The office of Nina Sinopa was on the third floor of a building just off the Georgetown campus. Alex had trouble finding it, and was a few minutes late checking in with the receptionist. She hoped that she was late enough that the therapist might have left, but with a smile the secretary said that Nina would be with her and would she please take a seat?
Alex stalked to the other side of the waiting room. A moment later her name was called, and she turned back towards the receptionist.
"Miss Reis? You can go right in."
It's Agent Reis to you, you ..... Alex nodded and went through the door indicated.
The office she found herself in was painted a soft beige, with darker browns for the trim around the windows and the door. The whole office was decorated in earth tones, with a red brown sofa set that matched the color of the rug. Throw pillows were tossed around the room, and there was a brown bean bag chair near the couch.
Alex had expected flourescent lights, or at least an overhead fixture. Instead, there were three floor lamps scattered through the room, each giving off a circle of golden light that immediately eased Alex's nerves.
There was a large cherrywood desk in one corner, and behind it sat a woman with long brunette hair, and a very deep tan. She looked up and saw Alex.
"Come in. Please." She waved the agent forward into the office, and extended a hand, without standing up.
"I'm Nina. It's nice to meet you, Alex."
"Good to meet you, Nina." She took the offered hand, surprised at the obvious strength of the woman.
Nina was, Alex guessed, probably in her upper thirties, with dark eyes, and a wide smile. She was thin, but not overly so, and there was a wiry strength that was obvious to Alex's observing eye.
The woman seemed to be waiting for something, and watching Alex. The blond agent dropped her eyes and sat in a soft brown chair in front of the desk.
"So, what did you see in your observation, Alex?"
Alex raised her head. "Excuse me?"
"I've worked with government agents many times, and they all have one thing in common -- they have a need to observe and figure things out quickly, so they'll know how to react. So, I'm wondering -- what did you see?"
For a moment, Alex said nothing, her mouth open slightly. Then she leaned back and licked her lips.
"What did I see?" Nina nodded. "I noticed that there's a dreamcatcher in the window, and there's a smell of sage in the air. That, along with the earth tones in the room, tell me that you're either part native american, or believe strongly in native american traditions. I also noticed that the furniture is separated into two distinct areas; there's the one around your desk, and the one near the sofa and chairs." Nina smiled and Alex took a breath. "There's also a number of throw pillows around the office. Far too many for just one couch, so I would have to say that you use them somehow in therapy. Maybe you have people hit them, or throw them or something." She shook her head. "That's not something I've ever found particularly useful."
The woman laughed. "Well done, Alex. A very good observation." She leaned back. "I am indeed Native American; I'm one half Blackfoot, which is where my family name is from. I do feel very strongly about our traditions, and yes, I like to keep the room set in two areas. The desk is mainly for paperwork and such, while the couch and chairs is where I normally do counseling sessions."
Alex nodded. "And the pillows?"
"Well, certainly some people have used them as punching bags, and others throw them when they're angry. Others use them as shields, and hug them when they become uncomfortable. Still others simply use them as pillows. It's all in what you need them to be at the time."
Nina leaned forward over the desk. "Now, would you like to know what I saw when you walked in?"
The agent shrugged. "Sure."
"I saw someone who is completely aware of where she is, and obviously doesn't want to be there. Someone who is angry about something, but doesn't want to say anything. I'd say you were always taught to be polite, so you didn't want to say to my face that you really don't want to be here, and you think therapy is a waste of time. I also saw just a hint of paranoia, mixed with a strong confidence. But that confidence is like a wall, and it's showing a few cracks. My guess is there's been a trauma in your life recently. Within the last six months, certainly."
Alex cocked her head. "You know, that would be very impressive, if I didn't know it was Teren who told you all that."
Nina laughed. "Teren told me almost nothing. She said she had a friend who needed to find a therapist, and had to have one by Friday to keep her status, and would I be willing to meet with her. I said yes, and asked for your name. That was the extent of our conversation."
"Absolutely. I have this theory that it's always best to get information from the person, not from their friends, especially at the beginning of the therapy process. I don't ask other people what they think a person's problem is, I simply ask the person." She grinned. "So, what do you think your problem is, Alex?"
"I don't have a problem."
Nina shrugged. "Okay." She steepled her hands in front of her and rested her chin on them. "Then tell me why someone else thinks you do."
"Cause I shot someone."
"I see." She waited. Alex said nothing. "Did you kill them?"
"Yes." The answer came in a much softer voice.
"And that bothers you."
Alex shook her head vehemently. "No. I'm glad I killed the son-of-a-bitch."
"Okay." Nina noticed the way Alex avoided her gaze as she made the statement. "But your superiors think it bothers you, and said you had to find a therapist."
A nod. "Yeah, only it's the Bureau shrink that says I need therapy." She looked up at the woman. "I don't."
"Good. Glad we got that settled." She grinned. "Since you don't need therapy, why don't we just talk? You tell me about you, and I'll tell you about me. We'll get to know each other. If you like talking, you can come back and do it again."
"And pay you for it."
"Nope. The Bureau pays for it." She looked smug. "Just think of it as them paying me to let you spend time in my office."
Alex glanced around, then looked at Nina. "Yeah, okay, I could spend an hour or so here."
Alex pulled into the garage at the condo, and turned the ignition off. She waited for a moment, watching the garage door slide closed behind her.
The door into the house opened, and she could see Teren's silhouette outlined in the light behind her. Alex smiled at her.
Teren came down and leaned against the car door as Alex rolled down the window.
"Coming inside, babe?"
"No, I thought I'd just sit here for a few minutes."
"Okay." They were silent for a moment. "Long day?"
"Yeah, I guess you could say that." She gave a mock glare at the taller woman. "And you didn't help, sending me off to see a shrink with almost no warning."
"Hey, not my fault you put it off." Teren shrugged. "Besides, I'm willing to bet you liked her."
Alex nodded. "Yeah, I did. She's not bad, for a therapist. If I have to see one, I wouldn't mind it being her."
"Good." Teren leaned down and kissed her lover. "Now that we got that settled, are you ready to come inside? Dinner's waiting, with a nice bottle of wine."
"Oh, that sound's great." Alex opened the door and climbed out. She felt Teren's arm slip around her shoulders, and she leaned against her partner, letting herself be pulled into a welcoming hug.
After a moment she felt Teren pull back slightly, and she looked up into the electric blue that she loved. Teren smiled at her and leaned down for a kiss. When they separated, Alex sighed and wrapped both her arms around her partner.
"Nice to be home."
"Glad you're here." Teren kissed the top of the blonde head and then turned to lead the way into the house.
"Tell you what. You go settle down on the couch. I'll bring dinner, and we can cuddle a bit while we eat."
Alex stopped and grinned up at her. "You? Cuddle?"
Teren nodded. "Yep. I figured if you could bite the bullet and go see a therapist, I could make the sacrifice and cuddle for a while."
Her shorter partner smiled. "If I'm always going to get
this for a reward, then maybe I'll try two sessions a week."
Alex left Teren puttering about in the kitchen, and headed upstairs to change. She found Appleby lying across the top stair, his tail flicking into the air. He fixed her with an indignant glance.
She scooped him up off the floor and carried him into the room.
"Yeah, I know. You don't mind being here, but you hate it when Teren picks you up, right?" She let him jump down from her arms and watched as he paced carefully along the foot of the bed. Finally, he sat down and began washing himself. Alex grinned at him.
"Does this mean I'm forgiven?" He didn't even look up at her.
There was a crash from downstairs, and Appleby looked up, his eyes wide. Alex went to the balcony that overlooked the living room. She called down to her partner and asked if everything was okay.
Teren's voice wafted up from down below. "Oh, yeah, everything's fine. Just take your time." There was a pause, then Teren said, "Did you know that dishes get hot in the microwave?"
Alex sighed. "Um, yeah, knew that. Did you just make that discovery?"
"Me? Nope, huh uh." Another pause. "Well, yeah, but don't worry. I only dropped one plate."
She shook her blond head with a chuckle. "I'll be down in a minute, Ter."
For a moment, Alex remained where she was, just looking once again at the condominium that her partner lived in. It always felt comfortable to her, like a second home. The upstairs was one large bedroom loft that looked out over the living room. Underneath the loft was the kitchen and dining room, along with a half bath. The full bath was upstairs, with a tub big enough for both of them.
Along with the layout, Alex found she liked the color scheme. Two of the bedroom walls were a cheerful white, offset by the third, which was a midnight blue. For some reason, the contrast had a soothing effect on Alex. The bedspread that covered the queen sized mattress was also a dark blue that matched the wall perfectly.
The only furniture in the upstairs was the bed, a dresser, and a chest of drawers. In one corner was a stationary bike, that Alex knew Teren rode for twenty minutes every morning. Other than that, there was wide open space.
The downstairs was a different story. Almost no space existed along the walls, which were covered by several large bookcases, a small entertainment center, and a computer desk with, not one, but two very large computers on it.
In the middle of the room sat an oak coffee table, and a blue sofa covered in crushed velvet.
As she came downstairs after changing, Alex once again admired the framed pictures that hung over the staircase. She stopped for just a moment to grin at a picture of Teren and her former partner Perry. The two of them looked like brother and sister, with wide smiles, dark hair, and the same blue eyes.
For a moment she felt a pang of regret that she'd never meet the man. Then she closed her eyes, and said a prayer, grateful that Teren got out of the same fire fight that had taken her partner's life.
She heard Teren stifle a curse in the kitchen and entered the room carefully.
"Okay, what did you do now?"
"Hmm?" Teren looked up, then tried to slip her hand below the level of the counter. "Oh, nothing much."
Alex couldn't help notice the wrap around the hand.
"Right. Did anyone ever tell you you're a menace in the kitchen?"
"Uh -- well, yeah. Perry did. All the time."
"So, why do you still try to cook?"
"I didn't." Teren said. Then she lowered her head, a guilty look on her face. "I was just trying to heat some stuff."
"Uh huh." Alex came around the center island and lifted Teren's hand. She unwrapped it carefully, noting that the two ice cubes had almost melted, and that there was a large red welt across Teren's palm. "Lifted the plates without a hot pad again, did you?"
Teren shifted from one foot to the other.
"Oh, go on to the living room. I'll get this finished and join you in a minute."
"Are you sure? I could do it --" She stopped at the look on Alex's face. "Tell you what. I'll go pour the wine and meet you in the living room."
"Good idea." She grinned as her tall partner left the
"So, how was your first day back in the field?" Teren asked. The two of them were sitting on the couch, Teren against one arm of the sofa, and Alex tucked in on her left side. The blond had her feet stretched out along the length of the couch, while Teren's longer legs were propped up by the coffee table.
"It was okay. Got a new case already, and this one isn't going to be easy."
"Yeah, I heard a little about it. Tell me?"
"Well," Alex said slowly as she regarded her chopsticks, "so far we have two dead kids. One last week, and one this week. The first one was treated by DC police as just another homicide, but when we examined the records we found enough similarities to conclude it's the same killer or killers. This second one was given to us because it crossed the state line."
"Which made it federal," Teren said. Alex could feel her partner nodding, even though she couldn't see it. "Go on."
Alex thought for a moment as she took a bite of her chicken. When she spoke again her voice was quiet.
"The autopsy showed that she died of strangulation. She'd been badly abused, raped, and tortured. Most of the torture occurred while she was still alive."
Teren reached out and set her plate on the coffee table next to her feet. She turned slightly towards Alex and put an arm over her shoulders.
The blond agent continued. "As far as leads go, there aren't many yet. Some tire tracks at the scene, and two footprints at the place where she was abducted. They picked up some fibers from her feet, and there was some kind of material under her nails, but they haven't had a chance to analyze it completely yet."
"Hm." With a gentle rub on her shoulder, Teren encouraged her to go on.
"There was a feather in her hand. Definitely from a bird, though the lab is having trouble figuring out what kind."
"Direct from a bird? Not a pillow?"
Alex shook her head. "No, the lab said it definitely was not from a pillow."
"Okay." She waited, but Alex didn't speak again. "Is there anything else?"
The blond head shook, no. "Ben and Mark were supposed to canvass the neighborhood where the body was found. David and I are supposed to talk to the girls parents again tomorrow, and also speak to her teachers."
"Not looking forward to that, are you?"
"Nope." Alex sighed, and put her plate on the table next to Teren's. Her partner sighed as she noticed that the plate was still half full.
Alex's eating habits had changed in the last few months. She had always led an active life, and due to her metabolism, needed a greater intake of nutrients than most people expected. While her appetite was legendary, she never appeared to gain weight.
The last few months, though, she'd almost stopped eating, causing her weight to drop well below what was her norm. Before, she'd been thin but not overly so. Her muscles blended in with her natural body form, camouglaged in the softness. Now, however, those muscles stood out, as plainly visible as her ribs and hips.
Alex looked back at her. "What was that sigh for?"
"I wish you'd eat. You're getting to be nothing but skin and bones."
Alex shifted position, then let her head rest on her partner's thigh. "I'm all right. Really."
Teren softly stroked Alex's forehead. "You won't be if you keep this up. You can't just live on those damn nut grain bars, or whatever they are."
"I know." They stayed quiet for a little while, just enjoying the closeness.
"How come you haven't asked me about therapy yet?"
"You said it was fine and you like Nina."
"Yeah, but I expected you to have more questions." She tilted her head back so she could see into Teren's blue eyes. "Don't you want to know what we talked about?"
Teren smiled. "No. I'm just glad you have someone to talk to."
"I've always had someone to talk to." Alex smiled at her lover.
"Well, yeah, but you know me. I'm the strong silent type. Not much to say."
"Which makes you a great listener."
Teren chuckled. "Sometimes. But you don't need just a listener. You need someone who can help you work through this. I'm too close to you to be any good at that."
Alex glared up at her. "You think I need therapy, don't you?"
"I . . ." The tall woman hesitated, knowing she was approaching dangerous ground. Finally, with a shrug, she nodded. "Yeah. I think you do."
For once, Alex didn't turn away. She stayed where she was, with her head pillowed on Teren's lap.
"You know what I think I need?" she asked her partner.
"You." Alex reached up with one hand and pulled Teren's head down to kiss her.
To be continued in Chapter 4 -- soon, hopefully.
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