A/N: Hello. I took a good long break. This chapter has been drafted for some time, but I only recently polished it up. A couple of things: First it might be a good idea to reread some old stuff to get a refresher on where I left the story. Second please remember this is a character study, it's about WHO and WHY these people are. This chapter is detailed and atypical.


BLIND SPOT

She smelled damp. Damp and iron. Basement and blood. She felt ripping. The soft skin of her wrists couldn't bear 115lbs of suspended dead weight. And as it tore, it burned. Like Satan had clapped a pair of flaming fetters on her. Her hands were completely numb. A monster headache beat in the ridges of her forehead. Ice blood piped through her veins, even as hot salty rivulets of sweat drowned her face, neck and chest.

It was the totality of fear.

The thing on her eyes was scratchy. She strained to hear anything that might announce death. But it was hard to listen over her own furious panting and quaking. Her mind was raging at her body right now. Please shut the fuck up. We need to think. Was that the arc of a knife? Footfall on gritty concrete? A creaking latch? Was she hallucinating? No. That girl hadn't been a figment of her imagination. Neither had the shriiink shriiink of metal sharpening metal. She smelled piss now too. That girl had pissed herself. That girl had moaned, then begged, then called to God and Jesus and mama and daddy and ga and goo and then squealed one last hair raising "please" so full of pule and whine that Alex had almost thrown up. Then a wet gurgling. And then nothing.

Silence.


4 months before

A New Captain

A file lay open.

Name: Daniel Yosef Ross •DOB: April 24,1957 •Sex: M •Height: 70 inches •Weight: 170lbs •Marital Status: divorced (Nancy Ross, née Steckman) •Living children: Jeremy Ross, Justin Ross •Badge number: 4053 •Highest Achieved Rank: Captain •Years of service: 14

Left justified, sat a glossy 3x5 image of the man himself. He was wearing dress blues laden with medals. He had a tanned tapering face, sealed cynical lips and a dome of dark curls. The Chief of Detectives frowned. Ross was a diversity hire. And not a moment too soon. Anything to get the Office of Equity and Inclusion the hell off his back. Deputy Commissioner Posner had been blunt, "Enough Irish bastards already" he'd said, "we're drowning in O'Dowds and Houlihans. The mayor wants to see some high ranking brown faces." So they'd selected Ross, a Jew. His oral panel interview, lie detector and background check were merely formalities. And there wouldn't be any grousing or grumbling about racial bias, because Danny Ross had the cred. He was a decorated former detective, a former undercover, and the former head of a task force. He was battle tested. He had conviction. He had the kind decisive power that would bring the Major Case Squad to heel. That group of fruit loops and malcontents did not need another friend at the helm. A captain was not someone with a wayward cock and a fluid idea of rank. Jimmy Deakins had gotten too cosy with his people. Each day he'd been at the helm MCS had grown more opaque to its superiors. Ross would be grateful for the promotion. And grateful lips were looser lips. If someone in that department belched they wanted to know. And Ross' facility for 'playing both sides' had quantum leaped his jacket to the top of the pile. And the Jew thing too, of course. This Chief of Detectives would be watching. Closely. He closed the top manila folder, and picked up the whole stack marked MCS. He tapped them into a tight neat pile and tucked them away in a locking drawer.

••••••••••

Danny Ross reminded Alex of a bird. Something midsize and ordinary - and brown probably. Maybe a goose or a duck. He kind of was forgettable. After meeting him she'd thought that guy's feathers are always puffed up. And the metaphor had stuck. It gave her a little smirk, a private joke, whenever their new captain was around. The question was why? Why were his feathers always ruffled? Not to create a layer of warm air as insulation from the cold. Probably, she figured, to seem bigger. Alex sensed that under that voluminous plumage was a very fragile, very hollow set of bones. She had read Danny Ross immediately. So much ego. But not a fat and fed ego. A battered and starving ego. When Ross had been introduced to the detectives of the Major Case Squad by the Chief of Ds, Alex'd shaken his moist hand and listened to his speech, the gist of which was "there's a new sheriff in town." And Alex had seen her future with crystal clarity. There would be posturing, there would be bluster, rank would be pulled. Danny Ross wouldn't be able to resist.

•••••••••••

Danny Ross reminded Goren of a rabbi he'd known in Germany. Tobias Blent. Goren hadn't just read the Qu'ran, he'd read the Buddhist Tripitaka, the Holy Bible (of course), the Jewish Torah and Talmud too. God only knew why. Literally. Only God knew, because he didn't. They were dense and obscure texts. One of them alone could demand an entire lifetime of devotion. Maybe he'd been on a faith quest, fuelled by the mayhem of his childhood. Rabbi Tobias Blent, had been a small, kind, hierophant of a man. He had offered instruction happily because Goren had been the only gentile stationed on the Truppenübungsplatz military base who'd cared about such esoteric things. Anyway, Danny Ross reminded him of Rabbi Blent - not because he was a Jew - though there was that. Nor was it because Ross seemed particularly wise. Rather, it was because Tobias Blent had had a habit of looking upward for divine guidance when he was unsure. That was Danny Ross. Always looking up. The man was doubly determined by the 'Gods' on the 22nd floor.


3 Months Before

Seismic Shifts

The Major Case Squad was a very different place. The walls were still the dull grey of a warship cruiser. The fluorescent bulbs still sat overhead in their metal cages, like french fries headed for the deep fryer. The metal desks still clanged constantly like a hammer on a railway spike. The louvred blinds lining the captain's glass office still turned the brass - sergeants, inspectors and chiefs - into sophisticated strip puzzles. And on the floor, all those big heads and big bellies still bent over copious amounts of paperwork.

One thing was new, Goren and Eames weren't close anymore. The old Alex was gone, that was new too. The woman in her place - who had all of her physical characteristics - was still as reliable as gravity. Still salt of the earth. Still just as hardworking. But she was angrier. Sterner. Wounded. Working with the enemy was corrosive.

After their apocalyptic fight. After her shock had abated and the grief had receded, it'd all turned to rage. And that rage had metastasized to every single organ. She was now the proud owner of a diagnosed anxiety disorder. For the first time in her life she was taking medication to ease an unrelenting, if diffuse, tension. Alex found her muscles would spasm for no reason at all, then her breathing would pick up. Then her mind would escalate everything into a threat.

So, one noon hour in late spring when she couldn't take it anymore she made a doctor's appointment. That GP had tried to refer her to a psychiatrist, because her ailments sounded psychosomatic. But Alex had looked at the tiny piece of prescription pad paper and felt an almost comical desperation. On this topic, the topic of sex and betrayal, the topic of Bobby, her jaw had been wired shut for months. If she refused to confide in her intimates, there was no way she was talking to a 'professional'. So Dr. Claston had relented. He'd prescribed Xanax to calm her nerves. And for her nocturnal teeth grinding, he suggested she get an over-the-counter mouth guard. His pat on the shoulder and lame unsolicited advice were free, "try to calm down, it can't be that bad."

It was that bad.

She went back to work where Goren greeted her with a subdued "hello." She responded with silence. And took her seat in their shared grey workspace. A workspace she shared with her abuser. He had emotionally abused her. Yes, she had made a mistake with Deakins. But she had apologized. She had been genuinely contrite. He had calculated his revenge for maximum destruction, knowing they were tethered for life.

"Is everything okay?" He offered weakly.

She responded with a tight nod and exaggerated concentration on her screen.

Don't mistake her resolution to stay for battered wife syndrome. She hadn't let Goren get away with what he'd done. This was the calm aftermath of a violent storm. She had made him pay. For 4 months she had made him pay. While her anger had been a tsunami she'd made him pay.

Fall had ceded to winter and she'd made him pay.

Winter to Spring, and God had she made him pay.

Her sister, that jealous, deceitful, whore, she had paid too, with her marriage. But also in the way that women make other women pay: through a full scale withdrawal of goods and services. Through the removal of emotional support and connection. Through the propagation of rumours. Through the impossible demand that everyone in the Eames (immediate) family pick a side. Alex had shamelessly 'George W. Bushed' each member one by one. "You're either with me or against me" Alex had said it with an unerring gaze, full of her signature ruthlessness. The kind of muddy tourmaline eyes she only trained on murders. And each Eames in turn, was sufficiently frightened by this version of their daughter, sister and sister-in-law, that they pleaded for neutrality. And Alex, more absolute than a medieval monarch, had immediately cut ties with those ones. Yes, she was hanging her dirty laundry out in the streets. Everyone could see the metaphorical stains, on the metaphorical crotch, of her metaphorical underwear, as they blew in the metaphorical breeze. But this was tawdry business, affairs and betrayals. Alex didn't care.

She. Did. Not. Care.

She had to suplex the shame if she wanted revenge.

But back to Goren. Eames did not make him pay like a girl. No. She made Goren pay like a man. She punched hard and repeatedly in the places men feel it. The wallet. The pride. The bullocks. But Goren wasn't just any guy. Goren was Mr. Puzzle, he was Mr. Psychology. So she added a soupçon of mental agony to her broth.

During the worst of it, she had not been a very good person. She'd moved out of 'their place' almost immediately with no forwarding address. The home they had built around Jude. She moved with her son into a tiny detached, owned by some guy turning his summer sublet into a year round rental "for the cash." He was her new landlord. The house itself looked like something a fairy might reside in. It had a red brick walk up, red brick chimney flue, creamy gingerbread trim and gable pediments, a lemon chiffon siding and Thumbelina proportions. It was one of those weird little bungalows near Rockaway Beach, a short walk to the bight where you could look straight on into the yawning Atlantic. Still Queens, but not Forest Hills. Forest Hills was dead to her.

She'd put on a fresh coat of paint inside, to match the sunny outside, and dragged her stuff in. She'd even bought a sweet baby pionus. A small parrot with a royal blue head and emerald green wings, which she and Jude had named Polly (completely without irony). For the first time in his life, her son had a backyard. It was humble but perfectly formed, with a narrow line of slate pavers set against the house where he could ride his little tricycle back and forth.

They added a small wooden tray-style raised garden bed. Alex'd heaped it liberally with topsoil and fertilizer. Together she and Jude had planted a row of beefsteak tomatoes and some sweet peppers, blueberries and strawberries too. Her heart had almost exploded at the sight of him, in his Wellies and fisherman's hat crouched low and sprinkling seeds into the trenches like they were open mouths of koi fish, and he was the keeper of the feed pellets. It wasn't the best agricultural effort but it was the damn cutest. Alex had a whole roll of photos from just that day. Jude's wide smile and cute button nose, his eyes in the shadow cast by the brim of the hat. Her child was absolutely beautiful.

She refused to let Robert Goren set foot inside their new idyll. Instead they treated Jude like a dime bag, trading him furtively in a local parking lots with a minimum of talk.

Alex had also vengefully filed for child support. Oh she'd given Goren a deal once upon a time. Let him pay what he could because she made more money, had fewer fixed expenses, because they'd been 'friends', because she'd loved him. Now she wanted to see his wages garnished. She wanted his debts to go to collections. She wanted him on a payment schedule. Let's see who you choose now asshole. Will your mom get foie gras or will your kid go to the dentist? She thought, as she signed the writ inside her lawyers office. Because that's how she had always felt, second. On the topic of his mom, there was ice in the cockles of her heart.

She put in for a new partner. Actually she didn't. There was déjà vu as she got the paperwork. Only this time she relished the sick buzz she created. She filled it out with the kind of gratuitous detail no one needed to know. Alex was pretty sure that in box 1.2A Reason for Request of Severance "fucking my sister" wasn't quite what they'd expected. Neither were the words "Shitty lover" relevant to 1.2B Further Extenuating Circumstances but she wrote them. Nor were his bank balance, or the exact number of times he'd lapsed in his non-custodial visitation, standard in any way. She left the sheets in the centre of her desk where he, and any nosey nellie could see it. Before the end of the day, some Major Knucklehead had swiped it, photocopied it, and distributed it far and wide.

Oh the cat was out of the bag. The cat was way out of the bag. The cat was dancing on high wire and taking sunny vacations to Bali, that was how far from the bag it had gotten.


This was a nightmare. No delirium. It was the timeline that was messing with him. Eames had been here. Right beside him. She had been sitting right here in the AV room at 2am. She had been sad for their vic. She had sat right here and said everyone was "forgetting about Jenna." He was not imagining it. How could she be gone less than 12 hours later?

Goren was lost.

Goren was frantic.

Goren was spastic.

Moving this way and that way. Sweating profusely and wringing his hands and operating with a dangerously blank mind. His genius was gone. His touchstone was gone. Instead there was only Declan. Declan wearing his wrinkled Great Gatsby costume, postulating callously, and purposely fucking with his head.

"You have to start by accepting the worst possible outcome. Sebastian is a classic anger excitation killer. Highly ritualized torture and degradation sessions" The old profiler said matter of factly "Eames is dead. Accept. By dreaming of an outcome we know isn't possible we become his fool, his pawn —."

"Serial killers do not personalize!" Goren's voice cracked he felt his airway clog with a bolus of fear. "You taught me that!"

"This one does. You're barely sleeping Bobby. Come on. Look, look... " Declan laid hands on his sweaty frenetic body, gently, paternally. "Look, - get into his head. Become him, the way I taught you."

Bobby splayed his fingers over his throbbing skull. It was so hot, and he couldn't breathe. "Jo. At first it was my partner, next it's your daughter, Jo."

"Good, good, good. I like that." Declan beamed. As the personal stakes mounted, his dissociative disorder made him thrive. "I told her to wait at the club. We'll set a trap for him with Jo."

"You can detach yourself like that? Like, you can use her as bait?"

"Unwittingly she is." Declan was cold and cavalier. "Come on. What makes a man lose his edge Bobby? Huh?"

Presumably the answer he was looking for was "caring."


Two weeks before

The Sage

Danny Ross was hinky. It was in the way he was snapping at Goren. The way 'the powers that be' had shoe horned him in. It was in the speed of his ascension to the throne. There had been no interims, no pro tems. The NYPD had dropped Ross on MCS like a gavel.

"In a week?"

"4 days. Deakins' seat was still warm and spinning." Alex accounted into her dad's eager ear. She was at home. Her new home. Her third home in the last 3 years. And talking to the only person she trusted.

"4 days? Okay. Okay. Yeah sure. Not so uncommon. Remember Malloy from Counterterrorism? He was a plant." She knew from the tone of Johnny Eames' voice that he was desperately searching for a comparable. But in that effort he was reaching way above his pay grade. He knew the precincts. The streets. And in his world, precinct captains got shuffled all the time, based on their ability to hit the quotas and because they got penalized for bad crime stats. And IAB was more than a dirty word down in the trenches. In MCS though? It was a prestigious department. A captain at this level was 'just a captain' the way a prodigy was 'just a student'.

"Plant? You mean like a narc? A CI?" She asked, scrunching up her nose.

"No concrete evidence, but Richard Malloy didn't climb any ladder. He had hooks. Then he got done for misappropriation. And in a year he was gone. Once a dirtbag always a… You remember right?"

"Yeah. Sure I remember." But she didn't. She'd have to hit the online cop message boards tonight and get a refresher on the disgraced Counterrorism Captain. God, her dad was better than a tabloid.

"Yeah so you think Ross? That his name? Is a plant?" Her dad asked, positively salivating at the prospect.

"No. Nooo." Alex busted his enthusiasm for misconduct down a few notches. "I looked him up, he definitely has the cred. He headed a task force. 25 collars over 3 years. I just think it was expedited, if you know what I mean."

"What task force?"

"Money laundering."

Her dad's mouth did a great impression of a slide whistle.

"What? What is it now?" She asked.

"Oh that Ross." He said enigmatically.

"You've heard the name?"

"I have. Didn't make the connection though."

"What do ya know?" She asked, gripping her chunky white cordless. Suddenly rapt.

"Ross, your Ross, he has a nephew that's a hoity toit in the CCRB." The Civilian Complaint Review Board. "Emmanuel Ross on paper. 'Manny The Nanny' to everyone else."

She guffawed then snorted. "How do you even know that? CCRB? That means he's a bureaucrat not a cop."

"No, he's a little Miss. Manners is what he is! A civ that does cops for etiquette complaints. Trust me, those guys can be worse than IA. The court of public opinion and all that. Sometimes the people want blood. And those CCRB guys call cops to the carpet and slit a vein."

Now Alex remembered. Her dad'd had some run-ins with the CCRB over the years. They were a non-police organization that handled minor civilian complaints. They were pretty much restricted to authority abuse, and other misconduct; like cops that swore at civilians or rammed through unlawful searches. Her dad had never been brought up on 'charges' but many of his fellow brothers had.

Once, back in the early 90s, her dad'd had to testify on his own partner's behalf before the CCRB, at a civilian trial full of civilian pomp. He had appeared in front of the Deputy Commissioner of Trials, not a judge. Down in the trenches, the beat cops called it a kangaroo court. Not surprisingly, Johnny's partner, the one that had been brought up on complaints, was the same married patrolman that her sister Liz had once confessed to making it with in high school. Alex scoffed, if budding psychopaths tortured small animals, bad cops begin with small illegal transgressions - like feeling up their partner's underage kid.

"Is Manny Ross the only other Ross?" She asked her words quick and garbled as she tried to purge Liz from her mind.

"That I know of." Her dad said the faint ring of PTSD in his voice. "So, Captain Danny Ross…"

"He's no James Deakins." Alex said shortly. "But few are." She had come to think of her indiscretion with Deakins as an out of body experience. A very low day for both of them that wasn't indicative of either of their natures. To that extent she could still respect him and compliment him.

"Jimmy was a good guy." Her dad said, oblivious to the undercurrents. "Never anything but class every time I met him. Did you know that once he came clean across the precinct floor and told me that you were going places?"

She knew alright. Her dad loved to tell that story. The one about how he'd been invited back to his old precinct (post retirement). How a younger Deakins had also come to the 91st that day with a contingent of brass. Some goodwill envoy. Jimmy had spotted Johnny, parted the sea of loitering dress blues like Moses, stopped in front of the older man, and told him loudly, that if his daughter kept it up she was headed for Major Case. Then Jimmy had, taken off his hat, shaken Johnny's hand, and thanked him for his service. Alex did the math. She figured at the time she'd still been in Vice, about a year away from her promotion, but she'd been on the track, already receiving honours.

"Yeah. So the bottom line is you don't like Ross." Her father said.

"Mmmmm." The noise she made was sort of a meditative growl. "He has it in for Goren."

She did not mention how warm and fuzzy that had made her feel… at first. Watching her partner get his chops busted day in and day out for two months. Danny Ross had arrived at the height of her own vicious anger toward Bobby. Every time Ross leaned menacingly over him, every time Ross had stuck a verbal needle in, every time Ross said something flagrantly passive aggressive like 'nice of you to show up' when Goren was only three minutes late, Eames had quietly hurrahed.

But now almost 3 months in, it was getting old. Her rage was dissipating. For better or worse she was tied to Bobby. He was the father of her child. His idiosyncrasies had formed the rubric by which she had structured her career. Even with the stink of her sister on him, this couldn't go on. At first, Danny Ross had almost seemed like a manifestation of her anger. But enough was enough. She could finally see that Ross' campaign against one of them, was an attack on the unit.

It was time to circle the wagons. Even though Goren hadn't asked, it was time for her to save them from Ross. So Alex was hitting up her best anecdotal source. Her dad. He always gave her a place to start when she had a PD problem.

"Well sure." Her dad said. Responding to her last comment.

"Whaddaya mean, well sure. You know something about Ross and Goren that I don't?" This was next level weird.

Her dad sighed like Methuselah, deep and long, the wind of ages. "So you remember Bill McInerney?"

"Ummm. Yeah I think so. Was he at the 3 - 3?"

"Uh huh, you got it. He was working outta the 3 - 3. But like so many guys there he got tapped for greatness. Something in the water I guess."

"Sure, they add fairy dust in Yonkers, then pipe it straight to Manhattan North." She said with undisguised sarcasm.

"Jesus. Let me talk will you? So McInerney, he just made Sergeant. And within a month he got a spot on Ross' money laundering task force and coincidentally he's marrying Tom Philpott's daughter."

"Philpott? Philpott..." She repeated, her mind making fluorescent lines of connection. "Tommy Philpott?" She muttered trying to place the name. "Tommy from the neighborhood? From the deli?"

"Right! You're not so high and mighty." Her dad crowed. "You remember the neighbourhood."

Alex rolled her eyes hard. Her dad both loved and loathed the fact she was big stuff.

Tommy Philpott was no cop. He ran a delicatessen in Inwood right off Broadway, stumbling distance from the Eames family home. He made the best sandwiches north of 179th, a veritable tower of sheared pink briney corned beef between two modest pieces of rye. If you could manage to get your maw around all those layers on your first go, your next sammy was on the house. Unfortunately (or fortunately for Tommy's bottom line) you'd have to be able to dislocate your jaw, the sandwich was that tall.

"Right so Billy McInerney is marrying Tommy Philpott's daughter. It's like, the wedding of the century."

Alex guffawed rudely. Now the wedding of the century was between a deli heiress and a fourth generation flatfoot. Camelot wept. Her dad ignored her. "Billy spends a lot of time at the deli, and he has a lot of useful intel."

Alex took this all with a grain of salt. No doubt a fraction of the sodium her father was ingesting by hanging out in a delicatessen all day. Why would a freshly minted Sergeant have all that free time? But she tamped down her skepticism. As far-fetched as it sounded, and as much as he padded his tales for effect, her dad did have feelers everywhere. He had lived and worked in Inwood at ground level for over 40 years, and had now been at leisure, in that northern borough, for a further 10.

"According to Billy McInerney, everyone on the task force knew that Ross was leaving. He got tapped to take over for Deakins after the Adair case. He was ready, bags packed, done with the task force life. Ready for his 1PP ivory tower. And trust me, everyone, I mean everyone, hearda that Adair fiasco. Deakins was out. Ross was in. Rumour had it, brass thought Deakins made a bad call. He shoulda have covered for Adair. Adair had been going places and he was taking a lot of people with him. Straight up to the governor's mansion. Those connections meant more to his cronies than the law."

"That's how he got so rotten." Alex interrupted testily. "All the brass that looked the other way, all the favours he called in. Sickening." If she ran the NYPD she'd clean house. No more bullshit favours, no more nepotism. No more gun-wearing penis club.

"I know, I know. Mosta the rank and file were happy to see that uppity mook get his. Adair" Johnny spat. "That guy was as slick as a greased pig. I mean what you told me about him - not just the murder, but how he couldn't keep it in his pants, I spread that around. Tried to add some common sense. Adair was rotten to the core."

"What does this have to do with Bobby?" She asked with her intimidating laser focus.

"Goren stumped for Deakins."

"What're you talkin' about?" Alex felt a little of the old neighbourhood creeping into her voice.

"You didn't know?" Johnny sounded genuinely surprised.

"Know what?" She sighed.

"Goren presented at the IACP in '04. At Deakins' request. He was an expert on behavioural something or other."

I probably told you that she thought snarkily. But said "I know that dad, he's my partner." In work and life. She'd packed Bobby's damn suitcase for that conference, drove him to catch the Acela. She'd taken on his paperwork, and a temp partner for four days. All of the investment. All of the time. All the love she'd poured into that relationship.

"Really miss know-it-all? Then why don't you know that his presentation caused a big stir. Goren got the NYPD Illuminati buzzing. They took one of Goren's recommendations that day, and lobbied to have it implemented as a new field protocol.

"He got an EPD citation for that work." Excellent Police Duty. She knew that.

"Right, right. See it's true. And I remember when it was implemented. I wasn't on the job but I got the memo. Damn near framed it. I'm still up to date ya know. The legacy kids send me everything. The grandkids of the guys I walked the beat with." He went into a 10 minute tangent about the new intranet, and how technology was taking over paper and conversation, and how hard it was to understand what the goddamn next generation of cops were doing.

"Settle down." She calmed him. "I'll come over and show you how the intranet works. Get back to Bobby."

"Yeah yeah. Promises, promises." Johnny was lucky if she made it to Inwood once a month. "Anyway, the protocol changes. They came inta effect in '05 maybe? So, that addendum to the patrol guide, Goren's addendum, was like Deakins golden ticket. Of course Jimmy got all the cred from the top, after all, he hand selected all those MCS superstars. But he benefited even more than that, because Goren made it known to the Chief of Ds, the Chief of Patrol and any other big wig that would listen, that both Deakins and his intellectual property were a packaged deal. They wanted Jimmy's head on a pike for Adair. But by puttin' his foot down Goren saved Deakins ass for another year."

Alex's lips twisted in contemplation. It sounded pretty far-fetched to her. Goren rigging the power structure. Goren having sway over hires and fires. Then she remembered his apartment in Weehawken. When he'd been high and malevolent, and he'd revealed his manipulations to her. He was capable. More than capable. Still, something else beggared belief. Even if all this was true, that Goren had saved Deakins' ass at some gilded IACP conference, how the hell did her dad know?

"Right. Sure." She said. "And you know all this because you were there? Or no, let me guess, you bugged the place?"

"No." She could practically feel him shaking his head in disgust. "You know, no one would believe that a nice guy like me raised such a smartass." He muttered. "No I was not there, you have to be a unicorn to get an invitation to that IACP gala. Even captains are low ranking to 'em. I know what happened because I saw the footage of Goren's presentation, it's on the internet." He said the word Internet like it was some newfangled thing that might bring about the destruction of humanity. "Bobby was impressive. You should watch it."

That last bit sounded like an indictment. And Alex felt duly chastised. She hadn't watched it. After years of yawning through Goren's CCC appearances, and MCS press briefings, she'd figured that missing yet another presentation, for yet another law enforcement acronym, wouldn't matter. She felt kind of sick. Not because of this exactly. But because this was a signifier of their entire relationship. How much she had failed Bobby, and how much he failed her in return.

Her reply was clipped. "Thanks. I'll look at it. But that still doesn't explain how you know anything. All the stuff to do with the brass."

"Don't rush. I was gettin' to that. You really gotta learn to let a story breathe." He chastised.

She gusted a sigh into the receiver.

"My union rep. You remember Mark Adolfo. Yeah of course you do, he used to come over for supper every Sunday after his Margaret died. Well he got a spot on the PBA board. And that hot spot came with an invitation to IACP. Mark saw what went down with Goren, Deakins and the brass first hand. He told me."

"Mark Adolfo is on the PBA board?" She repeated dumbly. That stood for the Police Benevolent Association, otherwise known as the largest union of patrol officers in North America. Alex only remembered Adolfo as a lowly patrolman, like her dad. But the union board was a pretty elite position. There were only something like 25 appointed members, total. Now those guys had hooks. She said as much.

"Sure. Marky was loved. He was a shoe in for the board. He was the one that told me everything that went down. We talked for hours about the old days and the politics, at the end, when he was in hospice. I visited him twice a week."

Oh god. She'd forgotten. Mark Adolfo had died of pancreatic cancer a year ago. Her eyes burned briefly for her dad. Forever loyal. Forever soldiering on.

"Mark was in the room when Goren threw down the gauntlet to save Deakins skin. All the PBA board members were invited to IACP that year."

Now some things were coming into stark relief for Alex. How well connected her dad really was, for one. And how deeply dirty Deakins had done Bobby, for another. And how emotional she'd been in the months after Jude was born, for a third. During that time she had become increasingly paranoid that Deakins - the keeper of their secrets - was going to get reassigned (cop code for fired). She had told Bobby that she was worried. She had more than told him.

She had been in some postpartum depression-obsession loop. Obsessed by the death of their professional dynamic. That professional quadrangle. The points of which were her, Goren, Deakins, and Carver. Suddenly, at home with a newborn, with an uncertain future looming, one full of lies and schemes, those four points of stability had meant everything to her. Bobby had repeatedly talked her down. He'd done it a million times. Maybe more. Promising profusely that their solve rate would keep Deakins at MCS for years to come. Was that what this was? His promise to her? Did Goren really have the power to just think something through and make it happen?

Her guts lurched again.

A visceral memory of the way he'd taken Deakins out.

Yes.

Goren did have the power. Concocting very sophisticated plans that came to fruition was part of his genius.

"So Goren stumped for Deakins…" she murmured with the surreal belief of a convert. She didn't see the living room around her, she didn't see anything but the truth.

"And Ross probably knows." Her dad finished. "There are no secrets in the brotherhood. Not even at your end of it. The part that looks like Wall Street." Johnny cackled rawly. B'hahahahaing.

Alex tried to think on that. She held the phone 5 inches from her ear, ignoring her father's indelicate hoots. The evidence was undeniable. 1. Ross definitely had it in for Bobby. 2. Their new curly haired captain had only known Goren for 3 months. 3. Only two days ago Ross had 'Hobson's choiced' her in an MCS hallway. She hadn't made anything of it at the time, but now... "It took me a long time to get here, and I'm sure it took you a long time to get to Major Case. You're senior partner. There are two things I need you to remember: number one keep him in check, number two keep me in the loop. Clear?"

Understanding dawned - the kind you get when you finally grasp a set of interlocking truths that create the foundation of your reality.

Ohhhhhhh.

That's why.

Ross was aware of his vulnerability as a new captain. And Ross was aware of Bobby's subversive tactics. Why else would the captain make such an overt display of authority? Why else would he blitzkrieg her in the submarine grey hallways. He thought he had the weakest link, the 'company woman'. On the surface his analysis wasn't wrong; she was legacy, and she was on track to promotion. But Danny Ross was wet behind the ears if he thought she was gonna give up Goren for a couple of epaulettes and a pat on the head.

Alex shifted her numb bum on the soft twill fabric of her 15 year old couch. She had a lot to think about. She needed to end this chit chat with her dad. "So how's condo life treating you? And your big bank account? How's that doing?" Those words were sure to dislodge him from the intrigues of the NYPD.

"Can't complain, my new place is closer to Broadway. It's closer to Bud and Pete. And no stairs."

"Good. And the buyer? Is that saga over?"

"Yup. Mr. Never Above 96th is settled. No more messages from the lawyer." Johnny chuckled. The Eames' all called the new owner of their once family home 'never above 96th' because he was an affluent doctor, previously of Beth Israel now employed by The Allen, and he had a Gramercy state of mind. He'd been running them ragged with his contractual negotiations. Or so her dad and brother told her. Neither of the men were handling the closing of the new condo, or the sale of their family home, Liz was. But Alex wasn't talking to Liz.

"Well dad, I'm gonna let you get to bed." She said.

"Bed?" He pished her. "This kid thinks I'm 90. I'm headed to the stoop. The Dominicans are teachin' me dominoes."

The sheer arc of her eye roll encompassed half the known universe. "Okay, okay, I get it. You're cooler than me." She was definitely going to bed.

He snorted indelicately and said, "Love you. And take care of Bobby." Then hung up.


Alex lay in a hospital bed, an IV in her arm and a passionless face. She was still terrified but the sedative was creeping into the cracks of that terror.

The moment Goren had gotten his touchstone back, all of his abilities to solve and discern had returned in one white water rush of sanity. Suddenly he understood the evidence. Yesterday it had been ancient Aramaic, today it was a preschooler's book of connect the dots.

Eames was giving him her eye witness account. "He blindfolded me. He kept me blindfolded, but he took my gag off. He wanted me to scream, so I didn't."

"That's what kept you alive." Thank God. She was alive. "I'm sorry." He said and meant it. Deeply. Sorry for the last four months. Sorry for treating her so badly. Sorry for the state of their relationship. Sorry for letting her fall into the clutches of evil and then not saving her. Sorry for making her claw her way out of her own grave. But sorry most of all for his own culpability. It was dawning clear who had done this, and why. He just needed one more piece of the puzzle, for absolute certainty. So he asked her, "You didn't recognize his voice?"


Four days after

They were weird.

For over half a decade their proximity had been necessary for the job, for the solve. They were 'gorenandeames' the world's messiest portmanteau. Neither surrendering any letters (or dignity) to their mutual cause. But somewhere in the midst of all that togetherness something had changed. Now their proximity wasn't a choice. In order to heal Goren and Eames needed to touch. It was oddly divine the way they needed each other, like Jesus laying hands on the sick. But neither of them would have appreciated that analogy, they both felt like lepers laying their disease on one another.

They were weird.

Currently, Alexandra Eames' had her broken, bruised body wrapped around Robert Goren, in a bed, in an apartment in Weehawken, New Jersey. They were both fully clothed, long sleeves, denim, sweats, right down to their socks - a cerulean speckled with fleur-de-lis and a dour black ribbed, respectively. In fact no skin touched at all. But she did have a leg over his. And her face and arm resting on his great chest. He could feel the sleek, softness of her hair under his chin. And her stable warmth. This was not romance. Well, that's not true. It was a bad romance. A very very bad romance. But that fact did not impact this moment of mutually achieved equanimity.

They were weird.

This was the very scene of their fight 4 short months ago. The one that had blown their relationship to hell. And left them both cardiac amputees. The screaming. The insults. The pain. The paint was still bubbled from the heat of that exchange. And yet none of it mattered in this brief window of perspective. She had almost been killed and she was still everything to him.

He looked down lovingly at the bridge of her nose.

"We can't be together anymore." She said flatly. Though her clinging howler monkey arms belied those words.

"I know." He replied on a deep sigh.

"I love you." She murmured.

"I love you too."

"But we can't do this anymore." She repeated.

"No. We can't." He felt weak. Like his guts had been scooped out by a mad melon baller, until he was just a human shaped shell. Rubbery skin held aloft by hollow bones. Totally beyond emotion. Strung out. Wrung out. He looked down again. Alex was spacy, unblinking and far too still. He moved his head slightly. At this perfect angle he could see the profile of her eye. A flawless sheet of glass curved round her amber iris. He followed her laser straight gaze. It stopped on a prone soft bundle curled up on his loveseat. There was a faint whistle coming from inside the blankets, and the rising and falling of a small diaphragm. Jude.


Goren was standing with Jo inside Observation Room 1, watching her father's interrogation. The great Declan 'decoy' Gage. Though the old profiler seemed to be in his element. He seemed to be giving a class:

"First, of course keep an open mind. We are here for the truth, that is all. When I interview a serial killer, I always say that right up front."

"You've done a lot of those?" Ross asked. Ross, who was doing the questioning. Ross, who Goren knew was inured to the truth of his own mediocrity. He'd let the captain run with the idea that Declan was a serial killer. Because he was in here closing the case.

"Thousands" Gage intoned, vainglorious. "Each one has its own arc."

"Has its own arc." Jo murmured into the glass in tandem with her father, revelling in the words of her hero.

"Even so," Declan continued, "regardless of what the killer has done, there is almost invariably one element they have in common. No one has ever listened to them. To their story. So I do, I sit with them no matter how long it takes. But I don't ask them about the crime, I ask them about their life, their childhood, their first memories, their mother's touch. Dreams they had when they were a kid."


"Tell me everything." Alex said. She lay still as a Weehawken statue, gripping him for everything she was worth.

Bobby felt her words - or maybe her thoughts directly - vibrate up through the roof of her skull and into the floor of his mouth.

"About Jo?"

"No. About you."

"Me?" He was surprised.

She nodded, her hair catching and fuzzing on his stubble.

"Why me?"

"Why not?" She murmured.

"You already know me."

"I don't know you at all."

He listened hard to those words, for anger or passive aggression. All he heard was a B flat. Probably 57 octaves below middle C he made a silent joke. Scientifically speaking, that was the sound a black hole made. Alex was the yawning nothingness.

"I don't know where to start." He said.

"College." It was firm and heavy. The word college was an anvil.

"We'll be here for days." He said with something approaching amusement. He cupped one large hand around her thigh. In the simple act there were echoes of their intimate past.

"That's fine."She said and curled her fingers in deeper, digging them into the fabric of his sweatshirt. Great wads of heather and fleece-lined cotton, balled in her hand and jammed under her nail beds like thick strips of greyscale dirt. She was holding onto him in a manic way. White knuckling his shirt. Ever so often she would let go and splay her fingers to let blood flow and the muscles unknot. Then she would clench again. Because it felt good to her, this cat-like kneading. Bobby was real. Bobby was safe.

He looked down at her fist strangling his shirt. Then looked at her wrist. The doctors had wrapped them thickly, white gauze around cotton packing. At the edges was the residue of some gleaming topical ointment they had applied to the wounds. Underneath he knew the skin was torn and bloody. Friction burn. Much of her chest and forearms were now florid from the strain of her weight. It looked like a particularly vivid rash. Her capillaries had broken. Purpura and petechiae. The words came to him. Medical terminology. It meant she had bled on the inside, into her skin.

Goren knew exactly what had bound her, because Alex had been awash in trace evidence, fibres and adhesive. She'd had two parallel bloody gashes set a perfect 1.5inches apart. That was the width of commercially available duct tape. The doctors had used tweezers to remove the leather shedding from the cuts. He tried to imagine it now. Her hanging there, defenceless. Waiting for a sadistic butcher. The long wait for death.

She also had a concussion. And a swollen nose. Because she'd been hit in the face. Knocked out by a blunt object. Her left shoulder was in a sling. Hyperextension resulting in a torn rotator cuff because she'd dangled from the ceiling like a side of beef. And she was a mass of small knicks and bruises, her cheek, her arms, her chest. Contusions and lacerations because she had been tortured. A cruel hand holding a razor or knife blade had slid that metal against her vulnerable skin. That weapon had been sharp enough to pare her flesh. But perhaps worst of all, was Alex. Her essence. She would go from immeasurably still, to fiercely trembling and back again. And her lips were sealed. Barely parting for brief flat answers.

"What exactly do you want to know about me?" He asked.

"Everything."

"Mmmmm." He hummed and stroked her hair. He did it heavily from crown to tip, over and over. Whenever he stopped she said "don't stop." Because the weight and repetition sank her deeper into a mindless trance.

Everything. Goren thought. Trying to organize his whole life into manageable chunks of data. A coherent narrative. A mental project. Which was good for him. He was coming down now too. The adrenaline was ebbing. The icy sweat was wicking away. The helplessness and terror he'd been locked in for days was subsiding. Yielding to a hot, livid, full body kind of anger. Jo. Josephine Gage. That deranged bitch. He had sat with her. Talked with her. Broken bread with her. He had tried to save her. To reestablish her membership in his tribe. That cunt had played him. Goren knew a little something about vile protracted plots. There was no way that Alex had been a spur of the moment decision. The idea of Alex had been rotting inside that demon's pate for months.

He would kill her. Jo.

She had said to him "you could have gone either way." So she would recognize him as kindred when he came for her. She would welcome him like kin, when he delivered her death. It would be one monster peering into the depths of another. He decided he would go to her this week. He would pretend he had a professional purpose. He would access her holding cell. And he would slit her throat to the stem. He would take her head right off. Put her down like the zombie she'd become. A thing, whose only food was Declan's praise. Jo had no real humanity left. He couldn't shake the knowledge that that abomination was still in the world with them. With Alex. With Jude.

"Bobby?" His Alex was calling him back. "Tell me."

"Right. About college."

She nodded.

This had to be about Declan. She must be taking him on a meandering path to his mentor. Bobby had told her everything that had transpired this past year. Told her about how much he'd spoken to his mentor recently. Confessed it straight away at her bedside, in the hospital, after she'd rescued herself, because it was their last hobgoblin. That his increased contact with Declan, while seeking revenge on Deakins, may have stimulated Jo's interest. He had no more secrets. Now they were reset.

Alex had taken the confession stoically. But now, days later, she still only had one face, terrifyingly blank. Maybe in a month or two there might be shouting. In a year or two she might still bring it up. He would welcome that.

For now, his confession had a different repercussion. She wanted to know everything about him. Partly, he guessed, to hold his usually antsy body in place. Partly to zone out to the rhythm of his voice. And partly for reconnaissance. She was still a cop after all. He would give her the transparency she desired. As he started to talk, the monument they were building grew.

"I met Dec when I was in the army." He said slowly.

"I said college." She was firm.

"Okay, okay. I dropped out of Hudson University after a couple of mediocre years."

"Why?" She whispered.

"Oh I don't know. It wasn't cheap. And I wasn't thriving." He hesitated.

"And?" She could hear every pause, listening so intently.

He sighed. "It might sound stupid or weird, but it was the pace. The rhythm of college was torture to me." He could still hear it in his head. The movement on campus, like a frantic tap dance. Everyone rushing to have this seminal experience. Trying to get approval. Trying to have fun. Trying to earn that piece of paper. No one really knowing why. He had felt too lost to join the hive mind.

"Too conventional?" She murmured. Thinking maybe he had wanted to take the road less travelled.

"Mmmm… I don't know if that's it. I never felt that way in high school."

"High school was mandatory." She said definitively. Like she knew him inside out, because she did.

He blinked. She was right. "There were other factors…" He almost didn't want her to know him so well.

"Mmmm." She nodded slightly.

"My mother…" He huffed. "She was unbearable." During that time Frances had felt him leaving her by inches. And while her daytime persona seemed suitably proud, "my boy the college student" her nighttime monster had embarked on a course of sabotage. Bobby had never blamed her. She was sick. He coped by employing her level of cognitive dissonance to the situation. He came to think of Frances as two distinct people. But still, there had definitely been a malicious lucidity to her campaign against him. She would ask him to do the dishes when he was trying to study. She made him pay 'rent' even knowing he had tuition, transportation and incidentals. She would read his papers and challenge his thesis. She would express paranoid delusions about his professors, and school administrators, then rant about Skull & Bones, fraternities and Bilderberg. It had scared the shit out of him. That she might call someone or show up at a class. To this day he still didn't understand it, parents are supposed to want their children to thrive weren't they? He told Alex as much (minus that last thought, the one still full of childish anxiety). "If I could have afforded to live in res, it might have been different. But I had to commute and study. And I still didn't know what I wanted out of life. It was too much."

"So you dropped out and joined the army." She spoke directly into his sweatshirt while making herself more comfortable.

"Yes."

"And?"

"It was... intense."

"More." She commanded, settled fully on him. Smooshing against his chest, distorting her face.

"Basic training, then active duty - which is a full time job."

"Hmmm."

"I knew I had to finish my undergraduate degree, all the prime positions in the service seemed to require a certain number of semester hours. Even there, I could see that not having a degree would be a liability. So I studied part time. The GI Bill paid."

He looked down at the glossy dome of her hair, past forehead and brow to her eyes again. Yes, they were open, but she was as still as a millpond. He continued.

"I was able to apply my credits from Hudson to Coastline. That's a military college. Correspondence mostly."

"Masters?"

"Uh huh. My post grad was with the National University. Another, mostly virtual, military college. There were only a handful of real classrooms dotted around at certain bases. It took about 4 years, but I ended up with a Masters in Criminal Justice." He was whispering, so sensitive to her sensitivities.

She nodded.

"I was focused. More focused than I have ever been in my life."

"No Frances." She murmured.

"Right. She couldn't have contacted me if she tried. I was finally free."

Alex didn't smile, but he knew she would have if she weren't so damaged. She liked it when he was his own man.

"Sometimes... I… I…can't see you as a soldier." She said.

"I was though. Very much. Being the whack job is a luxury." He said with depreciating honesty. He was right. Choosing idiosyncrasy is a privilege. Whimsy and weirdness are a privilege. Poverty, be it mental or physical, is a full time job. "Back then I didn't have any luxuries. I worked." The truth was, the army had felt like the mother he'd never had. They'd fed him, and clothed him, they'd provided living accommodations, they'd had opinions on his personal hygiene and his self-governance. It was the height of irony that the first time in his life he'd felt safe, was when he might be deployed to a war zone. He had never enjoyed conformity more. He told her all of it. "I kept my head down and obeyed orders."

"But you were still you." She almost insisted. Because it didn't sound at all like Bobby. And that gap in her knowing of him made her feel bereft. She couldn't handle bereft right now. She'd wanted his story because it was woven with familiarity.

"Yes. I was still me. Trouble." His faith in intuition. His infuriating circuitous logic. His endless but apropos trivia. He had inadvertently gotten on the wrong side of several COs. But he hadn't done it maliciously. He had only, in the absence of constant stress, begun revealing his authentic nature.

"Tell me about CID."

"How I got there? Or how it was?"

"Both." She sagged into him, boneless.

"Well, the Army is a very complicated system of automatic and meritocratic promotions. Do you... do you know Military rank structure?"

Her head gave a barely perceptible shake. "Tell me."

And he saw that she was going to digress them into a year long autobiography at this rate. She wanted deep. She wanted to be lost inside his labyrinth.

"Everyone starts as a PV1 that's a Private. Then it's PV2. Then there's a mandatory year in. Then PFC or Private First Class. After PFC it's another six months or so before SPC or Specialist promotion opens up. This is all rookie stuff. In NYPD terms these are your academy and uniform years."

"Okay." She grasped enough of it.

"Then you work." He snuffed. "It's a job, like any other. After Basic Training my MOS, that's Military Occupational Specialty job, was in Human Intelligence. I worked domestically. Training was at various bases around the country. Fort Jackson, Fort Huachuca. I learned serviceable German during those years. But most of it was self taught. Rosetta Stone and other programs. I did my college courses at night. After a couple of years I asked for a reclass to Military Police. I…"

"Wait. Why?" Too fast. Slow him down. Every detail. He was soothing to her soul. And the reedy masculine timber coming from his chest under her ear was like the LAM and OM of a Bija mantra. His voice opened her chakras. His matter of fact delivery + Her victimized brain = An honest wish that he would never stop talking.

"The reason for the reclass?" He laughed. "Okay. Um. I had all of these 'data extraction' and foreign language skills, but there was no opportunity for deployment. No deployment, meant I was in a clerical allocation. Office work." He groaned. "I felt busy but unfulfilled. They didn't need anyone with my skill set abroad. I felt like surplus. Like I was cooling my heels. And I was young. I was itching for action. I was bored."

"Mmmm." She said remembering her early days. On patrol, on special assignment, at vice, before their first case at MCS. Itching was right. And paperwork was the worst.

"Anyway, I finished my MCJ, master's in criminal justice, while on placement with the Military Police."

"No fun? No girls?" She asked without inflection. Had he always been so dutiful? So painfully grown up?

"Some fun, some girls." He admitted. A smile in his voice. And he told her about a bar he'd frequented near 'Fort Dix'. And about the waitresses there who called the pushy soldiers 'Short Dicks.' "They were made of Teflon. They could say anything. Harassing a waitress would get back to your CO before you could say Budweiser." He could only remember a few hot heads had ever given the girls trouble, they'd had anger management issues, the kind better off without a gun. He told her all about the place, the smell of booze and rind and puke. About the sawdust and the peanut shells that coated the floors. About the staff uniforms - high end hooters - tiny see through white tank tops and Mondrian patterned mini skirts. "The vibe was cool. A really great place to hang for a bunch of guys used to camo." He told her about Suzanne, a girl he'd dated briefly.

"Sometimes I try to imagine you young. 20 years younger than when I met you." She said. Then dropped it there. Leaving it without context. Not drawing a conclusion about his ability to be young, or his maturity, or anything really.

"And..." He urged.

Silence and the barest shrug.

"I never saw combat." He moved on.

"Domestic soldier?" She asked.

"No. CID is a Military Police Battalion. I was deployed." He felt a little touchy about this.

"But not to a war zone." She stated.

"Listen missy." He had never called her that before, because Alexandra Eames was no one's missy. But today it felt extraordinarily good. "No self respecting serviceman would ever call himself a domestic soldier. And" He said everready with trivia. "Did you know that 75% of our forces are never deployed. They support the efforts from home."

She hummed softly.

"Anyway, I got tapped by my CO to join CID, before my 10 were up."

"CID asks for 10 years in?"

"Yeah."

"Mmmm." The noise was small and inscrutable, but her impressions were forming. CID was a very high speciality position. In the NYPD 10 years in could put a very ambitious recruit somewhere in the realm of captain. But more likely, lieutenant. "Big promotion."

"I never thought of it that way. My commanding officer made it seem like a personality conflict, not a promotion. He said I would be better suited to CID." At the time Goren remembered feeling wretched. Rejected and failed. It was funny how perspective and maturity eventually revealed the truth of situations. He had been exceptional. His career had been accelerated. But his superior had conveniently omitted the prestige and focussed on the problem. It was a tactic. Born of jealousy and of manipulation. Robert Goren, decorated detective and crack psychologist, knew that very well. But Robert Goren, young soldier, had not.

Alex hmmm'd again. She was starting to see the psychology herself. Clicking his puzzle pieces together. Starting to understand how the campaign of undermining started by his mother, had striped his self esteem and dogged his entire career. His entire life. Bobby was a genius. And that undeniable fact had propelled him. But he wasn't ambitious. Ambition required confidence. Based on his talents he should have that quality in spades. The lack of it was the legacy of abuse.

He was still talking. She'd missed something in her ruminations.

"... as a subset of the Military Police the mandate was internal investigation. In order to maintain investigative integrity CID doesn't report to traditional command. We had an internal hierarchy."

"So basically you were IA."

"Yeah."

"So everyone hated you."

"Naw."

"They hated you." She said with finality.

The little robot was mocking him. Bobby gave the thigh under his palm a squeeze. Her thigh. "Anyway, after about 3 months in CID I got tapped again to join the equivalent of a special task force, a TCI. They dealt with elite crime, like MCS, serial cases, ones with added complexity - like interacting with foreign bureaucrats and police forces. That's where I met Dec. He was a civilian agent. A liaison."

"Not a soldier?"

"No way." Goren's laugh was deep and silent. She clung through his mirth, her body rolling with his.

"Why is that funny?"

"Because Declan doesn't have a cooperative or regimented bone in his body. But he had the cred." By that time Goren had somehow become a career military man. A great big guy with a great big ramrod up his ass. Meeting Declan Gage had changed everything for him. "Dec was arguably the best criminal profiler in the world."

"How does a person even get that title?" He heard the ghost of hatred. And knew it was her prerogative to feel that way.

Bobby shrugged. "Results?"

"So he's a genius."

"Yes. I guess so." Goren hated that word. "In a very focussed field of study."

"A fed?"

"Yeah. An FBI agent."

"Over educated?" She murmured. Alex knew (because Bobby had told her many times) that excessive education was a factor in sociopathy. Gage was definitely a sociopath.

"Uh huh. He had a PhD in Forensic Psychology."

"Hm." She made a vague noise low in her throat. "But he was good to you?"

"I'm not gonna say he was easy. Declan is erratic. And casually cruel. But he was the first person that ever told me that I was extraordinary." Bobby held that close to his heart. That validation had changed the trajectory of his life.

"So you travelled together."

"Uh huh. On and off for 2 years. Countries would file a request for our team to assist. It filtered down through command. All very opaque. There was some secret system of evaluation. And of course Declan got the final right of refusal, because in the end they really were his cases, and he was an eccentric miserable bastard."

She nodded. "And…"

"And, then we would get our marching orders. We met at a small municipal airport hangar. Declan would appear rolling his huge steamer trunk. We were wearing fatigues and rucksacks and he looked like an old magician. We joked that there was a girl… an assistant... stashed in that thing. Dec got constant shit for his trunk, but he refused to travel light. Even then, he was the star, we were his pips."

"His pimps?" Her monotone broke, her voice went up an octave.

And Goren's plan worked masterfully. He'd said 'pips' to elicit a response, like a physician tapping a ball peen hammer to a knee. It was a weird word. He knew that.

"Pips." He chuckled "As in, he was Gladys Knight and we do-whopped behind him."

"Oh." The monotone was back.

"Dec didn't even notice me until Korea."

"Where did you work cases?"

"Honduras, Japan, South Korea, Italy, Germany."

"In that order?"

"In that order."

He looked down, she was still giving Jude the million mile stare. He wondered briefly if she would ever be the same again. If something intrinsically 'Alex' had been stolen from her. But he really needn't have worried. She was simply content. For the first time since this nightmare had started. Alex was immersed in a tank of warm milk, floating, coated in tryptophan and sweet dreams. Even though she was learning that her time with Bobby was the very tip of his iceberg. Even though he had lived so much before her. But she'd known that. She'd always known that Bobby was an extraordinary man, that had lived an extraordinary life. But sometimes it's possible to know something without truly knowing it, you know?

"When did you meet her." Alex asked.

Usually 'her' with that inflection meant Nicole, this time it meant Jo.

"When I first met Dec, Jo was little. She was at home with his wife. Her mom."

"While he flew around the world playing the hero? Great father." She intoned.

"No one ever called Declan Gage father material. Especially not Maddie, Maddelein that was his wife. She had no illusions about her husband."

"You knew the mother?" That surprised Alex.

"Mostly by reputation. When Dec drank he had no secrets. I mean nothing was beyond the pale. I knew about their sex life, Dec said, and I quote: she poked a hole in the condom and now we have Jo." Goren shook his head in memory. "I knew about his multiple affairs, his assorted medications, his mild coke habit, he was once hospitalized for a severe case of Herpes." Bobby was telling her this because he never wanted her to forget that Declan was human. Declan was a ponce, an inglorious bastard. Declan was not a super villain or an existential threat. He was a deeply flawed man, covered in Achilles heels. Declan would never admit that his neglectful parenting had seeded a psychopath. Or that he was anything less than exceptional. But Alex needed to see that Declan Gage was just a man. Because Bobby wasn't naive, there would be nightmares, there would be panic attacks, and he wouldn't be able to hold her through all of them.

"Sounds like an asshole."

"He was. Is. I knew about Maddie's cancer." Goren murmured.

Alex raised her head now. She glared at him. "You mean he was investigating international crimes, while his wife was at home with a child and sick with cancer?" She couldn't believe her ears. The hypocrisy! Goren had publicly crucified Dan Croydon for exactly the same crime. Not to mention his own father, retroactively. And yet somehow he looked right past Declan Gage. Was he starstruck?

No.

She had found his blindspot.

"I suppose." His blood ran cold at this. He'd never considered it. "I didn't see it that way."

"How could you not?" She lay her bruised face back down. Her tone was still flat, but he heard the censure all the same.

"I was... young self absorbed. What can I say?"

"I suggest you figure something out." And maybe you won't go straight to hell.

"Ummm... Okay… um... Morality is subjective." His, far too so. "I had to weigh the gift he was giving me, against the suffering of a woman and child I had never met." It was like the white supremacist who felt their black childhood friend was special. Or the misogynist who would die for his mother. Or the doctor who condemned free needle clinics but nursed a heroin habit. He said as much.

Alex thought about that, about the subjectivity of our individual morality. Declan had been Bobby's mentor, his father, his champion. And Bobby had absolved him because he loved him. And love, in its truest form, did that to everyone. This. This was what they meant by unconditional. Alex, kitten weak and barely breathing, couldn't muster the energy to tell him off. After all, she was a hypocrite too. She was here wrapped in the arms of her blindspot.

"I think I was 29 when I finally met Jo in person. At their house. It was one of those grand Victorians in Ditmas Park. Way too large for 2 people. Jo was 9. Her mother had already died."

"Whose mother hasn't." Alex said with a bland kind of bitterness, thinking he was giving the bitch a pass because her mom was dead. "Was little Josephine a total psycho?" She asked with that disturbing hollowness.

"I don't know. She was invisible to me. I was a young man, with all of my... conceits. I was still on patrol. All that international intrigue for the army, didn't mean much to the NYPD. There are only a few perks when you transition from soldier to cop, and most of them are focussed on making sure you don't get fed up and quit the Academy. I still had a mountain of rank to climb. Jo was…" he shrugged, it was hard to remember even this much, and that was saying something for an eidetic mind. "She was gangly and shy…" he trailed off. "She... had braces?" Then he startled as he caught a memory by the tail. "One thing I remember about Jo, is that she always sat cross legged on an orange wing chair in the corner," he sounded pleased with himself." And she liked to wear this oversized pink sweatshirt with a big kitten on the front."

"So she watched you."

"Yes."

"She saw the profiling? She saw the blood?"

"She saw everything. Crime scene photos, 911 calls, court transcripts, replica murder weapons. She even came to a crime scene once. Declan was grooming me. He never stopped. He… he never considered her."

"Jesus."

They simultaneously looked at Jude. They imagined that kind of neglect.

"She saw everything." Bobby repeated softly.

This whole time, he'd thought that his web of culpability was small and tight, encompassing Deakins and a few emails.

Suddenly it spanned a lifetime.

Suddenly he saw the patterns.