Saturday, September 11, 2010

Part Five

"This isn't necessary," she told him for what seemed like the seventh time. "I don't know what good it will do. None of it will fix anything."

"I know that," he told her, tightening the bungee cord on the top of the SUV. "But the Outer Banks are nice this time of year, and Marlene will enjoy the sand. And you and I will enjoy the chance to get away."

She didn't have the energy to fight him anymore. So she handed him her bag, watching him toss it in the back of the car, and buckled the baby into her car seat before climbing in and putting on her own seatbelt.

They arrived seven hours later, at the same inn they had stayed in when they got married. Bobby was nothing if not sentimental, she had learned, and he had even booked a room in the same area of the inn. It was a suite, a bit larger than their original room. Vanessa brought Marlene in and lay on the bed with her, playing gently while Bobby unloaded the car. Marly randomly tried to grab Vanessa's hands, gurgling and laughing as she missed.

Vanessa watched the baby's eyelids grow heavier; it was mid-afternoon and time for her nap. After a few more minutes, Marly was lying quietly in a soft sleep. Vanessa scooped her up and lay her in the pak-n-play that Bobby had just assembled. She stood over the baby for a few minutes before leaving the front room and entering the bedroom again.

Bobby was flipping through one of his books and glanced up at her. She looked at him and smiled, then lay down on the bed. A minute later, he joined her.

They lay silently next to one another, his hand resting over hers, until she finally spoke. "Before...when I was singing...I dated a lot."

He had already known that. He knew that for whatever reason, it was important for her to say it, so he didn't stop her.

"When I was in the business, when I was dating him...his name was Michael...I did a lot of things...things that were wrong...I did them to make him happy. Things I've never told you. I guess...I guess I was afraid of what you would think of me."

"That was another lifetime ago," he said quietly. "You don't do those things now."

"But I did...he wanted me to. We would get high and I would do things..." she shook her head. "He liked to watch."

"Vanessa." His voice was soft but firm. "I don't care what he liked. I don't care what he did. I know you. He didn't. I see you. He saw you on drugs. I see you for who you are...the loving, amazing woman that you are. And yes, you're sexy. There is nothing wrong with that. Nothing at are absolutely beautiful."

"You don't know how I was."

"What was it?" he asked. "You slept with his friends? With women? With multiple partners?" At her silence, he shook his head. "Do you want to go back to that?"

"No." Her voice was whispered, ashamed.

"Oh, baby." He pulled her close. "Is there any person in this world who hasn't ever done something they regret?" He kissed her forehead. "I love you more than you can imagine...and anything you tell me can never change that." His finger traced her cheek. "Ever."

She clutched him close to her body. "Are you sure? The things I did...I never told anyone...and then I did more drugs to forget." Bitterly, she added, "God put Ryan in my life as a reminder. He and Kevin, so I never forget."

"None of it matters anymore." His face was close, comforting. "All that matters is you and me. How much I love much you love much we love each other when we make love. That's all." He kissed the bridge of her nose. "All of those men...I don't care...I'm the one you chose."

She held his face in her hands then, and kissed him softly. "Yes," she said. "You're the one I chose."

Soft, gently baby kisses. Covering his chest, his taut nipples. She was kissing and sucking them, tugging on the hair on his chest over and over again.

He didn't stop her or try to slow her down. He knew she was on her own mission, one that involved proving to herself that she wasn't the same girl who fell into fame fourteen years before. Her cheek was softly pressing against him, with her fingers tracing the soft whorls of hair. He wondered if she knew he had an erection, but realized it wasn't important. This wasn't about arousal. This was about knowing. About knowing him in a way nobody else did.

She had taken her time, gently licking one nipple at a time, running her tongue softly around them in circles until he sighed softly. She glanced up at him. "Do you like that?" she asked, as though they were new lovers.

"Yes," he sighed, "I do."

"I wish I could erase it all," she said, lying her head back on his chest.

"I love you just the way you are." He was quiet for a moment, then asked, "Why did you let him have the last word like that? Why let him make you feel bad about yourself?"

"I don't know," she admitted softly, tracing the soft ribs under his pectorals.

"He only said it to hurt you. He only said it to make you doubt yourself. He proved himself with that one statement."

"I know," she said, and he could hear the tears in her voice.

"Beth..." His voice was soft, comforting. "Did any of those men know you? Even your boyfriend?"

She took a deep breath to steady herself. "No," she replied. "No, they didn't."

"Do I?"

He felt her fingers tangle into his chest hair, clutching him. "More than I know myself."

She was lying on her back, head on the pillows, and he was sitting naked next to her. His erection stuck out conspicuously, but she hadn't moved to touch him. Instead, she had been content to receive his kisses, gentle and loving across her lips and her jaw. "I love you," he had whispered. "I know you and I love you."

Now he was sitting next to her, and reached down to cup her breast in his hand. It was heavy with milk, ready for Marlene, but he continued to fondle it, fascinated. Her eyes were sleepy, watching him. He smiled gently before slipping his thumb and forefinger up, catching her nipple between them, and rubbing back and forth until the nipple was long and hard. "Marly will be hungry soon," she commented, and he nodded.

"I imagine that's true," he said, then lowered his head, catching her nipple between his teeth.

The scrape of his teeth made her catch her breath; it was deeply erotic and the feeling shot through her body to her core. He heard her moan softly, and couldn't help but chuckle. He pulled himself back up. "You don't usually make that sound," he commented teasingly.

"You do it differently than she does."

"Hmm," he sighed, kissing her nipple again. "I should hope so." His teeth grazed the sensitive bud again, the sucked the tip into his mouth. She started to push him away, but he caught her hands in his as a tiny splash of milk hit his tongue. Warm and sweet. Something about the intimacy of the act made him feel even closer to her. He continued to suckle on her, feeling another splash, and then a third, before pulling away. He didn't want to deny his daughter dinner.

He lifted her torso up from the pillows and crawled in behind her; his erection was pressing against her back now, but he could easily caress her body and see what he was doing. He glanced up, noting their reflection in the mirror across from the bed. "Beth," he whispered, "see?" He nodded toward the mirror as his hands pulled her pliant body into his lap. He settled his lips against her neck as he saw her eyes catch his in the mirror. "I love you, Beth...I love you," he whispered, hands once again cupping her beautifully engorged breasts. "I know you."


She was in his lap, on the edge of the bed, his erection impaling her pleasurably. She could see them both in in the mirror facing the bed. She had wrapped an arm behind her, around his neck, as she arched forward and rocked against him. He was watching too; she could see his eyes meeting hers in the mirror as his lips rested against her shoulder. He felt familiar, comforting, good. He felt good.

"Bobby," she whispered, shifting against him as he thrust upward, "I love you so much...I've never loved anyone like this before."

His lips moved from her shoulder to her neck. "I know," he said softly, thrusting again. "I believe you, Beth. And none of it, before us, matters." His hand wandered up, over her face, wiping away the tears. "You matter. You. Do you see," he continued to stroke her face even as he moved within her, "how much you matter to me? How much I love you?"

She rested her head against his shoulder, closing her eyes, feeling his body moving against hers. "Yes," she whispered.

" more hurt in your more..." His hand snaked down between her legs, stroking her rhythmically with his thrusting. He felt her shudder. "Tell me, baby...tell me..."

Her head turned quickly toward hers and she moved sharply against him, taking control. The arm that had been resting passively behind him tightened, fingers entwined in his curly hair, bringing his lips toward her own. "No more," she said firmly. "Only us, Bobby...just us."

He was resting back against the pillows, watching her nude body as she moved across the room. She had just fed the baby, and crawled across the bed to sit near him, facing him.

She picked up his hand. "I did all those things. All of them. I slept with men and I didn't even remember their names. I'm probably on some video out there...maybe a whole series of them."

He smiled. "I doubt would have come out by now."

She traced his fingers. "I'm sorry," she said finally, shaking her head. "I didn't want you to find out this way."

"Ness," he said, pulling her close to him, "I've always known. Ryan didn't say anything that I didn't already know...or you hadn't alluded to...and I don't care about it. I care about you, now."

She let him manhandle her, pulling her body into his lap like a child, and adjusting her so that she was pressed against him. When he finished, she caught his face with one hand. "I love you, you in a million..."

He smiled at her before sitting back and enjoying the feel of her body pressed against his.

The sky was cloudy and the wind was blowing in cool gusts. The ocean waves crashed with a satisfying sound as they walked along the sand. Bobby had taken his shoes off, despite the chill weather, and left wet footprints behind him. Vanessa walked nearby, Marlene curled close to her body in the snugli. She could partially support her head now and enjoyed resting her neck against the back of the cloth and watching her mother and father, as well as the waves crashing near them.

Bobby ran quickly up to her, grinning, then leaned down and kissed the soft little head. Marlene laughed and wiggled against the snugli, making Vanessa cling more tightly to her and smile at her happy baby's face. Looking up to Bobby's mischievous grin, she said, "You're a troublemaker, Goren."

He leaned forward and kissed his wife square on the lips, firm and purposeful. "I won't apologize for loving my family," he told her firmly, then leaned forward and kissed her again, this time fully and gently and as lovingly as he ever had.

Marlene gurgled happily, and wrapping one arm around his neck, Vanessa kissed him back.


She was in the jacuzzi, eyes closed and water gently pounding against her body. The smell of the beach was still in her nostrils. Bobby had been right--there was no place in the world like this to heal.

He loved her fully, completely. More than anything, he loved her. He had seen the shame, the depression that followed the last meeting with Ryan, and he had held onto her and pulled her out. He had loved her when she had been convinced nobody could. It was the story of their lives.

The splash of water surprised her and she opened her eyes to see her large husband semi-delicately lowering his body into the tub with her. She smiled at him as he looked at her conspicuously. "Sorry," he muttered. "I thought I could sneak in."

She turned off the jets to the tub, grinning at him. "Did you forget your size for a minute? You're over six feet tall. You're not sneaking into any tub."

He smiled awkwardly. "Well, I can hope, right?" He reached over and caught her foot in his hand, pulling it toward his thigh. She was insanely ticklish and couldn't stop laughing as he began to massage her instep.

"You better watch out," she gasped. "I might kick you in the nuts!"

He laughed this time, but let her foot go. At her giggles, he replied, "On the off chance your legs are longer than I thought...and in case we want more kids one day..." He hit the jet button, then said more loudly--to be heard--"Will you sit with me?"

Her giggles turned into a shy smile, and she turned her body around so that her back pressed against his front. She twisted her legs on top of his and leaned her head back against his shoulder, feeling his lips brush her forehead.


Her wet t-shirt was tight across her breasts. She hadn't bothered to towel off, only pulled on her tee and a pair of his clean boxers. He had watched her subtly out of the corner of his eye. She knew it turned him on.

She climbed onto the bed on all fours, crawling from the end to the headboard, where he sat in his damp boxers, wet hair curling on his head, smiling from ear to ear. She stopped short of the pillows and sat cross-legged on the bed.

"I have to ask you a question," she said, pressing her hands into the mattress. "I have to know."

His smile dissipated and his face took on a serious expression. "What is it?"

She tried to smile, but found herself lacking, so she focused on her fingers instead. "How can you continue to love me, knowing the things I've done...knowing the kind of person I was?" She paused for a moment, then continued. "I guess before...I guess I never thought it would come out. That it would With us."

He didn't speak for a minute, weighing and considering his words carefully. "I didn't know you then...I only know you now. I only knew you after you went through recovery. When you quit the business and quit the drugs and the sex. Who you became, that's who I know." He shook his head and sighed. "And me...that's all you know. Who I am now. You don't know about the women I led on, the ones I pretended to love but never actually felt it. The drugs I did to stay undercover in narcotics. All the rules I've broken to get to where I'm at." He reached across the bed. "Neither of us are the same people we were ten years ago. Or five." He cupped her face gently. "You'll never be who you were before you were attacked. Or before we became involved. I'll never be the man I was before I fell in love with you." His hand smoothed her wet hair back on her head. "The point is we change every day...and I love you more every moment I'm with you." His eyes were heavy. "I never believed I was deserving of it until you. You're the only one I ever knew who wasn't afraid of my fear or my hesitancy. Of my differences. You didn't wince at my mother's schizophrenia or pity me for my father's ineptitude. You saw me. And I see you. You're not Ryan or Liz or Ava. And I'm not Frances or Robert or Frank. I get to be me, when I'm with you."

She pressed his hand against her lips. "I never made love before you."

His voice was quiet, soft. "Me either."


Marly was squirming with delight in Bobby's arms. He had been tickling her nose, letting her grab his fingers each chance she got, and she giggled and gurgled in his arms. Over and over she tried to suckle his fingers, and instinctively he headed toward the bed where Vanessa was napping. Marly tried one more time to suckle her daddy's thumb, then whimpered when no milk was available.

"Hey," he said softly, as Marly began to cry, "somebody's hungry here...and it's not me." Vanessa rolled over, opening one eye, then reached up for the baby. She snuggled Marly close to her as the baby found a nipple and began to suckle heartily.

"Hmm," she murmured, "she's really hungry. What time is it?"

He checked his watch. "Almost four...she's going longer between feedings." He sat on the bed, watching them. Sometimes he felt a twinge of jealousy, that Vanessa was so physically connected to their daughter. But then he reminded himself that he provided the y chromosome that had helped to create the button nose and the crinkle in the corner of her eyes, and he felt a little more included.

"You wanna burp her?" Vanessa asked, as Marly finished up on the second breast, and he grabbed the burp rag and tossed it over his shoulder. At least Vanessa was super willing to share, even if it were the less than thrilling chores.

He rested Marly on his shoulder, patting firmly until she burped, then lowering her gently into his arms. She was already drifting off to sleep again in his arms, her favorite habit after eating. He sat in an armchair across from the bed, holding her longer than necessary, watching the eyelashes flutter, the fingers stiffen and loosen, the soft sighs and puckering of the tiny lips. "She's a miracle," he murmured softly, completely entranced with his baby girl.

Vanessa had flipped around on the bed, still naked, but now lying on her belly with her head toward the foot of the bed, close to the armchair. "That she is, detective," she responded. "I didn't know I could do such cool stuff until I got pregnant."

He glanced up at her, grinning, then looked down again, snuggling Marly closer. She let out a tiny baby sigh, curling closer to the warmth of her daddy in her sleep.

"She's lucky," Vanessa mused, and their eyes met again.

"What do you mean?"

She shifted, resting her head in her hand. "She's lucky to have you as a daddy. You're going to be a wonderful daddy her whole life."

He took a deep breath, scared to expel it, and looked down at her again. His worst fear. "You don't know that, Ness."

"Yes I do," she said confidently, firmly. "The way you look at's how you look at your mother. It's how you look at me. It's how you love."

"I love you," he said, not directed to either, but meaning it for both. He kissed the baby's forehead. "I love you."

Vanessa shook the blanket out and lay it flat in the sand. Bobby put the bottles of water at each corner to hold it down while Vanessa picked Marly up and lay her in the middle of the blanket. She sat on one end, watching the baby wiggle, while Bobby knelt down by another corner, opening the picnic basket. He grinned at her, then said, "Did I ever tell you I hate the beach?"

She laughed. "Yeah...and I hated cops before I became one." She took the sandwich from him, then picked up one of Marly's toys and handed it to her. The baby grasped it quickly and began to chew on it. She shook her head. "Can you believe it...already that eye hand coordination coming in so strongly..."

Bobby grinned, then turned toward the ocean. "You know, I think November is my new favorite time of year to come out here. No crowds."

"It's been pretty cloudy," she said, gently pulling on the baby toy. "And chilly."

"I think she's warm enough," he said, nodding at Marlene's outfit. Vanessa had taken extra care to wrap her up well, including a warm hat and booties.

She snorted. "I wasn't talking about the baby, Goren."

"Oh." He looked at her sweater for a minute, then down at his own heavier jacket. "Do you want my jacket?"

"No. I want what's in it."

"Oh." His smile was shy, and hers was knowing, and he took another bite of his sandwich, a little more quickly than before.

"New York, New York!" she exclaimed as they reached Manhattan. Hearing her mother's excited voice, Marly squealed loudly in the back seat, and Bobby and Vanessa laughed.

"I guess she's excited too, eh?" He was smiling. "Should we try to make it to Brooklyn to see Ava?"

"Yes, definitely...we have time." He headed toward the hospital, feeling hopeful that nothing would dampen the mood they had seemed to bring back with them.

Bobby carried Marlene into the hospital behind Vanessa, up to the eating disorders unit and to the nurse's station. "We're here to see Ava Winters," Vanessa told the nurse, and Marly babbled happily.

The nurse looked surprised. "Mrs. Winters--she's not here," she said slowly. Seeing Vanessa's shocked look, she quickly replied, "She went out to lunch...with her husband and son. She's due back at--" she checked the log book--"four o'clock."

Vanessa turned to Bobby, who was already checking his watch. "We can wait, if it's all right," he said. "Is it all right? It's already three-forty."

The nurse nodded. "Of course...but visiting ends at five. The day room is--"

"Just around the corner," Vanessa finished. "We know."

"Nessie!" She hadn't heard a lightness in Ava's voice like that in years. "You're guys are back...and my Marly got big..." she took the baby from Bobby's arms. "She's so beautiful, aren't you, my precious girl?"

David reached over and hugged Vanessa tightly. "How are you?"

"Good...good...and you?"

He smiled broadly. "We're all really good. Ava, did you tell her?"

"No..." Ava had taken a seat and was bouncing Marly gently in her lap, laughing with her. "I'm being sprung on Wednesday."

"Mommy's coming home!" Justin told Vanessa, trying to climb up Bobby's body. Bobby reached down and picked him up. "She coming back home! I can take her to show and tell!"

They all laughed. "Will you bring my baby cousin over?" Justin was holding Bobby's face in his hands. "Will you? Daddy and me got some stuff for her. Mommy did too."

"Well in that case, I guess we can't say no...right, Ness?"

"Absolutely." Vanessa reached over and touched her sister's knee. "You're really okay?"

Ava shot her a look that clearly said, 'not in front of Justin', but her eyes showed pure conviction when she said firmly, "Yes. Really. I'm okay." She passed the baby back to Vanessa, then said, "And I'll be home on there's no way I couldn't be okay with that!"

Vanessa smiled, holding Marly, as David moved closer to his wife, wrapping his arms around her tightly. Vanessa couldn't recall a time that they were so openly affectionate, and felt herself warm when Ava kissed him, wrapping her arms around him too.





This time she giggled but pushed at him more forcefully. "Bobby!"

He sighed, pulling his mouth away from her and lowering her legs from his shoulders. His finger slowly stroked her and he heard her sharp intake of breath. "What is it, Beth?"

"I thought we were talking."

"That's funny," he snickered, "because I thought I was eating--"


He nipped her inner thigh. "What did you want to talk about?"

"Didn't Ava look happy to you?"

"Mmm, yeah...I think so." He was running his tongue down her inner thigh to her knee. Nothing worked like the inner knee, in his experience.

"She's gained's like the final key to the puzzle was confronting my dad."

Out of respect to her, he pulled his lips away from her leg. "You're probably right."

"You're not listening to me."

"Yes...yes I am. Ava is doing well and you think it's because she confronted Ryan. I agree with you." His finger stroked her inner knee for a second, then he responded, "How about you? Did it make a difference for you?"

"I don't know," she admitted. "But you did."

Now he was fully paying attention. He sat up between her legs, softly running his fingers over her pubic hair, then leaning to kiss her knee. "What do you mean?"

"You always know're the most patient person I've ever known. Even after everything...all he brought up, all he said...and you still love me as much as before. Who gets that lucky? I mean, really?"

"That goes both ways." One of his hands stroked her abdomen, thinking of how much their lives had changed in the last year. "You're the best thing that ever happened to me. You loved me when no one else would."

She reached down and caught his hand in hers. "You're worth every bit of it. You have to know that, Bobby. We both have finally figured out we can love and be loved despite our shitty starts."

He smiled at her, rubbing her abdomen a bit more firmly and watching her close her eyes. "Can I go back to what I was doing now?" he asked teasingly.

"Mmm, yes...and I like it when you take your time. I really like that."

He nipped her knee with his teeth. "I'll keep that in mind."

"How come you never tell me how much you want that?"

"Want what?"

She hesitated. "Oral."

"Because it's not as important to me as you feeling comfortable. That's all."

"But you like it."

He sighed again. "Ness, it's hard to get back to this when you keep talking."

"We could try something new...sixty-nine..."

He laughed. "Have you noticed the difference in our heights?"

"I'm flexible." She started to pull herself up, but he stopped her.

"Okay," he finally consented, turning himself around to lay opposite of her. "But stop whenever you's not like I'm married to this idea or anything."

She couldn't help but grin. "I'll keep that in mind." She cupped his testicles gently in her hands before leaning closer and licking the head of his erection.

He sucked in his breath. "That's the other reason I don't like this," he muttered. "It's hard to concentrate."

She smothered a laugh. "I think you'll manage." As she began to suck him gently, she heard him sigh a third time before she felt his tongue, gentle but focused, circling her.

He was good...damn, he was good. She decided she'd make a point to keep up. And keep up she did, well enough that just moments later he had stopped and told her, "No have to stop now. Please."

She released him, but not without asking, "Why?" Then she relaxed beneath his touch, enjoying the pressure of his fingers and tongue on her most private parts.

He pulled his mouth away from her for a moment, but left his fingers stroking gently. "Because I'm good for one time...and I want to come inside you. I want to make love to you." His tongue went back to work immediately.

"But Bobby...I'm..." He didn't stop, didn't even slow himself down. "Baby, please stop..."

That got his attention. He pulled himself away from her, including his fingers this time, and looked at her with rapt attention.

"Now would be a good time to put that plan of yours into action," she told him.

"But you haven't climaxed yet," he protested. "You could now and then again, later..."

She snorted. "I didn't realize we were counting my orgasms."

"All right...just let me get back up there..." His lips brushed over her once more, then moved up to her hips, her belly, her ribcage. He smiled to himself as he sucked a nipple into his mouth, taking his time to bring her milk to his tongue. Finally, he moved his lips to her neck, sucking deeply, before bending over her to align himself to enter her.

"I love you, Ness," he smiled, sliding into her body easily, hearing her moan softly. He pressed his lips to the hollow of her throat before pulling out and thrusting in again, this time more quickly. He felt her knees tightening at his waist and supported himself on his forearms and his knees. Her legs locked around him and he thrust again, this time more quickly and forcefully, beginning to develop a rhythm.

"Okay?" he whispered as he drove in again faster, enjoying the slick feel of her body and the tightness of her wrapped around him. She nodded before leaning up to suck his earlobe. He moaned audibly, knowing he was close. Closer than he wanted to be, he thought, but who was he to complain?

She was clutching him, scratching his back. "Oh God, Bobby...God, don't stop...I'm so feel so good in me. I love you, honey...I love you...oh christ..."

He stopped for a second, gasping for breath himself. "Ness...stop...I'm can't keep going when you do that..."

She ground her hips against his again and moaned, "What? What..."

"Your talking..." he gritted his teeth. Damn, her grinding was almost as arousing as their lovemaking. "I'm going to come before you..."

" you won't...I'm so close, Bobby...Jesus, you shift and I'm there...please...please!" she implored, and he began to move again, picking up his speed quickly. ""

He could feel her tighten around him, knew her arch, her moan, knew it was good. He couldn't stop. And God, he didn't want to. He closed his own eyes and let the feeling overtake him, feeling the contractions in his body as he ejaculated inside of her. She was still moaning softly when he pulled himself up, damp and sweaty, from her body.

"Bobby," she whispered, and he leaned over to kiss her deeply. She caught his hand and brought it down, until his fingers were fondling her once again. He watched her body tighten and arch, the soft moan again, and her wetness following. He began to pull his fingers away but she pressed them back.

"Again?" he whispered, and when she nodded, he fondled her once more until she climaxed quickly. This time he leaned in to suck on her ear, to whisper how good she felt, how beautiful she was, how he wanted to taste her, and her moan was louder. After she came, she was still, and for a second he wondered if she'd passed out. "You okay?"

She opened her eyes, staring at him as though he were a space invader. "You're amazing," she finally said. "You're the most amazing lover I've ever had."

He smiled. "You're just saying that because I brought you three times."

She rolled over and sighed. "Oh my god. I don't think I can move. I think every bit of sexual energy I've ever had has been used."

He ran a finger over her hair. "God, you're beautiful. And the only reason I'm so good in bed with you is because you're so amazing yourself."

She opened her eyes, looking at him. "If I got pregnant again...I mean, I'm not planning to...I'm covered...but do you ever think about it?"

He took her hand in his. "I think about it," he responded softly. "I would love to have more children. But I love it just the three of us too...I guess whatever happens, happens...kind of like Marly." He kissed her hand. "It's almost two...I need to get some sleep before I go to work."

She nodded, then rested her head on his chest. They lay silently for several minutes, until she finally spoke. "Goren? I have to tell you something."

"Huh?" He was half asleep.

"It's really important."

"Okay," he mumbled sleepily. "What is it?"

She smiled against him. "You're a sex god."

He coughed. "That's it?" he asked, wider awake.

" needed to know."

"You're right," he answered. "I did."

She pressed her head against his chest again, smiling, and he wrapped an arm around her body. Sex god. Damn if he didn't try.


Checking his watch, he headed toward the door. Barely nine. He had managed to slip into a pair of sweats before heading to the door. On his day off, Vanessa let him sleep in. He guessed she was out taking a walk with the baby.

The doorbell rang again. "Coming," he grumbled, having a sudden flashback to their last surprise visitor, right before Marlene was born. Well, thank God Vanessa wasn't home. If it was Ryan, he could do whatever he felt like.

But it wasn't. He swung the door open to see Ava, in a pair of jeans and a sweater, standing in front of him."Hey!" he exclaimed, pulling her into a tight hug. She slowly put her arms around him, patting him on the back. "It's so good to see you...Vanessa will be thrilled! Come on in!"

"'re kind of freaking me out here," she said, walking inside of the condo. "You're, uh, half naked, Robert."

"You woke me up," he answered, a bit defensively. "I'll go grab a shirt. Where's Justin?"

She took a seat on the couch, adjusting her sweater. "At school," she replied, "and David is at work....I thought I'd come over and see my sister. I didn't realize you were off today. I guess I should have called."

He shook his head. "Eames and I-my partner--we were chasing a case for odd hours for three full days, so I have some time off today and tomorrow. A half day tomorrow." He headed toward the bedroom. "Hang on and I'll be right back."

He tossed on a t-shirt, checking himself in the mirror quickly, then suddenly freezing. He lifted the tee from his chest, noting the multiple red marks from Vanessa's suckling, and the scratches on his back. Nice. Well, if Ava ever had any doubts about their sex life, they were gone by now.

Pushing his embarrassment aside, he headed back into the front room. Ava was stroking Bruce's head. "I heard you took a trip to the Outer Banks a couple weeks ago. How was it?"

"Great," he replied, sinking into the armchair. "Marly loved it...I think she really liked the sound of the waves. She would laugh and watch like it was the most fascinating thing in the world."

"It probably was, considering her age," Ava commented. She smiled at him. "You're a good dad, Goren. I kind of find it ironic that Vanessa and I would marry such good fathers, given our rat bastard."

He didn't know what to say to that, so he just nodded. "You both deserved better," he said. "I hope that Marlene grows up knowing how much she's loved."

Ava smiled wryly. "I didn't tell Vanessa this, but he wrote me a letter. He wrote me a letter apologizing for not seeing me."

Bobby was surprised. "Why do you think he did that?"

Ava interlaced her fingers and looked into her lap. "He's trying to split us. Divide and conquer. According to him, Vanessa is a lost cause and the purpose of all this trouble...but not me. He made a mistake with me and he hopes I'll forgive him, blah blah blah." She stopped talking, sensing Bobby's anger and concern, then looked up. "Don't worry. I've seen his true colors. I'm not going back. And I'd have to be some kind of moron to believe that shit about my sister." She shook her head. "I just don't know if I should tell her or not. I know how much he's hurt her already."

He nodded, his mind flying back to their time at the beach and their many conversations about him and the damage he did to her soul.

"It would kill her, wouldn't it?" He suddenly realized that for the first time, Ava was asking his opinion about Vanessa, and he didn't know what to say.

"No...but it would hurt. A lot. He really made her doubt herself this last time."

Ava was looking at him intensely. "He did that on purpose. He admitted it in the letter. He said you needed to know exactly the kind of woman you had married. The kind of woman whose genes were running through your daughter. It was sickening."

He felt his stomach churn, but before he could respond, Vanessa opened the door and was pushing the stroller inside. "Oh, hey!" she said, seeing the two of them sitting in the living room. "I was wondering when I'd see you! I had thought I'd call you later." She pulled Marlene from the stroller and began to take off her winter coat.

"I love that coat," Ava commented. "It's adorable. Wait til you see all the goodies we've picked up for her. I imagine she already has a lot, though, doesn't she?"

"Enough," Bobby interjected. "We're trying to keep that stuff under control."

"No such thing," Ava said, taking Marly from Vanessa. "You are so perfect, aren't you? You look just like your mommy--" she glanced sideways at Bobby --"except your cute little button nose...just like your daddy." Marly gurgled happily as Ava reached into her purse and pulled out a baby key ring, handing it to her.

Vanessa laughed. "Are you going to bring presents every time you come?"

"For her? Yes, definitely." She sat down on the floor and lay Marlene on her belly. "Antie has tons of great surprises for this little one." She watched Marlene begin to gnaw on the keys and chuckled. "It's good to watch you at home, where you belong. Where we both belong," she corrected herself, and noticed Vanessa was smiling at her.

"You and David should have another one," Vanessa said. "Before you get much older."

"We're thinking about it. But first I need to make sure I'm stable enough to keep my weight steady." As an afterthought, she added, "I'm up to 102."

"That's terrific, Ava," Bobby piped up, then, as if realizing himself for the first time, said, "I guess I'll leave you two to visit." He stood to go to the bedroom, kissing Vanessa on his way out.

Ava smiled at both of them, then continued to play with Marlene, and Vanessa joined her sister on the rug.

The package was on his desk when he arrived Friday morning. He picked it up, feeling its weight before he opened it.

"What's that?" Eames had rounded the corner with two cups of coffee, and handed him one.


"You gonna open it?"

He put it back on his desk. "Nah, I thought I would leave it here all day to invite questions from my nosy partner."

"Huh. Funny," she deadpanned, sitting across from him. He grinned at her and, using his letter opener, slit the top of the envelope.

There was a letter. Not long, a paragraph or two, telling him he deserved to know the kind of woman he had married. That he should have known before, but better late than never. He didn't want to see them, but felt compelled. He reached in and pulled out several clips from magazines, some from the United States, others from the UK or Australia, still others from Japan and Canada. One was even from the Soviet Union.

All were pictures of Vanessa, young and very pretty and very drunk, with an assortment of men and women, but all at parties, by his best guess. One man seemed to appear in more pictures, and he guessed it was the elusive Michael she had mentioned. In most of them, she was clearly stoned, eyes heavy-lidded and dilated. Vanessa in laps, Vanessa being felt up, Vanessa drinking with others, Vanessa licking the side of one man's face. He quickly shoved them back into the envelope, but not before Eames had gotten an eyeful.

She was gauging his reaction. It occurred to him that she probably knew more about this than he did, although they never talked about it. "I knew already," he heard himself say. "I already knew."

Eames nodded. "She'd be so ashamed. Who sent them to you?"

He didn't have to check the return address. "Her father." He shoved them in a bottom drawer.

Eames was shaking her head. "I don't know how he lives with himself. Are you going to tell her?"

He shook his head. "No," he said, "I can' will be too upsetting."

"Bobby." Her voice was sincere, low. "You have to tell her. She deserves to know."

"He sent something similar to Ava...just without the photos."

"Talk to her," Eames urged. "She needs to know. If he would send it to the two of you, who knows where else they could end up."

He picked up his pen and began to work on the paperwork in front of him. "I'll think about it."

The binder and an envelope were sitting on top of his dresser. He had taken Bruce for a walk, and she had stayed behind with the baby.

The envelope first caught her eye because it was out of place. Sometimes he brought home files of evidence, but it was always stored neatly inside the binder, or else left on the kitchen table. She had no intention of opening it, but when she got closer, she recognized the handwriting. She'd seen it before. Off and on for thirty years, mainly on birthday and Christmas cards, and occasionally on a check.

She picked it up and read the outside. It was addressed to Bobby, at his work address,and said something on the back about being urgent. She could see that Bobby had already slit the seal, probably with a letter opener, and she decided she would follow suit. A minute later her hands were full of photos, most of which she didn't recognize, much less remember. She sat down on the bed and spread them out in front of her.

There was one where she was surrounded with several young men and women, all musicians, and she could remember the acid they had done earlier in the evening. Shortly after the picture had been taken, they had left the party and gone upstairs. Her eyes closed, remembering the hands all over her body, and opening her eyes to see her boyfriend sitting in the armchair, smiling at her, as another man entered her body.

Picture after picture, split memory after split memory. She didn't hear him come in.

"I didn't want you to see this way," he was saying, and she could hear the pain in his voice. "Not this way, Beth...I was going to tell you, but not this way."

She lay down one picture, her and her old boyfriend. "I thought I loved him." Her voice was so soft he could hardly hear her. "I would have done anything to hold on to him." She picked the picture back up. "Daddy knew that. He knew I wanted to marry him, to have children with him. I wanted him to love me and I thought if I did all of this, he would." She picked up the group picture. "After they took this, we went upstairs. We'd done acid. It was some massive orgy. I just remember looking over at him...he was watching me and smiling...while his friend..."

"Stop this," Bobby's voice was a mix of agitation and sadness. "You don't have to do this to yourself. All of these people--they don't matter any more. God smiled on you and kept you physically safe until you got out. And you've built a solid life for yourself, after."

"The saddest part," she said, laughing hollowly, "is that I don't even remember who any of these people are." She looked up at him. "How do I explain this to Marlene? When she hears, what will she think? What will I say?"

He moved closer to her, taking the photos from her hand. "You'll tell her how much pain you were in, and how people in pain do anything they can to stop it. That you made some mistakes and you wish you hadn't, but your experiences made you decide you would do everything possible to make sure your own daughter never knew that kind of pain. Ever." He stroked the side of her face gently. "And she will respect you, because you're her mother, and you've worked insanely hard not to repeat your mistakes." He crumpled up the pictures. "This is how much value I put in these pictures. Or in your father's stories."

"They're true," she mumbled.

"Yes. And proof of how much a person can change, when they're determined to."

She heard Marly cry through the intercom, and on autopilot, got up to get her, but he caught her hand. "I'll go get her and bring her to you. Just get comfortable...I know she's hungry."

She nodded, and he took the pictures from her and threw them in the trash can before leaving the room.

She felt shellshocked, a part of her devastated that she couldn't even find the words for. Slowly she pulled her shirt off and unhooked her bra, then lay back against the pillows. He entered the room again, this time with a whimpering baby. He handed Marly to her and within seconds, the baby was curled firmly against her mother's side, feeding.

He sat next to her. "This is what matters," he said to no one in particular. "This. And when she's older, this is what she'll have imprinted on her brain. Maybe not the actual memory, but the feeling of you, there for her, loving her." He reached out and stroked Vanessa's hair. That will never leave, you know."

She tried to imagine that, her daughter's life in fifteen years, but her thoughts became mixed with her memories of caring for Liz, of cooking with Liz, of trying to keep Liz happy and alive and comforted. And in the end, all she was, was empty. A young, empty girl looking for anyone to love her, to fill her with something other than the heartbreak of losing one parent and never being good enough for the other.

Marlene was lightly sleeping now, still suckling occasionally at her breast, but Vanessa didn't move her. She was suddenly struck with the realization that this precious time with her daughter was fleeting. One day she would blink and it would be gone. Bobby began to reach for her but she stopped him. "No--she's okay. She's just finishing." He pulled his hands back and nodded gently, then stepped into the closet to undress.

When he emerged a few minutes later in his boxers, she had burped the baby and was holding her closely in the rocking chair. The lamp by the bed was on but the room was otherwise dark. She rocked back and forth slowly, holding Marly in her arms, unable to look up at him. He sat across from her, resting on the bed, until she finally said, "I almost failed. I almost failed with my life."

He reached over and rested a hand on her knee. "But you didn't, Ness," he whispered, and his voice was calm and soothing. "You didn't...and you're a gift to us. I need you and so does Marly."

She kissed the baby on the head and continued to rock her gently. Fortunate and blessed. That was her. Everything she was now. Fortunate and blessed.

He had been through the entire house and couldn't find her. Granted, it was big and there were rooms they never went in, but this was starting to get scary. It was four in the morning and she was nowhere to be found.

He finally stumbled into the recording studio's production room. She wasn't in there, but then he turned around, and he saw her. Inside the recording room. With the pictures.

She was taping them on the walls. More than he had received. He didn't know where she got the other ones, but they were full sized, eight by tens, and there were dozens of them. Having covered the back wall, she was now moving on to the side. She was moving top to bottom.slapping the pictures up one by one haphazardly. He watched in shocked fascination, becoming aware of the music blaring out of the room through a tiny speaker. He recognized it as a song that had been popular several years ago, one that ironically he had had sex to with a woman he was dating at the time. It was a sexy, slow song, and very descriptive. For a minute he was back in that woman's bed, moving over her to the beat, and then he realized here and now that it was his wife's voice. He shook the memory from his head and entered the recording room.

Slap! Another photo, this one of her nearly naked, covering her breasts with her hands in her legs positioned just so. She couldn't be more than twenty, eyes come-hither and mouth suggesting all sorts of sordid things. God, she had been beautiful. Sexy in a kittenish sort of way. He hated to admit it, but he could feel his groin tighten at the pictures. A black and white picture with a man's hands covering her ample breasts as her own hands covered her crotch. Another with her head lolling back on a strong black shoulder, eyes barely open. Slap! Slap! Slap!

She was well on her way to covering the second wall. Another photo went up, her at a party in a designer gown with a deep vee to her navel, and a length that hardly covered her ass. Thigh high lace-up boots. Slap! Another photo, this one of her body openly splayed over a man--the illustrious Michael, he supposed--with scarves hardly covering her nipples and pubic bone.

He felt as though he were standing in the middle of a Playboy photo shoot that everyone knew had gone horribly awry afterwards. There was absolutely no denying her beauty. The camera had loved her, worshipped her, and the men surrounding her certainly had taken advantage of that fact. She had the youthful glow of a twenty-year old, breasts that were full and round with the tilt of youth; lips softly swollen as if from being kissed just a bit too long. He found himself torturously conflicted. He had never seen pictures of her at this age before, and there was no denying the sexual energy in each of those photos. He felt a little sick, continuing to look, but didn't seem to be able to look away, until--

"It's okay," she said, slapping another photo on the wall, "everyone always looked. It's my own fault. If I didn't want them to look I should have worn-" slap! "fucking-" slap! "clothes."

"It''s not that," he said, trying to convince himself as much as he was trying to convince her. 'You're've never seen you so were were very pretty..."

She snorted. "Yeah, I was a doll." She slapped another photo up. "A blowup doll, maybe." She stepped back for a minute. "Look honey," she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm, "we've got our own little peep show going on in here!"

"Why are you doing this?" he asked, tearing his eyes away from the walls. "Why have you printed out all of these? Hung them in here?"

She stepped back and put her hands on her hips. "I'm building a shrine," she said, "for my dad."

He felt a little sick. "Vanessa, he can't come over here. You need to take this down."

She slapped another photo on the wall. "Have you ever heard of the term emotional rape?"

"Yes, but-"

"But what, Goren? Isn't that what he does to me over and over again?"

He didn't answer her, and she stuck another photo in between to others. "All the time. He never stops. What kind of a father sends pictures like these to his daughter's husband? You know who? One who thinks about his daughter sleeping with other people. One who likes to degrade and humiliate his own child. So I'm making a special room for him. He can come over and look all he likes. I'll even leave him a roll of paper towels in here so he can clean up after himself."

"Stop," he said sharply. "Enough."

"What? It's what he wants."

"It's sick!" He reached past her and began to take the photos down. She grabbed his arm.

"What? You think I'm crazy, don't you? Admit it! What did you think when you opened that envelope? What did you think he thought about me?"

He was flustered, standing still, staring at her. "I..."

"You what? What did you think, Bobby? Don't tell me you didn't think that he thought about it!"

He took a step toward her, gently touching her arm. "Did he...did he ever..."

"No," she snapped, yanking her arm back. "He never had to." She turned around, staring at the pictures, before finally speaking. "Look at me. Porn for my own father."

There was a stillness, a silence, that was incredibly painful. Suddenly, she heard him, loud and angry. "Bullshit! This is bullshit!" He grabbed at the pictures on the wall, ripping them with loud, angry noises. The paper balled up and he threw it behind him, cursing and ripping and throwing as she stood in shocked silence. He continued for three or four more minutes until he finally turned to her, out of breath. "So?" he demanded. "Are you going to let him? Or are you going to fight?" He shoved a photo at her, and she stared at him, shocked and confused. "Take it," he demanded loudly. Seeing her frightened expression, he lowered his voice. "Take it. Rip it. Fuck him. He's not allowed in this house. He's not allowed near our daughter. I won't have it. I won't have him here hurting you any more. Fuck him, Vanessa...from now on he'll have to go through me. Fuck him!" He ripped another photo off the wall, balling it up and throwing it down. "You do it," he urged. "Do it. Rip it up. It's not who you are any more. You can't be abused like that any more. You're stronger than it. Your father, your boyfriend, all of those men...they mean nothing." He tore another one down. "Do it, it..."

She was watching him intently, muscles tight throughout her body. She hadn't moved other than to take the photo from him. His strong hands ripped the photos into tiny pieces, balling them up and throwing them across the room into the wall on the far side. "Bastards," he muttered, "Goddamned child molesters...fucking bastards..."

"I wasn't a child," she protested quietly, but he ripped a photo of her off of the wall, eighteen years old and nearly nude, covered by a thin fragment of fabric. "You might as well have been," he said angrily, crumpling the photo. "Who the hell does he think he is? He should have been stopping this. Where was he, Vanessa?" When she didn't answer, her voice got louder, more aggravated. "Where the hell was he?"

"He left me," she whimpered softly, and watched as he yanked another picture off the wall, tearing it into tiny pieces.

"Fucking bastard," he said. "Do it."

And suddenly she did. She was reaching for the wall, scraping it raw with her fingers, pulling the photos away with the force of her whole body. "Fucker," she said angrily, tearing the photo and hurling it across the room.

"Do it again! Goddamned motherfucking dick!"

She did, yanking them in large groups, raising her voice now, cursing. Hurtling the pictures across the room. Ripping them into minute pieces that could never be reassembled. Her body was shaking, her eyes blurred with tears, as she screamed hysterically until Bobby grabbed her.

She was panting and sweating, feeling the bile rise in the back of her throat, and she suddenly realized he was yelling her name. When her eyes focused on him, he smiled, then began to laugh loudly, hysterically, in relief.

"Vanessa! You know what this means, don't you?" He was shaking her by the shoulders, and she shook her head blankly. No, she didn't know. That she was crazy? That she had too much ink in her printer? "It means that this is about him, not about you! This doesn't mean anything about you. It's all about him and his failure as a father! These pictures!" He yanked a handful down and shook them. "This isn't about anything you did's about him! How he abandoned you, he left you to navigate a dangerous world alone. He failed you! We would never do this to Marly...ever...and it should have never been done to you! There is nothing in these for you to be ashamed of...nothing...the shame is only his. Do you hear me, Beth? Do you hear me?"

And she did...she was shaking and sweating and she heard herself responding to him--"Yes! was wasn't me...I was only eighteen...I was only a kid..." And her tears spilled hotly down her face.

"And when you weren't a kid any more you did moved made other choices. Look at him! Look at this goddamned loser! He's in his fifties and still doing this shit!"

They ripped and ripped the photos repeatedly, as she cried harder and harder and he encouraged her to continue. Finally she sank to the middle of the floor, a mess of tears and scrambled words and ripped pictures, hands covered in ink and paper cuts. He squatted next to her, taking her hands into his, kissing each finger as she sobbed uncontrollably. "Beth," he soothed now, voice quiet and calm, "I'm going to take care of you now. No more Ryan. No more, ever."

He was pulling her to a standing position, and she leaned against his body. He led her out of the recording room, out of the production room, and through the rest of the house. It was nearly six a.m. and he knew she was exhausted, mentally and physically. Goddamn Ryan Rayden to hell, he thought, as Vanessa shuddered against him. "Marly," she whispered, looking up at him, and he kissed her forehead gently. "She's's okay." She nodded at him and continued to walk with him down the hall and into the master room. He sat her on the toilet and turned the water on in the tub.

"It's okay, baby," he told her, kissing her wrists. "We need to soak your fingers...they're cut..." he pulled her tee off, then gently slid her boxers down. Seeing his wife's nude body, he was reminded of the hundreds of photos they had just destroyed, photos of the same body but younger, a body before the painful scars of her assault and the more joyous ones of childbirth and as his eyes met her own, he knew he would never want her any way than she was right now, standing in front of him.

He guided her into the tub, then grabbing a washcloth, began to wash her fingertips gently. After several minutes, she spoke. "Bobby...I need you here with me."

"I am-" But he understood her request, and slipping out of his boxers, he slid into the tub behind her. She pressed her back against his soft chest, then passively let him continue to soak and wash her fingers.

After several minutes they lay together in the tub, resting together. "Bobby," she finally said softly, "you were right about everything. I didn't know any better...I was just a kid trying to survive." She brought his arm around her chest and leaned back, resting her head against his shoulder. "I didn't know what else to do. They told me I needed to do that if I would make it. Then they told me what I needed to do to get and keep a boyfriend...then he told me what I had to do to make him happy...somehow in there it never occurred to me that I was being manipulated. All I wanted--" her voice broke on the words. "All I wanted was to be loved."

His hands were wrapped around her body. "Now you are," he told her softly. "You'll always be loved as long as I'm around.. I promise."

Suddenly she turned around, splashing the water against the side of the tub and facing him fully. "You are too," she announced, her voice strong and determined. "You are loved tremendously, by me and by your daughter and by your friends. I'm so lucky. Thank you for loving me."

His soapy hands cupped her face, then pressed his lips against hers. "I never thought I could love you more than I did on the day we were married...but here we are."

She smiled against his mouth, then kissed him back. "I guess they're just grows."

She slowly opened her eyes. Marly was babbling in the bassinet, a happy sound, and Bobby was snoring softly next to her. She looked at her husband's naked chest, remembering the night before, and sighed. Nobody understood her like he did. Nobody ever had.

She sat up and picked up the baby, cradling her close as she began to nurse. Part of her obsessed on the idea of being Marlene's lifeline; not only her caregiver but her provider of nourishment, of life. An extension of herself, now living outside of her body. But then she wondered how emotionally healthy it was to think of her daughter in those terms, if it tore away Marly's own identity and enmeshed it with hers. Marly was looking up at her with big brown eyes now, something she had only recently begun to do while she nursed, and Vanessa responded the way she always did--by smiling and stroking the baby's sparse, soft hair.

"I wish somebody would feed me breakfast in bed like that." Bobby was teasing her, sleepy, hair tousled, watching her with a pleasing smile on his face. "She looks super comfortable."

"She probably is," Vanessa responded, still watching her, and feeling the tug from her breast deep into her heart. She wondered if her mother had loved her this much.

He leaned over and kissed the side of her head. "What do you say I go make us some breakfast in bed? It's been a long time since we ate in bed like we used to."

She nodded. "What are you going to make?"

"Something quick and a surprise good for you?"

"A surprise is excellent."He stood up and went through his drawer for a minute, pulling out a clean pair of boxers and donning them before winking at her and leaving the room.

When she finished feeding the baby, Vanessa changed and dressed her, then brought her back to the bed. They lay together for a long while, passing toys back and forth while Marly grabbed and gummed and laughed. "You like this one," Vanessa laughed at her daughter's excitement over a plastic keyring. "Only four months old and already anxious to leave home, huh?"

Bobby brought breakfast in--eggs and bacon and toast with juice--and they began to eat together. He laughed. "I think she wants to eat too...she keeps trying to digest those keys."

Vanessa chuckled. "Yeah, those are her favorite, I think." She jiggled the keys as Marly held them and the baby babbled more, trying to grab the shaking keys. She reached over and stroked Marly's hair gently.

Bobby put his plate down. "What are you thinking about? You have that expression again..."

She smiled slightly. "Nothing really...just how beautiful she is. How we made something so beautiful." She was quiet for a moment. "I need to go clean up the studio."

"Nah," he said, picking up his plate. "I already did it."

She looked at him, shocked. "When?"

He took a bite of his bacon. "This morning, after you fell asleep." At her surprised expression, he said, "It wasn't had already taken everything off the walls...I just swept it up."

She was staring at him again. He felt it as he ate his bacon. As he finished his second piece, he finally looked up at her. "What?" He shrugged. "It's not like I didn't enjoy it."

"If you say so," she said, taking a bite of toast. "By the way, we need a new toner cartridge for your took a bit of a beating last night."

"It was worth it," he said. "Completely."


The house was exactly how she remembered it from the picture. Ava had sent her one, many years ago, when Vanessa was still overseas and Ava was finishing up school. She stood outside, watching the children through the window, sitting at the dinner table and eating politely. The little girl was older, and her long dark hair hung past her shoulders. It had been pinned back at the side by a barrette, and her brother sat across from her, tiny enough that only his head and neck were visible over the tabletop. Their mother, still dressed in her work suit, sat at the end farthest from the window. Her hair was beautifully done, dark waves cascading down past her shoulders. It gave Vanessa a strange feeling to know that her stepmother was clearly several years younger than her.

Ryan was sitting at the end of the table, back to her, drinking from his daily glass of wine. She wondered if the house was peaceful, if it was happy; if the children at the table were joyful children who laughed and played, or if they were as doll-like as they appeared through the window. She tried to imagine Bobby and Meg and herself sitting at their table like that, posed and poised, enjoying a picture-perfect roast chicken. Last night she and Bobby had eaten pizza in bed, after Marly had nursed and fallen asleep. They had watched some sort of reality show and laughed their asses off before finally laying Marlene in her bassinet and going to sleep. She wondered if this woman, Kate, ever laughed. From the looks of it, roast chicken was of great importance in this Rayden household.

She clutched the envelopes in her hands. It had taken more than an hour to dig out all the photos he had mailed to Bobby from the trash, and that was after she had convinced Bobby to help her. He had shaken his head and told her it wasn't worth it, but she had insisted on returning them. When she explained what she needed to do, he had sighed, then sat on the floor and watched her for several moments before beginning to dig through the shredded papers. "I don't know that he'll stop," he told her, "but I know that's not the point."

Convincing Ava to give her the letter had been easier. Once Ava realized she knew, she had willingly handed the letter over to her. It was vicious, perhaps more vicious than the one to her husband, because it was written to someone that Ryan was trying to hold on to. But Ava had nodded to her and told her that she understood why. Then she had held Vanessa tightly, hugging her in a way that was vaguely reminiscent of their mother. It had given her the courage to make it out to Long Island, to Ryan's house.

Determined, she approached the front porch and rang the bell.

After a few seconds, Kate opened the door. "I'm sorry, we're--" She stopped speaking, clearly recognizing the woman in front of her. Vanessa wondered if her father had wanted posters with her picture on it around the house.

"You must be Kate," she said, then held out her hand. "I'm Vanessa...Ryan's daughter. I'm sorry to disturb you at dinner."

Kate hesitantly shook her hand. "It's nice to meet you...please, come in..." Vanessa followed her into the house. "I'll go get your father."

A place for everything and everything in its place. That was Ryan to a tee, and apparently he had found his female counterpart. The house was immaculate, down to the neatly arranged television remotes. She bit her lip remembering how she and Bobby had looked everywhere for the remote last night, only to find he'd been sitting on it. She had teased him about having a stick up his ass. That hiding the channel changer under his ass wasn't what they meant when they called it a "remote".

There were a few sounds of eating from another room; silverware lightly tinkling as it touched dinnerware, water glasses being refilled, quiet conversation from adult voices. Not a sound from the children. It figured, she thought.

She heard a heavy chair moving in the other room accompanied by angry, hushed voices, then heavy footsteps heading toward her. He was there before she had a chance to feel frightened or anxious.

"Get out," he said steadily, pointing to the front door. "As you can see, I don't allow trash in my house."

"I'm returning these to you," she said, holding out the envelopes that had been sent to Ava and Bobby, as well as their contents. He didn't make a move to touch them, so she laid them on the table next to her. "If you try something like that again, I will sue you and slap a restraining order on you."

He laughed. "You can't sue me for something that's true. Do you really think I'm stupid?" He leaned forward. "I already checked with my attorney. You can't touch me."

She stood straight, her face looking into his. "I can't sue you for slander, as much as I'd like to. But I can sue you for harassment. I can take out a complaint against you for child abuse. I can keep you so wound up in court for the next twenty years you won't know which end is up. At the end of the day, I have more money than you. And more connections. These pictures you're so fond of, they paid for that, remember? How ironic would it be if they paid to sue you? And I promise you, if you don't leave me and my family alone, I will use them."

"Child abuse?" he sneered. "Your time is up. That statute of limitations is long gone."

"Maybe for me," she said quietly, "but not for them." Her head nodded toward the dining area, and she watched him blanch.

"You can't prove anything...I've never laid a hand on any of my children. Including you."

"You've emotionally abused all of us. And if we go to court, I won't be standing alone." She turned toward the door. "Goodbye, Daddy."


"'s our last session, right?" He was sitting across from Lydia, in his favorite jeans and a turtleneck. He had been looking forward to this time, until Vanessa had winked, smacked him on the ass, and told him he looked sexy in his jeans. Now all he wanted to do was go home and follow up.

Lydia smiled. "Yes, our last one. Are you good with that, still?"

"I think so. I'm feeling pretty, I don't know, settled." He rested his ankle on his opposite thigh and began to shake his foot. Nervous energy. He'd never get rid of it.

"Settled...that's different for you."

"Yes." He thought about it for a moment, then smiled. "Settled. It's good. I think a lot of it is because of Marly. She's, uh, good for me...for both of us."

"So it sounds like you're feeling more confident in your ability to be a father."

His foot was still shaking back and forth. "It's Vanessa's father. He's been so...out of's been hard on everyone. Ava confronted him in therapy. He said some really nasty things about Beth...about her sexual past. He sent me and Ava letters about her, and mine came complete with magazine photographs from twelve years ago."

Lydia was watching him carefully. "How did you feel about that?"

He sat back, crossing his arms. "Honestly? I was absolutely furious. I wanted to take my piece and put a bullet through his skull. I mean, at what point is it enough? How much hurt is enough to make you feel like you got her back?" He shook his head. "I'm not even sure what he's trying to get her back for."

Lydia nodded. "Actually, I was wondering how you felt receiving those pictures of your wife."

He froze, then glanced up at her. "Conflicted," he finally answered. "Angry at him, angry at her, jealous of that idiot ex of hers...I almost felt like some sort of sexually naive teenager. And--" he stopped, and his foot began to shake again.

"And what?" she pressed him. "Aroused? That would be normal, you know."

He drew a sharp intake of breath. "Yeah, maybe...for about a nanosecond."


The foot stilled. "I suppose...again, for a the end, all I kept thinking about was him and how a father could do that to his own child. It's the kind of behavior that I see in my work...between exes who have terrible splits, or business partners trying to discredit one another. But not parents and children. Not a father and his daughter." He was picking at his sock when a smile spread across his face. "We did this thing...she did it...she printed out hundreds of pictures of herself from back then and taped them all over her studio. I have no idea what she was thinking...she said something about her father using her like porn." His smile disappeared.

"What did you think about that?"

"I thought--I think...I think she's probably right. She said he emotionally rapes her. Honestly, I can't think of a better term to describe it. It's constant humiliation, and with this being so highly sexualized..." He shook his head.

Lydia crossed her hands. "So what did the two of you do? You said--"

He grinned at the memory. "She was so angry. It was three in the morning and there were all of these pictures...God, I had no idea there were so many pictures like that...we tore them down. Cursing and screaming and ripping the paper. Insanely good. It felt insanely good."

Lydia nodded. "I would imagine so, for both of you...why do you suppose it was helpful for you?"

He shook his head. "I'm not sure really...other than I was so pissed at him, so tired of watching him stick it to her over and over again. She'd block him one way and he'd come up with another. He used Ava, he used Marly...whatever and whoever he could come up with." His eyes darted up to her. "What I realized...what we both we don't have it in us to ever hurt our daughter like that. The thought of repeating my father's mistakes...her father's mistakes...turns my stomach. I hold my daughter and she smiles and it's like the biggest miracle on the planet. Like my own personal sun came up."

"And if she made choices you didn't agree with when she got older..."

"I'd deal with it." He said it with conviction and confidence. "Marly will be her own person and I'm not naive enough to think we'll always agree." A sweet smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. "There may even come a time when we disagree more than agree. But I've come to believe that I don't have the capacity to be vicious to my own daughter. My wife doesn't either...we both love her far too much."

Lydia nodded. "You seem to have made peace with that."

"One thing..." he mused, "How is it possible for a parent behave this way? To hurt their own child so severely? For my dad to beat the shit out of me...for her father to do the things he does?"

"Your father was an addict, Bobby. Addiction puts itself by nature ahead of every other relationship. As for Vanessa's father, I can only speculate..."

"That he's narcissistic? That he never wanted children?"

"Or that he sees his children as such a strong extension and representation of himself that he can't allow them to have their own identities and punishes them for doing so."

He thought about that for a moment,then nodded. "I don't ever want it to be that way for Marlene."

"Then it won't be. As long as you stay aware and keep working on your parenting skills, you're going to be a terrific dad."

He smiled nervously. "I hope she thinks so, one day."


"Okay, got it." He adjusted the star at the top of the tree one last time, then stepped off the stool onto the floor. "What do you think?"

Vanessa scooped Marly into her arms and stood in front of the tree, tilting her head to the side. "Not bad, for a guy who used to hate Christmas."

He snorted at her, and she smirked at him. "You like it, you know you do," he told her, nudging her arm. "So...are we going to continue our tradition this Christmas Eve? Fondue, church, and...uh..." He looked at his daughter. "Well..."

Vanessa laughed. "Uh, yeah. We ended up having a bit of a Christmas surprise from last year, huh?"

"Just a late Christmas really think it was from Christmas Eve?" He had thought about it a hundred times, and even though it could have been a few days before or a few days after, he liked to think it had happened that night, under the tree.

She shrugged her shoulders. "Why not? It's not like we can disprove it. Might as well indulge the fantasy, huh?"

He reached around her, hooking his thumb in her belt loop for a second before dropping it down to stroke her ass. She shook her head at him. "One track mind...even with the baby right here..."

He grinned at her again. "You never answered my question...are we going to stick with our routine this year?"

She kissed his cheek. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it...but you are going to have to make one minor me a favor and wear a raincoat this year..."

He leaned over and kissed his baby daughter before gently nipping Vanessa's ear. "Consider it done." He stepped back, admiring the tree, and smiled. "I'm getting to love this Christmas thing," he mused out loud. "I really am."

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Part Four

She sat up straight in bed, the pitch blackness surrounding her. It took a minute to realize she was alone in the bed. He wasn't there. She turned to check the bassinet on her other side, only to find it empty as well. Smiling to herself in anticipation, she slipped from the bed.

She padded quietly down the hall to Marly's room. As she approached, she could hear him engaging in this early morning ritual that he had begun shortly after Marly came home. This time he was reading Winnie the Pooh, voice soft and soothing. The last time she had heard him, it had been Oh, The Places You'll Go!.

She stood in the doorway watching him as he held their tiny daughter close, her head tucked in the crook of his elbow, pausing every paragraph or two to kiss her head or cheek. His hair was tousled from sleep and his chin was thick with stubble. She wondered if Marly liked the feel of his face against her sensitive skin, if she could smell her daddy's pleasant scent as she lay curled in his arms. She looked cherished and precious and so, so loved.

The chair rocked gently back and forth as he continued to read. He was reaching the end of the chapter, and as if on cue, Marlene began to wriggle in his arms, a sure sign that she was growing restless. Vanessa knew she was hungry, but watching this moment seemed too special to interrupt. He finished reading just as Marly began to whimper, and Bobby laughed softly and kissed her tiny head once more. "You're hungry, aren't you?" he whispered. "I can practically hear that tiny belly from here...we need to go find your mama." Just then his eyes caught Vanessa watching in the doorway. He smiled at her. "Look, Marly...your mama came to find you. I bet she knows you're hungry too."

"Mmm...I guessed correctly," she teased, taking his place in the rocking chair once he stood. She pulled off her tank top, taking the baby from him and beginning to nurse her. He pulled a chair up close to her, watching intently. She smiled at him. "What?"

He shook his head. "I'm just amazed...your body is an amazing thing."

"Eh, you're just jealous." Marlene was suckling eagerly, and she couldn't help but chuckle. "Slow down there, cowgirl...I promise I won't take it away."

He was resting his head in his hand, elbow on his knee. "I guess she's really hungry."

"Well, when you only eat a few ounces at a time..." She switched sides, and Marlene quickly latched on to continue. Vanessa glanced over at him. "You're like a voyeur or like to watch," she teased him, and he smiled again.

"I just think it's amazing. Your body can do amazing things. What can mine do, really? Nothing as cool as yours." He shook his head.

She ran a finger across the downy hair on top of her daughter's head. "Well, if it weren't for your body, my body would be limited in its abilities here." She paused, watching Marlene's closed eyes. "She's falling asleep again."

He placed the burp rag over his shoulder and motioned for Vanessa to hand the baby to him. She did, watching him firmly, carefully pat her back. He was so good with her, so gentle, that Vanessa often found herself watching him and wondering where he had picked it all up. She guessed it came from the books he read--that and an incredibly strong desire to be a good father.

He nodded toward the door. "I'm going to lay her back in the bassinet...are you going back to bed?"

She stretched. "Yes...I think for a little bit, anyway. It's not quite six." Standing, she followed him to the bedroom and climbed across the bed as he lay Marlene down. Vanessa held the covers for him. "Coming?"

He shook his head. "I need to go in anyway...I'd no sooner drift off than have to get up again." Leaning over, his lips gently grazed her forehead. "I'll see you tonight, though...I love you."

She watched him go into the bathroom and heard the shower start. Closing her eyes, she drifted back into a relaxing sleep.


Bobby was focused on the gun's muzzle pressed against the little girl's head. "Malcom, we--we can talk about this. Just...just let her go. You have me here. If you hurt her, there's no going back from that--"

"It's too late anyway!" His voice was shrill, panicked, and Goren could see his eyes darting quickly between the child in his grip, the body on the floor, and the two detectives facing him with guns drawn. "It's too late." The shrill lowered and turned griefstricken. "It wasn't supposed to happen like this."

Goren held his own hands up. "I know, Malcom. You loved your family. Look, I'm going to put down my gun, okay? I'll put down my gun. You let your daughter go with Detective Eames, and you and I can talk. Okay?" He kept his head bowed, but his eyes were focused on the perp. He didn't dare look at the little girl.

Malcom was sweating, shaking his head. "I don't know!" His grip tightened on the little girl.

"Malcom," Goren kept his voice low. "I just became a dad myself. Everyone knows you love your daughter. We can see it. You don't want to hurt her. You're a good father. Let her go with my partner...let her go somewhere safe. That's what good fathers--good fathers like me and you--that's what we do. We protect our kids. Let her go, Malcom."

Something he said seemed to resonate with the man, as Malcom suddenly caught his breath and seemed to relax a bit. "Okay..." His voice steadier, he spoke to his daughter softly. "Elena...Elena," his lip began to tremble, "go with the nice lady..." The child hesitated, and Malcom nudged her forward. When Elena still didn't move, he pushed her harder toward Eames.

"Go, Elena!" he yelled. The child began to cry as Eames grabbed her wrist and pulled her forward, wrapping her other arm around Elena and leading her quickly out of the room.

"Now we're alone," Goren said calmly. "You made a good choice for your've proven you're a good father."

"A good father," Malcom choked, "provides for his child. A good father doesn't lose his temper." The panic level in his voice began to rise again. "Have you ever lost everything you know? Failed to provide for your child?" He laughed bitterly, a hysterical edge to his voice. "Of course not," he said cynically. "You just became a father."

"You've provided well for her. It's not your fault that times are tough. She needs you though...she's going to need you..." Goren was slowly moving closer.

The shrill tone returned to Malcom's voice. "She'll never forgive me! Look at what I did to her mother!" He kicked the dead form at his feet.

"Malcom, listen to me--"

"No!" His eyes were lit with a frightening energy as he paced back and forth, parallel to his wife's body. "There is no explanation that will work for way to fix this..."

"She'll need to hear you explain...she still needs her father, no matter what." He was grasping for words, truthful words that would still make DeVry put down the gun. The truth was, there wasn't a way to fix this. Malcom had murdered the child's mother in cold blood. Taking an imperceptible breath, Goren took a step toward him and reached out a hand. "Give me the gun, Malcom. Don't make Elena lose two parents in one day." He was staring into Malcom's crazed eyes, holding himself steady, feeling the tightwire in his body that he always felt in situations like this. One misstep.... "She deserves better."

Malcom again steadied his breath and stilled his movements. "Yes," he said suddenly, devoid of emotion, "She does."

Goren lunged for the gun, not quite realizing he was too late even as the splatter of blood hit his shirt.

He sat patiently on the examination table, waiting for the doctor to finish writing his report. "Detective." The doctor handed a copy of his report to Goren. "You should be fine, but I want you to take a few days off. You don't have any injuries other than your hand. We'll get you set up with painkillers to help while you're recovering. And I'll refer you to an orthopedist."

Eames was right outside his door when the doctor left, and he watched him hand her the official copy of his medical report for Deakins. She took it and nodded, slipping it into her purse, before entering the room. "This is the best I could do," she told him as she handed him a polo shirt. "They didn't have anything else in the gift shop."

He nodded, then began to attempt to pull the shirt over his head, which was proving to be a bit more difficult than he had originally anticipated. With his hand set, he felt as though he was left with one feasible appendage, and a leftover paw. The fact that shirt was at least one size too small didn't help, but he wasn't about to complain. Eames reached over and gently tugged the shirt over his hand and he nodded at her. "Thanks."

"You okay?" she asked for the first time. He had seen her watching him closely, ever since he had left the house. Watching for some sort of sign as to whether or not he was blaming himself for Malcom DeVry's death. She knew him too well. He would have done the same for her.

He held out his hand and gave a wry smile. "Well, other than a fractured wrist from when I hit that gun, I'm fine."

She looked concerned. "Bobby, are you sure? And I don't mean about your wrist. You know, this was not your fault." She shook her head. "We saved that little girl. He would have killed her if you hadn't talked him down from it. That's a success in my book."

"Right, Eames," he responded, looking at his hand as though the bandage was fascinating. "Look, I'm not supposed to go back to work until Monday...if it's all right I'm going to get my prescription and go on home."

She looked stunned, if not hurt, but nodded. " you want me to drive you? You probably shouldn't be just wandering around wherever..."

"I'll be okay. You didn't call Vanessa, did you?"

"No," she replied, and he could tell from her tone that she was uncomfortable with his decision to keep this turn of events from his wife. "You said you would do that..."

He nodded. "Everything will be fine...tell Deakins I'll be back on Monday."

"Okay..." She left him alone, with only one suspicious glance over her shoulder.

He waited patiently until a young, attractive nurse brought his prescriptions to him. "Detective Goren, here you are," she said pleasantly, handing him the prescriptions. "I'm sorry it took a few minutes...we tend to get backed up sometimes. Now, just remember with this medicine, it's pretty heavy duty, so don't do any driving--" she smiled then, a pretty, flirtatious smile "--or gun practice."

He smiled, in an effort to be polite. "I think I'll be away from my gun for awhile."

"Yes...well, if you have any questions, you can call us at this number...and come back if the pain gets worse."

He nodded, smiling as she left the room, then picked up the bloody shirt and jacket. He tossed them in the trash and headed down the hallway to the elevator.

He didn't intend to press the up button, but his hand seemed to gravitate to it, and after just a moment of reluctance, he hit it quickly, as though it was a permanent commitment on his behalf. Twenty seconds later he found himself on the eating disorders unit and approached the nurse's desk.

Ava was in the day room, playing solitaire. A couple other younger women were in the same room; one was watching television and the other was reading a book. He approached her slowly, not even knowing why, feeling as though this was a bad idea but his feet...his feet had other ideas. Slowly he sunk into a chair across from her.

She glanced up at him, then did a double take. "Bobby, what the hell are you doing here? Where's my sister? Is she okay?" She caught sight of his hand. "What happened to you?"

"I thought I could stop something...he almost put it down...I misjudged it." His eyes slowly met hers. "I thought...and now she has nobody...and I almost think it's better for her."

"I have no idea what the fuck you're talking about," Ava confessed, "but you look like shit."

"Ava," he said softly, drawing abstract designs on the table with a finger from his good hand, "what if I turn out to be another Ryan? Another Frank? Another Malcom? What if...what if Marlene is better off without me too?"

She sat back in her chair, shuffling the cards in her hands, and blew out a long breath of air. "You must have really been through something this morning. Let me tell you something, Bobby. You may be a lot of things, but you will never, ever be Ryan." She continued to shuffle the cards haphazardly as she spoke. "I've seen you with the baby. Bad dads don't act the way you do. Marlene is one lucky kid. And Vanessa is lucky too. You talk with her all the time. She can tell you anything. Did you know that? Anything. Do you know how rare that is? For whatever reason, she trusts you. And to gain trust from a Rayden woman...that's a rare feat." She shook her head. "I wish David and I could do that."

He was staring at her, but she had the keen feeling he wasn't anywhere nearby. "He killed his wife. He had lost his job and he killed his wife. His daughter was next...we got her out...I thought I could talk him down."

Ava leaned forward, cards sandwiched in between her hands. "I hate to break it to you, Bobby, but you can't win 'em all. And you don't sound anything like this guy, whoever he is." She went back to sorting her cards for another game of solitaire. "Go home to your wife. Tell her about your day. Ask her if she has any worries about you failing as a husband or father. Because you're like me. Your biggest critic is yourself."

He pushed the chair back, then took another look at her. "You're looking healthier," he said. "Good for you."

She snorted. "I'm trying. Now go home." She shooed him with her hand, turning back to her game, and he stood and left, feeling a bit more confident in himself, and a bit more ready to talk with his wife.

Vanessa had just laid Marlene down again when she heard the front door open and shut. She could feel the adrenaline beginning to rush through her. It was two in the afternoon, and Bobby always called if he was coming home early. Breathe, she reminded herself. There's no way anyone could have gotten past the front desk downstairs. But then all of the possibilities for how that could happen began invading her brain, and impulsively she silently shut the bedroom door and locked it, then grabbed her cell.

The rap on the door startled her. "'s me." She unlocked the door and yanked it open, seeing him standing there in a polo shirt two sizes too small and his dress pants.

"What the hell?" She tugged at the front of the shirt as he stepped into the room, then caught sight of his hand. "Oh my God, Bobby...what happened? What's going on?"

He reached up with his good hand and touched her hair. "I'm fine...everyone is fine...I was a bad morning."

"I'll say. What the hell happened to you?"

He motioned to the bed, sitting down heavily himself. She joined him, then asked, "What is it?"

"A hostage situation," he began, and immediately winced at his detective jargon. "Except we didn't know it when we got there...he had already killed his wife. We heard the shots from outside the door." He continued to explain the story, watching Vanessa's eyes widen in horror and then close in sadness. As he finished explaining the suicide, she opened her eyes again. "And your hand?"

"Just a fractured wrist...I lunged for the gun but I missed...hit his wrist and the barrel harder than I anticipated."

She reached over and touched his face gently. "I'm so sorry, Bobby. That poor kid...but you did all you could. She'll remember that." She could read his expression, one full of doubt, and she said firmly, "You need to remember that."

"I'm trying...I really am." His eyes closed, willing the tears not to come but he felt them anyway, felt the helplessness of standing so close and being unable to stop Malcom DeVry from taking his own life. He had tried, had moved as quickly as he could, but it just hadn't been fast enough. He thought of how, when he had exited the house, little Elena had been with the paramedics. When he had walked over to her, she had said, "Mister...where's my dad?"

"He can't come right now," he had said, kneeling to her level. "I'm so sorry, Elena."

Her tiny lips had trembled before saying, "I want my mama. Can you help her? Please?"

The tears rolled down his face now, and he could feel Vanessa's hands on his cheeks, stroking his tears away, then her lips settling on his mouth, warm and familiar. "You're a good cop," she whispered, slipping her body into his lap. His eyes stayed closed but he ran his hand over her back slowly, firmly, confirming her presence. "And an incredible husband." She kissed his eyelids softly, then willingly complied as he pressed her body closer to his own. "And an amazing daddy." Her voice had dropped to a whisper and she held his face still. "Look at me," she commanded softly, and his eyes slowly opened to take her in. "Don't you doubt that. Don't you ever doubt how amazing you are, Robert Goren."

His eyes held hers for a few precious seconds before he closed them again, pulling her lips into his for a slow, deep kiss. She wrapped her body tighter around his, opening her mouth and touching his tongue with her own. He sat passively, lost in the sensation, until the memory of Malcom's last seconds came back to him--then, in an effort to erase it, he caught her head with his hand, holding her still, plunging his own tongue into her mouth. Tasting her, needy, running his tongue against hers, sliding along her teeth, tangling. She began to pull away but he groaned softly, an effort to communicate his need, and she was placated. She stayed in his lap, receiving his kiss. He left her mouth and moved to her cheek, her neck, her ear, sucking and nipping. She could feel his tears against her face as he kissed and stroked her.

He always said she was his everything, and he knew it was true as he slid his lips over her face and neck. She tasted like sweetness and sex, everything contradictory, and he wanted more of her. From the first time they had made love, he had known he was lost to her. Everything familiar and everything foreign, all things comforting and all things exciting were encompassed in her, and he wanted to feel her body against his. Her breasts were pressed firmly against his chest; he could feel her hardened nipples brushing his chest through their clothing and he held her tightly, afraid to let her go.

His erection pressed against her belly and she knew where this was leading. She knew her husband, knew his propensity for vulnerability, impulsivity, and guilt. It hadn't been long enough since the baby's birth, and they were supposed to wait for another week. Despite his need and desire, she knew he'd never forgive himself if they discarded the doctor's advice. "Bobby--" she pulled away slightly. He was reticent to let her go, eyes still closed, lips pressed against her neck, hand on the back of her head. She put both hands on his shoulders and forcibly pushed him back several inches. "Look at me."

His eyes slowly opened and the pain she saw almost took her breath away. She knew the words before he said them.

He couldn't help it. This routine of his, the need to apologize for his most primitive desires always seemed to rear its head. "I'm sorry...I'm so sorry...this isn't appropriate...I know..."

She pressed a finger against his lips. "Hush. You haven't done anything wrong." Her hand slipped in between them, resting on the zipper of his trousers. She could feel the thickness of his erection and he sighed heavily. He needed to leave the room, to get back in his right mind.

"I'm gonna go make some lunch," he said, trying to disentangle himself, but she refused to move, caressing him through his pants.

"No." She leaned over and brushed her lips on his temple. "We can't have sex, but you're not going anywhere...not yet. Not until you've let me comfort you." Her words stilled him, and he sat patiently, wondering what her next move would be. She pulled the polo off slowly, moving her mouth only to kiss him. Both of her hands moved to the buttons on his trousers, unbuttoning and unzipping slowly, her eyes focused on him, her lips caressing his softly every few seconds.

She had expected him to object. That would be typical for him, always the gentleman, protecting her from his pain or anything that might remotely resemble him taking advantage of her. But he didn't. He needed this, needed her, needed the confirmation that she loved him as a husband, as a man, as her man. He couldn't turn away from her. As she slid his zipper down and slipped one hand through his boxers, his mouth opened slightly, then his eyes closed. She kissed the tears as they fell and ran her thumb gently over the tip of him, rubbing gently.

His eyes didn't open, but the words were soft and loving. "I love you...I--I need you...I don't want to let you down..." A million more raced through his addled brain, still buzzed from the shot of Percocet they had given him at the hospital along with the traumatic events of the morning. But that was all that he got out. He choked on the rest.

"You never let me down." She gently edged him back on the bed, straddling his body. "You're the best thing thing ever happened to Marly...and I love you..."

Her lips trailed down his neck slowly, peppering him with soft kisses as she pulled on his chest hair, then slowly attached her mouth to one hard, flat nipple. As she sucked, her other hand stroked his abdomen randomly, touching and pulling and rubbing. She glanced up at him; his eyes were closed, both hands above his head, mouth slightly open. He was letting her care for him, something he rarely did, and the realization hit her hard in the heart.

He felt so protected, so accepted by this woman. This woman who knew almost all of his secrets, who never judged him. This woman who had carried his child, whom he slept with and ate with and worked with and made love with. Who was now wiping his tears away and trying desperately to comfort and chase away his fears.

She heard him sigh softly and took her cue to move down his body further, nipping tiny bites along his hips and stroking the thick hair under his navel. He felt surrounded in her warmth and pleasure as her mouth moved slowly, sweetly, over his body, stimulating his tactile senses into overdrive. Her fingers tangled themselves in the material of his boxers, pulling them off quickly and freeing his erection. He looked beautiful, vulnerable, and she whispered, "I love you so much, much, sweetie..."

Her hand was encircling him loosely, touching him, feeling him twitch in her hand and hearing his soft sighs and moans. She knew what he was going to say before it left his lips, and as soon as he started--

"You don't have to do--"

she leaned up and caught his words with her lips. "I only do what I want to," she assured him softly, hand tightening around him. His eyes had flown open, not expecting her kiss, but he nodded slightly, then lay his head back again as she moved down his body. They rarely engaged in this; he always feared the psychological effect it had on her. But the look of determination in her eyes combined with his own need had made him lay back and close his eyes without any more objection.

She rarely did this for him and he still never asked. She didn't think she'd ever see the day that he would ask her for what he truly wanted, knowing how difficult it was for her to give it. He just didn't have that kind of entitlement in him. But he needed her, needed to know he was loved and cherished in a way beyond words, and he needed an escape. She stroked the tip of him once more before slipping him into her mouth, focusing on letting him relieve his pain, his guilt, his sadness with this act.

She heard him groan immediately. She ran her fingers over him, down his shaft and between his legs, as she moved her lips up and down slowly. If she was going to do this, it would be good for him. She always made sure it would be memorable when she did, and he always assured her it was nothing short of amazing. She imagined what he was thinking, and found herself hoping that his mind wasn't focusing on anything but the feelings he had in his body.

As soon as her mouth had met the tip of his cock, he had lost his breath. He would never admit it to anyone, but his deepest fantasy with her was this, her loving him this way, and him being able to protect her, make her feel safe enough that she never felt the repulsion he knew she held deep inside. That all she felt in this was how much he loved her, how much he wanted her, how much he needed to be joined with her. The pleasure seeping through his every pore, the pleasure that clouded his brain and made it difficult to think past the thought of, "God yeah, she's sucking on my cock." Past the thought that he knew would cause him tremendous guilt later.

His hips shifted restlessly under her, and she knew he was trying desperately not to thrust upward. She moved her hand away from him and stroked his hip as if to reassure him, then increased her pace and intensity. He groaned, and she could hear him. "Beth...Beth...I'm so sorry...I need you ...I need this...I'm so sorry..."

She pulled herself away from him once more. "Bobby..." she gasped, hand replacing the friction her mouth had been providing, "stop apologizing...I don't want you to feel sorry, ever...I want you to feel good..." She pressed her other hand to his chest, over his heart, pulling herself up slightly and nipping the skin on his belly. "Do you feel good?"

She could see the tears glistening on his face, but his whisper came back, "yes...God yes..."

"Then stop being ashamed of being human...can you do that? Do that for me?"

His body shifted, almost a physical reflection of his internal struggle. She leaned down and sucked the tip of him gently for a short moment. "Can you?"

His good hand fell to her hair, stroking it softly. "Yes...yes...I can...I'll try, baby..." She enveloped him fully again, hearing him gasp, before he whispered, "I'll try...God...oh God..."

He was holding himself back the very best he could. Every impulse he had was screaming to buck forward forcefully, to drive into her. His mind wandered for a millisecond, wondering how she would respond if he gave way to his desire, but he pushed it away almost as quickly. He opened his eyes and glanced down at her, moving back and forth on him, and the image imprinted itself on his brain. He closed his eyes again, seeing her over and over again in his head, feeling the depth of his orgasm rising from his spine, his thighs, his entire groin.

His hand stayed entangled in her hair and she released her grip on his hips, feeling him slightly rock forward in sheer pleasure. The fact that he was so excited pleased her immensely, and she continued her pace.

In her mind's eye, Forrester was shoving himself into her mouth, hot and sweaty, demanding her to "suck it"...

She pushed the thought aside viciously, returning to the present. He was moaning, rocking gently, hand in her hair, and she heard him. "Beth...Beth...too close..."

She continued the pressure and speed, determined not to back down because of Forrester, determined to pleasure her husband, determined to comfort him how he needed to be comforted. He couldn't focus on anything but this beautiful woman, his wife, his. Nobody else's. His. She loved him this much. He could be loved. This much.

"Bitch!" She could feel the vomit coming out of her mouth, her nose, before the boot landed her on the floor, helpless.

She pulled up from Bobby for a moment, catching her breath; his eyes flew open. He gasped at her, "Stop, don' don't need to do this--" but she ignored him, covering him once more, coaxing him quickly back into a rhythm.

" don''s okay...I don't...oh God..." And it was upon him before he could move, think, breathe anymore. The spasms shot from his spine to his thighs to his cock, shaking his body, rocking through him with a blinding force that emptied his brain of any cognition whatsoever. There was no thinking. There was only her, and this. This. Her loving him.


And who said women had no power over men, she thought, as he arched and groaned, spilling himself fully into her. His hand was still in her hair, flexing tight and loose, until finally his hips relaxed and she released him gently.

"So good," he was whispering. "So, so good...I love you so much...I need you more than air...I needed you never let me down...nobody's ever loved me like you..." his voice was breaking on the words, and she leaned up and kissed him slowly, softly. He embraced her, stroking her face with his fingers, his whispered words landing on her lips. "You'll never know how much I love you."

He could taste himself on her, in her mouth and on her lips, a sensual reminder of how much she loved him. He was humbled and pleased and aroused at the same time. He'd never known anyone more beautiful. His hands moved to caress her breasts gently, but after a moment she moved away from him. "They're a little sore," she explained softly, "and I need to go brush my teeth--"

He nodded, but lay still as she went into the bathroom.

Once inside, she closed the door and sat down to pee, then washed her hands and began to brush her teeth. The memories of Forrester seemed farther away now, and she closed her eyes as if to shut him out. She wondered if the day would ever arrive that he would be completely gone. Probably not, she realized as she began to rinse. But she was damned if he was going to ruin anything between her and her husband.

She opened the door to find him in a pair of running shorts, sitting in the armchair, holding Marlene. The baby was still asleep, and he smiled shyly at Vanessa.

"I...I just needed to hold her," he explained softly.

She nodded, sitting on the corner of the bed across from him. "I understand. She's like sweet candy...good for the soul."

She heard him exhale, a relieved sigh, and gazed down at his daughter. Family really could be the best medicine, she thought to herself.

Bobby was asleep in their bed, stretched out and having fitful dreams. He had taken the painkillers before drifting off. The shot of percoset they had given him in the hospital was wearing off, and his wrist was throbbing.

He awoke to Vanessa sitting next to him, gently shaking his shoulder. "Bobby...Eames is here...she brought dinner and wants to check on you."

"Huh?" His brain was fuzzy from the meds.

"Eames, baby...she's here and wants to see you. Are you up to it?"

"Yeah," he muttered sleepily, rubbing his eyes and then sitting up fully. Vanessa handed him a tee shirt and he slid it on before following her into the living room.

Alex was sitting in his favorite chair, holding Marlene. She smiled when she saw him. "Hey," she said softly. "Just wanted to check on my partner and see how you were doing."

He sat down on the couch, near the chair. "I'm okay. The painkillers are just making me a bit fuzzy is all."

She nodded. "I've given the official report to Deakins. He'll call you tomorrow but he said to take care of yourself." She paused for a moment. "He's going to want you to see a shrink before you come back. Departmental policy."

"I know."

"The ME has already finished her report. Everything was by the book, Bobby. There was nothing anyone could have done."

He didn't know why she kept telling him this. It wasn't as if he didn't hear her the first time. "I know, Eames."

"Elena DeVry is with her aunt and uncle...they live in Manhattan too, and child protective services was able to get up with them quickly. I thought you might rest better, knowing that she's with family."

He closed his eyes, seeing the tiny lips trembling and hearing her voice. Please, she had asked him, please bring her back her mama. He shook his head, then felt a hand catching his. It was Vanessa, and she was tracing his fingers.

"That's good," Vanessa told Eames. "She's been through a lot's probaby best for her to be with her family right now."

Eames nodded. "She never even asked about her father...just kept asking if we could make her mom any better." She sighed heavily, the looked down at Marlene sleeping in her arms. "If we never have to experience another day like this, it would be too soon for me."

"I'm pretty tired," he interrupted then, feeling his head swimming with the medication mixed with the memories of the day's events still too close to the surface. "If you don't mind, I'm going to head back to bed."

Eames was watching him with a skeptical look, but she nodded anyway. "Glad you're feeling okay...I guess I'll see you on Monday."

Vanessa stood when he did. "Eames brought dinner...I'll bring you some in a bit. Chinese."

He shook his head. " offense, Alex...just not hungry. I'm going to sleep, if that's okay."

He turned and headed back to the bedroom, hearing Elena DeVry's plea in his ears and wishing more than anything he could shut it out.


She was lying in bed next to him, in her typical tank and boxers, watching his face. He shut his eyes once more and opened them, making sure he was awake.

"Hey," she whispered. "You finally woke up."

"What time is it?"

"Three a.m."

"Oh." He ran his good hand through his hair. "Why are you awake?"

She smiled. "Two a.m. actually was more like two-thirty this time."

He peered over her, looking at the baby in the bassinet sleeping soundly. "She's out," he commented.

"Like her dad...they weren't kidding about that medication."

"No...I guess not." He rolled onto his back, staring at the ceiling. After a couple of quiet minutes, he said, "Elena DeVry had dark brown eyes, long brown you...I wondered what it was like for you, to find your mother..."

"I was older...and she committed suicide..."

"That little girl will be scarred for life. There's no amount of therapy that can fix something like that. I couldn't lie. I couldn't tell him she could be fixed."

Vanessa propped her head up in her hand. "And you think that would have stopped him?"

He was silent for a moment. "Maybe."

"Huh." She ran one finger along his shoulder. "It's doubtful. He was determined to kill his entire family, including himself. You saved the kid. If you hadn't been there, there would have been three dead bodies today."

He started to argue but she stopped him. "Look. I studied this stuff in school. I know you're a great profiler, Goren, but you're not the most objective person, particularly in a case like this, one that you're involved in. What, did you think about Marly during it? Me?" When he didn't answer her, she said, "You saved a six-year old today. Because of you, she still has a life."

He watched her, her finger running back and forth over his shoulder, her soft lips parted, her dark eyes staring into his. "Why did you do it today?" he asked her, and she knew what he meant.

"Because," she replied, "because I wanted to be there for you."

His finger trailed up and caught hers. "You didn't need to..."

"I know that. I told you, I did it because I wanted to, because it would help you, because I love you and I wanted you to know how much. In that moment, when you were hurting so badly...I wanted to connect with you so you knew you weren't alone."

Their index fingers were intwined, gently touching. She knew what he was going to say. He was going to apologize, to ask if it hurt her in any way, reiterate that he never expected her to do that, that he loved her no matter what. But this time he surprised her; instead of giving her a long explanation of all the reasons she should never give him oral, he just whispered, "Thank you." And there was a peace about him, that for the first time he had been able to accept her gift, and was willing to let go of his guilt and shame for wanting what he felt he didn't have a right to ask for.

And she nodded at him and smiled shyly. "You're welcome," she told him, then pressed her head to his chest, determined to catch a little more sleep before Marlene woke again.

Never in a million years had he anticipated sitting across from Lydia Frye. She had a reputation in the department, much like he did--strong-willed, determined, unyielding--and she was the first shrink who could get him in. So Deakins had made the arrangements.

Vanessa had laughed at him. Literally. Laughed at his nervousness, his hesitancy. "Heh. Lydia, huh? Remember when I told her to kiss my ass? When I told her to shut the fuck up and that she was fired?"

He grunted over his bagel and coffee as she shifted Marlene to her other breast, still chuckling. "She's great. If it weren't for her I'd still be a freaking mess." She took a sip of her own coffee, decaf, and clarified, "Well, you and her, anyway."

"Skoda would have been a better fit," he grumbled.

She knew he was nervous, afraid of confronting his own demons, and more demons than just those that appeared the other day. "Bobby," she said confidently, "you only like Emil Skoda because he's a here and now kind of guy that you can run circles around. Give Lydia a chance. Besides, it's not her job to dig deep and make you confess all your innermost thoughts. Just to deal with what happened the other day. And to make sure you're in psychological shape to go back on the job." She rested Marly on her shoulder and began to pat her firmly. "I, for one, am thankful for that."

He snorted. "I'd prefer to undergo your special brand of therapy."

"What?" she said, confused as to what he meant, until she saw the snarky grin behind his coffee cup. Remembering the other afternoon, she snapped, "Very funny!"

He had laughed out loud, relieving some of his own tension, finally sitting back in his chair. "I love you...and I appreciate everything you do for me, baby."

She stuck her tongue out at him before laying Marly back in her seat and buckling her in. "You'll be fine, Goren. Suck it up."

"I appreciate your confidence in me." He finished his coffee, then leaned to kiss the baby. "Bye, my sweet girl." Standing next to Vanessa, he kissed her gently too. "Bye, my not-so sweet girl."

"Have fun. Say hi for me."

Now he was looking at Lydia, face to face, with an awkward smile, unsure of what to say. He wondered if she even remembered that they had met. The last time he had seen her had been, when? Right after he and Vanessa were married? They had come in for a session together. To talk about her father, ironically enough. The thought made him throw up a little in his mouth. He swallowed the bile down and continued to smile.

"So, how long has it been, detective? A couple years, right?" Yep, she remembered.

He cleared his throat. "Uh, yeah...something like that...right after Vanessa and I were married. She said to tell you hello, by the way."

Lydia smiled. "She's one of my favorite people. Please return the greeting. I heard through the grapevine that the two of you recently became parents. Congratulations."

"Thanks, thank you." His knee was bouncing up and down. He had probably spent half of his life with his damn knee bouncing around and never knew it until Vanessa had pointed it out to him. He wished she had never done that.

"So," Lydia interlaced her fingers and rested her hands on top of her knee. "I understand we're here to discuss an incident that occurred earlier in the week, correct?"

He nodded. "Yeah...there was a partner and I arrived on scene and the suspect had already killed his wife...he was about to kill his daughter--she's six--when we came in."

She nodded. "I read the report. Why don't you tell me about what you've been thinking about since?"

"What I've been thinking about?" he croaked.

"Yes. Any thoughts going through your head...for example, some officers will have nightmares about what they witnessed. Others will have irrational fears regarding family members. Still others may have fantasies of harming other people. All are typical responses. How about you?"

He laughed awkwardly. "Um...I don't know....I guess...I guess I've been thinking about being a good father, maybe. And how hard life is going to be for Elena...that was the little girl." He stopped, losing himself in the memory of her tear-stained face. "Elena, yes. That was it."

Lydia sat quietly for a moment. "Elena has been on your mind."

"Mmm." He turned back to her suddenly. "Yes. She reminded me of my wife." He looked down. "Made me think of Vanessa....made me think about her finding her mom. Her bastard father." He looked back up at Lydia, who was holding her face rather still, focused on listening to him. "Do you know Ava is in the hospital? Anorexia. It's pretty severe...they thought she might die a couple of months ago. We weren't sure she'd survive to see Marlene. And what did Ryan do? Left. The bastard left. Stopped coming to see her." He laughed bitterly. "Bastard showed up at our house trying to give Vanessa a gift...a baby gift. I guess he decided he blew it with one kid so he'd pick up with the other." He shook his head. "You know, I understand Ava a lot better than I ever cared to admit...she's got this 'fuck life' thing going on...I've been there, I know...after I got hurt the other day I went to see Ava. Before I even went home. Before I told my wife. I don't know why I did that. Vanessa sees me, gets me, and I love her more than I ever thought possible, but there's something about Ava...I don't know what it is. Like I don't have to try so hard to protect her. Like there's not the same level of responsibility. I guess because there's not the same commitment. I knew she'd understand and she did. She heard how fucked up it all was. Then she sent me home to my wife."

Lydia nodded. "And how did Vanessa respond?"

"She was wonderful...supportive and kind, everything you'd want your wife to be..." He hesitated, unsure of exactly how much he wanted to share. "She's the best thing that's ever happened to me...and Marly, I just held her, watched her." His knee stopped bouncing for a minute and he smiled. "I read to her every morning...after her five o'clock feeding...she loves it, she curls right up to me...I don't know how he lost that connection with his child." He looked up at Lydia, searching her face. "Do you think people can lose that? Or is it something they just never had? I've been looking for it in my mother for forty years and sometimes I think it's there, other times I think it never dad never had's such a different level of connection....he had that gun muzzle right against her temple. Who does that to their child? Who loves their child and can hold a gun up against their head like that?"

Lydia sat back. "What do you think will happen if you don't figure these things out?"

He stared at her, perplexed by the question, before finally rubbing his hands on his jeans. "I don't know. But I guess...I guess it might stand to reason...well, if DeVry said he loved his daughter and could turn like that..." He shuddered.

She cocked her head. "So you think this is universal? For instance, it can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time? Parents who formerly loved their children just stop? Reasoning goes awry? Connection gets lost?"

His shoulders slumped. "Maybe."

"So what would need to happen for you to stop loving your daughter?"

"What? Nothing!" He shook his head aggressively. "Nothing could ever change that."

"But it's your fear."

He stopped moving, frozen, thinking of his tiny baby girl, of his wife and his child and his commitment to love, honor, and cherish. Head low, he could hardly hear his own voice through the shame. "Yes." He cleared his voice, raised his head to look Lydia in the eye, his own eyes clouded by tears. "Yes," he repeated, a little louder.

She nodded shortly. "Fear doesn't have to be rational, and it also doesn't predict the future, detective." She stood, walking over to a desk in the back of the room and picking up a pen, wrote several words on a piece of paper. Turning around, she moved closer to him and handed it over. "I've cleared you to go back on Monday. But I'd like to see you here every Tuesday morning, nine a.m. Your captain will take care of it for you."

He took the paper from her, reading it quickly. "I need to come back, huh?"

She smiled wryly at him. "Are you really surprised?"

They were lying on the bed when he got home, both on their backs, Vanessa tickling Marlene's belly. The baby squirmed lightly, and Vanessa's hand stilled on her for a few seconds before moving again until Marlene squirmed. "Okay, Marly, I'll stop," he heard her say, and she leaned over and kissed the baby gently by her ear.

"Hey," he said, tossing his jacket on the armchair.

"Oh! Hey." She sat up carefully, trying not to upset the baby. "We were just playing."

He reached over and scooped Marlene up, quickly nuzzling her close to him. "I missed you guys. Oh, Lydia says hello."

Vanessa crossed her legs. "Well, that's nice. How'd it go?"

"I have to go back."

She grinned. "Did you really expect anything less?"

He sat down in the chair. "You sound like Lydia."

"Well, it's not by accident...I'm in the same profession." She stood up and reached around him, grabbing his jacket, then going to hang it in the closet. "Oh, by the way," she winked at him, "I think she needs changing."

"Maybe," he said noncommittally. "Don't worry, Meg, I think you smell sweet as roses."

"Yeah, even her baby poop smells sweet...just wait til she starts eating real food. We'll see how sweet she smells then!"

He snorted and threw a pillow at her. She caught it, threw her body back on the bed, and laughed.

They entered the garden together with Marlene swaddled close to Vanessa's body. The snugli had been a shower gift from Eames' sister Liz, and Vanessa had swooned over it from the moment she opened it. She had wanted one but just not gotten around to picking one out. It held Marly close to her, keeping her warm and comfortable, and made nursing less conspicuous. No matter what she said about its benefits, though, she couldn't convince Bobby to wear it. She had explained it was unisex and how Marlene would love it for him to carry her like that; how it would keep his arms from getting fatigued and he would have his hands free to do other things. After looking at her like she was crazy, he had raised one eyebrow and said, "Thanks, but I'm gonna pass." So she used the snugli and he used his arms. But today was a cooler October day, so the baby had gone in the snugli and Bobby had gone without holding his little girl.

Ava was already on the swing, waiting for them, and David and Justin were playing in the sandbox a few feet away. The garden was beautiful and on hospital grounds. After much discussion, Bobby and Vanessa had agreed the garden would be the safest way to have Marly visit her aunt, rather than hauling her into a hospital again.

As soon as they entered the gate, Justin ran to Bobby. "Hey Bubby! I gotted anothah twuck!" he exclaimed excitedly, pointing to the sand. David waved to them, and Bobby swung Justin up and carried him back to the sandbox.

Vanessa settled on the swing next to her sister.

" got something in there for me?" Ava teased, pulling the top part of the snugli away, displaying Marly's sleepy face. "I thought you did." She ran one finger along the baby's cheek, watching Marlene sleepily open her mouth and move toward her finger. "Hungry much?" They both laughed, and Vanessa adjusted herself to nurse.

"So, she's getting better start thinking about college. It will be here before you know it."

"Like hell," Bobby said, sitting on a bench next to them. "She's got lots of time before she's that big."

Ava snorted. "Less than you think. Look at Justin...kindergarten already." She shook her head, a wistful smile on her face. Suddenly her expression crumpled and she began to cry, covering her face with her hand. "It just goes so fast...and I'm missing it. I'm missing everything. Today he came here...and he told me...he told me he can read his name. And write it. When the hell did he get that old? Yesterday he was toddling around my living room running his trucks into my feet, and now he reads and writes his name?"

Vanessa and Bobby looked at each other. Six months ago they both would have laughed at her, but now...

"I know," Vanessa told her. "Just this morning Bobby was saying she's lost her newborn look and looks like a real baby now." She put an arm around Ava. "Of course, I was glad, because newborns tend to be...well...not very attractive..."

Ava sniffled. "True." She wiped her nose on the back of her hand, and Vanessa made a mental note to keep Ava from touching Marlene. Fortunately, Bobby handed her a handkerchief and some hand sanitizer. She looked at him skeptically, then said, "Prepared for everything, aren't you?"

He smiled wryly. "Comes with the territory, apparently."

She sniffed again before blowing her nose in the handkerchief. "You're just afraid I'll contaminate your baby." She offered the dirty handkerchief back to him, but he shook his head. "For the love of all things holy, Robert, we're family. I won't give you the anorexia cooties. Jesus." She grabbed him by the belt loop and shoved the handkerchief back in his pocket.

If the familiarity of her actions bothered Vanessa, she never showed it. Bobby, however, felt as though he were on display. This was the closest another woman's hands had been to his cock in a long time. He felt his ears turn red, and took a seat a bit farther away on the bench.

Ava had already turned back to Vanessa and was admiring the baby again. "She's starting to look more like you," she said to no one in particular.

" or Bobby?"

She grinned and looked up. "Both."

"So how's the therapy going? You look like you're doing well."

"Eh, gained a little...I'm up to about ninety-five. They want me to be at a hundred and sustain it for awhile before they let me go." She sighed and picked a loose hair off her tee shirt. "I'm going to have to eat a house in order to gain that much weight."

Vanessa bit her tongue, hard. "You'll do it," she finally managed. "It's just a step at a time, right?" She fiddled with the top of the snugli. "You'll be fine."

Ava looked away, to the sandbox, watching David and Justin pouring sand through a sifter. "Right. Fine."

They all sat in uncomfortable silence for several more minutes, until Vanessa and Bobby said their goodbyes and headed back to the car, to Manhattan, leaving David and Justin still playing in the sand and Ava alone on the swing again.

Vanessa was laying the baby down in the bassinet when he found the handkerchief again that night, still wedged in his jeans pocket. He held it for a moment, remembering Ava's movements. He felt guilty, wondering if his little detour a couple weeks before had led her to think they were closer than he intended. If he needed to come clean to his wife. But what did he have to come clean about? Talking to her sister without her presence? It seemed like a strange thing to bring up out of the blue.

"You keep fingering that thing I'm going to start thinking there's something going on between the two of you."

He spun around to see her smiling slyly at him. He knew it was too late to mask his expression because hers had already changed, just like that. Seeing the look on her face--a cross between concern and fear--he fumbled to find some words. "She, uh, she stuck it in-in my pocket today...I was, uh...just uncomfortable for me..." He looked at her helplessly. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by it."

She was biting her lip, arms crossed, an expression he couldn't read all over her face. After a minute, she asked, "Are you going to wash it, or hang on to it for posterity's sake?"

As if shocked by electricity, he quickly tossed it into the hamper, then began disrobing for bed.

She climbed across the mattress and curled up under the comforter, then peeked over the edge of the bassinet. As she lay back in the bed, she sighed. "I'm tired...I never thought I'd be in bed at ten on a Saturday night."

He climbed into bed next to her, leaning down to kiss her gently. She was soft and warm, and it had been the right amount of time. One hand cupped her face gently while the other wandered slowly and purposefully over her body. He heard her sigh softly at his touch, and he slipped his tongue into her mouth more fully, hoping she could sense how much he loved her, wanted her and only her. He groaned in the back of his throat, deep and low, as her tongue touched his and her fingers ran over his bare back, down his spine. After a slow movement down her body, he settled his hand between her legs, slipping one finger inside her soft, wet opening.

"Bobby," she gasped, reaching both hands up to cup his face. Her eyes met his and she smiled at him, a knowing look, as she tangled her fingers in his hair. She closed her eyes and pressed her forehead against his for a moment, then pulled her face away and looked at him. "I told you, I'm tired tonight."

He sighed and pulled away, the first time he could ever recollect being so assertively rebuffed by her, and roughly tossed himself on his back, pulling the covers up to his chest.

"And by the way," she added, leaning toward him. "If you're that uncomfortable with another woman's hands being within squeezing distance of your johnson, you should say something next time." With that, she kissed his temple and rolled over.

Five minutes later she was snoring softly, and he was cursing himself for her being so right.

Lydia sat across from him and crossed her legs. She was well put together in a white blouse and a black pencil skirt, finished off with black patent heels. He couldn't help but think how much she reminded him of Ava, not a hair out of place. How similar she looked to so many of the women he had dated before Vanessa, all incredibly well put together, like himself, a facade of organization and professionalism worn like a mask every day. How different she was from Vanessa and Eames and his mother, who lived their lives on their faces and their bodies, who could clean up well but chose only special occasions to do so. For just a moment he wondered how he ended up with a wife so different from him. Oh yeah, he remembered. She loves me.

Lydia was smiling at him, stirring her tea. "So how is everything today?"

"Fine...great." He drummed his fingers restlessly on the large armchair he was sitting in, glancing around the room. It was a typical shrink's office, from the best he could tell. Female shrink, anyway. Tastefully decorated without too much decor, plenty of journals and texts lining the bookshelves. Her desk was relatively neat with only a small stack of paperwork out of place.

"You're profiling me."

He started to object, but then closed his mouth. There wasn't much he could do to argue against the truth. "A bit."

"So tell me what you see." She smiled and sat back in her chair.

"You're neat and professional," he began. "You have enough of your own belongings in your office to make it comfortable for you but not enough to give away extra information about like things neat." He reiterated it again. "A place for everything and everything in its place. You're organized and intelligent, and you want people to know that. It's why you keep your books in here, and right behind you, instead of closer to your desk or at home. It reminds anyone you visit with how well-read you are, how intelligent. I would imagine it makes many men less likely to argue with you. Maybe women too, but definitely men...cops. They see you as an authority figure because of all those books. Most men would assume you're not married because you don't wear a ring, but given the fact that you like to be seen as a complete professional, you probably don't wear it, because you don't want people to know that about you. You're protective of your private life. Fiercely." He paused. "I don't know if you have children."

She was still smiling. "Very good, detective. I can see why you're so valuable to your squad." She took a sip of her tea. "So do you feel less vulnerable, now that you've profiled me?"

He froze, mouth partly open, then laughed awkwardly, looking at his feet for a minute. "I wasn't, uh, profiling you for know, to feel more's just,'s how my mind goes."

"Right." She sat her tea on the end table. "So, the last time we were here, we were talking about your wife's family."

He snorted. "Do we have to talk about that? I thought we were talking about my fears as a parent."

"You don't think the two are related?"


She didn't seem put off at all by his lack of cooperation. "Then let's talk about your father. Surely that impacts how you see yourself in relation to your daughter."

"No," he said carefully, "he has nothing to do with this."

She cocked her head, sitting quietly for a moment. "He was abusive, if I remember correctly."

He didn't answer her, but went back to drumming his fingers on the chair.

"Do you think Malcom DeVry was abusive to his daughter?"

He looked up sharply. "I-I can't draw any conclusions about that."

"You're a profiler, Bobby," she said gently. "You just profiled me and drew many conclusions very quickly. Surely you've drawn some conclusions about what you saw that day."

He looked out the window, watching people walking along the sidewalks outside of the office. "All right. Maybe I did." He met her eyes. "No, I don't think he abused his daughter. I think he loved her. At least to the best of his ability. And when he couldn't any more, when he was faced with not being able to provide for her, to love her completely, he did the only thing that made sense to him--he tried to end it for all of them. To spare them pain."

Lydia nodded.

"It was a stupid thing to do," he added. "He hadn't thought it through rationally."

"But you've found a reason that you think would have been rational to him." She leaned forward, resting her hands on her knee. "I'm wondering how you feel about that."

"That he could rationalize what he was doing?"

"That you can understand his rationalization."

He shook his head. "There's a difference between understanding and sympathizing. I understand what he was thinking...that doesn't mean I think it was logical."

"I've heard you have a reputation for being a bit unpredictable with your colleagues. You know, that genius, that's frightening to some people. Do you ever experience that? People who are afraid of you?"

He blinked.

"In combination with your size...I would imagine you experience that quite frequently, from both suspects as well as other cops."

"I--I don't understand where you're going," he said, crossing his arms protectively. "Are you saying that I'm not stable?"

"I didn't say that. I asked how other people perceive you."

"I have people who love me. My wife--she loves me."

Lydia sat back again in the chair. "Are we talking about love? Because I thought we were talking about how other people perceive you."

He kept his arms crossed and turned his head back to the window.

After a couple of silent minutes, Lydia said softly, "Maybe we're talking about how you perceive yourself."

He didn't move, continued looking out the window, but repeated himself. "My wife loves me."

"And she's the only one you've ever felt it from, isn't she?" At his silence, she pushed gently. "That's a heavy load for both of you...and a lot for your little girl. No wonder you're scared."

He continued to sit, stony and silent, unmoving as the time ticked by. Lydia sat quietly across from him, saying nothing. When a silent tear ran down his cheek, she handed him the box of tissues.

He took them from her, wiped it away, and then turned back to watching the window.

Vanessa brought the bag from the market into the kitchen and deposited it on the counter. "Whew," she told Marly, who was curled against her in the snugli, "you stink!"

Quickly, she shoved the few dairy items in the fridge before heading to the baby's room. Pulling out a diaper, she began untangling Marlene from the snugli, then lay her on the changing table. "Stinky, stinky," she teased in a singsong voice. "Let's get you cleaned up!"

Marlene's limbs moved choppily as she gurgled back at her mother. Vanessa quickly changed her, pulling the onesie back on and her tiny baby pants back up. "Much more stinky baby!" she told her, depositing the diaper in the trash before picking Marly up to head to the bathroom. She washed her hands. "I think it's about time for a nap...then maybe we'll feel like being human when daddy gets home. What do you think?"

The baby wiggled and gurgled some more, and Vanessa carried her down the hall to the bedroom and opened the door. Before she could go any farther, she stopped. Bobby was lying on the bed, still in his suit, an arm over his eyes.

She toed off her shoes quietly and rounded the bed to lay Marly in the bassinet. The baby was already yawning, and Vanessa took the moment to kiss her on the forehead before laying her down. When she looked back up, he was watching her, arm now on his forehead, exposing his eyes.

She knew in her gut something was wrong. She just didn't know what it was. The look on his face was one of sadness, emptiness, almost of fear. Just looking at him made her ache, and she whispered, "What is it?"

"Nothing," he whispered back quickly, then, "everything...I don't know..."

She rounded the bed again and sat next to him, on his side, gently touching his arm. "What can I do?"

He shook his head. She was close enough now she could see the tears wetting his long lashes. His eyes opened again. "If I asked don't have to...could we make love? Please...with no questions right now..." His eyes closed again and a moment later he whispered, "please."

Her hand was stroking his arm. She pulled it back gently. She had no hesitation as she unbuttoned her shirt and dropped it on the floor, then slipped out of her jeans. "Sit up," she directed softly. He did, opening his eyes and taking in her body, and she slowly undid his tie, tossing it aside, before pulling him out of his jacket and shirt.

His face was only inches from hers and his gaze slowly moved up to her eyes. He stared at her for a long moment, tears still in his eyes, before holding her face in his hands. She unhooked her bra and it landed on the floor, next to her jeans. He leaned forward, pressing his forehead against hers, before whispering, "I love you more than you'll ever, ever know."

She didn't speak, but leaned over to kiss him, an act of loving reassurance, before allowing him to pull her down on top of his body. Her hands wrapped in his hair, and when she finally pulled her lips away from his, she whispered, "I love you too. I love you."

He had debated about even asking.

Somehow it had seemed forced and incredibly melodramatic in his head. Having a bad day? Come home, cry, and insist your wife kiss it and make it better. How manly, he thought to himself sarcastically. And he couldn't help but wonder if this had been a pity fuck. She read him better than she read herself, and God knows he was screaming pitiful today. What made it even worse was the fact that this was their first time having sex since the baby was born.

But she was still naked, curled against him, head on his chest, hands stroking his chest hair. If she was put out, she certainly didn't act like it. No, she was linking a leg with his, snuggled closely, as though she found him irresistible. And she hadn't asked a single question.

It had been like she knew by instinct what he needed. Assertive when he wanted her to be, passive when he needed to be in control. She had slid over his body with the expert that only a seasoned lover could give, hitting all of his sweet spots--that spot on his neck that made his breath hitch, right below his nipple that sent shivers through him, his left hip--the erotic suckling that made his erection seem insanely hard. She continued until the demons were diminished and his head had been spinning with lust and desire for her. And when he had firmly turned her over, covering her body with his, she had willingly stretched her body out, hands on the headboard, knees at his thighs, a shy smile on her face. The feeling of being inside her had been nothing short of incredible, as always, but it was more than just horniness. He needed her. He needed her to need him.

And she had, clutching him tightly, encouraging him to love her, telling him over and over how good he felt, how much she needed him, how she had never loved anyone the way she loved him. Ever. Soft whispers that turned into soft cries, finally turning into heavy groans of pleasure when he gave in to his need, erasing the morning with deep, hard, fast thrusts inside of her. So, so good, he told her. She was so good, like an itch he could finally scratch, and she arched against him and tightened her legs around his waist. He swore her legs weren't the only part of her that was tightening as he pummeled on, mind spinning, body cresting, so incredibly close. He braced himself with one hand on the headboard for more leverage, hearing her gasp at the new angle as a moan escape his own lips. God she felt so good, so perfect. His. He wondered for a moment when he became so possessive of her, when the thought of having her all to himself became so erotic.

He had known instinctively the second he entered her that he would beat her there. There was just no way she could possibly come as quickly as he would. But she had either done an insanely good job of faking it, or else she was as wound up as he was, groaning in his ear, something about love and connection and good good good. Her fingernails had raked down his back and she had bitten him, hard, on the shoulder, stifling a heady, erotic moan. And now she was a tender as a pussycat, curled against him.

He played with her hair, fingers wrapped around the tendrils. Her hair was so soft and smooth, unlike his textured curls. Soft, like her; like her body and her gentle spirit. Working up his courage, he finally said it softly: "Thank you."

She kissed his chest. "You don't have to thank me...I love you. And it was good for me too, you know."

"This is becoming a habit." She was looking at him now, and his hand continued to stroke her hair. "I'm sorry. You deserve better."

"Better than great sex with you? What would be better than that?"

He made a funny sound in his throat. "I saw Lydia this morning."

She didn't say anything, but continued to gently rub his chest. He loved that feeling, as though she were massaging all his troubles away.

"She--I don't know...I--" he sighed heavily. "Are you sure you love me? I mean, enough for all of this? And why? Nobody else has ever felt that for me before. Not even my parents." His voice tightened.

"Yes, I'm sure," she said calmly, still massaging his chest. "And it's easy to love you, Bobby. I see you, the real you, and I know how wonderful you really are. I don't regret a single minute with you." She kissed his nipple gently. "I never could. You're my soul mate, Bobby...I only wish you could see yourself the way that I see you." She stroked his cheek, then said, "Your parents couldn't do any better. That has nothing to do with you and who you are."

She felt his body shiver against hers and she snuggled even closer, her wetness pressing against his hip. "I'm here for good and I'm never letting go." Her hand rested on his abdomen. "I promise."

He turned his head toward hers, eyes seeking hers, before catching her mouth in a deep, longing kiss. "You always know how to fix everything, don't you?" he murmured.

"No...but I know you. And I know you're a good man who worries too much about who he is."

He rolled her over quickly, slipping a hand down her body and between her legs. " know I didn't say that so you would do this!"

For the first time that day, he smiled, then nipped her ear. "I love you. Love you so much." His fingers deftly found what he sought and began to stroke her; quick, even movements that made her shudder. "More than anyone I've ever have to know that." His middle finger slipped deeply inside her. "Tell me you know that."

She was arching involuntarily toward him and closed her eyes. Dizzy. She was absolutely dizzy with pleasure. "I know that, baby...I know that...God, please..."

His lips found her neck and he gently began to nibble, then suck, at the smooth flesh. A second finger joined the first, with no predictable rhythm. Touching, stroking, exploring her wetness, until he heard her deeply suck in her breath and whimper his name. "Bobby."

He knew he had found it, that mythological spot, and he wondered for a brief second why he had never tried before now. Quickly he placed his thumb against her, rubbing gently, as his long fingers massaged her inside. She was writhing against him with a desperation he'd never seen before, and as his free hand softly brushed against her breast, she hissed, "please..."

"Yes, don't worry," he whispered, maintaining his rhythm, seeing his wife through completely new eyes and feeling an incredible ache in his throat for this beautiful, sexual woman before him. He began to kiss her nipple, then said, "I won't stop, I promise..."

Her hands were clutching the bedsheets, clinging tightly. He wondered, if the baby weren't in the room, exactly how loud she would be. He allowed himself to suck on her nipple for a short moment but pulled back as soon as he felt her milk hit his tongue, and moved up to her ear.

"You're so close," he whispered. "So wet, so lovely...Beth, I want to watch you come. Come for me, baby...please come..."

Her eyes met his and he felt her hand snake around the back of his neck, dragging his mouth to hers as she rode out her orgasm fiercely against his fingers. He pulled his head back to watch her, and she gave in to the sheer pleasure coursing through her body. Despite her arching, her bucking, the only sound she made was a soft, deep moan from the back of her throat. He had the distinct feeling she would have stifled it if she possibly could have.

One of her hands covered his, holding it in place for several moments as her hips stilled, then, before he could continue, she quickly moved his hand away from her body and kissed him fiercely again. When their lips parted, she was still gasping for breath. She didn't let him go, but held him close.

"You're mine too," she whispered, eyes glazed over from the intensity of her orgasm. "Mine, Bobby...mine."

His lips dove down, hard, onto her mouth, tongue colliding with hers. There was nowhere else he would ever want to be.

She was sitting at the bar when he came in, a few minutes late, his usual.

His smile was dazzling, as always, and he nodded at her. "You're looking well," he greeted her, kissing her cheek before pulling out the stool next to hers. "How is my granddaughter?"

"She's fine, Daddy." Vanessa pulled out an envelope of pictures. "These are for you."

The bartender approached, and Ryan ordered a beer on tap and a sandwich, then turned back to his daughter. "Did you order yet?"

"Yes, thank you."

He opened the envelope and began to flip through the pictures. Halfway through he smiled. "She looks like you were a very pretty baby. Your mother always said so."

She snorted into her glass. "I thought Ava was the pretty one."

His eyes shot sharply to hers, then he said, "You both were pretty babies. Liz and I had very beautiful children."

Vanessa put her glass of water back on the bar, then turned to him. "Do you ever miss her? Mom, I mean?"

He sighed. "Your mother and I had problems, Vanessa. Surely you remember that. Life was hard when the four of us were together."

"I know that. It's not what I asked. I asked if you ever miss her."

He gently laid the pictures on the bar. "No," he said. "Honestly, no, I don't."

She had expected that. It was something she had wondered from time to time, but she had figured if he was honest that he really didn't. "What about Ava?"

"What do you mean?" He took a sip of his beer. "Does Ava miss your mother? Is that what you're asking?"

"No," she clarified, "I'm asking if you miss Ava."

He turned the mug of beer around aimlessly on the bar, before responding. "I think that my relationship with Ava is really between the two of us, don't you?"

She didn't answer. Instead, she motioned to the photos. "Those are for you, in case you'd like them." The bartender returned, setting a salad in front of her and a sandwich in front of Ryan. "How are your kids?"

"Oh, fine. Kate's considering going back to work...I think she's getting bored, being a housewife." He took a bite of his sandwich before continuing. "Are you tired of being at home?"

She was quiet for a moment. "Sometimes. But I enjoy my time with my daughter. I'll never get it back, and she may be our only one."

"Then you should stay home," he announced, as though she were incapable of figuring this out on her own. "That makes sense for you." After another moment, he asked, "Does your husband know you met me here today?"

"Who do you think is watching the baby?"

He smiled to himself. "Well, I guess he would rather stay home with her than let you bring her. I might just spread some sort of evil into her innocent soul."

She took another drink of water. "Yes. I think that about sums it up." She poked at her salad. "I really came for two reasons. One was to give you the photos of your granddaughter and tell you thank you for the gift."

"You're welcome," he said, smiling at her. "She's a lovely little baby, Vanessa. I appreciate the pictures, and I'm glad that you finally saw that I meant good by giving you that picture of your mother."

She bit her tongue, hard, before continuing. "Well, I appreciate you passing it on to me. I didn't have anything like that."

"I figured as much." He took another bite of his sandwich.

"The second reason I came is because of Ava. I need to know why you stopped going to see her."

Ryan put his sandwich back on his plate and shook his head. "It's really none of your concern, Vanessa. Ava knows why, and that's all that matters."

"I don't think she does." She turned toward him. "Look, Daddy, I'm trying to give you the benefit of the doubt here. Is there some reason that you cut off contact with her? Or is it just because of the regular old reason...when times get tough, you get gone?"

He cleared his throat, and when he spoke again, his tone was cool. "There was nothing else I could do for your sister. She wants things from me that I can't give her. That's all there is to it. This problem of hers--it's her problem. I can't fix it for her. Dragging me to therapy won't fix a damn thing. I already know how to eat. She needs to get herself straight. And once she does, I'll be happy to see her again."

If she hadn't been expecting it, Vanessa would have responded with anger or even aggression. But this was her father, and she had expected nothing less than his normal self-obsessive reasoning and behavior. She took a deep breath, then said, "If I asked you...if I asked you to please go with me to therapy with her, would you consider? As a personal favor to me?"

He was swirling his beer in his mug, focusing on the drink as though it were the most interesting thing in the world. "Personal favor? What good is it going to do for the two of us to go?"

"The therapist thinks it would be very helpful for Ava." She stepped carefully. "She's doing better...she's gained weight--"

He was shaking his head. "She's damaged her organs."

"Yes. But she can still live with that, and the therapist thinks she could do very well if we could help her, support her...look, I know it's a lot to ask..." She nearly choked on the bitterness of the word. "Please."

He drained the rest of his beer, then looked at her for several minutes. Finally he said, "When?"

"Tuesday at four."

He shook his head. "I have, family..."

She bit her tongue again and tasted blood. She thought if this lunch didn't end soon, she'd have no tip of her tongue left.

"All right," he finally said, not looking up. "I'll commit to one time. This Tuesday at four. I can't promise anything beyond that."

She fought every desire in her body to smack the back of his head. Trying to ungrit her teeth and sound friendly, she managed it. "Thank you, Daddy."

He checked his watch, then smiled at her. "I have to get going, but I'll see you on Tuesday, I suppose. Thanks for the pictures."

"No problem," she muttered, as she watched him leave without paying. She wondered if he would have even taken the pictures if he hadn't known how much it would bother Goren. Tossing some money on the bar, she grabbed her bag and headed back out onto the New York City street. At least now Ava would have the chance to say her piece, and that was worth every penny.

Closing the front door, she hung her jacket on the coat rack and entered the living room. Bobby was lying on the floor next to Marly, reading a book about schizophrenia out loud. Marlene squirmed and wriggled at her father's voice, occasionally smiling and gurgling.

"Oh...hey,"he said when he saw her and stopped where he was, dog-earing the page and shutting the book.

"Let me guess," she said, a bit sarcastically, "one of Meg's new favorites?"

He chuckled a bit, pulling himself up into a sitting position. "Yeah...she loves learning about all sorts of stuff." He rested a hand gently on her belly, softly patting her. " You should have seen her the other day when I was reading about the neurological disorders of serial killers."

She kicked off her shoes. "Don't read that shit to her, Bobby. You don't know what she understands or when she's going to understand it."

He made a face. "I'm fairly certain she doesn't understand this stuff yet. In fact, I think it's safe to say that most of our colleagues don't understand this stuff."

Vanessa picked Marlene up from the floor and settled in the armchair, pulling off her blouse and unfastening her bra. Marlene quickly began to nurse, and Bobby picked up the blanket from the floor and folded it up. He glanced at her before carefully commenting, "I'm guessing your lunch with Ryan was everything you expected?"

"Pretty much," she replied. "I'd prefer not to discuss it right now."

"All right." He tossed the blanket on the couch and disappeared into the back of the house.

Vanessa snuggled the baby close to her body, watching her suckle and breathe heavily through her nose. Often, when she was curled up close to her daughter, she found her mind wandering to her own childhood, or more specifically, to her time with her mother. Sometimes she thought about Liz and wondered what her mother would say if she could see Marlene. If she would think the baby was beautiful, if she would want to care for her and do all the things Vanessa saw other women's mothers doing. Grandmothers. Marlene didn't have any regular old grandparents. She had Ryan, a complete egomaniac, and Frances, who struggled with schizophrenia. Vanessa reached down and stroked the baby's cheek before switching sides. Sometimes she had imaginary conversations in her head with her mother. Her favorite was imagining what Liz would have said if she could have told her she was pregnant. She imagined Liz's excitement and joy at the news; that she would have clapped her hands together and brought her sheet cake every week, laughing about how the baby needed chocolate. And how honored she would have been for Marly to have her name. How she would have said, "Nessie...a third Elizabeth? Really? Oh honey..." And her mother would have held her closely and stroked her hair. And she would have bought something special for the nursery, a small lovey for Marlene's crib that would have been hers for forever.

The fact that a photo from Ryan now hung in Marlene's room rubbed Vanessa the wrong way; a constant reminder that Ryan was there and Liz was not. As much as the photo bothered her, she just couldn't bring herself to take it down. Liz stared at her with happy eyes, anticipating her first baby in just a few weeks. Her huge belly stuck out, embraced by her own arms, as a toothy grin spread across her youthful face. Vanessa couldn't help but look, every time she walked by it. She wondered if Ryan had known she would have that reaction but had decided Ryan never put enough thought into anything other than himself to anticipate her reaction.

Marly had finished eating; Vanessa rested her on a rag on her shoulder and patted her back firmly until she heard the obligatory burp she was listening for. The sound sometimes made her laugh, but always made her smile. She imagined Marlene was thinking something along the lines of feeling comfortably full, much like finishing a good meal. She rested the baby back in her arms, holding her close as she watched the little eyelids lowering. Marly nearly always fell asleep after eating. Vanessa watched her little daughter slipping into a light sleep before standing to put her in her crib.

She carried her to the back of the condo and entered the master bedroom to lay Marly in the bassinet. Bobby was sitting in the armchair reading his book on neurological disorders. The baby settled into her bassinet easily, and Vanessa sank down on the bed. He looked up at her expectantly. "Are we talking now?" he asked.

She sighed. "There's nothing to say. He's an ass. That will never change. I convinced him to show up on Tuesday, so I did my job. I sold a little piece of my soul to the devil. But if it gives Ava the chance to say what she needs to say, it's worth it."

Bobby closed his book and shook his head. "He's going to walk out of there as soon as she says the first critical word to him. Mark my words."

She knew he was right, but the truth of it was more than she could handle right now, and she lay back on the bed. "Do you have to be such a realist every fucking moment, Goren? Could you not just let me believe in happy endings, for just one minute?"

He moved over to the bed next to her. "I'm sorry," he said, running one finger over her belly, subconsciously noting its slow return to its original shape. "I didn't realize that was what I was supposed to do."

She shook her head. "Goren." Her voice sounded removed, detached, but her eyes were focused on his own. "Did you know we're not supposed to even want to have sex with each other? We're supposed to be too tired and too distracted and too whatever."

He smiled. "I didn't know we were talking about sex."

She was still watching him intently. "Kiss me, Goren. Like you mean it. Like I'm the only woman you ever wanted. Like you're dying of thirst and I'm the only glass of water you have access to."

She watched his smile disappear and his eyes turn dark. "Okay," he said, voice low, "but not in here...not with Marly right next to us."

When she didn't answer, he stood and made his way to the bassinet. He gently lifted the baby from her bed, then exited the room. Vanessa lay still on the bed, eyes closed, until she heard his footsteps return to the room and the door close. When she opened her eyes, he held up the baby monitor. "So we can hear her, right away," he explained, setting it onto the nightstand.

She nodded but didn't move, and he eased himself down on the bed next to her. One of his large hands covered her breast immediately, softly kneading the flesh before lowering his mouth to hers. Deeply intense, he kissed her fully, exactly how he wanted to, exactly how he fantasized of tasting her. She didn't speak, only responded with her body, arching up to meet his hand, tongue gently touching his. He pulled himself up from her, caressing her nipple only with his thumb, feeling the hardness of it beneath his touch. Focusing on her eyes, he said firmly, "I want to hear you this time. I want to hear you when you come."

She nodded, tempted to acquiesce completely to his demands, but when he leaned to kiss her again, she wrapped both arms around his neck to control the intensity. When their lips parted again, she caught her breath and said, "That goes both ways, Bobby...I want to hear you too...I want to know you want me." She shook her head. "I need to know."

He pressed his lips to hers, then pulled back slightly. "Like I ever couldn't want you," he muttered into her mouth. "I told air...I need you like air."

Their lovemaking was purposeful, needy, and insanely pleasurable. He was determined to bring her harder than ever before, and he put every skill he had to the task. Touching, tasting, moving against her until her words quieted and her body was on overdrive. She was wrapped around him tightly, begging softly for more, when he quickly rolled her on top. His intent had been to change the sensation, but he underestimated her. She quickly took control, driving him, until he was listening to his own voice begging, closing his eyes to keep the overload of sensation from driving him mad.

"For me, Bobby," she was groaning against him, "I need you...please...for me..."

Too much. He felt too much--love, need, passion, arousal, desire. He clutched her hips, driving upward and demanding harshly, "Kiss,"

She did, pressing her lips hard onto his, tongues tangling as he thrust hard and fast and she moved quickly against her. Until she heard his breath hitch, sharp, and a gutteral moan come from his throat, the erratic movements of his hips a sure sign of his orgasm. She moved sharply against him, feeling her own body explode, exactly how she needed, and she clutched his hair, grinding against his hips and moaning loudly. What he had asked for. What she needed. The flow like a wave, back and forth between them, a mix of need and want and undeniable pleasure. As the contractions lessened, she collapsed her head against his sweaty shoulder. If she never moved again she would be an insanely happy woman.

After several quiet moments he wrapped his arms around her body, still sweaty and gasping for air, running his fingers idly up and down her spine. She moved to his side, still pressing her body hard against his and letting him feel her warmth, her sweat, her wetness. He was such a sensory-driven man; she knew the feeling of her body just after he had practically ravaged her would only serve to please him.

She was right, of course. His hand was open and caressing her back fully, sliding down to cup her ass and hold her tightly. He could feel her, smell her, smell their lovemaking on her and him and the bed, and he had no desire to ever move. Ever.

When he finally spoke, it was soft and sweet, as his lips brushed the shell of her ear. "We're part of each other," he murmured. "Marly is proof of that."

She stretched fully against him, kissing him gently, pressing her breasts against his chest and catching his face in her hands. "Promise me you won't see me as only a mother. I love Marly so much, but I want...I need...I need to be more than that.."

His hands reached up, over her own. "You're everything. You know that. I love you, Vanessa...I can't imagine my life without you." His finger slid softly across her face. "And no, you're not just my daughter's're my best friend..."

She kissed him again, deep and slow and sexy enough that he groaned against her. His fingers moved into her hair. "Damn. If I were only ten years younger..."

She chuckled softly, slipping a hand between them and stroking his soft penis. "I am," she replied teasingly.

He had caught his breath when her hand had touched him, but now he pulled her hand away gently and rolled her over. "So you are," he growled low, smiling, pressing his lips to her neck. "So you are." She sighed as his hands ran back and forth. "I don't think we should waste any time."

"Mary..." she gulped, not meaning to, "she might wake up."

"Or she might now," he reasoned, lowering his lips to her nipple again.

"You know what..." her breath caught tightly at the light pressure from his sucking. "My milk..."

He lifted his head slightly to meet her eyes. "I want to taste you. Relax, my sweet girl...I promise if you trust me, everything will be good. More than good. Perfect." And he lowered his head back down to her nipple.

And it was.


She and Bobby arrived at the hospital twenty minutes early, just as Christian had asked them to. They ran into David at the nurse's desk. He seemed awkward, nervous, a physical reflection of Vanessa's own feelings for the afternoon. She had wondered on the way over, to Bobby, how Ryan would respond when he saw all of them there. If Ava would even be able to speak her piece without him leaving. But she was damned and determined to do every bit she could to make him stay, even if it meant putting on her happiest face and attitude.

"Hey," Ava greeted her, slowly standing from her wheelchair. She was wearing a blue knit sweater and jeans, the first actual clothing Vanessa had seen her in, in months. Seeing Vanessa's surprised expression, Ava smiled with a tinge of pride. "I earned them back...I'm up to ninety-nine."

She was absolutely thrilled for Ava, but before she could speak, Bobby had reached over and touched Ava's shoulder. "That's wonderful," he said sincerely. "I'm so incredibly happy for you."

Ava beamed at Bobby, then said, "Well, I've been working hard...eating what they give me, mostly...Christian gave me permission to take walks on the grounds, and David has been bringing Justin almost every day...that's helped."

Christian appeared, interrupting Ava and directing them into a group room. "Why don't we all take a moment to discuss what's going to happen today?"

They filed into the room, Ava sitting next to David and Vanessa taking a chair next to Bobby, leaving one chair empty between the sisters. "So," Christian began, "let's just take a few minutes to talk about how this is going to go, and our goals for today." He turned toward Ava. "Ava, tell everyone what you're hoping will happen today."

Ava sighed heavily before speaking. After a moment, she said, "I'm hoping that Daddy will be able to listen to what I have to his actions have been hurtful and what I need from him."

"And what do you want everyone else to do?"

She looked around the room, face to face, and then smiled. "Just support me. You don't have to say anything. It just helps me to know that if he walks out and never comes back, I have family that loves me."

"We do," Vanessa said firmly. "No matter what he does, you have us...all of us...we won't be going anywhere."

David had taken Ava's hand. "You know I'm here, sweetie. No matter what."

Bobby nodded. "He can do whatever he wants. None of us are your father, but we all care about you. And we stand by you, Ava. You deserve a happy life. A full life, with or without him."

Ava glanced down at David's hand caressing hers, then from Vanessa's face to Bobby's, and her hesitant smile grew more confident. She nodded. "I'm going to confront him. I'm going to tell him he should have been supporting me."

Christian's office phone buzzed and he picked up the receiver, spoke a few words, and hung up. "Well, are you ready, Ava?"

Vanessa could see the subtle cracks in her sister's facade, but Ava nodded anyway. "Yes," she told Christian. "I'm ready now."

Christian nodded, then stood and left the room. Vanessa leaned forward. " matter may hurt like hell...but it will be okay. We will always be your family. No matter what, Ava. I promise."

Vanessa could see the shine in Ava's eyes, indicative of tears unshed, and David leaned over and kissed her cheek.

Christian opened the door to the room, and they heard him say, "Please...come in."

Ryan stepped in the door, typical smile pasted on his face, but stopped moving two feet in. His eyes scanned the room, taking in all of them, before saying, " looks like I'm late to the party." After another moment, he stepped toward Ava and kissed her cheek. "You're looking much better, Ava," he commented, then leaned over and kissed Vanessa on the cheek. "Good to see you, Vanessa. I suppose I sit in the hot seat?"

Christian took his seat and smiled. "It's just a chair, Ryan. We thought you might be most comfortable between your daughters."

Ryan gave a hollow laugh. "Well, I suppose considering the options, that might be true." He looked from Vanessa to Ava. "So why is everyone here? I thought this was a meeting between Ava and myself."

"Well, Ava had some things she wanted to talk to you about. They were difficult things for her to say, and she asked for her whole family to be here. Does that make you uncomfortable?"

Ryan crossed his arms, and his smile faded. "Robert isn't a big fan of mine...I don't want this to disintegrate to a yelling match."

Christian turned to Bobby. "Bobby, do you think you can keep yourself under control?"

"Absolutely," Bobby nodded. "I have no intention of making anything harder for Ava."

Ryan eyed him carefully. "I guess we'll see," he responded. "So..." he turned to Ava. "What are we talking about today?"

Ava hesitated uncharacteristically, and Vanessa suddenly realized how insanely difficult this was for her little sister. Harder, even, than if she had ever had to confront Liz. Ava was twirling her fingers around one another. Christian nodded to her. "Well, Daddy, thank you for coming...I know this isn't where you wanted to be."

"I knew you'd come out eventually," Ryan responded confidently. "It doesn't help you if I make things easier for you by coddling you. Now look at're in regular clothes today. You're close to being released, aren't you?"

Vanessa bit her tongue again, and watched her little sister. "I don't know," Ava said slowly. "But it hurt me tremendously when you told me you would not come back."

"It may have hurt, but it helped you, didn't it? Look at how much more motivated you are!"

Ava was quiet. Breaking the silence, Christian asked, "Do you feel your dad's actions helped to motivate you?"

Ava didn't look up, but she spoke clearly. "No. The reason I've done better is because the rest of my family has given a hundred percent to help me...and I've given a hundred percent. David brings Justin nearly every day. Vanessa and Bobby have both come to see me individually, and they come every weekend with Marlene. I-I've started to understand that my family is bigger than you, Daddy. And that my family can love me despite my mistakes."

"I never said I didn't love you," Ryan protested. "I told you there was no point in me coming to see you--"

"--if I was wasting away," she completed for him. "I was dying. You left me when I was dying. When I needed you most, you left again. Vanessa dragged her eight-month pregnant ass over here to see me twice a week. Bobby isn't even my blood or my husband and he came to see me." Her tone was angrier now, but she didn't look up. "Why, Daddy? Why can my husband, my sister, my brother-in-law, even, love me when you can't?"

"I did it to help you," he said confidently, "and it did. Sometimes kids need tough love! Something your mother never understood. That's why your sister suffered the way she did--your mother never was willing to let her suffer from her own choices. If I had continued to come, it would have been the same as saying it was okay for you to behave like this."

"Behave like this?" she choked. "You think I chose this?"

"Of course you chose this. Eating isn't a difficult task, Ava. You pick up a fork and put the food in your mouth. By me not supporting you, it helped motivate you to get better."

"Do you know what helped me get better?" she asked, her voice quiet, shaky. "David coming nearly every day with Justin to visit and play with me. Vanessa and Bobby come to therapy on Tuesdays and bringing Marlene on the weekend. My family--the one here that loves me--showing that they support me and know I can recover, no matter how hard it is."

He shook his head. "Your mother gave your sister everything she ever wanted, and look at what a mess she became...drugs, sex, alcohol..."

"Maybe those things happened because she had nothing else to comfort her after she lost Mommy. Or maybe they didn't. But the family that loves me never gave up on me. You did."

Ryan stared at her, long and hard, before speaking again. "So you're making a decision're saying I'm not the family that loves you."

There was a strained silence, then Ava nodded. "Yes. That's what I'm saying."

Ryan turned quickly to his other side, facing Vanessa. "This is because of you, isn't it? The life you lead...does your husband know what a slut you were? The STD's, the multiple lovers, the abortions? Does he know about all of that? The drugs? And you've managed to convince your little sister that somehow this is your poor dead mother's fault--"

"She didn't convince me of anything." Ava's voice was cold. "It's perfectly clear from your behavior."

"So now it's my fault that your sister fucked anything moving? That your mother chose the easy way out?"

Vanessa felt Bobby shifting next to her, the anger emanating off of him, and she rested a hand on his knee.

"My sister," Ava tilted her head up, "is a good woman and a loving wife and mother. I hope I can be the kind of wife she is. And my mother was ill. Maybe if you hadn't been so self-involved, you might have noticed in time to help her, instead of leaving a fifteen-year old in charge of trying to fix an adult problem."

Ryan stood. "So this is how it's going to be? Your line in the sand, Ava? You're choosing to separate yourself from me?" He shook his head. "I've always been there for you."

Christian interrupted him. "Ryan, if you'd like to discuss this further, I'm going to have to insist you sit back down. It's unacceptable to stand in Ava's personal space like this."

But Ava stood to face him. "No you haven't," she said firmly. "You weren't there for me when Mommy died. You weren't there the last time I was sick. And you weren't there for me now. You're there when it's convenient and makes you look good. My real family is here for me when I need them. Not you, Daddy. Not you."

Ryan scanned the room, meeting the eyes of every glaring face. He finally settled on his eldest daughter's. "I hope you're happy now. It's what you've always wanted, isn't it? To take me away from my own daughter?"

"You had two daughters," David said, as he stood next to his wife, resting a hand on her shoulder. "Two. And now you have none."

Ryan looked from one woman to the other, then to his sons-in law. Finally he hung his head. "You know, neither of you are worth it. Just like your mother. Walking trash." He shook his head, then headed to the door. As he opened it, he paused for just a moment to look at Ava. "I hope you're happy with this decision. Because one day, when you're not, you can look around and blame your sister. She's the one who's caused all this trouble from the beginning." He left the room, letting the door slam behind him. Ava's body was noticeably shaking, and David reached out and held her, easing her down to the couch.

Beneath her quiet sobs, she whispered, "I did it...I finally did it."

Vanessa sat still, hand still on Bobby's knee, until he took it in his own. Christian met Bobby's eyes. "It may be best right now if Ava and David can have a few minutes alone to finish the session. Would that be all right with everyone?"

"Of course," Vanessa said with a conviction she didn't feel. As she and Bobby stood to leave, Ava reached out and grabbed the hem of her shirt.

"Vanessa," she gasped, face covered in tears, "Don't listen to him. I don't believe it. You're an amazing woman. Don't let him hurt you...please..."

She smiled at her little sister, only hoping to ease the pain that Ava was feeling. 'I won't," she said. "It's all okay." She leaned down and kissed Ava gently on the cheek, then watched Bobby do the same before leading her out into the hallway.

Their walk through the hospital was silent, his large hand pressed firmly on her lower right waist, guiding her from the elevator through the hallways and finally outside, to the parking garage. Slowly he let go of her and unlocked the door, watching her climb into the passenger seat, lay her purse on the floor and stare straight ahead.

He closed the driver door and put his seatbelt on, then turned on the ignition. He stopped before putting the car in gear, and stared at her for several minutes until she finally looked back at him.

"You're not a slut," he said. "You're an amazing woman, and I'm so fortunate to know you."

"I was a slut," she said, empty. "You don't even know."

He was quiet, staring ahead as well for a moment, before speaking. "I know this," he finally said, looking at her. "I've never known a woman who has such a capacity to love or to forgive. I've never known a woman who had the capacity to love me...much less to love me the way you do. I could give a shit less about your past. All of it led you to me, and for that, I'm eternally grateful."

Her eyes met his, misty, before she pressed her forehead onto his arm, letting the tears begin to flow. He felt his own, and they sat quietly, crying together, for everything they had lost and the mistakes they had made and how all of it, through some bizarre course of fate, had led them to this, this life together, that they would never change.