Alex watched Arlea sleep in her crib. Every few minutes she'd reach down and stroke the girl's hair, touching her gently, lovingly.
She hadn't meant to break down like she did, but the contrast between the absolute good of the tiny child, and the absolute evil that she and Teren had been fighting, had suddenly overwhelmed her. Holding onto her playmate, she'd sobbed for several minutes, with Teren softly stroking her back. Ken and David had looked concerned, as Miri had finally convinced her to stand, and carry Arlea with her to the baby's room.
There, she'd sat in the rocker that Miri normally used, and held her friend tight, even as Miri had knelt beside them and sung a soft lullabye. Once Arlea was asleep, Miri had placed her in the crib and Alex had watched, her eyes half closed, as Miri put a blanket over her and left the room.
Alex knew she should go downstairs and rejoin the group, but she wanted just a few more moments of peace, as she watched her playmate slumber.
Miri opened the door cautiously, carrying two mugs in her hands. She smiled at Alex, and motioned for her to sit back in the rocker. Pulling over a footstool, the shorter woman sat beside her, and offered her a cup. Alex smiled as the scent of cinnamon and chocolate drifted up to her nose.
"Alex, I wanted to talk to you about the night David got shot."
Alex closed her eyes against the threatening tears. "I'm sorry, Miri."
"I promised to keep him safe."
Miri's small tan hand patted hers, and then gently squeezed. "It wasn't your fault, Alex. David said he went over everything from that night, time and time again -- so did Ken, so did Cliff. With the information you had, there was nothing you could have done to stop the ambush."
"No." Miri's voice was firm. "No, Alex. What I said on the phone that night, what I told you -- Alex, I'm the one who should apologize. When I got your call, I just reacted to the fact that David had been shot. I didn't think about anything else. Not you, not Ken, not anyone. Just David." She pulled away, and stared at her cup. "I spoke from my own pain, and I hurt you even more. I'm so sorry, Alex."
"It was my fault," Alex whispered. "Teren keeps saying that it wasn't, but I was in charge, I should have had better security --"
"You had six agents, and two policemen in a backup car. You had no idea that someone was going to take out your backup, or that two of the agents would disobey orders and leave their vehicle. You took the required precautions, and the fact that it wasn't enough had nothing to do with you." She lowered her voice. "David says there's a traitor on the task force. Is that true?"
"Yes." She didn't want to tell anyone yet about Tom Jorgen and Rudy Wilkins. "And someone higher up as well."
Miri's let her shoulders sag. "You think it's Cliff, don't you?"
Raising an eyebrow, Alex looked at her and sighed. "Yes. Or, Teren does, rather."
"What do you think?"
Alex shook her head. "I don't know. I don't want to believe it, but there are some clues that point to him. It's enough to make me wonder."
The two of them were quiet for a moment, just watching Arlea as she slept. Alex could feel parts of her psyche slipping back into place, little pieces that she'd been missing. It was like coming home, and she leaned back to savor that moment of peace.
Teren had watched quietly as Miri guided her partner into the other room, then dropped her gaze to the floor. She let out a deep breath, and closed her eyes.
"How has she been, Teren?" David asked quietly. "Are you taking care of my partner?"
She felt an inward flinch as she heard the term. Teren sighed.
"As best I can, David. And I think she's been doing pretty good." She shrugged. "She cries -- a little. But she's tough when she needs to be." Teren nodded. "Yeah, I think she's okay. She needs a break, and a nice vacation -- we both do." She leaned forward, her elbows on her knees. "I'll be glad when we end this."
"How close are you? To ending it, I mean."
"Not as close as I'd like, but a hell of a lot closer than we were when we got off the plane." She noticed Ken was nodding.
"Yep. Told you, Dave. There's no way Alex is going to let go of this. Badge or no badge, she'll keep going." He turned to Teren. "You saying you got something overnight?"
"Yeah." Teren took a deep breath. "We got Derek White."
Both jaws dropped, and Teren was tempted to reach over and close them. Instead, she leaned back and stretched out, crossing her legs at her ankles.
David recovered first, and cleared his throat. "So, did you turn him over to the Bureau or the local police?"
"Neither. He's being held at a CIA facility. And that's all I'm going to say." She grinned. "The Bureau may have pulled Alex's badge, but the Agency put me back on active status -- and since Alex and I proved that there are international connections, to possible terrorist organizations, it is the CIA's right to be involved. And they are -- through me."
Ken nodded. "I figured the Agency was going to get more involved, especially when Graves told Cliff you'd been involved in some kind of mess with -- what is it? The Bundskrim?"
"Bundeskriminalamt, or BKA. Yeah, we helped expose a Nazi cell in Munich."
David looked confused. "What did that have to do with this case?"
"Well, these Nazi's were part of the money system that was paying for the killings here in the States. We traced the money angle back to Switzerland, and then to Munich, where we got lucky."
Ken snorted. "Right -- your head looks like it got real lucky." He and David chuckled, and Teren smiled at them.
"Okay, so not all the luck was good. But we took out the bad guys, and found the papers that could connect our conspirators to the Nazi money." She ran a hand across her bandage. "Okay, Alex found the papers. I slept."
The guys chuckled again.
"So, you found White. Did he tell you who their contact in the Bureau is?"
"No, he didn't know the guys real name. But he can, and will identify the man if we can put together some sort of line up. The only problem with that is, without more evidence, it'll be impossible to get the FBI to agree to any kind of line up, even pictures -- and without cooperation, it would be hard to get the photos for anyone at Cliff's level or higher."
"Any physical description?"
Teren shrugged. "Pretty general. Middle age, salt and pepper hair, just a touch overweight. Alex said it describes just about everyone from Cliff on up."
"It does." David nodded. "So, what else did White tell you?"
"He confirmed a lot of stuff. Who did the actual shooting in each hit, who drove the shooter, and he admitted that a guy that works for him in Alabama built the bombs. He used to be an army demolition specialist, but was released with a dishonarable discharge after a stay at Leavenworth, first.-- he blew up his CO's office."
"Did he mention Arturo? Bill and Vic said they could put Mather in LA, and talking to the guy who killed Arturo."
"Yeah, he said it was part of their plan. They chose to use gang bangers to take out him and at least a few other people. But, the one guy, who pulled the trigger on Arturo, started demanding more money, so Treville sent a couple old friends, supposedly to give him cash -- they killed him instead."
Ken shook his head, but didn't say anything.
"He said that after Mather was killed, most of the leaders wanted to wait, make the Feds think that it was over. Then they could strike without a lot of pressure, and also take their time choosing their new killer. But Treville, and the guy in the FBI decided they wanted another killing to throw off the investigation. So, Treville told Brogan to contact what's his name, in Colorado. He was supposed to kill Ann Seffren. But he missed. Derek said Treville had decided then that Brogan couldn't be trusted, and he had White make the bomb for his house. He didn't know who made the bomb that blew up Kittredge."
"We do," Ken said smugly.
He shrugged. "We traced the parts to New York. Steve and Lou went up there, and they found a credit card receipt that led them to this guy that does odd jobs."
"Why would he be making bombs and sending them to Alabama?"
"Hey, I don't know," he said as he raised his hands. "All I know is that they got together with Ben and Mark, and the four of them were real happy. I asked what was going on, and they said they didn't want to tell anyone until they had it locked down." He sighed. "Gotta tell ya, this thing with the ambush, and the possiblity of someone in the room being a turncoat --" he shook his head, "people are afraid to work with each other. They trust their partners, and nobody else."
Teren nodded. "Yeah, I can understand where they're coming from."
All of them grew silent at the sound of a door opening down the hall. A moment later, Alex and Miri came into the living room.
Alex stopped and looked at them. "Miri, I think they were talking about us."
Miri twisted her head to the side and eyed her husband, who was wearing a sheepish grin. "I do believe you might be right, Alex. What should we do to punish them for it?"
The blonde put a hand under her chin, and a thoughtful look appeared. "Well, David can't leave the couch, so we'll have to think of something else to punish him," she said, "but I think maybe the other two should help you in the kitchen, getting lunch together. What do you think?"
Miri ignored the shaking heads, and nodded, putting an arm around her friend. "I think it's a great idea, Alex."
Ken groaned, and pointed at his leg. "But I can't stand up for a long time," he whined with a grin.
"And my head hurts." Teren pointed at her bandage, and made puppy dog eyes at Alex.
But Alex wasn't buying. "Nope, sorry, pal. You told me earlier it didn't hurt a bit. Remember?"
"Well, that was earlier --"
"And your choice is to help Miri in the kitchen, or you can take a pill and go nighty-night. I'm sure I can handle this afternoon just fine."
Teren stood. "Come on, Ken, we've got lunch to make." He groaned, and she glared at him. "Don't even try it. You're not even using your crutches."
Finally, he grinned, and stood. Teren glanced back at her partner and winked once as she followed Miri and Ken into the kitchen.
Leaving Alex alone with her partner.
She grinned at him. "I guess your punishment is that you get stuck with me, huh?"
He smiled, and patted the couch beside him. "That's not punishment. Not by a long shot. Come 'ere, Alex."
She sat next to him, they leaned against each other.
"I've missed you, David."
"Missed you, too. When Ken told me they were railroading you, and you were on the run with Teren, I --" he shook his head. "Well, I nearly got out of bed, tubes and all."
Alex smiled at him.
"But, I figured that if anybody could keep you safe it was Teren." He sighed. "Lord knows I couldn't."
His partner narrowed her eyes at him. "What are you talking about? I'm the one that came through without a scrape."
David raised an eyebrow. "Really? Then why did Ken say Teren needed suture kits to take care of you?"
Her face got hot. "It was just a graze, under my elbow. It's healing well."
"Good. Ken said you were dripping blood and wouldn't let the doctors do anything."
"It wasn't dripping, just bleeding a little."
"Right." He grinned and put an arm around her shoulders.
Alex grew somber. "David."
"I'm sorry. I led us into the ambush, and I nearly got you killed." She sighed. "If I had it to do over again --"
"You'd do the exact same thing." She looked up into his serious eyes. "Alex, that ambush was the result of somebody on the inside playing against us. You didn't have a clue, at that moment, that the whole thing was a set up. None of us did. You went by the book -- and somebody else threw the book out. It's not your fault."
"It wasn't your fault." He held her chin, keeping her eyes level with his. "It was an ambush, nothing more or less than that. We'll all carry scars, but not because of you -- as a matter of fact, I think I owe you a thank you."
She looked at him in confusion. "Why?"
He sighed and turned his gaze toward the floor. "I remember hearing a click behind me, and I turned. As I did, there was this ripping pain, and I hit the ground. I knew my gun was still in my hand, but I couldn't raise it, couldn't even yell. I saw the guy above me, and he grinned and cocked his gun again. I thought I was dead." He closed his eyes. "Then I saw him turn slightly, and he raised his gun and fired. At the same time the back of his head kind of mushroomed out, and I watched as he fell." He opened his eyes and looked at his partner. "The last thing I remember thinking is that I nearly let him shoot you. I had my gun in my hand, and I couldn't stop the bastard."
Alex reached up and brushed the hair from his forehead. "Tell me you haven't been beating yourself up for this, David."
He nodded, his gaze dropping again.
Alex sighed. "We're quite some pair, you know? You get shot, and I blame myself. I get a small bullet scrape, and you feel guilty about it." She shook her head. "Teren would probably smack us both on the head."
David grinned a little, and squeezed her shoulders. "Alex, Ken told me you killed that guy."
She swallowed. "Yeah, I did. Him and a couple others."
Her partner frowned at her. "I thought Teren took out the others."
"In Philly? She did. I'm talking about the cemetery in Germany -- where Teren was shot."
"Oh" He paused. "How are you handling that?"
She shrugged. "Sometimes okay, other times not." Her hands fidgeted in her lap. "I have nightmares -- about that, and you getting shot, and Teren . . " She let her voice trail off.
"How is Teren?"
"Good." Alex grinned. "She's like a kid when she's not feeling good, but other than that, she's doing well." She chuckled. "Wouldn't let the doctors keep her more than one night. Insisted that she wanted to leave the hospital and stay with me."
David raised an eyebrow, and caught her gaze.
"Something you want to tell me, Alex?"
She thought about that. Did she want to tell him? And if she did, just what would she say?
"No," she said slowly. "I don't think so. I mean, I'm not sure what to say, so I don't want to say anything. It's just a little early, Dave."
His smile widened. "But you like her. A lot."
"Are you in love?"
She took a deep breath and let it out. "I don't know."
"Have you slept with her?"
The smile became a grin. "You have, haven't you?" Her blush gave him an answer. "That's cool, Alex. I'm happy for you."
"David, I don't know how she feels." Her voice dropped, and he had to lean closer to hear her. "We haven't talked. There hasn't been time."
He nodded, pulling her closer to him. "It'll be okay, Alex. You two are gonna end this, and then you'll sit down and have that talk." He kissed her gently on the head. "You'll say you love her, and she'll say she loves you, and the two of you will be as happy as Miri and I."
Alex sat up and looked at him. "David, why do I always believe you when you talk like that? I mean, you're almost never right, but I still feel better."
He grinned. "Cause you know that eventually the odds will be on my side, and I'll get one right."
She laughed and leaned back against him.
Lunch was a comfortable affair, with David and Alex teasing each other, and enjoying their friendship. Even Teren relaxed enough to hold Arlea, feeding her part of her own meal. Ken kept grinning at the picture the two made, which would make Teren growl. Arlea seemed to enjoy the low rumbling in her new friend's throat, though, and would laugh playfully whenever she heard it.
Finally, after a leisurely meal, Alex and Teren looked at each other and nodded. They had a plane to go meet.
"Well, gang, it's been wonderful. But, Teren and I have work to do."
Miri looked up at her. "Are you sure you don't wanna stay a little longer?"
"Thanks, Miri, but no. It was a great lunch, though."
"Alright." Miri reached over and took Arlea from Teren's arms. The little girl reached out for Alex, who leaned over and kissed her.
"I need to get this little one cleaned up." She gave Alex a half hug, and did the same to Teren. Arlea tried to climb into Teren's arms again, and howled in outrage when she couldn't.
"Oh, you hush, you. You don't want to go with them anyway." Miri winked at the two of them. "Alex, you'll call soon?"
"And Teren -- you're always welcome, alright?"
Teren smiled and nodded. "Thanks, Miri. That's nice to know."
Miri nodded and smiled, then left, carrying Arlea who was still sniffling.
Alex turned to David. "You look good, pal. Hurry up and get well, alright?"
"Will do." David reached up for a hug, and kissed Alex's cheek gently. "It's good to see you, Alex." He turned his gaze to Teren. "And you -- come here and give me a hug before you go."
Teren raised an eyebrow, but did as he requested.
David whispered in her ear, "It's a good thing you've been taking care of her, Teren. She's my partner, you know."
The dark woman pulled back slightly and looked into his eyes. "I know. She's mine, too."
The brown eyes in front of her widened, as David's smile turned to a grin.
Teren straightened back up and turned to Alex, who was watching Ken slip into his coat.
"Where are you going, Ken?"
"With you, Alex." He pulled up the zipper on his jacket.
"Um, no, Ken, I don't think so." Alex smiled, but shook her head. "You don't have any idea what kind of trouble you could get into."
"Don't care. You either take me with you or I'll follow you."
Teren folded her arms and looked at him. "Ken, Alex has already lost her badge. You sure you want to risk yours as well?"
"Yes." He pulled out his FBI identification and laid it on the table. "I'll give it up in a heartbeat." He started towards the door.
"Wait, Ken, no. You don't want to do this." Alex took his arm and made him face her. "Look, I'll get my badge back, I swear I will. Don't get yourself in trouble over this, okay? I mean it."
"Alex, I don't care about the goddamn Bureau. I care about you, and tall, dark and dangerous here. Got it?"
"That's nice, Ken, but you're not going." Teren stepped past him, then whirled around to glare at him when his hand grabbed her shoulder.
"You don't have a choice." His voice softened. "Besides, I promised Cliff I'd keep an eye on the two of you. Make sure you didn't need back up."
At the mention of Cliff's name, Alex tensed. "Why did he want you to do that, Ken? He hasn't cared up until now."
"The hell he hasn't. He practically begged Graves for information. He was as worried as anyone."
Teren glanced at Alex, wondering if the shorter woman was thinking the same thing she was. Alex's brow was creased, and her mouth was pulled into a frown.
Making a decision, Teren nodded. "You want to come with us? Fine. But I'm telling you now, you will do exactly what we tell you, when we tell you, or I'll stuff you into a locker at the airport, and leave you there. Got it?"
Ken nodded. "Got it."
Teren growled at him, and glanced at Alex, who was still frowning. Then she led the way out, with her blonde partner behind her. They left Ken to wave goodbye to David and close the door behind them.
To Be Continued Chapter 40
original fiction <> homepage