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The first thing Dani says after Bodner pulls the car over is, “Crews, you're an idiot. What the hell were you thinking?”

The first thing Dani does is take Charlie's hand. Between that and the way her voice is shaking, it probably undercuts her completely justified exasperation, but she can't bring herself to care.

Charlie just smiles, squeezing her fingers gently. “Roman is dead.”

The relief that sweeps through her is nothing compared to the expression on Charlie's face. It's the most peaceful she's ever seen him look. And he won't stop smiling at her.

Frankly, it's kinda freaking her out.

“Good,” Dani says, looking away. She's a little surprised that she doesn't feel the need to see Nevikov's body. Usually, she wants to know for herself.

Her eyes drift back up to Charlie, still smiling, and she makes herself look over the top of the car at Bodner. “So. What do we tell everyone else?” Charlie may be an idiot, but she's not about to let him go down for whatever stupid thing he did to get her back.

He got her out of that SUV. She'll get him out of this.

“Why not tell the truth? The truth will set you free.”

Dani rolls her eyes, even as something bubbles up inside her at hearing Charlie's stupid Zen again. “The truth. Is that even remotely a good idea?”

Bodner snorts. “Not even close.”


What they tell everyone else ends up being a lot closer to the truth than Dani expected, but with plenty of lies mixed in. And, as it turns out, when an FBI agent and a kidnapped LAPD detective tell a story about how an organized crime leader who should have been in maximum security prison took Dani hostage with the help of multiple corrupt law enforcement officers, the brass are pretty eager not to pry into the fuzzy areas of their testimony. Dani figures they'll drop the whole affair into a dark hole of paperwork and cover the rest of the mess up with commendations and promotions.

She wonders if Rayborn will help grease the wheels, given what Charlie told her. That man is going to be a problem.

But they still have to go through all the questions first. Charlie's testimony is last, and takes the longest. Internal Affairs has seen him before, and they tend to get paranoid when that happens. Plus, Dani's sure he's being his usual charming incomprehensible self, just like that time with Detective Ames's murder.

Charlie's a lot less innocent this time around.

Dani isn't going to ask Charlie how he did it. She remembers the feral look he used to get back in the early days, how he fought with a knife in close quarters. She knows the way he gets ruthless when he can't afford to be kind. She knows how much he hates it, that survival instinct he can't fully turn off anymore, not with all the Zen and all the badges and all the settlement money in the world. She knows he didn't kill Nevikov for his own sake, and she knows that he didn't want to.

She knows Charlie. That's all she needs to know.

Waiting for IAD to get done with him, unfortunately, means that she's stranded in Tidwell's office – partly because Dani's supposed to wait to hear when she can go back on duty, and partly because she can't escape to her desk since Jane Seever, Charlie's temporary partner, is currently sitting there.

Dani squints through the blinds on Tidwell's windows and asks, “Is she...speed-reading?”

“Oh. Yeah,” Tidwell says. “She does that.”

“I thought you said she was just a regular detective,” Dani says dryly.

“Not so much,” Tidwell says, suddenly right behind her. Dani can't fully hide her startle, but she does manage to stop herself from whirling around, or going for the gun she isn't wearing. “She's got a fifteen-year plan to become mayor. I'd vote for her.”

“Why?” Dani asks instead. Her voice sounds fine. She's fine.

“Why would I vote for her?” Tidwell doesn't seem like he noticed anything is off, fingers tapping absently on the stack of files he's carrying. Dani relaxes a little further.

“Why does she want to be mayor?”

“Huh,” Tidwell said, his hands pausing. “I don't know.”

“You don't know?”

“I didn't ask.”

“You'd vote for her, but you didn't ask why she wanted to be mayor?”

Tidwell shrugs. “Has any politician ever given a straight answer to that question?”

Dani eyes Seever paging through a report. She's a machine. “No. But a cop might.”

“Look, she's a good detective. She helped find you, even though she screwed up with Rayborn, and she had Charlie's back when that crazy photographer lady tried to kill him ––”

What?

“Uh.” Tidwell looks cornered. “It happened right before you went missing?”

Dani pinches the bridge of her nose. “Just tell me.”

Tidwell squares his jaw and gets that stubborn look on his face. Dani hates that look. “That depends. You tell me something first: are we ever going to talk about this?” He waves his hand toward Interrogation, where IAD is still questioning Charlie.

“Talk about what?”

“About...you know, about the fact that we haven't talked about this?”

“Isn't that what we just did?”

Tidwell grimaces. “Okay, now you sound like Crews.”

“I do not.”

“Oh, really. So you are ready to talk about Nevikov, and getting kidnapped, and how you won't let me touch you?”

Dani looks away. So he had noticed that.

Tidwell doesn't even sound angry when he finishes, “Or should I brace myself for more Zen evasive maneuvers? Look, Dani, I was so worried about you. And now you're back and safe... and you're not even here. Just... when you do decide to be here again, I'll be here. Okay?"

Dani jerks a nod. "I'm gonna go ask Seever about that shooting," she says, and ducks out the door before Tidwell can respond.

Seever looks up at Dani's approach, eyes going briefly wide before a bright smile spreads over her face. "Detective Reese!" she says, her grin barely shifting with the words, which seriously does not look right. "How are you?"

"I'm here," Dani says, then kicks herself. She listened to too many of those damn Zen tapes while she was away. Technically it was only the one tape, but apparently that was still one too many.

Seever's eyes shift towards Interrogation, and then back to Dani. "And Detective Crews?"

"He'll be fine," Dani says. She hopes that she sounds more confident about that than she actually is. "I hear you helped him stay that way when I was gone. Something about a photographer who tried to kill him?"

"Right," Seever says. Her bright smile doesn't get any less bright, just... abruptly much less real. "I can get you the report, if you're interested."

Dani smiles back, her interrogation instincts going into overdrive at the evasion. She's getting a hunch, and one of those really bad ideas that are usually Charlie's fault. "Why don't we go get some coffee and you can tell me the whole story?"

"Sounds great!" Seever says, and this time her smile is definitely strained.


The diner is pretty empty, and in no time at all they're seated with coffee and, in Seever's case, a plate heaped with food. Dani tries not to stare, but Seever says, "I'm training for a marathon," in this weird semi-modest, self-deprecating way, and Dani suddenly gets it.

Charlie mentioned the lawyer thing, and the Olympics thing – though he neglected to mention the whole speed-reading robot thing, which would have made Dani's mental picture much more complete – and everything about Seever screams 'ambitious'. Dani recognizes it. She used to be pretty ambitious herself.

Seever's not the type to be unapologetic for it, the way Dani taught herself to be. Seever wants to be mayor, so she has to make nice with people. Dani bets Seever has to downplay her accomplishments a lot in this job, working with this many men – even when she isn't a bit sorry for any of it.

Dani likes that Seever hasn't stopped doing those things, though. She's seen too many women take that way through the gauntlet, and it pisses her off every time.

“So what happened with the photographer?” Dani asks, stirring her coffee.

The light through the window catches on Seever's face as she looks away, and Dani wonders how old she really is. Seever is so fresh-faced that Dani's just been thinking 'young', but there are fine lines around her mouth and at the corners of her eyes, and the things she's done take a lot of time. She could be closer to Charlie's age than Dani's.

Seever picks at her plate of food for a moment. “Kathy White – the photographer – was working with one of the city coroners to get tabloid photos of dead celebrities; they fell out, she murdered him, and we traced her financials to a second apartment. The place was full of creepy medical equipment and things, so full we could barely move. She lured us in, turned off the lights, and went after Crews with a scalpel. So I shot her.”

The way she says it, Dani knows that was the end of it. Kathy White is dead.

She knows something else, too.

“You'd never shot anyone before, had you?” Dani says.

Seever doesn't quite flinch, but it's close. “Sorry, but I really don't want to talk about this anymore.”

“Okay,” Dani says, “Why don't we talk about Rayborn instead?”

Seever definitely flinches this time.

Dani wraps her hands around her coffee mug and says, “You know, I went to see Rayborn a few days before he disappeared. He was friends with my father, who we thought was missing at the time.”

Seever perks up. “Jack Reese? He's not missing anymore?”

Dani shakes her head. “Roman told me that he killed him, and I'm inclined to believe him.” She's told Charlie, and IAD, and now Seever, but she's still not sure how she feels about it. She guesses she'll deal with it later.

“I'm sorry,” Seever says.

Thankfully, she doesn't try to touch Dani to comfort her or any of that bullshit. Maybe she is a good detective after all. Dani nods at her, and picks up her story again.

“Rayborn called me up, asked me to come out to his boat. He talked around things for a while, but he made it sound like he could find my father, and he wanted something for it. I turned him down. I told myself I just didn't really care if they found him, but the truth is: everything comes with strings in that crowd. And they don't mind dragging those strings through the mud to get what they want.” She'd learned that early, from her father – there was no such thing as unconditional love in Jack Reese's world – and again from Karen Davis.

Dani looks up from her coffee, waits until Seever meets her eyes, and says, “Rayborn thinks you owe him now, and someday soon he's gonna come looking to collect. And if you turn him down, they're gonna come at you with everything they have. Maybe someone's gonna say you cheated on the bar exam. Maybe a witness comes forward about you using drugs to get into the Olympics. Or maybe backup just won't show up the next time you call for it.” Dani watches each sentence land like a blow, and knows she was right. Jane Seever is an optimist who'd never killed anyone before last week. Dani hates that she's the one who's gonna tarnish up that shining grin, but better her than Rayborn.

Dani takes a deep breath and says, “So the real question is: why do you want to be mayor?”

Seever blinks. “What?”

“See, I don't think you just want to be mayor.” Dani smiles, and she knows there's nothing bright about this one. “I think you want to be a good mayor. And I can tell you right now, that's not gonna happen with Rayborn pulling your strings. It's not gonna happen as long as he's pulling anyone's strings. You might get to be mayor, but you won't get to be a good one.”

Seever presses her lips together, refusing to meet Dani's eyes.

Dani leans forward in her seat. “But here's the thing, Seever: you don't seem like the kind of person who gives up on something like that. All that work. That fifteen-year plan. So my next question is: what are you going to do about it?”

She feels Charlie's hand brush her shoulder before she sees him, before she hears him say, “Seever's going to help us get him.” This time, she doesn't flinch. Dani slides down the bench seat and Charlie drops down next to her. Even without looking over, she can hear that feral edge to his smile as he says, “Isn't that right, Seever?”

Dani can see the sharp edges in Seever's smile when she says, “That's right, Crews. So where do we start?”

Dani hides her own smile in her coffee, feeling the last of her edginess fade with Charlie's presence at her side. She's got her partner, he's got her back, and they've got a bad guy to catch.