Ray caught up with Catherine right after lunch, sitting down at her desk with a sigh of relief.  "Have a good morning?"

"Not really," she admitted.  "I hated the phones.  So I paid them off and am looking around."

"Cingular," he told her.

"Yes, Ray. Do they have good flip phones?"  He nodded.  "Cool.  After work?"  He nodded again.  She handed over the rest of her lunch. "Eat.  Please."  She wiped her fingers off, looking at her email. "I need to make sure the computer guy puts in a longer data cable," she noted.  "Vice got all new laptops."

"While yet again the rest of us suffer through a budget crisis," Huey said dryly.  "How?"

"Grant from the Feds to retool and get in pretty people," she told him.  "They're only hiring people in their twenties."  She shrugged.  "It sucks and is against the law but it happens.  I wish them many years of backup and vests that fit."  She typed in a response to one, then smiled at the next one.  "We're invited out at six tonight," she told Ray.  "They want to meet us beforehand."  He nodded, nibbling on her lunch for her.  "What did you get to do today?"

"Paperwork, I've got court in about an hour," he told her.  She wrote down an address and handed it to him.  "Here?"

"There," she agreed.   "By or about sixish."  He nodded.  "If not, I can go alone this time."  He nodded again, taking another bite of her pita.  "Peppers," she warned.

"I noticed, it's fine."  She smiled at him and he shrugged.  "Spicy works.  Sometimes."  He ate another bite, chewing slowly.  He nodded at her open file.

"Homicide and stomach churning if you're not used to it," she warned.  Her pager went off.  "Speaking of.  Gotta go."  She blew a kiss and headed off with her briefcase.  She went to get in and found him standing behind her.  "Don't you have court?"

"Yeah, but I'd better understand this stuff.  People will expect it and it'll keep Welsh from handing me another file."  He got in, watching as she drove.  She went faster and was a little less careful than he was, but he could tolerate it sometimes.  They got out, heading over to the cordoned-off site.  Someone handed him an airsickness bag with a look. "Not pretty?"

"Very not pretty," he agreed.  He lifted the tape, looking at her.

"Has CSU been here?" Catherine asked.  A detective looked at her and grimaced.  "You whined?" she said smugly.  He waved a hand at the body.  "CSU?"

"Been here and done," he admitted.  "Get a real phone soon."

"I'm looking," she told him, bending down beside the body.  "Definitely the same marks.  I've traced them back to an obscure French cult during the Renaissance.  The only problem is that they're upside down."  She looked at the coroner waiting on her. "Can I get good pictures?  You know I suck at it."  He nodded quickly. "Thanks.  I need to check for anything not in their field.  The fact that he's putting them upside down is bothersome.  These were originally prayer markings."  She pointed at the main one, the one with the hook.  "That should be pointing up and her head should be tipped to the North. They associated that with goodness and light.  These were marks put onto a body post self- sacrifice in supplication."  She stood up, looking around. "North?"  Two guys pointed.  "See, not the right thing.  Another poser."  She got out of the coroner's way.  "Can I get into your files?"

"I'll have them saved down to disc for you," he promised.  "This is number eight."

"I've only got up to number five.  What were the other three?  Did anyone keep track of the inclination or heading of the body?"

The Homicide detective looked at her.  "I don't think so but the drawings might help."  She nodded, giving him an interested look.  "How wannabe?"

"Definite.  He's got it all mixed up.  The technical but not the fine details.  In their tradition, the girl would have killed herself by a knife, usually to her own heart.  Then the same knife would have been used to carve the symbols onto her body so her soul could carry the markings to their Higher Authority for help with the prayer while the knife was buried with her mortal remains.  The marks identify her as a martyr to the cause.  She should have had her head tipped back and the crown going north.  The one with the hook should be facing her left shoulder to catch the North winds.  A few of the others are upside down too.  I'll do a more comprehensive search, but my symbols research site didn't have many that were even close and these are perfect, down to the dots and the arches in the lines."  She looked down as the body was moved.  "Whoa, except for the Aztec marking," she said, bending to get a better look at it. "Mixing traditions.  Definite poser.  He's making his own cult."  She stepped away, shaking her head.  "I'll need scanable copies," she told the coroner.  "You can put them on the disc if you want."  He smiled at her and nodded. "I know, I ask a lot.  I'm a pushy bitch.  It's this damn light.  Someone needs to quit paying the power bill on the sun."  She picked up her briefcase, making sure it was closed. "Forward me all the files.  I'll see what I can do to help."  He nodded, smiling at Ray as she walked away.  "Leave him alone, Murphy.  He makes me happy."

"Fine. Sorry," he told Ray.  "You really go for that sort?"

"I didn't realize it until it happened," Ray told him honestly.  He shrugged.  "Are you adding to her caseload?"

"No, we take credit for her work," he said with a bright grin.  "It makes us look better."  Ray raised an eyebrow.  "Hey, we've got to keep our clearance up or they'll do to us what they did to Vice.  She was the only one clearing in there and you guys got her.  Our boss will work out something with Welsh later.  We call her all the time."

"Fine," Ray agreed, following her back to the car.  "That wasn't that bad," he said once he joined her.

"If he's doing it right, at least one will be on a little kid," she told him, looking at him.  "Probably the next one."  He looked sickened then got sick.  "Exactly.  I need to do some more research tonight."  She climbed in and turned on the engine, listening to the radio.  Someone walked up beside her and tapped on the window so she rolled it down, pulling her badge up for the traffic cop.  "Sorry.  Waiting on my buddy," she said, pointing at him.  "I'm Detective Demoranth."  He nodded, backing away.  "Thanks."  Ray got in. "Better?"

"Yeah, but those peppers were bad coming up."

"Check the glove compartment," she said as she pulled away from the scene. "I usually keep breath mints and Listerine in there because of scenes like that."  He did, finding the Listerine first.  He rinsed and spit out the window at a red light.  "So, now you know.  Welcome to the world of the odd cases.  If someone forwards you one, just send it to me."

He capped the bottle and put it back inside the plastic holder.  "Why do they get to keep the credit?"

"Because otherwise I have to go to court and explain how I knew.  I'm not officially an expert so it doesn't lend me as much credibility.  Like that guy, I'm good at researching on the 'net."

"Are you sure it's a guy?"

"I'm very sure it's a guy," she told him.  "I don't know too many girls who could carry her and not hurt themselves.  Besides, statistics are on my side."  He grunted, getting comfortable.  "How many times have you gotten razzed today?"

"Six or seven," he admitted.  "Stanley stopped one guy by tripping him. The others are more minor, like that guy and Huey."  He looked at her.  "I knew I'd like that outfit on you," he noted.

"Thanks.  Speaking of outfits, we might have to change.  Do you have anything that's all natural?"


"That'll work. I've got an actual robe from when I've had to help others.  Keep that outfit in mind in case we have to change.  If we do, then we'll be having dinner with the coven and there's a celebration afterwards."  Ray nodded.  "We probably aren't going to be doing the ritual with them."

"Thanks for the warning.  How bad will it be?"

"Not very," she admitted.  "Beltane is the planting celebration.  A celebration of new life.  In the old days, it used to be a libidinous celebration as well.  Depending on the tradition it could have some different versions of meaning.  We'll find out tonight and I'll find you some sites to read.

"Please. I'm still a bit lost.  Traditions?"

"Think of it as ideological roads to the same place."

"Okay.  Like Methodist against Baptist?"

"Some.  More like Methodist versus Methodist.  Methodist versus Baptist would be different faiths more or less.  The Druid versus the Norse.  They all have similar foundations and outcomes, but they each have their own mythology, reasons, and rules."

"Got it," he said firmly.

"Good, because it gets more complicated from there.  There are traditions that are more complicated than your own faith.  Between the religious purges and the people who have filled in the gaps, you can also get new school versus the older traditions."  He groaned.  "Gonna get sick again?"

"Remembering Catholic school and the lists of saints to memorize," he admitted.

"Not quite that bad," she told him.  "Just more formalities.  Think of it as the pagan version of High Latin Mass on Easter Sunday."  He shuddered.  "Then there are some that are like the social group meetings in someone's rec room.  It depends on the holiday, the tradition, and the people doing it and how firm they are on all the rules."  She stopped outside the precinct.  "I've got that robbery case this afternoon.   Hopefully I'll be done by four.  If not, you can get yourself there, or if you're gonna be really late, beep me and I'll go alone."  He nodded, checking traffic before getting out.  "Have a nice day."  She zipped off before he could retort.

He shook his head as he walked inside to get his case notes.  He'd be a few minutes late but it had been instructive.  Not only was she smart, funny, and cutesy as hell sometimes, but she had a near cast iron stomach.  He briefly wondered how bad Vice could be, then decided he didn't want to know.  She could probably make him blush with some of the things she's seen.  He grabbed his notes and waved them at his Lieutenant as he walked past him.  "Court."

"Fine.  Come right back here," he ordered.  "The Feds want her help on another case."

"She's still on her beeper and she's heading for the robbery you gave her," Ray said as he walked out.  He nodded at Stanley.  "More Feds."

"Yay," he said bitterly, heading into the squad room.  "Am I needed?"  The Lieutenant gave him a look.  "Besides for my wondrous ability to do paperwork?" he asked sarcastically.

"No, but now that you mention it, we would like to you exercise that ability soon for our amusement," the Lieutenant told him.  "The Feds want her to bust someone in a leather club.  Someone referred them to her."

Stanley snickered, shaking his head.  "I can't see her taking Huey into one," he said, smirking as Huey came in from the bathroom.  "Ready to help her bust someone at one of her favorite clubs?" he taunted.

"What club?" he asked cautiously.

The Lieutenant looked at the note.  "Club Torment?"

Huey backed away from him. "No way in hell am I going into a leather bar!  She goes to them!"

Stanley smirked at him.  "It was one of the clubs she took runaways out of all the time.  She said the little twinks were looking for daddies to belong to.  Don't worry, I'm sure she'll protect you from all the gay men."  Huey gave him a dirty look.  "I'll go if Huey won't," Stanley offered.

"Send Vecchio.  That way he knows what she's *really* like," Huey said.

Stanley cleared his throat.  "She's nice, sweet, and kind to those she likes.  As long as she's not tired, not in pain, and has had caffeine in recent memory, which is rather short for her.  Piss her off and you've got a long climb outta the crapper with her."  Huey gave him a disgusted look.  "The first time she was shot in that shoulder I got called in to help her in Vice.  She was like a Drill Sergeant with her files.  She's concise, precise, and very active.  Remember to wear good shoes."  He turned back to his stack of paperwork, tossing Vecchio's half back onto his desk.  "There, that's a nicer sight," he said happily.  "Sir, computers will make this go faster."

"I'm sure it will," he agreed.  "I called our computer people and they said we're the last to get them and we're getting castoffs.  I'll expect no porn on the machines, boys.  Not even hers," he said when Huey opened his mouth.  "Speaking of, ask her why she's got a kids' chatroom bookmarked," he told Stanley.

"Because she was in Vice," he said patiently.  "They go after the predatory bastards who need ta be shot a few times in soft and painful places before they're eviscerated and fed to Dief's more wild cousins."  He looked up at the silence.  "They should be."

"They should be," Huey agreed.  "How old and slow?  Hers is six years out of date."

"Yes, and she likes it that way," Stanley said firmly.  "Don't change any settings on her machine.  She'll throw a fit when you disorder her world.  She gets enough of that from her cats."  He read over one and signed it, tossing it at the office.  "There's one down."  He pulled the next one and read it too; apparently these were waiting on his signature.

"Kowalski, I don't believe my inbox is on the floor," the Lieutenant said firmly.

"I can toss them out instead," he offered dryly.  He held up that one and pulled down another one to look over.  This one needed his special touch with description.  It was taken from his hand.  "Thank you.  Vecchio?"

"Court.  Demoranth is at that robbery.  Homicide will be dropping something off for her," Welsh said.   "Make sure it gets to her."  He went back into his office to check for typos.

Huey looked at Stanley.  "She goes to leather bars?"

"She said they're about her own age.  It's better than having to sit in a teen club and feeling old," he told him.  "Besides, she's seen a lot in Vice.  One never knows what that woman's walked in on."  He dialed the detective in question's pager, hanging up.  She called back a few minutes later, he was the only one who did that to her. "Hey.  Welsh said the Feds want help in Club Torment.  Yeah, sure."  He covered the receiver.  "Welsh, line four!" he called.  He listened as it was picked up then he hung up.


Catherine walked back into the station with the perp in custody, handing him over to Huey.  "Handcuff him to something.  Feds?"

"Upstairs, in the SWAT meeting room," he said, looking at the older man.  "What did he do?"

"Had his nephew stage the robbery so he could get a big insurance check.  His nephew still needs caught."  She dropped everything and headed up the stairs, panting a little as she reached the top.  The SWAT civilian aide gave her a horrified look.  "Relax, Patricia, I'm not invading.  I live downstairs now.  Feds?"  She pointed.  "Thanks.  If anyone else gets called up, send them my way."  She headed into the meeting area, shuddering at the oily men's smiles.  "Fine, you're all snakes, who gives a damn.  What did you need with my friends?"  She crossed her arms, staring them down.

"There's a federal fugitive in there today," one of them told her.  "We'll give you the option of leading the way in since you know the layout."

She laughed, shaking her head.  "I doubt it.  Give me ten minutes, I can get him out.  File?"  It was handed over with a look.  "Yes, I do know them.  You break in and you'll have your little mind opened forcefully and forever.  You might even learn to like your place as someone's lap dog."  She walked out, heading down the stairs.  She found Ray looking at the notes she had made.  "I know, my handwriting stinks.  Who's going in with me to Club Torment?" she asked.  Huey shuddered and got up to go get some more coffee.  "I wouldn't bring you anyway.  You'd stand there and gape."  She looked at Stanley.  "Wanna?"

He waved a hand at the paperwork.  "Welsh said I either do all these or get to have my asscheeks superglued to the chair," he told her.  "Vecchio?"

"Sure, why not.  It seems to be a day for revelations."

"Hopefully not Biblical ones," she teased, smirking at him when he groaned.  "What?  I do have a sense of humor.  Just wait until you see me with Oz."  She picked up her phone and her palm pilot, calling a number in it.  "Hey, it's Sascha.  I need to come in as an official- type person.  I'm bringing *one* person with me.  No need for alarm.  Just keep everything standard."  She hung up, grabbing her pistol and a pair of handcuffs.  "Come on, Ray."  She walked down the stairs, letting the Feds follow them. "Who's driving?"

"Me," he said firmly. "You ran a redlight earlier."

"Ooh, a bad thing.  I ran a yellow."  She grinned at him and nearly missed a step.  "Oops."  She paid more attention, getting in her side of the car.  "Do you know where we're going?"  He nodded, starting his car.  She looked back as the Feds ran out of the building, getting in their own sedan.  "Ooh, they're gonna be big bad guys," she said sarcastically.

"Who did you give warning to?"

"The owner.   He's cool.  His Master is really sweet."  He whimpered.  "Trust me, you'll like Mel.  Mel's a sweetheart.  He purrs for me."  She grinned at him.  "I promise, you can sit at the bar and ignore people if you want," she said patiently.  He grunted, scowling at her when they had to stop at a light. "Really.  They're already at play.  Green light."  He checked and went on, going to the club he barely knew about.  She got out and rang the bell before opening the door.  "Very important, there's a switching corridor," she told him.  She trotted down the five stairs, leaning across the bar to give some guy a hug.  "Hi, Mel."  He gave her a look.  "It's either us or the Feds who wanted to bust in here and arrest everyone to get one guy."

"File?" he sighed, looking at Ray.  "You're not one of us, right?"  He shook his head quickly.  "Her new partner?" he asked hopefully.

"That too," Ray told him.

"Oh, you're *him*!" Mel said with a grin.  "The cops who came in said you were in existence."  He looked at Catherine.  "A man, Sascha?"

"He's sweet.  He takes very good care of me.  He even makes sure I rested when I got shot in the shoulder."  He gave her a hurt look.  "The guy moved my apartment across town for me even though I told him not to, didn't laugh at my jammies, and my cats like him."

"Shit, keep the man then.  Much better than *her*."  She nodded, giving him a wry look.  "Who, sweetie?"  She handed over the file and he looked at it, grimacing.  "I think I know him.  He's up in room five."  He handed it back.  "He's presently pumping himself up inside his boy."

Catherine grimaced.  "Room five.  Isn't that the big room?"

"Second on the right," he reminded her.  "The one with the screens."  She nodded, taking her soda to sip on the way up.  "Should I tell Marcus you're not coming back soon?" he called.

"Ask Ray."

"Marcus?" he asked.

"Cute little bottom boy who wants to be a cop.  He's been asking all sorts of questions.  Wants me to recommend him to the academy."

"She'll see him, just not here," Ray called back.  "Have him call her at the station so she can take him to lunch and show him around."

She gave him a look.  "Wait in the hall, Ray.  You won't like what you're about to see."  She handed him her soda after one last drink, then pulled out all three sets of cuffs.  She tapped on the door and opened it.  "Morning.  Someone call for an asskicking?"  Two of the guys looked at her and drooled.  "I know, I'm in *real* clothes.  Blame Vecchio.  He's got standards."  She smirked at the two Masters, visually measuring them up.  "Claude?"  He nodded.  She looked at the other one.  "Master Bart.  I've been waiting on you."  He got up and tried to move but she blocked his path.  He was roughly about six-four and all muscle, built like a wrestler on tv, but she was more imposing.  "If you come quietly, I won't have to paddle your ass like you deserve."

"Is this someone's birthday?" the sub in the sling asked.

"Nope, unfortunately this is work," she told him.  "Master Bart is a federal fugitive.  It's either Ray and I getting him or about ten Feds."  They all shuddered.  "So if he comes quietly, I won't have to hurt him or myself while I hurt him."  He swallowed and nodded.  "Good boy.  Turn around."  He did so and tried to run into the bathroom.  She got in there, stopping him from dumping the baggies he had down his pants.  "Naughty!" she said, smacking him.  He whimpered and knelt beside her.  "Better.  Hands!"  He put his hands behind him.  "Good boy.  Someone obviously loved you a lot when they trained you as a Master."  She stood up and walked him out.  "Continue on, gentleman."  She paused and handed the Master the bottle of lube.  "Your arm's a little dry," she told him, walking out.  She took back her soda, walking him down the stairs.  "Got anything here?  Bags or anything?"  He nodded and stopped at the bar.  Mel handed them to Ray. "Thanks, Mel.  The nasty Feds won't ruin anyone's day any longer.  I'm guessing it's a drug warrant by what he's stuffed his pants with.  Dude, are you really small?" she asked him.  He glared at her.  "Thankfully, I won't get to strip search or body cavity you."  He nodded, looking down as she walked him out.  She handed him over to the lead Fed.  "Did you need anything else in there?  The owner said he'd kick your ass if you walked in because you're yuppie slime."

The Fed looked stunned.  "How?" he asked finally.

She looked at him, then smirked.  "I'm good.  Unlike you.  By the way, he's gonna need strip searched.  We didn't even pat him down because he tried to pull baggies out of his jock.  Have fun with that.  I'm sure you'll like what he can show you."  She tipped Bart's face up.  "Be yourself, sweetie, they'll *like* you."  He smirked and looked back at the Fed, licking his lips.  She headed for the car.  "Come on, Ray.  I need my pain killers.  I can feel a bitch moment coming on."

He handed over the bag.  "The owner said that was his.  We didn't search it either."

"What was he doing?" the lead Fed asked.

"I don't know," Ray said honestly. "There was one guy with half his arm up someone, that's all I know."  All the Feds gave him a horrified look.  "He was very good for her.  He knelt very nicely and presented his hands for her cuffs.  Speaking of, she'll want them back."  He walked over, pulling out his keys before he got in.  "Do you get to do that often?" he asked as he started the engine.

"Only in there.  They're fun about that.  Five years ago, when I wasn't quite so fat, I got to walk in as the cop stripper for someone's birthday and administered one *hell* of a birthday spanking to the poor little boy."  Ray gave her a stunned look.  "What?" she asked innocently.  "It saved me buying and wrapping something."  He shook his head and pulled away.  "Sorry, I won't tell you any more about my wacky days in Vice," she promised, sounding sympathetic, even though she was grinning wickedly.

"Not while I'm driving," he ordered.

"Yes, dear."

He snorted.  "I doubt you're that submissive."

"No, I'm a switch."

He groaned and sped up, taking them to a park so they could talk.  "You're a what?" he asked as soon as the car was safely off.

She turned to face him.  "I'm a switch.  I can be a dom or a sub.  Mostly I'm a dom, but every once in a while I like to be put onto my back and let someone else take control of things."

"Okay," he said firmly.  "I can understand that.  A lot of women seem that way."  She nodded.  "How did Stanley know?"

"The time he worked with me in Vice.  We had to go in and 'save' a runaway who had filed assault charges against her former Master.  She didn't understand and refused to listen.  In the end, they had me come get her because they couldn't make her see sense.  The DA threw it out because they had the contract and because she was dumb.  She walked in wanting to be spanked and expected it to be a sex club instead of something a bit more real.  Most leather clubs are like dinner theater, it's there for the show and for those who like to play and all that.  Torment holds people who live the life every day.  That Master Bart guy had his own sub.  He was the guy in the sling.  You could tell by the tag on his collar if you had gotten close enough."

Ray held up a hand.  "Belonged to?"  She nodded.  "They sign contracts?"

"The ones I know do.  There's a lot of testing before a Master takes on a sub for real.  They spend a lot of time talking.  That girl wanted the dinner theater version for kicks and walked into the wrong place."  She touched his cheek.  "It's the most weird thing about me," she promised.  "That and occasionally I do sit and watch the guys play."  He quirked up an eyebrow.  "They're not rough with each other.  It's a lot different than most people think."

"I'm sure it is."  He took her hand, holding it tightly.  "And this Marcus kid?"

"Wants to be a horse cop," she told him.

"Good.  Is he any good?"  She nodded.  "Can he pass?"

"He can and he's great at taking orders. I sent in a recommendation for him.  I think he'd make it pretty quickly, but he'd never make brass."  He nodded, giving her hand a squeeze.  "Ray, are you feeling all right?"

"Fine," he admitted.  "I'm guessing I saw the dominatrix you today?"  She considered it then nodded.  "I thought so.  You seemed a lot calmer before."

"I usually am.  I'm short caffeine again."  He laughed, shaking his head.  "Did Huey check in my perp?"

"He did," he agreed.  "They guy gave him a very nice confession and told him where to find his nephew because he didn't think women should be doing the job.  Huey told him we were newly married and he suggested I get you pregnant, that it'd calm you down."  She cackled, shaking her head.  "Seriously."  He was smirking at her.  "Have yo gotten harassed yet?"

"Not yet," she admitted.  "Then again, I don't really have friends inside the force outside of Stan."

"And me."

"And you," she agreed.  She checked her watch.  "Want to watch me plead the DA for my medic alert?"

"Nah.  There's a form.  We'll work on that tonight after we get home," he promised.   He let her hand go.  "Anything else we have to do today?"

"Phone," she told him.  "But the money's back in my briefcase."  He nodded, starting the car again.  "Ray, is this going to freak you out too badly?"

"No," he admitted.  "At least this time I get to be myself.  And you're not too bad," he said with a grin.  She punched him on the arm.  "Easy.  Don't abuse me already.  Welsh would never believe me."

She snorted.  "Wait a week, he'll start checking you for bruises.  Either that or as soon as I start my next cycle, he'll be doing daily checks to make sure you're all right.  I beat him so badly during our academy days," she sighed.  "Our self-defense classes were during the one I had then."  He shuddered.  "He's probably still got a scar from where I dragged him across the mat."  He shook his head, smiling.  "Want to help me phone shop?"

"Sure.  Let's go back and clock out early.  Maybe we can do more things before then, like find you real shoes."

"Maybe," she agreed.  They went back to the precinct and she walked in to find someone surfing on her computer.  "Off it," she ordered.  The man gave her a horrified look.  "I don't know you."

"Detective, I'm Michael with Computer Tech.  I'm checking to see what needs done to your system."

"I need a longer data cable," she told him.  "I like it the way it is.  All my sites presently work and I've got too many passwords saved down for my research."  She moved her chair back, making him stand up.  "Do not reformat or update my machine unless you're going to add a second harddrive."  He gave her a scared look.  "Tell me you didn't erase anything," she pleaded.

"No, not yet, ma'am," he promised.  He looked at the machine. "It's very old."

"I know.  So is my laptop at home but I hate surfing on it."  He nodded.  "I like 98 and I like Netscape.  I set this one up myself from Vice."

"Oh, that's the conflict," he said, smiling at her.

"That and a short data cable," she agreed dryly, checking her machine.  "Email?"

"I closed it," he admitted, scratching his head.  "2002 is much more stable," he offered.

"And it's ugly, takes up too much room, has bugs out the ass that they haven't even found yet, and sucks my herculean strength and patience.  At least they've found all the bugs in 98."  She looked at him.  "Really, it's fine on 98.  It still works with the server."

"Sure it does," he agreed.  "The Chief is still running 95.  That's not a problem.  The problem is the new Linux systems in Corporate Crimes."  She smirked at him.  "Seriously, I only want to do two things.  One is switch it to the other side of your desk.  The other is to add one program.  It's a new virus checker we're trying out."

"I've got automatically updating Norton," she told him.  "Is it better?"  He grimaced and shook his head.  "Then don't.  Besides, the other plugs are all over here," she pointed out, waving a hand at them.

He opened his bag and pulled out a large, regulation surge protector with battery backup.  "I can fix that.  How stable do you need your monitor?"

"Close enough to be able to read, but I've got to have room to work," she told him.  "My glasses need changed again."  He nodded, turning it off and shifting things for her.  She looked at the space left.  "I won't have the room to spread out and I can't reach my stack."

He frowned, nodding that it was true.  He pointed at a piled-upon storage desk.  She gave him a look.  He shrugged and switched it back, adding an extender onto the data cable for her.  "That might work," he admitted, rebooting it for her.  She grimaced and sighed when it showed it wasn't connected to the system.   He snapped his fingers and got her out of the way, turning everything off and redoing it the way he liked best, with the computer on top of storage shelves.  He looked at her and she looked at it, then at him.  "You could remove two drawers from your desk," he offered.

"Or I could get a sideways stack and rest the monitor on top of it," she agreed.  He nodded, then looked at it.  "What do I really need, kid?  Honestly."  She pulled out her palm and her laptop.  "I use these and they've got to be able to chat peacefully."

He grinned and jogged out, coming back with a large box.  She winced.  "It's not a new computer," he promised.  "Though we can transfer everything, including your passwords and all that."  She gave him a look.  "Most of them," he admitted.  "Some are saved in secret files that we don't usually go looking for.  But this will help you a lot," he said, taking out the new, lighter, flatter monitor and setting it up.  Her stack went back where she wanted it with him shifting hers and Huey's desks six inches toward the door.  She squealed as it booted up and worked, giving him a hug.  "Just call whenever you're ready to update that thing.  It belongs in a museum."

"So do I, kid," she pointed out dryly.

He blushed.  "No, you don't, detective. You're far from old and unnecessary."  He looked at her laptop, then turned it around, shaking his head.  "That's so far out of date it's even worse than your desktop system.  We do have a special purchase program with Dell."  She shuddered. "I know, but it's cheaper."

"I like the off brands," she admitted.  "Give me some specs so I can look."  His face lit up and he sat down, pulling over some paper to write her out the *perfect* system for her.  She looked over his shoulder.  "Bigger harddrive.  I handle the strange cases and they always come with video and jpeg files."  He scratched out that number and tripled it.  "They make them that big?"

"Oh, yeah, detective.  And twice that if you want to splurge."  He tapped into his palm, making her drool over his shoulder.  "It's really handy. This one's not only synchable, but it's a new Blackberry so it's wireless and I can hit the internet as long as there's a wireless hub I can hook into," he told her, letting her see it.  "It's pretty, but new and expensive."  She handed it back gently.  "Give it a year, it'll be under five hundred."  She nodded, watching as he typed in the specs to price it for her.  "If you're willing to go Sony or IBM, it'll be about a grand on the special purchase program.  If you go Dell, it'll be about five hundred more.  If you go Gateway, which I wouldn't, it'll be about the same."  He looked at her.  "Or you can go offbrand, get it at about the same price with twice as much."

"A grand and a half," she said, glancing at Ray, who grimaced.  "When would I have to pay or would it come out of my checks?"

"It'd come out of your checks.  We set it up so you'd be making instalments each month out of the first check for the next year."  He showed it to her, highlighting the one he liked.  "Plus, we can transfer everything onto it," he promised.

She gave him a kiss on the cheek and a hug.  "Deal.  Even if I have to dip into my retirement fund."  He smiled and nodded, ordering it for her.  "How long?"  She noticed the note.  "Stupid credit history?"  He shook his head, making the notations needed.  "How much up front?"

"Don't worry about it, detective.  According to that you've got a second check coming next month and we'll take it out of that."  She looked confused.  "I don't know," he admitted, standing up.  "I'll be back with it within two weeks and I'll personally transfer any and all files off that old dinosaur.  Your old hard drive is about an eighth of this new one's primary."  She beamed.  "Have a good day, detective.  Lieutenant, there's a problem with your data cables.  They're weak and old.  I can do a wireless one but it'll mean some department funds," he said, looking at him.  "But it means that we can soup up everyone's home systems easier if they have a laptop.  It's the matter of an expansion card or getting them a work station base for it.  Which is usually about two hundred dollars.  Her new one is going to be coming out of her pocket and the new wireless systems are going fairly cheaply."

"How much overall?  We were getting castoffs," Welsh told him.

"With the data cable problems, it'll be about a hundred-fifty more out of the department budget for computerizing everyone to install wireless.  That's one less cable to trip over and you can store it in a corner."  Welsh nodded.  "Plus, those people like the detective who have their own systems can bring them in to work or work at home with the right password and a 'net connection.  Vice's new system works with some of their phones and all their palm pilots."  He gaped. "Seriously, sir.  I can do everything I need to with my palm.  Her new laptop will be more than fast enough and have a *huge* seventeen inch screen on it."

"And it'll fit in the locking drawer in the desk," Catherine told him.  "How bad is the budget for this?"

Welsh gave her a look. "Don't ask."  She winced.  "Yeah."  He looked at him.  "In my office, kid."  He walked in, laying out the necessities and what he'd like to do.

Catherine picked up her phone.  "What's the number for payroll, anyone know?"

"Sixteen eleven," Stanley told her.  He smirked at her.  "Can I buy your old laptop?"  She nodded.  "Cool.  I've wanted one to play games on."

"The screen's really small, Stan.  This is Detective Demoranth.  Someone just told me I'm getting two paychecks next time?"  She sat down, blinking hard.  "Huh?  I just got that."  Her mouth fell open and she handed the phone to Ray.  "Talk to them."  He walked over and took the phone. She looked at Stanley.  "I'm getting backpay for the under payment back in Vice," she told him.  He smiled and nodded.  "Back five years."  He laughed and nodded.  "You knew?"

"It's on the main site's news section.  You and four others were fucked on the pay," Stanley told her.  "They didn't say by name, but it's nice."

She nodded.  "It is.  I can do a *real* book shopping spree now."  Her eyes lit up as she looked at Ray.  "Remind me to pay the cable company?"  He hung up and gave her a pat.  "How bad is it?"

"You four blew the budget," he told her.  Huey sighed.  "They were paying her like a first year detective since she became one."  Huey gave her a look.  She nodded.  "So she needs it.  That way she can change banks to somewhere nicer."

"That means I can splurge and find out what's keeping me from doing it the real way and fix it," she told him.  He nodded.  "Hmm.  That'd be nice.  A real credit card."  He frowned at her.  "For emergencies.  My vet only takes cards for emergencies in the middle of the night."

"Fine.  We'll figure that out later."

"Are you two getting joint accounts too?" Huey asked.

"For bills," she told him. "That way we don't have to argue."

"That way they can be prepaid," Ray agreed.  He picked up a folder and looked in it.  "Stanley, this is yours, not mine."

"It was your arrest."

"It wasn't. It was yours," he said patiently.  "I don't even remember this guy."  He heard a beep and looked at her.  She held up her watch, then opened her pill bottle and took one.  "I didn't know you had one of those."

"I have a horrible short-term memory," she told him.  She recapped her drugs and logged onto the mail server, checking it for new messages.  "Oops, we're not going tonight after all," she announced.  Ray came over to read over her shoulder.  "So I guess we're just phone shopping tonight."  He gave her a gentle pat on the good shoulder.  "Thanks."  She stood up and stretched, letting him keep his hand there.  "Are we done?" she asked.  He nodded, helping her gather up her things.  "See you tomorrow, Huey."

He looked at her.  "Are you sure of that?"

"Well, I'll be here.  Feel free to run away screaming in fear if you want to," she said, giving him a bright grin.  "I know I've done it to others."  He snorted, shaking his head.  "Trust me, I grow on people."

"Demoranth, they have a vest they swear will fit you," Welsh called. "Check on it."

"Sure, boss.  Because they've never said that before."  She let Ray grab his jacket and let him walk her outside to her car.  She even let him lead her away from it.  "I'm good to drive."

"Tomorrow," he told her.  "Let's check on the vest first, then we'll do phones and grab some takeout while we work out the rest of the kinks we'll be having."

"Sure.  I call pizza."

"Fine.  Are you a meat or veggies?"

"I like sausage, but I love just pain cheese or cheese with mushrooms and green peppers."

He smiled.  "I can handle that.  We'll put the fungus on your half and I'll get onions on mine."

"Sure.  Or we can get a supreme and you can have them hold off on your half," she relented.  He nodded, letting her into the car.  Then he walked around to get in and drive.  She looked over as soon as they left the precinct.  "You'd almost think you were married before," she said dryly.

"It's not that hard," he told her.  "The moment you forget what Midol is we'll have problems," he promised, "but otherwise Ma was right.  If I treat you like I would Maria it'll be fine."

"Cool.  Do I still have the envelope?"  He gave her a sideways glance so she dug into her briefcase, finding it.  "Is that all I have left?"

"No, I hid some from you," he admitted.   "Why?  How much is there?"

"About a grand."  She tucked it into her wallet.  "Cable company?" she pleaded.

"Sure.  It's on the way."  He let her stop there and run inside, then took her to get a real cellphone.  She'd need one so Stanley could find her.  The little guy had worried about her all day.  Not that he hadn't, but it would be nice to be able to find her when he needed her.  She got back in and was smiling.  "Maybe we should get Benny one," he suggested, driving her on. "Did you get one you liked?"

"I did. It's got a massive memory," she said happily.  "I can store up to a hundred numbers.  My last one only had about fifty.  That means I can transfer everything from my palm into it.  I'll finally have a backup."  He chuckled, shaking his head.  "Where are we getting the food from?  I don't mind the chain places."

"I do," he said firmly.  "We'll eat real pizza.  The old-fashioned kind."

"New York?' she teased.

"If you must," he sighed.  "Just keep your fungus to yourself."

"Sure."  She tugged on his sleeve.  "Keys."

He turned into the hardware store, going inside with her to get keys made for her door.  It was a good thought.  He'd talk to her landlord later, give him a good reason to not complain.  "Did you remember to pay the landlord some?" he asked.  She groaned and hung her head.  He gave her a pat on the back.  "That's why I saved some back."

"Yeah, or I could take it out of the next check," she admitted.

"Save that.  You'll need it someday."

"Yeah, I probably should," she admitted.   "My retirement account is pitiful."

"The bigger paycheck will come in handy," he assured her.  His own was pretty pitiful too but he didn't like to think about that.  With his life he might not see retirement.  He heard the bell ding and stiffened, tapping her on the shoulder.

Catherine glanced back then frowned.  "Distinctive car," she hissed.  He gave her a look.  "Really."  She accepted the four sets, giving him a smile and the cash he needed.  Then she tucked them into her pocket, taking Ray's left hand with her injured one.  "Excuse us," she said, pulling him past the asshole.

"No, excuse me," he said, staring at her.  "Don't I know you?"

She shook her head.  "I don't think so.  Dear?"

"No, not that I know of," Vecchio said, glaring at him.

"Sorry."  He walked on, ducking his head.  He definitely knew him.  He stopped, looking back at them.  "Hey, Vecchio, no ring?" he asked.

"It interferes with my shooting things," Catherine told him, giving him a hostile look.  He shuddered and turned away.  "Thank you."  She walked outside, going to get back into the car.  She was paranoid enough that she checked the underside before she opened the door.

"They're not blowing it up," Ray said as he joined her.  "We hadn't thought about that," he admitted, getting in to look at her.  "It would be realistic."

"It might but I can't wear rings," she told him. "You can if you want."  She smirked at him.  "I believe all men should be marked by their women."

He snorted.  "My friends would have loved you when we were younger," he shared.  "Frankie would've picked on me for weeks about that."  He started the car, listening to the grinding noise.  "Out," he ordered, getting out to look inside the engine.  He found the bomb and grimaced.  "Know anything about these?"

"Not a thing," she admitted, using her new phone to call the Captain of the Bomb Squad.  "Hey, Steve, I've got an engine bomb in Ray's Riv.  No, five visible: blue, green, red, and yellow.  No, two blue."  She listened to the instructions as she looked inside, handing Ray the phone.  "Remember, your mother and you get the cats," she instructed as she reached for the wire he had told her to wiggle.

"No.  Let the professionals," he said, pulling her away.  "It's got ten minutes."  He listened to the phone, then looked up. "Nortation Hardware.  Yeah, there."  He hung up.  "He said he could make it in five."  He put an arm around her shoulder.  "Do you have a death wish?" he asked.

She pinched him.  "No!  He told me what to wiggle."

"No more bombs.  Not unless you're trained.  Any other credentials I should know about?"

"I can make a quiche," she offered.  He gave her a look and she grinned.  "I can.  I learned it off the Good Eats guy.  He calls it refrigerator pie."  A car sped up before turning in and someone jumped out.  "Hey, Tony," she called, waving at the engine.  "Did Steve wake you up?"

"I was headed in and he called to see who was closest," he said, looking at the bomb.  "Shit, I left my tools at home," he muttered.  Ray handed over his pocket knife.  "That works. Thanks, detective."  He glanced at them. "I guess the rumors are true, huh, Catherine?"  He grinned as he cut the right wire, the one beside the one she had reached for.  Then he cut that one.  "Okay, you're good.  It's magnetic," he said, pulling it out.  He bounced it in his hand, handing Ray back his knife. "Any others?"

"I checked under the car," she told him.  "I didn't think about the engine."

Tony smirked at Ray.  "She's great about half the time.  The other half little details slip by her.  She nearly came to work one day without a shirt on."  Ray gave her a look.  "No ring?"

"Rings and my gun?" she asked.

"Marcy manages it," he sighed.  "Try it, Catherine.  Really."  He went back to his truck.  "I'll forward the paperwork to you.  We're more likely to get prints off the bomb than your car, detective.  Have a nice night."  He picked up his radio.  "Problem solved.  I'm bringing it in.  Yeah.  Four more days to go," he said, looking at Catherine.

"It's not like that," she called after him, shaking her head as she got back in.  "Fuckers."

Ray put down his hood and got back into his beloved car.  "Four more days?"

"My first week in Vice every problem known to mankind hit.  When I took a long sabbatical right after becoming a detective and came back, another week like that happened.  That time, it all happened around me, not to me."

"They think you're a jinx?" he asked dryly.  She nodded, giving him a small pout.  "Good thing Welsh doesn't believe in that."

"He does.  He's a firm believer in it.  If he wasn't, I'd have more cases already."  He chuckled, starting his car.  This time it sounded right to his practiced ear.  "Okay, I've got a set of keys for you, for Stan, and for Benny.  That way I can get in if I lock myself out again."  He accepted his set.  "Anything else we need?"

"Food," he told her, driving her to his favorite pizza place.  He walked inside and came out ten minutes later with a large box.  It went into the backseat.  "They've got the old wood burning oven."

"Mmmmm."  She licked her lips.  "That's a nice thing."  He nodded, giving her a small pat to the knee.  "Ray, are you groping me?' she teased.

He shrugged.  "I don't know.  Am I?"

"If you are, make it more obvious," she decided.  "That way I don't have to ask."

He laughed.  "Sure, brat.  I'll be more obvious.  How big is your new laptop?"

"It's top of the line.  I'm going to have a 250 gig hard drive," she said happily.  "Unless I read his handwriting wrong."

"You probably didn't.  Speed?"

"One of the newer gig processors.  Not Pentium, the other one."

"Good.  And how much was it?"

"Because he ordered it for me, I'm getting it for eighteen hundred and some change.  If I had surfed for it, it would have been about twenty-five or so," she admitted.  "And I'm not supporting crappy manufacturing practices at IBM.  No mouse drift."  He smiled.  "If you're really nice and give me a backrub soon, I'll even let you put some neat porn on there," she teased.

"I don't need porn," he told her, sounding firm.


"Really.  I grew out of that when I was a young kid."

"It must be nice to be able to walk into a bar and pick nearly anyone up," she said, sounding bitter.

"I haven't been doing that either," he admitted.  "It's not something I crave."


"Really.   Guys are leches when they're young.  You women hit it later so we've learned patience and how to please more than ourselves."

"True," she agreed, giving him a kiss on the cheek as they parked.  "You're very wise, Ray."  She stole the pizza and headed up the stairs.

He watched her go, shaking his head.  What had he gotten himself into?  He got out and went inside to talk to the landlord, making sure his car was locked.  He might have to invest in an alarm system soon if this kept up.  He walked in ten minutes later.  "Your rent went up fifteen bucks," he announced.  She looked at him.  "I talked him into letting you have a washer and dryer."  He shut and locked the door.  "No Stanley?  I'm surprised.  Usually he can smell pizza a block away and shows up."  He grabbed himself a slice as he walked past the table, going to get them something to drink.  He came back, looking at the mail on the table.  "Anything good?"

"Coupons.  Snail mail spam.  Something from your mother," she said, handing it over.

He sat down, opening it while his slice hung from his mouth.  He read the short note and handed it over.  "It worked.  Her friends are waiting on the gift issue."

She smiled as she read it.  "That was nice of her."  She put it down.  "How many are after your ass?"  She took another bite while he choked.

He took a sip of his beer, shaking his head.  "They all know I'd never date their daughters.  They've tried in the past and know I'm not interested.  Are you gonna be jealous?"

She considered it.  "If this was for real, I might be.  I'm more clingy.  Most of my lovers have hated it, especially the guys."  She finished that slice and grabbed another, putting it back when he coughed, taking one of hers.  "Sorry.  Didn't check for mushrooms."  She took a bite and chewed thoughtfully.  "Kids?"  The cats woke up and came out to sniff at them.  "Thanks.  Thought you guys had escaped again."  She looked at the door.  "We've got to put in a small vent screen."  Ray nodded.  "And screens in the windows," she admitted. "I don't think this place has A/C.  It has central heat, but I don't think it has A/C."  She took another bite.  "The cable will be back on early next week.  They promised."  He nodded.  "So will my cable modem."  He gave her a look.  "I know it's extra but I miss the poor thing.  Besides, now I'll be able to work from anywhere in the house.  That means I can lounge on the bed on Sunday mornings while I research."

"What was your undergrad in?" he asked.

"Criminology with a minor in Anthropology," she admitted.  "I consider those human things fascinating but am very glad I'm not one of them."  He snorted, giving her a tolerant look.  "You mean Stanley hasn't enlightened you on how I'm not really a human?  He thinks I'm a dragon in disguise.  He used to say I was like a unicorn foal until I pointed out that would force me to be innocent and I'm nowhere near that."  She stuffed her mouth again to stop her babbling.  "Anyway, it was fun.  I got to do a lot of studying of many things and topics.  I did a lot of history classes too, mostly ancient."  She took another bite.

He pushed over a soda for her.  "Here, drink.  You'll get hiccups if you don't."  She nodded, popping it open.  "Any other plans for the apartment?"

"Not really," she admitted.  "I'm happy I'm not paying utilities except electric.  I hate remembering things like that."

He looked at her.  "Real bank accounts have this neat feature called automatic payment," he told her.

She nodded. "I've heard about that," she admitted.  "I still don't know why I can't get a real checking account."

"Go to one of those credit check sites and see," he suggested.  She nodded, taking her soda in there to do that.  "I didn't mean now."

"You can eat in here, I do," she called.  She unpacked and turned on her laptop, hooking it into the phone line.  She dialed out, going to her online mail accounts.  Sure enough, Yahoo had an ad for 'get your credit report for free'.  She clicked on it, filling in the form.  "You need to have a credit card to verify you're old enough to have credit?" she asked, shaking her head. She pulled out the prepaid card she used for emergencies, it worked well enough.  It let her on and she read the small type.  She shifted, turning on the printer, then hit the print button.  She brought it out to where Ray was, letting him decipher it.  "I know I need new glasses, but that's tiny."

"It is," he agreed, looking at it.  "It looks like you've got a bounced check way back when."  He handed it to her.  "No student loan payments?"

"Yeah, but I have them take that out of my check," she admitted, sitting down to look at the one he had pointed out.  "That's when?  I didn't have an account back then. I was a rookie back then!"  She put it down, looking at him. "How would I fix that?"  He shrugged.  "Maybe I should email them.  See if they know."  She went to do that, finding the company on the 'net. It was a grocery store, of course it had a coupon site that it wouldn't honor because it couldn't tell if they were faked or not.  She gave them her emergency prepaid card number when they wrote back.  "There, cleared up," she announced.

He lounged in the doorway.  "Then we'll try again this payday.  Get your retirement somewhere that it'll make money."

"I'm making nearly five percent," she offered.

He snorted.  "I'm making nine.  The Police Officer's credit union is very nice.  You'll like it."  She gave him a look.  "Really."  He smirked.  "Haven't I been right so far?"

"Well, yeah, but I'm still waiting for that fault."

"It's in my clothes," he told her.  "I'm picky."

"Obviously."  She logged off and waved at her chair.  "Want it?"  He nodded, coming over to check his police account.  "Should I call and check on Stanley since he hasn't come over yet?"

"I think he had a date," he told her.  "Why am I getting these stupid ads?" he complained.

She looked over his shoulder, then snickered.  "It's almost as good as when I get them."  She went to look at the bed, and finding it not peed on, laid down on it. The cats came in to lounge with her. "Hey guys," she said, petting them as well as she could with one hand.  She winced and took off her shirt, looking at the bandage.  "I ache, guys," she said quietly.  "Let me go clean my shoulder and then I'll pet you some more."  She got up and headed into the bathroom, taking off the bandages to look at the stitches. She pressed lightly but nothing came out, making her very happy.  She put more gel on the front and went to lay back down.  She found Ray looking in her closet.  "You can have part of it if you want," she offered.  "At least until we can figure that part out."

"Thanks."  He pulled out one of her outfits and laid it aside.  Then he walked out.

She gave his back a grimace.  "I don't wanna wear that, dad.  I wanna wear my black outfit."

He came back, giving her a look.  "Black outfit?"  She nodded, getting up to pull it out.  "Is that comfortable?"  She nodded.  "Fine, wear that," he agreed, shaking his head.

"Don't make us match," she complained, following him.  "It's cutesy."

"It is, and I'd never do that," he promised, giving her a sideways look. "Remember, you've got court later this week."

She groaned.  "I forgot.  I'll save your outfit for then."  She went to put it back up, making sure the cats couldn't lounge on it during the night.  She stripped down, getting into one of her favorite sets of lounging jammies.  Then she laid down again, petting the kitties who wanted it.  One moved to lay behind her and she was okay with that.  "If you're there, you can't get petted," she reminded her.  Oz meowed and nudged her, so she reached back to pet her.  "Fine.  Be that way then."  She got up and went to get another slice of pizza and another soda.  She came back and the cats had taken most of the bed.  "Guys!" she complained.  A few gave her smug looks.  "Fine.  I'll be on the couch."  She went back to the couch, laying down with a book.   One of the cats came out to hog her lap, but let her read.  She reached down to scratch the soft ears, hearing the purring.  "Yeah, you're a big purr kitty," she agreed, continuing to stroke her.

Ray came out of his room, looking at her.  "That looks dirty," he said quietly.

"Oz," she said absently, turning the page.  She moved her ankles, letting him sit down.  "She gets in cuddly moods.  She likes crotches when she does."  She shrugged and shifted some, putting one knee up.  "Sorry, my hips are sore today."

"It's okay," he promised, looking at the nearest bookshelf.  He pulled down a book that wasn't a fantasy novel to read the back cover.  "Read this one yet?" he asked.

She glanced up.  "It's on my list," she admitted.  "Tell me if it's any good.  Or I've got scientific journals around here somewhere and textbooks."

"I saw.  Benny was really impressed."  She grinned at him and went back to her book.  He flipped to the first page, giving it a try.  It sounded normal at least.  Not at all like Star Trek.  He never could understand those people.  He felt a nudge and moved, letting her foot land in his lap.  He gave it a small rub, making her moan.  Oz got up and turned around, laying back down.  He looked at the cat.  It definitely liked laps.  He noticed her pajama shorts gaped and turned his head away quickly.  He remembered she said she was a nudist so it would only bother him.  She might even pick on him about it so he let it go for now.  She shifted, flipping onto her side, letting Oz have the back of her legs. Both her feet were in his lap now.  He looked down at them, noticing her little toes were funny shaped and the one next to it was odd looking at the top.  He went back to stroking her foot, making her moan.  He gave her a pinch on the calf.  "Keep it up, you'll start to sound like a cat."

"Wouldn't be the first time," she admitted, looking at him.  She saw his glance up her body and wiggled, pulling down her shorts to a normal spot.  "Sorry, didn't realize I was flashing you."  She grinned then went back to her book.  She turned the page, then reached back to stroke the moving kitty.  "Go back to sleep, Oz.  Mommy's not moving.  Yet."

Ray chuckled, reaching up to pet the cat.  "Calm down.  She's not leaving the house.  You can stalk her around all night."  He glanced at her. "How should we do showers?"

"I don't care," she admitted.  "I don't usually take all morning."  She used her sore arm to stretch up, popping her shoulder with a wince.  "Ow."  She shifted and it settled down again so she changed the page.  "I don't have a long morning routine.  I shower and dress mostly."

He nodded.  "I do about the same, only with shaving."

"I refuse to do that unless I have to," she admitted.  "It's a waste of time, energy, and a social construction men liked because it made them think they were sleeping with underaged women."

"Huh?" he asked, staring at her.

She put down her book, looking at him.  "Do you really think us shaving, or in some cases plucking each hair out of our body that wasn't on top of our head or our eyelashes, was *our* idea?"  He nodded.  "If it was, it was some wife whose husband was straying.  She did it to get his attention because his mistress was probably very young."  His mouth fell open.  "Shaving everything does make women look younger and indecent.  We'd never do that to ourselves. The same way stockings and pantyhose weren't something we wanted, it was something we were convinced we needed.  Sort of like bras."

He shook his head.  "Cite your source."

"Second pink book on the textbook shelf," she said smugly.  She picked up her soda, taking a long drink.  "Oz, you're nuzzling too close.  Go nuzzle Ray's crack."  He gave her a look. "She likes laps," she reminded him.  She reached back and moved the snoring head from the vicinity of her ass.  "Thank you."  Oz got up and gave her a dirty look, turning around twice and going back to the same position.  "Great.  Just what I need."  She rolled her eyes.  Then she got up and went to get another slice of pizza and another soda.  Oz was still in the same spot so she carefully arranged herself again. Ray patted his lap and she looked at him. "What?"

"I don't mind.  Put your feet up there."

"My heels will cause runs in your pants."

"So?"  He patted it again and she put her feet back into his lap again.  "Thank you."  He looked at her heels.  "You need to treat those."

"I know, but it never helps any and I can't stick with it."  She shrugged, nibbling again.  "It happens to the best of us."  She picked back up her book.  "Remember, we'll have cable next week.  It'll be not quiet then," she said happily.

He grabbed the stereo remote and turned it on, turning it down.  "Top forty?"

"Hit memory up until you find something you like," she offered.  He did so, finding an oldie's station.  "That's fine with me."  She got irritated at the static eventually and got up to fix it, coming back with a happy smile.  "Better."  She laid down again and Oz shifted, stretching across the back of her legs.  "At least you're warm," she said, reaching back to pet her with a wince.  "You need a better position, Oz."

"Let me look at it?" Ray asked.  She shrugged, swinging her feet down so she could sit up, letting him have access to her shoulder.  "Don't you have antibiotics?"

"Nope.  They didn't prescribe any.  I guess I've taken enough in my life they've decided more won't help me any."  He touched the wound gently, making her hiss. "Ow."

"Sorry."  He let her go.  "When do you go back to get the stitches taken out?"

"Not for six weeks," she said, sliding down again.  "I'll miss sleeping on that side."

"Maybe you can prop yourself up on the pillows," he offered.  "It helped the last time I got shot."  She gave him a look.  "Admittedly a graze," he told her. "Benny had to sleep on his side for months after I got him."

"Why did you shoot him?"

"It's a long story," he sighed.  "It's the only time Benny and I were at odds."  She gave him a look.  "I can't without his permission."  She nodded, going back to her book.  "What about you.  Anything like that with Stanley?"

"Not really.  I did a lot more monitoring him during those days.  Sometimes he backed me up but nothing really concrete.  He was barely a detective and it was hard going.  I hate being injured.  He hated being in Vice.  If I hadn't broken my collarbone, I wouldn't have needed him but I did so they got me a replacement while I healed."  She shrugged with her good shoulder.  "It was necessary, we were short even then."

"Who got you back then?" he asked gently.

She looked at him, then sighed and put down her book.  "Ray, that story usually makes people cry and head for a liquor bottle," she told him.  "I don't share it.  Not even Stanley knows everything that happened.  The department forced me to hit the therapist for it and she was told everything that they knew.  She had to have a few very stiff drinks after dealing with me."

"You can be abrasive when you're in pain," he agreed dryly, giving her a little smile. "I promise I won't tell Stan."

She shook her head.  "Ray, I didn't even tell Mara.  She pleaded and begged and I wouldn't tell her.  It's not something I like to remember.  I have enough nightmares already."  He nodded, letting it go.  She drank more of her soda.  "Don't you have things like that?" she asked.

"Yeah, I guess. The thing with Benny sorta qualifies," he admitted, thinking about it.  He gave her a look.  "I'm the sort who shares pain.  Keeping it inside makes it hurt worse."  She nodded, taking another drink.  "I really won't tell if you want to talk about it."

She shook her head.  "No thanks.  I'm mostly over it."  She shifted, turning over to face the back of the couch.  "It's still very quiet in here."

"The cats'll fight soon," he promised.  She gave him a look. "They will.  They'll get jealous of that one."  He flicked a finger at Oz.

She grinned.  "None of the others really like laps.  Xander occasionally sleeps on my shoulder while I'm in my desk chair.  Blair likes my lap sometimes, but mostly he likes to come up and knead my stomach while I'm having personal time."  He looked stunned.  "Sorry, too much information."  She quickly finished her soda.  "I do that, that's why I like noise, so I can cover that sort of thing up."

He gave her ankles a pat.  "I figured you'd have to since you haven't dated in six years."

She nodded. "It takes care of the immediate need."  She blushed and picked up her book, going back to it.  "If the cats grace you with their presence tonight, don't knock them off the bed.  They're being friendly and they're like little kids."

"Sure."  He stared at her for a few more minutes, then picked back up his book to read.  He heard a hiss from the bedroom.  "Told you so."

"We should probably make sure they're not mad at Chocolate," she pointed out, groaning as she moved.  She stood up, heading to check on them. "Blair, leave her alone," she said impatiently.  "Bully."  He went running past her and she glared at him.  "You are.  You're a bully."  She went to the kitchen, making herself some popcorn.  "I need nibbles," she explained at the curious look.  "I'm constantly nibbling."  She waited until the microwave went off then put some butter in there and turned it back on, using that to wet the popcorn down.  "Here, we can share," she promised, letting him hold the bowl.

"Only if you're going to lay in my lap," he told her dryly. She gave him a look.  "Not meant to be an offer," he told her.  She nodded, sitting up this time.  Oz gave out a disgusted snort and hopped off the couch.  "Sorry," he called after her.  "You can curl up with her later."

Catherine took a piece of popcorn to nibble on.  "I'm sure she will.  Do you want the couch or the little daybed?"

"I'll try that and if it's uncomfortable I'll come out here," he told her.  She nodded, reading again.  "What's that one about?"

"Elves."  She handed it to him, eating another bite of popcorn.  She licked off her fingers as Blair came out to investigate the food, then huffed when it wasn't something he liked.  He hopped into a chair to sniff at the pizza box but she got him with the squirt gun.  "You know better," she reminded him as he ran off.  She took her book back.  "Not your thing?" she asked.

He shook his head.  "I've never been one for fantasy."  He reached over to check her back stitches again.  "These look red and swollen."

"It's probably nothing," she told him.

"I'm sure but I'd like it if you had some antibiotics."  She shrugged and went back to reading.  "We could have some called in."

"It's fine, Ray.  It's been cleaned out a few times."  He took the book and put it down so she looked at him.  "It's fine.  Really.  The guy who removed the explosive probably rinsed it out too.  It's really fine."

"It's not fine.  It's bright red and warm."

"Then I'll take some tylenol," she said firmly.  "I'm not your sub."

"I never expected you to be, but you seem to need a keeper."

"I do not!  I may forget to pay the bills now and then but I don't need a keeper.  I've been doing very well on my own for years, thank you."  She got up and went to sulk in her study.  She picked up Blair, cuddling him until he struggled to get down.

He calmed himself down, looking at the cat who came out to escape her.  He let the big guy sniff his fingers, then scratched his ears.  "I don't know what I said wrong," he told the cat.  Blair gave him a look like he was an idiot.  "I know, I don't deal well with complicated creatures.  That's why Stan and I fight.  I bet you'd like to see him soon.  I'll try to get him here tomorrow if he's not busy."  Blair nudged his fingers, getting them in another spot.  "You shed," he said, shaking off his fingers.  Someone knocked on the door so he got up to answer it, letting his younger sister in.  "What's wrong, Frannie?"

"I want the truth," she said, turning to look at him.  "You don't really like her, right?"

"She can hear you," Catherine called then a door slammed.

Frannie waved a hand.  "See, she's pushy, rude, and nasty!  You like nice girls!"

"Frannie, she's not like that."

"She sure as hell is!  Huey said so too!"

"You and Huey don't know a damn thing about her!" he said loudly.  He checked the hall then closed the door, counting noses.  He went into the bedroom, then went to get the escapee from the front lawn.  "You, inside," he said firmly, carrying her inside. He put her down and closed and locked the door.  "From now on, do not leave a door open around here.  Her cats like to play outside."  She gave him a disbelieving look.  "She's not like she was that first morning, Frannie. That was a bad day."

"It wasn't!  She was ordering Huey around earlier!" Frannie stood up again.  "Ray, she's not a nice girl."

"First, she's not a girl," Ray told her.  "She's older than you are.  Secondly, since when have you cared who I liked?"  She made a scoffing noise.  "What?  You think she's gonna do bad stuff to you or somethin'?"

"Ma said she's into the occult," Frannie said.

"Yeah, and?"

"She's got a voodoo doll on her desk of Kowalski!"

"And he knows about it," Ray reminded her.  "She's had it now for a while, Frannie.  He laughed over it."

"Yeah, well, we don't usually consider him the best judge of people either.  Look at who he was married to."

"Frannie, shut up now," he warned.  "Stan is a nice guy who was very hurt by his ex.  Stella's the bitch here, and you're becoming one."  She gaped at him.  "I mean it.  This is none of your business.  Whether or not it's work related is not something you need to worry about," he said firmly.

"What's wrong, Ray?  She wearing trashy lingerie for you now?" she asked snidely.

His eyes narrowed and he crossed his arms.  "Should I even mention having to save Benny from you in yours?"

She screamed and stomped her foot.  "You arrogant bastard!  You're already picking up bad habits from her!  You need to come home so the family priest can fix this!  She doesn't even like men!  I asked around, she dates women, Ray.  You don't really fit that image!"

Catherine walked out, grabbing Frannie with her good hand and giving her a light shove against a bookcase. "First.  Yes, I have dated women.  I've also dated men.  I nearly married an arrogant asshole who made his fondest dream come true the other day when he was sworn in to the City Bench.  Second.  Do I look like the sort who has to *seduce* someone?  If I had needed to do that, Ray'd be at home right now.  We're friends, Frannie, pull your nose out of my asshole and clean it off."  She let her go.  "Now, you can either tone down your screechy, whiny ass voice or I'm gonna slug your big ass nose."

"Hey," Ray complained.

"On you it looks better," she said absently, not taking her eyes off Frannie.  "I don't care what you've heard.  Stan and I are *friends*.  We have been now for years.  Your brother and I are friends, which shocks the hell outta me every time I look at him.  It's nice to have someone who's *real* and *genuine* after some of the bitches I've dated in the past.  Our friendship is none of your business, nor is it necessary for the average gossiping habits of the regular cop on the beat.  I've had enough of that with my stalker problem.  And all I had to do was say no. You should try it sometime."  Frannie looked hurt.  "Now, either tone down your complaints, or leave.  You're giving me a headache."  She headed into the kitchen, grabbing a beer before walking away.  "And for your information, I may deal with the occult but I have no idea how to manipulate people with it.  Anything I would personally practice wouldn't do that.  If you knew jack shit about me, you'd know that."  She headed back to her bedroom, going to sulk in there.

Ray nodded. "She's right.  Not that it's any of your business."  Frannie gave him that same hurt look.  "It won't work, Frannie. Until you calm yourself down, I don't want you bothering her.  She's a cop like Benny, she gets the job done.   Huey's scared because he doesn't like working with women.  You're jealous because you're not the only female in the unit.  Not that any of us notice you when you're flirting, but you're still jealous.  Now go home before I really lose my temper and snap."  He pointed at the door.  She flounced out and he slammed the door, startling the cat sneaking in.  "You again?" he asked, picking up the long-haired cat. She meowed and licked the end of his nose.  "Thanks.  Let's get you home."  He slid out the door and headed across the hall, handing her over.  "Sorry about that. My sister's a bit hyper."

The older man nodded.  "I had one like that.  I nearly killed her a few times.  She moved."  He smiled and closed the door.

Ray went back to her place, counting noses.  "Blair?"

"He's in here with me," she called.   "Wanna take odds on whether or not my desk is trashed in the morning?"

"It had better not be," he said, heading back to the bedroom.  "If it is, I'll hold her while you kick her ass."  He gave her a small pat to the side as soon as he was sitting next to her.  "Frannie's gotten used to being the only female around.  When Fraser's sister came in, Stan said she did the same thing.  Ma likes you, that's all that's important," he promised at her look.  He took the beer and drank some of it.  "You shouldn't have that."  She sighed and rolled her eyes.  "You shouldn't.  It could send you into a coma with the pain killers.  Then Stan'd mope and Benny would fuss and probably take up knitting afghans for you.  I'd have to shoot Frannie and Ma would get really mad at me."

She nodded. "Probably.  She's the baby right?"  He nodded, giving her a small grin.  "It shows.  Your mother needed to beat her more often."

"Ma tried," he admitted.  "Frannie's always been needy."  He reached down, moving her hair around.  "You really should get a trim," he noted.  "It's starting to look like a mop."

"It is a mop, that's why I keep it so short."

"You'd look nice with some shape to it," he offered.

"I hate having hair.  It's a sweaty mass during the summer and it never does anything."  He nodded, finishing the beer and putting it aside.  "Not to be offensive, but don't breathe on me.  I hate beer breath."  He smiled and went to brush his teeth, while she did after him.  "Thanks."

"Lots of people can't stand it.  I usually can't but Frannie's enough to make St. Ignatius plead for mercy."  He settled in next to her again, letting her curl up next to him.  Only her head and his shoulder was touching, they were separated by the cats otherwise.  "I could sic Benny and Stan on her," he offered after a few minutes of silence.

"Benny would scowl and she'd whine and shimmy around him.  Stan would probably slap her for me."  He stroked her hair again.  "You're very comforting."

"It comes from being part of a big family," he told her.  "Ma's the same way.  So's Maria.  Some day, Frannie will settle down and be the same way," he sighed.  She shook her head, giving him a look.  "You don't think so?"

"No, I think Frannie's too old to be a trophy wife and she's starting to realize it. She wants all the attention for herself and she doesn't care who she steps on to get it."

"Not totally.  She was a little concerned about me.  The selfishness caused the fight but she would have had it out with me tomorrow or earlier today if she wasn't worried.  She didn't want to spread it around."  He watched the cats.  "I don't know why Ma told her about you being up with the occult."

She snorted.  "I doubt she did.  Your mother probably told them I wasn't a practicing Catholic."

"No, she probably told them you weren't a Christian.  Frannie must have put a few things together."  He gave her a gentle pat.  "You sure you want to wear that black outfit tomorrow?"

"I'll compromise and put a shirt on over the bodysuit," she offered. "I'm too tired to fight."

"Amen," he agreed, smiling at her.  "You're pretty comforting yourself."

"It's leftover maternal instinct," she said bitterly.

He stroked through her hair again.  "I remember you told Ma you miscarried.  Did you want it?"  She gave him a cool look.  "Sorry. I'm being nosy.  I can't help it, look at the size of my nose."

She grimaced.  "That doesn't mean you're nosy, it means you're good at sniffing out clues."  She put her head back down on his shoulder.  "It was accidental, but I decided it was about my only chance."


"No, the asshole who fixed my shoulder and put in the bomb," she said bitterly.  "He's also the one who shot me."  He frowned down at her.  "Ask Stan.  I'll let him tell you," she told him.  "He was there when I came back from my leave."

"I'm sorry," he told her.  "That's got to be hard."

She nodded. "Yeah.  It wasn't planned but I was twenty-five and a Vice cop. It was probably going to be my only chance."  He shook his head.  "It is. I have funny cycles and now scar tissue."

He shook his head again.  "It's not. I know it's not.  You care too much not to do something about it sometime.  Maybe you'll adopt but you'll still be a mom some day."

"Not to sound too selfish but I'd rather have my own and raise it.  I'm not sure I could tolerate someone else's kid.  The cats frustrate me as is."

He smiled at her.  "It's not selfish.  A lot of people feel that way.  They want to pass a little part of themselves into the future.  I feel the same way some days.  Then I get worn out by Maria's kids and I decide it's better if I don't pass on myself."

She pinched him. "You should. You'd make a good dad.  I'd yell all the time."  He shook his head.  "I would.  Just wait, you'll hear it at the cats soon enough.  Half of them like to scratch inappropriate things and I yell at them.  I'd make a horrible mother.  Especially back then.  I would have ended up in Homicide full time if I had stayed on the force."

"You thought about leaving?"

"Hell yeah.  Irregular hours, troubles finding a sitter who wouldn't give me evil looks for coming in at three in the morning, and low pay. What a wonderful mother I'd be," she said bitterly.

"You'd make someone a great mom," he promised, stroking her shoulders now.  "The fact that you've taken in five cats proves that."

"Ray, I hate pain.  I'd never survive the pregnancy without turning into a whining bitch.  Then the labor would have to be drugged, like in the old days.  Besides, I'm a big chicken about that.  That one I could have faced down the father.  He was highly drunk and didn't remember taking me hard in the copy room.  If I planned it, or not, I'd have to face a father this time."

He nodded. "True.  Any real man would hunt you down and you two would have a great big argument while the kid screamed in the background.  But I think you'd eventually see sense.  You'd probably end up giving him visitation."  She nodded. "As long as you trusted him."

"I don't really trust many people," she admitted dryly.

"Why does Stan know what happened to you?"

"He was one of the people who rescued me.  Steve, the head of the Bomb Squad, was second in SWAT at the time.  He led the charge and Stanley got me to the hospital. I was like his sixth case as a detective."


She nodded.  "Very.  It took him two weeks but he did find me.  I doubt even Benny could have found me sooner."  She shifted closer, making Xander shift and stretch, then lay down again.  "Sorry, kids, mommy's in a cuddly mood too."  Ray gave her a gentle squeeze.  "Thanks."

"You're welcome.  I think I remember hearing about that.  Something about a Vice cop who got captured and tor...."  He looked down at her.  "That was you?"  She nodded.  "I'm really sorry and I'll drop it."

"It's okay, Ray.  I'm over it.  No one realized I was pregnant.  I had only realized a few days before he had taken me.  He is the reason I'm so quick to pull my gun.  He's also a very good reason not to like humans.  The Doctor, the guy who fixed my shoulder, fixed me up really well then too.  Then he left me with the bastard."

Ray stroked her back.  "You don't have to tell me," he promised.  "I'm not gonna pry.  If we end up closer then you will some day.  Or not."  She pinched him again.  "Hey, quit that.  That's a sensitive spot from the last one."  She grinned at him.  "You really are playful."

"Yeah.  Only when I find people I like.  I tease Stan mercilessly.  That's why he won't let me get away with shit."  Someone pounded on the door.  "Which one do you think it is?"

"I think that's Ma," he admitted, getting up to answer it.  It was his other sister.  "Come in, Maria."  She walked in and he checked but most of the cats were still in the bedroom.  "What did Frannie tell you?" he asked as he shut the door.  He heard a soft meow and looked out.  "You again?"  She trotted inside, going to his food dish.  "Hungry?" he asked dryly.  He closed the door, he'd kick her out later.  "What did Frannie tell you?"

"That your friend attacked her."

"Frannie was shooting off her mouth and made some accusations about Catherine knowing something about the occult and influencing me with it.  She also said she was using me and other things."  Maria grimaced.  "She pushed her into the bookcase and got into her face about it.  The same thing I was about to do."

"Yeah, but you're her brother.  She's not family."

"True," he agreed, "but she has the right to defend herself against the jealous little girl Frannie turned into."  She gave him a quizzical look.  "She was.  This was pure jealousy.  She's not the only female in the unit now.  Otherwise, this would have been her and Stan probably."

"She said Catherine hit her."

"Catherine's got forty stitches on her right shoulder," he told her.  She sat down, looking at him. "She was shot the other day.  A through-and-through.  She's in no shape to hit Frannie.  Not that she wouldn't have if Frannie had accused her of other things."  He sat near her, giving her a short hug.  "We're fine.  She knew Frannie was jealous and got in her face about it."

"Frannie did say she was doing some funky occult things to you," she admitted.  "She has a voodoo doll of Stanley?"

"It's from the days when they were working together," he said with a small grin.  "Stan laughed about it and reminded her not to tickle him with it."

"Frannie said she's insulting and rude to everyone."

"She got called in that first morning after an all-night shift, had almost no sleep, had no caffeine, and had no food in her system.  She probably was the crankiest I've ever seen her."

"You forgot PMS from hell," Catherine said as she walked out.  "Hey, Maria.  It's all bullshit.  I know enough about the occult to solve cases in it."

"But you're not Christian?" she asked.

Catherine looked at her and shook her head.  "I can't fit myself into a faith I don't believe in.  Since I haven't found a version of Christianity that welcomes and celebrates strong and thinking women among the ones I've visited I'd never go there.  I'm technically somewhere between a Celt and a Buddhist.  I know enough to do the job and to help others when shit happens."

Maria nodded. "I can understand that.  I've had a few doubts about how women are treated in the Church too."  She stood up.  "You swear a lot."

"I do," she agreed dryly, grinning at her.  "I also happen to bake cookies, have five cats, and a killer sci fi/fantasy library.  I was also a Vice cop for seventeen years.  A female cop has to be at least three times tougher than all the males or they get pounded into a hole and made to break down mentally.  I'm a very strong individualist.   Ray and I are only friends."

"Frannie said you were dating Stan."

"Stan and I are good friends," Catherine told her.  "I'd never date Stan.  He's like my little brother, Maria.  Really."  She nodded, moving closer. "I haven't bitten anyone in years," she offered dryly.  "Want a soda?"

"Sure."  She took one, looking at the side of the can.  "What is that?"

"Rubber cement snot.  It's from the sealing on the boxes."  She popped hers open and sipped it.  She heard a meow and looked down.  "Hi, Mistress Kitty.  Hungry?"  She put out some food.  "Don't be surprised if Xander swats you again."  Xander came out, giving her a rub, then hissed at the strange cat and drove her away from the bowls.  "I warned you."  Blair pounced her and sniffed her.  "Hey, get off her."  She bent down, moving her cat to the bowls.  "Eat, fussy cat."  She stood up and looked at Maria again.  "Welcome to my insanity.  All we're missing is the usual stalker."

Maria snorted, shaking her head.  "That's something I didn't believe."

"Yup, number three shot me," she said, pointing at her shoulder.  "In the parking lot of the precinct."  Maria gaped at her. "It's a minor wound, Maria.  It hurts like hell, but it happens to all of us.  I've had a worse one in the same spot.  Last time it broke the collar bone."

Maria moved her sleeve out of the way, looking at it.  "It looks infected."

"I said that earlier, she snapped at me," Ray said, coming in to put up the pizza.  "No one's ever mothered her properly."

"I still don't need a mother, father.  I promise," she said dryly.

He grinned.  "Tough, deal with it."  He grabbed his own soda, going to save the poor extra cat.  "Stop that, Blair.  You're fixed."  He stroked her gently.  "Ready to run away again?"  She purred and nudged his hand.  "I guess not."

"It's kitchen love," Catherine told him.  "We feed her."  She looked at Maria again.  "Frannie will end up having to face a whole big world with other women in it, ones that don't care if she exists or not.  I'm the least of her worries."

Maria gave her a look.  "That is true," she admitted.  "But are you the person to tell her that?"

"Only when she's screaming in my living room."

Maria laughed.  "That's fine.  I'll go calm down Ma."

"Call her," Ray offered.  "She knows what's going on.  Maybe she'll help make Frannie late tomorrow."

"If Huey's working with her, I'd say he'd do it," Catherine told him.

"Huey's not like that," he told her.  "Give him a chance.  He's already lost a partner in the last five years.  He doesn't really attach himself to anyone.  Stan had the same problem."  He got out of Maria's way, letting her have the phone.  "Give him a few weeks."  She shrugged and nodded.  "Though, if he says something about the voodoo doll you can put it on my desk."

She grinned and blew a kiss.  "Thanks, Ray.  It's nice when people put up with your quirks."  She finished her soda and tossed the can into the recycling bin.  "Hey, Maria, Ray got us real pizza if you want a slice," she offered. Maria shook her head.  "Okay.  It's there if you want it."  She busied herself loading the dishwasher, making Ray groan.  "What?" she asked, giving him a scared look.  "What happened?"

"Benny had that reception tonight," he told her.

"Should we go crash it?"

"Nah."  He grinned.  "He's gonna be busy all day tomorrow cleaning up.  If the Ice Queen doesn't make him do it tonight."

"You know, I haven't had the pleasure of meeting Thatcher yet.  Can I go scare her next?" Catherine asked with a bright grin.

"Sure, I'm sure you two would get along great.  She's the icier version of you, without the swearing."

"Cool.  Fierce female warriors are hard to find these days."  She went back to loading the dishwasher, turning it on, then off when it turned out to be very loud.  "Sorry, Maria."  She puttered out to her study, going to check her email.  She found one that made her laugh.  "Hey, Ray, come see," she called.  "Your bestest buddy sent me a death threat."  He walked in and leaned over her head to read.  "Hey, squishing me," she said, swatting at him.  He caught her hand, reaching around her to send it to his own inbox.  Then he pulled her up.  "What?" she asked.

"I want you to wear that new vest," he said quietly.  "All the time until this crud is done."  She raised an eyebrow.  "Frankie doesn't make threats, he makes promises.  I mean it."

"It won't go with my outfit," she told him.  He glowered.  "Fine, I'll wear my vest whenever I'm not in the station.  If I remember."

"If you don't, I'll have to make you go to that fancy spy shop and see what they've got," he said impatiently.  "I mean it.  Promise me."

"If I remember, I'll wear it," she told him.  "I can't promise I'll remember it all the time."

"Fine. Then I'll have to remind you and keep Huey on your case," he told her.  She looked hurt.  "Tough.  You're too damn fragile right now.  It still hurts when you pull your weapon," he said when she tried to protest.  "Until your stitches are gone and you're fully healed, I want you to live in the thing.  That and you're taking backup on cases.  I don't care if it's Benny, but you're not to go out alone.  Frankie was high enough in the city's structure that he could have hired someone pretty good to hit you.  I'd hate that so you're going to be careful."

"Fine," she sighed.  "I'll be careful.  I won't hide but I'll try to be careful."

"I'm not askin' ya to," he said firmly.  "Just to be careful and to wear your vest.  Things the rest of us non-super beings do.  You and Benny are not as bulletproof as you think.  He worries me too," he assured her.  She nodded, blinking at him.  "Thank you.  I'll show it to Welsh myself tomorrow.  Maybe you can help Stan with some of his paperwork."  He grinned.  "The poor guy's pitiful."

"If they got the computers in, Stan and I can teach everyone how to use it to file the reports."

"Good, I like that idea," he agreed, leading her out.  He logged her off, but kept the screen open. He'd check it again later.  He walked her back to the kitchen, turning on the dishwasher again since Maria was off the phone.  "Ma okay?"

"Oh, yeah.  Ma yelled at Frannie for comin' over to yell at her.  Said she's in pain and fragile."  She grinned at Catherine.  "We need to talk more.  Next weekend?"

"I'm on call but sure," she agreed.  "Ray?"

"I'll probably be over to cut the grass anyway," he agreed. "Tony and the lawnmower should never be together."  Maria snickered.  "He shouldn't.  Last time he nearly sliced open his foot."

"He was drunk and you know it," Maria said smiling.  "It was after the annual Fourth picnic."  Catherine laughed, shaking her head.  "Tony doesn't do that anymore.  I kicked his ass verbally."

"It's always better that way," Catherine agreed. "It's much more satisfying to verbally make someone ache then to do it physically. Then your knuckles don't hurt."  Maria smiled and nodded.  She looked up at Ray.  "So, great worrywart, what else did you have planned for tomorrow?"

"I don't know yet. For the first time in months I only have one open case and it's unsolveable."  He looked down at her.  "Maybe we can get a real lunch?"

"Sure.  I'd like that."  She grinned, then grinned at Maria.  "It's amazing. He makes me eat.  He's promised to make me pay the bills.  All sorts of stuff."

Maria nodded. "He's definitely big brother material," she agreed dryly.  "Take good care of him or you'll be dealing with me.  I am the scary woman in the family after Ma."

"Not an issue.  I adore Ray, but it's as a friend as far as I know."

"Frannie said you dated women."

"Technically, I have dated men.  I like certain qualities and I find them more often in women.  Ray has a great many of them though.  Your mother did a great job with you two."

Ray gave her a squeeze.   "Ma was too busy to pay enough attention to Frannie. She'll straighten herself out soon."

"Hopefully.  At least where I'm concerned.  Though, can I snipe at her the next time she makes Benny wanna run for the hills?"

"Nah.  He discourages her well enough as is."

"No, see, the way for him to cure her fully is for him to take her camping," Catherine said, grinning up at him.  "Take her on a real wilderness camping trip.  The sort he was thinking about taking a few days ago."

"Frannie would die in the wilderness," Maria said, grinning wickedly.  "You'll have to suggest that to Benny, Ray.  What a perfect idea."  She winked at Catherine.  "I like having you around, as long as you treat my big brother right."

"I'd never hurt him.  Or at least I'd never do it on purpose," she admitted.

Maria nodded.  "I know how that is.  Tony and I had some bad fights in our first year.  Ma even smacked him a few times.  You two will work it out.  You've got that comfortableness with each other."  She grabbed her jacket.  "Should I take the long-haired cat with me?"

"She belongs across the hall," Catherine told her.  "She likes our bowls better.  He's got three other cats but she likes to come play with mine."  She shrugged, then winced.  "'Scuse me, I think it's time for pain medicine."  She found her bottle and shook two out, taking them with the rest of Ray's soda.

"You rest that, Catherine.  It does look bad."  She nodded at Ray.  "Saturday dinner?"

"Sure.  Frannie should have calmed down by then."  He showed her out, putting that cat back into the hall.  "You, go home."  She meowed and sat there staring at him.  "No, you don't live with us."  He shut the door, making sure all Catherine's cats were inside.  Someone knocked and Maria handed over Nessa.  "Thanks.  Close the bottom door too."  She nodded, heading down again.  "You," he said, looking down at her.  "Are a naughty cat.  You don't live outside anymore.  You live in here."  He gave her a pat and put her onto the bookcase.  "Stay there."  He went to walk Catherine back to the bed, making sure Chocolate hadn't hurt it again.  He tucked her in, giving her a pat. "You rest."

"I can't sleep in clothes," she said miserably.

He gave her a look.  Then he blinked a few times.  "I won't peek," he said. "I'm gonna go check my mail."  She nodded and sat up, working on getting her shirt off.  He took it off her then left her at it before he peeked.  At least she had a nightlight so he could sneak into the bathroom later.  He logged back onto the internet, reloading her email.  Then he opened a new window and loaded his, cleaning out his inbox so he could save that one for himself.  Frankie had him worried.  He was a big enough asshole to try for her.  He logged off briefly, calling the consulate.  "Hey, Turnbull, it's Vecchio.  Tell Fraser to be careful.  Zucko's put out a contract on all us.  Yeah, I said us.  Don't worry, he don't know you," he said calmly.  "He's really pissed at Fraser and me though, and now Catherine.  Yeah, that's fine.  Tell 'im I'll see him tomorrow when he's done."  He hung up and logged back on, sending himself that message again.  Then he logged off and answered the phone.

"Hey, Benny," he said, knowing who it was without needing any Caller ID.  Benny would be calling as soon as he heard, he was like that. "Yeah, we're fine.  No, we had a near run- in earlier when someone put a bomb in my engine.  Then she got sent a death threat from Frankie personally.  I don't know, but you know how Frankie was.  Prison only made him harder.  Yeah, call tomorrow and one of us will come pick you up and take you back.  No, she took a pain pill and went back to bed."  He grinned.  "Okay, so she took two pain pills and went back to bed.  Frannie threw a rant at us."  He smirked.  "She came up with the perfect way to get you free of Frannie too.  She suggested to Maria that you take her camping.  Real camping, not like in the cabin camping, though she'd probably hate that too.  I don't know, take some boy scouts or somethin'."  He chuckled.  "That's true, one of Maria's boys is a scout. Work it out with Maria."  He laughed again.  "Of course it will.  Wax poetic about the beauty of not havin' a shower for weeks, watch the look on her face."  He laughed harder.  "Sure.  Anytime.  Nah, I'm settled in for the night.  Yeah, she's got a new phone but I don't know what the number is.  Why?"  He nodded.  "We were thinking about that earlier.  Prepaid?  Really?  Why are the Canadians giving you a cellphone?  Oh, so Thatcher can find you," he said, smirking at the screen.  "Makes sense.  Yeah, you too.  Be careful when you walk Dief or I'll have to let Catherine loose on him."  He laughed and hung up, shaking his head.  That had been a scary thought, he agreed with his friend.


Catherine walked into the precinct the next morning, her black bodysuit and flowing soft pants a dull color in relation to the green shirt Ray had put over top of it that morning. Her hair was actually fixed this morning too, she had deigned to brush it again.  She walked up to her desk and found it mostly intact, but her monitor had been moved and her voodoo doll was missing.  She looked at Huey.  "Who moved it?"

"The night shift.  He left a note on mine.  He said the doll is in the left drawer.  The monitor was shifted so he could get something.  I told him you were picky."  He looked at her.  "Vecchio dress you?"

"Only the green," she said with a small smile, pulling out her doll.  She noticed the hairs on the head had been teased.  "He didn't like it?"

"He said it creeped him out."  He looked at her.  "I agree.  It is creepy."

"Stan is like my little brother, detective.  Nothing further.  He's a very nice guy who I can play with and tease.  Besides, we trade books."  He rolled his eyes.  "He's known about it since the morning after I made it."  She put it under her monitor, out of the way and out of most everyone's sight.  "Anything else happen I should know about?"

"We've got a meeting in an hour."  He looked at the clock then at her.  "Since when did we come in at nine?"

"Since Welsh told me to come in at nine."  She shrugged.  "I only do what I'm told in relation to hours.  At least until I get stuck doing overtime."  He grunted. "What?  I've pulled plenty of overtime. That whole warrant hunt was overtime for me."  He looked at her.  "Seriously.  I was pulling a full night Vice shift and then coming in."

"No wonder you were grumpy," he said, putting down his pen.  "I'm supposing Frannie found her brother?"  She nodded, giving him a look.  "I really don't like you."

"Like I give a shit," she said quietly.  "Liking me isn't important on the job.  Neither is being civil if you don't want to be.  I know all my faults very well."

"Yeah, well, I've run into other female detectives that are harder to like," he admitted.  "I guess you're decent enough with caffeine in you."  He waved at her shoulder.  "How soon will that be healed?"

"The stitches come out in six weeks.  If I have to, I can use it some.  I'm not totally helpless."

"You said that's your gun hand.  Can you fire?"

"I'll be in a fuckload of pain," she said quietly.  "And do not tell Ray I said that."  He nodded.  "I can if I have to.  I did when it was broken."  He looked stunned.  "Really.  I shot someone with a broken collarbone and a gunshot wound on that side.  I had to, and it hurt like hell, but I did it.  I'll do it again if I have to."   He nodded, relaxing a little.  "Anything else you want to know?"

"Why is Kowalski so protective of you."

She winced.  "Let's just say he's got his reasons.  He's seen me at my worst back when he was still a rookie detective.  Let's leave it there."  He nodded.  She looked over as Frannie came in, then looked away from her.  "Do we have anything new yet?"

"Fortunately we do," he said dryly.  "Having you here has once again given us a carload of new cases.  Welsh has six related ones, another homicide for you, and then two or three for Kowalski and Vecchio. I prefer to do robberies instead of homicides.  Even then, I'd rather have routine ones. I heard about your new one."

"It hasn't been the worst ever," she assured him.  "I keep those to myself unless someone asks.  The same as I keep my research to myself."  She turned on her computer, frowning at the screen.  "Asshole!"  She changed it back and wrote out a note.  "He changed my background."

"Set up users so he can't get into your profile," Huey told her.

"I should."  She did that, setting herself and him up.  "What's his name?"

"Perkins."  She typed something in.  "Remember to leave him the password."  She nodded, writing it on the note and putting it in the top drawer.  Then she checked her bookmarks, sighing in relief.  "He said those scared him too," he noted dryly, picking up his pen again.

"They should.  I've got some damn odd sites bookmarked, but I need them sometimes.  Let's face it, the Satanists League does influence some of the kids I see doing odd stuff."  She saved hers then went into his profile and set him up another copy, taking off the occult stuff for him.  "There, that should satisfy him.  I'll stick around tonight so I can tell him what's going on, just in case."  She logged out and logged back into hers, smiling at the pretty picture.

"Where was that?" he asked, barley able to see an edge.

"I found it online.  It's a sunrise picture on an animal preserve.  There's a lion hiding in the bush if you look really closely."  She pointed it out for him, turning the monitor so he could see. "I change it now and again."

"It's pretty," he agreed.  "My laptop has a standard colored background."

"I've got a freeware program that creates rotating screensavers and backgrounds," she offered.  "It's really easy to use and nice."  She glanced around.  "The new computers?"

"Tonight," he told her. "They wired last night.  That's why we're back in the old spot."  He gave her a look.  "Laptop?" he asked.

"Oh, yeah.  Big laptop.  As big as this screen."  She grinned.  "It's gonna be great.  My old one has an eleven-inch screen, that's why I hate surfing on it.  That and the ball mouse.  My mouse port needs replaced.  It's easy enough to do but I never seem to have a good day when I remember.  This way, everything will work and I'll be able to see the screen."  Ray walked in with Benny.  "She let you go early?" she asked happily.

"She all but drove him out of the office," Ray told her.  He looked at the picture.  "That's new."

"I have it set to rotate each day," she shared.  "It's my screensaver program."

"I saw your screensaver last night," he said dryly.  She blushed and looked at Benny, grinning at him.  "Behave."  He pulled her up.  "Let's go tell Welsh about Frankie's new thing."

"He already knows," Huey told him.  "We've got a briefing at ten."  Ray nodded and sat down to work on something.  He moved his chair back closer to him.  "You really like her?"  Ray looked at him.  "You're very nice to her, Ray, it's a little obvious.  You're acting like Fraser with her."  Ray scowled.  "Okay, never mind.  I'll be nicer."

"I told her you'd take a few weeks to get used to her," he told him.  "Don't worry about it."  Huey gave him a look.  "What?  I do understand.  I had the same problems with Stanley when he came back."  Huey laughed, going back to his desk.  "Any other news?"

"You and Kowalski have a few cases coming your way.  She and I have six related ones.  Plus she's got another homicide to work on.  She's agreed to graciously leave me out of the loop on those."

"Really?  I find them fascinating," Benny told him.  "People's reasons for killing are very varied and all are wrong, but how they justify it to themselves has always interested me."

"Fortunately, my minor in college was Anthropology," she told him. "I don't have to do too much profiling usually.  I'm more their strange stuff research nerd these days.  Back in the early days it was horrible.  They'd call me out of bed at the slightest strange thing and decided I could profile.  That was before we hired Blount."  He nodded, smiling at her. "I met some sick bastards doing that stuff.  Most serial killers seem to believe that they're the only important beings in the world and the rest of us are here to be played with.  Or at least all the ones I ran into.  When they brought in Blount, I handed him my files and gave him a big hug."  Benny and Huey both chuckled at that.  "Seriously.  He said I did great for an Anthro person but he's much better at profiling.  He even enjoys the sick people's minds. That's why I went history instead of psych for my electives."

Lieutenant Welsh walked in, waving at them. "Since we're all here, let's do this. My office."  Everyone followed him, some with notepads, some with a more casual attitude.  "Kowalski is already out on one of his, Vecchio.  Bring him up to speed later."  Ray nodded.  "Demoranth, I believe this is yours," he said, handing over a CD case.  "Use it well.  The coroner looked sick this time."  She grimaced, taking it to put on her notepad. "These are also yours," he said, handing the files to Huey.  "They're related robberies.  The same MO, the same sort of stuff.  All antiques."  They nodded.  "Try and get it solved quickly.  Robbery hated it and passed it on. The owners are not happy."  He looked at Ray.  "About that interesting email you forwarded to me."  Ray straightened up.  "He's still in the county jail.  He bribed a guard."

"Mycene?" Catherine asked.

"No, not her."  He looked at her.  "Did you two date?"  She nodded. "She's a good woman, don't worry about her.  She found Frankie and nearly snapped his neck."  She smirked at him. "Think that's funny?"

"I'm surprised she didn't do it to my stalker.  She tried the same thing for a while.  One of these days she's going to go after everyone I've ever liked."

"I'll tell Blount about her," he said dryly. "She's presently suspended.  As for Zucko, he's in solitary.  His visitors are monitored, including his lawyer since he's the city Don's right- hand guy."  He looked at Vecchio.  "You're right, I asked one of the tougher patrol cops.  He does have a hit out for you, Frasier, and Catherine.  Plus a smaller one on Kowalski and your mother's house.  He's said it's not being nibbled at.  Something about unreasonable anger and aggression?" he asked, looking at Catherine.

"No, I was not fond of the last person who put a hit out on me," she said firmly.  "He's regretting it greatly in Joliet."

"Do I need to know?"  She shook her head.  "Good, keep it that way.  Do the same with the homicide things if possible."  She nodded.  "Thank you.  There's a reason I'm here instead of there."  He looked at Vecchio.  "That is your newest case and the most important.  I want you to live in your vest.  Kowalski came in wearing his.  Did you get her one?"

"Yes, he did," Catherine said. "And it still doesn't fit perfectly but it's better than the others."  He looked at her and she raised an eyebrow.  "I'm fine to be on the street, Lieutenant.  I really am."

"Fine.  Until you pass out from the pain or get faint.  How is your blood sugar?"

She grimaced.  "I forgot to check it this morning.  I'll do it tomorrow.  I'm generally fine."

"Good.  Keep a vial of insulin in the fridge if you're on it.  Also, your pendant? The DA said he wants to see you in person about it."

"That's fine.  I've got case precedent for him," she said calmly.

"Pendant?" Huey asked.

"My medic alert pendant," she told him.  "I've got drug and food allergies, plus the diabetes.  I'm on the pill, not the shot, Welsh."

"That's fine.  Make sure we've got a dose here in case.  You've always been horrible about remembering your medicines."  She gave him a look.  "You were.  Also, I want a calendar from you."

"It's not workable.  It's not routine."

He sighed.  "Fine.  Do your best then. Give me some warning at least."

"I figure someone will catch it," she offered.

"Again, what?" Huey asked.

She looked at him.  "My first morning here was more about my PMS than my lack of caffeine.  I've scared the Crypts before."  He gave her a worried look.  "He's requested I give you guys fair warning since I'm not on a set schedule."  He nodded.  "I'll try, don't worry about it," she said, patting him on the arm.  She looked at Welsh.  "Any other personal topics we need to discuss?"

"Only if you can't pull that top up some."  She looked down and adjusted it.  "Thank you."  He gave her a look.  "There's a reason why people stare."

"You forget, I'm a nudist at heart.  Feel lucky I'm wearing *any* clothes."  He nodded quickly.  "Anything else?"  He shook his head.  "Then I'll let Huey look over the robbery files while I spin this.  Is this the old or a new one?"

"A new one," he told her.  "The old one was solved late last night when a patrol cop found him dumping a body."

"Good," Ray agreed.  "It wasn't a kid, right?"

"Early teens," Welsh told him.  The others in the office filed out, leaving them to discuss the homicides.

Catherine looked up.  "Thank you, Goddess."  She looked at him, then at Ray.  "Get the door, dear."  He slammed the door.  "Huey, you need in on this," she told him.  Welsh looked at her.  "He does.  Trust me."  She looked at him.  "Because of my affiliation with the non-Christian belief system, I was asked to help find a cult leader who's recruiting among my kind."

"The marriage?" he asked.  She nodded.  "Really?  You two act like you're dating."

"You're not the first to say that," Ray told him.  "Are you sure, Catherine?"  She nodded.  "Not because of Frannie?"

"No, not because of her.  You don't have any proof that we're married if something happens and I need to hit the hospital again, Ray."  He nodded, relaxing again.  "Fortunately, I don't have any family that would get in the way of that, but it is a consideration with the allergy attack I had a while ago."  Welsh opened his mouth.  "Soybeans in the oil at the place I drove through.  Nothing major.  I took a pill for it."  She looked at him.   "Besides, since he's my partner he needs to know some of these things too."  She looked at Huey.  "How about we have lunch today?"  He nodded.  "Good.  I've got copies of the paperwork on my computer.  I had to run Mara off some but she tore hers up in front of me and lit it on fire before stomping out to be with her twenty-year-old girlfriend."

"You really are a lesbian?"

"I'm more picky and wanting certain traits. They don't happen naturally in most men.  It takes a really good mother to encourage them," she told him.  "Ray's Ma was excellent in that."  Ray chuckled.  "Also, you asked a very good question earlier.  I want you to drop it."  Huey looked confused again.  "It was really bad and I don't want it to start around again.  So drop it."  He nodded quickly, realizing what she was talking about.  "Okay, I'm done."  Ray gave her a look.  "He asked why Stan and I are so close."

"Oh."  He looked at Huey and shook his head. "Don't ask."

Welsh nodded.  "Really don't ask.  I remember it.  It took me a few months to realize where I recognized Kowalski from," he told her.  "No aftereffects?"

"A weather ache in that shoulder."  She stood up.  "Anything else?"  He shook his head.  "Then let me spin this CD, see what this new one is. Maybe it'll be easier."  She walked out, going to her computer.

Ray looked at Huey.  "It's bad, and it wasn't her fault.  Stan saved her."

Huey swallowed.  "That case about ten years ago.  The Vice officer who was kidnaped."  Ray nodded.  "Then I'll drop it.  I doubt I want her to have flashbacks in the middle of a shootout."

"With any luck, this run of bad luck will be stopping soon," Welsh told him.

"We all hope so," Ray agreed, rolling his eyes.  He walked out, followed by Fraser.  "Catherine, when were you going to threaten the DA?"

"After lunch, there's no court this afternoon because of the golf tournament."  He gave her a sideways look.  "I"m fine.  It happens."  She pushed her hair back.  "I need to cut this mess."

"You need to get it shaped," Huey told her.  "I've seen you after your usual haircuts and you looked like a skinhead."  She gave him a dirty look.  "You did."

"I hate having hair.  It gets in the way."  She went back to her looking at pictures.  "Hmm.  The eagle.  Interesting.  Traditional.  Classic.  An oathbreaker?"  She opened the next part, reading the report.  "An oathbreaker," she agreed, reaching for her phone. She ran into something cold on her desk and frowned.  "Hey, who put the bedpan on my desk?" she complained.  "I'm too old to be pranked."  She put it aside, not caring to look what was inside it.  She called Homicide, checking the detective's name.  "Give me to Peterson," she requested.  "Yeah, it's Demoranth.  Yes, I know I'm in the 27th.  I got moved here when they purged Vice of anyone not pretty."  She tapped her fingers. "Hey, do you want the short or should I find you the pertinent articles?"  She smiled. "That's fine.  He's an oathbreaker.  He violated their tenets and betrayed them.  Yeah, it'd be a close believer.  You're looking at something Norse related.  They're literal and correct so I'd say someone who had it passed down or has known for a very long time.  Welcome.  Sure, anytime. I'm gonna add this to my collection of articles.  It's textbook.  Speaking of, if you need the books, I've got one in my personal reference collection."  She paused.  "You're kidding!"  She groaned and stood up.  "I'm on it. Yeah, that's great.  Sure, as long as Welsh doesn't complain.  Thanks, dude."  She hung up.  "Who wants to look at the zombies with me?"  Everyone looked at her.  "Some kids broke into a Voodun priest's home and took some of his herbs thinking it was Herb.  They're downstairs."  She dug something out of her reference bag as everyone but Benny found something more interesting to do then headed down there with Fraser.  "Do not let them bite you," she warned. "It transfers."  He nodded, letting her walk in first.  "Zombies?" she asked.

The guard gave her a dirty look.  "Drugged up?"

"No, biting, insensate, wandering humans."

"Oh, them."  He pointed and she grabbed his arm when the bite mark was exposed.  "I'm fine.  I put stuff on it," he said, pulling back.

"Dear, it transfers.  It's an ancient herb that puts you into a trance-like state and they ate it.  It transfers through the saliva.  You need more than alcohol and a bandaid.  Yo, shift supervisor!" she called.  He came running.  "You need to get him to a real doctor."  She handed over the article, it was already open to it.  "It's a real herb combination that turns people like that.  It's like a version of PCP and peyote mixed from what I understand.  It transfers through saliva.  The guys who wrote all those really dumb zombie movies got that right.  Copy the article and take it with you.  He'll at least need a tetanus."  The shift supervisor looked at her.  "I'm Demoranth," she told him.  "They sent the zombie kids for me to look at.  For that matter, how long have they been under?"

"Four days."  He looked at Fraser.  "You work with Vecchio?"  He nodded.  "Why didn't you get this one?"

"Because I got purged from Vice.  I now live upstairs," she said with a small grin.  "I'll try to keep the strange stuff away.  You're sure on the four days?"  He nodded. "Good.  Copy the article and send him for treatment with a copy.  If any transferred, he can blackout.  Minute blackouts or longer."

"I've had a few," the guard admitted. "I had one earlier."

"That's fine, then you really need treated.  Any good ER doctor will be able to treat it, the cure is in the article."  The supervisor nodded, taking it to copy.  "And call someone from the psych ward.  It's the safest place for them now."  He nodded, hurrying.  "Benny, I want you behind me.  Only go for them if they try to bite me.  If it's lasted this long, it could last as long as two weeks.  They must have eaten a shitload in those brownies."  The guard let them into the holding cell and she moved slowly closer.  "Careful," she told the nearest one.  "I am very skilled.  I can heal you."  He moaned and moved closer.  "Stop," she said firmly.  He looked at her.  "We'll get you treated."  The shift supervisor came back.  "ETA?"

"Ten minutes, detective.  They ate it?"

"The homicide guy who sent them down here said they had it in brownies.  He found a few dirty pans.  A normal dose will last for three days.  A normal dose is probably what the guard got.  These guys got tons more. Benny, get this one trying to come up on my other side."  He walked in and stepped closer, making the boy back off.  "Was this all there were?"

"We've got a female.  That's how he got bitten, when we separated them out," the supervisor admitted.  "Need anything?"

"Stuff to gag them."

"Okay."  He went to get her some towels, handing them over.  "Here."  Benny took them and captured his, gagging him quickly.  One of the others came over to help and Catherine got him.  Then she tripped the last and got him as well.  He let them out and then into the other cell.  "That article is real?"

"That's Newsweek," she said with a faint smile.  "I keep interesting things like that because of the job.  That's part of my personal reference collection."  She walked in and the girl rushed her.  She winced and tripped her, moving back.  She took a few deep breaths, going back in to sit on her and gag her.  Someone coughed.  "Give me a sec.  These guys are dangerous if they bite."  She backed out, running into Benny. "Hey."  She looked at the paramedic, who was reading the article.  "I need that back," she told him.  "They ate it in brownies.  If they had taken the normal dose they'd be normal by now."  He gave her a horrified look.  "I know, but it's real.  The mix is somewhere between peyote and PCP from what I understand."  She brushed her hair back again.  "They're dangerous if they bite.  Do what they did here.  Put them in a pretty padded room and let them wander by themselves.  If you go in, go in with at least one other person.  Do not gas them and do not hit them with a pain stick.  They won't react."  He nodded quickly, putting the article into his belt.  "I will need that back, kid.  They ate it in brownies four days ago.  According to my sources if it's been over three days it could last up to two weeks.  Can you guys do that?"

"Yes, ma'am.  We have a doctor who studies this stuff."

"Peter?"  He nodded, smiling at her.  "Good.  Tell him what's going on, he might have the article in his personal library."  She looked toward the girl, noticing she was trying remove the gag.  "Get her.  Gently cuff her."  The guards rushed in.  "Gently, guys, she isn't feeling pain and can't react."  They brought her out and handed her over.  "Now the other three if they haven't ungagged."  They steeled themselves and headed in to get them.  "Keep them separate," she told the EMT.  "It'll help some.  If you need me, have Peter call.  Is he the attending?"

"Not presently.  I can call him personally though."  She nodded.  "Thank you.  Who are you?"

"Catherine Demoranth," she said, shaking his hand.  "Detective upstairs now."  He smiled at her.  "Heard of me?"

"From Dr. Peter," he admitted. "I'll be calling him as soon as we get them into the van."  He noticed she had spit out the gag and was heading for Benny's arm so he stopped her by capturing her jaw.  "Bad!  Naughty!"  She gave him a look. "No biting!"  He stuck part of the towel back into her mouth.  "Thank you, detective.  Anything else?"

"That one kid's being taken by regular ambulance," the shift supervisor told him.  He looked at Catherine.  "You got a phone, just in case?"  She nodded and wrote down the number.  "Next time, we'll call you immediately."

"You and homicide both," she said with a smile.  "Got any others?"

"Not unless you can cure the screaming woman who's screaming your first name."

She walked down to the women's section, following the yelling.  "Hey!"  The yelling stopped and she stared in shock.  "Mara," she said, frowning at her. "What charge?"

"Using," she said bitterly.  "What's wrong with you?  Finally go soft?"

"No, I work here now," she told her, crossing her arms with a wince.  "Quit bugging the guards.  They had zombies all night."  She turned and walked away, looking at the supervisor.  "My ex," she said quietly.  "I may be back later.  I don't want to deal with this."  He nodded, giving her an understanding look.  "Have fun.  Watch out for her, if she's been arrested, she's desperate."  He gave her a knowing look.  "Already?"

"Last night," he admitted.  She sighed and nodded.  "Did you need the case?"

She shook her head.  "We broke up six years ago when she cheated on me, Sergeant.  She's the reason I didn't date for six years."  He gave her a gentle pat and she winced.  "Sorry, gunshot wound."  She gave him a wry look and a little grin.  "I'm going to write a supplementary report on them.  Forward their stuff upstairs for a few if you've got it, okay?"  He nodded.  "Thanks.  I handle this stuff all the time, I like making other people not have to deal with it."  He laughed and she walked off, Benny following her.  "Now that you've seen your first zombie, what did you think?" she asked.

"I wonder why people volunteered to do that," Benny told her.

"To get closer to the spirits.  Voodun is a religion of spirit possession.  Like Santeria and some Christian sects, they believe they are possessed by the spirits."  She walked into the squad room and looked back at Benny.  "You didn't get bitten, right?"  He shook his head too quickly.  "Scratched?"

"A small one," he said, letting her see it.  "If I have an adverse reaction, I'll let you know right away."

"Do that," she agreed, going to write up the supplemental report.  She paused long enough to call her contact. "Which priest did they upset?" she asked in greeting.  "Yes, them.  I just sent them to a padded cell.  Which one?"  She burst out laughing.  "Shit, no wonder.  Thanks.  Tell him they're safe and they're sorry.  They bit a guard too, I sent him with the article.  Sure thing.  Laters and all that."  She hung up, going back to her typing.

"What happened?" Huey asked.

"Four kids broke into the top herbalist in the area's shop looking for weed and other drugs.  They took his voodun stash for making zombies so you get closer to the spirits and baked it into a few pans of brownies, then ate most of them."  He gave her a horrified look.  "They bit a guard, he'll be fine and so will they when they wake up.  It may be a few weeks, but they'll be fine."

Ray looked at Benny.  "You got what?"

"It's a small scratch," he said, trying to reassure him.  "Nothing too bad."

"If he starts to have blackouts, it's treatable," Catherine said, looking at Ray.  "He will be telling me or I'm stripping him, waxing him, and putting him up the flagpole at the consulate."  Benny gave out a horrified moan.  She looked at him.  "Understand?"  He nodded quickly.  "Good."  She went back to her report, waving when Stanley stomped in a few minutes later.  "You missed the zombies."

"Good!"  He leaned down to hug her, making her wince.  "Take your pain medicine," he said into her ear.

"I did."

"She only took one," Ray told him.  He looked at him.  "Bad case?"

"Hell yeah."  He sat down at his own desk, puling over a form.  "Can I quit to become a vigilante?"

"I'd miss your unique version of sanity," Catherine told him.  He tossed his pen at her.  "I will," she said, grinning at him.  She looked at Benny, then stood up, waving a hand in front of his face.  "The other guy got taken by the paramedics, St. Joe is closest.  Take him now," she told Ray, getting out of his way.  "Make sure they've got the article."  He nodded, walking Benny out.  "Scratched my ass," she said as she sat down again.  "Scratched by a dirty tooth."

Huey looked at her.  "Promise me you won't make me do that."

She grinned at him.  "You mean you don't want to join the fun?"

"Hell no."

"Fine, I won't call you up to revel with me under the new moon."  He whimpered.  "Kidding.  Relax.  I'm a nice woman, I'm only scary when I need to be or I need caffeine or drugs."

"Thank you."  He went back to his paperwork, glancing at her now and then until he was sure she was sane.   It was nearly lunchtime by then.


Catherine walked into the DA's office, handing over the form requesting her possessions back.  "I need it," she told him.

He looked at it, then at her.  "You can't switch?"

"It's problematic," she told him, staying standing.  "You're endangering my life."  He laughed.  "Because I didn't have it on me no one would have known why I nearly died this morning from breakfast because of the oil used to fry the eggs."  He dropped the form.  "Not to mention a field situation.  I am a detective in the 27th.  I do go in the field.   I do have life threatening allergies and a medical condition that can leave me comatose if something happens."

"I know it can be hard to switch, but we do need it for the case."

"It's not like I'm going to suddenly get rid of it," she said patiently.  "You can be charged with negligent homicide if I die from something that was covered under it."  She handed over the other papers she had.  "Case law.  All in Chicago, one all the way to the State Supreme Court.  Medic Alert and other necessary medical equipment can be handed back and pictures used for cases due to the nature of the devices.  Getting a new one is a pain and things don't always transfer.  I've had that happen before and I nearly died in the hospital.  It's not like it's necessary to your case.  If you've got The Doctor then you've got his case notes."

"We do," he admitted, signing the form.  "There.  Better?"

"Much.  I don't need my food allergies to kill me this week.  I take this to Evidence?"  He nodded.  "Thank you for your speedy cooperation.  Hopefully you don't have anything else of mine?"

"Not that I'm aware of.  I heard you were married now," he said dryly.  "To another detective?"

"It sure as hell beats the new judge," she told him.  He smirked at her.  "It does.  He likes me to think.  It's a good thing."  She walked out, heading to Evidence.  "Hey."  The guy looked at her so she flashed her badge then handed over the form.  "It's a pure silver Medic Alert pendant if that helps."  He disappeared and came back with the box, opening it in front of her.  She signed the form saying she had it opened, then took her pendant, sighing in relief as she put it on.  "Thanks, guys."

"Are those hard to get?" one of the guys asked.

"No, just hard to change over," she told him.  "Each has a unique number that relates to your file."  He nodded.  "This one nearly cost me my life this morning.  The silver reminds me to check labels and things."  They smiled at her.  "Laters, guys.  I've got another case this week I might have to review."  She headed back to her desk, but Ray was waiting against her car.  "Hey."  She held up her pendant.  "I got it."

"Good.  You also got a call."  He held up her cellphone.  "Benny will be fine."

"I knew he would be."  She took the phone, punching in for her voicemail.  She listened to it and sighed.  "Stupid doctors," she muttered.


"Yeah.  The whole blood sugar thing."  She got in to drive but he pushed her over. "Hey, my car."

"You haven't eaten yet," he pointed out.  She banged her head against the headrest. "Those papers?" he guessed.

"Probably in the DA's office," she told him.  "They were on me.  If they're not in my briefcase."  She picked it up, looking through it. "No, they're in there."  He nodded and got out.  "I can do it."

"Confirm your appointment."  He walked up, taking the forms the DA held out upon seeing him.  "Sorry about that.  She hasn't eaten yet."

He laughed.  "I remember her from college.  She used to pass out when that happened."  He nodded at them.  "A sham marriage?"

"No. Overriding the older ones."  The DA looked stunned.  "Some of her ex's."

"Oh.  I see.  Interesting."  He smiled at him.  "Where did you hold it?"

"Up in the woods.  You know how she is about them," he told him, smirking at the confused look. "Don't worry, think about it, it'll make sense."  He walked out, taking the papers back to the car.  He found her asleep in her seat.  He checked her pulse.  She still had one so it was all right.  He tucked the papers away and drove through the nearest place, parking them so they could talk once she woke up.  When he was done, he pulled them back out to read them, nodding at each of the orders.  She groaned so he nudged her and handed over the soda.  "Here.  You don't have a Do Not Resuscitate?"

"Nope, and don't want one.  I'm scared of dying, please keep me alive," she said dryly, slurping hard.  "Burger?"  He handed over the bag.  "Thanks, St. Ray."

"Welcome.  Remember, it's only a minor miracle getting you to eat. I need two major ones to my name and at least one more after my death."  They exchanged looks and laughed.  "Seriously?" he asked, waving them.

She nodded.  "Seriously.  I don't like the idea of dying.  For that matter, if I ever have to have major surgery, force them to use as light of an anesthetic as possible and no paralyzing drugs.  I've had bad reactions to drugs in the past and with a paralyzer they won't be able to tell. That is good in perpetuem.  Do not lose those. You'll have to present them probably."

"That's fine."  He put them in his wallet.  "That way they'll be around."  She gave him a faint smile.  "I heard your ex was in lockup."

"I told her to shut up earlier," she admitted.  "She was screaming about this being vengeance."

"Yeah, she said the same thing at her arraignment.  Said I had her arrested because of you.  The judge wanted to know what was going on so I told her it was a former girlfriend issue.  She nodded and said she understood.  She gave her ten thousand bail and suggested she make a plea for mental help."

Catherine choked.  "Excuse me?"

"Mental help.  For the drugs and the delusions.  She said there was a big rabbit in the room too."

"Shit, she's not taking her drugs," she sighed, closing her eyes again.  "I feel sorry for her cellmate."

"I think she's already made bail," he told her.  "Will we have to worry about a restraining order?"

"Nope.  I predict she'll skip for a bit but come back for her trial.  If she's forced to take her drugs, she'll be fine.  If not, she'll continue to see Kermit."


"The big white rabbit.  She's been seeing it since her first acid trip."  She ate a bite of her burger.  "How's Stan?"

"He's fine. He threw a fit earlier in the changing room but nothing major.  Your robbery case?"

"Not a big problem.  I think it's a collector but I haven't gotten with Huey yet to see what he thinks.  We went to check out various sites since you guys weren't going to make lunch."  She ate another bite and chewed quickly. "Speaking of, thanks for splurging today."

He gave her a gentle nudge.  "It's not a problem.  Cheeseburgers are cheap."  She smiled at him then ate another bite.  "Did you confirm your appointment?"  She shook her head.  "Do so."

"I'm fine."

"I'm sure you are, but you've been going down again.  They might take you off your medicine."  She grimaced and pulled her phone out of her pocket, calling her doctor.  "Thank you."

"I had forgotten I might get to go off it," she admitted. She listened to the cheery nurse.  "Hi, I need to confirm an appointment I just canceled," she said.  He groaned.  "Because my mate seems to want me to get checked on.  Yeah, Demoranth.  Yup, that's me.  I know," she sighed.  "I'm a bad patient.  I'm sure he will.  He had a trip with me in the hospital."  She listened.  "That's fine, thanks."  She hung up.  "They have a cancellation for later today, the last one today."  She finished her burger.  "He gets to yell at you for letting me eat fast food."

"Sure," Ray agreed, starting the engine.  "Should I plan on driving you over there in handcuffs too?"

"Possibly.  I hate needles.  They always do another finger prick."  She settled in, finishing her soda then heading for the fries.  "Fries!" she said happily.  She beamed at him.  "You really did splurge."  She kissed him on the cheek but he turned at the last moment.  She pulled back, licking her lips.  "Okay.  Morning."

He laughed and kissed her again.  "Afternoon, get it right, woman."  He pulled out of their parking spot, heading back to the precinct.  "I predict Huey will be finishing his salad about now at his desk.  He should be ready to get back to work too."

"Ray, um, park," she said.  He pulled over and she grabbed him, kissing him again.  "Damn it, I wasn't wrong," she said, starting to pout.  He was giving her this hurt, pouting look so she frowned at him.  "Did you feel anything?"  He nodded.  "So did I."  He nodded, making 'go on' motions with his hand.  "That's the problem, Ray.  Remember, assignment?  You live with your mother for real?"

"For now," he agreed.  "Like we agreed: if anything happens, it does.  If it doesn't, it doesn't."  She sighed and nodded, hanging her head.  "Scared?"


He tipped her chin up.  "I'm not pushy.  I like dating."

"Good, 'cause I'm definitely not used to it anymore," she told him. "Am I cooking tonight?"  He shrugged.  "Okay, I'll cook after we get back.  I'll have myself straightened out by then."

"Why?  You're more fun when you're bent."  She swatted his arm and he laughed.  "Seriously.  I like you how you are.  So we'll figure it out later.  Got it?"  She nodded, giving him an understanding look.  "If I knew you kissed like that, I would have bought you fries earlier."  She snickered, shaking her head.  "See, I can make jokes."

"I knew you could.  You're a very funny guy when you want to be."  He smiled.  "Let's go bug my partner.  See if he agrees."  She nibbled on a fry.  "You've got cheese on your lips."  He licked them off and she leaned closer, doing it when he missed it. "There."  She pulled back.  "Are you suddenly going to get more overprotective on the streets?"

"Like I'm not already?"

"Good point," she admitted.  "I guess it'll work itself out."

"It will," he promised.  "Can I sleep on the big bed tonight?  I kept hitting my elbow and knees on the daybed and the cats wouldn't give up the couch.  They were watching the fat guy across the street."

"Sure.  I'll even try to sleep in clothes," she told him.  He grinned at her.  "Let's head back to work.  Before Welsh gets more paranoid."  He nodded, pulling back into traffic. "What other cases did you get?"

"Stan got an assassin who was in town.  He went to kick his ass and talk to him.  We got the contract on us.  Vice tried to take it but Welsh told them off, and Stanley finished it before he hung up on them. We got a minor holdup case too.  Nothing major.  Kids holding up a liquor store."

"A liquor store today and a bank tomorrow," she quipped.

"Not these kids.  One of them wasn't wearing a mask and the only name they could come up with was Todd."

"As in Emperor Todd from that movie with Jon Lovitz?" she asked.


"I'll make you watch it later," she promised.  "It's funny, but goofy."

"Sure.  Is it another fantasy thing?"

"Sci fi, but more Monty Pythonish."

"Okay, I can handle that."  He pulled into the parking lot and let her take her briefcase while he cleaned up for lunch. "What time is the appointment tonight?" he asked her.

"Six."  He gave her a look and she sighed.  "Fine.  Five."  He gave her a pat on the back.  "You really are mean to me.  Making me go have my finger stuck with a pointy thing and having to visit the mean doctor and nurses."  Huey looked up as they walked in.  "Get anything?"

"Not much," he admitted. "None of the pawn shops would admit to having it."

"It's pretty high-end antiques," she told him, sitting in her desk chair.  Then she stood up and looked at it, changing it for Stanley's.  "Water," she explained, using her jacket to sit on and blot her butt.  "They could be going at auction."  He shrugged, taking a bite of his salad. "I was thinking a collector maybe."

"It bears considering," he agreed. He finished his salad and tossed away the plastic tray it had been in.  "Did you get to eat?"

She gave him a happy sigh. "Ray bought me *fries*."

"You're odd," Huey told her, giving her a look.  "You get gushy over fries?"

"Hell, yeah.  I haven't had fries in weeks. Fries are good."

"No wonder you're overweight."

"That was a depressive eating binge.  I can gain but my body won't let me lose.  It's amazing, before Ray started to enforce that whole 'eating every day' thing he does I'd eat maybe once a day.  Still no weight loss.  Even with all the chasing and running around I've done recently."

"How did you afford that bed set?" he asked her.  "Not being nosy but there are rumors."

"All of us that were left in Vice filed for back hazard pay to try and force the city to fix our unit."  His mouth opened.  "I got mine.  They only gave us back two years, but I did get it. It comes in damn handy when you have to pull an emergency move.  I even get my cable back soon," she said happily.

"I'm happy for you.  What do you have on that machine for music?"

"Mostly rock," she admitted.  "Lots of eighties stuff to remember the more fun times. Some of the oldies I like.  Some dance music and a few pieces of classical.  I don't do jazz much."

"That's fine.  I was hoping you weren't a country person."  She shuddered.  "Thank you."

 "Not an issue.  I have been depressed but not even that would have soothed it any.  It would have made me jump off somewhere very high."

"What would?" Stanley asked as he came in.

"Listening to country music while I was depressed."

Stanley looked at her.  "I'd hope you would have called first."  She nodded quickly.  "Good. What's on for the rest of the afternoon?  I can't find a single one of my snitches."

"Benny should be out by tonight," Ray told him.  "I was going to bring him back to her place for a while, to make sure he was all right, then send him home."  He looked at her and she nodded.  "Of course, you can come and help while he's there," he said, giving him a look.

"Sure," Stanley agreed.  "Dief and the cats should get along great again.  Can I see you in the hall for a minute?  Something was mentioned to me about Frankie and I wanted confirmation."  Ray nodded, following him to the closet they held all private conversations in.  "Ray, do not hurt her," he said quietly.  "I'd hate to cap you but I will.  I mean it."

"I know you do, Stan, and I don't want to hurt her.  We've agreed that if something happens, it does.  If it doesn't, it doesn't.  Neither of us is good in that area."

"True," Stanley agreed, relaxing slightly.  "But if you hurt her intentionally then I'm gonna have ta cap ya.  I saw her after Mara cheated.  That was the depression.  So just don't.   She's like my sister.  Imagine me dating Frannie?"

"Ewww," Ray said firmly.  "Don't mention that, she might try."

Stanley shuddered.  "In that case, I'm comin' ta live on the couch.  She wouldn't come near Catherine."

"She came over last night to bitch at her."  Stanley's mouth opened.  "She changed her chairs for yours.  Apparently hers was a little wet for some reason."  He pointed at the door.  "We done, big brother?"

"Little brother," he corrected with a grin.  "She's older."  He opened the door.  "After you."

"Thanks."  They walked back in and he saw the smirk.  "Benny instituted it," he said to forestall any jokes.

"Gee, was there something I should know, Ray?" she teased.  "A secret cleaning fetish perhaps?"

"No, that's Benny," Stanley said, looking at his chair.  Then he shrugged and changed it for one of the spare ones. "Hey, the rocking one," he said happily, rocking back and forth so it squeaked.

"Ah, noises of destruction," Catherine sighed.  "You and Oz both."

"Oz?" Huey asked.

"One of the cats. She has the kitty tail of destruction.  It won't go where she wants at all."  He nodded once, then went back to work.  "I'll bring pictures," she told him.

"That's okay, I'm allergic," Huey told her.  Now he was even more glad it was Vecchio who had pulled that assignment.  "Did you get your pendant?"  She nodded, taking something.  "Pain pills?"

"Insulin producer," she told him.  "Since I just ate."  She settled in to do some serious work, then decided to check her email and do a general search on the 'net for the antiques they were missing.


Catherine looked at her doctor.  "I'm doing good right?"  He nodded, giving her a tolerant nod.  "And I can quit the insulin producer?" she asked hopefully.

"We'll cut you back to a single dose for now," he told her, finishing his notes.  Then he put down her file and looked at her.  "We need to discuss some other things."  She groaned and flopped backwards.  "Having a dramatic day?"

"Hell yes."

He smirked at her, then looked at Ray.  "She has lost three pounds, so whatever you're doing is good for her."

"I bought her fries," he admitted.

"Stick with chicken sandwiches for her if possible. I know she tends to get somewhat anemic but it's not bad right now."  She gave him a look.  "The next point.  I have your file from St. Joe's.  I believe the orders were for *one* pill, young woman."

"One wasn't cutting it and I had to go back to work," she said, sitting up again.  "I'm doing fine with the two.  You know I have a high tolerance for pain medicines now."  He nodded.  "Really, I'm fine.  I only took a nap during lunch today."

"Good.  I wish you had waited."

"I'd be insane," she told him.

"Good point."  He glanced at Ray and then caught her eye, doing it again.  She looked away, blushing.  "Also a good thing to think about.  You are not a good candidate for the pill with your history, nor for the shot or any other hormonal means.  Also, you've started to react to latex," he told her.  She scowled at him.  "Seriously."  He moved her arm, letting her see the hives.  "Unless you've got another explanation?"

"I scrubbed off in the bathroom," she told him.

"Then you can *try* condoms, for now.  If something happens they do make non-latex ones but they're not as foolproof.  If you go for foolproof it's like the old style, a workboot."  Ray winced and he nodded.  "It's true.  Plastic and rubber are not good substitutes."  He looked at her again.  "Also, weren't you given an antibiotic?"  She shook her head.  "Not at all?"

"Some gel."

"I don't think a topical will work on you."  He checked her chart and wrote out a prescription.  "Take this twice a day with food," he told her, handing it to Ray.  She scowled again but he knew who was holding her in check.  "Eat more often, Catherine.  Try not to injure that shoulder again. This makes three."

"I know," she sighed.

"Three?" Ray asked.

"Yeah, I fucked it when I was younger in shop class. Dislocated partially," she told him.

"And two other grazes to the outside of that area," the doctor told him. Ray gave her an impressed look.  "Are there other matters we should be chatting about?"

"My back's out again," she told him.  He nodded.  "Wanna pop it for me?"

"Of course.  Roll onto your stomach."  She did so and he moved closer, testing it by pushing a few times.  Then he pushed harder in one spot, making it pop and Ray wince.  "Need the other side too?"

"Please," she moaned.  He moved to her other side, doing it again. He pushed, a little more lightly this time.  Another pop and a bit of grinding.  "That's much better," she sighed happily.  "I hate hospital beds."

"I know you do," he said, giving her a pat.  "Any questions?"

"Insulin once a day.  Antibiotics twice a day.  Eat more chicken.  Anything else?" she asked, looking up at him.

"Test out latex to see if you're allergic or not," he reminded her.  "Also, your allergy pills.  Do you have any left?"

"Fuck," she sighed, shaking her head.  "Two or three.  This morning I had to take two to cure my unfortunate breakfast choice."

"That's fine."  He helped her roll over, giving her shoulder another look.  "Whoever stitched you did a very good job but I'm still worried.  I'll be seeing you in two weeks to release half of that."  She gave him a look. "I know, but diabetics are known for infections and going septic in wounds.  If the antibiotics give you *any* problems, you go to the emergency room immediately."

"If they make me puke more than usual, I'll puke then take one of my allergy pills," she told him.  "If I'm having problems breathing then I'll use another free trip to the ER."  He nodded, accepting that compromise.  "Do I have refills on my allergy meds?"

He checked her chart and wrote her out one.  "I've put on two refills," he said, handing that to Ray too. "Take a hot bath tonight to finish your back's settling.  See me in two weeks."  She sighed and nodded.  "Good girl.  Have a nice night.  Nice meeting you, detective."  He made another note and left them alone.

Ray came over, helping her out of the paper gown and into her clothes since she was wincing so much. "Time for the pain pills?" he asked gently.  She nodded.  "Then we'll do that before you stop at the pharmacy."  She gave him a look.  "You need to go."

"I need to hit it on payday," she corrected.  "The bank's closed."  He sighed and rolled his eyes.  "What?"

"You have money," he pointed out.  She shook her head.  "Yes, you do.  I put some of it aside for you.  Remember?"  She nodded.  "Then you can get it today."

"No, I can't.  My insulin pills cost me two hundred a month.  I'm almost out of those.  My strips cost me fifty a month and I need more of those.  My allergy pills are thirty. The antibiotics will be somewhere between twenty and thirty.  How much did you put away?"

"A few hundred," he admitted.  "What about the prescription plan card?"

"Not eligible.  I have preexisting conditions.   If I wanted to pay for it anyway, it would cover the antibiotics."  He gaped.  "Truth."  She slid off the table, putting back on her shoes.  "Come on, we can figure it out in the car.  I'm hungry for some reason."

He followed her out, watching as she made her next appointment, then followed her down to the car.  "You still wanna cook tonight?"

"Sure.  Baked chicken breasts good for you?" she asked.

"Sure, I'll even warm up some vegetables to go with it," he offered, letting her into the passenger's seat.  He looked around as he walked around the back of the car and got in to drive.  "It really won't cover it?"

"Nope, it won't.  It won't cover any hormone therapy or the pill either," she told him.   "Most medical plans shaft women that way.  Anything that might be classes as 'women's medicine' is often either not covered or not covered fully.  Except giving birth.  Since that's still seen as a disease that's covered.  My miscarriage wasn't but things have changed a little in the past ten years."

"You're not overreacting?" he asked.

She shook her head.  "Ask Maria if you don't believe me.  All those nice things that everyone says we *have* to have for our own health usually aren't covered.  Not yearly paps, not early mamograms, none of it.  Being a sick woman means that it's nearly impossible to find an insurance plan.  That's why I go to an osteopath, he can fill in for many doctors and he's cheaper, but he's nicer and he likes to pop my back too."

"You have insurance?"

"Major medical for ER, surgical, and other accidents of fate.  If I had wanted to add any drug coverage, it would have cost me nearly another hundred a month and I'd barely save anything."  She shrugged gently, giving him a look.  "It sucks to be a woman in the US.  In Europe and Canada, women have *equal* health care plans and preventive medicine is covered."

He sighed.  "I've heard that before.  Benny was complaining about them switching plans for the local consulate."

"How much did his rate go up?"

"Sixty dollars a month."

She snorted.  "I pay a hundred-eighty for medical and surgical with a grand deductible.  I've already made it for the year and I had before I got shot."  He gave her a surprised and distressed look.  "Yeah, it's expensive.  3 allergy attacks did it.  Speaking of, that's also coming out of my check.  They take it out automatically anymore."  He groaned. "What?"

"Nothing," he promised.  "The union plan wouldn't cover you?"

"It's only for healthy cops that'll never need it," she told him.  "It covers antibiotics and things.  Nerve pills and psychiatric drugs are covered," she said cheerfully.  He gave her another distressed look.  "They are.  Prozac and six other psychiatric drugs are covered.  If those don't work for you, you can pick up the optional drug pack and get another six and a blood pressure medicine."

He shook his head.  "Someone needs to shake the union reps."

"Why?  That was the best they could get.  It sucks but there's nothing better.  Especially at the price you guys pay.  Mine was an optional plan through them and it's amazing.  As long as they give me the drugs in the hospital, it'll cover it.  That comes in handy sometimes.  Intubation hurts."  He nodded.  "Let's pick a happier topic than the plight of the repressed and overrun woman in the US."

"Sure," he agreed.  Though he would be asking Maria.  "What vegetable did you want with the chicken?"

"I'm satisfied with sprinkling some garlic salt onto the chicken and sticking it in the oven."

"Garlic salt?" he asked.

"Sure, that way I don't have to use real salt. It's a little better for you and has some flavor. I usually add it to the water when I cook pasta too instead of regular salt."

"Don't let Ma or Maria catch you doing that," he warned, turning onto her street.  He stopped the car, looking at the fire trucks.  "Is it just me or is that near us?"

"It's up the street," she told him.  "Can we get down the alley?"  He turned that way, going around the fire engines.  "I thought about moving in there but it's an elderly highrise."  They parked in her usual spot, and he let her get out and do a cat roundup for the neighbor's cats. She found one of her own and carried them up the stairs, closing her door on the way past it.  "Ray," she called.  He jogged up the stairs.  "Go count noses.  The door was open."  He nodded, going to do that, his hand on his weapon as he walked in.  She knocked, handing over the other cats.  "They were outside.  Did you see who was in my apartment?"

"That one from last night," he said, coughing gently.  "The younger one."  She grimaced.  "She had the super let her in."

"Then I guess he and I need to have a talk," she said with a smile.  "Unless we're there, she's not allowed in."  He nodded, taking his cats back. "Are you okay?"

"Fine," he agreed, giving her a small smile.  "I'll try to keep that one from walking into your apartment to eat."

She nodded and took her cat back, finding Ray standing in the middle of a mess.  "Cats?"

"The rest are in the back bedroom.  Who?"

"Your sister.  The neighbor said it was the younger one."  Ray's face tightened. "Anything really broken?"

"I can't find your picture albums," he admitted.  She growled.  "I'll call Ma.  Then we'll go find her."

"Call Huey, see if he knows where she is.  She told him she'd see him later."

"Fine," he agreed, pulling out his cellphone to get Huey's number.  "Hey, it's Ray," he said, looking around.  "Is Frannie near you?"  He groaned.  "She's got Catherine's photo albums and other stuff.  She broke into her apartment and trashed it.  Yeah, we're at her house.  Why?"  He looked up.  "Really?  Is Stanley there?"  The phone was evidently handed over.  "Stanley," he said patiently.  He listened.  "Really?  Just browsing?"   He looked at her and shook his head.  "Are you sure she'd want Benny to know?"

"I don't care," she told him.  "But your sister's ass is mine, Vecchio."  She crossed her arms, looking at the mess.  She went into the bedroom to check on the cats, finding them cowering in the corner. "It's okay, guys, the mean lady will never come back into this apartment without her big brother being around to protect you," she promised, sitting down near them.  Chocolate came out and rubbed against her so she petted her gently.  "It's okay.  Her hair scares me too," she promised.  Ray laughed from the doorway.  "What else did she have?"

"Your laptop.  Stanley apparently handcuffed her and was waiting on word from Ma whether or not he should send her home or arrest her.  How'd she get in?"

"She had the super let her in," she said, petting the other cats who came up to her.  "Hey, guys, it's okay.  We'll clean up the big mess and it'll be fine."  She looked up at him.  "I'm serious.  Unless you or Benny is here, I don't want her here."

"That's fine," he agreed, coming in to give her a gentle hug.  "I'd have never let her back."  He dropped a kiss onto her head. "You pet them.  I'll try to arrange the mess."

"I'll do it.  I usually do it alphabetical by author and subject. My shelves were messed up before."

"I can do it," he promised.  "I called Ma and she told me she'd be handling Frannie for now.  Let me check everything else."  She nodded, going back to her nurturing. He checked the bedroom and stripped the bed, tossing the bloody sheets into the wash.  Then he got some paper towels to clean off the waterproof mattress cover.  Once that was done, he went to check the kitchen, then her study.  By the time he was done, Stanley was letting himself in. "Watch out for the cats," he ordered.  Dief walked in and sniffed noses with Nessa, making her trot off again.

Benny looked at the mess.  "What happened?"

"Frannie," Stanley said, handing over the stack of photo albums and laptop.  "She's presently very sorry.  Your mother pulled her into the house by her hair, screeching at her.  I heard Maria join in too."  Ray nodded, taking the stack to put it on a bare shelf.  "Where is Cath?"

"Back bedroom petting the little ones.  Frannie scared them too."  He looked around, shaking his head.  "For some reason she poured blood on the sheets."

"She probably wanted to traumatize her more," Stanley said, nodding at the stack.  "One of those was right afterwards," he said quietly.  "The was-gonna-be baby book."  Ray's face tightened.  "I know that wasn't in the open.  I've never seen it."

"It was in my study, in the back of my filing cabinet," Catherine said as she came out to join them.  She looked at the stack. "Two of those were.  Ray, did you try the cabinets?"

"Not yet," he admitted, but Stanley went to do that.  "Case notes?"  She nodded, sitting down to sort books.  "I said I would."

"You're doing enough keeping me from going over there to kick her ass," she said dryly.  "I can sort books, it's not hard."  Stanley came out and she looked at him.  "Hopeless?"

"No.  Not touched, outside of the little lizards," he said, holding one up.  "The top drawer is full of them."


"It's easily cleaned up," Benny assured her.  "They're attracted to heat and light.  I can do something about them and then you can figure out what to do with them."

"I don't know anyone who uses them," she admitted.  "My phone book?"

"On the desk," Stanley told her.  "Center of the desk."  She shook her head.  "Should I call Cris to warn him?"  She nodded, so he went to do that.  He came out a few minutes later, sitting down to help her by reading some of the back covers. "Hey, Ray, cook something," he encouraged.  "Feeding me will make sure I don't go arrest her for real."

Ray snorted.  "It's not stopping that urge in me."  He glanced at the photo albums but didn't move to touch them.  They were personal and she'd let him see them if she wanted him to know.  He walked into the kitchen, pulling out the package of chicken breasts.  "That really works?"

"Yup, that and you can cook really good pork chops in the microwave as long as you don't overcook them," she admitted.  She looked up and gave him a small smirk.  "I eat like a single person, Ray.  The path of least resistence."  He snorted and decided to really cook.  He needed to wear out some anger and some chopping would help that.

Stanley nudged her.  "The cats okay?" he asked quietly.  She nodded, giving him that same faint smile.  "Good, then I'll let Huey get her tomorrow.  He was there too and she tried to pass stuff around.  He confiscated them and handed them to me."  She raised an eyebrow.  "She went too far.  Getting your chair earlier was enough.  The night shift guy was not impressed.  He did like his new password though.  He said it fits him."  She smiled a little more.  "And he said to thank you for the bookmarks being fixed.  He even liked where you put the little me."  She reached over, hugging him as hard as she could.  "Feel better?" he whispered.  She shook her head. "I know, it's like another stalker, but she's fixed.  If she comes back, we get to kick her ass.  Ma was mad enough to scream at her in front of some of her friends. " Catherine pulled back, giving him a look.  "Hey, I understand," he promised.  "It sucks. You don't feel safe.  You've had a lot of that already.  Ma was yelling about that too, or at least I think she was.  She was screaming mostly in Italian but mixing in some English.  She was one unhappy mother," he told her, making her grimace.  He grinned.  "Come on, it's a nice mental image.  I know you like it," he teased.  She nodded, cracking a small smile.  "How about we look at security systems?"

"I suck at remembering passwords," she reminded him.

"So?"  He grinned.  "We can find one you do remember."

"Stan, I can't even remember my badge number some days."

"That insulin stuff is really fucking with your head," he said, frowning at her. "Was it cut?"  She nodded. "Totally?"

"One dose a day," she told him.  "Before bed."  He grinned and patted her. "Thanks.  My doctor gave Ray my 'scrips.  He liked him too."  Stanley grinned at her.  "Fine be that way.  See if I let you borrow any more books."

"I stole four of them while we were moving you," he told her.

"I noticed.  You and Tolkien.  Keep them, I hate it."  He beamed and nodded.  "I want the Lackey back though."

"Sure."  He blew a kiss and helped her straighten things out with Oz's help.  She was walking over the piles for attention, tail of destruction waving in the air like a thin flag.  He gave her a stroke down the back, making her purr.  "Morning, pussy.  Did the big-haired woman scare you?"

"Don't call my cats that," she whined.  "You make it sound dirty."  He grinned at her.  "Keep it up and I'm getting you a vibrator for your birthday and presenting it in the station."

He blushed.  "Don't do that.  I'll never hear the end of it."

She leaned closer.  "One of those jelly realistic ones in a lurid and eye-catching color."  He gave her a kiss and then laid down.  She gave him a few pats to the stomach.  "Behave.  No more calling my cats pussies."  She stoked Oz herself, letting her into her lap.  "I know, you like that part of the body," she sighed, stroking her while she sorted books in front of her.

"That does look dirty," Stanley said with a smirk.

"Not if you see Oz."

"Benny probably can't.  He's blushin' hard."

She looked back at him.  "I'd never play with myself in front of you," she promised.  "It'd be rude.  In some cultures, that would be considered an invitation."  He chuckled, nodding.  "Oz likes laps.  She likes to sit in the spot between your legs.  She's just like that."

"The cat was snoring into her rear the other night," Ray told him.  "She's odd."

"Speaking of odd, can I have a dom I know go scare your sister?"

"No," he told her.  "I'm havin' Welsh do it tomorrow morning when she comes in."  He grinned at her.  "You think he can scare her straight?"  She shook her head.  "You don't?"

"I don't.  But I know who can and she does owe me." Everyone looked at her.  "Madeline.  From Robbery."  Ray and Stanley broke out in laughter, shaking their head.

"Who?" Benny asked.  "I don't believe I've met her."

"Oh, Madeline is a trip," Ray said, calming himself again.  "Did you ever see the movie with the little girl with the tv and the dead people?"  Benny nodded, coming over to help him.  "Remember the seer?"  He nodded again.  "She's almost exactly like her, only a cold and hard bitch when she wants to be."

"I've seen the Chief back away from her when she was on a rip a few years back," Stanley shared.  "Something about sexist health care plans."

"Catherine told me about that," Ray told him.  "Did you protest?"

"I did, but I was realistic.  It wasn't going to make much of a difference.  I even did the sick-out that night.  My Captain begged me to come in."  She gave him a smug look.  Then she turned it on Stanley.  "He had no idea that I'm not eligible for anything."

"You're not?"

She shook her head.  "Preexisting condition."

"Shit," Stanley sighed.  "There's some people who need ta be drug out and shot in the street."  He gave her another hug.  "Better now?"  She nodded.  "Good."  He tipped her chin up.  "Remember, you are the fiercest bitch in the world.  Even Madeline defers to you sometimes."  She grinned and nodded.  "That's my girl."  He grinned at her.  "Think we should really fuck with her head tomorrow?"

"No," Ray said firmly.  "I don't want to deal with the fallout from the rumors of her cheating on me with you."  Besides, it bothered him.  A lot.  He put the finishing touches on his part of dinner.  "Stan, come make a salad.  You can't lounge around and not help.  Benny, when it's time, you can set the table."  He nodded, giving him a look.  "What?"

"Jealous," Stanley teased.  Vecchio glared at him.  "You are," he taunted.

"Guys, quit," Catherine said.  "I mean it."  Stanley gave her a sideways look.  "I mean it, Stan.  Don't pick on him."

"Fine.  Take all my fun," he sighed, but he quit.  He waited until she went to the bathroom to get up, getting in Vecchio's face.  "Feel better?"

"No," he snorted, sounding bitter.  "I'm not jealous."

"You are," Stanley said firmly.  "Of me."

"Stop it," Benny said quietly.  "Ray is very passionate and possessive about what is his.  Look at how he treats his mother and his car.   She would be somewhere between them for him.  Teasing him about it is mean, Stanley, and you are not normally a mean person."

"Fine," Stanley agreed.  "Then make him quit holdin' her like some prize."

"I'm not," Ray said more firmly.

"You are," Benny told him.  "You do think of her very fondly, it shows in how you treat her.  Stanley's inclination to tease you about that is natural, as are your hurt feelings.   It is up to you to relax and accept that he has a spot in her life.  Otherwise you're no better than those husbands who strip their wives of her friends and acquaintances."

"Relax, Ray.  She's one of the few women I can nap with and not get wood."  Ray gave him a look.  "Really.  She's like my sister. At one point in time I would have begged to be where you are, but now I know we'd never fit."  He heard the toilet flush.  "Treat her right or I'm gonna make you suffer before I cap ya."  He walked around him, washing his hands so he could work on a salad. She came out of the bathroom.  "Have you told her you're gonna make her eat a salad?"

"That's for you three," she told him dryly.  "I am lettuce phobic."  She went back to her sorting.  Oz came back to help by sitting in her lap again.  "Thanks, Oz, love you too," she said, blowing a kiss at her.  Someone knocked on the door.  "Who is it?" she called as Benny walked that way.

"It's me," Welsh called.  Benny let him in.  "I heard."  He walked in and looked at the mess.  "No broken glass?"

"Not that we've found," she admitted. "Why?"

"She's one to throw things," he said, looking down at her.  "I was sent with a message.  Philip said he's tired of sticking up for you."  Her mouth opened to defend herself.  "Frannie said you were on the take.  He had to point out that you had gotten back pay for hazardous duty.  Then he laid out exactly why you got hazard pay.  Which, by the way, if I catch you doing, I'm going to kick your ass and then hand you to Vecchio to deal with."  Her mouth opened more.  "Seriously.  He told the whole bar exactly why you got hazard pay, starting with the Cyene incident that he said he couldn't get authorized for you.  It went all the way up to the bust a month ago."  She winced.  "There were a few cops in there who wanted to find you a superman costume. That's also why he stated that he had let Vice retool, so no one had to do that again."

"Amen," Stanley snorted.  "Philip?  Do I know him?"

"As in the chief of detectives?" Benny asked.

Welsh nodded.  "He graduated our class.  We've mostly stayed in touch.  He was buying me a beer tonight to check on her."

"Philip hates me," she told him.

He looked down at her. "He hates the cop you had to become," he corrected.  "He thought you should have went for your undergrad as a computer tech so you could have stayed a little geek."  He squatted down, looking at her.  "When he found out what Frannie had of yours, he was all for arresting her.  Madeline said she'd handle it."  She gave him a small grin.  "Without you even having to ask.  She likes Vecchio, thinks he'll do you good."  He gave her a wry look. "If you two do start something, I don't want to see or hear it.  I realize you two are closer than anyone but you and Stanley, but I really don't need to see it."

"Yes, Harding."

"Good girl."  He stood up and looked around.  "How bad was it?"

"Blood on the bed, lizards in her filing cabinet," Ray told him.  "Let one of the cats outside but she was in the grass fortunately. The mess you see her trying to calm."

Harding looked around, giving her lap a long look.  "Is that a cat?"

She laughed and picked Oz up, holding her up.  "This is Oz."  He reached over and let her sniff his finger then tried to touch her head.  "She's kinda shy."  She put her down and Oz took off running.  "Blood?"

"Lots of.  I guess it's more about thinking you're dirty."  Ray gave her a look.  "We can find a good laundromat and toss it in later."

"Sure."  She stood up with a grunt.  "I'm sorry if I freak you out, Harding."

He snorted.  "You don't.  What you've done made me wince.  I want it known that it won't happen again.  You will never walk into another hostage situation in a club without anyone else."

"You did what?" Ray asked.

She waved a hand.  "That was years ago, Ray."  She looked at their boss again.  "Let me guess, I'm the only one who hasn't ascended?"

He shook his head.  "Half of us refused to go up the chain.  I resisted but they made me."  He gave her a pat to the good shoulder.  "I mean it.  There will be no more reasons for you to go into dangerous situations alone.  I know you liked Vice for the hours and the chance to party when you were younger, but you're one of mine now.  You have a vest, you have a partner.  I expect you to be up to date on the use of both."  She grimaced.  "Huey nearly hit Frannie earlier," he said quietly.  "That was before he found out.  I think he went looking for her to tell her a thing or two.  I know Philip and Madeline did.  I was also told to ask when you were going to ask for a raise."

"I just got one.  From forty to a real salary."

"That was standard," he told her.  "Philip said you're supposed to be making specialist pay and carrying a pretty gold shield."  She swallowed.  "I pointed out my budget wouldn't hold it.  So he's decided that you should be paid as close as I can get. That means you now make as much as Vecchio and Huey.  I really do wish you would use it to up your health insurance.  I got the papers on that and it pissed me off."

"Preexisting conditions."

"I know.  I also know there's nothing better."  He looked around, then at her.  "You could buy a house."

"I'd love a house, but I hate making payments.  I suck at it."

He laughed. "Still?  Did you ever fix that bounced check from your rookie days?"

She grimaced.  "Just the other day I think.  If I'm right then I've got to switch my accounts around.  Ray's nagging me about my retirement fund not doing so well."

He shook his head, looking at Vecchio.  "You, take better care of her."

"He already mothers me," she sighed.

"Good. You need a mother.  And a father sometimes."  He gave her a pinch on the arm.  "If you have any doubt about how to use a partner, ask either of the pair here.  They'll also be calming Huey down tomorrow."  She gave him another odd look.  "Fine. I wouldn't doubt him being a lot more gentle with you."

"I'm not fragile!"

"You're still human," Ray said firmly.  "That makes fragile and a precious resource.  It's a rare thing in the police department these days."  He stared her down.  "We'll talk later."  She nodded, sitting down on the couch.  "I'm cooking, Welsh, you wanna stay?"

"No, I'm good," he admitted.  "Remember, I don't want to see any groping in the station.  If you two use the broom closet, leave it in there."

"Geez, Harding, I haven't even dated in six years!" she complained.

He looked at her.  "After meeting that bitch, I wouldn't have dated either.  You used to have better taste."  She flipped him off.  "Now you've got good taste again.  I will support you two. I will even help you if you're having problems.  I was told earlier that this is your last posting until you retire."  She opened her mouth.  "Philip said so.  He wants to keep you out of Homicide.  He said it'd eat you worse."  She snorted.  "So therefore, you are mine, young lady.  Forever.  Until you either die on the job or get disgusted and quit.  Vecchio's the same way though so don't worry about it.  Got it?"  She nodded, staring up at him. "Good.  Anywhere but near the squadroom is fine.  I don't care, I don't want to know.  Just don't do it around me.  You get cute when you're happy."  He nodded at Stanley and Frasier.  "You two, you okay?" Fraser nodded.  Stanley gave him a look. "I heard, Kowalski.  I have a new favorite rant. You're not her!"  He pointed at Catherine.  "Vecchio, I'm leaving this in your hands.  You get to follow me from what Philip said.  Your family, you fix 'em."  He nodded at Catherine again.  "Plus, your back raise came through.  It's a nice check, even taking out for that laptop."  He smirked.  "About time too.  How did you live on a rookie's salary?"

"I ate books," she told him.  "It's easier than eating food some days."

"Uh-huh.  Now you can eat and read.  Remember that."  He checked around him as he walked out, making sure the door closed.

"Gee, dad," she said dryly, looking at Ray.  "I didn't know you were up for a promotion."

He nodded.  "I've got the cleanest record and the longest time in," he told her.  "I haven't left the 27th in ten years.  Except for an undercover and Stanley became me."

She looked at him, then grinned.  "Did the operations hurt?"  He cracked up. "Benny, are those lizards something that the cats shouldn't eat?"

"They should be fine," he told her.  "I've set up an area for them to want to migrate to."  He sat down beside her.  "The doctors at the Emergency Room were quite impressed with the article and how you know what to do.  Something about knowing you were useful?"

She snickered.  "They think all I do is stand around waiting to get hurt."

"That was the old you, now you've got backup," Ray told her.  He checked on the chicken.  "Stanley, salad," he reminded him.  He went back to it so he came out to look at her.  "You walked into a hostage situation on your own?"

"Yeah," she agreed.  "SWAT was busy with the democratic convention."  He winced.  "So I went in to talk down some guy who caught his girlfriend cheating.  He only had five hostages."

He grabbed her and held her tightly.  "No more.  Ma would worry herself sick if she knew, like I'm going to," he said into her ear.  She nodded so he let her go.  "There.  You sit.  Benny, go catch those things. I do not want to wake up tonight and find a lizard on me."  Benny smiled as he did that.  "Nor do I want to find a dead one as a present."

"Mine won't do that.  They think they're neat toys.  It's like a great pouncing game.  They're mighty bug hunters who like to bat the dead ones around once they've killed them.  Unless they were nearly their size."  He shuddered.  "Sorry, we've had worse."

He sat down beside her.  "You really want a house?"

"Some day," she admitted.  "With a real library."  He laughed, shaking his head.  "Seriously.  Just a little two or three bedroom place.  I'm still afraid of utility payments though."

He stroked down her arm.  "Utility payments aren't that bad.  Usually."  She nodded, giving him little sideways looks.  "Aren't you cold?"

"Nope.  Just fine."

"You feel a little chilled."

"My blood pressure is probably too low again.  It happens after a great shock.  I'm getting a raise," she told him.

"Which is really nice," he told her.  "How about," he said, getting comfortable.  "We go to your old bank tomorrow and take your long-term savings or whatever?  We can start a real checking account and move the rest to the credit union."

She shifted to look at him.  "Ray, you're moving really fast."  He chuckled.  "I mean it. You are.  Redoing my closet is one thing.  Playing with my retirement fund is another."

"I know, but I want you to be secure.  That cats will need a trust fund."  She gave him a 'huh' look.  "You didn't get to read about those people who left their cats everything in their wills as long as someone took care of them?"

"I did," she admitted.  "I thought it was a good idea too."  He smirked at that.  She pinched him.  "You're having odd thoughts, aren't you?"

"Very," he admitted.  He shifted a little closer.  "Have you not noticed how everyone seems to like us together?"  She nodded.  "Haven't you noticed that we do well together?  I'm only trying to look out for you."

"Ray, I could never be the one your mother wanted you with."

"Eh.  She likes you already.  I'm pretty sure Welsh went to lay down the law to her."  He moved some of her hair off her forehead.  "Ma adores you.  She mentioned birth control around you.  She did that with Tony once and he said it wasn't right.  I think she liked your answer better."  She did smile at that.  "Even though you're not Catholic, Ma couldn't want much more for me.  She told me so when she sent lunch with Frannie yesterday."  He stroked her cheek gently.  "It looks like you're her choice and any good Italian son has to follow his mother's orders.  They're scary women."  She burst out in giggles, nodding.  "So, can we officially date?"

"I'd like that," she admitted.  "Even though you scare the hell out of me by rushing into things."

"I rush?  I'm not the one who walked into a drug lord summit meeting and fired a round into the ceiling," he reminded her.  She whimpered.  "Another thing you won't need to worry about in our happy little family.  If we get a drug case, Vice will get toasted."

"But I'll miss all the little dealers and pros."

"I'm sure you can visit," he told her.  "I can even show you adult people places where they hang out."  She laughed.  "Deal?"  She nodded.  He slowly leaned closer, kissing her gently.

Stanley, like the little brother he was, clapped.

Ray pulled back to glare at him.  "Salad?"

"Done," he said, grinning at them.  "Remember, treat her right or I cap you."  He went to help Benny catch lizards.  "What'd she do, buy the whole fricken' rainforest!" he said in disgust.

She sighed and groaned, resting her head against his shoulder.  He patted her gently.  "It's all right," he promised.  "And I promise, after the money thing I won't have to fix a single thing that isn't your outfit for the day."  She laughed, but didn't move her head.  "You okay to move?"

"I'm good," she told him, pulling back.  She kissed him, making him moan. She pulled back, giving him a look.  "I'll wear pajamas tonight. You can protect me from the evil little lizards."  He nodded, smirking at her. "Food?"

"Let me check."  He went in to do that, pulling the chicken breasts out to test them.  "Still not done in the center."  He put it back and set the timer on the microwave for ten minutes.  "You guys have got fifteen minutes," he called.

"Sure, give us the impossible task," Stanley called back.  "What do these things eat?"

"I don't care as long as it's not people or my files," she called back.  Chocolate ran out, chasing one to pounce it.  "Nice job, Chocolate.  Good girl."  Chocolate then played with her prey, batting it around while it tried to escape.  "I wonder if Mistress Kitty is a mighty bug hunter too."

"We'll probably find out later," Ray told her.  He checked the chicken, then added more time to the timer.  Then he went to go help.  "Eww, they're slimy!"

"They're not, Ray," Benny said patiently.

She laughed as she got onto the floor to sort her books.   Chocolate came over for a rub against her thigh.  "Hi."  She stroked her. "Do you guys like Ray?"  Chocolate flopped over, letting her scratch her stomach.  "You know, you're supposed to kill the toy not just play with it."  The lizard ran past, heading for the kitchen.  Chocolate got up to stalk it some more.  "We still need to find a laundromat," she called.

"I'm making you buy a washer," Ray called back.

"And put it where?"

He came out.  "Good point.  The next time you move, we'll have to make sure there's a hookup for them."  He picked up Chocolate and her lizard, looking at it.  He teased her with it, watching as she batted at it.  "Good job, Chocolate," he said, bringing her back.  "Come catch some more since you're not killin' 'em."  He gave her a smile. "It's a useful skill sometimes."  They closed the study door.

She groaned and shook her head.  "My poor life."  She looked up.  "This your idea?  If so, thanks.  If not, why not?"  She went back to sorting, finding a few books that should be in the spare bedroom.  "I guess we need to try and be pleasing again."  The books didn't talk back, thankfully.


Ray looked over as Catherine finally joined him.  "Bad day in court?"

"Bad day in arrests.  Court was called off for a few hours when one of the lower courts had a psychotic person pull a knife on a bailiff and his lawyer.  Then I got to go and arrest three new druggies sitting outside the station.  One of them was a patrol officer."  He winced.  "Yeah, so I've spent the last hour listening to his Sergeant complaining about it.  Until I had his guy brought in and handed him back his pipe.  Then he started to shout at me about enabling the behavior.  So I got to yell back finally for him to make up his mind."  Ray chuckled, giving her a gentle pat on the back.  "He's not impressed with me.  Called me a cowboy.  I had to go anime on him."  He continued to laugh, walking her inside the bank.  She went to sign in, finding the secretary there at the book.  "Is the retirement guy in today?  Or anyone who can help me switch some things around?"  She nodded, walking away to check then waved them at an office.  She walked in there. "Hi."  She shook his hand. "I've got some CD's with you guys and I think I'm finally ready for a real account.  I've had some problems in the past so if you can help me with that it'd be nice."

"Are any of the CD's at maturity?"

She nodded.  "All but one of them should be and I'd like to keep that until it matures then move it to the police credit union."  He gave Ray a look.  "Me too.  He's my financial manager."

"I see."  He took her ID, pulling up her account.  He frowned.  "Yes, most everything is near maturity.  There are three that aren't.  You would incur a penalty if you terminated it too soon," he told her.  She nodded.  "Do you want to move those?"

"No, that's okay," she told him.  "You can drop them into the account when they come fully around again."  He nodded, typing her into the new account files.  It came up with a message.  "Another one?"  He nodded, printing off the page.  "Can I call them and see if it's easily fixed?"

"Of course."  He handed over the phone, dialing it for her.

"Automated system," she sighed, hitting the right number.  It came up with another one so she continued to hit numbers.  Finally she got fed up and hit an invalid key a few times, getting an operator.  "Hi. I thought I had cleared up all outstanding things on my credit history but they won't let me open an account.  Sure, number 293903."  She listened.  "That wasn't me.  I've never been to Cleveland."  She sighed. "How much?"  She looked at Ray.  "Can I pay it through you, or through my present bank?  Yes, I've got the money, even though it wasn't me. I think I'd remember going to Cleveland."  She held her head.  "Do you have their number?"  She took the pen and paper, writing it down.  "Can I pay it through that?  Fine.  Thank you."  She hung up and handed back the form, pulling out her prepaid card.  She dialed that number on her cellphone, getting a real person almost instantly.  "I was just informed I was somehow in Cleveland back in the late eighties without my knowledge and bounced a check with you guys?  Yes, Demoranth.  Please.  Right now if possible."  She listened as the woman searched.  "Yup, that's me.  Where?  Topeka?"  She looked at Ray. "When was I in Kansas?"

"Conference fifteen years ago," he told her.

"Oh, then.  Okay."  She listened again.  "Yeah, I've got a prepaid card."  She read off the number, listening to it be run.  "That solve it?  Can you please take me off the system and remove me from Checksystem? Bless you.  Thank you."  She hung up and looked at him.  "She said it should be solved by tomorrow.  Do I have to wait?"

"I could cash out those few that are at maturity," he offered.  "Then you could come back to start an account soon."

"Sure.  Why not," she agreed dryly.  "Give it to him.  He's good at keeping it from me."

"How much are we talking?" Ray asked.

"Um, a lot," she told him.  "But I still can't do anything with it until it's all cleared up."  She gave the account rep a look so he reloaded it and tried again.  It still came up.  "How long should that take to clear?"

"Even if they faxed it to Checksystems today, it could take up to two weeks.  If you wanted, we could send this through a month long CD."

"Actually, I need some of it," she told him.  "It's time for new medicines."  He nodded, looking like he understood.  "Shit, I wish this was another week from now."  She considered it.  "Split off a quarter of it for me.  That's a lot but not too much to be safe.  There's still some stuff I need for the apartment."  Ray looked at her.  "You're getting your own closet," she told him.  He gave her a nudge and a look.  "It'll be fine."

"Are you sure?  That is a lot," the rep told her.  "I understand you wanting to move it closer to your job, but we can do other things with it."

"How?  You can't set up an account," she told him.

"That is true," he sighed, looking at his original screen.  "A quarter, are you sure?"

Ray leaned over, then grunted.  "A tenth should be fine."  He sat back again.  "Pitiful?"

"Hell yeah. I want to retire to somewhere and do nothing when I retire.  Except maybe take some more Anthro classes."  He nodded, giving her a look.  "What?"

"That's not what I would describe as pitiful."

"I do."

"Your standards are high in that area."

"I know how much it costs to live now," she countered.  "It's only going to get more expensive."

"True," he admitted.  "A tenth?"  She frowned and stood up, looking at the screen, then she frowned.  "More than you thought?"

"Less than I thought," she corrected.  "I thought I was getting five percent interest?"

"Interest rates went down a few years ago," he said sadly.  "With the lower rates, we had to lower ours as well.  It was a good time to buy a house but a horrible time for investors.  A tenth?"

She figured it in her head.  "Maybe four grand," she told him.  He nodded, happier with that figure.  "Then I can actually buy my medicine and take it properly."

"Is that what's causing the memory loss?"

"I've always had shitty short term memory," she admitted.  "The insulin producers make it worse."  She heard a gunshot and winced.  "Oh, no."  Ray looked outside, then he nodded.  She pulled her phone and hit the speeddial for the precinct.  "Hey, Stan.  We're in Second National.  There was just a gunshot.  Yeah, he's here too," she told him.  She handed over the phone. "Close the screen," she told the rep.  He did so, giving her a look.  "Didn't get the number?"

"No, I did, but it may not be possible today.  Standard procedure is to shut the bank down after a holdup attempt."

"You can afford the antibiotics without it," Ray said, hanging up.  Someone walked in and he handed her back her phone.  "Checking on the little darlings," he said blandly.  "Did you need something?  We're working on our retirement."  The gunman waved his rifle at them.  "Fine, of course we'll cooperate."  He stood up, making sure his jacket covered his badge.  He noticed him staring at her.  "Dear, wearing it openly?"

"You didn't give me a jacket this morning," she reminded him.  She sighed. "I'm on leave for an injury, dude.  Don't make me kill someone. I haven't had my pain killer recently."

The gunman groaned.  "Out with the others," he ordered.

"Sure.  I like to cooperate, just ask him.  He runs my life like you wouldn't believe."  She walked out, giving the other guy a smile.  "Sorry.  I'm on leave."  He grunted and pointed at a spot he could watch her.  "Can I sit?  I'm in pain."


"Fine.  See if I testify on your behalf about being decent to the hostages."  He glared at her.  "Shutting up now."  She glanced around, then looked at where Ray was led to sit.  "Are you gonna do the cheesy thing and take a hostage too?  I'm the better choice than some mother."

The gunman snorted.  "They won't negotiate for cops."

"True," she admitted, "but that doesn't mean my family won't."  His face lit up.  "I'm the better hostage.  I'll stay while you let everyone else go.  Just let them go so we can do this faster.  My arm already aches.  I left my demerol in the car."

"Demerol?" he asked.

She rolled up her sleeve, showing him the stitches. "Shot."

He winced.  "Ow.  You gonna die?"

"Probably not.  The Doctor did a nice job cleaning it out while he had me.  Then he had to muck it up with fake explosive device," she sighed.  His eyes widened. "What?"  He backed away, talking to the other guys.  "Like I said, I'll stay if you let everyone else go.  You can tell I'm not wearing a vest.  I'm injured.  My gun isn't that big and I can send it out with the hostages so they know who you have and I'm unarmed."

"Do that," he agreed.  "Give it to the guy you were with."  She walked over with him     following and handed it to Ray, giving him a look.  Then she turned around and let him pat her down.  "The rest of you leave," he ordered.  They all ran, going into the arriving cops.  He pointed at a chair.  "Sit."

"Thanks."  She sat, getting comfortable.  "Did they lock the safe?"

"Won't matter.  We can blow it."  He watched her while that happened, taking his share of the loot.  "Do we take her?"

"For now," his boss agreed.  "Grab her."

"Not the right," she pleaded.  "I'll scream and pass out again."  The guy took her by the left arm and led her outside, using her as a shield.  She cooperated, dragging her feet slightly as she locked eyes with the SWAT commander.  "Hi, Steve.  Just a routine day."  She ducked when the gunfire erupted.  "Shit!  Stanley, put on your glasses!" she yelled, getting out of the way.  Ray moved her off to the side, handing her back her gun.  "Hi.  Stanley forget his chocolate this morning?"

He grunted and nodded.  "Definitely."  He looked at the people on the ground.  "Nice job."

"Thanks."  She passed out.

Ray looked at her.  "Stanley, you grazed her," he called.  He came running to check her with the paramedics.  "She's got a recent wound to her shoulder," he told them dryly.  "I've got authorization to treat."

"Of course, detective.  Your wife?"

"Sort of," he admitted quietly so no one else heard.  "It's complicated.  I've got the paperwork."  He got a look.  "We did it in her faith, not mine."

"Oh, all right then," he agreed, lifting her up onto the gurney.  "It's just a graze."  Ray followed behind them, shaking his head.

"I didn't do that," Stanley called, frowning at the still living thieves. "One of you is in deep shit," he told them.  They all groaned.

"As long as it's only a graze she'll be fine," the head of SWAT pointed out gently.  He took Stanley's gun.  "I think I've got a Snickers bar in my truck if you want it," he offered.  Stanley hit him on the arm and went to get it.  He looked at his new second-in-command who had just transferred in from New York.  "That was Detective Kowalski.  The woman was Detective Demoranth.  They work out of the 27th.  Like the other three we've met recently, they're trouble magnets.  The man with the nose was Detective Vecchio, Kowalski's partner and her husband.  Get to know them and the Mountie.  You'll see a lot of at least two of them."  The other guy gave out a little whimper.  "It's better, she's not in Vice anymore."  The guy nodded and went to check the bank to get away from the people.   He needed to pray apparently.  Steve chuckled, looking at his guys.  "He hadn't met her yet."  They all laughed too.  He walked over and tipped up one guy's chin.  "That was The Bitch Queen of Death.  See how she got her name?" he taunted.  The man whined in pain so he let him go with the paramedics. "We'll even have time to grab lunch before we go do the forms," he told his guys.  "If we get this cleared for Robbery."  They double timed it.  It was his turn to buy.


Catherine woke up in a familiar looking room. "Fuck," she said.  Ray laughed beside her.  "You okay?" she asked when she noticed he was on another bed.

"I was napping."  He sat up, looking at her.  "You?"

"Better.  Can I leave now?"  He shook his head.  "Why not?"

"Two grazes.  Ma said if you got out now, she'd have to sit you on the couch and pamper you until you whined at her."

"Crap."  She settled in.  "I don't want to be pampered."

"That's because you're not used to it."  He stood up and walked over, tipping her face up.  "Next time it's my turn, right?"  She nodded.  "Good.  Then I won't yell.  Welsh won't yell."

"Your badge was covered," she told him.  "You could get out easier."  He nodded.  "Who shot me?"

"Stanley said he had the guy on the other side.  One of the new guys got you twice."  He leaned down, kissing her gently.  "By the way, your blood sugar was very low."

"Which is surprising considering how sweet you are," she said with a grin.

He laughed.  "It's only until you're not injured.  Then I get to return to my usual grumpy self."

"Cool.  By then I should have PMS again so it'll even out."  He groaned.  "What?  Like it's my fault."

"I can see you going to bitch out my drycleaner," he said dryly.

"You have a dry cleaner?"  He nodded.  "Wow.  I never wear anything that can't be washed.  Speaking of, that sheet?"

"Benny decided to do it for you.  He talked to the landlord and he told him where to find the nearest laundromat.  I gave him some cash so he could worry himself sick that way."  She nodded.  "And one bad thing happened.  While he was hefting, Nessa ran out.  No one's seen her yet."  She sighed sadly. "She's fine.  She's a former street cat.  She'll be good until we can get home and feed her."  She nodded.  "I asked Ma to go over and check for her, she said she would."  He gave her a pat. "Feeling up to sitting up and drinking?"  She nodded so he helped her up.  "They took your pendant for now," he said when he saw her check it.

"My Medic Alert?  They're not allowed to take those."

"They did an x-ray of your shoulder," he explained, handing her the cup of juice.  "Drink it slowly.  If your sugar's up you can go home for the rest of the day."

"I think I'll have forms."

"Yes, but your new laptop is in and Stanley promised to bring it to you so you could do that," he said dryly.  She beamed.  "The nice bank man said you can get that tomorrow."  She nodded, finishing it and handed it over.  "Bathroom?"

"Please," she agreed, letting him help her up.  "Why was I shot near the knee?"

"Someone was going for incapacitation since you were in his way."  He waited outside the bathroom, sniffing the juice. "What was that?"

"Nasty apple juice I probably shouldn't have," she told him.  She flushed and washed her hands and face, then came out.  "Okay.  Am I done?"  He shook his head.  "How long?"

"Another finger stick."  He got her back into the bed, tucking her in.  "It shouldn't be too long. You're in observation."  She nodded, laying her head on his hand.  "Feel better?"

"Much," she admitted.  "Does this mean I can get rid of the bad medicine?"

"Sure."  He was stroking her hair when the nurse came in.  "She woke up and had the juice," he said.  She nodded, checking her vitals.  "How long before we can do the finger stick?"

"Finger stick?"

"She's here because she passed out with low blood sugar and she's diabetic," he said.  She looked confused and came back, shaking her head.  "Yes, she is."

Catherine looked at her.  "Supervisor, now," she ordered in her best bitchy voice.  "Not only did you take my Medic Alert, and I want it back, you guys obviously had a chart mixup."  The nurse walked out.  "This is why I hate hospitals.  This is the second time."  She put her head back down.  "You can keep doing that," she said, giving him a pathetic look.

He gave her a look.  "All you have to do is ask, not pout."  He went back to stroking her hair while they waited for the nurse.  When she finally came, an hour later, Catherine was asleep again.  "Why didn't the nurse know she was diabetic?  We were told she was in here because her blood sugar was low."

"We have her being in here for surgery," the nurse told her.  "Same day surgery on a growth."

"No, she's not," he said firmly.  "Her name is Demoranth.  By the way, she wants her Medic Alert pendant back as soon as possible. She's got drug and food allergies."  She looked horrified, going to check on it.  "Let me guess, the juice was laced," he said, looking up.  "I didn't believe Stanley, I'll do that from now on," he promised God and the ceiling. The nurse came back with her pendant and let Ray check on the information for the chart it had been attached to.  "No, that's not her.  She's Catherine Demoranth.  Detective First Class.  She came in with two grazes and low blood sugar.  She passed out at a hostage scene."  She frowned and went to fix this.  She finally came back with the woman's chart and he nodded that it was correct.  "It's missing the allergy tags."

"I'll rerun her number," she said gently.  "Can I look at that?"  He showed her the number on the pendant and she wrote it down, checking it again to make sure she got it right.  "Was there another problem?"

"She was given juice and it smelled really bad."

"It does," she agreed.  "Unlike St. Joe's we don't lace juice when patients need to sleep.  We're open enough to put it into the IV."  She hurried out, going to correct this and tell someone it had happened.  This was really bad!  And to a Detective too!

Ray shook his head.  "How many more days?" he asked her sleeping body. She shifted closer so he went back to stroking her.  It was keeping her happy and he was getting a serious case of the warm fuzzies from it.


Welsh looked up as Catherine came in the next morning.  "Woman, you should be resting!" he yelled, coming out of his office.

"I saw my doctor, he took me off my medicine," she said, handing over her note.  "I only came to pick up stuff to do.  He said I had to sit out for two whole days or he was going to have my ass admitted to the hospital again."

"Good!"  He watched as she gathered stuff up from her desk and put it into her briefcase. "Where is Vecchio?  He hasn't called in."

"I don't know.  Stan woke him up this morning and stopped by to pick him up.  Something about idiot shooters."  She gave him a look.  "Stan had been up all night.  I'm sure it'll be fixed soon."

Huey walked in, giving her a look before coming over to force her to sit down.  "Are you all right?"

"Fine. I'm on a two-day leave.  I'm only here to pick shit up.  And I'm not any different than I was before," she told him.  "Only now I have a few more scars and some antibiotics that make me nauseous."  He grimaced, going to his desk.  "Though, we did find my missing cat last night.  Benny's a very good hunter and Dief helped."  She stood up and wobbled.  "I'm fine," she said when they moved to help her.  "Really fine.  I'm good."

"You're not driving," Huey told her.

"That'll make you really uncomfortable since I brought my bike."  She walked out, looking more steady.  "I can drive it while having a high fever, I can handle antibiotic nastiness," she called as she left.  She made it all the way outside before the medicine hit her again and made her puke.  "Eww."  She spit a few times to clear her mouth, then went to get some sand from the ashtray to put it onto it.  She saw one of the patrol officers.  "Antibiotics," she told him.  "They're not agreeing with me."  She was a little more shaky as she walked out to her bike, but she thought she looked steady.  She climbed on and started it, going much slower this time.  She made it home in time to see someone pull up outside her building. "Yeah?" she asked the guy, parking her baby gently and chaining it.  He stood there, looking at her.  "I live here.  Who're you?"

"I'm the brother of your neighbor," he said.

"Oh, cool.  He's been coughing an awful lot recently," she told him.  "Even his cats are worried."  She let him inside and headed up to her own apartment, wincing at the smell.  "Eww.  Um, I'm not sure he's okay.  Let me drop my briefcase."  She put it inside her door and came over, tapping.  "Police, sir.  We were sent to do a smell check," she called, getting the formalities out of the way.  Then she pulled out her wallet and her old ID card, getting the lock open.  "Hi, guys, it's me," she called, walking inside.  She gagged and went back into the hall.  "He's dead," she told him.  "Let me call someone.  Pick up his cats and bring them over to my place."  He looked shocked.  "Otherwise they'll get killed when someone comes.  Do it."  He nodded, walking inside.  She went back to her briefcase, dialing the dispatch office from her cell since she had it on speed dial. "Hey, this is Detective Demoranth.  I just did a smell check on my neighbor.  He's not living.  Can I please get a crew, I think it was natural with the way he's been coughing.  Oh, warn them there's cats.  Thanks."

She hung up and opened her door, finding Ray's mother dusting.  "Hi, Ma."  She took the cats he had.  "Come on, Mistress Kitty.  I'll put out wet food, sweetheart."  She stopped at the door. "I promise, you'll find a good home," she told her.  "Pick her up," she said quietly, putting the other cats inside her apartment.  Ma was already adding more food to the bowls for them.  She took that one.  "I know, it's distressing," she cooed, stroking her gently.  "It'll be okay. If your daddy didn't leave you to someone nice, I'll find you a good home. Yes we will."  She looked at him.  "You might as well come over and wait. Unless you want some private time."  He shook his head, following her inside.  "Hey, Ma.  The guy next door is dead.  This is his brother."  Ma hugged the poor man and sat him down, going to make him some coffee.  "Why are you cleaning my place?  Ray and I agreed we're getting a part-time housekeeper."

"She obviously hasn't started yet," she told her.  "Everything had fur on it."

Catherine nodded. "Yeah, that's about normal," she agreed dryly, catching her briefcase and putting it on the table.  "I'm off for the next two days.  Are you wearing out aggression or frustration?"

"Worry," she admitted. "I haven't heard from Ray in two days."

"Stan called him out of bed early this morning," she offered.  "Besides, Ray knows it's my job to get hurt so he can fuss.  He seems to like doing it."  Ma gave her a hug.  "Thanks.  My doctor had to make a second file for me the last time he saw me."  Ma clucked her tongue.  "And my blood sugar's down again."

"Good," she said firmly.   "You're such a pretty girl.  I'm sure he can help you lose some of that extra weight."  Someone ran up the stairs and pounded on the door.

"Who is it?" she called before Ma could get near the door.

"It's me," Benny called, letting himself in.  "I saw the ambulances."

"The guy next door," she told him.  "This is his brother.  Ambulances?"  He nodded. "Why?"

"A few are up the street a little but I was worried."  He looked at the cats, catching the one trying to get out.  One was handed to him by someone.   "Thank you kindly," he said.  "The deceased's brother is over here."

"Thanks.  We'll come talk to him in a minute," the detective said.  He peeked inside.  "Morning, Catherine.  Thanks for the call."

"Welcome."  She waved.  "I've got to do the dreaded paperwork.  Am I doing some of this?"

"No.  We've got it."  He smiled at the brother.  "Come with us?"  He nodded, walking over.  "You'll have to forgive her," he said once the man was in the hall and the door was closed.  "She's seen too many incidences on the force."

"She was very calm," he admitted.

The detective nodded. "She would be.  A few years back she had an entire nursing home that was gassed."  The man shuddered. "It'll be okay.  We should be able to tell within two days if it's natural or not."  He walked the man inside.  "Did you come over often enough to see if anything's missing?"

"No," he admitted.  "My brother called me late last night and asked me to come up.  He didn't say why. She said he'd been coughing a lot."

"That's fine," he agreed, giving him a sympathetic pat. He heard footsteps and looked out, startling Vecchio. "It's this one. Your mother's in there."

Ray grinned. "Of course she is. I've only been trying to find her for an hour.  He okay?"  The detective shook his head.  "He was a very nice older man.  His cats?"  The detective shrugged.  "Then I guess they're over here.  If you need us, yell."  He walked in, shutting the door before any cats could escape.  "I see I was right.  Are we adopting them?"

"It depends on his will.  We can take care of them for now," Catherine said, clearly paying more attention to what she was reading.  "Damn, I need new glasses."

"Soon," he agreed.  "Maybe you can even become a better shot."

"I make qualifications, that's all I'm concerned about," she told him, looking at him.  "They like me for my mind, not for my body or my shooting.  The brother still shell- shocked?"  He nodded, giving her a gentle hug. "Have another nightmare?"

"Stan found the shooter who took on the hit on us.  He's pleading for mercy in lockup."  She grinned and hugged him harder.  "Thanks.  He deserves one too."

"I'll make him a big cake or something.  He'll appreciate it more than the hug.  He says I squeeze too hard."

"Stanley needs some meat on his bones," Ma said firmly.  She came over to pat Ray's cheek.  "I cleaned some."

"You didn't have to, Ma.  Benny was supposed to find us a phone number of a housekeeper."

"I asked the one I know and she's full on clients but she's asking around," he told him.  "I'll be seeing her again tonight."  He looked at the cats, then at Ma, who was also watching the cats.  "Hopefully he has a will."

"If not, we'll claim them by right of feeding and no one's really going to complain," Catherine told him.  "The pound is overly full as usual and older cats don't get picked as fast."  She clicked her mouse, changing the page.  "Ah-ha!  They moved the damn forms.  No wonder!"  She opened the one she needed, typing quickly.  "Stupid paperwork."

"It's every cop's nightmare," he reminded her, going into the kitchen. "Did Welsh yell?"

"Yup, so I told him I was off for two days.  He looked relieved."  She made it to the description section, thinking.  Then she typed in three lines and saved it before going to the next one.  "We should order Stan a cake for now."

He snorted.  "I think he'd rather have a home-baked one."

"I was, but I don't have anything here to make one," she pointed out.  "So I was going to order him a treat and promise I'd make him an ugly cake if he wanted."  She grinned at him.  "He says I make lopsided cakes and my frosting's never quite good enough."  He frowned.  "It's a long-standing joke, Ray."

"Fine.  Hurry up, I'll do that while I'm on lunch."

"Lunch?" she snorted.  "And you came to have bottled water here?"

He smirked at her. "I'm checking on you to make sure you're not doing something to practice your superhero routine."

She spit at him.  "I'll have you know I don't need practice anymore.  I've got that one down to an art."  She finished her form and saved it, sending it to her printer.  Then she signed them and handed them to him, making him laugh.  "They're used to it."

"I'm sure Welsh will love the brevity," he said.  "Usual happened.  Volunteered to be their hostage so no one got hurt.  Sent Vecchio out with gun and badge, figured he could watch them for me.  Was shot in the line of duty, two grazes."  He looked at her. "Nothing else?"  She shook her head.  "They let you get away with that?"

"It described what happened perfectly," she pointed out.  "Besides, they're used to it.  My all-time record is four words.  He fucked up badly."  Ray choked on his water, shaking his head.  "That one I did have to elaborate on, but otherwise they're used to my lack of wordage."  She gave him a long hug. "For some reason I'm in a cuddly mood and the cats won't come to me."

"It's fine."  He kissed her on the top of her head, earning a smug look from his mother.  "Yes, Ma, I do like her a lot."

"Good.  I noticed you did. It was much the same way with me and your father. It took me a week to figure out I loved him and another four months for him to figure it out and marry me."  She gave him a look. "If you do marry, I will have my church wedding, young lady."

"Sure.  We can do dual ceremonies," she told her. "Or do it outside with a priest. I'll relent on that point."

"I can accept that," Ma agreed. "There are some very pretty gardens at the local nunnery."  Catherine shuddered.  "It is holy ground."

"Yeah, but they make me itch.  All that repression of your nature."  The women shared a look.  "Nothing with lace, Ma.  No lace, no froufy touches.  Nothing like that. We can have it in a nice park or rose garden, but not the convent.  Okay?"  She nodded, smiling happily.  "Then when Ray finally gets around to it, you can nag him for everything else."

"Good.  I like that plan."  She looked at her son, who swallowed like her husband had once.  "Whenever you're ready of course."

"Ma!" he whined.

"You've got years," Catherine promised. "You can run away by then."

Ma snorted.  "He won't.  I know that look."  She gave her son a look.  "You'll see it soon enough."

"Ma, she hasn't even met my dry cleaner yet," he pointed out.

"Speaking of, I'm changing before we go."  She headed into the bedroom, coming out in a cotton pajama set of pants and a tank top.  They had cute fish on them.  "I'm good.  Let's go."  Ray gave her a horrified look.  "I told you I was gonna wear jammies to work at least once," she reminded him. "Or I can drive.  I did go up there and back on m bike."

"No," he said firmly, coming over.  He looked down at her shoulder.  "That needs covered."

"It's fine, Ray," she said patiently, grabbing her wallet.  "Come on.  We've got to stop at a big bakery that does eclairs.  We'll be back, Ma.  I'm not taking my keys."

"Fine," he sighed, following her out once she had on sandals.  He heard his mother laughing behind him.  "Did you get back to the bank yet?"

"Nope, not yet."

He opened the door for her, heading around to get in and drive.  "How are you getting home?"

"Cab?" she suggested.  "Or I can go unchain my bike."  He scowled at her. "I'm fine, Ray, really."

"I heard you puked earlier."

"Antibiotics always do it to me," she told him.  "It's not a reaction, just an upset tummy."  She got out and captured a cat, holding it up.  "How did you get out?" she asked.  Someone coughed and she looked over at an older lady. "I'm sorry, I have one that looks just like her."  She handed it back, watching as the cat snuggled her.  "Sorry."

"That's all right, young lady.  It's clear you love yours."  She looked up at the building.  "Did the older man die?"  She nodded.  "Natural causes?"

"As far as I know," she admitted.  "His brother's up there and his cats are in my place."

"Thank you."  She walked back to her house, going inside with her cat.

Catherine got back into the car, buckling up.  "I think she was sweet on him."

"Possibly."  He drove off, heading to the bakery he liked.  "Eclairs?" he asked once they were parked.

"Yeah, Stan's got a massive sweet tooth and a sweet spot for them."  She headed inside, coming back for her wallet.  She came back a few minutes later with a large box and a smaller one.  "This way no one will steal Stan's treat," she said at his confused look.  "Huey's been too good on his diet.  I like tempting the too nice."  She buckled up and got comfortable.  He gave her a look.  "What?"

"You're having an odd and fluffy moment," he told her.

"I do that sometimes.  Usually it scares people."

"I know why," he told her.  "You haven't sworn in minutes."  He drove on, heading to get a real lunch from a Greek drivethru place, then took her back to the station.  He followed her up the stairs, seeing the shocked looks from the SWAT guys.  "She put it on, not me," he told them, shaking his head.  "This one only has fish, feel lucky.  Last night's had clouds and moons."

Catherine walked in and smiled at Stanley, bending down to kiss him on the cheek and let him take the smaller box.  "If you want, I'll make you an ugly cake tomorrow."  He beamed at her so she handed the other box to Huey.  "Eat that so I don't have to," she ordered, taking the forms into the office.  Welsh gave her outfit the dirtiest look. "I'm covered, feel lucky I'm wearing clothes," she said with a big smirk.  "I also bought treats for Stanley."

"Good.  He deserves it."  He watched as she walked out, then shook his head. "She's wearing underwear, that's what's really important, not that she's wearing pajamas."  He read the forms, snorting.  "Detective Demoranth," he called, standing up.  "We appreciate your brevity, and I'm told you're fond of that style, but we would like a bit more description.  DA Kowalski caught the bank robbery case."

"In that case I can make it shorter," she offered, grinning sweetly at him as she sat on the corner of Stan's desk.

Welsh looked at him, noticing he looked like he was in bliss.  "Eclairs?"

"Yes," Stanley defended.  "Why?"

"Nothing," he said calmly.  "Just wondering if I saw right.  Where's the other things?"  She pointed at the box Huey still hadn't opened. "Break it out, Huey.  Before she eats it and gets sick again."

"It was the antibiotics," she defended.  "They never have agreed with me."  She smirked as Huey moaned.  "What?' she asked innocently.

"New Orleans pastries," he complained.  He gave her a dirty look. "I'm on a diet."

She gave him a wicked look.  "I know."  She slid off Stanley's desk, catching the papers she had dislodged.  She gave him a big hug.  "Tell me if I need to find stuff for a cake."  He gave her a stoned and happy grin.  "Okay, tell me later when you come down off the chocolate high," she teased.  He nodded.  "Was that a yes?"

"No, I'll tell ya tomorrow," he told her, grinning at her.  He shuddered when he heard Stella in the hall, eating another big bite.

She gave him a gentle pat on the arm.  "You have eight and you don't have to share," she promised.  He nodded so she called a cab and strolled out.

Stanley jogged down, handing her her wallet.  "You left it on my desk."  He noticed it was thin and looked inside, then sighed.  "Brat."

"What?"  She took it, frowning at it.  "I had a twenty in it."  She patted herself down, finding it in her bra.  "There.  I'm on my way to the bank anyway to see if the mess has been straightened out."  She kissed him on the cheek.  "Go eat your eclairs before someone tries to steal them or Stella tosses them on you again."  He ran back inside and she pulled the bill out of her bra, stuffing it back into her wallet.  She saw someone looking at her.  "What? It's a woman's other purse.  Get over it."  He turned away, blushing.  "Married, little boy."  He nodded, heading off.  Her cab pulled up and she got in.  "Second National please."  He nodded, taking off again.  "I've got to go inside so that's all I need."  She handed over the twenty, watching as he made change and handed it back.  "Thanks."  She gave him a tip and headed inside, going to sign in to talk to the same guy.  He smiled when he saw her.  "Yes, it's me again," she told him. "Any luck?"

"Let me try," he told her, pointing at his seat.  He glanced outside then started the paperwork.  "Let's hope this time is more peaceful."

"Let's hope this time your buddies don't come back," she said dryly.  "It was nice how they didn't make you leave your office."  He went pale.  "Let's do this before I arrest you, 'kay?"  He nodded, giving her sideways looks.  "And don't reach for your drawers.  I don't care what sort of piece you have.  I'm told I'm immortal.  Or I could call Ray and have him come arrest you but I was lead on that case I think."  He nodded, turning his monitor.  "Still?" she asked in disgust.  He sighed and nodded.  "Then just get me the four grand and put the rest through for another month in another CD.  Then I'll arrest you."  He nodded, looking miserable.  "Dude, my cats do it so much better.  If you cooperate you might just get probation.  You might not, but you can always try with a good lawyer."  He nodded, filling in the forms necessary and letting her sign them.  He went to get her money, coming back with it and the security guard.  "In on the robbery with him?' she asked.  He shook his head.  "Good.  Thanks."  She stood up, tucking the wallet into her bra.  "Turn around, let's cuff you now."  She went over and saved the changes, then shut off his computer, noticing the guard didn't carry cuffs as she walked past him.  "Computer Tech will probably want that."  She patted him down then called dispatch.  "This is Detective Demoranth, I need to be picked up with a suspect at Second National," she ordered.  "Yeah, the head behind the robbery the other day.  Thanks.  He's not cuffed so have him bring me a spare pair.  No, he's being very calm."  She walked the guy out, the guard walking with her.  "Do you like this job?" she asked.

"Most of the time.  I don't have near as much stress as you do," the guard told her.  "You're a detective?"

"Detective First Class," she admitted.  "Seventeen years on the force."

"You don't look that old."

"Thanks," she said, grinning at him. She felt the arm under her hand tense and looked over as the patrol car pulled up.  "Later, dude.  Be safe.  I hope you don't get another of those in your career."

"Thanks, detective.  You be careful too.  Cute pajamas."

"I'm on sick leave," she admitted.  "Two grazes and my shoulder."  She waved then walked him over to the car, cuffing him with the spare set of cuffs.  "Morning.  Brad, right?"  He nodded, giving her outfit a look.  "What?  I'm on sick leave.  Did you expect me to live up to the hubby's standards on my days off?"  He shook his head, opening the back door for her.  "Thanks, Officer Brad."  She got him settled then got in the front, glancing back at him.  "Remember, if you're a good boy, things go smoother, faster, and you get bail faster.  The more you block and lie, the longer you're going to be in a cell with punks and druggies who will have a problem with you because you're wearing a tie."  He hung his head and nodded. "Good boy. I'll give you right to Ray and then head home."  Brad got in, still laughing.  "What?  You don't like the fish? I could have worn the little doggies or the pink set with kitties.  It's the only pink thing I own."  He continued to laugh, heading back to the precinct.  She walked him upstairs, handing him to Ray.  "He headed the robbery the other day."  Then she blew a kiss at him and walked out again, heading down to call a cab and go home this time.

Ray groaned and put his head down on his desk.  "Why me?  And in that outfit?"

Stanley laughed.  "It wasn't the pink kitty pajamas," he offered.  "They're even cuter."

Ray looked at him. "Pink kitten pajamas?"

"It's the only pink thing she owns," he shared.  He looked at the guy.  "Did she convince you to spill it quickly?"  The man moaned and nodded.  "You gonna be okay?"

"I'm going to be ill," he admitted.  "She had that stench around her."

"We had a person die in our building," Ray told him, sitting him in front of the trash can.  "There, in case you need it.  Name?"

"Roy Martin," he said quietly.  "I'm very sorry but they pay us horribly."

"I understand, the city does the same thing to us," Ray told him, not feeling sympathy at all but it would make him talk faster.  Then he could get done on time and go home on time.  Stanley gave him a look.  "Keep it up, I'll make you help her febreeze the closet."

"Sure," Stanley agreed, grinning at him and eating another eclair.  Stella had went to bother someone else, he had his favorite treat, and Vecchio was doing his own paperwork.  It was a great day!


Catherine walked into her apartment, waving at Ma. "Febreeze," she said, waving a hand at the air freshener cloud.  She grabbed the bottle and sprayed it on a pillow, letting Ma sniff it.  "Works wonders.  I need to do this outfit too.  The cabbie asked me if I was sick."  She pulled the second bottle and they each picked a room to work on.  It was nasty.  Then she went to nibble in the kitchen and watch her cats sniff out these new ones. "They're not staying.  We're kitty sitting for a few days," she told them.

Ma came out and patted her on the arm. "I think it would be easier if I did so. They're used to older people."  Catherine grinned at her.  "Transparent, aren't I?" she asked.

Catherine shook her head.  "Not at all.  That's why I have cats."  She stuffed her mouth before she could say anything else, going to answer the door.  She stared at the woman there with the suitcase.  "No."  She slammed the door and walked over to the phone, calling Ray.  "Guess who just showed up with a suitcase on my doorstep," she said angrily.  "No, not the President. I'd cap him.  Think screaming ex girlfriend."  She looked over as her door popped open.  "Yeah, she's here."  She hung up, going to save her cats from the woman. "What do you think you're doing?  You're not staying with me."

"Catherine, I don't have anywhere else to go," she pleaded.  "Please?"

"No!"  She looked at Ma.  "Future mother-in-law, this is my ex-girlfriend.  Mara, this is Ray's mother."  She looked in the hall and winced.  Then shook her head.  "I don't have room for you, Mara."

"I'll take the couch," she pleaded.  "The cats won't mind me."

"Ray definitely will."

"You're dating a guy?"  Catherine nodded. "Why?"

"Because I know he won't cheat on my fat ass."  Mara winced.  "It's amazing.  I didn't date for six years because of how badly you fucked me up.  Ray's been one incredibly sweet man since we've met.  Grumpy morning moods and all.  He's helped me see that not everyone is like you.  He's like who I thought you were.  He gives a damn about me and I'm not messing that up to play nursemaid to you while you start taking your drugs again.  The door opened and Ray walked in.  "Sorry to call you from work, Ray."

"Not a problem."  He looked at the other woman.  Then at Catherine.  "Do you still like her?"

"No, her cheating on me took any feelings I might have still had and killed them.  After three years of being together, you killed everything."  She went to answer the door because someone was pounding on it.  "What?"

"You're loud and annoying," the landlord said, sneering at Mara.  "You're like that?" he sneered at her.

"When a former roommate you haven't seen in about six years shows up suddenly you'd probably yell too," she told him.  "Even if I was a practicing lesbian, you still couldn't kick me out.  There are laws against that."

"I've never heard of them."

"I'm a cop, don't you think I know what the laws are?" she demanded.  He backed away from her. "Thank you."  She shut the door, then went to rescue the cat in the hallway, handing it to Ma.  "I'll pay for her to hit a hotel for a few weeks," she told Ray.  "I am not having her here.  I don't need that in my life."

Ray nodded. "That's more than reasonable to me."  He looked at her, seeing her hurt look. "Tough."

Catherine crossed her arms, wincing slightly.  "I'm not having someone in my house who tries to bribe prison guards."

"That was a misunderstanding," Mara defended.

"There can't be any misunderstandings when you offer to blow him to get out of there.  Sorry, that's not reality.  You and Kermit the big white rabbit need to leave my house before I throw you out.  I called Ray so he'd keep me from killing you, not to toss you out.  We both know I can do that on my own."

"I can't believe you went to a man!" she said angrily.

"What?  You wanted me to go back to women after you fucked me over that way?  I'll probably never touch another woman again unless Ray asks for something really special for his fiftieth birthday."  He groaned and shook his head, backing away.  "Now, take your shit and get out.  I hear the hotels in this city are really nice.  They were when I moved here."

"I lost my job," she said bitterly.  "All because one of your friends busted me."

"Sweetheart, I'm not in Vice anymore.  I haven't been in weeks.  They pulled all us older folks out of Vice and put in all new people.  If you got busted by one it was your own fault.  I never told anyone in Vice why I had a sudden bout of severe depression.  No one in the unit at that time knew who you were to start their own vendetta and since then we've exchanged all but two people until they traded us out for younger people.  If you got busted it was your own stupidity.  The offer's going bye-bye and you need to leave.  Before not even Ray can keep me from killing you.  His mother won't testify against me, even if he would."

Ray gave her shoulder a squeeze.  "Calm down, Catherine," he said quietly.  "It's not worth the stress."  He looked at her.  "If you were mine, I wouldn't even be that generous. I'd tell you how to get to a shelter."  She backed away from him.  "You heard her, it's her apartment.  She doesn't want you here."

"She'll go back to women someday," she sneered, grabbing her stuff.  "Xander," she said, but the cat hissed at her.  "You managed to turn my cat against me?" she said, looking stunned.

"Yeah, she's a fussy kitten but very damn cuddly."  She leaned back against Ray's body.  "I seem to have found a lot of cuddly things, even ones who appreciate me when I'm cuddly and needy.  Leave, Mara."  She grabbed her wallet and pulled out three bills, handing them to her.  "That's all you're getting from me.  Make it stretch.  Go to a cheap place over by the slums."  Mara dragged all her stuff out and Ray kept the cats inside.  Then she turned and buried her face in his chest, trying not to cry.  "Sorry."

"It's all right," he promised.  "I would have called for backup too," he promised, stroking her back.  "It's a good thing you didn't call Stan or Benny.  They'd have gone odd."  She laughed bitterly and he felt his shirt dampen so he sat down with her.  "Shh, it's okay.  We all have people who did shit to us."

"She destroyed me, Ray.  Three years and it was like she ripped out my soul."

"I understand.  I felt the same when Irene came back into my life and then died."  He stroked her back gently, looking at his mother.  She went to check on the cats in the bedrooms, sending one running.  "She goes in the small room across from the bedroom if she was peeing on the bed, Ma."  Chocolate was picked up and put in there, then Ma went to strip the bed for them.  "Shh, princess."

Catherine pulled her head back, wiping her eyes. "Princess?"

"Well, you're not exactly queenly in that outfit," he told her, giving her a gentle smile when she laughed.  "Welsh thought it was cute, so did the SWAT guys.  They thought you were hinting that you wanted to cuddle and do other stuff."  She blushed and shook her head.  "No?  You don't?"

"I wouldn't mind a cuddle," she admitted. "But not tonight."

"That's fine.  I am patient."  He wiped off a few stray tears for her.  "Feel better?"  He nodded.  "Then I should make sure she left and go back to work.  I've got to help Benny with something later."

"Shit, I forgot, I'm sorry, Ray."

"Like I mind," he snorted.  "Any more like her?"

"No, most of my exes moved and only one other cheated, she was right before Mara and she knew it had bothered me."

"Then she's doubly an evil bitch," Ray told her.  He gave her a light kiss.  "You stay on the couch and relax.  I'll be back about seven or so."  She nodded, giving him a trusting look as she curled up.  "Good girl.  I'll be home soon.  I'll be home later, Ma.  We're coming over on Saturday, right?"

"You'd better," she agreed.  She came out, holding up a bottle.  "Is this different from the other stuff?"

"That's just for pet odors," she told her.  "It works well on beds when they've been messed on."  Ma wrote down the name then went back into her bedroom.  "I can do that."

"It's not a problem.  I had better learn," she called back.

Ray walked back there, looking at her.  "Why?  Are you taking Chocolate home?"

She gave him a smile.  "I have been thinking about being a foster mother to the other cats," she told him.  "The children are not as cuddly as they once were and no one sits to help me read anymore."

"They're all very loving, Ma, and we'll help if you need it."  She gave his cheek a pat and gave him a smile.  "I'll see you Saturday.  I've got to go help Benny."  He walked out, calling him from the car.  "I'm on my way.  No, her ex showed up.  I'm fine.  She sent her away."  He hung up, heading there with only a few traffic laws broken.  He had called this shopping trip.  It would be rude to be late.  He parked and got out, heading inside the consulate.  "Hey, Turnbull," he said as he walked past him.  Benny met him just inside the door.  "Sorry."

"It's not a problem," he promised.  He looked at Ray's shirt.  "Was she all right?"

"Catherine had a small crying fit.  She's fine.  It was the last girlfriend."

"I see.  Where might she be?"

"She sent her to a hotel.  Gave her some money and sent her away actually," he said as he led Benny outside to the car.  "Suggested something near your old neighborhood so it'd last longer.  She called me for emotional support."

"Congratulations," Benny told him.  Ray smirked at him.  "She knew Stanley would kill her."

Ray snorted.  "Catherine could have.  She had another of those shaking in rage moments."  He started the engine.  "Where did I say I wanted to go?"

"A few blocks from your mother's," he offered.  "That one person you went to school with has an office you wanted to stop in."

"Oh, yeah, thanks."  He pulled into traffic, heading that way.  "Her landlord complained about the fight, I think it'll be handy to know and I was thinking about it anyway.  It's good to see what's on the market."

"It is a good investment," Benny agreed.

Catherine gave Stanley a pitiful look when he walked in, putting down her mug of cocoa.  "Guess who showed up expecting me to put her up?"

"Who?" he asked, sitting next to her.


"Bitch."  He stood up.  "Where is she?"  She shrugged.  "You don't know?"

"I gave her enough money to get a hotel for a few weeks and made her leave."  She looked at him.  "I broke down and cried, Stan."

He sat down again, holding her tightly.  "It'll be okay.  It won't make him think you're weak."

"I'm not weak," she agreed.  "But I think it made him happy somehow."

"It probably made him realize you do have some of the deeper emotions," he soothed, stroking over her hair.  She curled up against his side, letting him comfort her.  "What happened?" he asked quietly.

"Ma and I had just finished febreezing the house when she knocked.  Had most of her shit with her.  When I slammed the door in her face, she broke the lock with a card and let herself in, dragging all the shit with her."

"We all wondered why you called Ray home.  I told the SWAT guys it wasn't for sex but they didn't believe me."  She groaned and he grinned down at her.  "They thought the fish were cute too."  She swatted weakly at him. "It's okay, Cath.  I promise.  He doesn't get turned on by it and he won't think you're some weak little thing."  She nodded, snuggling in harder.  "You rest.  Is the cable on yet?"  She nodded so he flipped on the cable box, going to the guide on the digital box.  "Food, people, or movies?"

"Food or movie," she said.

He flipped to the action channel, making her smile.  "There, fairy tale theater," he said fondly.  She laughed, giving him a squeeze.  "You behave or I'll tell Ray you had ice cream for lunch."

"I had lunch?"

He snorted. "I won't tell him you said that, little girl."

"He called me princess earlier. Said I couldn't be a queen in my jammies."

Stanley chuckled. "That sounds like him."  He stroked down her back.  "He said something about the landlord when he called earlier.  You get into it with him already?"

"He showed up to complain while Mara was here," she admitted.  "He sneered at me.  I told him there's a fair housing law that says he can't kick me out for being with her in the past."

"It covers that?"  She pinched him.  "Oh."  He grinned at her.  "Naughty you," he whispered.  She beamed up at him.  "Does that mean we have to be beasts of burden for you again soon?"

"I don't know," she sighed.  "Ray seems to be stuck on a house."

"It's how he grew up.  People got together, they bought a house."  He shrugged.  "Maybe a condo?"

"I don't want to pay that much," she told him.  "Besides, I've never seen one I liked.  They're all charmless blocks."

"I've seen a few but they were in a renovated hotel," he admitted.  "Those were really nice and classy, but you felt like you were in a hotel in the show one."

"Which hotel?"

"That old one down near the consulate."  He gave her back a pat. "The one with all the green and gold."  She made an interested sound.  "Plus, it's still got the hotel amenities.  I hear they're nearly full."

"It's a pipe dream anyway," she sighed.  "He's right, I want a lawn.  A small lawn but still some grass.  And a cage so the kitties can sneak outside whenever they want to.  I can't afford it though."

"Well, there are some small ones," he admitted.  "They're just in bad parts of town."

"Yeah, which I'm not living in again," she said firmly.

"True, I hated visiting you at your last place."  She gave him another squeeze and they paused to watch the shootout.  "Huh.  Never-ending clips," he said dryly. She giggled.  "I need one of those."

"Me too," she agreed.  "Did the bank guy confess?"

"And then some," he said happily.  "He told Ray *everything*.  Seemed to think the punks downstairs would hate him more because he had a tie on.  Asked us to make sure we took it from him a few times."

"Yeah, I told him his speedy cooperation meant that he wouldn't be down there as long.  I think I did mention something about suit aggression too."  He snickered.  "What?  We know it's true.  The little punks will try someone in a suit first."  He nodded and she settled down again.  "I saw a house I'd love to have," she admitted.  "It was really expensive though."

"Over a hundred grand?"


"Not too bad for the city.  What was it?"

"It was a cute little Tudor. Had a tower on it for my study."  She looked up at him. "It was even gray and blue."  He smiled at her. "It'll be snapped up pretty quickly.  It was a nice little starter house."

"A few years ago was the best time to buy a house," he told her.

"I tried, they couldn't get me a loan because of my credit history."  She shrugged.  "I'll deal."

"It still sucks."  He gave her a pat.  "Someday."

"Yeah, maybe in another seven years," she admitted.

"By then Ray will have moved you into his mother's attic," he said dryly.

"Nope, not enough room for all the books.  Though she did take the neighbor's cats with her since his brother said he didn't have a will."  Stanley smirked.  "Yes, I infected another person with the desire to own a cat.  How's your turtle?"

"Good.  Swimming happily this morning."  He looked over as Ray and Benny walked in. "Hey."

"Hey."  Ray looked at them.  "Comfy?"  She nodded.  "You sure?" he asked with a small smirk.

"Until you sit down.  He's very cuddly."

"I figured as much.  He seems like someone who clings."  Ray went into the bedroom to change clothes, coming out in something more comfortable.  As soon as he sat down, she shifted to snuggle into his side.  "What are we watching?"

"Fairytale theater," Stanley told him.  "Complete with neverending clips."

Ray snorted.  "No.  Find something better.  Something quieter."  Stanley turned back on the guide, showing him what was available.  "Which channels do we have?"

"All of them.  I figure with three hundred I should be able to find *something* to watch," she told him.  "There's a documentary on the penis gourd people, Stan," she offered.  He turned to that, and she knew the guys were listening to why those people wore the gourds that way.  She sighed in happiness.  This was what she wanted.

 Stanley shook his head.  "There's got to be some size competition in that."

"Probably more hierarchical," she offered.  "The chief has the biggest."  He attacked her, tickling her, and she squealed, kicking at him.  "Meanie, I'm gonna send you to live with them!"

"I doubt they'd have him," Benny pointed out.  "He wouldn't conform to their dress standard."  He sat down to watch, very interested. He hadn't known tv down here had these things.


Catherine watched as Ray walked out the door to go to work, taking the time to read the classifieds for something she might want.  She wasn't big on things but there were some things she wanted, like a better couch.  She glanced at the house ads, finding one that made her go back to it.  "3 grand down and 400 a month," she editorialized out loud.  "Near the college."  She picked up her phone to dial the number. "Hi, I just saw your ad.  No, not a student, though I'd love to go back.  No, I'm a detective."  She smirked.  "No, like with the police department.  I work out of the 27th."  She nodded, listening to the description.  "Sounds good.  Can I come look at it?"  She wrote down an address.  Not the best neighborhood but not horrible either.  Probably not Ray's first choice of places to live in the city.  "What are the details?  Will I be paying you or should I try for a loan?"  She listened to the woman's plans.  "That sounds good.  How about tomorrow?"  She smiled.  "Great, thanks.  Yup, my name's Catherine.  Sure thing."  She wrote down a time under the address then called Ray.

"How do you feel about the college?" she asked.  She listened to him.  "Not quite that far. More like teacher row."  He snorted. "Because there's a house there with a low down payment and a nice payment plan.  3 grand down, 300 a month.  Yup, just that little.  If I can get a loan."  She hissed.  "I know.  But I'm also fixing all that, won't that count?"  She listened to his lecture.  "Fine, still want to go look at it with me?  Because, I'm tired of moving.  Even if you do move in, I'm still tired of moving.  I've moved six times in the last four years.  I hate moving."  She laughed at his comment about her books being the problem.  "They're not the problem, it's the cats. Yes, them.  They need adjustment time."  She smiled as he said something smart to Benny.  "Maybe, if it's nice enough, I can even convince you to put in your own closet?" she suggested, leery of his answer, but he agreed he'd have to.  "So you'll go look at it with me?"  She smiled. "Thanks, Ray.  See you tonight.  I promise, I'm not moving the whole day.  Sure.  Laters."  She hung up, going back to her browsing.  She circled a couch ad, liking the sound of it.


To Be Concluded: