soft. "And I don't want it to hurt you...I love you too much."

His hands moved up from her hips to her back, holding her closely, fighting back the tears that seemed to be growing increasingly common. "Promise me," he whispered in a voice she hardly ever heard, "promise that you won't give up on me."

"I won't. I would never give up on you, Robert Owen. Never." She had pulled back from him and was holding his face in her hands. "I can't fix what your mother and your father did, but I can tell you, absolutely, that your wife loves you. More than I did when we married. More than when we conceived our daughter. Even more than the day she was born. The best days of my life have been with you, You have made my life worth living."

His eyes closed again, and this time she was the one who stroked away the tears, kissed the angular jaw, felt the shudders of his body beneath her fingers. "I'm sorry..."

"No," she said firmly. "No more sorries. I'm drawing you a bath. I'm taking care of you tonight." And before he could say any more, she had stood and entered the bathroom.

He was lying in the tub, surrounded by bubbles, with a glass of champagne.

When she had poured in the bubbles, he had protested. "This is a little...uh, girly, I think," he told her, frowning as the water began to froth around his body.

She had smiled. "I promise I won't tell anyone about it." She left the room for a minute and he debated about letting the water out and starting over, but then she had reappeared with two glasses of champagne, handing him one. "We have a whole bottle," she told him. "Take your time."

So he had. He was still sipping his first glass when she returned with the bottle. She stood it next to the sink, glancing in the mirror at herself, before pulling her hair up into a quick ponytail. Turning toward him, she smiled, then began to take off her own clothes.

He watched her, and after removing her blouse, she had slowed down for him. They both knew he was watching, and suddenly he didn't care if it was so obvious. She stepped out of her jeans slowly, sliding them down her body before standing up and looking him in the eye. He was tempted to look away, but somehow found the courage not to, to maintain his gaze. She smiled slightly at him before reaching behind her and unhooking her bra. He watched it fall to the floor, the panties following shortly after.

She stood next to the sunken tub, glass of champagne in her hand. After seeming to debate her placement for a moment, she stepped into the opposite side of the tub. Confidently, she directed him. "Come here...lean against me." He looked at her, surprised, but sat his glass down and maneuvered his large body around to rest between her legs.

He slid down in the tub until his head was resting against her breasts. She raised her knees to either side of him, then handed him the glass of champagne. He sipped slowly, stroking her thighs one at a time, soft and random. He turned his head to kiss her breast. "I love you," he murmured. "I've always loved you."

She poured some shampoo into her hand and began to wash his hair gently, massaging the scalp and ears and neck as he sipped his champagne. "Watch out," she warned him, "I'm going to rinse you now."

He sat back, feeling the warm water cascading over his hair, down his back. He rested his head back, enjoying the feel of her body against his. He could feel the warmth of her against his lower back, and it aroused him even more to know she wanted him too. He finished his champagne, then slid his hands back over her wet thighs. Turning his head up toward her, he relaxed as she kissed him softly, tongue stroking his. Her hands gently ran over his chest, then skimmed the tip of his erection. As quickly as she had stroked him, she stopped, taking her time to meander her way back up his chest. "More champagne?" she asked him.

"No," he said softly, "More you."

He watched her champagne flute disappear for a moment as she drained it, then she placed it on the floor next to the tub. "Sit up," she commanded, and as he did, she slipped out from behind him, picking up both glasses before stepping out of the tub. She wrapped a towel around her body before grabbing a towel for him. Smiling and holding it out, she waited until he lifted the drain and stepped out of the tub. She toweled him off gently before wrapping it around his waist, low. His stare was deep and intense when he removed it almost immediately. "We don't need this," he said, tossing it to the floor, "or this one either--" and her towel joined his on the floor.

She took a step toward him and kissed him deeply, wrapping her arms around his neck and pressing her naked body against his, feeling his erection pressing between the two of them. It seemed like forever since they had had the chance to go slow, take their time, enjoy each other like this. She finally stepped away from him and took his hand, leading him to the bed.

"You got a freebie with the towel," she teased him, "now let me do my job. Let me take care of you."

"You have," he said, but let her guide him to the bed and direct him to lie down. She straddled his body, resting her knees at his hips, then leaned down to kiss him again. He felt his breath leaving his body as her hands ran over his chest, gently teasing his nipples, lips slipping over his jaw to his neck, sucking erotically, marking him on his neck and his shoulder. "God," he moaned softly. "I love you...I love you." She moved lower on him, kissing his chest, stroking his abdomen, feeling the coarse hair swirling down from his navel. She heard a sharp intake of breath as her fingers slid over his testicles, then up his erection. "Beth..."

"I love you, Bobby...I want you to feel so're so precious to me..." He knew what she was going to do but still gasped sharply when she did it, when the tip of his cock slipped gently into her wet, tight mouth. He swore if it were possible that his eyes rolled to the back of his head. Out of habit, he started to push her back, away from him, but stopped himself. She felt so good, so incredibly good, and he loved her. And he loved this. Five years of denying it. He didn't want to anymore.

Her mouth was moving up and down on him, quick and tight and passionate. She was sucking him tight and deep, more than she ever had, and he didn't know if it was out of sympathy or passion or need. The guilt was sneaking back in on him, starting to whisper in his brain, and his hand snaked into her hair, stroking softly, before whispering, "Honey...enough...not too much."

He heard a soft pop! as she let him go from her mouth in time to answer, "I'm not done yet...why don't you relax and enjoy it?" Then her mouth was on him again, back and forth, tongue circling his tip and then running down the back of his shaft and he was sucking in his breath sharply, sharper than he had in a long time and it felt so, so, so good. His hands were gripping the sheets, his usual position, until he realized she was prying his left hand free. His dominant hand. Once she had freed the sheet from his grip, she placed his free hand on her head. The motion itself was so sexy, so intense, he shuddered from the mere thought of it, before he realized his hand was in her hair. She wanted him to guide her. She trusted him to guide her.

He resisted the urge to control her, to do more than stroke her hair for several more moments until he felt her mouth move off of him again. "Bobby," she said, "I trust you...I'm giving this to you. Please, I want you to enjoy it..." She leaned down and he felt her tongue gently on his testes, and the groan deep in his throat bubbled to the surface. " don't have, don't want this..."

"I do," she insisted. "I trust you. And I told you, I'm caring for you tonight. For once, Bobby...for once, let me care for you. What you want and what you need...please."

He closed his eyes and, after one last mental argument with himself, succumbed to the pleasure she was giving him, sucking firmly, and his mind wandered to ridiculously wanton places. To making love with her on the living room floor, on the dining room table, in the shower, on the beach. To touching and fondling her and watching her face as she climaxed, as she called him or chanted his name in utter pleasure. To the first time he entered her, so tentatively and gently, the love and need and arousal pounding through his brain into his ears.

He felt his hands tangle in her hair, the same as they always did, the soft tendrils falling haphazardly around his fingers. Two hands, gently moving her back and forth, guiding her just slightly quicker, a little more to the left, oh god oh god oh god like that, feeling her finger slip inside and massage him more intimately than she ever had and--

"God!" It tore from his throat, the intensity a shock to even his own ears. The pleasure ripped through his body, unlike anything he had ever felt, and he realized for the first time that he had never given himself completely to her, not really, not until now.

His body was throbbing, his semen forcing itself from his body, and he held her head still until he came back to himself and realized she wasn't trying to move away. His body was spent, exhausted, and his hands stroked the hair on her head slowly. "I love you," he whispered, eyes closed. "I love you, Vanessa. I'll always love you, Beth."

She pulled herself away from him then, feeling a strange sense of triumph. Five years after first making love with him, she was able to do what she'd always wanted to. She had pushed Forrester out of her brain enough to pleasure her husband. Judging from his reaction, she had pleasured him immensely...exactly how she had wanted to. She slid her body up against his, the sweaty sheen rubbing against her, and kissed his jaw. She knew she should leave, brush her teeth, clean up, but she didn't want to. She didn't want to leave him.

He had turned his face toward her, tilted her chin up to him, then kissed her fully. Unafraid of himself on her. Wanting her to know, to see his love, his gratitude, his trust in her. As his lips parted from hers, their eyes met and held one another for several seconds. "I love you too, Bobby...with my whole heart."

He leaned up and kissed her forehead gently, resting a hand on her hip. "I want you to come," he whispered. "I want you to come."

"This was for you--"

"And this," he breathed softly into her ear, "is for you."

His hand slinked over her hip, settling in between her legs, softly stroking the hair there as he leaned against her, kissing her ear and pulling it softly with his teeth. His fingers slipped inside of her, stroking softly and reaching up with his other hand to pull her closer to him.

He took his time, breathing her in, smelling her arousal, stroking and rubbing and fondling her, listening to her breath quicken and her soft moans. Her hips began to move in rhythm with his fingers and her slipped them around until he found the spot he was searching for...yes, yes, he could read it on her, on the hitch of her breath and the glaze in her eyes and the arch of her back. Slight pressure with rhythm as she clutched him and he whispered in her ear, "I love you, Beth...come, baby...come...I love you...that's right...just like that, honey..."

Her eyes were screwed tightly shut, her breath was ragged and she was grinding against his hand. The moan took over her throat and she clutched his body, needing to feel him, needing to know he wasn't leaving her. As if he could read her mind, he whispered, "I'm not going anywhere,'re so perfect."

She shuddered against him, enjoying the aftershocks of her orgasm. He wrapped both arms around her and kissed her fully, long, needy.

"I should go brush my teeth," she whispered at last, when she had regained her breath.

"No." His fingers played with her hair, his eyes pierced hers. "No...please."

She watched him for a moment, then lay her head on his chest quietly. His hand ran up and down her spine protectively, and she knew then in her soul that no matter what was going on with him, they would be okay.

She was almost asleep when she heard him. "Thank you, Beth...thank you for caring enough to want to take care of me."

She blinked sleepily, then raised her head to look at him. His eyes were sleepy as well, but once again laced with tears. She wiped them with both thumbs, then said, "You're worth it a million times over. I love you."

He caught her hands in his own, then kissed the knuckles one at a time. She lay back against his chest, still holding his hands, as they drifted off.

"It's good to see you again." Lydia handed him a cup of tea before sitting down herself across from him. "I was a bit surprised to hear from you...I know I'm not usually ranked as one of your favorite people."

He snorted, then smiled. "It's not's just...well, psychologists in general." He took a sip of tea. "Ironic, since I married one."

"True...what can I do for you, Bobby?"

He sat the cup of tea down and crossed his leg, resting his ankle on top of his thigh again, shaking his foot. It's as though I never left, he thought. "My mother," he said lightly. "She's more lucid these days...I guess I'm just..." He caught his face in his hand, resting his elbow on his knee. "I'm lying to you."

She took another sip of tea. "Yes."

"It's my parents. Both of them. I don't know why. I don't know why I'm having the dreams and I want them to go away. It takes away from my work and my family. It's causing me to build walls between myself and my wife. It makes me jealous of my daughter. Who the hell gets jealous of a two-year old? How fucked up is that?"

"A person who never had a good childhood. It's a normal phenomenon."

"So I'm not the only one?"

She smiled. "'s very common among parents who had difficult childhoods themselves. What seems to bring the thoughts on?"

"I don't know. Everything. She's so...happy...and I love her more than anything. I want her to be happy. I'm not angry at her or upset in any way...but when I see my mom, that's when I want to just lose it. She's on this new medical regimen, so she's more lucid than she's ever been. She's like mega grandma. Like some grandmother superhero. You know what she told Marlene? That they would have a picnic together next time, because Marly wanted to eat with her. How the hell is she going to coordinate a picnic? She lives in a fucking mental home!" His voice was escalating, but he didn't care. He was angry.

Lydia sipped her tea quietly, listening to him, before finally looking up at him again. "You are really fucking angry with your mother."

"She's...she's..." he shook his head, unable to express himself with the words he wanted to use. Taking a breath, he finally said, "She was never able to give me that kind of care. I just don't understand..."

"You're angry, and you have every right to be. She failed you as a child, and now that you have a child, she is able to be present and involved. That's got to be painful."

"She still asks for my brother. Every visit. Every visit she asks for Frank. Nothing I do is good enough. She asks Vanessa, every visit, if I'm being good to her. Like somehow I go home, don my wife beater tee and smack her around. It's more likely Vanessa would kick my ass than I would kick hers."

"Why do you think your mother asks that?"

He shook his head. "I have no fucking idea. Because she thinks I'm...I'm...I need to be checked up on...that I'm not trustworthy."

"Has she ever visited your house? Been able to leave the facility with you?"

He shook his head. "No."

"Bobby...I want you to think about being a parent for a second...what do parents always want to know about their kids? What do they see as their jobs?"

"To raise her to be a good person...a happy person..."

"So when your mother asks if you're being good to your wife...why do you think she does that?"

He was silent for a minute, swirling his tea in its cup. "You're saying it's her way of making sure I'm a good man...that she did her job...even though she had nothing to do with it."

Lydia smiled sympathetically.

"So if I keep coming back here will I eventually stop feeling so angry? Stop having the dreams?"

"There's no guarantees...but probably."

He lay his cup on the table. "I guess it's worth a shot."

Ava opened her door and looked at him, puzzled. "Why the hell are you here?"

"Somebody had to pick up Marlene...Vanessa's out shopping."

Ava eyed him skeptically. "Sometimes...if I didn't know better...I would think you want to spend time with me, Robert."

He smiled brightly. "Really? I'm that transparent?"

"Shut up." He followed her into the house and watched as she took a seat on the couch. "She's taking a nap in the spare bedroom...she's been down for about a half hour. I wasn't expecting you so soon."

He sat across from her in the recliner. "That's okay. I can wait."

She eyed him carefully. "So how was the play?"

"Fantastic. You should go. It was the best evening we've spent in a long time."

"I bet." She crossed her arms. "I heard you spent the whole evening having sex."

He wasn't surprised by that. "Well, like I said, it was the best evening we've spent in a long time."

"Right. You owe us. Big time. Next weekend you guys get Justin."

He smiled. "Fair enough."

She raised one eyebrow at him. "Vanessa's not out shopping. She's at home. She said you had an appointment. Where'd you go?"

He raised one eyebrow back at her. "Out, Ava. Out. I had an appointment and now I don't. I didn't know how long it would last. I'm sorry if my timing has been difficult for you."

"You came here to talk. You never come here when I'm alone unless you want to talk. About your mom or your dad. Which is it?"

She had his number. It surprised him how much it didn't surprise him. How this had become their own weird little dysfunctional dynamic. "How long did it take you to get over Liz disaapointing you? Or did you ever get over it?"

She sighed. "I'm still angry with her. I wish she..." She curled her body up on the couch, legs crossed, arms crossed.

"I know," he said. "My mother...she can be so gentle, so kind to Marlene. But she still doesn't want me. She wants Frank. No matter what I do. Even after having her beloved's still not enough."

"It never will be." Ava stood, heading toward the kitchen. "You want something to drink?"

"Whatever is fine...just not tea."

She returned a minute later with two vitamin waters. He smiled before saying, "I thought you weren't supposed to drink this stuff anymore."

She rolled her eyes. "I'll have you know I'm at a hundred and three pounds now. I can drink it, just not for a meal. But thanks, Dad."

He snorted, then bit his tongue, opening the cap to the bottle. "So you think she'll never come around?"

Ava took a long drink from her bottle, then looked at him directly. "I know you want me to tell you she will. And I know that your wife would tell you she might, because Vanessa always wants to see the best in people. But I'll tell you the truth...I think if Liz were still alive, she'd come around to see Justin. She might even take me to lunch sometimes. But Vanessa was her baby. She was her soul sister. Vanessa was the one Liz wanted to be with, not me. And Frank is the one your mother wants. Not you, Bobby. And it's not because of anything you've done. It's just who you are. You can't change that." She shrugged her shoulders. "I spent my whole life wishing my mother could love me. I finally realized that she did love me, she just didn't care for my personality. She liked Vanessa because Ness is nicer, gentler, more flexible. She's all the things I'm not. Plus she took Mommy's side between her and Daddy."

"Your father created that dynamic," Bobby stated firmly. "Ryan's an asshole."

"Maybe so...but he still liked me. There's something to be said for your parent actually liking you." She took another drink from her bottle. "I'm sorry that didn't happen for you...two parents who couldn't be bothered to get to know you, much less like you...and a kid who knocked himself out trying to be likeable. That's just sad."

"How do you know all that?" he asked defensively.

"Uh, duh, Bobby...your mom was a librarian and you're the smartest thing to come out of the five boroughs? Your dad was a gambler and you went into high risk places in the army?" She shook her head. "You've spent your whole life trying to reach your mother every way you could. When are you going to stop knocking yourself out to make her happy? She's schizophrenic, for God's sake. She doesn't even remember what makes her happy from day to day...your expectations are impossible for her."

He stared into his drink, knowing Ava was right but cursing her words internally. He almost wished he had never brought it up with her. Almost.

"Stop looking like that," she said, an edge of sympathy in her usually cold voice. "You asked...would you rather I lie to you?"

He huffed. "I'm not looking any particular way. I'll think about what you said, all right?"

"Daddy..." Marlene appeared in the hallway, rubbing her eyes. "I misted you."

He stood up quickly and made his way to her, scooping her in his arms and holding her close. "I missed you too, baby." He kissed her head, then peered over her at Ava on the couch. She was watching them, smiling slightly.

"Tan we go home now? I wanna see my mama."

He pressed his forehead against hers and smiled. "Sure, baby...let's get your stuff and we'll go see Mama."

"Otay." He watched her wander down the hallway to the spare bedroom. Once she was out of earshot, he turned back to Ava.

"I'll have you know...we still have great sex even when she's in the house."

"Right," Ava snorted. "Keep telling yourself that. Her bag's packed up in the you want me to get it for you?"

"No...did Vanessa say we don't?"

"Uh, no. She doesn't have to. I'm married with a kid too, you know."

He grinned at her. "Maybe you and David should work on that--"

"I told you," she quipped, "you're getting Justin next weekend."

"Whatever," he said, then followed Marly into the spare bedroom to collect her things.


"You told your sister what we were doing," he said flatly as they were getting into bed.

"Not exactly," she clarified, climbing in to her side of the bed. "Yeah, I told her we skipped the play...anything else was her inference."

He pulled the covers over himself. "Well, she's awfully good at making inferences...she announced to me that since we were having such great sex last night, we would have Justin next weekend."

Vanessa laughed. "Well, that's only fair, I suppose....anyway, it's not like we can't do it whenever we night, I mean."

"Uh, yes," he said grouchily, turning toward her, "it's exactly like that."

She smiled slyly at him, slipping a hand down to his abdomen. "Wanna bet?"

He sighed, as if he was annoyed. "You're all about the sex, aren't you?"

"A little...I'm horny...and you're so good at it..."

He snorted. "I kind of liked it before your sister knew what we were up to. It was kind of...I don't"

She crawled on top of him, straddling his waist, smiling. "What if I promise not to tell her about this?" Her hand slid down his abdomen into his boxers and she heard him sigh. "But of course, if you don't want to...if you're not up to it or you're not in the mood or it's not your thing..."

"Shut up," he grunted, pulling her head down to his for a deep kiss, running his tongue along hers, tangling and dancing, feeling his own arousal growing in her hand. Pulling his mouth back from hers, he said, "You better promise me you're not going to tell her about this..."

"I promise."

"Because I'm going to fuck your brains out and it's going to feel really, really good..."

"Do you promise?" Her smile was dubious as he slipped her boxers off of her body, then pulled the tank top over her breasts and threw it on the floor.

"Are you wet for me?"

"What?" She sounded surprised. He usually wasn't so bold, so direct when he talked about sex. But his hand had settled in between her legs and was stroking her delicately, not wasting any time. One of his fingers slipped inside of her, settling immediately on the spot he had focused on the night before, causing her to gasp audibly.

His eyes met hers directly, and his voice was even, steady. "I asked if you were wet for me...apparently you are...just like I'm hard for you...are you ready? Would you rather we play? We can play if you want..." and he pulled her head down toward his once more, gently biting her earlobe, then sucking it. "Playing is fun, and I know you like it." His mouth caught her nipple, sucking and nipping as she caught her breath.

She pulled her breasts away from him. "Stop teasing me," she demanded. "You're being all business and I don't like it."

"Top or bottom, then?"

"Are we negotiating a financial settlement or something? Because this is almost as romantic."

This time he smiled at her. "Seriously, top or bottom..."

She sighed, then leaned over and nipped his ear.

He was watching her, and his smile disappeared. "If you've changed your mind, it's okay. You're right, that sounded all business...sorry..."

She leaned over and kissed him on the mouth. "Bottom," she said. "I want to be on the bottom."

"You don't have to tell me twice," he teased, flipping her over and settling on top of her. "And I wasn't kidding when I said I wanted to fuck your brains out."

She grinned, pulling his boxers off of his hips. "I was counting on it."

He guided her knees to his hips, settling between her legs and easing his tip inside of her. She caught her breath. "Good?" he asked, then kissed her nose lightly.

She smiled. "Absolutely, brain fucker...keep going."

He slid into her, bracing himself, closing his eyes and sighing as his desire got the better of him. "Okay," he said softly. "I'm sorry...I was being an ass..." His eyes opened and focused on her face. She was watching him, smiling, hands on his back. "I love you, Ness...and I do want to fuck your brains out."

"You keep saying that," she teased. "Why don't you get going on it?"

He leaned down, meeting her lips halfway, and began to move gently inside her body, rocking his hips with hers into a soft rhythm. He felt her legs sliding up against his own, and he pushed himself slightly deeper inside her. "Still okay?" he asked softly.

"Oh yeah," she whispered, wrapping her legs around his body. "You feel good...really good."

He grunted softly, moving his lips from hers to her cheek, her jaw, and settling on her neck, before pulling himself out slowly and thrusting, slow and purposeful, back into her body.

God, she felt good. For a second he tried to remember what sex was like before her. He knew it was fun and felt good, but jesus, for the life of him he couldn't remember ever feeling anything like this. Sometimes it took all of his control to keep from just driving into her nonstop.

Her hands were moving up into his hair now, and when he thrust back into her, quicker, a second time, she moaned and moved her lips next to his ear. "God, feel so good in me."

His mouth settled on hers then, beginning to thrust more purposefully, more quickly. After all, he had promised he'd fuck her brains out. Now he wasn't sure if he made that promise more for her or for himself. He felt her feet rest flat against his ass, gently pushing against him. And in that moment he realized it didn't matter who he promised it for, because they both wanted to equally as much.

She stayed wrapped around him, passively letting him lead, as he drove into her repeatedly, faster and harder until she was moaning into his mouth about how good she felt and how she wanted to come, how he was the most amazing lover she'd ever known and she swore she'd never, ever tell her sister. He had nearly laughed at the last promise; the only thing that kept him from losing it was his own impending orgasm. He was right on the edge.

"Bobby," she was gritting her teeth, holding his head against hers, "don'"

He shifted her legs against him, effectively changing the angle and heard her, a gasp and then a moan, felt the nails gripping into his shoulders, and wondered briefly if she'd pierced his skin. He really didn't care. He could feel her tightening around him, knew she was coming. That was all that mattered to him right then.

Her body was arched against his, writhing, and out of habit he braced himself with one arm on the headboard, then lost himself in the sensation of his wife's body. "God, better not tell her this..."

He heard something almost like a hiccup, but he knew she was trying not to laugh at him. Her hands moved down to his hips and her lips to his ear. She nipped him before commanding, "Come on, brain fucker...give it to me..."

"You're not so great for my masculinity," he groaned, "when you tease me like that."

She arched fully against him. "Fuck me, Bobby...I love you...come inside me now..."

He closed his eyes and let his body take over. Goddammit. So fucking good. He climaxed then, completely focused on the sensation of his wife surrounding his body, her touches and wetness, and soft body. She was moaning beneath him. He was barely aware.

When he opened his eyes, he was collapsed on top of her, breathing heavily. He always wondered how in the world it could be comfortable for her to have his huge body on top of her like that, but she repeatedly insisted it was, it was one of her favorite moments.

"I'm sweating on you," he announced, pulling up and rolling off of her.

"Whatever, Bobby," she replied, rolling over and pressing against him. "Hey...I swear I never told Ava about last night."

He glanced over at her, seeing the sincerity in her face. "I believe you," he sighed. "But she knew. She probably knew, though, before we ever left her house last night."

"Yeah, maybe." She stroked his hair. "I don't think it's a huge mystery that we...well, like to be..."

He laughed. "We like fucking each other. Just say it. I love to make love to you too, but sometimes everyone just needs a good, thorough fucking."

"Did you get it?" she asked, grinning at him. "Did you get your fucking in?"

"Yep. How about you? Did I fuck your brains out?"

"Eh...I think part of it may be hanging out my left ear."

"Very funny."

She kissed his chest. "I try." She rested her chin on his chest. "I love you, you know that?"

"I do," he replied. "I do know that."

"Did it go okay with Lydia?"

"Yeah. I go back on Tuesday." One of his hands wandered down, tracing her spine.

"Good. And you're going to keep it in check over the picnic tomorrow?"

He snorted, but assented. "Of course I will...I have no desire to make things hard for Marlene or you...or my mother either."

She pressed her lips against his chest one more time. "You'll never know how much I love you, Bobby. I never knew I was capable of loving someone this much."

"I know the feeling," he said softly. "I really do."

She hadn't forgotten the picnic.

When they had arrived, Frances was holding a basket for Marlene. "Guess what?" she announced. "We're going on that picnic you wanted...right outside!"

Bobby glanced at Vanessa, then looked over to the nurse's station. Shirley, the nurse on duty, was completing paperwork as though this were any other day. "Um, Ma? Is this okay? Did you clear it with Shirley?"

"Of course I did," Frances replied. "I'm schizophrenic, not stupid, Bobby...who do you think helped me pack this little feast, anyway?" She grinned at Marly, who was wrapping herself around her grandmother's leg.

"I'm just going to check real quick--" he stepped toward the nurse's desk.

"By all means," Frances interjected. "We all know how untrustworthy I am."

"Frances," Vanessa said, "it's not that...Bobby just wants to make sure it's all okay."

She held up her hands. "Fine, fine...but when I make a promise, I keep it!" She grinned at Marly. "My baby wanted a picnic, and that's what we're going to have!"

Bobby approached Shirley. "Hey, mom says it's okay to have a picnic today that right?"

Shirley nodded. "She cleared it with Dr. Paul. I helped her pack it up this morning. You know," she confided, leaning closer to Bobby, "seeing your little girl is the best medicine in the world for your mother. She looks forward to every Sunday. Church and then her baby, she says." Shirley was smiling.

"Okay. Thanks." He headed back toward his mother, wife, and daughter. "Let's go."

The four of them walked out onto the grounds, finding a clearing in the sunny March weather. Frances pulled out a blanket and, with Vanessa's help, spread it on the ground. "Okay, Marly!" Frances announced. "Let's eat! We have a great lunch...sandwiches, fruit, cookies...they even gave us our own bottles of water!"

"Yummy!" Marly sat next to her grandmother, pulling the items out of the basket. "One for you, one for me, there one for my daddy? Or my mama?"

Frances looked up, as if seeing them for the first time. "I'm sorry...they only packed it for me and Marly..."

"Not a problem," Vanessa smiled. "I'll run down to the cafeteria. What do you want, big guy?"

"Hmm?" He hadn't heard her. She elbowed him in the side.

"I was asking what you wanted to eat."

"Oh. Uh, anything is fine...a salad, I guess..."

"Pastrami on rye it is." She grabbed her purse and headed back inside.

"Daddy, will you sit down wif us? You can have some of my samwich."

He smiled at her before sitting on the blanket.

Frances spread Marly's lunch out on a paper plate in front of her. "When your dad and his brother were little," she began, "sometimes I would take them to the beach and we would have a special picnic there."

"When was that?" The question sounded innocent enough, but his voice had an edge he hadn't meant to be heard.

Frances looked up, surprised. "Well, you were very little...we would go to your grandfather's beach club, on the weekend. You and Frankie and me. Mama and I would put lunch together in the kitchen and you always liked to help." She smiled at the memory. "You always wanted to spread things...peanut butter, jelly, mayonnaise...your favorite was frosting. On cupcakes. Your grandmother would always save you a couple of cupcakes so you could spread the frosting."

"My daddy wikes tuptakes," Marly commented. "He wikes chocwate."

"I knew that," Frances told her. "He likes chocolate ice cream, too." She opened Marly's water bottle.

"No," he said suddenly. They both looked at him, surprised. "I mean, no, I don't like chocolate ice cream anymore...I like butter pecan now."

His mother turned back to opening Marly's sandwich. "Well, tastes change. I'm not surprised. You know, your brother always loved anything with nuts in it. He's still that way."

Bobby bit his tongue until he tasted blood. "Has he been here lately?"

"No" Frances replied. "You know he's been looking for work...have you heard from him?"

"How long's he been looking for work now, Ma? And no, I haven't heard from him. I never hear from him, and I wouldn't want him around, not with Marly there."

Frances looked at him sharply. "Don't talk that way about your can only imagine how difficult life has been for him. You've never had to fight the way he has...things just come easy for you. And he would never do anything to harm Marly--"

"Bobby." Vanessa was standing next to him, and she put a hand on his shoulder. "I couldn't grab a fountain drink with this other stuff...would you mind going down and getting one for me? A diet coke?"

He knew why she did it, and angrily, he knew she was right. He wanted to tell his mother off right then and there; he wanted to haul Marly and Vanessa out of that place and never bring them back. He glared at his wife, and her eyes were full of understanding. She met his glare fully, nodding at him, and after a moment he sighed and then headed back into the building, down the hall.

Vanessa sat down next to Marly. "Your lunch looks good," she said, smiling, and watched Marly take a big bite of her sandwich.

"I don't know why he's so angry with his brother," Frances said, poking at her food in a manner that reminded Vanessa of Ava. "He went into the army...he went to school...he has a good job and a wonderful family. You and Marly. Why is he so unhappy? He needs to learn to be content with what he's got....content before he loses it all." She shook her head. "He's too much like his father."

"I think," Vanessa said carefully, "that he just needs to know he's special to you too. Like Frank."

"I special," Marly said, to no one in particular. "Isn't Daddy special, Gwammy? I wuv my daddy."

"Of course he is," Frances said, patting Marlene's hand. Then, looking at Vanessa, she said, "He's not a child. He's a grown man. How long does he need his mother to pat his hand and tell him he's a good boy?"

Vanessa watched her for several moments, holding her own tongue, wondering how this woman could be so lucid yet so clueless about her own son's needs. How she had managed to fool herself into believing that the one person who had cared for and loved her more than anyone else didn't need any of that back. But instead, she said, "I think we should discuss this another know, grown up time."

Frances nodded. "I agree...right now it's picnic time, and my baby wants to enjoy her picnic!" She leaned forward to kiss Marly on the forehead, then picked up her own sandwich and began to eat.

Bobby arrived then with the soda and handed it to his wife. She opened the bag and gave him a deli sandwich along with a pickle and a bag of chips, taking out a salad for herself. He watched her carefully, as she opened the salad to prepare it. As she went to take a bite, he leaned over and kissed her temple. "You know, I'll love you just as much if you eat the sandwich." She looked at him, and a minute later handed him the fork.

"Let's share," she suggested, and he took a bite of her salad while she enjoyed the pastrami.
"I'm sorry," she said that night after he had gotten into bed. She climbed in next to him, sitting on her knees, and tugged at his shirt. "I'm sorry your mother is how she is. I wish it wasn't like that for you. She just doesn't understand...and I don't think there's any way to get her to."

He lay there, watching her. "Did she say anything in front of Marlene? I don't know if she should go back if my mother can't control what she says."

"Marlene is fine. She actually reassured Marly that you were special."

He snorted. "Yeah, what did you have to do to get her to say that?"

"Nothing. Marlene asked her if you were special and she said of course you were."

He made a face. Vanessa smiled and intertwined a leg with his. "I actually agree with're very special." She ran a finger down his face. "Marlene told her so."

He was staring into space, and despite her gentle stroking of his chest, his eyes remained lost to her. Finally he said, "I don't want you two to go back there."

She sighed. "You're punishing her because you're angry...I don't think that's a good idea....maybe you should stay away for a few weeks."

"Like she'd care."

"I think she would. I think she'd be confused. She doesn't understand why you're upset with her...why you're upset with Frank." She laid her head on his chest. "I think Lydia is a very good idea."

She felt the air leave his body, felt his arms wrap around her tightly. She wished she could fix it, more than anything else. But she knew anything she did would only be a bandaid on a gunshot wound. He needed surgery, and all she could provide was typical at-home care...the kind that would have prevented the wound in the first place, if he had gotten it when he needed it, forty years ago.
"I no feel good, Mama." Marly was curled in her daddy's lap at the breakfast table. Bobby looked up at Vanessa questioningly.

"She feels warm...she's not herself...I think she should go to the doctor." He stroked her hair back. "Do you want me to call in?"

", I'll do it. You need to go and Eames have those witnesses to interview." She reached down and took Marly from Goren. "I'll call Deakins in a minute."

He stood up. "Are you sure? I can stay home too..."

"I think Mama's got this one, right, Marly?" She smiled at Marly, who sighed and lay her head on Vanessa's shoulder. Bobby picked up his cell and pressed a number, then held the phone to his ear.

A minute later, she heard him. "Yeah Captain, I'll be there...Marly is sick though and Vanessa's going to stay here with her...okay, thanks...I'll let her know. Yeah, see you then." He closed the phone and turned toward her. "You'll call me when you find out what's going on?"

She nodded. "Of course, honey. We'll be's probably just a virus."

"If you're sure--"

A couple hours later she and Marly were sitting in an exam room at the pediatrician's office. Bobby had texted her just minutes before wanting to know how Marlene was. All she could tell him for sure was that she was tired. Now she sat rocking Marly in her arms while the little girl napped.

Dr. Sutton appeared again, smiling at her. "We ran the blood tests, and it looks to be just a minor virus. She's got a bit of an increase in her white cells but that's it. Let's watch the fever, give her some ibuprofen and let her rest...she'll probably be as good as new in a few days."

"Thanks," Vanessa told him. "She's just so tired."

"Yeah, that happens....if she's not feeling better by Wednesday give me another call...or if her temperature goes above 103."

"Got it." She thanked him again before leaving the office and catching a cab back home.

Her phone rang as soon as she got into the house. "Hey," she told him, "it's just a minor virus...he said ibuprofen to control the fever, and let her rest. If there's any worsening or she's not better in a couple days, we need to bring her back." She lay Marly down on her bed gently. Marly opened her eyes slightly, then rolled over and went back to sleep. "So how's work?"

"About the same," he told her. "We've gotten some good information this morning...I'll fill you in tonight."

"Okay," she told him. "That sounds good." Walking through the living room, she saw Bruce lying on the couch quietly, just as they had left him that morning. "Make sure you bring home the file--" She caught her breath suddenly and reached out to touch him. He was still and cold, and didn't respond to her touch.

"Ness? You okay?" He had heard her make a sudden, funny sound, and knew instinctively something wasn't right.

"Oh Bruce," she said softly into the phone. "He's gone, Bobby...he's gone."
He had come home as early that day as he could, but it had still been almost five. Unfortunately, the NYPD didn't consider a natural dog death to be a good reason to leave work early.

When he came in, she was lying on the couch with Marly, watching Beauty and the Beast. Bruce was nowhere in sight. He scanned the room before telling them hello. Vanessa smiled sadly at him, and Marly looked tiredly at him as she said, "Hi, my daddy."

He joined them slowly on the couch, Vanessa moving her legs over for him as he sat down. "Do you feel any better?" he asked her, rubbing her tiny feet in his large hands.

"Brucie went to live with God today." Her statement surprised him and he looked questioningly at Vanessa.

"She wanted to play with him," Vanessa explained.

"He's all hard now, Daddy. And cold."

Bobby continued to rub her tiny feet. "I know, baby. We'll miss him, won't we?"

"Mommy was cwyin. She misses him alweady."

Bobby's eyes met with Vanessa's, and she looked away quickly. "Yes, Mama loved Bruce for a long time."

"Marly," Vanessa said gently, untangling her body from that of her daughter's, "Daddy and I are going to go talk in the other room. You stay here and watch Belle, okay?"

"Tay." Marlene lay her head back on the pillow and didn't move. Bobby followed Vanessa into the spare bedroom. Bruce's stiff body was lying on the bed.

"I'm sorry," he said. He could hardly believe it himself. Bruce had been such a fixture in their lives, and it was hard to imagine he was gone.

Vanessa crossed her arms. "Dr. Russell said he would pick him up this afternoon and have him delivered to the crematory. They should be here any time."

"Do you need time--" he looked from the dog's stiff body to her face "--to say goodbye or anything? What do you need from me?"

Her eyes were watery and red. "If you can spend the evening with your daughter...give me some time to myself...that's probably what's best right now for me. Yeah, I'm going to spend a few minutes in here, before they arrive."

He nodded, then leaned over an kissed her forehead gently. "I know he was a good friend."

She didn't answer, only nodded shortly, then stood still as he left the room. She watched him leave, close the door gently, and after a few seconds she turned and locked it. She didn't want anyone in the room.

She sat next to him on the bed, heart broken at his stiffness. She fantasized for a moment that his body was still soft and pliable enough that she could hold him, scoot his body against hers in some way, but it wasn't. She lay her hand on his head, stroking it gently, wondering where all the time had gone. One day he had been there, licking Marly's face as she giggled hysterically at him, and the next he was dead on her couch, as though he had never mattered. But he had mattered to her.

He had been a gift from Michael, the rock star boyfriend, who had almost regretted his gift as soon as he had made it. Bruce never liked Michael, nor any other man who came near her. Michael had given her Bruce when she had left the hospital from her drug recovery. It had taken her a mere three weeks to dump Michael after coming home. The second time he had shown up high at her house had been enough, especially considering she had just returned from a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Michael had gone, but Bruce had stayed.

He had been her motivation to take up running, a passion she had discovered shortly after getting sober, and he did a wonderful job of motivating her. They ran miles and miles around Central Park together as she finished her degree. He had lain next to her many a night as she was up at three or four a.m. studying or writing. He had taken the place of a boyfriend and a child when her friends were moving in different directions than she was. And whenever she was afraid, he was there--licking her face, curling his body up next to hers, wagging his tail.

When she had been assaulted, he had gone to live with Bobby. Bobby was the only man he had ever taken to, the only man he allowed to touch him. When Forrester had entered her home that fateful night, Bruce had growled and shown his full set of teeth. Vanessa had wondered many times how different her life might have been if she had trusted Bruce instead of Forrester. But instead, she had Bobby, and Bruce had allowed Bobby to forge a bond with him.

When Marlene had been born, she had worried how Bruce would react to the baby. He was older and very large, and she knew his arthritic limbs hurt him. But he had never been anything short of kind and patient with the baby. It was almost as if he understood his new role and accepted it with a kind of grace and dignity. And as Marly had grown, he had been patient, loving the toddler almost as much as he loved his mistress. When Marly used him to balance as she began to stand, he stood quietly still. When she inevitably fell, he licked her face as if to encourage her to try again.

She rubbed his cold ear. Never, as far as she could remember, had he ever disappointed her. For so many years, he had been her best friend and confidante. He had been her nonstop companion and she had loved him. He had been what drew she and Bobby together; he had been the reason she had forced herself into that rainstorm so long ago. Because she needed him, she had told herself, only recognizing her need for Bobby years later.

She lay the front part of her body down next to his and kissed him. The thought that doing so would be considered gross by most people crossed her mind but she didn't care. She touched his face. "I'm sorry, Bruce," she whispered. "I wish I had been there today. I wish you hadn't been alone."

She heard the doorbell ring, and a few minutes later Bobby opened the door with Dr. Russell and a young man following. She wiped her tears away and stood up, nodding at the doctor. "I'm guessing it was just old age," she said. "He'd been fine...I didn't even know until I was right up on him, today."

Dr. Russell nodded. "We'll take him out of here and have him cremated. Would you like the ashes?"

She shook her head. "No. He's already gone." She felt Bobby's hand on her shoulder, and she took a shaky breath.

"I know how much you loved him," Dr. Russell said gently. "You know, he loved you too...he was completely devoted to you."

She nodded, then stood back to watch the men gently maneuver Bruce's lifeless form into a bag, then into a large box. "Okay," Dr. Russell said, "we have him. I'm sorry for your loss, Vanessa...he was a good dog and I hope the fact that he's at peace helps you some."

Again, she nodded, almost feeling removed from her emotions. Bobby led the men out of the condo but she stood still, unmoving, from the guest room floor.

Several minutes later, he reappeared. "I've already put Marly in bed for the night...why don't you go grab a bath? It might help you feel better."

"Okay." She still hadn't moved, and he touched her arm.

"Are you sure you're okay?"

After a moment, she nodded. "Yeah...I'll go take that shower."
She was under the covers, buried, and wondering if Bruce had known how much she loved him. She had gotten lost in her life--in her husband and daughter and job, and Bruce had gone by the wayside. She had even snapped at him last week, because he had torn up a napkin on the floor that Marly had left. What a dumbass move, she thought to herself. Coming out of her reverie, she realized Bobby was getting into bed.

He didn't say anything at first, just lay next to her not speaking or moving. Finally he said, "I'm so sorry, Ness...I miss him too."

"Yeah." She didn't say any more than that. She couldn't.

He leaned over and kissed her gently. "Is there anything I can do?" We could bury him...a pet cemetery..."

She shook her head again. "Please, Bobby...I don't want to talk about it any more...there's nothing else to say. He's dead. There's no bringing him back."

He watched her carefully. "Let me know if you want me to do anything. Anything at all...I can watch Marly tomorrow...whatever."

"Thanks...but I just want to sleep."

He stroked her hair. "Okay," he said.
He woke to a vaguely pleasurable feeling all over. His body was tingling. Yes, definitely pleasurable. His eyes were still closed, and he suddenly became aware of the hand stroking his erection. A second hand was fondling his nipple, gently pinching and tugging on his flesh, until the hand was replaced with a warm, wet mouth.

"Ness," he murmured, reaching down and covering her hand with his, "what're you doing?"

She pulled her mouth away from his nipple. "I don't want to talk, Bobby...I just want to do it..."

He let go of her hand and reached over to stroke her face. "Okay," he finally said softly. His mouth found hers and he let himself relax against her, enjoying the feel of her touch.

She was kissing him back, warm and wet, letting go of his cock and tugging at his body to cover hers. He moved closer to stroke her breasts, feeling the nipples harden under his fingers. Her mouth was tasting his and he rolled her nipples back and forth between his fingers, enjoying the feel of her softness. His mind was meandering over her loss, her grief, her body; it wandered to how good she felt and how good she made him feel. A tad bit of guilt pulled at his conscience, indicating that maybe he shouldn't be enjoying this quite so much, but it was hard to stay focused on that thought when his erection was resting right against her the way it was, and her legs were spreading so that his was lying against the mattress between hers...

She moaned softly into his mouth, and he did what he wanted to do--ran his tongue down from her bottom lip, over her chin and neck, finally suckling on her breast. Her hand settled on his head and he nipped and tugged gently, stretching her nipple taught until she whispered, "Please,"

She had spread her legs farther, resting on either side of his body, and reached up with both hands to cup his face. "I love you, Bobby. I don't want to think right now...just feel with feel like heaven." She rubbed herself against him firmly, and his voice caught in his throat. She smiled gently. "Do you know you're my favorite distraction?"

"Yeah," he replied, voice strained, "I'm getting that."

She kissed him, mouth open and wet and sloppy until she could hear him sighing and feel him pressing against her leg. She ran her hands down from his face, over his body, to his hips. "Please?"

He smiled, then quickly leaned down into her to kiss her passionately. His tongue traced hers, lips open again, and she felt him aligning their bodies and then--and then.

She began to cry, and his movements stilled immediately. She knew he didn't know what to do, to say, and he was grasping at straws when she finally managed, "I'm okay...please, don't stop..."

He thrust into her again, trying to ignore the fact that she was crying; her face was wet and she was gasping for air but her legs were wrapping more tightly around him and her hands were clutching his shoulders, as if to hold him in place and keep him from leaving. Ever.

This was, by far, the least sexiest sex they had had to date.

He hated his body in that moment. He hated the sheen of sweat covering him, the erection urging him to continue, the balls that felt like lead. The race of his heart in his chest. He couldn't keep going. He couldn't do it.

"Vanessa..." His movements stilled, and as difficult as it was, he willed himself to pull out, move off of her, using his hands to gently pry her legs away from him.

"Bobby..." Her voice was nearly desperate, and he didn't know if he should feel guiltier stopping or continuing.

He reached up to her face, wiping away a tear and smiling at her, a look that he hoped conveyed how sorry he was. "I'm sorry, baby...I just can't...this is wrong. I can't do this while you're's just not right."

"Bobby...I'm not crying over you, dammit...I'm crying over the damn dog, and I told you I don't want to talk about it!" Her body was shuddering and she was caught somewhere between deep grief and intense arousal. He looked at her warily and felt even guiltier.

"I'm sorry," he repeated, reaching up to stroke her hair. "Just looking at you crying while we're doing that...I just can't...I'm sorry. Can't we talk about this?"

She pulled away from him angrily. "I asked you for one fucking thing, and it wasn't even something difficult...all I wanted was for you to fuck me, for God's sake. Just never mind!" She stood up and quickly disappeared into the bathroom.

He knew she was grieving. Maybe he should have sucked it up and done it anyway. God knows, it felt good enough. It always did with her. There had never been a single time, until now, that he had turned her down. But when he had seen her tears, all he could think about was finding her that night, covered in blood and vomit, a victim of sexual assault and in desperate need of care and protection. He couldn't close his eyes to that.

He heard the water shut off in the bathroom, then gathered his boxers for his own shower. After all, he still needed to get to work, even if she didn't. He debated briefly about calling in, but he and Eames had made so much progress the day before he hated to call out when they were narrowing in on their suspect.

"Hey." Her voice was calmer. She was standing near him, wrapped in a towel, her wet hair dripping from her head. Her eyes were red and he knew she'd been crying.

"Ness..." he pulled her closer to him, and she smiled as though to humor him, then sat next to him on the bed. He took her hand.

"I shouldn't have put you in that position," she said softly. "I'm sorry. The fact you couldn't is one of the reasons I love you so much...I had no business getting angry."

He shook his head. "It just hurts right now."

She lay her head against his shoulder and sighed. "Yeah, it does." She didn't move, and he wrapped an arm around her, and they sat together like that for a long, long time.

"If she starts to feel bad or you have any concerns, just call me...I'll have my cell on me all day." Sarah was nodding at her, smiling, and she knew she sounded like one of those moms, the ones who were afraid to let their children fart without being within three feet of them. Marly was already playing with another child, a boy in the block area. She knew her hesitancy had more to do with losing Bruce than it did her worry that Marly wasn't over her virus. She had already told Sarah that Marlene may talk about the death of their dog, that it had been a big loss.

Finally, she forced herself to leave. Marly hardly turned around to wave at her when she announced she was leaving, and she cursed herself once more for being a clingy mother instead of more self-confident.

Once in the office, she reviewed the information Goren and Eames had collected on their killer. They seemed to have narrowed their suspect pool down to a couple of different men, both of whom had played poker with all three of the victims. She noted they still hadn't identified Stephen Ford, and that bothered her. It seemed rather odd that they were having such trouble figuring out the identity of this one man.

She was having trouble concentrating and was embarrassed by it. Whenever she had struggled before, it had been for a noticeably good reason that she had been able to share with her captain. The loss of her dog, though? How would she explain that to Deakins? She stared out her office door to Goren's desk. He wasn't there; he and Eames were out doing interviews. Deakins had asked her if she wanted to go but she had turned him down. He had looked at her, surprised, before nodding and returning to his office. She just didn't have it in her today.

She was reading over the file a second time when her cell rang. It was Sarah, Marly's teacher, calling to say Marly was tired and felt a tad bit warm. Vanessa told her she'd be there shortly.

A minute later she knocked on Deakins' door. "Captain?"

He looked up and motioned for her to come in. "What's up?"

"Marlene's preschool just called...she's running a slight fever and I need to go get her."

His eyes narrowed on her. "Is everything okay? You don't seem yourself today."

"Yeah," she lied. "I'm fine."

He stared at her for a couple more minutes. She felt uncomfortable, and began to shift from one foot to the other.

"I heard that Bruce passed away. I'm sorry...I know how important he was to you."

She looked at her feet. "Thanks, Captain."

"Vanessa...we've known each other for a long can come to me with anything."

"He was a dog," she heard herself say. "Nobody wants to hear about a dog."

He was quiet for a minute, then stood, walked around to the front of the desk, and leaned against it. "He helped you get through one of the worst times of your life. He was more than a dog...he was part of your family. I understand that more than you think I do."

They stood across from each other for several seconds. Finally he said, "Go get your daughter and go home. I'll see you Friday, if everyone's better."

She gave a short nod. "Okay...thanks."

He kissed her forehead gently as he was climbing into bed. Her eyelids fluttered for a moment before they opened. "Hey," he said softly, slipping in next to her.

"'re warm," she murmured, curling closer to him.

He pulled her close in his arms, feeling her rest her head against his chest. "I misted you today," he teased her. "I heard Marly didn't feel well."

"Yeah." She suddenly looked around. "What time is it? You're late."

"Almost midnight. Guess what? I get to go in later tomorrow."

She collapsed back on his chest. "Lucky me."

He ran his fingers up and down her back. "That's one way to put it." He slipped an index finger under the strap of her tank top, running it back and forth. If only he could get her to roll over...

"Maybe in the morning," she said softly. "I'm really tired right now..."

He nodded, pulling his finger out of her tank. "We'll see." He kissed the top of her head. "I love you...whenever you feel ready..."

She exhaled heavily, pressing her mouth against his chest. "We'll see."
She was dreaming of him, intimate moments, and feeling so good with him. His mouth sucking on her neck and his hands in the loveliest places. "Bobby," she was whispering to him, "don't stop..."

She blinked suddenly, realizing she was wrapped in his arms for real, and one of his hands was under her tank top, cupping her breast. She could feel him gently attached to her neck, and his other hand stroking her gently. He had slipped it into her boxers. And she did, she felt lovely. She was literally wrapped in him and couldn't picture any other way to be.

She arched her breast against him and she heard him sigh at the realization she was awake. He nipped at her ear before rolling her nipple around in his fingers, pulling and twisting until she began to moan. Her back arched again, pressing her ass against his erection and her breast filled his hand. Following her lead, he pulled the tank off of her quickly, freeing her breasts, and slipped off the boxers before easing himself inside her.

She gasped loudly at his initial entry; he pressed himself fully inside of her, running his tongue over her ear before clutching her hip, holding her still as he thrust again. She rocked back against him, moaning deeply in her throat as his hand wandered to her other breast, teasing and fondling.

Her body was fascinating to him, soft and beautiful. He had awoken pressed, swollen against her. He could smell her arousal, even in her sleep, and it had led him to touch her body. He had seen her breasts change so much over time, and yet they were incredibly beautiful to him even now. As her nipples hardened in his fingers, he couldn't help but fantasize of taking each in his mouth and pleasuring her with deep sucking. He was rocking against her, inside her, and she was breathing heavily against him; he felt incredibly good but wondered about how good she would feel if they were in another position.

He stayed busy tasting her neck and her jaw as he thrust and rocked with her, slowly increasing his speed, and fondling her breasts. He pulled one of her nipples taut, causing her to moan deeply, and he moved the hand resting on her hip down to where they were joined. She was wet and warm; his index finger slipped slowly against her soft flesh, beginning to move in gentle little circles against her. He listened to her breath hitch, her moan, and then her first words: "God, Bobby." And she met his thrust then, more forcefully, more quickly, increasing their speed and their passion.

He was moving quickly inside her, harder than before, and one of her hands was pressing over his, holding his hand against her clit. "You're going to come," he told her needlessly, ''You're going to come on my hand, aren't you?"

She arched again, pressing her head back against his shoulder, feeling the pleasure pulsing through her body. "I'm close," he told her. "You're so fucking could I not come in you? So beautiful, incredibly fucking beautiful...does it feel good? Tell me it does, honey...tell me I still make you feel good...I want to know..."

"Yes," she moaned, unsure if it was due to his question or her orgasm. She was incredibly close. He could have asked her if she loved polka dots and she would have said yes. Damn him. So fucking close...."Don't stop," she ordered him, "I'm so fucking close."

She heard what she thought was a snort in her ear, but it could have been his own gasp for air. He was practically humping her, and she him, holding his hand tightly in place and it was so, so good that she didn't want to stop and she arched one last time as he thrust deeply in her--

Her orgasm washed over her in deep, deep pleasure. Her hand over his fell loose, but his hand didn't move away from her, continuing its sensual circles. She knew she was moaning but she didn't care. She thought she heard herself calling him, letting him know how badly she wanted him, how much she was attracted to him, but she didn't know. Just as the world began to make sense again she felt his body arch against her, grabbing her hips and the quick, erratic thrusts that she had come to relate with his orgasm. She felt a slight pain in her shoulder and realized, shockingly, that he had bitten her. He had never done that before, and a part of her felt insanely proud and sexy. He was pressed against her body, hard and beautiful, his penis still buried inside of her. She wished they never had to move.

After several minutes of lying together, she could feel him slipping out of her. He didn't move away, though, and continued to stroke her breasts. She felt so alive, so horny and satisfied and completely alive and aware. He was pulling on her nipples, then leaned over, lowering his hand to her, slipping a finger into her vagina, and listening to her sigh. A second joined the first, and with a slight bit of adjustment, he found it--her g spot--and began stroking her in earnest. Instead of objecting, as she normally did, she relaxed against him and enjoyed the quick build and release. When she came, she leaned against his shoulder and he was kissing her, loving her. She knew he loved her. Not only her body, but who she was. He took great pride in bringing her to multiple orgasms, but moreover, enjoyed making her feel good. As she relaxed against him, he slowly withdrew his fingers, holding her body around the waist. "I love you," he murmured. "Maybe I should have asked before I started but I really, really wanted to do this..."

She laughed softly. "I'd have to be an idiot to tell you it wasn't perfect. I love you..completely, absolutely...I'm so sorry about yesterday morning."

He kissed her forehead. "No apologies necessary. You're my love...the one I'll be with until the day I die, Beth." His fingers found her shoulder and lightly grazed the bite. "I'm sorry...I didn't mean to do this...I won't again..."

She pressed her head back against him again. "I liked wanted me."

They were silent for several minutes, enjoying the afterglow of their lovemaking.

"We need to shower," she said suddenly, all business. "Marlene will be awake pretty soon. She can't walk in here like this."

He let her go a bit, but still lay close to her. "Why? What would be so bad if she saw this...her parents naked and in love?"

"No...except for your erection...and the bodily fluids...that's kind of gross!"

"She'd never notice..."

"Well," Vanessa swung her legs over the bed, "just in case she does..I'm grabbing a shower. And you are too." She yanked the covers back from him.

"Oh good lord," he griped. "Can we at least take it together?"

"Yes but don't think you're going to douche me or anything!"

He snorted. "I'll stay away from the douching."

"Good! Well I guess we should get it done."

Twenty minutes later, when they were pulling on their clothes, Marly knocked at the door. Bobby opened it. "You have a good sleep, Meggie?" he said, pulling his shirt on.

" I get to go to stool today?"

Bobby grinned but Vanessa said, "No, no school today. We'll stay home. You wanna get some breakfast?"

Marly nodded. "I wanna go to stool!"

"Tomorrow, " Bobby assured her, and took her to feed her while Vanessa finished getting dressed.

She was reviewing the file again.

Something about it bothered her. They still had never identified Stephen Ford. They still didn't know why he had coke under his fingernails. Nobody had any idea who Gordon Simon was. The only thing they all seemed to agree on was the fact that all the men had met at the casino. They had photo identifications from both customers and employees. And the same two blackjack dealers had worked a table with all three men present.

She knew that Goren and Eames planned to bring the two dealers in by the end of the week, figuring that somebody got greedy somewhere. But why had Ford found it necessary to have a dummy apartment? She wondered, for more than the first time, if he was undercover. If they were bordering on busting into an undercover operation.

Bobby sent her a text saying he would be home with dinner in an hour. She sighed, put aside her work, and turned off the computer. Marly was playing on the floor patiently, and she leaned down and picked her up. Grabbing her sweater, they headed out for a quick walk around the park and a stop at the coffee shop downstairs.

"I don't know. I can't explain it. It just doesn't sit well with me." She was in Deakins' office. Goren and Eames were both sitting in chairs across the desk and she was leaning against the heater. "I just don't think these two dealers are the guys you're looking for."

"Maybe not," Eames said. "Do you have any other ideas?"

"I...I don't..."

"See, that's the problem," Eames said sharply. "There's no profile. We're chasing our asses here. Maybe if we had a profile we'd have a better idea of who we're looking for..."

"Eames." Goren's voice was low but dark.

"I'm sorry," Vanessa said, "but I've had life get in the way. I've done my best--"

"And so have we," Alex snapped. "Now the only evidence we have points to dealer A and dealer B. If you have some sort of profile that would give us more information, I'd be happy to explore that--"

"They're undercover," she announced impulsively. She had no evidence, nothing. "It's the only reason they both would have fake names and dummy apartments...they were working a bust of something going on at that casino..."

"Even if that's true," Deakins interrupted, "we haven't been informed by anyone. Moreover, it's just as likely that the dealers are in on it. Isn't it?"

She lifted her head and stared at him. "Whoever he is, he's still out there."

"If that was true, Ness...if he didn't know we were narrowing in...we should have another victim by now." Bobby's tone was gentle, but his words stung.

"I know...but maybe we're close, and he knows it, and it's been enough to slow him down."

A knock on Deakins' door interrupted them, as a secretary handed him a piece of paper. "Well, Vanessa, it looks like we owe you an apology," he said sharply, glancing up at her. "We have a fourth victim...but this time he's alive."

Eames was driving the SUV to Long Island, the fourth crime scene. They were three blocks away when Vanessa leaned between the seats.

"What's that address again?" she asked, voice urgent.

"Calm down..." Bobby told her. "It's 1221 Masters Lane..." Seeing her expression blanche, he asked, "What? What's wrong?"

She swallowed hard. "That's Ryan's address," she replied.

The three of them walked slowly through the crime scene. The living room was covered in blood, soaked into the berber carpeting, spread on the walls. A tiny handprint--his son's, Vanessa guessed--was stained into the paint near the staircase. "Goren...look at this..." she pointed to the handprint.

Goren moved closer to get a better look. "Wonder if this is what saved his sorry ass," he said under his breath. Standing up, he tried to put the scene together. "He was in here, last night by himself...our suspect broke in and he got a good hit on him here at the knee." He pointed to a small stain of blood on the carpet, before motioning toward the larger one. "He had started his attack there when he was guess by the little old is he?"

"I don't know," she replied. "Maybe four or five."

Eames looked up. "He ran to his father, and when he couldn't stop the blood, he pressed his hand against the wall when he went to get his mother."

Vanessa looked from one to another. "Then Ryan and the little boy saw him. They're our witnesses."

Just then the CSU tech entered the main room. "Hey Rayden, you'll never believe this...this guy's last name is Rayden too."

They all looked at each other. "Yeah," she replied sarcastically, "there's a lot of us around this place."


They were at the hospital. She didn't want to be there. She didn't want to see him, didn't want to see what had been done to him. And she didn't want to see Kate. But before she had a chance to be decisive, there she was--her stepmother, anxiously pacing the waiting room and trying to comfort her children.

Bobby looked at her briefly, then said, "I can do this...or Eames...either one of us. It'll be easier."

She shook her head. "No, I know them. I'll do it." And she entered the room, more so he couldn't stop her than because she was convinced she was right.

Kate looked up at her, and it took a moment before recognition dawned on her face. Suddenly she realized who she was looking at, and her face looked as stressed as before.

"Kate," Vanessa began, "could we speak for a minute?" and she motioned toward a corner. Kate nodded and followed her.

"I'm here because of my role with the NYPD; I've been assigned this case. If you would prefer to have someone else working this case, I can have another officer here immediately. I do have two first-grade detectives waiting outside to talk with you if you'd like to do so. This case is going to be handled by the Major Case Squad. We believe that the man who attacked your husband has attacked three other men. Ryan is the only one who survived." She paused, watching Kate nod mutely at her. "Would you like me to have this assigned to another officer?"

Kate cleared her throat. " said the detectives and you have been looking for this guy?"


She nodded. "Okay. Are they going to come in?"

"Yes, in a minute...we would like to interview you and your son..."


"Yes, Matthew."

She nodded again shakily. "You said the other men...they didn't make it?"

"No, they didn't. I'm sorry." She took a step away, then said, "I'm going to get the detectives."

Stepping into the hall, she motioned for Eames and Goren to join her. "She's agreed for us to interview her and the boy, Matthew. And she said it's fine for me to stay on the case."

Eames nodded. "Are you sure you're good for this, Ness? I mean, it's your dad..."

"My father," Vanessa corrected. "We haven't had anything to do with each other in over two years."

"That's kind of my point," Eames muttered, but Goren shook his head slightly at her and Rayden had already turned to go back into the waiting area. They followed her.

"Kate," Vanessa began, "this is Detective Eames and Detective Goren..."

"Goren," she said slowly, "your husband?"

Vanessa suddenly realized that maybe her life had been more fodder for conversation at their house than she cared to admit. "Yes. If you'd like to request another detective, you can, but he's one of the best."

Kate stared at Bobby for a long time, and the four of them stood quietly as she tried to reach a decision. It occurred to Vanessa that Kate probably never made any decisions regarding her family, and this one had to be a doozy. Finally, Bobby said, "You know what? I'm just going to call my captain and he'll have somebody else out here in no time--"

"No." She was sizing him up, the legendary Detective Goren. "No, you're supposed to be really good at what you do."

Eames spoke next. "Mrs. Rayden, why don't you and I go visit over in the corner, and Detective Goren and Dr. Rayden will talk with your son, if that's all right."

"You're a doctor?" she asked, eyeing Vanessa up and down once more. "Ryan never told me that."

Biting back the urge to return that there were probably a lot of things Ryan hadn't told her, Vanessa only nodded, then clarified, "I have a Ph.D. in psychology."

Kate shook her head, as though trying to get clear on her thoughts. "I only knew you were a singer...that's all he talked about. Sorry." She shook her head again. "I'm just not thinking clearly today...I still need to call work...and the school..."

"I'll help you take care of all of that," Eames promised, leading her by the arm to the other side of the room. Vanessa and Bobby looked at one another, then she turned to approach the little boy. He hung back.

Vanessa sat down at the play table next to him. "Hi name's Vanessa. What are you doing?"

He looked at her for a long minute, then he said softly, "You know my daddy."

"Yes, I do."

"You're my sister. He told me to stay away from you."

She smiled. Classic Ryan, the motherfucker. "That's okay. If you'd rather, you can talk to my friend here, Bobby. We're both police officers. Your mom says it's okay. See? She's right over there, talking to our friend Alex. We're trying to help find out what happened to your dad."

Matthew rolled the bear he was holding back and forth on the table, as though it were bread dough. "It's okay," he whispered. "If Mommy says it's okay, I can talk to you." He looked back up at her. "Will my dad be mad?"

"Not at you, sweetie...maybe at me...but it will be okay."

He looked down again, rolling his bear. "He's always mad at you."

"Yeah, I know." She sat patiently, watching him roll the bear, his anxiety at this conversation apparent. Bobby continued to hold back, though, so she decided to keep going.

"You know what? I know something about you and what happened last night."

Matthew's eyes moved up to hers slowly. "You do?" he whispered.

"Uh-huh. Something that might help our dad." She held his gaze steadily. "You were the one who found daddy when he was hurt, weren't you?"

He continued to stare into her eyes. "Yes," he finally whispered. "He had a lot of blood on his head. I tried to get a bandaid but it was too much. Daddy said to get Mommy."

She nodded. "Daddy--he could talk with you?"

Matthew nodded. "Before...before I got my mom. When I got my mom he couldn't anymore."

Vanessa glanced at Bobby, who was jotting a few things down in his binder, leaning against the wall. "Matthew," she continued gently, "did you see anyone hurting Daddy?"

Something--intense fear, perhaps--flitted across his tiny features, but for only a moment. He was afraid of the memory, she realized, but not of the person. Whoever it was hadn't hurt him. "Yes," he whispered again. "Uncle Luke."

"Uncle Luke," she repeated. "I don't know him."

"He's our friend," Matthew said, then picked up his bear, holding it. "He was hitting Daddy with a big tool. I started crying because Daddy was crying."

"What did Uncle Luke do?"

"He looked at me and stopped. Then he said it would be okay." He sighed, a heavy sound for such a small child. "Then he left."

Vanessa did her best not to make eye contact with Bobby. "Does your mom know Uncle Luke?"

"Yeah, but he's one of Daddy's friends. He comes over to play games."

"What kind of games."

"Dunno." He began to squeeze the bear again. "Is my daddy gonna die?"

"I hope not," Vanessa said reassuringly. "You were very brave when you helped our dad. Do you remember what kinds of things they do when they play the games? What do they use?"

She could tell he was getting anxious, exhausted even, with the questioning, and determined this was it, she would stop no matter what he gave her after this one. "Mommy makes sandwiches and drinks. They use Daddy's special cards and circles. I want my mommy now," he said, eyes pleading.

"Okay," she nodded. "Thanks, helped us a lot. Your mommy is right there with Alex." She pointed across the room, and he stood up and took off like a shot, straight to his mother's arms.

She watched Bobby follow over, pull the mother aside. She heard the words, "identified", "friend", "Luke", "poker". She rested her own face in her hands, trying to get a handle on her own breathing. She wondered if Kate had ever imagined Ryan would be the kind of husband and father he had turned out to be, if she was happy in her marriage, or if it was a painful disaster just as her own mother's had been. If Ryan treated this boy with any more respect than he had given her or her sister. She doubted it.

Kate's hand was shaking over her mouth; she was nodding at whatever Goren was saying to her. Eames was interjecting every once in awhile and steadying her with a hand on her shoulder. They had gotten their ID.

Goren was ambling back over toward her when the doctor entered the room. "Ryan Rayden?" he called, and Kate anxiously rushed forward, directing her son to stay on the floor looking at the book in his hands. Suddenly, she said, "Wait..." and motioned for Vanessa. "Do you want to know?" she asked, voice shaky.

No. She didn't want to know. She didn't care if he died, she really didn't, he was just another vic and his death would simplify her life four million times over. But seeing the desperation and anxiety in Kate's eyes, she felt herself nod, and made her legs stand and carry her over to the doctor.

"He's stable for now," the doctor said. "We'll have to wait and see if there was any brain damage, but for right now, he's breathing on his own and is responsive. We're hopeful that as things arise we can correct them through physical and occupational therapy." He paused, seeing the relief wash over one woman's face, while the other's remained unaffected. "He's lucky to be alive," he continued. "He lost a lot of blood. You can go see him if you like, but only two people at a time. And keep it short."

Vanessa turned and smiled politely at Kate. "Thank you for all your help, Kate...we'll hopefully be able to get this guy quickly. And thank you for letting us speak to Matthew."

She nodded. "Do you--you know, if you want, you can go see him..."

Vanessa smiled again, more out of obligation than anything else. "That's okay...I don't think that would go over well."

Kate gave a quick nod, then gathered Matthew up. Vanessa joined Bobby and Alex outside of the room.

"He's going to be okay, they think," she informed them. "Maybe physical and occupational therapy, but he's doing all right."

"Cognitive therapy would be more helpful," Bobby said drily, and Vanessa crossed her arms.

"I think I'll let you guys go find this Luke character...I'm going to go back to the office and do some research."

And she headed off toward a cab as they went toward the parking garage in the other direction.