The judge says the words with the same tone Sarah imagines he uses to order his coffee every morning. Two creams, no sugar, the court awards temporary custody of the minor to Greg Linden.
If she could breath she would speak. She would scream. Jack is her son. Jack belongs with her.
But the judge is already moving on, ready for the next case and the next one so that he can go home early, be with his family. Wash his hands clean of all the lives he ruined today.
“I’m sorry, Sarah,” Greg says. “This is for the best. Finish the case and then we’ll talk.”
She looks through him, walks right past him. Jack is waiting for her in the hall, his head bent, laughing at something Holder is whispering to him. They’re both staring down at a game in Jack’s hands. At least Holder kept him busy.
The sound of her footsteps echoing across the hard tiles catches Holder’s attention. His expression twists, half anger, half pity. Sarah can’t bring herself to meet his eyes. He squeezes Jack’s shoulder and she knows that one motion tells her son everything. She kneels down in front of him anyway, rests her hands on the worn knees of his jeans.
She’s been here before.
“Temporary custody,” she says. “I’m going to fight it, Jack. It’s you and me, okay? But until
I can fix this, I need …I need you to be good for your dad. It won’t be long, I swear…”
She expects yelling, swearing maybe, or a cold shrug of his shoulders. Those are things she could handle.
Jack wraps his arms around her and Sarah sits up, the tiles painful against her knees, but the physical pain barely registers. She can’t remember the last time Jack hugged her without prompting.
“Are you going to be okay, Mom?” he asks low, so only she can hear.
No, she wants to say. No. No. No.
“I’ll be fine.”
Greg is lingering by the door, shifting lightly from one foot to the other. It’s time to go.
Jack gently disentangles himself from her arms and glances at Holder.
“You take care of yourself, little man. I’ll take care of your moms,” Holder says. “We’ll see you soon.”
Jack nods. Sarah watches him walk away, watches him grow smaller with every step he takes away from her, watches him vanish as he turns the corner. How many times did she take that same walk? She only really remembers the first time. Her mother promising, swearing, it’s just for a little while even though she meant forever.
Sarah knows she’s committed her share of sins. She wasn’t always there, she worked too much, she let Jack eat too many dinners alone, let him live out of a suitcase too long. But she loves her son with a ferocity she’s never felt herself, one she didn’t even know she was capable of until a doctor put Jack into her arms, red-faced and screeching. He’s been loved since before he drew his first breath, and she’s told him, shown him, every day since.
Her words weren’t empty like her mother’s.
She can only hope Jack knows that.
“We should go,” Holder says. His arms are wrapped around her, hauling her to her feet. She didn’t realize she was still on the floor.
“You file an appeal; take that son of a bitch back to court. Little man’s back by lunchtime tomorrow. Me and you both know Judge Jackson’s a prick, you just gotta get a better judge. Linden? Linden, are you hearing me?”
The cigarette between her fingers has almost burned down to ash and the cold November air mixed with the sweet burn of nicotine in her lungs makes every breath she draws sting.
“We need to finish the case.”
“The case? You’re thinking about the fucking case? Linden, your kid--”
“I know where my kid is. And I know the only way I’m going to get him back is if I end this. Now are you going to help me?”
She takes one last draw off the cigarette before dropping it onto the slush covered sidewalk and heading back toward the car.
Holder follows without a word.
They call in every person with half a connection to the Larsen family. Neighbors, classmates, coworkers, anyone who could have had a grudge. They go higher up. They haul in the mayor; they chase leads down every dead end alley in Seattle until they feel like they’ve seen every speck of dirt the city’s underbelly has to offer.
They get cockblocked at every turn.
Sarah sees the case in her mind, a thousand strings twining together, crossing and winding until they build a web, a story without an ending.
Holder only leaves her side to piss. He takes to sleeping in Jack’s bed at night, says it’s not worth the drive to go home if she’s just going to call him at 2:00 a.m. anyway.
Ain’t no thing, Linden, he says over and over again, drawing out the syllables in her name.
He doesn’t mention Jack.
Neither does she. But he hangs there between them, haunts every conversation. Her son and Rosie. They’re always there.
“We’re getting close,” Holder says shoving a burger into her hands. He keeps making her eat. “I got a feeling.”
“And those are so reliable?”
“Damn, Linden. We been doing this long enough for you to know this sweet ass is psychic by now.”
She smiles, despite herself and she hears the sound of relief in Holder’s voice when he laughs.
She calls Jack and he doesn’t pick up. Panic surges in her chest unbidden. He’s probably just out with friends. But how can she know when she’s not there? If something happened would Greg even call?
She calls again.
Jack picks up on the fourth try. “Mom?”
There’s an edge of worry in his voice. She knows she put it there.
“Just checking in,” she says. “Is everything--”
Laughter erupts in the background.
“Mom, can I call you back?”
“Sure, baby. I love you.”
“Love you too.”
The line goes dead.
Holder finds her sitting on the edge of the bed, her face in her hands, ugly, angry sobs ripping through her. The only thing she hates worse than crying is other people seeing her cry, but when he pulls her close and runs his thumb across her temple she lets him do it.
“I think I got something to nail the mayor’s ass to the wall,” he says after a moment.
Sarah pulls back and wipes away the tears still clinging to her cheeks.
“The Larsen case is over,” Carlson tells them. “And you’re both fired.”
It turns out the mayor doesn’t like being dragged down to the station in the middle of his inauguration speech. The good people of Seattle don’t like it either. Not so soon after Richmond.
“We are this close, sir. We just need a little more time,” Sarah says. Carlson slams his fist down on his desk hard enough to knock over a stack of files. Beside her, Holder’s body tenses like he’s readying for a fight.
Holder opens his mouth to speak, but Sarah wraps a hand around his wrist. He gets the message.
“Like hell it is,” she says.
She can feel her control slipping away; feel obsession edging its way in.
This wasn’t supposed to happen again. She made a promise to herself and to Jack.
But she’s standing in an abandoned factory without a badge, the wind howling through the rafters as her fist connects with the witness’s face.
“Tell me who Rosie was afraid of,” she says with too much calm. The witness spits blood on her shoes.
Holder steps between them, shakes his head.
“The guy’s in too deep to open his mouth,” Holder says as he strips off his bloodstained shirt.
He turns his back to her and her eyes go to the crucifix on his neck. She’s falling and she’s dragging him down with her. He bends down to pick up a shirt from his floor (clean enough, he says winking at her over his shoulder) and she comes up behind him and traces the outline of the cross with her fingertips. Holder stills, a rare occurrence for him.
“I’m going home,” she says. “I want you to lose my number. Go to Carlson, tell him what I’ve been doing. Make a deal. Do what you have to do to get your job back.”
He stands up in one lithe movement, already shaking his head.
“Do you think I care about my fucking job?” he asks, anger dripping off every word. He takes a step closer, invades her space. Sarah doesn’t give an inch.
“You’re a good cop—detective—you’ve got a long career ahead of you and God knows that place needs someone who gives a shit about the job. I can finish this alone.”
She turns to go, but Holder catches her arm.
“That’s not your call to make, Sarah.”
“Damn it, Holder--”
He leans down, one arm snaking around her waist dragging her against his bare chest. He’s shaking as he kisses her, trembling fingers winding through her hair.
She breaks it off, but his body follows hers when she tries to move away. When she looks into his eyes, she doesn’t entirely understand what she sees there. It’s something desperate, something ferocious, something that scares the hell out of her.
“Don’t ask me to leave you again,” he says quietly.
Sarah nods, takes a tentative step forward, her hands ghosting across the sharp bones of his hips before settling there. She leans her forehead against his chest and his body seems to sag in relief.
“Okay,” she says. “Okay.”
She wakes in the middle of the night, her mind racing trying to come up with their next move.
Holder is beside her, his knees tucked into hers, his arms wrapped around her body.
“Go to sleep, Linden,” he murmurs into the nape of her neck. “The morning’s for game plans and donuts.”
“Tell me it’s almost over,” she whispers back.
Holder stays silent, but he draws her in closer, presses a kiss to her shoulder.
It’s not an answer, but it still gives her hope.