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All My Trials

Chapter Text

"How can this be?" Jim Burns stares into the thicket, thorns and bristle well obscuring the pallid face. He furls his brow, then leans to peer around the side of the overgrown bush. The hand peeking from beneath had given it away. Jim's mind reels in terror. He can see the morning's happenings: the pristine, toddling little girl running for her ball. Only, her curiosity had brought her to latch onto the cold hand instead. The child had looked at the hand in confusion, tugging on her new toy, unsure why it wouldn't go with her.

Matthew Eastwood turns from Jim to glance at the rest of the backyard, now swimming with CSI's. It's a family garden, for Christ's sake. Matthew can just barely see the white night gown half-swaddling the young woman in the bush, but he's already picked out the similarity. The dark hair lies tangled in the dirt, her snow-white skin contrasting grimly with the blood-red lipstick painted onto her mouth. Matthew finally offers a shrug to his boss, still mystified. "I don't know, but I think we both know what needs to happen."

Jim takes stock of the officers around him again. It's early, and the fog still hugs the trees surrounding the yard. It's a typical, somewhat spartan and medium-sized backyard. The garden looks as though it hasn't gotten much care of recent. An obvious opportunity for a neighbor, perhaps? Jim can't help but think that the house isn't far from where Paul Spector lived - just four blocks over, in fact. He spies Glen Martin across the way, questioning the stunned mother while she hugs her little girl tightly. A tech waits beside them, anxious to take the little girl's clothing and watching closely while the mother rubs her baby's back. Martin turns to meet his gaze, and Jim can feel his own concerns reflected back at him. They are all in agreement, then.




Stella finds the panicked e-mail a rather odd development. Coward. She can't help but think it. She can see Jim's dark, frightened glance already. His overarching concern for propriety and righteousness. The last thing she really wants is a trip back to Belfast and its haunting shadows. The last year has seen development upon development, all racked upon the forceful reprimand that met her on her return to London. A heated, angry letter from DS Tom Anderson had preceded her arrival at Met Headquarters. It was the sort of letter that ruined careers. It told the story of a high ranking officer who took advantage of her staff. An officer who, based on the observances of a short-lived colleague, may drink too much, order too much, and (most of all) have a little too much sex. Corroborating, sleazy newspaper articles submitted by Ned Callan, one step up from the fungus clinging to the bottom of a pond, seemed to have been the final nail in her coffin. The ghost of James Olson will follow Stella for quite some time.

"You need to be careful, Stella." Her rather dashing, sleek, business man of a boss had raised his eyebrows at her from the opposite side of the desk. His soft, gray coloring wasn't entirely unlike Jim Burns'. Clarkson was his name, but he seemed far more interested in who she was than who she appeared to be to the press. He passed the newspaper clippings across the desk to her while he pulled out the livid letter to read aloud. "It is my professional opinion that Detective Superintendent Gibson failed to maintain appropriate work acquaintances, and further used her position to force a seemingly personal agenda."

Stella had raised her own eyebrow. "You know that smacks of revenge, Jeremy."

"I know, Stella." His smile dimpled, and he suddenly looked younger than his fifty-something. "Look, I've never gotten anything less than exemplary work from you, and neither has anyone else; But I'd be lying if I didn't admit to hearing stories. I don't have to tell you about the risk you take being a female in your position."

"It works both ways, Jeremy." She'd leaned back in her chair, crossing her legs, fixing him with a smirk of her own. "If I were a male supervisor, you'd be taking by badge today. Throwing me out on the street, only to await crucifixion for my sexual misconduct, taking advantage. The suspect had been apprehended, and DS Anderson was made more than aware of the.... brevity of the relationship."

Clarkson shrugged. "So, why all the noise, then?"

Jeremy's office has the most beautiful London view. Stella had stared out the window, gathering her thoughts. "I don't know. He was upset after he and Spector were shot. Upset that I didn't go to him first; fawn over him. When I went to see him in the hospital, he was distant and didn't say much. I believe he uttered little more than 'cold fish'; But I would like to think that wasn't it. I've had ongoing differences of opinion with Assistant Chief Constable Burns. It may have more to do with that situation."

"Differences of opinion?" Jeremy tipped his chair back, resting his face half into his hand. It was his 'thinking' pose. "How so?"

Stella sighed. "This stays in this room?"

Jeremy nodded, urging her to continue.

"ACC Burns and I have... a sexual history. Based on your earlier comments, I assume that can't surprise you all that much?"

"Go ahead." Jeremy waved at her, suddenly uncomfortable.

"He accosted me in my hotel room. He was drunk, beside himself... upset with himself over something he'd done. He got carried away - I hit him. Almost broke his nose."

"This was in Belfast?" Jeremy's alarm was evident, and Stella nodded her 'yes'. "Jesus, Stella.... Are you ok? He didn't hurt you.."

She cut him off. "No. I'm fine... was fine. But, after the 'disagreement'? I don't know if he may have heard that Anderson and I had spent a night together, or if Anderson might have gone to him for some sort of advice. I assume you see where I'm going with this."

"A clear-cut case of one jealous man fueling another man who's already feeling hurt and upset because of your perceived lack of caring.... It makes a hell of a lot more sense than a man sleeping with you, then complaining."

Stella had laughed, the levity very much unexpected, and appreciated. Jeremy returned her laugh. "I can't stop the inquiry, but I'm going to see to it that you come out of this ok. Just give it some time and patience, Stella."

Is a year enough? Stella ruminates while she packs her bags, nothing looking much differently than it had before she dropped in on the PSNI over a year ago. She isn't entirely sure a year is enough at all. Paul Spector is still alive, but entirely lame. The trial is coming up, and she would have been called back before long anyhow. Truth be told, the enticement of the approaching trial has flagged as well. Desperately clutching to Spector's bleeding torso on a gravel drive a year ago, all she'd been able to think was that the families deserved a trial. Now, the wheels having spun themselves behind her eyes for exactly 392 days, she can recognize that juries see a man in a wheelchair differently. A handsome man. A family man. It wasn't supposed to happen this way, she thinks.

Stella flips through the sparse file once more before throwing it into her bag. There isn't much to go on yet, but she's certain of one thing. Someone's gone copycatting...