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Crosswalk

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Milk was spilled on the counter, the carton had fallen to the floor. The cabinets were stained, where at one time the milk had dripped steadily, it was dry now, or as dry as spoiled warm milk can get. It was August and the house was hot. Despite being a newer home remodel that had air conditioning it was clear it hadn't kicked on in the last several days. Across from the spilled milk lay a stack of mail and a set of house keys. Little else seemed to be disturbed, outside the kitchen that is.

"Lieutenant Provenza," he said as he logged in with the patrolman standing at the door.

"Detective, what do we have?" He asked directing his attention to Amy.

"Neighbors called it this morning, reported smells coming from the house. Patrol didn't make it by until this afternoon. When they got no response, they checked the windows and spotted the mess on the counter and called it in. The watch commander gave them the go-ahead to enter and Officer Jacobsen found the body lying in here, behind the island," she pointed in the direction of the kitchen.

The kitchen had a long island with three barstools on one side and a sink on the other. The space was open to the small living room area near the foyer. Provenza took note of the window behind the other sink, most likely where the officers spotted the body, and the French doors leading out to the backyard.

Provenza nodded as he looked around the place. He gave the door a once over when he arrived, there didn't seem to be any of the usual signs of forced entry or a break-in. That didn't mean someone couldn't have gotten in, only that it wasn't obvious. The one-story modern ranch style home was situated on Canyon Drive and backed up to the open space of Griffith Park, just below the Hollywood Sign. It was expensive, which made sense considering the part of town they were in. Everything seemed cleaned and tidy, except the kitchen. As he moved towards the kitchen he asked, "Do we know who she is?"

Tao popped up from behind the counter, "No, there's a set of house keys on the counter," he pointed at the table in the breakfast nook, "but no purse or car keys."

Detective Sanchez rejoined everyone after checking the bedrooms, "The house belongs to a Micah Williams," he held up a picture of an African American man, "his suitcases are gone and there's no sign that he slept here recently."

"Okay, so if the victim didn't live here is she a girlfriend, mistress? What was she doing here?" Provenza inquired looking around for evidence that the woman belonged in this house.

"Could have been a friend? Or maybe house sitting?" Amy offered up as she combed through the mail.

A few moments later Kendall arrived from the morgue with his kit, "Gentleman and lady," he said as he nodded and moved in the direction of the body. The woman was well-dressed, the red lacquer from her shoes was a dead give away. He carefully pulled back the woman's red silk blouse to insert the liver probe. As he waited for a temperature to read he took stock of her appearance. Her heather grey pencil skirt had been torn, but her underwear wasn't missing. There was clear trauma to her head from a blunt object or maybe the counter. The probe beeped, "She's gone through full rigor already. Time of death might be a little skewed given the heat, but I'd say at least two days. There doesn't appear to be signs of sexual assault, but her face certainly took a beating. Morales will be able to tell you more, but there's some slight bruising around her neck indicating possible strangulation." He tried to open her eyes but between the swelling and decomp he couldn't get a good look to check to petechiae to verify. He began jotting down notes before exiting the scene to retrieve the gurney.

"Mike, I want you to track down this Micah Williams and find out where he is and where he's been in the last 48 hours. Amy check with Robby Orderno in Missing Persons and see if anyone matching our victim's description has been reported missing in the last 48 hours. Julio, any sign of the girl's car?"

"There was no cars in the driveway or on the street when patrol got here.," Julio comments, "But there's a black BMW M5 in the garage. I'll check the glove box and see if it belongs to our victim." Provenza gave him a nod and Julio took off towards the garage.

Provenza pulled out his phone about to place a call before asking the all important question, "So what about this case makes it a Major Crime?"

Tao looked up at him, "Well we are in the Hollywood Hills—"

He gave another look around the kitchen before stepping out of the house to get away from the smell.

"Yeah, I suppose that makes us the lucky one's," mumbling to himself and began dialing.

Across town, Sharon and Andy were enjoying a rare day off with his grandsons. Nicole was out of town on business again and Dean was in need of a break. They both knew the real reason he needed the boys out of his hair for a few hours, Nicole was expected home tomorrow and the house was a bit of a disaster. Sharon smiled as she recalled the conversation, Andy was beaming from ear to ear when he hung up with his son-in-law. She always found it interesting how surprised he would get when his family asked him for help. Sure, she as well as anyone remembered what he was like when he was drinking, but he was a different man sober and he had been that man for over 20 years now. Trust was a funny thing, so easily given, so easily taken away, so difficult to get back.

The first thing Andy did when he hung up was check the Dodger schedule, but unfortunately they were headed out on a nine game road trip. They were hotter than Hades this year, not that he needed that as an excuse to take the boys to a game. The man loved his baseball. Because of the heat wave, and the god awful humidity that had made a rare and unsettling appearance, they opted to spend time up on the roof of her condo hanging poolside. Even the though the boys had access to a pool at home, they were overjoyed to go swimming at Grandma Sharon's. Having been a lifeguard in high school and all through college, Dean put the boys in swim school when they were barely old enough to walk, so the two young children were naturals in the water.

As much as Sharon enjoyed swimming, today she was enjoying watching her boys play while catching a little sun. After days stuck in her office, she relished the opportunity to just sit and take in a little vitamin D. Andy was tossing the boys around in the water, occasionally looking in her direction. Every time she caught him staring at her he gave her a wicked grin. She knew he loved her in this swimsuit. It was a Cupshe Deep Feelings criss-cross one piece in black and his attention was why she'd bought a second one in emerald green - not that he knew that yet.. The reversed "v' peek-a-boo gave him a new angle of cleavage to appreciate. The ruching below her breasts provided a nice slimming effect, that she appreciated.

She set the magazine that she was pretending to read down when she heard the ring emanating from her cell. Flipping it over so she could view the screen, she saw Provenza's name flicker across the top and couldn't help the groan that escaped. There could only be one reason that he would be calling at 2pm on a Saturday, a Saturday she had off.

"Yes Lieutenant," she said turning away from the splashing.

"Ah Commander. I hope I'm not interrupting anything on your day off, but we've caught a murder," Provenza said as he looked back at the house as Kendall began taking the body down the driveway.

"Of course. Andy and I have the boys right now, so it will take us an hour or so to get them dropped off," she said standing to gather her things.

"Not a problem. Kendall is taking the body to the morgue now. The team should be back together in an hour as well. Will you be going directly to the morgue?" He asked making his way back to the patrolman to log out of the scene.

She turned towards Andy, waiting until she made eye contact with him and mouthed case to him. The look on his face said it all. Reluctantly, he corralled the boys together and climbed out of the pool. "Yes, Andy and I will go straight there. What can you tell me so far?"

"The victim is an unidentified African-American woman. Her face was pretty well beaten, possible strangulation. She was found in the Hollywood Hills at a house that isn't hers. Amy is tracking down the owner. Looks like our vic has been dead at least two days," he pulled his white bucket hat off his head and climbed into his car.

"Ok Lieutenant, I'll have Andy text when we are on our way," Sharon said before hanging up. She grabbed the boys' towels and made her way to Andy.

Andy pulled a towel around himself before squeezing the water out of his navy blue board shorts, "So, we caught a case?"

She nodded, "Yes, unfortunately." She turned to the boys, "Sorry guys, but your grandpa and I have to go into work after all. Go ahead and dry off while I call your dad and let him know that there's been a change in plans."

The boys looked up, the disappointment obvious but they were polite, "Okay, we understand" they replied as they took the towels Sharon handed them.

She gave Andy a kiss on the cheek, "I'll meet you downstairs, after you've dried off. Boys, please leave the wet suits in the bathtub when you change," she gave Andy a pointed look.

"What? I did it one time," he shook his head. There were a few cardinal rules he learned quickly not to break when he moved into the condo. One of the first was not to leave wet suits in the laundry room. She took the stairs down the one flight instead of the elevator, the thwacking of her flip flops against her feet echoed in the stairwell. Waiting until she got inside her condo she pulled out her phone and began dialing Dean, "Dean. Hi. No, No everything is alright with the boys, but unfortunately the team caught a case—"

Before Sharon could continue Rusty walked out of his room, "Dean can you hold on a sec," she covered the phone and turned to Rusty. "You're home?"

"I am." Rusty replied a bit sarcastically. Ever since Gus moved up to Napa to work in the new restaurant he had been a bit mopey. They were trying to do the long distance relationship, but as the weeks went on they were seeing less and less of each other. He was planning on driving up this weekend to spend some time with both Gus and Ricky before the Fall quarter started, but it appeared that had fallen through. "Looks like you've been up at the pool," he added.

"Uh yes we have. Andy and I were watching the boys for Dean, but just got called in. I'm breaking the news to Dean now that we will need to drop them off sooner than we intended," she said gesturing to the phone in her hands.

"You don't have to, I mean they could stay here and I could watch them until Dean can pick them up. We can play video games or something," he said with a shrug.

Sharon tried to hide her surprise at his response. It wasn't that he didn't like the boys but he didn't have much experience with little kids and rarely spent time alone with them, "Are you sure?"

He flopped on the couch, his melancholy noticeable. "Yeah, I mean it's only like for a few hours right? I'm capable of calling for a pizza and supervising for a little while. It's fine. Happy to help."

"Ok, well if you're sure," she paused as she watched him nodded his head, "Let me talk it over with Dean." She brought the phone back to her ear, "Dean? Yes sorry about that. Turns out Rusty is home after all and has offered to watch the boys until you're able to pick them up. Is that alright? Great. What time? Ok, I'll let him know. Thanks Dean. Take care." She hung up and turned back towards Rusty, "Dean will stop by around 7 to pick up the boys, you have his number right?"

He nodded affirmative, "Yes I do."

"Just call him if you need him to pick them up sooner for any reason. Thanks for the help Rusty. The boys will be very excited when they find out that they get some one-on-one Uncle Rusty time." She smiled at the added emphasis, they weren't married so nothing was official yet, but in the boys' eyes it already was a done deal. Except the part where they were excited to walk down the aisle in fancy suits that Andy picked out for them. She heard Rusty mutter a 'yeah, yeah' as she walked down the hall, anxious to get a moment in the bathroom before the all the boys came clamoring back into the condo. The one bathroom thing was the biggest downside to staying where they were. They'd discussed the topic of moving a few times after his heart attack, but it was ultimately decided that it was best to stay put. Rusty would be out and off to law school soon and they really didn't need the extra work a bigger house came with. That said living with two grown men and having one bathroom became old fast, what she wouldn't give to add an extra one.

She took off her suit and draped it over the edge of the tub, it was only a little damp, but she was against leaving wet clothes lying around anywhere but the bathroom. She knew the moment the boys came inside by the commotion that came barreling down the hallway. "Be sure to knock first!" she heard Andy yell. She double checked that the lock was engaged on the outer door, the little boys didn't have the best manners yet when it came to checking to make sure the bathroom wasn't occupied before they opened the door. It took only one near naked encounter with them for her to become a tad OCD about locking the bedroom and bathroom doors. She smiled as she heard them knocking, "Just a minute and it'll be all yours," she replied. Sharon quickly brushed out her hair and retouched her make-up before flipping the lock and walking back into the bedroom where she found Andy, "You can send them in to change."

He looked up at her and smiled not expecting her to still be naked, "Just so long as you don't change just yet."

She shook her head, "Maybe."

He quickly ducked out of the room and shouted for the boys to go get changed and reminded them to hang up their wet suits and towels. "I'm back, see how fast I can be."

"Uh huh, only when you're motivated, otherwise you have a tendency to move at a snail's pace," she said heading over to her dresser drawers. She felt him come up behind her and wrap his arms around her waist. His damp body felt cool against her sun warmed back and she leaned into his embrace. "How much time do we have?" he whispered suggestively in her ear.

"Well actually, Rusty volunteered to watch the boys, so we don't have to swing by Dean's on our way in, so a little time. What did you have in mind?" She asked pulling her arms around his.

Andy enjoyed the feel of their naked flesh touching and swayed with her nestled between his own hips. He felt his body respond to the feeling, "Maybe a little time in the shower before we head out." He knew she wouldn't want to get too involved with the little kids or Rusty in the next room, but he wanted to spend some time with his fiancée. Not only had he looked forward to hanging out with his grandsons for the day, but he was also excited that they were going to have the condo to themselves for a week afterward. Not that he didn't enjoy having Rusty around, but all parents need a break from parenting. Between Rusty's moping, the changes at work, and planning a wedding, their summer had been nothing short of chaotic.

Normally she wouldn't agree to co-showering before they went in, but she was also feeling the need for connection. Who knew how long this case could take, and after his heart attack last September she had learned to enjoy the moments as they presented themselves. This was one of those times for them to just be together — intimate or not — and it was important. "Go tell the boys they're staying with Uncle Rusty," she let out a chuckle, "and I'll meet you in the shower." She leaned forward pressing herself against him as she reached into the drawer to pick out a panty set, "Allow me," Andy responded pressing back and reaching around her hand to make a selection from her drawer.

She let out a little laugh, he enjoyed picking out her undergarments — when she let him. He said there was something extra sexy about not just knowing what she was wearing under her suit, but that he picked it out that made him a very happy man. When she could she would indulge him, interestingly he had begun pairing either his shirt or tie with his panty selection. They didn't always match their outwear, but no one had any clue that they were still matching in a different way. She stepped aside as he removed a pale blue set of silk and lace underwear for her to wear, "Nice choice," she said as she grabbed the garments from him and headed towards the bathroom door adjoining their room.

Andy took a moment to collect himself, to avoid any embarrassment before he went down the hall to talk to the boys. "Mark, Ben!" He shouted as he turned the corner into the living room only to find the boys already sitting on the couch with Rusty, game controllers in hand, "I take it you already gave them the news?"

"Yeah," Rusty nodded.

The boys bounced up and down on the couch cushions. "Yeah grandpa. We're going to stay and play video games with Rusty!" Replied Mark.

"Ok, well Sharon and I have to get ready for work. Will be out in a few minutes to say goodbye. Remember no jumping on the furniture and no feet on the coffee table," he said pointing to Ben's dirty socks.

"Yes sir," they replied in unison before returning to their game.

Andy shook his head and made his way back to the bathroom. After checking that all the doors were locked he shed his wet towel and shorts setting them by the tub. Sharon had already turned the shower on, "Coming?" she asked.

"Almost," he replied cheekily. Steam filled the bathroom as he opened the shower door and stepped inside.

The shower took longer than a few minutes because they got more than a little carried away with the washing and rinsing of one another's bodies. The closeness felt good. As Sharon got dressed in the blue panties Andy picked out she found herself glad that they had taken the moment to enjoy being together. In the past she would have felt guilty or even regretted it, if she even permitted herself to go there before heading into work, but now she finally got the point of it all. Life was short, all they had were moments in the present. No longer was she going to feel guilty for living and enjoying it.

Andy sat on the bench at the foot of the bed as he slipped on his shoes and waited for Sharon to finish. He enjoyed watching her get dressed, almost as much as he did watching her undress. She had a beautiful body — naked or clothed — it was a body he revered.

His phone buzzed, "It's Provenza." She turned towards Andy as she zipped up her white skirt and tucked in her pale blue button-up blouse, it was too hot to wear anything else.

"What?" He barked at his partner annoyed that he was distracting him from watching Sharon.

"Oh am I interrupting something?" Provenza shouted back.

"Yes as a matter-of-a-fact you are. Now why are you calling me?" He responded quickly eager to get off the phone and get back to paying attention to Sharon for a little while longer.

Provenza huffed into the phone, "There was a four-car pile up on the 170, it's going to take Morales longer than we expected to get a prelim going. Meet us at PAB."

"Fine," Flynn responded and ended the call. He walked up behind Sharon and placed soft kisses to the back of her neck as he wrapped his arms around her.

"Time to be an officer and a gentleman again," he whispered into her ear. She let out a soft hum and a nod before they left the quiet sanctuary of their bedroom.

Chapter Text

The office was empty when Sharon and Andy arrived. Most of the lights were off and the air was warm and stale. Sharon immediately closed the blinds in her office, removed her blazer, and turned down the thermostat. They each sat at their desks working quietly on paperwork while they waited for the rest of the team to return from the crime scene.

As soon as Sharon heard the loud foot falls of Nolan she looked up and caught sight of the team beginning to drift in. Pushing back from her desk she grabbed her blazer, ever the professional, and put it back on despite the heat. Giving Andy a tap on the shoulder she walked over to Sykes' desk, wasting no time diving into the case, "Okay, where are we?"

Still standing, Sykes moved to the board, "Patrol responded to a call that came in from dispatch about suspicious smells coming from the house. Apparently a neighbor was out gardening near the property line and kept getting a whiff of something rotting. She knew that Mr. Williams was out of town and thought maybe something was leaking — those homes are on septic. Anyway, they arrived at the residence just after 12pm, when no one responded to their knocks they walked around and peered through the windows, saw our victim lying on the kitchen floor and called it in."

Walking up behind Sykes, Nolan continued, "The keys to the house were laying on a stack of mail, but no sign of her car, purse, or phone." He held up an evidence bag with the mail, "Everything is addressed to the homeowner, Micah Williams. There were no obvious signs of a break-in, so she may have known her attacker."

Sharon turned her attention to Nolan, "What do we know about the homeowner? Where was he during all of this?"

Tao rounded the room to his desk and sat, "According to neighbors, out-of-town on business. The woman that called it in said Mr. Williams moved into the house about 8 months ago. Polite, but mostly keeps to himself. Seems to be gone a lot for work."

Sharon nodded repositioned herself between the team and the board as she took in the early bits of information. The newest member to the team Detective Camile Paige was still getting a feel for how the team worked in these settings. She was unaccustomed to such an open dialogue regardless of rank or expertise. In her hands were preliminary crime scene photos the techs printed before the left, she stared at the crime scene photos, "These are pretty vicious, she took a lot of hits. Feels personal. Someone really didn't want us to be able to ID her. Maybe and ex or an abusive boyfriend?" She handed them to Nolan who grabbed a few magnets to attach them up on the board.

The room fell silent as they took in Paige's suggestion. She was right, the beating was vicious and suggested a lot of rage. While an important detail, not one that gave them a lot to work with at the moment. "It looks like she stopped at the market on the way to the house, there was a carton of spilled milk and a reusable shopping bag nearby. Based on the food in the fridge I would guess she shopped at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. Maybe we could get video surveillance of our vic," Tao offered.

Standing behind Sharon as she stared intently at the murder board, Andy scanned over the photos of the kitchen Tao gave to Paige to add to board, "Yeah that's some pricey organic food, not stuff you'd find at Vons," Andy offered knowing those markets very well since becoming a pescatarian.

"Okay, let's work with that," Sharon responded. "Lieutenant," she gestured towards Provenza, "What do we have on the car?"

He moved around to his chair, shooing Paige out of the way, making himself comfortable, "The BMW in the garage belongs to the homeowner, Mr. Williams. We aren't sure if the victim was using that car or if her car is missing."

"She could have taken an Uber to the house," Andy offered up.

She hummed thinking for a moment, "So what are we thinking happened here? The driver follows her in, to help with the groceries then attacks her?"

"Could be," Andy said, "Or maybe it's like Mike said and the guy followed her to the house from the store. It wasn't her house. How did he know she'd be there?"

Provenza smirked, "Well you know what I always say—" he paused for effect, "it's always the boyfriend it's always the boyfriend, it's always the boyfriend."

Sykes shook her head while Tao rolled his eyes, the newer members of the team merely looked at the Lieutenant inquisitively. They were less familiar with Provenza's guidebook — Crime Solving 101.

Andy felt his blood pressure rising, some days dealing with his partner was harder than negotiating with the boys to eat their vegetables at dinner. Pointing at the badly beaten face of their Jane Doe on the board, "Yeah we know already, but we don't know who the victim is yet, how could we know if she even had a boyfriend!"

Without missing a beat Sykes added under her breath, "Maybe she has a girlfriend…"

Provenza sneered, deep down he liked this new more sarcastic Sykes, but that didn't mean she didn't need some schooling now and then. "Isn't it obvious, she was sleeping with this Williams guy. Her ex shows up and kills her, case solved," he clasped his hands together to applaud himself for the insightful theory, "Don't all thank me at once."

Sykes stifled laughter while Sharon took a deep breath to remind herself why she stayed in this job instead of retiring and working for the NFL as she tried to ignore the ramblings, "That's an excellent theory Lieutenant, and perhaps that is what happened. However, until we have evidence of that might we try to first ID our victim?" She didn't wait for him to respond, and jumped right onto assignments, "Speaking of which, I want you to have your team working on IDing our victim. Follow up with Robbie and see what leads we have on that angle. Also send someone to follow-up on the car. Andy I want you and Mike to check out his theory about the speciality market that may be our best chance to get a visual on our victim. It'll also help us with our timeline."

Ever since her promotion to Commander she and Mason were working to implement his new changes to their division. Part of those changes including adding another member to the squad and dividing it up into two groups to improve the unit's overall effectiveness. Despite riding a desk for the better part of a year after both his blood clot and subsequent heart attack, Andy was promoted to Lieutenant III, level with Provenza. A promotion that was necessary to run the two team approach. Initially, Mason pushed for Tao but Sharon held her ground. Tao was a great detective, but he was a specialist. He was great with technology and processing evidence, which made sense given his background in CID, but Andy was the better overall cop. Lt. Flynn had a lot to offer in not just investigating crimes and using your instincts, but working with families and the victims. Things he could teach and pass on to other members of the squad. It took some negotiating but Mason finally relented and despite a rocky start was beginning to see the wisdom of Sharon's thinking.

The unit worked crimes together, but in keeping with the "crimes" they could also tackle two cases simultaneously if necessary. Provenza continued in his role as incident commander, taking charge at the crimes scenes, whereas Andy took charge of data collection from financials to surveillance in RACR. Initially, when the change was announced it was met with grumbles they worried that it would create silos and take away from the fluid nature of how they solved crimes together. Sharon preached patience and as it happened five years ago when they moved towards more integration with the DA's office, things worked themselves out.

Adding another member to the team ended up being the most challenging part of the restructuring. They received a lot of applications, but finding the best candidate to become the ninth member of the team wasn't easy. A few came in from IA, members of her former team that were interested in following in her footsteps and making the switch. Ultimately, Andy's pick won out. A young detective working in missing persons, specializing in exploited women and children. She and Provenza knew each other from way back. After her parents died, she found herself in a bit of trouble. Raising five younger siblings was a rough task for a 17 year-old. Like Rusty, he found a way to help get Camila back on the straight and narrow. Sharon worried she might be too inexperienced and have a proclivity for only following the rules when it suited her, but Andy liked her instincts. Ultimately his argument that "everyone here is damaged goods, we're like a band of misfit toys from that island in that damn Christmas movie you like," sealed the deal.

Having worked in vice and missing persons, Detective Camila Paige was well-versed in using social media, in particular the underground sites, to track people down and gather intel. Andy also stole Amy. She's proven herself as a smart investigator, green and occasionally blurry on the rules, but solid. Flynn brought a surprising calmness that only came from maturity and years on the job. He understood how to push them and teach at the same time, despite his reluctance of becoming a leader he was a natural. On the other side of the slightly redesigned murder room Provenza took Nolan and Sanchez. Nolan had a lot to learn about managing his anger and reintegrating with the rest of the LAPD, something Sanchez was able to help with. Both guys were "do-ers" they needed to be out in the field chasing suspects, something Provenza didn't mind having them do for him - since running wasn't in his vernacular. Meanwhile, Tao and Buzz floated in between, working well together as they always had with electronics and itty-bitty details.

The room became quite for a moment as everyone moved back to their desks, as Sharon headed back to her office. Before he sat down, Andy looked at the board again, tapping his finger to his chin, "You know, we should also check the store parking lots too, maybe we can see what car she got into. The BMW or and Uber or something else. The bus doesn't go up that way, and those heels she was wearing certainly didn't look meant for walking up that steep hill," he gave her a grin and she smiled back, she knew he was making reference to her own feet punishing excursion that day they went to the Getty Villa.

"Good point," she smiled, "Once we know what she left in, ask Buzz to check traffic cams in the area, maybe we can see a car following her," then added, "Also, I want your team to continue following up on the homeowner, this Micah Williams, where is he and why was our victim in his house. He could be our best suspect."

He nodded in agreement and waited for Sharon to step back into to her office before turning to his partner, "Why do you have to be so annoying? It's always the boyfriend? Geez!"

Provenza flipped his arm up at Andy ignoring him, "Nolan, call down to Orderno and see if he has the files ready to bring up. We need to start sorting through those." He looked around the room only just realizing that someone was missing, "Where's Sanchez?" Provenza barked.

Sykes looked around a little reluctant to respond. Nolan gave her a pointed look as he picked up the phone to call down to missing persons. She spoke softly, "Ah, he had to go pick up Mark from summer camp and take him over to his mom's."

He let out a grumble and left it at that. It was exactly what he expected to happen when a single man became a father, he was less dependable than before. Everyone seemed to understand and for the most part was happy for both, but it didn't stop Provenza from getting annoyed from time to time when it his absence became an inconvenience. He pulled out his phone and called the missing team member, "Sanchez. Go back up to the house and see if you can locate the victim's car. She may have taken The Uber, but I have a hunch her car is there and we just missed it. Then get back here." He hung up without waiting for a reply.

A quiet hum came over the room as Andy took Paige and Sykes to RACR to begin their deep-dive with Buzz into the homeowner's background and requesting surveillance video from nearby markets. Meanwhile, Provenza and Nolan reminded in the murder room combing through crime scene photos as they waited for Robbie to brief them on possible missing persons.

Nearly an hour later, Orderno walked out of the elevator and onto the 9th floor. He received the initial request a few hours ago, but he was working another active case at the time . He didn't have a chance to get a jump on it until he returned to the office shortly before Nolan called down. He didn't have a lot of information to share, but hoped it would be what they were looking for.

Turning the corner he noticed how empty the room was, but caught Commander Raydor's eye as he walked in. She gave a nod, putting her blazer back on she stepped back into the murder room anxious to hear what he had to say.

"Robbie, nice to see you again. What do you have for us?" She asked moving forward towards the murder board and perching herself on a empty desk.

"Nearly 30 adults are reported missing per day in the County of Los Angeles. Most of those are voluntary. Here in LA it's closer to 18 a day. I have three missing persons that come close to the description you provided," he opened the folder and began reading the names off as he handed Nolan a picture to post to the board, "Marion Thompson. 32. Reported missing by her roommate. Chantal Banks. 26. Reported missing by her mother. And Aisha Franklin 33. Reported missing by her boyfriend."

"Commander," Provenza said moving from his chair, "None of these women seem like the right fit. Wrong part of LA," he said pointing to Marion, "Too young," he said pointing to Chantal, and "Unless our victim recently got rid of her extensions it isn't her. Are you sure there's no one else?"

Sharon and Nolan looked at each other both surprised that Provenza would even know what hair extensions are let alone the hairstyles of African American women, but filed it away as another gift from Patrice. Robbie seemed more hung up on Provenza's accusation that he brought incomplete files, "These are the only African American women between 27-35 reported missing in the last two days Lieutenant. I'll be sure to put a flag on any other reports that come in, but this is what we have so far," he replied not sure why the Lieutenant seemed disappointed with the leads.

Sharon glared at Provenza annoyed that he was being less than friendly with another division, but stayed focused on Orderno and the case. "Can you keep an eye on any other missing persons fitting our description from LA, Ventura, Riverside, and Orange County? It's possible our victim wasn't local and was just staying at a friend's house."

"Sure, not a problem. If you're able to get any other details or narrow anything after you hear from Morales that would really help," he added in reply.

Sharon nodded, while Provenza bit out "Please do," he said a bit dismissively.

Orderno took the hint and gave a nod to the rest of the team as he closed the folder and backed out of the room.

Before Sharon could chastise Provenza, Andy came back into the murder room, "Commander, Julio found the victim's car. If the registration matches the body at the morgue, we may have a problem."

Chapter Text

Sharon got up and moved towards her office, "With me," she pointed back and both Andy and Provenza to follow.

Andy was the first to speak, relaying the details he got from Julio. "We didn't find the car earlier because it was parked several houses down. Apparently there was a party at a neighbor's two nights ago, she must have had trouble finding a spot. We're not sure why she didn't just park in the driveway. But that fits with our timeline and Kendall's TOD."

The room fell silent as they processed the information, none of this was good news.

Provenza tapped his fingers on the back of the chair. He broke the silence by asking the question that was on their minds, "Are we going to talk about what this means if it is her?"

Andy jumped in, "If we start our investigation off by assuming who the victim is going to turn out to be, we could lose valuable time going in the wrong direction."

Sharon nodded in agreement, since taking on his new role she and Andy had taken their being on the same wavelength to a new level. A level that brought a new degree of annoyance for Provenza who shook his head in response. "Yes, I get that. BUT have we thought about the hurricane that's going to descend on this office if we're right? Believe me," he said sarcastically, "I don't want it to be her. That's the last thing I need, but my gut says it's her and I think we're just postponing the inevitable."

Sharon stood up behind her desk, "We aren't postponing anything Lieutenant. We don't have an ID and until we do we can't act on a theory - not with this case. So as soon as we get the car towed back here please have CID get to work printing the car and see what we come up with, while we wait for results from Morales."

"Fine," he waved his hand and walked out of her office.

Andy smirked and shook his head, "Don't worry about it. He's just upset because Patrice comes home tomorrow and this case is messing with his mojo."

Sharon made a little hmpf sound, her voice dropped an octave, "Well he's not the only one whose plans have been hijacked." Andy gave a filthy smile in return and stepped out of her office. There wasn't anything either of them could do about their ruined plans right now, except solve the case and get back to their mini stay-cation.

As Sharon collected her things and met Andy outside her office, she stared at the murder board again considering the bombshell that was dropped an hour earlier. She tapped Andy on the shoulder, startling out of his thoughts, "Morales is ready for us with the prelim."

"Has Julio called is the car back?" She asked Provenza.

"Yeah, he sent a text a few minutes ago. The print shed was full, but I called down and moved us to the front of the line," he replied standing up from his car and grabbing his blazer. It was too hot to wear it here, but given that the morgue was literally a freezing meat locker it was necessary.

Sharon turned her attention to her third Lieutenant, "Mike? I'd like you to go down to the print shed and give the techs a hand. Do we have the prints from the California State Bar to compare with our victim?"

Tao stood up and grabbed his jacket from behind his chair, "No, the prints aren't on file."

Provenza screwed his eyebrows together and turnaround to face Tao, "What do you mean they aren't on file? She's a lawyer. They'd have her prints, it's required."

He shrugged and shook his head, "She must not be, at least not anymore. If you're not active they destroy those files, so we can't pull those to check. We're going to have to go the old fashion way."

He let out a frustrated sigh, "If we have to wait for dental records or DNA on this one—"

"I know, not good," Tao finished for him and headed out.

When the trio finally made it to the morgue, Provenza was still stewing, "Why did he call you?"

Andy quickly went after the bait, his arms waving in the air, "Maybe because you're annoying. Or maybe he knows I'd actually answer my phone? Or maybe he knew that my team could include the plates in our search for the victim's last known location?"

Sharon shook her head, "Are you done?" She paused waiting for them to respond, which they did reluctantly, "Julio is certain about the car?"

Andy moved towards Sharon and handed her his phone, so she could read the message, "He took a picture of the registration, it's definitely her car. Whether it is the same her in there, I can't say, but I think there's a good chance it is."

Provenza plopped on the bench waiting for Morales to call them back, "What are the chances the car belongs to our victim? Is it possible that our Jane Doe just borrowed the car?" He already knew the answer to that, they all knew. Until Morales verified it though, they held out hope that they were wrong.

Sharon gave him a pointed look. "Yeah. I know," Andy looked over when he heard the door open.

"The doctor will see you now," Morales stated with a hint of extra sarcasm. Sharon knew he was probably just as annoyed to be working on a Saturday as she was.

No matter how many autopsies she had attended during her nearly twenty-five years with the LAPD the initial smell still knocked her back a step. She could tell that the body was a few days old by the unmistakable scent of decomposition. The woman's normally slender frame was beginning to bloat, the skin had taken on a waxy complexion. As she moved closer, she could see how matted her hair was from the blood. Just as Provenza had reported the woman's face had been significantly beaten, they wouldn't be able to make a visual ID.

Not wanting to waste anytime, Andy jumped to the question on everyone's minds, "So Doc is it her?"

Morales gave him an unamused smirk, "Is it who? I just got the body, or did you not see the three bodies out in the hall."

Sharon gave Andy a quick glance and shook her head, "Is it Ann Mason?"

He shook his head in annoyance, "I don't know who that is, or if that is our Jane Doe. She's pretty messed up as you can see. I've taken a 10 card and we are running the fingerprints now, but I'm not a magician I can't make results appear out of thin air just because you ask for them Lieutenant."

Before he could respond Morales continued, "Here's what I can tell you. She's 5'7 about 135. I'm putting her age somewhere between late 20's, early 30s. Her hands are well-manicured, err well they were. She did put up a fight, so I've taken samples from under her fingernails." Sharon moved in closer to take a look at the woman's hands as she continued listening, "She's had some work done, botox filler in the lips, veneers, but nothing that has a serial number attached to it, but the work was well done - expensive."

"That does sound like her," Andy started to say.

Sharon turned her attention back to Andy, "Yes it does, but until we get the fingerprint report back let's keep an open-mind," looking towards Morales again, "Cause of Death?"

"Ah yes, I know Kendall told you maybe asphyxiation" he moved over to the Lightbox and flipped it on to illuminate the x-rays, "Remember this is just a prelim I'll need to finish my autopsy to be sure, but I'm pretty sure I can rule that out. There are marks on her neck consistent with someone putting a cord around her neck, but as you can see here her hyoid bone is intact. Also there's this," Morales pointed to a line on the x-ray, "a fractured skull, the occipital lobe" He turned away from the Lightbox and moved back to the body, "What I think happened is your suspect came up from behind and put the cord around her neck. She struggled and as he yanked her head fell back on something hard."

"And the beating?" Andy asked gesturing to the face.

"She was still alive when her face was pummeled in. The fracture would have caused bleeding and swelling to her brain, in particular to this area here," he pointed to the back of her head, "her brain stem would have swelled cutting off oxygen and eventually causing her body to lose control of her breathing, heart rate, etc. It would have been slow, she would have felt everything."

Sharon stood up and began moving around as she worked through her thoughts, "This looks like a lot of rage. It feels too personal," she turned towards Provenza, "we can rule out robbery or break in?" She knew the answer, but needed the confirmation.

The Lieutenant nodded his head, "Yeah, there weren't any signs that the house had been ransacked. The TVs, computers, and whatnot were all still lying around. We'll have to ask the homeowner to do an inventory to be sure, but I think it's safe to rule it out." He knew it wasn't the answer she wanted to hear, but it was the right one based on his years of being a detective.

She had a final question after seeing the pictures of the torn skirt, "Any signs of sexual assault?"

"Thankfully no," he lifted the sheet up, "There's no sign of bruising or tearing. She may have had sex prior to death, we took swabs, but there's no evidence to suggest it wasn't consensual."

That was a relief to hear, considering the horrible death she suffered to have been spared that was at least something for the family, "Thank you Doctor, sorry you had to work on a Saturday," Sharon said suddenly switching gears as she often did, "Please let us know if you come up with anything else."

Morales nodded and returned to his work, "As always, you'll have my full report soon."

Andy followed Sharon out and began removing their blue protective gowns, Andy shook his head, "Anything's possible, but I think we need to be prepared that it's an accurate ID. Even if it isn't, she's involved now because it was her car the victim drove to the house. This doesn't feel right Sharon, something definitely feels off."

"Lieutenant, I think it's time to send someone out to her condo," Sharon offered.

He nodded and pulled out his phone to start dialing as Sharon and Andy moved towards the elevators intent on getting back to the murder room to check in with the rest of the squad.

"Sanchez. When you're done playing soccer mom, swing by Le Park Condominiums on Empyrean Way. Yeah 10122 unit 102. I don't see how she could afford to own it - maybe a rental? Maybe Goldman? Who knows! Then get back here." He hung up without waiting for a reply.

Sharon silently placed her head in her hands, this case had the potential to be not only a nightmare but a political minefield. She made a mental note to brief both Assistant Chief Mason, and Pope — Mason wouldn't have the history or knowledge to know about the quagmire that they were about to step in. "If we do get a positive ID, I want to go back to the crime scene. We need to make sure that we've followed every protocol. I have a feeling Goldman is going to jump on this the moment he finds out." They were going to need to do this completely by the book, they couldn't risk another lawsuit hitting the LAPD in connection to Ms. Mason.

As the stepped in Andy punched the number and touched her arm, "Do you think we can keep it under wraps for awhile until we can better sense of what exactly we are dealing with?"

She let out a deep sigh, this wasn't going to be a quick and easy case that would let them get back to their time off, "That's my plan, and I intend to get the Chief's buy-in on that, but I don't think we will be able to keep a lid on it long. This has implications well outside our division, and once those people have been notified—" her voice shuttered as she thought through all the potential ways this could end. She didn't see a way that it wouldn't end badly. "Okay, run through the details again," she asked.

Chapter Text

Julio stood at the door of unit 102 at the Le Park Condominium's with the building manager. They knocked several times, but heard no sounds of any kind on the inside.

"She's not here," a young woman in running shorts and a tank top said as she walked up the steps.

Julio turned towards the voice, "Is she your neighbor?"

The woman shook her head, "No, we're roommates. Well we live together anyway." Reaching the final step she stopped in front of the men, "Maybe I can help you with something?"

Julio flashed his badge, "LAPD ma'am, we just wanted to ask Ms. Mason a few questions."

She nodded as the men stepped aside to make room for her to open the door. Julio turned to the building manager, "I've got it from here. Thank you for your help." The man smiled and walked away.

"Would you like to come in?" The young woman asked, "It's quite warm today."

It was hard not to notice how attractive she was, her skin was like caramel glistening from her workout. He tried not to stare, "It has been warm," he replied and stepped in as she opened the door for him. The cool blast of air conditioning was a welcome respite. He immediately took note of the clean and orderly state of the condo, "Have you lived here long?"

"About six months, I moved down here from San Jose. Google's not all its cracked up to be," she added with a smirk, "I bought this place back in January and moved in late February I guess."

The furniture all seemed high-end, Restoration Hardware, or the like, either the woman had impeccable taste or she hired a designer to do the work. The pictures were sparse, but the ones that hung seemed to be all of family, no real sign of Ann living there at all.

"How long have you and Ms. Mason known each other?" Julio asked as he continued to glance around the living room.

The woman moved into the kitchen and took two glasses out of the cupboard, "We've known each other since college. We both attended Berkley. I stayed up there to work in Silicon Valley and she came down here to go to law school." She turned towards him, "Water?"

Normally, he would decline but it was especially hot and his wool suit didn't breathe well. He had hoped to change after dropping Mark off at his mom's, but when the call came in from Provenza he knew that wasn't going to be an option. "Yes, thank you."

She moved to the fridge filling the cups up with ice and then water, "We stayed in touch over the years, but she didn't move in until about two months ago."

She handed him a glass. "Thank you. Do you know where she is?"

She took a long drink of water, "Housesitting for a mutual friend of ours, Micah." She paused unsure about how much information she should be sharing with him, "She's been a little lost for the last few years. When the whole lawyer thing didn't work out like she expected — Well she's trying to figure out what's next."

He filed that bit of information a way, "Does she have a boyfriend, or"

Julio couldn't finish his thought as the woman nearly started choking on her water. "Boyfriend? Uh no, definitely not. The last guy she was with really messed her up. Some cop I think. Did one hell of a number on her. She hasn't been with a guy since." He schooled his expression knowing she was most likely referring to Gabriel. While on a personal level he was still disappointed in the way his colleague handled the whole Baylor situation, professionally it no longer mattered.

"What's this about?" She asked finally getting suspicious of all the questions.

"Ah, an issue with her car," he quickly made up and played down the real issue, "Just trying to get it sorted out."

The woman seemed to accept the response, "Do you have a card? I can tell her you stopped by if you'd like?"

Julio took a card out of his pocket, "Please do. And thank you Miss?"

"Jordan Hall," she took the card and shook his hand. He set the water down on the counter, "Thanks."

When he reached his car he pulled out his phone and quickly dialed Provenza, "Looks like we are on the right track with IDing our Jane Doe."

Back at PAB Provenza put his phone on speaker so the others could hear Julio's update, "Why do you say that?"

"The woman that Ann Mason is living with confirmed that she is housesitting for Micah Williams. It might be why there's been no missing person's report filed, no one is expecting her at home," he replied.

Sharon jumped in, "Did the roommate mention anything else?"

"She apparently hasn't dated anyone since Gabriel, whole thing really messed her up I guess. Also, she mentioned something about being a lawyer didn't work out. I didn't press her on it, but it would explain why her prints weren't in the database." He offered up.

"Yes, well when you're spying on your boyfriend for a slime ball like Peter Goldman and it all goes to hell it might have a little fall out." Provenza replied sarcastically.

"I guess you can't say it's the boyfriend now if she wasn't dating anyone," Andy threw back.

"She wasn't dating anyone that the roommate knew about. Doesn't mean she wasn't seeing someone," he chided back.

Not everyone in the room had any clue what they were talking about, but for Sharon, Andy and Provenza all of this was an unpleasant blast from the past. The room went silent for a moment as they digested the information Julio collected before Sharon answered, "Okay, come back and let's see where we can get on the prints."

Provenza hung up the phone as Tao walked back into the murder room, "We've printed the entire car. Outside it's as you'd expect lots of unknowns and partials. Most likely nothing, but we're going to run what we have just to be sure. On the inside, a different story. The car is new, and very clean. There were only a few fingerprints in the driver and passenger seats, in total 5 unique individuals. But only two on the steering wheel."

"Well that's great, but we don't have Mason's to check against —" Provenza began to complain.

"No, we don't. Mike I know it's late but see if Morales is still in. Take the prints and see if they match our victim," Sharon got off the desk she was sitting on, "Take Sykes with you. If we can rule out that our victim was in the car, then it would suggest that our Jane Doe is not Ann Mason."

Sykes collected her things and headed out with Lieutenant Tao, while Sharon returned her attention to the rest of the team, "Andy do we have anything on our homeowner yet?"

Andy gave Paige the go-ahead nod, "He is up in Vancouver. Left six days ago," she pulled out a picture from a folder and posted it to the board, "LAX and customs in Canada prove that he did leave the country."

"What kind of business is he in," Nolan asked, "must be doing well for himself to afford that place up on Canyon."

"Yeah well you could say that. He works in the entertainment industry," she responded.

"Oh great, an actor. I really hate actors," Provenza muffled.

"Even worse, he's a lawyer," Paige said giving Louie a consoling pat on the shoulder.

A loud groan was emitted by the entire team, lawyers were indeed the worst. "So he's some kind of lawyer for the film business?" Nolan followed up.

"He works with Fox and they have a TV show, a pilot, they're filming up there. Not sure why the studio needed to send a lawyer to the set, but that's where he is," she moved back towards her desk, "According the return ticket he should be returning back to LA the day after tomorrow."

Sharon moved across the room back towards her office, "Okay that buys us some time. I don't want to contact him until we know more about what happened in that house." The team nodded and went back to their work, it was getting late and while there was always plenty to do while working a murder case they were moving a bit blindly at the moment until they had an ID. "Andy can you join me," she gestured towards her office.

He swiveled around and stepped in behind her, closing the door, "What's up?"

"Rusty sent a text. Dean stopped by a little while ago. Sounds like they had a nice evening together," she said with a bit of a sad smile.

"I'm sure the house will reflect their fun time together. Do you think there's any chance Rusty will have the place put back together before we get home tonight?" He joked.

"One can only hope. Apparently there's leftover pizza in the fridge if we want it," her face clearly conveyed a distaste for that idea.

"Or we could stop at Tender Greens or Lemonade on the way home and get a nice fresh salad instead," he smiled when he saw her give a how-do-you-know-me-so-well look, "So when do you think we are getting out of here? It's already after 8." He looked back into the murder room. Julio returned earlier, but Tao and Sykes were still at the morgue. Everyone had a reason to get home.

Sharon rubbed the back of her neck, "I think we've done about all we can do today. The social media angle didn't work out. I really thought we'd be further along. Until we get the surveillance video from the supermarkets or an ID we don't have a lot to go on."

He noted her posture and knew she was on the verge of a tension headache, the sooner they left the better for everyone. "We don't have much today, but we will have more tomorrow. Yes it was surprising that she has had virtually no presence on social media since the whole Gabriel thing happened, but we have other avenues to follow-up on. Why don't we get out of here, send the team home and come back fresh in the morning?"

She looked at her watch and then out into the bull pen and gave a nod of agreement, "You might be right. Let's go home and see how badly those rugrats destroyed the condo."

Andy plastered a large grin on his face. She looked at him inquisitively, "What?"

"You said I was right. I need to mark today down in my calendar," he said as he stepped aside making room for her to gather her things and leave.

"I believe what I said was you might be right, not that you were right. There's a big difference there that I think you're missing," she quickly tossed back.

"Nah, I was right," he placed a hand on her back and guided her out the door, flicking off the lights.

She shook her head, there was no point refuting the linguistic nuances, besides for it gave her a moment of jovial distraction something Andy was always giving her. She flashed him a look over her shoulder before turning her attention back to the team, "Alright, let's call it a day. Provenza if you could let Tao know. He and Amy can pick up where they left off in the morning."

It was late by the time they got back to the condo. They decided to eat at Lemonade instead of bringing take-out home. It was under the guise of wanting to give Rusty more time to clean up, but really Andy knew Sharon did better when she had a moment to unwind from work before going home. Frankly, they both did. Since they moved in together it was harder and harder to keep from bringing work home. They found if they went for a drive, out to eat, or even something as mundane as grocery shopping before stepping foot in the condo their relationship was all the better for it. It gave them a moment to ease back into being just Sharon and Andy.

They stood together in the elevator headed back to the condo, leftovers in hand, "Are you going to try and go to church in the morning?"

She leaned into him, "As much as I'd like to, I think I'll have to catch mass another time. If things turn out the way we expect to I don't want to lose any time on the case. What about you, going to the gym?"

Sometimes Andy would go to church with Sharon, the big holidays of course and occasionally when it felt right, but most of the time they did their own thing on Sunday mornings and regrouped for brunch. Andy would work out while she went to mass. He would joke that while she was working out her soul, he was working out his body.

"Maybe if I wake up early I'll go. I agree though this case takes precedent," the elevator dinged and he squeezed her shoulder as they stepped out together.

Andy put the key in the door and opened it, but quickly shut it causing Sharon to nearly slam her face into it. "Andy!"

"Uh, I'm not sure you want to go in there," he said nervously.

She groaned, really hoping everything would be back in its rightful place by 10 o'clock, "How bad is it?"

"Well, you remember that time we decided to bring the bedding into the living room and enjoy ourselves during that thunderstorm when Rusty was gone?" He asked enjoying thinking about that particular occasion together.

Her eyes went big, "Uh huh."

"This may be worse than that," he replied and slowly pushed the door back open.

Her hand went to her mouth in an attempt to silence the horror from her voice, "What on earth?"

There were blankets and pillows and toys everywhere. It looked like an explosion. Suddenly she spotted lights moving beneath the blankets. Not expecting anyone, or anything to be there they both instinctively put their hands on their holsters. A moment later they heard giggling and relaxed their postures.

Andy closed the door as Sharon shouted, "Rusty!"

She expected to see him walk down the hallway, and nearly fell back into Andy when she saw him crawl out from underneath the blankets, "Yeah?"

"Care to explain," she waved her arms around.

"Well, Dean came by to pick up the boys, but they were having such a fun time they kind of well talked us into having a sleepover." The boys crawled out on either side of Rusty.

"Yeah grandma a sleepover!" They shouted.

Andy stepped around her and took the leftovers into the kitchen with a chuckle. It was an entertaining sight. He pulled out his phone an covertly snapped a shot of Rusty with the boys and filed it away. It was rare that the kid ever did anything that wasn't serious or full fledged "adulting," seeing him on the floor playing with the boys in a pillow fort nonetheless was a really good thing.

"Mark and Ben said we needed a fort in order to have a sleepover," Rusty started to say.

Mark interrupted, "Grandma can you believe Uncle Rusty has never built a fort before?"

Neither Sharon nor Andy were surprised by this fact, considering what his childhood was like after the age of six, there wouldn't have been much time for fun let alone a wholesome sleepover. "So you decided to show him?" She asked kneeling down to the boy.

"Yeah! Look at how big it is!" he replied.

"It's the best fort in the entire world," Ben added.

Andy stepped back into the living room, "It certainly appears that way, but I think it's way past your bedtime boys. Time to crawl in there and go to sleep." They were quickly met with disappointed sighs as the two reluctantly crawled back under the fort.

Rusty shrugged at Sharon as she gave him a quizzical look, still surprised he would have done such a thing. Before either could say anything on the subject Andy gave Sharon a hand back to her feet, "C'mon time for bed."

"Night Rusty. Goodnight Mark, Ben," she said as she followed Andy down the hall.

"Night Grandma Sharon and Grandpa Andy," they chimed back.

Sharon looked back once more before stepping into their bedroom and caught sight of Rusty crawling back underneath the blankets. A smile came to her face as she thought about her beautiful boys playing together, it was a wonderful scene that brought light back into her life on days like these. Andy was right the darkness could way until morning, tonight she was going to enjoy knowing that her family was all around.

Chapter Text

"It's her," the voice repeated on the other end of the phone.

Andy rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, still trying to adjust to the early hour. He glanced at the clock it was only 5:24 too early to be thinking about the case yet. He felt Sharon stir next to him, he pulled the sheet back and sat up on the edge of the bed, "Okay go over that again Tao."

"I couldn't sleep. I came back in about two hours ago to look over the prints. It's her," he said again.

"Are you sure?" They all knew it would be her. Sharon turned on the lamp next to Andy and pulled up behind him, partly to rub his back and be near him and partly to hear what Tao had to say.

"I double-checked the results myself. The prints from our Jane Doe match the ones I pulled from the steering wheel. I then matched that to the DMV records. It's Ann Mason."

Andy nodded and looked up at Sharon, "Okay, we're coming in. Call Provenza, let's get the rest of the team in."

"Will do," he heard as he clicked the phone off. He and Sharon stared at each other for a moment, "So now what?" he asked.

"Crawl back into bed and hide under the covers until another division takes the case?" She says with a cute, tired morning smile.

"Sure, works for me," he pulled her into a close embrace and they shared a few sweet, soft kisses, "Morning."

"Mmm, morning. Ugh is it wrong for me to say this is not how I imagined waking up on a Sunday morning?" She said laying against his chest.

"Wrong? No. I tend to agree. Mike could have waited at least another hour to call," he said with a filthy smirk, "I could have found much better ways to wake you up." He kissed along her jaw and smiled as he heard her sigh.

She allowed them to stay like that for a moment longer, "Okay, time to get up. Do you want the shower first?"

"I'd prefer to shower with you, but since we don't have that kind of time today. You go ahead. I'll get the coffee going," he placed a kiss to her temple and left her on the bed as he headed into the kitchen.

The moment he stepped into the living room he realized he forgot about the boys. The pillow/blanket fort was still mostly, well kinda intact. He could see feet dangling out the sides. He peaked underneath and saw both Ben and Mark, but no Rusty. He shook his head and smiled, knowing that he needed to remember to tease the kid about being too old to sleep on the floor. He quietly turned into the kitchen and got the coffee going. Thankfully there was already a batch of fresh grounds to use, so he could avoid the noise from the grinder. The boys did sleep like the dead, but the last thing they needed was to wake them up at this hour.

Opening the fridge, he found a few eggs and tomatoes. He decided to make them both an egg white omelet before heading in. Sharon wasn't a big breakfast eater he discovered quickly during the friendship, well unless they got a workout in when they woke up, but he knew how she got on a case - food took a backseat to the case. The coffee began percolating as he tossed a little butter into the pan and whipped up the eggs. As the pan warmed he poured the mix in and turned to low, then headed back to the bedroom. The shower was still on, so he poked his head into the bathroom and took a moment to admire her beautiful figure as the water poured across her skin.

Sharon felt the eyes on her as she pulled the razor up her calf, "Are you trying to distract me?"

"Me, no, never," he moved in closer, "Just checking to see if the shower was free. Coffee's on."

She hummed in doubt of his weak excuse, "I'll be out in a minute."

As much as he wanted to stay and watch her, he didn't want to burn their breakfast, "Don't forget to text Dean. I'm not sure what arrangement Rusty made, if any, to have the boys picked up this morning," he shouted as he stepped out of the bathroom, and reluctantly retreated back to the kitchen.

Sharon silently cursed to herself for forgetting they were in the condo. Both she and Andy passed out so quickly last night that any noise they might have made was lost on them.

When he came back into the bedroom several minutes later, she was already dressed in a black skirt and her new DVF white sleeveless high-neck silk blouse. Andy rubbed his hand in the small keyhole in the back as she tucked the bottom into the skirt, "Zip me up?"

"Happily," he put both hands on her hips and then moved them to the center as he eased the zipper up. He placed a kiss to her bare shoulder, "Breakfast is on the table. I'm going to hop in the shower."

She turned around a placed a hand on his white undershirt, "Thank you."

An hour later, Sharon and Andy arrived at PAB ready to dive back into the case. Now that they had a positive ID on their victim they could really begin the investigation. The team didn't need any orders, they knew where they needed to pick up and moved accordingly. Andy and Paige joined Buzz in RACR to go through the surveillance video while Provenza and Nolan began piecing together the life of one Miss Ann Mason.

They spent hours sifting through all the details they could get their hands on, when Buzz asked the rest of the team to join them in RACR.

"Ah Commander," Andy said gesturing to the middle seat, "our review of the supermarkets has turned up something." Once everyone else filed in he began debriefing the team.

"Buzz pull up the video. We finally found our victim at Gelson's Market on Franklin." The video monitor paused, "She pulls up in the Mercedes at 7:12pm. Here she is entering the store," Buzz fast-forwarded the video, "And here she is leaving 22 minutes later at 7:34pm. She gets into the car with one reusable shopping bag and heads out. From the parking lot camera she turns left onto Canyon Drive. Presumably to head up to the house." The video froze as the car left the video frame.

Nolan was the first to speak up, "Do we have any traffic cam footage?"

Buzz pulled up the feed, "Canyon and Franklin is a major intersection so we can pull that, but there aren't any camera headed up Canyon Drive."

Sharon turned to Buzz, "Can we see when she goes through the intersection."

"Yes," he started to click on his computer to pull up the video.

"What are you thinking about?" Provenza asked.

Sharon turned towards her Lieutenants, "I'm thinking that we already know where she ended up, but where did she come from. Have you gotten any details that might tell us what she was doing prior to her death?"

Provenza gestured to Nolan who pulled up the information they uncovered thus far and projected it onto the screen, "It sounds like her roommate was right. Ann was a bit lost after becoming a lawyer fell through."

Sharon was still surprised by that piece of information"And what happened with that?"

"She failed her boards," Tao shared, "four times."

Sharon shuddered, even Jack didn't take that many times to pass. In fact she was surprised Jack passed at all considering the lack of studying he was doing those days. She shook off the distant past to focus on the now, "So she never passed the exam. What did she end up doing? Please tell me she still isn't working for Goldman." The last thing they needed was to have to interview that worm.

Provenza provided the immediate relief the room was looking for, "No."

Sanchez continued, "I guess after things fell through with Gabriel she walked away from that job."

Ever the realist Provenza couldn't help but add, "It seems to me, she got what she wanted from Goldman then cut ties."

"We can't find any work history from September 2012 to February 2013. Based on the bar exam results it seems that she was off that entire time, most likely studying. She first took the exam in November 2012."

Tao jumped in with his knowledge, "The California Bar posts results 10 weeks after the applicant sits for the exam. So she would have gotten her first rejection around February 10th. They offer exams bi-annually, it would seem that she opted not to wait and immediately retook the test at the end of February. She found out in May 2013 that she failed again. You see her scores show—"

Nolan cut him off and switched screens, "We picked her up again the following month working as a legal secretary at Holland, George, & Myers. She stayed there for a little over a year and then she tried taking the bar a third time, when she found out she failed she left the firm."

"Some law firms are willing to hire law students on the provision that they pass the bar, when she didn't it is possible they let her go," Tao added.

"Then she got a job as a paralegal for," Nolan was interrupted by Provenza's chuckling response, "by the same group that Madeline Morgan works for."

He knew that was one of Sharon's least favorite defense attorney's that came through their murder room. Sharon gave Provenza a Darth lite stare and ignored his effort to rile her up, "How long did she stay there?"

Nolan brought up another screen, "Until March 2016 when she failed the board exam for the fourth an final time."

Andy crossed his arms, it felt odd, "After four years of trying to become a lawyer and working for law firms, she still couldn't get the job done. So then what?"

Nolan wasn't sure, "A series of short term jobs, all over the place really. Seemed really lost."

Sharon looked at the monitors, at all the data they managed to pull together over the last several hours, "Was she currently employed?"

"If she did it was off the book ma'am," Julio stated, "Maybe the roommate knows more. Should we bring her in?"

"Not yet," she shook her head, "I want to hold off on any notifications. I know this goes without saying, and I don't mean to repeat myself, but we need to tread carefully with this investigation. It is possible that this was a simple follow home, but it's also highly likely that this is connected to something else."

"So Commander," Andy turned his attention back to Sharon, "how do you want us to proceed?"

She glanced at her watch, it was already getting late and until she had a chance to brief Mason and Pope their options were limited, "Continue pulling the street cams, let's see if we can track her, at the very least it will help us understand the timeline." She turned back towards Provenza, "Pull anything else relating to Mason that might be of record. Cases she worked on. Those were all criminal attorneys it might be nothing, but we need to do our due diligence."

As Provenza, Sanchez, and Nolan got up to return to the murder room Sharon tapped Julio on the arm, "Julio I would like you and Amy to pick up our Mr. Williams tomorrow when his flight arrives. Be vague, say it has to do with a neighbor, we need to get as much out of him as possible."

Andy agreed, "Maybe he was the real target."

"Fair point," she sighed, "Add that to the list of things we need to check into. Known enemies of Micah Williams."

Once half the team shuffled out of the room Sharon began rubbing her temples, this case had only just begun and already it was filled with a myriad of issues. She let out another sigh. Andy tapped on her shoulder and gestured towards the door. She got up and followed him out. As they walked together towards the break room he rested his hand on her shoulders, he could feel the tension flowing off her.

"You looked like you needed a break," he gave her a sad look.

Mmm she hummed, "I did." She turned and looked around the room noting it was empty, "Oh Andy, this case. Why do I feel like the past is coming back to haunt us?"

He smiled at her groan, she didn't often let out such vocal frustrations at work, "Because it is. Proof that we never truly put something behind us." He rubbed her shoulders, "The team is on it. We've only been at this for two days now and we already IDed the victim and put together a bit of a timeline. We'll bring Micah in tomorrow and once you brief the Chiefs you'll be able to put together a game plan. You'll figure this out Sharon, you always do."

She let her self sink back into the weight of his touch. To anyone else walking by it would just look like two colleagues standing closely, there wasn't much in it, but for her it was just enough. She let out another sigh, "Do you think we will need to let Gabriel know?"

It was something Andy had also thought about. He had mixed feelings on the subject. Given his trail of ex-girlfriends many of which ended badly he wasn't too sure he'd want the past dredged up again. On the other hand, at one time Gabriel did care for this woman deeply. Yes she betrayed him, but he did love her. That feeling might not entirely go away just because he willed it to happen. He stopped rubbing her shoulders and took a step back to face her directly, "Right now, no. We don't know what happened to her, so for now let's wait. He will hear about it eventually, but when it gets to be public or at least becomes DA knowledge, we can revisit it."

"It'll be DA knowledge tomorrow Andy. I can't hold off calling Hobbs in, especially given the victim's connection to Peter Goldman and the whole Baylor case," she turned around and began pacing.

He stepped towards her again and placed a hand on her arms to settled the nervous energy, "True, but Hobbs is discrete. I doubt she is going to want the world to know about this case. Have her come in tomorrow, in-person, and discuss it. If she can't then maybe she can talk to Brenda. Either way it'll be okay, but we're not going to be able to solve everything tonight."

She looked up and smiled, it still surprised her at times how the resident hot-head could be the most calming influence in her life. The thought caused her to chuckle, "You're right."

"You said it again! I must really be on a roll!" He pulled her in for a quick embrace. "Now get some tea and we'll get back to work. Don't worry you got the A team on it."

She laughed, it felt good, the break, the talk, the embrace, all of it. "Thank you Andy."

"Just another service," he smiled as he poured himself a glass of iced tea from the fridge. After the heart attack she limited him to just two cups of coffee a day. While tea still had caffeine apparently she was okay with that, it didn't make sense to him, but he mostly went along with it. It didn't hurt her if she didn't know about the occasional third cup during his AA meetings, or while out with Provenza. In reality, she knew about those, he could eat all the mints he wanted but he was never going to be able to cover up the taste of coffee from his lips. At the end of the day it didn't matter, they were happy and it was working, something that neither had experienced in decades.

"Get back to work Lieutenant," she smiled as he walked out of the break room. She knew it would only take a minute for the flood of the case to seep back in, but she was going to take the moment she got and enjoy it.

Chapter Text

"Chief," Sharon stood at the door of his office and waited for him to gesture her inside.

"Commander, please take a seat," Pope walked towards his conference room table. "So I hear you're getting married soon?"

Sharon silently cursed herself for being prompt. Mason wasn't there yet and now she'd have to endure the awkward attempts of Will Pope pretending to care about the personal lives of his staff. "Uh yes. The end of November after Thanksgiving in fact."

Pope took a seat at the end of the table, the power seat they say, "Good, good. Kids all coming out I suppose?"

Sharon plastered on a smile, "Yes. My daughter will be in the wedding in fact. That's partly why we picked that date she has a small break before the holiday shows begin."

"Ah right, right. She's still in New York then?" He asked twiddling his fingers.

Sharon had to hide the look of surprise from her face that Pope remembered anything about her kids, "Yes. She still has another two years on her contract then I believe she's coming back to Los Angeles. Ballet is hard on the body and you can only do it for so long. She's talking about getting her masters. We'll see, it'd be great to have her back in town again." She paused looking at the door hoping that Mason would arrive soon, she didn't want to have to keep up the charade much longer, "And you how are your children?"

"Oh well the oldest leaves next week for college. Freshman at UC Davis," the man may have a number of faults, but by the grin on his face and the gleam in his eye there was no doubt he was a proud father

"Oh congratulations," her voice was full of sincerity.

"Yeah, I'm not keen on her being so far from home, but it might be good to have her away from her mother's influence for awhile. My youngest has another two years of high school to finish. Can't believe I'll have two in college at the same time," his expression changed to concern. Sharon knew how hard it was to finance two kids at university together, thankfully with Ricky and Emily being three years apart it didn't last that long, but that year felt like a decade.

"Tao, has all three boys in college right now," she said in an effort to cheer him up.

He let out mouthed wow, but before he could say anything in response the door opened. Sharon couldn't help but feel relieved when she saw Mason at the door.

"Apologies, still dealing with some transition meetings," Mason offered up as he quickly found a seat across from Sharon.

Pope waved him off, "Ok Sharon what's going on that was so important that you meet with us together?" Will never had any problems switching gears and jumping straight into business, Sharon was surprised that he held off as long as he did.

Sharon cleared her throat, "Major Crimes picked up a case Saturday afternoon in the Hollywood Hills. A young African American woman was assaulted two days earlier and left to die. We struggled initially to get an ID on our victim, but yesterday Tao was able to confirm the prints —" Sharon turned her attention to Pope, "It's Ann Mason."

"Who?" Chief Mason asked clearly not able to recall the woman's name. There's no reason he should, he wasn't even running CI five years ago.

Pope leaned back in his chair, eyes wide as he brought his hand to his face, "And we are 100% sure?"

"We would need DNA to be completely certain, but yes the DMV print matches our victim and the prints we lifted from her car which is also registered in Ann's name. It's her Chief," she replied, they both continued to ignore Mason's confusion for the moment, he'd catch up eventually.

He got up and moved to the window and looked back at Sharon, his mind running through the entire situation, "Do we have any leads on suspects yet?"

"Unfortunately no. We are bringing in the homeowner," she looked at her watch, "within the hour once he lands at LAX. Ann was housesitting for him while he was away on business. At this point we have very little to go on. The killer wore gloves, we are sending CID back to the house to check for any DNA the killer may have left, but I'm not hopeful that we will find any."

Mason raised his hands, "Can someone explain to me why this victim is such a big deal? I've never even heard of her. Is she supposed to be famous or something?"

Sharon looked up to Pope who gave her a nod, "Back in 2012, I was following Major Crimes around conducting an audit around the Shootin' Newton case—"

"I remember, we were being sued by the victim's family. Baylor right?" He asked trying to quickly catch himself up.

"Right. Well it became obvious to me and Chief Pope that the Baylor's attorney, Peter Goldman, was privy to details about the case that were never made public. We suspected a mole in the division. I stayed on with the team to figure out who the leak might be, and that summer I caught a lead. Detective Gabriel was dating a young woman, a recent law school graduate, that turned out to be a spy for Goldman. He hired her to get information out of Gabriel and pass it to him. That woman was Ann Mason," she gave a nearly imperceptible shutter, still despising that case.

Light bulbs immediately went off for Asst Chief Mason, "Ok, caught up. Have you notified the family yet?"

"No, we are holding off as long as possible. No missing persons has been filed with her yet. We would like to get a better handle on this before we share any details with the family. Considering her relationship with a former LAPD detective we have concerns that they might go to the media and turn this case into a bigger nightmare than it already is. Based on what she told a friend about the break-up, I don't think anyone in her circle knows the truth about what really happened," she clasped her hands in front of her, "Chief," she turned back to Pope, "I'm going to bring Hobbs in this afternoon, but I think we need to give Brenda a courtesy call."

Will nodded in agreement and looked back out the window.

Mason was thoroughly surprised by both their responses to handling this case. "Wait," he scoffed, "you're going to tell former Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson that the woman that helped bring down her career is dead. Isn't she a suspect?"

Sharon jumped to the woman's defense, "Chief Johnson retired, and it wasn't due to the Baylor case. Not that it helped anything, but she was cleared —"

"Except that they created a rule for handling suspects because of her and even named it after her. How can you say she wouldn't what revenge for what happened?" He asked annoyed with how keen they were to eliminate her as a potential suspect.

Sharon looked up to Pope figuring he would jump in to defend his former lover's honor, but none came so she continued, "That's true Chief, however, the real reason she left was because of Stroh. Brenda is not the type of person to seek revenge for something that happened five years ago. She's moved on—"

"Besides, she was in Atlanta last week," Pope offered out of nowhere.

Sharon had no idea that the two stayed in touch after she left, their split was less than amicable at the time. She and Brenda stayed in touch professionally, occasionally their cases bumping into the DA's Investigative team, but they were never on more friendly terms. "Visiting family?" she inquired.

Pope moved back to the conference room table, but remained standing, "Her father passed away, she went back for the funeral," his voice was somber and layered with unrelated regret.

Her heart immediately went out to Brenda, Willy Rae died five years ago around the same time and she knew how hard Brenda took the loss. It's never easy losing a parent, but when they're both gone you suddenly have this strange overwhelming sensation that you've been orphaned. She couldn't explain it, but she'd talked about it with others who described the same feeling. She looked across at Mason who had a look of self-deprecation for jumping to conclusions. He was great when it came to tech stuff, but he still had a lot to learn about solving murders. A smile came to her face as she recalled their first case together and her reminding him to call the victim by name, instead of the "subject" a hold over from his Criminal Intelligence days — how life comes full circle.

"In any case," Sharon redirected in an effort to wrap up the meeting and get back to her team, "We need to let her know. We're holding off telling Gabriel or anyone else until deemed absolutely necessary."

Pope nodded in agreement, "Fine," he stepped towards his desk clearly done with the briefing and ready to move on to his next appointment, "Whatever resources you need Commander, don't worry about the overtime."

Taking her cue she stood up, "Thanks Chief."

"Please keep us informed," he gestured at both himself and Mason.

"Will do," with that she collected her things and excused herself from the lion's den and headed down two floors to the murder room. She enjoyed the momentary solace the short journey on the elevator. She laughed when the doors opened, unsurprised by the face standing in front of her.

"I hope you haven't been standing there all morning," her voice was cheeky and playful.

Andy rubbed the back of his neck, "Of course not, I was just passing by and saw the elevator open and there you were."

Sharon nodded with doubt, "Uh huh, we can talk about that later."

Andy followed her into her office, "So how did it go?"

She took off her blazer and hung it behind her, "About as expected. We have the Chief's full support, any resource."

Andy shrugged, "Well that's something. At least you won't have to beg for overtime for a change."

She let out a soft hum as she moved to the window staring out at the view. She could see City Hall across the street. She felt Andy move up behind her, "What is it?"

"Did you know the Chief's dad died recently?" She didn't need to preface which Chief he'd know who she was talking about. Even though she retired, she would always be the Chief.

Andy shook his head, "No, I haven't heard but to be fair I haven't really kept in touch lately. We've been so busy here and with the wedding. Howard didn't say anything?"

She gave a subtle shake, "Now that he's back working in SOB we don't see each other as much. We haven't had a case where we needed his team. I saw him in a budget meeting a month ago, but I gather the death was more recent." She turned back around to face him.

He moved away to the other side of her desk, to give her some space, it was time to get back into work mode, "I'll tell the team. Maybe we should send some flowers or something?"

"That would be nice," she said taking a seat, "Anything to report," she inquired switching gears.

"Julio and Amy just left for the airport, the flight in from Vancouver is running a little early. Buzz and Paige are working backwards on the traffic cams to help put together a timeline and whereabouts before she went to the house." He moved towards her open door, "We'll let you know when Micah arrives. When are you expecting Hobbs?"

She glanced at her watch, "Around lunch time. She is in court this morning."

He gave the door jam a pat in acknowledgement "If you need me I'll be RACR going through the painstakingly slow click-through traffic cam angles." He gave a small pout as he stepped out of her office.

She smiled as she watched him walk away, he might joke about being annoyed with the work, but she knew in reality he was glad to be doing something useful again. It wasn't out with the team, but he wasn't just a glorified desk monkey any longer. It brought him new found satisfaction, running his own team, delving into surveillance, she saw the fire returning to his eyes and was glad to get her old Andy back. For months after his heart attack it seemed like he was always shuffling a step behind, not really here, not really engaging. His mind was elsewhere, torn between reminiscing the old days and pondering retirement. She knew he loved his job, but it wasn't until after the explosions, then reshuffling that he began to really mentally recover from his heart attack. Like anything else he needed to grieve the loss of what was, and accept what is — he spent months in complete denial that he even had a heart attack, let alone why. Sharon chuckled for a moment when she thought back to the countless conversations they had about him not experiencing any stress, if it wasn't so serious she'd say it was adorable. When he was finally out of view, she turned her attention back to her laptop and the work ahead, leaving thoughts of Andy for another time.

An hour later Provenza's phone buzzed. Micah cleared customs at LAX. Julio and Amy picked him up and were headed back. Given traffic at 10 in the morning, it would take them a little while to get back. He set his phone down and got up to give the Commander a status update when he noticed Orderno walking into the murder room. Provenza was still feeling grumpy from his ruined weekend and couldn't help but vent his frustration on the unsuspecting man, "What are you doing back up here?"

Nolan looked up from his desk to see him hand Provenza a file folder. "Another missing persons report came in earlier this morning. It matches your victim. The original report came into the LA County Sheriff's office. I put a flag out on anyone matching the description, which is how it landed on my desk."

Provenza was surprised when he opened the file, the name was a match, "Who called it in?"

Robby put his hands in his pockets and stared at the murder board, "The victim's brother. Said he tried calling her several times this weekend, they were supposed to meet up on Sunday. When she never showed up he stopped by her condo, but she wasn't home. So he called it in. LA County was going to slow walk it, less than 72 hours, but when they saw my flag they went ahead and rushed it over." He pointed to the DMV picture Nolan printed and posted earlier, "Looks like your victim."

"Because it is," Provenza sunk back in his chair. He knew they'd have to deal with the family sooner than they wanted, but now that a report had been filed. "I want you to call the sheriff's office and tell them to transfer the case over to you." Provenza turned around and pointed, "Nolan, I want you to go down with Orderno and call the brother. See what kind of information, background we can get on her."

Nolan got up from his chair and grabbed the coat hanging off the back. He didn't mind gathering intel, but wasn't sure why they needed Orderno to stay involved, "And he's just gonna buy LAPD working the case because?" Nolan asked getting up from his chair.

Robby turned at stood next to Wes, he could see the man was sizing him up, "Because his sister lives in our jurisdiction."

Wes couldn't offer a response, so he smartly kept his mouth shut and followed Robby out, while Provenza looked towards the Commander's office. Reluctantly, he got up and knocked on her open door.

"Come in," she said without looking up.

"Uh, Commander," he paused.

"Are Julio and Amy on their way back?" Knowing that she should be expecting their return soon.

"Yes, yes they are. Julio just sent a text that they were on their way. Probably 30 minutes out." He said moving towards the chairs in front of her desk.

She closed the lid of her mac book, "Is there something else? I saw Robby stopped by."

"Yes there is, Ann's brother has reported her missing," he said handing her the file.

"Dammit," she rarely swore, but nothing about this case was going the way she wanted. She took the file out of his hand and began flipping through it, "LA County?"

He nodded, "We're getting it transferred. Nolan and Orderno are going to go collect background."

"Sounds like he didn't know she was housesitting if he went by her condo," talking to herself, "Maybe they weren't all that close. Ok, let me know what Wes comes up with. When Julio arrives I want Amy and Paige to conduct the interview."

Provenza gave her a quizzical look clearly surprised by her selection and let out a long and drawn out, "Ok" before stepping out of her office. Sharon worked in strange and mysterious ways, but her methods were usually the right ones.

Paige shot off a quick text to her supervisor when they pulled up to PAB, letting them know they'd arrived. Andy made his way back into the murder room with Tao and pulled the projection screen down over the board to hide the case details from Micah.

Andy went to meet Amy and Camila at the elevators, while Provenza and Tao headed to electronics. He want to hold back and wait for Sharon, needing the opportunity to size up their homeowner for himself. Vancouver was a 20 hour drive from LA, not impossible for Mr. Williams to drive down commit the murder and drive back while maintaining his alibi. The scenario was doubtful, but until they talked to him they couldn't rule anything out.

When Micah arrived in the murder room, he looked around the room clearly baffled why he was brought here. Sharon stepped out of her office and made her way to him, "Mr. Williams, thank you for coming in today."

"Your detectives didn't really give me much of a choice in the matter," he said coming to a stop in the middle of the room.

She opted not to respond, "Amy will you take him to the conference room? We'll have everything straightened out shortly and then you can be on your way."

Andy followed Sharon as she turned around and walked towards the electronics room where the rest of the squad, except Nolan, stood. They watched as Amy stepped into the conference room where Det. Paige was waiting for them.

"Please take a seat," Amy gestured.

"Can someone please tell me why I've been taken from LAX to the police station? Customs said I was cleared to enter the country, was there some issue with my passport?" The man asked still trying to piece together the strange events of his morning.

"Can you tell us where you've been?" Paige asked.

"Canada," he placed his hands on the table, relaxed "Vancouver to be more specific."

"For vacation?" Amy asked as if she didn't already know the answer.

"No work. I work for a movie studio and they were having some issues filming on location. I flew up to sort out the legal problem on set. I don't normally travel for these kinds of things, but it's a big movie and doing it in person seemed easier," he was animated as he spoke and everyone could tell the responses were honest and forthcoming.

"Hmm what movie?" Paige asked, it wasn't relevant but she was hoping to make him more comfortable.

"I can't really say, but it's got a big named action star in it. Big deal for the studio. So is that why I've been brought in because I was in Canada?" He replied still confused.

Amy switched gears, "How long have you been living in the Hollywood Hills?"

He leaned back in his chair, "Not long, I just got the house actually. The commute is a bitch, I used to live closer to the studio, but my business analyst said this would be a good investment. Why?" He asked beginning to grow suspicious of their questions, "Did something happen to my house is that why I'm here?"

"Can you tell us how you know Ann Mason?" Paige asked knowing they were running out of time before he asked for a specifics.

The question caused his posture to change, he straightened up in his seat, ""Yeah she's an old friend. She's between jobs at the moment, so I'm having her housesit while I'm out of town, give her a little extra cash," he looked between the two women, "Did something happen to Ann? Why aren't you telling me anything?"

"Do you know if Ann had any enemies?" Amy asked as a follow-up, continuing to tag team with Camila.

"Everyone loved Ann. Well everyone, but that ex of hers from a few years ago," he caught the shared look between the two, "he was one of you, you know."

Back in the electronics room, concern grew as Micah brought up David. Sharon looked towards Andy who was standing, as always, behind her right shoulder. He gave her an I know how it sounds looks. She spun back around in her seat, folding her arms.

"You knew Detective Gabriel?" Amy asked, neither she or Paige ever worked with David which was one of the reasons Sharon wanted them to question Micah.

"Oh yeah a few times, she brought him to a party I threw at my condo. Seemed like a nice guy, but looks can be deceiving. They move in together and a few weeks later he kicks her out of the place. She showed up on my doorstep, poor thing, didn't know where to go. Worst break-up I've ever seen. Anyways, besides him everyone got along well with Ann. Now can you please tell me why you are asking me all of these questions. Do I need to call my lawyer?" Micah pulled his phone out of his suit coat pocket.

Amy put her hand up, "We will explain in a moment. When is the last time you heard from Ann?"

He set his phone down for a moment, and rubbed his cheek as he thought about it, "I guess it was last Tuesday. She called, we didn't chat long but I remember her saying that she was going to stop by a party at one of my neighbor's houses later that week. Apparently he came over to extend an invite to me, and they hit it off. Oh and I guess a quick text on Thursday saying an offer came in for my condo," he turned his eyes back towards the detectives, "I haven't heard from her since, but I was so busy that I guess I didn't notice that it's been a few days."

"What's your neighbor's name, the one that threw the party?" Paige asked, they knew a party was held because the neighbor that called it in mentioned it and it's why her car was so far from the house, but they didn't think it was pertinent to the case at the time.

"Oh, uh, Logan Seager, he's an investment banker. Works downtown, odd hours, I think he's on the Singapore desk." He watched as the two took notes, but remained silent, "Now I'm done answering any more questions, until you tell me what this is all about," his hands hit the desk with a bit more force than he likely intended but the effect was the same.

Amy gave Paige the go-ahead, "A missing person's report was recently filed by Ann's brother. We are speaking with everyone who was in contact with her leading up to her disappearance."

It was a last minute change in tactics, Sharon decided that the missing person's report could be used to their advantage. It was a half-truth, a report was filed, but no one needed to know just yet that they already found her.

Everyone watched his reaction carefully, gauging whether the news came as a surprise. "Oh god," he brought his hands to his face, "She's missing? For how long since when?"

Amy spoke calmly, she could tell this was the first he was hearing of the news, "Well, her brother tried calling her several times over the weekend, and was supposed to have lunch with her yesterday, but she was a no show. He called it in this morning."

"Have you, uh, talked to her roommate?" He said his voice shaking.

"We plan to bring her in as well," Paige said leaving the answer as vague as possible.

"It sounds like the last place she was seen was your house. We've sent crime scene techs and patrol to your house," Amy added as nonchalantly as possible, they needed to make sure he didn't go home and find the bloody crime scene.

"Sure of course, I can swing by my condo and shower before I head into work," he tried to pull himself together, "If there's anything I can do—"

Both women stood up, "Thank you, we will be sure to be in touch," Amy said ushering Micah towards the door.

"Well that went better than expected," Tao offered, "The missing persons report really played into our hands there."

"Indeed," Sharon shook her head, "We've managed to buy ourselves a bit more time. Julio, go see if you can talk to the roommate again. I don't want her getting suspicious if Micah or the brother call her."

Julio pushed back from the cabinet he was leaning against and walked out of electronics. Sharon turned towards Provenza "Anything from Wes yet?"

"No, nothing yet," he said checking his messages once more.

"Andy please have Amy and Camila go back to the house and follow-up on this Mr. Seager. See if there's anything more to the story about a possible love interest."

He said "Ok" and stepped out.

Sharon returned her attention to Tao and Provenza, still thinking through the information they'd collected to date, "Well," her thoughts were interrupted when Hobbs opened the door.

The surprise of a new visitor caused them Sharon to turn around, "I thought you were in court this morning?" Sharon asked puzzled at her friend's early arrival.

"I was. Defense asked for another continuance," she huffed clearly annoyed that she wasn't going to be doing verbal battle today, "You wanted to chat, so I figured I'd cross the street and see what new things Major Crimes had for me today."

Sharon stood up, "We do." She gestured for Hobbs to step out and join her in her office, "Keep at it. Interrupt me if you find anything."

Once Hobbs stepped into her office she turned around and closed the door behind her. Hobbs set her briefcase down, but waited to sit, "So what's going on? You've got that look."

"Do you remember a few years ago, before I was with Major Crimes, investigating Brenda for that Baylor case?" Sharon asked pointing to the chairs in front of her desk, wanting her friend to get comfortable it was going to be a long chat. Hobbs nodded and she continued, "Well then, you might, uh, remember an Ann Mason—"

Before Sharon could even finish her sentence Andrea let out a guttural moan, "Please don't tell me this woman has lodged a complaint?" She groaned again, "I've got both of them across the street with us now, the DA's office really can't get saddled with any scandals right now Sharon."

"Well, she didn't lodge a complaint, exactly" Sharon said a bit sarcastically. Andrea gave her a curious look, "She's our victim. She was assaulted and died last Thursday night."

Andrea stood up from her chair so quickly she almost knocked it back, "Last Thursday and I'm only just hearing about this?" She began to pace, "My boss is going to lose it."

Sharon held up her hands, "Hang on, we didn't get a positive ID until yesterday. Her face was badly beaten in and there was no ID left with the body." Andrea stopped pacing and seemed to calm down at the realization that her friend did not conceal information for the last four days. "We are still trying to piece together a timeline and figure out what happened."

"Please tell me you have some lead on a suspect," she implored.

"Possible lead on a neighbor. Ann's friend said she mentioned that she and the neighbor recently hit it off, might be something there," Sharon tried to sound hopeful, but she knew in reality they didn't have much to work with at the moment.

"Ok, walk me through everything. I'm going to need to brief the DA when I get back," Andrea returned to her seat concerned, but more calm than before.

It took nearly an hour to bring Andrea up to speed with what happened five years ago, and with where the case stood now. When she finally left she took the free moment to go to the break room and grab some lunch. Andy thankfully remembered to bring their leftovers from the night before when they rushed out this morning. She found her Tuscan kale salad with grilled chicken and returned to her desk.

"Ma'am," Buzz paused waiting for the Commander to look up from her computer the remnants of her half-eaten salad sitting next to her, "I think you need to come see this."

Sharon looked around and noticed the rest of the team heading down the hall towards RACR, "Did you find something?" She got up and put her blazer back on as she stepped out of her office through the side door.

"Uh, maybe," he fell into step behind her.

When they reached RACR she noticed that the traffic cam video was still up on the screen from the night before. She turned to Andy trying to read him, his face was neutral but his eyes were full of concern. "Okay what do we have?"

Andy gave Buzz a wave of the hand to go ahead with playing the video, "Well I was going back through the traffic cam video working our way forward since we tracked her back to the freeway and then lost her." Andy gave him a pointed look to get on with the point, "when I got back to the intersection in front of the market I realized that I didn't check the video when she left. Because she pulled out of the lot directly onto Canyon and didn't go through the intersection, but—"

Andy cut him off tired of dragging this out, "Take a look at the car turning right onto Canyon from Franklin shortly after our victim leaves the store."

The first angle Buzz showed was a side view and there was nothing to tell except the make and model. It appeared to be a two-year old dark blue Lexus IS. "What's so significant about this car?"

Buzz turned the camera on from the opposite direction.

"It isn't about the car, it's about who is driving the car," Andy replied cautiously.

The whole team turned their attention to the monitors. The video was grainy, but it was still fairly obvious who was sitting behind the steering wheel.

"Oh," Sharon let out.

"Yeah, so things just got way more complicated," Andy shook his head and looked across the room at Provenza who appeared just as stunned as Andy was a few minutes ago when he saw the video for the first time.

"Do we have any idea where he goes from here?" Provenza was trying to be hopeful despite the evidence in front of him.

Buzz shook his head, "No, he's two cars behind our victim as they drive up Canyon. Maybe it's just a coincidence."

"Buzz didn't they teach you anything in your reserve officer training?! There are no such things as coincidences," Provenza barked out. It had nothing to with Buzz, but the case was becoming more tangled than a mangrove root.

"We need to bring him in," Sharon stated somberly.

Chapter Text

Sharon looked at the clock, it was only half-passed two, but it felt much later. This case was moving quickly, but with little results to show for it. Every time she turned around there was another complication, another stumbling block in their way. She couldn't believe their rotten luck when she saw the video footage Buzz pulled off the traffic cameras. Sharon let out a frustrated groan, wondering why on earth it had to be him of all people.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a soft knock on her door. She didn't need to look up to know by its sound that it was Julio. For such a strong, and often angry man he also had the ability to be unbelievably gentle. It reminded her of the old boxing phrase, "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee," that was most certainly Julio.

Julio waited until Sharon looked up and acknowledged his presence before stepping partially into her office. "Ma'am patrol found the car."

Sharon couldn't help but show her surprise, "Already?" She immediately pushed back from her desk and stood up to follow Julio, "Where?"

Julio stepped back into the murder room before pointing out the window, "It's parked across the street at the courthouse."

Across the room Nolan shouted, "What's he doing there?"

Completely deadpanned Julio shrugged and responded, "Traffic ticket?" causing the room to break out in snickering laughter.

Sharon raised her arms gesturing to bring the professionalism back to the room. She looked out the window, "Okay, we need to get on this now before he goes anywhere." Turning around she walked towards the rest of the team "Buzz can you fit one of your button cams onto Amy's blouse?"

"Of course Commander, it'll just take me a few minutes to get it set-up," Buzz pushed back from his desk and walked out into electronics to get his equipment.

"Mike, I want you to go with her," Sharon said going back to the window as if she could see his car parked across the street. "I don't want you to get him too riled up. See if he will agree to come back to PAB to talk to us. If he refuses find out what you can about why he was in the area. He doesn't live in that part of town and as far as we know he doesn't know our victim, so we need to find the connection to Canyon Drive."

The mood in the room seemed to shift as Buzz returned and began fitting the camera onto the lapel of Amy's jacket.

Julio raised his hand, "If I promise not to throw the first punch can I go with them?"

Nolan was all to happy to join in on the fun. In the almost twelve months he had worked with the team he was finally starting to settle in and feel part of the family. Taking part in the jokes and camaraderie that he missed being an undercover unit of one, "Maybe we should all go with them, like a class trip it could be fun."

Sharon leaned against the desk and as she watched their playful banter, they needed a few minutes of laughter and until Buzz was ready to go they could spare the time.

"I refuse to be the chaperone," Provenza said keeping his eyes on his crossword.

Andy stood up and quickly fired back, "You've never chaperoned anyone a day in your life."

The comment got him to look up, "What are you talking about, I chaperone you every day," Provenza shot.

When she saw Andy ready to respond she put her hands up, "Enough," calling an end to things before they had an opportunity to spiral out of control.

After checking the video monitoring and readjusting the flag pin with the mini-cam Buzz gave a thumbs up, "Okay, the camera is working. Good to go."

Sharon pushed herself off the desk, "Remember ignore his taunts, we want to get as much information out of him before he gets suspicious."

Amy and Mike nodded before making their way down stairs and across the street towards the courthouse, while the rest of the team filed into electronics to watch the live video feed from Amy's button camera.

It only took them a few minutes to reach the parking garage next to the courthouse. "Patrol said it's on the third level of the parking garage, second aisle," Amy said as they stepped onto the elevator.

They walked up an down the rows looking for the blue Lexus. Amy was the first to spot it, "That's definitely our Lexus." They walked closer to double-check the license plate, "Is it just me or does that seem way out of his price range."

"I guess nothing is out of your price range when you're a dirty cop," Mike retorted clearly annoyed being sent to talk to his ex-partner.

Mike knelt down to take a closer look at the car, looking to see if there was anything that might be important to the case. Amy checked the windows, verifying the car was empty when she heard a familiar voice call out, "What's the problem now Honor Roll?"

She looked up a found the inspiration for several disturbing sex dreams walking towards her. Even in a suit he had a rugged, bad boy look about him that seemed impossible to pull off. Amy knew it was wrong on so many levels, but she could deny the fact that he was attractive. She pushed away the body shuddering thoughts remembering why she was here in the first place, "We'd like to talk to you about where you were three nights ago?"

Mark continued walking towards Amy, not noticing Mike kneeling next to the front bumper. His grin was mischievous and full of a familiar cocky bravado, "Not until you tell me why once again the LAPD is following me around like I'm some kind of criminal. Or maybe it's because you've got some kind of crush on me? Is that it Honor Roll?"

His remark caused Mike to stand up, the moment of surprise on Mark's face when he say Mike wasn't lost on either detective. Tao ignored his old partner's attempts at some form of sick and twisted flirting, "When did you get the new car? A bit pricey for an ex-cop."

Mark continued to stare directly at Amy as he replied, "Working as an investigator for the defense pays better. Now why do you care about what car I drive?"

It was clear to both detectives that Mark wasn't going to respond to Tao, he wanted to talk to his play thing. While Amy didn't have any desire to engage with this reprobate she also knew they needed some answers. Swallowing her disgust she took a step closer to him, "Where were you three nights ago Mark?"

He shrugged his shoulders and simply replied, "I was out."

"Maybe we should ask Sherry where you were?" Amy threw out knowing that mentioning his wife would immediately rile him up. She knew that was the exact thing the Commander didn't want, but in her experience with Hickman he only gave them something if he was fired up.

"I doubt that my ex-wife is still keeping tabs on my every move," he replied stepping closer to Amy. His grin made her feel uncomfortable. Tao watched the exchanged and was ready to call an end to all this nonsense.

"Sherry finally dumped your ass. Well good for her," Mike's voice was full of a unique brand of glee, "So if she can't tell us where you were then why don't you?"

He leaned against the trunk of his car a foot away from Amy, but staring down his ex-partner, "Like I said I was out. Probably having a drink," he paused looking back at Amy, "Maybe you should try it, you could certainly loosen up a bit."

Tao was officially annoyed. He walked up to Mark, getting in his face, "Try again." Mike held up a screen grab of the traffic camera, "Why were you headed up Canyon Drive in the Hollywood Hills around 7:30?"

There was no missing Hickman's annoyance, his posture changed, "This is harassment." He moved towards the driver side of the car, "Don't have enough cases of your own to work anymore?"

Amy stepped aside as Mark clicked the remote to open the car doors. Her voice was unnervingly calm, "Are you sure about that? Maybe we should arrest you for murder?"

"What?!" Mark spun around almost knocking Amy over.

Mike moved to Amy's side, "Yes Mark, murder," he pulled out the cuffs from the back of his waistband, "unless of course you'd rather tell us where you were going and why."

He scoffed at opened the door, calling their bluff, "If you had any real evidence that I did do something you would've already put me in those cuffs. No, I think you have nothing but some picture of me driving to a neighborhood at night, nothing more." He slid into the driver seat and turned the car on, "I'm done." He slammed the car door shut and rolled down the window, "Oh and tell Sharon that if you bother me again you better have more than that or I'll sue you for harassment."

"Dammit," Sharon muttered under her breath as she watched Mark drive off. They got nothing whatsoever from him.

"Well I thought that went well," Provenza rolled his eyes, sarcasm dripping from his voice.

Picking up their banter where they left off awhile ago, Flynn doesn't hesitate to respond, "Yeah so good I think we can go home early tonight."

Sharon shoots them both an annoyed look, "Not helpful." She rubs her temples feeling a headache coming on and whats worse is she isn't sure whether it's from the case or from her two Lieutenants acting like five year olds.

"Oh but we live to be helpful, don't we Flynn," he says patting his old friend on the back.

Before Andy can say anything else he sees the look that Sharon is giving him, it was clearly a "you won't have sex for days if you even think about continuing" looks. He wisely shut his mouth before he could put his foot in it and let her speak.

Sharon leaned back in the chair, crossing her arms facing away from the monitors. "At this point we have no evidence or reason to bring him in for more formal questioning. Just because his car was in the vicinity of our victim around the time of death doesn't mean there is a connection. Have we been able to figure out where their paths might have crossed?"

Andy rubbed his chin and looked up as he thought about her question, "Hickman works with a lot of defense attorneys it's possible that they met while Ann was working for one of the law firms," he looked back at Sharon and his partner, "We do know he has a tendency to stalk the women he's in love with, or at least thinks he's in love with. Maybe they dated for awhile, she broke it off and he became obsessed with her."

Buzz turned off the video feed as Mike and Amy began walking back across the street towards PAB, "You know the victim, Ann, she does look a bit like Amy, we've certainly seen the way he looks at her." No one could miss the way Mark leered at Amy a few minutes ago, or during any of their previous encounters, he certainly seemed to have some sort of odd interest in her.

"But murder is still a big jump from stalking an ex. I'm not sure I see it." Flynn moved away from the wall and stood behind Sharon, he could sense her frustration and was hoping to get a free moment with her to check in and make sure she was doing ok. She frequently would forget to eat or take a break when they got too involved in a case, it made him worry.

Flynn zoned out and almost missed Provenza's wise and seasoned thoughts on the case. "Well it's like I always says, it's always the ex-boyfriend—"

As much as it loathed Sharon to admit it Provenza was often right, in part because most cases were personal and it was usually a loved one or an ex-loved one at that the committed the crime, "You could be right about that Lieutenant," her voice dropped an octave "but the question remains which ex."

No one said anything in response, it wasn't necessary. Everyone knew that they were spinning their wheels trying to figure out who was important from Ann's past and might be relevant to the case. She let out a sigh ready to switch gears and hoping to have something more tangible to work from, "Have we heard anything else from CID?"

"Not yet ma'am." Julio shook his head, "But I can call downstairs and see if they managed to collect any new samples to test."

"Please," Sharon gave a nod to the order as Julio left electronics and headed to his desk to check in with the criminal investigative division.

They were grasping for straws. They had no witnesses and little to no evidence. It was looking like they would have to bring in friends and family soon. Based on the background that Nolan collected with Orderno earlier in the day, the family wasn't close. Father was dead, mother lived up north in Santa Clara. She only had the one sibling. Most of her aunts, uncles, and extended family lived out of state. They knew she stayed in close contact with several friends from college, but without having any ties to social media it was hard to figure out who else might have been in her orbit.

She stood up and walked out of electronics headed for her office, with her two Lieutenants in tow. Sharon directed her attention to Provenza, "Let's see if we can pinpoint, if and when Hickman and Mason could have met. Look through the cases that went to trial at those firms during the time Ann was working there compare that against any cases we know Hickman was investigating, perhaps we can find where they overlap."

Provenza gave a silent nod and walked back to his desk to update Nolan and the rest of the team on their next investigative project. He rubbed his hands with as much glee as Provenza can get, at knowing that he had so many minions to do this work while he labored away on his crossword — he was still stuck on Sunday.

Sharon didn't often go out in the field anymore, between her promotion and the added team members there was plenty of coverage. Unless her presence was required she spent most of her time in meetings and at her desk. Some days she found that a bit depressing, she enjoyed being outside and working a case, seeing her team in action, "Andy why don't you and I pick up where Amy left off and speak to the neighbor, Mr uh, Seager. While I have no idea why, it's possible Hickman was going to this party that he was throwing."

A filthy grin spread across Andy's face at the invitation to spend some alone time with his fiancé. It was work time, not nearly as fun, but these days he enjoyed any time they got to spend together. "Eager to spend some time out of the office with me?" He couldn't help but tease her.

One look at his face and Sharon regretted making the suggestion. She couldn't count the number of times he had suggested that they make-out for a few minutes before interviewing a suspect. For some reason that she never understood, knowing that he was going to watch her interview someone made him hotter than Hades for her. She guessed it was similar to the way she felt the heat rise up her chest when she saw him catch a suspect in a lie. She shook her head, either way now was not the time for any of that, "No, just figured if I was going to send you out into the field that I better come along to provide the necessary supervision. After all there are cars every where." She walked away smiling at the fact that she managed to slide in a jab when he was least expecting it.

He followed behind her, "Real funny Sharon. One time, and I never hear the end of it."

Andy drove the dark grey Ford Explorer across downtown to the investment firm that Seager worked for. As much as he wanted to chit-chat about family and non-work stuff he could hear the wheels grinding away in Sharon's head. He knew it was better to keep focused on the case for the time being, there would be other moments to really be together.

When he reached a stop light he turned to face her, "Well we know that Ann never made it to his party because she was attacked as she was putting away the groceries. It wouldn't have taken her more than five minutes to get up the hill once she pulled out of the parking lot. Another five to find parking on the crowded street. And maybe what another five to gather the mail, walk inside and set the groceries down. So she had to have been attacked about 15 minutes after she left the store."

Sharon hummed in agreement, "It fits the timeline. He would have arrived at the same time as she did."

The light turned green and he turned into the parking garage, "But we don't know for sure that Hickman stayed on Canyon. There's several side roads he could have veered onto. Just because he was on Canyon Drive at the same time as our vic doesn't really mean anything. Hell we saw ten cars before and another ten after Mason left the store."

Andy was right, they had nothing on Hickman. The only reason they flagged him for questioning was because they knew him, but any of those other cars could have been driven by the real killer who wasn't known to them. She touched Andy's arm as he put the SUV in park, stilling him from getting out just yet, "Everything you said is true, but I can't help myself from going back to something that Micah said during his interview. He said her ex was one of us and messed her up really good. I know he brought up Gabriel, because he mentioned him by name, but what if there was someone else that was a cop that also ended badly, what if she did go out with Hickman?"

He agreed it was in the realm of possibility, but something about the theory rubbed him the wrong way, "I thought about that too, but Hickman and Sherry were still married, until recently it sounds like, living on that boat. It doesn't fit."

Sharon smirked, "Just because you're married doesn't mean you can't date or have girlfriend, they don't seem to have the happiest of marriages."

Andy returned the smile, "No they don't." He squeezed her hand, "But we will, won't we." Sharon gave a nod and placed a peck on his cheek as they both finally stepped out of the car. Going straight back to the case Andy asked, "So, do you really think Hickman is our guy?"

They walked side by side towards the elevators, "Honestly I'm not sure. My gut says no, but nothing about this case feels right to me. I'm not sure if I can trust my instincts."

He bumped her shoulder, "Well I trust them. 18th floor," he said gesturing to the buttons.

Sharon leaned back against the steel wall, letting it bear in some small way the weight of this case, "What do you think?"

Andy remained by the doors, but turned to face her, "I think the guy is a creep, a sleazy dirt bag. A stalker definitely. Murderer doubtful."

The elevator chimed as the reached their floor. They walked to the the cherry wood receptionist desk and found an impeccably dressed young red-headed woman answering the phones. She held up her finger as the phone rang again, "Thank you for calling AJC Partners. Can you please hold?" She glanced at Sharon and Andy, giving a polite but curt greeting, "Can I help you?"

"Yes, we are looking for Mr. Seager," Andy said flashing his badge to the receptionist.

"One moment please. If you'll take a seat I'll let him know you're here." She got up from the desk and disappeared down the hall.

Sharon and Andy took the opportunity to take a look around the office. The firm wasn't huge, it took up half of the 18th floor. The offices were all glass, showing off the stunning views of Los Angeles. The lobby was full of pictures of non-profit work presumably designed to make potential clients feel better about investing with them. When they turned around they saw the receptionist walking back to her desk followed by an older gentleman. He looked to be Andy's age, but with more pepper than salt in his hair. Sharon gave Andy a quick look, this man looked nothing like the DMV photo they pulled of Logan Seager.

They kept their distance, as he approached and offered his hand to greet the officers, "I'm James Clayton, this is my firm. Can I ask why the LAPD is here looking for one of my employees?"

Andy took the lead, "This is Commander Sharon Raydor and I'm Lieutenant Flynn. We just need to ask him a few questions Mr. Clayton. Would you mind telling us where he is?"

Mr. Clayton ushered them into an empty conference room next to the lobby, "He flew to San Francisco today, we have offices there." He gestured towards the seats, but they waved him off, "Why are you looking for Logan?"

Andy ignored the man's questions and continued trying to get information about Seager's whereabouts. "When do you expect him to return?"

"Thursday," the man replied but offered nothing further.

Sharon could tell that Clayton wasn't going to give them anything else and interrupted before Andy could ask anything else, "If you could have him give us a call when he gets in." Andy handed him one of his cards and followed Sharon out of the office. They remained quiet as they rode the elevator back down to the parking garage.

Andy walked around to the passenger side door and opened it for Sharon. As he held it opened he asked, "I think we should confirm that Mr. Seager is indeed in San Francisco, don't you?"

Sharon climbed into the SUV, "It is certainly convenient timing. Ask Camilla to check with the airlines, then have Buzz pull video."

It was dark outside. Only a few lights remained on inside PAB. On the 9th floor, only Provenza, Buzz, Camilla remained, everyone else had staggered away at various intervals a few hours earlier. Provenza knew he should get home to Patrice, but he wanted to wait for Paige. Although he would never admit it aloud he was a big softy and Paige held a special place in his heart. She was doing good work now and he wanted to make sure she continued. He was about to tell her to leave it for the morning when she walked over to his desk with a stack of papers.

She sat at Amy's desk, clearly exhausted, "Lieutenant, I pulled the flight details for Logan Seager like Lieutenant Flynn asked. I've been checking them over and well there's something odd."

Paige was used to his grumpy and gruff manner and couldn't blame him for his shortness at this hour, "What?"

She handed him the papers and got up to stand behind him, looking over his shoulder as she pointed, "Well according to this he flew to Singapore over a week ago. He landed at San Francisco International this morning. He hasn't been in Los Angeles since August 5th."

Provenza spun around in his chair so fast he nearly knocked Paige down, "Are you sure?"

Paige jumped back avoiding Provenza's chair acrobatics and returned to Amy's desk. She rubbed her eyes, dry from hours of staring at the computer screen and pouring over information, "Buzz and I pulled the video of him going through customs at SFO and compared it to his DMV photo, it's him. We're are still going through the TSA video at LAX to confirm he did leave when the ticket claims he did, but yeah Seager hasn't been in country to talk to anyone let alone throw a party."

"So who the hell hosted a party at his house last Thursday night?" Provenza said rhetorically knowing that no one knew the answer to that ten dollar question.

Across town, Sharon stood in front of her dresser taking off her watch and getting ready for bed. It was nearly ten o'clock and despite having started the morning with two possible leads they were no closer to solving the case. She slipped on her silk robe and walked into the bathroom. Andy was in the shower, singing as he often did when he didn't think anyone was around to hear. Tonight it was quite fittingly Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night" that he was serenading himself to as he shaved. She leaned against the door frame watching him from a distance as she rubbed moisturizer into her hands and arms. When Andy finally turned around and spotted her standing there he wiggled his eye brows at her and began swaying his hips, "Care to dance?"

She chuckled, "Maybe when you are less wet, dear."

"Your loss," he replied and turned around to wash off the remaining shaving cream.

Before Sharon could reply she heard the soft vibrations of her phone ringing on her night stand. Andy continued singing, even louder now that he knew Sharon was watching him. She gave the sight another smile before retreating back into the bedroom to answer her phone. At this hour she knew it could only be work. She let out a groan when the caller ID confirmed her suspicions.

Provenza skipped any greetings or awkward jokes, "I know it's late Commander, but I think you and Flynn need to come back to the station. Paige found something, or rather didn't find something she should have."

His comments were cryptic, but enough to raise cause for concern. She let out a groan, which Provenza thankfully ignored. "Okay, we'll be back in a half hour."

She set the phone back down and for a moment lay down on the bed, enjoying the stillness and comfort of being horizontal. If she didn't get up right away she knew she'd fall asleep in minutes. Reluctantly, she sat up and shrugged off the robe and returned to the bathroom. Andy was drying his hair when he looked up and saw her in just the silk nightgown, "Getting undressed without me?"

"Not tonight I'm afraid. We both need to get dressed." She ignored the moaning and groaning Andy made, "That was Provenza on the phone, he needs us to come back."

Chapter Text

Provenza immediately smelled the scent of fresh coffee and bagels and looked up for the source of such a heavenly fragrance. When Rusty turned the corner into the murder room he was surprised to see Provenza practically jumping up from his chair, especially that the man in addition to not running never ever jumped.

"Is that from Wexler's?" Provenza inquired already grabbing at one of the bags Rusty had in his hands.

Rusty chuckled as he sat the box of coffee and other bag down on Amy's desk, "Only the best, for the best."

Without waiting for a formal invitation Provenza began rummaging through the bag searching for his "everything" bagel when Rusty's remark finally registered, "What do you want? Getting a jump on your Christmas list already?" He looked ready to put the bagel back if it came with strings attached.

He took a seat in Amy's empty chair and stared at the semi-lovable uncle in his life, "No, Lieutenant, just thought you guys could use it." He cast a glance towards his mom's empty office, "Mom and Andy have barely been home since you caught this case."

There was no missing the loneliness in his tone. Finally putting his detective skills to use, for more than rooting out truffles like a well trained hog, he noticed Rusty was wearing his suit. It was odd. Well not too odd in that he often wore a suit around PAB now. Even though his internship with Hobbs concluded two months ago, he seemed to be interested in dressing the part. What made it odd wasn't just that he wore a suit when he didn't need to, it was that he was there at all, "I thought you were visiting Gus this week?"

His fidgeting was immediately noticeable. He spun around in the chair, raising his feet so it would go all the way around, buying himself a moment to respond without sounding like a Coldplay album, "Yeah, didn't end up working out. We're going to try again next month." Rusty reached for a blueberry bagel and began picking at it, throwing out a question of his own before Provenza could interrogate him any further on matters of the heart. His mouth was full as he mumbled, "Where's everybody?" causing crumbs to fall into his lap.

Provenza shook his head, you could put a kid in a suit, but he'd still be a kid. He saw through the cool hand shuffle he pulled getting off the Gus topic, but vowed to revisit that at a later moment. For now he'd indulge Rusty, let him think that his stomach had greater control over his brain than it really did, "Your mom and Flynn are off giving Mason an update. Sent everyone else home a few hours ago to shower and get some clean clothes. Should be back soon."

He looked around the room again, sometimes it was weird being back here. So much of his growing up had taken place in this space that the idea of leaving it some day in the not so distant future was uncomfortable. Rusty pulled his mind back to non-adulting matters, "Mom hasn't mentioned anything about this case yet," he said finally taking a grown-up bite of his bagel.

Provenza brushed some of the crumbs off his desk once he finished devouring the bagel. He was tempted to have another, but Patrice was watching his weight like a hawk. Ever since Andy had his heart attack she'd been all over him to eat better, drink less, and all other kinds of nonsense. He argued that it wasn't him that had the heart attack, so what if Andy had to change his lifestyle, didn't mean he did. Then she said she'd count sex as exercise if he'd make a few changes, and well that quickly changed his mind about a great number of things. He turned his chair slightly to avoid staring at the bag of bagels, hoping that their sweet and savory deliciousness would stop calling out to him. It wasn't working, so he stared at Rusty instead, "Well we've been trying to keep this out of the media, but that's all about to change. We have to bring the family in and all hell might break loose after that."

Rusty's eyes wandered up and down the murder board, "I've never heard her name before. Why does this case have everyone so worried?"

Provenza turned around and not for the first time that morning found himself staring at Ann's picture. She was a beautiful girl. It was a shame what happened between her and Gabriel, but like he told David at the time, better it comes out now then ten years into a marriage. That's how one stacks up the ex's, David hadn't found the advice helpful at the time. He shrugged finally returning his attention back to Rusty, "Besides the fact that after four days we are no closer to finding the person responsible? Well, I guess you could say that this woman was responsible for bringing down two good cops, she could bring down even more than that this time."

He waited a second before giving a cheeky smile and changing the subject, "Now enough about that, tell me what's going on with you and Gus—"

SsS

"The video evidence is pretty clear Chief, Seager was out of the country at the time of the murder." Sharon handed Mason a stack of stills from the cameras at SFO and LAX catching their potential suspect leaving nearly three weeks ago and returning on Monday. The evidence was clear, they needed to move on.

Mason handed the images back to Sharon, "And we still don't know who threw a party at his house?"

Andy stepped forward and shook his head, "We tried calling him at the office in San Francisco he says he will answer our questions when he returns to LA tomorrow, but only with his lawyer present."

"Lawyer? Well that sends up red flags." Chief Mason rubbed the back of his neck, this case was going to give him a permanent headache. He now understood why he found a a large bottle of aspirin in the desk drawer. He'd asked Howard if it was his, and he said no, a hold over from Taylor. It seemed prudent to have it on hand. One day he flipped it over and saw Flynn and Provenza scrawled on the back, he wasn't entirely sure he understood the reference. When he mentioned it in passing to Pope the man immediately began rubbing his head. It didn't take a stellar detective to catch on.

Sharon gave a polite nod, "We thought so, but Seager left before Ann began housesitting, it's doubtful they had an opportunity to meet," she didn't think Seager was directly involved in the murder or even a conspiracy to commit murder, but the likelihood that he knew who did and was covering seemed to be growing by the hour.

"And in the meantime what are we doing about Hickman?" His voice was resigned, he didn't like having to walk away from a prime target like Seager, but there were other leads to follow - none better than the last unfortunately.

"We're still combing through past cases to see if there is a connection, if we can't find it we may have to accept that it was a very odd coincidence," Andy replied knowing that at the moment they had less than nothing on both Seager and Hickman. This case was threatening to go cold by the moment.

"Two bad pennies from our past showing up at the same time, in the same area, seems hard to believe that it isn't related," Mason said rhetorically, "Anything else?"

Sharon shook her head, "The family will be here shortly, we need to be prepared if they contact the media."

"Keep me informed," Mason returned to his chair determined to finish sorting through candidates for his new office assistant. It was a task as onerous as buying a new car, no one seemed to fit right and he was loathed to think he needed an assistant at all, but two weeks into the job he realized there was no way to manage without one. He looked up at his officers stepping out of his office and for a moment wished he could go with them, back to the sanctuary of working a case and not working resumes.

Sharon and Andy walked back to her office, taking their time, enjoying a moment to themselves even if it was at the office. Sharon hadn't relaxed her rules regarding their office place romance, but she had grown more understanding to their needing time to just be Sharon and Andy. Secretly Andy hoped that after they were married that she might at least let him give her a peck of a kiss now and then. He knew it was a pipe dream, but the man dreamed nonetheless.

Today he settled for having his hand rest on the small of her back, "You think there's any chance of us getting out of here before 8 tonight?"

Sharon paused in the hallway and let her back get flush with his hand deepening the contact, "I'm not sure. Why?"

Andy shrugged, pretending to ignore what she did just there, "Just thought we could use a real dinner together."

She waited another moment to enjoy being close to him, feeling his touch on her before deciding that decorum would have them move, "Hmm, that does sound lovely. I suppose if things with the family don't spiral out of control, we might be able to make something work."

They remained walking in tandem until they reached her office. He let his hand drift up her back and finally come to rest on the door jam. He gave her a final Flynn grin, "Fingers crossed then," before returning to his own pile of paperwork.

"Let me know when the brother arrives," the comment went without saying and falling in the empty space between her office and his desk.

SsS

Sharon looked out the window of her office, the sun was already beating down on the city. It was nearly noon and already she could feel the heat radiating from the windows. Reluctantly she stood up and reached for the cords to close her blinds. If she didn't her office would feel like a sweat shop by three, and as much as Emily tried to encourage her to try hot yoga she didn't need to do it in her office.

Her back was turned as Nolan lightly rapt his knuckles on her open door, "Commander, Ann Mason's brother is here. We're taking him to the conference room." The last bit came off sounding more as a question that a statement causing Sharon to smirk internally. Wes was still learning her and what to expect and anticipate.

Sharon gave him a small nod letting him know she approved of putting him in the conference room, "Good." She finished closing her blinds and followed Wes out of her office. The rest of the team was standing waiting for her instruction, "Wes I want you and Amy to handle the initial discussion. I'm not sure what if anything Ann shared with her family about her time with Detective Gabriel and for the moment, I'd like to keep things as neutral as possible."

Amy grabbed her notebook and Wes took the missing persons file that Orderno created and walked down the hall while the rest of the team moved in the opposite direction towards electronics. Wes wasn't sure what he was expecting when he walked into the conference room, but it wasn't that. The was short and significantly overweight. His face and body looked quite the opposite of Ann's trim and athletic body. He couldn't see any relation to Ann whatsoever. Amy gave him a pointed look when she noticed Wes seemingly stuck at the door.

Quickly getting back with the program Wes held out his hand and introduced himself, "Mr. Mason, thank you for taking the time to come down here and speak to us," before sitting down on the other side of Amy.

The young man sat down and replied, "Of course, anything to help you guys find my sister. Have you found her yet?"

Since Wes handled the initial call with the brother and developed a rapport, albeit brief, with the man they decided to let him take the lead, "When we spoke on the phone you mentioned that your sister was between jobs. Do you know if she could have been working somewhere off the books?"

Ann's brother looked at his hands, the distress obvious in both his body language and his less than crisp voice, "No. I mean we were all surprised when she changed her mind about being a lawyer. If it hadn't been for the fact that she had that scholarship to pay for law school, I would have pushed her harder to stick with it. Student loans can be a real bear to pay back. I work in accounting," he offered at the end as a way of explanation.

They both nod as Amy gave a friendly remark, "That's why I went the military route. Tuition is expensive these days."

IN ELECTRONICS

Andy and Provenza shared a look, before Andy shouted out to the group a reminder that none of them had forgotten, "She didn't get a full ride. Goldman paid off her loans for spying on us!"

Sharon didn't bother to look back at her fiancé she could imagine his face and that of her Lieutenant. The lack of knowledge that her family and friends had about the true workings of Ann's life was sending alarm bells in her mind, "Yes, it seems there is a lot that Ann didn't share with her friends and family,"

INTERVIEW

Wes continued with the interview, sharing the latest in the search for his sister, "We stopped by your sister's condo and spoke to her roommate—"

He looked at both Amy and Wes dumbfounded by this information, "Roommate? Ann isn't living with anyone."

Amy flipped open notebook, "The condo is owned by Jordan Hall. She says she's an old college friend." She didn't need to check her notes, it was committed to memory, but the show helped sell the version of cops that people watch on scripted cable, the version people seemed to believe and expect to see from cops.

"That's news to me." He couldn't help wringing his hands still clearly surprised by this revelation about his sister, "Ann told me she bought the place a few months ago and was moving in. I was surprised at the time because, you know she's been a bit spotty on employment recently. I wonder why she didn't tell me?"

Wes saw this as their opening, "Are you and your sister close?"

He leaned back in his chair, head tilted to the right as if to better recall past memories. His voice was forlorn and tinged with regrets, "Not like we used to be. We started drifting apart when she went off to college. I started to settle down, got married and she was well, off living her life. She didn't want her big brother nosing in on her life. We still try and talk once or twice a month and we get together one Sunday a month. That's why I was looking for her this weekend, she's never missed one of our get-togethers, in fact I've never gone this long without hearing from her."

Amy picked up the thread hoping that they might find something out that they didn't already know, "I know you've gone through this again, but when was the last time you spoke to your sister?"

He pulled out his phone which the detectives thought was odd. He began scrolling through his history, "It was Wednesday. I was driving home from work. Traffic was awful getting across the valley, so I called her. We usually chat on my commute."

"How did she sound?" Wes asked.

"Happy actually," he replied with a tint of astonishment.

"You sound surprised?" Amy asked not missing the man's tone.

"Well to be honest I was," he said looking up at Amy "she's been so lost for such a long time that I can't recall the last time that she was genuinely happy."

Amy quickly followed, "Did she say why she was in a good mood?"

Once again the man leaned back in the chair this time he seemed a bit annoyed ,"She met some guy, said they really hit it off." He gave a look to Amy like she would understand his sister's track record with men, "She thought I might like him, actually, said he was an actuary. I didn't get much more out of her, she said she'd tell me more on Sunday."

Wes opened the file, "You didn't mention this before. Do you know when or how they met?"

The man shrugged, "It sounded like a next door neighbor, so her complex I assume. It's been awhile since she dated anyone, I know she wasn't on one of those dating sites or anything."

IN ELECTRONICS

The victim's phone still hadn't turned up and given her lack of social media presence they couldn't disprove the brother. Sharon turned towards Buzz and Mike, "Let's double check that. Given that we know she's kept so much of her life a secret it's possible she was using a dating service,, and nobody knew."

INTERVIEW

Amy took advantage of the moment and decided to play a little bad cop with the brother. They need to get more information out of him, it was time to speed things up, "Do you know anyone who might have reason to hurt or take your sister? Maybe an ex-boyfriend?"

He was noticeably taken aback by her direct line of questioning, "No, everyone liked Ann," his voice stuttered before continuing, "She was easy to get along with, very bubbly personality, giving. I mean, maybe her former boss, it didn't sound like things ended well. She never told me, but I think she got involved with the guy, I think he's married. My sister sure knows how to pick'em."

Wes once again flipped through the folder and stopped at the page with Ann's employment history, "Was this when she was working for Sterns, Morgan, and Jacobs?"

"No, she hasn't been there for awhile," he said pointing at the file folder, "No she got a job as an investigator working for a few law firms in town. Mostly she handled case filings, chasing down paper, that kind of thing but she worked with someone. He wasn't her "boss boss" but oversaw the investigations."

IN ELECTRONICS

Andy put his hands in the air and turned the rest of the team watching the interview, "Sound familiar? Married. Works as an Investigator? I think he might be our missing boyfriend after all."

"Well as I always say—" Provenza was cut off from his tirade.

"We know sir," Julio started to say, "it's always the boyfriend," Julio and Paige said together sharing a smile as they spoke.

INTERVIEW

Amy turned to Wes letting him know she'd take it from here, "Do you know if she was working with any law firm in particular or the name of the other investigator?"

The brother once again shrugged and leaned back in his chair, "No, sorry never met him. You might check with her old boss though, Peter Goldman, he helped her get the job. I think the lawyer was a friend of his."

IN ELECTRONICS

A slew of groans rumbled from the room at this latest revelation. The last thing they needed was to have Goldman anywhere near this case. It seemed despite their best efforts that their prayers were falling on deaf ears. Provenza was the first to mutter it aloud, "I know we've held off talking to Goldman, but it may be time to pay our friendly lawyer a visit." He was clearly hoping for a 'not it' situation, maybe making one of the newbies go and talk to the weasel instead of him. He couldn't guarantee if he saw the guy again that he wouldn't have to talk to Professional Standards about appropriate work place language.

INTERVIEW

"I'm not sure how any of this is going to help you find my sister though. Have you tried using the GPS on her car or phone?" He was clearly growing anxious from their intense questioning and eager to get down to the real reason he came in today, to find his sister.

Wes looked at him, trying to hide the fact that he knew more than he was about to say, "We found your sister's car. It was parked at the house of a friend of her's a Micah Williams. Do you know him?"

"Yeah, I met him a few times. I always thought that he had a crush on her, hoped one day they might get together. He would be good for her." Suddenly the realization of what he was saying and what it meant dawned on him and he lost his cool. He leaned forward and placed both hands on the table shouting, "Why, did Micah do something to her?!"

Amy placed a hand on his in an effort to calm him, "No, Mr. Williams was out of town. Your sister was housesitting."

He started fidgeting in his seat, they could feel the table vibrating as his leg bounced up and down nervously, "So if you found Ann's car then you must know where she is? Why aren't you telling me where my sister is?"

Amy nodded to Wes, it was time for him to give the notification. They got everything they could from him and there was nothing else left to do but break the bad news, "Mr. Mason, I'm sorry to inform you that your sister has passed away. Her body was found by police on Saturday afternoon—"

He jumped up from the table, the chair falling back with a loud clatter, "You knew she was dead before I made the missing person's report! Why didn't you tell me?!"

Both Amy and Wes stood up, not sure what other actions he might take in his volatile state. Amy put her hand out towards him and spoke softly, "Mr. Mason, please calm down. Unfortunately, your sister was badly beaten and we could not immediately identify her body."

He started to pace. He turned his face when the words registered, his voice was soft, eyes filling with tears, "Beaten? She was beaten to death?" When the impact fully hit him the anger returned to his voice, "Who did this?!"

"We aren't sure yet Mr. Mason, we are currently looking for her killer—" Amy started to say.

"Killer?" It was clearing just now dawning on the brother that his sister was murdered. He collapsed back into a chair, body beginning to convulse with sobs. Amy pushed a box of Kleenex towards the man and looked towards the video camera. They wouldn't get anything else from him today.

IN ELECTRONICS

Andy gently touched Sharon's shoulder to get her attention without scaring her as he often did when she was deep in thought like she was now, "Who do you want to send down to talk with Goldman?"

She spun around in her chair to face the rest of the team still crowded into the tiny electronics room, "Buzz, check the docket. Is Goldman trying any cases today?" Buzz typed away on his computer as Sharon continued, "We aren't going to get him to come down here and I don't want him to have the upper hand. I'd rather catch up with him at the court house instead."

A minute later Buzz found the court schedule and began scanning it for Goldman's name, "Let's see, he doesn't have anything on the docket. Let me check the judge's schedules."

While Buzz continued to search away Sharon turned attention back to their glaring issue from yesterday, Mark Hickman. She hated that despite having fired him she couldn't fully get rid of him and his influence in the justice system. She couldn't quite put her finger on why he gave her the creeps, but watching the way he looked at Amy made her stick to her stomach. Unfortunately, right now they couldn't walk away from Hickman and his potential involvement, "Andy where are we with collating cases between Hickman and Ann?"

Andy leaned back against the wall and looked towards Paige as he spoke, she was doing a lion share of the digging on the Hickman/Mason connection, "We've gone up through 2015 and so far nothing, but given what the brother just shared I can't say I'm surprised. It sounds like any involvement with Hickman came after she worked at Madeline Morgan's firm."

Ignoring the present conversation entirely Provenza went back to the issue sticking in his mind, "Who could be friends with Goldman?"

"Another slime ball," Andy said with such distain at both the thought and the question.

Provenza grinned widely, "They would tend to stick and slime together."

Sharon gave her Lieutenants a look, the truth was she'd love to join in with them sometimes, she found the bantering could be invigorating but far from professional for her to play along. Andy stared her down, sharing a silent conversation about his partner's bickering, causing her to shake her head but before she could remark Buzz spoke up, "Commander, it looks like Mr. Goldman has a meeting in chambers with Judge Grove at 3:30 today."

The team could see the wheels turning as Sharon's eyes darted back and forth, "Okay that gives us a few hours to sort through our notes and see what else we can dredge up from Ann's past." She wasn't sure who she was going to send over to the courthouse yet, but was tempted to send Provenza just because it entertained her.

SsS

"Jack!" She exclaimed when they finally found the privacy of their car, "Of all the lawyers in all the world it had to be Jack!"

He put the car into drive and started driving towards the condo, trying to give her a few minutes to calm down before he said anything. It had been months since he last saw his fiancé this riled up. Every time it happened he couldn't help but smile. She was so cute when she was freaking out, as long as it wasn't because of something he did or rather didn't do. He put his hand in hers and gave it a squeeze. He liked feeling the ring on her left hand when they sat in the car. It was partly a chauvinistic male territorial thing, but nonetheless it made him happy to see it there on her hand. He squeezed it again to get her attention, "I know it's upsetting sweetheart, but haven't you always wanted a reason to put him in your interview room?"

Sharon let out a loud annoyed groan. Clearly no amount of hand holding was going to bring her back down, she needed a minute to rant and rave, "Not with my entire squad listening in, god knows what he would say just to get back at me. You know he's still upset that Emily and Ricky opted to stay with us last Christmas."

Andy returned his focus back to driving them home. If ever she needed a glass of wine it was going to be tonight. When they reached a stoplight he tried in his own Andy-way to make her feel better about the fact that her deadbeat ex-husband may or may not be a suspect in a murder case that her team was working. As usual his tone was a bit off the mark, "I know, the guy's a jackass, uh I didn't mean it like that, you know what I mean. Besides it's probably innocent. She worked for him for a little while when he was here in LA and then she realized he gambled away her paycheck and she quit. End of story."

Sharon didn't miss the obvious dig at her ex-husband's past, but couldn't shake the feeling that there was a lot more to this story, "I'm not so sure about that Andy. How could it be innocent if he wasn't the one sleeping with her? Oh God, what if he was sleeping with her! He kept going on and on about some French girl he met and then that seemed to end as quickly as it started - as usual - the timing is right. She left Morgan's firm in the spring of that year. Oh God!"

"Sharon, calm down, it's going to be okay," Andy realized that he needed to get them home asap she was bordering on full tilt Darth Raydor and despite not being directed to him he didn't want to be trapped in the car with her and nowhere to go, "Whether he slept with her or not," probably the wrong thing to say at that moment he knew, so he continued talking to gloss over the reference to Jack and sex, "we need to talk to him - well maybe not you or me - but someone needs to talk to him. It'll all work out."

Sharon hit her head against the headrest a few times out of frustration, "I don't see how," she groaned, "Either he slept with our victim or he hired Hickman who then slept with our victim - I don't see a way that this isn't bad." She stared out the window watching the traffic move by trying to wrap her head around their conversation with Goldman, but there was no way to put this Pandora back in her box. The images flashing through her mind of the victim and her ex caused her body to involuntarily shudder, the whole thing was ridiculous until it wasn't.

"I'm not saying it isn't, it's just that there's bad and then there's more bad. And until we know which it is we shouldn't freak out." The moment the words left his mouth he regretted it. He tensed up bracing for impact.

Sharon turned to him wide-eyed at his slip, "I'm not freaking out. I don't freak out," she replied haughtily clearly freaking out.

He winced at her words. There was nothing he could say right now that would bring her back to planet Earth, it was best to just let her ride the wave out and touch base when sanity and rationality eased back into her orbit. Taking the high road he opted to disengage, something that he struggled to learn during his first marriage, but in old age was learning to perfect, "Right, okay, so tomorrow we will regroup. We'll track down Jack and have him stop by the station. Mr. Seager gets back to town and we can finally find out who our friendly Mr. X is and maybe then we'll have more reason to bring Hickman in for formal questioning."

Sharon didn't reply. He wasn't sure whether it was because she was mad at Jack and by extension the world or if she was chewing on his last statement. He opted for the latter and moved on to more important things, Jack no longer had a place in her life and by extension their soon-to-be marriage. The best thing to do was to focus on the fact that they were going to be home early enough to have a real meal together, "Now how about we go home and I make us some of that mushroom risotto that you love?"

Sharon took a deep breath and let it out slowly before responding. She knew that he was trying to redirect and she loved him for it, but it was going to take a lot more than making her favorite dish to get her to unwind tonight. She squeezed his hand, nonverbally letting him know that she was done ranting about Jack for now and ready to focus on them, "That sounds divine Andy it really does, but—"

"No buts Sharon," he shook his head and smiled, "We've yet to have a good night sleep since we caught this case, aside from lunch the other day we've hardly seen each other, it's time for a break."

She started to protest, "But I have so much paperwork to do, and—"

"And it can wait until morning," he grinned when he looked over and saw her face. They both knew she was defeated, they'd be enjoying a relaxing evening together and even if she didn't want to admit it that second, she loved the way Andy knew her, and took care of her when she didn't even know she needed it.

SsS

"Can I help?" Her hair was still damp from her shower. She took her time, enjoying having more than five minutes to stand in the hot water and relax. After taking a few minutes to just stand in the hot water and breathe in the steam she felt herself calm down. She knew she freaked out earlier, she wasn't in denial about it, but that didn't mean she was going to admit it aloud to anyone else.

Andy looked up from the dish he was stirring when he heard her walk into the kitchen. He checked the clock and was surprised to see her looking so relaxed already, "I see you've taken my advice and gotten comfortable," he pulled her to his side and kissed the top of her head.

She smiled as she nuzzled into his side, peering into the pan, "Why do you always say that with such doubt, as though you think I wouldn't listen to your advice?"

He squeezed her closer and shrugged as he continued stirring with his other hand, "No reason, just half expected to walk in the bedroom and either find you passed out on the bed in your work clothes or with legs folded in the center of the bed surrounded by stacks of papers."

"When have you ever known me to bring work into the bedroom?" She scoffed.

Andy started, "Do I need to remind you—"

She interrupted him with a kiss, "point taken. So when's dinner?"

"Five minutes." He pointed towards the counter where he had left some glasses and plates, "Why don't you pull the salad out of the fridge and set out the plates while I finish stirring this?"

Sharon wasted no time getting the dressing and salad from the fridge then setting it with the plates on the table. Her stomach began to grumble as she inhaled the delicious scents of Andy's cooking, "Oh Andy it smells so good, I can't wait to sit down and have a real meal. Sometimes it feels like weeks when I know it's only been days since you cooked for me. Who knew that I was landing such a catch when I decided to marry you. My mother always warned me about boys that could dance or cook."

"It's a good thing I do both," he caught her lips in kiss, "What did your mother say?"

She came up behind him, "Marry'em quick!"

"I would have loved to have met your mother then," he laughed.

"She would have adored you, but then I would have worried about her trying to steal you away," there was a small tint of seriousness in her humor filled voice.

Andy scooped her up in a large hug before putting her back down, "Nah you're the only O'Dwyer girl whose got her hooks in my heart. No one could ever steal me away from you."

"Such the sweet talker," she gave his butt a squeeze before peering into the pan, "Is it ready now?"

He gave her a disappointed look that was a complete farce, "Why is it your never this eager about anything else I do?"

She wrapped her arms around his middle, "Do you want me to answer that?"

"Probably not, no, on second thought forget I said anything. Your dinner awaits." He brought the pan to the table and scooped out a healthy portion for both of them before returning it to the stove, "Where's Rusty?"

Sharon stepped out of the kitchen, following Andy to the table. He pulled out her chair as he did every night and waited for her to sit down before pushing her in and settling in his own seat. It was a small, largely unnecessary gesture that she adored. Every time he did it she smiled, still surprised that even after all this time he could be so chivalrous with her. She placed her napkin on her lap and took a sip of water before responding, "Out with Provenza. I overheard them talking about Gus this morning. I think he wants some advice about what to do."

"I thought he might ask you," Andy said genuinely surprised that Rusty would not have consulted Sharon on the latest issue of the As Rusty Turns saga. He certainly had heard plenty over the last three-and-a-half months and knew Sharon had weighed in on the issue before, but him going to Provenza first was a bit of shock.

Sharon bit into her salad, enjoying the delicious cool crunch contrasting the soft, warm risotto. Andy was right, a real meal together was exactly what they both needed. She enjoyed these moments around the dinner table, talking about their children it was a refreshing change that she had been hungry for throughout her first marriage. She smiled, "I'm neutral, like Switzerland, as he might say. I don't want him to go, I don't think he's ready for that kind of a relationship just yet, but I also know that he needs to figure things out for himself.

Andy moved his head side to side trying to weigh things out, wanting to give the right response. When it came to Rusty he kind of felt like he was also a little bit his son now too, but felt uncomfortable voicing that idea at times. He was especially careful when it came to any kind of parenting conversations with Rusty, he didn't think Sharon would think he was overstepping, but he really didn't want to mess things up. His track record as a dad to his own kids wasn't great, and with Rusty he knew he had to walk a fine line. He opted to interject this time, but kept his voice light and with a touch of humor, "Well be happy that he's at a point in his life where he's going through the regular life things that we all go-through I know there was a time you worried, hell we were all worried, that he might not ever get there."

Despite Andy's attempts to lighten his remarks she couldn't help but let her mind drift to the unpleasantness that still swirled around them as the manhunt for Stroh continued. Rusty of course knew by now, but as had been the case four years ago he didn't want to live like a prisoner. She could appreciate the sentiment even if it broke a tiny bit of her heart. Sharon's voice dropped an octave, "I think my heart always knew, or at least wanted that to be the case, but you're right he's had a bumpy decade or so." She refocused her attention on what was now a half-eaten plate of risotto and smiled, "Anyways I imagine he and the Lieutenant have found the greasiest burgers on the planet to eat while neither us nor Patrice is there to object."

Sharon noticed Andy pushing around the same tomato across his salad plate. She waited for him to speak and was a bit surprised with what came out. "You know, I was kind of hoping he might ask me," his voice was so soft that Sharon almost didn't hear him. It took her a moment to process what he said. At first she thought that he was hoping he would ask him to go out for burgers, but he never would because Andy didn't eat burgers. Once she finally stopped focusing on the burgers her heart sunk at the realization of what was making Andy feel hurt.

Sharon set her fork down and reached her hand across the table and grabbed his. She waited until he looked up at her, "Oh honey, don't think that because he's talking to Louie that he doesn't value your opinion on things. I think you two have really gotten a lot closer especially this last year. Please don't think anything of it," she gave it an encouraging squeeze.

"No, I know that," he said with a shrug "it isn't so much that he's talking to Provenza about relationship stuff. He comes to me about other stuff and that's good. I'm glad he's realized he's got a support network of people in his life."His fork pushing tomato race finally coming to a stand still as he looked up at Sharon, "I just meant that I had a pretty good idea on how he might handle this stuff with Gus."

Sharon continued to hold his hand while she ate with her left, thankful at that moment that she was a bit ambidextrous because although this was a very poignant discussion she was also ravenous. After enjoying another bite of her now nearly gone risotto she tried to provide him with some reassurances, "Oh Andy, I'm sure he'll come to us, or rather to you in his own time. I'm not sure if there's any right answer, but I know you've done well with him in the past." She paused and took another bite before asking, "Out of curiosity what was your solution?"

His face lit up at her question, that she wanted to know what idea he had for Rusty. He really thought it was a good one and hoped Sharon did too. Even if he didn't get the credit for sharing it, he wouldn't care if it worked and helped the kid out, "Well, I got to talking with Ricky. Well he's got an extra bedroom in that apartment of his in Palo Alto. I know that's not Napa, but it's only an hour and half drive and he would still be living with family as opposed to living with his boyfriend. He could test the waters, ease into the idea of being away from you, from all of us, and figure out if that's what he wants."

Sharon was silent, she nearly dropped her fork onto her plate.

Andy took her silence to mean that what he was thinking was a terrible, completely idiotic idea. He immediately began trying to back pedal and talk his way out of such an outlandish suggestion, "It was probably a stupid idea. I'm sorry I mentioned it, forget all about it. It's probably better that he talks to you or even Provenza I guess,"

"Andy, no, that's a wonderful idea," she exclaimed when oxygen finally returned to her brain and her mouth resumed functioning. She couldn't believe that the thought never crossed her own mind, but it was brilliant.

"Yeah?" said the surprise evident in his voice, but his eyes beaming from the knowledge that Sharon, super parent extraordinaire, thought he had a good idea for their son.

"Yes," she patted his hand encouragingly, "In fact, If I wasn't Switzerland I would suggest it myself. I can't believe I didn't think of it, but it would be a great baby step for Rusty. Besides I think it would be nice for my boys to spend some more time together, he missed out on so much of that sibling stuff." She smiled again when she saw how happy Andy looked in that moment. It made her treasure their time together even more, and very thankful that they were making time for that tonight. "Speaking of our children, did Nicole make it back ok?"

He took a sip of water as she transitioned the conversation. It was one thing that he quickly got used to when they began their non-date dates. Sharon was the queen of moving to a completely new topic of conversation with little to no warning. While this wasn't as unrelated switching as she's done, he was a bit caught off guard, not realizing they were done with the Rusty portion of the evening, "Yeah, apparently there was a delay in Chicago from thunderstorms, but she made it back last night."

"I'm sure the boys are glad to have her back," she smiled thinking back to the pillow fort they made in the condo a few nights before. She really loved having "adopted" grand kids, she knew it would be a few years before her own kids ever got around to make her a grandma, if ever it seemed.

"I think Dean more so," he chuckled recalling how bad the house looked when he picked the boys up on Saturday.

"I'd probably agree with that," knowing exactly what kind of mess waits only for a mother's attention.

Andy finished up his dinner and grabbed his empty plates and moved back into the kitchen. He grabbed some containers from the shelf to spoon out the leftovers for their lunches tomorrow, "Well what can I say it's the women in our lives that make each day worth living, well that is when you aren't mad at us"

"And here I was going to offer to clean the kitchen tonight," she said pretending to sit back down in her chair, in mock-protest.

He left the dishes in the sink and walk back to her and whispered low into her ear, "How about we both clean the kitchen and then we catch-up on some other activities that we've gone without for a few days?"

Sharon looked at him pretending to be unconvinced.

He nibbled at the base of her neck, behind her ear where it drove her crazy, "C'mon, how often do we have an empty house?"

He knew he had her when he noticed her shifting uncomfortably in her seat. He went in for the kill "You can be as loud as you want," his voice rumbling in her ear.

That was the final undoing. She got up and followed him into the kitchen. They cleaned as a team. He washed, she loaded the dishwasher. When he pushed the button to start the machine she grabbed his free hand and dragged him down the hall towards their bedroom. The case could wait until morning.

SsS

Sharon knew the exact moment when he arrived at PAB. The clouds moved in the sky and for a moment blocked out the sun. That was an over-exaggeration and she knew it, but she couldn't help but believe God had a hand in warning her when her ex-husband was around. The real moment she knew he was here was when he beckoned for her, using his own annoying brand for her name, "Oh Shar-ON," he said it that way on purpose because he knew that it grated on her.

She stepped out of her office and took her wide stance, glaring at him in greeting. He ignored her lack of pleasantries, he was used to it by now, "Why have I been summoned? You know if you wanted to discuss getting back together, there are better, more inviting places to do it?"

She felt Andy come up behind her and she briefly closed her eyes hoping he wouldn't take the bait. She opted to beat him to it and take the upper hand, "Maybe you haven't heard, but in a few weeks I will be able to finally shed your name and all the baggage that has come with it." Ever since her interview room scuffle resulting in a lovely bruised cheek the shade of aubergine she'd been looking forward to address her "type" once more. Her voice was low and full of power and sarcasm, "No? "Darn I guess the post office lost your invitation—" she knew the team was biting their tongues wanting to cheer loudly for her killer comeback.

"Well since I don't currently have any cases—" Jack started to say but was immediately cut off.

Provenza pounced, "You don't, but I thought you were a great attorney? The best?"

Jack dramatically rolled his eyes at the older Lieutenant and kept his attention focused on Sharon, "As I was saying, there's no reason Major Crimes would be interested in anything I'm working on at the moment."

Sharon turned her body sideways and her sweetest Brenda like tone she responded, "Oh we aren't interested in your cases Jack, we're interested in you."

Her voice took Jack surprise, it was a tone we was less family with. He opted not to respond and just get this done and dusted. Andy took a step blocking his way towards Sharon's office where he assumed he would be going. Sharon walked up behind Andy, "We won't be meeting in my office today, Jack," she said closing the door, "We'll be in one of my interview rooms down the hall."

Once again she could tell he was caught off guard and she was glad, she wanted him to be uneasy before they started the interview. Jack followed the team down the hall to interview room one, "I thought this was just a friendly chat?"

The team surrounded Jack as Sharon walked behind everyone else, "You did? Oh, well that would be the wrong assumption." Jack spun around, but Sharon ignored the look on his face and held her hand open pointing towards the door, "This way please."

Jack had never seen his wife, err ex-wife, like this before. Mean sure, ice queen definitely, but this was a whole new brand of uppity, pissed off, bitch that he was unprepared for, especially since he was nursing a small tiny little hangover. Jack knew the best way to rattle Sharon was first her children and second that dog she kept around, Andy, without the kids around he went after the boy toy instead, "Why is he coming in here with us?"

Sharon remained standing, waiting for Jack to sit. Her tone stayed sickeningly sweet as she replied, "Well you see Jack, Andy wouldn't let me come in here and interview you without him. Something about being concerned about safety of the father of my children. I argued they had no father and therefore you were safe, but anyway I digress. He's here because we are a team and this is how we run things in my division. Now sit down before I have Sanchez come show you how."

"Fine, but I demand an explanation," Jack forcibly pulled out the chair and sat down like a petulant teenager.

"So would we pal," Andy finally muttered. They talked in advance about their game plan. They knew that Jack would try to unnerve them, pit them against each other. Sharon would keep her thumb on the personal situation while Andy focused on the case. His voice was gruff as he asked his fiancé's ex-husband about his whereabouts, "Where were you last Thursday?"

He leaned back cockily in his seat, "Well I met this Japanese girl recently, very bendy you see, does lots of yoga. In fact I'm thinking about giving it a go—"

"What happened to the French girl?" Sharon asked recalling his detailed show nearly two years ago about the girl he was dating and the french classes he was taking for her.

"Ah, that, that didn't work out. She went au natural and well you know how much I despise that look," Jack stared at Sharon waiting to see if she'd say anything about his low brow remark.

Sharon ignored him and let Andy press on with the case. Andy waved his hands to get Jack's attention, "You still haven't told us where you were last Thursday?"

Jack intertwined his fingers and remained relaxed in his chair as he thought back to last week. His voice attempted to match the overly sweet tone Sharon was using on him, "Let's see. I went to court, as you'd know if you'd checked the records, working out a plea bargain with the DA. She's nothing like Hobbs or that wickedly sexy Rios gal, but she gets the job done. Then I went back to the office until about six when Umi came and picked me up. We got sushi and came home."

"You were home all evening?" Andy continued taking notes as he waited for a response.

Jack remained quiet until he knew he had both their attention, and smugly replied, "Yeah well when your girlfriend serves you sushi on her stomach well I can't think of a better reason to not leave the house. Never had a girl do that for me. What about you Flynn? You've been out with a lot of women any of them do some kinky stuff like that? I can't imagine you've convinced this one to," he thumbed his finger toward Sharon leaving no hint at who the dig was directed.

Andy couldn't help but let a tiny smile flash across his face, thinking back to last night, Jack clearly didn't know his ex. Sharon, in his opinion, had no problems in the bedroom she was quite the tiger and he often struggled to keep up with her. Sharon for her part ignored him, she knew Jack's playbook by heart and like Andy she knew the real truth about who she was and was happy to keep that bit of information between the two of them.

Andy stared at Jack who was still clearly looking to get a rise out of them. As flat as possible he told Jack what they wanted from him, "We'll need Umi's last name and a phone number to reach her."

Jack was finally catching onto the fact that this wasn't just some little sadistic game that his ex wanted to play, this was serious whatever it was. He leaned forward in the chair, "This is sounding an awful lot like I should be calling my lawyer. Why do I need an alibi? What have I supposedly done this time?"

Sharon replied "Murder," devoid of any emotion. She was surprised how perfectly it came out and was sure that if she was asked to repeat it she wouldn't be able to.

"What?! I didn't kill anyone. That's a stretch even for you Sharon," Jack was officially in Jack-mode, deflecting and weaving around the room, metaphorically speaking of course.

This time Sharon took the lead. She knew it was going to be a bit more personal than she intended, but with Jack it was unavoidable. She stepped forward, still standing, and placed her hands on the table getting inches from his face, "Is it Jack? When things don't go so well with an ex you do have a tendency to get drunk and end up in places or houses you shouldn't."

He put his hands up and tried to distance himself from Sharon, "Listen, I didn't kill anyone and if it happened last Thursday I have an alibi, so you're barking up the wrong tree as usual, trying to railroad the innocent. Not that it matters since I didn't commit a crime here but who is it that you think I allegedly killed?"

Andy held up a picture, "Ann Mason?"

"Who?" Jack's eyes squinted together as he looked at the picture without his glasses he couldn't see much. The name didn't ring a bell and his puzzled expression wasn't missed by anyone in the room or back in electronics.

Andy continued with the questions even though they already knew that Jack had nothing to do with Ann's death. They still needed to know whether he knew Ann and what his connection was with Hickman, if any. Andy pressed, "The investigator that Peter Goldman recommended to you?"

"Peter? I haven't talked to him in months," Jack scoffed and once more leaned comfortably in his chair, crossing his legs.

"According to Goldman you needed an investigator for a case, you wanted a woman for who knows what reason, and asked him if he could give you a list of names. He told you about Ann. You then hired her last summer," Andy closed his notebook after he finished speaking.

Jack laughed, "I didn't hire anyone last summer, if you'll recall I was in Vegas."

"So hard to keep track of your whereabouts Jack?" Sharon immediately shot back.

Jack ignored Sharon's attempt to verbally jab him, "Besides I already have a great investigator, as you might recall from that Fitbit case with Ken Song. When you've got Hickman in your pocket why call anyone else?"

Sharon crossed her arms, So you are working with Hickman?" It was the confirmation they were looking for, "That Hickman was making the rounds with other firms and therefore may have crossed paths with Mason, most likely off the books. The fact that her shady husband was working with a man of such few scruples as Hickman came as no big shock to her.

"Yeah why not. He's a former cop, knows all the places to look, and most importantly we have something in common," he said with all the charm a southerner would offer a lady, but none of it sincere.

"And what's that," Andy asked regretting it the minute he did. His brain took a second to catch up to his mouth, he already knew why.

"A past with her," he said smacking the table hard causing them to jump at the sound.

Andy tried to shrug off his slip and get back to the point of this interview, the case, Ann's death. "Going back to Ann, why would Peter tell us that you were looking for someone?"

"No idea," it was probably the most honest thing Jack said all day, it was clear from his tone that he had no clue why Goldman would have brought him into any of this, "but I've never met your victim. So if that's it I think I'll be going now."

Sharon and Andy shared a nod that Jack took to be an acknowledgment that they had nothing and he could leave. He stood up and walked across the room, as he opened the door he stopped and looked back at Sharon, ready to throw one last barb, "Oh and Shar-ON, next time you want to relive our marriage let's do it over dinner and maybe without the boyfriend."

Sharon touched Andy's shoulder and muttered, "Leave it."

As soon as he was out of their line of sight he got up and responded to Sharon, "I can't wait to correct him when I'm your husband."

She offered up a weak smile. Sparring with Jack was exhausting. She could scarcely remember why she thought this was fun when they were younger, she guessed its because it often led to sex, now it still made her want to shower but for different reasons entirely.

The rest of squad filed out of the electronics room and reconvened in the bull pen.

Paige was the first to speak up, "So he didn't hire her?"

"No," Provenza said shuffling to his desk.

"Are we sure he isn't lying to us?" Wes asked as he came up behind Paige, waiting for her to step aside so he could return to his own desk.

Sharon nodded, "I'm sure. Jack doesn't lie well. He didn't fool me when we were married and he doesn't fool me now. It's why he will never hit it big as he says, his tell is too obvious."

Provenza gave her a hopeful, but mischievous look, "I don't suppose you're going to share with the rest of the class?"

"You're elite detectives, you figure it out," she quickly replied as she leaned against the edge of Andy's desk.

"So another dead end then," Amy said what the group was already thinking.

"It would appear so," Mike said as he returned his attention to sorting through the evidence that CID collected from the house.

Andy walked up behind Sharon and added, "It also means that if Jack is telling the truth that our favorite slimy lawyer didn't."

"Goldman lied?" Provenza stated with a healthy dose of sarcasm.

"Why would he lie about something like this?" Paige asked a bit too innocently given her years on the force, but the team gave her a pass because she didn't have to work with lawyers as much as everyone else did given her time in missing persons.

"Because he's a worm," Andy said returning to his chair, he paused and added "that or he killed her."

Before anyone else could say anything, the desk sergeant called Amy, "Commander, Mr. Seager and his lawyer are downstairs."

Chapter Text

"Lieutenant," Sharon said turning towards Mike, "Can you please follow up on our suspect's alibi?" A bit of a mischievous grin came to her face before saying the name, "Umi Tanaka?"

Mike smiled in returned, "Sure Commander." Then looked over at Julio who was giving him the evil eye, he mouthed "What."

"Maybe I should go with the Lieutenant, ma'am, I might be able to help question this Umi woman," Julio said trying to hide his desire to meet this apparently attractive and yet flexible woman.

"Because you know all about yoga?" Amy asked barely containing her laughter.

Sharon shook her head it was no surprise Julio was volunteering, he was always eager to meet young attractive women no matter the place — strip clubs, bars, and the like, "Julio why don't you stick to meeting women at your play date groups with Mark. Mike can handle Umi on his own." The mouths of everyone in the room dropped at the playful burn thrown Julio's way.

With a bit of sulk he plopped down at his desk while Tao grabbed his coat and headed out, "See ya." Julio grumbled under his breath, but kept quiet. The rest of the team waited at their desks as Paige went to the elevators to escort Logan Seager and his attorney to an interview room.

Despite the light-hearted moment they all shared, Sharon couldn't shake off her interview with Jack and the revelations it brought. She anticipated the personal attacks, and they turned out to be less vicious than she expected. To anyone else his remarks would have been a near pinnacle of spite, but sadly she had experienced far worse in the nearly 30 years they had been married. She needed to set aside Jack and focus on Mr. Seager, but her attention was split. Initially, she thought maybe Goldman was mistaken and gave the wrong information by accident. That thought was merely a momentary blip in her mind though, she knew better. Sharon had a desire, despite her profession, to believe the best in people and on occasion it led her to make slightly naive judgements about people and their behavior. The beliefs were always fleeting, and on some level she was glad after this many years in law enforcement she was still capable of thinking, or perhaps hoping for those human traits. Ultimately she knew better especially with the likes of Goldman. She saw him first hand manipulate not only the justice system, but the people around him. First it was Ann, then with "Cop Killer," it was a clear pattern and now she had to wonder what exactly did he get himself into this time. And again with Ann, there was something there but she couldn't put her finger on it. What was it that Goldman told Brenda years ago? Sharon racked her brain trying to pull that memory out of her mental filing cabinets. For the life of her she couldn't recall this potentially vital piece of information.

Sharon was shaken from her thoughts, "Commander, we've put him in Interview 2. Do you want me and Provenza to handle this conversation?" Andy looked at her softly, he could tell that her mind was spinning and he hoped she wasn't too focused on the louse of an ex that recently departed the building.

She let out a small hum, still trying to move onto the next task in front of her. She wanted to get a good look at this Mr. Seager before she decided who to send in, "No, let's give him and his lawyer a minute." She got up and made her way to electronics, with the team in tow.

Seager was a well-dressed man. He looked to be in his mid to late forties with dark brown hair and hazel eyes. He looked like a former model. Square jaw, chiseled cheek bones. If he had met Ann it wouldn't be hard to see why she would swoon, one look at him and he probably made the panties wet of half the women in the room. His suit was clearly tailored, silk, Armani if she knew anything about men's wear. What Sharon found more interesting however was the attorney sitting next to him. It was a familiar face. Her long blond hair was currently pulled away from her face in a low bun. Sharon hadn't seen Linda Rothman since the case last spring. Considering she usually represented very well off individuals she wasn't all that surprised that she would be representing Mr. Seager, however, it did complicate things.

"So Commander, how do you want to handle this?" Provenza asked realizing that several minutes had already gone by and they needed this interview to get a move on.

Sharon knew that sending Amy in or even herself wouldn't be advisable, given their connection to cases of hers. Andy was definitely out. She looked around the room and saw an opportunity, "Paige and Nolan," she said turning to the two newest members of the team, "let's find out what Mr. Seager knows about this mystery guest who throws parties at his house while he's away."

The pair nodded and stepped out of the electronics room headed down the hall. Provenza gave her a curious look, but Sharon merely shrugged her left shoulder and sat down at her usual seat next to Buzz. A part of her felt bad for relying so heavily on the youngest members of her team to keep this case moving, but as things continued to unfold it seemed necessary to have the people with little to no connection to any of this mess stay involved. She could see the frustration on the faces of her senior detectives, and even the furrowed brow of Amy. Before she could give any of it further thought she saw Paige and Nolan enter the room. Sharon didn't miss the quick glance Linda gave the camera, nor did she miss the unspoken remark.

"Mr. Seager, thank you for coming down to speak with us today," Nolan started.

He threw a smile towards Paige and focused his attention on her as he responded, "Yes, sorry it took me so long. Big business deal going on at the moment." He paused and looked at Nolan, "I hope you don't mind that I brought my lawyer with me. I find that one can never be too cautious when it comes to the police."

"Have you had problems with the law before?" Paige asked without missing a beat.

"No, but you hear things and well I don't need any complications at the moment," he said still focusing on Paige as he leaned back comfortably in his chair.

"My client has prepared a brief statement, which he will read for you and will hopefully address any and all of your questions," Linda said clearly wanting to move this along. She pulled out a sheet of paper from her briefcase and handed it to Logan to read.

The man cleared his throat, a bit over-dramatically before beginning, "I, Logan Seager, have prepared the following statement which has been reviewed by my counsel regarding information I have to share with LAPD. Firstly, I would like to state that I was out of the country from August 5th - August 20th on business. I arrived in San Francisco and immediately went to our local office for business meetings. During my periodic absences, my home is used as a rental property for events. The rental of and management during these events is handled by a third party. I provide them with my vacancy dates and they book events. I do not keep track of who or what takes place during the time I'm away. I have not nor have I ever been in contact with any person or persons staying in my residence during this time. I have not nor have I ever met or been in contact with a Miss Ann Mason."

He set the paper down and looked up in time to catch a shared look between the detectives. It was a bit unusual to have a person of interest come in with a prepared statement such as this. While his remarks clued them in as to why someone would have been at his home while he was away, it did little else to shed light on the case. They already knew he was out of town and were already pretty certain he had no connection to Mason.

Paige leaned forward, as she saw Logan's eyes shift, she let her cleavage come together keeping his focus. "If you never met Ann then why prepare a statement? Why come in with a lawyer at all. You could have told us as much over the phone days ago."

He smirked, "While I didn't know Ann, I know her type. This seemed the most prudent way of handling things."

"What do you mean by her type?" Nolan pressed curious what he met by that remark.

"Housesitting in the rich neighborhood, probably pretending she lived there to fit in. Looking for someone to leech, to manipulate. It's safe to assume she was attractive, probably reasonably intelligent. Would have made most men easy to seduce," he said clasping his hands together continuing to stare at Paige.

"Do you think that she met someone in the neighborhood who decided to kill her when they figured out her con?" Paige asked continuing to let him stare at her breasts.

He leaned back once again in his chair and shrugged, "Hard to say. I think it's best to let you run with the theories."

The room fell quiet for a moment. Logan began to stand up, "If that's all—"

Nolan immediately stood and stared him down, "We aren't through with our questions yet. Please take a seat Mr. Seager."

Logan looked at Linda who gave a nod and reluctantly the man sat back down, "Go ahead."

"In your statement, you don't mention who the third party is that handles these event rentals," Paige continued to ask the questions as it seemed Seager was willing to answer them if he got to ogle her.

He leaned into Linda and whispered in her ear before responding to Paige, "E.V. Limited handles all the rental bookings."

Before either detective could say anything further Linda spoke as she stood, "I think that's all for today. My client has a very busy schedule and he has provided you with all the information that he has regarding your case. If you have any further questions for Mr. Seager please forward them to my office." Logan stood up and followed Linda out of the interview room. Nolan and Paige were taken aback by what just happened. They were use to pushy and overbearing lawyers, but Rothman was something else entirely. Technically she was right, they had no reason to hold him and at this point it seemed there wasn't anything else they would be able to get out of him anyway.

In electronics, Sharon turned to Buzz but before she could say anything to him he had begun to type the name into the computer. Paige and Nolan returned to the room, "Sorry we couldn't get more," Paige immediately began to say.

Sharon waved her off, "We got what we needed which was why someone was home — because it was rented. Now we just need to find out who rented it. Buzz any luck?"

"There's one listing for an E.V. Limited, but there's not a lot of information on the web about them. I'm looking for a phone number or an address now," Buzz replied continuing to key away on the computer.

"I think we need to go back to the house and go door to door, ask the neighbors what they remember from that night. If any of them attended the party with our mysterious Mr. X," Sharon said looking off at nothing in the distance, still clearly distracted by her earlier meeting with Jack.

When she didn't say who Provenza jumped in, "Sanchez, Sykes, Nolan, you're with me," he glanced at his watch it was nearly five already, "People should be arriving home shortly now is a good a time as any." When they didn't make any movement to leave, "Let's get a move on. Patrice is actually making me meat for dinner tonight and I don't want to miss out because you lot are dragging your feet."

"Uh sir, I can't go tonight," Julio said looking at the floor, "Today was Mark's first day at his new school and uh, I promised that I would be home for dinner tonight."

"Ye Gads," Provenza huffed, "Fine. Paige you're with us. Sanchez go find something useful to do, like getting a wife to watch your kid so you can get back to work!" He turned and walked out. On the surface the comment seemed mean and hurtful, but everyone knew that it was what Sanchez wanted. Well at least the wife part. He was on his way to having a family again, and they all knew he was desperate for more than just female company.

"I found a number Commander," Buzz started saying completely oblivious to the exchange that just took place.

"I'll call ma'am," Julio offered before Sharon could assign it to either Andy or Buzz.

Sharon gave him a small smile, "Thank you," and watched him walk out.

Buzz felt a bit awkward being left in the room with just Sharon and Andy. They had a way of not talking, talking that made anyone else around feel as though they'd fallen off the face of the earth. They were doing it now. He wasn't surprised, especially considering how vicious that meeting with her ex-husband had been earlier in the day. Buzz was as observant as they came, and didn't miss the soft, barely there way Andy seemed to touch her. It always seemed to cause a change in her demeanor, her shoulders would loosen, a subtle smile like that of Mona Lisa would cross her face, and often times a little low hum would reverberate. In many ways nothing had changed in five years, dates or non-dates they had always shared a certain closeness that made him envious. He hoped that some day he would find even a fifth of a connection with someone else the way they had.

Buzz nearly jumped when he heard the low rumble of Andy's voice finally break through the silence, "Shall we?" Is all he said. There was no context to be had, but he supposed Sharon wouldn't need any they had been speaking to each other in some silent code for the last five minutes.

Sharon slowly rose, rolling her shoulders, and moved towards the door. Andy held it open with one hand and placed a familiar hand to the low of her back as he guided her back towards her office. There wasn't much left to do today. The team was out following up on alibis and canvasing for leads. Andy waited by her door as she gathered up her laptop and purse, when his phone dinged.

Nicole: Thanks again for helping Dean out with the boys. I suspect you and Sharon are the reason for this.

There was a picture attached of a clean master bathroom, candles lit and flowers next to the tub.

Andy smiled as he replied.

Andy: Well we didn't do all that, but I'm glad Dean had sometime to let you pamper yourself. You work too hard!

Nicole: Kettle.

Andy: Pot

He slipped his phone back in his pocket as Sharon came out of her office, "What has you grinning like that?"

He pulled his phone back out and showed Sharon the picture.

"Oh that sounds nice! Look at that tub," Sharon replied, her voice dangerously low and almost giddy with jealousy.

"I knew I should have kept that picture to myself. There'll be no getting you out of the tub tonight!" He didn't mean for the comment to come out with so much sexual innuendo, he really tried to be mindful of these things while at the office. As he went to apologize Sharon glanced over her shoulder as she stepped into the elevator, "I can think of a few ways."

Andy groaned. He knew this woman would be the death of him. How wrong could Jack have gotten Sharon, prude she was not. He stepped into the elevator and said nothing in response to her knowing smirk. When they elevator came to a stop they walked through the parking garage together, it was a rare day that they were able to carpool to work together. He held her door open as she slid into the passenger seat. Her phone dinged as Andy walked around to the other side. It was Julio.

Sharon let out a groan as she read the message. Andy turned to her as he started the car, "What was that for?"

"Oh just that we might have to add politics into the myriad of joys this case is bringing me," she replied a bit too cryptically.

Andy gave her a quizzical look making her clarify, "It appears the Seager house was being used for a political fundraiser that night. We don't know who the politician is yet, but I think it's safe to say that none of this is going to make solving the case any easier."

Andy chuckled, he knew how much she loathed politicians, she was just better about keeping her frustrations to herself. Well except when she lets "Dammit" slip out from time to time. He pulled out of the space and began driving them home, "It seems like we have a load of potential suspects, but not a lot of motive or even evidence to go off of. You know, doesn't it seem odd that an actuary would be throwing a party for a politician?"

Sharon looked at him with wide-eyes, "It does."

Chapter Text

"Morning," Rusty said as he grabbed his freshly made omelet and sat at the table.

"Morning," grumbled Andy. He was target fixated on the coffee. Rusty chuckled, he learned quickly last year when Andy moved in that he should never stand in the way between that man and his coffee. It was even worse now that Sharon was limiting his daily intake.

Andy poured a cup for himself and for Sharon. He lifted the mug and inhaled deeply, closing his eyes and then taking a sip of the hot, dark, bitter liquid. Andy had given up a lot of things in his life, alcohol, cigarettes, ice cream, meat, the list went on but he drew the line at losing coffee from his life. Next to Sharon it was a necessity. A life blood.

Sharon turned the corner into the kitchen, fixing the clasp to her watch and smiled at Andy. Shaking her head she shared a look with Rusty, it was a never ending source of amusement how that man seemed to take pleasure from the simplest things life had to offer. If she was honest with herself, it was something that she could learn to do a bit more, it can be hard to appreciate life when you're surrounded by death every day.

She leaned up and gave him a kiss on the cheek as he handed her the other cup, "Morning."

"There's more eggs in the pan if you're interested. I think my eyes were bigger than my stomach when I started whipping them. I guess I got into an egg cracking frenzy," Rusty said biting into a piece of the whole grain toast that was coated with so much jam the health benefits were essentially lost.

"Thanks Rusty, I might just take you up on that," Andy replied knowing that Sharon rarely had more than a piece of toast and some fruit for breakfast. He peered into the pan, "What did you put in it?" He asked cautiously wondering if there was meat hidden in the skillet.

Sensing the concern Rusty laughed, "Don't worry it's chalk full of bacon!"

Andy dropped the spatula causing both Sharon and Rusty to laugh, "Andy I think you can relax you know we haven't had bacon in the condo since your heart attack."

He merely nodded and continued to poke the eggs inquisitively. Rusty finally put him out of his misery, "There's a little cheese, spinach, and some tomato. It's safe."

Andy grabbed a plate and helped himself to the remainder of the eggs and sat across from Rusty, leaving the head of the table open for Sharon. He loved how no matter how busy she was she always made time to sit, even for just a few minutes, and enjoy breakfast. She didn't eat much which made it seem all the more strange, but he nonetheless enjoyed the company. It was one meal, one moment in the day that they usually were able to share together.

Just as Sharon sat down and began nibbling on a piece of toast the phone rang. Andy looked up trying to discern whose it was, "It's me," Sharon replied.

She stood up and answered the call at her desk. Andy couldn't hear the conversation, and decided to turn his attention to his youngest "son" who despite laughing moments ago had returned to his morose state.

"So have you heard from Gus?" He inquired cautiously.

"Yeah, we talked late last night after his shift ended. It's going to be hard when the semester starts, our schedules are totally backwards," he said pushing his eggs around.

"Well if it's a relationship worth having you'll find away to make the time, even though it's hard," he looked at Rusty, but the Kid kept his eyes down on his plate, "Have you found a time to reschedule your visit?"

"Not exactly," he said finally lifting his eyes, the frustration evident, "He's got a few days off, but they're not in a row. So if I go up there I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do when he's busy working."

Andy took a bite of toast, mostly to give the conversation a pause before he responded, "There's a lot to do in Northern California. Maybe you could find a cool museum to check out."

Rusty gave a noncommittal shrug, "I guess, but I'd rather spend my time with Gus. I mean if I'm going all the way up there then I should be able to be with him, you know?"

"I do," Andy smiled, "Trust me I get it. But the thing is Rusty, it might be good for you to get to know the area on your own. Feel it out. I know you're still not sure about whether you want to move up there and the whole quarter versus semester thing makes sense, but you're not far off from law school. Maybe you'd like to go to school at Berkeley or even Stanford. Why not use the time to check things out for yourself? Then when Gus is free you can explore other things together," he paused as he watched Rusty turn things over in his mind, "Just a thought."

Rusty merely nodded. Andy knew he wouldn't get any response now, he was a lot like Sharon in that regard he needed time to process. For his part at least he managed to plant a little seed in his mind, a moment for him to feel like he was contributing to raise the Kid.

Sharon stepped back into the dining room, noting the sudden silence. She chose to ignore it for the moment knowing she'd find out from Andy later if everything was alright. She slid back into her seat and took another sip of coffee, "We better take these to go."

"Movement?" He asked.

"That was Sykes, looks like they may have found our connection between Ann and Hickman." It was mixed news, on one hand she was glad they had something to go with, but the name Hickman made it hard not to clench her jaw at the minefield they were lurking around.

SsS

"Okay, what do we have?" Sharon asked taking her stance at the back of the room near Julio's desk.

Amy took lead on the briefing. It was clear that with her past missteps with Mark Hickman that she wanted to redeem herself in the eyes of the team and her commanding officer. No one else thought it was necessary, no one had any allusions that Hickman didn't lead her right down the grey path, but still she felt the need to learn from her past mistakes. From day one her weakness was naivety, she was eager to please and overly excited. Despite Provenza taking her under his wing, she still had a lot to learn about being a homicide detective, it was only now that she finally understood that she was still growing.

She slid a magnet over a document on the white board, "In May of 2015, when Ann was still working with Madeline Morgan it appears that Hickman worked a case for James Corbett. Their firms are in the same building. The connection is thin, but it's the only one we can find."

Amy set the file down and Wes turned to the rest of the group, "It is possible that during the three months Hickman was doing background for Corbett that they ran into each other, what if anything came of it is our best guess."

Sharon had to admit the connection was tenuous at best, it certainly wasn't enough for a search warrant let alone an arrest warrant to bring Hickman in for more formal questioning. Her gut gnawed at her, Hickman was as slimy as they came and she certainly couldn't put it past him to be drawn to Ann. She was a beautiful woman, smart, and maybe a bit eager — she was a lot like Amy which seemed to fit Hickman's interests. She thought about it for a moment and decided that covering every base was the order of the day, "Mike I want you to work with Amy and Paige. See what you can track down from his movements before and after the murder. Also let's see if we can find any connection to EV Limited."

Sharon spun around and faced the other members of her team, "In the meantime, let's get David Phillips down here, I want to find out what he knows about our victim."

"Don't forget the mysterious political fundraiser," Andy interjected with his usual amount of sarcasm, "You know how well politics and murder go together."

SsS

It took several hours for Andy to finally locate Mr. Phillips. His assistant was as useless today as she had been the night before with Buzz. He gave a light knuckling to her open door before walking in, "Patrol spotted his car in West Hollywood at La Boheme. I sent Wes down there to inform our Mister Phillips that we'd like to speak with him." His phone dinged, "That's Wes, as you might imagine he wasn't happy that we made a bit of a fuss at the restaurant in front of potential clients, but they're on their way."

Sharon nodded and leaned back in her chair letting out a sigh. Her back was stiff from sitting at her desk all day. With half the team on Hickman detail and the other half tracking down Phillips, there wasn't much for her to do except catch up on paperwork that she'd been procrastinating. While in general Sharon was most definitely not a procrastinator, the last few weeks, prior to this case, she'd found her mind drifting. Mostly to wedding details, well and if she was entirely honest with herself, the honeymoon. It had taken the better part of a month for him to convince her, but when she finally agreed he jumped to by the tickets before she could change her mind. They rented a small villa in Tuscany, Siena to be specific. She let out a little chuckle as she recalled how for days after she said yes, Andy serenaded her to Italian songs while he moved about the condo. It was no surprise that he was happy to pay his motherland a visit, but she had found herself equally excited. Italy was one country she sadly missed on her college trip. She ended up spending so much time in London and Paris on her free days that when her study abroad was done she realized she missed seeing so much. She wouldn't trade her time away for anything, she knew she was lucky to have had the opportunity at all. One of her closest friends at the time, Angela, didn't go at all citing the need to work to pay next quarter's tuition. They hadn't stayed close after graduation, but she did know that it was something she regretted with earnest. When her kids reached college, she practically pushed them on the plane. They were worried about the money, and it was true things were a bit tight with two kids in college, but it was too important. She sold the house that year and downsized to the condo, while it wasn't the reason she couldn't deny the extra money did help make it possible for them to go.

Sharon looked up when she heard a throat clearing.

"Where did you go?" Andy asked, now sitting in a chair across from her.

She hadn't even realized he came in or even sat down as she took a trip down memory lane. She smiled at him, "Italy."

Andy grinned widely at her, "Mmm, so are you going to agree that it is a great idea?"

"I believe I already did, but I suppose the proof will come once we're there," she said a bit coyly knowing what he wanted her to say.

"Ah yes, you did say it was a good idea, but you didn't give me the credit for coming up with it. I believe I'm still waiting for you to pay up on that account," he said leaning forward on her desk. His voice dropped an octave, "Are you sure you're going to be okay being away for two weeks?" He wasn't worried that she couldn't leave work for a few days, he knew that she was confident in the team and even Provenza. What he was worried about was whether Mama Bear could stand to leave Rusty while he was in the midst of his first real heart break. Well, that wasn't even the real concern, he knew she worried about him and Gus, but her panic and honestly his was on Stroh. Leaving the country for two weeks while his whereabouts were still unknown. Leaving Rusty here while his defenses were down, he knew it frightened her, hell it freaked him out. They hadn't really discussed it, except for her comment after agreeing to go — At some point we all have to be able to live. He agreed, he just hoped that taking a moment to live didn't mean coming home to darkness.

He shook the morbid thoughts from his head, "So, when are you going to pay up lady?"

She let out a snort, which made him smile. She didn't do it often, usually it was reserved for moments when he caught her off guard, like now or when she was laughing uncontrollably. She was self conscious by it, but he found it adorable. Sharon covered her mouth after the sound came out, hoping no one else in the office heard the noise. She appreciated that Andy didn't tease her about it, Jack did, there wasn't anything he didn't poke her about. She shook him out of her head and remembered after they started dating how Andy pulled up a video of Sandra Bullock making a similar sound. He told her, If she can get paid millions of dollars to do this in a movie and look cute as hell doing it, I don't think you have any need to be embarrassed sweetheart. It was the first time he ever called her sweetheart, which made the moment even more touching and sentimental.

Before she could give him a cheeky response she looked up and saw Wes walking in with a tall, slenderly built man in his early 40s. Andy caught her eyes and followed them out of her office, taking her cue he stood up, "That must be our Mr. Phillips."

Sharon grabbed the coat from behind her chair and put it on as she followed Andy out of her office. The other members of her squad gave Phillips a hard look, trying to get a read on him. Sometimes it was easy to tell if someone was involved, Phillips seemed calm and collected. Sharon decided she was going to interview him, she gave a nod to Amy who pushed back from her desk and stood up.

Wes walked him down the hall to interview room 2 while the rest of the team headed for electronics. "Thank you," Sharon said softly to Wes as he held open the door for her and Amy to step through.

"Mr. Phillips, I'm Commander Sharon Raydor of Major Crimes," she said as she finally stood directly across from where he sat.

"Nice to meet you I'm sure, however, I think it would have been far more pleasant of an introduction over cocktails and appetizers back at La Boheme," he replied his words oozing with overconfident charm. It was easy to tell how Ann might have found herself interested in him. He was well-built, square jawed, and charming. Unfortunately for him it was lost on Sharon.

"Perhaps, but I prefer to dine at La Boheme with my fiancé, besides their cameras don't have any sound and I want to be able to play this back later," she replied dryly. She knew Andy would have a smirk on his face from some macho sense of "that's my girl" thing, and while she normally hated that sort of thing right now she needed to get Phillips off the charm and onto giving up information.

"Fair enough, can you point out where they are? I just want to make sure you're getting my good side," he said snarkly.

Neither bothered to respond as Amy began questioning their latest potential suspect, "Can you tell us where you were last Thursday?"

The man pulled out his cell phone, "Hollywood Hills at an event."

"At Logan Seager's residence?" Amy asked as follow-up.

"Yes, we use his property often. It's a good size and the location is convenient for many of my clients," his answers continued to give up the bare minimum.

Sharon continued to sit quietly watching him intently, letting Amy continue to engage, "Can you tell us what event brought you to the Seager residence?"

"Uh a political fundraiser I believe," he leaned back in his chair and winked at the wall where he thought the cameras might be placed.

"Did you happen to meet a young woman while you were at the Seager residence?" Amy probed trying to get him to give a deeper response.

"I meet a lot of young women in my line of business. Weddings, dinner parties, and the like." He turned towards Sharon, "I could probably throw you the best bachelorette party, you might even blush when it's over."

Amy hit the table with her hand to get his attention, "Hey, answer the question. Did you meet a young woman and invite her to the party last week?"

He turned his face towards Amy, but continued leaning in Sharon's direction, "I think you'll have to be more specific, as I said I meet lots of young women every day."

Sharon opened the folder and pulled out Ann's picture, "This woman."

His reaction was immediate and visceral, he glanced at the picture not expecting it to be of a dead woman. He shoved it back to Sharon and gagged, "I certainly didn't invite a dead woman to any of my events!"

"Ah, but you see Mr. Phillips, she wasn't dead when you invited her," Sharon replied.

He looked at her stunned as she pulled out another picture. He flinched expecting another gruesome crime scene photo, but instead it was her DMV photo. He lightly touched the corner and nodded. Sharon gave Amy a look, he wasn't there guy, but he still might know something about who did it.

"I think her name was Ann. She lived across the street from the house my company was renting. I ran into her a few times and thought she was cute," he said staring at the picture in front of him, clearly in shock.

"And did you invite her to the party?" Amy asked wanting to get what they could out of him before emotion fully took over.

He nodded, "Yes, she seemed to fit the demographic of the party, and I thought maybe she would get along with the other guests."

"Why did you tell her that you were an actuary?" Sharon asked, it was a piece of the puzzle that made no sense to her.

Phillips finally looked up, "I didn't. She knew I was in the event business. I even gave her my card in case she ever wanted to throw a party."

Sharon and Amy shared another look, it was another lie that Ann had given her family. It was beginning to get hard to take anything in this case at face value with the number of lies and false leads they had uncovered thus far. Amy pressed on, "Did you see her on Thursday?"

"No, she never showed up to the party. She sent me a text like an hour before saying that she was planning on stopping by, but then I didn't hear anything from her after that. I just figured she changed her mind, it wasn't a big deal there were plenty of guests and we hit our donation mark for the night, all in all the night was a success," he replied all the charm and smugness finally gone.

Sharon circled back to one of their earlier questions which he never fully answered, "Who was the politician you were hosting the event for?"

"He's not yet, he's running for the 44th Congressional District. The incumbent died and there's a run off. Nice guy actually, a bit young, but seems committed to the cause from what I can tell. He works for the DA's office, David Gabriel," he said not having a clue of the magnitude of what he just shared.

Sharon immediately stood up and excused herself from the room, leaving Amy to wrap up the interview. The door closed behind her and she felt the overwhelming sensation of dread sweep over her at the realization that he had been in the area when their victim died. Not just in the area but across the street around the time of death. There could be no more delaying it, they'd need to bring him in. Andy and Provenza stepped out of electronics and started towards her, but she waved them off. Before they did anything she needed to share this latest bomb shell with the Chiefs. As she head down the hall, she wondered who would get the unpleasant task of letting Brenda know what was going on. She felt like she was back in IA again and she was investigating one of their own, in a way she would be now. She felt the pit in her stomach grow with each step she took. Hesitating for a moment, she finally raised her hand to Mason's door and knocked. It was late, but she knew he was still here, "Come in," she heard as she took a deep breath and opened the door.

Chapter Text

It was still early, but the sun was already baking as it shined through the sheer drapes in the bedroom. Truthfully, as much as he loved growing up in Jersey he never found himself missing the humid summers of the east coast. On a really bad day the wind would change direction and the smell from hot, rotting trash would waft through the neighborhood as the wind carried it from the floating barrages. Jersey always found a way to add insult to injury, a one-two punch his older brother used to say. The dry heat of Los Angeles was no picnic, and in his older age he found that he couldn't tolerate the high temps as well as he used to, but it was still no comparison. He stared out the window for a moment longer as he toweled his hair and moved through the bedroom. Sharon, surprisingly, was no where to be found. Usually, she would be taking over the entire bed now that he had moved away, relishing his scent on the pillows and the freedom to stretch out. How a woman her size could take up an entire king size bed was still a mystery, but over the years they found a way to manage the his and hers sleeping routines. Andy wrapped the towel around his waist and stepped towards the dresser to find some boxers, when he noticed a box sitting on the top, with a little folded card. He flipped it open and it read #26, but nothing else. His mind began to race trying to figure out what exactly that meant. Dates? No. Anniversary? No. Kids? Definitely not? He grabbed his phone and flipped it on to check the date, it was the 25th not the 26th. He looked around the room for some other clue that she might have left for him, but the room was already mostly put back together.

Cautiously, he opened the lid on the small white box and pushed aside the tissue paper. Inside he found two tickets dated August 25th 7:10pm - today, tonight. He looked around again and slipped his glasses on and re-read the tickets. Brewers vs Dodgers. She got him tickets to the game. They only had one opportunity this season to go because of their work schedules, she knew that he wanted to take the boys the previous weekend but the universe conspired against that plan. He closed the lid and held up the tickets, turning when he heard the door open. Sharon stood in the doorway bare-legged in a Dodgers jersey, drinking a cup of coffee.

"I see you found the tickets?" She said taking another sip, but not moving away from the door.

"I did," he grinned, "They've been hot, maybe this is our year!"

"Hmm, maybe," she smiled back.

"But why the #26? Today is the 25th, and that's when the tickets are for?" He asked still confused about the message she left for him.

"Yes, that was a bit disappointing. I was hoping for nice symmetry there but my connection had tickets for tonight's game not tomorrow's, so I had to go with it," she said finally stepping away from the door, using her foot to give it a gentle kick closed.

"I think I'm still missing something here?" He said scratching his head.

"Oh, then maybe I should help the detective out a little? Give him a clue?" Her smile was entirely too mischievous, her eyes hooded as she set her mug down and slowly turned around so he could see the back of her jersey.

Silver Fox. Number 26. His mind quickly processed the information. It was clearly an authentic Dodger's jersey, but he couldn't tell if she had something custom made like her Packers "Mrs. Rodgers" jersey - that he secretly despised seeing her wear. The number, he tried to focus on that, who did that belong to. Utley. Chase Utley. He looked back down at the tickets and her jersey, momentarily forgetting or really caring about deciphering the clue when he noticed her bare thighs. "Player's Weekend," he said with a dirty grin.

Sharon spun back around, "Mmm, hmm, and this one just happened to fit. Imagine the luck."

"I'd say it definitely fits," he moved closer to her dropping the tickets back on the dresser," So Silver Fox is your guy?"

"He most certainly is," her voice low and full of intent as she closed the last of the gap between them. Her hands came up to his chest.

His hands slid up her arms and under the jersey to her shoulders, "You know he plays pretty well for an old guy?"

"He does, and he looks pretty good doing it. Can't wait to see it up close and personal tonight," she said with a playful wink.

Andy paused for a second trying to sort out whether she was talking about him or the actual Chase Utley, "Do I have to worry about losing you to yet another ball player?"

"No, it's why I got you this one. The only man you have to worry about stealing me is Aaron. You know he's single again—" she couldn't finish her sentence as Andy kissed her.

They pulled apart, "I know, but perhaps we could work out some kind of custody arrangement?" He pulled her into his arms, the warmth of his skin against the coolness of the jersey made his nipples hard. He could tell the friction was doing the same to Sharon.

He threw a quick glance over his shoulder to the clock, checking that they had time for some morning extra curricular activities. Sharon sensed his concern, "Don't worry, we don't have to go in today. Gabriel has gone through booking, the arraignment isn't until Monday. The paperwork can wait until then, we all need the day off. Robbery Homicide is on call if any cases come through."

No truer words could have been spoken at that moment. Arresting one of their own the night before, and not just a fellow officer but a someone who had been part of their family for many years had taken its toll. The thought about yesterday's events, and the fall out from their latest case made Andy pull Sharon even tighter in his arms. He needed that human connection. He hit a meeting last night and was planning on another visit this weekend, in the meantime Sharon gave him what he needed most, love.

After a minute, Sharon pulled away from his embrace. Andy was reluctant to let her go, but before he could say or do anything else she walked across the room into the closet and rummaged around for a moment.

"I may have another little surprise for you," she said walking out of the room with another box a bit bigger than the one left on the dresser.

She chewed on her bottom lip, looking entirely too guilty for Andy's liking. "What did you do?"

"I may have a found a few other things on the MLB shop that we needed," she replied playfully.

"Oh I see, well I have no problem with your shopping habits when they're used on anything Dodgers related," he returned the smile as he lifted the lid and found a pair of boxers nestled inside.

"I was going to wait and give them to you before the wedding, but I couldn't help myself," she said grinning as she took the box away from him and as he lifted out the boxers.

He smiled, they were nice boxers, from Stance and matched some socks Rusty got him for his birthday a few months earlier. He didn't know who Stance was or why he was making such a big deal out of this new partnership the MLB had with this company, but he appreciated the thought nonetheless. What he couldn't figure out was why Sharon was so happy about getting him a new pair of shorts. It wasn't like the first time she ever bought him underwear, but this reaction was very different.

She sensed his confusion and took them out of his hands and turned them around, "See?"

Across the butt she had "Mr. Silver Fox" screen printed, "Ah, well those are pretty special then!"

He leaned in for a kiss, "Thank you."

"That's not all," Sharon turned around and lifted her jersey slightly exposing a matching blue set of ladies bikini cut underwear also with words printed on the back - Mrs. Silver Fox.

Andy couldn't help himself he dropped to the floor and literally kissed her ass, "Now these are definitely a wonderful surprise!"

She turned around and pulled him up to her, "I think we can lose the towel. Don't you?" She gave it a tug and watched it drop to the floor.

"As much as I like these, I think they need to go as well," he said tugging at her panties. When Sharon began unbuttoning her jersey, his hands stopped her from removing it entirely, "This, I think can stay."

She giggled as she felt her knees hit the edge of the bed. For one moment, for one day within the sanctity of these four walls they could push out the world and just be Sharon and Andy. They needed it, hell everyone else needed them — they could only save the world together.

Friday August 24th

"Commander," Provenza stood up from his chair and grabbed his coat, "we should be the ones," he said gesturing to himself and Andy. It was just like Sharon to want to fall on her sword and take one for the team, but no matter how you sliced it sending her downtown to pick up David wasn't right.

Sharon thought for about it for a moment. He was right, she knew. There was no way she could send the newbies, or even Amy, he didn't know her and no matter what he was being accused of he deserved the courtesy to be in the company of someone familiar. She also knew it would help with the X factor, Brenda. She had tried to get a meeting with her all morning, but it seemed her calendar was full. No amount of "this is urgent" seemed to get from her assistant to Brenda, that or the woman really did still carry a grudge. She shook her head, knowing that not to be true, and gave a nod to Provenza. Her eyes caught Andy's, she hated sending him over there it was an awful job, an awful day that was continuing to worsen by the minute.

The squad remained quiet as they watched the two senior Lieutenants leave the room. Sharon followed them with her eyes until they finally disappeared, before turning to the team, "Mike, have we gotten the official report back from Forensics? I don't want to go into that interview room without it."

"I just got off the phone with them a few minutes ago, their sending it up, we should have it before they make it back," he replied. When her eyes didn't divert he caught on, "But I could go down there now and get it myself." He stood up and grabbed his things.

"Thank you," she replied before focusing her attention to everyone else. They were looking to her for direction. Sanchez and Buzz were the only two in the room with an emotional stake in the game. She knew that despite the improvements in his temper this could very well push Julio over the edge and she needed to find a way to keep him otherwise engaged. It was no longer just his career on the line, he had a family counting on him now.

Taking a deep breath, "Julio, I would like for you to take Nolan and Paige and execute the search warrant on Mr. Gabriel's home and car." He gave a silent nod, everyone knew what she was doing and while Julio might have disagreed he kept it to himself. He collected his service weapon and the warrant Tao printed earlier from the printer and walked down the hall, not waiting for the others. Sharon stopped Paige, "Keep an eye on him." The younger woman gave a nod and followed after Wes and Julio. The search should keep them well occupied for a few hours, hopefully long enough for them to either straighten everything out with David or not. She kept trying to refer to him as Mr. Gabriel, she needed to keep the separation, to compartmentalize her personal feelings from the case. Sharon already decided that she would stay out of the interview room for now, and let Andy and Provenza handle things. She tried to rationalize it by saying that she needed to be kept apprise of the search results, but in reality she couldn't sit across from this man and once again discuss Ann Mason. One single connection, one single relationship was proving to have the power to completely destroy a man's life — for a second time. The first time was unfortunate, the second time appeared to be truly tragic.

She turned on her heel and returned to her office. Amy and Buzz knew what they needed to do until their suspect arrived. From her desk she saw Amy pull the screen over the board and Buzz collect his equipment and head for electronics. She took a long deep breath before picking up the phone.

"Chief," she said after it rang once.

"Is he here?" Pope asked.

"No, I've sent Flynn and Provenza to pick him up," she replied, "he should be here within the half hour."

"Did you get a hold of Brenda?" he asked quickly moving on.

"No, she isn't answering my calls. I tried several times," she let out with a frustrated sigh.

"Did you try Fritz?" She could hear the inflection on the name, even after all this time and having the man work under his command he had trouble saying it.

"I sent him a casual text asking if she had gone back to work yet. He said yes, that was it," she answered.

"Okay, well let me see if I can give her a quick call before they get over there and at least give her a warning. Without it well all hell might break loose," he huffed and without another word he hung up.

She knew he was right, at least about Brenda. When it came to David she had a soft spot. It was like he was one of her kids, she could never stay mad at him and was a bit blind when it came to it. She sighed again and rubbed the back of her neck, knots were already forming at the base of her skull. It was going to be a very long day.

She picked the phone back up and called across the street. There was a least one person over there that she could warn and who would answer her calls.

"Hobbs," she heard on the other end.

"Hey Andrea," Sharon replied.

"Oh, sorry didn't check the ID before I answered, knee deep in these jury forms. You know I think some people write poorly on purpose just to get out of being selected. I think maybe I should just pick everyone with the worst handwriting. What do you think?" Annoyance dripped from her mouth.

"Well, I can't disagree that it sounds like a ploy, however, you could risk a dismal or appeal by getting a prejudiced juror," she stated the obvious knowing Andrea already knew all of this, but merely wanted to vent, "Or you could ignore all that paperwork, make your second chair do it and get your Donna Karen butt across the street."

Sharon could hear the thud of a file of papers being dropped on the desk, "Uh oh. What did you do?"

"Well, I'm not sure you're going to want to be in anywhere near the DA Investigative offices in the next 5 minutes. I just sent Flynn and Provenza over there to get Gabriel. It's time," her voice was resigned and full of disappointment.

"I'm on my way," the phone clicked as Andrea gathered her things and headed to PAB.

She leaned back in her chair. There wasn't much for her to do. Well there was always plenty of paperwork, and being Friday timesheets needed to be signed off. But in terms of the case they had a flurry of movement in the early hours and now it was back to the waiting for suspects, waiting for reports, waiting for more evidence. She could sense the shift in the air, clouds had begun to roll in, a rare summer thunderstorm was on approach. It was literally the calm before the storm. There could be nothing more fitting than having electrified air to hang around the murder room on today of all days.

Andy looked across the street before the walked into the building. It was the Cathedral where they were to be wed in a few weeks time. Our Lady of Angels. He shook his head, the way life worked sometimes baffled him. He tried to shake off the thoughts spilling into his head and focus on the task at hand. Provenza slapped him on the chest, "Would you get on with it already?"

"Yeah, yeah, let's get this over with," he said falling into step with his partner. When they reached the office building they pushed the button on the elevator to the third floor. The DA Investigative unit was located in a different building from the DA's office, it didn't make sense to him why everyone should be scattered around the place, but he supposed at the moment he was glad that this pending walk of shame was going to be minimized a bit. It was still going to suck for everyone involved, but not being dragged downtown in front of all the DAs and folks at city hall, well that had to make things just a percentage point better.

"Did she get a hold of you know who?" Provenza asked afraid to say her name now that they were in the building, as if the walls could talk.

"No, for whatever reason she isn't answering Sharon's calls, we're going in blind," Andy gave a slightly nervous shutter at the thought. He hated pissing off Sharon, that was scary enough, but Brenda was a whole different stratosphere of frightening.

"Great," he mumbled as the doors opened.

The two senior detectives strolled casually down the halls. It wasn't unusual for a member of law enforcement to stop by the office, after all they were often working similar cases. A few people nodded as they typed away on their computers and answered calls. When they reached the end of the hallway the turned and found a large office with a conference room next door, it wasn't unlike the one she had back at PAB. They peered inside and saw both Brenda and David talking to a few people. The loitered around for a moment, trying to make eye contact with someone inside, after minutes of failed and mostly awkward attempts they finally coincided that they were going to have to do this the uncomfortable way. Deja vu hit Andy as he watched Provenza go to the door, it was just like watching Sharon enter the interview room six years earlier. He knocked, but didn't wait for anyone to answer before pushing open the door.

"Yes?" Brenda cried as her back was turned, clearly annoyed at whoever was interrupting her meeting.

Provenza cleared his throat, "Uh Chi-" he started to say before realizing that she was still technically a 'chief' just not 'the chief,' in the time it took him to resolve this issue in his mind Brenda turned around.

"Lieutenant! What are you doing here?" She sauntered over to him, her pink sun dress flowing around her ankles as she moved.

Before he could reply Andy slid in next to Provenza to get a better listen to what was being said.

"Andy! You're both here, what a surprise! Oh and thank you for the flowers," She crooned as she moved in to give them both a hug.

Provenza and Flynn shared a mutual look of confusion, this was not going the way they expected. They stood awkwardly as their former boss gave them both a hug, knowing that things were about to get super uncomfortable when they explained why they were there.

"It's so good to see you both! I know Fritzi keeps telling me to stop by, but things just have a way of getting by me sometimes. Anyways, what brings you all the way over here? I don't think we are working any of Major Crimes' cases right now," she shifted her weight onto her hip and while most people would have read her tone as southern hospitality both seasoned detectives could hear the interrogation in her voice. It was subtle, but it was there.

Andy rubbed the back of his neck with one hand, using the other to gesture wildly, "Well you see Chief—"

"We're uh, here, to ah," Provenza sputtered.

The two looked at each other knowing they needed to calm the fuck down, they were here to do a job and while their old boss was intimidating as hell they needed to stay focused - and then run like hell.

Provenza cleared his throat, "Chief, we need a moment to talk to Gabriel. It looks like you're in the middle of something right now, but could you spare him for a bit?"

Brenda crossed her arms and shot a piercing glance at both her former detectives, clearly trying to get a read on why they were really here and what they wanted with her second in command. She shifted her stance, filling the room, "Well we are in the middle of something right now gentleman. Is this important?"

Gabriel looked up at his former colleagues and then back at his boss. She gave him a quizzical look, like Sharon and Andy the two managed to carry on conversations without words. He gave her a shrug clearly indicating that he had no clue why they were there.

Andy spoke up, "Yes it is, I'm sorry, but we really need to speak with Gabriel."

David stood up, "Chief, it's alright. You wrap up here and I'll see what our old friends at the LAPD need."

Brenda looked unsure about all of this, but turned her attention back to the case they were working, noticeably torn about what to prioritize in that moment, "Okay, but have him back soon. We are working on a tight deadline here."

Andy led Gabriel out. Provenza gave her a nod, "We'll do what we can," as he shut the door knowing full well that chances were David would be back any time soon.

It was no surprise that a few minutes after hanging up Sharon saw Andrea stride into the murder room. Sharon smirked at her friend's slightly disheveled appearance, knowing she must have really booked it to get over here so quickly. Andrea didn't share many qualities with Provenza, but one was definitely 'not running' she hated going to the gym. She went begrudgingly a few times a month, but really she got more of a workout pacing at the courthouse than she ever did at the gym.

Sharon pushed back against the desk, rolling her chair aside as she stepped up and walked out of her office. She glanced at her watch, they'd be back soon.

"Andrea," she said gesturing for her to join her down the hall. She didn't want them to be discussing the case when their suspect arrived.

"I heard through the grapevine that she's pissed. If I were you, I'd screen my calls for the remainder of the day," her eyes were wide and her voice was breathless.

"Duly noted," Sharon replied.

Before Sharon and Andrea made it into electronics they heard the unmistakable voice of Provenza filling the halls, "All will be explained shortly."

She peered around the corner and saw Provenza taking him down the hall into the conference room. Being not just a former cop or detective, but a member of this elite squad they knew there would be no fooling him if they brought him into an interview room, one question and she knew the jig would be up no matter where they put him. For now, a conference room was the best place. Andy stopped in the middle of the squad room and watched to make sure his partner had no issues, not that they expected it, but there were rules and he was now, apparently, a follower. Satisfied that they could hang tight for a few minutes he walked down the hall in the other direction towards Sharon.

"So how did it go?" She asked in a hushed voice.

"Well it was fine when we picked him up, but the drive was too long he got antsy and suspicious on the way over. Provenza tried to come up with an excuse, but he knows us too well. Might have been better to send the kids," he add the last bit with a shrug. No matter what they did they'd second guess themselves, it was just that type of situation.

"Pope finally got a hold of Brenda, she's been briefed," Sharon replied not to ignore Andy's point, but there was nothing to be done about it now. She played the card she felt was right at the time.

"So do you still want to go with the original plan?" He asked hesitantly, feeling uneasy about questioning a former friend and colleague.

"Yes, I think this is still the best way to go about it. Tao will be up here shortly with the forensics report. I'll have him bring it straight to you. Don't go too hard, he knows all the plays," she said knowing that he really didn't need to be told any of this, but feeling the need to fill the air.

"We got it," he said giving her arm a small pat before walking back down the hall towards his partner. When he reached the door he looked back, Sharon stood there staring at him they shared a silent nod before both taking a deep breath and walking through their respective doors.

"Okay, you guys are making me nervous. What's with all the subterfuge?" David asked, he looked calm but they'd known him long enough to see beyond the confident front he showed the world.

"We picked up a case last weekend. Has ties to some old stuff," Andy replied as nonchalantly as possible.

It seemed to work, David leaned back, "An old case? Oh okay, right."

"Yeah, so anyway, we just thought we could get you to help us out," Andy continued.

"Right, yeah help," Provenza grumbled in his usual manner.

"So you're finally running for office?" Andy jumped right to the point that would establish his location at the time of Ann's death.

David rubbed his head, "Yeah, you know, I like the investigative side of things over at the DA's office, but I miss what we did here the helping people side. And well, I've always thought I could give back more to my community. So after talking it over with my parents, and Jo, we decided as a family it made sense."

"So you really want to be a politician?" Provenza looked at him clearly skeptical and suspicious.

"What I want is to do good work and give back," his tone was a bit defensive and Andy decided to move the conversation slightly

"So you've just started the campaign I guess that takes like a lot of money right? Gotta get donations and whatnot?" Andy asked looking at Provenza and then back to David.

"Yeah, it does take a lot of money to pay for all the signs, staff, and advertisements, but we just held a big fundraiser over the weekend and that's made a big dent in our campaign finance," the man was proud and his voice was back to being positive and excited about his latest venture.

"Really a fundraiser, why weren't we invited?" Provenza inquired, knowing full well why they weren't.

"I don't think that's really your thing Lieutenant, besides when is the last time you donated anything to anyone?" He said laughing.

"Last month to my ex-wife, it's called alimony," he growled.

"Hardly a donation," Andy muttered under his breath.

David ignored the dig, "It wasn't a really big fundraiser, it was just a group of people might campaign guy invited up in Hollywood Hills to generate some buzz."

"Ah, so you were up in the Hollywood Hills last weekend?" Andy asked.

"Well last Thursday actually, but yeah they rented some house, I'm not sure. Jo handles most of these things for me while I'm at work," he replied with a shrug.

"Whose Jo?" Provenza asked. Andy stared at him with wide eyes causing Provenza to shrug, "What?!"

"She's my fiancé, we are getting married next April," David offered up.

Just then there was a knock at the door, Tao held up a folder and Andy stood up. David watched the two men talk for a moment as Mike handed Andy the folder and then gave him a concerned look before fleeing down the hall. Andy looked it over and then walked back into the room, and passed it to Provenza.

Sensing the shift David became defensive again, "So what case did you say this was regarding?"

"This is about Ann," Provenza said almost so softly that the words were missed.

It took David a split second to get who he was talking about, but the moment he did his face dropped, he gritted his teeth "What about Ann?"

"She's dead," Andy opened a folder and put a picture on the table. David didn't flinch, not that anyone expected him to he was a former homicide detective and now DA investigator, looking at crime scene photos for the last two decades made him numb.

"While that is sad and tragic, I'm not sure why you're telling me. I haven't seen or even thought about her in nearly six years," he said sliding the picture back towards them.

"Well you see, this report we have here," Provenza held up the file that Tao brought up moments ago, "says otherwise."

"What are you insinuating, that I had something to do with this?" David argued.

"If you didn't then how do you explain your DNA under the victim's fingernails?" Andy asked trying to give the guy the benefit of the doubt.

"Roll-up your sleeves," Provenza barked.

David hesitated before unbuttoning the cuffs and rolling them up. There were small abrasions to his forearms, they were faint and happened days ago, but they were still visible. David followed their eyes down, "This is from working in the park over the weekend. It was community service day, I helped plant some new shrubs."

Neither detective doubted the story, there would probably be campaign photos all over social media by now of the event, but it also made for a nice cover story one that a former cop would think to plan.

"We know you were across the street from where the victim's body was found around the time of death. Your DNA is under her fingernails and you two have quite the history. What did she want to try and blackmail you? Sabotage the campaign? Maybe she was going to confront your fiancé?" Provenza shouted as he slammed his hands on the desk causing Gabriel just jump.

"I want to place a call to my lawyer," he replied calmly.

It was never a question of if Gabriel would lawyer up, but when. There was no real point in questioning him, they knew they'd never get anywhere. They hoped to give him the chance to cooperate, but new it was a slim chance.

"Okay," Provenza closed the file, "You can have your phone call, but you're under arrest for the murder of Ann Mason."

Andy stood up and moved to the other side of the conference room table, removing the cuffs from his back holster as Provenza read him his rights. David silently bowed his head and put his hands behind his back, there was no point fighting. There was a process to everything, rules to follow and fighting it now wouldn't help.

SsS

Note there's a one-off add-on that fills in the "fade to black" moment for those interested - search for "Players Weekend" rated M.

Chapter Text

Sharon rarely attended an arraignment, in fact it was more unusual to see any member of the LAPD present in the gallery listening to cases be called and pleas being entered. She could count the cases on one hand that she attended regularly. This was different, it was David standing against the wall with a Sheriff's Deputy in a wrinkled suit, hands cuffed. With his back turned she could just make out the silhouette of his attorney, it wasn't a surprise that he hired him in their line of work you wanted the best and he was one of the best. Andrea sat in front of her while her colleague Michaels went through his list of cases. She shuffled papers across her lap. Sharon smiled she knew Andrea would have it all memorized by now, after all she had all weekend to review their evidence against Gabriel, but still ever the perfectionist she was studying every detail. There was no need to wax poetic about what her life would have been like before things went so wrong with Jack, and like she told Rusty she didn't regret the way things turned out, but she had a feeling she would have been an awful lot like Andrea in the courtroom. It made her all that more proud of her colleague, and friend's accomplishments to see another strong woman breaking barriers.

DDA Michaels grabbed his briefcase and stepped aside. "We're up," Andrea said collecting her things and taking the recently vacated place at the podium.

"Case #45290-2A the people versus David Gabriel," was read out.

Judge Richwood looked up with surprise when the name was read. He was clearly focused on the next case in front of him that he never noticed the familiar, if not a bit disheveled looking, man standing along the wall of his courtroom. He looked down at the folder handed to him by his secretary and read the charges, Murder 1. Sharon noticed the flicker of surprise run across his face before he schooled his expression. She imagined that a number of people were going to have that same reaction over the coming days and weeks. Gabriel wasn't just former law enforcement, he was a member of the District Attorney's office fully entrenched member of the justice community.

David shuffled his feet across the floor, but stood tall. He and his attorney stood behind the desk and waited for the arraignment to begin.

Ever the professional Judge Richwood opened his remarks without stating anything about his personal knowledge of the defendant, it wasn't the time nor the place. "David Gabriel, you have been charged with First degree murder. Would you like to enter a plea at this time?"

Gabriel leaned into his attorney and whispered. He gave a nod and addressed the court, "Yes your honor, my client pleads not guilty."

"Noted," he replied and gave a nod to the courtroom reporter as he jotted down a note to himself, without looking up he asked, "Bail?"

"Your honor," Andrea began, "The people would like to request bail be set at $2 million dollars." She mentioned it to Sharon before the arrived at the courthouse, her boss wanted to make a statement. They were coming into an election year and he knew this case would have media written all over it. Sharon was surprised, but not wholly shocked.

"Your honor, the people are overreaching here. My client and his family come from modest means they don't have the capital to put up that immense bail. Nor is it necessary," Bobby waved his arms around with added flourish trying to make his point.

"Not necessary? May I remind the court of Mr. Gabriel's past and current occupations. As well as the violent nature of this very personal crime," Andrea retorted.

Judge Richwood waved his hand at both counsels, "Enough." Sharon could tell he was weighing his options, and perhaps even trying not to let personal feelings get in the way of making the right decision.

After a moment he finally gave his verdict, "I agree Mr. Monroe, the people's request is excessive, however, given the seriousness of this crime and your client's familiarity with law enforcement I have to agree with the people that the bail must be commiserate." He cast a look at Gabriel as if to apologize, "Bail is set at $1 million dollars." He banged the gavel ending any further debate.

Bobby Monroe turned to his client and spoke for just a moment and gave him a pat on the shoulder before the Deputy took him away. He reached into his briefcase and pulled out a blue covered document before walking towards Hobbs.

Andrea had a few other cases, but turned to Sharon as she got up to leave, "It's for the best." Andrea was saying it more for herself than anyone else. Sharon merely hummed, it wasn't her place to have a say or any opinion on the matter really. She looked around the room and noticed that it didn't seem like anyone had shown up on his behalf, which felt strange. Before she could think on it any further Bobby handed Andrea the motion.

"Already?" Hobbs said playfully. Bobby was known for issuing motion after motion, he was nothing if not persistent. It was one of the things that made him a great lawyer, he never gave up on his client even when all odds were against it.

She opened it, "Motion to Suppress?"

"Yes, I have it on good authority that the LAPD has a vendetta against my client and that the evidence may have been planted, doctored, or otherwise tampered with," he said pulling his briefcase over his shoulder.

Her jaw dropped, Sharon never failed to be dismayed at the allegation that she or a member of her team would take part in the unethical handling of evidence. She knew it happened, she wasn't a naive idiot, but it didn't make it sting any less. Bobby walked away and Andrea handed the motion to Sharon to look over.

"He's challenging the blood we found in the car," she stated matter-of-factly. "It's been well-documented how and where we found the blood, there was never a moment —"

Andrea cut her off, "We'll fight it and most likely it won't get excluded but we all need to tread very carefully from here on out. He knows our plays and could very easily get off on a technicality like this."

There was nothing left to say. She was right and it was one of the many reasons when the body was IDed Sharon went through such lengths to document everything but even she had never expected that David could have been responsible. Truthfully, a part of her still questioned it. A seasoned homicide detective wouldn't keep the victim's phone or even leave blood evidence in his car, but it was out of her hands. The evidence was against him and the DA's office wanted to move swiftly. Too often they and the LAPD had been seen as being lenient against one of their own and it appeared that the higher ups didn't want that to happen again. David was to be made an example of, and everyone else was just going to be along for the ride.

There was nothing left to do. She gave a squeeze of support to Andrea's arm, turned and walked out of the courtroom. This case was done, at least for the time being. Now there was a mountain of paperwork to catch up until their next roll-out. Since they just closed a case, they were currently off rotation, it would be unlikely they would get the call for another day or two. Surprisingly Mason was a harder negotiator about overtime than Taylor ever was, she chuckled it made her miss Howard. He had no qualms about giving her team the extra hours, he got the job as good as anyone - hell what his team did in SOB was evidence of that fact.

"SharON," she heard from a distance behind her. A wave rolled up her spine and to her neck at the unmistakable owner of that voice. She had nearly made it out of the courthouse when he spotted her. She paused for a moment seriously considering not turning around, pretending she didn't hear him, but it was pointless he'd just yell louder.

She plastered a smile to her face and steeled herself for whatever he had to say. She spun around, "Jack," she gritted between her teeth.

"So I hear it was Gabriel after all, huh, you know you can never trust a guy like that," he chuckled as though his insights on the case were anything of value, or in his mind entertaining.

"And what exactly do you mean by a guy like that?" She crossed her arms and broadened her stance now very curious for what her ex-husband had to say about her latest case.

He rubbed the back of his head as he read her expression, she hardly found him funny and he was realizing he might have to back pedal a bit," You know what I mean." Keeping it vague, he tried to by himself time to climb out of this one.

She gave him a stern look, "And what do you mean Jack? An ex-cop? A young black man? What exactly do you have to say on the matter?"

He was admonished, he knew it, but couldn't help himself, "C'mon you know that's not what I meant. I don't care that he's black and you know it!"

"Oh, so it's the fact that he used to be a cop is it?" She asked peering down from her glasses, despite being shorter than him even in her heels it still had the power to make him feel like he was 8 years old.

"Now, Sharon, you know very well that I meant a guy that had has career torpedoed by a former girlfriend. A guy like him is ambitious. Hell he was running for office, never good to have skeletons in your closet!" He found himself to be the only one chuckling at his last dig, he shrugged Sharon was never an easy one to get to smile.

"Ah, I see, well it's a good thing that you and he have very little in common then. Should help you stay out of trouble for once. Don't you think?" She didn't wait for his reply before turning back around and proudly walking out of the courthouse. As the sunshine hit her face and she slipped on her sunglasses she felt good. After the personal attacks he made last week, that she took because it wasn't the place she had been given an opportunity to shut him down. It wasn't that she wasn't quick on her feet and couldn't come up with a comeback, but she hated saying hurtful things. It usually hurt her more than the other person anyway, but today after this case she needed to feel in control. Putting Jack in his place was just a, well a happy accident she decided. Karma was a good thing, she thought as she crossed the street back to PAB.

Chapter Text

"You're slipping old man," Andy chuckled as he looked over his partner's shoulder.

Provenza pulled back the crossword puzzle from his view, "I'll have you know this is Sunday's! I didn't get to it because well Patrice was pretty happy that we had wrapped up the case and all," he laughed as he watched Andy cringe at the realization that he was otherwise too busy to do his normal Sunday morning routine.

Without missing a beat Amy threw out, "Why? Did she need you to hold her purse while you looked at new sofas?"

Andy nearly choked on his coffee. Amy was quickly becoming one of his favorite people, she could rile up Provenza like nobody else, except maybe him. He enjoyed tag teaming with her against the old man, until they turned their sights on him. Then he had to pull his ace card out and mention "Lieutenant Cooper and ring shopping" that quickly shut her down every time.

Provenza leaned forward and growled at her, "I told you about the sofa thing in confidence, I just wanted your opinion."

Amy shrugged, all was fair in friendship and war.

"Didn't you just get all new furniture Lieutenant," Julio asked as he swiveled around in his chair to get in on the "pick-on Provenza" hour.

"Yeah, I recall something about how much you loved the new leather she picked out for your stupid chair," Andy muttered.

"I did," he wiggled his eyebrows suggestively causing the entire room to let out a loud moan.

"As long as your old couch doesn't end up in my condo again Lieutenant," Sharon said swiftly shutting everyone down, "I need your report on the evidence pulled from the car," she said with her attention on Mike.

Everyone knew that with Bobby working the case, Hobbs would be flooded with motions which meant more work for her and for them. "Right," Mike said, "rifling through his desk for the latest report.

As she waited for Mike she took a look around the murder room, at her team. It filled her with pride to be able to work alongside these people everyday. It made the sign in her office carry an entirely new meaning now, to have a team that would walk through fire alongside her.

Provenza's phone rang, "What?" he supplied as his usual greeting. He listened for a moment jotting down some notes. He hung up and turned to the team, "We're up."

Julio, Amy, Mike, and Nolan all got up immediately. They grabbed their guns from the drawer, threw on their coats, despite the oppressive heat, and headed for the garage.

Sharon didn't have to ask, a turn and pointed look to her second in command and he shared the details as he knew them, "Fire department was called to an abandon lot in the early hours, initial reports were of a warehouse fire. When they finally got it out they found a body in a car. Doubtful that we will be able to do much between the fire and the foam there won't be any real evidence to collect."

She gave a nod, "Keep me posted," and turned back towards her office.

Buzz finished packing his camera gear and followed Provenza out. Andy was left alone in the murder room once again. Even though he understood his role now and liked what he was doing it was still hard not to go out on scene with the rest of the team. He followed Sharon, "You want me to call Paige in?"

"No, not yet. We don't know if this is even anything yet," she got situated at her desk and began sorting the files on the Gabriel case.

"Yeah, could have just been a drunk sleeping one off. Wrong place wrong time," he said with a shrug hoping that they could get an easy one after wrapping up the last one.

"Could very well be the case," her voice was a bit dismissive. It wasn't that she didn't want to talk to him or enjoy having him around, but she had a lot to do today and if they did just pick up a case she had little time to get all caught up. She knew it was still hard on him to be left back at the office, dealing with the compromise of keeping him on active duty, but the answer wasn't to coddle him.

Andy got the hint. He knew he was lingering and dragging his feet. He had work to do too, he just didn't want to do it. He wanted to be with the guys, but he wasn't and never would be so with a deep breath he tapped his pinkie ring on the door, "I'll let you get to it then."

She nodded, her eyes showing him the compassion he was seeking out. He gave her a smile. It was all okay, it was all an adjustment.

SsS

He stepped out of the car. It was only 9am and already the heat was blistering. The building was still smoldering, radiating more heat into the air. Provenza pulled on his white bucket hat and made his way over to the crime scene. Patrol lifted the tape for him as he ducked under and neared the car.

Tao was kneeling next to the burned out car, picking through bits of debris and placing them into evidence bags.

"Found a lighter," Amy said as she dropped a silvery zippo into an evidence bag, "Possibly used to start our fire."

Julio was talking with the fire department, arson investigator when a loud explosion rocked the crime scene. Out of instinct Julio pulled the fireman down to the ground as everyone else hit the deck.

"Clear the area. Push the perimeter back!" yelled the fire Chief as he and several other firefighters grabbed their gear and rushed back towards the flames.

Nolan grabbed Amy and yanked her back towards the patrol cars, practically dragging her as he ran. Tao was still hunkered down by the side of the car, trying to grab his kit and the little bit of evidence they managed to collect before moving back to the new safe zone. It was the first time anyone had ever seen Provenza run. He clutched his white bucket hat in one hand as he awkwardly jogged towards safety. Under any other circumstance the team might have laughed and hoped Buzz caught it on film for future viewing pleasure.

"Where's Buzz?" Provenza asked his voice winded and out of breath.

"I thought he was right behind me," Mike said suddenly concerned as they looked around for their friend and colleague.

The team rushed up to the perimeter line, but were met with several firefighters pushing them back, "It's not safe you're going to have to wait for us to re-release the scene."

"We're missing one of our guys," shouted Provenza clearly annoyed.

"We still can't let you back in the perimeter," one of the men replied.

"Well then you better go look for him, and you'd better hope that he's okay," his voice wavered as much as Buzz drove him crazy he was like a son to him. If anything happened to him, well he couldn't let himself even entertain the thought. "Our Commander will have your ass!"

"Where did you last see him?" he fireman asked.

"He was behind the car with our victim, documenting the scene until the corner arrives. He should be there," Tao offered up concern flashing across his face as he spoke.

"Okay, we will send some guys to go check it out, but in the meantime I have to ask you to stay put," he said before turning around to his crew without waiting for a reply. Moments later two men took off in the direction of the car.

The team fidgeted and waited anxiously. Amy stood on her tip toes hoping to get a better view than her heels could provide. The car was too far away and the smoke from the explosion virtually obscured everything within a few feet.

"Should we call it in?" Nolan asked hesitantly. Even a year later he was still figuring out his re-entry, he wasn't entirely sure what the protocol was in this type of situation. Buzz was a civilian, but a reserve officer too, either way he was a valued member of the team.

"No, not until we have something to report," Provenza said shaking his head hoping to God that he wouldn't have to make that call to Sharon. He was close to the boy, but Sharon adored Buzz.

A few minutes later Provenza was ready to storm the lines again when the ambulance began backing up towards the barricades. He moved in slow motion towards the bus, he wasn't sure what he was going to find when he reached the doors, but he didn't expect it to be good.

Through the thick black smoke they saw the two firemen, one had thrown Buzz over his shoulder in the infamous fireman's carry while the other one was dragging his equipment along. When they reached the ambulance the paramedics jumped out and immediately helped place him onto the gurney.

"What happened?" Provenza started to ask, but was ignored as the men and women were focused on saving his friend's life. From where he could see there was a gash to his head and he appeared unconscious.

"Unconscious male. Possible concussion. Smoke inhalation," the fireman began rattling off details to the paramedics, but the words fell and dissipated in the air as quickly as they were spoken. The team couldn't seem to catch anything, their brains still catching up to their eyes.

The female paramedic placed a masked to his face and began taking his vitals, while the other bandaged his head. They placed him in a C-spine not knowing if there was significant brain or neck trauma considering the size of the explosion. Paramedics didn't waste anytime on scene, they package him up and went to close the doors when Provenza reached out and stopped them, "Where are you taking him?"

"Cedars," she replied and yanked the door from his hand and closed it. Lights and sirens went up as the bus quickly lurched forward.

"Julio go with him," Provenza wouldn't let Buzz be alone. He might not be a real cop, but he was still one of them. Julio didn't reply, but immediately ran to his service vehicle and chased after the ambulance. When he turned around he found Tao talking to the two firefighters that rescued Buzz.

"Here's his stuff, he had a death grip on it even though he was unconscious when we got there. Figured it was important," the one said as he handed over the camera equipment to Nolan.

"Thanks," Tao said, "Where was he?"

"About 20 yards or so from the car, not sure what he was doing on that side of the warehouse, but he would have been directly in line with the tank that exploded. The blast waves probably knocked him out," he other one replied, "Listen I hope he's okay, but we gotta get back." He gestured towards the fire.

Tao nodded and turned back to his team, they shared the same puzzled look trying to figure out why he would have wandered so far away from the crime scene, "Hopefully the video can tell us something, assuming it didn't get damaged from the explosion."

"If anyone else could work some magic it would be you," Amy said trying to be positive and cheerful, but the words fell flat.

"Okay, before I call the Captain, err the Commander," he rolled his eyes he couldn't help it, "tell me we have something, anything on this case?"

Amy shrugged, "We found this lighter near the car. Could have been the same one used to start our blaze."

"Julio was talking to the arson guy before the blast hit, maybe they could tell us what caused it," Nolan said pointing at the charred wreckage behind him.

"Do they have any idea whether it was the car or the building that went up first?" Provenza asked.

Nolan shrugged his shoulders, "That's a Julio question."

Provenza made a mental note of all the things he'd need to circle back to Julio with later, "Anything on our victim or the car?"

Tao pulled out his notes, "I managed to get a rubbing of the VIN, but haven't had a chance to run it yet," Tao tilted his nose down looking over his glasses at Provenza, "But get this the victim was missing her hands and feet?"

Provenza's eyes went wide and his jaw dropped, "No" his voice nearly a whisper.

"Yeah, I know a little bit freaky don't you think?" Tao said still focusing on Provenza despite the odd looks they were getting from the two junior detectives.

"How do you know if was a female?" Provenza asked finding his voice again.

"Hip bones looked to be female, and then there's this," he held up an evidence bag containing a driver's license, "I found it in under the car."

"Well, we've relied on that before and it turned out to be wrong, so we'll need Morales to double and triple check the ID," Provenza said before grabbing the license.

Tao had recognized the name, but couldn't place it until he saw Provenza's eyes light up. That's where he had seen her, that day in the murder room. Provenza looked at Tao once more, stunned, "Are you kidding me?"

Mike pursed his lips and gave a small shake of his head, "Like you said just because it was there doesn't mean that it's actually her."

"Can't we just go one week without some nut job trying to make our lives miserable," he shouted out rhetorically.

"What do you want us to do?" Amy asked, very curious about why the two Lieutenants were seemingly so familiar with the manner of death and even the victim, but having learned in six years to keep her mouth shut employed that knew skill instead. She'd find out eventually.

"I'm going to call the Commander and let her know about Buzz. In the meantime, I want you and Nolan to stay here at the scene. Mike, head back to PAB and see if you can get that stuff off Buzz's camera. We need to be extra careful on this one if all this turns out to be true," he looked up to the sky and drew a hand across his face this was going to be another nightmare, one that he wouldn't wake up from.

Mike gave him a pat on the shoulder and took possession of all the evidence, including Buzz's equipment, and walked towards the other service vehicle. Julio took the one that they arrived in, so he was using Nolan's. He and Amy could catch a ride back with Provenza or patrol later.

Not for the first time in less than a month Provenza pulled out his phone to deliver some less than desirable news, "Ah, yes, Commander. Well we have a situation—"

Chapter Text

"How is he?" Sharon asked as she stepped into Buzz's hospital room.

"Stable. CT showed a major concussion, which caused the unconsciousness, but no signs of bleeding. He has a few broken ribs from the blast, but otherwise he seems ok," replied Julio who kept vigil over his friend for the last few hours.

"Do they know when he'll wake up?" She asked softly moving closer to his bed, reflecting on a familiar phrase while keeping her attention focused on Buzz.

"Hard to say. Could be a few hours, could be a few days," he replied with a melancholy shrug.

Sharon hummed, it was what she expected after she spoke with Provenza. There was no real way to rush head trauma, the brain would take how long it takes to heal.

"Did you call his sister?" Julio asked knowing that Buzz would hate having worried his mother or sister over this.

"I had to, she's listed as his emergency contact. She was going to catch the next flight down from Seattle," she finally turned towards Julio and then looked at her watch, "she should be here in two hours or so."

"I can wait with him until she shows up," he stated it like a question but they both knew it was more of a rhetorical statement, she nodded her approval.

"First though, I need you to catch me up. You're the only one that spoke to the arson investigator before the explosion. The fire is out now, but LAFD isn't giving us any details yet. They lost one of their own during the blast," her voice dipped low as she thought about the causalities piling up today.

"Ah, yes, ma'am," Julio pulled out his notebook. He had time while Buzz was having tests run to write down his notes about the case so far, he didn't want to forget any details. He flipped it open, "Captain Mike Daniels, LAFD, he said it appeared that the vehicle was the point of origin, but with the hot, dry Santa Ana's"

"It quickly spread to the building," she finished his thought which confirmed their suspicions as well.

"Right," he nodded, "They suspected accelerant was used to torch the car. It didn't smell like gasoline at the scene, so he figured it was most likely alcohol."

"That fits. Mike saw a bottle of gin under the car, but was unable to recover it before the explosion. Our suspect most likely poured it around the car and our victim and then threw it under the car before lighting it," she moved towards the window, "We found the lighter near the car as well," she added.

Julio nodded, "I guess that throws out the theory that it was just someone sleeping one off, or some homeless living in their car. What does Morales say?"

Sharon turned on her heel voice barely hiding her frustration, "He only just received the body. The scene wasn't declared safe for the team to return until two hours ago. It'll be a few hours before we have the prelim results back on our victim."

"Was Mike able to recover anything on the camera?" Julio asked looking to change the subject.

She hummed again, "Bits and pieces at the moment. The camera took quite a hit when Buzz fell some of the data appears to be damaged. Tao is working with some of Mason's old guys to recover what they can," Sharon paused for a moment letting out a soft sigh, "Do we have any idea why he was so far away from the rest of the team? What did he see?"

Julio shook his head, "I don't know ma'am. He was behind the car when I left to talk to the arson investigator. Tao was talking to him about melting points of various compounds or something like that—"

Sharon turned and gave another look back towards Buzz, "Let me know the minute you hear something," she said before heading towards the door.

"Does Rusty know?" Julio asked the million dollar question wondering where the kid was and how he was taking the news of his "big brother" being injured.

"Not yet," Sharon said noticing Julio's immediate shocked reaction before he schooled his expression, "Gus came down late last night to surprise him. I haven't heard from him since this morning. As soon as Casey gets here I will let Rusty know."

It was clear that Julio was surprised by the Commander's stance on notifying Rusty, although being a parent now himself was giving him greater insight into why parents do what they do. He gave her a nod, "I'll let you know."

"Thank you Detective," she tapped her hand on the doorframe before stepping out of the hospital room. When she reached the officer standing by the nurses station she walked towards him, "He's in room 315." The officer nodded and moved down the hall to stand guard. Sharon waited until he was in place before walking away. She didn't know exactly who they were dealing with or what Buzz saw, but her gut was screaming at her to be vigilant. It was perhaps the real reason why she hadn't told Rusty the news yet, she wanted him as far away from the hospital or PAB as possible until she could figure out exactly what was going on.

SsS

"Well, what do we have?" Provenza barked at the team, his frustration was reaching critical limits.

"There are no fingerprints on the lighter, and while it's fancier than what you might find at a liquor store it isn't nice enough to be traceable," Nolan said as he placed a picture of the lighter on the board.

"Well tell me something we didn't already know," he barked again getting impatient with the team.

Amy looked around, there wasn't much of a team at the moment. Julio and the Commander were at the hospital with Buzz. Paige had been called in, but wasn't here yet. Mike was downstairs with the Intelligence squad, and Andy well no one was really sure where he was at the moment.

"The bottle we recovered from under the car was a bottle of Martin Miller's Gin, a bit more pricey that your average bottle of gin and certainly too pricey to waste as accelerant," Amy said posting the picture of the burnt bottle to the board.

Before Provenza could huff about that Nolan jumped in, "And we are running our car through the DMV database now. The plates were removed, maybe stolen, but Mike managed to get a partial on the vin before the explosion. It's hard to tell what color the car was before the fire, but we do know it was a 2015 Jaguar XF, which should help narrow things down a little."

"We knew all this before the tank exploded, I said tell me what we don't already know!" he yelled as he flopped down into his chair torn between resignation that they didn't have much to go on yet and spooled up because one of their own lay in the hospital.

It wasn't true that they knew all this before the explosion, he knew that, they knew that it was best to just go back to their desks and work as quickly as possible to solve the case. The phone ringing cut through the momentary silence, "What?" Provenza replied harshly as he answered.

"Good Afternoon to you too sunshine," Morales snidely replied.

"Do you have something for us?" Provenza replied shortly, ignoring the doctor's infamous sarcasm.

"I might, but I think it would be best if you, Flynn and the Commander came down to autopsy. I tried to get a hold of her, but she isn't picking up," his voice was tinged with annoyance that he was having to chase down the very people that were usually chasing him for information.

"Well that's because she's been at the hospital with Buzz, or maybe you haven't heard," he said curtly. He didn't give him an opportunity to respond, "We'll be there in a half an hour."

Provenza slammed the phone down and flipped the sleeves of his coat onto his arms and hastily got up from his car, "You" he pointed towards Nolan, "Find that car. And you," pointing at Amy, "give me something I can work with." Both detectives nodded but smartly kept their mouths shut as they heard him pull out his phone and grumble, "Flynn where the hell are you?"

SsS

He kept files from all his unsolved cases at home, but when he moved in with Sharon there wasn't room in the condo. Initially the storage unit was meant to just be a temporary solution until they bought a house together. When the heart attack happened and then everything else, it ended up being more of a permanent necessity. He shoved boxes out of the way to make room to walk towards the back of the unit. He purposefully paid for a unit at an indoor facility, temperature controlled, with a lower risk of water or some other kind of damage. It wasn't just to protect his case files though, he had baseball memorabilia along with family heirlooms stashed away that meant more to him in memories than they did in any monetary sense. One day soon he hoped he and Sharon could revisit the whole house situation. Even with the possibility of Rusty moving out and off to college in the not too distant future, the condo wasn't really enough space. Some days it felt more like her place still, than theirs. She had tried to give him some space of his own to make it feel like his home too, but it was always in the back of his mind that it was her place. Technically it was, her name was the only one listed on the deed. They talked about changing it when they decided to postpone (indefinitely it would appear) the house hunt, but he shrugged it off saying it was more hassle and he didn't need it in order for it to feel like home. Any where with her in it felt like home to him — at least most of the time.

He finally reached the back of the unit and pulled up a box dated 2002, "Anna" on the side. Next to it was another box dated 2005 "Lisa." He pushed that box aside, technically it was closed and it did turn out that they had that one wrong, but his gut was convinced that he had the right guy 15 years ago. He flipped the lid and began pulling out files about the missing woman Anna Tanda, from 2000. Body found in a burnt out car in June 2002.

The moment he got the call from Provenza he knew it was him, back after all these years. He knew when he told Just Plain Brenda that he was going to take his $4 million dollar settlement and leave her jurisdiction that it would just be a matter of time before he came back. None of his alerts had gone off about this creep since they worked that wildfire case back in '08 but he knew that didn't mean much. The man did spend three years in jail before they let him out because of that stupid psychiatrist. Justice was served and they had the right guy for that job, but they still had Anna. He pounded his fist against the side of the metal unit, flexing his knuckles at the pain he felt.

Andy couldn't figure out why he would come back now, after all this time and start up again. The victim's hands and feet were gone. She was burnt in a car. An ID was found near the body and a steel lighter — he looked down at a picture of the lighter used years ago now and wondered if it was the same one. It had to be him, the why didn't matter right now just finding the SOB before he killed again.

He lifted the box and carried back through the maze of other items in the locker before setting it down. He pulled the door down and knelt to the floor to put the lock back on when his cell rang.

"Flynn where the hell are you?" yelled an annoyed Provenza.

"Would you calm down, I had to get some files from my locker. Any news? How's Buzz?" Andy asked putting the lock in place before standing up.

"Out of the woods, but still unconscious. Listen, while you were down there going through memory lane," he scoffed, "we've been here trying to solve this murder!"

"Will you calm down old man, you're going to give yourself a coronary—" he instantly regretted the reference knowing it would get used against him. He winced as he braced for the comeback.

"You should know!" he sniped back.

"Yeah, yeah," he immediately cut him off, "I'll be back to the office in 20 minutes."

"Don't bother. Morales called. He wants you, me and the Captain, err" he groaned at the slip once again he was finding that when he was frustrated she was still the Captain in his mind, "the Commander" he finished through gritted teeth, "at the morgue."

"Okay, I'll be there—" he started to say when he heard the line go dead. He shook his head, he knew his partner was thrown through a loop with the driver's license they found at the scene, but this was over the top even for him. He lifted the box, with his knees, and made his way back to his car. If this turned out to be what he was expecting they were all in for a very, very long ride. He shuddered at the revelation as it flashed across his eyes once he put the box in his trunk, someone would have the unenviable task of telling Brenda that Bill was back in town. God he hoped he would be spared this time, Gabriel was bad enough, but he really valued his life and wanted to be a million miles away when she got that news.

SsS

When Sharon arrived in the morgue she found both Andy and Provenza pacing the halls outside of autopsy. Andy was the first to hear the unmistakeable clicking of her heels across the brown tiled floor and paced his way to meet her.

"How's Buzz?" He asked, Provenza following in tow.

"Stable. I've left Julio there for now until his sister arrives," she offered a weak smile hoping to convey that everything was going to be okay, but when it didn't meet her eyes Andy knew otherwise. Buzz would be okay, but they all knew there was more to this case and the fact that Morales wanted the three of them to come together was a red flag of concern.

As if his ears were burning, he opened the door and silently gestured the trio into his office.

The smell of burnt flesh was thick and filled the air. They pulled on their blue gowns and put on a mask to help avoid breathing in the noxious fumes. There was no doubt that the woman was badly burned, the seatbelt was seared onto her flesh along with whatever she was wearing.

They looked at Morales, waiting for him to begin, no one wanting to ask the question.

"Chat bunch this afternoon," he put his hands up, "I know, Kendall told me about Buzz I hope he's okay."

Sharon nodded, "He will be. Thank you Doctor." She gestured to the body and gave a curt hum to move along.

"Yes, well. Your victim is female as originally suggested. She's never given birth and I put her between 40-50 years old. Bone structure appears Caucasian. She's had some work done, silicone implants melted with the rest of the tissue, unfortunately it means the serial numbers are gone and can't help us with the ID." He moved to the other side of the body before continuing, "As you can see," he lifted the sheet, "her hands and feet were removed. It's hard to tell, but the cuts appear smooth and precise. The tissue is too damaged to tell whether she was alive when it happened."

"Was she dead when the car burned up?" Andy asked wanting to know whether or not they were dealing with Bill or just another fire obsessed psychopath.

"That's the funny, well not funny really, but odd thing," he put up an x-ray on the Lightbox, "It appears that her lungs exploded, so there's nothing for me to check for smoke inhalation. I can try taking some of the vitreous humor from her eye and checking for signs that way, but considering the state the body is in I'd say it's a long shot."

Andy pushed himself up against the wall, it was like a bad dream or the worst case of deja vu one could have. Her lungs exploded. He let out a groan as he bent in half trying to process what the doc just said. Sharon turned around, concerned she touched his shoulder, "Andy are you alright?"

He looked up at Provenza who was having the same revelation that he was, "It's him."

Andy nodded, "He's back."

"Croelick?" Sharon asked. She knew the M.O. sounded familiar from the settlement case she worked years ago, and from Andy's comments over the years but she wasn't sure how they could be so certain already.

"The lungs, they exploded. That's exactly what he told Brenda in that last case we worked where he showed up - you know the one with the fire at Griffith's Park. Said he poured alcohol down the girl's throat and then lit her on fire, causes the body to burn from the inside out." His body shook at the thought, and he hoped for their sakes that the girls were already dead before he bestowed that treatment to their bodies.

Sharon turned back to Morales as she quickly caught up to her senior Lieutenants, "Doctor, do you think you can get an ID on our victim?"

He shrugged, "No hands to print makes it harder. Her teeth seem to be in good condition, so that might help. If you had a missing person to compare to that would be even better," he offered up. He wasn't quite following the rest of the team on their long journey into history, but figured he'd find out soon enough if it was necessary for him to know.

"We will look into missing person's although given that the incident happened last night it may take a few more days for someone to report her," Sharon replied.

"I'll put a flag out in case anyone contact the morgue looking for your Jane Doe," he said scribbling away into the file notes. He looked up, "Kendall mentioned you found an ID at the scene, do you think that could belong to our crispy critter here?"

His callous tone went unappreciated today. They all understood the necessity for gallows humor in their line of work, but today was just not the day for it. Sharon shook her head, "No, we aren't sharing that information with anyone at this time. It may be a false lead, so please work the case as you normally would with a Jane Doe."

Morales shrugged, he didn't get detectives sometimes, but then again he supposed they really didn't understand him either, "Suit yourself, I'll have the prelim up to you tonight."

They knew that was their cue to leave, not that they minded. Provenza had been trying to hold his breath nearly the entire time they were in there, it was one of two things he could never get used to in his career. The first was anything with kids. The second was burnt flesh. Another reason why he didn't become a fireman.

They shed their blue gowns and threw them into the trash before leaning up against the wall sharing the same thought once more, but this time not daring to say it alive as if he were Rumpelstiltskin and the mere mention of his name again would bring him back — if he wasn't already lurking in the flames.

Chapter Text

"You doing okay?" Andy asked as he stepped off the elevator with Sharon.

She shook her head indicating not now. Provenza was in ear shot, following up behind, and she was still processing the bomb that Morales just dropped on them all. She was having a hard time compartmentalizing at the moment there was so much to juggle Buzz, Rusty, Provenza, Bill, Brenda, Andy her head was swirling with the intricacies and connections that this case had, or at least its potential. She just needed a minute to herself, to stare at the murder board through her office window and clear her mind.

Andy slowed his steps to allow her to move ahead of him. He didn't like the look she had, it wasn't just the worry for a colleague or the fact that a serial killing arsonist might be back in LA, there was something else going on behind those emerald eyes. For now, he would give her the space she was looking for, professionally it was the right decision at least for the moment personally it made him want to put his fist in the wall. These were the moments that he hated not being able to mix work and home. No, he would wait until she needed him to step in no matter what it cost him to do it.

As soon as they stepped into the murder room they found Nolan waiving animatedly while talking on the phone.

"Got it, great thanks," he said into the phone before hanging up, "Commander, Lieutenants, we may have caught a break. A Mr. Harry Turner reported his Jag stolen this morning. Apparently it went missing two nights ago, but he's in the middle of a nasty divorce and assumed his ex-wife took it. He called his ex and her lawyer demanding she return it, when it didn't show up he called it in. The VIN listed matches the partial Mike recovered from the car," Nolan said reading his notes so quickly that he was nearly out of breath when he finished.

"Finally! Something to work from," Provenza huffed as he plopped down into his chair.

Andy rolled his eyes. Sharon chose to ignore his outburst for the time being, they were all going to need a little latitude given the events of this morning, "Great work Detective. Did he get confirmation from the ex that she didn't take the car?"

"No," he shook his head, "he never heard back from her. Phone just went to voicemail. The lawyer called him back and assured him that they wouldn't stoop to such tactics," he laughed to himself imagining exactly what the guy did when the lawyer said that to him.

"Ok, let's see if we can track down the ex-wife, Amy. Nolan, keep following up on who else could have taken our Jaguar," Sharon commanded before turning towards her office. She short-stopped and turned back to the team, "Out of curiosity what's the ex-wife's name?"

Nolan looked back at his notes, "Lauren" the realization of the name flashed across his eyes and he immediately began kick himself for not catching it sooner, "Lauren Turner."

It wasn't the name Sharon or anyone else in the room was expecting to hear. Bill's type wasn't wives of rich men, but drug addicts and ladies of the night. This piece of information didn't fit with everything else they collected.

Amy quickly pulled up the woman's DMV file and printed a head shot. She dropped a nickel into the jar as she collected the photo, "It's a match." She said turning it around and showing the team. They elected not to post the driver's license that was left at the scene, not wanting to draw attention to the clue or possible false lead that the suspect was leaving to throw them off.

"Lieutenant," Sharon asked softly.

Provenza didn't need to look at the picture again to know that it was her. They may not have dated long, but he would always remember someone that made him open his wallet as many times as she did. It infuriated him how little he got back when he sold the suits after she broke it off. No, there was no forgetting a blond face like hers. He certainly had a pattern, all his ex-wives had been blond, hell Lauren was almost nearly one herself, maybe that was one reason he was drawn to Patrice she broke the mold.

"It's her. It's Lauren Hines," he muttered keeping his eyes down on his desk.

"Right," Sharon whispered. It was what they had feared, but also suspected. Like Ann, they would now have to wait for the official confirmation of what they knew to be true. Lauren Hines was burned in a car at a vacant warehouse in the same manner as previous "unsolved" cases. Sharon shook her head, she needed to steel herself for another tough briefing with the Chiefs. She debated, only for a moment, waiting to make the call, "I'll be in my office."

Provenza and Andy stared at her as she walked away before turning to each other. Provenza gave him an odd look, "What was that all about?"

Andy shrugged, "She's been a bit off all morning. This case isn't going to help anything."

Provenza merely nodded before slouching forward at his desk. Andy shuffled his feet around on the floor for a few seconds before moving back towards his desk, he gave both his partner and Sharon a cursory glance. He hadn't expected Provenza to appear as shaken up about the connection to his past as he was. Things with Sharon were tense. He knew she wasn't happy with him taking off to his storage unit this morning. She was obviously, and rightly, upset about Buzz, but there seemed to be something else nagging at her. Planning a wedding was stressful to be sure, and the fact that his son was making his life a living hell by giving him grief about it wasn't helping matters either. Not to mention his daughter's pregnancy, she just wrapped her last trip and was heading into her seventh month. Things had gone smoothly for the most part, but her due date was a few days after their wedding date. It was a scheduling nightmare all of it. Emily's dance schedule. Ricky's new tech job. Rusty's law school prep. Between work and the holidays it was hard to find any window of time for them to get married, for the briefest of moments he felt like the fates were deliberately trying to send him a message.

Before he could dive further down the rabbit hole of internal musing, he jumped at the sound of Sharon stepping out of her office, "Call me if we hear anything," she said to no one in particular and walked to the elevators. She stood waiting outside Chief Pope's office for the second time in just over a week. A moment later Mason walked up beside her. "He's just wrapping up another meeting," Sharon said lightly tapping her foot.

Mason merely nodded as he leaned up against the wall, "Is it always like this?" He muttered beginning to rethink what being Assistant Chief meant.

"Normally, no, no it isn't. This seems to be an exceptionally bad month," she retorted the frustration tinged her voice.

The door opened and they stood aside as the parade of other offices made their way from Pope's office. Once the last one had trickled out Mason held the door open for Sharon as they made their way back inside, for a deja vu inducing conversation.

"So Croelick is back?" Pope asked as he stood from behind his desk, wasting no time with pleasantries.

"It looks that way sir," Sharon replied matter-of-factly.

"And the victim?" Pope continued to question.

"The driver's license, if it is accurate, states that our victim is Lauren Turner — you may remember her as Lauren Hines," Sharon replied and waited for him to make the connection. He shook his head and gave her a puzzled look, "A blond woman that dated Provenza a few years ago. I believe you met her when she came to the office," she could see the recollection wash over his face, "once or twice."

"Right, blond. Provenza. It's coming back now. Wasn't he going to marry her?" He asked still trying to piece together his memory.

"Uh yes, I believe he did propose and she turned him down. They broke up shortly there after. The Lieutenant states that he hasn't seen or heard from her since," she moved towards Pope's desk crossing her arms but remained standing.

From behind her Mason asked, "I read over Croelick's case file this morning. There's no conviction on record. The LAPD and the City paid him a $4 million dollar settlement, why would he come back now?"

Sharon turned to face him, "Hard to say. He told the former Chief that he would never come back to her jurisdiction, so it would be odd for him to return. Perhaps he associated her with LA and now that she's no longer working for the LAPD he felt he could come back."

"Do we have any information on his whereabouts? Where has he been for the last ten years?" Pope asked annoyance welling up.

"The team is looking into it. He has no known associates except for his lawyer at the time," Sharon paused waiting to see if Pope remembered who worked that case, again he didn't seem to catch on. "Goldman sir, Peter worked that civil lawsuit. It was the first time I was involved on a case with him, back in IA we handled the civil suit of course." She rambled a bit, everyone knew that IA handled those things. In fact it's how she got her Captain's star, she found some evidence for the City attorney to work with that led to a renegotiation of the terms of the settlement. The City and LAPD owed her a big debt of gratitude in the form of a promotion. She knew the real reason of course was that Commander Hollis was retiring and they needed someone qualified to take over the division, she was it.

Mason was the first to respond, "Goldman, that man keeps coming up like a bad penny." Sharon wanted to chuckle at the all too accurate comment, but held back.

"I remember, thanks to you the City saved a lot of money, Commander," Pope added for emphasis, "So we have yet another blast from our past and Goldman is linked to both cases. I haven't worked homicide in awhile, but that seems far too coincidental for my taste."

"Mine too, sir," Sharon said. It was the thing gnawing at her all day.

"So even though the MO fits, you don't like Croelick for this?" Mason asked moving across the room to one of the chairs in front of Pope's desk.

"It's been faked before," Sharon replied and Pope nodded in agreement, "We obviously need to track him down and verify, but this seems deliberate in an entirely different way. I'm beginning to wonder if someone wanted to bring these two victims back from our past."

"But why?" Mason asked the million dollar question.

"I don't know," Sharon's voice was filled with disappointment. She hated that she couldn't figure it out, and that she hadn't seen it earlier.

"Well until we can clear Croelick for this, I want surveillance on him assuming he is in LA, and I want Lts. Flynn and Provenza off this case," he held up his hand as Sharon moved to object.

"The last thing we need is for Flynn to get into another one of his pissing contests with Croelick," he said shaking his head.

"And Provenza?" She asked.

"He knew the victim, hell she was one of his ex's he's off the case," he said with authority.

"We haven't confirmed that it is indeed Lauren Hines, the driver's license could have been planted there as misdirection. I think the killer wants you to do this Chief," she replied sternly, trying to warn him that he was doing exactly what one might expect him to do.

"Maybe so, but as you use to say before you moved in with that lot in Major Crimes, we are doing this by the book. Provenza can stay on the periphery of the case until you ID the victim, if it is her, he's off. Am I clear?" He said dismissively.

"Crystal," she replied knowing very well when to walk away from mixing it up with the upper brass. She wasn't happy with his decision, but she would follow orders.

"Is that all?" He asked sitting back down at his desk.

"Buzz is going to make a full recovery, in case you were wondering," Sharon stated with a small amount of sass in her voice, noting that the man failed to ask about one of her fallen earlier.

Pope's shoulders shrugged. It wasn't that he forgot these things on purpose, and he did like Buzz, but this job didn't always allow for prioritizing human compassion over budgets and closing cases, "Good, good," was all he muttered.

Sharon turned on her heel and stepped out of his office, leaving Mason behind. She let out a deep sigh as she stood at the elevators, not looking forward to the task of informing two of her senior detectives, one being her bullish fiancé, that they were off the case.

She barely got the door closed behind her before Andy began shouting and waiving his hands, "This is bureaucratic bullshit!"

She let the two of them rant at her for a moment, it was all she'd let them indulge in and only because she tended to agree with their arguments. She finally put her hand up, "Gentleman I understand and share your frustration, but we have to play this by the book. We cannot afford another lawsuit from the likes of Bill Croelick, so we WILL," she paused and looked them both in the eye, "abide by the rules. Andy you're off the case. No buts," she said putting her hand up once more to stop him before he started again. "Louie, if our victim doesn't turn out to be who we think she is, you can stay on and in the meantime you can —"

She cut herself off as she saw Doctor Morales make a rare walk through her murder room. He held up a file and gestured towards her, causing her heart to sink. She could tell by the look on his face that the news wasn't going to be what she wanted to hear. Provenza and Flynn followed her eyes out her office.

"Andy, would you mind returning to your desk and showing Morales in," Sharon gave him a stern look. She didn't need him to argue, he was off the case. He could remain in the murder room, but couldn't participate in the investigation and at this moment that included being briefed by the coroner.

"Right," he knew there was no point debating anything with her when she had that look on her face. He was still pissed as hell, but knew it wasn't her fault.

He stepped out of her office and gestured the corner in. Morales gave him a curious nod unclear why he wouldn't be briefing them together. He shifted his messenger bag on his shoulder and stepped inside, closing the door behind him.

"I take it you've found something?" Sharon asked.

"Yes, well your victim is no longer a Jane Doe, we have positively IDed her as Lauren Turner," he was about to continue when Sharon held her hand to stop him. She turned to Provenza and stared at him, it was time for him to leave. He couldn't hear anything else without threatening the validity of the entire investigation. He grumbled something under his breath before walking out her other door and headed down the hall.

"Please continue," Sharon said choosing not to address the perplexed look on Doctor Morales' face.

"Well, there was something odd—"

Chapter Text

"Odd how?" Sharon asked, knowing that if the Doctor thought it was strange, so much so that he was bringing it to her directly that it must be very unusual.

"Yeah," he rummaged through his bag and pulled out an evidence bag with a crumpled piece of paper, "I found this in our victim's throat. Appears to have been forced down her throat before someone broke her neck. It was safe from the fire, so, well-preserved I guess. It was a real Silence of the Lambs moment, a first for me I think," Morales rambled on.

"So the cause of death was a broke neck," Sharon asked curious about this new piece of information.

"Oh, yes, it was. There was no signs of smoke in her lungs, so she was definitely dead before the car fire, lucky for her," he continued to say.

"What does the paper say?" Sharon asked returning her attention back to the oddity Morales was waving around her office as he gestured.

"Oh it doesn't say anything at least there's no words on it. It's a picture," he handed it to her his face becoming more serious for the first time since stepping into her office.

"Of what?" She asked rhetorically as she took the evidence bag. She turned it around and flattened it on her desk. Her eyes grew wide as the blurry and saliva covered image came into focus, "You're sure this was put down her throat?" She asked incredulously of the Doctor, for some reason hoping that he was playing a trick on her.

Morales frowned at her, "Yes I'm sure," he replied voice filled with annoyance.

Sharon immediately pushed up and out of her chair, taking the evidence bag with her, "Is there anything else?"

"No," he said jumping out of his seat with her.

"Thank you for bringing this over immediately Doctor," she ran out of her side office door and headed to the elevators pushing the button rapidly willing the elevator car to come quicker. When it finally arrived it seemed to take painfully long to move up the two floors to Pope's office, the door creaked open and she flew out of the car and down the hall.

"He's in a meeting," his assistant said she saw Sharon coming towards the office at an alarming pace.

"This is urgent, I need to speak with him NOW!" she shouted moving towards his door.

The assistant got up from her chair and knocked before pushing it open, "Commander Raydor is here, she says it's urgent."

Pope sat at his conference room table with staff, looking around at them for a moment before giving his assistant a nod. The woman turned towards Sharon, and held the door open for her as she stepped through.

Sharon took a deep breath as she took note of senior brass seated at the table, "Chief I'm sorry to interrupt, but I need to speak with you urgently. We have received some new information about our case." She willed him with her eyes to not dismiss her right now.

"Right," he turned towards his staff, "Let's take a five minute break shall we?" He waited for them to stand and file out before turning his attention back to Sharon, "Now, what's this all about?"

"This," she said handing him the evidence bag, "Was found in our victim's throat before she died of a broken neck."

He pulled his glasses down and stared at the image, "This was found in your latest victim's throat?"

"Yes, Chief. We've confirmed the identity is Lauren Turner, formerly Hines and she was dead before the fire was set. Morales found this during the autopsy and brought it to me just now," she replied almost out of breath.

"Right," he reached for his phone and punched a few numbers rapidly, "I need you in my office ASAP." He opened the door to his office and turned to his assistant, "When Howard arrives please show him in, also please find out where Lt. Cooper is today and have him report to me immediately. Tell the staff that our meeting will need to be postponed until tomorrow," he didn't wait for her to confirm she understood before closing the door and taking a few long strides back to his desk picking up the bag once more, staring at the picture inside.

"You know what this means," he finally asked.

"I do, she's not going to like it," she muttered back knowing how stubborn THAT woman could be when she dug her heels in about something.

"She's not going to have a choice. I don't need her to like it, I need her to be safe," he voice wavered for a moment. He was more emotional that Sharon expected, not that she should have been surprised given the love he had for her. She knew he needed to have this moment before her husband arrived, it was an awkward situation. His words were also all to familiar to her, she said something like that about Rusty several years ago. Everything has happened before and will happen again, seemed to be a prophecy intent on coming true this summer. Suspects were back. Victims from the past were showing up. And now this, she took a deep breath as she heard the door open.

"Chief," Howard said tentatively, clearly having just spent the last five minutes trying to figure out what bee was in the boss' bonnet.

"Where's Brenda?" Pope asked ignoring any formalities or pleasantries, jumping straight to the point.

Fritz looked at his watch, "Should be leaving the courthouse now. She was wrapping up a case. Why?"

"I need you to locate her and stay with her until we can get a team on her," Pope said handing Howard the evidence bag.

"Why? What's happened?" He looked at the picture, but was still puzzled.

"There was a fire this morning Chief," Sharon said beginning to explain, "A woman in a burnt car. Hands and feet missing."

Howard put his hand up, it was enough information for him to know where this was going, "Croelick is back."

"It seems that way," Pope said, "Morales found that in our victim's throat."

The shudder than went through Howard's body didn't go unnoticed by anyone despite how quickly it came and went. He knew that the asshole fire starter had an obsession with Brenda, he wasn't the first suspect to develop one nor was he the last.

"We think that these two cases might be linked," Sharon said, "it's too coincidental that two people from Brenda's past no matter how minor, have showed up dead in the span of two weeks. We don't know if Croelick is good for both of these, but we can't discount that possibility either."

Howard eyed Sharon, "I thought you liked Gabriel for this, he's been arraigned." He knew all about it, Brenda was devastated.

"The evidence did point in his direction, but we had our doubts but no way to prove otherwise," Sharon said trying to let him know that his hands were tied.

Howard dropped the issue for the moment turning his attention back to Pope, "Ok, so you're arranging for a team to stay on her?"

"Yes, I've called in Lieutenant Cooper to pull together a surveillance team to keep an eye on her, I'm not sure if she'd allow us to do anymore than that," Pope was resigned and noticeably frustrated knowing that he couldn't do more.

"I'll arrange for her to leave the state," Howard said matter-of-factly much to the shock of the others, "Charly has been bugging her to come to DC for a visit."

Pope looked at him puzzled, he had just assumed the former troubled teen was still living in the Atlanta area with the rest of her family, "DC," he questioned.

"Yeah, it would appear that Brenda and I had more influence over her than we ever expected. She's gone into the family business as it were," he paused, "NSA."

"Ah," Pope said, "but you think you can get her to agree to go?"

"Yes, she's had a rough time since her dad passed. Gabriel in jail. She just finished up this last case, so yeah I think I can make a good case for her to take a vacation with me to DC," he turned from Sharon to Pope, "assuming I can have the time of course."

Pope waved his hands, "Of course yes, as much time as you need to get her the hell out of LA while this psycho is obsessed with her."

Howard merely nodded, handing the evidence bag back to Sharon and walking towards the door to leave, "Sharon, who was the victim?"

"Lauren Turner, formerly Hines, Brenda might remember her as an almost future Mrs. Provenza," Sharon replied.

"Right," he shook his head and walked out focused to get his wife to safety for the time being.

Sharon turned back to Pope, "Per your request Provenza and Flynn are off the case, sir. With Buzz gone we are quite shorthanded at the moment."

"Call up Orderno, he knows you guys and how you work," he said as a way of trying to help the disabled team.

It wasn't the answer Sharon wanted, she still disagreed with his decision, "Sir, are you sure pulling my Lieutentants off this case is the best course of action?"

"Yes, Commander I think it is. Besides have you considered the possibility that maybe your fiancé wanted to settle a score? He's been riding a desk for months, he's one hangnail from retirement, you don't think he wants to finally put Croelick away? That he wouldn't go into cahoots with his good pal to get rid of one of his ex's" Pope lashed out, his voice growing as the words spilled out.

Sharon took a step back not expecting this sudden outburst from the Chief of Police. There was nothing to say, she nodded and walked out of his office. The hour had grown late and they had taken one step forward and three giant leaps back. Not only would she have to find a serial arsonist that has evaded conviction, hell even arrest, but she'd have to do it with one hand behind her back and a mask over her eyes. Justice may be blind, but she didn't have to find a killer like that.

This time she enjoyed the quiet, slow car ride back down to the 9th floor. She said a silent prayer as she stepped out of the elevator, pleading for patience and guidance. As she stood back into the murder room she immediately stopped when she saw Julio sitting at his desk, "How's Buzz?"

Julio looked up at her, "Uh, no change ma'am. Casey arrived about an hour ago. Her flight was delayed due to fog in Seattle. I stayed with her while the doctor stopped by. He's stable but still unconscious."

The team shared somber looks as they heard the information once more. Sharon nodded, "Okay," she whispered, "Okay." She took a moment to herself and turned towards the murder board and then back to the team, "Julio can you call down to missing persons and ask Robby to come up? Pope has approved his temporary reassignment to Major Crimes." Julio nodded, but looked at the three Lieutenants trying to figure out what he was missing, as he picked up his phone to follow her orders.

Before Sharon could say anything else Nolan and Amy returned to the murder room, "Anything," she asked already knowing the answer.

"Nothing ma'am," Amy answered for the pair.

"Okay," Sharon said trying to regroup, "Let's find out where our good friend Peter Goldman is and see if he knows anything about where his former client could be. She looked at her watch, it was late, "Go home, spend sometime with your family and then come back. We can pick this up in two hours." At this point eating and changing clothes wasn't going to change the outcome of this case, they didn't have anything to go on and what they did have was getting worse by the minute. All she could hope was that a hot shower and some dinner would give her some fresh eyes to come back and dive into this case.

SsS

Andy shooed Sharon down the hall when they got home, telling her to get in the shower first. He'd heat up leftovers for dinner. He would come back with her of course, but it was frustrating as hell to know that he couldn't assist with the investigation - nothing but listening in. He shook his head as he grabbed the plates and began dolling out the shrimp scampi from the previous night. The water was boiling to make some extra pasta, as he popped the leftovers into the microwave.

Sharon was grateful that Andy let her go first, she needed a minute to herself to just stand under the hot shower. The steam filled the bathroom and she felt herself fraying. She wasn't one to break, but all of this was definitely causing her edges to tater. After a few minutes she had to drag herself back out, knowing that they only had an hour before they had to get back to the squad room. Reluctantly she turned the water off and grabbed a towel to dry off. As she wrapped up her damp hair in the towel she felt her stomach grumble, she realized it had been hours since she last ate anything and now she was starving. She sighed, her doctor got on her case at her last appointment for not maintaining a regular eating schedule, these large gaps between meals let alone snacks were giving her some issues. She needed to be more mindful, careful even. Andy tried to help, putting granola into her purse and even giving her reminders, but it didn't always help. If she was stressed she didn't eat, couldn't really, and these two cases had been nothing but stressful. She took a deep breath for what felt like the millionth time that day, if she was honest with herself things were stressful before these cases. Planning a wedding at her age was not as much fun as she remembered. She pulled her robe on and walked back into her bedroom. She'd get dressed later, for now she settled on yoga pants and one of Andy's white undershirts. She toweled her hair and tossed the damp towel over the hamper, running her fingers through her hair before walking down the hall to the kitchen. Her stomach grumbling again at the smells of dinner nearly ready.

"Better?" Andy pressed a kiss to her forehead as he set her plate down at the table.

"A bit, yes, thank you," she said settling into her seat.

Andy took a moment to finish rinsing the dishes he used to make dinner, so she wouldn't have to deal with it while he took a shower, before taking his plate to the table to join her.

They ate in silence for several minutes. Andy kept glancing up at Sharon waiting for her to say something, but she didn't.

"So what did Morales have to say?" He asked a bit tentatively.

Sharon glared at him, he knew better than to ask. He was off the case, and to top it off they were home. She wanted just two minutes to not think about this mess, "I believe you're off the case if you recall."

Andy shrugged, "Yeah, but that doesn't mean I can't overhear details about the case. Besides whatever he said caused you to run out of there like a bat out of hell and you were gone for almost an hour."

Sharon debated about telling Andy about the photograph of Brenda. It would certainly cause his blood pressure to rise, and he'd immediately jump to conclusions. She stayed silent for another minute weighing the pros and cons.

"Geez Sharon, it isn't like I'm asking you to give up state secrets or anything? What's the big deal, it's not like I won't hear about it eventually," he grumbled and stared at her, "It isn't like I had anything to do with it you know."

She didn't know what to say to that, "I think we should postpone the wedding," she blurted out. Her eyes darted back and forth as her hand flew to her mouth. It wasn't what she was planning to say, well she didn't know what she was going to say but certainly that wasn't it.

"You what?" Andy barked.

Sharon stumbled as she tried to pull the words back into her mouth, "Andy, that's er—"

"Postpone the wedding? Why? And what does that have to do with Morales and this case?" His hands waved around as his face turned red.

"Nothing, it doesn't have to do with Morales or this case. It's just I think, that well, I've been thinking about the timing of it all, and —" she was still grasping for the right words to explain what just slipped out of her mouth.

"And what Sharon? You don't want to be married to me anymore or what?" He barked.

"Yes of course, I do Andy," she placed one of her hands on his trying to calm him down, "I love you, you know that."

"I do, but I can't understand what brought this on. How long have you been feeling like this Sharon?" He asked trying to take a few deep breaths to reign himself in.

"It just feels like it would be better if we waited, until after the baby is born, and for things to get settled," she stammered, not wanting to tell him just how long she's been thinking about postponing the ceremony. They had an appointment in a few weeks to get their license, it would be "legal" they could always have the church service and reception later.

"Sharon, sweetheart, there is always going to be something, nothing is ever settled around here if you haven't noticed," he said trying to give her some reassurances.

All she could do at this point was nod, he was right of course, but his words of comfort didn't seem to have their usual effect in reassuring her that all would be well. Andy looked at the clock, time was not on their side, as usual, he hated walking away from this conversation but they needed to get back.

"I'm going to take a shower, you finish up and we can talk about this some more later, okay?" He asked wanting her to look him in the eyes before he left, wanting to see for himself that she was okay, that they were going to be okay.

She looked up at him, "Okay," but the usual light in her eyes wasn't there. He took her on her word for the moment, knowing that this wasn't a feeling that she was going to let go of right away. He sighed and kissed her head before walking down the hall. He turned back and looked at her once more, her shoulders were slumped forward and her head was in her hands. There was definitely more to this than just the pending birth of their first granddaughter. Reluctantly he pulled himself away from staring at her and stepped into the bedroom, work came first.

"I can't wait for the day when I can say family comes first," he muttered to himself as he stripped off his clothes and stepped into the shower.

Chapter Text

Sharon felt his eyes boring a hole into her back for the last hour. She understood that he was anxious to continue their conversation, and she did feel badly that they were stopped short, but she wasn't entirely sure there was more to say. While she had told him that she would talk to him more about her desire to postpone the wedding, she hadn't changed her mind. Not that she would ever admit it aloud to anyone, except perhaps her priest, she had toyed with canceling the whole thing entirely. It wasn't because of cold feet, she kept saying to herself, at this point though she wasn't sure if she was trying to convince or reassure herself of that point. Something just didn't feel right and she couldn't put her finger on exactly what that was, until she did sort it out she didn't want to walk down the aisle. She couldn't imagine committing herself to Andy, before God and their families without first exploring her hesitancy. Either way the murder room during an active case was neither the time nor the place for him to be so focused on her.

Tao's voice was fading into the background and she knew she needed to pull it back together. She darted a glance in Andy's directions, full of daggers, the intent was clear. He stared back at her and for a moment seemed unwilling to back down. After a moment he gave a near imperceptible shrug and turned his attention away from her. The exchange didn't go unnoticed, Provenza glanced between the pair and noticed the palpable tension in the air. There was more that just this case on their minds, of that he was certain.

"Okay," Sharon put her hands up to stop Tao's long winded explanation, about something that she already had forgotten about. The team turned around in their chairs and focused on their Commander.

"I want Goldman in my office within the hour," she cast the broad directive in no one's general direction, "Clearly, we are missing pieces to this puzzle and its time we got some answers on his current relationship status with our Mr. Croelick."

The room fell into silence, no one stood or any made movements. Sharon glared at the blank stares wondering if she had slipped into speaking in tongues, but before she could phrase it as an order Provenza got the hint and jumped up from his chair.

"You heard the Commander, let's get a move on," he said whipping his jacket around his round body, "Paige, Nolan you're with me." He gave his partner a pointed look before moving towards the elevators.

It took Andy a second to get what Provenza was trying to say, his brain just wasn't in the game today. Nearly every fibre of his being was focused on his fiancé and her desire to postpone their nuptials. He was finally beginning to understand Sharon's adamant need for separation of work and personal, it could definitely be a problem. Before today, his only workplace distractions were focused on the ratio of her skirt length to heel height, or the chance glance at her cleavage. They were lovely, delightful distractions but nothing that ever fully took his mind away from a case. This however was challenging the very notion of them being able to work together. He was unfocused and she knew it, he had to get out of her space for awhile for both their sakes. Finally moving his mouth, words formed and came out, "Right, uh, Tao why don't you help Julio and I with the tech stuff in RACR." The excuse was lamely worded, he knew it and from the look of his colleagues they knew it too. He made a hasty retreat, hoping to regroup and gain some composure. If he pissed her off at work for focusing on them he knew it would really screw up his discussion points for moving forward with the wedding.

Sharon shook her head as she watched them scurry down the hallway, and rubbed her temples. She was getting a headache between this frustratingly odd case to her complicated personal life there seemed to be no moment for a reprieve. She stepped into her office and practically plopped down in her chair, a rare action for her.

SsS

"Yes Lieutenant," Sharon said answering her phone from the break room where she was waiting for a new batch of coffee to finish brewing.

"We have a problem," he replied.

Sharon felt the waves of a migraine coming on, it seemed as though she heard nothing but that phrase from her second in command for the past three weeks. "What happened?" She replied curtly.

"He's missing," he stated with all the seriousness his voice could muster.

It was the last thing she expected to hear him say, she assumed he was fighting her detectives tooth and nail about coming to the station, "What do you mean he's missing?"

"His secretary hasn't heard from him in nearly 3 days, apparently no one has, they were waiting the requisite 72 hours before contacting missing persons," he replied.

Sharon thought back quickly to her run in with him at the courthouse and then the continuance he requested, "He was out of town, correct? Do we know if he returned from that trip? Or where he was going?"

"The secretary believes he made it back to Los Angeles. He went to San Francisco on business, flew. The last email she got from him was just before his flight boarded, nothing since," he let out a sigh growing frustrated by these road blocks they kept facing with this case.

"OK, get back and we will regroup. I'll have Mike check with LAX security cameras and verify he made it back to Los Angeles, if not we will have to get SFPD involved," she didn't wait for his reply as she hung up already headed towards RACR, the coffee all but forgotten at this point.

The space-age door opened, and she was surprised to only find Andy sitting in the room.

"Where is everyone?" She asked turning around futility as if they were hiding beneath her skirt.

"Casey called, Julio is headed back to the hospital. Mike stepped out to make a call to Cathy, I guess his youngest son has decided he doesn't want to go back to university this semester," he shrugged his shoulders, "Kid supposedly found the job of his dreams."

She nodded as she thought back to her own kids and the conversations they had at various points, Ricky in particular about walking away from school and doing his internet computer stuff.

"Is everything with Buzz okay," she asked concerned as she remembered the first thing he said.

"Yeah, I guess he woke up," he let a small smile form at his lips, "Guy's eager to give his statement."

She could understand, it sounded entirely like Buzz the reserve-officer in training, he'd want to do everything in his power to help. It was a trait that would make him a great cop one day. Sadly she had to shift focus, as much as she wanted to run down to the hospital and check on him she couldn't, she was needed her and her team had a new hurdle to investigate, "The Lieutenant called, we now have a missing lawyer to find. I need you to get Mike back here, we need to pull up the cameras at LAX and begin our search."

Andy placed his hands on the desk and pushed his chair back. She didn't need to say anything else, he understood the gist — this new development also meant there was no chance they'd be returning home to continue that conversation he so dearly wanted to finish.

SsS

"Julio," Buzz choked out his throat was dry and sore from the the fire. Casey jumped out of the chair and brought a small pink cup with a straw to his lips and encouraged him to take a sip before continuing. Buzz looked up at his sister and gave a nod of thanks.

"Buzz, it's okay, we can do this later when you're up to it," He moved closer to the bed so he could hear the younger man better.

"No," he squeaked, "I saw something before the explosion." He took a deep breath, "A man was by the propane tank," he paused and took a deep breath which caused him to break out into a coughing fit. Casey once again held the water for him as he took another sip and the coughing finally relented.

Julio waited patiently for Buzz to regain the strength to speak once more, "So you saw someone, there were a lot of firefighters and personnel around, are you sure it wasn't one them?"

Buzz shook his head, "I don't think so, he stared right at me then threw something down, turned and walked away. I started after him, but then—" his voice cut out but it didn't matter Julio was there he knew what happened after that, the tank exploded sending his friend to the hospital.

"Ok, we'll check cameras in the area and see if we can find our missing pyro-nutjob," Julio held his hand out to Buzz, "you stay here and get better. We've got it covered."

Buzz was about to protest before his sister interjected, "Thank you Detective, I'll keep an eye on him, making sure he doesn't get into too much trouble."

SsS

"There he is," Paige eagerly pointed out the obvious, as the team watched Goldman walk through Terminal 4 at LAX.

Sharon checked the time stamp, it was 8:28pm 08/28/17, confirming that he did make it back to Los Angeles three days ago. They watched the film continue as he moved from one screen to the next as different cameras picked him up. When he reached the arrivals street level he pulled out his phone while waiting.

"Can you zoom in Tao?" Provenza asked squinting at the screen, "Is he calling someone to pick him up?"

Before anyone else could respond Paige jumped in, "I think he's texting. If we can get the phone records we might be able to figure out who he was talking to."

Andy rolled his eyes, finding himself slightly more than his usual level of annoyance with the over-eager Paige. Sharon caught him and shook her head, while she found Paige in need of some corralling she was happy with the job she was doing and didn't want the others making her feel like she wasn't a welcomed member of the team.

"I'll call for a warrant for his phone records," Amy piped up and stepped out of RACR while the others returned their attention to the screens.

"Is he waiting for someone to pick him up?" Andy asked growing frustrated by sitting around the room watching this slime ball move through the airport. He didn't want anything to happen to the guy, but he had more pressing things to deal with at the moment.

Tao sped the film up and paused it as they watched him climb into the back seat of a black Prius, "I think it's an Uber, that must have been what he was doing on his phone."

The car pulled away and they lost him as it moved through the airport and onto Century Blvd, disappearing into the throngs of cars in the dark night of Los Angeles.

As the screens froze on the last frame they had of Peter Goldman, Sharon walked up and stared at the man that was literally a missing link in their case. She bowed her head thinking through everything that had happened to date, before turning around to the team. It was now early morning and everyone was exhausted having worked through the night. The best thing to do would be to go home and get some shut-eye. They wouldn't be able to get much done until the rest of the world woke up, but she had no desire to go home. Going home now would mean confronting Andy and she didn't have the energy for it.

"Why don't we take a break. Go home get a few hours of sleep," she looked down at her watch, "be back here by 8." It would give them 3-4 hours, it wouldn't be enough but it would have to do.

The team grabbed their things and slowly filed out of RACR, she stopped Andy on his way out, "I can't do this today. It's going to have to wait until we wrap this case, I'm sorry." She didn't wait for his response, she knew he'd be upset but she wasn't in the mood to hear it or argue about it.

SsS

Julio looked at the sight before him, it was all to familiar. A body stabbed, wrapped in plastic, and dumped near a park. He was surprised no one came across it sooner, given the summer heat the body was already heavily decomposed, the smell was so thick he knew the odor would stick to his clothes.

Sharon reached around on her nightstand blindly trying to find her phone, knocking it onto the floor in the process. She squinted at the clock without her glasses, just barely making out the blurry numbers at 6:15am. She let out a huff as she realized she had only managed to get about 30 minutes of sleep, "Hello?" She muttered into the phone still trying to get her bearings as she half hung off the bed in order to answer it in time.

"Ma'am," he turned away from the scene as he spoke into the phone, "we found a body."

Chapter Text

Once again, Sharon and Andy found themselves waiting around in a familiar place. It seemed to be a busy morning for the good doctor. Orderlies were hauling gurneys with stacks of body bags down the hall and into the freezer. It seemed that this oppressive heat wave was continuing to wreck havoc upon unsuspecting innocents. They weren't here for that, they were never here for that. As they waited for Morales to prepare the body Andy helped Sharon on with her gown, tying the string behind her neck. He wanted to say something, he wanted to pass the time by talking about something important, but the morgue was no place to discuss a wedding or the possibility of canceling one. Although perhaps it was the most fitting place to have this conversation, he thought, if she did want to postpone or god-forbid cancel it he might just die from a broken heart.

Sensing his anxiousness Sharon turned around and gave his arm a pat, seemingly in thanks for helping her with the gown but the gesture was loaded with more subtle affection. She gave him a weak smile, "Thank you Andy"

"Sure," he assumed she was talking about the gown.

"I mean, for giving me some time to think. I know it's killing you inside not to be able to discuss this," her eyes glanced up at him giving him a knowing look as she continued, "This isn't the time or place mind you, but I just want you to know that I do want to marry you. It's not cold feet, it's not for a lack of love, it's just a timing issue."

He tried to pull back the surprised look he know he had on his face, he wanted to talk to her about all this, but never dreamed of bringing it up or that she'd be the one to do it. His brain was slower than his heart in picking up the meaning of her words, she didn't want to cancel it.

"So when do you want to do it then? I thought that Thanksgiving was best because of Emily's schedule?" He said looking at the floor shuffling his feet at nonexistent specks.

"I don't know Andy, I don't have it all figured out. I never intended to blurt it out the other night, not until I had a chance to sit down and think about what it would mean for the both of us. I just know that it doesn't feel right, I'm not sure why?" Moisture began welling up in the corners of her eyes as she thought about it, she really didn't want to wait any longer to call this man her husband, but something was holding her back.

"Ok, well when you know you let me know," he reached for her, "I don't think I need to tell you that it's all I can do to keep myself from calling you my wife. If I have to wait a few more weeks then so be it, I'm in this for a lifetime." He wrapped his arms around her and gave her a brief, but firm embrace. In any other place Sharon would have melted into him at that moment, it was exactly what she needed - to hear, to feel.

"I know we technically don't need it yet, but maybe we should make that appointment to pick up our marriage license," she whispered into his ear wanting to give him that final piece of reassurance that she was as committed as he was to this marriage.

"You tell me when, and I'll be there — the old man with a goofy grin on his face because the girl of his dreams said yes," he whispered back before pulling apart from one another.

They stood there starring at one another, a commitment made. The clearing of a throat jarred them both out of their reverie and back to the terrible present, the reason they were even here and not in bed catching up on much needed sleep.

"I hope I'm not interrupting anything," Morales inquired his usual dose of sarcasm replaced with a tinge of teenage gossip.

"Uh, no," Sharon said running her hands down the gown switching herself deftly back over to Commander mode, "Are you ready for us?"

"I am, and can I just say deja vu hit hard with this case," he held the door open as he ushered the pair into the autopsy room, "I mean it was a weird one when I first got a case like it a few years ago but this - it's like coming back from the dead."

Andy rolled his eyes, the doctor was in rarified form this morning — clearly someone needed to take away his new nespresso machine.

Sharon moved over to the body noting the plastic couch cover placed next to it, "He was wrapped in the cover," Sharon stated more as a fact than a question. She already heard the report from Julio, it was as if Wade Weller had come back from the dead and killed again.

"Yes, and the throat slashed just the same as before. The body was obviously moved post-mortem and dumped in the park," Morales replied moving to the other side of the body, "He certainly wanted us to know who our victim was. Despite the couch cover the heat has expedited the decomposition process, identification would have been a bit more challenging." Morales pulled the wallet out and handed to Andy who was standing to his left.

Using his gloved hands Andy opened the wallet, the credit cards were there but the cash was missing. He pulled out the driver's license and turned it around to face Sharon, "It's Goldman."

Sharon let out a sigh, she despised the man but never wanted something like this to happen to him. She had feelings leading up to the discovery of Goldman's body about their past coming back to haunt them, but now she knew for sure. Someone wanted to taunt them, wanted to make them relieve these professionally challenging moments from their past. She turned towards Andy, he recognized the look on her face, the furrowed brow and the eyes gazing off into the distance, she was trying to work out the puzzle.

"What are you thinking," he prompted.

"I'm thinking that someone is going through an awful lot of trouble to have us relive the past. First David and Anne then Lauren and Bill Croelick, now this connection back to Weller, someone clearly wants to remove perceived threats," she turned back to Goldman, "or loose-ends."

"You think that someone wanted Provenza and I off the case," Andy said beginning to follow her line of thinking.

"Yes, one by one he is going after investigators that could help bring him down," her mind was racing several miles a minute as she processed all the information through this new lens.

"Buzz said he saw someone light the propane tank before it exploded," Andy added into the conversation knowing that the team was dwindling in size.

"Fritz sent Brenda to DC," she said softly knowing that they both knew where this conversation was going to end.

"Stroh," Andy said for her, "It has to be him. Who else would know all of this?" He gestured to the table with their latest victim. Wade Weller's MO with Stroh's victims it was the final piece. He wanted them to know it was him, that he was lurking in their own backyard all these weeks and they didn't have a clue.

Andy turned towards Goldman's body and stared at the man, "But why him? How was he connected to Stroh? I mean sure they were both lawyers, but different kinds of cases they wouldn't really be in the same circles, right?"

"Goldman added Stroh as one of the plaintiffs against Brenda," Sharon replied, "I was never sure whether Stroh reached out to him as away of dealing with Brenda or if Goldman did that on his own, but either way he was linked to all of this."

A chill ran down Andy's spine as her words jogged his memory of those last few months with the Chief. Sharon was right, Goldman was at the center of all of this - David, Anne, Croelick and Stroh. "But what about Lauren, are we going to assume that was just a convenient ex for him to get his hands on to get Provenza off the case?"

"That would be my guess, but the Lieutenant's type isn't that far off from Stroh's so perhaps it suited him in more ways than one," Sharon turned to the Doctor remembering where they were, "Apologies Dr. Morales."

"It's fine, I find it all so interesting since I helped you guys with that case and all," he said waving his hands around proudly at the memory of the hunt for the right shoes.

"Doctor, did you do a rape kit on Lauren?" Sharon asked.

"No, her body was too badly charred, and any DNA would have been destroyed, sorry," he said returning to his notes.

She nodded, it was the answer she expected to hear but it didn't make it any less disappointing. They had Stroh's DNA on file and at this point she'd feel a lot better knowing whether her gut was right or not. She moved towards the exit, "If you find anything else please let me know," she said before turning around to leave.

"I will, and Sharon," he paused and looked toward Flynn, "stay safe." She gave a nod and walked out with Andy nipping at her heels.

"So Stroh is back," he stated to the empty hall.

"Well we both know he's been back, but yes it would appear he is in LA and active," she tore the gown away from her and tossed it into the bin.

Andy couldn't help but start to pace at the gravity of the situation. It was one thing when they thought Stroh was out of the country in Crete or wherever, and then a bit more concerning when it seemed like he was back east killing off his past, but now it seemed that he was trying to make himself a ghost. He was back in Los Angeles and he wanted to get rid of anyone that ever knew him, anyone that could identify him as Phillip Stroh. He wasn't just after Rusty, or perhaps Sharon, this time he was coming after everyone. He pulled himself to the bin and heaved the small breakfast he managed to eat in the car on the way over to the morgue.

The sound of him retching caused Sharon to turn around, she had never known Andy to get sick from a case and that gave her concern. She rushed to his side, "Andy are you alright? Is it your heart?" She was panicking trying to remember all the symptoms of a heart attack, vomiting was one or wasn't it.

He sunk down onto the floor and Sharon went with him, crouching beside him, "Andy talk to me. Do I need to call an ambulance?" She thought about getting Dr. Morales to come out and help her, but Andy put his hand on her arm and shook his head.

"My heart is fine Sharon," he said knowing that she was going to give her self an anxiety attack if he didn't squelch her fears as quickly as possible, "Breathe."

She took a deep breath and look him in the eyes, checking to see if he was telling the truth or not, "Aren't I supposed to be the one telling you to do that?" They both chuckled, it was a fleeting laughter that disappeared down the hall.

Andy squeezed her hand, "Stroh. It just all caught up to me, the realization of what's been happening and what's likely to keep happening if we don't catch him soon."

She slumped down onto the floor next to him, crossing her ankles, "I know," her voice was soft her mouth not wanting to make the words come out. Something about saying them aloud made it all true.

The flood of fear began to well up inside him again when he turned to Sharon, "Rusty! We need to get protection for Rusty!"

In any other moment his fatherly outburst for Rusty's care would have brought a smile and happy tears to her eyes, but once again the truth of his words hit hard, "He's an adult Andy. We can ask him, even recommend, but we can't demand that he agree to a protective detail." Her voice was resigned, she knew how he felt about it they'd discussed it at length when she shared the news that Stroh might be back in the country.

Without warning Andy jumped up off the floor causing Sharon to put her hand out to keep from falling where she had been leaning up against him. His fear was being replaced by anger, "Oh he's going to take the protective detail, if I have anything to say about it!"

"Andy he's not a minor we can't order him —" she started to say, but Andy cut her off, "well he doesn't have to know, you're Commander just assign him an undercover detail like you did after Stroh escaped, he doesn't need to know."

"What?!" He growled, "Your his mother!"

"Yes I am, but I'm not going to go behind his back. I'll talk," she caught his stare and amended her statement, "we'll talk to him and do our best to persuade him to take the detail. But," she put her hand up to stop his protest, "But if he says no then we need to respect his wishes."

"I don't like it," he growled again and stormed towards the elevators.

She watched him walk away, she didn't like it any more than he did, but she had learned her lesson. She, they, could only do so much to protect their kids and after that they needed to live their lives.

He punched the up button several times, taking deep breaths to calm his growing rage. None of this was supposed to be happening. He was supposed to be excited, happy that in a few weeks he'd be wed but that was on hold. Rusty wasn't supposed to fear for his life again, not when he was finally beginning to live. He felt a hand touch his shoulder and give it a squeeze and he felt the fight drain out of him, he turned around and stared at her, "I'm sorry," he grumbled, "I'm an ass."

"Yes, but you're my ass," she replied with a low smile and gave his shoulder a squeeze before guiding them both into the open elevator. "If it makes you feel any better I just sent Rusty a text asking him to come to PAB when he's done with his classes."

"Thank you," he replied as he pushed the elevator buttons and watched the doors closed. He rubbed his neck, it was going to be another long day.

SsS

"Okay, what do we have on Goldman's last known whereabouts?" Sharon asked as the sliding doors to RACR opened and she found her team assembled and working away.

Wes Nolan, kicked things off with the biggest piece of news they uncovered, "The black Prius that picked him up belonged to a Mr. Kurt Cole he was working part time at nights as an uber driver to help pay his way through his MBA program at USC. He went missing in January 15, 2015 not long after Stroh escaped. The car was abandoned east of San Diego near the Salton Sea. Local PD printed it, but there was nothing of importance. The car stayed in impound for another year until it went up for police auction, sold to an overseas buyer."

The detectives shared a concerned look, it definitely sounded like Stroh, but it wasn't enough. Sharon turned away from the screen and back to her team, "What else? Do we know what Goldman was doing in the bay area?"

Amy clicked a few keys on her keyboard to share the information on her screen, "According to Folsom he was up there visiting his client, a Mr. Hugh Jenkins in prison for killing his wife but claims to have been set-up by Long Beach PD. The case seems unrelated to either the LAPD or Stroh."

"Yes, but," Provenza interjected, "Rumor was that our firebug friend moved up to the bay area so perhaps he paid him a visit while in town. You know being friends an all."

Sharon gave Provenza a Darth glare, he and Andy were allowed to be privy to that particular case, but not speak to any of the evidence, "Well, since it seems that the fire is unrelated to Mr. Croelick I think we should focus our resources on where the evidence is actually taking us," she turned away from Provenza satisfied that she had admonished him enough, "Anything on his phone records?"

The room went quiet knowing that the Commander was about to be disappointed. Tao spoke up on behalf of the group, "Unfortunately ma'am, the judge wouldn't sign off on the warrant for his phone records. He ruled that because of Goldman's position there could be sensitive material that could jeopardize attorney-client privilege we would have to go through a special master in order to view any phone calls, text messages, or voicemails."

She let out a soft groan, she wasn't unfamiliar with the notion and normally didn't object to following procedure but in this moment she felt a sympathy for Brenda a decade earlier — they simply didn't have the time. With another sigh she responded, "Call Hobbs have her begin the paperwork. What else?"

Sanchez raised his hand, it was sweet that the man usually did instead of interrupting the group, "The plastic couch cover isn't a match to Weller's stash, our killer clearly knew of the method of crime but didn't have all the specific details."

"I don't think specifics was his point, it was close enough to get our attention," Andy retorted.

The other man gave a shrug, "Well we all know Weller is dead—"

"Thanks to a brilliant detective, with a superb shot," Provenza boasted a heap of self-praise among the group.

"—as I was saying," Julio shook his head, "The park isn't well lit at night, so it isn't a surprise that there were no witnesses to the body dump, but we're checking the traffic cameras at nearby intersections to see if we can find the car."

Mike anticipated the Commander's next question, "Without Buzz it's a bit more slow going, but we are working through all the footage."

Sharon nodded as she placed her hands on her hips in a familiar stance, standing in front of the monitors staring at a mountain of conjecture and little to go on, "Have we looked into Buzz's report of seeing someone before the explosion?"

"We did check the footage from the crime scene however Buzz didn't get a clear picture," Tao pulled up the clip and queued it up for everyone, "As you can see he had the camera sideways, most likely waving his free hand at the man then—" the picture was immediately overexposed by the light of the explosion and then went to black as the camera fell hard along with Buzz. "I've tried to zoom in, but it's useless. We'll have to check nearby cameras, but there aren't any ATMs or gas stations in the immediate vicinity. By the time we could pick up our guy it could be anyone — it wouldn't hold up in court."

Nothing, they had nothing. She contemplated her options, there weren't many. They didn't know where Stroh was, or even this was him for sure. They had more bodies than they knew what to do with, but they too gave up few of their secrets.

"Check the footage anyway. Provenza and Andy I want you to focus on the park with Julio. Mike you and Amy see what you can do with the warehouse. Wes and Paige, go to Goldman's house see if we can find anything that might be helpful or point us in some direction," she looked at the clock it was time to brief the Chiefs again.

SsS

Rusty parked and walked towards the restaurant. Gus mentioned that he needed to swing by for a meeting with his boss an hour ago. His class got out early and he decided to surprise him by picking him up and taking him out to dinner. He told his mom that they'd swing by on the way to dinner. He was hoping she wanted to talk to him about an opening at the DAs office, for a part-time research assistant. He mentioned it to her in passing a few nights ago, hoping she could put in a good word with Andrea about it. He smiled, knowing his mom she was just going to tell him to march across the street and talk to Hobbs about it directly, she was right of course, but for all his directness he had trouble being direct to help himself. As he neared the windows near the bar he was nearly knocked off his feet with a strong gust of wind. Leaves and dust speckled the air, flying into his eyes. They immediately began to burn as he felt the particles scratch and irritate the delicate tissue. As he brought a hand up to his face to wipe the tears that were beginning to form as his body try to push out the foreign invader he saw Gus lean into his boss. The move seemed innocent, like he was whispering something, until he saw a hand come up behind his neck and pull him closer. Rusty blinked his eyes rapidly unsure if he was really seeing what he thought he was witnessing. The blond man pulled back and they shared a laugh before Gus took a step back, as he turned his face dropped from a laughing smile to shock and horror, seeing Rusty through the window. Rusty continued to wipe his eyes, his jaw was clenched as he balled his hands into a fist. He quickly turned around storming back to his car. Gus grabbed his messenger bag and ran out of the restaurant after Rusty.

"Rusty! Wait up, that wasn't what you thought it was," he shouted.

Before Gus could catch up to Rusty, he saw a man grab him and pull him into the side street. He picked up his pace, running full speed towards his boyfriend down the alley.

Chapter Text

Sharon let out a loud sharp breath as she brought a hand to her chest, it was her worst nightmare coming true. She couldn't hear anything being said around her, thoughts and fears were swirling together so quickly she felt as though the room might be spinning.

"It's been six hours," Nolan whispered. They knew it wasn't a good sign even without this latest news from robbery homicide.

"Are we sure that the phone pinged to the right location?" Paige moved towards Tao asking him, hoping for him to be wrong.

He shook his head, "I've checked four times, the last time his phone was on and active was six hours ago in front of Gwen LA."

Initially, Sharon thought that was a good sign, he wasn't answering any texts because he and Gus were working things out, enjoying a nice dinner together. As time ticked by however, the more her gut as a cop overpowered her mom instinct, his phone would be there but Rusty would not.

The ringing phone broke them all out of their thoughts. Tao was the first to get to it. Sanchez leaned in to listen, it was from Robbery/Homicide. The rest of the room watched them intently, trying to get a gauge from their bodies and when the two men seemed to lean back they assumed all was okay. Only a moment later did their faces go pale, their heads nodding as the continued to take notes, everyone else holding their breath.

"What happened?" Andy asked immediately once the phone hung up, and moving beside Sharon knowing she was going to need his support.

"Robbery/Homicide, called us after you put an alert out on Rusty's phone ma'am. It's last known position is the same location as a body of a deceased, Latino male," Tao stated as calmly as possible, but there was no way to completely hide the wavering of his voice.

"Ma'am," Sanchez started, "That's where they found Gus' body."

The words fell and filled the murder room. He wasn't one of them, but he also felt like one of the family. The investigated his sister's murder, they buried her, they brought him into the fold. Sanchez bowed his head, it still made him mad to think about what happened to this guy's sister and now this, it was too much tragedy for one family.

After the unexpected moment of silence which lasted mere seconds, but felt like ten minutes Tao picked up his noted and continued to read what R/H had determined thus far, "The valet saw the body in the alley way next to the restaurant when he was getting ready for his shift to start."

"What happened?" Andy reiterated his question from earlier, placing a hand to Sharon's back to steady her.

"It appears he was badly beaten. He put up one hell of a fight," Tao responded as he bowed his head.

"You'd expect that, he was former Army after all," Amy's somber voice filled the murder room.

Sharon took a deep shuttering breath, "And Rusty, was there any sign that he was there?"

Sanchez looked towards Provenza and then Flynn before brining his eyes to his Commander, "Uh, yes ma'am. His car was parked a few doors up from the restaurant. It appears that he stopped by to pick Gus up after his meeting. They found his phone in the alley not far from the body."

Andy put an arm around Sharon as he felt her begin to collapse next to him, her body shaking. Her boy was gone. Stroh had him, she was positive of that. But was he still alive. She let out a bone chilling scream, it was involuntary and not like her, but none of this was like the life she knew. Everything in the last few years had been topsy-turvey, she knew how to live the life she had six years ago, this life she was less sure. How could she live without Rusty, without her son? Her body shook as Andy slumped onto the floor next to her, holding her as tightly as he could. She felt his breath near her ear, talking to her, but she couldn't hear the words. The only thing she could hear was the thumping of blood between her ears.

Provenza turned away from the heartbreaking sight of his partner, his best-friend slouched over beside the woman he loved, their boss. He caught the look of the rest of the team, water filling their eyes in equal fear. He waved his arms at Tao and Sanchez, gaining their attention he gathered the rest of the team and ushered them down the hall into RACR. The couple, the parents needed a moment of privacy and while Provenza was breaking on the inside now wasn't the time for him to fall apart. They had a job to do, they needed to find Rusty and to do that they needed to find Stroh — the key was to solve these damn cases.

Provenza cleared his throat both to gain the attention of the beleaguered team, but also to gain control over his own emotions, then began barking orders. "Okay, Mike call back over to RH tell them we are taking over the case, tell them its connected to Stroh, then call Howard and see if he can give us some support. Sanchez go back to the hospital and talk to Buzz, then talk to the arson investigator, get everything we can, every last detail about that fire. Paige and Nolan, I want you to comb through every piece of footage we have from all three crime scenes there's gotta be something that we can find that connects these together. Sykes, you're with me, we need to go to the Commander's house and start working on the Stroh details."

The team looked at him a bit perplexed at the assignments. "Well what are you waiting for?" He barked again causing the team to jump into action. Now was not the time for crosswords and the ex-wife did it, it was time to kill this bastard that was wrecking his family.

Once the room was emptied Sykes stepped up to Provenza, "Sir, not that I mind, but why are we starting at the Commander's house?"

"One, we need to keep an eye on those two," he thumb his finger towards Sharon's office, "And two, because Rusty created his very own murder board digging into those crimes across the country that have been flagged as possible-Stroh cases."

Amy merely nodded in acknowledgement and followed the other man out of RACR and back to the murder room. Andy managed to pull Sharon back up to her feet, but she was still nearly inconsolable. Provenza and Flynn made eye contact, but shared no words. The two detectives busied themselves by gathering up their computers and paperwork they would need. It was unspoken, but they both knew the other reason they were going was protection detail, he had Rusty but there was a good chance he also wanted Sharon. He might try to come after her, but more likely, as he knew and they all knew she would get lured out in an effort to save her son. She'd done it once, barefoot and all. She would set aside her cop sensibilities and rush towards the danger like a mother. It was without a doubt her greatest strength, and weakness. Stroh knew it and it would be exploited.

As they heard Sharon begin to calm Provenza chanced moving closer to the couple for the first time since they got the news. "Sharon, we're going back to the condo. We're going to work the case from there."

Sharon was about to object, but Andy jumped in, "Rusty's board," was all he said. She nodded and complied. He guided her back into the office, giving her a moment to collect her things and pull herself together. He closed the blinds and stood beside her, "We'll get them, both of them."

He didn't specify any further, it was clear the intent. One alive. One dead. It was a prophecy set in motion six years ago that was finally coming to fruition. Another chill ran down her spine, but Andy's warm hand to her back stopped it from continuing. She took another deep breath and turned to face him, "We will."

Chapter Text

Detectives Garth and Waters walked into the Major Crimes murder room expecting to find it bustling with activity, instead they were shocked to note the absence of just about everyone. Mike heard the loud footfalls of the Robbery Homicide pair coming down the hall, he'd been waiting for over an hour for them to show up with the evidence. He spun around in his chair and peered up over his glasses, glaring at them, "Took you long enough."

"Well we were across town when we got the call from our Captain to come bring this stuff to you guys, I guess you're taking over again," Garth replied not hiding his annoyance at losing the case. His partner jabbed him in the side, he wasn't looking to get in a pissing contest over a case tonight.

Waters lifted the box up onto the desk belonging to Sykes, "There wasn't much, but here's what we've collected so far." He started lifting evidence bags, "Two cell phones, a wallet, two sets of keys, one nike sneaker, and some trace blood from the alley."

Mike nodded as he listened, it definitely wasn't much to go on and he doubted that any of the blood would come back as a match to Stroh. The man may have gotten in a fight last night, but he was nothing if not careful. He stood up and took the paper from Waters signing his name to it as he took custody of the evidence, "Thanks."

Garth was about to say something again when Waters gave him a pointed look and pulled him away. The older detective turned to Mike, "Good luck, I hope you find the Kid."

Mike noted that he didn't say alive, and it was no surprise. The team didn't have much to go on and if this was Stroh he wasn't going to leave any witnesses this time. He picked up the two phones and plugged them into his computer, uploading any messages or photos that might prove useful then turned his attention back to the surveillance videos.

Across town, Julio sat with Buzz and a sleeping Casey who leaned against his arm as she slumbered. Any other day, any other time he might have taken a picture of the scene to tease the guys about, he knew they all found her hot and so un-Buzz-like. He shook those thoughts aside and watched over the pair as they rested. Buzz was asleep when he arrived several hours ago, the doctors had taken him up to the OR earlier to relieve the pressure in his brain. Casey explained it to him earlier, a ventriculostomy he wasn't clear exactly what it meant but noted that he now had a small drain tube at the base of his skull where fluid could escape. The doctors said everything went well and he should wake up without any issues, but Julio was getting anxious it'd already been 12 hours and yet he remained asleep.

He pulled out his phone and sent off a text to Sykes, "Still asleep. Anything new?"

At the Sharon and Andy's condo things had finally calmed down, despite her protests Sharon ducked down the hall to catch a few hours of sleep. Andy sat with her, keeping vigil while Provenza and Sykes continued to try and make sense out of Rusty's makeshift murder board. The Kid had done a pretty good job, with it but it was clear that he was investigating like a journalist and not a detective some key details were missing while others seemed extraneous. Neither could figure out how Rusty got to this point, but the information was more than they had to go off of a few hours ago and they'd take whatever help they could get at this point.

Provenza looked at the clock, 12 hours. Rusty had been a missing person for 12 hours already and they still had no idea where he was being kept, if it was Stroh or some accomplice, and even worse whether he was even still alive. He berated himself for even thinking for a split-second that Rusty could be dead, he figured he'd feel it if it'd happen. He'd just know the way a parent knows when something bad has happened. He felt nothing and so Rusty was alive.

Sykes pulled out her phone as it chirped, "Julio says Buzz still hasn't woken up yet."

All of this was wrong Provenza thought to himself, those two are practically brothers who've both experienced their own share of trauma. He knew life was cruel and unfair, but this felt like God playing a sadistic joke on them all.

"Tell Julio to get some rest, then go back to the office and help Tao comb through the surveillance videos," he replied wiping the tired from his own eyes.

Sykes nodded and typed away a quick reply back to Sanchez, "We have some leads to follow-up on, but mostly the board just tells us about other potential victims not where to find Stroh. Get some rest and then give Tao a hand."

Amy got up and moved towards the kitchen, "Coffee?" She asked.

Provenza shook his head, he needed to put food in his stomach before he added any more of the caustic stuff. His phone buzzed and he pulled it out to find a message from Mike.

Tao's eyes were so dry they hurt from staying open and staring at his screen all night. He was going frame by frame through the video, but wasn't coming up with anything. He leaned back in his chair and picked up Rusty's phone going through it. There wasn't anything out of the ordinary, not that he was expecting to find something that would break the case wide open but it would have been nice. He scrolled through his phone history again, stopping and then staring at a missed call from his other mother. It came in the day before Rusty went missing, but it didn't look like he ever called her back. Tao's feet began to bounce up and down as his brain processed the information.

"Oh shit," he muttered to himself aloud. He pulled out his phone and shot off a text to Provenza, "Did anyone think to let Sharon Beck know her son is missing?"

Chapter Text

"The phone rings, but its just going to voicemail," Nolan slammed the phone back on the hook and shook his head annoyed that something that should be so easy was proving to be anything but. More importantly he wanted to be focused on finding Rusty, not on getting ahold of his bio-mom.

"Try texting?" Paige offered up, as she continued to go through license plates.

"Sent two messages, but no response yet," Nolan double-checked the phone for the fiftieth time, "Maybe we should have the Commander call her?"

Provenza walked into the room in time to hear Nolan's suggestion and felt the blood boil in his veins, "No, we aren't going there. The Commander has enough to deal with, to worry about then chasing down Sharon Beck."

The team shared a look of concern at the Lieutenant's outburst. It was clear that Paige and Nolan being new to the team couldn't follow his emotional reaction to Sharon Beck's current state of silence.

Julio gave a silent look to the younger pair as he sensed the frustration rising, "Has anyone tried calling the house in Cathedral City, Jim and Linda's place?"

"Not yet, we wanted to wait to hear from the Commander on that," Sykes replied recalling her conversation with the Lieutenant a few hours earlier.

"I think it's time," he collapsed in a huff in his chair and swirled around to look up at the board behind him. There was nothing there. Plenty of things scrawled across the white board, but they had nothing to go on. He knew that Sharon had cleaned up her act over the last 18 months or so, but it didn't make up for the years of pain she brought down on her son. In his mind letting her know that Rusty was missing was a courtesy, one that she only tenuously deserved.

Julio took the silence that followed, Provenza's millimeter of defeat, to go ahead and place the call. Saving himself the time and trouble of searching for the number online he pulled Rusty's phone out of the evidence bag and pulled up his contacts. There just below the Law Library phone number was the information on the Lewis's. He lifted his phone to place the call, but Provenza shook his head and held his hand out. Julio scribbled the number down on a post-it note and handed it to him, with a silent look of concern. Provenza gave a slight shake and began dialing the number in Cathedral City.

"Hello?" The voice of an older man, grumbled through the phone.

"Yes Hello, is this Jim Lewis?" Provenza asked, knowing it most likely was.

"Yes it is," Jim replied in a formal tone.

"This is Lieutenant Provenza from the LAPD and we are trying to get in touch with Sharon Beck. Is she available?" He smoothed out his tie, looking for something to keep his idol hands busy.

"No, she's not home at the moment. What's this about?" His voice hitched up with a note of concern.

Provenza ignored his question, "Do you know when she'll be back?"

"We aren't expecting her to come home until Monday. She's in LA visiting her son," he replied.

Provenza gave a look around the room as everyone listening in heard the surprising details, "Oh I see, and did she bring the baby with her?" He tried to keep the conversation casual, not wanting to ring any alarm bells.

"No," Jim's voice became concerned as he paused, "Natalie is here with us. Sharon thought it would be good to spend some time with just her and Rusty, without the baby. I think he's still getting used to the whole sibling thing." He paused again before becoming a bit demanding, "Now can I ask what this is about?"

Provenza remained calm and nonchalantly stated, "It's regarding her son. Do you happen to know where she was going to stay while in LA?"

"At a friend's house, she used to housesit for her. Eagle Rock I believe. I could go look for the address she wrote down if you'd like," the man seemed to calm down some, but it was clear that he wasn't sure what was going on.

"Yes we'd appreciate that, thank you," Provenza leaned back in his chair, at least this was something that they could follow up on, although he was still in the why are we bothering camp with all of this.

"Ok just give me a second. My wife put it on the fridge," rustling sounds filtered through the speakerphone, "Ah ok, her name is Jennifer Davis and the address is 5854 Neola Place."

"Great, thank you Mr Lewis," He pointed at Sykes to pull up the address and get the homeowner details.

"Not a problem. Is everything okay with Rusty?" He seemed genuinely concerned about Rusty which came as a surprise to Provenza, he didn't think there was much of a relationship there.

"Yes, we just need to speak with her and can't reach her on her cell," speaking the words and feeling them were to different things when he knew that everything was not okay.

"Oh well I know she has spotty reception at the house, but she texted this morning checking in on Natalie, so maybe you'll have luck calling the house," the new information caused the entire team to glance at one another, surprised to hear that Sharon had been in touch recently when they had been trying her all morning.

"Ok great, thanks for the information Mr. Lewis," Provenza hung up and looked at the rest of his colleagues whose eyes had grown large at the revelation that Sharon Beck was possibly ignoring the LAPD's calls.

Paige in her filterless way of communicating was the first to speak, "Why wouldn't she respond to our messages?" It was the question that was on everyone's minds. "And if she was in LA visiting Rusty how is it that she hasn't come to us asking where he is?"

The room fell silent, no one had an answer to either question, but it was damned odd all of it. As the late Chief Taylor would have said there were far too many coincidences stacking up to not be related in some way, but Provenza couldn't see it and neither could anyone else.

Nolan bounced his leg up and down, nervous about making the suggestion, "Should we try using Rusty's phone?" He tried to gauge the expression on his colleagues faces, "Maybe she'll answer if she recognizes the number?"

Mike shrugged, "It's a risk, but not a bad idea."

Provenza thought about it, on one hand he thought he should run it by Flynn or even the Commander, using the phone of her missing son to reach out felt low even for him, on the other she wasn't making life any easier on them or herself for the matter.

"Do it," Provenza commanded.

Julio opened the evidence bag containing Rusty's phone and typed out a generic message, hoping to come off sounding like Rusty.

RUSTY: Mom give me a call when you're free.

As Julio sent the message Provenza stood up to address the troops, "Okay, in the meantime let's get over to Jennifer's house and see if we can locate Sharon Beck. Amy, you and Wes have had the least amount of contact with Ms. Beck, so it's probably best if the two of you drive over there, take a patrol car with you just in case there's any funny business going on." He knew with Sharon Beck, there could be any number of not good reasons why she wasn't responding least of all falling back into old habits.

Nolan stood up and gathered his gun from the drawer while Amy typed the address into her phone, "Of course, we'll let you know what we sort out," Amy replied as she got up from her chair and put on her coat.

Now that all this business with Sharon was sorted, Provenza was eager to get back to work on more important matters like finding Rusty, "Do we have anything to go on? The Commander is going to want an update when she arrives."

Mike spun around in his chair, "Julio and I went through some of the video this morning in and around Gwen LA and there's nothing suspicious. We wrote down the license plates of every car that drove down the adjoining streets to see if we get a hit on anything."

"So far," Julio turned around, "We've got nothing. Plates have come up clean. No stolen vehicles. No hits to violent offenders."

"Is there anyway this is related to what Rusty used to do for a living," Paige asked with as much delicacy as elephant walking through the forest.

Julio and Mike both shot her a dangerous look before averting their eyes. Provenza spun around quickly to face his young protege, "What did you say?"

"Well, I mean," she tried to backpedal a bit, "couldn't it be possible."

"Rusty hasn't been involved in that lifestyle in nearly six years," he gritted out.

"I understand that, he's turned his life around and I think that's great, but is it possible that some former John saw Rusty and Gus together and I don't know got upset. It wouldn't be the first time someone got jealous over a prostitute's other Johns."

"First, you'll never refer to Rusty as a prostitute again. He was sixteen. And your theory makes no sense, why after six years would some guy get pissed because he saw Rusty and Gus kissing in the street?" Provenza's hands shook as he waved them aggressively in the air.

Mike decided to jump in before either Provenza had a heart attack or Paige dug herself into a deeper hole, "We still have another 40 plates to run, so something might turn up. In the meantime we're using that new social media program to scan through images that people may have taken around the area to see if someone accidentally caught something on one of their phones."

Provenza took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down, "Good, that's good. What else?" There must be more, they weren't going to find Rusty sitting on their asses, "We need—"

A loud ding filled the room. Julio picked up the phone, "Sir, a text just came in on Rusty's phone. B-Mom: Can't call right now, I'm hanging with Jennifer. On for tonight?"

Paige started to say something, but wisely kept her mouth shut after catching a look from Mike. Julio glanced up to Provenza after reading the message aloud, "What do we write back?"

"Nothing for now, let's see if Sykes and Nolan can reach her at the house in Eagle Rock," he said sitting back down in his chair, "We have more important things to chase down. Let's get through these plates."

XxX

Wes and Nolan pulled up to a beige colored bungalow. It looked a bit old, clearly hadn't been remodeled or torn down to have a new modern home built in its place. Original LA. They took a good survey of the neighbors and other cars in the street. Sharon's car wasn't out front and it didn't seem like it was anywhere on the street.

There was a brass knocker on the outside of a craftsman style door, Wes reached up and gave it a gentle tap three times. It didn't take long for the door to swing open presenting a brunette woman in her mid-40s.

Wes did his usual bit, turning on the charm with a large disarming smile, "Hello I'm Wes Nolan and this is Amy Sykes we are Detectives from the LAPD, are you Jennifer Davis?"

The woman pulled her cardigan across her chest, "Yes, what's happened? Is it Sharon?"

Wes and Amy shared a quick look before asking a follow-up question, "Why would you say that?"

Jennifer gave a shrug, pulling her arms tightly across her chest, "Well, she was supposed to come stay at my place for a few days. She was visiting her son who lives in LA, but she never showed up."

Amy nodded, she could hear the concern in the woman's voice, "When is the last time you heard from her?"

"She sent me a text two days ago saying she didn't think she was going to make it, Natalie was sick and she didn't want to leave Jim and Linda to take care of her," her voice quivered at the mention of the baby, "But then I got another message yesterday saying she was coming to LA after all, but had made arrangements to stay with her son."

None of this was lining up with what Jim told them about Sharon's plans. The detectives were developing their own level of concern for the continued odd behavior that was being described.

"Can we see those messages," Amy asked gently, hoping they wouldn't need to get a warrant.

"Here," she handed her phone over to Amy, "At first I was happy to hear that because I know her relationship with her son has been pretty rocky over the years, but then I remembered that he doesn't have a spare room in his apartment so it just seemed strange." Wes gave Amy a curious look, as far as they knew Rusty never had an apartment. Maybe she was talking about Gus's place. Jennifer continued, "So I texted her back to say she was always welcome to stay here and I'd love to see her if she had the time, but never heard back."

Amy took a few screen grabs of the text messages, noting the day and time of those before emailing them to herself. "Okay, thank you for the information," as she handed the phone back over to Jennifer.

The woman's eyes grew as she began to realize that having two detectives show up asking for Sharon wasn't a positive sign, "Something happened didn't it?"

"We have no reason to think that at this time, we just needed to speak with her about another case and couldn't reach her," Wes smiled and replied in a calm, gentle voice, "We'll be in touch."

The woman nodded, but didn't appear completely convinced, "Please do."

As the pair walked back to the car Amy called Provenza, "Lieutenant, she's not here. Never showed up."

"Shit," he muttered not expecting this turn of events, "how long ago?"

"I'm sending the messages to the team now, we'll need to get a warrant to pull her phone records to confirm, but our best guess is that she was supposed to be here on Thursday - the day before Rusty went missing," she said climbing into the car with Wes, "We're heading back to the station now. Do you want me to keep a patrol car here in case she shows up?"

"Yes," he said nodding to himself, "So with the exception of the message Jim and Linda got this morning, and the reply we got off Rusty's phone, no one else has seen or heard from her in more than two days."

"That's where we're at sir," she felt disappointed in herself that they didn't have more on this case, even though there wasn't anything she could or should be doing differently. But this was Rusty that was missing and that hit home for everyone.

Provenza ran through the list of possibilities, she couldn't be with Gary since he was serving a life sentence for the third strike parole violation. It was a long shot and he hoped he was wrong, "Go check the motels and alleys where she used to get high, maybe the pressure of being a mom to a newborn drove her over the edge."

"Will do," she gave a nod to Nolan as he started the car, "Lieutenant, do we think there's a chance that Sharon has Rusty?" It was a shot in the dark, but one she couldn't help but consider after everything that happened between mother and son that she might be trying to take back her family.

The theory shocked Provenza, not because of how crazy it sounded, but because he hadn't thought of it himself, "Amy you could be right about that. Between post-baby hormones and falling off the wagon, she could have gone off the deep-end. It doesn't explain Gus, but maybe she has someone helping her."

"We'll go check-out her old haunts and let you know if we come up with anything," she said before hanging up the phone. Her theory was just that, and the best way they could run it down is to keep looking for Sharon Beck.

Provenza put his head in his hands and leaned onto his desk as he pondered Amy's notion. It had merit.

Julio was the first to ask the obvious question, "What do we do about the text now?"

"Well we know that's a lie, Sykes said the woman hasn't seen or heard from her," Provenza replied it was obvious that something wasn't right about any of this.

Shrugging in his chair, Julio turned to face Mike, "Maybe she did fall off the wagon."

There was no denying the possibility Mike thought as he pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose, "Lying is certainly the trait of an addict."

"What do we write back?" The question was posed to the entire room, Julio was at a loss for what to even suggest at this point. The idea that Sharon could have "taken" Rusty while not far-fetched was still hard to swallow. He knew the woman was unstable, he'd seen proof of that in the videos of their county jail visitations, but killing Gus that seemed a stretch even for her.

After keeping quiet for the last several minutes Paige chanced opening her mouth with a suggestion. It seemed best to pick a place that would be scene as neutral ground for Sharon, it felt in poor taste to send her to the home of a dead guy, but it was the only card she could think to play. Either she was involved and wouldn't come because she knew Gus was dead already, or she would and they'd get some answers about her suspicious behavior. Paige hoped for the team's sake that she was just another lousy drunk, "Let's just say, sure meet at Gus's apartment at 6. That way we can be there when she shows up - sober or not."

He was loathed to agree with anything Camilla said at the moment, still fuming over her accusatory theory, but she had a point now. Provenza sighed and merely nodded a yes to Julio giving him the go ahead to send the message. He didn't stay to watch Julio type out the message, he doubted they'd get a reply right away - possibly no response at all. His coffee mug had long since been devoid of any rich black coffee and he found himself in need of both the bitter taste of caffeine and a break from all of this.

Walking into the break room he pulled out his cellphone and dialed a familiar number.

"Anything," Andy immediately asked when he saw Provenza's name pop up on the caller id.

"Still no sign of Rusty. We're running license plates from cars in the area from our kidnapping window, nothing yet," he said as he used his free hand to fill the empty coffee pot with water.

"What about Sharon Beck? Sharon's been asking whether or not we've reached her yet," he asked stepping out onto the balcony to have the conversation.

"She wasn't where she told the Lewis' she'd be. She won't answer her phone. We tried sending a message from Rusty's phone and she did reply a few hours later. She said she was with her friend Jennifer, but we know that was a lie because Amy and Wes were there the whole time. We just replied to her message suggesting she meet at Gus's apartment. I'm sending Amy and Nolan down to pick her up at 6, assuming she shows up," Provenza poured the water into the top of the coffee maker and slid in a package of fresh grounds and pushed the brew button. Sounds of coffee percolating filled the break room and for the first time in several hours a tiny bit of pleasure came to Provenza as he knew soon he'd be getting a pick-me up cup.

"Well, Rusty told me a few days ago that his mom was coming to town, so that wasn't a lie. I remember asking him if she was going to be staying at the Best Western down the street from the condo, it's the closest," Andy replied leaning against the railing looking down at the city line trying to spot the motel from his vantage point, as if he could spot her.

"Hmm," Provenza hummed into the phone is thoughts drifting back to Amy's suggestion.

"I know that sound, what is it? What are you thinking?" Andy asked suddenly turning his attention back to his phone.

"Maybe a lead, or a theory really," Provenza kicked his feet on the floor as he watched the coffee drip into the pot, not really sure if he wanted to share the idea with Andy.

"Provenza, spit it out," his voice dipped low and gruff, demanding his friend give him something, anything to go off of.

He paused and decided that it was better to tell him, he would never stop hounding him for it if he didn't, "Something Amy said after meeting with Sharon's friend. Is it possible, could Sharon Beck have fallen off the wagon, or gone hormonal and thought she could take Rusty and bring him home and with the baby have her family back. Could this all be a delusional attempt to put things back together?"

Silence. Andy said nothing. After a few seconds Provenza spoke up, "It's just a theory—"

"A good one. Rusty thought that she might be having some postpartum depression after Natalie was born. He talked to me about his concerns that she could start using again, self-medicate. Given her past it isn't as crazy as one might think," he let out a deep sigh as his brain started to run with the theory.

"We aren't sure how Gus fits into all this yet, maybe she had help, someone that she used to hang out with before or after Gary," he offered up as he poured a cup of the finally finished coffee and took a sip of the hot liquid before heading out of the break room.

"It's definitely worth looking into," Andy said pushing the slider back open and stepping into the living room.

"We're on it. Either way we'll have a better idea whether it has any merit at 6 tonight. I'd suggest bringing the Commander in then," his feet echoed along the hallway as he made his way to his desk.

"Right," and let out a low groan he was doing everything he could to keep Sharon out of this case. "I'm not sure how much longer I'll be able to keep her away from the murder room. She's managed to stay busy with contacting Gus' family and starting to make arrangements for his funeral — to be with Mariana—," he knew that she wanted to be looking for Rusty, but she couldn't argue with the rules she needed to maintain a certain amount of distance from the case. He and Sharon needed to think about the state's ability to prosecute the bastard that took their son. Andy wasn't naive he knew she was texting the team constantly asking for updates, offering up suggestions, he wouldn't be able to keep her away forever. To be fair he was surprised he managed to keep her away from the office for the last 18 hours. Once they left the morgue she'd collapsed, crying in his arms for Gus, for Rusty.

"Andy?" Provenza prodded.

Andy, "Sorry, what were you saying?"

"Has she told the kids?" He asked waiting to finish the call before turning the final corner to his desk.

"She called them this morning, they wanted to fly out but we've convinced them to stay put for the time being. We don't need to extra distraction and worry. I let my kids know of course, Nate doesn't really know him very well but Nicole is pretty upset. The boys adore him, they were just hear hanging out with him a few days ago," it was clear that he was crestfallen, no one could question the love he had for the Kid.

"We'll get him back," Provenza said with as much confidence as he could muster.

"Yeah, alive?" A fair question, but one everyone was afraid to answer. There was no need to reply, heads silently nodded as the pair hung up.

When Provenza opened the door he heard his colleagues throwing out ideas. The growing frustration was evident in Julio's tone, "Can't we just pull her phone records?" He shuddered the thought of Scary Sanchez making an appearance when they finally found the asshole that did this. They might as well place the call to IA now.

Always the level-headed one of the team Mike shook his head no as his eyes remained trained on his computer, his fingers feverishly typing away as he simultaneously ran plates and scanned video files. "She's no longer a parolee, she did her time, until we have something more to go on we're stuck," his hands went up in his own expression of dissatisfaction with the way the case was goin.

Julio passed Paige another stack of negative plates and moved onto the next, "I can't imagine her actually showing up. Can you?"

"Either way it'll tell us something, Julio. Either way," he looked up at the murder board as he spoke muttering either way to himself one final time.

XxX

His fist pounded the wheel, "Did we really expect to find her sitting in an alleyway shooting up?" Nolan shouted.

"No," Amy replied softly trying to calm her partner, but it was a valid point. The chances of spotting her were slim at best. They'd shown her picture around to some of the locals, most said that they hadn't seen her in a long time, figured she was back in County. Everyone else was too strung out to say or do anything useful. "We'll head over to the apartment and sit on it. It's 5 now, I don't think we can worry about her being early."

Nolan snickered, "Right," and turned the car in the direction of Figueroa.

"I think I found something," Mike shouted, his eyes transfixed to his computer as he quickly re-ran the information in his mind. When he finally looked up he saw Sharon and Andy walking into the murder room, "Oh, Commander—"

Provenza gave a silent nod to his partner and Commander before turning his attention back on Tao's update, "Well get on with it already, not getting any younger." Everyone slid forward in their seats, eager to finally have something useful, something concrete to work from.

"Is it the plates," Andy asked as he crossed the room with Sharon by his side.

He shook his head, "No, those are still coming up empty. But Julio took over the few remaining ones we had to run so I could focus on all the video files. I've been going back through all the footage that we collected from Buzz's camera and I've had one of techs going through the rest of it. It was very interesting —"

"Tao, so help me god," Provenza brought his hands to his face rubbing them in an effort to keep himself from shaking Mike for delaying this with his techno-babble. His tolerance for it was low on a good day, and today it was at zero.

"Right," Tao murmured turning back to the computer, "well the image is blurry, but here," he points at the computer image, "you can see someone turning around and walking away just seconds before the explosion goes off. Based on the distance and the height of the propane tank our guy is between 5-10 and 6-3."

"It's hard to tell but he looks white, maybe brown hair? Black?" Julio threw out as he squinted at the image, trying to get his eyes to focus on the important details.

"That's what we're speculating," Paige replied, causing everyone to turn for once she'd gone previously unnoticed in the corner of the room as she listened in on the update she and Mike had been putting together.

Sharon's mind quickly shifted gears, remembering they had more than one case to work on right now. Her focus was clearly and undeniably split, but she pushed her maternal thoughts aside for the moment and let the cop take over, "Okay, so we have a rough idea of who this guy is, and at least now we can confirm the fire department's theory that this was a deliberate explosion. What else do we know?"

"This isn't the only thing we found. Look at these," Paige pulled out stills from the other crime scene videos in evidence, "We see the same size man here and here. Walking in the crosswalk—"

Andy cut her off as he thought he recognized the buildings in the image, "Is that down the street from where Anne's body was found?"

"Yes, two hours after the party Gabriel attended this man walks across Franklin," she took the two print outs and brought them up to the murder board to tack them on for everyone to see.

Mike leaned back in his chair, "It's dark and this video is more grainy than Buzz's, there's no way we can say that's the same man." He wished there was more he could do to enhance either image, to get the guy's face but for once there was no tech fix, no magic for him to work.

"No," Paige said spinning around to face the team, "but the height and build fit our arsonist—"

Mike got out of his chair and picked up another print from the printer, ignoring the requisite printer fee and adding it to the others on the white board, "And then there's this, down the street from Gwen LA the night before—"

"Same build, same height," Sharon could see it as she walked up to the board and gave a close look to the three images from the three crime scenes.

Spinning around in his chair, Provenza scanned the images, "It's even the same blue or maybe black ball cap."

"It seems like a stretch," Andy gave voice to the pessimism laying beneath the surface of the evidence, "I'll give you the image in Buzz's video it definitely puts him there at the right time, but the other two they're hours from our other crimes."

Sharon tried not to let anyone see her shoulders slump, Andy was right. It was a coincidence, but one they could have been looking for as they grasped for any straw to find Rusty. Sharon moved behind Mike to get a closer look at the monitors, "Have we picked him up on any other surveillance video?"

"No," he said returning to his desk, "he's been pretty careful and frankly I'm surprised we even noticed him in these two. If it weren't for the image Buzz happened to capture I think we would have missed it entirely."

Good, this was something Sharon thought as she looked over the images the team was taping to the board. She looked at her watch, 6:34pm, time wasn't on their side and then wasn't much to go on, but it was more than they had an hour ago. "Any word on Sharon?"

Provenza shook his head, "Not yet, our guys will wait there for another hour and if she doesn't show they'll leave a patrol car there just in case."

XxX

Rusty brought a hand to his head, it was pounding violently. He tried to open his eyes, but the light was too painful.

"Ah," he cried out as he shifted on the hard concrete floors, his other arm collapsing under his weight most likely broken.

"Shh, it's going to be okay Rusty. I'm here," a familiar voice whispered out as he felt a warm hand touch his cheek, "I've got you."

Chapter Text

Andy guided Sharon into her office and closed the blinds facing into the murder room. She wouldn't admit that she needed a break of course, that she needed to find a way to keep breathing. As a mother she wanted nothing more than to be driving the streets, knocking down doors to find her son. As a cop, as a Commander of the LAPD she wanted to hunt down the asshole that did this to her family. While the two parts of her weren't all that far apart from one another, reality dictates certain limitations on a person's ability to balance everything in a crisis.

The door closed quietly behind him, and he opted to leave only the one light in the corner of the room on. They'd been back to the station for hours now and the lack of sleep plus the emotional toll was beginning to hit them both hard. Sharon plopped down on her green sofa and lifted one of the pillows into her lap, instinctively pulling it close to her chest. She watched as Andy crossed the room, staring out into the brightly light Downtown LA skyline. She didn't need to ask what he was doing or even what he was thinking, she already knew. Somewhere out there Rusty was being held — or at least they hoped. She couldn't allow herself to think anything other than thoughts of his safe return. The cop part of her brain wanted to reminder her of the odds. The statistics were rapidly slipping out of their favor. No ransom had been made. Gus was killed. The person or persons that took Rusty, have no fear and likely want nothing more than to hurt her, which made for a dangerous combination. Meanwhile, the mother in her knew that even if she didn't carry Rusty in her own womb, that she was so tightly connected to him, that she'd know. She'd know if something had already happened to him. There was no stabbing in her gut, or her heart and so she held onto the hope that the team would figure this all out in time.

Andy's phone buzzed again. He could take three guesses as to who it was. Nicole. Emily. Ricky. They'd been taking turns text bombing him for the last several hours. All of them knew better than to hover over their mother, but Andy was fair game. It was fine, he was glad that they all felt they could come to him at a time like this, he'd spent a life time trying to become dependable again. This, however, wasn't the situation he wanted to be seen as the hero in. This wasn't a situation he ever wanted to have happen, let alone imagine.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone, a smile flickered across his face. Sharon didn't miss it, "Which one?"

"All of them," he turned the phone around to show her that they'd decided to create a group text message chain in order to stay equally informed.

She chuckled lightly, "I see, well it must be the Flynn instigating things again. You know how those Flynn's can be."

"Wha-? No. It's two against one. As usual the Raydor clan is ganging up against us," he shot back glad that she felt a small amount of humor during such trying times.

"My kids are all perfect angels, only a Flynn can corrupt them," she stood up and leaned against him feeling his warmth behind the private blanket the closed blinds were affording them.

"You should know," he whispered into her ear with more affection than sarcasm. He pulled her close, placing a kiss to her hairline, "You should know," he repeated once more to the air more than anything.

There moment was interrupted by a soft knock at the door. It had to be Provenza, no one else would dare step into the safe solitude of the Commander's office right now.

"Come in," Sharon answered pulling away slightly from Andy, but still keeping a hand on his, needing to keep that connection to him.

"She was a no-show," Provenza grumbled, his frustration at the lack of progress clearly showing.

"We expected that," Andy knew it was a long shot, but tried to hide his disappointment from his fiancé, "Patrol staying on the apartment?"

Provenza shifted his weight, there was little else to do on the Sharon Beck front, "Yeah, we left a squad car there, but I can't see her showing up. I think she knows something is up, why else wouldn't she have gotten in touch?"

"I'm still in the she's using again camp," Andy scoffed, he was an addict and he saw it too many times. It didn't take much for a user to start using again.

Sharon turned towards Andy, "I'd hate to think she is, but we can't discount her past, not now, it's too important," she always tried to see the good in people but she was finding it harder and harder to see that in the other Sharon at the moment, "We've checked her old hangout spots?"

The Lieutenant drew a hand across his face, feeling like he was failing his Commander, his best friend, and his — Rusty, "Yes, nothing so far,"

"What about Gary? Has she been in touch with the baby daddy? Maybe we should ask him?" Andy had been chewing on the suggestion for a few hours, but was reluctant to go there, but it was time. Everything was fair game now. Sharon reluctantly nodded, giving the command to go question him.

"I'm on it," he turned glad to finally have something to do, or at least someone's skull to smash into a wall with good reason. He tapped the file folder he had in his hand on the door twice, and began barking orders to the team.

"Wes call up Avenal, I need them to send our friend Gary down here for a chat —" the rest of Provenza's words disappeared as Andy closed the door on their sanctuary and returned to his earlier stance, pulling Sharon back into his chest.

"Do you think we'll find him," her words came out so softly Andy almost didn't hear them, but it was the same question she'd asked him several times since they found out Rusty was missing. His jaw clenched as he bit down on his immediate response, knowing as well as she did that it was unlikely.

"Yes, sweetheart. We'll bring him home," his arms wrapped around her tightly and swayed gently to the rhythm of their hearts beating together.

Sharon wasn't sure how much time had passed, standing in Andy's arms always made her feel like time stood still. Never before had she felt such calmness in another's company, not even with her mother. Being with Andy was like standing in the center of a hurricane, the winds would calm, the rain would stop, and the clouds part for the sun to shine down. The rest of the world could be a swirling chaos, but together they could walk through anything — until now. She worried what this would do to their relationship. Those dark law enforcement thoughts seeped back into her mind, most couples break up, get a divorce over something like this, it ruins people's lives.

Andy felt a shudder roll down Sharon's back, "Babe?" He pulled back and looked into her eyes questioningly, searching them for her silent answer.

"Andy will we be okay?" She stared at him so intently, he thought perhaps she would bore holes into his soul.

He didn't need her to explain what she was talking about, he got it. In fact it was a thought that ran through his mind more than once too, he just didn't dare give voice to the fear. Now wasn't about them, their future together, it was about putting their family back together. Finding Rusty.

"I can't know for certain," he started to say honestly, "But I think so, I hope so." He could have given her a rosy answer, as he had with the notion that they'd find Rusty, but that's not what she needed to hear right now. He vowed to her honesty above all else when they started this relationship, and he wasn't about to skirt the line just because they were being tested beyond imagination.

"Me too," she let out with a deep sigh. She pulled him in tightly for a final hug, enjoying the last moment of silence and calm before stepping back into the murder room. They'd had their moment together, and she'd needed it more than she was willing to admit. But now, now it was time to find her son.

Andy watched her in awe as she gave her blazer a tug to straighten it, wiped any stray tears from her eyes and brushed her dark blue jeans of any imaginary dust. With a deep breath she straightened her back and walked towards the door. He thought back to how he tried to convince her not to get dressed up to come into the office, that she didn't need to wear a blazer, not tonight, but she wouldn't hear it.

"Andy, I need this, can't you understand, I can't be the Commander without it," her voice shook as she stepped into the closet to get her purple Armani blazer.

"Hon, you ARE the Commander. Right here," he placed a hand on her heart, "It's in you. Always."

"But tonight I need to feel that," she gave a small smile hoping he'd understand.

"Okay," he brought his hands down her black shirt to her bare arms, "Okay." He didn't quite understand, but if the suit of armor helped her then he wasn't about to argue. Whatever helped her get through the next several hours, or worst days, was welcome. He reached past her and grabbed his purple button-up.

She smiled as she watched him take off his polo shirt and slip on the shirt, "Thank you," she gave him a peck on the cheek and stepped out of the closet.

His hand ran down the front of his shirt, he almost felt naked without the tie. He knew Sharon appreciated it, and the suspenders, but he wanted to feel relaxed and both additions felt like they were choking him. Black jeans and a button-up shirt kept him respectable, comfortable, and more importantly comforting to Sharon.

He held the door open as they left the office, and watched as she immediately set to work, "What else do we have?"

Tao spun around in his chair, trying to hide his obvious look of surprise at the Commander's reappearance, "Well her phone seems to be turned off. I've set up an alert in case it goes back online, so we can trace it."

Sharon crossed her arms and widen her stance as she stood facing her whole team. "And in the meantime?" Her voice was demanding, insistent as it would sound on any other case that hit a roadblock.

"On the Sharon Beck angle," Provenza started, "Gary will be here inside 4 hours. At this time of night the drive down the 5 won't be too bad. We've sent officers to ask around at Sharon's usual haunts. We're also keeping officers at your condo, Gus's apartment, and the friend's house in case she shows up. A BOLO is out for her car and Cathedral City PD is keeping any eye on the Lewis'," there wasn't much else to do.

"Okay," she nodded acknowledging they were doing all they could on the Beck front, "What else?" She demanded, there needed to be more.

Wes walked up to the board, "Based on the new theory that all these crimes are connected," he pointed to the earlier murders they investigated, "we have officers going door-to-door at all the local businesses by all our crime scenes showing them pictures of Phillip Stroh, no hits so far."

"And homes?" She quickly followed up.

"Yes, the homeowners on the block where Anne was found are being questioned as well," Provenza responded trying to provide his leader with some confidence that they were thoroughly covering all their bases.

"Good," she nodded still running through everything in her mind. Trying to figure out what his game was, but she couldn't get a clear view of the whole picture. There were too many missing pieces to the puzzle, "What about at Gwen, has anyone spoke to the staff there?"

"We spoke to Gus' boss, the restaurant manager and the bartender, but the place was pretty empty when—" his voice trailed off not wanting to mention the attack, murder of Gus and abduction of Rusty.

"Wasn't the restaurant was closed during the abduction," Cami piped up filling the empty air space as she was often apt to do.

"Closed for patrons yes," Sharon started to say moving towards the front of the room, "but staff was beginning to arrive to do set up," she recalled Rusty explaining this to her once when he was headed out to give Gus a lift to work. He mostly worked in the kitchen which required him to arrive two hours before the restaurant opened to begin prepping vegetables.

"It's worth checking," Provenza spun around in his chair and looked to the detective at his right, the one that he hated five years ago, but had grown to love like a daughter, "Maybe someone unloading food deliveries that morning remembers seeing Stroh. Sykes, go back and ask around. While you're at it talk to the owner, I know Rusty never liked the guy, maybe something there."

Sharon nodded in agreement with Provenza's theory. The more she thought about it the more plausible it felt. She tried not to kick herself for not thinking of it sooner, but for once her motherly feelings had clouded her law enforcement instincts. She stepped forward moving between the desks, "Even if they didn't it's possible he was there another time. Stroh is a planner, careful, he could have dined there any night before the—"

Andy nodded and waved his arms in agreement, "Sharon's right, if it is him he would have done his homework," he shifted his weight back and forth on his feet, trying to get a feel for this latest theory. It had to be Stroh, but if it was, what part was Sharon Beck playing in all of it? His gut was telling him that they were missing something. For now though, this is what they had to work with and it was more than worth checking out.

"Got it," she grabbed her gun and badge, slipped it onto her belt and headed out with renewed purpose. Finally, it was beginning to feel like they were getting somewhere.

XxX

He heard the soft sounds of someone singing, but couldn't make out the words. His ears were buzzing. The ringing sensation wouldn't stop. Rusty tried to jam his fingers into his ears, wanting to silence the noise, the singing, the ringing all of it. He cried out when he tried to move his arm, forgetting that there was something definitely wrong with it.

Silence. He needed quiet to think, to figure out how he was going to get out of wherever it was that he was being kept. Biting down on the inside of his cheek to quiet the pain he tried to think, remember the last thing that happened. Gus. An alley. Blood. Nothing. He shook his head in frustration. Nothing. It was all fragmented pieces of a film that he couldn't splice back together. New plan, forget happened. Focus on opening your eyes. Figure out where you are. Get out. He repeated the words Get out to himself over and over again as he struggled to get his eyes to focus on his surroundings. Everything was a blurry mess.

Rusty tried to push himself up off the floor, using his good arm as leverage.

"I'm not sure if that's such a good idea," he heard a voice say but he couldn't make anything out the ringing in his ears hid any details for him to discern. It seemed like the person was concerned, but he couldn't tell. Maybe it was Gus, he hoped.

He tried to open his eyes again. He stared out willing them to focus, but it was useless. Whoever was talking to him was a blurry wash of colors, they might as well be a figure in a Monet painting for all he could tell. Feeling defeated he slumped back down on the ground, then felt a warm hand grab his. He had no idea who this other person was, but the feeling brought him comfort and for the moment he'd take it. Pulling whatever strength he could from the warm touch of another, he once more tried opening his eyes.

XxX

Julio stood up and moved to the murder board, "After Mike's discovery in the video surveillance we've updated our WANT for Phillip Stroh for the arson, and reached out to the FBI who've been leading the investigation. They faxed over this," he tacked onto the board, "These are two properties that have been found to loosely connect back to Stroh. This," he pointed to the first house that was more of a shack, "belonged to a possible Uncle. It's located in the San Gabriel mountains near a camp called Colby — a Methodist group owns it now. And this," he pointed to the second residence, "belonged to his mother."

Provenza laughed as the image of little Stroh and mommy Stroh popped into his head, "Is it hard for anyone else to imagine him having a mother?"

"I figured he just spawned from some primordial goo," Andy gave a shrug and smirked. It was a fair remark. It was never easy to imagine evil people as sweet tottering babies. Certainly it was important to remember the likes of Stroh were still people, but humanizing them like that didn't make the job any easier.

Sharon tried to ignore the joking, everyone had a mother, even pure evil came from somewhere, "Where is it?"

Julio looked to Provenza who gave a slight nod, "Palm Springs ma'am."

The team shared an immediate look of both concern and excitement. Palm Springs was next to Cathedral City. No one believed in coincidences in this line of work.

Andy became serious, all joking disappeared from his mind. Suddenly Stroh having a mother was an important detail. Based on past criminal behavior the idea that there could be mommy issues there or even perhaps some comfort zone, a place for him to return. It felt like critical knowledge, one that was missing before. More importantly though it raised the question of possible association between Rusty's mother and his would-be kidnapper, "Do we have any reason to believe that Sharon Beck and Phillip Stroh's paths could have crossed? I mean, I can't see Sharon working with him, but she's always been susceptible to a strong male influence. Maybe, he's got her convinced that they could be some big happy family together.

"Other than her connection to Rusty, no, she was in Reno when all that went down," Mike offered up as he ran through the facts and timeline of events nearly six years ago.

"Right, but if she was gone and had no clue what he looked like, hell we don't even know what he looks like now," Andy's voice raised in frustration, before he took a second to pull it together, "All I'm saying is that Sharon is an easy target. Women are prey to him. Besides, she fit his type, petite, Blond—" his voice trailed off as he watched the others start to draw their own conclusions from the connections he raised.

"But wouldn't Rusty have showed her a picture at some point, or maybe she'd Google the guy that was hunting her son? I mean he was all over the news after the escape," Wes argued not seeing how it would be possible for Sharon to mistake Stroh for a possible lover, father of the year, real family guy.

"She was in jail during all of that, then sober living. There was a whole year that Rusty and Sharon didn't talk and when they did it was all about trying to rebuild their relationship," Sharon said softly recalling those difficult months of trying to help Rusty through those challenges.

"She was in jail," Paige stated, partly as a question.

"Yes," Provenza replied sarcastically as if there was no way of thinking that someone like Sharon Beck wouldn't end up in prison.

"Yes, but they were both in County at the same time. Her and Stroh," Paige said excitedly feeling like she was on to something, a connection between their possible abductors.

Mike twirled and pointed his pen, "Different facilities, though."

"Right," Paige knew this, but couldn't shake the feeling that it could still be connected. At this point anything was worth checking out, they had no idea where the next lead might be, "but still, it could be something."

Sharon didn't disagree that it was an interesting notion, and based on past knowledge of how easy it was to pass information in and out of County — using Trustees and soon-to-be released inmates, even the medical department. County was a sieve everything passed through from contraband to hits. She didn't want to spend too much time on the theory though, "Cami, why don't you go down to County and talk to some of the officers and see if there's anything to your theory. Don't waste too much time though, if it feels like nothing is there come back."

"Understood," the younger woman nodded grabbing her things.

Sharon placed her hands on the back of Amy's empty chair and looked up at the board again. There was definitely something there. Palm Springs. There had to be a connection. She turned to arguably the most loyal member of her team, the one that would walk through fire and carry them all out to the other side. She trusted everyone on her team, but there was a deeper connection, sense of duty that he carried. Next to Provenza and Andy he was the best person to send out for this job. He could be not only her eyes and ears, but her gut, "Julio why don't you go out to Palm Springs. Talk with PSPD and see what you can find out."

"Yes ma'am," he spun up out of his chair and threw his tan blazer on. He paused and gave her a burning look, a look that said we'll get the bastard. She nodded in silent appreciation to her loyal solider.

Mike pick up his phone, "I'll call the FBI see if we can get warrants to search both residences. They've got more of a case on Stroh then we do," and began to dial over to his contact that could help expedite things. He looked up to Julio, "I should have it before you make it to Palm Springs," it was at least a two hour drive. Thankfully, the growing night hours meant clear roads and fast lanes.

"Good," Sharon said giving the chair back a squeeze and small thwack. For the first time since Rusty disappeared Sharon felt the rush of adrenaline, perhaps this was exactly the break through they needed.

XxX

AN: Thanks to those still hanging in there. Three more chapters to go.

Chapter Text

Ma'am," Julio says into the cell phone, turning away from the strip mall behind him, "PSPD found Sharon Beck's car."

"Where?" Sharon tapped the button on her phone to put Julio on speaker so the rest of the team could hear his latest update.

The wind whipped in the background, "On Rio Blanco Rd, it's a street behind a local strip mall. We were headed to the Stroh house when the call came in. Patrol was in the area on another call when they saw the car," Julio shouted turning his face away from the head wind so they could hear him clearly.

The team shared a quizzical look trying to figure out why her car which was supposed to be in LA was still sitting in Palm Springs. Nothing was making sense to Sharon, and it was causing her frustration to build, she took a breath, "Do we have any idea why her car would be there?" She felt awful that she had no clue why it would be there, as though she was some how dropping the ball, that maybe Rusty told her something about his mother's activities or schedule before heading to LA and she was too distracted to give it her full attention. She tried shaking the evil thoughts of guilt from her head, from thinking that planning her wedding clouded her vision from what where now important facts.

"Not sure. There's a Mexican restaurant, a nail salon, a few other places, but there's not really much out here," he replied his own confusion spilling in his voice.

Tao quickly pulled up a map of the area for the team to see the exact location of the car in relation to the rest of the Palm Springs area and her home in Cathedral City. "Looks like it's near the airport," he reported loud enough for Julio to hear him.

Julio looked west, "Yes it's not too far. It's also not far from Cathedral City. I'm going to go with local PD to ask the businesses here if they've seen her. See if we can get any more information."

Andy leaned into the phone, "Any sign of disturbance in the vehicle?"

"No, nothing. It looks like it was abandoned," he replied grateful on one hand that it didn't appear to be the site of a crime scene and yet disappointed in the continued lack of leads in this case.

"Thanks Julio, let us know what you find out," Sharon said noting that there wasn't anything else to gain from that line of investigation at this point. Hopefully after the canvas they'd know more.

"Will do," he replied before hanging up.

Sharon walked up to the wide array of monitors in RACR and stared at the map Tao had pulled up, a star marking the site of the car, "Why not park the car in the parking lot?" She asked turning to the team, her finger pointing at the large lot in front of several shops, "There's plenty of space.

"Maybe she was going to the business behind the strip mall, what is it? A pool store?" Andy offered up, "Do Jim and Linda have a pool?" He felt bad that he didn't know himself, but Rusty had only been out there three or four times since moving his mom out last summer, and a description of the house was low on the conversation report. Everything in the last year had been baby this and baby that, so honestly he too had no clue why Sharon Beck would be in the area.

"Well, at least it explains why no one has been able to locate it here in LA," Provenza shrugged, he didn't particularly care why the other Sharon was there only that it continued to complicate matters in locating her and therefore Rusty.

Wes spun around, "So, do we think she caught a ride to LA?" "

Tao followed up, "Carpooling with a friend maybe?"

Wes quickly countered that notion, "Well if she did that would be news to the gal she was supposedly staying with, also how does that fit in with her saying she'd meet Rusty at Gus's apartment last night? If she didn't have a car?"

"Uber, Lyft, you don't have to own a car these days to get around," Tao state matter-of-factly the issue at hand wasn't so much that Sharon didn't get to LA, if she was indeed in LA, in her own car, but that no one had seen or heard from her in 24 hours.

"Mike, check her credit cards again and see if there's been any activity, specifically a ride-share service," Sharon was about to go on when her phone buzzed. She caught Andy's eye before stepping out to take the call.

"Right, so we stick on Sharon Beck and in the meantime where are we with the warrant for the uncle's place," Provenza asked turning the focus squarely back on Stroh.

"Still waiting for it to come through, the Feds don't seem to be have the same level of urgency as we are to get that approved," Wes gave an annoyed shrug and the beaurcpatic bull shit he'd been dealing with all morning.

"Maybe we should have Fritz call in a favor to his old buddies. He has a vested interest in all things Stroh," Flynn offered up the reasonable suggestion.

"And why are you still sitting here?" Provenza demanded.

"Right, if I don't get anywhere I'll call Deputy Howard," Wes spun out of his chair and exited RACR intent to get someone to authorize this warrant.

Once the room had cleared Provenza turned to Flynn and asked quietly, "Whose she on with?

"No, they're pretty much bombarding me at the moment for information, that's her mom," he tried to keep his voice steady in response. Her mother wasn't in great health and Sharon worried that the stress of all this would be too much for her, but like daughter, like mother she wouldn't hear any of it. She'd been better than the kids about respecting both her need for space and the dealings of the job, but still promised to check in regularly.

Flynn gave his chair back a pat and stepped out into the hall headed for Sharon's office. He caught her eye and gave a nod, he'd give her some space for the moment he could see that just talking with her mother was making her choke up again. As grateful as he knew she was for all the support he could tell that right now she needed the comfort of the cloak that the LAPD brought to her, she needed to focus on the job. He popped into the break room and fixed a cup of chai tea, it was her 'I don't feel like coffee, but need caffeine' tea choice. The warmth and spice would help fortify her for what he knew to be challenging hours to come. By the time he reached the murder room he could see Sharon wiping away the stray tears from her cheeks, the phone was on the desk signaling that they were done for now.

"Hey," he whispered as he entered her office, "Made you some tea."

She came to him straightaway and leaned into his chest, hard, almost knocking him off balance. He quickly set the tea down before it could spill on either of them, "Hey now." He spoke softly as he pulled her against him.

Sharon let the warmth of his arms calm her, as she listened to his silent breathing steadying hers into the same rhythm. She finally muttered, "Mom sends her love."

Her head shook slightly as his chest reverberated with laughter, "Sometimes I think your mom loves me more than you love me."

"If she wasn't so happily married to my father, I think I'd have to worry," Sharon replied softly carrying the joke.

He stood there holding her in silence for a moment, knowing that's all they had right now, "So what has you all upset," he dared to ask.

Sharon leaned her head back and looked at him briefly, "She says she and Dad are going to fly out here," then dropped it back onto his chest.

"Ah," it didn't need any further explanation. Flying was the last thing either one of them should be doing right now, but they'd do it for their daughter, to be by her side during the most difficult time in her entire life. That's who they are, and Andy couldn't fault them for that he'd do the same if the situation dictated.

"Yeah," she muttered and took a deep steeling breath.

Andy looked over Sharon's head and saw Mike approach the office and gave him a quick look, asking for just another minute with her. "Sweetheart," he made her look up at him, "we will deal with one thing at a time alright. Everyone means well, I know they do, but I get that it's just making you more worried. So I'll give you mom a shout in a little while and just ask them to hold off buying the tickets just yet. Let's focus on finding Rusty and then we'll go from there. Alright?"

Sharon sighed, she was so good at organizing her thoughts. Compartmentalizing this part of her life to be separate from that part but now it seemed like everything was leaking and streaking together it was making it hard for her to think clearly and to stay focused. She stared into her fiancé's eyes and could see his love and felt the strength he was imparting to her with each breath. She closed her eyes and then opened them, "Okay," she didn't need to do this all alone.

Andy gave Tao a nod letting him know they were done for now. The other man to his credit gave them another moment before quietly knocking on the door. Sharon had already taken a step back from Andy, but was still holding his hands when Tao stepped inside her office.

"Ma'am," he paused waiting for her to acknowledge him, that now was an okay time.

"Yes," Sharon brushed down her blazer and turned around, "Sorry, I need to take that call. Do we have something?"

He gave an understanding nod, "Yes, well maybe, he started to say." Andy gave him a little glare urging him to get to the point quickly, "Julio just called back in about Sharon Beck."

"Okay, we'll be right there," she responded picking up her tea that Andy brought and her phone while Mike quietly stepped back out of the office and went down the hall.

"You gonna be okay?" Andy asked placing his hand on the familiar spot on her lower back.

She nodded, "I'm not sure what okay looks like at this point Andy, but we better get on with it."

The pair walked out of her office and headed into RACR. As soon as the sliding glass doors opened she announced her presence, "Julio I understand you've got a lead?"

"Commander," Julio was always one to be formal, "it turns out Sharon works at a nail salon part time as a receptionist mostly in the evenings, she's new only started working there about a month ago."

"Explains why she was in the area," Andy immediately offered up, the news of her getting a job came as a bit of surprise to him and he could tell for Sharon as well. The baby was nearly a year old, it made sense that she might look for work, but she hadn't mentioned it to Rusty, or maybe he didn't know. He shook the confusing and most likely irrelevant thoughts from his head and focused on the case, "Do they require employees to park in the back?" It was the one oddity that still didn't make sense.

"Doesn't seem to be a policy, but she did lock up that night and may have parked there for convenience," Julio offered up the information with a quiet tone.

Provenza put his hands in the air before crossing them behind his head, surprised that this is the first they were learning of any of this."Why didn't anyone call it in when they saw her car there the next day? Hell, why didn't Jim tell us this on the phone."

Sharon gave Provenza a pointed look to calm down, she didn't know why the information wasn't shared sooner but people only gave you tidbits of information during an investigation. It was frustrating as hell, but they couldn't do anything more about it right now.

Julio continued, flipping through his notebook, "Apparently one of her co-workers did text her and she replied saying she had car trouble and was going to have a friend take her to LA and that she'd get the car fixed when she got back."

"Did they say who this friend was? Or when they got the message?" Andy asked wondering if they could cross-reference the names with any of her past associates, maybe she had started drifting back into her old lifestyle after all.

"Two days ago," Julio replied knowing it fit with their timeline, but didn't help them much, "and no information on who might have given her the lift."

Sharon let his words hang in the room for a moment. They were doing everything they could to track down Sharon Beck's whereabouts, but now they needed to focus on the real reason why Julio was sent to Palm Springs, "Okay, you've got the warrant to search Gwendoline Stroh's house for any signs linking back to Phillip and his whereabouts?"

"Yes. Palm Springs PD is going to come with me to serve the warrant. The place is about five miles from here. I'll check back in when we have more to go on," he answered walking back to his car and hanging up. He hoped there would be more to go on after he went through Phillip's mother's home. It was a long shot, but there had to be a reason why everything kept coming back to Palm Springs.

XxX

"Are you sure about this?" Amy laid into the manager Aiden. She couldn't stand the guy, and understood why Rusty was so suspicious of him and his behavior with Gus. It was obvious that he had a thing for Gus and despised Rusty, if they weren't stuck on Stroh for this she could see some kind of jealousy play happening.

"I went over the tapes myself," he started to say, "I didn't see anything unusual."

Amy lifted the picture, "And you're positive that you didn't see this man in your restaurant in the last week? It's possible he's changed his hair color or grown a beard."

The man started to shake his head no.

"If you cared at all for Gus you'd take another look at this," she demanded going for the jugular as she shoved the picture back at him.

He hesitated and Amy knew she had something. Aiden squinted at the two images Amy had of Stroh. One was of him several years prior to his arrest wearing glasses and his hair slicked back, the other was taken around the time of his escape. His hair had grown out some and he'd lost the glasses. He looked up, "It might be possible."

Amy knew she needed to push, it felt like they might be getting their first solid lead on Stroh in years. They had sightings and spotting galore but nothing concrete, "Show me." She headed towards the back room not waiting for Aiden to lead the way, there was no time to waste. She pushed open the door and looked back at him, "Now."

Aiden hurried into his office and slouched into his chair, clicking away at his computer as he brought up the surveillance video. Amy pulled out her phone and shot off a quick text to Provenza, "May have a lead on Stroh."

Aiden scrolled through the files until he found one from Tuesday night. Weekdays were notoriously slower, but this Tuesday seemed abnormally busy with customers. "We had a corporate party come in to our private dining area which meant Gus wasn't able to work in the kitchen that night."

"Is that usual?" Amy pressed.

Aiden spun around in his fancy leather office chair and gave a small shrug, "For him to wait tables, not too unusual he usually gets time in the kitchen Tuesday to Thursday night —"

Amy bit her tongue she could see the fond look in his eyes, he had him up front the other days, so he could be around Gus that much was clear to her, but she remained focused, "But this Tuesday that wasn't the case?"

"No, one of our waitresses Jessica was a no-show and with the last minute booking of the corporate group we were short-handed up front, so I had to pull Gus," his tone was devoid of any worry or concern that one of his staff was a no-show, but it tickled Amy's gut.

"Have you heard from Jessica since?" Amy's threat level was raised, this beginning to sound too well-orchestrated.

"No, actually, we had to let her go since she was a no-call, no-show for three consecutive shifts. Losing her and Gus—" he paused, "it's been hard." He lamented about his business, as though Gus just took another job and left him shorthanded on purpose.

"What's Jessica's last name?" Amy demanded clearly concerned by the fact that the woman hadn't been seen now for several days. It didn't mean it was connected, but it seemed like with this case everything was, everything meant something.

"Ferrera," he replied confused at her insistence to discuss a lackluster employee.

Amy pulled out her phone again and rapidly typed out another text, "Send someone out to check on a Jessica Ferrera, missing employee from Gwen. Last seen or heard from on Monday night." The returned her focus on the slime ball in front of her, "And this corporate group, you said it was a last minute booking?"

"Uh yeah, like I said Tuesday's aren't very popular especially for events, but I got a call that morning from some assistant saying that they were having a dinner for their board of directors and something happened with their other venue. I told her it'd cost extra but we could do it. She said money wasn't an issue," he leaned back comfortably in his chair as he spoke, bouncing his foot slightly more out of boredom it would seem than nervousness.

"How many people?" Amy pressed on with the facts.

"12 men in suits showed up at 7pm and were here until about 9:30," Aiden replied looking back at the event order details that were on his desk.

Amy nodded, it sounded reasonable, but she needed to see the video to be certain of anything, "Can you pull up the video from that night?"

"Sure," spun back around in his chair and pulled it up. He fast-forwarded until the large group arrived, "Here they are."

Amy took note of the men, they were all well-dressed in their mid 40s and looked genuinely like a group of corporate executives. "Okay, and where's Gus?"

He flipped the video from the private dining room and bar area over to the main dining room, "Here he was working tables 3, 5 and 7 that night. Our non-reservation tables."

"Is that where he normally would work when he's not in the kitchen?" Amy knew staff usually worked specific zones or areas of a restaurant and someone like Stroh might know that too, figured out where Gus would be working.

"Yes," he nodded still focused on the screen. He slowed down the fast-forward when they got to 8pm, "Here is the man I was thinking of when I looked more closely at the picture you showed me."

Amy looked at the time stamp, 8:07pm a single man, dressed in a nice suit walked through the restaurant following the hostess and sat down in Gus' section. His back was to the camera, "Can you rewind and show me his entrance?"

"Uh yeah," he switched camera angles and brought the time back ten minutes, "here's when he walked in."

He kept his head ducked down and body turned a bit sideways as he spoke to the hostess, clearly aware of where the camera were located. She wasn't going to get anything from this vantage point. "Okay switch back. Do we ever get a view of his face?"

He shook his head, "Not a great one, but here when he leans over to hand Gus the bill he turns his head slightly. I remembered him because it seemed like he was into Gus."

"I bet, that's why you remembered him," Amy stated sarcastically annoyed every minute she had to sit with this man, "Okay freeze it." Amy stared image it was a profile and a slightly low-res one but the man fit Stroh's build. His face was covered by a dark beard, but there was something in the eyes. Her gut was convinced, it had to be him. "Print this out, and get me a copy of the video from this day."

He pulled out a flash drive and uploaded the surveillance video while the printer churned to life and spat out a picture of Gus with the mystery man, most likely his killer and the man who was holding Rusty captive.

XxX

It didn't take long for Julio and the PSPD officers to make the drive up to the expansive homes east of downtown Palm Springs. The homes were large and spread far apart from one another, it was clearly a wealthy part of town. They drove up the long driveway to a mid-century style home. Julio noted the car next to the garage as he stepped out of the cruiser, the oppressively dry heat hitting him in the face. Two PSPD officers walked up the steps and knocked on the door while Julio stood behind them near a vast fountain. He wasn't sure what to expect, but the nurse who answered wasn't it.

"Hello?" The young woman in dark purple scrubs said with a question in her voice.

"Hello ma'am, we are from the Palm Springs Police Department, and we have a warrant to search the residence," the officer stated.

Julio stepped forward and handed the woman a copy of the warrant, "Is Ms. Stroh home?"

"Yes, she's in the other room," the young brunette nodded.

"Are there any other persons in the house?" The officer asked keeping a hand on the gun holstered to his belt.

She shook her head no and stepped aside for the officers. Julio followed PSPD inside, grateful for the cool air of the A/C blowing. He walked through the entry way, stopping at a photograph of a building he recognized. He snapped a picture a shot it off to Tao, "Isn't this the same place?"

Then continued down the hall before turning right into the room that nurse pointed to. Across the room he found a frail looking woman sitting in a chair with a pile of blankets on her lap.

"Ms. Stroh," he said softly not wanting to startle her, "Ms. Gwendoline Stroh?"

The woman made no response, and didn't bother to even look up at the source of the new voice in the room.

Julio stepped closer, "Gwendoline?"

Finally the woman looked up at him, "Are you the new gardener?" She asked.

"No ma'am. I'm with the Los Angeles Police Department, Detective Julio Sanchez," he flipped out his badge to show her his identification.

"Can you make sure you don't trim too much off my crepe myrtle trees this time?" Her head trembled slightly as she spoke, her white hair shaking with it.

"Ma'am, I'm here about your son, Phillip," he knelt in front of her as she was such a small woman he otherwise towered over her.

"Son?" She gave him a perplexed look, maybe even wistful.

Julio nodded, "Yes, your son Phillip Stroh."

"I don't know any Phillip," she paused and looked out the window and back at Julio, "Are you the new gardener?"

The nurse stepped into the room, "She has dementia."

Julio nodded, he was starting to gather that idea, "Does she get many visitors? Family?"

"No," she spoke sadly, "Her financial planner stops by once a week to help with the bills, and her stepson," the nurse added.

"Stepson?" This was news to Julio, and to the team they didn't know that Stroh might have any other family in the area.

"Yes, Hunt," she smiled, "I mean Hunter Sanford," she added for clarity.

"Does he live nearby?" Julio asked standing up from his crouched position, but remained near the elderly woman.

The woman lifted a pillow from the couch and brought it over to her patient, helping her lean for forward a bit, "He lives in Pasadena, but everything feels far away here with the traffic. He makes the drive out here at least once a month to check-up on her," she set the pillow behind the woman's back and then helped her settle back in.

"And his father? I imagine that would be her husband," Julio inquired noting very few pictures in the room which he thought was odd for someone with dementia. He'd heard that many people find it helps the person remember, but maybe with a kid like Stroh her memories were far too painful to want to recall.

"Jim, he passed away about six or seven years ago, massive stroke I think," the woman continued tending to Ms. Stroh.

Julio nodded and walked around in the living room, looking out the window towards the backyard which faced a golf course, "And how long have you worked for Ms. Stroh?"

"Only six months, the agency brought me in," she smiled, "I'm originally from Arizona."

The woman reached out for Julio's arm, "Please don't cut down my crepe myrtle's," she said interrupting the conversation.

"We won't ma'am," he said before rising realizing they weren't going to get anything useful from her. He left the nurse to tend to her and continued with the task of searching the house for anything that might tie back to Stroh, give them some idea where he might be holding Rusty.

XxX

Mike pulled out his phone and looked at the image Julio sent him and sent it up onto the monitors. It looked like an old photograph, but when he brought it up to the side by side of the uncle's ranch house it was clear, "It's the same place."

"What's that Mike?" Andy asked hearing him mumbling.

"Julio found this photograph," pointing to the image on the left, "At Stroh's mom's place. It's the same building as on the right. Looks like it was taken not long after it was built."

Andy stepped forward, "It looks like there might be people in it, any chance you can blow it up?"

"Give me a sec," Tao went back to the image Julio sent and zoomed it and tried to enhance it to counteract all the pixelation he was getting, "You're right it looks like an older man and maybe his son?"

"Could it be Stroh as a boy?" Andy shuddered at the disturbing thought of this sociopath as a young child.

"I suppose, the timing would be right, but whose the man?" Tao replied

"I'd guess the uncle, no one has an idea where his father is, or who he even is. The mom left it blank on the birth certificate, Stroh is her maiden name," Andy flipped through his file even though all of this was committed to memory at this point.

"She didn't change it when she re-married?" Tao rubbed his chin thinking it odd that she wouldn't want to shed the moniker after all that her son had been accused of, not wanting to be tied to his past.

"Guess not," he shrugged walking back to the screens staring at the picture. It looked like it was taken in the late 60s if the yellow tinted fade and brown stripped shirt the kid was wearing was any indication.

Wes stepped off the elevator and felt like running into the murder room, he'd practically ran from the courthouse across the street. Instead he took a deep breath and proudly held up the warrant, "The ink might still be wet," he exclaimed to an empty room. He looked around and noticed that no one was in Sharon's office either. With the wind fully out of his sails he trudged towards RACR.

"And you're back. Did you finally get the warrant?" Provenza asked before the glass doors could fully open for Wes to step inside.

"Ink is still wet. Got Hobbs—"

"Well it's about time!" Provenza shouted cutting off Wes from explaining.

Sharon gave her second in command another pointed look, asking him with her eyes to reign it back in, and then turned to Wes to continue.

"Like I was saying," he turned squinting his eyes at Provenza before returning his attention to the rest of the team, "I got Hobbs involved, she found a judge, a friend of the late Judge Schaffer—"

"That was underhanded, and brilliant, I don't know why I didn't think of that," Provenza let out with a chuckle.

"I think you were too busy being annoyed," Tao shot back under his breath.

Sharon folded her arms over her hips and shifted her weight, despite the lack of heels the impact was the same and the team settled down and Wes finally finished, "And after laying it all out he signed off on the warrant to search the ranch."

"Good, very good," Sharon replied feeling like they were finally starting to catch a break, "Let's get a team together—"

The doors slid open and Amy walked in, "I think we may have a link to Stroh and restaurant," she said holding up the image Aiden printed and then handed Tao the thumb drive. Amy handed the image over to Sharon.

"It's hard to say for sure it's him," Andy said remorsefully as he got as close to it as his eyes would allow for him to focus, from behind Sharon's shoulder.

"True, but the way he evades being seen by the cameras and the fact that he was seated in Gus' section on a night Gus wasn't suppose to work, feels like there's something there," Amy paused and turned her attention to Provenza, "Any word on Jessica the missing waitress?"

"Not yet, patrol was going to go by her apartment and do a welfare check. Her social media accounts have been inactive since Monday night," Tao leaned back wishing they had more, but for now it was for another department to follow-up on, they had enough on their plate as it was.

"Could be Stroh," she said when she caught a glimpse of the young blond woman's face on her Facebook profile.

Sharon hand the image over to Andy and moved back to the monitor to get a good look at this possible latest victim, "It could be, or it could be another dead-end. If it is Stroh he's going to want us sitting here spinning our wheels, chasing down leads that go nowhere."

"Is it just me or is it just a bit of a coincidence that the name of the place Gus worked was Gwen and Stroh's mom's name is Gwendoline," Wes said spinning around in his chair to face his Commander. Everything about this case felt odd and random, yet so clearly connected to something else. It was like there were invisible threads running throughout the city connecting one thing to another, but they couldn't seem to see them until they tripped over one. It was frustrating as hell, even more than biting his tongue during undercover work. He could play a role, pretend all day and night it turned out, but this was something he was struggling to come to grips with.

The comment fell in the room, there wasn't anything to say in response. It was a coincidence. Or maybe it wasn't. Arguably at this point it didn't matter, it was too late to draw any conclusion that would have made any kind of difference. It was too late to save Gus's life, and possibly to save Rusty.

Tao flipped the screen back to the ranch house, "It's clear this house holds importance to Stroh. He may have gone there as a kid, spent time with his uncle."

Sharon crossed the room and looked at the structure, it was possible, "Wes, Amy, why don't you coordinate with the Sheriff's office and the forest service and go search the area. It's the end of summer and the facility might not be in use by the Church or anyone else at the moment."

"Ma'am," Amy said waiting for Wes to get up with the warrant before she turned and said, "If he's there will find him ma'am, we'll find him."

Wes nodded in agreement and the two partners headed back to the murder room to grab their weapons and gear, it could be a hike up the hill to the house. The satellite details were sketchy as to its exact location. With all the fires that had swept through the canyons in the last twenty years it was also possible that it wasn't standing any more, but whatever was left they needed to check it out, to cross it off their list for certain.

XxX

"Sir, I think we may have found something relevant to your case," one of the Palm Springs techs called out.

Julio gave the spare room another look over before following the sound of the voice into the hall where he spotted the tech standing. She waved towards the room down an adjacent hallway, "This way, it looks like someone's office." From what Julio could tell the room was rarely used, most likely the only person that ever came in here now was the person helping with the books. Everything was too clean and organized for someone with dementia to be managing it on their own, "What is it?"

One of the other techs who was dusting for fingerprints held up several sheets of paper, "Monthly bill stubs for a storage locker."

He quickly took the five steps from the doorway to the desk, "Is there an address for the unit?"

"Not that I can find, just gives the account information and the size of the unit," the young man replied handing out the paper for Julio to take.

Julio quickly gave the last three months of invoices a once over, "How many months are there?"

"We could only find these three, it seems that's the way they handle all their bills," the female tech replied lifting up other invoices, "Electricity. Gas. Sewer. Everything goes back three months and that's it."

Julio nodded, it wasn't surprising, he didn't keep anything beyond the previous month himself, but this meant there was no way to tell how long she'd had the storage unit or even where it was located. It could be filled with the late husband's effects for all he knew. He stepped out of the room and pulled out his phone, "Lt, we've found receipts for a storage locker, but no Indication where it is. If I give you the account information do you think we could find out where it is?"

Tao quickly replied pulling out a sheet of paper to jot down the latest information Julio managed to find, "Sure thing, read me the numbers," he clicked his ball point to the ready.

"Alpha Charlie 9-0-4-6-1-1-7-9 Delta, and it's for Public Storage. Bill says it's a 10x10 unit," he replied flipping over the bill to see if there was anything else worth passing along.

"Gotcha, I'll check it out and let you know if it's in Palm Springs. Is it Stroh's?" He inquired hoping that they could get some confirmation on whether this might be a real lead to follow.

"Not sure," Julio sighed wishing he could give them more to go on then what he had at the moment.

"I'll see what I can find out and then fast track another warrant," Tao dropped the pen on his desk and looked across the room to Provenza who was listening into half the conversation intently.

Julio hoped that there was more positive news coming from Los Angeles, "Anything else on your end?"

"Still chasing down leads, It took awhile to get the other warrant. Amy and Wes are headed up to the ranch now," Tao replied the exhaustion and frustration ebbing from his voice.

Julio silently nodded his head, looking up towards God praying that his colleagues would have more concrete luck than he was having, "Ok, we'll keep searching here. Could be another few hours the place is huge," he looked out the second floor bedroom at the desert views. The sun would set in a few hours, he imagined it would be beautiful from this spot, beautiful on any other day that is.

"Got it, will keep you posted," Tao hung up and returned to his computer in the murder room to follow-up on this latest bit of news.

Provenza followed him out of RACR, "Was that Julio? Anything to go on?"

"Maybe, just going to look it up now," he waved the piece of paper with the account number on it. He plopped down at his desk and picked up his phone to call the Public Storage customer service department, "Yes, I'm trying to get some information on one of your storage lockers—"

Provenza looked around and felt the weight of the emptiness of the room upon him. Sharon and Andy disappeared off somewhere after Wes and Amy left. Julio was still in Palm Springs. Cami was headed back from County, with a whole lot of nothing. It was just him and Tao left. A shiver when down his spine at the feeling. He checked the clock and realized he might just catch Patrice on her way back from visiting her granddaughter. Pulling out his phone he stepped out of ear shot from Tao, to the space formerly known as the super cubicle and shot off a short text to his wife. He waited a few minutes to see if she'd respond before going in search of the Commander and Flynn. Whatever Tao was discussing was probably going to be significant and they needed to be ready for whatever this next thing would be.

"Are you sure I can't get you something more substantial to eat?" Andy handed her a napkin and returned to his chair.

"I'm sorry, I'm just not very hungry," she shook her head setting her late lunch back onto the table and leaned into the plastic chair in the break room.

"I get it, I really do. If I didn't have to eat for my blood pressure I probably wouldn't be either," he grumbled before taking another bite of his greek salad. It wasn't much, but it would give him a little bit of energy, hopefully enough to keep an eye on her, to keep everything together until they brought Rusty home.

She sighed and begrudgingly picked up her bowl and took another few bites of her chicken caesar salad, she tasted nothing, but knew it might help silence the stomach pains she felt roll through her body. Besides a banana nut muffin she picked at several hours ago, she hadn't managed to take in much. She was sure she'd lost five pounds already, and while she didn't mind trimming down just a little before the wedding, but this certainly was not her idea of dieting.

Andy looked up and caught her eyes as she nibbled and poked around for the last few chunks of chicken, "Thank you," he whispered.

Provenza knocked on the glass a moment later and gestured towards the murder room. Andy picked up their plates and wiped down the table, "Break's over." Sharon put her blazer of armor back on and waited for Andy, squeezing his hand as they walked back together.

"You're sure about that," replied excitedly before adding "Okay, thanks," then he hung up the phone and turned around to what was left of their group. He picked up his notes, "She's had the storage locker since 1992, it's across the street from MacArthur Park."

Flynn leaned up against Julio's desk and crossed his arms, MacArthur Park felt significant to him, in his gut this felt like something worthwhile, "Didn't Stroh go to USC for Law School around that time?"

"Yes," Tao quickly replied, "and we know Wade Weller operated in that same area too."

Provenza pulled the chair out from his desk and sat down, leaning back and looked across to his partner, "So Mommy Stroh has been paying for a large storage locker over a 100 miles away from where she lives, that is conveniently located near her son's alma mater, while he was attending said school. That feels too perfect, how did we not connect those dots sooner, hell even the FBI should have figured that out!"

It was a fair question, all of it seemed blatantly obvious and yet they never put any of this together at the time. They were so focused on his victims, on protecting Rusty, on his escape they hadn't bothered doing a significant deep dive into his past. Sharon picked up the copy of the invoices Tao must have printed out. It was clear, they didn't say Stroh. "The bills are being sent to a trust which is the step-father's last name, nothing with Stroh is ever completely tied to Stroh, that's how he's managed to stay one step ahead of us all this time," she set the invoices down and braced her hands against the pony wall behind Mike's desk and leaned her head forward down processing this latest bit of Stroh history.

Tao looked at Sharon and paused, wondering whether he should continue yet or not. He looked up to Andy for a cue, when he gave a silent nod Tao pulled up a map of the area, "It is in his hunting zone. Both Jessica Goodall and Lauren Clark lived in this area, and the hotel where Gweneth Adler's body was found isn't too far away, maybe everything centers here," he pulled out his laser pointer and circled the area.

Sharon pulled her head up and stared at the projection screen. Mike was right, that's where he operated back before the Chief started looking into him. His law school was his hunting ground it'd make sense that whatever was in that locker, in the center of it all would be important — especially if his mother was still footing the bill for it. They needed to get into that storage facility. She looked at her wrist, checking her watch, it was getting late, "Mike, call Hobbs put a request in for a warrant for the storage locker." Sharon turned towards Louie, "Lieutenant I'd like you to go check the area, see if there's any sign that he could be keeping," she paused, "keeping Rusty there. Once the warrant comes in I'll send Cami along to meet you and conduct a thorough search, there has to be something there that can help us figure out where he is, or what his next move might be."

"Will do," Mike picked up his phone and started dialing DDA Hobbs to ask for yet another warrant. He checked his watch and hoped that she'd still be in. He caught Provenza's eye as he opened his drawer and pulled out his gun and badge, clipping it onto his waistband. They shared a brief and silent nod, be safe. Sharon gave Andy's arm a squeeze and retreated into her office while he got up and followed Provenza out of the murder room.

They stopped at the elevators waiting for a car to come up to the 9th floor, "You keep an eye on her," Provenza waves his finger in his best friend's face.

"You don't need to tell me that, I'm keeping her here even if it means I need to duct tape her to that chair," he points to her office, "Stroh wants Sharon that's the next play and no matter what's happened to Rusty she doesn't need to see that, not ever,"

"Good, good," he pats Flynn on the shoulder, "We'll get him and bring Rusty home, you see."

"We better," Andy bowed his head down and looked back down the hall towards Sharon's office and then back to his friend, lowering his voice, "I'm not sure how she'll take it otherwise."

Provenza merely nodded in response, they all knew how it would crush her soul to lose one of her kids and he was determined to do everything in his power to avoid that outcome, even if it meant praying. He grabbed his coat, "Let me know when you've got the warrant, I'm not going to wait another minute."

"Will do," he paused as he watched Provenza step into the elevator, "Thanks for helping to look after my family Louie, but that includes you too so be safe."

The doors closed before either one could add a sarcastic remark to the tense and emotionally wrought moment. Andy stood at the elevators for another moment wondering if that might be the last time he would see his friend, the ground beneath their feet seemed like every shifting sands designed to keep you from being able to get your feet steady. He looked up and said a silent prayer, for whatever his words might mean to God, to bring his family back in one piece.

XXXXX

AN: Wow, long chapter I know. A few more long updates until the end. You'll have noticed by now that I've changed certain canon details to fit into the paradigm of my story. It'll become clearer when you reach the end why I've done this, and I hope you all can appreciate the direction I've taken. Lots of research has gone into these final few chapters and I think it really pays off, hopefully you feel that way too. Lots more action to come so hold on. I'll update as soon as life allows. Thanks to the loyal few.

Chapter Text

Amy looked around at the scenery as Wes pointed the dark grey Ford Explorer down the windy roads of the back canyons of the San Gabriel Mountain range. Normally, she preferred to drive but Wes claimed, or rather whined the whole elevator ride down to the parking depot that he gets car sick. She'd rolled her eyes, but reluctantly agreed to drive. If she was being honest with herself she needed a few minutes to re-center herself. She, they, had all been going nonstop since Gus's body was discovered and it was beginning to take its toll. Looking over at Wes, she could see the strain in his face too. She pulled out two Luna bars from her bag and tossed him one, "Here, eat."

Wes read the label and raised his eyebrow at her, "What this? This is for girls."

Amy teared opened the chocolate and peppermint stick flavored bar and took a bite full, "Yeah, you have a problem with eating what girls eat?" She gave him her meanest big sister I'll kick your ass stare down.

He quickly shook his head, "Nah, I happen to love tasting things made for girls," he barely kept a straight face as the highly inappropriate words spilled out of his mouth.

"I'm sure you do Casanova. You know I think we should give you Flynn's old nickname I hear that he was a legendary playboy back in the day. You might just give him a run for his money," she took another bite and closed her eyes enjoying a small piece of heaven. She hadn't eaten much in the last several hours aside from stale coffee and half a banana nut muffin she found laying on her desk this morning. The chocolate peppermint stick hit the spot, albeit healthy it was nonetheless fuel for the mind and body.

Wes gave her an odd look, "Flynn a playboy. I don't buy it. The way he dotes on the Commander, follows her around. The guy's as whipped as they come." He pushed his knee up against the steer wheel for a brief second and tore open the dark blue package before putting half the bar into his mouth. "This isn't bad," he murmured between chews.

Amy smirked, "Imagine that, women making something that tastes good. It really is a crazy, crazy world out there isn't it."

Wes took a few swallows to clear his mouth, "Hey, you know I lived in Nazi land for quite awhile. I wouldn't know what was good if it hit me upside the head."

Thwack. "What was that for?" Wes shouted rubbing the back of his head.

She turned her half-eaten bar over to eat the peppermint side, "Letting you know what's good. Did it work?"

He saw the little icons drawn on her bar and then looked down at his, "How come I got the fruity one and you kept the chocolate all to yourself?"

She shrugged her shoulders, "Woman's prerogative. Besides they were my bars." She took another bite into the delicious peppermint coating. Before Wes could argue with her any further about the unfairness of the road trip snack distribution she saw a sign indicating they were getting close, "Looks like our turn is up ahead in 1.5 miles."

The playful tone that had once filled the car was gone, and the reminder of the job they had to do took its place. They both let the quiet energy help them to focus. Within a few seconds Wes began braking to turn off Hwy 2 and deeper into the canyon. It didn't take long for them to reach a very small, narrow bridge that only fit one car at a time across. Ahead were three sheriff vehicles and a forest ranger truck. Amy wasn't sure whether this was enough people if Stroh really was up here, if Rusty was being kept here. They would surveil the area with the drone and hope to get a better idea before traveling too far into the camp.

XxX

There was a low hum in the murder room. Her team was gone, well most of them were out and it made the place feel empty even though there were plenty of support staff around. As she turned the corner towards her office she spotted Andy, hunched over his desk pouring over sheets of paper. She reached up and placed a hand to his neck and let out a light hum to keep from startlingly him.

"I've been studying Sharon's financial records," he said with a furrowed brow his eyes going cross-eyed from staring at these numbers. Twenty years ago he'd never imagine that he'd be the one that was the go-to financial guy. But here he was, pouring over whatever he could get his hands on, eager to find a break in the case somewhere between a comma and a decimal point. He knew this case was never about the money, which made it even more frustrating for him, there was so little for him to do — that he was allowed to do.

"I thought we already went over all of that, when she first up and disappeared," she turned leaning against his desk, legs touching his with a little bump getting him to look up at her. She needed to see his eyes, to get a read on him. More importantly she craved that connection, they couldn't hug right now. She couldn't lean back into his warm, supportive embrace an embrace she so desperately needed. For now a touch from covered legs would have to do.

He rubbed the back of his neck trying to release some of the stiff tension building up, "Yeah we did, but I wanted to double-check something." He handed her a sheet with a few highlighted lines, "Here" he pointed, "we know this charge belongs to her. She filled her car up with gas before her shift at the nail salon. Presumably because she was going to leave there straight for LA."

"Right," Sharon studied the document in her hands trying to see if there was anything that might jump out to her. As good as she was with balancing the budget at home and paying attention to the details at work, this really was Andy's domain, his area of expertise. She doubted that she'd catch something that he'd missed.

"So then these other charges, what are we to make of these?" He pointed to three other lines that reflected charges during the time in which no one had seen her.

"Do we know what they are?" She asked, knowing that they may not have dug fully into those charges initially, because at the time she wasn't a missing person.

"Everything has an abbreviation, but I've been decoding them. This looks like one here," he pointed to the second from the bottom, "HMDPT, I think it might be Home Depot. I looked it up and there are nine in Los Angeles which is the city listed after the charge. I'm wondering if we might be able to get surveillance video of Sharon at the store, a list of what she or whoever is using her card bought."

Sharon studied the list and nodded in agreement, "It's a reasonable guess, and it doesn't hurt to call the stores and see what you can find out. What about the other ones?"

"Your guess is as good as mine," he slumped back in his chair trying not to feel defeated. "It's like playing that game you got the boys last Christmas."

She thought back for a minute to Christmas, it brought an immediate smile to her face and filled her heart with warmth. It felt more like a real first Christmas together as an official couple, with a blending of the families. The year before that Andy had only just been released from the hospital and they were still trying to sort out how to be together. That year they'd opted to do a his and hers Christmas that year, Christmas Eve with her and all his family and Christmas Day with him and all her family. Last year they'd planned on bringing everyone together for a big meal. At the time she'd started planning it — July of course — she thought they'd have a new house with plenty of space. That of course had fallen through like many best-laid plans, but in the end the post-Christmas, pre-New Years brunch out with everyone was perfect. Even Andy's flake of a son showed up.

Andy watched her face as he knew she'd been thinking about their last Christmas together and let her enjoy the happy memory for a moment, she needed it.

Sharon caught Andy's eye and shook her head realizing she hadn't given him an answer. Her eyes darted back and forth trying to recall which gift he was referring to, "Scrabble?" She threw out.

"Yeah that's the one! With all the miss-mass of letters," he sighed with annoyance. He was far better at chess.

Sharon tried to stifle a laugh, "I guess it's a little like that. I'll take these and see what I can come up with while you chase down the other possibility."

XxX

"Where are you?" Provenza stood in the aisle of storage lockers waiving his hands erratically. The sun was beating down on him, the air was stiflingly hot and the concrete rows of storage units only served to insulate him like a turkey on thanksgiving. He tugged down on his white fishing cap that was starting to fray around the edges, in an effort to block is sensitive skin from the bold rays of sun.

"Parking," Cami barely stopped to throw the car into park before she jumped out of her car. She felt disappointed in herself, she really thought she was on to something with the county jail connection. Maybe if she had more time, but that was one thing they didn't have enough of, so she held her tongue when she got the text from the Lieutenant redirecting her to MacArthur park.

"Well hurry up already, we don't have all day!" He glared at the manager holding the bolt cutters who was certainly annoyed about being taken away from reruns of some wedding dress nonsense. The idea of weddings made him even more pissed off, he had a best man speech to write and a bachelor party to throw — assuming all of this didn't change what happened with his best friend and the Commander. He shook his head in an effort to push the thoughts aside, anything aside from a "not-a-mark-on-him" rescue of Rusty would be unsatisfactory.

Detective Paige picked up the pace, "What's the unit number again?" She said pulling her jacket closer to her chest as she strode down the aisles looking for the right spot.

"212-A," he repeated to his would-be young apprentice. He wondered if he thought Sykes was more annoying in the beginning, it was too close to call he decided.

"Ah ok," she looked up and saw the letters going up and knew she was headed in the right direction. She picked up the pace until she hit the row with a bright orange A on the side and turned the corner to see Provenza and some woman in her forties standing outside on of the units. She clicked her phone off as she ran up to him.

"About time," he muttered and turned to the woman, "Here's the warrant," he grabbed the paper from Cami's hands, "now cut off the locks." He shook his hands in front of the brass deadbolt, the final barrier between him and possibly finding Rusty.

The middle-aged woman in frumpy clothes opened the cutters and placed them between the lock and with a surprising about of strength for someone her size it sliced through the metal in one attempt. If Provenza hadn't been so irritated and singularly focused he might have been impressed, instead once the lock clamored to the pavement he waved her aside, "Go back to your office, we'll holler if we need anything."

The woman seemed to be familiar with these kinds of situations and merely shrugged her shoulders before climbing into the small electric cart and driving down the aisle Cami had just come up. Once she'd turned the corner Provenza gestured to Cami, both pulling their weapons from their holsters. He mouthed, "One, Two, Three," before pushing up the rolling door exposing the locker to them for the first time.

Cami was the first to enter, pointing her weapon around each corner of the room shouting "clear" once she reached the back of the locker. The space was dark, but it was easy to tell it was very clean. He felt around until he found the light switched Provenza wasn't sure what he expected. He knew what he'd expected, he let out a sigh, an alive and well Rusty.

XxX

Amy and Wes took the left side while the Sheriff deputies took the other, as they trekked up the steep terrain towards the cabin. They'd instructed the forest service guy to hang back with the trucks for now, until the secured the area.

Amy caught Wes' eye as he pointed and gestured as they silently moved forward. They could just see the cabin between the birch trees, a creek babbled loudly down the hill separating them from the deputies. Simultaneously, the pairs surrounded the small structure on all sides. There appeared to be only one entrance and exit, with just a few small windows two of which were boarded up. The Deputy gave the nod and then pounded on the door, "LA County Sheriff's Office open up!" He repeated the order two more times in quick succession, but they were met with silence. He nodded over his shoulder at the other Deputy carrying the battering ram, and gestured to the K-9 unit behind him to be ready.

With a wave of his hand, two officers pulled the ram back and slammed it into the door. It didn't take much force to knock in the old pine door.

"Come out with your hands up, or we will release the dog," he yelled inside the small building as dust spilled out of the cabin. Everyone remained fixed at the ready, with guns trained on any potential exit.

The Deputy repeated the order and was once again met with silence. He gave a nod to the K-9 unit who came charging forward. He released the three year old Belgian Malinois as he shouted commands, "Do not resist. The dog will bite." After a few tense moments the dog bounded out of the cabin and back to his trainer, nothing, there was no one inside.

Amy and Wes approached the inside of the cabin with caution, even though the dog made it clear that no one was home. The room was covered in thick layers of dust, it appeared that no one had used the cabin in years.

Wes picked up some newspapers on the kitchen table, "1982," he said remorsefully. It wasn't what they were hoping for. No sign of Rusty. No sign of Stroh.

"Anyone that might have been using this place, left a long time ago," Amy muttered into the thick air of the cabin.

XxX

Andy gave his knuckles a tap on Sharon's door before entering, "So I just got off the phone with the Home Depot off Figueroa and I think I may have something." He moved further into her office, but didn't shut the door.

"Oh," Sharon said looking up at him while taking off her glasses.

"Apparently, the hashtag and numbers that appear after the abbreviation correspond to the store number. Why none of the other four stores could have mentioned that," he let out a groan but continued on with his point, "Anyway, we don't have a receipt with a timestamp to know exactly when she was there, but that is our store. I've asked them to email me the video from the registers so we can comb through it."

"That's great," she stood up and crossed the room. It wasn't a huge breakthrough but it was a morsel, a lead and she'd take it.

"As soon as it comes in I'll get some of the tech guys from downstairs to help me go through it since time is of the essence," he moved closer to her but refrained from pulling her in for a hug, now wasn't the time. "Any luck on the other charges?"

She frowned at him, "No, not yet, but I'll keep digging into it. Why don't you get Mike to help you too?"

"Oh, he's busy. Something about data points and maps," he waved his hands in the air as if to fill in his lack of knowledge in the technobabble is colleague had given him a half an hour ago when he popped his head in and offered to refill his coffee.

"Hmm," she knew that whenever Mike dug in deep on some analytical project that it would be best to give him sometime to sort it all out before interrupting. "Okay, well I'll check in on that in a bit."

"Any word from Provenza," he asked.

"Not yet," she looked at her phone. "Amy checked in a little while ago. They made it to the cabin and were about to start their search."

"Good, good," he muttered knowing that it was both good and bad news because it meant they still hadn't found Rusty. He wasn't sure how much longer either one of them could manage to stay sane without something firmer to go on. Andy watched Sharon nervously tap her fingernails on the desk as she'd returned her attention to the files on her desk. She didn't do it often, but he'd learned that she would do it when she felt too much energy building up inside, wanting to get out. He wasn't going to be able to keep her here, at PAB, safe, for much longer. Even if she didn't know where to look she was going to reach a point where the mother bear instincts were going to finally overrule the cool and collected police commander. The nail tapping was a sign that it was getting closer and closer to that tipping point.

XxX

Everything in the storage unit was clean and well organized, a far cry from the units that Provenza raided in the past. Those units looked like hoarders-r-us by comparison to Stroh's unit. On the far wall was a bulletin board with a map of the US pinned up, "What are these pins for?" He turned to Cami as he pointed to blue pins poking out of various cities.

"Places he wants to go, or has been?" She threw out as a suggestion, but it was as much a shot in the dark as anything else. She snapped a picture of it and sent it off to Tao.

Provenza started opening drawers, "I don't think this place has been used in awhile." He noted the thick layer of dust that detracted from the otherwise clean space.

"Are we sure this is his unit? I mean it was in his mother's name. Maybe it's her storage locker?" Cami replied as she put her gun into its holster and slipped on a pair of nitrile gloves.

"Yes, but why would Mommy Stroh keep a locker out by her son's university?" He quickly countered.

"Maybe it was just convenient, moved out of an apartment and stowed stuff here," she started rummaging around looking for anything that might point them in some direction.

"Well if she was keeping it for herself, she might need to explain these," he held up a stack of fake passports. The photos were all of Phillip Stroh, but they looked a few years old. He flipped through them, he had glasses on in some and not in others, a mix of beards and goatees, there was even one with blond hair. He handed them over to Cami, "Still think this unit is just for her?"

Cami shrugged, unconvinced, "She could have had these made up for him, if she knew what he was up to and was trying to cover it up."

"Oh, I have no doubt that Mommy knew what little Phillip was doing, and probably yes would have aided and abided his escape, but I don't think she personally stocked this getaway kit for him," he replied moving on to another drawer.

Cami set the passports down atop a large bench that sat below the bulletin board with the map of pins and looked around the rest of the unit. Her eyes caught something up above Provenza's head, "What's that?"

Before Provenza could turnaround, Cami was already dragging a small crate to the center of the room and climbing up. She balanced on the unstable makeshift step and reached up, trying to loop her middle finger around a leather handle.

"Why don't you let me do that before you hurt yourself," Provenza surprisingly and uncharacteristically volunteered.

"I've almost got it, besides I'm taller than you. Not by much, but enough," she looked down at him, "And you don't climb remember."

He rolled his eyes at her, "Well hurry up then," he barked back.

"Almost," she stretched her arm as straight as it would go, and just barely got the tip of her finger under the loop, and gave it a small tug, the case moved a bit closer. She stretched again and this time was able to get her top knuckle just barely looped around the handle and pulled again, "Got it!" She exclaimed as the case came down onto the floor with a thud, just narrowly missing Provenza's head.

XxX

Julio stood in what he imagined to be a young Phillip Stroh's bedroom. He knew it was a figment of his imagination, but he genuinely felt the room drop ten degrees when we stepped inside. The room looked like many he'd seen before, the way parents kept the room's the same as the day their child disappeared, died. It would become a shrine to the dead. In this case though, there was no reason for it to be a memorial. He crossed the room and looked at the trophies on the wall. They were from chess tournaments. Based on the little bit that Julio had overheard from Rusty over the years, Stroh had been good, really good. He set one of the junior chess champion plaques back on the shelf and stared at a painting on the wall. It was quite good, looked like a cabin perched up in the woods somewhere. He pulled out his phone and took a quick picture of it sending it to Amy, wondering if it might be the same place.

He doubted that there would be anything of use in this room. Stroh hadn't lived here in decades and from what he could garner he hadn't been back to visit either. Some cops thought it helped them be better investigators if they understood the whole person, where they came from and how they lived, but Julio tended to disagree. It was about their actions in the here and now. His mind drifted to Mark, not everyone had to defined by their past.

His phone dinged, it was Amy. Same cabin. He looked at the picture she sent, of the actual cabin and it was identical to the one he was looking at on the bedroom wall. He flicked the screen over and clicked on Commander.

"Ma'am," he said when Sharon picked up.

"Anything?" She asked, hopeful.

"Nothing new, I'm going to drive out to Pasadena and speak to the step-brother and see what I can find out from him." He began walking back down the hall towards the stairway.

"Okay, keep me posted," she replied.

"Yes ma'am." He clicked the phone off and slipped it back in his pocket.

He paused at the bottom of the stairs and debated about whether he should say anything to the nurse or try and speak to Mrs. Stroh again. Something in his gut nagged at him and pulled him back into the room. The nurse approached, "Leaving?" She asked softly.

"Yes, I'm heading out. The techs will continue processing the house, but they should be wrapping up soon," he looked over her shoulder at the older woman watching them, "I'm sorry for the inconvenience."

"I don't think she knows to be honest," the nurse looked back at Gwendolyn.

Julio nodded and walked over to her, but before he could say anything she opened her mouth to speak.

"You're here about Phillip aren't you?" She asked nervously.

Julio was surprised at her sudden lucidity, "Yes ma'am we are."

"I knew you'd come one day," she sighed, "I suppose you found her then, Emily. Emily West?"

"Ma'am?" He questioned not knowing who she was talking about.

As quickly as the mental awareness had returned it left and the shining eyes of someone who didn't know what year it was met his, "Are you the gardener?"

He gave her hand a pat and stood up. As soon as he was out of the room he called Mike. "I need to you to look into the name Emily West. She may have been one of Stroh's early victims."

XxX

Mike set aside the project he'd started on an hour ago, not long after Provenza left. Something was nagging at him and he needed to visualize it before suggesting it to the rest of the team. He shrugged off the feeling and re-read the notes he'd taken from Julio's call a few minutes earlier. He wasn't entirely sure what a potential victim, and probably an old one, might have to do with the case now, but at this point he wasn't going to argue with new information. He'd been working in this business long enough that you never knew where a new lead might spring from and if Emily West was that lead, who was he to put it on the back burner.

Mike's fingers feverishly typed away looking into all the Emily Wests that might have been living in or near Los Angeles or Palm Springs between 1976 and 2000. It was a common enough name that he shouldn't have been surprised when 600 results came up. He quickly began filtering the list. Those still living. Those that wouldn't have been the right age. The list quickly narrowed down to 100 names. He tapped a finger to his chin and came up with another filter, anyone who wasn't blond or caucasian. The list shrunk once more, 32 names were left.

His eyes scanned over the birth dates and death dates, trying to bring the list down even further when something caught his eye. An Emily West was declared legally dead in 1995. Declared dead meant that there was no body to confirm death. This had to be the one. He clicked on the name and brought up her picture, she fit Stroh's type to a T. He scrolled through and found the case file attached to her record. It was opened August 1988, went missing from USC where she was working on an MBA and was never found.

It was too right, he thought as he continued to read through the case notes. Everything about her was a perfect match to the crimes they knew, or the Chief knew, that Stroh had committed. This might have been his victim zero, which made it very important. Mike turned is attention back to the his pet project and dropped yellow pin and labeled it Emily West and stood back. There were still a few items missing, but he was already beginning to see how all of this was coming together.

XxX

"Here," Andy handed Sharon a turkey club sandwich, "You need to eat." She shook her head, her stomach was churning with anxiety and bile. It'd sat empty for hours now, and she could feel the acid irritating the lining of her stomach, this was likely to give her an ulcer.

"Eat," he lightly pushed down on her shoulder forcing her to sit behind her desk, and placed the sandwich in front of her. "I don't expect you to eat all of it, but if you could take four or five decent bites I'll get off your case for a few more hours."

She smiled, "Negotiating down already?"

"Yes, well with you everything is a negotiation," he moved to the chair across from her and pulled out a salad with chopped salmon. He didn't feel like eating either, but it was time to take his blood pressure medicine, he wasn't about to make the mistake again, and it seemed to sit better with a little food. He used to take it in the morning on an empty stomach, until he worked a case involving a renowned cardiologist at USC who said it was better to take it at night with a light snack. Something about people being more likely to have heart attacks in the morning, just as their medication is wearing off. He took the information and put it to use, but still arrested the guy for murder.

He covertly raised his eyes without moving his head to spy her taking a small bite of her sandwich.

"Anything on the video yet?" She asked, anxious for one of their many fishing lines to start paying dividends.

"Not yet. We went through all the video on the registers, but no sign of her or Stroh, or anyone else that we might recognize," he took another bite of his salad.

Sharon leaned back in her chair, disappointed, when a thought came to mind, "Did they check the pick-up area?"

"Mmm?" He looked up at her and waited for an explanation.

"Well last time I went to the store, I ordered what I wanted online and then picked it up, maybe that's what she did," Sharon replied.

"Could be," he set his salad down on her desk, pulled out his phone and called downstairs.

XxX

Cami plopped down onto the floor feeling frustrated by the briefcase, it had a lock on it that they hadn't managed to break yet. Provenza wanted to hack the thing open, but she'd interjected that Stroh could have put some failsafe mechanism that might destroy whatever was inside if they did something to it. Reluctantly he gave in knowing that she had a point and moreover was probably right, it was exactly like Stroh to do something like that.

"We'll just have to bring it back to PAB and have the nerds sort it out," he grumbled combing through the papers in the boxes they'd pulled out. Thus far they'd found nothing but tax returns going back to 1956. With the exception of the passports that they'd uncovered almost immediately he would have said the trip was a waste of time.

"What if we were meant to find those?" Paige asked as if she'd been reading his mind.

"You mean he left them there on purpose?" He continued to throw paper on the floor, vowing to go through the boxes in his own garage later.

"Yeah," she scooted off the floor, "Maybe Stroh wanted us to think that there was something of value here so we'd spend a bunch of time and resources combing through all these boxes, when really he'd already taken the important stuff out. And left us this," she waved her arms trying to find the polite word.

"Crap," he filled in for her.

"Yes, crap." She nodded.

Provenza leaned back and thought about it for a moment. They had found those passports a bit too easily for someone like Stroh and despite spending over an hour they'd come up with squat. He looked down at the briefcase, "What about that?"

"Maybe it's a red herring," she said, "Maybe he wants us to focus on it."

"Or maybe he had no idea it was still here?" He muttered.

XxX

Sharon pushed away the papers she'd been trying to help Andy decipher in frustration. Normally, she'd have no problem breaking their code. She was great at that sort of thing, it's one of the reasons she got the boys Scrabble, she wanted to teach them how fun words and letters could be. She looked down at her mug of tea, she already knew it was empty. She'd finished it fifteen minutes earlier, but some how she'd hoped magic would have filled it to the rim. Anxiously she checked her phone again. Julio was en route to Pasadena. Amy and Wes were searching an empty cabin and vast wilderness for any signs of Rusty or Sharon or Stroh. Provenza didn't have much yet either. It feel like they were striking out across the board. She looked at the watch hanging from her wrist, she'd decided that if they didn't have anything solid to go off she was going to take matters into her own hands. She pushed herself back from her desk and stood up, determined. It was time to check on Mike, and this project he was working on. The tea could wait. She needed to find her son and if her team couldn't do it then she would.

The walk from her office to RACR was short, quickened by her pace. She needed something to cling to and she needed Mike to have some answers for her. The doors quietly slide open and she saw a map of Los Angeles county on the big screen and Mike plugging away on his computer in the corner, "Mike what are you working on?"

He jumped up a little from his seat, startled by the sudden presence of someone else in the room. After Provenza left he couldn't help but to wonder about where all of these crimes were happening. "Well, I uh," he paused pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose, "I've brought up a map initially it was to keep track of where Amy and Wes were," he pointed at the blinking icon in purple up in the hills outside the city, "And now Cami and Provenza," he motioned to another blinking icon in blue.

Sharon nodded, she could see that much for herself, and assumed that's what he was doing, "But what about these red dots?" She adored Mike and all the techno-brains he brought to the team, but occasionally his tendency for long winded explanations were far from helpful.

"Right," he zoomed in on the locations taking Wes and Amy's dots out of the frame, "These are—"

"The crime scenes," she quickly caught on as he had enlarged the map and she could more clearly see the names of streets and other landmarks.

"Exactly," clapping his hands together in excitement, "Now here's where it's really good." He clicked a few buttons on his computer screen and brought up a set of yellow dots. "These represent areas where Stroh's victims were taken or found."

Taking a stuttering step backwards Sharon had to brace herself against the table behind her as she watched the city light up like a twisted Christmas tree. The clusters were everywhere. USC. Downtown. Griffith Park. "It's extraordinary," she whispered in gut shaking awe of what Tao managed to put together.

XxX

Wes and Amy stood on the porch of the cabin looking down the ravine they'd just climbed up. In any other circumstance it might have been a nice place to have a picnic, relax, and enjoy nature. For now though, they waited for the rest of the team to drive up the road. The Forest Service had maps of the area and would be coordinating with LASO on searching up to a mile beyond the cabin.

Amy leaned down and gave the dog, Jax, a pat on the head. She'd thought on occasion about going into the K-9 unit when she joined the LAPD, she found she liked dogs a lot better than most people. There was something great about the way they partnered you up, getting to work with the same "partner" for years. Sadly, she couldn't afford a house and an apartment building was no place for a police dog — they had very strict rules about the home life of a working dog. In the end it worked out, her meandering road from beat cop to SIS and a plum spot in Major Crimes that just seemed to happen.

"Does Coop like dogs?" Wes asked watching how Amy's features had softened as she'd gotten closer to the dog.

"Not really," she stood up, "He likes working with the unit, but no interest in taking care of one. Strange given how badly he wants kids."

Wes was taken aback by Amy's sudden reveal of personal information, she was normally so guarded about those things. "Yeah, I hear they're a good dry run." He replied trying to keep it light.

"That's what they say," she let the comment linger, but made it obvious that the conversation was over. She stepped back inside the cabin and slipped her black gloves on. Wes got the hint and followed her back in as well. The pair started opening drawers and cabinet doors looking for anything of value. The cupboards had old canned food and jars of some weird pickled feet or some sort, Amy tried not to vomit as she put it back where she found it.

Wes opened the cabinet door near the makeshift bed and found an old dusty picture. He brought it out into the middle of the room where the light was better and stared at it. The picture was the first personal item they'd found which felt both odd and yet important at the same time.

The face was unmistakable even at such a young age, something about the eyes Wes reckoned. No matter how old you get they always look the same. "It's kinda creepy don't you think?" Wes asked as he handed Amy a picture, "Little Stroh smiling like that?"

"Yeah, what is he 5 maybe 6 years old?" She said looking at the young brown haired kid.

"Probably," he squinted at the dirty and faded picture, "Is that maybe the uncle?"

"Could be, it's hard to tell," she said bringing it closer to her face, "Maybe Mike can do some magic touch-up."

She flipped the picture over, " August 1966." She didn't think Phillip was that old. She knew of course from his files that he was born in August of 1961, but he never looked his age as an adult. "So he would have just turned 5, maybe this was taken at his birthday?"

He nodded in agreement, it was a reasonable assumption. He looked at the scene behind them, it felt familiar but he couldn't place it, "Where are they?" Wes wondered, mostly rhetorically knowing that neither one of them had a clue.

"I think those might be bars, it's really hard to tell," Amy set the picture down on the dusty table and snap a picture and sent it off to Tao. We aren't sure where this is, but it could be relevant.

XxX

Mike continued inputting additional data points into his map when he heard his phone chime. The team had been sending him pictures from the various searches, and he was feeling inundated. It was a lot of work with many minute details to comb through, without Buzz it felt like a nearly impossible task. He airdropped the picture onto his Mac and then brought it into Photoshop to enhance. While he waited for the program to run he sipped the last few drops of his cold, stale coffee praying that there was still a small amount of caffeine left.

As the program finished he pulled it up onto the large screen and poured over the scenery in the background. The plants looked liked native Californian shrubs, but the rock formations in the background looked oddly shaped. He didn't grow up in Los Angeles and while he felt pretty confident in his knowledge of the area — they'd certainly been to enough crime scenes to fill an encyclopedia of geographic body dump locations he couldn't place this spot. He got up from his chair and walked across the empty room and stared at the blown up image on the screen, racking his brain to place the exact spot—

"Oh wow, I haven't been to that place in years!" Exclaimed Casey startling the otherwise and usually unflappable Mike Tao.

He spun around quickly, his glasses falling off his face onto the floor.

"Sorry," Casey rushed to pick up his glasses, "I didn't mean to scare you."

Tao took his glasses from Casey's outstretched hands a slid them back over the bridge of his nose, "Is everything okay?" Suddenly concerned for his close friend and colleague.

"Oh, yes," she gleamed with watery eyes, "everything is good. Buzz has passed all his tests with flying colors, as usual. He's eager to get out and back here to help. That's why I'm—."

Mike wasn't much of a hugger, but he couldn't hold himself back. He lunged forward and pulled her into an embrace before she could finish her sentence. Casey was surprised and initially tensed, but then settled into the comforting touch of another. "That's wonderful news," he whispered trying to keep from tearing up. They had been running low on morale, caffeine, sleep, you name it for the last three days and this was a better jolt than any amphetamine could have provided.

They pulled apart before it turned awkward. Casey moving towards the screen, "It's so crazy that you have a picture of this up right now."

"Why is that?" He asked still puzzled about what it showed besides a child version of Stroh.

"Well while my mom and I sat there in the hospital talking to Buzz," she paused and looked up, "the doctors suggested that we talk to him and share stories, that it could help." Mike nodded, it was a common protocol. "Well anyway, when Buzz was about six and I must have been four, it was before our dad died, we used to go up here for picnics. It's a great little spot. Anyway, one time Buzz fell and hit his head, had a nice egg on his forehead for days. My mom was worried that his teacher was going to call child well-fare." She finished with a chuckle looking in the distance of the photo again, recalling fond moments together.

"This is a picnic spot in Los Angeles," Tao immediately jumped on that thread of her story. "Do you remember where?"

"Yeah, up in Griffith Park," she replied with a smile.

Tao rushed to his desk and clicked to his other screen pulling up the map he'd been working on earlier, his eyes locked on to the obvious landmark. Griffith Park was a huge hill, a visual compass point in the city, you couldn't miss it. "Could you point to it?" He asked, bringing the image to the big screen.

"Yeah, probably," she turned back to the screen perplexed by Tao's sudden change in demeanor. She'd worked in journalism long enough to know there was something going on and to just ride with it for the moment. She scanned the map briefly, "There. It's right there," she turned to face Mike, "It's the old LA Zoo," and watched as his face dropped.

XxX

AN: I've changed Stroh's age to make my story details work which has shifted a few things around in canon. There are two more chapters to come, real-life has been a challenge as I've been helping a family member with cancer and also recently lost my job, so while I remain dedicated to finishing this beast of a project I can't promise when that will be. Thanks again to those who have faithfully remained followers of this story. I know that most people only want to read fluffy Shandy pieces, but I'm glad I've taken on this case story. It's been a challenge and growing experience as a writer. It has also been healing as I re-write the end of the show on my terms.

Chapter Text

She swung the door of her office open and shoved Andy's hands away from her, "Let go of me!"

"Sharon you're not thinking clearly," he said cautiously. He'd never seen her like this, not even in the worst fight during her FID days.

Her face was red and her eyes wild, "To hell I'm not. My son is there Andy don't you get that?! He's there!"

He took a step towards her, wanting to comfort her, calm her, "Yes I know he's there, but I also know that Stroh is likely to be there too. You can't just run up to Griffith Park and save him by yourself."

"Watch me," she gritted out between her teeth, her eyes daring him to challenge her.

"Sharon!" He shouted trying to get her to be reasonable.

Mike had followed the pair out of RACR and realized they were in too deep. He turned into the conference room connected to Sharon's office and picked up the phone dialing a familiar number, "Chief, we need you down here now." He opted for Howard over Mason, he was sure he'd hear about it later, but right now they needed someone who Sharon might actually listen to, someone that understood Stroh and families.

Andy moved following Sharon as she opened her desk drawer to pull out her service weapon.

"Stay out of my way Andy," her voice dipped dangerously low.

Andy froze at the tone in her voice, but didn't back down, "No, I won't let you do this. You're risking both your life and Rusty's and I love you both too much to let you go off half-cocked—"

"You're one to talk," she barked back interrupting him.

"Yeah, yeah I am, and you've got the files to prove how wrong I was in the past," he chanced a step forward, "Can you just take one moment and listen to me?"

"Andy I can't wait one more second. Rusty is out there in God knows what condition," she waved her arms in the air.

"Then listen to me," Fritz exclaimed as he barreled into Sharon's office. Mike had given him the bullet points, for once, on his cell as he made his way down from the 10th floor.

Sharon spun around surprised to see all three men standing at her doorway with looks of concern on their faces. She held up her hand to Fritz, "Don't try to convince me you wouldn't be doing the very same thing if it was Brenda he had out there!"

"You're right," he moved into her office, "I probably would. But I would hope that my friends, my colleagues, like you, would help my from myself. Andy is right Sharon and you know it."

She turned her back on her boss, on her fiancée, on her team trying to shut out their words of dissent.

Andy took another step forward, "Listen to Howard," he placed a hand gently to her shoulder but she rebuffed it. He took a step back giving her the space she needed and gave a nod to Fritz to continue.

"Sharon, Stoh has had months, hell years to put together this elaborate plot. Killing people connected to Major Crimes, trying to frame the team. He had to pick the Zoo for a reason, let's take a little bit of time to do our homework and then I'll have McGinnis launch special ops into the area to save Rusty."

Sharon's shoulders dipped a little at the mention of McGinnis, she was a mother too, a mother who had lost a child. No one else in this room could have any idea of what she was feeling. But Rusty wasn't lost, not yet. She had to hope and pray, but she felt in her heart that she would have known if something terrible had happened.

Andy looked back and saw a crack in Sharon's armor, "And Sharon, if we're wrong about this and he's not there then we need you here to coordinate with the team, following up on leads."

He was right, she knew that, but she was having a hard time setting aside her drive as a mother to race out that door. The sun was dipping low on the horizon now, it would be dark soon. She worried if he might be cold. Griffith Park could get chilly at night, even in the summer. An involuntary shiver coursed through her body as she thought about her boy in some hole near the old zoo.

Fritz took a step forward, "If I need to make it an order, I will Sharon. I need you here, and Rusty needs you here."

An order. Everyone in the room knew Fritz had won when he said that, Sharon never disobeyed an order. She might find ways to bend the rules, but she always colored between the lines.

She spun back around to face the trio of men, men who had no idea what inner struggle she was dealing with, "How dare you! He's my son and he needs me there. I told him that I would always come and find him. would search to the ends of the earth for him. He would never be a missing John Doe because would always know him." Her voice wavered as she spoke.

Suddenly the men turned to look at one another, maybe they'd given Sharon's nature too much credit. The rules were the rules, until they weren't. Until your child was missing and being held by a sadistic serial killer. Then perhaps there was no rulebook.

For the first time everyone saw a similar drive between Sharon and Brenda. Fritz knew that she could be more reasonable than his wife, and continued to push hoping he was right, "Sharon, I want you to think about this. If you walk out that door you're not only putting your career as a police officer on the line, but your life and the lives of everyone else that may be risked to save you, saving your son."

Andy took a bold step towards her again, closing the space so they were intimately close. It was a move that he knew could set her off, but it was worth the chance, "Sharon," his voice low enough so only she could hear him. She turned to look at him, fire dancing in her emerald eyes, "Think about Rusty. He would do anything protect you, including sacrificing himself." He paused waiting for the realization to cross her face, "You're right he is your son. He's just like you, which is why you can't go."

She blinked back the watery rage that filled her eyes, wanting to argue, wanting to fight with these men, but feeling the wave of rationality begin to hit her.

"But you know what?" He asked, touching her shoulder, "He's my son too. Our son. I'll go out with McGinnis' team. I've worked with them before," he paused. He was right. She thought back to that horrible case, but the kids were saved and Andy was there. Everyone made it out ok. She gave a small nod, took her service weapon off her belt and set it on her desk. It wasn't defeat that she felt, even though part of her felt ganged up on. She realized it was love. Everyone standing in her office loved her and her family so much they were willing to meet her toe to toe in order to save her, to save the family.

"Good," Fritz replied as he took her nod as acceptance of the pseudo-command he'd issued moments ago and turned out of the office. He lifted his phone to his ear and shouted, "McGinnis" as he disappeared into the murder room intent on staging a rescue.

Tao looked at the pair and opted to step out, "I'm just going to alert the others." He muttered as he slipped back down the hall into RACR.

Once her office was quiet and devoid of intruders Andy looked back to her, "I know this isn't what you want." He didn't offer her any platitudes, it would have been an insult.

"You're right it isn't. I should be the one Andy," she turned away from him and moved to her window looking out at the city, wishing her office had a view of Griffith Park.

"Maybe, but that's not what's best," he followed her intent on sticking by her side. This thing could break them, they'd seen it before. A missing child. The guilt. The turmoil. Fear leads to blame. Someone gets hurt even when things do work out. He was determined to beat the statistic.

"I know," she whispered the words and quickly covered her mouth as if to pull the words back in.

He draped his arms over her shoulders and pulled her back into him. She pushed back, but he didn't relinquish. She needed this and he would give it to her. It didn't take her long to relent. She may not have had years of experience relying on someone else, a partner, but she was a quick study. Andy kept hold of her, pouring his strength back into her, "I will bring him back."

"Bring you both back to me," she said spinning around to face him as the realization hit her that Andy was going out there, to confront Stroh. A swell of fear rose from her belly and made her feel like she needed to vomit.

"Babe, you aren't going to lose either of us today," he leaned down and kissed her. He stopped short of adding the I promisebecause it wasn't something he could give her. He'd try his best, they both knew that.

The door opened and they both turned at the noise, "Andy come with me we need to start the debrief with SOB," Fritz said as he poked his head through the door.

Andy nodded, he started to pull away from Sharon but waited until their eyes had met to actually break the touch. There were so many unspoken things that began to fill the room. Look after my kids. Come back to me. I love you. Be safe. Bring Rusty home. There wasn't a need to say any of it, they'd talked about all this before. Over the years, they'd confronted a number of these life and death moments. To say they were used to it would have been trite, but they were at least prepared.

As he pushed the door open wider to step through he looked back at her and gave her a Flynn trademark smile.

XxX

Wes stepped out of the cabin, he had to admit it was beautiful up here. After years in deep cover with Nazi-land he'd nearly forgotten what nature looked like, let alone smelled like. "Isn't it a bit creepy that we're standing on the same porch that the mini Stroh stood as a kid?" He asked as he heard Amy follow him out for some fresh air.

She gave him a weird glance, "I was doing really good not thinking about that until you brought it up." It was really easier for her to just focus on the tasks at the moment and not the why. Her eyes looked down the hill, "Are the dogs here?"

He shook his head, "Any minute," he turned to face her and gestured towards her phone "Any news?"

"Julio texted on his way to Pasadena, I guess Mike thinks he found where they might be. We should be looking for anything else that ties back to that picture we found. Apparently it's of the Old LA Zoo," it wasn't a lot to work from but Amy was relying on her positive attitude to get her through the next several hours. There was a lot they still had to sort through here and she worried that they'd stumbled on Pandora's box and she didn't play unlimited music.

"I didn't know there was one before the one we have," Wes leaned against the deck railing and thought back to his own childhood and the few times he and his family had gone to the zoo. He stopped himself from mentioning how much he liked giraffes as a kid.

"Me neither," she shrugged, "I guess the new one was built several miles down the hill - bigger area for the animals." Next to Wes she was nearly the youngest member in the team, Provenza is probably the only one that would have known that she thought.

"Hmm, well fitting for him to be up among the animal cages I guess," he mock laughed trying to enjoy the parallels life sometimes offered up.

"Indeed," she started to say but was interrupted by the sound of trucks coming up the hill. They were bringing in a pair of scent dogs to search the grounds looking for any sign of life, or death. "The dogs are here." The tone in her voice dropped several octaves.

"Yeah," he slipped off the edge of the post he'd been leaning against and made his way down the small embankment to meet the other officers, following behind Amy.

The two K-9 officers jumped out of the Ford Explorers and opened the back doors for the dogs to jump out. They led the coonhound and golden retriever with long black leads up to the cabin and greeted the other officers.

They wasted no time. The officer with the golden retriever was the first to speak, "Do you have an article of the man's clothing?"

Amy searched for words. Man. Rusty was a man. She knew that, but he was like a nephew or a younger brother. A Kid. Wes gave her a look and then answered, "Yeah," he handed over a blue hoodie that Sharon had brought into the station.

"This will work," he opened the bag and let the canine smell it several times as he turned it over and around letting him get the scent. The officer put the sweatshirt back into the bag and handed it back to Wes, immediately, the dog jerked and moved up the hill behind the canyon nose to the ground searching around.

The other officer approached with the large coon and gave a nod. Everyone knew why he was here, it didn't need to be stated. He and the dog began their own search of the property.

XxX

Commander McGinnis stood in front of the large conference room staring at her men and took a deep breath. The adrenaline was pumping quickly through her veins as it often did before a mission, but knowing the personal side of what was a stake tonight added an extra element of intensity. A low hum filled the room as the men pilled into their chairs, notebooks in hand. It was a myth that guys on SWAT were all brawn and no brain, this work, their work required meticulous preparation and thorough planning to create the best possible outcome. It was nothing short of cardiovascular surgery with automatic weapons you hoped to not have to use. Threading the needle between pulling the trigger and not was all about their brain, which is why she only took the best the Academy had to offer. The voices hushed as Chief Howard walked in the room with Andy in tow.

"Right," he said, "We have uncovered the possible whereabouts of a missing adult, suspected to be kidnapped by Phillip Stroh." He paused letting the weight of the name fill the room. "Additionally, the victim is Rusty Beck, son of Commander Sharon Raydor. So I don't need to emphasize to you the importance of getting him back safely. He's part of the family."

The room silently nodded in agreement. It was an unwritten code, children and spouses of those on the force were the responsibility of everyone who wore the uniform. They were their family as much as their own flesh and blood.

"Commander," he said gesturing to McGinnis giving her the floor.

She clicked the map that Tao had created and sent down to her, "It is believed that Stroh is holding Rusty here," her laser pointer circled an area around Griffith Park, "It's a four mile hike from the main road. The trail is in good condition. It leads to this," she clicked to zoom in to images that Mike uploaded, "A picnic area for the Old Los Angeles Zoo."

A hand went up in sea of officers, "It's a popular hiking area, I've taken my kids up there. There's no much to hide around are we sure he's there?"

McGinnis gestured to Andy who stepped forward, "Not conclusively no. But our team has uncovered evidence that this spot was significant to Stroh during his childhood and it," he paused trying to find the best words, "has, uh, certainly parallels with Rusty's life. Also the area of Griffith Park fits squarely in Stroh's hunting ground and in fact was known to dump bodies. He feels comfortable there and it is a reasonable assumption that he's returned."

Another hand went up, "That's a lot of land. Griffith Park is over 4,000 acres. Couldn't he be anywhere on that hill?"

Howard jumped in raising his hand to still the conversation, "Yes, we are all aware of how big of a search area we might have, but for now we feel that zeroing in on this specific section," he gestured to McGinnis to show the highlighted box around the former Zoo, "here makes the both the best tactical and logical sense at this time."

Andy added, "The Major Crimes team is spread out over three locations continuing to gather clues on Stroh's possible whereabouts and where he might have taken Rusty and will be actively following up on any other leads and passing them to SOB accordingly."

"It'll be dark by the time we are fully set-up which works in our favor. We will have two helicopters flying over head using infrared to help us locate anyone in the area. The hiking trail closes at sundown, so there should be no one else in the area." She turned to face her two team leads, "Perez you'll lead Red team here," her laser moved across the southern end of the park, "Stuart, Blue team will take the northern. We need to be on the look out for any buildings or structures that might have been abandoned after the zoo closed."

XxX

"So what's the plan then, should we come back?" Provenza asked stepping out of the storage locker as he took Andy's call.

"No, Sharon needs you both there searching through every scrap of paper. If we are wrong about this then we need to keep digging," he replied as he turned around the corner from the SOB conference room.

"Right," he wasn't happy about it and didn't hide it from his voice.

"Besides, it's a 4 mile hike," Andy paused, "and you don't hike." He knew why his friend was annoyed, like Sharon he wanted to be there. Everyone on the team felt they should be there.

He would for Rusty. But he didn't say it. "We've found a briefcase that Paige is trying to break into that may have some relevant information that could help. We'll keep going over every inch of this place," it wasn't much but it's all he could offer at the moment.

"Sharon will be staying here to coordinate, so funnel everything through her and Mike," he replied looking back into the conference room knowing he needed to get back.

"How did you convince her?" Provenza didn't hide the surprise from his voice.

"Howard issued an order," it wasn't the full story but he didn't want to get into it now. She'd agreed and that was all that mattered.

"She was always a rule follower," he gave a shrug and looked back at Camile who was still sitting on the floor surrounded by boxes.

"Yes, well for once I'm glad. I think we both know that it's a trap," Andy anxiously brought a hand to his neck checking his pulse. He was fine, it was just habit.

"Without a doubt," he turned back and looked at the row of other storage lockers, "The safest place for her right now is to be at PAB."

"Agreed," he turned back towards the door knowing he needed to get back inside, "I'm going out with SOB." He let the words hang in the air.

"You're what?!" He shouted causing Paige to look up at him. "You're a year out from a heart attack and only three months off desk duty and you think you're up to this?"

"Louie, I have to go," he ran his hand through his hair, "If I don't go she will. I'd rather it be me." His response was full of other meaning.

Provenza couldn't disagree, it was better this way, but he'd rather neither of them were in this situation to begin with and that Rusty's only problem was getting into the law school of his choice. "Okay, just don't do anything I wouldn't do,"

"Yeah, right," he ran his hand down his tie trying to compose himself, "Listen I gotta get back in there, but in case I —"

"Yeah, I know Andy, I know," he whispered before they both hung up.

XxX

Howling came from just up the canyon. Both Wes and Amy felt an icy chill coarse through their veins. It was the hound. He'd found something.

Amy looked at her watch, it hadn't taken long for him to locate a body. She and Wes stepped out of the cabin they'd been searching and followed the sound of the deep howl. Other officers followed. They scrambled up a steep hill to a flat plateau and found the dog sitting next to his partner's feet waiting for his next job. The officer knelt and gave him a rub muttering "Good boy" as a reward for doing exactly what he was supposed to do.

There was a slight double depression in the ground, but with the piles of dried leaves covering the area it was hard to notice that it was any different from any other spot. Amy knew that a depression usually meant that the body was already decomposed, after the body turned to just bones the dirt would fill in the space the flesh had left. She let out a breath she'd been holding in, this wasn't Rusty.

Wes pulled out his phone and sent a text to Mike, "Cadaver dog found something, mostly likely an old victim."

The officers waved for the shovels and crime scene team to come up to the hill. The team made quick work of setting up spot lights for their work. They cleared the leaves and delicately mapped out the double depression with string, before taking pictures before putting the shovel in a few inches and lifting up the first scoops of dirt.

Wes's phone dinged, "Rusty?" Was the reply. He quickly typed out, "Nothing yet," and put his phone back in his pocket. This wasn't their crime scene and yet they couldn't pry themselves away, wanting to see who was buried up here. He caught Amy's eye, "Maybe it was some gold miner." They both knew it was doubtful.

XxX

Sharon stood in the parking garage where SOB was staging the vehicles with officers and gear. It'd taken nearly an hour for them to finish the briefing and give out assignments. As she watched the men pair off and double-check one another's tactical gear she caught the now Lieutenant Perez's eyes. He walked over towards the Commander, "We'll get him." She nodded and let out a small hum trying to keep her emotions in check. Her eyes drifted over to Andy who was speaking with Commander McGinnis, Perez followed her line of sight, "He's with my team." She already knew this of course, Howard had given her the cliff notes on the plan. She liked Perez, trusted him with her family on more than one occasion, he was a good officer and a legacy. She smiled a Perez, "Don't let him be a hero." He gave a tight nod and made his way back to his unit.

Andy tightened down his vest and double-checked his weapon before re-holstering it. He felt strangely calm in the moment. It felt like a culmination of a lifetime. He'd spent years fighting to get his family back, trying to save a marriage, and put himself back together. After 20 years of sobriety he'd managed to do most of the things he needed to fix, but some how doing this for Sharon, for them felt like the final chess piece to move. Rusty was his son. Sharon was his (almost) wife. They were a family. He'd never been more sure of any decision, and when his eyes met Sharon's he tried to send her all the strength he was feeling in that moment. They didn't have time to talk nor was this the place for a romantic moment instead she gave a nod and mouthed "I love you" which he replied "You too babe." They gave a nod and that was it. He climbed into the explorer with McGinnis and focused on the mission.

Sharon remained fixed in her spot as the men and three women loaded into the two vans and three Ford Explorers. She stayed there as they pulled out of their parking spots and made their way down the garage. It wasn't until she'd lost both sight and sound of the vehicles that she retreated back into the office, up to RACR where she, Howard, and Mike would be keeping an eye on the GPS monitors and helmet cameras. If Howard has his way she wouldn't be allowed to watch any of it, but he'd relented, there was only so much he could ask of her. It wasn't that she didn't understand what he was doing, what they were all doing — protecting her. Her son was being held by a madmen and her fiancée was going to face him, what went down when that happened could be beyond the pale. She shook her head as she stepped into the elevator and pushed the button for the 9th floor, she couldn't afford to think about that right now. Her team was separated, spread all across the county and she needed to maintain her focus.

The elevator jolted up and thankfully no one else got on, making the ride up quick. As the doors opened she pulled down on her blazer and stiffened her back then took a step out. Her steps were quiet in the flats she rarely wore. Silently she let her feet take her on a familiar path, allowing herself to slip into the routine, the protocol, the order in which things would transpire. She'd compartmentalize and focus on the tasks she'd be assigned, she could do that. There was a still a chance Stroh wasn't up in the hills or that Rusty wasn't either. They needed to keep following up on other avenues of inquiry, and that was her job. Just stay focused.

XxX

Julio flicked his turn signal on and moved off the 210 freeway onto Foothill Blvd. The drive from Palm Springs had been wrought with traffic and he'd crawled from the 57 all the way to his exit. He looked at his phone, he only had 2 more miles to go. Taking the quick right onto Sierra Madre he let out a deep frustrated moan, his millionth of the afternoon, he wasn't a patient man. Julio was used to action and part of him was feeling envious of Andy going out with SOB to the Zoo location. He knew that he had Mark to think about now, but it didn't change the drive in him nor the need for an adrenaline rush. Tapping his wedding ring to the steering wheel he entered the estates surrounding Eaton Canyon Golf Course. It was always interesting to him to compare siblings given how different he and his brother's lives turned out. In this case one ended up here and the other as a raving sociopath.

The one-story ranch house had a long brick paved driveway with an immaculately landscaped lawn. Like step-mother, like step-son he thought as he looked at the sprawling green grass that had to suck up water like the Gobi. He gave the brass knocker a bang and heard rustling though the house as a young boy came and answered the door, "Jason! Wait!" Someone hollered in the background and suddenly a woman in her early forties appeared at the door, "What did I tell you about opening the door without an adult?" She chastised the young blond haired boy.

"It's alright ma'am," he smiled and held up his badge, "Detective Julio Sanchez, LAPD."

The woman straightened her posture and pushed her son behind her, "What can I help you with Detective?"

Julio put his badge back on his belt, "Yes is your husband home?"

The young boy turned and started yelling, "Daddy! Daddy! A policeman is here for you!" And then disappeared into the back of the house.

"Can I ask what this is about?" The woman asked with concern in her voice.

"Uh yes ma'am I was just out to see his step-mother Gwendoline regarding her son, your husband's step-brother Phillip Stroh,"

"Ah, yes, say no more," she opened the door wider to allow Julio inside, "My husband is in his study through there," she gestured down the hall.

XxX

"What is it Mike?" Sharon asked.

"They've found skeletal remains out at the cabin," he paused, "female."

Howard put his head in his hands, "How old?"

"Morales will need to confirm, but sounds like early 20s. Most likely been buried for several years,"

"Anything else?" Sharon asked not sure whether she wanted to know.

"Wes and Amy are still combing through the cabin, seems like it's filled with old newspapers and magazines, canned food from the 70s, not much to go on," Mike wished he had more to give her, but it seemed that all of their leads were coming up just a tad short.

"Well that photo might be all we need," Howard said optimistically, "Anything from Julio or Provenza?"

"Julio just made it to the step-brother's place in Pasadena and Provenza said they don't have much except that briefcase that they still can't get into," he zoomed the map out to show the county of LA and not just the city and pointed towards the flashing dots denoting other members of the team.

Howard moved from his position behind Sharon to stand squarely in front of Tao, "Remind me why they haven't cut into it already?"

"Worried about it being boogie trapped," he dipped his shoulders as he spoke.

Howard didn't think that Stroh would spend the time, but he wasn't looking to take any chances with lives on the line, "Send out the bomb squad with their x-ray machines to take a look, no more wasting time."

"Got it," he replied and picked up the phone dialing out to the other unit while simultaneously sending a text to Paige.

Sharon watched the dots move on the monitor, focused on the team moving towards Griffith Park, focused on Andy, "How many minutes out?" She could see for herself that they had at least another ten minutes until they reached the base of the trail and it would be another several minutes for them to reach the search area.

Howard looked at her, "You've got time."

She nodded and walked out of the room headed up to the 11th floor, opting to take the stairs. Her legs were burning by the time she reached the top, grateful for the flats she had on today. The door to the stairwell creaked as she opened it, and found the floor mostly empty as she walked down the familiar hallway towards the chapel. There was a small bowl of holy water near the door that she dipped her hand into it and made the sign of the cross. She wasn't surprised that the room was empty, the space was much the same in the evenings. The pale orange and red skies were fading into purple and filtering into the room, cascading over the understated alter. She knelt before the cross and began reciting familiar words,

"O God, You are the preserver of men, and the keeper of our lives. We commit ourselves to Your perfect care on the journey that awaits us. We pray for a safe and auspicious journey. Give Your angels charge over us to keep us in all our ways. Let no evil befall us, nor any harm come to our dwelling that we leave behind. Although we are uncertain of what the days may bring, may we be prepared for any event or delay, and greet such with patience and understanding. Bless us O Lord, that we may complete our journey safely and successfully under Your ever watchful care."

As she finished the prayer she looked up at the cross and stifled a sob. As hard as she tried to bat them away with her eye lashes the tears kept forming. She kept her eyes fixated on the cross above the alter and asked God to give her the strength to get through this day as he had the last and he would the next. In an hour she might have her son back, but she might not and the thought nearly broke her. Her lips formed an O and she breathed deeply in and out to calm herself. The tears stilled and she knelt off the floor and sat on the first bench in front of the alter. It was the same spot that a few years ago she and Andy had bumped shoulders as the said a few words for Mariana. She had no idea that a year later they would be a couple and burying Alice, life had come full circle that day. The light was growing darker as she looked at her watch, it was time to get back downstairs, SOB would be nearly there. Taking another deep breath she closed her eyes and stood, with a final glance at the cross she left the chapel and headed to the elevators. She had a job to do and she wasn't going to let Rusty, or Andy, or her team down. Not today. Not when it mattered too much.

XxX

"Over here," Provenza waived his arms gesturing towards the storage locker.

Two officers from the bomb squad unit pulled in with their equipment, "Where's it at?" A large bald headed man asked as he jumped out of their truck.

"It's right here," Paige said carrying the briefcase towards them. "We think that he may have rigged it to let off an incendiary device destroying the contents. Bombing doesn't fit his MO though."

"Ok, well we can't take your word on that and need to follow protocols," he gestured for her to leave the briefcase where it was and focused on gathering all the equipment they would need from their truck.

Provenza turned away from them and walked away before he said or did something that could get him fired. Paige set the briefcase down and stood back allowing the men to get to work, debating about whether she should stay with the evidence or go check on Provenza.

XxX

McGinnis flipped off the lights on her Ford Explorer as she made the final turn up the dirt road. They'd decided to drive three miles up the trail and then hike in the final mile to avoid having lights and noise that could alert Stroh to their presence. The SUV bounced around as it went up the canyon silently. Neither she nor Andy had spoken beyond the details of the case and the mission. Her focus was on running through every detail before the teams deployed and his was clearly on his family. She understood and did her best to give him that space.

Seconds later she saw the bend of trees that denoted the 3 mile marker. The car slid a little in the dirt as she applied the brakes and brought it to a stop. She gathered her things and hopped out. She could still see the dust filtering through the air as the light faded, then turned to see the other vehicles approach.

Andy took a moment to himself alone in the SUV to gather his thoughts. They would be going in silent to keep a low profile, his phone would need to stay off. He took it out of his pocket and sent a quick text message before turning it off. Taking another deep breath he jumped out and found McGinnis standing at the back of the SUV waiting for her team to file in. She turned to him, "Are you ready for this?"

He nodded, "Definitely."

That's all she needed to know. She knew she made the right decision to pair him with Perez, they'd work well together and he'd keep an eye on Andy.

Once the sound of shuffling feet dissipated McGinnis began, "Okay, you all know what's at stake here. Stick to the plan, stick to your partner. Be smart. Be safe."

Perez and Stuart stepped to the flanking McGinnis and Flynn. Perez was the first to speak, "Ok, radios off, body and helmet cams on." He paused while everyone checked their gear. "Let's go." Perez turned to McGinnis and Andy, "Ma'am," he nodded and faced Flynn, "Ready?"

"Let's go," Andy replied and filed in behind Perez and his men as they began to make their way up the dirt trail. It wasn't going to be a hard one mile hike, it was a family friendly walking path that was well-worn from years of visitors. Andy imagined happy mothers and fathers taking their kids up here for the afternoon, enjoying a nice lunch of sub sandwiches and playing in the old habitats. He didn't let his mind wander too far into happier family moments, instead he focused on the incline of the trail itself. He was grateful for the workout routine he and Sharon started after his heart attack. Two years ago he might not have been able to keep up with the guys in SOB.

XxX

The briefcase was set up against a small black board with yellow lines in the corners and a foot away the officer placed a portable digital x-ray machine.

"Okay, it's lined up," he said as he double-checked the settings, "We should be good to go."

The group moved back behind the open Ford Explorer. The trunk was filled with equipment. The other officer lifted the top of the laptop and opened several windows before an image of the briefcase suddenly appeared on the screen.

"Here we go," he studied the screen as he moved the mouse over the grayscale image. There seemed to be documents and perhaps some passports. "I don't see—" he started to say and then paused when he found a small thin wire, "Ah ha."

Provenza spun around and squinted at the screen, "Ah ha what? That's my line."

"Right there," the officer pointed, "there appears to be a small wire tied to a tiny battery here."

"And that means what exactly?" Provenza didn't bother to pretend like he wasn't annoyed that these bomb guys couldn't move any faster, it was like they had no idea that someone's life was on the line.

"That you were right to call us," he turned to the other officer, "Let's get the robot."

"NO!" He shouted recalling how Brenda lost her purse that way, "I"m not about to lose evidence because you boys like blowing shit up."

"Sir, we don't intend to blow anything up. The robot is just a precaution. We're going to use the sniffer to get an idea of the chemical signature, that will tell us what type of device he used. I don't see any blocks—"

"That's good right," Paige interrupted the officer's explanation.

"Let the man finish!" Provenza barked.

"As I was saying, I don't see any evidence that this is a bomb, but I do agree that he's probably triggered a small incendiary device to destroy whatever documents are inside. You were right it's a failsafe."

Provenza couldn't believe what he was hearing. Camile was right. Stroh had surprised him. He wasn't about to admit that he was grateful, not right now when he was dying for information that would help to save Rusty, but for once it was nice to have someone who didn't know Stroh the way the rest of the team did. "So what do we do now?"

"Now, you let us get to work," the officer turned back to the computer and began discussing their options with his colleague.

There was nothing either of them could do to actually help, so Provenza made it his duty to watch over these guys to make sure they didn't fuck anything up. After all he had to maintain the chain of evidence, "Right."

"I guess I'll give the Lieutenant an update," Paige said stepping away from the officers and brooding Provenza.

XxX

Hunt moved back towards his desk after shaking Julio's hand, and gestured for him to take a seat in one of the dark brown leather chairs across from him, "I'm not sure what else I can tell you that I haven't already volunteered to the FBI."

"Sir, we're not as interested in what you know about Stroh as an adult, we are trying to find out more his childhood. Get an idea of places or people that might have been important to him, it might help us locate him now," Julio paused, "We have reason to believe that he may have taken the son of a police Commander, time is of the essence," his voice was calm but filled with the intensity he often let spill through as emotions got the best of him.

Hunt stood up and dove a hand through is blond hair and paced the room, "I'm quite a bit younger than Phillip. My father didn't marry his mother until Phillip was a senior in high school. I'm not sure I have anything that would help. I only lived with him for a year," he looked at Julio in a way that made him seem as though he was trying to rewrite the sins of an entire family. It was something Julio was intimately familiar with given what his own siblings had gotten into over the years.

"Sir, anything you might remember could be a huge help. Please just think back, is there anything that he mentioned or maybe someone else said? Maybe you saw pictures?" He needed them to stay on track, it would be easy for Hunt to shut down or even get too lost in his own past to be able to really help.

He stopped pacing for a minute, "He used to go up to a cabin. He said it was his uncle's place, but I never met the man. He and his mom had a big fight about it around Spring Break. She wasn't going to let him go."

Julio nodded, "The one up in the Los Angeles National Forest?"

He finally returned to his desk and sat down, taking a sip of what Julio guessed was high-priced scotch, "I guess? Like I said I never went up there, it was Phillip's thing."

He tried not to let the disappointment cross his face, they already knew that the cabin was important to Stroh, but at this point there was no sign he or Rusty or anyone else had been there in years. "That's great," he feigned, "Anything else?" He pressed on.

Hunt set his glass back down on the desk and leaned back in his chair, clearly trying to recall other events from what had to have been a disturbing period in his childhood living with someone like Phillip. After a few moments he spoke up again, "It's probably not relevant, but the summer before he went off to university. He uh, he got a girl pregnant. I don't really know all the details I was only 9 at the time. His mother wanted him to take responsibility for it, but then days later everyone stopped talking about it."

Julio had never heard anything about the possibility that Stroh had a kid, "What happened to the girl? Do you remember her name?"

He shrugged, "Sorry I can't recall any more details. I know it was someone at the same high school he attended."

Julio wrote down this new detail in his notebook and looked up at Hunt as he took another sip from the amber liquid and knew he was going to get anything else from him, "Ok," Julio stood up, "Here's my card. If you think of anything else please call me."

He took the business card and followed Julio out of his study, "I'm sorry I can't help you more. I know what he's done and it terrifies me. He terrifies me. I worry," he paused looking down the hall. Julio followed his gaze, "I worry about my family. That he will try and take all this away from me?"

It was a valid fear Julio thought, his step-brother was a serial killer and he wouldn't put it past him to try and wipe out anyone and everyone that ever knew him. "Do you really think he hates you that much?" He wasn't sure why he asked the question.

"Yes, I do." His voice didn't waiver and Julio stared at him until he elaborated, "I think he always blamed me for taking his mother."

An incredulous look washed over him, "From what I gathered, he and his mother were very close. Did things change when your father and she married?"

"At the time I didn't think it had, but looking back on it and being a parent now, I can see that it did. She doted on me and it was as if Phillip was the step-child. Gwen went out of her way to make me feel at home and loved. My mother died when I was six and I ate up all the affection she had to give. Even though Phillip was getting ready to leave home I think it bothered him, he certainly made it known that he did not want a little brother. At every opportunity he tormented me like I was his play thing, I was never happier than the day they packed him up and sent him off to college. But I think that he might still hold a grudge or something against me, wanting to get back to me for stealing his mom or something,"

"She chose you," he muttered.

"I'm sorry?"

"Nothing, thank you Hunt for your time," Julio waved him off he didn't need to know what that meant.

"Do you think he'll come after here? Come after us?" There was no missing the fear from his voice.

"I'm not sure, but I'll contact that Pasadena PD and ask them to send patrol out this way to keep an eye on things," he paused and added "When we get him, you'll be the first to know I promise."

"Thank you, I'd appreciate it," he said holding the door open for Julio to step out into the darkness and head back to PAB to regroup with the rest of the team.

XxX

It took fifteen minutes, but they finally reached the top of the trail where everything opened up to a wide area of picnic tables and aged zoo facades. The two teams split up, Stuart used hand gestures to direct his team towards the north side of the former park while Perez did the same to the South. The men were paired up into groups of three and sent in various directions scouting the area looking for any sign of old buildings.

Andy watched as Stuart's team disappeared into the darkness as they continued to slip up the Lower Old Zoo Trail towards Spring Canyon. They had a lot of terrain to cover and it made him feel nervous. The sun was completely gone and there was only a sliver of a moon to guide their path. When he was sure he'd lost sight of the other officers he turned to watch the team he was with begin to split up and head down towards the Upper Old Zoo Trail.

"Ready," Perez asked as he flicked the safety off his weapon.

Andy gave the signal and unholstered his service weapon and followed Perez and Officer Shepard as they move towards the Southwest quadrant on their search grid. The hill side was steep and covered with dried leaves and brush making it slippery to walk on.

XxX

"Ew, oh god," Amy shrieked.

"What?!" Wes spun around concerned only to find Amy holding a dead rat by its tail. "Looks like he's been here awhile. Is he mummified?"

"I don't know" she spat out and got up to throw the dead critter out, "I'm not going to check."

Wes set down another stack of newspapers, "Do you think we're going to find anything belonging to Stroh in this place?"

Before Amy could respond the sound of howling came from outside. They both stopped what they were doing and listened, it was the coon. Again. This was the third howl the dog had made since it found the first body earlier. Each time it rang out they'd hoped it was the retriever, that they'd found Rusty alive, but each time they were met with the disappointment of death.

"That makes four," Wes said in a near whisper.

"Yeah, I have a feeling there will be a lot more before we get out of here," it was a somber reality that they were coming to realize that Stroh's dealings with death had to have started a long time before Brenda had any idea that he was doing more than just raping women.

He shifted the stack of newspapers he'd already sifted through to the side making room for the new pile. Because anything could be a reference to Stroh they were doing a quick comb through of articles looking for anything mentioning his name or his family. So far they'd found nothing. They'd bring the newspapers back as evidence and let the techs go through them more closely, but for now it seemed like more wasted energy.

Amy threw the rat in a trash bag and returned to where Wes was sitting on the floor and knelt across from him picking up a stack of papers. "How many more do we have to go through?"

"Feels like for ever," Wes whined the pace of this kind of police work didn't suit him well. Amy gave him a pointed look and he cleared his throat, "Uh well it seems that we are up to 1978 so I can't imagine that there are that many years left in the stacks."

Amy ignored her partner's frustration even though it mirrored her own and she began flipping through the yellowing pages when something caught her eye. "Hey this sounds curious. A girl named Mary Wellington went missing was last seen hiking in the Los Angeles National Forest."

Wes stopped flipping through the sports sections and set his paper down and reached for Amy's, "What else does it say?"

"Search and rescue were deployed, but after two days they still haven't found any sign of her," she looked up at him.

"She could be one of our victim's," he used his thumb to gesture behind the cabin.

XxX

"There," Shepard pointed to a tan colored concrete building twenty yards away. It was on the ridge above the gully they were standing in.

Andy felt his heart rate quicken, it had to be the building. After thirty minutes of climbing up and down the terrain this was the only thing that remotely fit the bill. He looked towards Perez who was shaking his head in agreement.

Twenty more yards and I can get my son back. He knew there was a lot more than climbing up this hill to get Rusty back, but he was going to take whatever he could get right now to ignore the burning of his legs and the stinging in his feet. His lungs ached as he pushed himself up the small ridge following behind the other two, younger more able, officers.

They reached the top in silence surrounding the building, listening in the hope that they might hear voices or sounds of life. Several seconds went by and nothing. The trio was about to give up when they heard what sounded like someone or something being dragged. Perez held up his hand and gestured for Shepherd to go around to the rear of the building while he and Andy approached the large steel door.

"Sir," Mike shouted getting the Chief's attention, "I think we may have something." Mike enlarged the screen size on the three cameras attached to Andy, Perez, and Shepard.

Howard moved to the front of the room and looked on as the men encircled the building. Sharon watched in silence as she saw her fiancé get close to saving her son. She wasn't sure the mother in her could watch what was about to unfold.

Andy gestured for Perez to pull the handle of the door open while he covered him. He nodded in silent agreement and counted to three. The door was heavy and took a huge heave in order for him to pull it partially open.

A dim light filtered out of the small space that was barely big enough for one person to squeeze through. Andy pointed his weapon inside and began to advance. There were a few stairs leading down to a large flat area, but Andy couldn't make out anymore from this vantage point.

"Well, it's about time. I was beginning to think I would need to send you a postcard or some formal invitation," a dark but familiar voice called out.

The voice clinched it, they were in the right place. Even though he'd hoped and expected to find Stroh here it still hit him like a two-ton truck. Andy pushed his way inside, swallowing down the fear of what he might find. His eyes struggled to adjust to the light after nearly an hour spent in total darkness. They darted back and forth through the small cold concrete room. His eyes caught movement on the floor. Two. No Four. There were four legs. His brain tried to sort out what he was seeing.

"Hmm, it's just you," the voice spoke out again, echoing in the small space.

"Let them go" Yelled Andy not knowing exactly who they were, but quickly getting an idea. He felt Perez come in behind him.

"Why would I do that? I went through all the trouble of bringing them here, but I must admit that I'm very disappointed," he said finally stepping out from the shadows.

"Yeah well I don't care buddy. Life is a disappointment," Andy growled back.

"I think my plans may need to change now," he moved closer to one of the bodies. As Andy's eyes adjusted he thought it was Rusty. He couldn't tell if he was alive from the angle he was laying. Stroh knelt next to Rusty, "after all it's important to be adaptable. Isn't that the Boy Scout motto?" He turned his head slightly in order to keep his eyes on Andy, "Or was that Be Prepared. I can't recall. Mother didn't let me join the scouts as a kid."

As much as he wanted to stay calm and avoid saying anything that would spool Stroh up he couldn't avoid the sarcasm that came from his mouth, "I'm sure they really missed out on your ability to kill things. Oh wait they don't have a badge for that." All he could think about was keeping him talking until the rest of the team arrived, buying them more time to figure out away for everyone to get out of this alive. Everyone but Stroh. He had no intention of not killing him tonight. He was not going to be arrested and arraigned and tried. He wasn't going to get another chance to escape. There was no "go straight to jail" card, just a straight to the grave in Andy's mind.

The body next to Rusty had blond hair and was obviously a woman. Andy had no doubt in his mind that this was Sharon Beck laying next to her son. He kept his eyes fixated on Stroh, but in his peripheral vision he thought he saw a chest move. They were probably drugged to keep them compliant.

Stroh snickered at the two officers, his eyes were wide almost feral, "It all worked out in the end I think, I got my own badges so to speak."

Andy didn't doubt what he was saying, most serial killers took trophies and just because they hadn't found any of Stroh's yet didn't mean he didn't keep something. He shifted his feet moving towards the left to give he and Perez more room, a better shot.

Sharon's eyes were glued to the monitor there was Rusty. Her son. Alive. She knew what Stroh was getting at, being disappointed and she was grateful she'd listened to level-heads earlier when they demanded she not go. It would have played into his hand. He wanted her and she had been prepared to give herself to him. He knew that. Planned on that. She listened as she heard them talk and as Andy moved, squeezing her hands together knowing what he was doing, what he was trained to do.

"You see it was supposed to be Rusty with his moms." He stood up and looked down at the boy and his mother and smiled wickedly, "He needs to chose one life for another. Who is more important the mother that bore him or the mother that chose him."

Sharon's hands gripped the edge of the table in front of her, keeping her from collapsing from what she was hearing. Chose. He wanted Rusty to chose. Thoughts from Dr. Joe came streaming into her mind, memories of the past. Would you stay or would you go? It had been the million dollar question and when the opportunity did present itself surprisingly he had stayed. But picking a life her mind drifted off not letting her finish the sentence as she heard Andy speak up.

"I don't think Rusty will need to make any choices about his mothers today," he inched forward, "Your the one that needs to make a choice Stroh. Die here. Now. Or Live and maybe see your own mother before she passes. I hear she's very elderly,"

Stroh hissed at the mention of his mother before regaining his composure, "No need Lieutenant I think I've covered everything."

Andy wasn't sure what he meant by that, he remained focused on the immediate task getting Rusty and Sharon out of here. He chanced a glance over his shoulder to Perez. He knew that McGinnis was monitoring things from her location and would have recalled the others to their position, no one was going to let Stroh get off this mountain. Now it was just a question of whether those in this ten by ten room were going to make it out alive.

"No matter," Stroh continued ignoring Andy and the SWAT officer, "This will work too." He raised the gun that was hidden behind his back and pointed it at Rusty.

"NO!" Andy screamed and leveled his weapon at Stroh.

Shots rang out.

Blood sprayed across the room.

Sharon's body was slumped over Rusty's covering him.

Perez ran towards Stroh and kicked the weapon away, then checked for a pulse.

Andy rolled Sharon's body onto her back. There was a gaping entrance in her chest. Her dirty white shirt was covered in a growing stain of red. Andy grabbed what looked like a makeshift pillow and pushed it to her chest.

"Stay with me!"

He looked over his shoulder at Perez as he got up onto his knees to increase the pressure. Perez shook his head. Stroh was dead.

The threat was over.

"Check him!" Andy used his shoulders to gesture at Rusty. He had blood on him.

Perez checked his pulse, "He's alive."

Andy wanted to cry out in joy, but he needed to stay focused on Sharon. His hands were soaked through. She was losing too much blood. He felt Perez shifting Rusty's body around checking for bullet wounds.

"Clear," he told Andy, "He didn't get hit." His eyes drifted down to the woman next to Rusty, "She must have dove over him just before the shots were fired."

Andy nodded. It was true, he'd seen movement out of the corner of his eye as he had leveled his weapon at Stroh and fired.

Bang.

Bang.

Bang.

Emptying his 9mm.

He looked down at Sharon, her eyes were open, "Stay with me. You're gonna be okay. Help is on the way."

Shepard entered the partially open the door, "McGinnis is calling for a helicopter. We'll get her medevaced out of here."

Sharon's eyes made contact with Andy's and she tried to speak, blood came dripping out of her mouth followed by coughs. She turned her head towards Rusty, he was still out of it. Stroh gave them something, but he had no idea what. "Go get some Narcan!" He shouted. Sharon must have handled the dose better than Rusty had.

Shepard ran out and got on his radio hollering for the paramedic kit.

Andy watched as Sharon tilted her face towards her son, bringing a hand to his face. She drew a line with her finger from the brow to his jaw, "I never stopped loving you."

Her hand dropped and her eyes rolled back.

"No, no, no," Andy screamed out. Perez moved over. "Hold this," Andy shouted as he moved the soaked pillow to Perez's hands and started chest compressions.

"One - two - three," his voice wavering as his interlocked fingers pushed hard and rapidly on her chest.

He kept pushing until his arms were dead, his fingers aching.

Slowly, Sharon's face took on a pale grey color and he knew she was gone, but he couldn't stop. He needed to save her, for Rusty. He still needed her. She needed him. Her daughter need a mother.

"Andy," Perez whispered softly as he lifted his hands off the compression pad that Shepard brought in to replace the pillow.

"Where's the damn helicopter it should be here by now?!" He continued pushing hard on Sharon's chest feeling her cracked ribs shifting beneath his hands.

"Andy," he repeated, "She's gone."

As he said the words Andy leaned back on his heels, his arms still pushing down onto Sharon's sternum but less vigorously now. He watched as Rusty began to stir beside them. "Get him out of here, now!" He shouted to Shepard and Perez, "He doesn't need to see this!"

He wanted to do it himself, but his arms were weak and his body was covered with Sharon's blood. He couldn't let Rusty see him like this.

Sharon rushed out of RACR and down towards the garage, she needed to get to her son. She needed to see for herself that he was alright. She didn't stop for anything, pushing people out of the way until she reached her car. Before she could pull out her phone started ringing, "He's fine. But they're going to take him to Cedars." She let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding, "And Sharon she asked?" There was a pause before Mike spoke, "She didn't make it." She collapsed back in her seat. That was it. Stroh was dead. Her son was alive. But his biological mother was gone. Tears streamed down her face as she hung up the phone and let all the emotions from the last several days spill out of her.

Andy waited in the shed with Sharon's lifeless body until the rest of the team arrived. They stepped in and he couldn't really remember what happened after that. He'd fired his weapon, so did Perez. He'd have to stay here at the scene of his action until FID arrived to take his gun and his statement. As he stood outside the concrete shed he looked up at the whirling blades of the helicopters as they circled the area, lending their spotlights to the ground below. He felt like an alien, just dropped here. People ran around him and he just stood there fixed in the same spot. He looked down at his hands, they were covered in blood. Suddenly he realized, Sharon, his Sharon had most likely seen all of that. Digging through his pockets he pulled out his phone and fumbled with the buttons, his hands slippery from the blood, coating the device. Protocol stated he wasn't to talk to anyone until they'd taken his statement, but he was never one to religiously follow all the rule. He finally tapped in his passcode, the thumb reader wouldn't recognize him, and he clicked his favorites and tapped on her name. As he held it to his ear and listened to it ring he realized he didn't know what to say.

"Andy," her words came out breathless and teary.

"He's alive," he spat the words out as the emotion of the last several days spilled out.

"I'm on my way to the hospital now," she said trying to pull herself together.

"We got him Sharon, he's dead, he can't hurt us anymore," he looked at his hands and realized he'd already hurt them in a life-lasting way.

"How am," she paused getting choked up, "Rusty—"

He knew what she was talking about, "We'll figure it out. We'll help him through it, we're a family."

They nodded to each other even though they couldn't see one another. They shared the same feelings, the same thoughts in that moment they were separated by miles they were standing together holding one another in their arms.

"I have to stay here," he started to say even though he knew she wrote the polices that were keeping him away from his family.

"I know," for once she was annoyed with herself, for her own rule-making ability. She wanted him to come off that hill and be with her.

"Of course you do," he let out a half-hearted chuckle but there was no real mirth in it, his voice dipped as he spoke again, "But as soon as I can get out of here I'll meet you at the hospital. I'll be there when he wakes up."

She turned the car on, buckling up taking a breath before pulling out of the parking spot. Her son was alive. The love of her life was alive. She had much to be thankful for, much to say but for now she kept it simple, "I love you Andy."

There was no pause. No beat before his reply. "I love you too."

"It's over, it's really all over," her voice wavered as she spoke words that she had thought may never come to pass. Stroh was gone, once and for all. He was no longer hiding in the shadows. No one had to fear him coming up behind them as they crossed a street or walked home.

"It is," his voice mirrored hers. The fear was over, but he knew it would be weeks maybe even months before things with Stroh would really be over. And for Rusty and his baby sister, they'd never be over. Their mother was gone. They hung up and he looked down at his bloody hands once more, vowing that both children would forever know Sharon's dying words. They were loved. Stroh didn't win. Love won. They would know this love, feel this, if it was the last thing he ever did.

XxX

AN: I hope you've enjoyed my alternate ending for Stroh. It wasn't what I had initially plotted out, but I'm glad that I made the adjustments that led us to this point, I feel it is more satisfying, appropriate, and more in line with what canon would have been. I did a lot of research on this chapter, so much so that I hope Big Brother isn't checking my search history. Thank you to those that have hung in there, I know it took awhile to get to this moment. I will be writing an epilogue in the coming weeks so keep an eye out.

Chapter Text

Epilogue

Rusty stood across the street from Saint Joseph's and watched as the guests began to slowly file into the church. It was the same church that only a few weeks ago they'd held a memorial service for Gus and Sharon. Neither were Catholic, but Sharon pulled some strings with Father Stan and arranged everything. Rusty hadn't even known where to start, but as usual she knew exactly what to do and what to say. Gus's mother took custody of the remains and brought him out to Las Vegas, it wasn't what Rusty thought he'd want but he had little say in the matter. When he was given a choice where to lay his mother to rest he couldn't decide. Cremation. Burial. He had no idea where the rest of her family was and doubted there was a family plot with her name on it.

"Where do you think she'd like to be?" Dr. Joe asked as they neared the end of their session.

"I have no clue," he replied for what seemed to be the millionth time. It'd be come his default response to many questions over the last few weeks.

"Okay," Dr. Joe paused, "Where would you like her to be, so you can visit her?"

"Somewhere safe," he replied without thinking.

Rusty had thought his response was preposterous after all she was already dead, there was no need to be safe any more. It wasn't until much later that something else made him think of Alice and how he'd wished he could have kept her safe too. In that moment he realized he wanted his mother to be buried near Alice. There seemed to be some strange comfort in knowing the two were together, despite never having known one another. In some ways their lives were similar, essentially two kids that ended up on the streets. Different lives, different paths, but sadly the same tragic outcome. He thought back to something from a case years ago, "if you hang out with criminals, you eventually are going to become a witness, a suspect of a victim." When Sharon had spoken those words to him he'd only thought of himself, as he did so many times. He lived on the streets and had become a witness, who else could she have been talking about if not him. Like many things she'd said to him over the years, the impact would come to hit him later. He looked at the scene unfolding across the street, and he thought back to something he'd told her once "you drop an egg, sometimes it breaks, sometimes it doesn't." Rusty couldn't explain why he was the one who had lived, why it seemed like his "egg" didn't seem to break. It was almost as if when he fell he always landed on something soft, cushioning the drop and keeping him from shattering.

It was a warm afternoon for November, even by LA standards. He'd been worried it would rain when he checked the forecast earlier in the week. It seemed, however, that God would only let light shine down on Sharon and Andy. He saw another black car pull up and watched as his sisters stepped out wearing beautiful purple dresses. Nicole looking back at Emily and smiling, next to her stood the boys his nephews now he supposed. There across the street, mere yards away, was his entire family. He knew of course it wasn't everyone his baby sister had a cold and wouldn't be coming and obviously his mother wasn't. It took him some time to come to some type of delineation in his mind between the two Sharon's in his life. Talking to Dr. Joe had helped of course, but actually it was Nicole's husband Dean who'd said something that stuck with him. Dean's boys were young when their mother died and they had only a few memories of her. Like Rusty did with Sharon, the boys went back and forth between calling Nicole by her name and by "mom." Dean shrugged one day and told him Jennifer would always be their mother, but Nicole was their mom. It didn't make sense at the time, it seemed like he was saying the same thing. The term meant the same thing mom, ma, mother, mama, it was all just variations on the same concept. But it wasn't he realized. There was Sharon who had given birth to him and tried to raise him, tried to mother him. Then there was Sharon who taught him how to be an adult, how to interact with society, how to be part of a family. While she mothered him too, it was different, she "momed" him as she did with Ricky and Emily, and even sometimes Andy's kids.

The light caught on an ivory white dress next to the black town car and Rusty couldn't help but draw his eyes to the sight of her moving up the steps. This was his mom.

He felt a slap on his shoulder and spun around.

"Hey little bro," it was Ricky, "time to get this show on the road before one of them gets cold feet."

"Mom already has cold feet, and I don't think either one of them is going anywhere without the other," he let out a small chuckle as he thought about the numerous conversations he'd unwittingly overheard between his mom and Andy.

"Yeah you're probably right about that," he nodded in agreement and gestured for them to start moving away from his post adjacent the church.

As the pair crossed the street in their matching tuxes, the bridesmaids ushered Sharon up the steps and into the hall. Ricky was going to be walking his mother down the aisle, but she'd asked Rusty to do the reading. She hadn't specified which passage she wanted and it'd made him feel anxious. He'd done the obligatory google search down the rabbit's hole of wedding readings, but nothing seemed right. The words were right, there was nothing wrong per say with what they had to say, but nothing felt right. He'd seen Wedding Crashers enough times that he didn't want to pick something that was so stereotypical that everyone had the words memorized. Sharon asked him to tag along, mostly because she didn't want him out of her sight for the first few weeks after he was released from the hospital, to meet with Father Stan. She said she was just finalizing things, but in hindsight she'd brought him for a reason.

"Rusty can you hang out here for a minute while I go back to car," she left her purse next to him on the pew.

"Yes, it's okay to leave me unsupervised for five minutes," he tried to keep the childish exasperation out of his voice, but knew he'd failed when he caught her expression.

"Oh I'm not leaving you unattended," she pointed, "Father Stan will keep an eye on you."

Once Sharon was out of ear shot the priest spoke, "She only hovers because she cares."

"I know," he sighed and he appreciated it, but he was also feeling a bit smothered lately.

"So I hear you're giving the reading," he stated as he sat in the pew across from Rusty.

"Yeah," he ran a hand through his blond hair, "I'm not sure which one to pick. I don't want to pick the wrong thing, you know?"

He nodded, "I don't think you could pick the wrong thing Rusty."

"I'm not Catholic or anything, and well," he shrugged, "I just want something that says the right things."

"I can understand that, but Rusty," he stood up as he heard the doors open, "it's family they'll know what you're trying to say, just pick from the heart."

It was such a simple thought, he'd scoffed at it initially as just priestly platitudes, but as he flipped through the paperback pages of his St. Joe's copy of the Bible from school he found himself thumbing around actually reading passages. He hadn't really bothered to read much if anything when he was forced to take a semester of bible lit, hadn't cared to get that invested in it. Now though, everything was different, life was never going to be what it had been three months ago. It took him a week, but he'd managed to read the entire thing cover to cover. He was surprised and how many ties he found to his law books and even other literature he'd read. What surprised him even more was that in the highlighted margins he'd found a scribble in his own hand. It must have been a passage they'd been studying in class. He'd scrawled time to get our of here sarcastically.

As the brothers stepped into the church they were overwhelmed by high pitched squeals and giggles coming from one end of the hallway. The women were all lined up, blocking the view of Sharon. In front stood Mark and Ben in their mini-tuxedos. They'd spent the morning pretending they were James Bond, ducking around corners and pulling on their cuffs. When they saw Rusty they bolted from their spot in the line up and ran up to him yelling "Rusty! Rusty!"

"Hey!" He knelt beside them, "Excited I see."

"Yes, we get to walk down the aisle before Grandma Sharon!" Ben said enthusiastically.

"That you do," he watched as they waved the ring pillows around, "Let's be careful with those boys." He put his hand out to still their motion, before Nicole came over to usher them back.

"We're about ready," she said, "C'mon boys back in line."

"But we're talking to Uncle Rusty," cried Mark annoyingly.

"We can talk all night, at the reception, remember," he said giving the boy a pat on the shoulder.

"Okay," he relented and shuffled his way back with the others. Rusty couldn't help but smile, the boys were hilarious at times and he wondered if he was ever like that when he was their age.

He needed to take his place next to Andy and Provenza at the alter, but he couldn't walk away without seeing her. Following Ricky, he passed by photographer and bridesmaids to where Sharon was standing, her back turned. The long delicate veil covered her auburn hair that was pulled into a low knot to one side. She seemed to sense them approaching and turned, her dress twisting partially around framing her just so. Rusty could see her eyes welling up, "Don't cry, Andy will have our hides."

"Yeah, mom, don't ruin your make-up, I'm getting hungry and I know how long it'll take you to fix it!" Ricky deadpanned causing Sharon to break out in a wide smile.

Rusty looked up at him, he always seemed to know exactly what to say to her to get her to laugh. It was a gift that he wish he had, lately it seemed that everything he said or did made her cry. She said they were happy tears, which Emily had to explain for him, but he wasn't always so sure.

"My boys," she placed her mixed bouquet of dark purple calla lilies, scabies pod, lamb's ear, and tiny pastel green hydrangeas and ran her hand down each of their cheeks, "Thank you for being here and thank you for being my sons."

It was a sentiment he'd heard before, but nonetheless caused him to blush. He was getting better at not questioning why she loved him so much and was working on just accepting the fact that she did. Some days were easier than others.

"Let's get this show on the road," Ricky clapped his hands together, "everyone ready?"

Rusty leaned in and gave Sharon a hug, "thank you for being my mom," he whispered and then left the bridal party in the hall to join Andy. When the wide doors to the church opened the beauty of it all struck him, he hadn't expected to get all emotional over seeing some guests and a few flower arrangements. What he saw though wasn't just a few flowers the space was filled with lilies that gave the air a different scent than he was accustomed to smelling during mass. And it wasn't just some guests, it was the team, it was Sharon's parents and Andy's sister, it was their friends - it was family.

Andy spotted him, thankfully, and walked partially down the aisle to meet him, "Ok?" He asked. Andy had been more discrete with his hovering than Sharon, which he'd come to appreciate. They were quite the pair, and he was beginning to realize more and more that they were his pair. Nicole and Nathan had Andy and Sandra. Emily and Ricky had Sharon and Jack. But Rusty, Rusty had Sharon and Andy.

He'd only heard bits and pieces about what happened in the shed, and for once he was glad he didn't know everything, but he had learned exactly what Andy had done for him, and his mother. Naturally Andy never said anything to him, except a few words muttered after the funeral about how she'd never stopped loving him, but nothing else. No it was Provenza, of course, who had pulled him aside and let him read a copy of the after-action report that FID filed. He wasn't supposed to give that to Rusty, but Provenza never was one to like following the rules.

He didn't read it right away, he'd filed it away in his notebook and into his messenger bag. For several days he walked around with it, pulling it out only to put it back. He thought about reading it over with Dr. Joe, but didn't want to put him in an awkward ethical situation. It took two weeks before he finally pulled the file out and kept it out. In a rare moment where Sharon had let him out of her sight, he'd driven the car around LA, nowhere in particular. He found himself up Mulholland Drive looking down the canyon towards the Pacific. The beach wasn't his usual place to relax or think. Unlike Sharon and Andy, he really didn't like the beach — too much sand and too many people. But that fall evening it felt like the right place to be. Putting the car in park at an overlook spot he finally opened the blue folder and read through the contents. There were pages and pages, and he'd eventually read the entirety but his first response was to flip to the end.

The bullet fired from Lieutenant Flynn's gun was determined to be the fatal shot to the victim's head (see coroner's report attached).

Our findings have determined that the use of force was justified and done with the expressed goal of saving the two hostages.

We recommend submitting Lieutenant Flynn for a meritorious service award for his heroic efforts.

He'd read the words several times. Andy saved him. Andy killed Stroh. Andy tried to save his mother. He knew it was the entire team that helped save him that day, but it was Andy who was there. He felt bonded to him, tied in a new way — no one else could understand what happened.

"Here," Andy gestured towards the pew, jarring Rusty from his thoughts. Andy had brought him to the front of the church and gestured for him to sit next to Sharon's parents. He had been so lost in his thoughts he wasn't sure how his body had moved down the aisle without him knowing. He'd just followed Andy. Life was different these days. They were different. Neither spoke about it, but there seemed to be a mutual recognition of the other.

There was life before Stroh and life after Stroh. In his sessions with Dr. Joe he'd come to call them BS and AS. Before his mind could wander back down a darkened alley the organ began playing and everyone turned to look over their shoulders. Rusty mimicked them, as he often did when he wasn't sure what he was supposed to do. He watched as Ben and Mark ran up the aisle, faster than they'd practiced the night before, and hugged Andy before Dean corralled them to the side. Then one by one the ladies filed down until the doors closed. The organ switched over to the bridal march and everyone stood. When the doors opened and Sharon stepped through them, he felt a knot rise from his belly and get caught in his throat. He turned and watched Andy's face as his mom walked towards him, all he saw was love. It was such a pure expression of love, one he'd never seen before that tears formed.

When she and Ricky reached the end of the aisle she turned towards him and gave him a weepy-eyed smile before returning her focus on Andy who was wholly absorbed, as he often was, in Sharon. The organ stopped and they all sat down as Sharon and Andy moved up the alter with Father Stan. His reading would be soon and he felt his leg start to bounce, jittery as his nerves rose to the surface. He didn't usually have trouble public speaking, but since the incident he felt exposed in large groups. He felt Violet reach over and touch his knee, he looked up at her as she whispered, "Everything will be just fine." With a nod he relaxed into her calming touch and took a deep breath, waiting to hear his name being called.

"And now a reading by their son, Rusty," he heard Father Stan say and it jarred him from his introspection.

Rusty looked up, feeling nervous, but Sharon's mom gave him another reassuring nod and slight push. He stood straightening his dark purple tie and moved to the podium. He pulled out his old St. Joe's bible and flipped to the bookmark he'd left and cleared his throat. He hadn't told anyone what he was planning on reading, and oddly no one had asked. He took a deep breath and began, "Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace."

It wasn't a standard reading, certainly not a common choice for a wedding, but as he looked up closing his book he knew he'd made the right one. Both Sharon and Andy nodded, knowing just what Rusty was saying. It was a time for peace, to dance, to laugh, and to mend. They'd been a family for awhile, but now they were official. He hadn't told either of them of the envelope he had in his breast jacket pocket, it was going to be their wedding gift. Adoption papers. He wasn't sure whether he'd ever call Andy dad, but that's certainly who he'd become. It's who he'd been for awhile, it just took a crisis for him to realize it. As he stepped down from the podium and looked around, his heart swelled. He'd experienced so much loss in his young life, he never imagined that he could also experience so much gain. It was something no one ever talked about, something he didn't even get until this very moment. There was a time for loss and a time to gain — now was that time.

XXX

AN: I chose to write this final piece from Rusty's POV because it's the one we never heard from throughout the story. While I couldn't stand the character on the show, not because of GPM amazing performance but how he was written, I found yet another surprise moment of healing through this story - that I could like Rusty. Through this story I also found that I could push myself creatively beyond points I didn't know I could push through those blocks and challenges to reach the end. I know this isn't the most popular story in the fandom and I doubt it'll ever garner the mythological status of some other stories who we've brought in as "canon" but I'm glad I wrote it and I'm glad to have created my own head canon ending for this show.

I don't know if and when I'll be able to watch the show again, I hope it isn't ruined forever. Writing this has helped me heal and recognize that it's a time for love and a time for peace. Hanging onto my hatred of Duff isn't what Sharon Raydor preached through her faith nor does it do me any good. I've grieved.

I know many have asked for a sequel or for this to continue but frankly it wouldn't do this justice it was just a path I had to walk and now that I've crossed it I'm ready to move on. I may write a little smutty wedding night piece for our couple because I've realized I haven't done anything like that in months, but it'll be posted as a one-off.

Special thanks to xbleeple and blacktag189 for helping me get to this point.