Long time, no see - but I've finally returned! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season. I do apologize for the delay in getting something posted; I'd actually started writing a completely different story - which will come after this one - when I decided something needed to come before that one. So I stopped work on the one I had begun and then brainstormed for this. So far I only have about four chapters written and I'm thinking it won't be too much longer than that.

As far as timeline: Like the others, this takes place after the end of the series, and now after Fear Itself and Eden (though you do not need to read either to read this). Some plot details are taken from those stories, specifically the marriage and their home in Boston, but nothing is absolutely integral. This is set right around Christmas, so late December.

Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters. I also do not claim to have any background or education in medicine, so mistakes you may find in that regard are mine.

Now read and enjoy!


"...The task of rooting out evil in its most devious forms, often just when it is about to go unchecked, is a crucial and solemn undertaking."
- Kazuo Ishiguro
, When We Were Orphans


Balulalow
Chapter 1

Jordan fiddled with the small piece of paper in her hands, her eyes staring sightlessly at the snow tumbling through the darkness outside her office window, piling in the sill. A newly found name and family contact were scribbled on the paper her fingers were starting to crumble and, since Lily had already long left for the day, she would have to make the call herself. After a lingering moment, she sighed and stared down at the information. This was a part of her job she had been doing since the beginning, and one she was good at, but she still hated to be the bearer of news that tore families apart.

Finally, she smoothed the sheet out on her desktop and picked up her phone, finding an outside line and dialing the number. It wasn't so late yet that many people would be in bed, and a woman answered on the third ring.

"Hello?"

Jordan quietly cleared her throat. "I'm trying to reach Joy Waters, please?"

"Yeah, this is she," the woman replied gruffly. "I was just about to eat dinner, so if this is some kind of sales thing, you're wasting your time."

"I'm sorry, Miss Waters, no, I'm not trying to sell anything. My name is Jordan Cavanaugh and I work with the medical examiner's office." A movement in the doorway of her office made her eyes flick up, and she saw Woody standing there awkwardly. He'd heard the last few words she'd said and he quickly closed his mouth before interrupting. The woman on the phone gasped during her pause, and Jordan continued before she could ask any questions she had no answers for. "I am so sorry, but I think we may have your daughter here. We need someone to come help us make sure we have the correct identification."

"I…I, uh…" Her voice faded off, but she came back quickly, words thick with new tears. "My Kendra is dead?"

"We're afraid so, Miss Waters." Jordan stared at that piece of paper again, her heart tight as she ran her finger down the side of it. "Do you need someone to come pick you up? We would be more than willing to send a car for you."

There was a tense silence before she responded in the negative, and Jordan promised to meet her, hold her hand through it all, as soon as she got off the elevator.

"Guess those dinner plans are nixed then, huh?" Woody asked softly as soon as she hung up the phone.

She gave him a wan grin. "Looks that way. Sorry."

"You've already said 'sorry' too much tonight. Don't say it to me, too, when it's not your fault." He came all the way into her office instead of continuing to hover in the doorway, kissing the top of her head before dropping heavily on the sofa and leaning his head back so he could close his eyes. It had been a long day for both of them, and he had been looking forward to some Italian food and dancing that night. "What's going on?"

Jordan shrugged, letting out an exhausted sigh and looking out at the swirling snow again. She could imagine it stacking up on the streets and sidewalks and tops of the lampposts, or on the trees and shrubbery in front of their house. Quite suddenly, she wished desperately she were sitting on the couch in her living room under a blanket watching this snow from the big window there. Maybe wrapped in Woody's arms, maybe starting their first fire in the fireplace. But then she remembered what was currently taking up most of the space in that living room, and she quickly blinked the image away.

"Another drug overdose," she finally answered his question, running a hand down her face and then over her hair to pull the tie out so it could fall down across her shoulders in loose tangles. It had been in the ponytail so long that her scalp began to tingle. "Hers is the fourth OD in less than two weeks," she continued softly. "It's just…off, I guess. I haven't finished the autopsy, though; the body just got here this afternoon, only long enough to get the initial blood work done."

Woody wet his lips, his eyes fixed on her as she used both hands this time to fluff out her hair in an attempt to get the uncomfortable tingling to stop. "Is it weird? That many ODs?"

"When it's from the same drug and one gender in the same age group? Yes." When her attempts failed, she just pulled the ponytail back into place, her lips pursing thinly in veiled agitation. "Look, Woody, go on home. This might take a while. Besides, I know you hate these types of cases."

He stood and stretched his arms up over his head briefly, then let them drop down to his sides again, trying to smother a yawn. "You are going to come home, though, aren't you? You're not going to sleep here or anything?"

She chuckled softly at his concern, standing as well and walking over to stop in front of him, resting both hands on his chest. His arms came around her waist unconsciously. "What, are you worried I'm going to abandon you for my work?" she asked slyly. "Perish the thought. On such a freezing night like this, I want to sleep in my own bed under about five blankets and next to a warm body instead of in a building with hundreds of cold ones." She leaned up to give him a quick kiss on the lips, which seemed to appease him enough that his face lost the tight lines around his eyes. "Go home. I'll be there in a few hours."

She stepped out of his arms toward her desk to pick up a file and he nodded. "I'll wait up for you," he offered.

"It'll probably be after midnight," she admonished lightly, but she couldn't help the small smile from pulling her lips back when he came up behind her to sneak his arms around her again, resting his forehead heavily against one of her shoulder blades.

"Well," he amended, "I can try." This time he wasn't able to hide the yawn, and it was a large one. After a moment, he added, "And since tomorrow is Saturday and we both actually have the day off together, you wanna decorate our tree? It's starting to look kind of sad."

Jordan paused at that, and she hoped he didn't notice when her back started to stiffen. "Um, sure."

"Great." He dropped his arms, resting his hands on her hips for a second while he kissed her cheek and then made his way toward the door. He buttoned up his jacket, which he hadn't even taken off, as he went. "I'll see you soon, Jo. Drive safely in this snow, okay?"

"You too, Farm Boy."

And then he was gone, shuffling down the hallway toward the elevators. That stupid tree, she thought in frustration as she watched him go. I should have just told him before he bought the damn thing.

xXx

"Garret, good! You're still here!"

The chief looked up from his desk, loaded high with the paperwork he was trying to finish, instantly wary at the chipper sound of Jordan's voice at quarter after midnight. She was leaning against his doorframe, a form and four files in her hand. "What do you want?" he asked, his lips turned down at the corners.

"Sheesh, man, no need to look so unhappy to see me," she said playfully as she sauntered over to the front of his desk, her arms crossing to hide what she was holding.

"Well," Macy muttered, taking off his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose, "when you're working this late and come to see me, also this late, it is rarely for a chat. I didn't even know you were still here. Didn't I see Woody leave about four hours ago?" He just waved his hand dismissively before she could answer, and she shut her mouth dramatically. "Don't even bother. What do you want?"

"Right, well -" She stuck the single form in front of him, blocking what he had been working on. "I want these two cases to be signed over to me, so I'd be the main M.E. on them. Er, please."

"Why?" he asked bluntly, looking at her instead of the paper she was trying to get him to take by waving it in his face.

She sighed in annoyance and glowered at him. "There are four bodies total from the last twelve days, including one that came in today – all young women in their mid- to early twenties. They look like heroine ODs, but I think something else is going on. Two came in on my rotation, so they're already my cases. I want the other two. Please."

"'Think something else is going on' based on what, exactly?" Garret pried, raising an eyebrow.

"My gut, okay?" Jordan shot back, her temper rising just a bit. She pushed it down.

"Who had the first two?"

He had finally taken the form from her and was perusing it without much interest, but it was a start. So Jordan answered as calmly as she could, "Bug. He did everything by the book, I just…want to do another autopsy on his two before the bodies are claimed."

"To prove yourself right?" Garret set the paper down and put his hand over it without signing anything so he could set her with a pointed glare.

"No," Jordan said vehemently. She took a sharp breath before continuing slowly. "No. It's just…the last two bodies didn't show any history of drug use, and…and the mother of the last confirmed that her daughter had never used drugs. She was home for Christmas from MIT, Garret. Come on. No drug use, and then heroin? One top of three other ODs in twelve days? Doesn't it sound just a little weird to you? If there's something new on the street…."

He looked at her for a long moment, letting out the breath he had been holding and then signing the bottom of the form. Jordan grinned, but quickly hid it and tried to plaster an innocent, wide-eyed expression on her face. "Fine. At least you're actually following procedure instead of just…doing it. Consider this a reward for good behavior. Let me know if you find anything."

"Thanks, boss!"

She snatched the form back without another word and dashed down the hall to the crypt, wanting to get a full blood workup started on all four so it would be ready when she got back the next morning.

xXx

Woody was, in fact, sound asleep by the time she got home well after one o'clock in the morning. All the lights were still on downstairs when she unlocked the front door, bringing the undecorated tree in the corner by the fireplace into immediate view as soon as she stepped inside. She scowled at it as she tossed her purse onto the couch and turned away toward the kitchen to find something to eat. A can of tomato soup poured into a mug heated in the microwave would do just fine, and she sluggishly went about preparing it, leaving the drips on the granite to wait till morning.

The soup was downed in about five gulps, and she sighed, plopping the mug into the sink with a noisy clatter and leaning against the counter in the dark. The house was warm, making it easy for her to finally relax after the last few hours at work, and she rolled her shoulders a few times. It was something. She knew it was. Maybe not murder. Or was it? she thought, frowning slightly. How could someone murder with heroine? But still, it was off somehow.

She would find the answer. She would. Tomorrow.

"Shower," she muttered listlessly, starting to feel how exhausted she was after working for almost two days straight. Running a heavy hand over her face, she used what was left of her strength to push away from the counter and drag herself up the stairs. Woody was asleep in bed, facing the wall, when she entered their room and she couldn't help the crooked smile that pulled her lips back. At least there was always one constant in her life now, despite all the other questions she was constantly trying to answer.

A sudden pang clenched her stomach when she realized she hadn't asked how his day was when he'd been in her office earlier, or why he had been so tired himself. He must have had a rough day. Not for the first time, she realized her thumb was unconsciously moving the wedding band on her finger up and down. She wouldn't be surprised if a shiny patch was growing on the metal there, given how often in a day she caught herself doing that. She stopped.

After a long moment, Jordan slipped off her shoes near the door and crept forward to turn off the lamp on his bedside table, casting the room in silvery darkness as the moonlight bounced off the piled snow outside. She touched the side of his face lightly, letting her fingers brush down his stubbly cheek before pulling away.

"Shower," she murmured again, this time stumbling toward the bathroom and leaving a trail of clothes behind her as she went without a care. It was only fifteen minutes later – just enough of a shower to wash the smell of the morgue off of her skin and out of her hair – that she got into bed still sopping wet and quite naked, too tired to even bother putting on pajamas.

Jordan's sleep was restless, filled with flitting, figureless dreams, and she hardly felt as though she had slept at all when she woke the next morning, bright sunlight streaming through the sheer curtains and Woody spooned, still dozing, behind her.

She was just starting to consider getting out of bed, starting a pot of coffee, and calling Nigel to see if her blood work was finished yet when Woody stretched and then snuggled closer, pulling the warm blankets tighter around them both. "Morning," he whispered in her ear, voice still thick with sleep.

"Morning," she replied lazily, quickly deciding against moving just yet when he kissed the back of her neck.

"You got home late last night," he pointed out needlessly as he lifted himself slightly to press his lips to the soft spot behind her jaw, then her cheek, then her chin. But then he stopped and added, in a mocking hurt, "You didn't wake me."

Her eyes slid closed and she rolled in his arms so she was on her back instead of having to twist her head to see him. She pouted playfully when he refused to kiss her again. "You didn't ask me to wake you up when I got home," she protested. "It was late. You…looked tired?"

He chuckled and dipped his head to the place where her shoulder and neck met, and she grinned contentedly when she felt his warm breath there as he spoke. "Excuses," he murmured, sliding a leg between hers as he dragged his mouth slowly back up toward her ear before pulling away slightly so he could meet her eyes. Hers were filled with warmth, and he stroked her cheek. "You didn't sleep well."

"So I woke you after all?" she muttered with a lopsided smile. "Sorry. Guess I was just over-tired or something."

"Or maybe it was the case you were burning the midnight oil on keeping your brain spinning?" It wasn't really a question, and she punched him lightly on the arm. He propped himself up on an elbow and smiled back at her, his free hand running over her hair now. "You wanna talk about it?"

She shook her head, and suddenly one of the thoughts from the previous night came tumbling back – that she had never asked him why he had been so tired himself. 'Selfish' wasn't necessarily a word that could be used to describe her, no…but when she got caught up in something, she could easily forget everyone not involved, even Woody. She covered his hand with hers when it reached her neck.

"What about you?" she asked, keeping his gaze easily with hers and reading a cascade of emotions there. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," he murmured, moving his hand from hers and using it to cup her cheek. "You came home last night, Jo. That's all I wanted."

Jordan raised an eyebrow, hearing the sincerity in his words but still not quite used to that amount of love to know what to say. Instead, she just gave him a Cheshire-like grin in an attempt to keep the mood light. "You're kidding, right? You just didn't want me to spend the night in my office?"

He laughed lowly, knowing exactly what she was doing and letting her do it without protest. "Not kidding," he replied in the same joking manner even as he moved slightly so he was on top of her now. "I want to spend the entire day with you, beginning to end. This? Is a pretty nice start." His hand, the one that had been on her cheek, moved to her hip – only for him to jerk it back in surprise. "Jesus, you're naked! How did that happen?"

"Wow, you are some detective, and apparently far too courteous with your hands even in your sleep." When he just blushed, still hovering over her with an expression somewhere between surprise and lust on his face, she had mercy and added, "I slept this way. And, for the record, I didn't wake you because you really did look tired."

In a surge of emotion, he shifted most of his weight to his legs so he could take her face in both of his hands. "You're wonderful, Jordan. You are." She gave him a small smile, unsure of what to say to that, and he ran his thumbs gently across her cheeks. He leaned down and, just before taking her lips in a kiss filled with the passion she was having a difficult time find the words for, he whispered, "I love you."

They had hardly had a chance to pull off his flannel shirt, however, when the doorbell rang – followed by a sharp pounding on the front door that did not stop.

"What the hell?" Jordan muttered angrily, sliding out from under him and finding her heavy fleece robe to pull on before she descended the stairs.

"Jo!" she heard Woody call after her, quickly finding his shirt again and turning his head this way and that to find his own robe so he wouldn't be answering the door in a…compromising position. "Jordan, wait!"

She knew it was because she still didn't have any other clothes on, but she didn't care. It was rude, calling on someone like this at nine o'clock in the morning on a Saturday, and she was going to tell them so. Her eyebrows knitted and an angry retort ready on her tongue, she unlocked the door and threw it open, only to see…Nigel, standing there freezing on her porch.

The words died in her mouth, but her agitated expression only deepened and she blocked his way inside when he tried to move past her into the warmth of the house and out of the wind and snow. "Nigel!" she barked, just as Woody came up behind her, tugging his robe closed. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"I have been trying to call you for the last two hours!" he responded crossly, coming inside immediately when Woody took Jordan's shoulders and moved her to the side. She glared at both of them. "Doctor Macy wants you to come in as soon as you can – right now, really. He saw the results of the blood tests you ordered. May I also add that Bug is none too happy with you at the moment for undermining him and taking his cases? Nor am I, now that you've shown me so little hospitality. I could desperately use a cup of coffee."

"Screw the coffee Nigel," Jordan hissed even as Woody padded into the kitchen to start the pot and effectively remove himself from the line of fire. "Why did the results of those blood tests get everyone worked up?"

"Because heroine was not the cause of death for those four young women. Cyanide was."