"This is getting way too personal," Jerry mumbled under his breath.
Dara slipped away hours ago. She thought he didn't know, but he did. Her sweet, exotic perfume lingered in the air with its intoxicating scent long after her departure. The brownstone echoed a lonely wail without her presence. He tried to ignore his growing attachment to the formidable lady lawyer. Their past would never be repeated. He was too stubborn to change.
"It's just a job."
He glanced at his Fossil watch. She'd been gone for hours. Too long. Was she staying overnight? Who was this phantom lover that occupied her thoughts and brought a smile to her face? And dammit, why did he care!
Justus hired Jerry to do a job. Personal issues aside. Whether she wanted Jerry or not, he was hired to protect her. He would do just that.
After double checking the clip on his firearm, he secured it in the holster. He then grabbed his Kevlar insulated jacket, keys, and PDA. The PDA, loaded with a high-tech tracking device, guided him to a pricey flat in Manhattan. Of course, she had no clue about the digital chips implanted in her shoes, purses and jewelry. Giving away his best secrets was out of the question. He was loaded with secrets. Far too many for a woman like her.
He drove around the block until a space opened across the street from the building. Hours passed. Brilliant beams of pink, orange and yellow peeked through skyscrapers to almost blind him as the sun rose. He slid on a pair of sunglasses and left the car. All around him, the city's nighttime restlessness gave way to the morning bustle. A newspaper stand opened. The delicious aroma of fresh-brewed coffee drifted from a shop. Jerry bought a paper and a cup. Leaning against a post, he appeared casual as he watched for signs of life in the building across the street.
His wait ended shortly. The front door opened. Dara stood in the threshold, looking breathtaking and rested. A man about Jerry's height stood beside her. Her mystery boyfriend with his expensive clothes presented himself as a businessman. But several yards away, Jerry sensed a fraud. The other man's eyes darted. His stance was rigid, as if he was on guard, waiting for an assault. Dara held his hand, obviously unaware. Then, her gaze scanned her surroundings. Their eyes locked. Jerry saluted and crossed the street.
"What are you doing here?" she fired when he was within earshot.
"I could ask you the same," Jerry said, "but I won't. I think that's obvious."
Jerry cut Dara's friend off with a slight wave of his hand. "It doesn't matter. I protect her. That's why I'm here." He focused his attention on her. "Are you ready to go?"
The set of her jaw warned him. A fight loomed on the horizon. As he waited for her worst, he gave her buddy a long look. The man's baby face didn't register, but there was something vaguely familiar about him. Jerry made a mental note of the man's height, build and face. Later, he'd draw a sketch, scan it and search for a match. Gut told him whatever name he gave Dara wouldn't be the right one. Distrust grew at first sight.
"Actually, we're having breakfast. I'll meet you at home."
Her boy toy frowned. "We can do breakfast another time."
He shook his head. "No, really. He's protecting you. I want you safe." He kissed her cheek. "I'll call you later."
Jerry watched them. His stomach twisted into knots. The coffee boiled and churned inside his gut and he fought the urge to vomit. First Sonny Corinthos and now, Alex Baby Face. Dara was too good for all of them. Why couldn't she see that?
Nope, this wasn't getting personal. Not at all.
- - -
Naptime brought an interesting quiet to the four walls that were feeling more and more like home to Jian. He stood in the doorway of Jacob's bedroom. The even rise and fall of the sleeping boy's body soothed Jian in ways he never considered. From the little boy's faint smile, Jian was assured that the little one enjoyed pleasant dreams. He left the door ajar and pushed off in search of Keesha.
He found her with a customer. The older woman smiled and waved at him as she continued to speak at a rapid pace. She found a reason to visit at least once a week. Keesha reasoned she like the companionship as much as the botanical offerings. Jian agreed. The lady was harmless. She could go on for hours about perennials, vegetation and plant psychology.
Once, he offered to rescue Keesha if the conversation progressed too long. She declined the offer, saying she didn't mind the woman's gift for gab. The older woman's warm voice and gentle manners reminded Keesha of her grandmother. And it was just nice to be in her company.
While they discussed hybrids, he cleaned the shop and restocked shelves. As he unpacked a new shipment of clay pots, the bell above the door rang. He returned to the main room. Keesha greeted him with an adorable grin.
"She's gone. You can stop hiding."
His brow drew into a playful frown. "Who's hiding? While you've been chatting the day away, I've been breaking my back."
"So you have." She moved to him. Her arms encircled his waist. "Thank you."
"It's always my pleasure."
His head dipped low. She stood on tiptoe to welcome his kiss. Quickly the kiss deepened to something deep, personal and passionate. He enjoyed the sweet, delicious taste of her, like berries and sunshine. Soon, their ragged breathing filled the quiet space. With great reluctance, he raised his head and ended the kiss.
"You are dangerous," she accused, catching her breath.
"It's you." He slid his around her waist and squeezed. "You have that affect on me."
"Okay, I accept the blame." She did a cute curtsy. "Guilty as charged. What is the punishment for my crimes?"
"Nothing. I think it's something I can live with."
She laughed. A moment later, the bell rang again. Another customer entered. She helped the man choose an arrangement for his aunt and rang his sale. After his exit, she moved to the computer. Jian shook his head. She could spend hours on that thing. Boredom struck and he sauntered over to see what she was up to.
"Great prison escapes?" He closed a hand over her shoulder as he read the words on the monitor. "Why?"
"You know why." Her fingers grew still on the keyboard. "One moment, I feel safe and secure and then the next I'm shaking inside. I can't explain it, but I sense Jason. I feel that he knows I'm alive and that he knows about Jacob."
"There's no way he can know that."
"I know. Justus and Jerry would never betray me. Neither would you, but still… I have to prepare myself in case."
"You're not in this alone." He sat in a chair beside her. "We're a team now. No, we're more than that. We're a family. You and Jacob are my family. I haven't felt a connection like this since my brother died. I won't let anything happen to you or that little man upstairs. You do know that, don't you?"
She closed her hand over his. "I know, Jian. My fears have nothing to do with you. I hate to admit this, but Jason scares me. He and Carly were friends, yet he killed her. He and Sonny were like brothers and he framed him for murder. I took his son away. What wrath can I expect from him? He wouldn't let me walk away and I'd die before I let him take Jacob--"
Tremors overtook her. He pulled her onto his lap and into his arms. "Ssh. Don't Keesha. We'll make a plan. If somehow he beats the system and gets an early release, we'll disappear."
"I didn't want this life for Jacob."
He stroked her arms and back. She felt light as feather even as burden and worry weighed her down. He wanted to shoulder everything and take care of her. Make her pain his. Protect her from sadness and harsh reality. But Keesha Ward was too strong for that. She always had been.
"We won't worry about that right now," he said, holding her close. "Jacob loves you."
"But will he forgive me for keeping him away from his father?"
Jian had no answer for that.
- - -
The squad room vibrated with energy. The wired, tension-filled kind that always came whenever an officer was involved. Dawn's hand shook as she reviewed the crime scene photos. The ripped seat belt, shattered windows and splatters of blood gave evidence of a struggle. Uniforms and detectives canvassed the area for hours. Everyone carried a photo of Gwen and hoped that someone, anyone had seen her or had information.
Munch and Fin found a homeless guy who saw a Black hooker being manhandled. They were in the interrogating room with him now. She wanted in on it, but Kragen ordered her out. Her personal involvement with the vic made her a wildcard was what he told her. She resented the assumption. So far, she'd kept a cool head. Even though she wanted to scream with rage. And fear.
"Great," Rey mumbled under his breath. "I warned you about this."
He closed the folder on her desk and jutted his chin. "Toward that. 20/20. Mr. Dateline. Geraldo Rivera, Junior."
"Shit." She stood and turned at the same time. Her husband was walking toward her. She hated the sense of dread that overcame her. Fox William Mulder, what the hell are you trying to do to my career?
"You shouldn't be here." She met him halfway. Her hand locked around his forearm. "You cannot be here."
"I have to talk to you." His hazel eyes flashed with stubborn determination.
A dead silence fell over the squad room. Eyes bored into her back. Suspicion hung in the air. Dawn dreaded this moment. She heard Elliott tell everyone to get back to work. She knew no one listened. All eyes were on her and the man who once disclosed confidential police information in the media.
"Later." She pulled him toward the exit.
"Peaches, this is later. You've been here for over sixteen hours."
"I'm in the middle of an important case!"
"I understand that," he said, "but this can't wait. One minute is all I'm asking. Come outside with me."
His tone worried her. Any notion of arguing with him died a quick death. She simply nodded. He took her hand and soon, they were outside.
"What is it?" she said, taking in his solemn expression. She assumed the worst. Tears caught in her throat, nearly choking her. "Is it Dara? Something happened to her. Jerry fucked up, didn't he?"
Fox took both her hands. "It's not Dara. She's fine."
"No, and it's not Damon either." He inhaled a sharp breath. His hands slid up her arms to her shoulders. He pulled her close. "I don't know how to tell you this, so I'll just say it. Ed Green called. I told him you were working a major case, so he told me…"
"Oh, God." Her voice cracked. "What did he tell you? Lennie…"
"Peaches, I'm sorry," he said, his voice soft and caring. "Lennie passed away. He had cancer. While he was visiting Ed in Vegas, he got worse. He asked Ed to call you…to let you know."
"No…" The word came out a strangled sob. "No, Fox." She clutched his shirt. Her knees buckled. His arms wrapped around her.
"I'm sorry. Lennie hated my guts, but I know he really cared about you. I know you cared about him. There's going to be a memorial service…"
Fox spoke at length. Through her sobs of sadness, she heard him but was unable to respond until he said,
"Let me take you home."
"I can't." She pulled away. As he thumbed away her tears, she whispered, "I've already lost one friend tonight. I'm not losing another one. Gwen's out there somewhere. I'm not leaving until we find her."
"Dawn, you're upset--"
"I know what I am and I know what I have to do." She hugged him quickly. "Thank you so much for loving me enough to brave the one six. If someone else had told me… " She stopped herself before more tears came. "Go home. Find out when the service will be."
"Okay." He gently cupped her face. His thumb brushed her bottom lip. "Be careful. Don't do something stupid. I can't lose you."
"I'll be fine. I promise."
[A/N: In loving memory of Jerry Orbach, may he rest in peace.]