“What the hell did he mean by all of that?” Brenner demanded to know as they regrouped outside the interrogation room. Initially ignoring Brenner, Alex spoke almost pleadingly to Elliot and Olivia.

“We can’t go up there. We can’t…”

“It’s okay, Alex,” Olivia murmured. “We have no intention of forcing you or Bobby to go back up there.”

“Excuse me!” Brenner said, raising the volume of his voice to make himself heard. “I asked a question. What’s going on?”

Elliot, Olivia, Logan and Bishop all looked wordlessly to Bobby and Alex, who both cringed noticeably at suddenly being the centre of attention.

“One of you go ahead and tell him,” Bobby said finally, looking very slightly green. “We need coffee.”

“Tell me what?” Brenner asked in increasing frustration as Bobby and Alex disappeared around the corner in search of the much-needed liquid. “What is going on?”

Elliot sighed heavily. He wasn’t looking forward to this little confession at all.

“You remember at dinner last night, you mentioned Chief Salinger’s phone call to you? And that he told you two of us had… invaluable experience?”

Brenner nodded, staring at Elliot with growing suspicion. Elliot went on grimly.

“Well, he was talking about Detective Goren and Detective Eames. You might be aware that Erik Mathers’ last two victims were cops.”

Brenner nodded.

“Yes. I was a deputy, then. I remember the task force that descended on this place. None of us had ever seen anything like it…” He trailed off, realisation dawning in his eyes. “You’re not serious… It was them? Goren and Eames were Erik’s last two victims?”

“Bingo,” Logan confirmed quietly.

“God almighty,” Brenner muttered. Elliot nodded in agreement.

“Yeah, that’s what we all thought at the time.”

Brenner frowned for a moment as he mulled over that. Then, his eyes widened in shock.

“Salinger knew that… but he still sent them back here? That callous son of a bitch!”

“We have to get a team organised straight away to head up the mountain,” Olivia said quietly. “But we can’t force Detective Goren or Detective Eames to go along.”

Brenner nodded seriously.

“I agree. Now, I know that if it was me, I’d take offence to the suggestion I wasn’t capable of doing something, even if I knew it was true. But what I’m trying to say, is do you think they’d accept it if I asked them to take charge here while we go looking for the little girl? It’s not strictly necessary… this place could run on a skeleton staff of one… but even so…”

Elliot and Olivia exchanged wordless glances, and then Elliot nodded his concurrence.

“We appreciate the consideration, Lieutenant, but after everything that’s gone on today, I just wonder if it might be better if Goren and Eames just head back to the motel, and get some rest. Especially Goren.”

Logan nodded in agreement.

“Yeah, did you see the way Goren was limping? That leg must really be giving him hell.”

“I know,” Elliot agreed. “I’ll give them the option, but I know what I’d prefer they do. Especially considering neither one got a hell of a lot of sleep last night, what with nightmares and all. ’Scuse me, I’d better go find them.”

“Okay,” Brenner muttered as Elliot went to find Bobby and Alex. “Let’s move, people. We’ve got a lot to do, and not a lot of time to do it.”

Elliot eventually found Bobby and Alex sitting together outside the station, nursing lukewarm cups of coffee and staring balefully at the mountain that was truly the bane of their existence. He approached them cautiously, expecting one or both to protest fiercely at the thought of having to go up the mountain. As he came around to stand in front of them, Bobby looked up at him, ashen-faced.

“When are we going up there?”

Elliot felt his throat tighten with emotion. Even though the prospect was clearly making them both sick to their stomachs, both were willing to do whatever had to be done to save the life of an innocent victim, no matter what pain and grief it caused them personally.

“You’re not,” Elliot told them quietly. Both Bobby and Alex looked up at him, neither able to quite hide the hope that lit up their eyes. “Brenner needs to come with us to find the cabin, but someone needs to be here to keep things under control. He asked if any of us would be willing to stay behind. I volunteered you two.”

Alex smiled faintly. “I don’t know if I should be thanking you or hitting you.”

Elliot hesitated, taking in Alex’s sad smile, and the uncertainty on Bobby’s face, then sat down on the other side of Bobby.

“If you’re not happy about that, then say so now,” Elliot told them. “If you’d rather go…”

“No,” Bobby cut in quickly. “No, we’d rather stay here. I just… I mean… We know what we should do. But that’s a different thing entirely to what we’re capable of doing. And… I just don’t think we can do it.”

Elliot looked past him to Alex.

“Alex? What about you? What do you want to do?”

She glanced at him just briefly before returning her gaze to the ground.

“Bobby’s right. We should go up there… We should face it. But we can’t. We… we just can’t.”

“It’s okay,” Elliot told them. “I understand. We all do. Anyway, if you ask me, you two have done your fair share already. You kept my ass from getting shot off earlier today… You identified Page as a prime suspect within twenty-four hours of us getting here… which, I think, has got to be some sort of record… and you got the slimy son of a bitch to tell us where his last victim is.” He looked up as thunder rolled overhead. “You’ve done more than your fair share, actually. Tell me, how are you both feeling? Honestly.”

“Honestly?” Bobby asked quietly. “Tired. And generally sick of being here.”

Alex nodded in wordless agreement.

“Look,” Elliot said quietly, “why don’t you both just head back to the motel? Get some rest. God knows, you’ve earned it. Truth is, this place doesn’t need anyone here to run it, and if they need you for anything, there’re your cell phones.”

“If I wasn’t feeling so damned lousy,” Bobby murmured, “I might take offence to that.”

“Don’t,” Elliot retorted. “I’m not making that offer out of pity. Don’t forget, Olivia and I are in charge. If you force me to, I’ll order you to go back to the motel and get some rest.”

Bobby laughed softly, and Alex couldn’t help but smile.

“Well,” she murmured, “if you put it like that…”

“Yeah,” Elliot said firmly. “I do.”

Bobby sighed softly.

“Okay. Thanks, Elliot.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“No,” Bobby said more firmly, looking sideways at the other detective. “I mean it… Thankyou. For everything… everything you and Olivia have done to help us survive this. You didn’t have to go to the lengths you did. You need to know how much we’ve appreciated it.”

Elliot clapped Bobby lightly on the shoulder as he stood up, then tossed a set of car keys to Alex.

“Take the car. Go back to the motel… Consider yourselves off duty, effective immediately.”

Bobby and Alex watched him retreat back into the station, and then looked at each other in mild amusement.

“Did you hear that?” Alex asked with a grin. “We’re off duty.”

Bobby nodded, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“I heard. Wanna go to bed?”

He tried to duck out of the way a second later, but wasn’t quick enough to avoid being swatted on the arm.

“Smart ass,” she retorted, but couldn’t keep the grin off her face. All of a sudden, the prospect of being able to curl up in a nice warm bed, cuddled up to her partner and best friend, seemed very inviting indeed. But first, she needed decent, hot coffee. She stood up decisively, and gently tugged him to his feet as well. “C’mon, you big goof. Let’s find somewhere that serves real coffee, and then we can go to bed.”

Bobby grinned, and trailed after her, not all that unlike an obedient puppy.

A few hours later

“Aw, crap.”

Bobby eyed Alex curiously as she emerged from the bathroom in tracksuit pants and T-shirt, and climbed into the bed next to him.

“What’s wrong?”

“We forgot to tell Elliot and Olivia about Salinger.”

Bobby frowned as he realised she was right.

“Well… too late to worry about it now. They left to go up the mountain nearly an hour ago with a team from Search and Rescue, and they’re not likely to be back until some time early tomorrow morning.”

Alex sighed as she settled down next to him in the warm bed, smiling as his arms slipped around her in what was now an automatic action.

“Screw Salinger,” she murmured, sleep starting to overtake her already. “He’s shows up now, I might just shoot him. No witnesses, except you… They’d rule self defence, for sure.”

Bobby smiled affectionately at the petite woman curled up against him.

“For sure,” he agreed softly. “Go to sleep, Alex. Everything’s okay.”

“Mm. ’Night… Bobby…”

Then she was asleep.

Bobby lay awake for a while longer, content to listen to her slow, steady breathing, and feel her arms hugging him close… content to know she felt safe and secure in his embrace. He finally slid off to sleep himself nearly half an hour later, all thoughts of Salinger, and the potential danger he presented, banished completely from his tired mind.

Alex awoke to the sound of someone knocking on the door. Dazed and still half-asleep, she extracted herself carefully from Bobby and rolled awkwardly out of bed, half-stumbling over to the door. It was dark now, her sleep-fogged mind noted dimly as she nearly tripped over a chair on her way to the door.

Shaking her head in an effort to clear it, she opened the door, expecting to find one of their colleagues there… and ready to tell whoever it was to take a hike and come back later in the morning.

“Detective Eames.”

Alex froze, snapped almost painfully out of sleep as she found herself face to face with Chief Gary Salinger. He stared back at her, a distinct sneer on his face that was impossible to misinterpret. She opened her mouth to speak, only to find herself at a complete loss for words.

“I won’t say anything right at the moment about the fact that you and Detective Goren are sharing a room.” He glanced past her into the dark room. “I’m not even going to comment on the fact that you appear to be sharing a bed. Don’t misunderstand me, I will be raising this issue in due time, but there are more important issues at hand right at the moment. Now, wake your partner up, and both of you get dressed. I’ll be waiting for you out here, so don’t make me any angrier than I already am by wasting time.”

“What…?” she stammered, confused by Salinger’s sudden appearance despite the warning from Deakins and Adkins.

“What am I doing here?” he suggested, when she faltered. “I decided to come up here myself because I didn’t trust you or your ape of a partner, and it seems I was right. But I’m not going to quibble over that now. I just came from the local police headquarters. Apparently there’s some trouble up on the mountain. The missing girl isn’t where Mr Page claimed she was. You and Detective Goren need to talk to Mr Page again, now.”

Alex let her breath out in a rush. She had half-expected the slimy bastard to say they had to go up the mountain, and it was an enormous relief not to be told that.

“Wake up your partner, Detective Eames, and hurry up and get dressed. I’m fully aware that, considering his injuries, it could take Detective Goren a bit longer to get dressed, but I expect you to be ready and out here in no more than five minutes.”


“Don’t argue with me, Detective. You’re in enough trouble as it is. You take any longer than five minutes, and I’ll be coming in after you. And believe me when I tell you that you don’t want that to happen. The clock is ticking, Detective. Get moving.”

Alex pushed the door shut in his face, her heart pounding in her chest. She stood frozen for a long moment, struggling to get her head around everything before switching the light on and walking back to the bed.

“Bobby. Bobby, wake up.”

A muffled groan met her words, followed by something that sounded like “gimmefewmoreminnus”, and she almost smiled.

“Bobby, you have to wake up. It’s Salinger. He’s here.”

Bobby’s eyes snapped open, and he stared up at her, dragged unceremoniously back into awareness by the news. A moment later, he groaned again.

“I think I just had a nightmare. Could’ve sworn you just said Salinger was here.”

“I did.”

He froze again, the colour draining from his face.





“Oh… fuck.”

She couldn’t bring herself to smile at his blunt reaction.

“He’s waiting outside for us, Bobby. He knows… about this.”

She motioned vaguely to the bed. Bobby pushed himself up slowly. Alex imagined that the disconsolate look on his face probably mirrored her own right at that moment.

“C’mon,” she said softly, suddenly finding she had to struggle not to start crying as the implications of Salinger’s sudden arrival and consequent discovery of their sleeping arrangements began to sink in. “We have to get dressed. Son of a bitch told me I had five minutes to get dressed and get out there, or he’d come in after me.”

“You want me to shoot him now, or later?” Bobby mumbled as he swung himself carefully around, cringing visibly at the pain in his leg. Alex paused on her way to the bathroom, looking back at him in concern.

“It’s getting worse again, isn’t it?”

He nodded once.

“Yeah. It’ll be okay, though. I’ll get Fin to give it a work over when they get back.”

“Fin?” she asked, her voice floating out to him from the sanctuary of the bathroom. “What do you mean?”

“He worked on it last night,” Bobby answered through clenched teeth as he pushed off his sweat pants and pulled on a fresh pair of boxers and trousers. “Massaged it… you know.”

She emerged from the bathroom fully dressed a couple of minutes later and walked around the bed, picking up his leg brace and crouching down to fit it carefully onto his leg.

“Don’t take too long, okay?” she murmured. “We don’t need to piss him off anymore than he already is.”

Bobby sighed. “It’ll be okay, Alex. We just hold our tongues for now, be good little subordinates, and when we get home, we can sit back and let Adkins kick his ass all over the five boroughs.”

She smiled, but he could see in her eyes that she didn’t really believe him. He watched as she slipped out the door, then set about finishing getting dressed.

He’d just pulled on his jacket and coat and was reaching for his cane when Adkins’ warning came back to him, that under no circumstances should they allow themselves to be caught alone with Salinger. It was a little too late for that, he thought grimly, but if something were to go wrong, perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to leave something for their colleagues…

Before he had a chance to decide what, exactly, he should do, the door opened almost violently, and Salinger looked in.

“Detective! Get out here, quickly. Your partner’s collapsed.”

Heart in his throat, Bobby grabbed his cane and hurried out of the room as fast as his aching leg would allow him.

“What happened?” Bobby asked as he came out of the room to find Alex lying slumped on the asphalt, unconscious. Disregarding the way his leg screamed in protest, he crouched down beside her as low as he could.

“She just took a couple of steps, and dropped,” Salinger answered as he came up to stand behind Bobby.

“C’mon, Alex,” Bobby murmured as he reached down to turn her over. “C’mon, wake up…”

In hindsight, Bobby would reflect that he should have known better than to turn his back on the Chief of Detectives, but at that point his concerns were exclusively with his partner. As a consequence, he never saw Salinger take a large handkerchief from his pocket, or the smoky liquid that the Chief of Detectives poured carefully onto the handkerchief.

The cloth was over his face and jammed into his mouth and nose before he fully realised just what was happening. Instinctively, he drew in a deep, panicked breath, only to suffer a sickening wave of dizziness and nausea. He tried to put up a fight, throwing himself backwards in a valiant effort to get Salinger off him, but the other man had a strong grip, and the effects of the chloroform were rapidly taking hold.

He twisted around, trying desperately to pull out of Salinger’s hold, and briefly he broke free, throwing Salinger off. Then, the chief was on him again, and the chloroform-soaked handkerchief was back over his face, held there even tighter than before.

A moment later, his legs turned to jelly beneath him, and he collapsed with a painful thud on the asphalt beside Alex. He made a last, desperate grab at his gun, only to find that his hands were no longer working. He drew in one more ragged breath, and the dizziness crashed down on him again, worse than before.

His rapidly blurring gaze fell on his unconscious partner, and then his world turned upside down and faded to black.

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