Talking with Lynn face to face was harder than he thought it would be but he owed her that. The talk was short and almost clinical and it left Steve feeling even more like shit. In the back of his mind, he knew he should have talked with her sooner, end things earlier before she got too attached but he was so caught up in his own life that he didn’t realize how it may affect someone’s else. Maybe Lynn agreed to be casual but deep down he knew she wanted something more and he wasn’t ready for that.
At least not with her, the traitorous little voice in the back of his head tells him. He still tries to figure that one out.
The drive home is long, longer than it had any right to be, he’s exhausted, talking about emotions never was easy and it always left him shaken off his axis but he will manage.
He slows down and with a start, he notices the Camaro parked by his house. He shakes his head at that, he parks the Silverado and steps out of it. He walks to the door, unhurriedly, listening to the noises Danny makes because he can’t be quiet on the best of days. By the sounds, he deduces that his partner must be in the kitchen and fails to hide his amusement at that. He opens the door and his nose is hit by the most tantalizing smell ever, he stumbles back half a step, closing his eyes for a second and just letting the smell to warm him over. He follows it just as Danny takes the lasagna out of the oven. He has that ridiculous apron with the haughty ‘kiss the cook’ written over his chest, his hair is mused and he hums some song Steve doesn’t recognize.
Steve wouldn’t exactly admit it but he liked looking at Danny moving around and about his kitchen. He wonders when he became such a sap.
He watches as Danny puts the steaming hot bowl of lasagna on the counter and turns to him with a raised brow. It’s been almost a week since Danny’s back and since then he can’t quite take his eyes off of him which warrants fond albeit a little annoyed eye roll on Danny’s part whenever he catches Steve’s looking.
“So…” Danny starts which makes Steve sigh in response and look to the ceiling, noting the web of tiny creaks, maybe it’s not the best tactics but he just doesn’t feel like talking about the whole fiasco that was his meeting with Lynn; one emotional talk was enough. Danny shakes his head, he looks to the lasagna and back to Steve, his stare calculating and arms tightly crossed over his chest, he eventually shakes his head shooting his hands up in desperate exasperation. “Right, of course, you don’t want to talk about it.” He bites his lip and Steve catches himself looking a tad too long.
“What’s the occasion?” Steve asks instead nodding to the dish cooling down on the counter.
Danny hums again before he smiles, his shoulders loosen up a bit and eyes crinkle in the dim light making him look like an overgrown, overexcited puppy, “we could eat ice cream but grandma Williams special lasagna is much better when it comes to boosting morale.”
Steve nods, “if it tastes as good as it smells I’m sold.”
Danny grins at him brilliantly and it’s all it takes for Steve to forget about the dreadful talk he had not so long ago. Maybe it’s a testament to Steve’s weak heart if one relaxed smile from his partner can do this to him. Only it wouldn’t be the first time when Danny’s mood influences his own.
They eat in silence, and the lasagna is so good that he takes a second and then a third while Danny grumbles about his lack of manners whatsoever.
Later they move to the couch and look for some game on the TV and eventually, they set on some basketball game. They’re not even ten minutes in when his phone rings and with a flash of regret to something that would turn out to be a calm and nice evening he answers it.
He listens to the Governor while he observes Danny standing up with a barely audible groan, he turns off the TV as he goes and moves with resignation to the kitchen, Steve watches the easy sway of Danny’s hips until he vanishes from Steve’s sight altogether.
“We’re on our way,” Steve says as he hangs up, he stares at the screen for a second before he looks up at Danny who emerged back, with his gun and a badge. “We’ve got a case.”
Danny rolls his eyes already going for the door, “yeah figured that much. There goes our nice night in and after closing the clusterfuck of a case.” Danny says whirling his hands in the air in indignation, “would it kill the crime world to stop for a second and give us, upstanding citizens a night of calm and uninterrupted rest?”
Steve snorts, giving Danny a look before he opens the door to the Camaro and sitting down.
Danny sighs loudly, “yeah, figured.”
“So what do we got?” Steve asks as soon as they out of the car and Grover greets them.
Lou’s face is pinched in a way that Steve knows something about this case is not going to be easy, he squares his shoulders glancing at Danny who looks back, lips pressed tightly.
Danny clears his throat, “so?”
Lou shakes his head and nods for them to follow him, “better if I show you.”
They walk through the clearing, Danny’s presence as reassuring by his side as ever. He’s not sure what they’re going to see, what’s waiting for them. Looking at Lou’s stiff back, the tension of his moves he’s expecting anything from badly mutilated body to some ritual sacrifice. It’s neither and he has to stop to blink because looking at the victim in a metal box in the ground doesn’t really help him understand why Grover is so shaken for the lack of better word.
They came by much worse over the years so he doesn’t understand what got Lou so tight-lipped at least not until Danny sucks in a breath.
“Oh my God,” Danny exclaims, he moves his curled in a fist hand to his lips, squeezing his eyes shut before he moves his hand to run over his face and through his hair. He shakes minutely and looks to the side before he rests his hands on his hips. Steve stares at him trying to comprehend what got his partner this agitated so he looks at the victim again. Danny makes a helpless move with his hand.
“She was buried alive wasn’t she,” Danny says just as it dawns on Steve.
“Yeah. Lena Richards. Turned forty this year.” Grover pauses and Steve knows he’s not going to like what comes out of his mouth next, “single mother of one.” He says looking at Danny who all but crouches, pinching the bridge of his nose.
Steve crouches down, putting a careful hand over Danny’s shoulder. Danny stills for about a moment before he leans into the touch. “We’ll catch whoever did this.”
Danny nods weakly, eyeing the metal box trap with wide eyes. “You bet your ass we will.” He says. Steve decides to ignore the slight tremor of his partner’s voice when he says it.
“Where’s Tani and Junior?” Steve asks looking around for the rest of the team.
“They went to talk with her neighbors.”
Steve nods, “and her kid?”
“His grandma is with him.”
Danny stands up and Steve follows, still holding Danny’s shoulders. “Right, so what do we know?”
Lou glances down before he looks back at them, turning so he has the victim behind his back. The CSU guys are moving around taking samples and collecting evidence and it’s a second or two before Lou starts talking. “She was reported missing 48 hours ago.”
Steve squints at that, he takes a step back, hands flying, “and no one cared to tell us?”
Grover shrugs, “we’ve got our case, wasn’t much more place for another.” He says and crosses his arms over his chest. There’s something very wrong with his stance and Steve feels dread settling in the pit of his stomach. Lou looks down like he wants to put his thoughts together.
Danny’s the one who asks what’s wrong. “What is it?”
Grover sighs, loud and long, sagging on himself like a big deflated balloon. “HPD thought they got it since the kidnapper apparently called to give them heads up. The bastard was playing with them.”
Steve curses under his breath trying to calm down, but not exactly managing. He chances a glance at the victim, petite blond woman, her fingers bloody from scratching at the lid of the box and wonders what she was thinking in her last moments.
Noelani walks up to them, she doesn’t look better than Lou. She nods at them then she crouches next to the hole in the ground. Danny fidgets next to him.
“How long?” He rasps hoarsely and Steve makes a move to hold his arm but aborts it halfway through.
The question is met with silence, Noelani stares at the victim solemnly before she finally looks up and holds Danny’s gaze. “Looking at the size of the box I would say that the oxygen would last for about four hours but with the struggling, the estimate would be around 2 hours. She most likely lost consciousness after an hour and a half.”
Danny looks to the side, “fuck.” He digs the balls of his hands into his eyes, “fuck.” He swallows thickly before he looks at Steve with wide, wet eyes. The desperation and pure fear knock all air from Steve’s lungs.
Just thinking about being buried alive in a small box must be like the worst nightmare for a person with claustrophobia. This time he strides to Danny and squeezes his bicep in reassurance, looking into his eyes. Danny looks like he’s about to start hyperventilating so he nudges him back to where they left the car, he exchanges a look with Lou. “I want all the data in HQ including the recording of the call.”
Grover nods “got it. Take care of your man.”
Steve would roll his eyes but he has much more important matters at hand. Danny doesn’t tremble anymore instead, the muscles under his palm are stiff in a way that reminds Steve of an animal ready to pounce at its prey.
“We’re going to catch this psychopath,” Danny says through gritted teeth and when he looks at Steve over the hood of the car, Steve’s ready to believe him.
When they walk into the HQ Tani and Junior are already there, it makes him frown and slow down. They’re talking in hushed tones, standing entirely too close to each other. Steve shakes his head fondly despite himself. He looks over the area in hope of spotting Jerry but he's nowhere in sight until Steve remembers that he had something to take care of on the mainland and is due to be back tomorrow. “What did you find out?”
Tani jerks her head and nods wearily in a way of greeting then shrugs, disappointment tugging at her mouth, Junior doesn’t look much better. “Nothing much. No one saw or heard anything suspicious.”
It’s not what he wanted to hear but it’s all they got apparently, maybe the recording from HPD will shed some light on the case.
He feels rather than sees the slight shove on his bicep when Danny strides past him and straight to the screen table, his moves jerky, back in an angry line and neck stiff. Steve wants to reach out and make him relax, take it easy. He knows it would be a wasted effort when Danny’s like this. Maybe after the case.
Danny looks at Tani, it’s like he catalogs every little detail, her stance, expression, a line of her shoulders. Junior fidgets nervously even if he’s not the one under the scrutiny. “But you’ve got something,” Danny says raising a brow at her, she blinks at him a few times.
“Uh yeah, as a matter of fact.” She glances at Steve and back at Danny, question evident in her eyes but Steve just shakes his head. She nods and continues like nothing was amiss. “Apparently it wasn’t the first victim.”
Danny stills, “what do you mean?”
Junior steps closer, with uncertainty, he shoots Steve a look full of concern and it’s nice to know Junior is worried about Danny this much. “There were seven known victims in the span of four years, including the recent one.”
Tani nods at Junior words and pulls the reports from the past crime scenes. “Always a male and a female with a more or less week span between one and the other. One pair a year.”
Danny puts his hands on the tech table and leans heavily on it. The air is full of electricity, a screen full of data and photos blinking up at them, no one moves until Danny looks back, his eyes piercing. “So that means we can anticipate one more victim.”
Something cold settles in Steve’s stomach, he’s not sure what the feeling is but it doesn’t bode well with him. He stares at the photos. They didn’t have a chance to rescue Lena, at least they’ll have one catching whoever did that to her.
The people in the pictures are terrified with clear telltale of suffocation. A terrible death, knowing you’re trapped underground, knowing that every breath so important for survival, for living brings you closer to death. He moves closer, he stops at the foot of the table, Danny’s in his line of sight.
“Every pair looks kind of alike.” Steve notes and Tani rearrange the photos.
“Yeah. Rosa and David.” She pulls the picture of young man and woman. They’re both tall, young and black haired with pale skin. “They’re found in Minneapolis.” She fidgets a bit before she pulls another pair. “A year later we have Ana and Mark. Both redheads of average height in their early thirties. They’re from Oklahoma.” Tani closes her eyes for a second and Junior step closer to her giving her a pat on her shoulder. She smiles at him and Junior’s whole face just lights up. Steve shakes his head, he still smiles a bit at that. Kids. Once this is over he’s going to tease them about the attraction that is so obvious between them that it’s hard to watch these days, and they still have the gall to deny everything. Unbelievable.
Tani swats over the screen and another pair shows up. “Summer and Luke. Mid-thirties found in Los Angeles.”
Well build, brown hair, dark skin. Steve doesn’t like where this is going.
“And finally our last vic. Lena.” It’s hard to look at her, partly because she looks so broken. So small with a wild mop of blond hair and slight tan. For all the intents and purposes it could be Lynn and it only adds to how shitty Steve feels about the situation with his ex. Still, he feels something like a panic claw at his throat when he stares at Lena’s body. He doesn’t let the thought fully form in his head. There was no way the kidnapper would go for it anyway. He needs to focus.
“So basically we have a serial killer on our hands.” He says through gritted teeth.
The door to the HQ open up and Lou walks in, “it seems so.” He doesn’t look at the screen, Steve can’t really blame him. “I have the recording. Apparently, it was a ransom call.”
“Before the ransom, he told HPD that she’s somewhere at Makua Kea'au Forest Reserve.”
Junior rounds the table, he stands before the wall screen, “that’s a lot of ground to cover.”
“Yeah, but what HPD wasn’t counting on was that she was buried alive.” Lou massages his temple. “He called again after four hours and gave them coordinates.” He sighs heavily, “well, listen for yourself.”
He opens the audio file, the voice is digitally modified and it puts Steve’s teeth on edge. Both calls are short, only necessary information. The amount of money for ransom seem odd and he catalogs it for later. Their kidnapper though, he sounds gleeful and it makes him sick to his stomach.
“— Game over.” The voice says after giving out the coordinates.
“This son of a bitch!” Danny growls.
“Well, there’s more,” Lou says as he steps closer to the table, he takes his tablet and goes through something before he taps the screen and pulls out photos of a hotel room to the screen table. “The call was made from there.”
The majority of the pictures show photos glued to the wall with different blond women, There’s 5 of them. Lena’s piercing blue eyes instantly catches their attention. Her face is rounded by a red circle. There are more photos scattered over the commode below. He notes that all of them show all of the five women, including Lena Richards, doing everyday things. Shopping, walking in the park, sunbathing on the beach. That bastard got them under surveillance.
Lou flicks his wrist and another picture comes forward. It shows what Steve thinks is the back of the five photos from the lineup on the wall. On one of the photos is number 158. The next picture that Grover pulls out shows that the number is written on the back of Lena’s photograph.
“What are those numbers?” Tani asks.
Lou shrugs, “they don’t know.”
Steve nods, it’s still unsettling. “But a hotel room?”
“The first call was made from it, yes. HPD went in there immediately but it was already empty. The second call was made from a burner phone.”
Danny hangs his head low between his shoulder before he straightens up. “The footage from the Hotel?”
Grover glances to the side and makes complicated thing with his face, “yeah about that…”
“Lou.” Steve prompts although he has pretty good idea where this is going.
“You won’t believe but the camera doesn’t show anyone going in or out of the room.”
Steve frowns, he looks at the others and back at Lou, “I’m sorry, what?”
“Looks like our kidnapper looped the video feed of the room and surrounding area.”
"Name?" He tries but Grover just pursues his lips in a tight line.
“So we have nothing,” Steve says crossing his arms over his chest.
The silence is the answer enough.
“I’m fine,” Danny says not really looking at Steve as they pull over the parking lot, his eyes locked on the window. Steve notes the stubborn set of his jaw and curses his partner bullheaded attitude. He wants to get a hold of him and shake until Danny will look at him. There are dark circles under his eyes indicating that he most likely didn’t sleep at all and maybe Steve should spend the night at Danny’s house, after all, making sure his partner got at least a bit of sleep.
“I didn’t even say anything, yet.”
Danny shrugs as he gets out of the car, “it’s all in the face.”
Steve takes the keys from the ignition, he frowns and glances at Danny’s back, he closes the door and strides up to him. “You didn’t even look at me.”
Danny looks at him then, a bit of amusement hiding in the corners of his eyes in his otherwise blank face. “I did.”
They go into the building and through the corridor, “no you didn’t.” He’s pretty sure he would notice Danny’s looking at him. He always notices when Danny looks at him these days.
“I did,” Danny says stubbornly and for a second Steve entertains the idea of strangling this insufferable idiot into submission.
“No, you didn’t.”
They walk into the examiner room where Noelani already waits for them. Danny glances at him, “I know how reflection works, so yes I did look at you.” He says pointedly.
“That’s sneaky.” But somehow that little tidbit of information spurs Steve’s imagination. How many times Danny looked at him without really looking at him?
Danny shrugs before the woman in the room turns to them.
“So what you wanted to tell us?”
Noelani sidesteps the exam table and walks to the computer. She pulls out some photos. “Lena Richards was tortured before she was put into that box.”
Danny steps back and Steve puts his hand on the small of his back to keep him in place. They stare at the photos of Lena’s wrists and ribs, bruises and tiny cuts here and there. Steve’s going to catch that bastard and put a bullet in his head.
“There’s also this.” She throws away a material covering the table.
Steve squints at the small piece of paper lying in the middle of examiner table. “Is that a receipt?”
“You would be correct in that assumptions but what’s important are the numbers on the back.” She turns the paper and moves it closer in their direction. “Three hundred ninety-one.”
“Do you know what these numbers mean?” He asks with some hope but he quickly deflates at the sight of her slumped shoulders.
“Unfortunately, I don’t.”
He tries not to sigh but it’s quite hard not to when all they have are dead ends. Danny fidgets, his muscles tensing under his palm and Steve rubs his hand up and down, Danny stills but the tension in his back vanishes.
“We still know where the receipt is from, and what date and time it was taken.”
Steve is already out of the door before she can say anything. “Send us the data.” He throws over his shoulder at the woman who looks less than impressed with his manners. Danny tells him as much.
They’re going to catch this bastard no matter what.