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.

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