Author's Note: I am such a glutton for punishment, it's just not funny. I'd also like to kill my muse right now. This is a sadistic little story (though probably not little for long) came to me the other night, and insisted on being started. And since I started it, I figured I might as well put it up and see how people take it. This is just a short first chapter, and it's probably as close as I could get to a traditional Criminal Intent episode opening. Where it goes from here could be anyone's guess, including mine...
And, according to the translations I got, the two Italian phrases that are towards the end of this chapter are simply 'Oh my God', and 'Holy Mary, Mother of God'. If this is not the case, I claim poetic license.
The title is more of a working title than a definitive one. I couldn't think of anything else at the time.

Rated: M, for high-level angst and physical suffering, and strong references to violence. You have been warned. This isn't a happy, fluffy story. I'm seriously trying to outdo myself here, so if you felt uncomfortable with the opening couple of chapters of 'Nightmare', or the violence in 'Deliverance' turned you off, don't read this.

Disclaimer: I do not own anything pertaining to Law & Order: Criminal Intent, or Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The show, characters, and everything therein belongs to Dick Wolf - except for the character Rosa Pirelli.

Friday afternoon

Mrs Rosa Pirelli puffed breathlessly as she trudged into the foyer of her apartment building, struggling under the weight of two very large shopping bags that were filled to the brim with groceries. Her daughter held told her many times that if she insisted on shopping weekly, she should call the grocery store and have it delivered, but Rosa enjoyed the outing and she enjoyed seeing all the familiar faces.

Getting home might have been a bit of a bother, but it was worth it in her opinion.

“Here, let me help you, Mrs Pirelli.”

Rosa smiled as her neighbour, Robert Goren, fell into step beside her and gently relieved her of the heavy bags.

“Thankyou, Robert. You’re an absolute angel.”

He smiled wryly as he followed her into the lift.

“I’m no angel, Mrs Pirelli.”

She chuckled softly.

“You think I don’t know that? You think I don’t hear when you have lady friends over for the night. The walls aren’t soundproof, you know.”

To her amusement, his cheeks flushed violently red at her gentle teasing. He really was a very sweet man, she thought. It amazed her that no woman had, as yet, been lucky enough to catch him. Then again, she mused, her thoughts going to the lovely petite blond that he worked so closely with, and always raved about when she invited him over for a meal… Maybe, just maybe, this boy’s heart already belonged to another, and he just hadn’t realised it yet.

“You’re home early for a Friday,” she observed. “Don’t you usually work late?”

He grinned at that.

“If you call pizza and beer at Carucci’s work, then yeah. Usually. My partner and I usually have a standing appointment, but she had a family get-together to go to this evening.”

“And how is your partner? Alexandra, isn’t it?”

“Alex, yes…”

“Alexandra,” Rosa corrected, her voice taking on a strict tone. “I don’t agree with calling women by a boy’s name. Particularly one as lovely as your partner.”

Bobby smiled. That was just like Rosa. She refused to call him anything but Robert, and it was amazing how many different inflections she could put on those two syllables. It was no surprise, therefore, that she refused to call Eames anything but Alexandra.

“She prefers to be called Alex,” he tried one last time, and Rosa snorted in response.

“Nonsense. A lady likes to feel that she is a lady. You don’t go treating someone as lovely as that like one of the boys.”

He fell quiet at that, and she smirked to herself in triumph. It was amazing how many people living in their building were afraid of Robert, and yet she had no problems reducing him to speechlessness.

They reached her apartment, and Robert followed Rosa inside at her beckoning, depositing the bags safely on the table.

“Thankyou, dear,” she said, patting his hand affectionately. “Now, you are coming for dinner tomorrow night, yes?”

His cheeks flushed red again, this time with a different kind of embarrassment.

“I needed to talk to you about that, Mrs Pirelli.”

She focused a hard look on him.

“You’re not standing up an old lady, are you?”

The poor dear was actually nervous, she thought with affectionate amusement.

“It’s just… Well… Tomorrow… I’m expecting a visitor…”

“Another lady friend?”

“No! No… It, um… Actually, it’s my brother, Richie.”

Rosa’s amused smile faded quickly. She’d known Bobby Goren a long time now, nearly ten years, and she knew some of his family history. She had met his brother once before, albeit briefly, and didn’t like him one bit. Unlike his little brother Robert, Richard Goren came across as a sleazy creep who would cheerfully sell his own mother to get himself out of trouble. And trouble was what he was frequently in.

“In trouble again, is he?”

Bobby shuffled nervously from one foot to the other, staring intently at the floor.

“I don’t know… He said he just wants to catch up… I don’t know. But I don’t think I’m going to be able to come for dinner tomorrow night, Mrs Pirelli.”

She decided to let him off the hook, hating as always to see him so distressed.

“It’s all right, Robert. How about this, then. You have your little catch up with your brother tomorrow, and then you come for dinner on Sunday night. I’ll make ravioli, if you like.”

He hesitated in answering, but the way his eyes lit up was enough of an answer for her. Smiling, she patted his hand again.

“Good, that’s settled. You come for dinner Sunday night, seven o’clock on the dot, and you can tell me all about everything.”

He excused himself with a smile, and she watched him go with open affection. If she’d ever had a son, she hoped he would have turned out just like Robert Goren – smart, sweet, courteous and exceptionally kind. She knew he had a dark side… didn’t everyone? But she didn’t mind, and the truth was that she’d come to love him as dearly as she loved her own daughter.

Still smiling to herself, she set about putting away her groceries and thinking about what she would prepare for Sunday night to go with the ravioli.

Saturday night

Rosa looked up in annoyance for the umpteenth time that night, frowning darkly at the wall that separated her apartment from her neighbour’s as there was yet another loud crash. She didn’t know what could have started the fight that Robert was clearly having with his older brother, but if it kept going for much longer, she would be going over there herself to put a stop to it.

The crashing about had started perhaps half an hour ago; loud, muffled bangs that sounded for all the world like furniture was being thrown about. Just quietly, she was surprised the neighbours on the other side of Robert’s apartment hadn’t called the police. Although, it was common knowledge that Robert was a police officer, so they probably felt that whatever the trouble, he was more than capable of dealing with it.

Abruptly, the noise ceased. Rosa thought she could still hear the murmur of voices through the wall, but clearly whatever the fight had been about, it had been resolved. Finally…

Still frowning, Rosa settled back down in her bed to go to sleep. She’d let it go for now, but rest assured she would be having a strict word with Robert tomorrow night, without fail.

Sunday night

Rosa walked slowly down the hallway to Robert Goren’s apartment. He’d been due at her door at seven, sharp, and up until now he had never been late. She came up to his door and knocked firmly, once. To her surprise, and growing consternation, the door swung open easily.

“Oh il mio dio…”

The words slipped out almost unnoticed as she stepped inside the detective’s apartment, looking around in shock. The place was not merely a mess, it had been very thoroughly trashed. All the furniture was overturned, the television and the stereo was smashed, the few paintings that had hung on the walls had been slashed to ribbons. Worst of all, though, were the books.

The books that had filled the shelves all around his apartment had all been swept off onto the floor, pushed into one huge pile, and set alight. All that remained of them was charred rubble.

How, Rosa wondered in distress, did that happen without setting off the sprinkler system that every apartment was connected to?

Rosa looked around, and her gaze came to rest on the closed door that concealed the view of Robert’s bedroom. Heart in her throat, Rosa ventured over and knocked gently on the door.

“Robert…? Are you there? Are you all right?”

There was no answer. Somehow, she’d known there wouldn’t be. Feeling sick with anticipation, Rosa turned the handle and pushed the door wide open.

“Santa Mary, la Madre di Dio…”

For several long seconds, Rosa Pirelli stood on the threshold of Robert Goren’s bedroom, staring in horror at the sight before her, before turning and fleeing the apartment, screaming for help.

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