The door, in its more optimistic days, had been painted a robin's egg blue. She assumed the numbers marking it had once been gold. Sun, time and its sheer passage had worn both away to a faded suggestion of something that really had never been. She rapped once, twice, her knuckles echoing hollowly off its metal construction. "Tara? It's Abbie Carmichael."
The door opened more swiftly than she though it would, and the movement's abruptness chased away the last few seconds she had been counting on to figure out what she could possibly say to Tara Wheeling.
"I knew you would come," the young woman said quietly. Already a physically small woman, in the weeks since the rape, Tara had lost so much weight that she seemed more a child than a woman. The soft chestnut hair that had so beautifully framed her face now hung limply in hanks, and her brown eyes were ringed with weariness and lost hope. "I don't know how, but I knew."
"You could have made it a bit easier for me, Tara," Abbie replied, trying to keep her tone light and the horror of what was happening to this undeserving woman from her voice. "It doesn't have to be this way."
"I think by now, it can't be any other way," she answered simply, turning away from the door and curling up on the bed next to a .38 whose gray metal dully reflected what lamplight that the floor to ceiling curtains hadn't absorbed.
The room was an unremarkable place, even by no-tell motel standards. Mustard-colored walls vaguely clashed with the green and gold comforter on the bed and the non-descript beige carpets. A lingering smell of mildew and age-- things more fanciful people might think of as the odors of despair-- was masked by the institutional aromas of by-the-gallon-air-fresheners and laundry detergent. This was a place of endings, she realized instinctively; Tara Wheeling had not chosen it by accident.
Abbie eased into the room, shutting the door behind her, knowing even as she did so that the movement would infuriate both her lover and her partner. Concern for her own physical safety wasn't even a factor. Tara Wheeling wasn't going to harm her. Indeed Abbie was more concerned about the opposite-- how her words had and might further shatter this broken woman before her.
"We need to talk, Tara, about what you're going to tell the police."
"What's to tell?" she said vaguely. "I killed him. Walked right up to his head while he laughed. Said to take my best shot because it wouldn't matter. He would always land on his feet. That somebody like me would always end up on her back."
"He was taunting you. Provoking you." Abbie echoed, mind frantically trying to frame a story which she could sell to some judge, any judge, as involuntary manslaughter or even temporary insanity. "You wanted him to call McCann-Erikson back and tell them the truth."
A gaze glassy with resignation and not a little irritation swung towards her. "I wanted him to land on his back," she corrected Abbie patiently.
"Tara..." Abbie almost sobbed the word in frustration. "Let me help you."
"By telling the same sort of lies that he did?"
"I�" Abbie started, then faltered. "Why did you think I'd come?" she asked instead.
"It happened to you, didn't it?"
"Tara�" Their eyes met, locked. Sienna and knowing, both scorched with the pain of having had something essential taken from them without their consent. For almost fifteen years Abbie had been running, not from acceptance of her violation, but from speaking of it. "Yes," she said into the weighted silence, acknowledging the past with a lift of her chin. "Let me help you, Tara. If for no other reason than that. Let me try."
Watching the motel door close, Jill made an instinctive half-step towards it, only to have the motion intercepted by her partner. "It's her play, Jill. Let her make it," Diane counseled, though her eyes glittered with as much concern as Jill's.
"She doesn't know how to make a play like this, D," Jill disagreed roughly. "That girl's at the end of her rope, and Abbie's getting between her and snapping the last of it." She shook her head, angry with herself for letting her lover walk though that door. "Abbie said she didn't want that girl's death on her conscience, but you and I both know that somebody doesn't come to a place like this if they want it to end any other way." Heedless of the other two detectives and the district attorney standing behind them, Jill added hoarsely, unable to stop herself, "I'm not going to lose her, Diane. Not after all this."
Something had changed, Jill realized as the words left her mouth. Letting Abbie in, letting Abbie hold her last night and watch over the boys had permanently altered something fundamental within her. While a part of her recoiled at being so weak and leaving herself open to the kind of pain that such honesty could bring, another part-- newly born, to be sure, but still strong even in its rawness-- wouldn't let her speak anything other than the truth. She could only trust that Diane would see that she needed her partner now as much as Diane had ever needed her.
Clearly reading the panic and fear in the older woman's eyes, Diane took Jill's hands in hers and centered them both with a deep breath. "You're not going to lose her, partner," Diane assured her, her own expression reflecting back a devotion to their friendship and promising a bedrock of support that wouldn't crumble, no matter how much weight Jill rested upon it. "That girl doesn't have murder in her. Not real murder."
"Tell that to David Byers," Jill retorted bitterly.
"David Byers raped away her life. Abbie knows a thing or two about that."
She saw Diane instantly regret her words and narrowed her own eyes in response. "What do you mean?" Diane and Abbie had their own past together, their own secrets, that she respected-- aware that there were some things she'd be better off not knowing. If there was something driving Abbie towards what could very well be a suicide run, however, she'd damn best know about it now.
"I just know that you need to let her do this. Let her help Tara as best she can."
The answer told her nothing and at the same time confirmed Jill's worst fears.
"That's not the most reassuring thing I've ever said, I know," Diane began, but was interrupted by the insistent bleat of her cell phone. Yanking it out of her blazer in a graceless gesture, she flipped it on, her eyes widening as she took in the seven digit caller ID. "Russell," she answered curtly. As she listened to the other end of the conversation, worry and fear dappled her face. "We're on our way." Snapping the phone shut, she took Jill's arm. "We have to go."
"Are you nuts?" Jill asked incredulously, not moving. "You think I'm leaving Abbie right now?"
Diane hesitated, her expression both regretful and resigned, knowing there was neither the time nor anything in the world she could do to soften the blow she was about to deliver. "It's Don," she said flatly. "He's got Frank."
The car hadn't even completely come to a halt before Jill was throwing the door open and hurling herself from its confines. "I know this place," she said over her shoulder, heading towards the scrummy tenement steps and not caring if her partner would follow or not. Truth be told, it would be best if she didn't; what had been coming between Don and herself had been coming a long time. Her ex-husband would never be content with walking away, especially if he regarded it as being beaten. She knew he would never see WITSEC as an escape, but rather an exile-- a keeping from him things that should be rightfully his. No matter that he had thrown both her and the boys away at every possible turn.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Diane was fast on her heels, faster still to take firm hold of Jill's arm. "What are you planning? To go kicking in doors until you find the right one? Think Jill."
"Third floor, end of the hall. Last apartment on the right. The roaches and the rats would give any H&R team a run for their money," she rapped out with brief precision, watching the color drain out of her partner's face. "I told you," she confirmed dully, willing herself not to drop her gaze and confirm her guilt. "I know this place."
Diane's eyes were bleaker than Jill had ever seen them, her skin washed of the vitality and life that she counted on. Jill knew with a sinking heart that her partner was losing more faith in her with every moment than ticked by. "You've known� all this time?"
"No," Jill snapped, hating having to defend herself even though she knew given the circumstances, she was lucky Diane had been steadfast for so long. "It was before� He wanted me to deliver some� cannolis."
"Cannolis?" The voice wasn't Diane's, even though she watched her partner's lips form the same word with the same questioning tilt of her head. John Munch's stark frame loomed behind Diane in the sunlight, casting a shadow as long as Jill's suspicions were growing.
"Good of you to join us, Detective Kirkendall. Although, given the circumstances, I'd appreciate the courtesy of being able to call you Jill. He's been in there for about forty-five minutes. You guys made good time. Any word on Wheeling?"
Jill raked frustrated fingers through her hair and folded her arms tightly. "I want an explanation."
"The same could be said of your stalwart partner here," he replied, with altogether too much blitheness for Jill's taste. "Not to mention your girlfriend. The limbs they are willing to venture out upon on your behalf are extraordinary. I hope you appreciate that."
"Allow me," Much interrupted before Diane could draw a breath. "Like Old Yeller, I have been dispatched to stand guard over your eldest son. Unlike said canine, however, I have no desire to end today's adventure shot in the head. So you better finish giving me the scoop on your ex-husband. His snatching your boy come as any kind of interruption to the regular broadcast? Because judging just from what I've seen, I'm thinking it probably didn't."
Two pairs of dark eyes-- one cynical, one exhausted but still hopeful-- studied her with unflinching regard. She knew she owed these people the truth, no matter that it might cost her their respect�and in Diane's case, so much more. "No, it didn't. Not entirely," she said at last.
"But you said you didn't know where he'd been holed up?" Diane interjected.
"I didn't," Jill confirmed. "I didn't think he'd be so stupid a mope to come back to the place he'd been operating from before he got snatched up. At the very least, I figured the Job would have it put up."
"Denby said they did," Diane agreed. The two partners studied each other a moment, both minds trailing down the same path. "Denby let him walk," the brunette detective said, a moment before Jill echoed the sentiment.
"Our problem just got exponentially bigger," Diane explained. "The cop who was sitting on Don when he went into the wind�"
"Let him walk?"
"Looking like it."
"Ah shit." Much looked as discomfited as Diane had ever seen the SVU detective appear in their brief acquaintance. "I hate dirty cops. I hate even more having to mop up after them."
Jill studied the lanky figure carefully. "You don't have to, Munch. I appreciate you trying to look after my boy�for whatever reason you did. And however this falls out, I'll always owe you more than I can say. But this isn't your mess to mop. This could get you hurt. That gun to the head. Old Yeller you aren't."
"Wouldn't be exactly gallant of me to flee the scene at this point."
"This isn't Gone With the Wind."
"True. Too many tenements for that. However, I always suspected that Scarlett had a thing for Miss Melly. Would have made the story far more interesting if she had. Besides, I happen to think that Ms. Carmichael would make a stunning Rhett Butler, but since she can't be here right now, I'll do my modest best to stand in her stead."
"Is how we found out that Frank might be in contact with your ex. Detective Russell here suggested that I might sit on Frank's school to see what was in fact true and what was the fanciful imaginings of a boy looking for attention. I had no idea that things were going to turn out this way. Neither, I suspect, did Detective Russell or Ms. Carmichael."
A weighted silence fell between the three veteran detectives as they all mentally reviewed the tactical situation. Diane was the first to break the silence. "Jill, let me get an H&R team into position. We can get Frank out of there."
Jill shook her head roughly. "The roof's too steep for snipers. You'd never get a clear shot."
Diane's expression�and Munch's curious one�told Jill that how she'd come by this knowledge was best left unspoken. "Then let's wait and take him in the street," her partner counter-offered, ignoring the statement's background.
"You think I'm gonna wait that long?" Jill exploded. "Give him god knows how much time to do god knows what to my boy?"
"Pardon me," Munch interjected. "But Frank is Don's son as well. Surely he wouldn't�"
"Hurt his own flesh and blood?" Jill snorted derisively. "You've never had the pleasure of meeting my ex-husband for the coked up skel that he is."
"Coke?" Diane echoed, almost without her own volition.
"Last time I saw him, yeah. To the gills. That night Abbie and I went out." Jill pinched the bridge of her nose tightly and rubbed her eyes. "But before then, too. I just didn't want to admit it."
"When you came here?" Diane prodded gently. "To pick up the� cannolis?"
She nodded hesitantly. "He wanted me to do drugs with him. But I wouldn't. Even though�" She looked helplessly at her partner. "You know how it was with me�" She trailed off, remembering vividly her own confusion over Abbie and the feelings that the attorney stirred within her. Meeting Abbie Carmichael had been unlike anything she had ever known. With one simple night�that had been anything but simple in the scheme of her life�Abbie had shown her a universe of possibility for what a lover could be. And then proceeded, in the days and weeks to follow, to expand that universe, creating world upon world of tenderness and caring, desire and arousal within Jill. Now she hungered for more� not of the possibility-- but of the very reality that Abbie had brought to her doorstep just last night. "When I wouldn't�" she shrugged lamely. "He started threatening the boys."
"Oh baby�" Instinctively, Diane reached for her partner, engulfing her larger frame and holding on tightly. Jill's body responded to the comfort, absorbing the succor she was being offered, no longer fearing it. She buried her face in her partner's wild, dark curls for a long moment, before becoming aware of uncomfortable shuffle of Munch's loafers.
"I have to go in there," Jill murmured, her words for Diane alone.
"No." A single word. Just as low, just as ardent.
Jill broke away, not escaping Diane's embrace, but stepping back so she could look her partner in the eye. "I have to do this."
"Remember how you said earlier today that this was Abbie's play?"
"Abbie wasn't walking into a situation with a drugged out loser bearing a personal grudge against you."
"Situation? Abbie?" Munch piped up, only to be ignored by both women.
"This is my play, Diane. He's expecting me."
"All the more reason to sit here and wait him out."
"I won't do that."
"Unless you want me to cuff you to this fucking car you will."
Jill used her height advantage to loom over her partner in a way that heretofore she had only done with particularly recalcitrant skels. She could see the darkening menace of her hazel eyes register with her partner, see the other woman flinch in spite of her resolve. Seeing that brief instant of fear in Diane's eyes, she immediately backed down, pleading instead. "I have to do this, Diane."
"I can't let you�"
"He wouldn't have done this if he hadn't expected me to follow."
"Okay� I'll give you that. But there's no way you could have logically known that he would have done it today and by now. Frank isn't due home from school for hours. He's gonna know that we've been sitting on him."
"All the better."
"He'll think that I've got the 1-5 waiting out here for him."
"And that makes you think you can walk him out?"
"He wants to walk out, Diane. He wants to win. Me showing up here is him winning. At least in part. Him getting to strut away while the rest of you watch is icing."
"You think it's gonna be that easy?"
"No," Jill replied, bluntly, pulling out her service weapon and sliding the clip free. "In fact, I'm gonna make it even harder."
"This is ridiculous," Alex Cabot said, ostensibly to the two detectives standing beside her who didn't particularly appear to be listening.
"We should call an H&R team."
"You wanna get your DA buddy shot, you go right ahead and do that," Sipowicz barked out, belying his disinterested pose and turning finally to face her.
"He speaks," Alex muttered cynically. "Call me an idiot� but isn't the fact that an ADA is in an enclosed space with a suspected murderer who is known to be armed sort of the situation that this team specializes in?"
Sipowicz glanced briefly at his partner. "She did say to call her that," the partner, Sorenson, agreed.
"Look� Ms. Whatever Your Name Is ADA. While I don't hold truck with a lot of the inhabitants of your office�your Leo Cohen-types not being what you might call sterling examples of personhoods-- Ms. Carmichael seems to be a bit more, what we cops like to call on-the-ball-than most. She seems to think she can handle the situation."
"Wouldn't the fact that she hasn't come back out yet seem to give lie to that statement?"
"Wouldn't the fact that we haven't heard gunshot seem not to?" Sorenson rebutted.
"So you're going wait until she's dead to make a move?"
"I'm gonna wait until�" Sipowicz's retort was silenced as the faded blue door opened and two women emerged, both looking somewhat haggard and more than a bit the worse for wear. Alex watched both Sipowicz and Sorenson tense until they saw the gun loosely held in Abbie Carmichael's hand. Abbie's other arm was draped carefully around Tara Wheeling's waist, as if supporting the other woman as they crossed an unfathomable distance. At warning shake of Carmichael's head, they waited until the two women had traversed the unevenly paved surface of the parking lot.
"Ms Wheeling would like to make a statement in the presence of her attorney," Abbie said exhaustedly. "She's willingly surrendering herself to Detectives Sorenson and Sipowicz, but won't speak until then."
"You representing perps now, Carmichael?" Alex couldn't help but snipe.
Abbie ignored her, directing her comments to Sipowicz. "Her attorney is Teresa Connors. Ms. Wheeling has her card and has already placed a call to her. She'll be waiting when we get to the 1-5."
Under Alex Cabot's fierce glare, Tara Wheeling didn't seem anything close to a woman capable of putting a gun to a man's head and cold-bloodedly pulling the trigger. On the other hand, Alex was more than aware of Teresa Connors' association with mob figures and underworld crime. In her tenure at the DA's office, Alex had learned two things about the hard-nosed attorney: if Connors was defending a client, he was most likely guilty and he was mostly likely going to get off.
Alex's heart sank a bit with each realization, and a part of Cabot wondered what in the world Abbie could have over the mob attorney. She knew that Carmichael had been up against several varieties of organized crime�both foreign and domestic. The stories they told about what Carmichael and McCoy had done to the Russian Mafia types who had executed the hit on Carmichael's ex were legendary. Given all her time in narcotics, it wasn't surprising that she had run into Teresa Connors from time to time; and knowing Carmichael, she wasn't even unduly surprised that Connors had ended up the one indebted. Some of her confusion and anger must have been bleeding through to what she had hoped was a professionally bland expression, for Carmichael was looking at her with eyes so raw and unguarded that a part of Alex wanted to apologize for intruding upon something that was so obviously larger than this one woman and this one case.
As Sipowicz took Tara Wheeling into official custody, cuffing the young woman's wrists loosely in front of her body, Abbie ran almost imperceptibly shaking hands through her hair. "I know�" Carmichael started, still gazing resolutely at the other ADA before hesitating and exhaling exhaustedly. "This doesn't make any sense to you, I know," she began again, shaking her head. "And I'm sorry, Alex� So sorry to put you in the middle of all this. You're right, you know, the DA's office isn't a place that I should be able to use to pay my debts. And I don't have any excuse� but I'm asking you to cut me�to cut Tara� some slack. Don't take everything I deserve out on her." Glancing around her once more, this time as if surfacing from a darkened room to a new level of awareness, Carmichael looked around. "Where are D and�" she hesitated. "Where are Detectives Russell and Kirkendall?"
"They uh�" Sorenson said after an eyeball-rolling exchange with his partner during which the young man obviously lost the argument. He blew out a frustrated breath and scratched his scalp through almost non-existent hair. "They uh� got another call."
"Does that call have to do with anything that Detective Munch was following up on?" Carmichael asked, although Alex could clearly see the tightening of Abbie's features and the wariness in her voice.
"It might have been," he conceded.
"You get a 20 on them?"
He shook his head curtly. "But Diane�" He glanced uneasily at Alex, and the ADA couldn't help but bristle at the wariness with which they treated her. Dammit, they were all supposed to be on the same side, but Carmichael and the two women detectives�Russell and Kirkendall were running something that apparently everyone, including Munch, except her, knew about. The exclusion made her itch and her eyes narrow as she focused on the blond detective. He saw the shift in her intensity and blanched, worrying the scuffs in the parking lot with his Hush Puppies. "Detective Russell got the call on her cell."
"Mother�" Abbie swore under her breath, eyes rapidly cycling from Sorenson to Tara to Cabot and back again. Something about Abbie Carmichael ignited in that instant, the substance of which Alex had never seen. They always said that Carmichael was blessed or cursed with the fiery sword of the righteous, but Cabot was willing to wager that no one in the District Attorney's office had ever seen the expression on her face right now. Something near and dear to this woman was being threatened, and Alex wasn't about to be the thing that got between her and a resolution. In astonishment, she watched Abbie bend her head close to Tara, her murmur barely loud enough for the Alex to hear. "Don't say a word until Teresa gets there. Promise me." She waited for the girl's hesitant nod before continuing. "Andy and Danny here are going to take good care of you until I can get back to the 1-5, okay? I know I promised to be with you the whole time, but there's something�" She chewed her lip painfully.
"There's someone else who needs you," Tara replied simply.
Abbie nodded with relief visible to even Alex. Once more she wondered what it was about this seemingly innocent young woman that had driven her to murder and Abbie Carmichael to jeopardize her career to protect her. "Yeah," she said. "Something like that."
Carmichael hesitated a long moment, then nodded and looked at Sipowicz. "You two keep good care of her," she said, indicating himself and Sorenson.
"We will," he assured her. "You keep care of�" He glanced at Cabot. "That other thing."
She managed a quick smile. "I will."
Leaving them all without a backward glance.
"It's me," Jill said, without even knocking on the door. The hallway's stench exceeded the recollection of her sense memory, and she fought down the gag threatening to knock the steadiness from her voice. For the first time in decades, she cast a fervent prayer towards a God that she believed had abandoned her and her sister years ago. Praying for her boy. For his safety, his wholeness. Even knowing all the while that no matter how this turned out, Frank would carry the knowledge of day with him forever. "I love you, Frankie," she murmured to herself, wishing for his forgiveness in the same breath.
She had left her partner on the sidewalk outside, caught between cursing her and following fast after her, the clip of her Glock 17 in Diane's hand, even as the weapon was holstered loosely by her side. She wouldn't hesitate to draw it on her ex-husband, but she'd be damned if she'd empty a clip into her son's father right in front of his eyes. And she didn't trust herself not to, given the chance and the circumstances. It was really that simple. For a moment she reflected back to that night, a few short weeks ago, when she had pressed the muzzle of her fully-loaded off-duty piece into Don's chest. He had dared her to pull the trigger, and she had backed down�all the while knowing that had she chosen otherwise, both Danny and Diane, who had been waiting upstairs with her sons, would have backed her self-defense statement all the way.
Jill Kirkendall, however, had been called many things. But a dirty cop had never been one of them.
Things at that point had gone from bad to worse with him. Don took her refusal to murder him in cold blood as capitulation and believed that it signaled the same in other areas. But she didn't want his drugs or his sex or the oblivion that both could have provided. Now, given the way things were shaking out, and even though she was more than prepared to give up her life for Frank's� she found herself with a few regrets of her own.
Abbie Carmichael was at the top of that list, and the attorney's clear-cut chiseled features were hovering too close behind Jill's eyes to allow any easy self-delusions at this point. The woman who held her in her arms last night, the woman who had given her respite from all the chaos surrounding her in a way that no one else ever had, was the promise of tomorrow. It was a promise she had desperately hoped would be fulfilled in its own time, but nonetheless�everything Abbie was and could be to her now took a backseat to what now faced her.
"Don�" she said into the thin plywood. "I know you're in there�"
The door jerked open to an unfamiliar face, one that didn't belong to her husband, but he greeted her with all the excitement of a long lost lover. "Why Jill� So glad to see you could join us�"
"You. Let. Her. Go. In. There." Each word ground out of Abbie's mouth as she fought to retain what little self-control she had left. With Tara Wheeling was safely in custody and Alex Cabot dismissed with as yet-to-be-determined ramifications for her career, a quick phone call to Munch had brought her to a scene that she couldn't have conjured up in even her wildest nightmares.
"Funny," Diane snapped back, "You sound exactly like she did when you were going through Tara Wheeling's door."
"I wasn't walking through a door to a man who had a jones just to cause me pain."
"Now you sound just like Detective Russell did trying to keep Jill through her ex's door," Munch added helpfully, but thought better of saying anything more when faced with the two women's glares.
"I can't believe�" Abbie started, only to be interrupted by Diane's ardent voice.
"It was her play, Abs. Just like Tara Wheeling was yours."
"The circumstances were hardly the same."
"True," the detective admitted with a weary shake of her head. "She wasn't holding your son hostage."
"If Kyle's telling the truth, there's no hostage situation," Abbie countered.
"You don't think that man means to do Frank harm, snatching him up the way he did?"
"He wants to scare her."
Diane leveled her with a darkly furious stare. "Jill once told me that he'd fuck over anyone she loved just to see her bleed. You wanna tell me there's someone she loves more than her son?"
Abbie locked eyes with her old friend before shaking her head, backing down. "And if he puts hands to that boy, you don't think she's going to kill him for it? You want murder on her head?"
"I wouldn't call it murder. I don't think anyone standing here would, but regardless�" Diane held up the full clip to Jill's Glock. "It's not going to play out that way."
Icy realization doused Abbie into painful awareness. "She's not planning on coming out of there."
Diane shook her head roughly in disagreement. "She thinks she can talk him outside."
"Have you taken complete leave of your senses, Diane?" Abbie roared, the words rowling out of her throat and waves of anger emanating from her body. "What in the Good Lord's name possessed you to let her walk in there with an empy 9mm and a man who wants her dead if she won't bend to his will?"
"Diane did threaten to cuff her to the car," Munch muttered.
Abbie whipped her head around and stared at him with a rage that caused the older man to blanch. "Unless you have something helpful to suggest, Munch, I suggest you shut the fuck up."
"You want a helpful suggestion?" he snapped back. "Calm yourself-- both of you-- and see what we can do in situ, because there's nothing anyone can do to change the current circumstances. She's in there and she's unarmed, and believe me when I tell you that she was going in there regardless of whether or not she had to do it with Detective Russell attached to one leg and me attached to the other."
Abbie drew a long, shuddering breath, knowing Munch was right and hating every helpless second of it. Blindly she ran her hand down Diane's arm, snagging the detective's fingers and entwining them with her own. "We'll get her out of there, D. We have to."
Diane nodded bleakly, her own pain rendering her mute.
"Jill said that the angle of the roof was too steep to get snipers a clear shot, but�" Munch began.
"H&R is out," Abbie interrupted him with a shake of her head.
"You think that IAB is going to believe for a second that Jill didn't know where he was the whole time? Especially given that we had a plainclothes on the QT sitting on Frank's school because we had inside dope he might pop there? I couldn't even sell that to the idiots on the OJ jury. She'll be cooked with the NYPD, and they may damn well decide to press criminal charges. Dirty cops make a lot of ADA's careers these days, and with the Narco tie-ins� she'd be a sitting duck. Nothing I or anyone else could do to stop it."
"Regardless of her guilt or innocence?"
"Whether or not Jill participated in any crimes, she did have guilty knowledge that could have helped IAB do their job. We've shaded the truth as much as we can. Now we can't expect the department to come gallivanting to the rescue without ponying up to the consequences."
"Then what do you suggest?"
"Sorenson and Sipowicz are pretty tight with you and Jill, aren't they?" At Diane's nod, Abbie continued. "They should have taken Tara through booking by now, and I've got an attorney waiting for her. Teresa Connors isn't going to let anyone have a go at her until she's billed and drilled Tara's story to the ground. They can be our back-up, provided Jill really is serious about being able to get him out. Five good cops and an ADA's word usually beats a skel every time."
"You hooked Tara Wheeling up with the biggest mob lawyer in New York?" Munch blurted, momentarily distracted by the news.
"She's the best criminal attorney I know," Abbie shot back.
"Yeah, if you're Tony Soprano."
"Stick to the relevant, Munch," the attorney warned. "In this instance, Teresa Connors' credentials aren't on that list."
"Er�" the SVU detective hesitated. "In that case, there's one other thing."
"Are you about to tell me this situation is even worse than I think?"
"In short. Yes." Abbie's prodding eyebrows forced the words out of him. "The cop who was supposed to have this place up� we think he's the one who let ex-Mr. Kirkendall walk."
Abbie swung an astonished gaze to Diane. "He flipped an undercover?"
"From what I know about Harry Denby, it probably wasn't that hard a job," Diane answered laconically. "Everything I hear is that he's halfway to filthy as it is."
"So Jill's in there with her twelve year old son, a dirty cop, and her ex-husband who wants to see her broken." At Diane and Munch's answering nods, Abbie Carmichael did something she hadn't done in two long decades.
She bowed her head and prayed.
The man beckoned Jill into the begrimed apartment with a mocking, sweeping gesture, as if opening the door to the Chelsea Hotel. "I don't think we've been formally introduced. I'm Harry Denby, of the NYPD�soon to be retired, of course."
Jill's jaw dropped a notch as comprehension dawned, and she realized that all the rules had just changed. Suddenly leaving that single bullet in the chamber when she handed the clip to her partner didn't seem so much like a game of Russian Roulette with her conscience, but rather the only chance she might have to save her and her son's lives. "You let him walk."
"Let's just say that I found it to my advantage to casually advert my eyes at an opportune moment. Your ex-husband has some lovely connections of the Peruvian variety who have generously agreed to donate to my retirement fund should I make Don unavailable for trial."
She snorted dismissively. "Are you crazy? They'll slit your throat, then cut off your hands and head and toss you in a dumpster once they're finished with Don."
"Quite a dire end you're predicting for me there," he said, with a negligent and overly dramatic toss of his head. Diane had told her that he had the haphazard charm of a drunken bull in a china shop who was randomly quoting Shakespeare as he pawed what little merchandise he didn't break. Now Jill could see what her partner meant. A thick shock of black hair fell lazily over one eye and would have been somewhat the better for a good wash. Indeed, all of Harry Denby looked like a thirty minute shower wouldn't even begin to wash the sheen of sweat, grit, and simple street dirt off his skin. His pupils were constricted to pinpicks awash in deep brown eyes, and what white showed was criss-crossed with a network of red. Each word he spoke was punctuated by a sniffle, and he casually wiped the back of his nose with the uncaring of habit. Harry Denby, Jill realized, was on a bender of epic proportions; the only trouble was, she didn't know if this could work in her favor or not. Breaking off her ruminations, Jill watched Denby eyeing her askance, as if trying to determine whether or not she would play along with him, and she wondered how much of this was part of a quest on Denby's part for suicide by cop. "I would�. Love� to get a look at your crystal balls," he taunted, staring at her chest.
"Not much of a hard prediction, Denby," Jill replied indifferently, ignoring his leer. "These guys don't fuck around." She paused, then added. "Or fuck up."
"Unlike yours truly."
"You hooked up with Don Kirkendall, didn't you?" she baited him, hoping that Don could hear.
"Not an amicable parting between you two, I'm guessing."
"Nothing Don Kirkendall's ever touched that hasn't turned to pure shit."
"A rather harsh indictment of the man you promised to love, honor and obey till death to you part."
"You bucking for a talk show gig, Denby?"
"Merely trying to understand the motivations of all the players."
"And yours?" she prodded. "Oh, that's right. You're all about the suicide run." She swiftly crossed the few steps separating them, pulling her Glock from its holster at her side and pressing it against his temple. "I can make that a short trip for you, Denby," she breathed into his ear, while her free hand searched the waistband of his pants and pulled out a .38. "Kind of a pansy piece," she mocked him, concealing the Smith & Wesson in the small of her back. "Would have figured you for the overcompensating type."
"What can I say?" he shrugged lazily. "I am what I am."
"You break out into that Popeye the Sailor Man, I really will cap you."
"You mean you aren't going to? Detective, I'm so disappointed."
"You haven't figured out by now that he's not here?"
Feeling the first shivers of apprehension coursing through her spine, Jill shook her head. "I got a precinct full of cops outside that say different."
"The squad detectives are even more stupid than I thought." He shook his head in bemused disappointment. "Such a shame, too. I had such high hopes for Diane�Detective Russell," he clarified disingenuously. "But then, you two are close, aren't you? It's amazing what one partner will do for another. If I'd had a partner that I had been as�" he paused delicately, "Close� to as you are to Diane, then maybe I would still be upholding the thin blue line instead of straying from it."
"You were going to tell me where Don was?" she prodded, pressing the gun a bit more tightly into his temple and ignoring the bait.
"Ow," he winced, bending a little at the pressure against his skull. "You know there's really no need for this kind of brutality."
"Brutality would be if I beat where Don was outta you. I'm as gentle as a lamb right now. That could change," she warned. "Where is he? Where is my son?"
"Well..." he looked over Jill's shoulder towards the doorway behind her. "I don't have an exact 20 on your ex. But your son� well, he's the little guy watching his mother put a gun to my head."
"You get Tara all settled?" Abbie asked as Sipowicz and Sorenson tumbled out of the department issed Towncar.
"As settled as one can be in the pokey," Sorenson informed her. "And let me tell you, that Teresa Connors is a piece of work. She's got Ms. Cabot so tied up in knots, she doesn't know whether to shit or go blind."
"It was a beautiful site to behold," Andy agreed. "Not that we like mob lawyers," he added.
"But given the lesser of two evils," Danny nodded his agreement.
"In this particular instance..."
"Guys�" Abbie interrupted.
"The devil you know," Andy said.
"Instead of taking my chances with the deep blue sea," the younger cop parried.
"Jill is trapped in a building with Don, her son and maybe Harry Denby, carrying a Glock with no clip�" Diane burst out, interrupting the banter between the two men.
"Don't you have anything positive to say at all?" Danny looked disbelievingly at her.
"Well, she may have a round in the chamber."
"Comic relief is not what we need at the moment," Abbie barked.
The two other detectives sobered suddenly. "What do you need?"
"You two to back us up."
"Us?" Danny queried. "You suddenly start packing?"
"I'd be surprised if it was a new thing," Andy couldn't help but mutter under his breath.
Abbie shot him a withering look. "Are you in or out? Cause if you're out, I need to call in a few favors."
"Jill don't need no overly tense ADA doing her favors," Andy disagreed. "We take care of our own."
"Good. Then this is what I need you to do�"
"Um�" Munch ventured, then literally tugged at Abbie's sleeve to get her attention. "I hate to throw yet another wrench in the already monkeyed works, but� isn't that Don Kirkendall coming down the street?"
The three other detectives and the ADA looked in the direction Munch's chin was lifted, just in time for them to catch site of Don Kirkendall ambling down the street towards them, oblivious�until that moment�of any scrutiny. Five sets of eyes fixed on him with a hungry intensity, stutter-stepping them all into momentarily paralysis. The moment teetered precariously on the edge of eternity, until Diane was the first to break its thrall. Starting from a dead stop into close to a full sprint, Diane tore towards her partner's ex-husband and the bane of all their existences for these long weeks. Already backing away, Don spun full on his heels and began to run in the opposite direction, three furious NYPD detectives and one outraged District Attorney hot on his heels. Diane reached him first, his much bulkier frame far slower than her lithe one. A strangled cry of anger and frustration poured from Diane's throat as she hurled herself into the air, bringing him down in a sprawling heap. Sipowicz and Sorenson were right behind her, service weapons and cuffs at the ready.
"I thought you said he was in the building?" Diane shouted over her shoulder at the lanky SVU detective.
"You ever hear of back doors?" Kirkendall sneered, and was rewarded by the abrupt introduction of his nose into the pavement.
"Did I fucking say anything to you, asshole?" Diane shouted hoarsely, grinding the muzzle of her gun into his flesh.
He yelped slightly in pain as Diane caught him by the hair and dragged his face up to meet Abbie's. His eyes widened in recognition. "You fucking dyke," he spat. "You think getting a goon squad to run me down is going to make you hers? Huh?" he taunted. "Where is she right now? Right where I knew she would be. Waiting up there for me."
Both Diane and Abbie were vividly aware of the confused exchange of glances between Sipowicz and Sorenson, but both men mercifully let the subject go for now.
"I'd say that kidnapping a cop's son and then waiting for her to show up at your hidey hole is not a smart way of doing business, Don," Abbie replied evenly. "In fact, I'd say it was fucking stupid."
"Who said anything about kidnapping?" he protested. "She knew right where we were, didn't she?" He must have seen the flicker of doubt in Abbie's eyes, for he pressed his advantage. "Just like she's always known. Just like I knew she'd come. She'll always come for me, dyke. Always." The derision in his eyes twisted the words into their most salacious meaning. "I bet you can't say the same."
"Arrest this asshole," she said curtly to Sipowicz and Sorenson, unwilling to let him taunt her any longer, unwilling to let her doubts loom any larger in her thoughts. "And make sure he understands his right to remain silent," she emphasized, then needlessly clarified, "Gag the bastard if you have to."
"Don't want to hear the truth?" he continued to taunt, until Sorenson took Diane's position behind him and reintroduced his nose to the pavement.
"You have the right to remain�" Thwack. "Silent." Thwack "Got it?" Danny pulled his head back, letting the blood run freely over the other man's face. "You want me to show you what silent means again?"
"No.." he gagged on the blood running into his mouth. "I got it."
"Smart boy," Danny approved. "Now come with us." He looked at Diane and Abbie questioningly. "You want we should go ahead and run him to the House?" His shellacked expression read strongly of confusion, but also of unwavering support for his precinct partners and the trust they had put in this new ADA.
Diane shook her head. "Just sit on him out here for a minute." The rest of the sentence: we may need you for more backup went unspoken.
Andy nodded his agreement. "Hey, Stretch..." he motioned towards Munch. "Sit on this asshole for a minute while we go up and get our partner?"
Munch eyed the motley collection of law enforcement officers and their prisoner thoughtfully and nodded his agreement. "Delighted to." Seeing Diane jerk her heads towards the building in which Jill had disappeared, he looked at Abbie. "And perhaps Ms. Carmichael should keep me company."
Abbie shook her head vehemently. "No way." Every fiber of her being ached to make sure her lover was already. Now that they had Don in custody, each moment that passed without Jill's reemergence only
increased the frentic beat of her heart. Had Jill gone in there and discovered Don gone and Frank safe, none of them would still be standing there. Something had gone terribly wrong-- the unspoken truth hovered over all of them-- and Abbie wasn't about to wait one more minute.
"You want me standing out here with him?" Abbie cocked her chin in Don's direction. "Fine. Munch, can I borrow your service weapon?"
Don Kirkendall only smirked at the question until he saw Munch withdraw the police-issue Glock and hand it to the attorney. He started shaking his head frantically and backing away when he saw her handle the weapon familiarly and level it easily at his chest.
She glanced calmly at Diane, who was staring at her in wide-eyed disbelief. "You really want to leave me alone here with him?"
Diane knew in spite of Abbie's implacably cool exterior, she was dying on the inside each second Jill was away from her. She knew because she felt much the same way. "You trying to half-step over that line, Abbie? Make this right in your head?"
"I want him to stop hurting her. And I want her out of that building. I'm going to accomplish one of those two goals in the next five minutes. You get to pick which one it is."
"You can't make using a gun on a handcuffed man right."
The words echoed resonantly in Abbie's head, lingering in the air and reminding her of a night and the rain and a time when they were hers said to the woman saying them to her now. They were as right then as they were now, and she nodded her recognition with a weary sigh. Lowering the gun, she took a last look at the man who had thrown away the love of such an extraordinary woman. "You're an asshole, Kirkendall," she muttered to him, bringing her hand up in a sweeping arc and backhanding him in a powerful blow that sent blood, snot and already loosened cartilidge splashing over Munch's black suit. "I'm going to get Jill."
"I don't think that will be necessary," Munch said, looking away from the newly-created mess on his clothing and towards the tenement doorway. Abbie swiveled in the direction of his glance and saw three forms emerging from the shadows. A medium-built man in his late thirties with his hands behind his head
came first; followed by the lean, familiar shape of her lover and the smaller form of her eldest son. Late afternoon sunlight poured over the golden cap of Jill's hair, highlighting every spun silk strand and tracing the elegant planes of her face. She looked exhausted and pushed to her limits, but there was a triumphant expression in her hazel as she recognized the man in cuffs and the group of detectives surrounding them. Handing Harry Denby wordlessly off to Sorenson and Sipowicz, she didn't waste so much as a breath or or a glance on her ex-husband. Instead her arms found their way about her son and her gaze to Abbie's face.
"Let's go home."
"They down?" Abbie asked quietly as Jill emerged from the short hallway between her sons' rooms. She had no idea how many hours had passed between the moment her heart had finally started beating again and now-- all of them a blur of official inquiry and demand until Leo Cohen had finally thrown up his hands in surrenderand said, "Be here at seven-- all of you," leveling his eyes at the five detectives and the other assistant district attorney. "We'll sort this out then."
Together they had gathered Frank from the upstairs "crib" where the detectives' frequently caught up on sorely-missed sleep and Kyle from the home of a soccer teammate and wearily made their way to Jill's apartment. Abbie had left Jill's side only long enough to run down to Mae's diner and pick up generous helpings of roast beef, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and a few stray vegetables that snuck their way into the styrofoam containers. Fed and bathed, the excitement of the day had finally proven too much for the boys, who crawled into bed with uncomplaining obedience.
She waited in the living room while Jill spent a long time just studying the shape of her sons' faces, imprinting their features at this moment, knowing that a part of their childhood had irrevocably ended for them today.
Jill rubbed her eyes, red-rimmed with exhaustion and unshed tears and nodded. She stood awkwardly in the living room, as if on an alien planet-- the things of her home and life suddenly unfamiliar. Her gaze became cloudy and unfocused, and for a minute Abbie was afraid the other woman was going to pass out. Then cloudy green cleared and fixed on Abbie with unwavering purpose. "Come here," she said hoarsely, holding out her hand.
Wordlessly, Abbie complied, rising from the couch in a gracefully fluid motion and enfolding her lover in a tight embrace.
Jill buried her face in the dark length of Abbie's hair, inhaling the growingly familiar sent of sandalwood and the mild tang of sweat on her skin. She drew a shuddering breath, brushing lips over the delicate curl of an ear, whispering softly, "Come to bed."
Abbie pulled back slightly, still holding the other woman close. "The boys?"
"The boys are asleep. And I..." she hesitated, ducking her head away from the confession. "I need you, Abbie." Resting her head again in the comfort of her lover's shoulder. "Please..." her voice trailed away, rendering the plea almost inaudible.
Abbie's breath snagged its path in her throat, and her heart squeezed powerfully within the confines of her chest. She could no more deny Jill the succor of her touch than she could the pulse of her own life. Cupping the other woman's head in her hands, she drew their gazes level, she fulfilled the prophecy of Jill's words the night before-- promising silently to break herself before she would ever hurt this magnificent person in her arms. Her lips found Jill's, parting breathlessly and inviting Jill's to do the same. Faint traces of the honey and whiskey toddy Abbie had made for her lingered on Jill's tongue as it sought entrance into Abbie's mouth.
She granted this gentle invasion with one of her own, feeling the kiss deepen and shift into something more intense and urgent. Her fingers tangled in the fine strands of Jill's cropped hair while Jill's own hands curled around the graceful curve of Abbie's torso, loosening the silk blouse from its tuck into her trousers. Her abdomen flexed and roiled uncontrollably at first touch of Jill's fingers on her bare flesh, and a low groan rippled into their unended kiss. The reality of what was about to happen seared itself into Abbie's consciousness as those same fingers sought the rounded smoothness of her breasts. "Jill..." she managed, grateful that her lover seemed to comprehend the meaning of the word when they started moving out of the living room.
Trousers, shoes, shirts and undergarments were all surrendered to the brief stretch of carpet between the bedroom doorway and the bed itself. Abbie shuddered as Jill turned in her embrace to pull back the coverlet with an impatient tug of her arm, and they tumbled like that-- back to front-- onto the welcoming surface. Abbie nuzzled the delicate patch of skin at the base of Jill's neck, her tongue feathering lightly over the goosebumps her touch had raised.
"See you..." Jill murmured incoherently, legs tangling and back arching; and Abbie freed her long enough to settle once more in their embrace. Hazel eyes focused on sienna, need flaring between them as she brought Abbie's hand to her center and her own to Abbie. "Touch you..."
There would be time enough, Abbie knew instinctively, for the kind of patience and reverence she wanted to lavish on Jill's body. The first time they had made love had proven that. Now was about reconnection, a grounding to the earth, to web of devotion that was beginning to weave between them. Still, she gasped at the thick evidence of Jill's need for her. The easy track of Jill's hand along the path between her legs needlessly provided proof of her own desire; and she arced into the touch, slipping her leg over Jill's hip and offering herself to the woman in her arms.
Jill moaned in response, her mouth never leaving Abbie's, delivering a series of kisses that spiraled their passion still higher. Hips and hands found a rhythm as old as the centuries, yet was singularly unique in this permutation. She was surrounded by Jill, her scent her sweat her breath her essence even as she felt herself encompassing Jill. An obdorous not of frustratrion, but completion. A keening and a calling.
A coming home.