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Mala In Se

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O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive!
--Walter Scott

Monday, November 20, 2017 11:30 PM PST

The hooded figure jogged through the streets with ease. Coming up to the building, he took the stairs two at a time, quietly easing out of the stairwell and into the vacant hallway, looking for the door he needed.

A blue hue of lights flickered from under the doorway, spilling out into the hall as the man quickly and quietly opened the door and slipped inside. Removing the hood and jacket, he pulled out the office chair and reclined to catch his breath and examine the row of monitors before him.

Twelve little lives played out on the seven screens that currently showed activity. Although, he highly doubted sleeping figures counted as much ‘activity’ in the mind of his employer. Each monitor could easily be switched to a variety of other rooms, different settings where the people in question seemed to spend the majority of their time. Notebook upon notebook lined the shelf below the row of monitors containing detailed descriptions of daily routines, favorite meals, activities, etc.

He scrolled his finger along the row below that. His favorite row. The row of recordings… intimate moments… stolen kisses… secret affairs… the little things that made life really special. The things his employer would really be interested in seeing… all two years worth.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~

Tuesday, November 21, 2017 06:00 AM PST

Richard Raydor stretched out in bed, the first early morning rays of the Los Angeles sun making their way through a gap in the curtains. For a split second he was disoriented. It wasn’t often that he didn’t wake up in his own bed, and usually when that was the case, it was his mother’s condo that he would find himself in. This was different. This was new. And thinking back to last night, this was very, very nice.

He rolled over and moved closer to the body of the woman beside him. His arm snaking its way around her waist while his nose gently parted the mahogany hair cascading over her shoulder to trace the outer shell of her ear, before his lips met the sensitive patch of skin at her throat.

A smile graced her features long before her eyes opened and she inhaled a deep breath, her body arching against his as she stretched.

“Good morning.”

His nose nuzzled her ear again in response. “You,” he punctuated the words with kisses to her neck, “have goose bumps.”

Her eyes fluttered open and she turned her head, her lips grazing his. “Do I now?”

His fingers traced patterns against her night gown, smiling as the gooseflesh seemed to spread across her body. “You definitely do.”

Claire grabbed his hand before rolling over, gently pinning him beneath her. “You know,” she kissed him gently, “a girl could get used to this.”

Rick’s eyebrows rose in mock surprise. “Waking up to goose bumps?”

Claire propped her head in her hand and smiled down at him, “Waking up… going to bed…. All of it really?”

Rick waited until her lips had almost met his again before he interrupted, “You didn’t have goose bumps last night when you went to sleep.”

She stopped, her face turning thoughtful. “I didn’t? You’re right! I didn’t.” A wicked smile that he had come to find endearing breaking out across her features. “That was my toes curling.”

She kissed him again, this time with more intent, before pulling back and squinting at the clock. “What time is it?”

“It’s still early. I’d hate to make you late for work.”

Claire rolled her eyes. “I have apologized for that. Repeatedly.” She rolled off of him but didn’t move far, her hand running over his bare chest as she rested her head against his shoulder. “I know it’s the holidays and you’ll be spending most of it with your family, but any chance I can steal you for a night before you head back to Palo Alto?”

Rick turns to her, smiles, and kisses her gently. “About that…. What are you doing for lunch today?”

Claire blinked, a slightly confused look gracing her features. “If everything goes to plan I should be free,” she hesitates, “but you,” she pokes his chest playfully before kissing him, “are having lunch with your mother.”

Rick leans up and kisses her again, his arms wrapping around her. “I was thinking maybe you could join us.”

She pulls back, her eyes examining him for a minute. “You’re serious?”

“Uh huh….”

“‘Mister Oh, I don’t like my family all up in my business’, wants to introduce me to his mother?”

Rick scowled at her. “I figured it was about time. We have been together almost ten months, ya know.”

Claire’s face softened as she smiled. “I know.”

Mock shock transformed his face as he flipped them again, smiling as Claire laughed. “You’re not afraid of my mother, are you?”

“Afraid? Of Commander ‘Darth’ Raydor? Not at all. She’s a rather formidable woman… if anything, I would say I admire her. From a professional standpoint.” Claire’s arms wrapped loosely around Rick’s neck. “Now, as the woman who has been secretly dating her son for almost ten months without her knowledge… Hell, yes, I’m afraid of your mother.”

Rick snickered, kissing her lightly, his arms supporting his weight as he rested on his forearms. “So, is that a no on lunch?”

“Most definitely not. It is definitely a yes. I will make sure that I am free for lunch this afternoon.”

“Good.” He kissed her quickly before pushing himself up to sit in the bed. “Then we need to shower and get a move on so you’re not late.”

Claire hopped out of bed, grabbing him by the hand as she made her way to the en suite bathroom. “I might need help washing my back….”

~*~*~*~*~*~

07:30 AM PST

Sharon Raydor sat in front of her vanity and examined herself in the mirror. So much had changed in her life over the last year and she was sure that it was starting to show. Now things would be changing even more in the coming months… with both families, the two coasts, never mind her own sense of occasion… a holiday wedding had just seemed like the perfect set up. Especially, once the annulments were finalized.

Ricky was coming home for Thanksgiving and assisting with final preparations, Rusty & Gus would be back from Napa this afternoon and everyone would be together at Nicole's on Thursday. Emily and Drew would be the only two missing this holiday gathering and a small part of Sharon felt that as much as their families had merged, they wouldn’t be truly complete until they could get all of the children together.

She dabbed the last touch of her lipgloss on and smoothed her lips together before the low vibration of her phone caught her attention. Glancing at the display she smiled as she saw the caller ID.

“Ricky! Please tell me your flight is on time and all is good.”

“Everything’s fine, Mom. No need to worry. I actually had a question about lunch, first wanting to make sure everything was still on track….”

Sharon nodded her head, knowing there was no way for him to see it. “So far, so good. As Andy would say, no one’s dead, yet.”

A soft laugh came from Ricky and Sharon could make out other noises in the background. “Well, that’s a good thing. So, is there any chance I might be able to add one more to the table?”

“That shouldn’t be an issue. Finding a spot for your sister to stay if you haven’t already arranged something with Rusty behind my back, might be an issue though.” Sharon responded.

“Good one, Mom. But I told you I wasn’t able to pull her away from her dancing until next month. No, this is… uh, someone else.”

Sharon’s curiosity was piqued. “Ricky, is this something serious? You haven’t brought anyone home for me to meet since... what... College?”

Ricky paused for a moment and the background noise coming over the line lowered in volume. “Yeah, Mom. I think it is. I was going to wait, but I figured I wasn’t going to just spring it on everyone by bringing her to the wedding… so I figured now was as good a time as ever.”

She was so happy, but then the logistics started to fall into place and she bit her lip. “Ricky… where will we put her? I am not having you bring home a young woman and flop her on the couch or in your brother’s room. It is already going to be cramped with everyone here.”

Ricky’s laugh was light, easy, and Sharon was trying to think of the last time he hadn’t been stressed over the latest developments with his company or the takeover were. “She doesn’t need a place to stay. In fact, if it’s easier and less stressful, I can always crash at her place while I’m in town.”

Sharon sat up a little straighter and smiled as Andy walked out of the bathroom, adjusting his tie as he went. “She lives in LA?”

“Yup.”

From his tone she could tell that there would be no further answers coming from him right now. “How long has this been going on?”

“Mom…”

“Well, you don’t want me asking all these questions in front of her, do you?”

Ricky’s light laugh again filtered through the phone. “No, I guess not. Emily and Rusty will be bad enough. About ten months or so…”

Sharon thought things over and it made sense. It certainly explained his frequent weekend visits to see how wedding arrangements and house hunting were going.

“Mom…”

Sharon smiled. “Of course, bring her to lunch. I’ll inform Andy, though I’ll leave it up to you to tell Rusty that Gus will not be the only ‘plus one’ in attendance. The rest, we’ll discuss later.”

“Excellent. We’ll see you later, then. Love you.”

“Love you, too, dear.”

She disconnected the call and stared at her screen for a moment. Not immediately noticing that Andy had walked up behind her.

“That sounded like an interesting half of a conversation….”

She smiled at him in the mirror, her hand immediately covering the one that he brought up to rest on her shoulder. “Ricky is bringing a young lady to lunch today.”

“Ah…”

“Don’t worry, we don’t have to rearrange everything. She lives here in the city, so Ricky might not be here as often as we thought, either.”

Andy nodded. “So he’s picking her up before meeting up with us?”

Sharon frowned a little and stared at her phone again. “Actually, I think they’re already together.”

“Oh?” Andy handed her her purse and flicked off the bedside lamp as they made their way up the hallway. “What makes you say that?”

Sharon’s smirk surprised him a little. “Last I knew, Ricky would never have a hairdryer going the entire time he was on the phone with me.”

Andy pressed his lips together and Sharon could tell that he didn’t want to laugh at her for fear of her reaction, but she didn’t miss the quiet and not so subtle ‘Way to go, Ricky’ that he mumbled as they headed out of the condo.

Chapter Text

Tuesday, November 21, 2017 12:00 PM EST

The lens turned and the image of the couple sitting at the cafe came into sharp focus. The shutter clicked and the image froze.

The man continued watching. Cars passed, pedestrians and bikers went by. Central Park was busy in the morning.

But no one took notice. He was just another guy, enjoying the crisp, late November air, taking pictures of the New York skyline, the pigeons, people, the snow lightly coating everything in muted tones and white… whatever.

His lens zoomed in on the woman's legs. Those beautiful, shapely, long dancer legs. You could tell they were her mother's legs. He'd seen her in enough skirts to pick that out from miles away.

The man across from her was oddly familiar. They'd met several times that he'd witnessed, usually for coffee or a meal, nothing serious, yet. But even on that first meeting - he's not entirely sure they qualify as dates - there had been something about his looks, something about his mannerisms that struck a familiar chord.

He focuses in on the man's face, trying to pinpoint the familiarity, and snaps another picture.

~*~*~*~*~*~

12:15 PM EST

Emily Raydor laughs lightly and tries not to spill any of the water she'd been sipping at. If there was one thing that she could say about Drew it was that he definitely took after his father. No matter how hard the young man tried to distance himself from the man - moving to the East coast, taking his step-father's last name, going by Drew instead of his father's beloved 'Andy' - the striking resemblances were just too much.

Obviously, his hair was darker - a jet black rather than his father's current more salt than pepper - and his features weren't marred by the lines the many years and stress had added; but there was no way that she could deny that you took one look at this man and saw Andy Flynn some thirty odd years ago. She had also already decided that she apparently had similar taste in men as her mother, because after a few meetings - mainly over dinner or coffee - she was finding herself quite taken with her soon-to-be step-brother.

Emily's hand made its way across the table and rested on top of Drew's. "You're lucky to have those memories of your Dad. Ricky and I weren't that lucky most of the time."

Drew grimaced slightly, his hand turning over so he could take hold of Emily's. "I never thought of myself as lucky. Most of the time when I saw him it was in secret. He'd show up at a baseball game or something, stand in the back and not stick around. If Mom had known he was, there she would have flipped her lid."

Emily smiled, her fingers gripping his. "But don't you get it? He showed up, he made the effort. I'm sure it wasn't as often or as much as he wanted; from what Nicole says, your mom pretty much banned him from showing up to things after a while. And I'm not defending him, but I think if you'll sit down with him, you'll see that he doesn't defend those actions either. He knows he screwed up."

Drew leaned back, his arm stretching so as not to allow his fingers to lose contact with Emily's. "Nicole says your mother has had one hell of an effect on him."

Emily smiled, sadly. "It's not just her. If that was all it took, it would have worked on my father."

Drew squeezed her hand. "I guess we should stop trying to dwell on the past. And if all the women in my life are trying to convince me to give the guy a shot… maybe I should listen." He shrugged, his grip loosening on her fingers.

Emily scooted closer to the table, leaning over conspiratorially. "So, I can tell my future step-sister, and your future step-mother, that we'll both be arriving?"

Drew's eyes looked away, and if Emily had to speculate, she'd say he almost looked embarrassed. "Well, there's one little catch there…"

When he had started, she almost became nervous, but he seemed a little too upbeat and … flirty for any real concern. Emily cocked her head to the side. "Oh? What would that be?"

"Is it too odd for my future step-sister to be my date? I hear she's a hell of a dancer." Emily laughed, and if her finger stayed on his longer than was necessary, well she didn't think there was anything really wrong with that. Her next phone conversation with her mother and/or Nicole might be very interesting though.

~*~*~*~*~*~

12:00 PM PST

Claire finished typing up her summary report of the findings from the hard drive she had scanned. A listing of every file, password, and picture the drive housed was included, as well as descriptions of each. Her report, along with the drive itself, would be handed over to sex crimes and they would take things from there. Printing off her report, signing off on everything, and dropping both the report and the drive into a manila envelope, Claire placed the file in the outgoing tray and checked the time. She had fifteen minutes before she was supposed to head upstairs and meet up with Rick and his family.

She already knew most of the people in Major Crimes, at least in passing. Although Lieutenant Tao generally assisted in most of their technical needs, her department had been called in on more than one occasion. Which had, oddly enough, led to her introduction to Richard Raydor. If anyone would have told her that a heated conversation at work over the debate between RISC versus CISC processors and monolithic kernals versus microkernals could have ended in a dinner invitation, she would have thought they were nuts.

Hell, the first few times that her and Rick had gone out she'd thought he was insane for virtually sneaking around behind his mother's back. Tracking down her work station and bringing her an iced coffee in a spill proof cup, because he knew she would never forgive him if she'd managed to spill any on her work. And yet, here they were ten months later and she couldn't be happier. Things were going so well she was almost wondering what the catch was.

She made a quick stop in the bathroom to check over her makeup and hair before taking a deep, cleansing breath and heading up to the lobby where Rick, and she assumed Rusty, would meet prior to heading up to the eleventh floor.

As she exited the elevator, she spotted him almost immediately leaning against the front desk waiting on his visitors badge. He flashed his boyish smile, the one that had first weakened her defenses, to the officer behind the desk and took the badge from her before turning toward the main entrance.

"You know, a girl could get jealous if she thought you broke out that smile for just anyone."

Ricky turned, flashing the same smile. His hands went to her hips, pulling her in for a quick, chaste kiss. "Not 'just anyone'. That particular smile is reserved for my girlfriends."

Claire rolled her eyes. "So you and Sergeant Vidro are going steady now?"

Rick winked at her. "Only since I was thirteen."

Claire noticed the not so subtle interest the woman was taking in them. "I think you're secret is out."

Rick turned, smiled and kissed her cheek. "It was bound to be after lunch anyway," his hand moved from her hip to wrap around her waist, "Mom and Maria go way back."

She smiled and squeezed his hand. "Any other secret girlfriends I should know about? Or secrets in general?"

His eyebrows waggled at her. "Now, wouldn't it be boring if I answered that."

Her light laughter echoed through the expanse of the main entrance. Turning several heads their way.

"Ricky?"

They turned and she felt the slightest hint of tension run across Rick's back. "Hey, little brother! Gus." Claire ran her hand gently up Rick's back, hoping to assuage some of the tension.

"Sergeant Kabrich?" Rusty looked back and forth between her and Ricky, a nervous bounce to his stance.

"Mr. Beck. Mr. Wallace." She nodded in greeting to both, waiting for Rick to step in, but sensed that he wasn't as interested in this introduction as the one that would be taking place in a few moments several floors above their current location; which only increased her nervousness.

Rick cleared his throat. "Claire will be joining us for lunch. We should probably head up and drag Mom and Andy out before a body turns up."

Rusty shifted back and forth slightly. "Okay…."

Gus smiled and spun on his heel, headed toward the elevators. "Excellent. I'm starving."

They filed into the elevator, and Claire's hand mirrored Rick's as they each had one palm resting at the small of the other's back. She could feel a nervous fidgeting reverberating through his spine, and she ran her hand along the muscles of his lower back hoping to relax him a bit. The elevator doors opened and Rusty and Gus exited, turning in the direction of Major Crimes. As they stepped out, Claire paused and tugged on Rick's hand.

"You okay?" Her voice was barely above a whisper and she searched Rick's face while he answered.

He cleared his throat, looking down at his feet for a moment before meeting her eye. "It's been a really long time since I introduced anyone to her, okay?"

Claire leaned up and gave him a quick, chaste kiss. "Guess it's a good thing it's me then, huh? I've already met her and that alone didn't scare me off."

With that she turned and headed down the hall, smiling when she caught the slight shake of Rick's head before he followed after her.

Chapter Text

Tuesday, November 21, 2017 08:00 PM PST

Andy cleared the last of the plates with a smile and gave Sharon a gentle nudge in the direction of the living room. Unabashed laughter could be heard as Ricky and Rusty seemed to be in a constant competition to out-embarrass the other while Gus and Claire delighted to no end. Lunch had started off slowly, and Andy could sense Ricky's nervousness, with Claire's persistent reassuring touches seeming to be the only thing preventing the young man from jumping out of his skin.

In the end, the mid-afternoon respite from the bullpen had been just what everyone needed and he wasn't sure he'd seen Sharon this happy since the last time all of her children had sat in the same room. Sure, Claire Kabrich was most definitely not Emily, but she seemed to provide that little bit of estrogen in Sharon's testosterone surrounded life, and had a clear interest and affection for Ricky that Sharon had easily made an alliance. Which, of course, had led to the invitation to dinner and her addition to several of their upcoming holiday plans. Something that Ricky seemed both very pleased and nervous about at the same time.

Now that Sharon was aware of the not-so-budding romance, there was no reason for Ricky to keep his two reasons for coming to LA separate. While Sharon loved spending every moment possible with her son when he was in town, there was no reason why he couldn't spend time with Claire as well - without having to fly in a day early just to swing a night with the young lady.

As he finished rinsing the final plate and placed it into the dishwasher, Andy managed a glance into the living room, Claire's rapt attention was on Sharon as she regaled her with a story from Ricky's youth. Andy shook his head as he watched the redness creep up from below Ricky's shirt, up his neck, before blossoming over his face. To her credit, Claire laughed lightly, assuring him that the story was adorable, and kissing him lightly while he glared in her and Sharon's direction.

Grabbing his drink off the counter, Andy walked into the living room and perched himself on the arm of Sharon's chair, delighting when her gentle fingers rested against the skin of his back.

Claire's eyes twinkled with obvious mischief as she noticed the intimate touch and she made a show of glancing at her watch. "As much as I loved dinner, I have work in the morning."

"Yes, as do we." Sharon responded with a genuine smile. "Especially, if we plan on an afternoon of cookie making for Thanksgiving."

Claire's responding smile made it quite clear to Andy what had initially attracted Ricky. "Well, it's been ages since I've baked, but I will help where I can."

"Excellent." Sharon stood and embraced Claire in a comfortable hug. "We can meet for lunch and head over to Nicole's together, and then 'the boys' can pick us up later."

Claire smiled and returned the embrace. "That sounds wonderful." She turned to the rest of the room. "Have a good night, all."

A series of 'good night's' followed around the room before Ricky announced that he would walk her down to her car, and Rusty and Gus excused themselves to Rusty's room. After checking everything over to make sure things were laid out for Ricky to sleep on the couch, Sharon turned off all but the dim lamp in the corner of the living room and the light over the stove in the kitchen, and finally followed Andy down the hallway to their bedroom.

Andy closed the door behind them and turned, expecting Sharon to have gone into the ensuite bathroom and start on her nightly routine. Instead, she was standing directly before him, a bright smile still blazing across her features.

"Do you think it's possible for our pasts… our relationship failures… to have not totally ruined our children?"

Andy's hands went to her hips and pulled her closer. "You thought you'd ruined your kids? Sharon, your kids are great. All three of them."

Sharon smiled, her hands resting at his elbows. "I know. But Rusty is the closest any of them have come to a stable relationship. And, I guess, I just thought my relationship with their father might have been part of the problem."

Andy leaned forward, his forehead resting against hers. "Naturally, our relationships with our exes affected our children, but only in so far as it helped them to be more cautious. To not rush into things. And to care about what's really important." He leaned forward and kissed her gently on the tip of her nose. "And if Nicole and Dean, and Ricky and Claire are the outcomes… well, I think that's pretty damned great."

She hummed as she stepped impossibly closer to him. "You know I love you, right?"

Their lips finally met and they shared a series of relaxed, playful, almost lazy kisses before Sharon's hands made their way from his elbows up his chest. Her right hand snaking its ways around his neck, her nails scraping along the hair at his nape. A low growl emanated from deep within his chest and he felt Sharon's lips twitch against his.

"You're asking for trouble, Commander." His hands shifted from her hips to her ass, holding her against him.

She was smiling at him and her eyes held a carefree twinkle that he hadn't seen since prior to the explosion at the PAB… since prior to the possible reemergence of Philip Stroh. "Lucky for you, Lieutenant, I never bite off more than I can chew."

His lips met hers again, and he slowly walked them over toward the bed. All thoughts of their nightly routine swiftly forgotten.

~*~*~*~*~*~

 

10:00 PM PST

The glass shattered against the far wall of the apartment, its contents spraying the wall, glass shards splintering in every direction.

Of all of his targets, the woman currently in the arms of her lover, back pressed firmly against the wall, had easily become his favorite. Her shapely curves, her auburn hair, her obvious intelligence, the scent of her home. He had to admit, installing the cameras in her place had struck a special chord within him. He had observed her for weeks, the comings and goings from her building, her daily routine. Finally getting the cameras set up had been like hitting the final home run in the World Series.

He'd watched her on end. Memorizing her movements, her routines. He'd watched her alone and with him. Seen enough of their interactions to garner a pretty specific idea of what she liked, how she liked to be touched. But now it was getting to be too much. Now he wanted… needed... to possess her. To show her that the man whose hands were currently caressing her curves, whose lips were currently tracing a path along her neck, was not worthy.

His employer had been adamant about observation only. But the point at which being a simple voyeur was enough, had long since passed. Besides, last he knew his employer was practically three thousand miles away.

A plan started to form in his head, the materials he would need all carefully stored in the apartment for the time that his employer had deemed appropriate. As he carefully packed his bag, he felt his heart rate increase, his palms start to sweat a little and other areas of his body respond in kind.

Oh, yes, tonight would be a glorious night.

~*~*~*~*~*~

 

10:00 PM PST

Rick and Claire extricated themselves from each other's embrace in time to exit the elevator and make their way to Claire's car. Their fingers intertwined as Claire hit the button on the key fob and placed her purse inside.

A gentle tug on her hand had her back in Rick's embrace, his lips easily finding hers and deepening an already heated kiss. Her hand cupped the back of his head as she hummed into the kiss, before slowly backing away slightly.

"Unless you plan on coming home with me… I think we should stop before we embarrass ourselves." She could feel the heat tinting her cheeks even if he couldn't see it in the shaded light of the parking garage.

Rick's fingers traced the waist of her pants under her shirt, just skimming her bare skin. "You know you're fantastic, right?"

She smiled, a chaste kiss to his cheek emphasizing her words, "I'll never stop you from telling me though."

He kissed her again, pressing her gently against the body of her car. Her hands rested on his chest putting just enough pressure to get some distance between them. She smiled up at him, her eyes twinkling playfully. "I'm going home. Alone. You should get back upstairs."

Rick smiled and huffed out a laugh. "Call me when you get in?"

"Of course."

He opened the door for her and watched her get settled. She turned the car on and rolled down the window. "I'll talk to you in a bit and see you tomorrow."

He kissed her once more through the open window. "Drive safe. I love you."

Her eyes widened briefly and for a second she wondered if he'd realized what he'd said, or if it was habit. As he walked into the lobby, he turned and flashed her a smile that told her he knew exactly what he'd done - and he'd left without giving her the chance to respond on purpose.

She shook her head and smiled as she backed the car out of the space and headed toward her apartment. The drive there passed by in a blur. She had known her own feelings for Rick for a while now, but when they'd started seeing each other it had been a purely casual thing. Late night phone conversations - whether about their day or about social plans - had always been light and the only discussions they'd ever gotten into were regarding computers, technology, uses and abuses. They'd discussed their distance and the possibilities of changes in their future, but it had always been in such a hypothetical setting that she'd never been sure how serious he was with things. She knew she'd fallen hard several months ago when she'd started biting her tongue not to end their phone calls with those three words.

She parked her car and grabbed her purse, making her way quickly up to the apartment. Opening the door, she smiled as she looked around. Everything was just as she would normally leave it, save for a few traces of Rick's presence that morning. She grabbed her phone from her purse and quickly pulled up her contacts and called him.

"That was quick."

She smiled and rolled her eyes at his subtle jab about her lead foot. "It's late, traffic was light."

"You're forgetting how well I know LA. Traffic is never light." She could hear the smile in his voice after her indignant huff. "How badly did you want to run from here?"

She entered her bedroom and started her routine for the night. "Wanting to run had nothing to do with it. The faster I got home and in bed, the faster morning would come and then I could see you again tomorrow."

Rick's voice lowered, a more serious tone taking over. "I should let you get some sleep then."

"You should."

"Good night, then."

"Sweet dreams. Oh, and Rick?"

"Yeah?"

"I love you, too."

She disconnected the call, not giving him the chance to say anything in response, a wide smile breaking out across her features. She probably looked like an idiot if anyone saw her at the moment, but she doubted she would care. Plugging up her phone on the bedside table, she headed into the bathroom to finish with her hair and teeth before curling up beneath her comforter.

She stared at the ceiling for a moment, the place never having felt so empty before Rick decided to spend the night occasionally - which had in fact only been twice before this week. Rolling on her side, attempting to find a comfortable position, she curled her arms around the pillow he had used the night before, inhaling the trace of his scent left on the material and drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

Wednesday, November 22, 2017 02:00 AM PST

The tension wrench and pick easily bound the pins of the lock into place and the door to the apartment opened with the faintest of noises. He quietly moved inside, the art of becoming invisible second nature to him by now, and closed the door with less noise than when it had been opened. Considering the residence, he was surprised there wasn’t more difficulty in the entry, and knew from his previous perusals of the residence just where he needed to go.

The last thing he wanted to do was rush this. He wanted to savor every second -- the feel of the carpet beneath his boots, the quiet stillness of the place while everyone else in their little corner of the world was asleep, the fragrant aroma of lilac and lavender that seemed to permeate every inch and fiber of the place. Scanning the shelves and furniture, he was struck by the pictures of the happy couple that graced the features. Running his hand along the back of the couch, his fingers itched to grab one of the pictures and smash it against the wall or the floor, any hard surface really….

But such actions would alert others to his presence, and he really didn’t want that. He wanted her alone. He intended to go slow, take his time and draw this one out to make up for the amount of time his talents had been held at bay.

Slowly... quietly… he made his way down the hallway, fingers running along the wall as he went. This wasn’t the first time he’d done something like this, but it had been far too long. The first time since his employer had gotten him out of his last jam and he’d promised to do better… to refine his craft so that next time there was no chance he would get caught. In the last few years, he’d been content to watch, content to sit in the office/apartment that they had set up across town and collect information, learn the lives of the people his employer was interested in and catalogue their secrets. And then she had come along.

She was his type… quite possibly more his type than any of the women who had come before her. Independent, beautiful but not necessarily traditional, headstrong. He was sure a criminal psychologist would find loads of other commonalities that he never would have considered. All he knew, all he cared about, was that there was something about her that made him need to possess her.

And after what he’d seen earlier, he had to do it now. There was no holding back, no more observation, no more waiting.

He stopped at the entrance to the bedroom and his breath hitched. Her outline as she lay asleep in the bed, silhouetted by the moonlight cascading in through the blinds, with her back to him, made his heart beat faster and his palms sweat. It wouldn’t be long now.

He entered the room, the air seemingly alive with electricity, and circled to the far side of the bed. More than anything, he loved the relaxed expression on her face while she slept; he’d seen it so often in the last several months that he practically had it memorized. He watched her for a few moments, his fingers itching to reach out and touch her, to finally claim her as his even as she clutched a pillow to her chest. His pillow.

He placed his bag on the floor by her bed, everything he could possibly need for any outcome he could think of right there, and slowly, carefully brushed a lock of her hair off of her face. A gentle smile moved across her face and she shifted on the bed, lying more fully on her back.

Exactly what he had hoped for.

Her positioning now made things so much easier than it would have been. Carefully, so as not to dip the edge of the mattress too much, he edged his way up to her from the foot of the bed. He was just about even with her hips when she shifted, fully on her back now, one hand casually laying across the pillow above her head.

It was perfect.

Almost as if she could read his mind.

Slowly, carefully, he pulled the knife from its sheath on his belt. Holding it in his right hand he cautiously inched closer to her side. His anticipation was growing. He had dutifully waited as long as he could, after tonight his employer could do what he wanted, because this… she… was so going to be worth it.

He took a deep breath to steady himself, to calm the increasing build of anticipation of what was about to happen.

In the next instant he was on top of her, hands pinned above her head, knife to her throat. The utter look of terror in her eyes only fueled his excitement.

He leaned forward, the faint smell of the perfume she wore earlier in the day invading his senses. She tensed further as he moved the knife away from her throat, pushing an errant lock of hair off of her face and tracing a trail down her cheek.

Her eyes closed and he spotted the unshed tears in the corners of her eyes. She was so calm, so docile beneath him. He shifted against her, the evidence of his arousal pressing into her stomach as he straddled her, and she tensed beneath him without so much as a whimper.

He watched the movements of her throat as she swallowed and followed the path further to the edge of the satin decollete of her nightie. His pulse sped up as he envisioned just what he was going to do to her. Just how glorious the night would be.

He closed his eyes for the briefest of seconds, and that was when his whole plan started to fall apart.

~*~*~*~*~*~

02:15 AM PST

It took almost every ounce of Claire’s willpower not to scream the second she opened her eyes. The most basic instincts told her to scream at the top of her lungs and hope for the best. Even being a technical analyst, she’d completed the basics of the Police Academy, and everything in her training and the few classes she’d taken since -- either professionally or for ‘fun’ -- told her that if she wanted to get out of this she would have to let her wits prevail and not allow instinct to kick in too much.

She closed her eyes against the tears that threatened to fall, knowing what he planned for her by his reactions, and if this guy was as good as he seemed to be, as prepared as he was, chances were he had no intention of leaving her around to identify him. She swallowed the scream that built up in her throat, praying she would have a better opportunity to use it in the not too distant future.

Her stomach lurched when he leaned forward, and she almost missed him closing his eyes. The contented smile on his face causing a sick chill to run down her spine. If she was going to have a chance, this was it. She couldn’t afford for it to be a wasted opportunity.

She bucked her hips up off of the bed as hard as she could, sending the man crashing forward. With all the force she could muster, her forehead connected with his, and she lunged her arms up to push him off of her as her knee came up to connect with his groin. The man doubled over and she shoved him off of her, grabbing for her cell phone as she scrambled off the bed.

As she took off for the doorway, Claire felt the resistance when the cord tugged before releasing her phone. She turned down the hallway and clicked the screen, swiping her finger over the emergency button. Her forehead pounded where it had connected with the man’s nose and there was blood on her nightgown, whether it was hers or not she couldn’t tell.

She vaguely heard the 911 dispatcher receive the call and rattled off her address and badge number before a force hit her from behind, her phone flying across the room when she landed on the floor. Claire kicked up the best that she could, but between the weight on top of her and the fact that she was pinned face down to her floor, her maneuverability was rather limited. A fist grabbed her hair and she waited a breath as the man leveled himself with her, loosening his grip slightly when he assumed she was acquiescing. Her head lolled forward slightly until she felt like the positioning was good and then she reared her head back and smashed into his face once again.

The muffled, “Fucking bitch,” barely resonated as the pounding between her ears increased in tempo, but she was able to scramble away from him. Claire grabbed her phone a second time as she scurried toward the door, the distant sounds of sirens piercing the typical ensemble of noises that made up the Los Angeles nightly symphony. She was thankful for them and hoped that they were indeed headed her way. Rushing toward the door, fully aware of the sight she must make -- covered in blood, frazzled and in her satin night gown -- she opened the door and attempted to hit the emergency button again, instead dialing the last number previous to that.

A force pulled her back into the apartment and she stumbled, falling into the form, a sharp pain in her side finally ripping a cry from her lips. She struggled against him as the sirens grew closer and they both grew more frantic in their attempts to succeed. Her hands reached back and clawed at his face, gripping at his ears and desperately attempting to locate his eyes. Finally, her hand wrapped around something she could use, and before the opportunity could slip from her grasp, she plunged the knife wherever she could reach, feeling the blade slice into her hand in the process. She backed away from the her attacker and tripped, slamming into the wall before sliding down it and everything faded to black.

~*~*~*~*~*~

02:20 AM PST

Incessant buzzing pierced the veil of consciousness surrounding Ricky and he fumbled in the darkness to find his phone, knocking over a picture frame and sending the remote tumbling to the floor in the process.

“Damnit.”

He swiped his finger across the screen to answer the call. “Claire? What’s up?”

Muffled noises, a cry, the sound of something crashing in the background, all brought Ricky to a sudden state of awareness.

“Claire?!”

“Ricky? What’s going on?” The image of Sharon Raydor in her nightgown and robe with Andy Flynn next to her in his pajamas probably would have been a source of amusement for him on most days, but he couldn’t quell the sudden sense of dread that was building within him.

“I...um…” Ricky stared at the phone in his hand. “I think something’s happened to Claire.”

His mother was by his side in an instant while Andy grabbed the phone off the kitchen counter. “What’s her address, son?”

Ricky rattled off the address while Andy dialed the phone and Sharon took his cell from him, speaking quietly into it. A thousand things were going through Ricky’s mind as he watched it all play out before him, the hole in the pit of his stomach growing deeper as his mother looked up and calmly shook her head to Andy.

“Units are already on scene. Apparently they got a 911 call, Claire was able to give her address and badge number before it became an open line with obvious signs of a scuffle in the background.”

Ricky looked up when his mother placed her hands on his shoulders. “Get dressed. We’ll leave in a few minutes.”

Chapter Text

Wednesday, November 22, 2017 03:00 AM PST

For once Sharon didn’t bother griping at Andy about his driving, just as she’d put up no argument when he’d taken the keys from her hand and opened the passenger side door for her. Instead, she sat in the passenger seat and stared at her son’s reflection in the side mirror. She couldn’t remember a time when she had seen him look so lost...so afraid.

Pulling up in front of Claire’s building, it was obvious that it was being treated as an active crime scene, even from the street. Andy stopped the car just shy of the cordon tape and threw the car into park. In almost the same movement, he threw open his door and took off his seat belt, causing Sharon wondered just how many times he had rushed to a scene just like this in order to perfect the maneuver.

Stepping away from her car, she felt Andy and Ricky follow her as she dipped under the tape and walked up to the patrolman standing guard.

“Commander? I didn’t realize Major Crimes was being called in on this.”

“At the moment, my interest is purely personal. Any objections to an assessment of the scene?”

The officer shrugged his shoulders. “Not my call, ma’am. Sergeant Little is upstairs.”

“Thank you, Officer. If you don’t mind, Lieutenant Flynn and my son will wait here for the moment.” She nodded to the three of them, sharing a look with Andy before making her way toward the entrance to the building.

“Not at all, Ma’am.”

Sharon made her way into the building. The medics moving about and the realization that it was an ambulance and not the coroner’s van pulled up at the front curb brought her an odd sense of calm.

Stepping off the elevator on the floor Ricky had indicated, Sharon moved aside as an officer passed her carrying bags of evidence and headed into the elevator. She made her way down the hallway to the door which obviously had to be Claire’s, indicated by the steady flow of people and the flashing of lights from a continuous stream of pictures being taken.

“Commander?”

“Sergeant.”

“I didn’t realize Major Crimes was coming in on this already.”

Sharon smiled and tried not to look anxious as she scanned the scene. The apartment was a mess. Broken glass and overturned furniture was strewn about the living room, and a rather large and concerning blood stain spread across the wall and floor to the right of the doorway.

“I’m here only to offer my assistance, Sergeant. Sergeant Kabrich is a family friend.”

The young man nodded. “Any assistance would be greatly appreciated, ma’am. This guy was a real S.O.B., and to pull this on an officer of all people. It was too smooth for it to be his first time.” He paused, swallowing a grimace as he took in the scene again before returning his gaze to her. “The medics moved her into the guest room, ma’am. They needed to cut her nightgown and it was the best we could do to give them a bit of privacy.”

“Thank you, Sergeant. Let me check in with Claire and I’ll roll out my team. Lieutenant Flynn is downstairs with Sergeant Kabrich’s boyfriend, who is also my older son.” Sharon nodded at a picture of Ricky and Claire laying on the floor about three feet in front of them, the glass from the broken frame lying in shards around it.

Sergeant Little nodded. “Well, that saves us from having to ID him, not that I think he was at all involved. We will have to ask him some questions though.”

She nodded again. “Feel free, though if it's possible I’m sure he’ll want to accompany her to the hospital.”

“Shouldn't be a problem, ma’am. I’ve already requested that a unit accompany her. Like I said, this was too smooth. I don’t like it.”

Sharon nodded, her lips a thin line as she thought of the implications. “I agree. Excuse me, Sergeant.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

Making her way down the hallway, she easily spotted the two bedrooms at the end, both with quite a bit of activity going on in them. Checking the one on the right she was quickly able to determine that as the master, with the tossed bedsheets and minimal blood spatter from what she could see. From the looks of it, Sharon would guess that this was where the attack started -- meaning the perpetrator was able to obtain entry to the apartment and make his way into the bedroom before Claire was aware of anything. Quite possibly without it even disturbing her sleep. She was definitely leaning toward agreeing with Sergeant Little that this man was experienced and good at what he did. The hair on the back of her neck bristled at the thought.

Turning to the left, Sharon saw a sparsely furnished room. A simple double bed, dresser, and nightstand was all that adorned the area. The wall held a tasteful painting or print of elephants in the wild. It was different than anything Sharon would have immediately connected with the young woman, but distinctly Claire at the same time.

“Has your vision improved at all since we got here?” The medic currently blocking her from Claire’s view asked.

Sharon could hear the eyeroll in Claire’s voice as she responded, and was forced to bite her lip so as not to audibly laugh. “No, but you still haven’t gotten me my glasses so I wouldn’t expect it to.”

The medic with the penlight in his hand sighed as his partner pulled off a piece of medical tape and wrapped it around Claire’s fingers. A quick glance at the areas visible to Sharon’s view showed that there were matching bandages on Claire’s neck and a rather large one on her side which was starting to show blood seeping through.

Taking another step into the room, Sharon cleared her throat lightly, announcing her presence.

“Commander.” The senior medic nodded in greeting.

Claire’s eyes squinted briefly before she closed them and let out a deep, low sigh. “Sharon. Sorry, but I don’t think I’ll be up for cookies later.”

The light, offhand comment almost took her by surprise. “I think that is completely understandable given the circumstances.”

The younger of the two medics left the room, sliding by Sharon with his kit and granting her space to move forward. While the second, lifted Claire’s eyelid slightly and sighed.

“Your pupils are still dilated, so I’m positive you’ve got a decent concussion going on there. And you’re definitely going to need stitches, if not surgery to repair that gash on your side.” He closed his med kit and looked at Sharon. “You’ve got two minutes and then I’m transporting her to St. Catherine's.”

Claire closed her eyes and Sharon could tell that breathing was difficult for her. “Ricky is downstairs. I’m sure he’ll want to accompany you to the hospital. If they need to, I’m sure the officers can meet him there with any questions.”

Claire nodded stiffly. “Is Major Crimes taking the case?” Her eyes didn’t quite meet Sharon’s when they opened.

“I’ve offered our assistance. Anything in particular that you want to tell me?”

She took a slow, stiff breath. “I’m fairly certain he had no intention of me being alive after he left.” She shook her head carefully. “To be honest, considering I passed out, I’m not sure why I’m still alive.” Unshed tears gave her eyes a more pronounced, glazed over look and her voice cracked slightly.

Sharon leaned over and took her hand. “The important thing is that you are. Now, let the doctors check you over and don’t worry about anything else. Ricky will go with you and I’ll stop by in a bit with your glasses and a few other things that I can manage. I’m sure you’d prefer some of your own clothes rather than a hospital gown.”

Claire attempted a smile, glancing a look down at her ruined nightgown. “Something that’s not in tatters would be nice.” She seemed to focus on a point across the room, and Sharon sensed that there was something more that she wanted to say. Carefully, she laid her hand on the young woman’s shoulder. “If I tell you something, can it stay between us for now? I don’t want Rick getting upset if there’s nothing to it.”

Sharon slowly nodded her head. “I won’t tell anyone unless they have to be told, and you can tell Ricky, if and when it becomes necessary.” She wasn’t sure she liked the idea of hiding something from Ricky, but Claire had stated it like it would be more of a delay than a secret.

“I, um… I’m not sure… I don’t think anything happened…” Claire paused and she took a slow breath, her eyes blinking a few times in what Sharon clearly recognized as an attempt to clear away unwanted tears. “It was pretty obvious what he wanted… what he was here for… and I passed out. I can’t be sure.” Her eyes finally met Sharon’s and the look in them broke her heart.

Sharon moved her hand down Claire’s arm and gripped Claire’s hand. “I’ll make sure the medics know to tell the hospital that a rape kit needs to be done, and to be ultra discreet about it.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

03:45 AM PST

Ricky paced the area in front of Claire’s apartment building. It felt odd to think that just yesterday morning the two of them had left here together and things were pretty fantastic. Now, he had no idea what was going on or what kind of shape she was in. He bounced on the balls of his feet and glanced toward the building entrance again, the shrill trill of Andy’s phone the only thing that pulled his attention away.

“Yeah.”

“Okay.”

“Not a problem.”

“I’ll let him know.”

Andy disconnected the call and Ricky was trying to be patient, but at three thirty in the morning, unless they had been called out on another case, the odds were that had been his mother on the phone.

“Your mom said they’re bringing her down now and they’ll be transporting her to St. Catherine's.” Andy’s hand went up before Ricky could even say anything. “Your Mom has already made them aware that you’ll be going with her. She’ll meet you there later. I’m going to wake up Provenza and roll out the rest of the team. As of right now, we’re assisting, but that’s a technicality and I’m sure you know that. Claire is not only LAPD, but she means something to you, and as far as your Mom is concerned, that makes her family.”

Ricky nodded his head, a little dumbfounded. He’d known Andy for a little while, and knew that he and his Mom worked well together and seemed to be good together, but he’d never before spoken to another person relaying information from his mother and felt like he might as well be speaking to her. “Thank you,” was all he could manage in response.

A flurry of activity at the entrance of the building finally drew his attention, and Andy was quickly forgotten when Ricky made a mad dash for the stretcher. The sight before him startled him, though he had tried to mentally prepare himself for much worse. Claire had a bandage on her right hand, around her neck and from the way she seemed to be holding herself, he was sure that there were at least one of two others that he couldn’t see.

“Claire!”

She turned her head toward him as soon as she heard his voice, and Ricky wasn’t all that surprised to see a cut that was probably smaller than it appeared on her forehead; blood had dried on her face, though you could tell a lot had been washed away, and there was still a trace of some in her hair. He mentally kicked himself when he realized that his shock and horror at her appearance was evident on his face, because he saw the way her glazed eyes shied away from him slightly.

He stepped up to the gurney and cupped her chin, placing a light kiss to her lips, thankful when she put some more force behind it. “I’d really hate to see the other guy….”

She huffed slightly before wincing in pain. “Don’t make me laugh, it hurts too much.” She paused for a moment, steadying her breath. “I’m fine. Really.”

Ricky leaned back a fraction, making a show of running his eyes along the length of the stretcher and taking in all of the bruises, bandages and areas she seemed to be favoring. “After this is over and behind us, you and I need to sit down and have a long conversation about the definition of the word ‘fine’ because yours and mine are obviously very different.”

Claire winced behind her smile and Ricky could tell that the effort not to laugh was taxing her. “It’s a date.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

Wednesday, November 22, 2017 04:30 AM PST

Louie Provenza pulled up to the row of cars outside of the address that Andy had given him over the phone. From the looks of things, he was one of the last ones to arrive. Grabbing his hat, he got out of his car and headed to the officer standing at the cordoned off area at the entrance to the building. Andy had explained that they were moving everything back once the ambulance left, and people would be allowed to leave once their ID’s had been recorded and run, but no one except for LAPD would be allowed in until the scene had been cleared.

Muttering to himself, he flashed his badge and made his way through the sea of people to the apartment number Andy had provided. If he’d had any doubt as to the right one, all he would have to do was follow the voices and flashing lights. From the number of pictures that must have been taken since he exited the elevator, he wondered if the photographer was documenting a crime scene or capturing details to build a to-scale diorama of the place.

“Good grief! Are you taking pictures or trying to send someone into an epileptic seizure?”

The young technician stopped taking pictures and looked up. “Lieutenant Flynn said Commander Raydor wanted every inch of this place documented.”

“Of course he did.” Provenza muttered. “And of course you jumped to take him literally. Heaven forbid anyone not please ‘Darth’ Raydor.”

The young man’s eyes widened and Provenza was sure he was about to sputter some nonsense before he was interrupted by clearing of a throat.

Turning toward the hallway, Provenza was greeted with the image of his partner standing there with his hands on his hips. “Are you quite done?”

“Haven’t even gotten started.” Provenza pulled his hat off of his head and twisted it in his hands. “Mind telling me what the hell happened here to get me pulled out of a rather comfortable bed where I could be sleeping next to Patrice? And is it big enough to get me out of dinner with her family tomorrow?”

Andy ran his hand down his face. “I hope not. But I should probably call Nicole later and give her a heads up just in case.” He let out a deep sigh. “Sergeant Claire Kabrich’s residence.” Provenza followed the sweeping gesture Flynn made with his hand that encompassed the entire apartment. “She left the condo at about 11pm last night, Ricky walked her to her car and then spoke to her briefly when she arrived here.” Andy made his way down the hallway and Provenza followed him, taking in various items of note along the way. “From what we can tell, and Claire’s account seems to correspond with that, the attack started here.”

Provenza took in the bedroom, making mental notes of his observations, the blood droplets on the pillowcase and sheets, the lamp on the floor and various other items that just screamed “out of place” in his head. He walked over to a small duffle bag on the floor next to the bed, a happy picture of Claire and Ricky Raydor laying on the floor next to it. He toed the bag open and took stock of the items that he could see from that view.

“Sweet Jesus.”

Andy was nodding his head when he looked back up.

“Mike!” Provenza looked around, sure that he had seen Lieutenant Tao’s car downstairs.

When Tao’s head popped around the door jam, Provenza pointed at the bag. “Make sure we get a full inventory of everything here. And do a search to match those items up with any known scumbags who may be in the system. This guy knew exactly what he needed and exactly how he needed to do it. Lucky for us, his intended victim was smart enough to keep her head and kick his ass before he could succeed.”

“Gotcha.” Mike went off down the hallway, and Andy stifled a yawn as he took in the room one more time.

“How long have you been up?” Provenza knew they’d woken him up early, but from the looks of things Andy had gotten little, if any, sleep.

“Well… honestly… I never got to sleep last night.”

Provenza spun around, “What do you mean you never got to sleep? Why not?”

Andy shrugged in response and watched the red line move up Provenza’s neck and face as realization dawned on him.

“Yea, gods! Idiots! I’m sorry I asked.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

07:00AM PST

Ricky paced the length of the surgical waiting area. He had known from one look that Claire was not as unscathed as she pretended to be. The concern in the medic's eyes had only fortified that belief. When they had discussed things in the ambulance he had assumed that blood loss and the concussion were the worst of it; it hadn’t been until they’d rolled her into the Emergency Department that he’d seen the gash along her left side.

Ricky considered himself a lot of things, overly sensitive to the sight of blood was not one of them, but he had almost lost what little remained in his stomach from dinner last night when they had removed the dressing from that wound. The vials for blood work had been drawn in the ambulance so they had sent them off for testing and simply called for a surgical consult. There had been a brief conversation about the pros and cons of putting Claire under anesthesia with a concussion, but the ultimate decision was that a light anesthetic would be enough to knock her out and repair the gash while not risking any serious side effects.

And so Ricky continued to pace. His mother tried to get him to sit down but ultimately gave up, choosing a spot near the window where she could stand and look out over the city rather than stare at the mostly bare walls or the clock. He heard her cell phone vibrate and she looked down and smiled before typing something back.

The first rays of sunlight were just starting to break over the horizon and Ricky was positive from the smile that the text was from his future step-father. “Did Andy find anything?”

Sharon Raydor’s lips formed a tight thin line that Ricky had seen several times before. “They’ve cleared the building. He must have gotten out before the officers arrived to lock it down.” She turned away from the window and leaned against the corner of the wall closest to him instead. “They’ve collected several blood samples and have the suspect’s tool bag, so they should be able to get prints and DNA from something.”

Ricky had known his mother long enough to pick up on the fact that she was holding something back. Under most circumstances he would have eagerly pushed to find out what it was; given these circumstances, he wasn’t sure if he should. He also wondered if maybe he was better off not knowing.

“I’m not sure if you feel up to eating anything, but Andy is dropping Provenza off at his house so he can shower, and then he’ll be picking up some breakfast before swinging by here.”

Ricky was a bit surprised that he didn’t have to force the smile that came forth. “He likes taking care of you, you know.”

Sharon blushed slightly, and Ricky filed that away for a time when he was more in the mood to tease his mother. “Did you call your father like you said you needed to?”

Ricky huffed out a laugh, leave it to her to divert the topic. “Of course I did. And I had to leave a message.” He moved over to stand next to her. “If he doesn’t check his cell before going to the cafe…” He shrugged slightly. “Oh well....”

Sharon frowned and rubbed her hand up his arm. “At least you’re trying with him. Sometimes that’s all you can do.”

Ricky stared down at his shoes for a minute. “You wish Andy’s son would give him more of a chance, huh?”

He watched his mom’s lips form a thin, tight line again for a moment, before curling up at the corner. “That might be happening.”

Ricky shook his head as she smirked in his direction. “I don’t even want to know.”

“Mr. Raydor?”

Rick turned, the tension returning to his spine as he saw the surgeon in the doorway. “Yes, sir?”

The man fully removed his mask and hat before meeting Rick halfway across the room. Ricky smiled, nervously, remembering how the man had earlier apologized that there was so much paperwork Claire had needed to sign in order for the hospital to agree to discuss everything with him, despite the fact that she repeatedly stated that they had no secrets and she wanted him listed on her chart. “The surgery went well and Ms. Kabrich will be moved to a room shortly. I did want to let you know that the rape kit came back clear, so that isn’t something that we need to be concerned with.”

Rick’s hand stopped the doctor from continuing. “Wait. What?” He turned his head in the direction of his mother and it didn’t take more than a second before she met his eye.

“She didn’t want you to be concerned about it if there was nothing to it, which, thankfully, is the case. But she also knew that she blacked out and couldn’t be one hundred percent sure nothing had happened.” Sharon paused and Ricky could tell she was trying to make sure she had his full attention, he couldn’t lose it right now. “She needed to be sure.”

Ricky nodded, tears in his eyes. “I just… I hate that….” His voice cracked slightly and he looked away, taking a deep breath before turning back to the surgeon.

The man gave them both a sympathetic smile and looked down at the tablet he held in his hands before he continued. “Once she’s moved to a room, we’ll discuss her recovery in more detail, but even given her condition and the minor obstacle that presents, I don’t see any reason for her recovery to be too delayed. If the concussion seems to be resolving itself nicely as I hope it will, she may even be ready for release tomorrow morning. Granted that she abides by some strict instructions and follows up with her doctor religiously.”

Rick nodded emphatically. “Excellent. Um… I’m sorry, but… what condition?”

The surgeon’s eyes widened briefly before he schooled his features, glancing back and forth between Rick and Sharon. “Well, it is entirely possible that this will even come as news to Ms. Kabrich…” he paused, and Rick felt a knot form in the pit of his stomach, “but she’s approximately six, maybe eight, weeks pregnant.”

Ricky heard the slight gasp from his mother, no matter how hard she tried to suppress it. He felt like his own breath had been taken from his lungs. He had no idea what line he thought the surgeon was going to go down, but the revelation that Claire was pregnant had most definitely not been anywhere on his radar. Not that it wasn’t possible… just that, well, if he were honest with himself, it wasn’t something they had planned for or talked about really, and he had thought they’d been more careful than that.

Shifting nervously from one foot to the other, the surgeon finally cleared his throat again. “Anyway, Ms. Kabrich will be sent to a room in the next few minutes and a nurse will be out to escort you there.”

Rick nodded, unsure of what else to do or say at this point. When the door closed behind the surgeon Rick was left alone in the room with his mother once again. He’d never really been shy with his mother, but there were just some things that the two of them didn’t discuss. Maybe Emily felt comfortable with those conversations, or maybe the two just liked to tease him as if they did, but his sex life was not something that was discussed with his mother.

He took a deep calming breath and vaguely noticed that his mother was no longer standing next to him, she had moved to one of the chairs against the wall, leaning back with her eyes closed.

“Please tell me Andy will bring coffee with him?”

His mother’s hum was a good sign, but it definitely did not mean that they weren’t about to have one of the most awkward conversations of his entire life.

“Of that there is no doubt.”

Rick sat down next to her, his elbows resting on his knees as he contemplated where to begin. “So, I’m guessing this is not how you expected to find out you’re going to be a grandmother?”

Sharon let out a long, slow breath and her hand came up to rest on his back, running along the line of his spine. “I’m sure this is not how you expected to find out you were going to be a father, either.”

His hands ran across his face and he leaned back against the wall next to her. Ricky tilted his head toward her and let out a nervous laugh. “That’s for damned sure.” He shook his head. “Claire is going to be so pissed.”

“Richard.”

He quirked an eyebrow at her. “Really, Mom?”

Sharon shrugged and smirked at him. “You might as well get in the habit now, you’d be surprised how quickly kids can pick things up.”

Ricky stared at her, his mouth agape. Today just seemed to be one surprise after another. “Well, at least you’re not lecturing me about the whole sex before marriage deal…”

Sharon laughed. “Really? Andy and I have been living together for over a year and you think we’ve never…”

“Ack! No!” Ricky jumped up from the chair and moved several steps away from his mother. “There are several things about your relationship with Andy that I am more than okay with being blissfully ignorant about.”

Sharon shrugged and leaned her head back against the wall, “Well, just know, I wouldn’t be hypocritical in that respect.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

Wednesday, November 22, 2017 07:00 AM PST/10:00 AM EST

The car door opened and closed with little fuss. The crime scene had been gruesome, the fact that a member of the LAPD ‘Geek Squad’ had managed to fight back and give as good as she got had amazed and impressed several of the responding officers to no end. Given Sergeant Kabrich’s relationship with Commander Raydor’s son, there was something about this whole thing that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. The current plan was for everyone to take a bit of time, go home, shower, change, and head back to the PAB. Staging area would be the Murder Room in Major Crimes. From there, things would kick off and they could run with any leads that they could glean from all of the evidence that had been collected.

But there was something else that he needed to do first.

He opened the glove compartment of his car and pulled out a second cell phone, making sure that he was the last one to pull out of the line of cars that had converged on Kabrich’s apartment building, he dialed the number that he knew by heart.

“Do you have any idea what time it is?” A voice answered on the fourth ring.

“Three hours later where you are than where I am.”

A sigh came through the receiver. “I’m assuming this isn’t good.”

“I think our associate decided to step up the program and divert on his own agenda.”

A pause.

“The voyeur?”

“That would be the one.”

“How bad is it?”

“The girlfriend is in surgery, but she was up and talking when the officers arrived. Medics said she was knocked out when they arrived. She’s expected to recover. Perp is a no show.”

Another pause. This one lasted longer and he was just about to ask if there was anyone still there.

“Find him.” A low noise, almost a growl followed. “Take care of it. And be prepared to step up our agenda.”

“Understood.”

He disconnected the call and smiled as he placed the phone back into the glove compartment. It was all really happening. It wouldn’t be much longer and the revenge that he had spent so long planning, so long looking forward to, would finally be his.

He had just enough time to grab a quick shower and head to the PAB. Later this afternoon he would have to figure out a way to ditch his partner so he could track down his associate and clean up this mess.

~*~*~*~*~*~

08:00 AM PST

Claire’s eyes fluttered open and the room started spinning slightly. A low groan escaped and she felt a hand grab hers.

“Claire?”

She closed her eyes and let herself come around a bit more before she tried to talk. There was a pillow or something along her left side, presumably to prevent her from leaning or rolling onto the sensitive area. Her left arm rested on top of whatever it was and the IV was connected there. She licked her lips carefully and cautiously opened her eyes again.

“Hey there.”

Claire smiled. “Hey.”

Ricky pushed some hair out of her face and kissed her forehead, bringing a small smile to her lips. “So… if this is your definition of fine…”

Claire’s right hand raised to his chest. “Do not make me laugh.” She forced out through gritted teeth.

Ricky smiled gently and cupped her cheek in his hand, brushing his thumb over her face and kissing her carefully on the lips. “I’m glad you’re awake. Though you still look like hell.”

Claire’s eyes closed and she took a slow, deep breath, holding it for a few beats before she slowly exhaled. “I feel worse, trust me.”

Ricky moved so that he was sitting on the edge of the bed, avoiding the wires and monitors that they had hooked up to Claire. “Well, doc said that as long as you follow strict orders and bounce back as well as he’s expecting you to, he might agree to let me spring you tomorrow morning. So you might not be able to use this as an excuse to get out of meeting the majority of the rest of the great big, happy, Raydor/Flynn clan that we’re becoming.”

A short huff came out mostly through her nose, followed by a brief grimace. “Yes, because this was all part of my evil plan to get out of spending the holiday with family.”

They sat in silence for a moment, while Rick held her right hand, staring at her fingers. She felt the weight of the air between them and wasn’t sure she liked it. She squeezed his fingers slightly, wanting to let him know that she was here, she was on the mend, and despite the fact that she didn’t look or feel it at the moment that she would be fine, without having to voice it all.

His eyes raised back to hers and he gave a slim smile. “Not to play a game of non sequitur theater, but you might be glad to know that the doc said your rape kit was negative.”

Claire’s eyes closed and she released a shuddering breath that she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. When she reopened them she could feel the unshed tears brimming on her lids. “I didn’t…” she stopped, her voice cracking and sounding much smaller than she wanted to convey. “I couldn’t....” she shook her head.

“Claire, it’s fine.” Ricky closed his eyes and his grip on her hand tightened. “It’s not, but it is.” He shrugged. “Mom explained it… and it annoys me to no end… but I think I get it. I just don’t want you to hide things from me, even if you think it’s to protect me, okay?”

She blinked, the tears falling over the edge of her eyelids and tracing a path down her cheeks. Her lips a thin line as she pressed them together and carefully nodded her head. “I think I can agree to that.”

Rick’s hand cupped her cheek again and her head tilted into it as his hand swept the tear off of her right cheek.

“So… while we’re on the topic of not keeping secrets and revelations that the good doctor brought forth…” Ricky broke eye contact with her again and looked toward the bed between them instead. “Did you know you were pregnant?”

Claire felt and heard her breath catch in her throat. “What?”

Rick’s eyes moved back up to sweep across her face as she examined his. “He estimated between six to eight weeks.”

His voice was soft, just above a whisper and she almost had to wonder if she’d heard him correctly. She’d never missed a period, not that hers were ever ‘normal’ but she should have known something, right? Doing the math quickly in her head she blinked several times. “Our weekend in Tahoe?”

Rick looked confused for a minute before he too blinked and tilted his head. “The math would be about right, I suppose.”

She sniffed and turned to look out the window of the hospital room, barely seeing beyond the blinds, but making an attempt anyway. The developments that this week was bringing just kept piling up and she was feeling more than a little overwhelmed.

A squeeze to her fingers brought her attention back to Rick. “I know we never really talked about this or anything… but… well… I’m kind of hoping that you’re happy about this once you get your head wrapped around it. Because the more that mine does, well, the more I think it’s pretty great.”

She huffed out a strangled mix between a laugh and a sob, and she squeezed his hand to tug him closer, her lips grazing his cheek with a tearful kiss. “Are they sure everything is okay?”

“They’ll be taking you down later for a second ultrasound, but from what he said, I took it that everything looked good on the one from earlier, not sure if that was before or after your surgery. His only concern was that your healing might be slightly affected.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

09:30 AM PST

Sharon looked up as the door to the wing opened and smiled when Andy stepped in carrying a to-go tray of what she assumed to be coffees and a bag of what she hoped would be something to keep her going through the day. No matter what it held, just seeing him helped to put a smile on her face.

“How is she?” Andy cocked his head in the direction of the room behind Sharon, as if there would be any doubt as to whom he was referring.

“She’s pretty banged up, but she’s conscious and the doctor is quite satisfied with her condition so far. He said he might even let her go tomorrow morning as long as she agrees to some conditions and strict rules.”

“Well, I know the perfect person to make sure she follows them….” Andy winked at her when she turned to glare at him.

“Yeah, I might be a little over-protective after the latest update from the doctor, but I don’t think either one of them would blame me too much.”

Andy placed the coffee tray down and Sharon noticed that one cup held a tea bag bringing a brighter smile to her face. “I figured you wouldn’t stray too much from your normal fare… though I did get you some Earl Grey, figured you’d want the added caffeine boost.”

She picked the cup up and deeply inhaled the steam wafting up toward her face. “Thank you.” She gave him a quick peck to the side of his lips as he opened the bag and she caught the scent. “Ugh… are those cheese danishes?”

“They are. And there’s even a raspberry and cheese one in there for you. I figured you might need something that could be eaten hot or cold and would last if you didn’t get to it right away.”

Sharon stood and wrapped her arms around him now that his hands were free. “Have I told you lately, how much I love you?”

Andy’s head cocked as he made a show of thinking about the question. “Not in the last few hours. Of course, I haven’t spoken to you much in that time either.”

She smiled and kissed him, the kiss lingering a little longer than she generally allowed when they were in a semi-public area and at least one of them was technically ‘on duty’. Andy broke the kiss and pulled back slightly. “Not that I’m complaining at all, but you seem a bit… well, happier… than I expected.”

Sharon felt a small swell of laughter bubble up from her chest. “I can understand that considering the events when you last saw me.” She took a deep breath and tried to calm down her smile. “I’m sure Ricky and Claire will make an announcement of their own, but the doctor let something slip earlier while we were in the surgical waiting area… and… well, apparently, I’m going to be a grandmother.”

Andy blinked a few times and then leaned back, his hands resting on her hips. “Ricky and Claire? She’s pregnant? Did they…”

Sharon shook her head. “It was a total shock to him. And I don’t think he felt all that comfortable with me there for the revelation, but… it is what it is. And given the way things went last night, I think we needed a little bit of happy news.”

Andy looked to the closed door of the hospital room and shook his head. “A grandmother… and I guess that will make me a grandfather of sorts again.”

Sharon smiled and pecked him on the lips lightly. “Indeed, it will.”

“Huh. You really don’t know what the day will bring, do you?”

She shook her head. “Usually, that’s not a good thing with us.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

Wednesday, November 22, 2017 09:45 AM PST

Ricky jumped from where he’d been dozing at the side of Claire’s bed as soon as he heard the voice. He scrubbed a hand over his face and tried to wake up the best he could considering he’d barely slept at all in the last twenty four hours.

“Somehow, I’m not surprised to see you here, Sharon. I’ve gotten accustomed to the kids telling you everything before they tell me, but seriously, you have to bring him along with you?”

Ricky groaned as he pushed himself carefully from the bed, doing his best not to jostle Claire with his movements. If he hoped to get her out of here in the morning, she needed her rest more than any of them. Honestly, he was surprised his father had bothered to show. When he’d left the message on his voicemail and another with his secretary later in the morning, he figured that would be the end of things until his father decided to give him a guilt trip for not having gotten together with him over the Thanksgiving holiday.

He opened the door, having not heard his mother’s reply, but knowing she had given one, and slipped out into the hallway before closing the door carefully.

“Dad.” He ground out through gritted teeth.

“There you are. You leave a message cancelling breakfast with me over some fly-by-night girlfriend of yours, but here they are with breakfast in hand. Good to see I’m the last to know things again, son.”

Rick rolled his eyes and looked over at his mother apologetically, noticing that Andy’s hands were currently balled into fists behind his mother’s back. “Mom and Andy only met Claire yesterday, so if things had gone according to plan you would have practically met her around the same time. But, well, sh…” he glanced at his mother and paused, “stuff happens. None of us got much sleep or the chance to grab decent food, so Andy was nice enough to stop by before he heads back to work. And if you’d bothered listening to your messages, you would know that she is far from a ‘fly-by-night girlfriend’.” He paused and took a deep breath, noticing his father’s annoyed look, “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to ask you to either keep your voice down, as this is a hospital and Claire needs her rest, and if you can’t do that, you can leave.”

Rick turned away from his father for a moment and faced Andy full on for the first time since he’d left the man outside of Claire’s apartment building a few hours and what felt like a lifetime ago before. “Andy, thanks so much for everything this morning.” He watched as Andy’s fingers visibly flexed before resting on his mother’s hips from behind.

“No problem, kid. Let me know if there’s anything else you need.” Turning toward Sharon he squeezed her hips slightly before breaking contact. “As for now though, I should probably head over to Provenza’s and then back to the office. You know how the boss hates it when we dilly-dally on a case.”

Sharon rolled her eyes. “Keep us posted if they come up with any good leads.”

“Of course.” Andy patted Rick on the shoulders as he made his way past them to exit that wing of the hospital.

Turning and finding his father still standing there, though his complexion had turned several shades redder over the last few minutes, Rick turned back to his mother. “Would you mind sitting with her for a few minutes?”

“Not at all.”

Sharon grabbed her purse, tea, and the bag of danishes Andy had brought with him and moved into the hospital room, taking up a post in the chair beside Claire’s bed. Satisfied that at least the two of them would be spared from hearing too much of what he felt would need to be said, he turned back to his father, his jaw set.

“Okay, we’re going to do this now. But we’re not going to do this here, let’s go.” Without waiting to see if Jack was following him, Ricky made his way out of the wing and to a small courtyard he had found earlier, not long after the doctor had revealed to him that he was going to be a father soon. He just hoped that he could do a better job at it than the man currently following him.

~*~*~*~*~*~

10:30 AM PST

As often as Andy had seen the ‘Murder Board’ assembled, many times even doing it himself, it seemed different, almost foreign, looking at the board now, knowing that it was Claire who was their victim. As he’d once pointed out to Sharon, they referred to their victims by their names, but it held an entirely different connotation when you really knew the person involved.

Having seen her multiple times the day before, Andy flinched as he imagined the brutality of the attack that Claire must have endured to cause the injuries he was now seeing pictured before him. The rest of the bullpen didn’t know, of course, and he didn’t feel that it was his place to tell them that Claire was pregnant; but on some level he wondered if instinctually she had sensed that there was a reason other than her own sense of self-reservation that drove her to fight on and survive.

The cut to her throat had been superficial, the wound looking much worse than it had actually been. The same went for the cut to her forehead from where she headbutted the perpetrator. They believed from the amount of blood at the scene that she had done quite the number on his nose, though. The gash to the back of her head, where they believed she had headbutted the guy again, prior to being slammed into the wall was worse and had required a few stitches–the concussion being the worst of those injuries.

Then there was the gash to her left side, thankfully, not as deep or as severe as it could have been, but enough to cause some serious injuries requiring surgical intervention to repair. Once the damage was mended and the associated bleeding under control, the doctors felt satisfied that she should make a full recovery and were even considering releasing her in time for Thanksgiving dinner. And while the case was still nowhere close to being closed, Andy figured they might have it wrapped up tight, all in a bow before the real trauma of the events hit home for a woman like Claire Kabrich.

“So, where do we stand? Have we narrowed down who this asshole is yet?”

Leave it to Provenza to cut to the chase.

“With Chief Howard’s connections we’re running a search through ViCAP to see if we can get a match for the style and apparent nature of the crime. It’s given us a few leads to follow, but the search is nowhere near done yet, so it’ll probably be a few hours before we can seriously start ruling anyone out.” Mike responded, barely looking up from his computer.

Nolan walked up to the board, placing a slip of paper under the ‘suspect’ heading. “The lab was able to get several blood samples, so they should have more than enough to spin down and get a DNA sample to run through CODIS. But that could take a while. And that’s assuming our creep has ever been put into the system for any reason.”

Andy looked at the board and shook his head. “Whether he’s in the system or not, there has to be something out there on him. This was definitely not his first rodeo. He knew in advance just what he would need, and where he would need it. He’s done this before. Mike, I’d look more for cases where the women went missing or bodies were found later. Judging from what he packed, I don’t think he ever intended for Claire to leave that apartment alive.”

The silence in the Murder Room was deafening. Andy knew that his voice had hitched slightly as he was making his statement, and that, combined with the fact that they rarely referred to a victim by first name alone, brought it all crashing down just how close to home this case fell.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Stepping into the shower, he cut through the duct tape that he’d used to secure the garbage bag around his midsection. It might not have done much to quell the bleeding, but it had stopped him from leaving a blood trail wherever he went.

He still couldn’t believe he’d been sloppy enough to let her grab ahold of the knife. Letting her get the upper hand at all was usually beyond him. This was all because he had been made to wait. He’d been made to sit back and observe instead of acting. His instincts and movements had been honed before. Now, due to inactivity, he’d lost his edge and paid the price. The scratches on his face and neck would be hard to hide. The blood all over the crime scene would surely lead back to him. His one saving grace was that he didn’t have a record in the state of California. It might take them a while before they matched anything up with his activity across the east coast.

Maybe that would be enough. Enough time for him to get his things together and leave town, hell, leave the state. He’d never much cared for California anyway. And after his screw up here, he was sure his employer would be none too happy with him.

Yes, leaving would definitely be a good idea.

He showered, removing the blood that had dried as he’d made his way through the several blocks of apartments and buildings that it took to get to an area where he wouldn’t stick out so much. He was still disheveled and had a hood pulled low over his face to hide the scratches, but in this part of LA, that wasn’t quite as out of the ordinary as it might have been in other neighborhoods. The damned bitch had hit him good but he was fairly certain she hadn’t hit anything too vital. The blood loss was his biggest issue to deal with at this point.

Finishing with the shower, he grabbed the needle and thread and began the torturous process of stitching himself up. He made big stitches, criss-crossing the wound. He wasn’t concerned about the probable scar that would be left behind, he was concerned with the blood loss, which would only be compounded if he managed to pass out half-way through the suturing. He left a small space for the wound to drain and took a piece of white bread he had grabbed from the kitchen, rolled up the doughy part, and shoved it into the space for it to block and absorb the blood.

Stepping from the shower, he patted himself dry and cleaned off any remnants of his earlier altercation. Taking the tube of saran wrap out of the box, he wrapped it around his midsection several times, making a nice, clean seal over the wound. He inspected his handiwork one more time before carefully getting dressed.

Now to pack up the few things he would want or need from his place and scrub it down. In case they tracked him back to here, he wanted to have it be as wiped down as it could get. Then there was one final stop to make before leaving LA for good.

Chapter Text

Wednesday, November 22, 2017 10:30 AM PST

Rusty poured a cup of coffee and reread the note that had been left for the third time. He could tell from his mother’s scribbled scrawl that they had left in a hurry, what he couldn’t figure out was why no one was back and there had been no further update.

He grabbed his phone off of the charger on the counter and took his coffee out onto the balcony. Gus was showering before breakfast and Rusty hadn’t bothered telling him about the note yet, he’d wanted more information before he let the news drop that everyone had abandoned them earlier than planned for the day.

After seeing no new alerts, Rusty scrolled through his contacts and quickly selected his mother’s cell.

“Rusty? Everything okay?”

The whispered quality to her voice had the hairs on the back of his neck standing on edge. “Everything’s fine, Mom. I was calling to ask you the same thing.” He heard her sigh into the phone, and his stomach tightened. “I know something’s going on, you might as well just tell me what it is.”

“I can’t get into a lot of details right now, Rusty, but Claire was attacked after she left the condo last night. Ricky and I are with her at the hospital, and Andy and the team are helping out with the investigation.”

“Why are you whispering?”

He could hear Sharon shift around a bit. “Claire’s resting. I’m sitting with her while Ricky is… busy.”

Something about her voice made him ask, “What's Ricky doing?”

Sharon's thoughtful hum sounded more downtrodden than usual to him. “He’s having a much needed and long overdue chat with his father.”

“Jack showed up?!? Ugh.” Rusty sat there for a minute, allowing it to all sink in. “What do you need me to do?”

“Go about the day as you and Gus had planned, I will do my best to make it to Nicole’s but that may have to change. If you have time, take an extra sheet set out of the linen closet for the pull out mattress on the couch. Claire might be released as early as tomorrow morning and obviously she can’t go back to her apartment.” Sharon paused. “It might be a little more cozy at the condo for the next few days.”

Rusty huffed out a nervous laugh. “It’s okay, Mom. Gus will love having another person to cook for while he’s here.” He paused for a minute, taking a sip of his coffee and thinking back on how awkward things were still feeling for him in some respects. “Gus and I can crash on the couch. It would be cruel and inhumane to make someone who just got discharged from the hospital sleep on that thing. I don’t mind giving up my room for a few days.”

He could almost hear the smile in Sharon’s voice. “Thank you, Rusty. I’m sure that will mean a lot, both to her and your brother. I’ll update you as soon as I can.”

Rusty disconnected the call and took a deep breath. He and Gus had gone through alot together, and while they were still together, Rusty knew that it was only a matter of time before one of them finally got the nerve to cut ties with the other. His meeting with Aiden several months ago had been the true start of that, and he knew that he should have ended it then. But he hadn’t wanted Gus to feel like the job was what was coming between them, whether that was the case or not. The distance had been good for them, and Rusty was coming to the realization that he was starting to be a chicken where the termination of the relationship was concerned. Every time he thought about it though, there seemed to be one excuse or another to not go through with it.

Last night, after they’d retired to his room, it had been awkward. Rusty knew that by the end of this weekend together a serious discussion would need to happen. Doing it before the holiday seemed insensitive but waiting too long seemed just as bad. Perhaps moving them into the living room and taking away the walls would help to push the issue.

~*~*~*~*~*~

12:30 PM PST

Nicole walked in the front door and placed her briefcase near the door before turning around and going back outside to meet the boys. She kept her cell phone in her pocket in case Sharon or her father tried to call again. She’d already spoken to both of them today and knew that Gus and Rusty would be by soon to help the boys with baking cookies for tomorrow. Sharon would be running by work and then coming by with Dad, and Ricky would be staying at the hospital with his girlfriend.

Nicole hoped that the young woman would be well enough to come to dinner the following night. Their family seemed to be potentially growing by leaps and bounds, and to have almost lost one before most of them had even had the opportunity to meet her would have been such a shame.

The walk to the bus stop was short, and pleasant. Nicole enjoyed it and used the time as a brief decompression from the work day to the calmer yet more chaotic reality that life with two young boys was. She loved her role as a mother-figure in their lives and was ecstatic that they were getting the full large extended family experience that seemed to come with the ever-growing Flynn-Raydor group that the ‘Sharon-effect’ seemed to dole out.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances popping up, Nicole had timed the arrival of the bus almost perfectly, so she wasn’t surprised when it was only a few minutes before the school bus rolled to a stop and Ethan and Quinn bounded off and headed straight for her. “Hey, boys! Are you all excited about helping getting the food ready for tomorrow?”

“Yeah!” They both yelled in unison.

“Are Grampa Andy and Sharon here yet?” Ethan bounced rather than walked the short bit to the house.

Laughing, Nicole grabbed his hand to try and settle him down a bit. “They’re not here yet, but they will be by a little later. Rusty and Gus should be here any minute though.”

“Cool!” Quinn bounced on the balls of his feet in a habit she knew he must have picked up from her father. The young boy idolized him and she knew that he studied and mimicked every mannerism or habit that he possibly could.

Opening the door to the house, Nicole took the boys jackets and bags from them and ushered them down the hall. “Go wash your hands and get ready and we can lay the stuff out for when Gus and Rusty arrive.”

“‘Kay!” Both boys ran into the bathroom and it wasn’t long before she heard the faucet running.

Shaking her head, Nicole moved into the kitchen and started going through their backpacks. The long weekend gave her the perfect opportunity to empty the bags of trash and other items that had accumulated, and give them a much-needed run through the washer before they would have to be set up to go back to class come Monday morning.

She emptied Quinn’s things first, being the younger of the two, Quinn tended to collect more knick knacks and things that could easily be removed from the bag. Ethan’s, you sometimes needed to be more careful with, and she really did not want to have to write another letter to his teacher about how in cleaning his things she had accidentally thrown out a homework assignment.

After finishing with Quinn’s bag and getting through the bulk of Ethan’s bag, she opened the outer pocket and pulled out a 4x6 photo. It was a nice photo of the boys, apparently at one of their ballet lessons, presumably for the yearly Nutcracker production that would be going on in December again. But it was a picture that Nicole certainly hadn’t taken, and had never seen before.

“Ethan?”

The boys came bounding up the hall and Ethan smiled when he saw the picture in her hands. “Isn’t it neat? A friend of Grampa Andy gave it to me!”

Her eyebrow piqued in question. “A friend? Of Grandpa Andy? Where did you meet this friend?”

Ethan gave her an odd look. “He came to visit me at school. Grampa Andy wanted me to know that he was looking forward to the ballet, but he couldn’t get away to give me the picture himself.”

The hair on the back of her neck stood up and Nicole knew that she could be over-reacting, but there was something about this that was not sitting right with her. She didn’t want to alarm the boys if it was nothing, but sending a ‘friend’ to meet Ethan at school was not her father’s style, and taking covert pictures of the boys at their rehearsals was just plain weird.

“What did this friend look like?”

Ethan shrugged. “I dunno. A guy, and he had a badge like Grampa Andy does.”

The knock on the door disrupted her concentration, and Quinn took off to allow Gus and Rusty to enter.

“It’s cookie time!”

Ethan looked between their guests and Nicole. “Am I in trouble?”

Nicole’s lips formed a thin line as she thought things over and finally grabbed her cell phone out of her pocket. “No, go on and enjoy, but we’ll discuss this further later.”

Rusty raised an eyebrow in Nicole’s direction as she greeted them and headed out to the back patio. “Everything is out on the counter or in the fridge. I’ll just be a minute.”

Stepping outside and quickly dialing her father’s number she wasn’t all too surprised when Sharon answered instead. “Hey, Nicole, I just walked into the office and your father is on his way down to the evidence room. He left his phone on his desk, is everything okay?”

“I’m not exactly sure.” She quickly filled Sharon in on what she had found and what Ethan had told her. Her level of apprehension increased with Sharon’s reaction to the news and the assurance that she wasn’t wrong and it definitely did not sound like something Andy would do.

“As soon as Andy gets back up here, he and I will head to your place. We’ll discreetly question Ethan and see what info we can get from him. Have you touched the photo?”

A few minutes later she hung up with Sharon and turned around, jumping when Rusty was standing next to her on the patio.

“I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“I’m sorry, Rusty. I’m just a little on edge right now.” She ran a shaking hand through her hair and wondered if she should call Dean home early or wait until after Sharon and her dad had arrived.

“I got that impression, that’s why I came out here. And if I’m being perfectly honest, the kitchen is more his show anyway.” Rusty waved in Gus’s direction and Nicole smiled.

“How is the whole long distance thing working out for you two, anyway?”

Rusty shrugged. “It’s fine, I guess.” His eyes went down to his shoes and he suddenly found the patio around them very interesting. “I dunno. Things just haven’t been the same for a while, even before he left for Napa.” He shrugged again and forced a thin smile in Nicole’s direction.

Nicole jokingly reached out and ruffled his hair, Ricky having relayed the fact that he hated it. “Face it, Little Brother, relationships are tough.”

Shrugging her off with a groan, Rusty ran a hand through his hair and tried to fix it as best he could. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m going to need to get them to adopt another one once they’re actually hitched, aren’t I?”

Nicole smiled, her tension lessened for the moment. “That would solve two issues. One, you wouldn’t automatically be everyone’s Little Brother, but you would still be Little Brother to most of us -- even worse if they wound up adopting a girl.” Rusty’s eyes widened in mock horror as if he hadn’t even considered that possibility. “And Em wouldn’t be able to blame everything on Middle Child Syndrome.”

Laughing lightly at his fish out of water reaction, Nicole gently grabbed him by the arm and steered the two of them inside. “Let’s go before something in my kitchen explodes.”

Chapter Text

Wednesday, November 22, 2017 02:00 PM PST

This time when Claire came to she felt warm and cocooned. The foam pillow was still along her left side and on her right, was a familiar warmth that would have been foreign just a few short months ago. A small, sleepy smile spread across her features, but she didn’t bother to open her eyes yet.

Instead she turned her head and nuzzled her nose along the length of Rick’s chin. “Has the doctor been in to see you like this yet?”

She felt a light laugh rumble through his chest before she heard him at all. “Not exactly. Though I did ask if it would hurt you. He didn’t seem to think it would be too much of an issue.”

Claire nestled her head as best she could under his chin. “Not hurting at all. It’s rather nice, actually. Has your mother left already? Or is she still here?”

“She left a while ago, was heading into the office and then to Nicole’s. She said they’d stop back by later tonight before heading to the condo.”

She hummed into his neck, inhaling deeply and running her right hand along his back.

“Should I ask how you’re feeling? Or will I just get ‘fine’ as an answer again?”

Claire muffled a quiet snort against his shoulder before turning her head and finally opening her eyes. “I’m sore and I’m tired. But overall, I am fine.”

He hugged her gently, his hand being sure to embrace her shoulder rather than a lower point. “Do you want to call your family?”

“I spoke to my Aunt earlier, while your mother was here and brought her up to date.”

Ricky’s fingers traced a path along her upper arm. “Let me guess, she hates me now?”

Claire rolled her eyes. “She doesn't hate you.”

Rick leaned back a bit to look her more fully in the face. “Are you sure about that?”

“Completely.” She kissed him gently on the cheek. “Though she did mention making a trip out here over the holidays next month. That should be interesting.”

Rick’s head rested against her shoulder as he shook his head. “I’m going to need my mother to set up a protective detail for me during her stay, aren’t I?”

Claire laughed lightly, wincing as her side protested against the muscle usage. “I’m not sure that your mother doesn’t slightly agree with her.”

Rick’s groan brought a smile to her lips as she nudged him to lift his head and turned. “They’ll both be fine. You’re mother took it much better than I thought she would. Of course, I was apparently under the influence of anesthesia when the two of you were informed.”

Rick kissed her gently and she deepened the kiss, when he broke away he rested his forehead gently against hers. “It’s weird to think that twenty-four hours ago you’d barely been introduced to my family - as my girlfriend - and now we’re having a baby.”

Claire gave him a skeptical look. “Well, not now we’re not.”

He rolled his eyes before he responded. “You know what I meant.”

“Yeah,” she shrugged, “what a difference a day makes, huh?”

He huffed out a light laugh before leaning over to kiss her again. The soft sound of a throat clearing pulled them apart.

“I hate to interrupt what I think looks like one of my patients doing remarkably well a few hours after surgery, but I figured you’d both be interested in having that second ultrasound done so that we can make sure everything is going well.”

Claire knew that the smile across her face was probably the biggest one she’d sported in her life. She nodded eagerly before turning to Rick. “He can come with us, right?”

The doctor smiled. “Of course, it shouldn’t take long at all.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

03:30 PM PST

Sharon glanced over at Andy out of the corner of her eye as she made her way through the midday traffic on the eve of Thanksgiving. The term ‘everyone and their mother was on the road’ took on a whole new meaning when you were discussing LA traffic, but she was pretty sure it was an accurate description.

Andy’s hands were clenched into fists, his fingers occasionally stretching out as he’d twirl the sobriety ring on his pinky before clenching back into a fist again. His knee bounced incessantly as she continued to drive; today was not a day to allow him behind the wheel.

Her hand reached over and carefully grasped him by the knee. It stilled under her slight pressure and he exhaled a rough breath.

“I know you don’t want to hear this, and I know it’s not going to make it any better…” She squeezed his knee lightly. “But you have to know that this is not good for your blood pressure, and you being visibly upset will only upset the boys.”

His left hand covered her’s on his knee and he returned her gentle squeeze. “I know. But… what the hell is wrong with someone? And how the hell do they know who I am and who Nicole’s step kids are? They’ve never even been to the PAB. The only two who have met them at all are you and Provenza.”

“Andy, take a few deep breaths and think about it, we’ll be there soon and then we can ask Ethan the questions that will get us more information. We have no idea exactly what was said and how much Ethan filled in on his own. You, of all people, know how unreliable a witness children can be. You have to phrase questions just right or they’ll take it the wrong way.”

Merging the car off of the freeway she smiled gently at him, “We’ll sit Ethan down, make sure he knows that he’s not in any trouble, find out what happened and explain to him, explicitly, how to handle a similar situation if it ever comes up again.” She took her hand back for a moment to turn onto Nicole and Dean’s block, “And that part of the conversation we will bring Quinn in for as well.”

The car came to a stop along the curb in front of the house and Andy stared up at the residence, while she parked behind Rusty’s car. “How do you do that?” He shook his head and turned slightly toward her.

Her quirked eyebrow finally brought his attention back to her face. “Do what?”

Andy rolled his eyes because she knew exactly what he was thinking and referring to.

“I’m a mother, remember? Trust me, if you can worry about it or overthink it, between the three of them, I’ve done it.” A small sigh escaped her before a faint smile came across her lips. “And, apparently, I’ll be back in the habit with grandchildren before you know it.”

Andy shook his head and grabbed her hand, moving it to his lips to place a firm kiss to her knuckles. “And I have no doubt that you’ll be amazing at it. Long before you were even thinking about officially being a grandmother, you were excellent with Nicole’s stepsons.”

Sharon leaned over the center console and gave him a light kiss on the lips before leaning back and opening the driver’s side door. “Just so you know, flattery might very well get you everywhere this weekend, Lieutenant.”

Andy quickly exited the car to follow her up to the doorway. “Is that a promise, Commander?”

She turned just before knocking on the door. “Possibly… It could also just be a way to have you in a better mood when you greet your grandsons. You’ll just have to test it and find out.”

His voice was right next to her ear when he whispered his reply as she knocked on the door. “You’re an evil, evil woman, Commander Raydor.”

She hummed in affirmation. “And you’ve known that for years, in fact you coined several of my more notable nicknames, and yet you still asked me to marry you.”

The door opened just as Andy whispered, “Yeah, well, Provenza has always said I was a glutton for punishment.” Leaning ever so slightly back and not acknowledging the smirk Sharon had on her face, Andy said louder, “Hey, Nic! Where are the boys?”

Nicole raised an eyebrow as she looked between Sharon and her father, but ultimately ignored it as Sharon just gave a quick shake of her head.

“Quinn is in the kitchen with Rusty and Gus. Ethan is outside on the back patio. I’ve told him he’s not in trouble, but that both of you wanted to talk to him when you got here. Not sure he’s buying the whole not in trouble bit.” She ushered them both inside and motioned to the french doors that led out onto the patio.

Sharon laid a comforting hand on Nicole’s upper arm. “Don’t worry, we’ll talk to him. I’m sure it’s mostly nothing.”

~*~*~*~*~*~
05:30 PM PST

Provenza filled in the last square of his crossword puzzle and looked around the Murder Room. Julio was on the phone. Mike was staring at his computer as if he was trying to will some piece of information to appear in front of him that hadn’t been there before. Nolan was drumming his fingers against his desk while leafing through the exorbitant number of photographs that had been taken and promptly printed from the crime scene. Amy and Buzz kept watching the video and reading Lieutenant Little’s report over and over to make sure that they knew the case forward and backward.

Knowing the team as well as he did, he also knew that they had everything about Claire’s case memorized several hours ago. There was nothing new for them to look at, there were no leads on the guy that had come back yet. Even with the favors Chief Howard more than likely called in, it would take time for ViCAP and CODIS to come back with a hit -- if there was anything to match it to in their systems.

Glancing down he noticed that he’d missed yet another text from his partner. The man was supposed to be relaxing with his daughter for a bit this afternoon, helping with the final prep for tomorrow’s first big Flynn/Raydor holiday get-together. Andy was considering this a semi-dry run for how Christmas and hopefully the wedding would go. Honestly, if he didn’t shut up about it soon, Provenza was going to end up slapping him upside the head like they did on that silly Navy crime show Patrice liked to watch.

Scrolling through the list of texts Andy had been sending him over the last hour, Provenza rolled his eyes. What were the chances that the two of them would leave here and get entwined in another, unrelated case, at Nicole’s? If Provenza didn‘t know any better he’d swear that Sharon was gaining his luck when she was in Andy’s presence.

The fact that he did know better had his eyes narrowing as he looked through and re-read each text again from the beginning. He had two slogans that he swore by. The first, was that it was always the spouse. Given that Claire didn’t technically have a spouse, and they all knew Richard Raydor had absolutely nothing to do with the attack, they already knew her case did not fit that mold. The second, was that there was no such thing as a coincidence. So the fact that Claire was attacked last night, and Nicole’s step son had an unusual encounter today did not sit well with Provenza.

Glancing at the clock a final time, Louie rolled up his newspaper and hit his desk with it. “Alright everyone, I think we’ve done just about all that we can for the day. We’ll be alerted once we get a match. If we get a match. Let’s call it a night and go home.” Standing, he grabbed his jacket ad put it on. “Mike, Julio, if I could have a word with you before you go?” Without waiting for a reply, he stormed off toward the breakroom.

“What was that all about?” Amy looked up from the computer as Buzz’s eyes follow Provenza.

“I have no idea, but I am not about to wait around and find out. I’m supposed to teach Gabe how to carve the turkey for tomorrow.” Buzz said as he went about shutting down the computer.

Provenza was sitting in the break room when Julio and Mike got there, both ready to go.

Julio looked to Provenza before looking over at Mike and returning his gaze to the older Lieutenant. “Everything okay, Lieutenant?”

Louie looked up from his phone once again before he sighed. “Everything is most definitely not okay.”

Chapter Text

Wednesday, November 22, 2017 08:00 PM PST

Sharon had reluctantly agreed to let Andy drive them to the hospital after they had enjoyed the evening with Nicole and the boys. Sitting here in traffic, staring out the window, she wondered why she had done that knowing the mood he was in, despite the relaxed facade he had put on for everyone’s benefit. Hearing him mutter and curse under his breath for what must have been the hundredth time in the forty minutes they had been in the car, she chuckled.

“What?” He grumbled, as he attempted to ease into the lane that would allow him to exit the freeway.

“We’re a mess.” She shook her head and glanced over at him. “The whole lot of us. Here we are just trying to enjoy a nice, relaxing holiday together and between all of us, we can’t manage to do it. And so far Major Crimes hasn’t been the root of any of these issues.”

Andy rolled his eyes as he eased the car off of the freeway. “You do realize that you’ve just cursed us, right? At this rate we’ll have a triple homicide by noon.”

Sharon shook her head as Andy directed them toward the hospital. “That’s all we need.”

Sharon could feel the earlier tension returning to the car, the discussion with the boys had not gone as well as she had hoped. It indeed seemed as if a man, with a badge very similar to theirs, had approached Ethan when he was coming out of school. The man, who appeared to be younger than Sharon and Andy, possibly around the ages of Gus and Rusty, had identified himself as a friend of Ethan’s Grandpa Andy, and was sent to deliver a picture to him. The man told Ethan that Andy had been proud of his dedication to dance and was looking forward to seeing him in this year’s performance of The Nutcracker. A report had been filed with the local division, but since two experienced LAPD officers had already questioned the boys regarding the incident, the locals weren’t going to do any further questioning unless or until they found a possible suspect. The photo had been taken as evidence and they would see if there were any prints or trace evidence that could be lifted off of it before alarming the boys further.

That, combined with the lack of sleep and the events of the previous night had them both on edge and exhausted. She could feel him staring at her before she turned away from the side window. “Shouldn’t your eyes be focused on the road?”

His hand reached over and took hers off of her lap, moving it to a spot over the center console. “Do you think we’ll be able to convince him to come home? Afterall, it’s not just his girlfriend up there anymore. She’s the woman carrying his child.”

Sharon’s fingers squeezed his as they pulled into the parking garage. “I’m going to try and get him to come home for a decent night's sleep. And, after being coddled all day, we might have some help from Claire. I’m sure she’d like a bit of time to deal with everything without having someone there constantly.”

“Hmmm, sounds like someone else I know.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

08:30PM PST

“You know, if you stare at that this much all the time, in seven to eight months there won’t be anything left to it.” Claire smirked as she put the phone she’d been playing with on the tray near the bed and rolled her eyes at Rick.

“It’s a good thing I got more than one copy then.” Rick shot his own smirk in her direction.

“And here I figured you wanted to give them out. One to your Mom, Dad, one for my Aunt, each of us… you know… spread it around a bit.”

Rick gave an annoyed huff and went back to staring at the copy of the sonogram he held in his hand.

“Wanna talk about it?”

Rick shrugged but didn’t meet her eyes. “Let’s just say that I didn’t bother to let my father in on all of the nuances of our relationship, and leave it at that.”

Claire raised an eyebrow in his direction, wondering how long it would take for him to look at her. “You didn’t tell your father that he’s going to be a grandfather?”

“Nope.” Rick continued looking down at the ultrasound.

“Rick….” Her voice was barely above a whisper and she reached over and tugged gently at his shirt sleeve.

Finally, after exhaling a deep breath, he looked up and met her eye. “Look, this is a long time coming, you can ask Mom. But it’s probably better off that he not know. He wasn’t a good father, not much more than a glorified sperm donor, anyway. And for years I kept giving him another chance. My sister has too. After this morning, I’m done. He can get mad if he wants.” He went back to looking at the copy of the ultrasound he held in his hand. “I just don’t understand how he could look at this… look at us... and find the bottle more appealing, you know?”

Claire felt the tears welling up in her eyes and could see the same reflected in Rick’s. She’d heard the name Jack Raydor around the PAB but had never met him. She knew that his name didn’t hold nearly the amount of fear or awe that his ex-wife’s did. And, of course, she’d heard the scuttlebutt. The idle office water cooler chitchat that every work place was full of. The man had a reputation for being a drunk and a skirt chaser regardless of how close or distant his wife seemed to be. Claire tried her best to stay out of those kinds of circles and form opinions for herself, but after meeting and spending some time with Rick and overhearing only one conversation, she was fairly certain that the office scuttlebutt surrounding Jackson Raydor didn’t hold a candle to the full story. Despite all of that, and maybe because of her own past - with lack of true parental figures for much of her life - she was hesitant to let Rick write all of this off based on events that had taken place over the last twenty four hours.

She gave a slightly stronger tug on his shirtsleeve and implored him with her eyes. If it were any other day she would have knelt in front of him and put her arms around him, but she was stuck in the hospital bed, and her side still throbbed every time she moved any muscle remotely associated with her stomach or lower back. He stood and rested his forehead gently against hers.

“You don’t have to decide anything right this minute, Rick. Give it some time.”

He shrugged his shoulders and placed each of his hands on one of her shoulders. “The ball is in his court, I told him this morning that after his attitude and some of the things he said… well, he can call me or not, but I won’t be picking up the phone.”

He moved his head, gently kissing her forehead, then the tip of her nose, before settling for a sweet, gentle kiss to her lips. When they broke he barely moved before giving her a somewhat saddened smile. “Besides, Andy will make a much better grandfather anyday.”

Claire huffed out a laugh before wincing. “Well, at least he or she will have one.”

A light rap of fingers on the door followed by a gentle, “Knock, knock,” broke the moment.

“Speak of the devil.” Claire commented as Andy entered the room and all eyes turned to him.

“What’d I do?” Andy asked, truly looking surprised.

“I’m not sure I want to know,” Sharon replied, “but she’s officially been introduced to you on a familial level for just over twenty four hours and she already has you pegged. I knew there was something I liked about this one.”

Sharon seemed to sense a bit of the tension in the air and Claire watched as her eyes went back and forth between herself and Ricky a few times. “Lieutenant Flynn’s reputation precedes him, that’s all.”

Andy’s jaw dropped. “I haven’t even done anything.”

Sharon’s hand patted his arm gently. “Of course you haven’t, dear.”

Lifting the bag she had in her other hand, she winked in Claire and Rick’s direction. “We ran by your apartment and got a few things for you. A few pairs of yoga pants and some loose blouses. If there’s anything else you need, I figured we could send the boys out on Friday. Let them deal with the crowds. Until then, if this doesn’t get you by, I should have something you can borrow.”

Claire smiled. “Thank you. As long as there are no objections to me foregoing my formal attire tomorrow, I think I should be fine.”

Andy rolled his eyes. “Not that anyone wants to hear from Mr. Trouble, but Nicole wouldn’t care if you wore your hospital gown. Though that might get some interesting reactions from Dean and the boys.”

Ricky just shook his head while Claire tried not to laugh. “I think I’ll decide against that, right now.”

Sharon walked over and gave Rick a hug, her fingers rustling through his hair a bit. “You should come home and get a decent night’s sleep and let Claire do the same.”

He shook his head. “I’m staying.”

Claire took an uneasy breath in. “No, your mother’s right.”

Rick looked at her, shocked and slightly dejected. She reached over and took his hand. “None of us got any sleep last night, we’ve barely catnapped all day and most of my rest has been thanks to the drugs the doctor has been giving me.” She tugged him in a little bit closer. “Go home and sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Ricky seemed to stare at her for a few long moments. “You’re sure?”

Claire rolled her eyes and looked at him for a moment, a smirk blossoming across her features. “When have you ever known me to open my mouth if I wasn’t?”

“Well, you know…” Ricky shrugged. “There is a first time for everything.”
Claire shot an exasperated look in Sharon’s direction, which had Sharon smile and shrug her shoulders in reply.

“There are times he takes after his father.” Her only explanation.

Claire looked at Rick, knowing the sore spot that there was with his father after this morning's conversation and promptly stuck out her tongue at him to lighten the mood, her arms crossing over her chest.

Andy shook his head before turning to Sharon. “She fits in a little too well with us,” he mock whispered.

Sharon grabbed his hand and shook her head. “We’ll wait outside for you, Ricky. Don’t take too long. Have a good night, Claire, and we will see you in the morning.”

“Good night.” Claire replied. Her voice getting softer as she turned to Rick. “I’ll be fine overnight. The doctor and nurses will probably only drive me nuts coming in to wake me up to see if I need something to help me sleep anyway.”

Ricky stepped closer to her his hand never letting go of hers. “They can’t give you anything to help with your sleep, silly. You’re pregnant.”

She rolled her eyes. “Of course, how could I forget?” Winking at him, she raised her voice. “Don’t let him hoard all of the sonogram pictures he has. Please, make him share, Sharon.”

He shut her up with a kiss that left her smiling. “I’ll see you in the morning. If we can, we’ll run by and pick up your car before we get you.”

She kissed him again, longer this time. “Without you staring over my shoulder, I might actually be able to beat your ass at Words with Friends.”

Ricky took a fraction of a step back. “So now the truth comes out, the real reason you want me gone.”

With a light laugh, she pulled him in for one last kiss. “Good night. I will see you in the morning and you can save me from my captivity here.”

Ricky looked around. “You say that now but just wait until you’ve spent the holiday with all of us.

“Go. Now.” She pointed toward the door shaking her head.

Ricky grabbed the few things he had in her hospital room and stopped just before joining his mother and Andy in the hallway. “I love you, but I’m still going to kick your ass from the condo.”

Claire settled down and picked up her phone. “We’ll just see about that, Raydor.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

The apartment was a mess. It was clear that the tenant had returned in a hurry and left as soon as he could after. Looking at the scene through the eyes of a trained detective there were several mistakes that the subject had made. Mistakes that the LAPD would have a field day with if they ever connected the dots and connected this location to the scene across town. Mistakes that their employer simply would not allow to be discovered. Reaching into the generic backpack that he’d brought with him, he started collecting the materials he would need to rectify matters before any of his colleagues had a chance to come across the scene.

The place had been scrubbed down once already. The main areas, the places where everyone would think to look for clues, were pretty well handled. He gave them a second go over just to be on the safe side. The areas where experienced detectives would look, the more subtle areas to the casual observers, he paid more attention to -- especially those where he noticed his associate seemed to just skim over. Finally, the areas where most people - even some experienced crime scene people - would fail to observe, the places where Major Crimes specifically specialized in noticing things that other wouldn’t, he went over with a fine toothed comb. If the team somehow managed to identify his associate, there stood a chance that they would discover his complicity in all of this. That was an outcome he was not willing to entertain at this point.

He’d been very careful in just how much he’d allowed himself to get pulled into this plan. While he and his employer had their own objectives, they paralleled enough for a mutual agreement to be beneficial to both of them for the time being. From the beginning he’d been hesitant about involving others. Too many cooks spoiled the broth and all that might hold its own in the kitchen, but it also held true in matters such as these. For obvious reasons: two coasts, multiple targets, plausible deniability, alibis and all that it made sense for multiple people to be involved. At the same time, the more people who were involved, the greater the likelihood that something would get missed, a mistake would be made and the whole house of cards would come crashing down on top of them. Which, if he were being completely honest with himself, was where he came in and offered something up to his employer that none of the others could. He was the inside man, the one who could stay the half a step ahead of Major Crimes that was necessary to ensure their freedom, ensure the mission would go on, and clean up the mess when one of the others decided to go rogue and colossally fuck up like last night.

Inspecting the apartment one last time, he assured himself that even the likes of Tao, Sykes, and the rest would not be able to link anything from the apartment back to the master plan, he left. His target had already moved on and there were a few other places he could think of to check before he was ready to contact their employer again.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

Wednesday November 22, 2017 11:30 PM

Sweat beaded on his skin and gave him a chill, his complexion clammy and taking on a pasty pallor. The weight of the items he’d taken from his apartment quickly started to become too much for him in his current state. He needed a safe place to rest. There were still two things he wanted before leaving the city. One would be easy but it would have to be done quickly. The other might not be possible at all, but it wasn’t going to stop him from trying.

He carefully made his way into the building and up the stairs, avoiding all of the common areas where people might recognize him or even see him at this hour. He needed to remain as anonymous as possible.

He slipped into the apartment quietly and moved to the center seat. The row of monitors spread out before him displaying little insights into the lives he’d monitored for going on two years.

He grabbed a few disks and started copying the ‘special’ moments that he wanted. The final disk was for him to examine and revisit often. It would allow him to critique where he had gone wrong and what he would need to improve. He knew that waiting so long between acts had been his biggest mistake, and though it might not be soon, one day he would make sure that his employer knew that he was to blame for it all going wrong. In the meantime, he would watch the tape over and over; learn her movements, learn where he went wrong, and practice until he was in his prime shape again. He would come back and next time he would possess her.

Having rested and gone through a few bottles of water, he felt slightly better. The blood loss would take a few days to recoup from and he was confident that he’d done everything possible to avoid infection. He monitored the traffic on the police scanner they set up in this makeshift headquarters they had and knew that -- for the moment -- no one seemed to be actively looking for him. He’d covered his tracks well enough and their inside man hadn’t thrown him under the proverbial bus. He slipped the DVDs into a case and carefully placed them back in his backpack.

There was just one final thing that he wanted to do before heading out of LA for the foreseeable future. The lovely woman on the 11 o’clock news had been kind enough to recap the story of the female LAPD analyst who had been attacked in her apartment last night and was now resting comfortably at St. Catherine’s. He knew he would never be able to get too close to her, that would be way too risky at this point. The thought that she might actually recognize him both terrifying and thrilling in the same breath. Carefully loading his backpack onto his back, he grabbed his things and made his way toward the door. His hood shielding his face as he exited the building and headed for the alleyway behind it. The dark corners of some of the seedier neighborhoods were more to his liking, but for the trip he had planned this would do just fine.

He stopped about halfway down the length of the building, sensing more than seeing the other person who had joined him on his little trek to the alleyway. It seemed, perhaps, his last stop might not happen after all.

“You know you really screwed up, right, Billy?”

The dark hair and piercing blue eyes that stepped out of the shadows let him know with a single look that he should have left the city straight from his apartment.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Thursday, November 23, 2017 09:00AM PST

Ricky turned off the ignition in Claire’s car and headed from the parking garage into the hospital. His mother had accompanied him to Claire’s apartment where they packed up several more of her things and picked up her car. It was the first time Ricky had seen the apartment since it had been deemed an ‘active crime scene’ and it was more than enough to help push him to make several decisions he’d been internally debating anyway. Sharon was on her way to pick up Andy at the condo. Their plan was to pick up a light breakfast for everyone before meeting at the hospital where Ricky would follow them to Nicole’s house. Ricky was lost in his thoughts and casually swung around the doorframe into Claire’s room.

“Good morning! Ready to get out of here?”

He blinked several times at the empty bed before he turned and stuck his head into the hallway, flagging down the first nurse he saw.

“I’m looking for Ms. Kabrich. I’m supposed to be picking her up this morning.”

The nurse peered around him, possibly looking at a board on the wall behind him somewhere. “It looks like the doctor took her downstairs for some testing. She should be back shortly.”

“What kind of testing? Is everything okay?”

The nurse looked a little unsure and carefully checked the board again before turning back to him. “I really can’t say, sir, but she should be back soon. I’m sure the doctor will update you then.”

Ricky turned back to the hospital room and started to pace. Every worst case scenario he could imagine running through his head. Something had happened with Claire’s incision. The baby. They had missed something yesterday and now he might lose them both. He couldn’t stop the whirlwind of emotions that were being brought up and the feeling of sudden panic was beginning to overwhelm him. His pacing brought him to the window and he stopped for a moment to look out, running a hand through his hair while he tried to calm his thoughts.

A lot had changed in his life over the last year. He knew that the next year seemed to be shaping up to have a whole array of new changes. He’d had his share of girlfriends in the past, but nothing had ever been too serious. Looking back on things now, he wasn’t sure if he’d done it purposely or if it were completely subconscious, but he seemed to hold most people at a distance. For as long as he could remember it had always been his mom, Emily, and him. Sure his father flitted in and out of the picture when it suited him, but he wasn’t truly a part of the family unit.

After decades of the same, his Mom had upset the balance when she’d added a kid brother to the mix out of the blue. Even though they were both essentially grown, the idea of another offspring entering the family had set he and Emily on edge. Emily had handled it much better than he had, but she’d at least been through it once before.

Next, came Andy. Andy hadn’t been a stranger to the family, but the depth of his involvement with their mother took some getting used to on all accounts. If he was honest, he blamed himself slightly for the way Rusty was suddenly uncomfortable with a relationship that he seemed to have been the first to notice and point out. But again, it had been another addition to the family, another change on a close personal level that Ricky wasn’t sure he had been ready for at the time.

About the time of the engagement announcement Ricky had run into Claire. In the beginning, the flirting had been nothing more than fun, but the longer it had gone on the more he had invested in it. The first time he’d decided to come down early to visit Claire, he stopped by to see her first, then surprised his mother by coming to the condo late the night before he was expected. The invitation for Claire to visit him at some point in Palo Alto had already been extended, though it would still be another month before she would take him up on it.

By the time they’d gotten serious, he’d already planned on introducing her to his mother, it was just a matter of finding the right time. With the holidays and the wedding approaching it had seemed like the perfect chance. As he stood staring out the window waiting to find out what was going on, he felt like everything he’d built for himself over the past year -- all of the plans that he’d made and not let anyone know about yet -- it was all crashing down around him.

Noise coming from the hallway directly outside Claire’s room broke his concentration from his thoughts and turned his gaze toward the interior of the hospital rather than the scene outside the window. Claire’s smiling face greeted him when he finally focused.

“I was hoping I would have gotten back before you arrived.”

Ricky looked her over. Her color looked better than it had the day before, her cheeks even getting a slightly rosy flush to them. She appeared to be sitting comfortably in a wheelchair with a pillow carefully stuffed along her left side. “What’s wrong? What type of test did the doctors have to do?” He knew the words were flooding out of him but he was desperate to assure himself that she was okay.

She reached out and ran her left hand along his arm until she reached his fingers, which she intertwined with her own. “Rick, relax. I’m okay.” She smiled, sweetly at him. “I had some twinges and discomfort overnight and they decided to do another ultrasound to make sure everything was okay. More than likely, it’s just muscles adjusting to the stitches and wound.”

Rick released a shaky breath and knelt down in front of her. “So… have they decided you need to stay or are they still okay with you leaving today?”

“Doc is filling out my release papers as we speak. There will be loads of conditions, precautions, and rules to follow, but he seemed confident that as long as I follow instructions there was no reason that I couldn’t get out of here and relax for the holiday.” Claire sighed, and motioned for Rick to help her stand from her position seated in the wheelchair. “One of those conditions is that I cannot push my sorry butt into a standing position by myself. So, consider yourself on lift duty for the foreseeable future.”

Ricky walked over and loosely wrapped his arms around her. “If that is the most difficult of the conditions I think we’ll do just fine.”

Claire rolled her eyes. “It’s not the most difficult, but close. Probably one of the most annoying.”

Ricky stood her up and let his hands rest loosely at her waist. “Do you need me to help you get anywhere?”

“No, I can walk around just fine. A little slower than I normally am.” She opened the small closet in the corner of the room. “Your mom was nice enough to pack a few light dresses. I have a feeling she knew how I’d be feeling about the idea of wearing pants today, even loose fitting ones. Do you think this would be good for the day?”

Ricky raised an eyebrow as she indicated the sundress. “You’ve met my family… especially given the circumstances… I really don’t think any of them care what you wear today.” He stepped up behind her and placed a gentle kiss to her shoulder. “We’re just glad that you’ll be joining us.”

Claire turned and placed a quick kiss to his lips, her forehead resting against his gently. She took a slow, deep breath before opening her eyes. Rick’s arm around her waist tightened as he saw the glisten of unshed tears. It hadn’t taken him long to realize that Claire and his mother had a lot in common, on some level he thought that was part of what attracted him to her. She was a very strong, independant woman. After her parents had been killed in a car accident when she was in high school, her aunt had taken her in, got her through the school year and off to college. The two women were close, but both very independant. There had only been a few times when he’d seen Claire in what he would consider to be an emotional state -- today was one of them -- but so far he had yet to see her cry. He got the impression that it was something very few people had ever seen.

Another slow, deep breath and Claire blinked a few times. Her bottom lip was trapped between her teeth as she looked at a spot over Rick’s shoulder. “I should shower. By then the doc should be back with the paperwork and then we can talk about plans and hotels and all that good stuff.”

Rick moved his hands to her shoulders, and squeezed them gently. “I’d join you but the doctor would probably frown upon that.” He kissed her temple gently as she smiled. “As for hotel, we don’t need to worry about it. You and I will move into Rusty’s room for a few days and Andy was nice enough to call his realtor. If you’re up for it, we can meet him early tomorrow afternoon to discuss what we’re looking for.”

Claire’s eyes met and held his for a moment before her tongue wet her lips and she spoke. “We?”

Rick’s eyes cast down toward the floor before looking up again. “Well, I figured you wouldn’t want to go back to your apartment any time soon.” His left hand rested over her stomach gently. “And if we’re going to have a baby…. Well, we’ve been talking about opening a satellite office in Los Angeles. I figured we could just look for a place together.”

Claire’s hand rested over Rick’s against her stomach and she chewed the corner of her lower lip again. “You want to move back to LA? You’re sure about this?”

Rick stepped back and looked at her. “Of course I’m sure. We’ve been discussing this at the office for a while now, and I’d already voiced my commitment to being the one to set it up. And with a baby….” Rick paused and shrugged. “We’ll move in together, get married, the whole nine yards.”

Claire’s lips pressed into a thin line, and her hand moved away from Rick’s as she took a step around him. “I’m not marrying you just because I’m pregnant, Rick. This isn’t something that we’ve even discussed up to this point.”

Rick followed her movements, and turned when she moved behind him. “This isn’t just because you’re pregnant.” Rick couldn’t explain the feeling of panic that welled up inside of him. Yesterday, and again this morning, he’d been petrified that he was going to lose Claire and the baby before he could fully understand what it meant to have them. Now, he felt like no matter how much he tried to explain that to her she would never understand. He rubbed his hands over his face and took a deep breath. “Claire.”

“I’m not marrying you, Rick. I’m not asking you to move back to LA, and I’m not having this conversation right now.” Claire sighed and Rick couldn’t remember a time when he’d ever seen her look so tired.

His hand found its way to the small of her back. “Claire?”

She stepped away from him and moved toward the bathroom carrying the dress that she’d taken out of the closet with her. “I’m going to take a quick shower. After, we can discuss what the plan is for the next few days.”

Ricky bit his tongue as she entered the bathroom. He knew that from time to time he didn’t exactly handle things in the best possible way, but it felt like there was nothing that he seemed to do lately that worked out the way he wanted. He paced the room a few times, wondering how he could start the conversation with Claire over. The vibration of his phone in his pocket pulled his thoughts away for a moment and he quickly looks at the display.

His father’s name on the caller ID was the last thing that he expected or wanted to see. He swiftly declined the call and went to put the phone back into his pocket when it started to ring again.

“What?”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Jackson Raydor hung up the phone with a satisfied smile. “Thank you, my good man. Very glad that I ran into you today.”

The younger man returned the smile he received. “Glad I could give you some advice on the matter, Mr. Raydor.”

Jackson tapped the file he held in his hand against his thigh as he turned away from the man who had awoken him earlier than his usual preference. “It’s good to know that I still have some friends in the LAPD. The last few years it’s seemed like my darling ex-wife had pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes to make me into the ultimate bad guy -- including my children.”

The younger man dusted off his hands and straightened his suit jacket. “Not everyone has the holier than thou opinion that the Commander would like for them to have. Not of her, and definitely not of Major Crimes.”

Jackson just shook his head, the weight of the envelope against his thigh heavy as he thought of the implications the contents could have. For his son… for the young lady that the boy has stupidly gotten involved with... and for his goody two shoes ex-wife and her soon-to-be new husband. Maybe the Camelot that Sharon had built around her was finally about to collapse. A small part of him wished that his son wouldn’t be caught in the middle, but after the conversation that he’d had with the boy yesterday, maybe it served him right. Emily would remain outside of the main issue -- the benefit of living on the other side of the country -- but he was sure that the repercussions would hit her with the fall out as well.

He knew it would be a while before his son arrived, but it didn’t stop Jackson from keeping an eye on traffic and looking for Richard’s car.

“Do you even have the faintest clue what he might be driving, Mr. Raydor? Or are you so out of touch with your family that you wouldn’t recognize it until he pulled up at your feet?”

Jackson was surprised by the sudden change in his companion’s demeanor. A few moments ago he’d been an ally, but now his tone was accusatory. He turned to face the man, and was so caught up in his own thoughts that he barely noticed the needle in the man’s hand until it had already pierced the thin skin of his neck. Jackson opened his mouth to question the actions, but by the time the thought had passed through his head, the blissful oblivion of unconsciousness was already enveloping him.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

Thursday, November 23, 2017 10:00 AM PST

Sharon took a long, soothing sip from the cup of tea she held in her hands. Coffee and another tea were downstairs in the car with Andy. She was hoping that they could move to a spot not far from where Claire’s car was parked once they all met up. It saved her from juggling and would make it easy for Ricky to follow Andy to Nicole’s. He’d been there before, but Sharon wasn’t sure he’d remember the way and didn’t want him to rely solely on GPS.

The elevator dinged, pulling her from her musings and she exited to make her way to Claire’s room. The image that greeted her at the door was definitely not the one she had expected to see.

Claire was sitting in the chair by the window, her arms resting against those of the chair, her fingers drumming out an impatient staccato. If Sharon could think of a way to describe her posture it was tense -- angry. Taking a careful look around the room, Sharon frowned when she couldn’t find any sign of Ricky.

“I’m assuming my son’s whereabouts are the reason for your annoyance?” Sharon broke the silence of the room, noticing Claire’s jump and resulting wince when Sharon’s voice broke her concentration.

Claire blushed slightly, and raised her eyebrows in an apologetic fashion and shrugged her shoulders. “He did leave a note.”

Sharon’s curiosity was thoroughly piqued. She unfolded the piece of paper that Claire handed her and scanned the note written in Ricky’s scrawl, her lips forming a thin line and her eyes narrowing as she got to the reason for his disappearance.

“Jack.”

“So it would seem.” Claire stared out the window, refusing to meet Sharon’s eye.

Sharon slowly folded the piece of paper and looked around the room. “Well, if you’re ready to go, he can just find his own way to Nicole’s.”

Claire blinked and turned her head, obviously unsure of how to respond. “Maybe you can just drop me off at a hotel?”

Sharon shook her head, grabbing the bag that was already placed on the hospital bed. “You’re not getting out of this that easily. Trust me, I know my son… and despite my best efforts and intentions, there are some characteristics that he did pick up from his father. His proclivity for crappy notes and ill-timed exits seem to be two of them. You are coming with me and we are going to Nicole’s to enjoy a nice family Thanksgiving dinner. I, for one, think that we have an overabundance of things to be thankful for this year.”

Claire’s lips were pressed into a firm thin line, but her eyes danced with amusement. “Yes, ma’am.”

Sharon looked around the room one last time. “Is this everything that you need?”

Claire smiled and nodded, “Other than some assistance out of this chair, yes.”

After obtaining an orderly to help Claire up, Sharon escorted the young woman to the elevator. “There is a cup of ginger and mint tea for you downstairs with Andy. There’s a cup of coffee for Ricky as well, but Andy will probably be ready for that one by the time we get down there”

Claire’s smile took on a distant look. “Thank you, I haven’t had a cup of hot tea in several years.” Glancing down carefully she shrugged. “I guess it’s something I’ll have to get back in the habit of.”

Sharon smiled and took a sip from her own cup. “It’s not a necessity, but I found that it helped me out a lot during both of my pregnancies. And it helped to fill in the gap where the coffee craving was.”

Claire sighed heavily but kept her gaze toward the floor. Sharon swallowed carefully and watched the woman for a moment as the elevator made its slow descent toward the parking levels. She reached over and gently squeezed Claire’s hand. “He’ll show up later. As much as he can be an ass - and trust me, I know he can be - he is not his father.” Claire lifted her head and gave a tight-lipped smile. “If for no other reason, than he knows he would have to deal with me… trust me, he doesn’t want that.”

The doors to the elevator opened and Sharon lead Claire out with a gentle but firm hand on the small of her back. “Let me know if I set too fast of a pace. I’ve had experience with similar injuries, so I know that sometimes you can push yourself to go too quickly. That’s a bad idea.”

Claire nodded and they made their way toward Sharon’s car. Andy saw them approaching, and Sharon just gave him a tight-lipped smile as he stepped out of the car and opened both the back and front passenger side doors.

“You need to tell me your secret, Claire.”

Claire raised an eyebrow and looked to Sharon in question. Sharon smiled. “He’s just jealous you’re walking out of here. They always make him ride in the wheelchair.”

Claire smiled and huffed out a laugh. “It’s easy, Lieutenant, just get stabbed in the stomach so that it takes more assistance getting up and down than it does to walk away. That, and the doc said I needed more time on my feet.”

Andy gave a lopsided smile and placed his hands at Claire’s elbows. “Been there, done that. I think you can keep those stab wounds.” He helped her get set up at the door as Sharon spotted them. “Do you just need me to help ease you down?”

Claire blushed a bit and nodded her head. “That should do it.”

After getting Claire settled in, Andy held Sharon’s door opened while she took her spot in the passenger seat, before he moved to the driver’s side. Sharon turned in her seat and handed the cup of tea over to Claire and pointed out where the back seat cup holders were. Andy waited for her to turn around and fasten her seat belt before he started the car and headed out.

Sharon knew that once they arrived at Nicole’s house Andy would be pulling her aside for some kind of explanation, but she was thankful that, for the moment, he simply accepted everything with composed silence. A neutral topic of discussion arose and she smiled as Andy broached the topic of which teams were playing and which football games they might catch a bit of through the day. Sharon shook her head and laughed lightly as Claire began to debate the benefits of college ball over the professional version of the sport. Somehow, it didn’t surprise her that Ricky would go for a college ball girl. He’d always thought it was ridiculous for grown men to get paid insane amounts of money to play a child’s game. Pulling her phone from her pocket she quickly typed out a text.

Where are you? Call me.

~*~*~*~*~*~

11:30 AM PST

Richard Raydor punched the steering wheel as he drove around the parking lot one more time. It had taken him forever to get here, and in case he hadn’t already known that she would be, the text from his mother was enough to get the idea across that she was just a little pissed at him. Add to that the fact that his father - who just had to see him so urgently - also apparently decided to leave before he got there and now wasn’t answering his phone. Yeah, so far, this Thanksgiving was shaping up to royally suck.

He expected Claire to be pissed at him once he arrived at his soon-to-be step-sister’s house. Knew his mother would be pissed. Figured Andy would probably be none too happy with him. And the list could probably go on from there. At this point, he was sure between the conversation with his father the day before, and now this morning… yeah, even Emily would probably be more than a little peeved with him.

Rick pulled the car into a spot and stepped from the vehicle. He needed to catch his breath, needed to calm down, and needed to try to reach his father once more. He had already called the man’s office and been told that he had left for the day to meet his son and wouldn’t be available until the following Monday. So he knew that Jack had at least had every intention of actually meeting with him. What had happened to him between his phone call and the time it took Ricky to actually reach the random parking lot across town that Jack had picked for their meeting place was a mystery.

He scanned the area, looking to see if one of Jack’s usual hideouts was in the area. There was a bar up the block, but if Jack had decided to skip the meeting with him to tie on a bender, Rick was better off not finding him. He kicked a pile of trash on his way back to Claire’s car and stopped in his tracks.

Carefully he bent over and picked up the obvious picture of Claire that was laying in the parking lot along with other random bits of trash. If Rick had to guess, he would say that the picture looked like it had been taken by a private investigator or something of that nature. The person had obviously not been too close to the couple pictured, the young man with his arms clearly wrapped around Claire in a deep hug.

Rick felt the heat rushing to his face and knew that his blood pressure was rising. The only logical explanation for a picture of Claire showing up in some random parking lot was the fact that his father must have had the picture with him. Since Jack had blown up at the hospital about supposedly not knowing anything about Claire there was no way that he could have known previously to have her followed, and this picture certainly hadn’t been taken since Claire was in the hospital. Therefore, Jack must have been having him followed. For what reason, he had no idea and at this point her could care less. He was done.

Crumpling the picture in his hand he almost threw it across the lot before he thought about it a bit more. Instead he opened the driver’s side door and tossed the photo onto the passenger seat. Seating himself back inside he took several deep breaths before trying to reach his father one last time.

When the voicemail message had finished and the beep followed Rick took a steadying breath. “Look, I don’t know what your deal is, but you can call off your dog. I’m done. We’re done. Don’t bother trying to contact me again. And leave Emily out of this. Claire and Mom too. Just leave everyone out of this. In fact, why don’t you just stay gone this time.”

After hanging up, Rick took a few more minutes to calm himself before grabbing his phone and typing out a quick text to his mother.

Leaving now. Will explain it all when I get there. It won’t happen again.

~*~*~*~*~*~

12:00 PM PST

Andy was the first one through the door when Nicole opened it. As Sharon and Nicole assisted Claire up the steps, he stood to the side and instructed Rusty and Gus on where the rest of the things were in the trunk and how Sharon would want them unpacked so that nothing would get ruined in the transition.

“I’ll set Claire up outside on the chaise while you ladies do your thing, and I occupy the boys. Unless of course she wants to sit in front of the TV and listen to Dean fuss over the Cowboys/Chargers game?” Andy smiled, as Rusty and Gus moved past the group to unload the car.

Claire smiled and rolled her eyes. “No, thank you on the football. I’m much more of a college or school sports oriented person. Grown men getting paid loads of money to play a kids game… just not my thing. Unless of course we’re talking Baseball. I can get into a good Yankee or Dodgers game.”

He felt the grin spread across his face as he looked back toward Sharon. “I knew I liked this girl!”

Sharon rolled her eyes and shook her head with a smile, as he threw a wink in her direction, handed her the casserole dish he was carrying and turned around as he ushered Claire to the back deck.

“Grandpa!”

The two boys charged in his direction and Andy held up his hands in front of Claire and himself. “Hey, guys! Go easy, okay? Claire here is still a bit sore. So be careful and help her out if she needs it, okay, guys?”

Both boys bounced on the balls of their feet and nodded enthusiastically. “We’re glad you’re here, Grandpa Andy!”

Andy hugged both boys before helping guide Claire down to the chaise. “Glad we could all make it. Now, can you boys entertain Claire for a minute while I go get her a bottle of water?”

“Yeah!!” Both boys exclaimed while jumping up and down.

Andy winked to Claire before heading into the house. “You’re in good hands and I’ll be back in a minutes.”

Claire smiled. “I’m fine. And really, if there’s anything I can do to help out I’d like to try.”

Andy shook his head. “Sorry, the boss says you’re to be pampered. So pampering is what you will get. Trust me, she can be a little pushy if she’s challenged”

Claire shook her head, apparently trying to push off a giggle. “Of that, I think, there is no doubt. I might be tempted to take her up on the challenge, but I definitely need a few days of rest. And pampering is not exactly a bad thing.”

Andy smiled as he went through the doorway. “That’s my girl, one water bottle coming right up.”

Andy made his way back through the living room, patting Dean on the shoulder as he rolled his eyes at the commentator on the football game. He narrowly avoided a collision with Rusty as he and Gus were carrying in the trays of cookies and finger foods that Sharon had prepared - many with the boys help - despite everything else that had gone on over the last few days. As he entered the kitchen, Nicole and Sharon were busy getting the last finishing touches on several of the dishes that still needed to cook before the entire clan sat down to dinner.

He moved behind Sharon and kissed her quickly on the neck. She smiled but hardly paid him any attention, the big smile from his daughter more of a reaction than he got from her. He squeezed his fingers lightly against her hips.

“Can I steal you away from here for a minute?”

Sharon smiled in Nicole’s direction. “What did I tell you?”

Nicole laughed lightly as she stirred the potatoes. “He did at least get her comfortably seated before he ran in here for the gossip.”

Andy’s fingers tightened their grip. “It’s not fair when you both gang up on me, you know.”

Nicole’s smile held a sparkle that Andy had seen a lot of in the past few weeks. He was starting to believe that his daughter and his fiance were taking a bit too much of a liking to one another and spending entirely too much time together. He knew that they were up to something, though what he was not entirely sure of. He also was not entirely sure that he wanted to know.

“She just knows you entirely too well, Dad. It’s really uncanny.”

Andy shook his head. “I’m so glad that you’re both getting a good laugh at my expense. Now, can you please explain to me where my future step son wandered off to this morning while his injured and pregnant girlfriend was picked up by his mother and soon-to-be step-father. It was obvious the poor thing felt awkward and uncertain about coming with us.”

Sharon stopped what she was doing and put the knife down calmly before wiping her hands on the apron she had donned. She turned and Andy took half a step back so that he wasn’t right on top of her.

“Well, Nicole likes to call this positive effect that I seem to have on you, The Sharon Effect.”

Andy nodded. Nicole loved to see the blush that rose to Sharon’s face every time she used the phrase. She had once confided in Andy that she thought it was adorable and definitely brought out the true depth of Sharon’s feelings for him -- even before those feelings had been openly acknowledged by the two of them.

“Well, this would be a perfect and clear example of the Jack effect.” Sharon’s lips formed a thin tight line as she finished up the sentence.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

Thursday, November 23, 2017 01:00 PM PST

Rick pulled up in front of Nicole’s house. He sat there for a few moments and just stared at the house. Yesterday he had been sitting in the hospital room with Claire, staring at the ultrasound of their baby, and cursing the decisions that his father had made and vowing to do better. And yet today he had dropped her on his mother knowing that she would swoop in just like she always did and take care of things, so that he could go and find out what the same man wanted. No explanation for wanting to see him again after the terse words they had exchanged at the hospital. Nothing more than a simple, incessant, I need to speak with you from the man who only ever wanted to speak to his son under two conditions. Either his mother had put him up to it, or Jack needed money and figured he would be stupid enough to write out a check.

Ricky shook his head. No matter how many times he and Emily had it out with their father, no matter how many chances they continued to give him, his only consistency was his ability to mess things up with them and for them. He took his phone out of his pocket and scrolled through his contacts. Looking up at the roof of Claire’s car, he took a deep breath and paused for a moment before clicking through a few screens before locking it out completely.

When he closed the door and slowly made his way up the walk to Nicole’s front door, he braced himself and protectively held the bottle of wine he’d picked up on the way over. He knew his mother was not going to be pleased with him and he knew that, if given the opportunity, she would make her opinion known before he even had a chance to explain anything. He also knew that she would find a way to do so without causing a scene for Nicole and her family, and without embarrassing Claire.

So he was not at all surprised when the front door to the house opened and a rather annoyed Sharon Raydor stepped out.

“Please tell me that whatever your father had to say this morning, it was at least worth it.” She folded her arms across her chest and Rick was sure that he had only seen her look at him that way once before, in the condo, right after she’d told him how disappointed she was in him, not long before Rusty officially became his brother.

Rick stuffed his hands deep into his pockets and took another deep breath. “He didn’t even bother sticking around until I got there.” He shook his head. “I do have some idea about his motive though.” He reached around to his back pocket and pulled out the photo of Claire, unfolding it and handing it to his mother.

His mother looked at the picture and raised an eyebrow. “You found this somewhere?”

“It was in the parking lot that he asked me to meet him in. His car was gone, I didn’t see any bars around. I dunno what happened that he took off. But this was in a pile of trash.” He glanced down to look at the photo again. “It’s not what you might think. I know the guy. He’s her best friend and he works at the PAB too. Ed something…. You’d have to ask her his last name.”

“Young. He’s an officer down in the cybercrime division. I had to investigate him several years ago, when I was still in Force Investigations. A fellow officer had accused him of sexual harassment. A charge which he most definitely was not guilty of, though she was. Apparently, she didn’t take no for an answer easily and hadn’t picked up on the abundance of hints that she wasn’t his type.” Sharon shook her head and looked at the picture again. “If the person that your father found to scrounge up this picture and any others that may exist were worth anything, they would have been able to tell you and your father that you are more Ed’s type than Claire is.”

Ricky nodded and shrugged. “Neither of them spelled it out for me, but I had that assumption.” He turned and leaned up against the railing of the small front porch. “I think we’ve played his games long enough. I know you have. And with the annulment, you’re finally free of him. I’m done with his shi…” He paused and gave a smirk at her upturned brow. “I’m done with him, too. I blocked his number on my phone. If he’s sober enough he might find a way around it, but it will probably take him a bit.”

Sharon shook her head. “You shouldn’t have to….” She broke off and stared out at the roadway. “I hate the fact that you and your sister have to deal with this. You’d think that after all these years he would have already pulled every harebrained stunt he was going to come up with.”

Rick shrugged his shoulders and turned to look at her slightly. “The thing that gets me the most… with all we discussed yesterday, with everything that we argued about and that he brought up about not knowing about Claire, and not being given better access to my life… he never once mentioned that he knew about her and was having her followed or even gave the slightest indication that he knew about anything with my life lately. So why tip his hand and try to throw this up into my face today?”

His mother shook her head once more and turned to face him. “I stopped trying to explain your father’s motives for anything a long time ago.” Turning back to the house she gripped his arm at the elbow. “Claire’s out back with Andy and the boys. I think I successfully convinced her that there was no need for a hotel this evening but you might want to reassure her of that.”

Rick nodded as he moved away from the railing. “I’ll just stop real quick and make my apologies for being late to Nicole and then head out there.”

Leaving his mother on the front porch he bounded into the house and entered the kitchen holding the bottle of wine in front of him like a peace offering. “I hope you like it. It’s a Cabernet Franc I’ve seen Mom drink once or twice.”

Nicole smiled as she took the bottle from his hands and moved it to the refrigerator. “Thank you, Ricky. I’m sure we’ll love it.” She obviously followed his gaze as he tried to look past the living room and to the back patio and yard beyond the double doors. She nudged his shoulder gently with her own as she worked on the food bowl in front of her. “I like her, by the way. I know that the whole ‘sister’ thing doesn’t really go into effect until after the wedding; but I do. And she’s great with the boys.”

Rick smiled. He really enjoyed the fact that Claire seemed to fit in so well with the rest of his ever-growing family. And the way that his mom and soon-to-be step-sister seemed to like her was a good sign that she and Emily would get along as well. However; it also made him feel even worse about dumping her on them this morning and not being present for the official introductions. “I guess I need to go grovel for forgiveness.”

Nicole nodded. “You’re a guy. Trust me, it won’t be the first or last time that you’ll screw up. Just don’t make a habit out of it.”

Rick nodded in reply as he pushed his way from the counter and moved toward the double doors. “Understood.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

01:30 PM PST

Claire smiled and shifted slightly on the chaise. Nicole’s step sons were adorable and had taken to her quite quickly, both showing her dance moves and demonstrating their solos for their performance in The Nutcracker that was coming up soon. She closed her eyes and leaned back, relaxing as she listened to the boys run around and play with their grandfather. It may be November but it was still relatively warm in Los Angeles as long as the sun was up. The boys, the activity and the fresh air were the perfect combination to allow a satisfied sense of exhaustion to flow over her.

It wasn’t long before a finger stroked her face and brushed an errant lock of hair behind her ear. There were a combination of factors that told her it was Rick doing it, and for a split second she almost smiled. She was able to quickly school her features though and slowly opened her eyes.

“You finally decided to join us.”

Rick sighed. “I’m an ass. I was an ass this morning and I’m sure there will be several times in the future that I will be an ass again. It’s apparently in my DNA.”

Despite everything, despite how annoyed and mad she’d been this morning, despite how embarrassed and uncomfortable she’d felt leaving the hospital with the Lieutenant and Commander, and possibly because of how wonderfully and willingly everyone in his family had accepted her with open arms, no questions asked; Claire smiled with that reply. “Can I get that in writing for the future? You know, so I can just pull it out and show it to you and not have to have a big old discussion on it over and over again.”

Rick rolled his eyes and quirked an eyebrow. “Really?”

She shrugged and grabbed his hand. “It couldn’t hurt.” She tugged his arm gently in an attempt to get him to smile. “Maybe get it laminated so we can just post it on the refrigerator?”

Rick sat down on the edge of the chair next to her with a small smirk on his face. “Well, now if we did that it would only really work if we only had the one refrigerator… you know, for practicality reasons.”

Claire hummed thoughtfully in a sound that reminded him entirely too much of his mother before she looked at his face again. “You have a point there. I guess we’ll have to have a conversation about that.”

Rick nodded and tried to stop the smile that threatened to blossom over his entire face. “I guess we will. Do you have a date or time picked out for said conversation?”

Claire couldn’t stop the quell of excited nerves that bubbled up. She knew this was a big step for them, though the fact that she was expecting his child did indicate that regardless of anything else, he would be a permanent fixture in her life. Her left hand absentmindedly ran over the planes of her stomach; any bump or curvature was surely more of a figment of her imagination at this point. “Not tonight. We haven’t even sat down to dinner yet, your family is wonderful, but I think I might be just a bit exhausted from all of this.”

Ricky bowed his head a bit. “Yeah, those two terrors can be a bit of a handful.”

Claire smiled and her eyes took on a wistful look. “The boys are wonderful. I’m just wiped. On all fronts… physically and emotionally.”

Rick leaned forward and pressed a gentle kiss to the side of her head. “I’m sorry. In my quest for paternal acceptance, I contributed to that.”

She huffed and grimaced slightly as the muscles in her abdomen protested her movements. “Maybe tomorrow we can have a conversation. I can’t guarantee that I’ll be up to any showings or anything, but we can browse some listings online.”

“Andy already called his guy. Once we decide on some parameters we can give him another call and get a few ideas and maybe book some showings for the weekend if you’re up for it.”

Claire nodded. “That might work and help speed up the process a little.”

Rick smiled and waggled his eyes eyebrows. “In a rush now, huh? Admit it you can’t wait to have me all to yourself.”

Claire rolled her eyes and attempted to not laugh. “Slow down there, cowboy. You’re getting a bit ahead of yourself. I can’t stay with your family forever. Your mother’s condo is only so big and there will be what? Six people there tonight. And no matter what we decide on, I just... there’s no way I can go back to that apartment.”

“Nor would Mom or I let you. That’s not even adding Andy or anyone else into the mix.” Rick kissed the side of her head again and let his lips linger there for a moment. “We’ll work it out. I’ll have to go back to Palo Alto in a few days. Gus will go back to Napa. But we’ll figure something out.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

07:30 PM PST

Sharon took a sip from her wine glass and let the liquid settle on her tongue. The rich flavors overwhelmed her senses and she smiled even more broadly just before she swallowed. To say the week had not gone as expected was the understatement of the century, but in the end it seemed things had worked out.

Ethan and Quinn were sleeping on the floor of the living room, The Grinch still playing on the TV in the background. The adults had all converged around the table in the dining room and breakfast nook in the kitchen. Sharon stood at the counter looking around the rooms and couldn’t help her smile from expanding even further. A few short years ago she was cursing Major Crimes for keeping her from being able to spend any portion of the holidays with her family, now here she was with a whole new and expanded family. Three out of five children all together in one place and with significant others in what was quickly becoming the Raydor/Flynn clan.

She felt arms come around her waist and she smiled impossibly wider as Andy nestled his chin on her shoulder and kissed the patch of skin behind her ear.

“You look happy.”

Her left hand drifted to her waist and rested over his while the right lifted her wine glass to her lips again. “I am. Impossibly so.” Sharon leaned into Andy as she finished the sip. “It seems impossible to imagine that in a little over a month we’ll all officially be one big happy family.”

Andy rocked her gently from side to side. “I think we’re already a pretty great happy family. Now we just need to get Emily in from New York and figure out where we’re going to stack everyone.”

Sharon laughed at that image. “Don’t forget Drew.” She turned her head slightly to look at Andy’s face.

“You really are a wishful thinker, aren’t you?” He continued looking out over the group, refusing to meet her gaze.

A delighted hum was her only immediate response. She took the final sip of her wine and kissed him on the cheek. “I may still have one or two tricks up my sleeve.”

Andy’s arms hugged her closer as he shook his head slightly. “Something tells me I should call Drew and tell him to just give up now. He’s never going to win a fight against you. I can see it now - ‘Give in, son, the new step-mom can’t be beat so you might as well throw in the towel now.’”

Nicole’s giggle from across the counter broke their concentration on each other. “No need for that conversation, Dad. I’ve already told him.” She patted both Sharon and Andy on the shoulder as she refilled her glass and walked back to sit at the dining room table with Dean.

Andy smiled as he shook his head. “He’s doomed and he hasn’t even realized it yet.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

Thursday, November 23, 2017 10:30 PM EST

Emily Raydor exited her dressing room and moved over to the ballet barre. She loved the rush of adrenaline that she got after a good performance, and sometimes wondered if it was similar to the feeling her father got when he drank a particularly good bourbon or placed an extremely risky bet. Her mother would tell her that there was no point in trying to analyze the motives and feelings behind her father’s actions or if there was any link to experiences in her own life. But it didn’t stop her from wondering if there were aspects of her behavior that were explained through genetics or the ever wonderful debate of nature versus nurture. As she stretched her legs out cooling down from the workout of her performance she liked to get lost in thought.

She went en pointe, and waited for the slow burn to move through the muscles of her foot and calf before switching feet and repeating her actions. This was one of her favorite moments at the theater. Most of the other dancers were still in the dressing rooms getting changed and she had the whole room to herself. Just her barre, her stretches, and her thoughts. She had once joked to her mother that ballet had saved them both from sitting through years of therapy sessions.

Emily finished and relaxed her legs rolling up on her heels several times before taking her seat to trade out her pointe shoes for her Uggs. Her leotard had been traded for an oversized sweater and her coat was hanging by the back door to the theater. Emily was in the process of buttoning her pea coat when Sarah tapped her on the shoulder. “Care to fill me in on the stud, dear?”

She met her friend with a blank stare. “What are you talking about?”

Sarah rolled her eyes. “The guy from the second row. I’ve seen you having lunch or coffee or whatever you want to call it with him. And he’s standing outside waiting for you. In the cold. On Thanksgiving. You do realize it’s in the thirties out there, right?”

Emily felt the heat rushing to her cheeks as she shook her head. “You’re way off base.”

“Oh? Am I? Do tell….”

Emily’s head rolled back on her shoulders, her eyes looking up toward the ceiling. “You know my Mom is getting remarried, right?”

Sarah’s eyebrow rose in question but no words left her lips.

Emily huffed out a laugh. “Sarah, he’s going to be my step-brother.”

Sarah’s smile fell to a frown for a moment before she shrugged. “Weird, but I’ve heard of worse.”

This time Emily’s laugh was loud and almost contagious. “Not going to happen.”

Sarah’s eyes batted in mock innocence. “So… how would you feel about making an introduction, then?”

Emily blinked as she clasped the final button on the peacoat and shook her head. “Again. Not going to happen. I’m not hooking any of my friends up with any of my brothers - full, step, or adopted.”

Sarah slumped against the wall in overly dramatic dejection. “Oh, come on, Em!”

“Happy Thanksgiving, Sarah!” Emily tossed over her shoulder as she pushed through the door that lead to the alley behind the theater. It didn’t take her long to notice Drew in the small crowd of people assembled waiting for the dancers, but she wondered just how much attention Sarah was paying if she had spotted him so quickly. Emily smiled as she walked up and quickly linked her arm in his.

“I would suggest that unless you’re in the mood for some ogling, we get out of here.”

Drew waggled his eyebrows in a move that reminded her entirely too much of Lieutenant Flynn. “Given your statement, I’m to assume that I would be the one being ogled… not doing the ogling?”

They easily fell into step with each other as they continued walking. “Correct.”

Drew’s hand rested on her elbow as he steered her around the next corner. “And who would be the… ogler?”

Emily laughed as they walked and tucked her head into the collar of her pea coat. “One of the other dancers apparently thinks you’re a stud.”

“Well, you can’t exactly fault her for good taste.” Drew’s smile once again reminded her way too much of his father’s and Emily could easily see what her mother had fallen for.

“Oh, please. No. Just like I told her, not happening. None of my brother’s will ever date one of my friends. Ricky tried it all through high school and aside from almost being illegal, it was just as gross then as it is now.” Emily looked around as they walked past several restaurants and store fronts. “Care to share with me where we’re headed?”

Drew shook his head slowly. “Well, since you and Nicole are hellbent on getting me to Cali for the wedding, and since everyone - including my mother - seems to be on my father’s team in all of this for once, I figured it was time to introduce you to the Italian roots of the family.”

Emily’s step faltered as she turned her head to look at her soon-to-be step brother. “I’m not sure I follow you.”

“Aunt Connie and her husband own a small little hole in the wall in Brooklyn. Being Thanksgiving, Nonna and the rest of the Flynn clan will be there. They’ve already had a proper feast, but in the interest of including the rather beautiful, very talented ballerina step-niece in the festivities -- not to mention not passing up the opportunity to meet and size you up -- we’ve both been invited for a late dinner and dessert.”

Emily stopped short. “Drew!”

Drew spun around to face her, not unlocking their arms as he made the motion. “Emily?”

“You’re supposed to give any and all siblings a heads up when it comes to familial introductions!”

“Oh, so you mean like ambushing me in the coffee shop?”

Emily blushed and rolled her eyes. “That was different. Nicole tried to arrange a mutually agreed upon meeting. You were being the Flynn definition of stubborn, so we had to come up with a creative tactic.”

“Well, consider this the Flynn definition of payback.”

Emily’s head rested back on her neck once again as she looked skyward and shook her head. “You and your father are both insufferable. I can’t believe my mother is happy about marrying into this family.”

Drew smiled and shook his head slightly. “That makes two of us. Come on, they are really excited to meet you and, oddly, Nonna and Aunt Connie are really looking forward to the wedding and meeting your mother. They haven’t always been on the best terms with Dad, but I guess they’ve been in touch more lately, too. Apparently, something to do with ‘The Sharon Effect’.”

Emily laughed as she lowered her head and continued walking toward the subway entrance. “Well, it will take us a little bit to get to Brooklyn. I guess we should get going.”

Drew bumped his shoulder against Emily’s as they walked. “That’s the spirit, Raydor!”

~*~*~*~*~*~

10:45PM EST

The lense turned and clicked as the couple made their way up the block. He zoomed in on the happy faces and could tell they were making amicable conversation as they walked toward the subway.

He checked his watch and his cell phone. Time was not a luxury that they had after their associate had decided to write his own script. Things weren’t quite ready and he could only hope that the amped up timeline would allow them to follow through with their plan. Everything was supposed to be perfect and now he was concerned that it was all falling apart -- crumbling around him like the house of cards that collapsed when Brenda Johnson shot him as he stood in her kitchen.

For tonight, no word from California was a good thing.

Turning on his heel he made his way back to the alley exit for the theater and rejoined the small crowd waiting outside.

“There you are!”

“Hey, babe.” He casually leaned in and kissed the blonde dancer on the side of the head as he wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “Ready to get out of here?”

“Definitely!” Sarah made an over exaggerated flourish of going up on her toes to kiss him on the cheek. “And good news. Emily might be available to meet your cousin after all. Turns out the guy I thought she was dating is going to be her stepbrother. Her Mom’s getting remarried and the two of them have been doing some familial bonding or some crap.”

“That is good news.” He pulled his cell phone from his pocket once again. “Let me text him and let him know.”

Sarah sighed. “Okay, Marcus, but be quick. I’m starving.”

Flynn has a son? See what you can dig up.

“Don’t worry, babe. Food is hardly the last of my plans for you tonight.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

Thursday, November 23, 2017 8:30 PM PST/9:30PM MST

Sharon eased into the passenger seat of Andy’s car, and breathed out a contented sigh. Andy reached across the center console and interlaced their fingers, leaning forward and letting their lips brush gently before he put the car in reverse and started them on their way back to their condo. Sharon kept their fingers intertwined, resting between them even as her right hand dug in the pocket of her coat for her phone when it started to ring. She felt Andy studying her face out of the corner of his eye as he tried to not move his gaze from the road and knew that he was concerned it was a work-related call. The smile that broke out on her face the second she looked at the display would be more than enough to put his mind at ease.

“Happy Thanksgiving. Did you have a nice day, Mom?”

Andy squeezed her hand and Sharon smiled wider as her mother briefly went over how her and Sharon’s father had spent the day. Sharon could already feel the happy buzz of the holidays settling into her bones. She loved this time of year. Their decision to have the wedding between Christmas and New Years only helped to capitalize on that and manage to get everyone together for a good chunk of the holiday season.

“No, Mom, we haven’t forgotten that the wedding is only a month away. I seriously doubt it would be possible for that to happen.”

Sharon’s thumb made circles against the back of Andy’s right hand as he drove with his left and she continued the conversation. “All of the hotel reservations have been made, though there may be a few adjustments that need to be made. The hotel assured us that things would be able to be tweaked as we got closer to the date. They know most of the guests won’t be staying more than the night of the wedding, but they’ve been wonderful with working with us.”

“That’s wonderful. We’re still down to arrive on the 23rd and stay through the second. Please tell me everything is still on track for Emily and Ricky to be able to be there? It seems like forever since your father and I have seen the three of you together.”

“Yes, Mom. Ricky and Emily will definitely be here. Rusty and Nicole as well. And from the last I heard there was forward movement with Drew, so that may be one of the additions. Also, Ricky will have a plus one, but I’ll let you grill him all about Claire when you speak with him next.”

Sharon could practically hear her mother rubbing her hands together over the phone. “It must be serious if he finally brought a girl home to meet you.”

“Yeah, I would say that it is definitely serious.” She ended the sentence with a happy hum that she was sure her mother could hear.

“Well, good. Maybe she’ll finally convince him to get a decent haircut.” Sharon laughed at what had become a running joke in the family since Rusty’s addition. “Your father and I can’t wait to meet her. And tell Andy that your father still plans on sitting him down before the big day.” She rolled her eyes.

“Really? Will you please explain to him for the hundredth time that I am well beyond the age of anyone needing to give Andy any kind of talk regarding his intentions -- as if he hadn’t made those readily apparent by proposing. Besides, both Rusty and Ricky have already beaten him to it.”

“Dear, honestly, this is your father we’re talking about here. Nothing is going to prevent him from giving Andy what may be his last chance to use the Honorable Judge O’Dwyer voice.”

Sharon snorted as she tried to hold back a laugh and gained a raised eyebrow from Andy. The conversation continued on while Sharon filled her mother in on how they had spent their day with Nicole and the kids and the two signed off with the promise to catch up again in a few days while Andy navigated the car into the parking garage.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Friday, November 24, 2017 01:30 AM PST

Central to any available unit in the vicinity of Hollywood Hills - have a report of a fire off of Mulholland Drive - possibly a vehicle fire - unknown if it’s related to a vehicle accident - Fire Department has been notified as well.

6A422 to Central - We’re in the area and en route.

DeVoe looked at his partner as he placed the car mic back on the dash. “Sounds like someone had a more exciting evening than we did.”

Smith expertly steered the car along the curving roadway, keeping an eye out for any sign of flames off on his side or in the distance ahead. “Egh, they didn’t keep me from having to sit down with my in-laws earlier so apparently it wasn’t good enough. Might have even been what pushed him to the bonfire. The in-laws will do it to you every time, kid.”

DeVoe just shook his head as he spotted a mild orange glow in the distance.

Central this is 6A422 - have eyes on a fire off West Blantyre Drive - looks to be the eight to nine thousand block - appears to be a single vehicle run off the road - busted through the guardrail - unknown entrapment - might need to get a 2D in the area with spotlights - We’ll be Code 6 attempting to obtain further.

10-4

Smith pulled the car up to the busted guardrail and left the spot light and blue lights going while he hopped out of the car and carefully made his way down the embankment. “DeVoe! Grab the extinguisher! The truck and ambo should be here soon though.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

05:00 AM EST

He rolled his eyes as Sarah called him ‘Marcus’ yet again. He wasn’t sure what was more annoying, the woman in general or the fact that she kept saying that name over and over again. He was tired of being Marcus, bored with it really. Bored with being Marcus, Trevor, Nathan, Jesse or any of the list of name he had used since he stopped being Phillip Stroh.

His hand moved from her collarbone and rested against the curve of her throat. His thumb rested against her jugular notch as she smiled down at him and ran up the line of her throat. He closed his eyes as he remembered the feeling, remembered the sensation of squeezing the chain to the point where the struggle subsided and the body went slack. He relished the feeling as he’d squeezed the life out of Anna, Becky, Mary and Karen and several others.

The feeling… the rush… hadn’t been the same when he was making their deaths look like accidents. He missed it. He stared into Sarah’s hooded eyes for a moment longer before deciding that he’d definitely restrained himself for too long.

Their positions were easily flipped. Sarah laughing lightly before her eyes widened in surprise as the hand against her throat squeezed. The angle perfect for the amount of pressure he wanted to slowly apply. Not wanting to startle her too much. The experience was always more enjoyable when you could take your time and fully enjoy it. His body set a rhythm and the moment at which Sarah took her last breath was truly glorious for him.

He stood up and dressed before making his way through the apartment. He was no amateur at removing every trace of his existence from a scene, but he was determined that by the time the NYPD had any clue that a crime had even taken place he would be well out of the city, if not the state. This part of the job was about the only part that he missed about having a local partner. It was so much easier to handle when you could just leave everything pointing to a fall guy.

He ran a bath, the water so hot it practically scalded his hand as he tested it, and carefully submerged Sarah’s body into it. It might not completely throw off the medical examiner, but it would definitely make their job a little harder. With all of that completed he used the sleeve of his jacket to close her apartment door.

It was time to amp up the game on the Raydor spawn anyway. Then he could finally return to the sunshine state and bring this match to checkmate.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

Friday, November 24, 2017 02:30 AM PST

Smith and DeVoe leaned against their car as the LAFD did their job getting the fire to go out. It had been burning fast and furious by the time they’d been able to get anywhere near the car. The small fire extinguisher that was standard in most LAPD patrol cars had barely been enough to touch it. They’d done what they could until the Fire Department arrived, and attempted to search the surrounding hillside for the driver of the vehicle. The make and model had been called into Central, but until the FD could bring them the VIN, there wasn’t much else that could be done. The tag was gone, the driver’s side door open and the passenger was a bit on the extra crispy side.

Once they were able to get in the car, neither officer needed to be a genius to know that, at the very least, this was going to be a case of vehicular homicide. From the smell emanating from the car, they would both guess that it was a simple holiday intoxication gone bad. Even some sober drivers had issues with the curves along Hollywood Hills. Add alcohol to the mix, and from the smell, copious amounts of it at that, and you were flirting with danger. The dogs would be arriving shortly -- if experience was any indication -- Smith had told DeVoe that they tended to arrive about the same time that Morales or Kendell did.

“You guys taking point on this?”

Smith pushed off the car with a shrug as the FD guy approached him. “Until the big-wigs choose otherwise.”

“Well, not sure how much help this will be to you. In my experience, cars that get this much damage are usually stolen. But it should give you a starting point.” The guy handed Smith a small piece of metal with soot all over it.

“Thanks, Gillespie!” Smith flipped the piece of metal in his hand and rubbed it off on his pants, before handing it over to DeVoe. “Call that in to Central and we can go wake someone up and ruin their post-Thanksgiving tryptophan-induced coma.”

DeVoe opened the car door and went about calling it in, getting the information and writing it all down in his notepad before he stood up and waved to Smith. “Sir, I think it’s time to call in the big-wigs.”

Smith looked at his partner’s face and groaned. “Shit. Who does the car belong to?”

“Jackson Raydor.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

03:30 AM PST

The shrill of Sharon’s ringtone jolted Andy awake and he fumbled for his glasses while he felt her move in the bed beside him.

“Raydor.”

Andy blinked a few times and tried to clear his head, assuming he would be getting a call from one of the guys shortly if Sharon was getting woken up at… he squinted at the clock on the nightstand… nearly three thirty in the morning.

“Yes.”

“Thank you, Sergeant. No, no, that’s quite alright. Please keep me posted.”

She hung up the phone and her entire body flopped back onto the bed as she let out a deep sigh. Andy eyed his own cell for a moment before he rolled over and stared at her for a moment. “I’m going to assume that wasn’t a roll out or I would have received a call as well, or is Provenza not bothering to call me anymore since we’re kind of a packaged deal?”

Sharon sighed deeply, her hand resting over her eyes for a moment before running down the rest of her face. “No, it wasn’t a roll out. Though it may turn into one… for Robbery/Homicide.”

Andy just continued to stare, knowing that she would fill him in without further prompting.

“That was a Sergeant from Hollywood Division. They’re working a wreck off of Mulholland Drive.” Sharon pushed herself up so that she was sitting with her back leaning against the headboard. “The car that crashed came back registered to Jack.”

Andy took a moment to let the statement sink in before he too, moved to sit so that his back was leaning against the headboard. “How bad was it?”

Sharon sighed again. “The car was in flames when they got to it. Driver had taken off. But there was a passenger in the car who wasn’t so lucky.”

This time it was Andy’s turn to sigh, but before he could say anything Sharon pushed herself out of bed. She spoke as she headed toward the bathroom and the closet. He’d seen her do this before, she was talking, but not really expecting a response. She was talking to give herself purpose in the moment so that she could calm herself until she had something more substantial to occupy her mind. “I have to throw on some clothes. They need me to meet Morales or Kendall and see if I can ID the body as Jack’s or not. That might at least give them some idea of who they’re looking for.”

The door closed behind her and Andy could hear her moving around in the bathroom. He slipped from the bed and walked to the closet himself, grabbing a pair of jeans and a shirt. Before Sharon exited the bathroom he grabbed his cellphone and shot a quick text to Provenza. Several minutes later, Sharon quietly backed out of the bathroom and carefully closed the door. When she turned she looked around the room as she finally noticed him seated on the edge of the bed, car keys in hand.

“Ready?”

She blinked a few times, her head shaking slightly. “Andy….”

He stood and walked over to her, his palms resting against her elbows as she crossed her arms in front of her. “Packaged deal, remember?”

Her eyes welled up with unshed tears and she bit her lower lip between her teeth. “You don’t have to….”

Andy pulled her into a tight hug, his hand resting on the back of her neck, thumb sweeping across her nape into her upturned hair. “You’ve shouldered enough on your own - especially when it comes to Jack. Let me be there for you.”

He felt her nod against his chest and heard her slight sniffle as he pulled back slightly. Brushing a loose lock off of her cheek, Andy tilted her face so he could look her in the eye. “Let’s go and get the day started. We’ll get this handled, grab some breakfast, and go from there.”
~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

Friday, November 24, 2017 04:30 AM PST

For Sharon everything passed by in a haze. One moment she had been content and asleep in her bed, the next she was tearing up for a man she hadn’t truly loved in years. Now, she was sitting in her car with her fiance, the true love of her life, driving her to the morgue to determine whether or not the first man she had ‘walked down the aisle’ with was dead, or possibly a murderer.

She jumped slightly in the seat when Andy’s hand clasped her by the elbow. “Sharon, we’re here. I know you don’t want to go in there. Can’t we just release Jack’s dental records or something?”

Sharon hummed and shook her head. “As much as I wish we could, and it might come to that, if I can identify or rule out the body as Jack’s it will save us a lot of time.”

Andy nodded once before getting out of the car and moving to her side to open her door. When they’d first started going out -- even if just as friends -- the concept had seemed so chauvinistic and dated that she couldn’t imagine feeling comfortable with it. Today, it was the very notion that Andy would walk around the car to open her door and give her those few extra seconds to calm herself and let the mask of professionalism that usually accompanied any trip she made to the morgue to fall into place, that helped her to gather the strength she needed to move. Jack may be her past, but they had been connected for almost all of their adult lives, and despite the fact that she had moved well beyond her life with him, they shared two children that would forever bind them together in some way or other. Regardless of her current feelings for the man, this was not going to be an easy trip and it was one that she needed every ounce of strength that Andy was willing to give her.

Stealing one last breath, she slowly exhaled as Andy opened her door and offered her his hand. Sharon smiled solemnly and accepted it, though she would rarely admit it to him, he was right more often than he thought, and this was definitely one of those times. In just over a month they would be married, but it really didn’t matter when the vows were spoken and witnessed by their friends, family, colleagues and God -- they were already a packaged deal. And together they could get through just about anything.

Despite putting herself into ‘Commander mode’ on the way in, she never let herself lose contact with Andy’s hand. She gripped it tighter and gave his fingers a squeeze as they entered the corridor just outside of the morgue. Morales knew they were coming, of course, and was waiting for them.

He inhaled briefly before looking down at the floor and speaking. “This isn’t going to be pretty, and it definitely won’t be easy for you to tell either way. Are you sure you want to put yourself through this?”

Sharon sighed as Andy just rubbed his thumb along the back of her hand, silently letting her know that he was there. “Trust me, it wouldn’t be my first choice, Doctor, but considering the circumstances it’s the best option we have for a quick determination of whether the body you have in there is Jackson or not. If it is… the question becomes who was driving? If it’s not… then we have to figure out what happened and just where the hell he is?”

Morales nodded and turned toward the door. “I’ll be inside, just come in whenever you’re ready.”

After the door had closed behind him, Sharon turned to Andy and toyed with a button on his shirt. Normally, had they been dressed for work and not more casual clothing, she would have fiddled with his tie, in the absence of one she went for the next best thing. “Thank you for coming with me….” She paused to take another steadying breath before continuing. “But I need you to stay here and wait for me, okay?”

Andy clasped both of her hands in his and brought one to his lips so he could press a tender kiss to her fingers. “I’m right here if you need me.”

She swallowed past the lump in her throat and nodded before turning and moving through the doors.

The first thing that hit her was the smell. No matter how many autopsies you witnessed there was something about the smell of charred flesh and tissue that you could never forget and never again wanted to experience. She gasped slightly and Morales handed her the menthol tub he had nearby.

“We’ll do this as quickly as we can. Body appears to be that of a white male between the ages of forty and sixty-five. Approximately six feet tall, though with the damage done to the body we could give or take two inches in either direction. Weight could be a little harder to narrow down as we really have to examine the adipose a good bit and see how much seemed to be in the car. Nothing remarkable with facial features or teeth that might help us to narrow anything down off the bat and no surgical implantations that I could ascertain.”

Sharon’s head cocked slightly to the side as Morales spoke. “You said no surgical implantations of any kind? If he’d had a wire implanted to heal a broken thumb and it was later removed, there should be some evidence of it left behind, correct?”

Morales thought for a moment before picking up a tool from the tray to his left. “Right or left thumb?”

Sharon thought for a minute. “It was his left. He broke it during a football game when he was in college. He was still in the cast and playing bird with a broken wing when I met him. We’d been married for several years before they finally decided to remove the wire.”

Moving over to the body and examining the tissue before peeling a segment away from the bone and lowering a magnifier for a better view, Morales stayed silent for several minutes before he looked up. “We’ll have to run DNA and dental records to be absolutely certain, but I think it’s fair to say that this body does not belong to that of your ex husband.”

Sharon let out a sigh that she hadn’t realized she’d been holding in. “Thank you, doctor. If you’ll excuse…” She waved her hand in the general direction of the door as she turned.

“Of course, Commander.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Provenza answered the call on the first ring. “What do you have?”

Andy sighed and leaned against the sparse concrete wall of the morgue. “Not much at this point. Sharon’s in with Morales right now. Apparently Jack’s car went off an embankment on Mulholland tonight. No driver has been located. Sharon is trying to ID or rule out the body as Jack’s.” He rubbed a hand over his face and took another deep breath. “Is it just me or does this all seem off to anyone else? Claire, the boys, now Jack? Am I paranoid? Please, tell me I’m paranoid.”

“You’re not paranoid. In fact, I read Mike and Julio in on this right after you texted me about the boys. I don’t know if this is all connected to Stroh or not, but I don’t like it. Someone is definitely trying to turn up the heat.”

Andy groaned. “I really wanted you to tell me I was paranoid.” He paced a few feet and turned back toward the door to the morgue. “Sharon’s still in there. After this I want her to eat, the last thing we need is her getting run down. Think we can meet up at your place later? I’ll make sure we have the files that Chief Howard gave her. Maybe we can unofficially start a little investigation of our own.”

He could hear Provenza moving around the room. “Patrice and her sister will be out of our hair all day. There’s several fantastic deals that they just can’t wait to get to the store for. I’ll keep the coffee on and make sure Julio has someone who can stay with Mark.”

Andy knew that the identification process wouldn’t take too long, no matter which way it turned out, glancing back toward the door he moved over to a spot closer again. “Alright, we’ll be there about ten or so?”

“I’ll get the gang assembled.”

Andy hung up the phone and slipped it into his pocket, stepping away from the wall to get closer to the door just before it opened. He took one look at Sharon and wrapped his arms around her. He had no idea if that was Jack in there on the table or not, but he knew that she needed him there for her in that moment and that was all that mattered to him.

She accepted his embrace and sighed deeply into his chest. “We’re pretty sure it’s not him.”

Andy listened and nodded, not voicing a reply. They both knew the implications of that statement. If Jack wasn’t the body in the passenger seat it would be logical to infer that he was the missing driver -- and therefore the one responsible for the accident.

Sharon sniffled lightly and brushed some hair off of her face. “I need to make a call to Smith, give him the last address that I knew for Jack. I’d rather not involve either of the kids until I know more.”

Andy just nodded. He knew she was trying to get her thoughts in order, vocalizing her actions before she did them. “You can make the call in the car. We’ll grab some food and coffee, bring breakfast in for the kids.” He paused to move a lock of hair behind her ear. “Later, we have an appointment with some friends.”

She glanced at him, and he knew that she wanted to ask further but didn’t have the energy for it at the moment. Instead, she nodded, shook her head slightly and took his hand as they made their way out of the morgue.

~*~*~*~*~*~

06:30 AM PST

The pounding in his head would not quit. Slowly he rolled over and inhaled the musty linens of a cheap motel. He’d spent enough time in his share of them to recognize the bland scent of generic detergent. As Jack sat up he tried to figure out two things -- where he was and how the hell he got here? The throbbing increased as he sat up and it was only a few moments before the familiar churning of his stomach followed suit.

There was no way that he would be able to make it to the bathroom or even find a trash can in time. So he did the next best thing that he could think of. As the contents -- whatever they may be -- of his stomach decided to make a repeat appearance, he opened up the nightstand drawer and deposited the contents of his stomach inside. Should anyone decide to go looking for the absent Bible they would be sorely surprised.

By the time his system had resorted to dry heaving in an attempt to quell his stomach of its previous contents, Jack was on his knees next to the hotel bed. The ache in his head was worse and his entire body felt like he’d been hit by a truck, backed over and then run through a second time just for good measure. Every muscle in his body shook as he slowly made his way into the bathroom.

If he had any doubt earlier, the condition of the floor and the bathroom made it clear just what kind of dive he was in. Jack groaned as he crawled up the wall and flicked on the light switch. The flickering and humming of the incandescent bulb made his head pound even more forcefully and he felt that if it continued on its current beat his brain would surely start to puddle out of his ears. He wished he could remember what he drank, because it had been forever since he’d been this hungover.

He ran the water, which sputtered a few times before finally settling on a steady flow, cupped his hands a rinsed his face before he hazarded a look in the mirror. The face that looked back at him was almost unrecognizable.

There was a cut a good inch or two in length above his right eyebrow, his face looked like he’d gone half a round with a heavyweight champion, and the rest of his body was just faring much the same. His left shoulder was killing him to the point where he almost dropped to his knees just from raising the arm to test the area around the gash on his forehead. Jack groaned and let his head fall into his hands as he reflected back on his appearance. He hadn’t exactly been on the wagon in a while, but he’d had it under control -- to the extent that an alcoholic could drink and be under control, which basically meant that he thought he was hiding it well.

A good hot shower was what he needed. It would at least be a good start. Then he would need to figure out where he was and what he’d managed to do with his car.

~*~*~*~*~*~