It had been an unusually quiet November in Gotham City.
Practically over night the first snow of the year had buried the city under a cold, white blanket. It had covered the notorious cesspit of crime, madness and pure, unprecedented evil with a false sense of innocence and serenity that even the first muddy heaps of gray, which had soon been framing the streets hadn't been able to tarnish completely.
Maybe it was the calm before the storm. This was still Gotham, after all. Somewhere someone – or something – was always plotting and waiting to push the city into new chaos. But for sixteen cold days and even colder nights, and at least for the officers at the Homicide Division of the GCPD, it had been a time of uninterrupted peace.
A total of four people had been found dead within the last two weeks, but they all had died from hypothermia – earning them the rather inappropriate nickname “Popsicles” with some of the less considerate colleagues – a sad but familiar part of every winter in Gotham. But there had been no murders, no robberies gone wrong, not even a bar fight or domestic altercation that had gotten out of hand. Maybe in a few months time, when the city's frozen bodies of water started to melt and closed down building sites were reopened this winter's deep dark secrets would rear their ugly heads just like the first delicate flowers of spring, but at least for now it was nothing but follow ups on active cases and getting on top of their paperwork. It was driving Detective Catherine “Cat” Williams crazy.
But it wasn't as much the footwork or the hours spent poring over old case files that was doing her head in. All homicide detectives were assigned new cases on a rotation system so it wasn't unusual at all for things to get a little slow at times – even in Gotham City – but there were only so many leads to follow up on, only so many witness reports to confirm or doors to knock on. And there were only so many hours someone could spend staring at their computer screen or a piece of paper, waiting for that sudden inspiration to strike and crack a case that's been open for weeks or months or even years. With no new bodies at all and with all of the detectives spending most of their days confined to their desks things were starting to feel a little crowded. The fact that there was barely any natural light this time of the year didn't exactly help either. Right now the overall mood was akin to that of a family gathering right before all the bottled up conflicts and barely restraint emotions reached their boiling point.
Cat had spend four hours out of her afternoon in a windowless basement, going through five different boxes full of case files and evidence bags on a case from last summer – all because someone had messed up and forgotten to scan the second page of a witness statement which had allegedly put a suspect near the crime scene less than half an hour before the fact – yet when she stepped out of the elevator and into the lofty open-plan office it somehow felt a lot more claustrophobic.
No one greeted her as she walked in, most of her colleagues didn't even look up from their computers. It wasn't unusual for Cat to receive the silent treatment by some – stupid old boy's club – but she still registered the increased tension in the air. It was only a matter of time until someone snapped. Unless someone got themselves killed and soon. It was a morbid thought to have. Then again she was working a morbid job.
Her partner, Dick Grayson, wasn't sitting at his desk which was standing vis-à-vis to hers when she arrived, but as she sat down she found a post-it note sticking to her computer.
“Gotta meet an informant. I'll bring dinner. D.”
Cat sighed as she yanked the post-it from the monitor and threw it into the bin under her desk. Dick could've just texted her, but she knew that deep down her partner got a kick out of the other colleagues yapping over his little “love letters” behind their backs. She however did not.
When Cat had joined the department as one of the youngest homicide detectives in the city's turbulent history and as one of only seven women in about a decade – none of which had still been there when she arrived – she had known that things probably wouldn't be easy for her. She had heard of the “glass ceiling”. She'd touched it occasionally, maybe even cracked it a little when she landed the job, but once she had set foot into this office she had felt like she'd run into a brick wall.
But she hadn't expected her experience to be a breeze compared to what fellow rookie detective Dick Grayson had been going through ever since he'd joined the precinct four months earlier.
It turned out that being Bruce Wayne's protege might have been able to open some doors, but that didn't mean the people on the other side were waiting for him with open arms. Their colleagues didn't care for his degree in law or about the fact that he came with a list of recommendations as long as their arms. They called him Wonder Boy – a clumsy jab at Robin, who got called Boy Wonder on occasion and who of course was most notably known as Batman's sidekick. Because to them Dick was nothing more than Wayne's right hand man. His eyes and ears in the force – whatever it was they thought the eccentric billionaire's interest in their work might have been. It didn't really matter. Their minds had been made up. Maybe Cat was no more than the token woman, but Dick Grayson was someone who couldn't be trusted.
Needless to say the senior detectives hadn't exactly been lining up to work with either of them, so what else were they supposed to do but stick together?
The rumors had basically started the second Dick and her had shaken hands for the very first time – just the stereotypical sexist bullshit suggesting she couldn't control herself around any remotely handsome dude that came her way – and things hadn't exactly calmed down once it had turned out that they worked great together. Really great.
The snide remarks – always ushered just loud enough for them to catch them every damn time – had stopped eventually, but Cat wasn't deluding herself. Dick and her had been partners for almost two years now and in their colleagues' heads she had been screwing him for just as long. She could see it in the way the older men would sometimes leer at her when they thought she wasn't looking. It was juvenile bullshit and Cat knew she should have been bigger than that. She just sometimes wished that Dick's way to deal with it wasn't to blatantly throw oil on the fire.
At least she'd be getting a meal out of it. It was around six pm and she hadn't had anything to eat since the protein bar she'd had on her way to the subway this morning. She hadn't even realized how hungry she was until she had found Dick's note. Unfortunately she didn't know when he had left so she was looking at anything between five minutes and two hours of waiting, so she did the only logical thing and went to the vending machine to get herself peanut butter cups and a bag of pretzels.
When she was back at her desk she started to search for her witness's last known address. Because her little day trip to the archive had shown that it hadn't been a simple lapse in the scanning process, but that the whole page was missing from the case file. And because this was Gotham that could mean anything starting from a simple fuck-up to an elaborate cover up from within the force. Which was why Cat was determined to retake this witness statement as soon as possible. It wasn't like there were more pressing issues waiting for her at the moment – that was unless she counted the fact that her friend Barbara was already pestering her about finding a date to the annual Gotham City Police Ball next month.
Dick arrived half an hour later while Cat was on the phone with Martha Latimer, the landlady at her witness's last known address. He hadn't been living there in three months. Of course. But maybe she still had the name of his probation officer somewhere in her files. Of course. Cat had spent the past five minutes absentmindedly twirling a strand of brown hair that had slipped from her ponytail between her fingers and listening to what sounded like the old lady turning her place upside down.
“Something new?”, Dick mouthed quietly and put one of two white take out bags he had been carrying on her desk in front of her. Cats mouth started to water when she recognized the logo of Mike's Corner Bistro, a small diner just two blocks from the precinct. Dreadful fries, but unarguably the best spicy chicken burger in all of Gotham. Suddenly the day seemed a lot less like a waste.
“Follow up”, she answered, covering the receiver with one hand. She waited another two minutes, watching as Dick unpacked his burger and took a bite out of it that could've only been described as indulgent.
The air was filled with the borderline offensive scent of what were quite possibly the soggiest and most criminally overcooked curly fries in all of Gotham and all Cat wanted to do was hang up the phone and devour them three at a time.
After another three minutes – Cat had seen them actually tick down painfully slow in the bottom right corner of her computer screen – Mrs. Latimer finally reappeared at the other end of the line and told her that she was so very, very sorry, but right now she couldn't find the file anywhere. Cat assured her – once, twice, three times – that it was no problem at all and that she had other means of finding that address before she was finally able to hang up.
“Thanks for this. You are a saint,” she sighed with barely contained anticipation as she finally opened her take out bag, ready to sink her teeth into whatever was in there.
“What is that?”, she stopped short at the sight of a deliciously red apple she sitting atop the two styrofoam boxes holding her treat of fat and carbs. She looked up and found her partner barely able to contain a shit eating grin.
“That is an apple”, he replied, feigning innocence. “But I can see how you might be confused, since the only fruit you ever eat is in the jam you put on your sandwiches.”
“That's very funny, Grayson”, she rolled her eyes. Usually she would've thought that was hilarious, but she had just spent a whole day on one case with nothing to show for it and it was messing with her mood. Or maybe she was just hangry.
“I'm just trying to look out for you”, Dick said, dark eyes under strong brows shining with laughter.
“You've been living off the vending machine for three days straight now and I don't wanna see you end up like MacIntyre or Roche.”
“I'm touched”, Cat gave back dryly. Both MacIntyre and Roche were in their fifties and probably hadn't seen their own feet in over a decade. They already broke a sweat on their way to the copier.
“Unfortunately, we couldn't all be born with perfect abs. And if you really cared for me that much you would've noticed that Mike forgot my sour cream.”
“You can have mine, but only because you said nice things about my abs.” He was still grinning when he handed her a little white cup over the desk.
“And just so you know, I've worked very hard for all six of them.”
“Show-off...”, Cat muttered, but then she took the first bite off a still somewhat-hot curly fry and for the moment all was right with the world again.
For a while they were eating and working in companionable silence. Cat tried to locate her witness via his arrest record, but unfortunately it also listed the address she had already checked as his last place of residence. While she was contemplating what else she could do tonight – it took just another quick search to find the name and telephone number of his probation officer, but she decided not to bother until the next morning – she caught herself checking the time in the bottom right corner of her monitor at least five times over the course of just twenty minutes. She was so ready to get home.
She couldn't wait to take a nice, hot bath and then curl up in bed with a book – though at this point Netflix and eating crunchy peanut butter directly from the jar with a spoon was an equally attractive option – and hopefully not be called in until the next morning. Gotham City would soon enough be back to being a mad house, but until then Cat had the intention of savoring every last bit of down time.
“So, any plans for tonight?”, Dick asked suddenly as if he had just read her thoughts.
“I have a hot, steamy date with my bathtub”, she replied, giving her voice a mocking extra touch of seductiveness. “Why? Do you have plans to ask me on a pity date?"
“Look at me, Cat. I don't do pity dates”, he grinned. “But your downstairs boyfriend just came in and since we're not exactly swamping him with work at the moment, we both know why he's really here.”
“I will punch you in the face if you don't stop calling him my boyfriend.” Cat knew her partner was talking about Dr. Evan Ainsworth even before she turned around and found the forensic specialist standing at Roche's desk at the far end of the office with a folder in his hand. Her colleague didn't look too thrilled to have someone bother him with work when he was probably already halfway out the door at this point. Lucky for him, Dick was right about Evan not being there on business. Even as he was handing the folder to Roche and giving him a quick roundup of what was inside, Cat already caught him stealing glances at her.
“Here we go”, Dick chuckled when Evan finally made his way over to them, unimpressed by the way she glared at him in response. “Maybe this is the moment when after months of showing up here under the most pathetic excuses, he's finally gonna ask you out.”
“Shut up”, Cat muttered under her breath right as Evan arrived at their desk. “Hey!”
“Hey, Catherine. I hope I'm not interrupting anything”, Evan said. He had a charming British accent which probably would have been enough to bag every female officer at the precinct – and probably a few male ones as well – even if he hadn't also been tall, blond and handsome with blue eyes and a gorgeous smile. But for some reason he'd only had eyes for Cat ever since he had taken the position as head of GCPD's Forensic Science Division a little over a year ago. And everyone knew. Including her.
So far it had never gone past a little harmless flirting and a few glances that may have lasted a little too long. Maybe it was because they both knew the pitfalls of dating a colleague or maybe they were both too shy to just go and take that first step, but Dick was right. It was only a matter of time until Evan would ask her out. And even though Cat definitely wasn't immune to his charm, she had no idea what her answer would be when he did. She could well imagine what the guys at the department would have to say about her going out with the youngest son of Henry Ainsworth II – one of the very few people in Gotham whose wealth was even remotely close to rivaling that of Bruce Wayne – and it wasn't nice. Right now she was caught somewhere between anticipating and dreading him taking that first step.
“We're actually just waiting until it's professionally acceptable to pack up and go home”, she told him as she turned towards him with her chair. “How are things down at the lab?”
“Things are amazing, actually”, he said and his face lit up with the joy of someone who truly loved what they were doing. “We're able to run the evidence right as it comes in. That hasn't happened once in the time since I've started working here. I got two guys running old DNA evidence against the database. We weren't able to do that in years.”
It seemed that Evan was having a much happier dry spell than her.
“I lost a witness today”, Cat told him with a sigh.
“I'm sorry.” He sounded so genuinely sympathetic it was endearing. “Was he killed?”
“Worse”, she deadpanned. “Address unknown.”
“Okay that is worse.” He laughed. “Anything I can do to help?”
Cat hoped Evan didn't hear Dick snort at his offer. The two of them didn't get along too well. Maybe it was the fact that Evan had pushed Dick down to third place in this year's ranking of “Gotham's Most Eligible Bachelors”, maybe it was some idiotic dude rivalry she didn't understand. Or maybe it had a little to do with her. Cat didn't know and frankly, she didn't care.
“I'm afraid not”, she smiled. “And probably not today...”, she added hesitantly, when the door to their Captain's office opened and the man himself, Captain Jeremy Holt, came out with his phone in hand and with what Dick and Cat had dubbed the “Murder Strut”. That could only mean one thing...
“The quiet days are over, ladies and gentlemen”, he declared. “Forty minutes ago someone reported screams in an alley near Robinson Park. When officers arrived they found the body of an as of yet unidentified young woman with multiple stab wounds”, he looked at Roche and McIntyre. “Rotation says this is your case.”
“Now?”, McIntyre croaked and Cat had to fight the urge to kick his lazy, glutted ass. She looked at Dick and found him pulling faces as well. They both knew where this was headed. “I'm supposed to pick my son up from baseball practice.”
“I am so very sorry to hear that the death of a young woman is inconveniencing you”, Holt commented sardonically, brows furrowed over eyes, which once upon a time had probably been a steely gray, but were now watery and a little bloodshot. Looked like Cat and Dick weren't the only people here who were tired of their senior colleague's crap.
“Isn't your son like seventeen?”, Dick asked innocently.
“My wife is visiting her mother in National City. It's dark and the city is a dangerous place”, at least McIntyre made a valiant effort to sell his paper thin excuse. “Maybe Roche can go and I meet up with him after I dropped my boy at home?” Roche nodded dutifully with a look on his face that was nothing short of sacrificially. The things you do for your partner.
“This is ridiculous”, Cat muttered and rose from her chair with an exasperated sigh.
“Grayson and I can take this one”, she offered, partly because she was getting tired of watching McIntyre and Roche try and bullshit their way out of a late shift and partly because at this point she was actually itching with the urge to finally hit the streets again. She looked at Dick, hoping she didn't mess up whatever plans he might've had for the night, but her partner was already on his feet and slipping into his coat.
“Well...”, McIntyre started and gestured vaguely in their direction. “If they volunteer...?” Cat knew that this would be all the acknowledgment they would get for stepping in. Then again, they were not doing it to impress a bunch of lazy assholes. They did it, because there was a dead woman in an alley somewhere who deserved someone to give a damn.
“I don't care who's doing it as long as I have detectives on the scene within the next fifteen minutes”, Holt stated matter-of-factly, already half on his way back into his office. “I'll text you the address.”
“I need to get some things from my office”, Evan said, gently touching Cat's arm as he turned to leave. “I'll see you there.”
“I'll see you there”, Dick repeated in a mock British accent as soon as the elevator doors closed behind them a few moments later. “I bet that's not the kind of first date he had in mind for you.”
“Really?”, Cat huffed. “We are on our way to a crime scene and this is what you're on about? What are you twelve?”
“And a half”, Dick replied pointing a triumphant finger when he caught the slight smirk tugging at the corner of her lips. “It could be really romantic though. The dark, the snow, your hands accidentally touching over that body... One day I can tell your grandchildren that I was right there when the magic happened.”
“I hate you sometimes”, she muttered.
“Nah, you don't.” He nudged her shoulder with a fond smile. “You love me.”