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The Golden Isles of Georgia

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“Rollins,” Benson says without hesitation once she’s debriefed her detectives on the situation. “I need you and Carisi to head down to Georgia to work with the Glynn County Police and the FBI immediately. Find her.”

Melody Sachrine, a woman accused of child abuse in Manhattan had absconded with her daughter upon her release from jail on bail pending her hearing. The horrors she had inflicted upon her daughter were shocking even to the seasoned SVU detectives. They needed to find Jill, and keep her safe from her mother. There had been a confirmed sighting of her along I-17 near Brunswick down in Georgia less than an hour ago. And she owned multiple properties on the Golden Isles of Georgia’s Southern coast. They knew she was down there.

“Copy that,” Rollins says. She and Carisi head out to the airport together.


“My aunt’s dyin,” Carisi says as they sit together on the plane. They couldn’t get aisles across at the very last minute – they had been lucky just to get two seats together. So Carisi, ever the gentleman, had taken the middle seat and given Rollins the window seat.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” she says.

“Yeah, my uncle, he’s real torn up about it.”

“I bet.”

They sit there in melancholy silence for a bit, Carisi looking uncomfortable as hell, and not just from having taken the smaller seat. Finally, Rollins breaks it.

“You want to talk about it?”

“No, not really. It’s just been on my mind, you know. How sad he is. How sad that would be. To lose someone slowly like that.”

“I know,” she says and touches his hand softly. “But he’ll get through it.”

“Will he?” Carisi asks as he turns toward her with the most haunted look in his eyes.

Good question.


It had been a long day on the ground with the Glynn County Police and the FBI, but no luck, only speculation as to where Melody had taken her daughter, where she was hiding her. She had properties on Jekyll Island, St. Simon’s Island, Little St. Simon’s Island, even Sea Island. It went on and on. Some were single family homes and easy to search, while many were vacation rentals with multiple units. Even though the Golden Isles were sleepy, there were so many places to check and things were so spread out that it was a logistical nightmare. And it didn’t help that Melody was from a prominent local family so that many residents who may have known something about the woman’s whereabouts felt it best to withhold information from the authorities.

Many hours after dusk the Glynn County Sheriff takes Rollins and Carisi aside.

“You two should get some shuteye. We’ve got some fresh officers over from FLETC to relieve some of us tonight. Nice to have a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center so handy,” the sheriff muses. “Don’t worry, they’ll wake you soon as they find anything.”

“Thank you,” Rollins says and she and Carisi get into their rental car and head back to Brunswick.

“Would be nicer to stay on this Island,” Carisi muses, staring out into the dark, remembering the lush vegetation he had seen on their drive out here to Jekyll earlier that evening.

“Yeah, good luck finding any place cheap around here.” Rollins says sarcastically, knowing there isn't any. The whole island is practically one big resort.

“I have an idea,” he says. “Pull over.”

He takes out his phone, does a search, dials a number. “Yeah, can I speak to someone in reservations, please?”

“Uh, Carisi, who are you calling? We already have reservations for tonight . . .” Amanda says quietly as he waits on hold.

“No we don’t.”

“What?”

“I forgot to get that all set up like Benson asked me to,” he says nonchalantly and shrugs. “Besides, this place I just called looks nice.”

“What place?”

“The Jekyll Island Club.”

“The big white Victorian resort?”

“Yeah. So?”

“Carisi, hang up. We’ll never get that approved. It’s too expen–“

And before she can finish he’s off hold and sweet talking the woman on the other end of the line, managing to get a whopping last minute rate of 40% off for two rooms. Rollins just looks at him and shakes her head. “I don’t know how you do it.”

“’Don’t you know you attract more flies with honey, sugar?’” he says with the worst imitation of a Southern accent she’s heard in a long time.

She grumbles and shakes her head, pulling back out onto the road, this time heading to the Jekyll Island Club.

“I thought you’d know that, being from the South and all,” he continues.

She just rolls her eyes.


The accommodations are really nice. Small, not overly modern, and quite charming. Snuggled under a quilted coverlet, Amanda drifts off easily.

In another wing of the hotel, Carisi takes some time settling into his room, checking out all the amenities the hotel has to offer - ones they aren’t going have time to use. He also checks out the soaps and lotions in their little souvenir bottles, a picture of the Jekyll Island Club embossed on each and every one of them; reads about the hotel’s status as a Historic Hotel of America; checks out what’s going to be served in the Grand Dining Room the next day; and finally turns on the TV. He falls asleep watching a documentary about how Yellow Fever had periodically ravaged the Golden Isles back in the antebellum era.

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She is panicked, hiding in the deep recesses of the corner, yet the broom keeps lashing out. Smack. There is the hard thud of a bruise being formed and the sting of its whiskers as it rakes down the back of her thighs. Again.

“Come here you little runt, you little coward,” the shrill voice of her tormentor shrieks. “Face me!”

The broom stops as her blond baby hair is grasped and practically pulled out of her head as she is forced up and into a standing position.

A large hand swoops towards her face.

Smack.

Stars and dizziness.

“Don’t you swoon on me, girl,” the voice demands. Sharp fingernails pierce into her right ear and she squeals in pain. “You’re coming with me.”

“No! No, no,” she begs and tears roll down her face in earnest, knowing where she is being taken. “Please no. I’ll do anything!”

“That’s right, you’ll do anything. You’ll do as I say, you unruly little girl.” She is dragged down the hallway by her ear.

The maw of the closet door swings open before her and she is horrified. She can’t see what is in there, what horrors lie in wait for her. The unknowing is her undoing.

“No, please,” she begs once again, weakly.

“Into the closet with you,” her tormentor declares and with a swift kick to her rear she finds herself tumbling inside of it.

The door slams shut before she stops rolling. She gets up and runs to it, bangs on it. The absolute darkness is behind her. What is in there? She doesn’t want to know. She bangs harder, she cries, begs, and pleads to be let back into the light.

Her cries go unanswered. For hours.


He stands out on the porch awaiting the doctor’s carriage, pacing. He knows the doc needs to tend to many victims of Yellow Jack tonight, but his Mandy . . . his Mandy really needs him.

Finally, he hears the hooves and wheels of a carriage clomping and grinding against small stones in the drive. The doc is too far out in the darkness to see just yet, but he’s coming. Hope is coming.

The doctor is ushered upstairs after the briefest of pleasantries are exchanged.

“Husband, can you light a candle? Another candle?”

“Of course, darling,” he says and gets busy setting another one to light as the doctor tends to his wife, examines her.

“Awful lot of candles in here,” the doc remarks.

“She needs them,” he responds firmly, defensively, and the subject is dropped.

“I can’t see,” Mandy says to the doc almost in panic. Her limp blonde hair is messy – she’s been in bed for days - yet she still manages to find a cohesive strand to tuck behind one ear. It’s a nervous habit of hers. “It’s so dark. Not like before at night. Darker. And there never seems to be enough light. Not even during the day.”

The doctor nods and begins a series of tests. Later, he leads him outside to give him the bad news about his wife.

“Sometimes when Yellow Jack brings the brain fever, delirium isn’t the only consequence. That passes. And Mandy’s through that. But sometimes it leaves one blind. It takes some time for it to progress, but -”

“What? She can’t go blind.” He runs his fingers agitatedly through his hair and then yells at the doctor. “You don’t understand! That’s the worst thing that could ever happen to her!”

“Not the worst.”

What? He knows that the doctor would consider death a fate worse than blindness - even though for Mandy that just wouldn’t be the case . . . So then . . . Does that mean she’s dying? That his wife is dying?

Looking into the doctor’s eyes he doesn’t see any certainty that she isn’t.

“She’s not passing enough water. That’s not a good sign,” the doctor says.

His heart sinks.

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Amanda awakens with a start, finds a light beside her to turn on immediately and then in a panic rushes around the room to turn them all on. Her heart is racing, chest tight with rapid breathing.

She sits back down on the bed and tries to calm herself. Deep breaths. She looks in every corner, at every single thing that surrounds her in the room, making sure she can see the details of everything. There's no darkness.

She’s good.


Carisi wakes up with tears on his pillow. She’s not passing enough water. That’s not a good sign.

His aunt's dying of renal failure.

He wipes them off and begins his day in a melancholy mood.


They meet in the Grand Dining Room for breakfast.

“Fancy,” Rollins says, bemused.

“Yeah,” Carisi says distractedly.

After they’re seated by a hostess Carisi asks her, “Did you sleep well?”

“Not really. Had to sleep with the lights on.”

“Really?” Carisi leans forward, a bemused look on his face. “Was there a ghost in your room?”

Rollins huffs. “Hardly.”

“So why’d you sleep with the lights on then?”

“Bad dreams.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. Total bummer. I’m so sore.” She flips through the menu.

“Sore?”

“From waking up throughout the night I guess,” she shrugs. “The bed seemed plenty comfortable. It wasn’t that.”

“Yeah, mine too. It wasn’t the bed.”

“What wasn’t the bed?”

“My bad dream.”

“You slept poorly too?”

“Yeah, except mine was closer to a haunting. A nice antebellum dream.”

“Was it this place’s influence?”

“Nah, I don’t think so. This hotel is more turn-of-the-century. This dream was . . ." he pauses to think. “I don’t know, more of the History Channel’s influence I think.”

“The History Channel?”

“Yeah, they were running a special on Yellow Fever – and my dream last night was about that. It was prevalent in this area prior to the civil war.”

“Well, we are in the South, Carisi.”

He gives her a wry grin.


Another fruitless day of searching ends.

“Damn, this poor girl. Who knows what her mother is doing to her right now,” Rollins says as they drive back to Jekyll Island.

“Yeah,” Carisi says distractedly. He’s been distracted all day.

“You wanna talk about it?” Rollins asks him.

“Huh?”

“Your aunt and uncle. I know it’s on your mind.”

He sighs deeply. Yeah, they sure are. Last night’s dream only emphasized to him just how much.

“You know Rollins, you’re with someone practically your whole adult life – you’ve built your routines, your day to day around them. You always have someone handy . . . to talk to you know?”

“Uh huh.”

“And then they’re gone. That pattern is gone. Your whole life is gone. You have to start over without them,” he says glumly.

There’s a brief silence before he breaks it.

“How do you do that?” he asks, almost exasperated. “Cause it’s not just losing the person, the one you love – that’s hard enough. It’s more than that. It’s your whole life.”

Rollins contemplates what he’s said and then responds, “You build a new pattern?”

Carisi is still thinking about that as he slips into sleep that night.


The doc had just left. Mandy wasn’t expected to make it through the night. She hadn’t passed water in more than a day.

He lay with her in bed, holding her, comforting her as her surroundings continue to get darker. He had lit so many candles. There are over a hundred in her room now and had been for days.

“I’m so scared,” she whispers as she holds onto him.

“I know.”

And he knows it isn’t death she’s afraid of either.

“It’s so dark there.” She gulps. “In the ground.”

“Darling,” he says gently and strokes her hair in an attempt to soothe her.

“Don’t put me in the ground. Don’t put me in the dark. Please.”

He starts to cry because he knows he has to. There are no alternatives.


The little girl is released from the closet. She falls hard to the ground as the door she had been pounding on is jerked open. There’s no one in the hallway.

She hears her parent’s carriage outside and knows they have just returned. She runs outside to greet her mother, clinging to her skirt and crying.

“Oh, not again,” she hears her mother say, agitated. She picks up her daughter and puts her on her hip.

“Mama!” she says, still crying, but tries to gulp back her tears so she can talk. “Gubbernest was mean to me!”

“The governess again?” her father says impatiently. “Take her inside, this is embarrassing.”

Her mother does, sets her down in the foyer and tells her sternly, “These things don’t happen. Stop making up stories, Mandy. It’s a sin to lie. Do you want God to deny you entry into heaven?”

“No,” she answers, very afraid at the prospect.

“Good girl. Now go play outside and let your father and I unpack. Don’t be a nuisance.”


Amanda turns over in her sleep and finds herself in a different place.

The smile of a nice looking man, touching his hand the first time they dance, long afternoons on the veranda talking about anything and everything, excitement and a touch of anxiety as she places the veil over her face, taking that final step towards him . . .

And now she is in bed, awaiting him on their wedding night. She doesn’t have the customary bridal jitters, she trusts him implicitly. No matter how scary this was purported to be she knew he would never hurt her. She’s more curious than afraid.

The lanterns are lit on either side of the bed and burning brightly when he comes to her, looking more nervous than she expected.

“Here, let’s put out the light,” he says and bends over to blow out the lantern closest to him.

“No!” she shrieks, but it is too late. The lantern is out.

She starts crying.

“What’s wrong, darling?” he asks gently, reaching out to her. “What did I do?”

“Dark. It’s too dark.” She is gulping in panic now. The light of one lantern isn’t enough. “Oh God, please. . .”

“Let me light the lantern again then, darling. Hold on.” He frantically searches the nightstand for the matches, lights one, and touches it to the wide fabric wick.

It blazes to life again and she springs forward to hug him, holding onto him fiercely as she lets out tears that had been held back in her panic at being plunged into the semi-dark.

“It’s alright, darling. It’s alright,” he says. He holds her until her tears run dry.

“Thank you,” she says as she releases him. “Thank you for that.”

“Sure, darling. But can I ask you something? And can you answer me if you can?”

“I’ll try.”

“Why are you so afraid of the dark?”

She trusts him, so she tells him.

And to her amazement he believes her. Every word. She knows now that she will love him until her dying day.

He says to her, “Tell you what. We’ll never extinguish these lanterns in here . . . And how about candles in every room, okay? No darkness. Ever. I can give you that. I can promise you that.”

“Yes,” she says, grasping his hands. “Thank you.”


Amanda awakens feeling content, drifting in and out of pleasant dreams with an old-time Southern man who somehow looks, but doesn’t sound like Carisi.

Carisi wakes with tears on his pillow. Again. Devastated by his dream of losing a frightened woman who looks just like Amanda and being absolutely unable to ease her fears.

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“You okay, ‘Manda?” Carisi asks Rollins after the girl they had found in the “care” of her mother had been taken away by social services. “You seem shaken.”

Rollins just nods and says, “Let’s go, Carisi. I never want to come back to this island again.”

“Copy that.”

As they drive back from St. Simon’s to Jekyll, Rollins sits in silent contemplation. Jill had been found locked in a closet with bruising and brush scrapes all over her legs consistent with being battered by a broom. She had been terrified and clung to Rollins until social services took her away. It just about broke her heart. But at least she was safe from her mom.

“Uncle Mickey told me that Mommy would never hurt me,” she told Amanda. “He didn’t believe me when I told her what she liked to do. All the mean stuff. He said she would never do things like that and that I was making it all up. Why did he say that?”

“Even some adults don’t understand that their family members can be bad people, Jill.” She had looked up at Carisi briefly, who was trying to hide an uncomfortable expression. “But it’s okay now. We’re all here because we believe you. Some of us came from New York, like you. Some are from right here. And some even came from Virginia. We all wanted to make sure you were safe.”

Jill had smiled a bit and given her a tight hug.

“Hey Carisi?” she asks him.

“Yeah?”

“What made you uncomfortable about this case?”

“What do you mean?” he says, fussing with the steering wheel a bit. “Nothing did. I’m fine Rollins.”

“Come on.” Rollins calls his bluff. “I saw that look on your face when I was talking to Jill. Something I was telling her . . .”

“Come on, Rollins. You know how hard it is for me when I see family stuff like this. When it’s such a close relative. . . I mean, I know it happens, but still . . .”

Rollins waits for him to continue through the silence.

“I . . . I just don’t want it to be true. That family would treat each other that way.” His left leg begins pumping up and down furiously and he bounces a fist on it. “And I’m not sure I would trust myself to do the right thing right away. For one, it would be so hard for me to believe it if one of my sisters was accused –“

“And you don’t have to Carisi. Not right now,” she interrupts him, noticing how fidgety he’s gotten all of a sudden. She places a hand on his fist to stop it. She realizes they’ve both had a rough few work days coupled with poor nights’ sleep. “Let’s just focus on resting up before our flight tomorrow instead, okay?”

He lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding and nods. “Good idea.”


Rollins gets bored and shuffles through some brochures she had taken back to her room detailing various things to do in the area.

Lighthouse Trolleys: Land & Sea Tours

“Hmm. . .” she picks up the phone on her nightstand and calls Carisi.

“Yeah?” he answers it.

“Carisi it’s me. You up for a ghost tour tonight?”

“What?”

“A ghost tour. You game?”

“You’re not talking about driving all the way to Savannah tonight, are you? I’m tired . . .”

“No, here. I found a brochure for local ghost tours. Looks like there’s one right here and one on St. Simon’s tonight.”

“Are you shitting me Rollins?” He chuckles. “I told you this place was haunted.”

“And when exactly did you tell me that?” she challenges.

“Oh, never mind,” he says. “Sure, I’ll go with you. But I just wanted to let you know . . . just because I watch hokey reality TV with you, it doesn’t mean I believe in any hokey ghosts.”

“’Hokey ghosts’?” Rollins asks. “Did I just hear you use those two words in a sentence?”

“All I’m saying is, don’t fall for any of this stuff like you do with your reality TV –“

“I don-“ she starts to protest before he cuts her off.

“People don’t come back to this Earth to re-live, fix, or finish things they left undone while they were here, Rollins. They work that stuff out in Purgatory. When they’re gone, they’re gone.”

“Each to their own beliefs then.”


They’re heading to St. Simon’s Island, the place Rollins had just sworn she didn’t want to return to, because the ghost tour on Jekyll Island was sold out for the night. Carisi should have teased her about her change of heart but instead he’d been glum. About halfway there, after they’ve sat in near silence for a good twelve minutes, she finds she has to ask.

“Carisi, what’s wrong?”

“I got a phone call after you hung up.”

“And?”

“My aunt passed.”

“Oh, Sonny, no. I’m sorry.” She reaches out for his hand and he takes it. “You should have told me. We didn’t need to do this tonight.”

“Yeah, I think I kinda do, Amanda.” He squeezes her hand a bit tighter. “I think it will help.”

“I hope so. I know this has been on your mind a lot.”

“Yeah.”

Silence descends once again, but she’s able to comfort him somewhat with his hand cradled in hers for the rest of the drive.


Their ghost tour host, Frank, is quite the thespian and Carisi quickly gets into the spirit of things and starts heckling him like the New Yorker he is.

“Hey, so this Wanderer?”

“Mary the Wanderer, yes?”

“How come she wanders in the woods if her tale of tragic love ended on the beach, huh? Tell me that.” Rollins pokes him in the ribs. He looks at her briefly before turning back to their host with a challenge in his tone. “Doesn’t make sense to me.”

“Sorry, he’s not from the South. He doesn’t understand basic manners sometimes.” Rollins says to Frank in apology.

“Hey, I’ve got manners, they’re just not Southern.” Carisi protests.

And elderly woman wearing a hat so ostentatious it should be reserved for Easter instead of being worn on a trolley tour in the dark of night turns back to face him and says with a rich Southern twang, “That’s painfully obvious, darlin.’”

Later . . .

“Oooh . . .  chains. Scary. Like chains come to life. C’mon I thought this was ghost tour!”

“Carisi!”

Later . . .

The trolley stops at the third most haunted lighthouse in the country and they all get off.

“With that kind of buildup this better be –“ Carisi suddenly trips on the sidewalk. Rollins catches enough of his fall to prevent him from cracking his chin open but goes down herself, directly underneath him.

“Ooof.”

Frank looks down at them and says, “Scary enough for you?”

They burst out laughing.

Carisi crawls off of Rollins, springs into a standing position, and holds out his hand to her. She takes it and they both brush themselves off. The elderly woman ‘harrumphs,’ crosses her arms, and shakes her head just watching them.

And Carisi’s clumsiness doesn’t end there - he accidentally sits on the woman’s hat upon re-boarding the trolley. She is not amused.


“Now this tour doesn’t go to the North part of the island –“

“Why not?” Carisi heckles once again from the back.

“Well . . .”

“Lemme guess. Cause it’s too haunted?”

“Something like that . . . there are definitely some ghosts up there . . .”

All of the lights on the trolley go out and it slows to a stop as Frank spins a tale.

“There’s a beautiful church up in the North part of this island called Christ Church. Some of you may have heard of it. . . . maybe even been there. Ever try to check out the cemetery at night?

. . . well, you won’t likely see much today – it’s locked now at night and bright lights surround the church, but back in less . . . modern times . . . a light could be seen shining upon a headstone every night – as if a candle had been lit and placed at its base. But no source for the light could ever be found. And nothing could ever extinguish it . . .

Back before the civil war, it was told that a girl grew up here who was terrorized by her nanny. Poor thing . . . no one ever believed her . . .”

Ice shoots through Amanda’s heart.

“. . . and since her parents didn’t believe the stories she told of her caretaker the abuse continued, unrelenting . . . The girl was routinely locked in the closet and became terrified of the dark. . .”

Sonny takes Amanda’s hand just in time. The darkness of the trolley is starting to overwhelm her.

“Hey, it’s okay,” he whispers as he strokes the top of her hand.

“. . . The girl grew into a woman who finally escaped her tormentor when she married a man who also lived here on St. Simon’s. On the North end. He knew of her terror and made sure to keep candles burning brightly throughout the night for her. . . ”

“. . . As y’all likely know this part of the country had been prone to outbreaks of Yellow Fever about that time. St. Simon’s wasn’t spared. The woman contracted it and her worst fear was realized . . . she started to go blind.”

Sonny gulps and grips the hand he had been holding. Hard. Amanda jerks her head towards him but cannot read his face in the darkness that encompasses it.

“. . . And as she knew her final days were drawing to a close, she became horrified thinking of the darkness in the ground . . . the darkness she would be buried in.”

Sonny and Amanda both shiver.

The lights on the trolley slowly come back on as it starts to inch forward. Now Amanda can see Sonny’s face and he can see hers. Somehow, they know . . .

“Her husband lit a candle and placed it at her grave every night for as long as he lived. And even longer it seems . . .”

. . . the tale of undying love is somehow theirs.

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He calls her room long before her alarm goes off.

“Hey Amanda,” he scratches the back of his head suddenly wondering if this random harebrained idea of his would even go over well with her. “I was wondering if we could leave a little early. Maybe stop by Christ Church on St. Simon’s before we head to the airport.”

Silence.

“I’d . . .  I’d kinda like to see it,” he continues.

“Mmm . . . um hum,” he hears on the other end of the line, followed by the phone hanging up.


The thunder starts as he waits outside her room. He had only knocked once, hoping she had actually gotten up and gotten ready, but not wanting to really wake her if she hadn’t.

How long should he wait?

“Just a minute,” he hears as the thunder booms louder. Oh, thank goodness. Somehow it was very important to him that they fit in this little detour to their itinerary. There was something there. . .


It’s raining as they walk under the trellis and into the cemetery, but they pay that no mind.

“I miss Jesse,” Amanda says as they see a jungle gym for kids off to one side of the parish offices, oddly situated right smack dab next to a bunch of headstones. “I could never do what that mother did to Jill, or let that nanny do –“

“You’re right,” Sonny answers her before she finishes. “You’d protect Jesse from that. You made that kinda clear you know.”

She nods, remembering their conversation in the breakroom that one day, when they were at odds over a mother’s culpability in the abuse of her son by her own husband. Sonny could somehow tell that the abuse was systemic and was sympathetic towards her, assuming (correctly it turned out), that he was abusing her as well.

“Would you have protected Jill? Or been more like her Uncle? Unbelieving?”

“Amanda, as I said, sometimes family stuff like this gets really compli –“

She interrupts him, tries a different tactic.

“Would you have believed the one from our dreams – the one who was terrorized?”

They stop in front of some of the oldest headstones they’ve seen yet, and Sonny puts his hands on Amanda’s shoulders firmly.

“Yes. I would have believed her. I believe you.”

“Me?”

“Yes, if you ever want to talk . . .”

Amanda looks down.

“Amanda, if you ever want to tell me what it was like growing up . . .” he shuffles his feet nervously because she’s still not looking up at him. “I . . . I know it was rough is all I’m saying. I can tell. If you ever want to talk . . . I’ll believe whatever you have to say.”

She nods and sinks her head into his chest. Thunder booms as his arms wrap about her, one coming up to cradle her head. He is so gentle. They sway a bit as the rain begins to soak them.

After some time the rain slows down a little and she pulls away from him, pulling her wet hair out of her face so she can look up at him.

“How are you doing?” she asks softly. “Since your aunt . . .”

He looks down at her solemnly, tears swimming in his eyes. “I don’t what I would do if it was me . . .”

She raises a comforting hand to his cheek. “Remember when we last talked about this?”

He nods.

She nods back.

“Good. Find a new pattern,” she says firmly. “You’ll need to find a new pattern once she’s gone.”

He places a large hand on the small of her back, and pulls her to him – presses her against him. Amanda strokes a small circle on his cheek as he bends down to kiss her softly.

Thunder booms twice before their lips part. He lowers his forehead onto hers, touches the bridge of her nose with the tip of his own, and lets the rain pour down between their faces.

As lightning illuminates the sky he whispers, “I would light a candle for you.”

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It takes years of practice to walk through the precinct and make it into her office without staggering like a college student during finals week, coffee in one hand and cell phone in the other. Exhaustion is part of the job, always has been and always will be. Throw in a child and sleep is more a fond memory than a reality.

Especially when said child decides to have a mid-childhood crisis and relive the glory days of his terrible twos. Fortunately he seems to have gotten it out of his system over the weekend.

She slumps in her chair and for a moment Olivia enjoys the quiet before the others start trickling in. Finn will likely be first. Then Carisi. Her money is on Rollins to arrive last. Some days she would make bank on that. Others, she's glad the wagers aren't real at all.

Did Cragen ever sit here and place mental bets on his staff?

Olivia allows herself one long, jaw-cracking yawn before pulling at the stack of paperwork that she swears reproduced over the weekend.

She's making good headway when she comes across the most recently submitted expense reports. She stares at them for a moment, trying to make sense of some of the  expenses being requested for reimbursement. She takes off her reading glasses to pinch the bridge of her nose before walking to the open door of her office.

There's now a gentle thrum of voices, that calming white noise of intermingling of cadences, tones, and accents that somehow always stays the same even when the faces change. Her prey is here, Carisi perched on the edge of Rollins' desk. Their voices are too low to make out either accent let alone words.

"Carisi. Rollins. My office."

There's a moment of deer and headlights. His cheeks turn pink first but Olivia is already heading back to her chair, so she can’t see if Rollins' face matches that shade or not.

She picks up the two questionable expense reports as she sits down. A soft scraping of rubber soles against the floor is a tell tale sign that they've entered. After a casual wave of her hand she hears the cushions of the chairs in front of her desk groan and huff. "Accounting is going to have a field day with this."

"Hey, everything on that list is legit." Somehow he's able to make casual leaning look professional. Somehow he's able to casually lean in a chair.

Olivia arches an eyebrow. "The Jekyll Island Club? Something tells me on a group of islands with more hotels than residents, you could have found something a little less pretentious."

“What? You Googled it or something?”

Olivia presses her lips together and shrugs. "When I see something that's obviously not a standard motel chain, yeah. I'm gonna Google it."

"I got us a standard motel chain price tag, though, you gotta admit."

"I'm...not sure I want to know how you managed it. Besides, what was the standard price?"

"Like I said. I was nice." Carisi shrugs. "And like I told Rollins -”

He jerks his thumb towards the blonde detective now strumming her fingers on her chair. Olivia could almost hear the grinding teeth from across the desk.

“' - you catch more flies with sugar, honey.'”

Rollins rolls her eyes at his outrageous - horribly bad - Southern accent and shoots him a quick look before returning her attention to their boss.

Olivia hums, and then examines her newest detective’s report closely. "Tell me something Carisi, what did Lighthouse Trolleys Land and Sea Tours have to do with the case?"

"You expensed the ghost tour?" Rollins' voice is hissed, her head tilted to face him.

He holds up his hands. "Hey, it was an impromptu team building exercise."

Olivia just stares at him.

“Look, Lieu, this isn’t disallowed under 26 U.S. Code § 274. In fact we have full substantiation. I’ve listed the amount, the date, the place, the reason -”

“The reason?”

“Yeah, like I said. Teambuilding.”

“I see ‘relationship building’ listed here.”

“Uh yeah,” he answers, ears turning slightly pink. Then he mumbles, “That’s the technical term for it.”

“Uh huh.” Of course he knows the tax code. If pressed he could probably give subsections, a page number, everything. Because of course he'd have it memorized. Attorneys. She shakes her head.

"What about the accidental destruction of personal property?"

Rollins holds up her hand. "To be fair, Lieutenant, he did the country a favor with that one. That thing probably would have grown a mind of its own and terrorized all of Georgia."

Olivia stares at the both of them for a moment. "But it was accidental?"

Carisi nods. "Oh, yes. It was dark."

He turns to look at Rollins. "Maybe she was one of your ghosts dressed like that."

Rollins looks at him like he's crazy. "How does that even make sense? "

"It doesn't, but haunted shackles and a ghost who has no designated place of haunting does? "

Olivia clears her throat, interrupting the Rollins and Carisi show beginning to unfold before her. "Anyway. I trust that there was at least some bonding during this...team building exercise of yours."

There is a split moment where neither answer. All that greet her are mutually stained cheeks and nervous shifting in seats. Carisi is finally able to clear his throat. "Oh, yeah. We even did like a trust fall and everything."

Rollins groans, slumps down in her seat, and rolls her eyes.

Olivia studies the expense statements again and hisses her breath in through her teeth. "Okay. I'll push this through and see where it goes." Her voice softens. "Good job with everything else. Unusual...expenditures aside, you two did well. Keep up the good work."

She pretends to be busy with the appropriate signing, annotating lightly in pencil in the margins and preparing sticky notes just in case. Her eyes move up to watch them leave and the corner of her mouth twitches dangerously upward.

Well. At least they were smart enough to keep two separate rooms.