A/N: I decided to extend this chapter after realising that the section of text I'd written wasn't going to fit smoothly into the next planned chapter, but was too short to make into a chapter on its own.

Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler stood as close to the back wall of Deakins’ office as possible, trying their best to keep a low profile. The fur had been flying in every direction from the moment they’d arrived, and all because of a completely innocent remark from Elliot, casually asking where Goren and Eames were.

Just between themselves, Olivia and Elliot were amazed that a physical fight had not erupted between Deakins and Salinger, the animosity was so thick.

“Damn it, Deakins,” Salinger was snarling, “I said I wanted them back here right away! Just what the hell did you tell Logan and Bishop to say to them?”

Deakins didn’t so much as flinch in the face of Salinger’s fury.

“I told you, they went out to lunch. Now, unless you’re offering to send your own car to pick them up, they’ll have to walk back from wherever they might have gone to. Since Detective Goren is still severely restricted in his movement, I imagine it might take some time for them to get back here.”

“Goren’s still in a leg brace, then?” Cragen wondered, and Deakins nodded.


“You let him come back to work too soon, Jim,” Cragen said, shaking his head. Deakins’ expression hardened.

“Don’t go there, Don. It’s not your place to be making a judgment like that.”

Cragen held up his hands defensively.

“Just making an observation, Jim, that’s all. Don’t take it personally. All I’m saying is that I don’t think he should have come back to work while he still needs a leg brace to walk.”

“He’ll be in that leg brace for another twelve months or more,” Deakins said coolly, pointedly ignoring Salinger. “Are you suggesting I should have put him on indefinite leave?”

Surprise filled Cragen’s round face.

“Twelve months? I didn’t realise it was that serious. Is he going to be able to manage?”

Deakins threw a threatening look in Salinger’s direction, as though daring him to say something.

“I don’t have any doubts about his physical capabilities,” Deakins stated when Salinger opted to stay silent. “He can do the work. Don’t think for a second that he can’t.”

Olivia and Elliot exchanged glances, each one thinking the same thing. It had been bad enough to be told they had to share the investigation with the Dynamic Duo of Major Case, but having to pander to Know-It-All Robert Goren hobbling around in a leg brace…?

“Here they come,” Olivia announced suddenly as she spotted Bobby and Alex coming around the corner at the far end of the office, with Mike Logan and Lyn Bishop right behind them.

“Wow,” Elliot muttered under his breath to Olivia as the detectives neared the office. “They really look pissed off.”

He wasn’t wrong. By the time Bobby and Alex got to the door of Deakins’ office, their anger was plain for all to see. Even Deakins suddenly looked apprehensive, Olivia and Elliot both noticed silently. Only Salinger, in his arrogance, seemed oblivious to the potential danger from the two detectives.

A smug grin on his rat-like features, Salinger stood up to confront the detectives. Whatever he’d been planning to say, though, never made it past his lips.

Abandoning his walking stick to the floor as he crossed the threshold into Deakins’ office, Bobby all but lunged across the floor, grabbing Salinger by the lapels of his jacket and slamming him up against the filing cabinet.

Cragen, Elliot and Logan all shot forward, struggling to separate the two, but Bobby had Salinger in a vice-like grip, and wasn’t letting go.

“Deakins…” Salinger choked out, his face turning scarlet as Bobby effectively cut off the greater percentage of his vital air supply. “Get… Get him off me…”

Deakins hesitated in reacting, looking instead to Alex, who stood calmly just inside the doorway, watching the scene with obvious satisfaction. Waiting as long as he dared, Deakins finally turned back and spoke in a loud, firm voice.

“Goren, that’s enough, let him go. He’s not worth the exertion.”

Bobby responded instantly to Deakins’ order, falling back a few steps but still glaring at Salinger with outright hatred. Salinger glared right back, adjusting his shirt collar and tie as his face slowly started to return to its normal colour.

“Congratulations, Detective Goren,” he said hoarsely. “You just won yourself a formal reprimand.” He pointed to a nearby chair. “Now sit down before I decide to upgrade that to a suspension!”

Bobby, however, made no effort to move towards the chair. Instead, he continued to confront Salinger with an expression that would have planted fear in the bravest of hearts.


“What are you talking about?” Salinger growled, shifted nervously under the intensity of Bobby’s stare.

“Why are you doing this to us?” Bobby demanded to know. Realisation dawned on Salinger’s face, and the tiniest of smirks formed on his lips.

“I see. You think this is some conspiracy that I plotted against you and your partner. Deakins, when did you last send this man for a psyche evaluation?”

“Three weeks ago,” Deakins answered sharply, “and he got a complete all-clear. Why don’t you just try giving him a straight answer?”

Salinger grunted. “Fine. The bottom line is that there appears to be a serial killer on the loose in upstate New York. The… experience that you and your partner have make you prime candidates to assist in the investigation.”

To a lesser trained ear, the explanation might have sounded perfectly reasonable, but Bobby Goren was no amateur.

“Go to hell, you arrogant son of a bitch,” Bobby snarled. Turning as abruptly as his leg brace allowed, he stormed out of the office, pausing only long enough to accept his walking stick back from Bishop, who had picked it up from where he’d discarded it.

Alex paused just briefly, sparing Deakins an apologetic look before turning and hurrying after her partner.

“That is the last straw!” Salinger exploded. “Deakins, I want him suspended! And I’ll be filing a charge of assault, too. That behaviour is totally unacceptable!”

“I don’t think you really want to do that, Chief,” Logan said calmly as he rejoined Bishop. Salinger rounded on him angrily.

“Oh really, Logan? And why is that?”

“Well, you know how things tend to get back to the Press, and the Media… and you haven’t exactly been the flavour of the month with them lately, have you? Goren and Eames, on the other hand… Now the Press absolutely loves them at the moment. And with the way things get spread around, these days… I’d hate to say the wrong thing at the wrong time… And you know one of my closest buddies is Danny Walker, from the New York Post?”

Salinger visibly faltered. Danny Walker was the journalist who had followed the story of Bobby Goren and Alex Eames’ abduction right from the first. It was he who was primarily responsible for the two detectives reaching such a high status in the public opinion, and keeping it there over the nine or ten months since their rescue from the mountain. Salinger knew just how much damage could be done to his own public image and career with just one carefully worded phone call from Logan to Walker. If, indeed, they were friends, and Salinger wasn’t about to call Logan’s bluff.

“Are you threatening me?” he asked finally, at a loss for anything else to say. Logan smiled innocently, a remarkable achievement for him.

“I wouldn’t dream of threatening you, Sir. Just… giving a friendly reminder about how easily stories get out of hand when the Press gets a hold of them. I just thought you might be willing to cut Goren a little slack… you know, given the circumstances, and all.”

Salinger had gone red in the face once more, this time from aggravation at the realisation that he had been backed very neatly into a corner by Logan, and in front of five witnesses, no less. Inwardly seething, he decided to act strategically and back down, at least for the time being.

“All right,” he conceded brusquely. “Forget the suspension…”

Logan lifted a single eyebrow, and coughed. Salinger scowled.

“Okay, forget the reprimand, too.” He looked across to Deakins. “Now, will you please go and bring them back here? We’re wasting time.”

Throwing Logan a grateful look, Deakins went to do as Salinger asked.

He found them sitting in a currently disused task room, Alex gently rubbing Bobby’s back soothingly as they spoke together quietly. Silence fell abruptly as Deakins came in. He walked around, and Alex glanced up at him, causing a ripple of concern to go through him at the sight of her red-rimmed eyes.

“Just tell me one thing, Bobby,” Deakins said as he pulled a chair over and sat down opposite the big detective. “Do you want to get yourself fired?”

Bobby looked up at him slowly. The anger was gone, replaced now with a haunting look of grief and genuine fear. Sympathy flooded Deakins as he recalled Bobby’s admission not all that long ago that the days he and Alex had spent in Mathers’ captivity, and then actually on the run from Mathers, had been the most frightening of his life.

“You know I don’t,” Bobby said softly. “But how can we ever go back there? It was hard enough finding the courage to go to Denton. We can’t go back to that mountain, Captain. We… We just can’t.”

Deakins sighed softly.

“I wish I could just say all right to that, but I can’t. Not this time. With Adkins away, Salinger has the authority and there’s no one to overrule him.”

“He’s trying destroy us,” Alex whispered, tears slowly trickling down her cheeks. “That’s all he wants. How are we going to survive this?”

Deakins was silent for a long moment, considering that before answering.

“I guess… the same way you survived before. Together.”

Alex stared at him miserably. “Do you have any idea how it feels, being told we have to go back to that place? How sick and frightened it makes us feel?”

Deakins felt a fresh rush of anger towards Salinger that his detectives were being put through so much pain so unnecessarily.

“I can only imagine, Alex, and I’m so sorry about this. If I could do anything at all about it, I would. Look, I don’t know if this will help at all, but you won’t be alone. I’ve already told Salinger that I’m sending Logan and Bishop along as well. He didn’t like it, but I didn’t give him a choice.”

Bobby nodded, and spoke tentatively. “They told us. Do… Do Benson and Stabler know? I mean… do they know where it is that we’re supposed to be going?”

“I don’t know if they’re aware of the significance of the location,” Deakins admitted. “Do you want them to be?”

“We’ll just assume they do know,” Bobby said quietly.“We don’t want their pity, or sympathy... but if they ask you, though... You can tell them.”

Deakins glanced pointedly to the door.

“Ready to come back to my office?”

Alex nodded, albeit reluctantly.

“Just give us a couple of minutes?”

“Well, Salinger seemed to be in a pretty big hurry,” Deakins mused. “And we wouldn’t want him to bust an artery, would we? Sure. Take as long as you need.”

Bobby and Alex laughed softly in appreciation of Deakins’ efforts to lighten the mood. Favouring them with what he hoped was both an encouraging and reassuring smile, Deakins left them alone in the task room.

They watched him so in silence before returning their attention to each other.

“I don’t want to do this, Bobby,” Alex whispered. “Damn Salinger.”

“I know,” Bobby agreed. “These murders… I’d guess they’re not anything we can really help with. Salinger probably took one look at the location, and saw an opportunity to try and break us. I suppose the question is, are we going to let him?”

She looked away from him unhappily.

“That’s not the best question to be asking me right now, Bobby.”

Bobby reached out and took her hands gently in his own.

“Last time we were faced with a decision like this, we made it out of concern for others. This time…”

“Don’t compare the two,” Alex warned him. “We had a genuine choice to make last time. This time, the only choice is go, or start looking for a new job.”

“Do you want to quit?” he asked, and she blanched visibly.

“No more than you do.”

“Well, then, what I was going to say was that this time we have to be thinking of ourselves, and no one else. We’ve taken care of each other up until now. I think we can keep doing that. We just both have to be willing to try.”

Alex sighed faintly in defeat.

“Okay,” she conceded quietly. “But I’m not doing it for anyone else. It’s just us, that’s all.”

Bobby nodded in agreement.

“Just us. No one else.”

He leaned in and pulled her close in a warm, protective hug.

“We’ll be okay,” he murmured. “We’ll take care of each other. It’ll be okay.”

Alex didn’t respond to that, but continued to hug him back fiercely.

“All I want to know is what the hell is going on?” Elliot grumbled.

He and Olivia were helping themselves to coffee while waiting for Bobby and Alex to resurface from wherever they’d disappeared to. Salinger had called for a short break when it became apparent that the two detectives were not hurrying back. He’d started to protest to Deakins once more about their attitude, only to quickly change his mind after briefly locking stares with Logan.

Olivia shook her head wordlessly. She was as much in the dark as he was.

“I mean,” Elliot went on, “if this is how they’re gonna act when we get upstate, then I’d just as soon not have them with us at all. We don’t need them acting all precious whenever something happens that they don’t like. I don’t see why we need them, anyway. We can handle this case. I don’t understand why Cragen even called Major Case in the first place.”

“I didn’t call them.”

Olivia and Elliot both looked around as their captain joined them.

“Well, if you didn’t call them, then who…?” Olivia wondered.

In answer, Cragen looked pointedly across the floor to where Salinger was standing just outside the door of Deakins’ office. The Chief of Detectives was observing the Major Case bullpen with the air of someone who thought they had the control.

“I thought Salinger hated Major Case,” Olivia murmured. Cragen smiled grimly as he turned his attention back to his two best detectives.

“He does, there’s no doubt about that. Major Case is too high profile for his liking. I know for a fact that he’d shut the squad down, if he thought he could get away with it.”

“So if he hates it so much, how come he threw this case their way?” Elliot asked, still feeling sour at having to share.

Cragen shrugged a little. “Honestly? I really don’t know. All I do know is that it wasn’t to give them any favours. You both saw how Goren reacted when he and Eames came in.”

“Yeah,” Elliot grunted. “What was with that?”

“I don’t know,” Cragen admitted again. “But did you happen to notice Deakins’ reaction to Goren’s behaviour?”

“He wasn’t surprised by it,” Olivia said.

“Right,” Cragen confirmed. “It was almost like he expected it. And then there’s Logan’s attitude. I’ve known him for a while, and he’s not the type of guy who’d be buddies with a guy like Goren. And yet Logan jumped in to defend him when Salinger was ready to suspend him.”

“Squad loyalty,” Olivia suggested. “Major Case gave Logan a second chance, after all. He probably feels obliged to stand up for his own.”

“Maybe, but I have a feeling it goes a bit beyond that. Logan’s still on thin ice, and he knows it. I can’t see him risking a choice position like this without a damned good reason. There’s something going on here between the lines that we aren’t seeing. I just wonder what, exactly, Salinger has told them about the case. I know enough about Goren and Eames to know that neither one of them would flip out like Goren did earlier over a case like this. They’ve handled enough of them themselves. No, there’s something else going on here. You two met privately with Salinger yesterday afternoon. Did he say anything strange to you?”

At that, Olivia and Elliot exchanged wary looks. The truth was, Salinger had asked them to do something that neither was comfortable with, even taking into account the unspoken rivalry between the two squads.

“What did he say to you?” Cragen asked, frowning. Olivia spoke reluctantly.

“He asked us to keep an eye on Goren and Eames, and report any… inappropriate behaviour on their part.”

“Inappropriate?” Cragen echoed. “Did he elaborate?”

“He just said inappropriate,” Elliot said. “We don’t know if he meant on a professional or a personal level.”

Cragen’s frown deepened.

“I’m starting to feel like we’re being used by Salinger, and I don’t like it.”

“What it feels like,” Elliot said in annoyance, “is that we’ve been caught in the middle of some sort of mini-war. Damn it, where in the hell are Goren and Eames?”

Olivia suddenly drew in a sharp breath, catching the attention of both her partner and her captain.

“They’re over there, in that task room.”

Cragen and Elliot both looked, and finally saw what Olivia had just seen. Bobby and Alex were, indeed, in the task room – currently holding each other in what looked to be a particularly… close embrace. And, even as they watched, Bobby planted a gentle kiss on the top of his partner’s head.

“Damn,” Elliot muttered in astonishment. “And right in the middle of their own offices, where anyone could see. Ballsy. Stupid, but ballsy.”

“But don’t you see?” Olivia murmured. “They do see…”

“And they don’t care,” Cragen concluded, watching in wonder as a senior Major Case detective walked past the task room, looking in at the two detectives as they held each other, and kept walking without sparing them a second glance.

“Wow,” Elliot said dryly. “A squad that doesn’t enforce frat regs. Look at what we’ve been missing, Liv.”

Olivia rolled her eyes, and chose to ignore that tactless comment.

“Well, I guess we know what Salinger was talking about now when he asked us to report any inappropriate behaviour.”

Cragen favoured her with a slight frown.

“I hope you two aren’t going to jump the gun with this. After all, if I reported the number of times I’d seen you two hugging each other…”

“Relax, Captain,” Elliot reassured him. “We never planned on telling Salinger anything. We might not intend on being best buddies with Goren and Eames, but we weren’t planning to snitch, either.”

“Just about ready to get going again?”

Abrupt silence fell as Salinger virtually materialised behind them. Cragen turned and stepped around in a swift and fluid movement, effectively blocking any view Salinger might have had of Goren and Eames in the task room.

“We’re ready when everyone else is,” he confirmed. Salinger nodded.

“As soon as Tweedledum and Tweedledee decide to show themselves…”

“If you mean us…” a new voice said suddenly from behind Cragen. The captain turned quickly to find Bobby and Alex standing there, both of them looking at Salinger with a level of hostility that almost defied belief.

“If you mean us,” Alex went on icily, “then yes. We’re ready.”

“Good,” Salinger growled. “It’s about damned time.”

The two Major Case detectives turned and headed back to Deakins’ office, with Salinger right behind them. Cragen, Olivia and Elliot watched them go.

“You think they’d rule it justifiable homicide if either of them just decided to shoot Salinger?” Elliot wondered. Olivia snorted.

“I know I’d be willing to testify on their behalf. Salinger’s a grade A asshole.”

“C’mon, kids,” Cragen said ruefully, though he suddenly found himself struggling to hide a grin. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

They walked back into Deakins’ office to find a curious arrangement. Deakins occupied his own chair, while Bobby and Alex had seated themselves in two chairs off to the side. Standing by them, almost like bodyguards, were Logan and Bishop. Standing a conspicuous distance away from them on the other side of the office, was Salinger.

Exchanging wry looks, the two SVU detectives moved around to stand somewhere in between the two sides while Cragen moved to join Deakins.

“All right, Don,” Salinger said finally, firing a dark look at Bobby and Alex who, in turn, pointedly ignored him. “Would you go over everything briefly?”

Cragen nodded, glancing uneasily around the room before speaking.

“I got a call yesterday morning from a colleague upstate, at Gore Mountain, a little ways north of Saratoga. Over the last five weeks, the bodies of five women have been found, dumped near various walking tracks that lead up the nearby mountain. The most recent victim was found on a routine patrol of the mountain itself. Each of the five victims were sexually assaulted, and tortured to death. Now, they don’t have the man-power to deal with this, so they’ve asked for help. We’ve agreed to give it.”

“Are they sure it’s only one person?” Bishop asked.

“They’re not sure of anything right at the moment,” Cragen answered. “That’s why they need our help. There’ll be eight of you going all together. Detectives Tutuola and Munch will be joining you. Detectives Benson and Stabler have been assigned to head the taskforce.”

“I trust there are no objections to that?” Salinger asked snidely.

“None here,” Bobby answered tonelessly. They’re welcome to it.”

Salinger nodded.

“Good. Because you will do as they say. Whatever they tell you to do, you will do it. Is that understood? Goren? Eames?”

Alex glared at him in warning.

“Loud and clear, Sir.”

Salinger nodded again, smirking with obvious satisfaction.

“Very good. I’m glad to see that we have some understanding here. Now, you’ll be heading off first thing tomorrow morning. I’ve organised a van…”

“Wouldn’t it be more economical, time-wise, to fly them there?” Deakins asked, frowning.

“I’m trying to be mindful of the budget, Deakins,” Salinger snapped. “Unlike yourself, with your business class upgrades on your little jaunt to Britain four months ago.”

Deakins drew in a slow breath, visibly straining to maintain his sense of calm.

“I pulled a favour with a friend for those upgrades. It didn’t cost the department a cent.”

Salinger snorted derisively. “Anyway, I’m sure the detectives can cope with a few hours in a van.”

“A few hours?” Cragen echoed incredulously. “It’s an eight hour drive from here to that region of the Adirondacks!”

“I’m sure they’ll cope,” Salinger said indifferently, ignoring the aggravated looks that were shared between Cragen and Deakins. “Besides, Goren and Eames have made a trip like this before, right? I’ve heard it was a pretty smooth ride, by all accounts.”

The sudden silence that descended on the office was so thick it could literally have been cut with a knife. While Cragen, Olivia and Elliot looked on in confusion, both Bobby and Alex turned deathly grey where they sat.

“Damn you, Salinger, that was uncalled for!” Deakins exploded, pushing himself up out of his chair and almost shaking with rage at the malicious comment. Salinger only smirked and stepped smoothly towards the door.

“Just make sure your people are here and ready to go by eight tomorrow morning. They’ll be given more comprehensive information then. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment to keep.”

Then, he was gone.

“The rumours aren’t entirely accurate,” Cragen muttered as he watched Salinger’s retreating figure. “He doesn’t have the personality of a sloth. He has the personality of an alligator.”

“What did he mean, you two have made a trip like this before?” Elliot asked Bobby and Alex in confusion. He got no answer, though. Goren stood up unsteadily, his face still the colour of ash.

“Captain, Alex and I might go, if that’s okay. To… To get ready for tomorrow.”

Deakins nodded, acutely aware that he was the only one in the room who understood the underlying meaning of Bobby’s words. For them, ‘getting ready’ probably meant spending most of the evening and ensuing night holding each other as close as humanly possible in what was likely to be a vain attempt to ward off some truly horrific nightmares; especially after the deliberately vicious words of the Chief of Detectives.

“That’s fine,” he told them quietly. “Go ahead. Logan, Bishop, you’re both welcome to do the same.”

“We’ll just finish up the rest of our paperwork before we go,” Bishop said, ignoring the sour look she got from Logan. They followed Bobby and Alex out, leaving Cragen, Benson and Stabler with Deakins.

“Care to explain anything, Jim?” Cragen asked quietly. Deakins regarded him quizzically.

“Such as?”

Cragen scowled, rapidly growing impatient with all the secrets that were seemingly being kept from them.

“Don’t play innocent with me, Jim. It’s not going to wash. What is going on with your detectives? I think Elliot and Olivia have a right to know, at least, since they’re going to be working with them. If there’s a problem…”

“The only problem,” Deakins cut in heatedly, “is Salinger.” He paused, then sighed and motioned to the door. “Close the door, and I’ll explain what I can.”

Olivia did so wordlessly. Deakins then motioned to the now empty chairs.

“Have a seat. Please.”

Once they were seated, Deakins spoke softly.

“The trip Salinger was referring to was when Mathers transported Goren and Eames to his mountain cabin after abducting them from his brother’s warehouse ten months ago.”

“We did hear about that,” Elliot said, frowning, “along with pretty much every other cop in New York.”

“So Salinger’s an insensitive bastard,” Olivia said. “We already knew that, but what is the big issue here?”

Deakins fought back the urge to groan aloud, incredulous that it seemed he had to spell it out for them.

“Detective Benson, I know you have plenty of experience with victims of violent crimes. Tell me something, if you would. Generally speaking, what would you say is the most common reaction that victims have when they’re made to return to the place where the crime against them took place?”

Olivia glanced at Elliot before answering, not quite sure where Deakins was going with this.

“Well… It varies from person to person, but it’s usually pretty acute. A lot of the time, they can’t cope, especially when the crime is particularly horrific.”

“We had a victim once who suffered a seizure,” Elliot said quietly. “She completely panicked, couldn’t deal with it at all.”

Deakins nodded, not surprised by their answers.

“Now tell me, where is it, precisely, that you’re going?”

“Gore Mountain, in the Adirondack Range,” Olivia answered, still puzzled.

“And do you have any idea where it was that Erik Mathers took Bobby and Alex? Where it was that he held them for two days before setting them loose only to hunt them down like animals? Where he came within a hair’s breadth of killing them both?”

By then, Cragen, Olivia and Elliot were all staring at Deakins with horrified realisation.

“You can’t be serious…” Cragen said softly. “It’s the same place?”

Deakins nodded, relieved that they finally understood.

“It’s the same place,” he confirmed.

“Doesn’t Salinger know…?” Elliot started to ask, only to trail off as Deakins looked at him grimly. “He does know… doesn’t he?”

“Yes, he knew all along,” Deakins confirmed again. “And it’s the reason why he was determined to include Bobby and Alex in this investigation. He knows the effect that going back there is likely have on them. He’s probably counting on it.”

“That lousy son of a bitch,” Cragen growled. “We can’t make them go back there, not unless they want to. Salinger damn well ought to know that!”

“Of course he knows it,” Deakins growled, suddenly feeling extraordinarily tired and not knowing whether it was physical or mental. “He just doesn’t give a damn. The point is, he’s out to break Bobby and Alex, in any way possible.”

“This is why you insisted on Logan and Bishop going as well, isn’t it?” Olivia asked. “As support for them.”

Deakins nodded in confirmation.

“Right. It wasn’t strictly essential to the investigation… Hell, sending Bobby and Alex wasn’t strictly essential. I don’t doubt you folks can handle this perfectly well on your own. But Salinger never gave me a choice over sending Bobby and Alex, so I never gave him a choice over sending Logan and Bishop.”

Olivia and Elliot stood up slowly.

“We understand now, Sir,” Olivia said quietly.

“Thankyou,” Deakins answered. “Just a word of warning, though, Detectives. Do not show my detectives any sort of special consideration, unless you honestly believe it’s warranted. They don’t want your pity. They won’t appreciate it.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Elliot said dryly. “We don’t deal in pity. Captain Cragen, if it’s okay by you…?”

Cragen nodded.

“Go ahead. Just be sure to check in with me before you leave tonight.”

Then they were gone, leaving the two captains alone.

“I’m sorry, Jim,” Cragen said quietly. “If I’d had any idea, I would have tried to do more.”

“It’s not something you could have done anything about, Don. The problem is that Salinger would like nothing more than to bring Bobby and Alex crashing down. He seems to see them as his own personal vendetta, and he seems to think they’re personally responsible for the embarrassment he’s suffered with certain areas of the Media.”

Cragen gave a short, barking laugh.

“No one’s responsible for Salinger’s humiliation with the Media, except Salinger.”

“Yes, well, everyone knows that except him.”

A faint sigh escaped Cragen.

“He always was a little prick. Look, Jim, I know Olivia and Elliot aren’t likely to be best friends with Goren and Eames, or anything like that. Lord knows there’s too much rivalry between our squads for that to happen. Now they know the facts, though, I think I can at least promise you that they’ll keep an eye out for them. You don’t have to worry about their safety.”

“I appreciate that, Don, but I’m not worried about their physical safety.”

Cragen raised an eyebrow sceptically, and Deakins sighed and shook his head.

“Okay, fine. I am worried, but it’s not specifically that. I just don’t know how they’re going to react when they get there. I really don’t know. I can’t tell you whether they’re likely to just shut down completely, or whether they might react in some physical way… I just don’t know, Don.”

“You’re overlooking one possible reaction,” Cragen pointed out.

“What’s that?”

“That they might be okay. Have a little faith in your detectives, Jim.”

“I do,” Deakins murmured. “Believe me, I do.”

Cragen started to get up to leave, then stopped as something else occurred to him.

“Tell me something, Jim. Logan…”

“What about him?”

“I can’t see him as being especially close with Goren.”

“He’s not.”

“So… He defended Goren pretty vigorously before. I just find it hard to see him going out on a limb for the likes of Goren. He must know he’s still more or less on probation here.”

“Logan came to Major Case willingly at my request when Bobby and Alex disappeared. He helped lead the taskforce that found and rescued them, and he took an arrow in the arm courtesy of the bastard that took them. He saw firsthand the hell that Bobby and Alex went through on that mountain, Don. He knows as well as I do how hard it’s going to be for Bobby and Alex to go back there. He’s the one who offered to go with them for support, and I’ll defend him to the hilt if Salinger or anyone else tries to make things difficult for him.”

Cragen smiled.

“Olivia said it was squad loyalty. I guess she wasn’t far wrong after all.”

Deakins sat back slowly, wincing slightly at the twinge of pain through his lower body.

“I guess you could say that.”

Cragen got up again.

“I have to go. They’ll be okay, Jim. I’m sure of it.”

Deakins watched Cragen go, bleakly wishing he could be as certain of his detectives’ wellbeing.

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