The sound of prison shoes, shuffling on a cement floor, were hard to mistake.
She hadn't seen Steve in months. She hadn't wanted to. They'd been close friends until he'd betrayed her and everyone else. Frankie thought he'd trusted her. But when the time came, when he confessed to everything, he explained how he'd used her desperate longing for a connection with people, the need to find what her family hadn't given her, and he'd made sure she unwittingly did what he needed.
When Frankie had snapped at Gail the first time, throwing her knowledge of her brother in the blonde's face, she hadn't expected Gail to understand why. And yet... Gail did. She knew the feeling, she knew the gaping maw of agony. The beaten child and the pale fail.
"Anderson. Epstein." Steve was surprised.
"Hello, Steve." She pushed over a small box. A Boston Creme doughnut.
On the drive over, Dov told Frankie how Steve had been enlisted to keep Traci out of the way when they went over the Perik case. If she'd needed another nail in the coffin about it, about the involvement of the corruption in this case, she had it. The only call Frankie made was to Sgt. Williams, Fifteen's own friend in IA, to explain what she was doing and why.
Wheels were greased, and Steve was made available by the hour.
"I gotta say, did not expect to see you again, Franks."
"Oh, don't get excited. I don't give two shits about you."
Steve shrugged and looked at Dov, arching his eyebrows. "This is my replacement?"
"No. Your ex is your replacement. This is hers. I'm Callaghan's." The grouchy Luke Callaghan had been transferred to her old stomping grounds. An even swap. Of course, Callaghan's involvement in the case meant Noelle was going over his life carefully. Frankie doubted he was guilty at all. Luke wore the face of someone who'd seen abuse first hand, same as she did.
"Frankie at Fifteen. I always thought you'd have been there from the start."
She shook her head. "That honor went to ... What was his name? Bobby?"
"Bibby," said Steve softly. Bibby had lasted three days behind bars before a con shanked him in the laundry. He bled out before anyone could save him. Steve had been luckier and only got cut on the arm. "You here to talk about old times? Teach the rookie how you handle crooked cops?"
Again, she shook her head. "I want to talk about evidence."
Steve tilted his head. "The evidence I blew up?"
"No. Evidence you never touched." She took out a price of paper and pushed it over.
"A taxi?" He stared at her, his pale face actually whitening even more. "Jesus, Franks. We were undercover."
That was what she'd always loved about him. Steve was a smart cookie. A great brain. A sneaky as fuck bastard. "They shoulda pulled you." They'd been undercover together. She knew.
He shoved the paper away, wincing. "Yeah well they didn't. You know that." He was bitter. Angry.
The day they'd been brought in from the cold was weeks after the kidnapping. Gail was back at work already. And she saw the anguish on Steve's face, learning his baby sister could have died. The agony mirrored the look her mother gave her once. Just the once. The one time her father beat her so hard, she thought she'd die. Eight, maybe ten cracks of his wide belt on her back. Frankie couldn't remember the number.
She shoved the memory aside. "I know. And I know Santana authorized the taxi go up for auction in under a year."
Steve's eyes widened. Any affectation he had washed away. His lies were gone. "I will tell you everything I know." No hesitation. No guile in those gentle, simple, blue eyes.
And he sang like a canary. He told them what he knew that would help. Steve had not been involved in that cover up. But Perik had been working with the knowledge of the police for years. Only after he was caught, only after his copy cat was brought to heel by his sister, had Steve been told the truth.
Which meant the reason Perik walked free today was because he had dirt on some of the cops who were still out there.
Frankie swallowed her fear and pride. There was only one person, maybe two people, who could had done this. And one person who would be totally, irrevocably vile if she had a damn thing to do with it. This time Frankie went alone. She didn't tell Noelle or Dov. She didn't make an appointment. She went into the big building and up to the top floor.
"Do you have an appointment?"
"No. But I need to speak to Superintendent Peck."
And she waited. She waited through her shift and into the next. She waited until the secretary left. She texted Chloe, canceling a date, and waited. The sun set.
Finally the door opened.
"Superintendent Peck." Frankie got to her feet stiffly.
"Come in." Elaine Peck held the door open and, once Frankie was in, closed and locked it behind her. "I apologize for the wait. My secretary is suspicious."
Frankie blinked. "And this won't look weird how?"
"I altered the logs. You left without seeing me and I've put a complaint on your file about behavior."
"Oh don't panic. It'll be removed as a misunderstanding." Elaine opened her cupboard and pulled out glasses. "Coffee or something stronger? Well. I supposed that would matter if you're here about my son or my daughter?"
Sometimes these things went ways one could never expect. "Both."
"Coffee then. You take it strong and black. Is espresso alright?"
"Yes.. Yes ma'am." She sat down. "I'm sorry... I'm not sure what's going on."
"To be honest, dear, neither am I." Elaine put a cup down and sat beside Frankie. "What did you find?"
She stared at the matron of the Pecks she knew. "I need to know... I need to know the truth." Elaine tilted her head. "Did you know Steve and Santana and the others were dirty?"
"Yes." Elaine leaned back. "I've known for years. I knew when they flipped Steven. The best I could do was keep Gail away from it." When Frankie stared at her, Elaine sipped her coffee and sighed. "Noelle doesn't know you're here?"
"No." Frankie eyed the coffee and sipped it. That seemed to be what she was supposed to do.
Elaine nodded. "You know that Noelle was point on that?" When Frankie nodded, Elaine went on. "Good. And you're wondering why I'm still here? Am I guilty and hiding?"
Frankie turned the cup in her hand. "Are you? Are you a ... a dirty cop?"
"No." The answer was so simple and direct, the honesty washed over them both. Elaine claimed she was not. "I was the inside man, as it were. I've been working against the Pecks for years."
Frankie felt suddenly sick. "But..."
"But I married a Peck? But I have two children who are Pecks? But my husband tried to get one of them to lie on the stand about the other?" She shook her head. "Let me help you feel a little more comfortable here." Elaine stood up and picked a burner cellphone off her desk. "Poor Gail was forever wondering why I always lost my phones, why I was such a technophobic scattered brain. They were always bugging me. Still do. I have to check every day." She tapped the phone. "Hello, dear. Would you mind coming upstairs?"
The phone was then taken apart carefully, skillfully, and deposited in a paper bag, shoved into her purse.
Frankie knew enough to stay silent. She waited, finishing the coffee and turning off her cellphone. The move made Elaine smile. When the door knocked, Elaine opened it and let Noelle in, who greeted Frankie with a curse. "Damn it, Anderson."
"Now now, she's working the taxi angle, you said. She waited here for five hours."
"So you're just going to tell her everything? Why not bring in Gail?"
Elaine made another cup of coffee, calm as anything. "Because the case concerns Ross Perik, and I'm not subjecting my daughter to that until I have to, Noelle."
Frankie looked between them. "S'cuse me... Are you telling me the Super's been in IA all this time?"
"Yes," said Elaine with a smile. A sad smile. A smile of resignation.
"Okay." Frankie ran her hands through her hair. "Say I believe it. Say I buy that you were working against the Pecks for, what, thirty-two years?"
"Thirty five. They drafted me in the Academy."
"Right. So let's say I believe that over half your life, you've lived a lie. A double life. And you went so far as ... You have children with someone who's ... " Frankie stopped. She didn't know what Bill was.
"Evil," said Elaine. "My husband does rather look that way, doesn't he? I was less than amused at his little test."
Frankie stared at Noelle. "Test."
"Test," said Noelle, nodding. "Disgusting and horrific and we didn't have another way to be absolutely sure Gail was clean."
Frankie looked between the two older officers. "Because Steve... Because Steve was corrupted so you had to dangle the carrot for Gail? Are you people actually insane?"
Now Elaine looked really sad. "I'm afraid, by many definitions and interpretations, yes."
Frankie swore and stood up, pacing the room. "Okay. So ... Why not tell her now?" She came to an abrupt stop. "You're trying to weed out whoever it is that was paying off Perik? Why the hell not just let him tell everyone!?"
"He would stay out of jail if that were the case, Francine-"
"Don't." She held up a warning finger at Elaine.
"Frankie. My apologies. He would stay out of jail and that would be no good for anyone." Elaine sat on her desk.
It made her head hurt. "Well. Santana had the taxi sold at auction. So whatever trace evidence was in there is what'd tie the cases he got off scot free on."
Noelle sighed. "So you came to see if Elaine was dirty and if not...?"
"If not ask her to help me. For Gail. Because there's gotta be more samples."
The woman in the white shirt sighed. "There is. But I am currently lacking a forensics expert I trust. We had one, but we had to get her out of town before all this went down."
Frankie stared. Could they mean? Could they actually not know? She asked the obvious question. "Didn't help that she was in love with Gail, did it?"
Elaine's gaze sharpened. "It posed a small problem. She's here?"
"Week ago. She's ... You tell her, you're gonna have to tell Gail."
Elaine and Noelle exchanged a look. "Can you arrange that?"
"Take a day or two," said Noelle. "But yeah, I can. What about Price?"
Before Frankie could say that she was perfectly capable of keeping this secret from her girlfriend, Elaine shook her head. "Price and Epstein. We may as well keep this in house at Fifteen. Jarvis cleaned it nicely for us. But Gail first. Then the others."
"Then it better be tomorrow. Come on, Anderson. You and I have a long night ahead of us."
She would have fallen to the floor when Chloe tackled her, if she hadn't hit the wall instead.
"Ow! Jesus Christ, Muppet."
But Chloe was squeezing her close and then slapping her shoulders. "Where the hell have you been?! You didn't answer your phone, which is off! I had to ask Dov to track it and he said the GPS was turned off because the phone was off. And you weren't home and you didn't show up at the hotel, and Gail was gone and Dov said you had a case he couldn't tell me and I thought -"
Frankie finally caught her hands. "Hey! Hey, calm down." She held Chloe's hands firmly for a second and then tugged her close. "I'm fine. I'm gonna explain. I promise. Just calm down a minute."
Chloe pressed her face into Frankie's shoulder and sniffled. "I thought you were dead or worse. Maybe you went undercover with Gail and couldn't tell me."
"How is undercover worse?" Frankie almost laughed.
"Because... Shut up. It just is right now. Okay?"
"Okay." She sighed. "Can I please have coffee, though? And then we're all meeting in there to talk about all of this."
"Yeah, Gail too."
Chloe nodded. "You wore that yesterday."
"Yeah, I did. I also haven't slept, Chloe."
Her girlfriend frowned. "Go sit. I'll bring you coffee."
Frankie couldn't help but smile. The morning was going better than last night. After collecting Gail, she'd pulled up to the Peck house and let them drop a bomb. Gail did not take it well at all. There had been raging and screaming and name calling. And then. Then finally Gail calmed down enough to listen to her parents explain that they'd been the spies.
That lead to more cursing and swearing (which according to Elaine was different) and a punch was swung at Bill. No one stopped it. With an eye pack on his eye and on her hand, Gail and her father sat together and talked, seriously, about what had happened and why and how and what was next. How were they going to change its the better?
Which brought them here.
Gail kicked Frankie's chair. "Hey asshole."
"Hey bitch." Frankie looked up. "How's the hand?"
"Didn't break anything." Gail sat down and put a pink box in front of herself. Her knuckles were black and blue, not that it took much to color her. "Doughnut?"
"God yes." They were both chowing on the donuts when Chloe and Holly walked in with coffee. Good coffee. "You're the best, Chloe."
Her girlfriend looked creeped out. "Not me."
Gail arched her eyebrows. "Ah." She pulled a chair out for Holly, taking her hand. "All set?"
"A little nervous. Never done this before."
Smiling softly, Gail leaned in. "You'll be fine." Their conversation became much quieter.
Chloe sat next to Frankie and took a doughnut. "Gail's mom is creepy," she said in a whisper.
"A bit. Yeah. Terrifying, right?" Frankie downed half of her coffee. "God. After this, I want to sleep for a week."
Elaine Peck breezed in, Jarvis and Oliver in her wake. "Everyone accounted for?"
Oliver checked. "Yep. Yep. Me, Jarvis. Nash, McNally, Diaz, Peck, Epstein. Anderson, Price, and hello again, Dr. Stewart."
"Hi, Oliver," said Holly, smiling.
Gail frowned. "Aren't we missing-"
The door opened and in walked Swarek and Noelle. "Sorry, we were getting things covered. We're good to go, Super," said Swarek with his usual drawl. "Marlo's with Inspector Peck. They got our backs."
"Well then." Gail looked around at the assembled. "Let's take down an empire, lock a serial killer away for good, and throw some more cops in jail."
For a plan thrown together in a night, it went pretty well. Oh everyone lost their minds when the reveal of how they hadn't fixed everything. Finding out that the Pecks were not all evil didn't help at all. Especially not when Elaine told them all that yes, she'd known Steve was corrupt.
The thing was... Once they knew, once they had proof, it all came together like dominoes. Or fell together. Something. She was tired. Too tired to give a shit. That was what happened after she stayed up a day to hunt down things on her own, tackled the Superintendent of Police, accidentally tumbled into a massive hidden agenda of the whole damn police force, and got to watch Gail cuff Ross Perik.
That was the best part. They just walked in and Gail slapped the cuffs on him, reading off the counts of murder, assault, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and it just went on and on. Perik took that less well than Fifteen had taken things the day before. Marching him through Fifteen had been the cause for applause and cheers. That was something Gail didn't generally see, and Frankie knew it.
All told, though, Frankie didn't see her own bed for four days. Every day Chloe, who was able to go home, would bring her clothes and coffee and ask if she couldn't get home and sleep. She couldn't. Even after day four, even after the arrests and the cheers, it took them another day to wrap things up.
Then, finally, by early evening on the fifth day, a Sunday, she was done.
Gail and Holly had gone to the Peck house, for a real talk of the family business and a job offer for Holly, though Frankie wasn't really supposed to know that. She'd gotten it from Noelle, who admitted there were very few clean scientists in forensics. The medical examiner and the top tier were alright, but the head of forensics was dirty as the day was long. Holly's transfer had been to get her out before things went down. Not that Holly had known. Gail had not been at all happy to hear it either. That had been when she punched her father.
But she was done, finally. She had a good-job from Jarvis and Oliver and the Superintendent. Frankie chugged a last coffee, enough to get her home, but her feet and her car seemed to steer themselves to another address. It wasn't late. Not really late, at least. The lights were still on. And she had a key.
Opening the door to Chloe's apartment, she found her girlfriend humming and cleaning the kitchen. "What is it about kitchens," asked Frankie, closing and locking the door.
"Frankie!" Chloe looked relieved and worried.
"Hey." She smiled and walked over. Frankie was bone tired. It had been years since she'd worked that many hours, worked that hard for that long. She was exhausted. She was beyond exhaustion. All she wanted, all she needed was to sleep for a couple days.
But she looked at Chloe and the tired fell away. The need was different. Frankie took Chloe's face in her hands and kissed her. "Hey, hey." Chloe pulled back. "You've got to be beat."
"I am. I am, Chloe." Frankie kissed her again, eager and hungry.
"You need to sleep." But Chloe was pressing up against her.
"I do," she said quietly, between kisses. "But please. Just ... Just this. I need this. I need this right now."
Chloe looked at her seriously. She studied Frankie's face carefully. Then she nodded. It was, perhaps, her least romantic moment. Frankie had wined and dined women. She'd gotten drunk and messy with them. She'd used and been used by the moment and the passion and the feelings and the need to escape, just for a little while, the reality.
This was none of that.
This was remembering she was alive. This was feeling Chloe was alive. This was feeling success and fear and hope and a chance... This was more than all of those and none of them. It was a craving that crawled under her skin and demanded she touch Chloe. Take Chloe. Which is what it was. It was inelegant. Raw.
It was Chloe's fingers digging into her back, burying her face in the crook of Chloe's neck, breathing the scent of Chloe in. Memorizing that smell and feeling her body shudder around Frankie. Hearing her own name.
Hearing her own name.
"Baby." Chloe's breath was shaky and light. "Baby. Let me..."
But Frankie was barely awake. "Later." She closed her eyes and whispered. "Later. I needed that." She was asleep in moments.
It was over 24 hours before she really woke up. Curled up in Chloe's soft bed, she stirred a few times and went to the bathroom. The second time she found a note from Chloe, saying she'd gone to shift. Frankie raided the fridge, showered, and went back to sleep without thinking much. She woke up again well into the night, Chloe snuggled up into her arms, warm and soft.
As she drifted back to sleep, breathing in the smell of Chloe's shampoo, her soap and her sheets, Frankie finally pegged the feeling that had been nagging at her for months on end. Finally she felt the way her mother always said she would. Finally she felt the way everyone claimed to want.
The dance floor was crowded as everyone joined Jarvis and his new wife for their first dance at their wedding.
Chloe cheered, hanging on Frankie's arm. "Come on, lover, let's dance."
Smiling, Frankie let herself be dragged out onto the floor. "Alright." She spun Chloe around, getting a good hold on her waist to bring her close. "So you like weddings?"
"I like dancing. I like happy people. I like you." Chloe looped her arms around Frankie's neck.
That was alright. Frankie danced with her girlfriend, on a dance floor with dozens of people they both knew. Everyone knew they were a couple. And everyone was just okay with it. "I like you too," she told Chloe.
"What're you thinking?"
Frankie hesitated. "If I tell you I was wrong about your friends, are you going to give me shit?"
Pursing her lips, Chloe shook her head. "No. Maybe Gail, but not you." She kissed Frankie's lips lightly. "What were you wrong about?"
"I thought they were ... stupid straight people."
Chloe blinked and screwed her face up into a near laugh. "They are, silly. But they're good friends." Shaking her head, Chloe asked, "What made you think that?"
"How they handle Peck. And Nash, after Steve..." Looking over, Nash was dancing with some guy from ETF. And Peck... "I wonder where Peck and Stewart are slipping off to." The duo were holding hands and two bottles of booze.
"Coat closet," said Chloe. "And you have to give everyone a break. That was a very bad time for everyone. Sam was being an idiot about Marlo and Andy, Ollie was suspended... We lost our heart."
The heart of Fifteen being Oliver Shaw... Yes. Frankie could get behind that. "I was wrong. That's all." As they turned around the dance floor, Frankie watched Gail steer Holly into the coat closet. "Okay, how the hell did you know?"
Chloe laughed. "It's a little known secret. You see." She moulded herself against Frankie, turning their dancing into little more than swaying. "Gail hates happy things and weddings."
"Everyone knows that." Frankie scoffed. "She likes the open bar, though."
"Hush." Chloe nipped her ear. "The secret is that Holly also hates weddings and happy people being all fake."
Oh. Alright. That was an interesting secret. "Wouldn't have picked that."
"Yeah. I like the roof. Quiet. Private."
Chloe slowed and looked at Frankie thoughtfully. "The roof?"
"I like the views."
"Ah, explaining the classy apartment."
Frankie smiled. "It's different. It's nothing I grew up with. And yes, I like the view."
As always, even brief mentions of her past made Chloe frown. "Come on." Chloe kissed her and then dragged her off the floor. She scooped up a bottle from a table and they took an elevator up to the roof. The view was nice. "There's your building," said Chloe, bouncing to the edge.
Slowly, Frankie followed. "You are very strange, Chloe. I can't predict you."
The woman turned and smiled at her. "I drove you crazy when we met."
"You did. You're all energy and bounce. You are. But you know that."
"I do. I do." Chloe grinned and leaned on the edge of the building. "You're not actually cranky all the time."
"Oh?" Frankie walked up and leaned along side her girlfriend. "Tell that to everyone else."
Chloe looped an arm through Frankie's and squeezed it. "You get angry and frustrated and you lash out. Just like Gail." Her voice was soft. "And I get why. Even if I don't really get it."
Frankie blinked. "Chloe, you don't-"
"I do, Frankie. Because we've been dating almost eight months, and you still think I'm going to push you away."
Frankie opened her mouth to try and point out the truth. Everyone did, everyone always pushed her away. Even Gail, though that was that, and different and the right choice for both of them. But as she looked into Chloe's warm eyes, she softened. "Okay."
"Do I scare you?"
"No." Frankie shook her head. "Not at all."
"Are you afraid I might hurt you?"
That... She sighed. "Yeah. Yeah I am. I am, because I'm always going that to myself, Chloe..." Frankie looked away, finding the familiar CN tower. "When I was a kid, I wanted to see Toronto. See that, the tower. Never Paris, or Europe. Just that." She pointed over at the tower.
"It was far enough away but still home?"
"It wasn't home. It was far enough away. Home... I hated home. I hated our two bedroom apartment. The boys had one room. Mom and I had the other. She gave them the big one. But all our furniture... Everything we had those first couple years they were hand me downs. Gifts. We'd get up early and look for things people left on the sidewalk. Take 'em. Clean 'em. Make 'em ours. And I hated it, I hated every minute of it because it was my fault."
Chloe leaned close, her warmth pressing into Frankie's arm. "It wasn't your fault."
"I know. But it was."
"Your mother never said that."
"Oh." Frankie laughed darkly. "She did. She did when she was dying." Her girlfriend stiffened. "I mean, shit, I was the only one who sat with her. Every day. I was supposed to be on this deep cover assignment, and I hadda tell Boyd the day of. I had to back out. Because my mom, my mom who's been fighting cancer for years, she's in end stage. And the doctors gave her weeks."
"Frankie, she didn't mean-"
"No, she did. She said, see I remember this one. She said that maybe it would've been different if I hadn't been gay. Maybe, maybe Dad wouldn't've lost his mind."
For a long time, Chloe said nothing. The music below changed from a fun song to a slow one and then another fast song. "Is this when they leave?"
"Usually. Sometimes they kiss me goodnight and then have every excuse to cancel dates after. Karen took a job in Sweden. Linda just stopped talking to me."
Chloe made a thoughtful sound. "If I go to Sweden, I'd want you to come with me." When Frankie laughed a 'what?' she went on. "I'd want you with me when I go anywhere. It's more fun with you."
"I don't know if I'd move to Sweden for you."
"Then I wouldn't go." It was said so matter-of-factly, it shocked Frankie. "What?"
"You're one of a kind."
Chloe smiled at her. "I try. I try." She reached up to turn Frankie's face and kiss her. "It's going to take a long time to convince you I'm not running off."
Frankie sighed. "Probably yeah."
"We can work on that." There was another kiss, this one long and slow. It was the way Chloe had kissed her that first time over the pizza. "Sweden? Seriously someone left you for a job in Sweden?"
She laughed. "It was a good job. But she didn't really ... You know. It was the excuse. I liked her more than she liked me."
That seemed to connect a dot for Chloe. "You're putting yourself out there, looking for love?"
"And getting my heart stomped on." She frowned as she realized she'd never had this conversation with anyone before. Not even Gail who'd figured it out after they'd been sleeping together for a while and called her an idiot. And then Peck ... Peck had said she didn't want to Godzilla over Frankie.
"I won't," said Chloe firmly.
There was something in her tone, in her conviction that made Frankie believe it.
It was probably why, later that night, she found the words she'd never found before. They'd gone back to Frankie's and made love in the soft glow of the city's neon lights. The light shining enough to keep the ghosts at bay, colored in a way small towns never saw. The light that told Frankie she was here and not there.
As she found solace and peace in Chloe's arms again, she sighed. "I think... I think I could love you."
Chloe smiled at her. "I think I could too."
And maybe they would.