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Mea Culpa 2

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CHAPTER ONE

 

Total chaos greeted Talia as she pushed the squad room doors open and stepped inside. Bofur, as usual, was mucking around trying to pour a cup of water down Bombur’s back. Fili and Kili were wrestling over a hotdog, knocking a pile of folders onto the floor as they crashed over the top of one of the desks. Dwalin was in a heated argument with Dori, complete with the occasional fist being smashed off the filing cabinet at his side as he strove to make his point. Balin roared in frustration as Kili’s elbow caught the back of his head in the middle of their tussle. Ori sat to one side, scrunching up sheets of paper and tossing them at the two brothers as they rolled off the desk and landed in a heap of tangled arms and legs on the floor. Thorin marched out of his office, stepped on the paperwork that had scattered out of the folders, skidded about four feet and tripped over his nephews.

His coffee shot out of his hand and hit the opposite wall.

“Goddammit, you bunch of imbeciles!” he roared. “Look at the state of this goddamned fucking squad room! Get this lot tidied, get yourselves organised, and get your lazy arses out to work! Jesus-fucking-Christ!”

Detectives scattered and busied themselves rectifying the wrecked work area. Chairs were put back upright, desks moved back into position, and garbage lifted from the floor. Paperwork was hurriedly tidied and filed away, and coffee cups were shifted out of harm’s way.

Thorin turned with a heavy sigh, a smile brightening his face as his eyes settled on his lead detective’s child. “Hello there, little Miss,” he grinned, walking towards them. “Morning, Talia.”

“Good morning to you too, Thorin,” she replied with a grin. “Anarchy, much?”

“Definitely,” he said dryly as he held his hands out for her daughter. “I swear I’m going to throw this lot in lock-up before the day’s out. Oh, aren’t you just a little peach?”

“She’s been an absolute menace today, haven’t you Tasha?” she said. “An utter menace.”

The youngster’s eyes turned towards her mother. “Dada,” she said, settling into Thorin’s arms.

Talia’s cheeks turned scarlet, much to his amusement. “Uh no, not Dada,” she said with a cough. “Thorin.”

“Dada.”

She turned away.

Thorin laughed heartily as a muttered fuck reached his ears. “Hey, kids always do that,” he told her. “It’s the first word they learn nine times out of ten, so everybody ends up being dad at some point. Don’t worry about it. It’s fine.”

“She’s doing it to everybody since she picked the word up,” she admitted. “Listen. Have you got any plans for after work?”

He shook his head as he tried to disentangle his beard from the iron grip of the nine-month-old he held. “No.”

“Why don’t you come to ours for dinner?” she suggested. “Tasha, stop that.” She reached over and gently untangled strands of facial hair from her determined fists. “I’ve already prepped it, and I kinda made way more than we could eat…”

“Has Thranduil been putting ideas in your head?” he asked suspiciously.

Her eyebrows rose in a show of exaggerated innocence. “Nooooo…”

One eyebrow cocked in disbelief. “I wouldn’t want to put you to any trouble,” he said.

“Shite,” she retorted. “Come on. It’s dinner, for crying out loud. You’re not exactly moving in and laying claim to our living room floor or anything. Besides – a bit of company might do you good.”

“I’ll think about it,” he decided.

“So we’ll see you at our place later,” she said with a grin. “I made steak pie.”

He laughed, shifting the Oropherion baby to his other hip. “In that case, how can I refuse?”

“You can’t,” she quipped. “Where’s Thranduil?”

“Down in Interrogation,” he told her. “I’ll keep Tasha if you want to pop down and see him.”

“Thankyou,” she replied, leaning forwards to kiss her daughter’s chubby cheek. “Behave, Princess.” Turning and leaving the still slightly chaotic squad room, sounds of Thorin babbling nonsense to her child drifted after her as she made her way along the corridor and down the stairwell. The cherub had managed to endear herself to everyone in the precinct from the day she was born, and only managed to work her way deeper into their hearts every time she dropped by with her.

Her eyes were the same shade of ice blue as Thranduil’s, and she had his white blonde hair. She seemed to bewitch everyone she came into contact with, being a happy, cheery little one who always had a smile or a giggle.

Her mind went back to Thorin as she passed lockup with a wave to Nori. The sixth anniversary of his wife’s death was fast approaching, and both she and Thranduil felt that he needed support as memories from times past resurfaced. Subtle hints had been dropped and plans put into place to ensure that he didn’t spend too much time alone.

Officers passed her in pairs as she approached Interrogation, talking amongst themselves and nodding as they acknowledged her. The secured rooms were situated in the eastern wing of the precinct and she knew them well.

Coming to a halt outside one of them, she folded her arms as she gazed through the one-way window.

Thranduil stood with his back to her, his fists resting on the table in front of him. Long, perfectly straight blonde hair poured down his back like liquid. Strong shoulders hunched as he leaned forwards, his intimidating height lowering as he spoke to his prisoner. He shifted one foot as he moved, his long legs drawing her eye. Black denim jeans hugged his backside like a second skin, making her mouth go dry and her heart beat a little faster.

She jumped, yanked out of her illicit daydream, as he thumped a fist on the table. Muffled exclamations of anger filtered through the glass. He rose back to his full height and slowly circled the prisoner. Deliberate, calculated steps carried him around the table as his eyes remained on the scruffy figure seated before him. His lips moved as he spoke, his words not audible to her hearing range. The prisoner shuffled uncomfortably before responding.

The blonde swooped down so that his face was less than two inches away, his features contorted in anger as he hissed something. The handcuffed man turned pale and began to shake uncontrollably.

Talia smiled to herself as she folded her arms.

Thranduil’s tactics were renowned for extracting details from people who otherwise were reluctant to part with them. He had a way of lulling them into a false sense of security, before tearing down the supports they stood on and bringing them down to a base level, just with words and his delivery of them.

“Enjoying the view?”

She turned to see Bard appear at her side. “Hey!” She gave him a quick hug. “Yeah…caught drooling.”

He laughed as he took a swig from his coffee. “He hasn’t even warmed up with this guy yet,” he said.

“What’s he been booked for?”

“Drugs…what else? He was caught outside the high school over on Main with enough coke to supply a third world country.”

“Fucking scum,” she muttered as she turned back to the window. “Pushing to kids is the lowest, man, the absolute lowest.”

Behind the glass, the man was babbling non-stop. Thranduil had perched his hip on the edge of the desk and folded his arms, listening to whatever he was saying. His hand moved at speed, flipping forwards and grabbing his throat as he leaned towards him.

“Ooof…finger marks, babe,” she murmered softly. “Don’t bruise the dumb fuck.”

Bard chuckled. “He won’t. He knows what he’s doing. Has Tasha started cursing and swearing yet?”

She grinned. “Nope. I don’t swear around her,” she replied. “Or at least…I try not to. Although sometimes that’s easier said than done. She’s just deciding to call everybody Dada these days.”

He laughed heartily. “My Tilda did that too,” he told her. “Everybody she saw, be it the desk sergeant or the mail man, became Da. I don’t think she missed anybody out in her name-calling.”

“It’s embarrassing,” she said. “Poor Thorin is Dada as we speak. She’s upstairs with him as he tries to bring order back to the squad room.”

“Do you miss it?”

She turned her head to look at him. “Yeah,” she admitted softly. “I do. I miss the adrenalin rush. I miss the interaction. I miss the carry-on and the anarchy that goes with the badge. I miss the crap that only cops talk. I miss all that shit. But I wouldn’t swap Tasha for anything.”

He nodded and took another mouthful of coffee. “I can understand that. Maybe one day, eh?”

Her eyebrows lifted briefly in acknowledgement. “Maybe.” Her attention went back to the interrogation room, where Thranduil was back to pacing around in circles. His prisoner had his head leaning on both hands, looking absolutely terrified. She grinned.

Bard rapped once with his knuckle on the window, making the blonde look over. He stepped past Talia and opened the door, disappearing into the room. A few words whispered into his partner’s ear made the taller detective glance towards the window. He shouldered past Bard and exited the room.

A broad grin lit up his face as his eyes settled on her. “Hi!” he said, stepping over to her and wrapping both arms around her. His mouth swept a gentle kiss across hers. “I’ve missed you, little kitty.”

“I missed you too, Blondie,” she smiled back. “How’s it going in there?” She tilted her head towards the window.

“He’s almost there,” he replied. “He’s almost ready to give me names, places, all that crap. Where is our little Princess?”

She groaned. “Upstairs, calling Thorin Dada and embarrassing the hell out of me,” she said dryly. “He thinks it’s hilarious.”

Thranduil chuckled. “It is. Legolas did the same. It’s nothing to worry about, trust me. How’s your morning been?”

“Hey guys, I got this,” Bard announced, coming back out of the room. “He practically spat out what we want to know. I didn’t even have to say a single word.”

The tall blonde grinned. “Good. Can you handle this? I’m going to go upstairs and see my daughter.”

“Sure thing. Clear off,” he answered, and disappeared back inside again.

“I painted another coat onto the walls in Tasha’s room,” she said as they interlocked fingers and walked along the cool hallway. “It’s looking amazing, and the curtains should be ready by tomorrow if I have time to finish them.”

Thranduil held the door to the stairwell open and guided her through in front of him, with his other hand still firmly held in hers. “And then we can finally have our room back to ourselves,” he said. “Just think of all the things I will be able to do to you, without you being worried that she’ll see us.” A sexy smile curved his mouth.

“Quit that,” she laughed, smacking him lightly on his arm. “You know I get put off when I spot a pair of blue eyes watching us. It gives me the heebies.”

“She is too young to know what we are doing,” he told her. “Besides…I swear that fighting my way through quilts and blankets not being able to breathe is stunting my growth.”

Her laughter echoed off the walls as she entered the squad room. “Yeah, right. Like you need to grow any more.”

“Does he hell,” Bofur quipped on the way past with a sheet of evidence photos. “He’s a human totem pole already.”

“Hey, y’all stay the fuck away from his totem pole,” she retorted in response to the ripple of laughter that circulated the room. “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of that, thankyou very much.”

Thranduil snorted with laughter behind her. “Disgusting,” he muttered.

“You don’t want me to take care of your totem pole?” she murmered as she turned her head and gazed up at him.

His pupils dilated. “You are a menace,” he whispered, and dropped a brief kiss onto her upturned mouth. “Fuck. I have to get through the rest of the shift with that thought on my mind.”

She grinned. “It’ll give you something to look forward to,” she replied. “But not when you get home - I’ve asked Thorin over for dinner tonight…is that ok?”

“Of course it is,” he replied with a frown. “Why would it not be? Why are you asking for my permission?”

She scoffed and shoved him away. “Go and see your child. I’ve no doubt she’s swinging off Thorin’s beard by now.”

“Hey Talia! How do you say fuck off in German?” Kili yelled over.

Verpiss dich,” she replied. “Why d’you wanna know that?”

Thranduil shook his head as he left her to wade into the debate that was taking over Kili’s desk and went through to his Captain’s office.

“Dada!” Tasha squealed. Her arms lifted as she caught sight of him, demanding to be held.

“Hi Princess,” he greeted her as he lifted her. “How are you today, my baby bird? Are you behaving?”

“She’s an angel,” Thorin replied as he straightened his facial hair. “Talia has asked me to come to yours for dinner tonight – is that alright with you?”

“Why does everyone think they need my consent for everything? Of course it’s alright,” he said. He shifted his head in an attempt to free his hair from Tasha’s fists. “You know you’re always welcome to come over. What is wrong with everybody?”

The smaller man smiled. “I just wanted to make sure, that’s all,” he told him. “How’s it going downstairs? Any luck with your dealer?”

“He spilled his guts to Bard the second he stepped into the room,” he replied. “Tasha, stop chewing my hair, baby girl. He’s spouting his deep, dark secrets as we speak, no doubt looking for some sort of deal.”

“He hasn’t lawyered up yet?” Thorin asked in surprise. “I thought that would’ve been the first thing he did.”

“Nope. He’s all too happy to give us what we want,” he said.

His boss’s eyes narrowed. “What did you do to him?”

“Not a thing, you suspicious creation of a man,” Thranduil shot back. “Really, Thorin. Your lack of faith astounds me.”

The Captain barked a laugh. “Listen, BigFoot…I’ve seen you down there, and I know exactly how you intimidate suspects and witnesses. If I had to take the stand and swear on the big book, my soul would burn in hell for all eternity.”

“Any more of that BigFoot nonsense and your soul just might,” he warned with a grin. “I never harmed him. I never struck him. And I never…accidentally…made him fall off his chair.”

“Ha! I assume your partner is tidying up behind you and clearing your mess?”

The blonde nodded. “Bard is more tactical when it comes to detail,” he answered. “What in the name of all that is holy is Talia doing now?”

Thorin leaned to peer around him in the direction of the squad room.

Talia had Fili in a headlock, and he was struggling like hell to free himself. The cops congregated around them cheered and waved twenty dollar bills around as they jeered and yelled.

“I have to live with this shit,” Thorin muttered. “For chrissakes get out there and control the mother of your child.”

Thranduil grinned as he made his way over towards the door. “See you around seven?” he said over his shoulder.

Thorin nodded. “Yes. Do I bring anything?” Tasha’s baby ice blue eyes watched him over the broad shoulder she leaned on, a handful of long blonde hair being chewed thoughtfully.

“Just yourself,” he said.

“Dada!” his daughter decided with a yell.

Thranduil shook his head and waded through his colleagues.

Fili was turning rapidly in circles in an attempt to loosen Talia’s grip around his neck. She obligingly turned with him, maintaining her hold as she laughed. Her eyes lifted and met Thranduil’s as he neared her.

A squeal left her lips as her captive flailed a hand out and tangled itself in her long black hair, tugging hard. “Oh you bastard!” she yelled, stamping hard on his foot.

He howled, and everyone around laughed.

“Ok guys, break it up,” Thranduil said decidedly. “Before someone gets hurt. “Durinson – get your hands off her before you’re the one who ends up hurt, by my doing.”

Muffled grunts rose from him as she briefly tightened her hold around his neck before granting him his freedom. He shot upright, red in the face and gasping.

“One of these days, Not-So-Special Agent,” he warned threateningly.

She swiped his pointed finger out of her way. “Yeah right…in your dreams,” she laughed. “And way more special than you, dumb-ass.”

“They’re actually pretty well-behaved until you come in here,” Thranduil said pointedly.

“Are they hell!” she laughed. “You should’ve seen them when I came in – it was like Happy Hour at the Royal Rumble with those two nutters.” She pointed at the two brothers. “Bloody tables and chairs scattered all over the show. Poor Thorin just about broke his neck because of their antics.”

“He mentioned dinner tonight,” her lover told her as he yanked his hair out of his child’s grasp yet again.

“He needs people around him right now,” she said. Her eyes followed her daughter’s angry fist-waving in response to the hair being moved over her father’s shoulder out of reach. “If he’s left alone, he’ll just wallow in misery.”

He nodded in agreement. “Are you hanging around here for a while?”

“No. I’ll take Tasha over to the Water Babies session at the pool, then head off home so she can have her nap,” she replied. “C’mon tinytot, we’ll see Dada later.”

“What did you come by for?” Bofur asked as he looked up from his desk, confusion evident on his face.

“To find this stud and service his totem pole,” she shot back, taking her daughter. “Unlike some, he doesn’t need porn sites to get his rocks off.”

Bofur spluttered on his soda and turned beetroot red, to the salacious roars that echoed around the squad room. 

Thranduil’s cheeks turned pink as he shook his head with a grin. “You are incorrigible, little kitty,” he said.

“I know.” She rose up onto her toes for his kiss, murmering in sensual pleasure as his warm flesh rubbed over hers. A moan sounded from her as he twisted his hand in her hair and held her still, plunging his tongue into her mouth.

Cat-calls and whistles deafened them as their friends started a cacophony of racket that echoed off the walls and was boisterous enough to haul Thorin out of his office yelling in temper.

“I’d better go,” she whispered, pulling back to look up at him. Her eyes sparkled.

“I’ll see you tonight, baby,” he replied, and dropped another kiss on her lips. “Drive carefully. And you be good for Mama,” he added as he turned to Tasha and kissed her cheek.

He watched as Talia and their daughter left the squad room, then turned back to face the rest of his shift with a sigh.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWO

 

Thorin smiled to himself as he placed the framed photograph back onto the shelf. Protected behind the glass, Thranduil gazed lovingly into Talia’s eyes as they said their marriage vows. The sunlight cast a warm glow over the couple, lending an ethereal air to the occasion.

“You certainly scrubbed up well, man,” he remarked.

Thranduil grinned. “That was one of the best days of my life,” he said. “And every day I look at that picture and remind myself that I am one of the luckiest men alive.”

“You are,” his friend told him. “And do not ever let anything persuade you otherwise. I never thought you’d settle down again.”

“Neither did I,” he admitted. “Then Talia came along and…fuck…” He stopped and shook his head. “She just blew apart everything I ever believed in. We’ve had our problems, but I’d die for her, Thorin. I really would.”

“Nobody’s dying for anybody,” she spat, appearing behind him and throwing her upper body weight against his, her arms around his neck. “Unless I hear any more of that shit. Then I might just bop you myself. Dammit.”

Their guest chuckled as he swigged from his beer bottle. “Is Tasha asleep?”

“Close to,” she replied. She leaned the side of her head against Thranduil’s. “She’s shattered, and fighting it. Another ten minutes or so, and she’ll be out like a light, guaranteed. Water Babies was great for her this morning.”

Her lover lifted his hands and settled them on her wrists, which were crossed over his chest. “Bard tells me you had an interesting discussion with him,” he murmered.

“He’s a snitch,” she retorted. “We talked about work.”

“And the fact that you miss it.”

“Uh-huh. I do – it’s not a lie,” she told him. “As much as I love being with Tasha all day, I still miss work. I miss the action, the fun, the drama, the adult conversation-“

“Adult what?” Thorin parroted hysterically. “In that asylum?! Holy Christ Talia…if that’s what you consider adult conversation, there’s no hope for you. D’you know those two buggers that call themselves my nephews managed to knock over the bloody water cooler after you left this morning?!”

She laughed. “That doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. They’re always up to some sort of nonsense,” she said. “But I guess it helps them to cope with what they have to see every day. You have to find an outlet somewhere, or the job would drive you crazy.”

“That outlet always seems to be creating untold chaos in my precinct,” he snorted. “Pair of hooligans, the two of them. No wonder their mother breathes easily being in a different state.”

Thranduil chuckled. “Do you want some of that mint ice-cream, baby?” he asked, turning his head slightly towards her.

“Mmm, please,” she grinned. “Thorin?”

“I could be persuaded,” he drawled.

Talia slid her arms from around Thranduil’s neck as he scooted forwards, rising up from the couch. “I’ll get the bowls,” she said as she padded towards the wall units in the open-plan kitchen. “Anyone want chocolate grated over it?”

“Not for me, sweetheart,” he replied as he rooted around in the freezer. “This thing needs to be defrosted,” he murmered half to himself. “The ice is coming over the top of the seal.”

She popped a grape in her mouth and gently elbowed him to one side. “Shift your adorable arse, babe. I’ll chip the worst of it away and we can empty it into the back-up freezer in the garage in the morning, and switch this one off.”

He dutifully stepped away and handed her the ice pick as he went for the ice cream scoop. His eyes followed her movements as she deftly hammered into the thick ice. Repeated stabbing motions at speed sent shards of ice in all directions, her movements skilled and rapid; focused and with purpose.

His gaze shifted to his daughter who lay slumbering in her crib, the bedroom door open so that she wasn’t isolated from them. The angelic presence had changed their lives forever, giving both of them a sense of peace that had long been forgotten.

His eyes went back to Talia. Her eyebrows were down in a slight frown as she concentrated on her task.

His child’s mother had the gift of creating life, but also to take life. The swift, deadly movements of her actions as she stabbed at the ice reminded him that he was looking at the hands of a trained killer; someone highly skilled in her profession.

He looked upwards, to find her eyes on him.

“Everything ok?” she asked.

He smiled, and nodded. “Yes. Never better,” he answered. He turned and carried the three bowls through to the living area and set them down on the low table. “Leave that, sweetheart. Come and eat this before it melts.”

She scoffed, still hammering viciously. “I prefer it when it’s soft,” she replied. “When was the last time we defrosted this thing? We really should get a frost-free freezer, dammit.”

“Listen to you two, all domesticated,” Thorin laughed. “I love it. I fucking love it, man.”

“I was domesticated when I was a single man,” Thranduil protested as he headed back towards the kitchen. “Leave that and come eat, baby,” he said to her.

She grunted and tossed the ice pick into the sink with a clatter and rubbed her hands down her thighs. Turning away from the freezer, she slipped on some of the ice that had sprayed over the tiled floor, and lost her balance.

“Holy shit…are you ok?” he gasped, grabbing her to prevent her from going down.

She winced as she rubbed her lower back. “I’m alright, I just twisted my back,” she groaned. “That’s bloody sore.”

“Get out of here,” he ordered as he swung her up into his arms. “You will insist on going everywhere barefoot, you menace. That’s a recipe for disaster on a wet floor.”

She wriggled in his arms as he carried her through to the couch, only succeeding in him tightening his hold on her. “Put me down, you caveman.”

“No.”

Thorin roared with laughter at his stubborn refusal to let her go, and covered his mouth in case he woke Tasha. “Ooops…sorry!”

His detective dropped his weight down onto the sofa, taking Talia with him. He reached over and lifted one of the bowls and handed it to her. “Eat.”

She accepted the bowl with a hmmph.

“Tonight was great, guys,” their guest said as he set his empty dish back on the table. “Thankyou.”

“You’re welcome,” she replied through a mouthful of ice cream. “You’re always welcome to come round, you know that. You don’t have to ask, or wait to be invited. The door’s always open.”

“I know. I wouldn’t just appear out of the blue though, it’s not my style,” he told her. “You two – or should I say three – have your own lives.”

“Yes, but you were the first friend to believe in us after all that shit with the S&S unit,” she reminded him. “Everybody else freaked out and went off their heads. You didn’t. You gave us the benefit of the doubt. And that’s something I’ll never forget.”

“Me neither,” Thranduil said as his warm hand rested on her hip. “If it wasn’t for you, Bard would still be trying to untangle his underwear.”

Talia scrunched up her nose. “Thanks for the image, babe,” she said in disgust.

Both men laughed.

“Well I’d better be making tracks,” Thorin announced as he stood. “Thankyou very much for a very enjoyable evening, and a delicious meal. With any luck, I’ll hit the hay as soon as I get home and sleep off all those calories.”

Thranduil grinned as he gently moved her off his lap and onto the seat beside him, and got to his feet. “You know that you’re welcome any time,” he said. “It beats sitting at home going over paperwork, which I know for a fact you do.”

Thorin laughed as he leaned down and kissed Talia’s cheek. “Video proof Detective, or it didn’t happen,” he quipped, straightening up and heading towards the door.

“Proof which I shall provide,” the blonde shot back. “No paperwork when you get home. I’m serious.”

“No paperwork. Thanks guys, enjoy the rest of your night,” he said.

“Take care Thorin, have a good one,” Talia called.

Thranduil closed the door behind his captain and sighed as he ran a hand through his hair and shoved the other in his jeans pocket. “He works way too much,” he said.

“He’s heavily invested in what he does,” she replied, swinging her legs around to tuck beneath herself. “This ice cream is gorgeous. If he wasn’t, you guys wouldn’t be so efficient at what you do. You’ve got great support baby, much more than I ever had in my unit.”

He pursed his mouth. His mind involuntarily went back through time to the night she’d been attacked in her apartment, and her boss had coldly informed him that she’d been murdered. The heartless attitude and couldn’t-care-less approach had infuriated him and tore his heart apart. She was a truly amazing person, and he knew her track record with her work shone above and beyond anyone else’s. His one regret was that he hadn’t punched the arrogant son of a bitch into oblivion.

“What’s on your mind, Blondie?” she asked softly.

He snapped back to the present, and flashed her a smile. “Nothing. You’re right in what you’re saying,” he replied, and crossed the room to sit beside her. His arm rested around her shoulders.

“You were a million miles away.” She held a spoonful of ice cream up and he dutifully opened his mouth. “Don’t deny it. I can read you.”

“Mmmm,” he murmered as he savoured the cool mint taste. “I was only thinking of the shitty way you were treated, sweetheart.”

“Don’t go there,” she advised. “You’ve got some ice cream…let me clean it off…” She leaned closer to him and licked the small drop off his bottom lip, and murmered as she dived in again for a second lick. “Mmmm…delicious…”

He closed his eyes and moved his hand to rest on her waist, holding her closer as he parted his lips and deepened the contact.

Talia breathed through her nose as her heart rate increased, and she tilted her head slightly in an attempt to take more from the kiss. The bowl of dessert was forgotten and she touched her hands to his chest. The rapid thump of his heartbeat vibrated through to her fingers. Eager fingers quickly worked on the buttons of his shirt as she craved the feel of his smooth, warm skin instead of cotton. A shift of her weight allowed her to settle herself astride him, and his hands automatically went to her hips to hold her in place.

A deep purr left her as she kissed her way down his neck, savouring the feel of his warm, smooth skin under her mouth. “I can never get enough of you,” she whispered in between gentle bites and teasing sweeps of her tongue. “You’re so addictive. You’re like the most potent drug in the world.” Her lips moved up to just below his ear, where she sank her teeth into his flesh.

His hips moved restlessly under hers as his fingers gripped tighter.

She eased his long hair over one shoulder out of her way and sucked hard on the delicate skin while gently rocking against him. The harder she sucked, the deeper his moan became, until he bucked up off the couch.

Ice blue eyes stared into hers as he wound his hands through her hair and pulled her in front of him. Thick lashes blinked, and she licked her lips as she read the unshielded lust in his look.

Nothing was said.

He dived towards her and crashed his open mouth against hers as his hands roamed under her top and over the warm expanse of her back. A quick flip of his fingers released the catch on her bra and he pushed it up out of his way to caress the mounds of flesh he’d freed. It was her turn to groan helplessly as he squeezed them, rubbing his thumbs across her nipples which ached for his mouth. Her back arched and she pushed herself closer to his touch, desperate for more.

He chuckled softly at her wantonness, his hands knowing exactly how to arouse her further as he fondled her. The squirming of her body against his spoke more than any words, as did the heat pressing hard against his groin through her leggings. Her thighs tightened around his and her upper body lurched closer to his with each panting breath that she took.

She broke away from his kiss and went back for his neck as red-hot fire raced through her.

“Do you have any idea what you do to me?” he whispered. His hands trailed down her sides and followed the contours of her backside and over her thighs. “Do you know how much I burn for you?”

She murmered a nonsensical reply as she sucked hard on his neck, completely lost as his scent flooded through her senses. The taste of his flesh and the thumping pulse just below the surface made her movements against him more hungry, more desperate.

Her hair flooded down her back as he whipped her top up and off, taking her underwear with it, and he tossed it over his shoulder to land on a heap on the floor behind the couch somewhere. Warm, bare skin met his exploring hands as he swept them everywhere, desperate to touch every part of her at once. His fingers slid under the elastic waistband of her leggings and he shoved them down over her hips.

“Take these off, baby,” he whispered urgently. “I want you naked. Now.”

She giggled quietly as she lifted her hips a little, giving him room to push them further. A few well-placed wriggles and the garment, along with her soaked knickers, joined her other clothing, wherever it had landed.

He leaned his head back against the couch as her mouth roamed over his throat. Her hands impatiently flew down his exposed abdomen and fought with the belt of his denims.

“Fuck sake…who invented these bastard buttons?” she grunted against him.

He laughed. “Let me,” he offered, and deftly released himself. A sigh left his lips as he sprung free.

Talia immediately ground herself down against the solid length, murmering and whimpering in the process. “Oh my God, Thranduil…I fucking need you. I need you right now.

“Turn around,” he whispered seductively.

She pulled back with a wicked grin, and carefully shifted so she sat still astride him, but with her back to him.

“So damned sexy,” he said, still in a whisper. His hand ran down the curve of her spine, making her twitch slightly. “Lift up, sweetheart. Let me in.”

She dutifully lifted her hips, angling back so he had easy access. His hand gripped his erection as he rubbed it against her, coating her fluid around the head. She sank her teeth into her lower lip and lowered herself onto him.

Instantly, she became aware of everything.

The contrast between the rough denim of his jeans rubbing against the back of her thighs. The warm, smooth skin of his taut stomach against her ass as she moved. The cold metal of his belt buckle digging into her leg. The heat of his large hands as he rubbed his thumbs against the back of her neck and swept them down her back. The throbbing, pulsating hardness inside her that probed to go even deeper.

“Yessss,” she hissed, throwing her head back.

“You like that, little kitty?” he murmered in her ear. “Is this what you’ve been craving?”

“All fucking night,” she ground out as she rotated her hips on a downward push. “I wanted to throw Thorin out and fuck you right here, just like this. Mmm…more, baby, more.”

Her hands braced on his legs as she rocked her body against his. Each push home tugged a deep, lustful moan from her. Each clench of her tight heat had Thranduil gasping and panting. The passion between them rose along with the temperature in the room.

Talia flipped her hair over one shoulder and leaned her head back against his, panting hard.

“Ready to come so soon?” he teased.

She nodded.

“Hold your weight, sweetheart,” he whispered.

She leaned forwards and steadied herself on his knees, lifting her weight slightly as instructed. His hands gripped her waist and held her in position as he thrust hard and fast up into her.

She squealed.

He thrust faster.

She squealed louder.

“You are so fucking wet,” he hissed between clenched teeth. “So fucking hot and wet, baby.”

Her body tensed and trembled as she felt her orgasm closing in on her at speed. Sensing its approach, he pumped a little harder, making her cries echo around the apartment.

“Oh fuck!” she screamed. “I’m gonna come! Shiiiiiiiiiiiit…!”

Her climax crashed through her as she went into violent spasms. His hold on her tightened to keep her in place and he thrust two or three times more, exploding deep into her depths. She pushed down as hard as she could, squeezing every drop from him as he spurted and throbbed inside her. Her upper body tipped forwards in exhaustion and he slid one arm around her to pull her back up flush against him. His chest heaved at her back as he fought for breath.

“Holy fuck,” she gasped, panting hard. “I feel dizzy.”

The vibrations of his laughter rumbled through to her. “Are you ok?”

She made a noise halfway between a grunt and a groan, unable to form an answer. She lay limp against him as her heart thundered a rapid rhythm.

Eventually he moved his leg, straightening it out before settling his foot back onto the floor again. His head rested against hers.

“I really should move,” she murmered dreamily. “But I don’t want to.”

“Then don’t,” he replied. One hand rested on her stomach, his thumb drawing lazy circles on her skin.

“I’m getting cold.”

“So put your robe on.”

“But that means I have to move.”

He chuckled. “If you were facing the other way, I could carry you through to the bedroom,” he said.

She frowned over her shoulder. “You’re the one who told me to turn around,” she pointed out.

“Mmm. And it was worth it, was it not?”

“Definitely,” she said straight away with a grin. “Ok, I need to shift. But you might need to help me stand…” She burst out laughing. “Oh my God…I don’t think I can walk!”

He laughed as she slowly eased herself up from him, allowing him to slide out of her as she made her way to her feet. Taking her hand to keep her steady, he stood with her and tugged his jeans back into place with his other hand.

“Let’s go through to bed,” he said. “You look exhausted.”

Dark blue eyes narrowed in his direction. “That’s because some big, gorgeous, hunky blonde just fucked me twenty seven ways from Tuesday,” she shot back.

“Do I know him?” he teased.

“You might,” she shot back as he led her away from the lounge area. “He shoots people for a living.”

That earned her a bout of boisterous laughter as they went into their bedroom.

“That sounds like an easy life,” he said. “Is that all he does?”

“Well, he has a habit of turning the world upside down as well, sometimes,” she replied. “And has an insatiable sex drive.”

“Only when it comes to you, little kitty,” he said.

The bedroom door closed behind them.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THREE

 

Bard roared with laughter as his partner threw a half-eaten pastry at him, and swerved to his left. The projectile hurtled past his shoulder and skidded across Bombur’s desk, who eyed it as though it was a gift from the Gods.

Dwalin shook his head in disbelief and ducked back down behind his computer screen. The sounds of his fingers rattling across the keys along with his muttering as he grumbled away to himself drifted across the packed squad room.

“You’re insane, man!” Bard chuckled. “Certifiably mad.”

Thranduil grinned and slammed his desk drawer closed. “I’m serious…that’s how I did it,” he said. “It’s not my fault you’re old and boring.”

His partner scoffed. “I think I’ll stay old and boring, thankyou very much. I kind of like life the way it is right now – I see no need to change or alter it in any shape or form. Unlike you, you hare-brained cretin.”

The blonde rolled his eyes and swiftly grabbed his coffee as Kili meandered past innocently. “Find your own, Short Shit,” he warned. His eyes shifted as Thorin emerged from his office and strode across the room towards them.

“We just had a call come through; reports of a 10-39. Can you two attend?” he said, coming to a halt at their desk.

“I’m driving, Grandma,” Bard quipped as he shot out of his seat.

Thranduil glared at him. “What’s the location?” he asked.

“On the railway line between Finross and Marshfield,” he answered. “Just past the third marker. Uniform have secured the area, and the coroner’s on route. Forensics will meet you there.”

“On it,” he said as he rose to his feet and tucked his Glock into his waistband. “Anything we should know?”

Thorin shook his head. “That’s all that came through. You know uniform – need to know, and even then only whatever they remember to tell you. Stay safe guys – call me if there’s any problems.”

“I would think that the DB had problems when they realised they weren’t breathing anymore,” Bard said dryly. “Never mind – another day, another fresh corpse. After you, Blondie.” He dipped at the waist, dramatically ushering the taller detective before him.

“You’re in need of fucking help,” he muttered as he went past him. “Grab your shit and let’s go. I want a good read on this before forensics trample all over the show.”

“And they’ll be saying the same thing about us as they hit a hundred and ten trying to beat us there,” Bard grinned. He grabbed his jacket from the back of his seat and hurried after him. “How’s the lovely Mrs Oropherion?”

Thranduil grinned. “She’s fine,” he replied. His mind went back to a few nights previous, when he’d fucked her on the couch as she’d sat astride him. A tingling in his groin immediately made him scowl and he pushed the delicious memory from his mind. “Tasha’s broke another tooth through.”

“How many’s that? Three?”

“Four,” he answered.

Bard shook his head as they left the precinct and headed towards their car. “She’ll have a full set of gnashers before you know it,” he said. “Is she still chewing everything?”

“Oh hell yes. Usually my hair, if she can get to it,” he said. “Talia was winding her last night and she almost took a bite out of her. Poor Talia screamed, and gave the little one a fright.”

“Tilda was horrendous for biting,” Bard commented. “Every time I lifted her, she’d try to take a bite out of me. Sigrid wasn’t too bad, and Bain never bit at all. He preferred to chew his own fingers, until he realised that it was painful if he bit too hard.”

Thranduil laughed. “Legolas was a biter.”

“How’s he doing?”

The two of them climbed into the car and fastened their seat belts.

“He’s great,” he said. “He called last week, and is planning on coming home for a couple of weeks. His course is almost finished, and he’s been helping out with an archaeological dig close to the university. He’s loving it; he’s identified quite a few old weapons and managed to date them.”

“Good for him,” Bard said. “I knew he’d do well in his chosen career. He takes after his mother with his interest in old weapons.”

Thranduil fell silent as he thought of his first wife. He hadn’t thought of her in a long time, with Talia and Tasha keeping him occupied when his job didn’t. A smile curved his lips as he looked back over the path his life had taken, and marvelled at it.

“What’s so funny?”

He glanced at his partner. “Nothing. It’s just funny sometimes how life works out,” he replied. “If I’d guessed years ago that this is where I’d be in life right now, I’d never have believed it. I had my life all planned out, then it went straight to hell. I thought I’d be alone for the rest of my life. And then Talia happened.”

Bard grinned at him as he swung the car around a corner. “You never know what’s before you, my friend,” he remarked. “And sometimes, it’s probably just as well.”

Buildings flew past as he floored the powerful car.

“Talia was talking to me the other day about the night Bolg attacked her,” he said, after a few moments’ silence. He glanced over at Thranduil.

He sighed. “She still has nightmares,” he admitted softly. “She doesn’t speak about them, but she has them. Quite often she starts to fight in her sleep, and becomes quite distressed. I try to settle her and snuggle into her, and she usually comes through it without wakening. Come the morning, she either doesn’t remember, or just chooses not to mention it.”

“She told me that she was on the verge of giving up,” Bard said. His tone was serious, making his partner look at him. “Do you know what gave her the fight to survive?”

He shook his head.

“You. She said he told her he was going to tear you apart until you were screaming for death, and she freaked out and killed his ass. She wasn’t fighting for herself man, she was fighting for you.”

Thranduil inhaled deeply through his nose. “She has mentioned something along those lines in the past,” he said. “She put herself into an immense amount of danger, just to keep me safe.”

“She loves ya.”

He smiled. “I know. We had a major fight the day we were shot at, when we were at the beach…remember before I came back to work? She tripped me and threw herself down on top of me to shield me from the shooter, and I went ballistic when we got back to the hotel.”

“What did she say?”

He laughed. “She went all professional on me, and that stung,” he replied. “But deep down, I knew I’d never stop her from doing what she thought was her focus in life.”

“It was,” Bard decided. “You can’t take that away from her, Thran. Her goal was to make sure you stayed alive, and she was out to finish off anyone who attempted to have you otherwise. She’s good at what she does.”

“Did,” he corrected.

“Ha. She still has the fire in her blood.” Bard slowed the car to a stop and turned the engine off. He turned to face his partner. “You know that, don’t you? And one day, it’s going to break free.”

“Maybe,” Thranduil said. “Maybe not. Tasha keeps her grounded; she’s given her something to focus on, something pure and natural. Neither of us will ever forget that she’s a highly trained killer, but I think maybe that part of her has gone to sleep.”

“Even the Dragon wakes from a slumber once every several hundred years,” he replied as he opened the car door and climbed out. “You can’t expect her to completely disregard that part of her life. It’s that part that brought you guys together.”

“Why are you telling me shit I already know?” Thranduil glared at him over the roof of the car as he got out. “Do I look stupid?”

“Do I need to answer that?” A cheeky grin accompanied the response.

He shook his head and slammed the door closed. “Looks like forensics beat us, Grandma,” he said. “I should’ve driven instead of you.”

Bard snorted. “They probably had the heads-up before we did,” he said. “Either that, of their noses happened to be pointing in the right direction at the right time. They can smell a DB from across the state line.”

The pair made their way across the train lines and approached the Crime Scene unit.

“Guys,” one of them said, looking up with a nod.

“Hey, Marcus,” Thranduil said. “What do we have?”

The officer sighed and leaned his elbow across his knee. “Male, Caucasian, early to mid thirties. Signs of a struggle. Liver temp puts time of death at approximately 0400hrs this morning.” His paper suit rustled as he moved to point to the corpse’s neck. “Ligature marks here, lacerating the skin,” he said. “My guess is piano wire, but we’ll have to wait until Sheepie gets him onto the table to find out for sure.”

Diana Lamb, the coroner, looked up from her notes. “I shouldn’t be much longer, boys,” she said. “Once you’ve got what you need, I can transport him downtown. Crime Scene are almost finished.”

“Any preliminary thoughts?” Bard directed his question towards her.

She shrugged. “Not much more than what Marcus has already said. Petechiae in both eyes suggests some extent of strangulation. The vic was alive when his throat was sliced.”

Thranduil wrinkled his nose. “Let me just take a few pictures,” he said as he stepped around the squatting investigator. He snapped on a latex glove and hunkered down next to the head. A frown creased his forehead as he studied the corpse.

“What you got, Blondie?” Bard asked, stepping over to stand behind him.

“It might not be anything,” he murmered. “Look at that. That’s an imprint of some sort. Marcus…have you photographed this?”

“Yep, it’s already been sent and is running through an identification program as we speak,” the man replied. He stood up with a grunt. “Goddamn…these knees are shot getting up and down like this all the time.”

Bard’s eyes followed him as he hobbled away. “He’s getting too old to be out here doing this,” he said. “He should be in the unit working instead of out in the field.”

“Some people don’t like to be penned in though,” Thranduil remarked. He carefully lifted the flap on the front pocket of the denim jacket the dead man wore. “Now will you have a look at this…”

Bard quickly snapped a photo on his phone. “Looks like a business card of sorts,” he said, leaning down and frowning. “We’ll have to have that blood cleaned off so we can see who or what it’s for. It’s a right mess.”

“The vic’s cell phone has been bagged and tagged,” Diana spoke up. “It’s on its way to the unit for processing. Hopefully you’ll get something from the last dialled or received calls.”

Thranduil stood up and walked slowly around the body, taking a few pictures of his own. “Has the area been processed?” he asked.

“Yes,” she answered. “Can I take him now?”

“Be our guest,” he replied. “Mind if we pop in at some point?”

Bard’s eyes widened in horror and he frantically shook his head in vehement denial.

“Of course. My door is always open,” the coroner grinned. Her eyes turned towards Bard, who instantly stilled and pasted on an innocent smile. “Vomit bags will be provided.”

Thranduil chuckled and pocketed his phone.

“I hate you, man,” his partner grunted as they walked back to the car. “You know I can’t do autopsies…they give me the heebie-jeebies.”

“Why? The person isn’t there anymore,” he said as he snapped off the glove and dropped it into the box in the back of the coroner’s van. “You afraid that one day it’ll be you on that table or something?”

“Shut up. I just don’t see the need for us to be there. Sheepie will send her report over once she’s finished. She doesn’t need an audience.”

“You might actually learn something,” Thranduil told him. “I’m hungry. I think I might see if Talia wants to join us for lunch.” He took his phone back out of his pocket and sent her a quick text message. By the time they’d reached the car, she’d sent back a reply, and his face lit up in a radiant smile as he read it. “She’ll meet us in Hayley’s in half an hour.”

Bard rolled his eyes as he slid into the driver’s side. “Now I have to put up with you two making eyes at each other over the damned burgers,” he muttered. “It’s enough to put you off your lunch, man. All that lovey-dovey shit-“

Thranduil punched his arm as he settled himself in the passenger seat. “Just shut your mouth Bowman, and let’s go,” he said. “Invite Petra and stop bitching.”

Neither of them spoke as they left the crime scene and turned back onto the highway towards the city.

“Petra left me,” Bard said after a long time.

Thranduil’s head whipped round. “What? When?”

“Two weeks ago.” He tapped his thumbs on the steering wheel.

His partner didn’t know what to say. “Was there any specific reason why? I mean, did you know it was coming?” he asked eventually.

“I knew,” he nodded. “I found an email.”

“Oh no.” Thranduil leaned his head back against the headrest. “Tell me she wasn’t cheating.”

“She was,” he said matter-of-factly. “Her loss. I’m over it.”

Ice blue eyes narrowed as he looked over. “You know where I am if you want to talk,” he said, turning to look out of the side window.

Nothing more was said on the drive until they reached the diner. Hayley’s was a brightly coloured two-storey building surrounded by masses of colourful potted plants. The current owner was the grand-daughter of the original Hayley, who’d opened the business several decades ago.

The smell of freshly cooked burgers and fries wafted out of the open doorway as they climbed out of the vehicle, and Thranduil’s stomach gave a loud growl of acknowledgement.

“Did you forget breakfast this morning?” Bard quipped.

“I overslept,” he admitted. “The alarm went off and I must’ve shut it off and rolled over again. I woke up when Tasha started jumping around in her crib just after half past seven.”

“And you still manage to waltz into the precinct looking like something off the cover of a damned magazine,” his partner grunted.

“And you’re just jealous,” he laughed, pushing a stray seat aside as he led the way inside. “What can I say? Some of us are born looking like royalty.”

“And some of you are born arseholes and just grow bigger,” Bard retorted. “Hey Talia!”

Tasha looked round before her mother, squealing in excitement at the sight of Thranduil. “Dada! Dada!” she screamed. Her little arms waved frantically as she bounced on Talia’s lap in her own attempt to reach her father. “Dada!”

“Hello, my little Princess,” he coo’d as he leaned down to kiss his wife. “How are you today, little Madam Menace? C’mere…give Dada a hug!” He lifted the giggling child into his arms and kissed her cheek soundly, to be rewarded with both tiny fists grabbing his hair and yanking. Hard.

“That should teach you to ponytail it whenever you’re around this little monkey,” Bard grinned, tickling her cheek. She promptly turned her head and sank baby teeth into his finger.

Talia laughed. “She’s in one of those moods, I’m afraid, guys,” she said apologetically. A hand indicated her mass of long hair which was tied in a messy knot on top of her head. “Hence why this is well out of reach. She’s already put Tarzan to shame by swinging off it, and she managed to chew a wee hole in her sneakers on the way here.”

“Hmmm…someone is being a little minx today,” Thranduil observed, studying her.

Baby ice blue eyes stared back over a handful of his hair which she’d rammed in her mouth and was chomping on. “Dadaaa,” she said eventually.

Bard and Talia laughed.

“Oh she’s got you wrapped right around her little finger, Blondie,” he chortled. “The amount of trouble she’s going to get away with in years to come is nobody’s business.”

Talia nodded in agreement. “I can see me saying no bloody way to something,” she said as she crossed one knee over the other. “Then she waltzes over to Thranduil and bats her eyelashes at him and he says yes.”

“That’s a given,” the brunette agreed.

“Have you ordered yet, sweetheart?” Thranduil asked. He settled himself into the booth beside her and bounced his daughter on his knee.

“Nope. I thought I’d wait until you got here; I wasn’t sure if you’d be held up or get called out to something,” she replied. She rested her chin on his shoulder and smiled at him.

“What?” he laughed.

“Nothing. Just admiring how gorgeous you are,” she grinned.

“Oh dear God. I’m losing my appetite,” Bard groaned. “Here, give me Tasha. Thran, order me an omelette please.”

“So what have you been up to so far today?” she questioned.

“A DB beside the railroad tracks,” Thranduil replied, handing his child over to her Godfather. “It would appear that he was garrotted with piano wire.”

“Brutal,” she murmered. “Not the cleanest way of killing someone. That stinks of intense hatred towards the vic.” She lifted her coffee and took a drink.

“Have you ever thought about coming on board as a profiler?” Bard asked curiously. “You’ve got an inside knowledge on how the mind works when it’s in killer mode.”

“No…I couldn’t be arsed with that,” she said. “I’m more shoot-outs and targeting. I’d go off my rocker if I had to sit in front of a computer screen and show up at seminars, lectures and presentations. All that shit bores me.”

Thranduil slid her a sideways glance, but stayed quiet.

“What?”

“Baby, you know that I don’t want you back on the force,” he said. “I want you safe, with Tasha, doing mother-and-daughter things. Not throwing yourself out of moving vehicles and jumping off rooftops shooting people.”

She grinned. “And when have I ever done that?”

“Let me see…how about that bank heist Bard and I attended, and you shot out of nowhere – in a stolen car – and took out the perp, blew his car up and shattered every window in a three hundred yard radius and knocked me on my arse with the force from the blast?” he said.

“Haaaa…and what an arse it is,” she retorted. “And I never threw myself out of the car. I dumped the thing. Shame…it was an amazing ride.”

One eyebrow lifted sardonically. “It was stolen,” he reiterated. “And I do not know how many times you were up on rooftops shooting.”

“She saved your lanky ass on every one of those shoots,” Bard pointed out. “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, my friend.”

Talia smirked as her husband glared at his partner.

“Whose side are you on?” he demanded. “I want to go to work every day knowing that my wife is safe and taking care of our child, not morphing between Spiderman and Rambo as she hurtles around the city blasting everything that moves.”

“Rambo’s a pussy,” she muttered, making Bard grin. “Babe, I think I’ll have the double burger and fries. What are you having?”

Bard’s grin grew wider as he watched the couple, completely immersed in each other and the domestic bliss they’d settled comfortably into. They were definitely the other half of one another.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FOUR

 

Talia wrapped her legs in a vice-like grip around Thranduil’s waist as his heavy body shuddered in her arms. Deep groans rumbled from the depth of his soul as aftershocks coursed through him. Panting heavily, she turned her head and kissed just above his ear. Her toes flexed and curled against the flesh of his ass cheeks, and he laughed breathlessly.

“I am going to be late for work,” he murmered, his face buried in the pillow. “But do you know something? I don’t give a fuck. I’m not moving.”

She laughed and wriggled her hips a little, making him moan softly. “I quite like you where you are,” she told him. “Balls to work. Take a sickie. Make me come again.”

“Do not tempt me,” he laughed as he lifted his head and gazed down at her. “I love you,” he added in a whisper.

“I love you too,” she told him. Tucking his hair behind his ear, she gazed into his hypnotic eyes. “I always have. And I always will.”

Ice blue eyes held hers, with a thousand thoughts and emotions in the depths. “I think-“

His words were interrupted by the piercing shrill of his cell phone which lay on the bedside unit. He reached over with a sigh, frowning as he answered it.

Talia smiled and ran her hands over his shoulders and down his strong arms as she listened to Bard’s irritated rant.

“Hold your damned horses,” her husband grunted. “I’m on my way.” He tutted in disgust and tossed the phone somewhere on the wrecked bed. “He’s outside, going off his head.”

“So? Let him stay outside. You can stay inside.

Her seductive pronunciation of the word had him moaning helplessly, and she licked his full lower lip.

“You are a menace,” he decided. Slowly pulling out of her, he cursed under his breath and flopped onto his side. “Fuck work. Fuck this.”

She rolled over so that she was facing him and propped her head up on one hand. “Don’t go in if you’re not in the right frame of mind,” she said. “Listen to your instinct, rather than what you think is the right thing.”

“I have to go,” he grumbled and hoisted himself out of the bed. Grabbing his robe from the back of their bedroom door, he put it on and tied the belt. “I’d better let him in before he kicks the door down.”

He disappeared and she reluctantly dragged herself up too, put on her robe and padded after him. Bard’s muttering reached her ears before he came into her line of vision.

“Overslept, my arse,” he said, eying her. “You two need to stop fucking like rabbits all the time, goddammit. That’s twice this month you’ve been late, Blondie.”

“Coffee?” she offered sweetly. “Sounds like you need one.”

He glared at his partner’s back as Thranduil headed through for a quick shower. “I suppose so,” he said, sitting on a stool at the breakfast bar. “Goddammit I’ll need something to get me through today.”

She switched the kettle on. “What’s wrong?”

Brown eyes met hers. “Nothing’s wrong,” he replied.

“You’re never this cranky,” she told him. “Something’s up.”

He sighed heavily. “Bain has been accepted into Uni,” he said quietly.

“And?” she prompted, folding her arms.

“It’s in the next state.”

“And we have modern inventions like cell phones. Messenger. Video calls. Twenty four hour unlimited internet access. Planes. Cars. Trains. Push-bikes, dammit,” she shot back. “Roller-skates, for Chrissakes. He’s not going to war, yanno.”

“How would you feel if it was Tasha?” he demanded.

“Fucking epic – she’s not even a year old and accepted into Uni?? That’s a child prodigy if ever I heard of one,” she said. “Seriously? I’d be happy at what she’d achieved, and I’d back her all the way. You gave your kids life, Bard, and with that life comes wings. Don’t clip them so they can’t fly. That isn’t your right.” She turned away from him and prepared the coffee.

“I’ll miss having him around,” he said after a silence.

“Of course you will, and he’ll miss you too…for all of five seconds,” she replied. “Then he’ll discover what life at uni is all about, frat parties, all that nonsense. Trust me – your bond won’t be broken. You’re worrying about nothing.” She turned and handed him his coffee.

“I’ll take Thran’s through to him,” he said, as he set it down and lifted his partner’s.

She smiled as she watched him head towards the bedroom, waiting to hear the expletives that would no doubt follow.

And they did.

“Get the fuck out of my shower!” Thranduil shouted.

“I’m not having you two bonking like dogs in heat goddammit,” Bard shouted back. He appeared back in her line of vision, walking backwards. “And if Talia brought it through, that’s exactly what would happen, and we’d never make work this side of Christmas!”

Thranduil appeared with a towel around his waist carrying his coffee, a snarl on his perfect features. His wife sniggered and tried to hide her amusement, failing miserably. “My shower is off-limits to you, you pervert.”

His partner snorted loudly. “Like I would really want to ogle your lanky ass,” he grunted.

“Ok, children! Bard, go get your Goddaughter, seeing as you’ve managed to wake her with all your crap,” Talia decided. “You-“ she indicated her almost-naked husband. “-take your coffee and get dressed. I’m going to give Tasha her breakfast and try to bring some sense of normality to this loony bin.”

He rolled his eyes but dutifully padded back through, barking at Bard to get the hell out so he could get dressed in peace. The latter reappeared carrying Tasha in his arms, making gooey noises at her.

“This little lady just gets cuter every day,” he said. ”Don’t you, my tiny Princess?”

Tasha chewed her fingers as she gazed thoughtfully at him. “Dada,” she decided eventually.

“Oh dear God, I give up,” Talia groaned, throwing her hands in the air and turning away. “Seriously – this kid has more fathers than the priesthood.”

Thranduil’s roar of laughter echoed throughout the apartment as he appeared, mid-way through buttoning up his shirt. “I told you, sweetheart – she’ll grow out of it. Don’t stress over it.” He drew level with her and dropped a light kiss on her mouth. He turned to his partner. “You ready, Hairy Face?”

“Insults, insults…all I ever get from him are insults,” Bard told the youngster in his arms. “I sincerely hope that you grow up with more respect for your fellow human beings.”

“She will grow up just fine,” Thranduil assured him as he grabbed a slice of freshly buttered toast that Talia had prepared while the kettle had been boiling for the coffee. “Unlike some that I know.” Another quick kiss for his wife and one on the cheek of his daughter, and he whisked her from Bard and handed her over. “Call me if you need me,” he told her.

“I will, but I won’t,” she replied with a smile. “Have a good day guys, and stay safe. Love you, babe.”

“I love you too, little kitty,” he answered with a wink. He shoved his partner out of the door, and she grinned as it closed as the muttering and grumbling drifting back to her.

“Ok young lady, it’s time for Mama to wear your porridge,” she said.

Baby ice blue eyes gazed unblinkingly up into hers.

“Unless you’ve decided to change the morning routine of spitting it everywhere,” she went on. “But then I guess my day wouldn’t start properly unless I was coated in the stuff, would it? How about we try some mashed blueberries with it this morning? Hmm? I think Baby Kitten would just love blueberries.”

She chattered away to the child as she placed her in the high chair and fastened a bib, before sitting at a right angle to her with a bowl of the porridge. Tasha appeared to absorb everything she said, and occasionally erupted into her own baby-chatter, complete with blowing bubbles and the occasional handful of porridge being tossed into the air.

*****

“This is giving me a headache,” Kili groaned. He leaned his head onto both hands with a frustrated grunt.

“What is, the lack of caffeine?” his brother quipped on the way past. “Ha. You haven’t managed to swipe anyone’s coffee for over three days now. That’s a record for you, brother.”

“Shut up, Fili,” he grunted. “It’s this crap. Amanda Harrison’s changed her statement twice already.”

Fili lowered himself into his seat on the other side of the desk and glanced at his sibling over mountains of paperwork. “So we charge her with wasting police time if she does it again,” he shrugged.

“There’s a damned good possibility that Leroy’s got to her,” Bard said from his desk a few feet away, not looking up from his computer screen. “The man’s a parasite. A low-life. He’ll do anything to intimidate a witness.”

“Well something’s definitely happened. If she changes it again, I swear I’ll throw her in lock-up,” Kili muttered.

“Calm down, boy,” Balin advised gently from a few desks away. “You stress yourself to the limit with this case. There’s no point. It will all fall into place eventually.”

“Ever the optimist,” Fili said with a smile as he sipped his tea.

Thranduil rose from his chair and swept his hair over one shoulder. “I need to head down to have a chat with Thorin about the evidence that was booked in from the Murphy investigation,” he told Bard, patting his pockets. “Damn…I forgot to lift my cell phone this morning.”

“You had other things on your mind,” his partner shot back with a grin.

The blonde drew him a warning look. “Will you message Talia and ask her to drop it off if she’s out and about this morning?” he asked. “And keep it simple; non of your wise-arsed shit. I know you.” The papers in his hand pointed warningly in his direction.

“Consider it done in the best possible taste,” Bard answered, already texting on his phone.

Thranduil shook his head and disappeared out of the squad room in search of his Captain.

Half an hour later, Talia pushed open the doors of the precinct; Tasha on one hip and Thranduil’s phone securely in her pocket. A smile tugged at her mouth as the usual bustle of the building swept towards her in waves; she felt like she was home, in a strange sort of way. Police officers crossed her path and wove their way around her as she headed for the stairs, many with a nod or a wave of acknowledgement, each one focused on whatever they were doing.

“Hi Bofur. Is Thranduil around anywhere?” she asked, passing him on the way up to the second floor.

“Yes, he’s down in lock-up with Thorin,” he answered. “Hallo there, little Miss Cutie-Pie,” he mushed to Tasha.

“Dada,” came the reply.

Talia rolled her eyes. “Cheers, Bofur. I’ll catch him down there.” She turned and went back down. Crossing the bustling hall, she shifted her daughter to a more comfortable position, and strode forwards. Her mood instantly brightened as she caught a flash of long blonde hair, and a huge smile materialised.

Thranduil was walking towards her in deep conversation with a plain-clothed detective, one she had seen around but wasn’t familiar with his name. He lifted his head and smiled as his eyes fell on her, and she continued towards him.

“Hi baby,” he murmered, lowering his head and placing a soft kiss on her lips. “I’m sorry to drag you away from your day.”

“That’s ok,” she said as she handed him the phone. “I was heading out with Madam here anyway. It’s not a problem.”

“This is Tom Kenner,” he said, turning to indicate his colleague. “Tom, this is Talia, my wife, and my daughter Tasha.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, ma’am,” Tom said with a friendly smile as he shook her hand. “I’ve heard so much about you, and your little one.”

“All good, I hope,” she joked.

“Very much so,” he assured her. “Thran, I’ll go check this out and let you know what the system throws up.”

“Do that,” he replied. “So…has Tasha been behaving?”

Talia snorted. “I had the usual morning routine of washing porridge out of my hair.”

He laughed. “It looks amazing, sweetheart. It always does.”

She’d washed and dried her long black hair, straightened it and pulled it back into a mid-height ponytail. The ends swept down her back in a lustrous thick tail resembling the animal the hairstyle was named after. “Compliments will get you anywhere,” she laughed.

“Into bed with you?” he murmered as he kissed her neck. “Deep inside you with your legs wrapped around me?”

“Definitely,” she answered immediately, and turned her head so her mouth met his. “Mmm. Worth crossing town for.” Her gaze shifted from his for a second as two uniformed officers led a prisoner from the lock-up. Her rapid mind took in the fact that both cops were armed and their ward had his hands cuffed in front of him. She looked back up at her husband, dismissing what was going on around her. “Is there anything in particular you would like for dinner?” she asked him. “I’m going to the store, so if you want something in particular, now’s the time to tell me.”

“Whatever you like, my darling,” he replied, and kissed Tasha’s cheek. “Just get whatever you want. I have to get going baby; I have a suspect in interrogation who needs some gentle cajoling.”

She laughed, turning away with her daughter. “Gentle, my arse.” She began walking back the way she’d come, heading towards the doorway which would take her through to the main entrance area.

The air around her changed, as a hundred different things erupted.

The prisoner wrenched himself from the grasp of the two officers with a roar of anger. Both fists were lifted above his head and he brought them down in between her shoulder blades; hard, in a break for freedom. She wheezed as the impact shuddered through her upper body, restricting her air intake and her vision as everything blurred. Crashing down onto her knees, she toppled down onto the floor. Instinct made her wrap herself around her daughter as her left arm braced rigid to protect her from being crushed, her hand supporting her head.

Again, her rapid-fire brain assessed every single thing in the vicinity.

Horrified and shocked faces met her line of gaze as she lifted her head and spotted Dwalin, who was closer in distance than anyone else. She rolled slightly and lifted Tasha with both hands, taking a deep breath as she tossed the child as hard as she could. Dwalin caught her and turned, taking the young Oropherion away as she began screaming.

The whole situation had only taken up less than two seconds, but seemed much longer.

Thranduil’s enraged roar met her ears as she flipped over at lightning speed, locking both legs around the prisoner’s neck and squeezing hard. He flailed and gasped as he tried to break loose, but her thighs tightened and she flipped her body back over, taking him with her. She ended up on her back and shot into a sitting position. A hand grabbed a fistful of his hair and she yanked hard, drawing back her fist and smashing it into his face repeatedly in short, hard jabs.

Blood streamed from his nose as he yelled and shouted for help.

She didn’t stop.

Vaguely aware of her husband and other officers rapidly approaching, she used every ounce of strength in her body and flipped so that her assailant crashed face-first onto the floor, giving her time to spring to her feet. A cop within arm’s reach gasped in shock as she whipped his gun from his holster and aimed it.

Everybody came to a skidding halt.

A loud click sounded.

“Meet the Colt M1991A1,” she hissed. “Cocked, and ready to fire. You put my child at risk, you son of a bitch. Now you die.”

Nobody moved, or breathed. Everything had happened so fast, nobody really knew for sure exactly what the hell had happened; only that the child crying out in the hallway was sounding more distressed every passing second, and the prisoner on the floor looked beyond petrified as he stared up along the barrel of the Colt into cold, emotionless blue eyes.

Talia’s finger tightened on the trigger.

The prisoner started to shake.

Her finger tightened more.

He started to whimper in fear.

A gentle, warm hand touched her left shoulder, and Thranduil silently leaned along her right arm, wrapping his fingers around hers on the grip. “Don’t do this, baby,” he whispered in her ear. “Do not do this.”

Nobody moved.

She didn’t even blink.

Her eyes never left those of the man lying on the floor, begging and pleading for his life.

“Come on, sweetheart,” Thranduil whispered. “Let the guys deal with him.”

Seconds dragged by endlessly.

Very slowly, her thumb moved and she flicked the safety back on.

The air seemed to be sucked out of the room as she allowed her husband to lower her arm. Within a split second, every officer in the area crashed onto the prisoner in a heap that resembled some sort of messed up pile-up in a school playground. She breathed slowly through her nose, her body still rigid.

“Look at me, baby,” Thranduil said softly.

Her head turned as she looked up into his eyes.

“I understand,” he said. “I do.”

She exhaled with a sigh as she turned the weapon so that the barrel pointed towards the floor, and presented the grip to him. “He’s lucky,” she said. Her tone was ice cold. And angry.

He nodded as he took the Colt. “I know.”

Fury flashed across her dark blue eyes. “Do you?”

His mouth dropped as she turned and walked away. Both doors crashed open as she punched them apart, going in search of her daughter.

He turned as Thorin and Bard approached.

“What the hell just happened?” asked the former.

“I’m fucked if I know,” he said, almost to himself. “In less than three seconds, this guy-“ he indicated the prisoner being dragged kicking and screaming out of the vicinity. “-has taken Talia to the floor. She’s thrown Tasha across the room to Dwalin, and the next thing she’s got him in a damned triangle choke-hold. Then she’s got a Colt aimed, ready to blow his head off.”

Silence fell.

“We talked about her killer instinct just recently,” Bard said softly.

Thorin’s eyes met his.

Thranduil sighed wearily and ran his hand through his hair. “I need to go and check on my daughter,” he said. He handed the weapon to his Captain and walked away from them, his shoulders slumped.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FIVE

 

Darkness blanketed the city.

Talia sat out on the balcony on a padded sun lounger with a fluffy blanket wrapped around her. She wasn’t cold in the slightest, but the cover seemed to give her a sense of comfort. Tasha lay sound asleep in her crib beside the couch, away from her but in her line of vision. The little girl had seemed none the worse after her ordeal, brightening instantly as soon as her eyes had met her mother’s. Talia had thanked Dwalin and took her, leaving the precinct immediately without stopping to speak to anyone else.

A thick stream of smoke drifted upwards as she exhaled her cigarette and took a mouthful of coffee. Her eyes drifted sideways slightly as a body lowered to sit in the lounger a few feet away.

Nobody spoke.

“I’m sorry,” Thranduil said eventually, in a soft voice.

Silence.

“It’s not your fault,” she replied after a long time. “It was just one of those fucked-up situations where Tasha should never have been.” She heard him take a deep breath.

“I feel like you hold me responsible.”

She shook her head. “No. I don’t. I hold myself responsible.” Her head turned and she met his eyes in the dim light. A lamp set a little way inside cast a warm glow onto the otherwise dark balcony.

Even in the compromised illumination, he could see her eyes were watering. “You cannot blame yourself,” he whispered.

She jerked her head back to its original position. “Yes I can.”

He sat quiet for a few moments, both elbows resting on his knees as he studied the decking beneath his spread feet. “Can I have a cigarette?”

The pack slid in his direction, and he leaned down to lift it. “I thought you’d quit.”

“Sometimes, like you, I stress. And at those times, yes – I smoke. It is not often, but occasionally,” he replied. He removed one from the half-empty pack and lit it, inhaling deeply. “I am human, as are you.”

“Where was my human instinct this morning?” she hissed angrily, turning to look at him once more. “Where was the mother in me, who should’ve sensed impending danger coming to her child? Where was she? On vacation?”

“She reacted within a heartbeat and probably saved our child’s life,” he said softly. He knew that if he met her fire with fire, things would escalate and Talia’s frame of mind would only darken. “You are pointing the finger of blame at yourself, my darling. What happened today should never have happened. But unfortunately, it did, and you handled it and kept our daughter safe. Take that from the whole wretched experience and leave the bad behind.”

“Easy for you to say,” she whispered.

He heard the catch in her words.

“It wasn’t exactly a walk in the park for me either,” he reminded her gently. “Two of the three people I care most about in this world were in a highly dangerous situation, and if it hadn’t been for the spontaneous reaction of one of those people, it may not have ended the way it did.”

He paused.

“But it did. And neither of you have a scratch on you. I know that you are angry, and hurting, and stressed. But you are both safe, and that means more to me than you could ever begin to imagine,” he told her.

She took a last drag of her cigarette and stubbed it out in the plant pot beside her. “My whole life flashed in front of me,” she said as she leaned back and clasped her hands together on top of the blanket. “The face of every bastard I’ve ever taken out of the game. Every cop I’ve ever worked with. My parents. Friends I’ve had over the years. You. Tasha. Legolas. Bard. Everybody.”

Another long silence.

“You know, if you had been any other person in that precinct this morning, Tasha would more than likely have been crushed, or had a fractured skull, or maybe even something worse,” he said, finally breaking it. “The fact that you assess and react the way that you do saved her life – I have no doubt about that. As her mother, you should be taking comfort from that, rather than holding on to the what if’s and the maybe’s.”

Her eyes closed. “I just can’t help thinking if I-“

“Stop it,” he said as he slid from the lounger and sat on his heels beside her. “Stop it right now. You of all people should know that you’re on the road to disaster thinking like that, and it’s a one-way road, baby. You know this. Stop over-thinking, over-analysing.”

“I can’t help it,” she whispered.

He rose up onto his knees and wrapped both arms around her. Her body trembled against his, and he buried his face in her hair. “I know,” he whispered back. “It goes hand-in-hand with the adrenalin crash. It’ll pass, please trust me.”

She gripped handfuls of the fabric stretched across his broad shoulders. “If anything ever happened to her-“

“Sshhh. It did not. And it will not.”

Time stood still as they held each other, drawing strength from each other. Eventually his hold on her loosened, and he pulled back a little.

“I think we should have something to eat and get some sleep,” he said softly. A gentle hand tucked loose strands of hair behind her ear as he gazed down at her. “It has been a long day, and both of us are mentally exhausted. We need to rest.”

She nodded. “Yeah. We do.”

He took her hand and rose to his feet, gently pulling her to stand. “I love you,” he told her.

“I love you too,” she said.

*****

“This is great Dad, really…don’t worry about the décor,” Legolas laughed, eyeing the artwork Talia had painted on the walls of the room Tasha would soon be going into. “Honestly. I’m just happy to have somewhere to sleep.”

Thranduil grinned and slapped his son’s back. “Talia’s put a lot into this,” he said. “She’s spent hours and hours in here with different pots of paint and more brushes than Picasso.”

“It looks amazing,” the younger blonde told him. “Tasha’s going to love this.”

“Grub’s up!” Talia yelled from the other side of the apartment.

Both males dumped baggage onto the floor beside the bed and headed through towards the kitchen.

“Wow…whatever it is, it smells amazing!” Legolas said enthusiastically. “The food they serve on the flights is just crap…so bland, it’s not even funny.”

She slid a plate heaped with food towards him with a grin. “Welcome back to home cooking,” she said. “I’ll soon fatten you up.”

He laughed. “Hey, I have to keep this figure in shape,” he joked, patting his non-existent stomach. Like his father, he was lean built but toned. “Gotta give the ladies something to ogle.”

Thranduil snorted as he lifted two plates and crossed over to the table, setting them down and pulling a seat out for his wife. “It takes more than your shape to attract a female,” he told him in a dry tone. “A sense of humour, empathy, and the ability to connect your thoughts with hers are far more important.”

One eyebrow lifted as his son dug into his meal. “Listen to Romeo here,” he muttered with a grin. “Just because Talia was mental enough to marry you, that doesn’t mean you’re God’s gift all of a sudden.”

A swift kick under the table made him yelp as his father glared at him, and Talia burst out laughing.

“Calm the testosterone, you two,” she chuckled as she dug into her meal. “Damn…” She set her cutlery down as Tasha began to wail.

“Stay where you are, sweetheart. I’ll see to her,” Thranduil said, standing up again.

“No, you eat,” she protested, but he’d already moved towards her playpen.

“Is Dada’s little Princess not included?” he coo’d to her as he settled her on one hip. “We can’t have that, can we? Let’s sit you in your high chair so you can see everyone.”

The little girl babbled and waved her arms at Legolas as they passed him, making him grin.

“She’s adorable,” he said, watching her. “And she looks so much like Dad!”

“Thank God,” Talia muttered under her breath.

“What does that mean?” her husband demanded. “There is nothing wrong with you. I wish she did look more like you.” He fastened the safety harness and lifted a small bowl of melon cut into fingers. “Here you go, my darling.”

Tasha hummed in excitement and dived into the bowl, rapidly making a mess.

Talia watched Legolas. He hadn’t taken his eyes from his baby sister, and the grin on his face made her smile as well. He was clearly besotted with her, and she knew within herself that Thranduil’s family instinct had passed through to his son.

“So what’s happening in your worlds since I was last here?” the younger blonde queried. “It seems like it was ages ago that I came over, and it’s only been just over a year.”

“Not a lot,” she replied. “Your dad still puts the world to rights every day, and I’m being spoiled rotten being a stay-at-home mum on extended maternity leave.”

“Are you going to go back to work?” he asked.

Her eyes met Thranduil’s. “I don’t know,” she replied carefully. “Maybe, maybe not. We haven’t decided yet.”

Legolas’s gaze shifted between the older couple, sensing an uneasy subject, so he quickly changed it. “I’ve met someone,” he said.

“You have? Who?” his father asked. “Where did you meet her?”

“At the archaeological dig. Her name’s Tauriel, and she’s just amazing. She’s a couple of years younger than me, and is doing the same course that I did,” he told them.

“How long have you been seeing her?” Talia asked. She reached across and picked up a piece of melon and put it into her daughter’s hand.

“Only about six weeks or so, so it’s early days yet,” he said. “But I’m getting a good feeling from this. I really like her, and I can relax around her, you know? I don’t feel like I have to put on a front to impress her or anything; she’s really down-to-earth.”

“You should never feel the need to put on a front with anyone,” Thranduil said.

Talia’s eyes lowered to her plate, and he physically felt the change in her. An overwhelming wave of sadness washed over her as she cast her mind back to when they’d first met, when she’d been assigned to assassinate any threat to him. To a time when the secrets she had been keeping had made her ill with stress and guilt as she’d fallen deeper and deeper in love with him. To the inevitable war between them and subsequent parting with devastating results when the truth had come out.

Her eyes lifted again and met his as he slid one leg over and hooked it around hers, drawing it closer to him under the table and maintaining the contact.

“No, but I feel sometimes with my colleagues that you have to act a certain way to be accepted, or to look a certain way, or speak a certain way,” Legolas went on. “It’s like some sort of social expectation.”

“And Tauriel doesn’t,” his father said. His eyes held his wife’s. “True love will accept you the way you are, without the need to change or hide your true self.”

Talia smiled and went back to eating, with a more settled, contented feeling in her stomach.

Later that night, he called her through to the en-suite bathroom.

“What was that all about during dinner?” he asked. He lay back in the bath, completely relaxed with his long hair tied up in a knot out of the water. Thousands of bubbles floated around the surface, the water gently lapping against the sides of the tub as he shifted one leg.

“What was what about?” she asked. She leaned against the unit and folded her arms.

“First off, my darling, answering a question with a question is rude, plus it indicates that the person responding is hiding something,” he told her. “I have spent years interrogating people, remember? There is not a single trick in the book that I do not know. Secondly, you are in a defensive pose, which tells me that you do not wish to talk about it. Thirdly, I am your husband, I love you unconditionally and nothing you tell me could ever change that. So speak freely.”

She shrugged as she turned her gaze to something on the ceiling. “Your words just hit a sore point, that’s all,” she replied. She looked back at him. “What you said was true.”

Ice blue eyes studied her. “Yes. However – our case is completely different. And how many times have we talked about this?”

“Only once or twice since it happened.”

“Then perhaps it is time to speak of it again,” he said decidedly, and hauled himself up to stand.

Her eyes roamed over the contours of his body, following the streams of water that cascaded down solid muscle and toned flesh. She wordlessly handed him the towel and waited as he dried off the excess water, then wrapped it around his hips as he stepped out onto the floor.

Standing toe to toe with her, he stared down at her. “What has passed, has gone,” he said softly. “You cannot bring it back, you cannot re-do it, and you cannot make it un-happen. And yet you still hold on to this. Why?”

She swallowed. “Did it ever occur to you that I’ll probably carry the guilt of what I did to you for the rest of my life?” Her eyes fixed on a point on his chest.

“Up here,” he said with a snap of his fingers, and she looked up. “No. It did not. And that is because it will not. You need to let this go, Talia. I have seen what guilt and remorse does to a person. I will not have you go through that. Look how far we have come; look how strong we are. Does that not tell you something?”

“Yes,” she whispered.

“What?”

“That we love each other.”

“Exactly. And we love each other to such an extent, we were able to move past what happened and build a life together. Create another life, together. Make dreams together. Make memories together,” he rationalised. “Life is all about moving forwards, and nothing anyone can do can ever change that. Do not let the past destroy the future, because if you drop your defences just a little bit, then that is exactly what you will be doing.”

“My past caught up with me yesterday at the precinct,” she said quietly.

“Your past saved our child’s life,” he corrected her. “I told you this last night. If you had been any other mother, then things could have and probably would have been much worse. Remember that, little kitty.” A gentle kiss touched the tip of her nose, and she closed her eyes in silent gratification for his understanding and support. When she opened them again, he had moved into their bedroom.

She followed and stood behind him, wrapping her arms around his waist and resting her cheek on his warm shoulder as he stood looking down at their sleeping infant. “Thankyou,” she said softly.

His head turned slightly so she had a profile view. “For what?”

“Everything,” she answered simply. “Anything and everything. You seem to know what’s going on in my head better than I do, and that takes some doing.”

He slowly turned in her arms and settled his hands on her lower back. “You spent years taking out dangerous, evil killers with murder on their agendas,” he said. “I have spent years reading people, assessing them, watching them, getting to know every tic and every giveaway. Besides – when a man is as in love as I am with you, then he can read his lover’s thoughts in her eyes.” A warm smile curved his lips, encouraging her to copy.

“I don’t deserve you,” she told him.

“Bullshit,” he snorted. “How many women do you know who would tolerate having a husband whose hair is naturally straighter than theirs?”

Her laughter echoed around the room as he enfolded her in a tight hug.

“I love you, little kitty,” he murmered.

“I love you too,” she whispered.

And she meant it.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SIX

 

“You will not prise any information out of me,” the old man growled as he leaned his elbows on the table in front of him. “You can talk until the cows come home, until you turn blue in the face, or until the sun and the moon merge and the universe implodes. I shall say nothing.”

Thranduil poked his tongue into the side of his cheek, watching his prisoner through slightly narrowed eyes. “And here I thought that at your age, the last thing you would be looking for is a night in lock-up,” he said. “Never mind. One is never too old to experience new things.”

“Who said it would be a new experience?”

One eyebrow lifted. “So you admit you have previous?”

The old man leaned back. “I admit nothing,” he said.

Thranduil smiled. “It matters not. I know already.” He tossed a drivers’ licence onto the table, sealed in a clear evidence bag. He leaned both hands flat on the table and leaned right down. “You think I would not check, old man?”

Dark grey eyes glared at him.

He shrugged. “Fine. Have it your way.” A nod towards the one-way window signalled a uniformed officer to enter the interrogation room.

“Please stand, Sir,” the cop said.

The old man hesitated, then rose to his feet slowly. “My attorney will have me out in no time,” he said.

“Perhaps he can arrange for you to re-sit your driving test again, seeing as you have a policy of driving up one way streets the wrong way,” Thranduil replied. “Take him through to lock-up, please.”

The old man glared as he was led away, his exceptionally long, grey hair trailing down his back. Thranduil watched him go, with the question in his mind whether that’s what his hair would look like in decades to come.

Not likely.

He kept his pristine clean and brushed – the prisoner looked as though he hadn’t seen a bottle of shampoo or a hairbrush in weeks. His grey beard was bedraggled and overall he looked quite scruffy.

He, on the other hand, dressed immaculately. Even in joggers and a t-shirt he managed to look good, and he knew it. Talia never missed an opportunity to bodily jump on him if he had shorts on, and more often than not they didn’t stay on for long. His black shirt was her favourite, and she frequently undid a button or two whenever she passed him as she loved teasing herself with a glimpse of his chest. Jeans had an amazing effect on her, as did v-necked t-shirts.

Come to think of it, pretty much everything he wore played havoc with her sex drive. He smiled as he thought about her, always willing to please him and prepared to do whatever he wanted in bed.

He turned back to the table with a scowl. How did he manage to end up thinking about sex?! He grabbed the evidence bag containing the old man’s licence and strode out of the room.

“Any luck?” Thorin asked, stopping as he passed.

He shook his head, although it was less to do with denial than it was clearing his head of x-rated images. “He refused to give anything up,” he replied. “He wouldn’t even confirm his name or address, even though it’s here in black and white.” He held up the bag for clarification.

“Well, he did commit a traffic violation,” the smaller man said. “So we can hold him overnight at least. Let’s hope his attorney doesn’t wander in in the meantime.”

“It won’t be my problem if he does. I’m clocking off in an hour and heading over to Bard’s. Talia, Tasha, and Legolas are already there,” Thranduil stated. “Once I go through those doors, this entire precinct ceases to exist.” He ended with a grin, making his Captain grin in return.

“I cannot say that I blame you. I only wish I could turn off as easily,” he said.

The blonde laughed as they walked along the corridor side by side. “I’ll get this back into evidence, tidy up the loose ends on the arrest and the paperwork, and head off,” he said.

“Just make sure and have a good time,” Thorin replied. “Try to keep your partner from getting too drunk; he has court in the morning.”

“I will do my best. Is it alright if one of the uniforms drops me off on their patrol? Talia has the car for herself and the kids, and she’ll pick me up from ours when I call her,” he said.

“Of course. Grab Bailey or Anderson – they’re due to be heading in that general direction soon,” the reply came. “Have a good one.”

The two men parted ways as one went up to the squad room and the other headed towards the Evidence room. After signing the bag over to Bofur, Thranduil went back up to his desk and spent the next three quarters of an hour finishing off his reports.

Uniform dropped him off at home, and he made his way into the shower after texting Talia to pick him up in half an hour and laying out a change of clothing for the get-together at Bard’s.

*****

“Hey! Paws off!” Talia yelled, and slapped Bard’s hand. “That’s for later, you bottomless pit! Go and munch on some bloody candy or something, and get out of this kitchen!”

“It might have escaped you, but it’s my kitchen,” he shot back. He ducked and dived trying to get past her to the cake she was decorating.

“I’m warning you,” she threatened, waving the piping bag at him. “I’ll squirt this icing shit all over you! Armed and dangerous!”

He roared with laughter. “And I have had the honour of seeing you shoot. Point taken. I shall make myself scarce, oh crazy lady.”

“Piss off,” she muttered, and turned her back to him. “Leggy, can you hand me those wee glittery things please?”

Her step-son obliged and handed the clear plastic container with edible decorations. “How come we’re going to all this trouble?” he asked. Tasha sat comfortably on his hip, chewing his hair while she watched her mother.

“Because sometimes it’s nice to make an effort,” she replied. “I used to love cake decorating. Every weekend that I had off, which was maybe one in every five or six weeks, I’d bake a cake and do allsorts of arty-farty stuff with it. It’s creative.”

“It seems to be rather a lot of effort for something that will be gone in a matter of minutes,” he observed. “Still, it looks great. I wouldn’t have the patience for something like that.”

She took a pinch of the sparkly decorations and sprinkled them over the soft icing. “Sometimes a little effort can make all the difference,” she replied. Her attention was on what she was doing. “Tasha, stop chewing your brother’s hair, baby girl.”

He laughed. “You never even looked at her!” he exclaimed.

Dark blue eyes lifted to his. “I know my child,” she said dryly. “I’m surprised your dad even has any hair left. How she doesn’t barf up fur balls, I’ll never know. Every time he lifts her or leans over her she grabs a handful and has a chomp.”

“I really ought to warn Tauriel about that,” he decided.

Talia smiled to herself.

The redhead had arrived a couple of hours previously, and she’d taken to her immediately. The connection between herself and Legolas was crystal clear; both seemed utterly entranced with each other. Slightly smaller than him in height, she was curvy with the longest red hair Talia had ever seen, and it hung in waves down her back which radiated shine when she moved. The young woman had a beautiful smile and honest eyes, and she knew she would be good for her step-son.

She glanced up at the clock on the far wall as she recapped the plastic container. “I thought your dad would have called by now,” she said with a frown. “Let’s hope he hasn’t been caught up in overtime or some drunken bum holding him back.”

“Nah, Dad knows how much tonight means to me,” Legolas replied. “He’ll hand everything over to someone else. He wouldn’t let me down on this.”

“I spoke to him about two and a half to three hours ago, and he was heading in to interrogate some idiot on a traffic offence,” Bard supplied as he reappeared in the kitchen. “Don’t panic, I’m only after some orange juice,” he added at Talia’s warning glare.

She pointed two fingers and cocked her thumb to resemble a handgun and followed his progress over to the fridge, making him laugh. “I’m watching you.”

“And I offer no threat,” he said as he held both hands up, one containing the carton of orange. “I come in peace.”

“You’ll go in pieces if you lay a paw on the cake,” she grumbled. “Aha…I wonder if this is Blondie?” She lifted her cell phone as a message beeped through. “Yep. I’m going to head over and pick him up. Leggy, are you alright with Tasha until we get back? Should be within the hour, especially if I’m driving back.” She ended on a grin.

“Of course. She’ll be fine,” he assured her. “I’ve rigged up her squidgy-touchy-feely-mat thing, so she’ll enjoy pressing all the noisy bits and yanking at the soft bits.”

She smiled as she swooped in on her child and planted a noisy kiss on her chubby cheek. “Behave for your brother,” she said as she extracted his hair from her fist. “Cheers Leggy – won’t be long.”

The drive from Bard’s house to their apartment was less than half an hour, but she knew she wouldn’t take that long. The traffic was reasonably light as she drove, and she cranked up the volume of the cd player. Trance music blared out into the night as the street lights whipped past. A smile curved the edges of her mouth; she hadn’t seen Thranduil all day and was looking forward to being in his arms. Her thoughts turned to the cheeky wink he’d given her as he’d left for work that morning. A secretive smile that promised heaven and beyond on his return.

Her foot floored the powerful car as she sped through the city and took a left turn past the twenty four hour store and headed towards the Mirkwood estate.

Her eyebrows came down in a slight frown as she drove. Something wasn’t right – her sixth sense was tapping her shoulder for attention.

Then she saw it as the apartment blocks came into view, looming up into the night sky ablaze with lights.

And fire.

The apartment she shared with Thranduil was an inferno.

Flames poured out of the windows on their floor, curling up over the frames and trying to reach anything above them. Screams could be heard as she approached at speed, with hoards of panicked people running around the street.

Her heart was in her mouth as she skidded to a stop and flew out of the car. Taking off at a run, she was tackled to the ground by a uniformed officer.

“Ma’am, you can’t go near,” he yelled as he fought to restrain her.

“Get the fuck off me!” she screamed. “That’s my home!”

“It isn’t safe, ma’am,” he insisted. “Nobody but the fire crew are allowed anywhere near there.”

She twisted round and gripped him in a headlock. “I’m going after my husband, and you’re not going to stop me!” she growled, and released him.

He staggered to his feet, choking, but stumbled after her.

“Watts!” a voice yelled. “Watts! Leave her! She’s Thranduil’s wife, man!”

The officer let go of her as though she was on fire, stammering profuse apologies. “I am so sorry, ma’am,” he gushed. “I’ll take you through the barrier.”

“Where’s my husband?” she cried, her head flipping from side to side in a panic as she ran alongside him. Cops held up the yellow crime scene tape for them to pass under and firefighters ignored her. “Thranduil? THRANDUIL!”

The area was total chaos.

Fire trucks were scattered everywhere, with teams of firefighters reeling hoses and aiming powerful jets of water at the flames.

“Oh my God,” she whispered, as tears started to flow. “Oh my God.”

A face loomed in the darkness, one that she knew. Running over and grabbing him, she demanded to know where he was.

“The residents have been evacuated, ma’am,” he answered. “I haven’t seen Detective Oropherion. But there’s so many people out here. He might still be around here somewhere.”

She let him go, her hands covering her mouth as she stood helplessly, scores of strangers rushing around her. She jumped in fright as intact windows exploded in the intense heat, showering debris down onto the ground below.

She cried harder.

Peeling off and tearing through the crowds, she searched frantically. He had to be alive. He just had to be.

Stumbling forwards, she stopped.

A six feet five blonde was walking towards her with a firefighter at his side, about thirty yards away. His eyes locked with hers and she choked back a sob. He held his arms out, and she sprinted towards him.

People stepped aside as she closed the distance, and she hurtled into his arms with a cry of anguish and relief. His strong arms closed around her as she buried her face in against his neck, shudders racking her entire body as she clung to him.

“It’s alright, little kitty. I’m here,” he whispered into her ear. “Calm down, baby. Breathe.”

She cried even harder, her arms in a vice lock around his neck. “I thought you were dead,” she sobbed.

Warm hands rubbed her back in reassurance. “I’m ok, I promise. I was on my way out when it went off.”

She reluctantly dragged herself away a little, braced her hands on the front of his shoulders and gazed up at him. Tears blurred her vision and she couldn’t focus on him. “What went off?”

He brought his hands from her back and lifted them to gently wipe her tears away. “A bomb.”

She gasped and sagged, but he caught her. “There was a bomb?”

He nodded. “In the apartment.”

Her knees gave way and he gently sank down onto the asphalt with her.

“Holy shit,” she whispered. Her body went limp as she leaned fully against him.

He was quiet for a few moments. “Slow your breathing down, sweetheart. Breathe with me.”

She concentrated against the roaring in her ears and the hammering of her heart in her chest as she tried to pace her breathing to his. Her fists clutched the soft fabric of his shirt as she tried to ground herself. Deep, panting breaths threatened to overwhelm her as dizziness began to set in, and he sensed it.

He turned her slightly so that she was sat before him. “Look at me, Talia,” he said in a soft voice. “Look at me. Breathe with me.”

Several moments passed, and the feeling of the world tipping off-balance slowly righted itself as she focused on his ice blue eyes which reflected the flashing lights of the emergency service vehicles. She swallowed hard in determination.

“Better?” he asked.

She nodded. “I’m still shaking.” She lifted both hands and clenched them into fists.

Wordlessly he uncurled her fingers and interlocked his through hers, so that his palms were tight against hers. “It will pass. Just focus on me, nothing else.”

After a long time had passed, she slowly leaned towards him and rested her forehead against his throat. Heat flowed from him into her, and she closed her eyes as she absorbed his unique aroma. “Who did this?” she whispered.

“We do not know yet,” he whispered back. “But we will. We will find out who is responsible, and they will pay for what they have done. You, Tasha, and Legolas could have been in there. I could have lost you all. My entire family; everyone whom I love.”

“We almost lost you,” she said.

He heard the tremor in her quiet statement. “But you did not. Keep that at the front of your mind, my darling. You did not. I am here. Whoever it was failed in their mission. We are all ok. And we will come through this.”

“Detective?”

He glanced over his shoulder as the voice spoke.

“I am so sorry I tried to stop your wife,” the officer apologised. “I didn’t know who she was, and-“

“Forget it,” he said, waving him off. “You were doing your job. It’s alright.”

“Thankyou, Sir,” he said. “Sorry again, ma’am.”

She didn’t answer, too drained to think of forming words. The only person she was interested in talking with held her as though she was the most important being in the world, and that was all that mattered.

“The medics are asking if you need any more attention,” Watts added.

Thranduil shook his head. “I’m fine,” he replied. “Have them take care of those who were injured.”

“Did everybody make it out?” Talia asked as he walked away.

“No.”

“Oh my God…”

“Jake and Amelia Davis from downstairs didn’t make it out,” he said quietly.

She tightened her arms around him and tugged him even closer. The elderly couple he spoke of were the most amazing couple she’d ever known; so devoted to one another and so in love after over fifty years marriage. A sharp stab of pain pierced her heart as she realised she’d never see them again. She’d never hear the old man singing to his wife, or see their loving smiles they had for each other.

Grief washed over her, and she shifted to sit on his legs and straddle him. Her head leaned on his shoulder as she trembled in his arms. “I love you,” she whispered brokenly. “I love you so fucking much.”

“I know. I love you too,” he said. “I know it is difficult, my love, but try to focus on here and now, not what might have been. Stay with me.”

She nodded, sniffing. “I’m trying. I really am, but it’s so hard…”

He kissed her temple as she whimpered softly, her tears resurfacing.

Somebody was going to answer for this.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

Bard glanced at Talia in concern across the crowded kitchen in his house.

The place was teaming with police officers; colleagues and friends who had piled into his home to check for themselves that one of their best detectives and his family had survived the blast. Concerned questions buzzed in the air. Angry threats sailed past him. Promises of revenge and justice drifted around. Fists pounded against hard surfaces. Cops battled out who would be leading the investigation. Concerned back-slaps and well-meaning man-hugs engulfed Thranduil, who had become separated from his wife. Legolas and Tauriel had taken Tasha upstairs, away from the racket and mayhem.

Catching his partner’s eye, he nodded towards Talia, who was sitting at the large table, staring into her coffee cup in silence, closed off to the turbulence around her.

Thranduil took himself away from the crowd and crossed over to her. Sitting in the seat next to her, he wrapped an arm around her and tugged her to lean against his shoulder. “How are you holding up?”

“I’m ok,” she replied.

He smiled. “Liar.”

She gave him a weak smile in return. “I just want to disappear, to get away from all this.”

“I know,” he said quietly, meeting Bard’s eyes.

“Ok guys!” his partner yelled, and the group quietened. “We appreciate you all coming over, but these guys need some rest and some time together.”

“I agree,” Thorin put in. “Everybody out. We’ll catch up at the precinct at oh-nine-hundred tomorrow. Until then, everybody stay safe, stay alert, and watch your backs. Do not take chances, and do not let your guards down.”

Their colleagues muttered as they reluctantly shuffled out, each one nodding to Thranduil and passing on their offers of any help he might need. One had turned up with a travel-cot for Tasha, another had dropped into a family member on the way and borrowed clothing that would fit the six-five detective. Someone’s wife had sent over spare clothes for Talia, and another had produced diapers and various bits and pieces for their youngster.

Bard had immediately insisted they remain with him overnight, and they could collect themselves in the morning as they decided what to do. His two daughters were at sleepovers with school friends, and he and Bain would take their beds, leaving the larger one for the couple. Legolas and Tauriel were happy to check into a hotel, but Thranduil put his foot down and said no.

He needed his family around him.

“I do not want to put you out,” he said as the house finally cleared.

Bard shook his head. “Don’t be daft, man. You guys are family, and we look after one another. You’re staying here, and I’ll hear no more about it.” He dumped his mug into the sink. “You stay here for as long as you want. This is a big enough house for chrissakes; we can move things around, set up camp beds, get hold of a sofa-bed…we’ll work it out. Just try to get some rest and we’ll tackle everything when it’s light.”

“Thanks, Bard,” Talia said quietly.

Thranduil glanced down at her. The adrenalin had left her, leaving her listless and exhausted.

“No thanks required,” his partner told her. “I’m going to hit the hay. Treat this place as though it was your own. Use what you need. And don’t forget to change the sheets.” He ended with a wink and a grin, to which Thranduil picked up an empty beer can and lobbed it at him.

“Sleep well,” he said. “And thanks.”

“That word is banned,” he called back as he headed up the stairs. “Anyone caught using it will be placed under arrest.”

Talia chuckled as she leaned against the solid, comforting warmth of her husband. “Poor Bard,” she murmered.

“We’d do the same for him, and he knows it,” he told her. “How are you really holding up?”

She shrugged, pulling back a little to look at him. “I’m gonna be ok.”

He studied her.

She traced a fingertip along the edge of the band-aid over his left eye. “I love you.”

A warm smile lit up his features. “And I love you too,” he whispered. “You are exhausted, my little kitty. You need sleep.”

“I need you next to me, all day and night, every day and night,” she corrected him dryly. Shaking her head, she sighed. “I’m scared, Thranduil. I’m really scared.”

A vertical crease made an appearance in between his eyebrows as he frowned slightly. “This is not like you,” he said. “You do not normally give in and lie down to these sort of situations. You fought like a hell-cat against Bolg and Azog. You normally get up fighting…what’s changed?”

Dark blue eyes held his. “I didn’t stand to lose my entire family,” she whispered. “I could still have lost you at the time, but they had to take me down first. Tonight could have been totally different. You could have been taken from me, and me and Tasha would be alone.”

“You will never be alone,” he promised her. “I swear. I will always be with you both, and Legolas. I was lucky tonight. Whoever planted that bomb will not be so lucky when we find out who it was.” He paused. “I just keep thinking that you could all have been in there when it went off, and I could have been at work. I too could have lost everything.”

She sniffed hard. “But you didn’t. None of us were hurt. Or not badly, anyway,” she added, pointing to the band-aid. “But somebody is going to be, and that’s my promise.”

Ice blue eyes gazed into hers, and he knew deep within his soul that his wife’s internal killer had awoken from a deep sleep.

*****

Gentle puffs of warm air warmed the back of Talia’s neck as Thranduil breathed evenly, peacefully curled tightly to her back. His arm lay heavy over her abdomen, his chest warm against her. Sleep evaded her, and she blinked in the darkness as she lay in his hold. Tasha slept contentedly in the travel-cot at the side of the bed, snuffling softly now and again.

Warm lips touched her neck. “Can’t sleep, little kitty?”

She smiled at his whisper. “No.”

He exhaled quietly, careful not to disturb their daughter. “Me neither.”

She rolled over a little, twisting her upper body so that she could see him. They were so close, their noses touched. Neither of them spoke. Tilting her head slightly, she pressed her mouth to his and hummed in pleasure. Soft kisses followed, and he gently rolled her to fully face him.

One leg lifted and curled over his hip as she pushed her lower half against his, seeking heat and contact. Surprised at the hard erection that rubbed against her, she broke the kiss and pulled back.

“You’re hard already?” she exclaimed, in quiet tones.

He grinned. “With that ass of yours pressed against me, yes. You sound surprised.”

She rocked against him with a soft gasp as his leaking tip caressed her folds. “Fuck surprised,” she whispered back. “Just give me it.”

He laughed quietly as he pushed forwards, just breeching her and no more. “How much?”

“All of it,” she groaned in frustration. “Give me all of it – hard.”

“Turn over,” he commanded, pulling out again.

She complied, and they shifted so that she was on her knees and he was kneeling behind her. He took hold of his erection and slid it up and down, teasing her as he slipped inside and back out to rub against her. A muffled groan into the soft pillows made him laugh.

“Does that feel good, baby?” he whispered.

More muffled words.

“I cannot hear you.”

“Yes!” she hissed, turning her head to one side. Her hips pushed back against him, and he inhaled sharply as he slid into her wet flesh.

“Oh fuckkkk…” he gasped, and thrust fully into her.

Her knees widened as she rocked back, taking his entire length and squeezing him. His hands slid down the curves of her back down to her hips and he gripped the soft flesh. Rapid, deep thrusts followed, fast and hard.

Talia gripped the pillow as lust and pleasure flooded through her. His thighs rubbed erotically against the sensitive skin of her inner thighs with each deep push, his fingers holding her hips tight enough to leave marks. Each thrust catapulted her higher, each pump into her taking her closer to a rapidly-approaching orgasm.

“Oh my God…fuck me, Thranduil,” she gasped breathlessly. “Fuck me harder!”

She felt him go even harder inside her as he swelled and throbbed in response to her words, and he answered her silently by following her pleas.

“Do you need to come, little kitty?” he whispered.

“Fuck…yes,” she gasped. “Yes, yes, yes! Make me come, baby, oh fuck…more…”

He pulled out abruptly and flipped her over. She bounced onto her back and started to laugh, but his mouth crushed hers as his weight fell onto her and he thrust into her again. Rapid, frantic thrusts followed, and she arched under him as her arms and legs locked around him. They rolled over several times, ending with him on top as he fucked her closer to her climax. One strong hand pinned both her wrists to the pillow above her head, and the other maintained a firm grip on her hip.

A deep moan sounded from her as she erupted, her muscles clenching and going into strong spasms around him. Her cries were muffled as he kissed her with an almost savage passion, his own orgasm within touching distance. He grunted repeatedly as he reached his peak; hot streams of his fluid bursting free into her.

His head lowered against her shoulder as he heaved air into his lungs. “If you cannot sleep after that, then I’m afraid you are onto cocoa or hot chocolate, because I don’t think I will ever move again.”

Her laughter bubbled over and she tightened her arms around his neck as she placed noisy kisses on the hot flesh. “I don’t think I’ll have any trouble crashing out now,” she told him. “I’m absolutely exhausted – what a workout.”

Slowly, he lifted his head and gazed at her in the darkness. “I assume you are a little more relaxed?”

She smiled. “Yes. For now, anyway. Who knows what the morning will bring? But at least now I’m too tired to analyse anything or even think straight, so that’s a good thing.”

He chuckled quietly and rolled them both over. She sprawled out along his chest, his softening length still deep inside her. “Are you comfortable?” he asked.

“Mmm,” she murmered in reply. “Don’t you need to…”

“No. I want to sleep like this,” he answered. A kiss touched her forehead. “Sleep, little kitty.”

Her eyes drifted closed as she listened to the rhythmic sound of his heartbeat.

*****

A finger poked half-heartedly at the polystyrene cup, sliding it across the desk in little nudges. The black liquid sloshed around the sides. Talia poked it some more.

Thranduil watched her. “Talk to me,” he said.

Her blue eyes lifted to his. “Hi,” she said, deadpan.

“Amusing,” he responded. “Tell me what’s on your mind.”

“Blood. Revenge. Payback. Chaos,” she said, still poking at the cup.

He leaned forwards and swiped it away from her. “Let us handle this, baby,” he told her. “The entire precinct is on it, and we will find out who was behind it. Trust me.”

“I do. But Goddammit, I need my own retribution,” she snapped. “I’m sorry…that came out more venomous that I intended. I didn’t mean it.”

A few feet away, Thorin stood at the coffee machine stirring his own beverage, his back to them but his attention fully on their conversation.

“Yes you did,” Thranduil told her. “You’re reacting to the thought of what might have been, what could have happened. It’s natural.”

“What I’ll do to them isn’t going to be natural,” she vowed. “Give me back my damned coffee.”

“Then drink it instead of pushing it around as though it has some contagious disease,” he said. The cup slid back towards her.

“What leads do you have?” she enquired as she took a sip. “Yuck. It’s cold.”

“That’s because you’ve been playing around with it. The fire department have confirmed that the bomb was in our bedroom, and it was triggered by remote,” he said. Lifting a pile of papers, he shuffled them against the desk top to tidy them. “Between them and our guys, they’re trying to establish a signature.”

She huffed. “Who have you testified against lately? Who have you arrested in the last week or so? Who have you pissed off?”

“Nobody who would drop to levels such as those which have been utilised,” he answered her. “Have you ever thought it was a random thing? Or a wrong address?”

She glared at him with a scowl. “Is that what you think? Seriously?”

He was quiet for a few moments. “No.”

“Good. I thought you were beginning to lose the plot.” The cup went back to being poked across the desk. “I need a cigarette. I’m outta here.” The chair screeched across the floor as she stood and kicked it backwards, leaving the squad room.

Thranduil watched her go with a heavy feeling settling on his shoulders.

They’d come so close to losing everything. Materialistically, they had, but they hadn’t lost each other or their child. Talia’s desire for revenge was burning through her though, and he knew she would be unpredictable until she sated that need.

“Be careful how you handle her, Blondie,” Thorin said, turning and claiming the seat she’d been in.

Ice blue eyes shifted in his direction. “You are one of my closest friends, Oakenshield, but do not make the mistake of giving me relationship advice,” he warned. “I know Talia better than anyone. I know exactly how to handle her. She is my wife, not a pet animal.”

“I never said that she was,” he replied. “All I’m saying is-“

“Don’t. I do not need your advice,” he snapped. The desk drawer slammed closed.

“Put her on the task force,” Thorin said quietly after a silence.

“Absolutely not. Our child needs her.”

“So do you.”

Thranduil looked over at him, clenching his teeth. “I do not need her back in the force,” he said determinedly. “What I need is to know that she and Tasha are safe and secure, away from the bullshit that goes with this job. Her role in life right now is as a mother, not a gun-toting, trigger-happy assassin. I would rather like to keep it that way.”

Thorin sat his cup down on the desk. “Don’t clip her wings,” he advised. “If she wants to help, let her. I made the mistake of shutting Ellie out when things were rough in here, and it did me no favours. All it does is build up resentment, mistrust, and anger.”

“Ellie did not have the desire to run around with a Colt or a Magnum stuffed down her jeans,” he pointed out. “Talia does.”

He shrugged. “That might pass if she feels like she’s doing something constructive,” he said. He rose to his feet and lifted his cup. “Give it some thought.”

Thranduil watched him walk away, and pondered his words. Her inner cop would be itching to jump out and do something, he knew that. He also knew that it would be cruel to suppress her instinct, and he sighed as he came to the conclusion that he probably would have to give his consent to her actively taking part in the investigation. Hell – his consent wasn’t needed; he knew that as well. She’d do what she could whether he agreed or not, he just had to try to make things as safe as possible for her in doing so.

“Penny for ‘em,” Bard quipped, appearing on the other side of the desk and dumping his holster down. “Did you have a fight with your lovely lady? I saw her outside puffing like a dragon – what happened?”

He shook his head. “No, we didn’t fight,” he replied. “She’s feeling surplus to requirements, I think.”

“Ah.” He nodded in understanding. “I expected this, Thran. Do not forget she’ll be in shock too, losing all that you had like that, and almost losing you.”

“I know.” He leaned back in his seat and dragged both hands through his long hair.

“The girls are going to stay with my sister for a few weeks,” Bard told him. “And Bain’s going too. That frees up some space for Legolas and Tauriel, and you guys stay on at my place. And before you start to spout your usual nonsense-“ he held a hand up as Thranduil opened his mouth. “-it’s already arranged and I won’t hear another word on the subject. So shut your pie-hole and go find your wife. Take her for a coffee, go for a walk with her, or do some of that romantic stuff married couples do. Just no bonking in the parking lot; you might get arrested for that shit.”

A smirk of amusement lifted the corners of his mouth. “I would like to think that I had more class than to do it in the parking lot of the cop precinct,” he said dryly.

“Needs must, I suppose,” Bard commented. “Have you seen the arrest papers for the old guy you picked up yesterday? I want to have a look at them, see if I can dig anything up.”

“Check the computer, you dinosaur,” Thranduil responded as he stood up. “Bofur will have the paper copies locked away. Use that modern invention in front of you, you know, that thing that has a screen and thinks faster than you?”

“Ha bloody ha. Get your arse out of here, give me room to breathe and exercise my intellectual ability.”

The blonde laughed as he traced his wife’s footsteps out of the squad room, shaking his head.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER EIGHT

 

Tauriel laughed as Tasha blew bubbles, sending splatters of food in all directions. Legolas dodged to one side to avoid the shower, but ended up covered in the gooey substance despite his evasive efforts.

Talia sat in front of the laptop she’d borrowed from him, clicking through page after page. Her eyes were on the screen, but her ears were on the conversation between Thranduil and Bard, who were sat behind her.

“I think there might be more to his story than he’s telling us, Thran,” Bard said. He spoke in a low voice. “Something just doesn’t sit right with me. I can’t put my finger on it though. It’s more of a gut feeling, you know?”

“I happen to agree. Thorin said something similar only this morning,” his partner replied. “He’s put Balin onto digging up everything he can about the old guy. But up until I picked him up, he doesn’t seem to have existed. Anywhere.”

Bard’s eyebrows came down in a frown as he swigged from his bottle of beer. “That is suspicious,” he murmered.

“Exceptionally so. He can’t just have appeared out of nowhere, just like that.” Thranduil snapped his fingers in emphasis.

“Maybe he just arrived in the country?”

Blonde hair drifted across his thighs as he shook his head, leaning forwards so his elbows were on his knees. “No. There are no records so far showing him entering the country. Or having worked here. Or having claimed from the state.”

“So his only appearance on any radar was driving the wrong way along a one-way street. It’s not right…something is so far wrong here, I know it.”

Thranduil’s phone beeped an incoming message, and Talia heard the soft rustle of his clothing as he pulled it from the pocket of his denims. She continued clicking, still intent on their conversation.

“Hmm. That is interesting…” her husband murmered thoughtfully.

“What is?” Bard asked. His words were mumbled as he chewed on a bagel.

“Uniform turned over the old guy’s car, and guess what they found?”

“The Covenant of Christ. Lord Lucan. The Arkenstone,” his partner said.

“You are a complete tosser,” Thranduil retaliated. “Try piano wire.”

Talia’s ears pricked up even further.

“What??”

“Yes. Forensics are running it for DNA right now.”

Tasha giggled, the endearing sound making her father turn towards her with a loving smile.

“You want to take a drive over?” Bard asked.

Silence.

“Yes…why not? The old fella was released a few hours ago, so if we get a DNA hit, we can pick him up again,” he replied. “Talia, we’re going back to the precinct,” he said a little louder in his wife’s direction.

“Huh? Oh, right. Yeah, no problem,” she said, looking up with a smile. “Don’t stay all night though, babe.”

“I won’t,” he promised. He got up and crossed over to her, leaning one hand on the table as he leaned down to kiss her. His long hair swept over her bare arm, making her entire body tingle in awareness. Her lips parted as she deepened the kiss slightly. “You menace,” he murmered as he pulled back. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” she smiled. “Stay safe. Bard, look after him.”

The detective was busy stuffing his Glock into his waistband. “On it,” he replied. “I always have to. We get mobbed everywhere we go with shampoo companies wanting him to advertise their latest products. It’s kind of soul-destroying, to be honest.”

“Fuckwit,” Thranduil muttered under his breath.

Bard grinned. “Come on, Lanky. The sooner we go, the sooner we can get back.”

The two males left the house, after Thranduil dutifully kissed Tasha and warned Legolas against her insistent hair-pulling. The advice fell on deaf ears as she already had two fistfuls and was trying to swing off the blonde lengths.

Talia opened a new page on the browser and rapidly typed. Within a few moments she had hacked into the precinct’s arrest log, knowing the password and access codes from when she had been actively working with the team. Bouncing off a few proxy servers, she knew that it would be weeks before anyone even knew they’d been hacked, or that she was behind it.

She rubbed her nose as she studied the details, and clicked on her husband’s recent arrest. An elderly man, driving the wrong way on a one-way system. No previous convictions. And as Thranduil had said, he seemed to have popped up from nowhere. Aged late seventies. No credit history. Her eyebrows came down in a frown as her eyes narrowed suspiciously. She agreed with her husband – something wasn’t right.

The piano wire in his car seemed a bit off too. Her mind went back to the conversation in the diner, where she, Thranduil, and Bard had talked about the discovery of the vic by the train tracks and the cause of death.

It had to be connected.

Piano wire was a pretty random thing to drive around with, so the chances were pointing in the direction of the old man having something to do with it. She clicked on his licence details, and pulled up his address.

Intrigued, she hacked into her old S&S database, and entered his details.

Her breath left her with a whoosh.

This guy did exist. He did have a past.

Explosives.

And he was a former S&S agent, like herself.

She blinked forcefully as she turned away from the screen, trying to focus on her daughter who was poking her tongue out at Tauriel. Maybe the old man hadn’t physically blown up her apartment, but he would have connections, and she didn’t doubt for a second that those connections had been called upon when he’d been arrested.

Worry brought a crease between her eyes as her frown deepened. She worried about Thranduil constantly, but this was a completely different ball game. This old dude was a professional killer, an assassin trained to the same high standards as she was. If he had the family in his radar, she was going to have one hell of a fight to keep them alive. Her fingers drummed softly on the polished table as a thousand different thoughts flew through her mind.

Bard and his family weren’t safe. Probably the entire squad weren’t, if she was being honest with herself. Her eyes drifted back to her daughter as she traced little fingers over Tauriel’s face, making an ohhh sound in wonder.

“Will you guys be alright with Tasha for an hour? There’s something I need to do,” she decided, and clicked off the laptop. “It shouldn’t take me as long as that, but you never know.”

“Yes, we’ll be fine,” Legolas laughed, dodging grasping fingers as his sister’s attention went back to his hair. “Don’t worry, she’ll be ok.”

“She’s had her supper, so she’ll probably drift off to sleep pretty soon,” she said, standing up. “I’ll take my phone, and you can call me if you have any problems.”

“Relax Talia, she’s no problem,” Tauriel told her. “I used to baby-sit my younger brothers when they were this age.”

She grinned and planted a kiss on her child’s cheek. “Thanks guys. I won’t be long.”

Hopping down from the top step, she briskly made her way over to the main road across the field, flagging down a cab. After giving the driver the address of where she wanted to go, she leaned back in the seat and crossed one knee over the other. Night had fallen, and that would provide her ample cover to observe her target. The city swept past in a blur as the cab headed towards the given destination.

*****

“You would think that given the time frame we are currently in, computers and so forth would function just a teeny-weeny bit faster,” Bard murmered softly.

Thranduil snorted, his attention on the building looming up from behind a heavily wooded area of trees. “I think that is asking for too much,” he said. “They’ll call as soon as they get a hit, if they actually do get a hit.”

“My bets are on the piece being used being cut off and disposed of,” his companion replied. “But hopefully we can still match the brand and manufacturer to the train line DB, if we find it.”

“At this stage, I’m not sure what we can count on,” the blonde said. His eyebrows came down in a frown. “This old bastard has not moved from that room the entire time we’ve been here.”

“Maybe he’s dead in there,” Bard said, and snorted with laughter. “Sorry. I’m bored.”

“Well I do apologise, but I originally hadn’t intended on doing a stake-out,” Thranduil said dryly. “Truth be told, I would much prefer to be spending time with my wife and children as opposed to being stuck in a car with you in the middle of nowhere.”

His partner yawned. “God…remember the old days back when we did stake-outs all the time? I felt like I lived in the car. I ate in it, slept in it, you name it.”

“I remember you eating, and I distinctly remember the farting that always followed.”

He chuckled. “What goes in has to come out, my friend.”

“Not in the vicinity of my nose, thankyou,” Thranduil shot back. He leaned forwards a little, resting his forearm across the steering wheel. “Someone or something is out there.”

“Where?”

“Over there,” he said, and lifted one finger from the wheel to indicate the general direction. “That is the second time I thought I saw something move.”

“I cannot see a thing.”

A soft huff was his reply. “No, I am sure someone is out there,” he said quietly. “I’m going to have a look.” His seat belt snapped off and he silently climbed out of the vehicle.

“Are you nuts, man?!” Bard whispered in protest as he exited his side. “We have no legitimate reason for being here, goddammit. You’ll get our arses hauled before Thorin in a heartbeat.”

Thranduil didn’t answer, but padded noiselessly over the grass towards the back of the garage which was set to one side. The darkness made it almost impossible to see anything, and he relied on pure instinct alone.

*****

Talia lay flat on her stomach on the sloping roof. Her eyes were focused on the sole occupant of the house situated thirty yards away. Only one light was on in the entire building, which was impressively large and of old-fashioned design. An old man occupied the lit room, and she watched as he played his piano with theatrical flourish. His long grey hair swished around him as he moved, his hands lifting and flailing around.

She sighed softly to herself in the darkness. So many boxes were being ticked as she lay up on the garage roof, sorting through things in her head as she kept watch. The piano was a huge part of this; either the old man had a genuine use for the wire, or he’d used a weapon of convenience. Without any DNA results, she couldn’t take her theories any further.

The branches of a nearby tree moved slightly in the breeze and leaves rustled. The night air soothed her, having always found comfort in the dark. She fidgeted slightly as she fought off the craving for a cigarette. Smoking wouldn’t be a wise move, and could signal her presence.

It would have to wait.

She gasped in fright and horror as a hand grabbed the back of her top and another gripped the waistband on the back of her jeans. The world flipped around as she was bodily lifted and flipped over, and she found herself dumped onto her back. Hard.

Thranduil loomed over her, fury in his eyes.

She jumped as he grabbed her and lifted her clean off the roof, throwing her over one shoulder. Knowing she couldn’t make any noise, she resorted to wriggling and squirming. He ignored her, eventually giving her a resounding smack on her ass as she wriggled harder. The ground below came closer and closer as he climbed down the ladder that she’d propped up against the building, and she found herself dumped unceremoniously onto her feet. She shook her head to try to relieve her dizziness, and opened her mouth to protest.

“Don’t!” he hissed, furious. “Get in the fucking car. Do not say a word. Do not fucking speak.” He gripped her arm and shoved her in the direction of the vehicle, pushing her roughly. He was beyond angry.

Bard lifted his eyebrows in silent acknowledgement as she passed him, but said nothing. He reached the car a little ahead of her and opened the rear passenger door, and closed it as she slid inside.

The drive back to his home was tense. Nobody uttered a word. Thranduil drove like a demon, his anger showing through his disregard for speed limits or other drivers. Talia sat behind Bard and rubbed her upper arm where he’d dug his fingers into the soft flesh. She refused to look in the rear view mirror in case she found him glaring at her. Instead, she watched the passing scenery again, this time going in the opposite direction.

The car screeched to a halt on Bard’s gravelled driveway, and he got out at speed. Her door was yanked open.

“Get out,” he commanded coldly.

She climbed out, not saying anything. Her eyes met Bard’s briefly over the top of the car, but he shook his head discreetly and headed towards the house. Thranduil shoved her hard after him, and walked behind her.

“Hi guys,” Legolas greeted them as they entered the kitchen. “Everything alright?” His eyes darted between the three.

Bard disappeared up the stairs.

“Legolas, Tauriel – out,” Thranduil said.

The two exchanged glances, and Legolas closed the book he’d been reading. Tauriel picked up her magazine and both of them followed their host up the carpeted stairway.

Thranduil walked over to the units and rested both hands on them, his back to Talia. He took several deep breaths, closing his eyes as he fought to control his anger.

Whirling round after a few moments, he folded his arms across his chest. “What the fuck were you doing?” he demanded. “And do not even think about trying to feed me any bullshit. I want the truth.”

She leaned her hands against the edge of the table behind her, resting her weight against them. “Following a lead,” she answered.

He frowned. “What lead? From who?” His expression was like granite.

“I have my resources,” she said. “A lead on the guy you arrested a few days ago.”

His arms unfolded, and he clenched his fists at his sides. “What do you know about who I arrested? What has it got to do with you? Why are you involved in this?”

“I was flushing out a theory,” she answered.

“A fucking theory?!” he exploded. “A theory?! You could have been killed, for fuck sake! What were you trying to do?”

“Connect the dots,” she snapped back. “And I did it. I know who the guy is, I know his background. I know what he did before he popped up on your radar. I know everything.”

“You know how to intervene in a situation that has nothing to fucking do with you!” he roared, striding towards her and towering over her. “What the hell is wrong with you that you can’t be content being a mother to our daughter? Why the urge to run into danger every time you see an opportunity?!”

“Maybe you’ve forgotten, Smart-Arse, so let me refresh your damned memory!” she shouted. “Some bastard bombed our home, remember? Somebody tried to take you or all of us out of the game, remember? You only just managed to survive it, remember?” Her emphasised words were loaded with sarcasm. “Or maybe our apartment being blown off the face of the planet destroyed your fucking memory!”

“I have forgotten nothing!” he snarled, looming down so that his angry eyes were just inches from her own. Fire blazed ferociously in the depths. “Perhaps you seem to have forgotten that I know the pain and the horror and the fucking heartbreak that comes from being told that you have been caught up in a nightmare and are dead! I have lived through that, Talia – you have not. Had you been caught out there tonight, you could very well have ended up dead, for real this time!”

She scoffed in annoyance. “You don’t know the first thing about this guy,” she tossed back. “You have absolutely no idea just what the fuck you’re involved in. I do.”

He shook his head slowly, his long hair swishing softly with the movement. “Deceit. Somehow, it has found its way back between us yet again.”

Her heart thumped irregularly. “You bastard,” she whispered. “You utter bastard.”

“What happened to being honest and open with each other?” he demanded. “What happened to the promise we made one another to always be honest, to keep nothing from each other? Or did you forget that too?”

“Fuck you,” she hissed. “All I did was some background work.”

“You sneaked off to the guy’s house!” he roared at her. “What do you expect me to do, congratulate you?! Jesus fucking Christ…” He stopped, pulling back as he ran his hands through his hair in frustration.

She ground her teeth together in silent determination. The look in his eyes was very similar to the look he’d had when they’d faced off against each other in the precinct the night he’d discovered her hidden identity. Too similar. “I may be your wife and the mother of your child,” she said. “And there’s nothing more I would rather be. But do not ever try to change who I am, or what I am. I will fight to the death for my family, and if you don’t understand that, then this whole situation is more fucked up that I gave it credit for.”

Ice blue eyes glared at her, his nostrils flaring in temper. “I thought we trusted each other.”

“So did I,” she retorted. “Apparently you don’t trust me. Maybe you’re so far up your own goddamned arse that you’re worried in case I find out more than you, before you do! Your fucking ego is the problem here, not me.”

A few seconds of tense silence followed, as the two out-stared each other.

“The guy you arrested is an ex S&S agent. He’s an explosives expert. Take that and do what the fuck you want with it,” she snapped, and barged past him. She stormed out of the kitchen and slammed the door so hard, the bang echoed throughout the house.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER NINE

 

Talia lay awake on her back, staring at the ceiling above her. Over an hour had passed since her screaming match with Thranduil downstairs, and he hadn’t shown face since. His space in the bed was cold and empty, the covers untouched, the pillow smooth and pristine.

Clasping her hands together on top of the quilt, she sighed quietly.

The entire house was silent.

The thought crossed her mind that maybe he’d gone out to cool off, but she hadn’t heard either the door or the car, so she assumed he was still indoors. The stillness that blanketed the house was overwhelming, and she knew what the phrase deafening silence meant as she lay there.

She missed him.

She hated fighting with him.

He was the other half of her, both physically and emotionally, and she couldn’t function if she felt that their bond was fractured.

She threw the quilt back and slid out of bed. Her bare feet made no noise as she opened the bedroom door and padded along the thickly-carpeted hallway and down the stairs, wearing his t-shirt and her underpants.

The light in the kitchen was still on, the open door spilling light out into the downstairs hall. Bard sat at the table facing towards the door, and Thranduil stood with his back to her leaning on the worktop. He appeared to be staring blankly at the cupboard in front of him.

Bard’s eyes lifted to hers as she came into his line of vision, and he nodded once in acknowledgement. He rose to his feet and exited the room as she stepped off the last step. He said nothing, but gave her a gentle encouraging bump with his elbow as he passed her and went up to the room he was sharing with Bain.

Talia slowly walked into the kitchen, her gaze on her husband’s back. Her attention focused on his long blonde hair as it cascaded over his shoulders to his waist, and she swallowed in an effort to steady herself.

She made no noise as she moved and came to a hesitant stop just behind him. His head lifted slightly, but he didn’t turn.

He knew she was there.

A few seconds passed, and she took a deep breath before hesitantly placing her hands on his waist. He didn’t move a muscle, so she slid them a little further round so they rested against his stomach.

His head lowered again as he audibly exhaled and one of his hands rested against one of hers. She stepped closer and leaned her cheek against his upper back. His other hand rose to settle on top of her other one.

“I do not like it when we fight,” he said softly.

“Neither do I,” she whispered, her words breaking slightly.

He turned in her arms and placed gentle hands on her cheeks. Tipping her head up so he could look at her, his head shook slowly. “We have come through far too much together, we have too much between us to fight,” he whispered back.

Unshed tears burned her eyes. “I’m sorry I made you so angry.”

He heard the pain in her whisper. “I am sorry I shouted at you,” he said. He pulled her closer and brushed his warm mouth over hers in a soft, tender kiss. “I love you far too much to fight with you.”

Her heart twisted as she returned his kiss. She lifted her hands and settled them around the back of his neck. The feel of his warm, soft skin slowly began to repair her wounded soul, and her body leaned against his as he deepened the kiss.

“I think that we need to talk,” he said softly. He pulled back a little and rested his forehead against hers, their noses touching. “Perhaps I need to stop being so restricting and stubborn, but I cannot help worrying when I find you in such situations, little kitty.”

She nodded, sniffing hard as she battled with her emotions. “I understand.”

“How about you put the kettle on, I will go and bring Bard back down, and we can sit and talk over a coffee?” he suggested. Clear, truthful eyes gazed into hers, and she nodded.

“I can do that,” she answered.

“Good.” He swept a kiss over her mouth once more, and pulled away. “No shouting, no criticising. No yelling, no name-calling. Just an open, honest discussion.”

“I’m sorry I called you a bastard,” she said. Her cheeks turned pink. “I shouldn’t have said that. You’re not a bastard. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I swear.”

He smirked, shaking his head as he turned towards the hallway. “I forgive you,” he replied over his shoulder.

She busied herself making three large mugs of coffee, and the two detectives had reappeared by the time she placed them on the large table.

“Just what I need right now,” Bard said as he rubbed his hands together. “I was absolutely dying for one, but didn’t want to come back down in case you two were either tearing each other apart or doing some wild make up sex-thing on the table.”

Talia started to laugh. “Oh my God – shut up you pervert!”

Thranduil kept a straight face as he reached for his coffee and took a seat adjacent to the one she was in the act of seating herself on. “I would not like to shame you into realising that you know absolutely nothing about sexual positions,” he said. “Or the art of how to satisfy a woman.”

She snorted with laughter.

“Hey! I will have you know that I have fathered three children, you big telegraph pole,” Bard challenged.

“And your point is? All that tells me is that you’ve had sex three times,” his partner said. “There is nothing spectacular about that.”

“I give up with you,” Bard muttered. “So…” He trailed off, eyeing the couple expectantly.

Thranduil took a deep breath, and looked over at Talia, taking one of her hands in his in a firm but loving grip.

“I did a bit of digging and found out who you arrested, because you mentioned the piano wire,” she said. “And then I hacked into the database of the S&S unit. His name was in there.”

Bard frowned. “I didn’t even know you knew anything about any piano wire.”

Thranduil rolled his eyes. “Talia is always listening to everything around her. She absorbs everything. Carry on, sweetheart.” He lifted his mug with his free hand and took a mouthful of coffee.

“Gustav Saruman was an agent with the unit,” she went on. “His specialty was explosives; bombs, dynamite, and such like. He was with the unit for over twenty two years, and left fifteen years ago.”

“So you never met him?” her husband asked.

She shook her head. “No. We must have just missed one another between his leaving and my arrival. I never worked explosives anyway, so we would never have been on assignment together had we crossed paths. I was firearms and hand-to-hand combat.”

“So what sparked your interest in him?” Bard questioned over the top of his mug.

“The fact that our apartment was bombed,” she replied. “You talked about the piano wire and his arrest, and our home blew up right afterwards. That made me want to dig deeper and find out if there was a connection. And I was right – there is.”

“It’s proving it, though,” Thranduil said. “Speculation is one thing, as is instinct; gut feeling. But without corroborating evidence, we cannot move on him yet.”

“And being ex S&S, the chances of him slipping up are thinner than thin,” she murmered. “But I’ll tell you one thing. Whatever the hell he was doing when you arrested him? Forget it.”

He frowned in confusion. “Why?”

“Because you’ve opened the lid of a honeypot he wants to keep tightly closed,” she said. “You don’t bomb someone’s house for no reason. Retribution like that for being arrested over a driving offence isn’t that high up on the list. He’s trying to throw you off something much, much bigger. Trust me. I know how agents think.”

An uneasy silence hovered over the table.

“When we ran the fingerprint on your bullet casing, nearly two years ago, I had clearance to access to your file,” Thranduil said. “Why could I not access anything about him?”

“Maybe because I was active at the time,” she replied. “You should try to access mine the next time you’re at work – it might have changed because I was booted out. The only way I found him was because my old password and entry codes still worked. Allan must’ve forgotten to change them when he fired me, or maybe just didn’t bother his arse.”

His eyes darkened at the mention of her ex-boss’s name. “Son of a bitch,” he muttered. “He got off easy.”

“Do not hash it back up, my friend,” Bard advised. “There have been enough fraught emotions around tonight; do not add to it. Let it go.”

Thranduil’s fingers tightened briefly around Talia’s for a second or two, before returning to his normal comfortable hold.

“How do we go about finding anything out regarding Saruman?” Bard directed his question to her. “Every avenue we try is a dead end. We cannot figure out where he was before he popped up on the wrong street.”

“I’ll find out whatever I can, and pass it to you guys,” she answered.

“Won’t you bring yourself a whole lot of trouble?” Thranduil’s concerned eyes turned to her.

She shrugged. “Don’t know. Don’t care.”

“You have to be careful, baby,” he said softly.

“I always am. Bar once.” She straightened her shoulders. “Let me look into this in the morning. Right now I’m tired, and mentally drained. Plus my back’s a wee bit sore.”

“Climbing up the ladder?” Bard asked.

She shook her head, not wanting to say anything more.

“Sweetheart?” Thranduil’s softly-spoken word made her look at him.

“It’s fine, leave it,” she said. He opened his mouth to pursue it, but she nudged him under the table with her foot. “I’m going back to bed.”

“I think I shall do likewise,” Bard said in agreement. He lifted his coffee and stood up. “I have no doubt we’ll have an early start in the morning, and things will seem a lot clearer then. G’night all.”

“Night,” she echoed. Her eyes turned to Thranduil.

“What happened to your back?” he wanted to know.

“It’s nothing.”

“Talia.”

She sighed. “You were a bit rough when you lifted me and dumped me onto my back up on the garage roof,” she admitted.

His eyes widened in horror. “Oh Talia…”

“It’s alright,” she assured him, getting to her feet. “It’s been a long time since I’ve arsed around climbing around buildings in the dark; don’t worry about it. Seriously.”

“Like hell,” he huffed as he stood with her. “Come on. I will settle you into bed and massage your back. I am so sorry, my love – I was just so furious and worried when I realised it was you I’d seen up there.”

“Another sign I’m out of practice,” she grinned. “If I’d still been active, you’d never have seen me or known I was there. Think yourself lucky, Blondie.”

Ice blue eyes stared into hers, and she could see so many thoughts flickering behind the blue. “I may regret this, but I have the feeling that your input on this case may well prove to be invaluable,” he said after a few moments.

She lifted her eyebrows briefly in acknowledgement of what he’d said. “Maybe. We’ll see come daylight. Right now I need sleep. I need my husband to hold me and sleep with me. I miss our apartment, babe. Bard’s been more than amazing, but I miss our own space. Does that make me a bitch?”

“No.” He tilted his head and placed a tender kiss on her mouth. His lips felt soft and warm over hers. “It makes you human. And whether you like to admit it or not, you are in fact, human. You may have an amazing ability to distance yourself from things and deal with them effectively and efficiently, but underneath it all, you’re still my little kitty.”

She smiled. “I love it when you call me that,” she told him as she stood up on her toes to kiss him again. Her eyes closed and she murmered in pleasure as he reciprocated the kiss. His tongue gently teased her lower lip before pushing past and into her mouth. “This little kitty wants to purr…”

“Then allow me to pet you,” he whispered erotically. “Kitties purr in pleasure. Let me take that further and make you howl like a tiger.”

A giggle escaped from her as he turned her and walked her backwards towards the doorway, not breaking the kiss.

*****

“Thanks, Bard,” Talia said as a cup was placed next to her. She didn’t take her eyes away from the laptop screen as she scrolled and read the text at speed.

He stepped away from her and went over to the worktop, leaning back against it next to his partner. Silence filled the kitchen, save the soothing sound of Tasha snuffling softly as she dozed in her father’s protective arms.

Thranduil glanced down at his sleeping child with a soft smile curving his mouth, and then went back to watching his wife. Her gold glittery nail polish sparkled in the light as her fingers flew over the keypad. She typed at speed, pausing to click here and there and typing some more.

“Here we go…Gustav Saruman,” she said as she leaned against the backrest of the chair. “Eighty two years old. Born and partially educated in the Soviet Union, served time with the US Marines after growing up here in the States. Three wives, all deceased. Speaks fluent English, Russian, Hungarian, and Polish. Left university with a Masters’ Degree in engineering. No children.” She folded her arms and looked over to the two men.

“Where did you find this?” Bard asked in confusion.

“If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” she said, poker-faced. She burst out laughing at the look on his face. “Chill the hell out. I’m in the S&S database.”

“What happened to the wives?” Thranduil questioned. “Three does seem a little excessive.”

“Maybe he likes wedding cake,” she quipped as she uncrossed her arms and leaned forwards again. Typing rapidly, she chewed the inside of her mouth as she frowned at the screen. “Wife number one died in childbirth. Number two had a cardiac arrest – aged forty, I might add – and number three was caught up in a store robbery.”

“I thought you said he had no children?” Bard said with a frown.

“Neither mother nor child survived,” she said quietly. “It happens.”

Both males exchanged glances. Nobody deserved to lose their family like that. Nobody.

“He did twenty two years and seven months with the S&S unit, where he worked mostly overseas,” she continued. “He gained quite a reputation for being cold and calculating on his delivery of his work, something which happened gradually over the first few years.”

“Is that usual?”

Her eyes lifted to meet Thranduil’s as he posed the question. “No. Every candidate undergoes a strict assessment to decide whether they have the mental welly to cope with the job. Very few of them don’t pass; the unit don’t pick up random Joe Soaps to enlist. But they need to ascertain if the person is mentally and emotionally strong enough to do what’s required.” She paused. “My assessor took me outside on the second day of my evaluation and handed me a Beretta M9. He pointed to a dog tied up to the fence and told me to shoot it. I refused, and said I’d shoot a person before I’d shoot an animal.”

“What happened?” her husband asked.

“I shot the assessor.”

Bard spluttered on his coffee and went into a choking fit. His face turned scarlet as he struggled to breathe, and Thranduil shifted Tasha’s weight slightly so he could thump his back.

“You did what?” he gasped, in between coughing and hacking.

“I shot the assessor,” she repeated. “I didn’t kill him, for chrissakes. I shot his leg.”

“And they still took you on?!” he asked incredulously.

“There and then,” she replied. Her gaze flicked to Thranduil as he pulled his lips in to try to hold in his laughter, then she turned back to the laptop. “It’s very unusual to harden whilst in the job. If you show any signs of weakness at the assessment, you’re out, no questions asked. Something happened with this one.” She pointed her index finger at the screen. “And I want to know what.”

“I think that makes three of us,” Thranduil said. He uncrossed his ankles and moved his daughter to the other arm.

Talia held her arms out. “Let me take her and give your arms a rest,” she said, and he crossed over to her, gently placing her in her mother’s arms. The little one snuffled as she wriggled to find a comfortable position, settled her cheek over her parent’s heart and slept on.

He paced the floor a few times, stretching his arms and loosening his shoulders. “She’s getting heavy,” he remarked.

“She eats like her Mama,” Talia murmered as she gently ran the pad of one finger down her velvet-soft cheek. “So – what now?” She looked back up.

“We keep Thorin in the loop,” Bard answered. “He will decide how to proceed from here, whether we do anything or not. He may well suggest backing off and laying low to see if Saruman does anything else. Without solid proof, he’ll be reluctant to make a move on him.”

She nodded, lost in thought. “We may have found out some very interesting facts about the old geezer, but I think we have to face up to the possibility that we might also have hit a dead end. If the force can’t find anything on him, he’s remained invisible for a reason. I don’t know what else there is I can find, or where to look for it at this point.”

“Do not stress, my darling,” Thranduil told her. “You have found a way in, when we could not. I told you that your input would be invaluable.” His mouth curved into a smile, making her smile back.

“I have my uses,” she said. “So…talk to Thorin?”

He nodded. “Yes. The sooner the better, I think. Can you pack something light for Tasha to eat?”

Her eyebrows lifted. “What? You want me to come with you?”

“There is safety in numbers,” he replied. “I want to know where my family are at all times. Legolas and Tauriel will be sent into the city for the day. The old man won’t touch them in a crowd, I shouldn’t think. He won’t want to draw any further attention to himself.”

“I vowed I’d never take her back into the precinct,” she said softly.

He lowered himself to his knees at her side and rested his hands on her knees. “I promise – Tasha will be safer with us than anywhere,” he said. “Every cop in our squad room will be tasked with taking care of her the second we set foot in the building. I promise.”

She took a deep breath, and nodded. “Ok. I need to shower first though.”

“That’s alright,” he told her. “It’s still early. Go and take your shower, and I’ll put a change of clothing in Tasha’s changing bag in case she makes a mess. Relax, little kitty. She will be just fine.”

Her eyes closed as he rose and kissed her. “Alright. Give me fifteen minutes.” She passed their child back to him and went up to get showered and dressed.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TEN

 

As usual, the squad room was in a state of unorganised anarchy.

Half-empty takeaway coffee cups were scattered everywhere. Paperwork littered every available surface, including the floor. Computer screens flickered, left abandoned and neglected. Filing cabinet drawers lay open. Empty holsters hung from the back of chairs, several of which were either tipped over or nowhere near the desk they belonged to. Newspapers and rucksacks added to the mess.

And, in true form, everybody had congregated in the middle of the room.

Dwalin and Balin were arguing over a prisoner’s credibility. Bofur was arm-wrestling Fili, and losing. Kili was over by the coffee machine sweet-talking one of the lab girls. Bombur was shouting down the telephone while he chomped his way through a hamburger. Nori hastily moved his bag of snacks aside as Gloin and Bifur began to get physical in their heated debate over which of them one of the patrol cops would be more likely to go out on a date with.

Talia grinned as her gaze swept over the state of disarray. “Feels good,” she murmered, half to herself.

“Feels like a war zone,” Thranduil corrected her. “Hey, guys!”

All heads turned in their direction, and a chorus of shouts and cheers of welcome drifted towards them as everybody broke away from what they were doing and gathered around them.

“How is our little Princess this fine morning?” Bofur asked, kneeling down and peering at Tasha. “You are just what we need, sweetheart, to brighten this dull place up.”

The Oropherion baby gurgled and giggled as she blew bubbles. Her legs kicked as she wriggled in her car seat.

“Bard called ahead and said that we had to take special care of your precious bundle,” Balin said. “And rest assured, we will. There will be no repeats of what happened downstairs recently.”

“Thanks, Balin,” Thranduil said. “Talia did not wish to bring her, but we were faced with no other option. We really need to confer with Thorin.”

Bofur yelped as the little one grabbed a handful of his hair and tugged.

“That’ll teach you,” Talia laughed as she bent down and gently prised her daughter’s fist open. “You’d think that you’d uh…I don’t know…learn?”

The cops laughed.

“She’s just so damned cute, I think I will allow her to grab my hair,” he replied, and blew raspberries at the child. An animated response answered him. “Be at rest, Mama. Nobody will lay a finger on her while you are here.”

She smiled. “Thankyou.”

“Is Thorin in his office?” Thranduil asked.

Dwalin nodded. “Yes. He’s been on the phone since I arrived an hour ago.”

Talia glanced up at her husband. “Shall we?”

Bard appeared at his other side, having parked up and secured the car. “I see you lot are achieving much this morning,” he laughed, eyeing the carnage around him.

“It’s a slow day so far,” Nori piped up.

“Sshhh!” Bombur hissed furiously. “You’ve jinxed us now, you idiot!”

Thranduil tightened his arm around his wife’s shoulders as a rather boisterous argument showed signs of starting. “We’re going to see Thorin, so knock yourselves out,” he muttered, and guided her through the gathered group, his child’s car seat safely in the firm grip of his free hand. Bard followed, chuckling to himself at the mini-riot he’d just started.

“Hey, how you guys doing?” Thorin asked, his head lifting from his paperwork as they entered his office. “Good morning, and a special good morning to our squad’s cutest member!” He rose and circled his desk, squatting on the floor to bring himself to Tasha’s eye-level.

“Dada,” she said.

Talia groaned, turned, and buried her face against Thranduil’s shoulder. “I’ve had enough of this. I give up.”

His body shook as he struggled to contain his laughter, and he rubbed her shoulder reassuringly as he stooped to place the car seat on the floor. His daughter immediately grabbed Thorin’s beard and squeaked in delight.

“Sorry to barge in like this, but we’ve learned some rather interesting facts about our old man,” Bard said.

“Yes – thing you should definitely be aware of,” Thranduil added.

“Dare I ask how these facts came to light?” he asked as he wrestled his facial hair from tiny fists with difficulty. “Thankyou my little Flower, but this face-fuzz is mine.”

A squawk of temper was his answer as he rose to his feet.

The door of the office opening made all four adults turn, and Talia’s mouth dropped open.

“I hope I am not too late,” the newcomer said as he closed it behind himself. “Talia. It is good to see you again, my dear.”

*****

Bard lay sprawled out on the carpeted floor making his hand run around like a crab, and Tasha giggled as she rolled onto her stomach and tried to grab him. Thorin sat on the edge of his desk with his arms folded. Thranduil sat on the couch beside Talia with his hand protectively on her thigh.

The newcomer reclined in a leather swivel chair with one knee crossed over the other, his sharp gaze assessing those around him.

“You’re certainly a blast from the past,” Talia said after a long, drawn-out silence.

He smiled. “You know me, my dear. I only make an appearance when needs must, and there is absolutely no other alternative. How have you been? Very distressing, I must say, what happened eighteen months ago. Very distressing indeed.”

Her eyes narrowed, as did Thranduil’s.

“Allow me to introduce myself,” the man said.

“Allow me,” she said. “Gandalf Grey.”

Bard, Thorin, and Thranduil blinked in confusion, and Talia sighed softly.

“Gandalf is the head of the S&S unit,” she said.

The blonde beside her leaned forwards, tension radiating from his body. “You come here after the clusterfuck that your unit caused? The damage that you did to Talia? The bullshit you fed me for weeks? The heartbreak and devastation that you caused?” His anger infused his words.

Gandalf held up a hand. “First of all, please accept my sincerest apologies for that truly awful situation,” he said. “I had no knowledge of what my Agent had done until it was too late, otherwise it would never have been carried out in such a fashion. I speak from the bottom of my soul when I tell you that I had no idea whatsoever what had gone down.”

Thranduil remained still, his furious stare never wavering. “Your organisation almost ruined our lives,” he hissed.

Talia placed a hand on his leg, but remained silent.

Gandalf took a deep breath. “I understand. And my one regret is that I allowed Allan to run his section of the unit. Had I known what he was capable of, I would never have had him in a position of power. Talia was one of the best agents I ever had, and I would have done everything I could to have brought about a more peaceful, happier conclusion to that horrible event.”

Bard and Thorin watched the exchange in silence.

“The agent in question has been…relocated…seconded, as it were,” Gandalf continued. “Let me assure you that he will never set foot on US soil again. If I never see him again for the remainder of my natural life, it will still be too soon.”

Silence.

“Talia, I only discovered the true facts when I learned of Cycnus Azog’s death,” he said. He leaned forwards and rested his elbows on his knees as he uncrossed them. “Allan was running around like a chicken with its head cut off, and obviously in a panic. I interrogated him and he finally admitted what had happened. I am deeply sorry for the trauma both of you have gone through, I truly am.”

Honest eyes held hers as she stared him out.

“For what it’s worth, I believe you,” she said quietly.

Thranduil’s head whipped round to face her.

“Gandalf didn’t know half of what was going on in the unit,” she told him. “Allan shielded the truths on a lot of cases and stopped them going upstairs. He never left any proof behind though, so there was nothing any of us could do.”

“A lot has come to light regarding his activities,” the old man interjected. “Hence why he is now stationed permanently in a small country so deep in the wilderness of Africa that hopefully, he will never be seen again.”

Thranduil looked over at him. “If Talia accepts what you say, then I do too,” he said. “But take this on board – she is my wife and I love her beyond anything. I will die to protect her and our child, make no mistake. And should either of them come to harm at the hands of another, then they will die.”

“And that is your right as her husband,” he replied. “Very commendable. Talia – you have chosen well, my dear.” A warm, genuine smile accompanied his words.

“Not with Allan’s approval,” she said dryly.

“One cannot help who one falls in love with,” he told her. “I have followed your progress over the last year and a half. You two were destined to be together, there is no doubt. You are the best agent we ever had, and your husband is the best officer in the force. A better match could not have been created by the Gods themselves, as you will both always protect each other with your very lives.” His eyes fell to the squirming Oropherion baby as she wriggled across the carpet towards him. “And congratulations – she is adorable.”

Thranduil slowly settled back against the couch. “She is a blessing,” he said softly.

Tasha hauled herself to her feet by grabbing hold of Gandalf’s leg and held her arms aloft. “Up,” she demanded.

He glanced at her parents. “May I?”

“Of course,” Talia said.

He leaned down and lifted the youngster, settling her so she stood on his thighs with his hands supporting her. “Hello, little Miss,” he said.

“Dada,” she replied.

“Oh for fuck sake…” Talia muttered. “I’m outta here.”

Her companions laughed heartily, and the tension in the room was broken.

“I’m calling out for something to eat. This is going to be a long, informative meeting,” Thorin said as he lifted his cell phone.

*****

Two hours later, the discussion was still on-going. Empty Chinese takeaway containers were piled onto Thorin’s otherwise pristine desk. Tasha had fallen asleep and was lying on the couch surrounded by cushions, with her father at her side. Talia had moved for her to sleep and was settled on the floor between Thranduil’s spread thighs. One of his hands held hers over her shoulder. Bard was perched on the edge of the desk, and Thorin was comfortable in his usual seat behind it. Gandalf remained in the chair he’d originally chosen on his arrival.

“Your poking around in Saruman’s file was what alerted me,” he told her. “Although it was extremely difficult to track you through the proxy servers. I had a team of IT experts working non-stop for over four and a half hours finding you.”

She smiled, contented as her stomach was full. “I did have half a thought that I might poke a few flags into sticking up,” she admitted. “But I knew there was a connection between his arrest, the DB, and our apartment being bombed. All I needed was confirmation.”

The old man nodded. “You were spot-on, my dear. I’m afraid he appears to be heavily involved in something most unsavoury.”

“Apart from slicing open people’s throats?” Bard asked sardonically.

“I am unsure yet as to how or why that came into play,” Gandalf told him. “But rest assured, I will find out. It would seem that it was Saruman’s act of undoing, else you would not have been alerted to his presence.”

“Do you have any idea as to what he’s involved in?” Thorin questioned.

He shook his head. “I have my suspicions, but as yet I am afraid they are unfounded,” he answered. “My best people are working on it as we speak, and we have had him under surveillance for some time.”

Talia took a deep breath and leaned her head back against Thranduil’s inner thigh. “I don’t know what to think,” she said. “All I can make out so far is that Thranduil arrested him by chance after seeing him drive the wrong way, as he gave him a royal mouthful after being pulled over. The next thing, our apartment is blasted to smithereens and I still don’t know how the hell we’re all still alive. It was pure luck that the place was empty, although only just.”

Thranduil hummed in agreement above her. “I was in the front foyer when the blast occurred,” he said.

Gandalf frowned.

“The fire department confirmed that the device was placed under the bed,” Thorin spoke up.

“Talk about making the earth move,” Bard muttered, and Talia snorted with laughter.

“Fuck off,” she told him.

“Does your building have CCTV?” Gandalf asked.

Thranduil shook his head as he showed his partner his middle finger. “No, unfortunately not.”

“Talia, I have a suggestion, my dear,” he announced, and turned slightly to face her more directly. “Would you consider returning to the unit?”

She felt her husband’s body go rigid against hers. “No.”

“Oh.”

“I couldn’t cope with being on assignment and having to be away from Thranduil and Tasha,” she told him. “And after what Allan did to me, I swore I’d never look back. I still carry scars of what happened, Gandalf. Deep scars. And every time I look into Thranduil’s eyes, it all comes back. The lies, the betrayal, the deceit, the heartache. My supposed death and what that did to him. I can’t go back there; I just can’t.”

Thranduil softly caressed her cheek and she turned her head to kiss his palm.

“I understand,” Gandalf sighed wearily. He looked over at Thorin. “I must admit, I am envious that you have her on your team, Captain. Extremely envious.”

“And we have been extremely lucky to have her,” he replied. His seat swivelled from side to side gently as he spoke. “Without her, I would not have the detective seated behind her. My team would have been fractured beyond repair. And both Azog and his despicable son would still be causing terror on the city streets.”

“Then all I can do is to extend the offer to work alongside you and your team, if you would allow,” he said. “I believe that whatever Saruman has in mind, between us we can put a stop to it, and very probably him. I am sure he has been responsible for quite a few deaths in the time since he retired from active duty.”

Everyone exchanged glances.

“Talia?” Thorin questioned.

“I have absolutely no issues,” she said. “I think it’s a good idea. If we work in conjunction with Gandalf, we’ll have access to more information than we would have otherwise.”

He nodded, contemplating the offer. “Fine. I accept your offer,” he said finally, speaking to the guest. “But I want to make it known that nothing is held back, and I mean absolutely nothing. I will not have my officers put in danger when it could be avoided, is that clear?”

“As day,” Gandalf said. “Talia, I look forward to working with you again.” He sent a warm smile in her direction, which she returned.

Shortly after, the officers said their goodbyes and left the office. Thranduil, Talia, Tasha, and Bard left, leaving Gandalf to chat some more with Thorin. As soon as they exited the office, Dwalin, Bofur, Balin, Kili, and Fili circled them and walked in silence beside them.

Thranduil glanced at his wife with a smile; his team were taking their baby-sitting duties seriously.

The group moved uniformly along the hallway and down the stairs to the front entrance, where Talia was surprised as they continued out to the parking lot. They encircled the car while Thranduil fitted the car seat and secured the seat belt. He leaned back out of the vehicle, and Bard climbed in.

“Thanks, guys,” she said softly. “We appreciate it.”

“Anything to keep our Princess safe,” Balin replied with a warm smile. “You all stay safe, you hear?”

“As houses,” Thranduil said. “Come on baby, we’ll head home. We have a lot to think about.”

She smiled up at him, and went around to her side of the car. Her eyes met those of her friends over the roof, and she felt a strange tugging in her heart. These cops were going to pull out all the stops to ensure the safety of her child, and she had no words for what she felt.

Her husband caught her eye. I know, he mouthed silently, and she smiled in response as she settled herself in her seat. He spoke briefly with Dwalin, and then slid into the driver’s seat.

Their colleagues remained where they were until the vehicle disappeared from sight.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER ELEVEN

 

Talia yawned and stretched. Darkness had fallen, and the house was silent. Thranduil appeared in the doorway and stood still, observing her.

“What’s up, Blondie?” she asked over her shoulder. Although he made no noise when he moved, she knew he was there.

“I am merely thinking that it was a good idea for Bard, Legolas, and Tauriel to go to the cinema,” he replied as he slowly padded towards her.

Her eyes lifted as he circled and stood a few feet from her. “They asked me if I wanted to tag along, but it didn’t appeal to me. The movie they’ve gone to see sounds utter shite to me.”

“I am glad you didn’t go,” he said.

“Why?” Her head tilted back slightly as he took a step closer. Then another. And another.

“Because we have the house to ourselves,” he said, his tone soft. “Tasha is sound asleep.” He leaned down and placed his hands on either side of her. His long hair swept forwards and brushed over her arms.

Fire blazed to life at the intense look in his eyes. “And what did you have in mind?”

His eyes lowered to her mouth. “Stripping every piece of clothing from you, spreading your legs and fucking you like you’ve never been fucked before,” he whispered.

Her lips parted in a gasp at the sudden burst of arousal that shot through her and centred in between her thighs. He leaned further forwards and slowly dragged his full bottom lip up over the sensitive skin of her neck.

“I intend on making you scream the house down,” he continued, still in the same seductive whisper. “I intend to fuck you so hard and make you come so many times, that you will not be able to walk for days. I will have you screaming for mercy. I will have you unable to move by the time I have finished with you.”

His lips moved closer to her ear, his warm breath sending shivers rippling down her spine. Her nipples hardened against the soft fabric of his t-shirt that she wore, silently begging for his touch. His hands, his mouth – it didn’t matter. They ached for anything that he would give.

She gasped again as his mouth closed over an area of flesh and he sucked rhythmically and she turned her head slightly towards him. “Oh my God…” she murmered. Liquid heat pooled between her legs and she shifted restlessly.

“I will not stop until you have flooded the bed,” he whispered. “I will not stop until you cannot take any more.” His erotic words sent a reel of x-rated images flashing before her mind’s eye.

She rested her hands on the backs of his, gently digging her fingers into his flesh.

“Tonight, my little kitty, I control you,” he went on. “I decide when you come, if I allow you to come.”

A sigh of pleasure escaped. She knew without a shadow of a doubt that he wouldn’t fuck her and not let her come; he’d never yet taken her to bed without ensuring that she finished first. Every time they made love, he always devoted himself to her pleasure before taking his own. His selflessness always took her breath away, and he’d promised her a long, long time ago that her needs would never be neglected.

His words however, aroused her even more.

He slowly broke away and rose to his full height. “Stand up.”

Planting both fists on the couch, she pushed herself to her feet. Without warning, he grabbed her and tossed her over his shoulder, and she started to laugh.

“You are a caveman,” she told him.

He didn’t reply as he took long, purposeful strides towards the stairs and went up. He walked the length of the hallway and booted the door open to the bedroom they shared, and set her back on her feet again. “Take your clothes off.”

Amusement and arousal blazed in her eyes as she held his, slowly peeling her leggings down her legs and kicking them away. She gripped the bottom of the t-shirt and lifted it over her head.

His gaze dropped to the semi-transparent light blue knickers. “Everything.”

She bit her lower lip as she made a show of slowly sliding them down, and stepped free of them.

Strong hands gripped her hips as he lifted her and tossed her onto the bed so she was sprawled out across it. His eyes held hers in what any other would deem as an emotionless stare, but she knew better. She knew this man inside out, and could read the lust that surged through him as he pulled his own clothes off. Her breath caught as she lay watching him, toned muscles coming into view as he removed each garment.

He knelt on the edge of the bed and crawled closer, reminding her of a predator getting ready to devour its victim.

And she was his very willing victim.

Ice blue eyes held hers as he grasped her knees and forced her legs apart. Neither of them looked away, allowing the moment to burn between them.

His eyes eventually lowered to what he wanted, and his nostrils flared. Glancing back up at her briefly, he settled onto his side and pressed an open-mouthed kiss to her left inner thigh.

Her eyes automatically drifted closed as he placed another kiss, then another, and switched to her right thigh. Her core throbbed for his touch, and she knew he would know it. Her hips lurched up as the tip of his warm tongue gently flicked across her clitoris, just once. More kisses along her thighs followed.

Then he licked her again.

She groaned and wriggled a little closer.

“Demanding, little kitty?” he murmered. “You are in no position to demand.”

She grumbled a nonsensical response as she shifted restlessly, desperately trying to strengthen the physical contact between them. Warm hands still held her knees, controlling her movements as he licked her again.

“You are dripping wet,” he whispered. “I like it. I want more.” His tongue wound around her opening and pushed inside, just a little, and she whimpered. “Beg me for more.”

“Please…more,” she gasped. “Oh my God, more.”

“Not good enough, little kitty,” he murmered, and went back to kissing her thighs.

She howled in frustration. The sound quickly turned to a howl of pleasure as he swiped a lick up over her clit, twisted around it and trailed back down again. Her head leaned back over the side of the bed, and she stretched her arms out on either side of her. Fistfuls of the quilt bunched in her hands as he moved his hands to her inner thighs, forcing them wider apart.

His tongue swept in determined, focused laps around her opening, swirling around the tense bundle of nerves that was practically screaming for his attention. Talia’s cries echoed around the room as she bucked against him, hauling at the quilt beneath her. Her hips rocked against his mouth in an effort to find more friction.

A deep howl tore itself from her throat as he answered her unspoken pleas and concentrated on her clit. Sweat began to roll down her neck as she panted hard. His tongue danced around; licking, flicking, teasing her beyond anything she’d ever felt, and he’d given her oral a thousand times in the past.

He released one hand and slid it up over her stomach and between her breasts towards her neck. She let go of the bedding and gripped it with both hands, holding it in place against her throat and applying slight pressure to hold him there. He glanced up briefly, assuring himself that she was alright, and continued. Her hands squeezed the one she held as her breathing became more erratic.

“Fuck…don’t stop baby, please, please don’t stop!” she cried. “Oh fuck…”

Soft lips and his experienced tongue swept her towards orgasm with efficiency and speed. His erection throbbed painfully against his abdomen in response to the taste of her and her response to his touch. He pushed away the thought of slamming into her and fucking her hard; she had to climax first.

The pressure holding his hand increased as her body trembled. Her hips arched off the bed as she fought for the ultimate completion, and her cries and gasping breaths became more and more irregular. He increased the rhythm of his movements, swiftly taking her to the edge of breaking point.

Thranduillllll!” she screamed. Her entire body lurched as she orgasmed in a shock wave so powerful, it was almost painful. Spasms tore through her as she writhed in uncontrollable convulsions.

Thranduil lifted himself up onto his spread knees and grasped her hips. A gentle but insistent tug slid her towards him and he eased his hard flesh inside. Her internal muscles spasmed and clenched rhythmically around his aching length as he buried himself deep within her. She choked and gasped as she fought to breathe, his steady, slow, rolling thrusts prolonging her orgasm.

“Look at me,” he whispered. “Open your eyes and look at me.”

She complied with difficulty and met his ice blue eyes as he leaned above her.

Neither of them spoke, neither of them looked away. Desire and lust burned in his eyes as he stared into hers, each thrust fuelling the heat between them. Her skin was flushed deep pink and her chest heaved as she panted for breath. His thighs were warm against the back of hers, and she lifted her feet slightly to rest them on his calves.

“I am going to fuck you until you come again,” he whispered.

“Impossible,” she panted. “Not after that.”

One eyebrow lifted a little in cocky arrogance. A slight adjustment of his hips, and she whimpered as he hit a sensitive spot deep inside her. His tempo increased. His fists bunched on the bed at her sides. His nostrils flared and the muscle in his cheek tightened as he pumped into her harder.

“Oh my God,” she gasped breathlessly, finally closing her eyes as she gripped his forearms and arched towards him.

Still he thrust faster and deeper. Each stroke pushed her shattered body further into a vortex of passion and pleasure.

He slowly lowered his weight to bring his upper body flush with hers, and lifted her left knee up over his waist. His warm mouth kissed down the side of her neck as he moved, and her hands flew to his back.

“Fucking hell…I’m going to come again,” she cried. “Oh my fucking Godddddd!”

Her body clenched around him in a steel-like grip before she screamed again, falling apart in his arms.

“Yessss…like that, baby…come hard,” he whispered as his mouth trailed up towards her ear. “Keep coming for me…”

Tears of passion rolled down her cheeks as her world imploded and she clung helplessly to the strength at the centre of it which was Thranduil. His powerful body continued to move in strong thrusts, each one taking him a step closer towards his own release, until he stiffened and exploded deep within her with a roar.

Wave after wave washed over him as he spurted endlessly. His heartbeat echoed like thunder in his ears as he finally collapsed. He rolled onto his left side, taking her with him, and both of them lay in a sweating, gasping mess.

Gentle hands brushed her tears away and soft lips kissed her face. “Are you alright, little kitty?” he whispered in concern.

She laughed softly. “Yeah. I can’t speak right now.” A smile curved her mouth as her eyes remained closed.

He dropped a light kiss onto her lips and smiled himself.

*****

Thranduil hummed softly as he stood behind Talia in the queue. He gently lifted her hair away from her neck and lowered his head to place a soft kiss on the exposed skin. “How do you feel this morning?”

She turned her head and smiled up at him over her shoulder. “Tired,” she admitted. “But good.”

His eyes crinkled as he grinned. “I am glad. You certainly did seem to enjoy yourself.”

Her eyes widened. “That’s putting it mildly. I thought for a while that you were trying to kill me, to be honest.”

He laughed with her. “That was never my intention, my darling. Although I was a little…surprised?.. at something that you did.”

She frowned in confusion as they inched a little closer to the check stand. He lifted one hand and gently laid it across her throat.

“Ah. Why did that flag a concern?”

“I would not say a concern, as such. Perhaps more of being taken aback slightly. You’ve never done that before,” he told her.

“I never realised how much of an erogenous zone my neck and throat are,” she admitted in a whisper. Suspicious eyes looked into his. “What, did you think I was into erotic asphyxiation or something?? Hell no! It just felt really good to have you touch me there, that’s all. Don’t panic, Blondie. I haven’t turned into a masochist or anything.”

“That was not my concern my darling, and you know it,” he said, and touched his lips to her forehead. “I just did not want things to get out of control in the heat of the moment, that is all.”

“They never will,” she promised him. “I trust you completely, with everything in me. I’ve never trusted another the way I do with you, and I know I never will. I know that I’ll always be safe in your hands, no matter what the situation is or what we’re doing. I love you.” She stood on her toes and stole a kiss, humming in delight as he responded.

A quiet tut from the customer in the queue behind him made her pull back and scowl. Thranduil chuckled and tugged her around so that her back was pressed against his chest. The minutes dragged on until it was their turn to go through the check stand, and finally they left the store.

“I can’t wait to relax in the bath,” she murmered as they strolled hand-in-hand along the sidewalk. “Lots of bubbles, candles…heaven.”

He smiled. “It sounds like a good idea. May I join you?”

“Like you need to ask,” she scoffed.

“I would not impose on your space unless you agreed,” he told her, making her frown.

“I love it when we bathe together, why would you think otherwise?”

“When I was married before…” He trailed off, and looked in the opposite direction as he shook his head.

“Go on,” she prompted after a short silence. “Tell me.”

“My first wife didn’t like to share bath time. That was her time to unwind and get the day out of her hair, and she didn’t ever want to share that time,” he said.

Talia blinked as she quietly processed the information he’d given her. “I guess different things work for different people. Personally, I can’t think of anything more romantic than sharing a bath with your partner. I don’t mean for sexual reasons, I mean for closeness and comfort. I love sharing with you.”

He smiled, but she caught a slight hint of sadness to it.

“I’m serious,” she said softly, stopping and tugging him to a halt beside her. “I wouldn’t say it if I wasn’t. Don’t ever question what we do babe, don’t analyse it and compare it, because she and I have nothing in common, apart from our feelings for you. That’s it. That’s where it ends.”

“I do not analyse, not really. Sometimes I wonder though, if perhaps I push things or take things for granted,” he said.

“Take this for granted – I fucking idolise you,” she said. “That’s all you need to think about.” She stared up into his eyes with the sense for the first time that maybe his first marriage hadn’t been a hundred percent perfection. “Come on. Take me home.”

They resumed their leisurely pace, enjoying the warm weather and each other’s company. Tasha was at Bard’s house with Legolas and Tauriel, who was making a patchwork quilt for the little one.

“You guys actually out alone together?” a cheery voice called from behind them.

They stopped and turned to see Thorin’s grinning face approaching them through the pedestrians.

“Hey, Thorin,” Thranduil greeted him. “I thought you had court this morning?”

“I do, but I had to stop off at the dentist first,” he replied, drawing level with them. “Damned filling came loose at dinner last night, hurt like blazes.”

Talia chuckled. “So that’s some hard-earned dollars you won’t ever see again?” she quipped. “I hate the dentists. They always promise you won’t feel anything, but you do.”

“Yes…the draught coming out of my wallet,” he grumbled. Checking his watch, he glanced at the couple. “Have you got time to grab a coffee?”

“I don’t see why not,” Thranduil answered. “Sweetheart? Do you fancy a coffee?”

“You need to ask?!” she asked incredulously, and he laughed.

A warm hand slid down her back as he guided her across the street towards a busy café. Thorin stepped to walk on her other side and the three of them crossed.

Out of nowhere, one of the huge glass windows of the café shattered with a deafening boom as a gunshot rang out. Screams immediately filled the air.

Talia whirled round and bent her leg around Thranduil’s, knocking him off balance as she dragged Thorin to the ground. Her husband crashed onto the asphalt and she leapt across his torso as he landed on his back.

Another shot sounded, and a car window shattered, far too close to them for her peace of mind.

“Fuck!” she yelled. “Thorin! Are you ok?”

“Yeah…what the fuck..?” he exclaimed, lifting his head.

A third shot was fired and he instantly ducked again.

Thranduil threw her to one side and was about to sit up, but she pushed him hard and put her knee on his chest. “Talia, get the fuck off me!” he roared.

Her head spun around as she assessed their surroundings. Panicked screams hurt her ears as terrified passers-by fled the scene.

“Red car,” she yelled as she caught sight of a speeding Volkswagen. “Son of a bitch!”

Thorin dragged himself up and tossed her his car keys. “I’ll make sure everyone in the café is alright,” he told her. “Go!”

“Stay safe,” she replied as she grabbed Thranduil’s hand and hauled him to his feet. She took off at a run towards the 4x4 and clicked off the alarm while on the move. Throwing herself into the driver’s seat, she gunned the engine as he shot in beside her. “I’m driving,” she told him, pointlessly. “Put your seat belt on. You’ll need it.”

“Then put yours on too,” he retorted, clicking his into position.

She floored the large vehicle.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWELVE

 

Talia narrowed her eyes as she jumped on the clutch and changed gears. The wheels screamed in protest as she swerved a group of tourists and shot in the direction the VW had taken. The streets were busy, and traffic flowed in all directions.

“Are you carrying?” Thranduil asked as he glanced at her.

“Of course,” she answered. “Come to fuck, man…get out of the way!” The car lurched to one side as she wrenched the steering wheel, then straightened again. Buildings whipped past at speed and she hurtled through red traffic lights to a flurry of horns and roars from angry drivers. “That was close,” she murmered, half to herself. “You can run, but you can’t hide, you fuck.”

The vehicle hurtled through the streets with increasing speed, and he glanced at the speedometer but said nothing. The red Volkswagen nipped in between other cars as the driver raced like a rally driver, but Talia kept up with him. Thorin’s 4x4 had the advantage of being fairly high off the ground, so she had a good visual on the car and wasn’t going to lose it.

“I bet this bastard lives with his GTA game,” she muttered. “People don’t drive like that in real life.”

Her husband suppressed a grin. “I don’t think I want to know where you learned to drive like this,” he commented.

She grinned as she glanced at him. “You’d be surprised. A lot of it I picked up in the job, the rest of it I learned racing my friends on a Saturday night down quiet streets and building sites.”

“You never cease to amaze me - watch out!!” His voice rose as a tourist coach swerved into their lane without signalling.

She reacted instantly and pulled over into the next lane, flooring the gas and shooting straight past. “Fucking idiot,” she said. “Shit! Where did he go??”

Both of them had lost sight of the Volkswagen, and scanned the cars ahead.

“Shit! He’s gone!” she yelled. “How the hell..?”

“The factory plant is just up ahead,” he told her. “I think the chances are he’s probably gone in there to hide some place.”

“Then that’s where we’re going too,” she said. The wheels screeched again as she slammed on the brakes and dropped a few gears, barrelling round the corner and speeding down towards the industrial area. Abandoned factory units flew past, mountains of rusted, abandoned metal, smashed air con units, wrecked cars and other various piles of trash swept past. The road turned to gravel and she skidded to a halt, breathing hard.

Her gaze assessed everything before her – the three abandoned, crumbling factory units. “If I was on the run, I’d probably go for that old building right…there,” she said softly. She looked at Thranduil. “Are we going in?”

“You bet,” he replied.

The car was moving again before he’d finished the two words.

A gloomy darkness engulfed them as she drove up the ramp into the building. The place was a mess of loose wires, crumbling walls, and garbage strewn everywhere. Years ago the place would have been a thriving workplace, but now it lay as a ghost of days gone by.

Neither of them spoke as she slowly turned and headed up towards the next level, then the next one.

“There!” she said, pointing to the tail end of a small red vehicle. “He’s in here somewhere.” The car stopped, and she killed the engine.

Thranduil leaned over and gripped her chin, turned her head towards him and kissed her quickly, but hard. “Stay safe,” he whispered.

“You too.” She unbuckled her seat belt and slid out of the car, her weapon drawn. The door clicked shut quietly behind her as she moved along the side towards the hood. Holding her gun in her right hand, she balanced both on her left as she slowly stepped forwards. Without looking, she knew he was mirroring her movements on the other side.

They crept forwards.

Loose stones, garbage, and discarded tools littered the concrete. Talia swept some away with the side of her foot as she stepped, not lowering her eyes. The gloomy air smelled rank of dust and years of neglect in the derelict building. They approached a corner, and she slid up against the wall in front of Thranduil. He gently tugged on her sleeve and she shook him off.

This was not the time to play macho protect-the-little-woman games.

This was time to flush out a potential cop killer.

Silence filled the vast space as she stood motionless. Nothing moved, nothing stirred. Very slowly, she edged closer to the corner and peered round.

A shot rang out and she jerked back like lightning. Her hand poked around the corner and she fired off several shots in succession.

More silence.

“Fuck,” she muttered. “Cover me.”

Thranduil leaned over her shoulder and fired off a couple of shots as she darted towards the opposite corner, throwing herself to the ground as a volley of bullets thundered back in response. She signalled to him that she was unhurt, and scuttled out of sight on her hands and knees.

He sighed to himself in frustration; they weren’t supposed to separate.

Easing his weight away from the wall, he cautiously looked around the corner. Nothing. A frown creased his forehead as he narrowed his eyes. A few seconds ticked past, and he gradually moved away from the corner to make his way towards where the shooter had been.

Out of nowhere, Talia shot out from behind a concrete pillar and threw herself out of his line of vision. He cursed as a muffled thump reached his ears, and broke into a run. He raced along the uneven floor to see her grappling with someone. She glanced up as she became aware of his presence, and was caught by an uppercut to the underside of her jaw for her break in concentration, which sent her sprawling backwards. The male she had been fighting with leapt to his feet and took off like a racehorse, and Thranduil took aim and fired another few shots.

“Are you alright?” he panted as he reached down for her.

“Aye,” she gasped. “Bastard…I almost had him!” She wiped the back of her hand over her forehead, leaving a streak of dirt. “Sneaky son of a bitch…that fucking hurt.”

He tipped her chin up, searching for any visible signs of injury.

“I’m ok, honestly,” she repeated.

Other than an angry red mark, she didn’t appear unharmed.

He grabbed her wrist as she turned away from him. “We stay together,” he said. His tone left no room for argument, and she nodded. They hurried in the direction the shooter had disappeared, searching for him as they made their way down the ramp to the level below.

“There’s a million and one places he could hide,” she whispered. Heading to her right, she placed her back to the wall and crept along it. A gasp left her as Thranduil reached over her head and fired off a single shot. The sound of a body hitting the concrete reached her, and she turned to him with wide eyes.

Her lips parted, but she didn’t say anything.

“Sometimes two heads are better than one,” he told her as he dropped a swift kiss onto her mouth.

Nodding in agreement, she led the way towards the bank of doors on the far right.  The pair knew that there had been two occupants in the red car, and with one now lying dead, that still left one unaccounted for.

Silent steps took them all over the level, but there was no sign of anyone.

Eventually she began to get pissed. “I know there’s another one in here somewhere,” she whispered. “My gut is never wrong. It never has been, and it’s not now.”

“That is part of the job, and to follow your gut is intrinsic survival,” he said from behind her, talking in low tones. “Many an officer has saved their life or those of others by following their instinct.”

“Yeah, well right now mine is screaming at the top of her voice, and it’s not good stuff that she’s screaming,” she grunted.

A flash of movement caught her peripheral vision and she flipped round to see the second shooter disappear around the far corner. Both of them sprinted along the uneven floor in the direction he’d gone.

Thranduil roared in anger as she broke away from him and darted down in between piles of empty steel storage containers as she took a short-cut. Continuing forwards, he skidded to a halt at the corner and looked around, panting hard. The place seemed deserted, like their prey had vanished into thin air. He slid up against the nearby wall and inched along with his Colt ready.

A sudden click made him freeze. His head turned slowly.

“Put the gun down,” a voice commanded. “Put it down now.

He hesitated, then complied. Where the hell was Talia? He hadn’t heard any gunfire, so he knew she hadn’t been shot.

“Turn around.”

Very slowly, he turned and faced his assailant.

“You’ve managed to piss Saruman off,” the man told him as he stared at him. The gun in his outstretched hand didn’t move. “You did exactly what he expected, and stuck your nose in where it didn’t belong. And you know how he deals with those who can’t mind their own business.”

“Killing me will not stop us,” Thranduil replied. “So you take me down. There are a hundred more of me. You’ll have to take every single one down.”

The man shrugged carelessly. “That doesn’t present a problem,” he said nonchalantly. “What’s more important is Saruman concluding his business, of which you have no part in. You shouldn’t have started digging, Detective.”

Thranduil jumped as Talia crashed down onto the man’s back from the steel rafters, one hand wrapped under his jaw and the other at the back of his neck. Within a split second, a sickening crack sounded as she broke his neck.

“Arsehole,” she muttered as she climbed off the body and dusted herself down. “You let yourself get caught, Blondie.”

One eyebrow arched. “Point taken,” he agreed, grudgingly, and she smirked. “We were not supposed to separate!”

She shrugged as she checked her weapon then tucked it into her waistband. “Needs must,” she answered, and took her cell phone out of her pocket.

He made a frustrated noise as she speed-dialled Thorin.

“Got them,” she told him. “Yeah. Both dead. Yep. Ok then. See you soon.” She cut the call and turned to her husband. “Come on, babe…don’t go all moody on me.”

He glared at her. “I am not,” he retorted. “But we had an agreement. We have an agreement whenever we’re together – we stay together. We do not part ways, ever.”

“He’d have put a bullet in you, and you know it,” she said. “If we hadn’t split, he’d have taken us both out.”

The muscle in his cheek tightened as he stared at her, knowing that she was right.

But he didn’t have to be happy about it.

“C’mere,” she said softly. “Come on. Give me a hug.”

The six feet five giant slowly approached her and folded his arms around her as he crushed her to him. “Do not leave me,” he whispered hoarsely. “I need to know that you are safe, do you understand?”

She nodded into his shoulder. “I understand,” she replied. “I love you, Thranduil. I’d die for you. I’d give my life to protect you; you know that. You can’t take that away from me. It’s what I do, and it’s always going to be a part of me.” She pulled back and gazed up into his eyes.

“I love you too, Talia, more than anything. More than life. That is why I need to know that you are safe,” he told her. “I worry constantly when you are not at my side. I have nightmares that you are dying or dead, and there is nothing I can do to help you. You have no idea the terror I have felt and continue to suffer.”

He saw the glimmer of unshed tears as they gathered in her eyes.

“That’s because of what I did to you,” she whispered. “The past is never going to go away.”

He took a deep breath and ran his fingers through her ponytail. “I would be the same had the past not happened in the way which it did,” he told her. “When someone means as much to another as you do to me, the worry and the stress comes hand-in-hand. It is inevitable. It is part of loving someone so much that your entire existence relies on that person. It is something that I have had to adjust to, as no-one has ever buried themselves so deeply into my heart the way that you have, little kitty.”

She closed her eyes and pressed her mouth against his in a gentle kiss. “I wish I could take back everything that happened,” she whispered softly. “I wish that more than anything. I’d give all that I am to be able to go back and undo what I did, the shite that followed it, and the aftermath. But I don’t know how to.”

“You do not have to. All you have to do is to be at my side when we are working together,” he replied. A deep sigh followed, and he kissed her forehead. “I think that we should head back and pick Thorin up.”

She nodded. “He said to call the coroner and they’ll come over with the appropriate squad,” she replied. “We probably should head back; get out of here before too many questions are asked that we can’t answer.” Her hand gripped his as they stepped around the body lying face-down on the concrete floor and headed back down to the car. Thranduil called the coroner as they walked, and pocketed his phone. He opened the passenger door for her, closing it once she was settled inside the vehicle.

Ice blue eyes lifted towards the heavens for a few seconds, and he shook his head slightly before getting into the driver’s side.

*****

Thorin hung over the back of Talia’s seat as the car swerved up the ramp into the precinct parking lot. “We should call everybody in for a de-briefing,” he said. “We all need to be aware of what we’re facing, and the threat that’s just escalated.”

Thranduil drew the car to a smooth halt and turned the engine off. “Perhaps we should pull in Talia’s old boss,” he said. His head turned and he glanced at her.

She smiled. “Probably. He’ll want to know what’s happened, and maybe he’ll have something interesting to contribute. The guy can be a well of knowledge when it suits him.”

“Not a bad idea,” Thorin agreed, climbing out of the car. “I’ll give him a call and bring him over.”

The trio made their way into the building, to be met immediately by concerned colleagues. After assuring them that everything was under control, they went up to their floor, where Talia wasn’t the least bit surprised to see Gandalf already seated in the bullpen, chatting amicably with Balin.

“Why does your presence not shock me in the least?” she asked with a grin.

“Good news travels quickly, my dear,” he replied. His eyes twinkled as he smiled. “I am relieved to see all three of you safe and sound.”

“Only by Talia’s rapid response reflex,” Thorin replied as he shook his hand in welcome. “If she hadn’t reacted the way she did, I dare say that at least one of us wouldn’t be here now.”

“Shite,” she grunted. “Who’s on coffee duty?”

“I’ll get you one,” Kili responded as he leapt up from his seat.

She narrowed her eyes in suspicion as her gaze followed him across the floor. “What are you after?” she demanded.

“Nothing!” he shot back. “Is it a crime to want to provide a fellow officer with a hot beverage?”

“When it’s you doing the providing, yes,” she said. “Put anything in it and I’ll break every bone you have.”

“As if I would,” he tutted, shaking his head with a grin as he prepared a tray of coffee cups. The grin turned to a snort of laughter as he caught her look. “Honestly – I’m not up to anything. Just plain, straight-up coffee.”

Thranduil’s warm hand touched her back as he gently guided her towards a seat, which he pulled out for her. “No monkey business, Kili,” he warned.

“The lack of faith you people have for me is astounding,” he muttered.

Thorin shook his head and ignored the conversation. “Right guys, shut the doors and grab some wood. It’s time for a group discussion. Fili – make sure all calls are stopped at Kora’s desk. I want no interruptions.”

“On it,” his nephew replied as he hopped off the desk he’d been perched on and disappeared.

“Dare I ask how you already come to be here?” Thorin asked, taking the seat across from Gandalf.

The older man smiled. “I had eyes on you three this morning.”

Thranduil stiffened, his hand on Talia’s shoulder tightening briefly.

“Hey,” she said softly. “It’s not a bad thing. We just might need those eyes some day.”

“I mean no disrespect,” Gandalf told them. “It was solely a safety precaution, nothing more. Although I doubt our young lady here needs a safety precaution, but nevertheless…”

She smiled. “Thanks, Gandalf,” she said. “Anyway – shots out of nowhere in the middle of a crowded street, red Volkswagen getaway car. Two occupants, both dead.”

“Any connections?” Dwalin questioned.

“Yes. Saruman sent them as a warning,” Thranduil replied.

Talia snorted, but kept her thoughts to herself.

“They were definitely out to put a message across,” Thorin put in. “One of them had Thran at gunpoint.”

“And Talia happened, I presume?” Bofur grinned.

She responded with a cheesy grin. “Of course. One snapped neck. Job done.”

Again, Thranduil’s hand tightened a little on her shoulder.

“Why did I expect nothing less?” Kili asked, setting the tray of coffee down in the middle of the table. Everyone dived for it, and she took two and handed one to her husband who towered behind her.

“It would appear that we need a new battle plan,” Gandalf observed.

“And you have some thoughts?” Thorin asked.

He smiled. “Of course.”

Talia grinned.

He always did.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

 

He knows I’d say anything he wants to hear

Loud and clear calls the voice of lovers

He knows I’d do anything he wants me to

Like ruby rain, I wash away the pain

Talia’s voice rang out across the crowded room as her eyes met Thranduil’s ice blue ones. A slight shiver ran down her back at the intensity she saw in the semi-darkness, a combination of love and lust that burned in the depths of his stare. He stood leaning against the bar, one elbow propped against the polished wood as he watched her, completely unmoving. A bottle of coke rested in his free hand, and he had one ankle crossed over the other.

Don’t turn around and walk away again

Don’t walk away again

The crowd broke into loud cheers and applauded her as she wound the song down, loving the performance she’d given. Thranduil merely smiled as she made her way down from the slightly raised stage and wound her way towards them. As usual, her singing had enthralled those within earshot and she’d had a captive audience.

“That was beautiful, little kitty,” he told her as she came within touching distance. A soft kiss touched her mouth. “I love hearing you sing.”

She grinned and turned slightly to take her sleeping daughter from Tauriel’s arms. “I don’t sing as much as I would like to these days,” she replied. Tasha snuggled against her shoulder and slept on, unaware of her surroundings.

“You should make the effort to do it more. You do it so well,” her husband said.

Bard ambled over and bumped her elbow gently with his. “Great sounds, Talia,” he grinned. “You should think about going professional.”

Her head shook. “I wouldn’t enjoy it as much if I had to do it. Right now it’s an indulgence, and I want to keep it that way. Babe…can I have a drink, please?”

Thranduil handed her the bottle and she took a few mouthfuls before handing it back.

The fizzy liquid bubbled on her tongue as she swallowed. “I could really do with a coffee,” she murmered as she glanced around the dim bar. The Shire provided a very welcome and familiar setting for everyone to assemble and relax a little.

“I’ll ask for one for you,” Legolas piped up, and moved away from them towards the waitress. “Tauriel?”

“Yes, please,” she answered, with an illuminating smile. It was blatantly clear to anyone that she had strong feelings for the younger Oropherion male. “I agree with Thranduil,” she said, turning to Talia. “Your voice is amazing.”

“Thankyou,” she said, blushing. Her hand slowly rubbed her sleeping child’s back as she rested against her shoulder.

“Why don’t we organise a night out, with all of us from the shift, like a karaoke thing?” Bard suggested.

“Tacky,” she laughed.

“You’re on your own with that,” Thranduil grunted. “No way in hell will I get up there in front of you lot. Forget it.”

The two females started to laugh at the thought.

“How about you, young man?” Bard turned his question to Legolas as he returned with two mugs of hot coffee.

“Me? What? What did I do?” he asked in confusion, setting them down on the bar.

“Walked into one of his hair-brained ideas,” his father retorted. “Let me take Tasha, sweetheart. You have your coffee.”

She carefully handed her over, and smiled as she instinctively repositioned herself comfortably in his strong arms. A deep pull tugged at her heart as she gazed at them; her massive husband cradling his child with such tenderness and care. She took a deep breath and looked away, forcing a fake smile as she lifted her drink.

It didn’t go unnoticed.

“We’ll need to look at finding someplace else to stay,” she told Bard.

He frowned. “Why?”

“Duh…we’ve been taking up your personal space,” she pointed out. “Your kids have moved out. Your kitchen is full of baby plates and plastic spoons. And your laundry has been taken over by teeny-weeny sleep-suits and female underwear. Hardly what I’d call a great home life.”

“You talk a load of bollocks sometimes, considering you’re supposed to be highly intelligent,” he decided, and everybody around them laughed. “You guys stay as long as you need to, want to, have to, whatever.” His beer bottle waved precariously in front of her face. “And as I have to put up with your completely insufferable Giant Redwood over there, you have to do as I say.”

The wave of laughter rippled further as friends close by picked up on the conversation amongst their own chat.

“I really don’t want to outstay our welcome,” she told him. “You’ve been great helping us, and by God we really needed help. But I don’t want it to become too long-term.”

The Detective waved her away with a snort. “Talk right, and not shite,” he retorted. “Hey, Daddy-Long-Legs…have a word with your wife, will you?”

“I will be having words with you if you don’t quit the name-calling, you short-arsed cretin,” Thranduil flipped back. “I get both sides, although I do see Talia’s point. We cannot stay at your place indefinitely.”

Bard’s eyebrows came down in a confused frown as he fought to make sense of the conversation through the haze of alcohol. “You all are mad,” he decided eventually. “Take the hospitality with the friendship it is offered with, and shut the fuck up. Somebody get me another beer!” The empty bottle slammed onto the bar for emphasis, and Talia turned away as she tried to smother a grin.

“Oh!” Her eyes lit up as she heard the opening bars of a song she liked. “Dance with me?”

Her husband handed Tasha over to Tauriel again and took her hand, leading her onto the floor. Couples swayed together as the music played.

Her arms wound up around his neck as she gazed up into his eyes.

One – you’re like a dream come true

Two – just wanna be with you

Three – Boy it’s plain to see that you’re the only one for me and

Four – Repeat steps one through three, make you fall in love with me

If ever I believe my work is done

Then I’ll start back at One

He smiled as she deliberately changed “girl” to “boy” as she sang along, making the song personal to him. “You do not ever have to do anything to make me fall in love with you,” he told her. “The moment I saw you, I fell helplessly head over heels, little kitty. And that’s where I’ll always stay.”

A warm feeling unfurled in her heart and spread throughout her, and it had nothing to do with the heat of his large hands pressed tightly against her back as they slowly moved together. His words hit home, and she knew in that instant that what they had would never be broken.

Over on the other side of the pub, their friends leaned in silence against the bar as they watched the couple.

“Our Thran doesn’t know how lucky he is,” Thorin remarked. “She has his back, and always will have.”

“Oh, he knows,” Bard slurred. “The two of them are like love-struck teenagers, can’t keep their hands off each other.”

“I think Talia’s really good for him,” Legolas put in. “He’s spent so many years alone – now I see him actually enjoying life again. I never thought he’d find someone who’d turn his head the way she has. I’m happy for them.” His gaze went to his baby sister, still sleeping soundly in his girlfriend’s arms. Tauriel’s eyes lifted from the child to his, and they shared a secret smile.

*****

Tasha growled as she smacked the phone back onto the charger. “Waste of space,” she grumbled under her breath, knocking the sticky tape dispenser aside in frustration.

Thranduil’s head lifted and he fixed his gaze on his irate wife. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”

“The damned blood results from your John Doe at the railway line haven’t come back yet,” she said. “How are we supposed to know his condition at time of death without them?”

He lifted his eyebrows briefly in acknowledgement. “I agree. I’m trying to establish where he was prior to his murder, and I just may be on to something. Have a look at this.” He turned his computer screen around so that she could see the grainy image.

She frowned as she studied it. “Isn’t that the laundrette over on Forty Third?” she questioned curiously.

“Yes. I’ve pulled footage from the CCTV on the corner at the body shop,” he replied. “This was around six hours before the call came through about his body.”

She leaned back and folded her arms, her eyes narrowing. “What the hell was he doing there?” The image moved and she watched the figure stop as a vehicle pulled alongside. He stopped and leaned down to speak in through the driver’s window, and after a few moments it pulled away. The man continued walking. “We need to identify that car,” she told her husband. “There’s a cash machine just along from there on that side of the street. Can we pull their footage?”

“There is no harm in approaching the bank and asking for access,” he replied. “If they refuse, we get a judge to sign a warrant. No big deal.”

Her eyes shifted to Bofur, who was seated on the floor in the middle of the squad room playing patty-cake with Tasha. The little one was squealing and laughing as she clapped her tiny hands against his. Fili and Kili were seated just inside the closed door, both armed. “Ok, let’s ask,” she said.

Thranduil lifted the phone as she quickly obtained the bank’s number through her computer, and dialled through. “Not a problem,” he told her as he ended the call. “The bank manager is quite happy to show us what they have.”

“Then let’s go,” she said, and shoved her chair back at speed.

“Better brief Thorin,” he told her as he lifted his Colt and tucked it into his waistband. Her eyes followed the movements, and she felt a strange pang of arousal shoot through her body. It was just something so…primal…maybe the fluid way he moved, that sparked the flame of need.

She shook her head and scowled. “Fine. Go and let him know we’re outta here,” she said.

“Are you alright?” he asked as he tilted his head slightly in concern.

“Huh? Yeah…I’m fine,” she assured him. “Go. Hurry up.” Both hands shoo’d him away impatiently and he laughed as he turned towards the captain’s office. She went over to her daughter and squatted down beside her. “Mama and Dada are going out for a wee while,” she told her.

Large ice blue eyes gazed solemnly back at her.

“You be good for Uncle Bofur?”

“Dada,” Tasha replied, and turned her attention back to patty-cake.

“Fuck me backwards,” she muttered, and hoisted herself to her feet again. “Will you guys be alright for half an hour? We’re just going to grab some footage from one of the banks.”

Fili unfolded his arms and waved a hand at her with a shake of his head. “Everything will be just peachy. Stop stressing, Mama Tiger. The little one is in good hands.”

Kili nodded. “We’re all armed, and nobody will be getting in here. Princess will be just fine, Talia.” A warm smile accompanied his words.

She stared at him thoughtfully for a few seconds. “If we come back and there’s a single scratch on my child, I’ll personally disembowel you,” she warned. “But if she’s in the condition she is now, I’ll buy you a coffee.”

He grinned. “Yassss,” he cheered.

“Easy money,” she muttered.

“Ready, sweetheart?” Thranduil asked as he appeared at her shoulder. His warm hand touched her lower back. “Tasha, be good for Uncle Bofur,” he added to his daughter.

She looked up and smiled sweetly at him, a gesture which he returned.

Within twenty minutes, the pair were in the manager’s office in the bank, studying the footage from the autoteller.

“There he is,” Talia said. “Can you freeze that, please?”

The manager nodded to the security guard, who dutifully paused the rolling footage.

She turned to Thranduil. “All we need is a run on his licence plate, and bingo. He’s ours.”

He took his cell phone out of his pocket and hit speed dial. “Balin. I need you to fire through a twenty-nine on a plate,” he said.

She waited while he reeled off the number and could hear Balin typing furiously on his computer at the end of the line.

His reply filtered through as she leaned closer.

“That’s a ten-forty, Thran,” he said. “There’s no record of it, anywhere, and I’ve searched the entire database.”

Dark blue eyes locked with ice blue ones.

“Ok,” he said, not looking away. “Ten-nineteen.”

“Drive safe.”

The call ended.

“What the fuck..?” she whispered. “There has to be a record of it somewhere, dammit.”

He sighed as the phone slid back into his pocket. “It’s obviously a forged licence plate. Which leads me to wonder who the hell they are, and what they’re desperately hiding if they’re hurtling around the city with dodgy plates.”

She glanced past him to the flickering computer screen. “There’s a partial of the dude’s face on there. Why don’t we run it through facial recognition software back at the precinct and see if it throws anything up in the air? We have nothing to lose; it’s got to be worth a try.”

“I agree. Sir, can you send me the image of the driver’s face?” he asked, turning to the guard.

“Of course,” he said instantly. A few clicks later, and Thranduil’s phone pinged in response.

“Thankyou,” he said with a nod. “Your help has been much appreciated.”

“Let us know if you require anything further, officers,” the manager said. He rose from the corner of the desk where he’d been perched. “I read about this man’s murder – gruesome and horrific. I hope you find whoever’s responsible.”

“We’ll be on it until we do,” Talia assured him, and shook his hand. “Thanks for your time.”

He shook her husband’s hand also, and the two left the bank.

“This is getting more and more strange by the minute,” she said, thinking aloud. “I’m a hundred percent sure Saruman was behind the John Doe’s murder, but I can’t make the connection in my head. Was it a deal that went south? A partnership that collapsed? A spurned lover?”

Thranduil smirked as they neared the car and he beeped the alarm off. “That is a very disturbing thought, my love,” he told her. “I cannot see that being the case, somehow.”

She snorted as she climbed into the passenger side of the vehicle. “That’s an –ist if ever I heard one,” she replied. Her seat belt snapped into place and she leaned back against the comfortable upholstery. “It definitely wasn’t a random, spur-of-the-moment killing. It was carried out almost execution-style.”

He glanced at her as he settled himself and started the engine. “Have you ever killed anyone that way?”

Her eyebrows shot up at speed. “No! Yuck…I’m not too keen on the red shit,” she answered. “A bullet’s my method of choice.”

“You snapped that guy’s neck like a twig back at the factory,” he reminded her.

“Basic training.” The buildings passed as the car increased speed. “That’s the fundamental defence you learn when you enrol into the S&S unit. Stay alive at all costs and drop your target at the first opportunity.”

“Then go home and have dinner,” he murmered, half to himself.

“What does that mean?” Her voice held a hint of sharpness.

“Nothing along the lines of what you are thinking,” he said, glancing at her as he drove. “It means that you become conditioned to a certain mind-set, and it doesn’t rule your emotions. I remember the first life I took. I was devastated.”

Her features softened, and she reached over and placed her hand on his thigh. “What happened?”

He shrugged as he changed gears. “It was a do-or-die. Me or him. And I hadn’t been on active duty over here all that long; just a matter of a couple of weeks. I’d only just settled after relocating with Legolas, and he was still very young. I knew I had to go home to him.”

A silence filled the car for a few minutes.

“If someone has a gun pointing to your head, and you have one pointed at theirs, then by fuck make sure you fire first,” she said eventually. Turning her head, her eyes met his. “Because that’s what I would do. I have done, and I’ll continue to do so. Nobody’s taking me out of the game, nobody.”

He nodded in agreement.

“And remember the golden rule,” she added. “Don’t ever pull your weapon unless you intend on using the fucker.”

A smile curved his mouth, drawing her gaze. “I suppose perhaps our situation is a little different, in that I didn’t join law enforcement to kill people. I joined it to help, to make a difference, to try to keep some sort of calmness, safety, and order.”

“Whereas I joined solely as an assassin.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to.” She withdrew her hand and leaned back. “I know it’s not exactly a sparkling resume, Thranduil. I know that better than anybody. But I don’t regret the choices I’ve made. If I hadn’t gone into the unit, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation here and now. That’s a guarantee. So no matter what I’ve done or what I’ll do, I’ll never regret my past. Maybe certain aspects of it, but that’s neither here nor there.”

“You’re taking this the wrong way, my darling. All I meant was that you’ve had the hindsight and the organised thought pattern, probably training too, to dismiss your job as soon as it’s done,” he said. “You don’t carry it around with you, or brood over it, or stress over it. Or you do not appear to.”

She shook her head. “No, I never did,” she agreed. “I told you a long time ago – I couldn’t. The second you start attaching emotions and thoughts to the job, you’ll make a balls-up. And that balls-up could cost an innocent person their life. I refuse to have that on my shoulders.”

He opened his mouth to respond, but the shrill tone from his cell phone beat him to it.

“Hi Thorin,” he said, hitting the connect button and setting the device onto the dash. “What’s up?”

“Are you guys alright?” The anxiety in the question seeped into the car.

Thranduil and Talia looked at one another.

“Yes, we’re fine,” she replied. “Why? What’s wrong?”

“Bard’s gone.”

Chapter Text

 CHAPTER FOURTEEN

 

The car lurched sideways as Thranduil whipped the steering wheel around in a left lock, cutting across lanes and peeling off at the junction. Talia gripped the door handle to steady herself.

“What the fuck d’you mean, gone?” he demanded. The vehicle gained speed.

“There’s been a break-in or something at his house,” Thorin replied. “A neighbour called it in. A unit was dispatched, and they’ve reported signs of forced entry, disturbance…and blood. Lots of blood.”

The air seemed to be vacuumed out of her lungs. “Holy fuck,” she whispered.

“We’re on our way there now,” Thranduil said. “ETA ten minutes.”

“I’ll meet you there. Be safe, guys.” Thorin cut the connection.

Talia’s heart was in her mouth. “Oh my God,” she said. “Thranduil…”

“I know,” he said, squeezing her hand briefly. “Let’s not think too far ahead right now. These thoughts can grow arms and legs, and take off on a marathon. Try to keep a clear mind until we assess the situation.”

She lapsed into silence as her heart hammered against her ribs. Focusing her attention on the traffic in front of them as he swerved around the obstructions, she swallowed and tried to force a calm demeanour over her thoughts.

She failed.

Thranduil and Tasha could have been in the house when whatever it was had taken place. They could have been hurt. Or killed.

“Baby…please do not go there,” he said softly, and she glanced over at him.

His eyes met hers briefly as he drove faster, and she knew that he could see her thoughts. He instinctively knew what had shot through her mind; the panic, the fear, the what-ifs. Once again, his intuition stunned her.

“I can tell what’s going through your mind,” he said. “Tasha is as safe as houses back at the precinct, with a squad room of armed adopted uncles ready to defend her if the need arises. She could not be more safe. I am with you, you know that I’m alright. Legolas and Tauriel have gone to some architecture convention in the city. Your family is not going to be taken from you, little kitty. I promise.”

The muscle in her cheek clenched. “I know,” she whispered.

“Do you?” A pointed glance in her direction turned her cheeks pink.

He knew her far too well.

The streets leading to Bard’s home closed in on her as they sped through them. By the time they pulled up in the drive, several cop cars and uniformed officers were scattered in all directions.

Thranduil stopped the car and jumped out, and Talia shot out of her side before he could open her door for her. He gripped her hand and they marched into the building, shoulder to shoulder.

“Thranduil, Talia,” the crime scene responder greeted them as he lifted his head at their approach.

“Marcus,” he replied. “What do we know?”

“Lots of blood, as you can see, indicating a major struggle,” the investigator answered. “Blood splatters everywhere on the ground floor. We’ve obtained samples and will have them rushed through as a priority. Broken furniture, a smashed window, but at the moment we think that may have been the point of entry. Several really decent sets of fingerprints, so that’s promising.”

“I want all the stops pulled out on this,” Thranduil said.

The other man nodded. “Of course. We’ll get to the bottom of this. There’s nobody in here, so I’m assuming they either ran…”

“Or they’ve taken him,” Talia finished in a whisper as he trailed off.

Dark brown eyes met hers. “It’s a possibility,” he said.

Beside her, Thranduil took a deep breath. “How much longer do you and your guys need here?” he questioned.

Marcus shrugged. “An hour, tops. Everyone who’s off-duty has responded to the call for back-up, and they’re all heading in as we speak. We’ll do whatever we can to protect our own, Thran. You know that.”

He nodded solemnly, his fingers entwined with his wife’s.

All three heads turned as Thorin, Kili, and Fili barged in. The two younger men nodded briefly then began taking photos and collecting fingerprints and blood samples, working fast and efficiently in silence as they worked alongside the crime scene team. Thorin marched towards the trio.

“I want you two out of here, now,” he stated. “No ifs, no buts, just haul arses and get the hell out of here. Everybody meet back at the precinct as soon as possible. The top dog of the S&S thingy is heading there, and we need to put our heads together over this. No, Oropherion,” he growled as Thranduil opened his mouth to protest. “That’s an order. Do it.”

The blonde blinked in surprise before his irritation had the chance to sink in and take hold. “Fine,” he bit back. “But we need some things for Talia and Tasha.”

“I will personally make sure that everything you need will be collected,” the captain assured him. “Beat it, the pair of you. You can’t be here.”

“What in the name of fuck is going on?” she demanded, as they left the house and headed back to the SUV.

“I’m damned if I know,” Thranduil muttered. “Thorin’s got a bee up his arse and he’s not parting with anything right now, I can tell you that much. The best thing we can do is follow his orders and head back to the station.”

She tugged on his hand, jerking him to a stop. “You want to leave the rescue of your partner, your friend, someone who’s practically your brother to someone else?”

Ice blue eyes filled with anguish held hers. “No,” he whispered painfully. “I do not. But right now I need to do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of my wife and daughter. And find my son and his girlfriend and bring them under protection too. I am going against my instinct on this Talia, but believe me when I say that I have to make sure you are all safe and accounted for before I do anything.”

Her dark blue eyes held his, and she saw the battle that he was fighting deep within himself. His gut wanted to go and find his partner, but his heart and soul wanted to protect her and his family. His long hair drifted a little in the breeze as she stared at him.

“Ok. Let’s get our arses back to the precinct, see what transpires, and go from there,” she said eventually. “And Thranduil…”

He’d turned to continue walking but turned back.

“I’m with you every step of the way on this,” she said softly. “I promise. You’re not alone.”

The emotions that lived in his eyes almost broke her heart, and he knew that she had an accurate, clear read on him. Rather than reply, he nodded and tugged her back towards their vehicle.

*****

It was a sombre atmosphere that the two of them walked into as they shouldered the squad room doors open. Heads flipped round or looked up, expressions of relief clear on those who’d already gathered in the room.

Talia dropped Thranduil’s hand and went straight over to her daughter. Bofur handed her over with a few murmered words of reassurance, and Tasha wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck. Oddly, the infant cuddled in silently, almost as though she knew something was amiss. One tiny hand reached out over the shoulder she leaned on as her father approached Talia’s back, and he let her grip his much larger hand.

“Alright folks, get arses on seats and open your ears,” Thorin announced as he appeared behind the blonde. “Anyone who is not currently in possession of coffee, you have three seconds to obtain one. I want every single sagging arse in front of me, pronto.”

Dwalin silently went over to the coffee machine and made two cups, carrying them back to an empty desk and setting them down. He motioned for the Oropherions and stepped back.

Talia stepped forwards at Thranduil’s gentle push, and seated herself up on the desk. He sat in the chair and she handed Tasha down to him, before sliding forwards and enclosing the back of the seat between her thighs. Her forearms rested on his broad shoulders.

“My apologies for my tardiness, but traffic is absolutely horrendous in this part of the city,” a gruff voice said as the doors swung open again.

She smiled as a warm feeling flowed through her, and tipped her chin up slightly in acknowledgement to Gandalf. He smiled back.

“Thankyou,” he said as Bombur handed him a cup of strong tea. He set his briefcase down on the floor and nodded to Thorin. “Do you have any leads, or any ideas yet?”

“No,” the captain sighed as he folded his arms. “The crime scene guys are pulling out all the stops and rushing samples through to trace. Fingerprints that have been lifted are being run through AFIS, and the blood samples through CODIS.”

Gandalf nodded thoughtfully as he sipped his beverage. “Anything else?”

“Not at the moment.”

“I am afraid the news that I bring is not good,” he said, addressing those gathered before and around him.

Talia’s thumb gently rubbed Thranduil’s cheek, and he silently leaned in to her touch in response.

“Word has filtered to me through what I can only describe as exceptionally reliable sources,” the older man continued. “Talia…you recall the last assignment you were deployed on?”

A small smirk lifted one side of her mouth. “Yes. He’s sitting right here with our daughter.”

He smiled. “You are about to undertake the biggest protection detail you have ever been on,” he told her.

Looks of confusion circulated the group.

“Every single officer in this room has a target on their back. An official target. My dear…your scope of protection has just widened considerably.”

Nobody spoke.

“What d’you mean?” she asked eventually.

He lifted his cup to his mouth and took a drink. “There have been contracts put out on every one of you,” he replied. “And I cannot for the life of me find who is behind them. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have already exchanged hands; the trace on the transactions has led right back to here, in this city. I can only say what my suspicions are as to who is the driving force behind such a large business deal.”

Thranduil turned his head and looked up, his eyes meeting hers.

“Saruman,” they both said in unison.

Gandalf nodded as Thorin rolled his eyes and shook his head.

“Fuck me,” the dark haired cop ground out. “What the hell did you get yourself wrapped up in when you arrested this son of a bitch?” His angry glare turned to Thranduil. “Every single person in this unit is now under his radar, all because of a traffic violation?!”

“And you’d rather something much bigger was ignored?” Talia spat. “Get your head out of your arse, Thorin. This nutcase is splashing some serious dosh around in an attempt to throw us off his tail…he’s not doing this for fun. He’s into something fucking massive. If our apartment being bombed didn’t already tell you that, then fuck knows. I have no words.”

Furious eyes glared into hers from across the room. He took a deep breath before responding.

“If we were not such close friends, I’d have you hauled on a disciplinary,” he said.

“Bite me,” she snapped.

“As is it,” he continued with a warning glare. “There are more important factors to be dealing with, such as how to keep each and every one of us alive. This character is clearly not wasting time or resources, and we will need to be ahead of him every step of the way.”

“May I make a suggestion?” Gandalf asked, turning to him. “I propose everyone resides at the S&S Headquarters for the time being. The building is maximum security, there is armed protection around the clock, and the entire compound is practically bomb-proof. I can think of no safer place for everyone to be.”

Thranduil frowned. “Would it not make more sense to have us spread out, rather than grouped together as one easy target?” he questioned.

“Perhaps,” he conceded. “However…the last time I checked, you only have one wife, and she cannot be in multiple places simultaneously, as good as she is. With everyone together, she will stand a better chance of keeping you all alive.”

Talia lifted her eyebrows briefly in acknowledgement, but kept her thoughts to herself.

“It then becomes a protective custody situation,” Thorin stated.

“Yes.”

“Sounds more like an incarceration to me.”

The old man’s eyes narrowed. “You would rather your officers are picked off and executed, one by one?”

The air practically buzzed between the two as they stared each other out.

“Fine,” Thorin finally sighed. “It’s not an ideal set-up, but at least I can be sure that everyone is safe…at least.”

Thranduil’s body relaxed a little as he leaned against the back of his seat, his body in close contact with his wife’s. “I will agree to this as long as my children are accommodated also,” he stated. “And by that, I mean Tasha, my son, and his girlfriend. They are all at risk, and I will not have them exposed to any danger.”

Gandalf nodded his approval. “Of course. That applies to everyone – partners and children will be made most welcome. They will be guarded well while you all carry out your work.”

“You mean we’ll still be working?” Kili asked in surprise.

Fili chortled. “Did you think this was a free vacation or something?” he asked. “You head-case.”

“Investigations will continue as normal, just in a different environment,” Thorin said. “And the usual workplace regulations will apply. The case does not disappear simply because we will.”

Talia leaned her chin on the top of Thranduil’s head. “Gandalf – I’m going to need access to your stock,” she said.

A wicked smile creased the old man’s face. “My dear – I thought you would never ask.”

*****

“I can’t believe that this shit has gone this far,” Talia muttered as she shook her head. The traffic was slow and she was impatient to reach the conference centre. “Dude’s seriously fucked up.”

“He is definitely serious about something,” Thranduil murmered in agreement. His head turned as he glanced over his shoulder. Tasha sat in her car seat behind him, snoring softly. Turning back, he pursed his full mouth as he watched the scenery whip past. “If we knew the identity of the John Doe, maybe we would be a little wiser on the whole set-up.”

“Yeah, well Gandalf will no doubt have a name by the end of the day,” she replied as she slammed the gears down into third and swerved around a van. “Once we get that, we can find out exactly what the connection was. I don’t buy for a minute that it was a random killing. It was too personal, too dark, if you know what I mean.” She poked a finger at the CD player and turned up the volume. The car swung around a corner and she sighed as they approached the conference centre.

They pulled to a stop and she killed the engine.

They waited.

“Sunday morning my town is sleeping

Lying all alone in my bed

There's not a sound I can't help but listening

Wishing I was somewhere else instead

But sometimes they're too hard to handle

Those voices inside my head

Listen now!

I'm gonna run to you, I'm gonna come to you

I wanna find you in everything that I do

I'm gonna run to you I'm gonna count on you

I'm gonna follow. Baby, what else can I do?”

Her voice was clear as she tapped her thumb against the steering wheel. Thranduil’s head turned and he gazed at her, a soft smile curving his mouth. No matter what stress he was under, no matter how heavy the pressure, whenever she sang he would feel his spirit lift in response.

“Something amusing, Blondie?” she quipped with a grin.

He shook his head. “Not in the slightest. Your voice just relaxes me, that’s all.”

A laugh escaped from her as she sighed. “I haven’t sung very much lately. Not since…” She trailed off.

He reached over and took her hand in his much larger one, wrapping his fingers around it possessively. “I know,” he whispered. “And that saddens me, little kitty. I know that you have an amazing voice, and so do you. You should sing. I do not see any viable reason not to.”

“Sometimes…it brings back memories,” she whispered back. “Memories I don’t want to relive. Things I don’t want to remember. I hadn’t sung for a long time before I started working undercover at The Shire, then I took it back up again.”

He breathed deeply through his nose as he turned his head to look out of the window, just as Legolas and Tauriel appearing out of the building. “We will talk later, my darling. I promise. This discussion is not over.” A soft kiss touched the back of her hand and he smiled as he released her and stepped out of the vehicle.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

 

“Wow…this is insane,” Legolas murmered.

“I know. But it’s a necessity at this point until we can put this freak-show away,” Talia replied. She glanced at him in the rear view mirror. So like his father to look at, the similarities could be seen from another planet. “Hopefully it won’t take too long.”

“All the other cases have been transferred to another section or put on hold for now,” Thranduil said. “So the entire squad is on this. I do not think that anybody is particularly thrilled at having to live in the HQ.”

“The Ironclad Pad,” she said, and caught his eye as he frowned in confusion. “It’s practically a fortress,” she explained. “Quite a few bampots over the years have tried to break in, but not one succeeded.”

“Tauriel, I can understand if you wish to return to your parents,” he said over his shoulder. “This must be very difficult for you.”

“I don’t mind at all,” the redhead answered. “To be honest…I’d rather stay here with Leggy.”

Talia smiled as a pink hue dusted the young woman’s cheeks. “Then you’re more than welcome to stay,” she said. “Just as long as you know what you’re letting yourself in for!”

A ripple of laughter circulated the car and the conversation rolled on to the convention the young couple had attended. Talia relaxed as she guided the vehicle through the city, taking the rush-hour traffic in her stride.

“Baby,” Thranduil said quietly as the two in the back continued chatting.

Her eyes flicked over to his, and she read an unspoken warning in the ice blue depths. “I know,” she told him. “I’ve been watching him for the last two and a half miles.” Her gaze moved to her side mirror as she focused on a black sedan. The car had been tailing them in and out of the other vehicles. “Don’t worry. It’s under control.”

“What is?” Legolas piped up.

“Nothing to worry about, son,” Thranduil replied. “Do not, under any circumstances, look out of the back window. We are being followed.”

An involuntary gasp escaped from Tauriel.

“You’re in good hands, love,” Talia told her, winking at her in the rear view mirror. “Trust me.” Her gaze flicked constantly between her mirrors and the road ahead, her mind calculating rapidly as she analysed their options. “Legolas, would you check Tasha’s seat belt please?”

The blonde tugged on the belt and found it to be secure around the car seat. “It’s fine,” he told her.

The car shot forwards with a surge of power and dived between vehicles as she changed gears and floored the gas. The two passengers behind her stayed quiet in a tense silence and Thranduil braced one hand on the dash as the car swerved at speed. The sedan sped up and followed suit, copying their movements as it darted through the traffic.

“Ok motherfucker, let’s see what you’ve got,” she murmered. Changing gears again, she threw the SUV around a tight left turn and hurtled down a side street. A quick jerk of the steering wheel back to the right took them onto the bridge and down towards the market. Buildings whipped past and their surroundings turned to massive layouts of long stalls and tents; people spreading their wares and bartering with potential customers for a trade.

Beside her, Thranduil speed-dialled for backup on his cell phone, giving the handler their location. He held on to the dash with a firm grip as she steered the car around twists and turns at speed, handling the large vehicle with skill and confidence. The sedan kept pace behind them.

A stream of curses exploded from her in one single tacked-together word as the back window shattered with a boom, shards of glass bursting into the interior. Tauriel screamed and instantly threw herself over the car seat, and Legolas hunched down on top of her.

“Is everybody ok?” Talia yelled.

“We’re fine!” her step son yelled back. “Dammit!”

“You have to get us out of here, sweetheart,” Thranduil said. “The next bullet might not miss.”

“Uh…on it,” she responded with sarcasm. “Jesus fucking Christ…the kids are in the car for fuck sake! This is not going to end well.” She jumped on the clutch and changed gears, and the SUV screeched in protest as she threw it around a ninety degree corner. The tyres squealed as she floored the gas again, and flew down the main street of the district.

Pedestrians leapt out of the way as they hurtled through. Screams rang out as more shots were fired from the sedan, but luckily no one was hit. They cleared the market area and joined the main flow of traffic in the city.

So did their pursuer.

Talia’s eyes darted between the street and the sedan. “I need to throw him off our tail, guys. I can’t drag him out to the HQ; it’s too far away from here,” she said. The sounds of Tasha crying drifted past her ears, but she knew she had to keep going in order for them to come out of this alive. She could console her afterwards.

Legolas remained curled protectively over the two females and pulled his jacket over the top of their heads. “Do what you need to do, Talia,” he replied. “The girls are fine.”

They overtook other vehicles at speeds that were miles out of the state speed limit, but she didn’t even bat an eyelid. Thranduil had a fleeting thought that she was actually a more competent driver when under pressure, and handled the car with impeccable skill.

“Just do what you can to hold the situation, baby,” he said softly. “Backup should be with us before long.”

“We may not have long,” she replied, swerving around a truck and darting back in front again. The road surface disappeared at speed as they flew over it, eating up the miles.

“I can’t see them,” Legolas said after a while as he stuck his head up and scanned through the broken rear window.

“Legolas, get down!” his father roared.

Talia palmed the steering wheel and took a side turn from the main street.

Everything was eerily silent as she slowed down. Buildings loomed up on either side of the narrow lane; tall, dark, and imposing.

“I think we’ve lost them,” she said quietly. The car stopped.

A heavy silence filled the air.

Thranduil’s eyes met hers. “We should wait for backup,” he murmered.

She nodded. “It’s too risky to venture back out there just now,” she agreed. Her head leaned back against the headrest and her eyes closed. “Fuck me.”

“Are you alright?” he asked in concern as he took one of her hands in his.

A grin flashed in his direction as she opened her eyes. “I thrive on this shit,” she said. “You guys alright back there?”

“We’re ok,” Tauriel answered as she lifted her head. “Wow…you can drive! I think you should change your name to Vin Diesel!”

Talia laughed. “I’d kick his arse,” she quipped, and turned back in her seat. “Oh shit…”

Thranduil’s head whipped back around to face the front.

A lone figure stood at the end of the alley, just watching their car.

“Not good,” she murmered. “We have two options. Go forward and run him down, or back up.”

“Too late,” Legolas said. “The other car’s just pulled up blocking the back end.”

“Fuck,” she hissed. “These bastards always travel in pairs. Ok…” she said, thinking fast. “Get down as low as you can, cover Tasha. Thranduil – you need to hunker down too. Get in the back if you have to.”

“I am not having you face this up in front by yourself!” he snapped angrily.

“Then shut up and get down,” she retorted.

His eyes widened briefly in astonishment at the venom in her tone.

“Just do what the hell you’re told, for once,” she spat. Ignoring the look of hurt that flashed across his eyes, she focused on the figure at the end of the lane. Her foot kept the clutch at biting point as she revved the engine. The heavy car jolted and shuddered as it tried to break free, but she held firm. Squeals from the engine echoed off the buildings on either side of them.

Her eyes never left the figure.

He eventually moved, lifting both hands as he aimed a firearm at them.

Her eyes narrowed as she was thrown back in time to several occasions where she’d been staring down the barrel of a gun, and she shook her head to clear the images. The man rested his gun hand on his other wrist.

The car continued to scream as she floored the gas, still holding firm, and very aware of her husband at her side. Tasha’s crying increased, but she forcibly shifted her frame of mind from mother to killer.

The SUV screeched as she released the brake and hurtled forward with a jolt. The stench of burning rubber filled her nostrils as smoke belched off the back wheels. She tore down the alley, aiming for the person at the end of it. He fired off two shots, and she instinctively wrenched the steering wheel to one side. The side of the car crunched against the brickwork, sparks sheering off the side with the horrible screech of metal in distress. One bullet hit the windscreen, but she straightened the wheel and kept going as fast as she could.

The distance between them closed rapidly.

Thranduil bellowed something, but she couldn’t decipher what it was through the roaring in her ears. The shooter fired again.

Somewhere in the back of her mind, she vaguely registered the cold look in his eyes as she bore down on him.

The last thing he saw was the maniacal look in her eyes as the car hit him full on, the impact throwing him up onto the hood and straight through the window. She slammed on the brakes, the back end drifting round in protest, and hitting off the wall at the other side of the alley. The vehicle came to a halt.

There was a deadly silence.

Police sirens began wailing in the distance, gradually getting closer.

Thranduil straightened himself and carefully turned her head towards him. “TALIA!”

“I’m ok,” she mumbled, slowly opening her eyes.

A twisted, broken, blood-soaked body lay half in her lap, half out of the car sprawled across the metal.

“Thranduil?” she gasped, as panic set in. “Thranduil??”

“I’m here baby, I’m here,” he soothed her. “Goddammit, you’re bleeding, and bad!”

“Use this,” Legolas said as he whipped his t-shirt off and passed it between the seats. Tauriel sat upright and shook her head to clear it, and Tasha’s crying had risen to screams.

Talia started to hyperventilate. “Get him off me!” she cried. “Get him off me!”

“Ssshhh, breath slowly,” Thranduil told her, speaking softly as he held the garment against the blood streaming from a gash on her forehead. “Backup is almost here. You’re doing great. Just stay with me.”

She choked and gasped as she tried to drag oxygen into her lungs, her mind going into shock over how close her family had come to danger.

The racket of the sirens increased and echoed off the surrounding buildings, amongst screams, shouts, and unbearably loud chaos.

*****

“It would appear that this was a coordinated move,” Gandalf said thoughtfully. He stood at the large window with his hands in his pockets, looking out at the scenery before him. Tension seeped from his rigid stance.

Thorin glanced over at Thranduil.

The blonde sat on the couch with a pillow across his knees. Talia’s head rested on it, and her eyes were closed as she slept. One of his hands had settled on her upper thigh as she lay across the sofa, and the other gently toyed with her hair. His gaze was on her, nothing else.

“Well the bastards failed in all three hits,” he said as he turned back to Gandalf. “Fili has no more than a few scratches, and Bombur is downstairs eating you out of house and home like nothing happened.”

While the family had been hurtling through the city, both officers had faced off with potential assassins of their own.

The older man smiled. “And I am relieved to hear such,” he commented. Turning around, his sharp gaze fastened on the detective and his most valuable former employee. “Is she alright?”

Ice blue eyes slowly lifted. “She is comfortable,” Thranduil replied. His eyes lowered again.

“I have an alias for you,” Gandalf stated, addressing Thorin once more. “Jack Saunders.”

“Who?” The captain’s eyebrows came down in a confused frown. “Never heard of him.”

“No, you would not have,” he said. “That is merely one name used by your piano wire victim. His true name, I am still trying to expose. It would seem that he kept it very secretive.”

Thorin rapidly typed a text message to Balin, with the given name and instructions to start digging from their own sources. “I would think that between us, we can find the connection between him and Sauron, and ultimately what they were up to that resulted in his murder.”

“My sentiments exactly,” the top agent agreed. “However – we are no closer to finding your missing detective, and this worries me. As each hour passes, the odds of finding him alive go against us.”

Thranduil’s eyes lifted again. “We will find him,” he spoke up. “Make no mistake.”

His captain caught the determination in the blue gaze. “I am not sure what to take out of the attempts on everyone’s lives,” he said. “I don’t know if this means they have already killed Bard, or still have him held somewhere.”

“My instinct tells me that they are trying to draw you out,” Gandalf replied. “And they will pick you off one by one as they do so. I cannot decide myself whether to be optimistic regarding your officer.”

Talia stirred on her husband’s knee and stretched. Her eyes opened and she gazed groggily into his loving ones.

“Hi,” he said softly, with a tender smile. “How do you feel?”

“Mmm,” she smiled back, sleepily. “Sore. Tired. Achy.”

His finger gently traced the edge of the dressing taped to her forehead which covered the stitches she’d received. “You need to rest, my darling.”

“Your husband is correct,” Gandalf observed. “I have arranged for round-the-clock catering staff to be available for you and your team, and they are at your disposal. Do make use of them; we are paying a lot of money to have them here.” A teasing smile accompanied his words.

“Thanks, Gandalf. I could eat a horse right now,” she said. Slowly shifting her weight, she manoeuvred herself to make the task of sitting up a little easier. Thranduil’s arm immediately slid around her and he took her weight as she sat upright. “Ooof…dizzy.”

“Take it easy,” Thorin advised. He stood with his arms folded, watching her. “That was some impact you took out there this afternoon. The car is a write-off.”

Sad eyes turned to Thranduil. “I’m sorry, babe,” she whispered.

“Hey – stop that before you even begin,” he told her. His hand caressed her cheek. “All that matters is that you took us through it, and we all came out alive. Legolas practically has you on hero-worship status right now.” His mouth curved into a smile. “He wants to race you on one of his console games now he’s seen what you can do.”

A chuckle of amusement transferred between the two men on their feet, and she smiled as she leaned into his gentle touch.

“Maybe some other time. Right now I need to cuddle my daughter and eat something,” she responded.

“Legolas and Tauriel are settled on the upper floor with her,” Thorin said.

“And she is none the worse for what happened,” Thranduil added.

“I could hear her screaming but I couldn’t take care of her,” she said softly. Her eyes lowered as she focused on the front of his black shirt. She swallowed hard. “I had to shove aside being a mother and become the other side of me.”

“You did what you had to do, my dear,” Gandalf told her. “Your perspectives have changed since your days with the unit. In fact, they changed considerably when you took your last assignment.” A pointed look at the blonde loaned his words some weight. “And they will never go back to what they were.”

Thranduil sighed softly. “Come on, little kitty. Let’s go up and see the kids, and have something to eat.” His body shifted as he rose to his feet and helped her to hers. They crossed the plush carpet and he opened the door, guiding her through it in front of him.

Two pairs of eyes watched them leave.

“Do you think she can handle this?”

Gandalf’s head turned at Thorin’s question. “Of course! I have known her for many years, my friend. Once she switches her frame of mind to her profession, she is unstoppable. However…she has mellowed somewhat as she has fallen in love and brought another life into the world. I dare say she will do what she needs in order to cope.”

“They have already come through far too much as a couple,” the other man said. “Things that no couple should ever have to go through or suffer. I truly thought he was broken beyond repair when he was told that she had died after Bolg’s attack.”

Gandalf lowered his head, staying silent for a few moments. “I only wish I could have prevented that entire horrible event from taking place,” he said when he eventually spoke. His voice was low; filled with sorrow. “Nothing I could think of seemed a suitable enough punishment for the bastard who instigated that. Thranduil should have been sent to the hospital with her that night, not closed off with nothing but lies and grief and heartbreak. I would not wish that on anyone. I suppose we can only thank the gods that it was false, and he found her again.”

“He changed after that. He became much more protective over her, even more than he was before,” Thorin replied. “He always looked out for her and worried about her, but he took it to a different level. When they found out Tasha was on the way, nobody was more happy for them than I. They deserved all the happiness they could find, and still do.”

The older man nodded. “Do not underestimate her though,” he warned. “She will surprise you – mark my words. The loving wife and mother will disappear in an instant if the need arises, and what you will be presented with will not be a nice person. Just be aware that there is a cold, calculating side to her, which she will fall back on if the situation calls for such.”

Thorin smirked. “I watched her kill Cycnus Azog in cold blood, without batting an eyelid,” he reminded him. “I know what she is capable of.”

Gandalf eyed him wearily. “You think that you do.” He turned and left the office.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

 

Talia breathed deeply as she stared through the glass window. Her nostrils flared as she gripped the steering wheel and flexed her fingers around the tightly bound leather. Buildings shot past at speed as she accelerated, stomping the gas pedal flat to the floor. Adrenalin coursed through her bloodstream and her heart pounded like a jackhammer. The window shattered inwards as a body slammed against it in a solid impact.

She shot upright into a sitting position, gasping hard, and ran both her hands through her hair.

“Talia?” Thranduil sat up beside her and touched her shoulder.

Her head flipped round as she gazed at him, her eyes wide with fright.

“You were dreaming, baby,” he whispered.

She swallowed and looked around. Darkness filled the room, and she registered the soft sound of her daughter snuffling as she slept in a travel cot beside them. “What the hell…” she whispered.

He took a deep breath as he ran his hand up and down her arm. “You were having a nightmare again, I suspect,” he said quietly.

Her head lowered to rest on her drawn-up knees. “I don’t think they’re ever going to stop,” she replied.

Three days had passed since the chase through the city, and three nights she had awoken in the dead of night entangled in a web of terror. The car chase played over and over in her mind, haunting her and tormenting her waking hours. When she slept, the images merged into her dreams with shocking clarity.

“You have to give it time, sweetheart,” he said. “It hasn’t been long.”

She lifted her head back up and gave a humourless laugh. “I’m a trained killer. This shit shouldn’t be happening.”

“I think it is some kind of aftershock, like maybe a delayed reaction. The situation was entirely different than what you would normally be faced with if you were on an assignment,” he told her. “I remember you taking out the guy who rammed his car into Bard and I when we went to Bolg’s lock-up. You were a good few hundred feet away, completely zoned in on what you were doing. And you were isolated as you carried out the task. You were not isolated in that car, baby. You had your family beside you, and that has obviously added a different perspective on the whole thing. In the back of your mind, you knew that this was up close and personal, and you had vulnerable passengers.”

His eyes met hers as she slowly turned to look at him in the darkness. The sliver of light glowing through the small gap in the door allowed her to make out his features. Very slowly, she lifted her hand and touched her palm to his cheek. He turned his head and pressed a kiss to her skin.

“Everything is going to be alright,” he whispered. “Trust me, little kitty.”

“I hope so. I really do,” she answered. “Because I don’t know how to deal with this. It’s driving me crazy. Everywhere I look, all I can see is a fucking body coming hurtling through the window at me. I can hear Tasha screaming. I can feel the panic and the terror flowing through you. I can hear my heartbeat in my ears, so loud it’s almost drowning everything out.” Her eyes closed as she took a deep, steadying breath. “I’m too cynical and jaded for this crap.”

“No, you are not. You are a wife and a mother. And whether you believe it or not, that puts a whole different slant on things,” he said.

“When did you turn psychologist?” she joked with a shaky laugh.

He smiled and kissed her shoulder. “When I fell in love with you,” he replied. “Are you hungry? If you eat something, you might find it easier to fall asleep.”

“I have no trouble falling asleep, I just have huge-assed problems staying there,” she said, swinging her legs out of the bed. “I could do with something though.”

He exited the bed on the other side and shrugged his robe on. “I’ll see who’s still around, and what they can make,” he said. A soft kiss touched her mouth as he passed. “I will not be long.”

A few minutes later he reappeared with a plate containing two microwaved burgers. “Will this suffice?”

She grinned. “Only if you have one with me,” she answered.

“I can do that. Let’s sit on the floor and put the television on low,” he said.

She clambered out of the bed and took the blanket with her. Sitting close to him on the carpet, she wrapped it around the both of them and snuggled in against his warm body. “Bard’s still alive,” she said softly, after a few minutes of silence had passed.

Thranduil chewed his burger thoughtfully. “I happen to agree,” he said. “But I do not know why I think this. It is more a gut feeling than anything.”

“They’ll use him as leverage.”

He nodded beside her. “I think so too.”

She tilted her head back and gazed up at him. The flickering light from the tv highlighted perfect features; a bone sculpture that the gods themselves couldn’t have been gifted enough to create, and beautiful eyes that read her every thought. “We need to be ready for whatever they throw at us,” she whispered.

“Yes.”

“People are going to die.”

“Yes.”

She looked away again. “I know that you’re not happy with me working again. But I need to work, babe. I need to be a part of this, and help bring him home again. Crime is one thing, but this is messing with us, our family, our friends, our home – I can’t sit back and let everybody else try to fix it.”

“I understand that,” he said. “I also know that you are yet again carrying far too much on those shoulders of yours. And you cannot deny that, little kitty. My advice as your husband, as the person who loves you more than anything in this world, is that you do what you have to do. Yes, we will probably argue about things, and disagree from time to time, but I will always support you and be there both with you and for you. Never ever think that you are alone, my darling.”

She smiled as she leaned her head against his shoulder. “I don’t know what I’d do without you,” she murmered.

“It is fruitless to even think about it, as you will never have to be without me,” he replied, and kissed the top of her head.

A comfortable silence settled over them as they gazed at the muted television screen.

*****

“I have to say – the coffee here is absolutely fantastic,” Kili announced as he crashed through the doors with a cup in each hand. “Hey Unc – can we get some of this stuff back at the precinct?”

“Can we hell,” Thorin snorted. “You do little enough work as it is, without buggering off every ten minutes for a caffeine top-up. No. Forget it.”

Talia chuckled as she lifted her eyes from the computer screen in front of her. “Ouch…you’ve just been buuuuurned,” she coo’d, and laughed as Kili flipped her his middle finger. “And right back atchya, Short-Arse!”

“What chaos are you causing now?” Thranduil asked. He appeared at her shoulder and sat down beside her, setting a handful of documents on the desk.

“Not a single trace of anarchy here, my gorgeous husband,” she replied with a grin. “What have you been up to?”

“Apart from lecturing Bofur for letting Tasha eat half of his ice cream, I found some interesting info on one John Saunders,” he replied. “He has prior. And I now have his true name.”

“Oh?”

“Mm-hmm. Meet Cornelius Di Marco.” A sheet of paper with a mugshot attached slid towards her.

“Cornelius?” she demanded incredulously. “Who the hell names their kid Cornelius?!”

“His parents?” Fili pointlessly suggested on his way past.

“Fuck off,” she hissed, and turned her attention back to her husband. “This could be something solid gold. Give me a second…” Her fingers tapped rapidly over the keypad on the laptop as she frowned at the screen, whizzing from one window to another. Her frown deepened as she flipped from one screen to the next; a blitz of mumbo-jumbo to her husband’s eyes. “Here we go,” she said, and twisted the device so he could see better.

“What am I looking at?” he queried.

“This. Previous places of residence. Look at that one,” she told him, and jabbed a finger at the screen. “That’s literally a stone’s throw away from where Saruman lives. Coincidence? I don’t think so.”

“But not enough to push harder,” he said.

She huffed, and turned the laptop back towards herself a little. “I’m not done yet,” she muttered, typing furiously. “There just has to be a connection between those two, somewhere. I don't buy that it was a random killing, not for a second.”

Beside her, he booted up his own laptop and drummed his fingers on the desk as he waited for the operating system to load. “I assume you know what you are doing,” he joked.

“Ha. This shit is like second nature,” she responded, not looking away from her screen. “How’s Tasha?”

“Manipulating Bofur with skill and charm,” he answered. “And he’s allowing it.”

She smiled as she bashed the enter key. “That’s our girl. Ok – something that might interest you, Detective.” Again, she spun the laptop around slightly.

Heavy eyebrows arched downwards. “Well fuck me…” he murmered.

“If you insist.”

He laughed. “How the hell did you find that?”

A conceited grin was his answer as she continued typing. “It’s amazing what these computers can find out,” she replied. “The two of them were on the same flight from Berlin eighteen months ago. They lived a hair’s breadth away from one another. One is garrotted with piano wire, and the other is a pianist. Tell me this doesn’t poke you in the ear.”

“Can you access DNA files that we can’t?” Thorin asked, appearing behind the pair and leaning a hand on either chair.

“Yep. Do you have his DNA back from the lab?”

He grinned. “Yes, I definitely do. The technician emailed me just a few minutes ago.”

“Then forward me the email, oh Great One,” she quipped. “This is where it gets interesting. I should be able to turf up some more interesting facts about our mysterious vic with something genetic to work with.”

Thorin crossed over to the desk he’d allocated himself and tapped at his computer. Seconds later, Talia’s email pinged.

“Cheers, Boss,” she called out. “Right…let me at you,” she muttered.

Thranduil remained silent, amused within himself at her enthusiasm and her skill at what she was doing.

“We need to let that run for a few minutes,” she said after a few moments, and turned in her seat to face him. “What are you working on?”

“We’ve had Saruman’s cell phone dumped,” he replied. “I’m trying to find a connection that could tie him in to Bard’s disappearance. The lab has the blood samples taken from the house, so hopefully we’ll have results by the end of the day. In the meantime, I’m still working on the theory that Saruman is the one behind all this.”

She pinched the bridge of her nose in an effort to ward off a headache. “Kili! If that coffee’s so great, wanna grab me one?” she called across the room.

“What did your last slave die of?” he roared back incredulously.

“Caffeine starvation and asphyxiation,” she shot back.

Incessant muttering drifted towards her as he grudgingly rose from his seat and headed out into the corridor.

She shook her head with a smile.

“You know…we could be automatically jumping at the explanation that sounds easiest,” Thranduil murmered thoughtfully.

“What d’you mean, Blondie?”

Ice blue eyes turned in her direction. “What if we’re totally wrong? What if we’re just assuming Saruman’s behind this because it seems the most logical option? What if it’s completely unconnected to him, and all along we’ve pissed somebody else off? What if it’s not him who’s doing all this?”

She chewed the side of her mouth as she swung her seat from side to side, eyeing him as her mind turned over what he’d said. “No,” she decided finally. “The fact that he’s an explosives expert and our apartment being bombed – that was definitely his doing. Plus don’t forget the dude in the abandoned warehouse name-dropped him – before I dropped him.”

He tilted his head in acknowledgement, his long silken hair drifting across his thigh with the movement. “Granted. But what if Bard disappearing has nothing to do with this? I’m just trying to explore every option, that’s all.”

“Bard’s disappearance has to do with the contracts being taken out,” she replied, crossing one knee over the other. “Too many of us were targeted. The timing was too precise. And my sixth sense is yelling at me.”

He nodded. “I tend to agree. I just wondered if maybe we were barking up the wrong tree,” he said.

“I don’t think we are.”

“I do not think you are either, for what my opinion is worth,” a gravelly voice said.

Both turned to see Gandalf standing with a smile.

“Your opinion always counts,” Talia answered with a smile of welcome. “How are you?”

“Fine, but rather perplexed as to why you are running headlong through highly restricted records, young lady,” he replied. “Your DNA analysis flagged red on my system as soon as you entered it. What are you looking to find?”

She shrugged. “Anything. Maybe nothing. Something to connect Saunders – or Cornelius – holy fuck – to Saruman.”

Thranduil bit back his hilarity at her disgust of the name.

Her head whipped around as her laptop pinged.

A result.

She furiously tapped in her password, but it wouldn’t accept it. “Oh my Godddd,” she ranted. “Why can’t I get in?!”

“I shall upgrade your security clearance,” Gandalf said, leaning between the two of them and typing on the keypad. “In the meantime, use my access.” The restriction notice cleared instantly, clearing the page for their perusal.

“Oh my fucking God,” Talia whispered. “They’re related?!”

Thranduil exhaled with an audible whoosh. “I certainly did not see that coming,” he murmered.

Behind them, Gandalf hmm’d thoughtfully. “This throws a whole new perspective on things,” he said. “Would he slaughter one of his own family?”

“To be honest, there’s been something nipping at the back of my mind regarding his second wife,” she said over her shoulder. “Who has a fatal heart attack at forty years of age?”

“Someone who has an unhealthy lifestyle?” Balin offered as he leaned on the desk across from the trio.

She shook her head. “The chances are minute. Too minute to consider, given that all three wives are dead,” she replied. “Something about it stinks.”

Thranduil pursed his full mouth as he considered what she’d said. “I assume an autopsy was carried out?”

Gandalf shook his head. “I am unaware at present. However, I shall endeavour to find out for you. If there was, nothing flagged as suspicious, else he would not have continued working under contract. One hint of anything untoward, and he would’ve been dismissed.”

Talia snorted softly. “Yeah…I know how fast and abrupt that goes,” she muttered. “Balin, can you run some further checks on this Cornelius dude? I’ll send what I have to your email.”

“Of course,” the small man replied. “I should have something pretty soon.” He straightened his back and headed back to his own desk in the corner.

“Are you ever going to stop conveying such blatant disgust for this poor guy’s name?” Thranduil quipped.

“Nope. How does someone with Italian heritage end up being blood related to someone with Russian heritage?” Her seat swung round as she glared at her husband. “Talk about Heinz fifty seven varieties…”

He chuckled. “People do not necessarily mate with those from their own country, my darling,” he answered. “You should know this.” He tapped in his password and began manoeuvring through his laptop programmes.

“Given that they are uncle and nephew, I would surmise that Saruman’s sister must have married someone from Italian stock,” Gandalf put in.

“I didn’t even know he had a sister,” she grumbled.

“My dear, there would seem to be a lot that we do not know, as yet,” he reminded her. “I will remove all restriction to your access. However – be extremely careful with what you learn and how you utilise that knowledge.”

“As always,” she replied, and watched him head out of the room. Dark blue eyes settled on the blonde at her side. “I’m going to go and see Tasha for a wee while.”

He nodded with a glance in her direction. “Ok, sweetheart. I’ll still be here when you get back. Give her a kiss from me.”

Her gaze shifted to the Durinson brothers, as Kili tossed a box of pens towards Fili, following the missile’s trajectory. The thing bounced off the back of the older brother’s head, burst open, and sent pens scattering in every direction, followed by the usual outburst of yelling and name-calling.

“I will,” she said, and leaned towards him to kiss him. “Love you. Won’t be long.”

“Love you too. And take your time. Enjoy a break with her,” he told her.

She rose to her feet and left the room, avoiding the two who were entangled with each other in a brawl on the floor.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

 

Talia squinted against the brightness of the sun peeking over the top of the building a few hundred yards away. She took a last draw of her cigarette and stubbed it out.

“You appear to be taking up the habit more and more these days,” a velvet voice said behind her.

She turned, greeting Thranduil with a warm smile. “Yes, I do, don’t I?” she said. “I need to think about quitting again.”

He stepped towards her, and Tasha immediately reached for her.

“Dada,” the little one said with a gap-toothed grin.

“No, not Dada. Mama,” she corrected as she took her into her arms. “Say Mama.”

“Dada.”

“Mama.”

“Dada.”

“I give up,” she muttered. “You look tired, baby. Are you ok?” Her eyebrows came down in a slight frown of concern as she studied her husband.

He nodded and rubbed his hand along his jaw. “I am just worried,” he admitted. Exhausted eyes met hers.

“I get you,” she said softly. “Try to stay strong, babe. That’s the only advice I can offer right now. If he’s out there, we’ll find him and bring him home. I promise.”

His eyes closed as he leaned towards her, pressing a lingering kiss to her forehead. “I know, sweetheart. I know. I’m just…drained. We have no leads, no witnesses, nothing. The fingerprints all came up a blank. The bloods that were lifted from the house came up with nothing. I don’t know what to do.”

“What does your gut tell you?” she asked.

Tasha had stilled in her mother’s arms, almost as if she’d sensed that it was a difficult topic.

“My gut tells me that Bard is alive and fighting with everything that he has,” he replied. “We’ve been partners for years. I know how he thinks, how he operates. He will not have given up – it’s not in his nature.”

She nodded as she exhaled through her nose. “Cops’ instinct kicking in,” she said. “We all have it.”

Troubled ice blue eyes turned and swept the horizon. “It’s been too long. If they were holding him as leverage, surely we would have had contact by now.”

“Maybe not. If we’re right and it is Saruman’s doing, he’s a complete psychopath. It would take a shrink to get inside his head to unravel what’s going on in there. And I don’t know his background enough to attempt it,” she said. “I can only go on what Gandalf’s told us, and what I’ve found digging through old archived files. He has quite an impressive kill list, I have to admit.”

His eyes turned back to hers, and one eyebrow lifted.

“If his explosives didn’t take out his targets, he did it manually,” she told him. “Up close and personal. Quite brutal in his methods, too.”

“Care to elaborate?”

Thankful that their daughter was too young to understand, she continued. “One of his hits was found with the tongue hacked out,” she said. “He was investigated, and denied it. Said it must’ve been done afterwards by some bums. Produced a thousand different reasons why he wouldn’t have done it. Another had their eyes gouged out. Again, denial. The Agency kept him in on a close rein after that.”

He closed his eyes and turned away slightly. “So he has a penchant for torturing and disfiguring his targets,” he murmered. “That does not bode well for Bard.”

“You can’t let yourself think like that, babe, please listen to me,” she said. Her hand settled on his inner elbow as she turned him back to face her. “You need to distance yourself as much as you can, emotionally, otherwise this will fuck you over and finish you. Trust me – I know what I’m talking about. When emotions get too strong, that’s when things go pear shaped.”

He studied the dark blue eyes that were pleading for him to pay heed, and he could almost see her thoughts. “I had to find out your true identity sooner or later,” he told her, his voice soft. “You promised me at the time that you were going to tell me even if I hadn’t discovered your reason for being in my life.”

“And I would have. I couldn’t stand the guilt any longer; it was eating away at me and making me ill. I was being physically sick, I was crying whenever I was alone, I was stressed out of my head,” she said. “But fate stepped in and I fucked up before I found the courage to tell you. That’s what I mean when I say that things can go wrong when emotions are tied into situations like this.”

A gentle hand caressed her cheek. “I wish I could take away the pain you went through,” he whispered. “I only wish that it could’ve been easier, on both of us. Both of us suffered so much, and we could have avoided that.”

“Which is exactly why we both need to have our professional heads on all the time until we bring Bard home,” she said, gazing up into his eyes. The ice blue seemed to drag her into their depths. “If we don’t, we risk making a huge mistake somewhere along the line.”

Slowly nodding, he sighed quietly and pressed his lips to hers. “I know. I’m going to meet with Thorin…are you coming with me?”

She shook her head as she shifted Tasha to her hip. “I want to spend the morning with the little one,” she said. “I feel like I’m neglecting her these past few days, and she doesn’t deserve that. Besides – the guys could do with a break. They’ve been fantastic with her lately.”

A warm smile lit up his face. “They’re really good with her,” he acknowledged. “And she has the legendary Oropherion charm.”

Talia laughed and gently shoved him. “Charm, my arse,” she laughed. “Go on. Have your meeting, and we’ll catch you for lunch later.”

He gave her another kiss, before heading out of the room they’d been allocated to meet with his Captain.

*****

Tasha screamed and giggled hysterically as Talia pressed her face against the youngster’s stomach and grumbled like a bear. Little arms and legs flailed in all directions, and her tiny form wriggled to escape the tickling sensation. Her mother yelped as a fist tangled itself in her long hair.

“Goddammit!” she grunted as she pulled up a little and tried to free herself.

“Having fun?” a voice quipped, and she turned as best she could to see Legolas and Tauriel.

“Oh yeah…loving every second of this,” she retorted. “She’s got the grip of – oww! – a damned boa constrictor!”

He chuckled as he lowered himself to his knees beside them on the carpet, and gently prised his sister’s fingers open to release the hair. “She definitely has a thing for everyone’s hair,” he remarked. A laugh made his eyes crease as she screeched in protest at him. “Hey, hey…any more of that, and I will not be letting you sit on my back like a donkey, like we did yesterday.”

Tauriel laughed as Tasha’s wide blue eyes gazed up at him in sheer innocence.

“Dada,” she said.

Talia held her hands up and scrambled to her feet. “I swear, if anybody heard this kid, they’d think I’d slept with every fella this side of Saturn!” She turned to her step son and his girlfriend. “What are you guys planning on doing this afternoon?”

“Well, I had a very interesting talk with Gandalf earlier,” Legolas answered as he hoisted his sister onto his knee and bounced her gently. “He’s going to let me have a go in the shooting range.”

“Wow – consider yourself honoured,” she said in surprise. “He’s really tribal about who gets in there. This is the first time I’ve heard of anyone who’s not an Agent getting in.”

“I think it’s perhaps a case of not what you know, but more of who you know,” Tauriel put in. “If it wasn’t for you, he would never have offered.”

“He speaks very highly of you,” he added with a nod. “And Dad. But more you. He seems to think you’re like an Earth-bound Angel or something.”

Tasha sniggered. “Nope, not me. My horns are too prominent to be a heavenly being. A demon maybe, but not an Angel.”

The redhead at her side laughed heartily. “Oh my – I have heard so much about you,” she said. “I was really wary of meeting you, to be truthful. I don’t know what I expected, but you’re an honest, down-to-earth person. I think you’re a fantastic mother, and the connection between you and Thranduil is so tight. It’s truly amazing."

“I don’t exactly go around wearing t-shirts that advertise what I did for a living,” she replied with a smile. “But even so – I’m human underneath all that. I hurt, I bleed, and I care, just like everyone else. Just because I’m good at ending lives doesn’t necessarily make me a bad person.”

“From what Dad’s told me, no – you aren’t. I’d say the opposite,” Legolas said, his eyes serious. He turned to his girlfriend. “Talia was tasked with protecting my father from assassins when a contract was taken out on him,” he explained. “And she saved his life several times.” His eyes turned back to his step-mother. “And I’ll always love you for that. And for bringing this little cherub into the world.” A smile shone in Tasha’s direction, who goo’d in response and yanked a handful of his hair.

“Here, let me,” Tauriel offered, and took the little one from him. “I think you and I should have some girl time while your big brother goes off to play with the boys’ toys,” she told her. “What do you think? Soft ball?”

Tasha gurgled and wriggled excitedly in her arms.

“Well in that case, I think I’ll catch up with my husband, and see what he’s achieved with his meeting with Thorin,” Talia decided. “I’m hoping that there’s a breakthrough on the horizon; this has been dragging on for far too long now. Something has to give.”

“Let’s hope so. Bard’s always been part of the family,” Legolas stated. “Dad must be going through hell right now.”

“He is,” she said, and left the room with a nod in his direction and a kiss on her daughter’s cheek. The closed doors of other rooms which had been allocated to the team as accommodation passed her as she jogged along the maze of hallways. A thought flitted through her mind that she hadn’t seen any of her colleagues from the precinct, but disappeared as she made her way towards where they usually congregated to work.

The large open plan room was deserted.

She frowned, and put her hands on her hips. Where the hell was everybody?

“Thranduil?” she called. “Thranduil? Thorin?”

Silence.

“What the fuck..?” she murmered as her eyes roved every nook and cranny. She shook her head and turned up the stairwell to Gandalf’s office, which was situated a few floors up. Taking a deep breath, she knocked sharply on the door.

“Enter,” a gruffly voice commanded, and she peeped around the door. “Talia! My dear…I am surprised to see you here!”

She stepped into the room and closed the door behind her. “Uh…ok,” she said with a laugh. “I do live here temporarily, remember? On your suggestion?”

His eyes crinkled as he laughed. “No, I did not mean that,” he told her. “I meant I thought you would have left with the others.”

“Where is everybody? This place is like a mortuary. There isn’t a live body in sight.” She walked over to his desk and leaned one hip against the edge, folding her arms. “Has everybody jumped ship or something?”

“I am surprised that your husband did not find you and take you along with him,” he replied. “Particularly given the urgency of the situation.”

Her brow creased as she frowned. “What situation?”

Bright blue eyes stared at her. “Oh dear,” he murmered.

She straightened her back and unfolded her arms. “What situation?” she repeated. “What are you talking about, Gandalf?”

He sighed and slid his cell phone across the polished desk towards her, which she eyed with suspicion. “A call came through not half an hour ago,” he told her. “One which I recorded, and you may just find the conversation to be of interest.”

Dark blue eyes narrowed in deep suspicion, and she slowly leaned over the device. Hitting the play icon, she sat one butt cheek on the desk and re-folded her arms.

“One would be tempted to say an old adversary,” an unknown voice said. “The passage of time has soured many a memory of our exploits of the past.”

“I would say there are no memories worth holding on to,” Gandalf’s gravelly voice replied. “Although you seem focused on creating new ones in recent times.”

“The detectives interfering in such matters which do not concern them have brought this upon themselves,” the voice responded. “If they had let the simple matter of a driving misdemeanour pass, then things would not have escalated as they have.”

“One of the detectives’ homes was destroyed in a bomb blast, Saruman,” Gandalf pointed out.

Talia’s eyes shot up to meet her ex boss’s.

“That was a mere warning. Yet one that he did not take, and continued to pursue me,” the voice said. A regretful sigh sounded. “If only people would pay attention to the signs before them, they might not meet such terrible fates.”

“Where is the other detective?” Gandalf demanded.

“Why are you so sure that I have him?”

“I know you, and I know how you operate,” he shot back. “I also know that you have kept him alive, and that you intend to use that fact to your advantage. Where is he?”

“I do not have to tell you anything. But this I will tell you,” Saruman said. “Get the police off my back and out of my business, and they may yet see the return of their beloved colleague. If not, then he will die as surely as the sun rises each morning. Neither their presence nor their interest is required.”

“While their colleague remains missing, they will not back off.”

“Then that will be both their undoing, and his. I will not be held responsible for their inept and clumsy handling of the situation. The detective’s fate rests in their hands, and their ability – or lack of – to leave me in peace.”

A silence lulled into the conversation.

Talia breathed slowly and silently as she concentrated on the recording.

“Let me speak to him,” Gandalf said eventually. “Give me proof that he is still alive, and I will see what I can do.”

“I do not owe you anything! If truth be told, you are the one who owes me!” Saruman’s voice rose in anger. “You wish to speak with him? Then you shall do so!”

Clattering and banging could be heard, followed by scuffing noises and grunts of pain. Saruman’s voice muttered something in the background, too low and muffled for her to decipher.

“Thranduil? Thorin?” Bard’s breathless voice echoed.

“There you have it – proof that he breathes!” Saruman rasped, back on the line clear again. “Now you live up to your end of the deal and dispose of the plague that infests my time and efforts!”

A loud bang followed.

“I promise you, Gandalf…if they do not back off, he will die,” he said. “And it will not be a pretty sight to behold.”

“I will endeavour to do my best,” the reply came. “But do not harm him in the meantime – it would be your undoing.”

A loud click sounded and silence filled the room.

Talia lifted her eyes back to Gandalf, who had remained seated the entire time, watching her every reaction. “So to rephrase my question, where the fuck did everybody go?” she asked.

He sighed and leaned back in his seat, steepling his hands. “We traced the call to a cell tower just west of Targoma,” he told her. “They have headed out to see what they can find.”

Her heart thudded wildly in her chest. “They’ve what?” she demanded incredulously. “Thranduil’s took off on this…this fucking crazy mission and didn’t even tell me?!”

“I…I assumed he would catch you on his way out,” he said in self-defence. “It was all very sudden, and frantic, and rather unorganised as well, I might add. Thorin started barking orders and everyone flew out of the room. I had thought that your husband would…” He trailed off helplessly.

She shifted her weight from the corner of the desk. “No, he didn’t,” she hissed. “I need to listen to that again.” Her head nodded towards the cell phone.

Guarded eyes searched hers for a second, before he reached over and hit play. Once more, the conversation sounded in the otherwise still room. She stood with her head tipped back, staring up at the ceiling above her, not a muscle moving.

Both sides of the exchange could be heard, and Gandalf studied her with interest.

She was working.

She wasn’t listening to the conversation.

She was listening through it.

Her eyes blinked as the loud bang sounded, followed by two further pieces of dialogue, then the click signalling the end of the discussion. Her head lowered and she turned to face him.

“He isn’t west of Targoma,” she said.

“That’s where-“

“I don’t care what your tracking system picked up,” she interrupted, waving a hand to cut him off. “He’s not there. And he’s not stupid. He bounced that cell signal off a hundred different towers with his computer. Don’t underestimate him – he used to be one of us, with an amazing knowledge of engineering and technology.”

Bushy eyebrows came down in a deep frown. “What are you saying?”

“He’s either trying to throw everyone off track, or straight into a trap,” she said. “Can you call everybody back?”

He grabbed his cell and jabbed at the screen. “I will do my utmost in trying to,” he replied, and shoved the phone against his ear.

Talia speed-dialled Thranduil on her own phone, tutting in disgust as it went straight to voice mail. “Typical.” The phone clattered onto the desk. “He’s put it to silent.”

“Oakenshield is not answering his either,” he said.

“You need to recall them, and as fast as you can,” she said. “Are there any free agents around?”

He shook his head. “There are only a small handful, and they are up to their ears in their own work,” he answered regretfully. “Might I suggest-“

“No. I have things to take care of,” she said abruptly as she grabbed her phone and headed for the door. “Just do me a favour – get them back. If nothing else, just please…get them back.”

The door slammed behind her, leaving the old man feeling a little like a tornado was about to be unleashed.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

 

Leaves rustled in the gentle breeze that lifted the ends of Talia’s hair. The warmth flowed over her as she squatted as still as a statue in the undergrowth. Settled into a relaxed frame of mind, her brain was hard at work beneath her cool façade. With no knowledge of the layout of the building in front of her, she was working blind.

And relaxed or not, she was more than a little afraid.

Several calls and text messages to Thranduil had gone unanswered, his voicemail picking up each time she had dialled through. Frustration, anger, and worry all vied for top ranking in her head, but she forcefully shoved them aside and focused on what she was doing.

A gentle vibration in her pocket drew her attention and she noiselessly slid her phone out. She tapped the screen, to see a text from Gandalf.

All accounted for, and returning to base.

Her eyes lifted back to the building as she closed the message off and pocketed the phone. He would see that she’d seen it, but would surely have the sense and hindsight not to follow his message with anything else. Her knees were beginning to ache with her stationary position, and she shuffled around a little to increase blood flow. Subtle noises drifting in the breeze wafted their way towards her, her mind automatically categorising every sound.

A song thrush in a tree approximately twenty yards away.

The receding whine of an engine; probably a pick-up by the sound of it.

A dog barking a couple of fields away.

A scuffling as a squirrel shot up a tree to her right, in search of something to eat.

Dark blue eyes blinked lazily, and she took a deep but silent breath.

And waited.

One eyebrow lifted after some time as a lone figure came into her line of vision. Hunched and stooped over a little, the relatively tall, slim male was dressed from head to foot in shabby grey clothing. Long grey hair was tied back into a loose ponytail, and his beard looked shaggy and unkempt. She watched as he headed over to his car; a luxury Jaguar model. His walking stick aided him with climbing into the vehicle, and he pulled it in beside himself as he closed the door.

A sleek purr from the engine registered somewhere in the back of her mind, but she didn’t move. Her intense gaze followed the car as he slowly drove it away from the building, exiting the heavy gates at the end of the driveway.

A few minutes passed.

The branches parted as she cautiously pressed between them and left her concealed observation spot. Looming tall and imposing, the building in front of her seemed to emit an intimidating aura.

She mentally shrugged it off, convinced that her hunch was correct. Soft footsteps carried her around the perimeter, staying close to the brickwork. One hand rested comfortably on the grip of her Sig P226, which was tucked into her waistband. The other trailed along the wall as she moved.

Nothing in her line of vision provided any route inside the building, and she knew without a doubt the heavy double wooden doors would be locked. Nevertheless, she hadn’t come unprepared. A thin screwdriver slid from her back pocket and she carefully wedged it into the partially rotted wooden frame of a single glazed window pane. The surround started to splinter as she wiggled the tool back and forth in short, rapid movements, until it finally spat out a dislodged piece.

She smiled, and began working her way up the side.

It was a relatively small window, and didn’t take her long to eradicate the framework. The glass lifted out without any resistance, and she set it on the ground so that it was leaning against the brickwork. A soft grunt sounded as she hoisted herself through the gap, where she paused, balanced on the concrete ledge as she scanned the room.

She dropped silently to the floor below, satisfied that she was alone. Gloomy stillness surrounded her, but she didn’t mind it. The solitude and lack of noise allowed her to concentrate, and she weighed up her options as she approached the doorway. A quick peek down the hall verified that the hallway was empty, and she instinctively crept towards the massive stairway that wound up in a curve to the upper floor. Her feet didn’t make a sound as she climbed. Her eyes roved constantly as she moved, taking in every detail and absorbing everything around her.

Saruman liked his museum pieces. Full-sized models of soldiers in full armour were placed strategically at various points. A life-sized horse decked out for battle stood proudly in the centre of an unfurnished room, and she shook her head slightly as she passed.

Each to their own.

She came to a surprised halt at the end of the polished floor of the hall and eyed the figure before her. A wizard, complete with pointed hat, stared unseeingly back at her, a staff held in one hand with a glass orb at the end.

Thinking the world had finally gone utterly mental, she ignored the model and quietly tried each door. A quick glance in each room told her that there were no occupants.

Her heart skipped a beat as she opened one particular door and came face to face with the grand piano, and she clenched her teeth. Was this instrumental in Cornelius’s death? Now wasn’t the time to find out. That could come later. There were more important things to do, and grabbing samples of piano wire wasn’t one of them.

Advancing up the steps to the next floor, she went through the ritual of checking each room as she had on the floor below.

As she opened the third door, she stopped and let out an involuntary gasp. “Bard!”

The figure huddled in the corner lifted his head, and Bard’s brown eyes met hers. “Talia!” he whispered, shocked. “Talia, what are you doing here?? Is Thran with you?”

She slid the door back over and hurried towards him. “No. He’s off on a wild goose-chase,” she answered, and sank to her knees on the cold floor beside him. The combat knife hidden in her sock came in handy as she hacked through the thick rope binding his wrists at his back. “Are you alright? Are you injured? Can you move?”

He nodded. “I’m sore and stiff, but I can move,” he said. “Where’s Saruman?”

“Gone out. We have to move fast. I don’t know how long he’ll be, and I lost time getting in,” she replied as she bounced to her feet after freeing his from more restraints. “Come on. We need to get out of here, now.”

He gripped her arm as she helped him to stand, and balanced after wobbling a little.

She frowned as she studied him. “Has he even fed you?”

“A little,” he said. “Christ – I feel dizzy.”

“Lean on me,” she instructed, and slung his arm over her shoulder. Her arm wound around his waist and she hurried him over to the door, half dragging his weight.

“You should call Thran,” he wheezed.

“No time. I’ll call him once we’re clear,” she answered. Her head whipped from side to side as they stumbled out into the hallway. Bard groaned in pain as he struggled to keep up with her. “I know you’re suffering, but please…give it everything you’ve got – I can’t take all your weight. Once we’re out, that’s different, but I need your help to get out of here.”

“I know, I’m trying,” he gasped. Beads of sweat covered his forehead as he panted hard. “Shit…this is agony…”

She guided him down the two sets of stairs and along to where she’d broken in. “This isn’t gonna be easy,” she warned him as they came to a halt by the window. “But we have no choice. He could be back any minute, and we need to be gone.”

He nodded. “I know, I know. I can do it.” A deep grunt of pain ripped from him as he levered himself through the space.

“What’s wrong with your arm?” she whispered urgently.

“I think my shoulder is dislocated,” he managed. “Oh fuck…fuck fuck fuck…” He groaned a long, low sound as he clasped his left hand to his right shoulder. “Gaddammit…”

Talia heaved herself through the window and lowered herself to the grass beside him. “Come on. The sooner we put some distance between us and this place, the sooner I can call Thranduil to come and pick us up. I’m not going to risk pulling him onto the property, and-“

Her words were cut off as a bullet whizzed past, embedding itself in the wall between both of them. They looked at one another in astonishment.

“Run!” she yelled, and linked her arm through his. The pair ducked and stumbled their way alongside the wall, with two more bullets hitting far too close for comfort.

“Shit!” Bard grunted. “That’s not Saruman!”

Her eyes narrowed as she threw a glance over her shoulder, catching sight of a dark figure aiming at them. “I know that fucking dickhead,” she snarled. “Son of a bitch…”

Gravel crunched underfoot as they ran towards the shelter of the trees, with Bard putting every ounce of strength he had into making the journey. The foliage closed around them as they hurtled into the woods and dived forwards.

“Keep going!” she urged, panting for breath. He wasn’t a lightweight by any means, and she was tiring rapidly as she did her best to help him along. More bullets zipped past, smashing lumps of bark into the air as they hit the trees around them.

“Now might be a good time to call Thran!” he shouted as he ducked underneath low-hanging boughs.

“Let’s get onto a safe zone first!” she shouted back. Her arm stung as she held it up to barge her way through the undergrowth, with branches and plants whipping against her flesh.

“This way,” he said as he dragged her to his right. “There’s a clearing up ahead…I can hear water.”

“That’ll make us an open target!” she argued, but followed him.

The woodlands began to thin out as they hurried, gradually opening out onto a waterfall which pounded down over a rocky cliff face. They stopped, gasping for breath as they looked at each other.

“We can make it,” he said with a determined nod. He spun away from her and began sliding down the muddy embankment at the side of the rapidly-flowing water.

She quickly followed as her sharp ears picked up shouts from behind them.

Stones scraped her arms and ripped at her legs as she slid down at his back. The mud helped their descent, and they gained speed as they plummeted towards the ground far below. The water spray drenched the two of them and made it difficult to breathe in the mist.

Bard hit a solid outcrop of rocks first, coming to a sudden stop with an oof. She crashed onto her butt beside him with a yelp.

“Holy shit,” she exclaimed. “You owe me some new clothes, mister!”

He laughed as he pushed himself to his feet. “Almost there,” he said, and dropped down further as he moved off the rocks.

She grimaced as she too rose to stand.

The next thing she knew, she crashed back down onto one knee with a scream, her hands automatically gripping her right thigh. “Bastard!” she screamed. Without even thinking, she spun round on her dominant knee, yanked the Sig from her waistband and took aim. Four rapid shots burst from the weapon, then silence.

The figure standing at the top of the waterfall stared down at her with a look of sheer astonishment. The red hole in the middle of his forehead began to leak blood. He teetered for a few seconds, then toppled over the edge.

The body landed with a splash just a few feet below them.

Bard’s eyes met hers with a look of uncertainty and concern. “Talia?”

Her weight fell forwards onto both hands as she heaved air into her lungs. Releasing the grip of her weapon, she collapsed onto her stomach and rolled over onto her back. She panted heavily as she brought her phone into her line of vision, desperate to connect with her husband.

He answered on the first ring.

“Thranduil,” she gasped. “Thranduil, I’m in trouble…I need you.”

*****

Thranduil kept a controlled mask over his features as he slammed on the brakes and brought Thorin’s car to a skidding halt. Gravel crunched beneath his feet as he leapt out and slammed the door. He took off at a run, with Thorin following close behind.

“Did Talia give you her exact location?” he asked as he caught up with his detective.

“She said she was at the base of ClearView Falls,” he answered. “What she didn’t say was what the hell she’s doing there. The falls are only about half a mile from Saruman’s property.”

“No doubt we’ll find out soon enough,” Thorin grunted as he began to breathe heavier.

Thranduil delved into the woods and crashed a path through the undergrowth in the direction of the falls. His instinct screamed at him that his wife had been up to no good, but she sounded strained as she’d spoken her few brief sentences. She’d only said that she was in trouble, needed him, and couldn’t make her way out onto the road by herself. Panic raced through his bloodstream; his mind turned over a thousand different things she could have managed to entangle herself in.

“Thran! Over here!” a familiar voice yelled.

He stumbled as he drew up short. Thorin crashed against his back.

“Bard?” he whispered. “Bard?! What..? Shit…” He jumped down onto the smooth, flat rocks and leapt from one to the other across the water to the opposite bank. “Bard! Jesus…”

His partner looked pale and a little shaken, but otherwise healthy as he carefully stood and threw one arm around him on approach. “We need to move, Thran,” he said urgently, and tilted his head towards the grass behind him. “Be careful with Talia. She’s been shot.”

Thranduil gasped and released his partner, moving swiftly to her and dropping to his knees at her side. “Talia? Talia, sweetheart?”

Thorin caught up with them and grabbed Bard in a bear hug, earning himself a torrent of muffled cursing over his arm.

“Baby…can you hear me?” Gentle fingers swept her hair away from her ashen face as her eyes opened. “Oh thank God…where are you hurt?”

“My leg,” she gasped. “He shot me in the back of my right leg. I can’t stop the bleeding…”

String arms slid underneath her and lifted her against his chest. “Put your arm around me,” he told her, and rose to his feet. His captain and partner had already taken the first few careful steps across the fast-flowing water, and he followed. Talia slid her left arm up over his shoulders and leaned her face against his neck.

“I’m just glad you’re ok,” she said softly.

“I will be once you have been seen to,” he answered as he stepped from rock to rock. “I’ll be happier once you’re receiving medical attention, and not before.”

She wrinkled her nose against the spray from the falls as they reached the banking, and relaxed against him again. Determined steps carried them through the woodlands back out onto the gravelled parking spot.

“I’ll get the doors,” Thorin stated, and whipped one of the rear doors open. He helped Bard settle inside and flew around the car to open the other.

Thranduil carefully lowered her onto the seat with the gentleness that he would give to a new born baby. She turned so that her weight was more on her left side, and her injured leg was lifted from the seat. Exhausted eyes met his as he leaned over her and fastened her seat belt, and he hesitated.

“Stay with me, little kitty,” he whispered, and dropped a light kiss onto her mouth. The car door closed and the two men climbed into the front. Within seconds, they were pulling away with a screech of tyres.

*****

Thranduil scowled as his eyes remained on the attending doctor’s gloved hands. Talia squirmed and groaned in pain every time he touched her, and the medic was becoming irritated.

“Mrs Oropherion, if you cannot remain still, I cannot carry out this procedure,” he said in a frustrated tone.

“Hey.”

The doctor looked up at him.

“My wife is in severe pain,” Thranduil said coldly. “Maybe if you gave her something for it, you would be able to do your job.”

Heaving a sigh of resignation, the doctor nodded to a nurse who stood to one side, and she handed him a syringe. “Just a little jab, Mrs Oropherion.”

Talia’s head rolled to one side and she reached towards her husband. His warm hand found hers and his fingers clasped tightly.

“It’s going to be ok, my darling,” he whispered, and lowered himself to squat next to the bed, bringing himself down to eye level with her. “Just relax. I’m not leaving your side.”

Her eyes became slightly glazed as he stared into them, and he knew that the fast-acting opioid they’d injected was having an immediate effect.

“How long will this take?” he demanded, and the doctor flinched under his ice blue gaze.

“No longer than fifteen minutes, providing she remains still,” he replied, working quickly. The impressively tall blonde was making him extremely nervous. “Just a little wound debridement, cleaning it out, and applying a bandage or two. I’ll prescribe antibiotics as a precaution; it’s standard procedure after a gunshot wound.”

The cold blue eyes shifted from him, and he concentrated on relaxing as he went about his task.

“I really wish to know why you did what you did, but we will talk later,” Thranduil said softly, speaking to Talia. “But thankyou for bringing Bard back.”

A faint smile was her reply, and her eyes closed. “Please stay with me,” she whispered.

“I promise,” he replied, also in a whisper. “I’ll never leave you.”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER NINETEEN

 

Talia winced slightly but made an effort to keep her pain under control. Thranduil’s ice blue eyes shifted from her arm to hers, then back again. Careful, gentle hands dabbed at the multitude of cuts and scratches, cleaning dirt and gravel away, and applying an antiseptic cream.

“Are you ok?” he asked, after a few minutes.

She nodded, breathing deeply through her nose.

He stopped and tilted his head slightly. “You lie badly, sweetheart.”

“It has to be done,” she replied. Her eyes misted slightly. “Thankyou for doing this.”

“Doing what?”

“Taking care of me. Looking after me. Coming for me when I needed you,” she said.

Again, his hands stilled. “Talia, I would walk through dragon fire for you. I would go to the ends of the earth for you. I would kill for you, die for you. And you think that I need a thankyou for answering your call for help..?” His voice rose slightly at the end, almost in disbelief. “Why the hell would you think that?”

Her cheeks turned pink as she lowered her gaze. “I thought you’d be angry with me,” she admitted.

He sighed, and tipped his head back to stare at the ceiling as he gathered his thoughts. “I was not angry,” he said. His voice was quiet. His head lowered again as he looked at her. “I was furious. I knew when I arrived back here to find you gone that you’d taken off on a hunch, following something in your head that only you could make sense of. What exacerbated that fury is that you went alone.”

She scowled. “You’re the one who took off on a whim halfway across the city,” she reminded him. “And you didn’t even make the effort to tell me or give me the chance to go with you. How d’you think that made me feel?”

A short silence followed.

“I apologise for that,” he said. “Gandalf took the call from Saruman, his techs triangulated in on a location and we just dropped everything to go and find Bard. I know that makes me look like I abandoned you, but you were busy with Tasha, and we literally just took off. I honestly did not mean to hurt or anger you, I promise.”

“I know,” she sighed. Her head rolled towards him and he leaned down so that his head rested against hers. “Deep down inside, I know this. But I knew as soon as I listened to the call that you guys were on a road to nowhere.”

She shifted slightly as Thorin came into view over Thranduil’s shoulder. “How did you know?” he asked.

Stretching her legs out along the length of the comfortable sofa, she closed her eyes against the stinging sensation as her husband resumed cleaning the abrasions on her arm. “Just before he hung up, Saruman slammed something.”

Thorin nodded. “Yes, like a door or something.”

She shook her head. “It wasn’t a door. It was the lid of the piano; the part that covers the keys when it’s not being used.”

His eyebrows dropped with speed in his confusion. “How do you know that? It sounded like a door. Definitely a door.”

“No it wasn’t. I listened to it a second time, and the way he slammed it down, you can hear the very faint tinkle of piano wires from the vibration,” she replied. Her eyes opened and she looked up at him. “I knew he had Bard in the house.”

The Captain’s gaze met Thranduil’s, the two of them sharing a slightly sheepish look at the fact that everyone had overlooked a relatively simple thing, and had rushed off without scrutinizing what they’d heard.

“It’s an easy mistake to make, and given that the call was traced to a cell tower miles in the opposite direction, why would you question that?” she pointed out. “The guy might be a madman, but he’s an exceptionally clever madman. He has an extensive knowledge of all things technical and knows how to manipulate things to his advantage. Don’t stress over him pulling the wool over your eyes.”

“I’m surprised they didn’t clean you up in the hospital,” Thorin said gruffly, in an attempt to deflect the subject a little. Part of him felt guilty for taking off chasing down a lead that was worthless, while she had paid attention and ended up with a 9mm bullet hole for her efforts.

Thranduil smiled as he worked. “She wouldn’t let them,” he said. A soft cloth soaked in warm water dabbed with tender care over her torn, shredded skin. “They were lucky they managed to clean the gunshot wound without her biting them.”

“No wonder,” she huffed. Her head remained leaning on his shoulder, and the warmth of his body seeped into her with a comforting peace. “Bloody stupid doctor was an incompetent pain in the arse.”

“Ok, I’m going to leave you to it, and go check on Bard,” Thorin decided. “The last I saw of him, Bombur was force-feeding him deep fried chicken. I’d better make sure he’s still in the land of the living and not in some chicken-induced coma somewhere.”

The couple laughed.

“See ya soon, Thorin,” she called as he walked away. Her free hand settled on Thranduil’s thigh, and she relaxed.

“You haven’t told me yet who you dropped down the falls,” he said after a short while. “I think that’s all clean and fixed as best I can do.” His fingers trailed down her arm as she moved it to lay it across her stomach.

“I dropped the guy who shot me,” she answered.

He glanced at her as he placed unused band aids back into the medical supplies box and closed the lid. “And his name was..?”

“What makes you think I knew him? I don’t introduce myself and exchange particulars with everybody I shoot. Just some of them.” A cheeky grin followed.

He turned back to face her and studied her. “Bard told me you recognised him,” he informed her.

Silence.

“It was Allan,” she said finally.

The look in his eyes changed to thunder. “Allan? Allan who?”

She opened her mouth to speak, but didn’t get the chance.

“Allan from here?!” Fury radiated from him as he stood, and she sank back against the back of the sofa. “How in the name of fuck did he end up involved in all this? Where the fuck is Gandalf…I want some answers…” The chair he’d been sitting on shot across the floor as he stormed out of the room.

Talia heaved a sigh and closed her eyes.

A few minutes passed before she reluctantly heaved herself into a sitting position and swung her feet to the floor. Pain sliced through her thigh as she stood and slowly hobbled out of the room, heading in whichever direction her irate husband had disappeared to. Guessing that he’d cornered Gandalf in his office, she gingerly made her way up the stairs and along the top floor.

Angry exclamations sounded from inside the room as she approached.

“This is bullshit, and you know it!” Thranduil thundered. “You promised that arsehole was a million miles away in some God-forsaken place nobody has even heard of, yet he puts a bullet in my wife?!”

“I understand your frustra-“

No! You do not!” he shouted. “She has been through enough because of that bastard, we as a couple have been through enough! Why the hell weren’t we told that he was back on the scene?!”

“Baby,” she said softly as she settled a hand on his back. “Calm down.”

Anger blazed from ice blue eyes as he swirled around to glare down at her. The pleading look in the dark blue ones that gazed back at him instantly doused the flames. His chest heaved as he breathed hard, furious beyond comprehension that the person who’d single-handedly almost destroyed him and managed to damage Talia’s grip on her emotions, had tried and almost ended her life by shooting her.

“You should not be up and walking around,” he said gruffly. “Sit down, come on.” A gentle hand turned her and guided her to the chair sat to one side of Gandalf’s desk.

She winced as she carefully lowered her weight down into it, gripping the arms tightly.

“I apologise for not having the heads-up on Allan’s location,” Gandalf told them. His hands folded together on top of the desk. “I sent him into the deepest wildlands I could find in Southern Africa, and truly thought that would be the last we would ever see or hear from him. I had no idea he was even back in the country, let alone involved with Saruman and his antics.”

“I believe you,” she replied, to be met with an angry look from her irate husband. “What? He’s never lied to me before. I seriously doubt he’s going to start now.”

His jaw clenched as his glare shifted to the unit boss. “This is unacceptable,” he growled. “The damage that he caused-“

“I understand,” Gandalf interrupted as he held one hand up apologetically. “Unfortunately his name wasn’t on any government watch list, so I was not informed of his arrival back to this country. Otherwise, I would have taken the necessary precautions to keep him well away from both of you.”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s all over and done with, and he can’t do us any more damage,” Talia said dismissively.

“My concern right now is exactly what was his connection with Saruman? This mystery deepens more and more with each passing day,” he pondered.

“Can we obtain a warrant for the house?” Thranduil questioned.

“Given the fact that Bard was held there, against his will, I would assume that a judge would sign one no problem,” Gandalf replied. “However…I am tempted to send in a team of agents on the basis that any evidence we need to build the case of kidnapping is in that property.” A meaningful look was sent in his direction.

“Oh no,” she said as the penny dropped. “You are not going in there without me. Not a snowball’s chance in hell. Forget it, Blondie. Not a chance.”

“Put your claws away,” Thranduil responded. “Nobody mentioned me going anywhere.”

She shifted her upper body so she was facing him. “You seem to forget one fact here. I know him-“ she jabbed a finger towards Gandalf. “-and how he thinks. I know what that look meant, and the fucking answer’s no. I’m not letting you go without me.”

The older man seated behind the desk tried in vain to smother his snigger of amusement, and she whipped her head round to glare at him. His face instantly straightened.

The blonde sighed and folded his arms. “I do not remember having to ask for your permission, little kitty.”

“Don’t even start thinking that pet names are gonna get you out of this one,” she threatened. “I have an amazing memory, and I distinctly recall you saying that we work together. Do you? I can name the place, the time, what you were wearing. Can you?”

His mouth opened to respond, but she beat him to it.

“We were in the warehouse, and I’d just broken the neck of the guy who had a gun on you,” she said. “It was late morning. And you were wearing dark blue jeans and a grey shirt. Don’t fuck with me on this.”

Gandalf’s amused gaze flicked between the two having a face-off.

Thranduil huffed. “You are not in a fit state to go into that house. You have a gunshot wound. You need to rest and recover fully before you can go traipsing around examining crime scenes,” he told her.

“Bullshit.”

“Talia, I am serious!” Anger infused his tone. “You cannot go.”

“Then neither can you.”

Angry stares locked with each other as the tension in the air became palpable.

“I think that perhaps we should send a different team in,” Gandalf finally said in an effort to ease the fraught atmosphere in the room. “Talia, you know as well as anyone that my agents are highly trained and would cover every single millimetre of that house. If there was anything there, they would find it.”

“But this is personal,” Thranduil spat as he whipped round to face him. “Bard has been my partner for years and years. He’s my best friend. He’s been there through thick and thin, through hell and high water. He was my best man when Talia and I married. He’s Godfather to our daughter. He’s family.”

“I cannot argue with that,” Gandalf sighed. “My dear-“

“I’m going too,” she butted in. “End of discussion.”

Her husband heaved an exaggerated sigh and threw his hands up in defeat. “Goddammit! Did anyone ever tell you that you are the most stubborn, hard-headed, determined ass on the planet?!”

“Yeah, you have, quite a few times,” she replied calmly. “But I’m not going to change my mind, baby. It’s not going to happen.”

A timid knock on the ajar door drew the attention of the three as Bard popped his head into the room.

“Is right now a good time?” he asked.

“Of course! Come in,” Gandalf said encouragingly. Anything to disperse the ongoing  battle of wills between the two warriors before him. “Make yourself comfortable, my friend.”

Bard smiled weakly as he stepped inside and closed the door. He took a deep breath as he turned to face his partner. Thranduil said nothing, but crossed over to him and grabbed him in a bear hug.

Talia swallowed the lump in her throat as she saw the tension and relief between them, saw the slight tremor that shuddered through both Bard and Thranduil.

“It’s good to have you back,” the blonde said as he pulled away, but kept his hands on his friend’s upper arms.

“It’s good to be back, man,” he replied, a coarse quality to his voice. “For a while there, I did not think…” He trailed off.

“We never gave up on you, and we never would have given up,” Thranduil said. “We couldn’t. We knew that you would do whatever you could to survive.”

Bard’s eyes shifted to Talia, who sat silently watching them. “Talia…” he began. “I…” Emotions seemed to get the better of him as he trailed off again, shaking his head.

She pushed herself to her feet and went over to him. Both arms slid around his shoulders as she hugged him tightly. “Sshhh. It doesn’t matter,” she whispered. “You’re here, you’re safe; that’s all that matters. Nothing else.”

Thranduil found himself struggling as he absorbed the scene before him. If it hadn’t been for her, the chances were that he’d never have seen his partner alive again. Saruman was a twisted bastard, and he had no doubts that he would’ve killed him without any hesitation once he’d outlived his usefulness.

“Are you ok?” she asked as she released him. Concern filled her eyes as she searched his. “Have you seen the medic?”

Bard nodded. “Yeah. They did some patching up, covered some cuts and scrapes, and have started me on antibiotics,” he replied. “I think I’ll be able to process things much better when I’ve had a good night’s sleep.” He laughed sheepishly.

“I dare say that it would not be a bad thing to turn in whenever you feel the need,” Gandalf put in. “I certainly would not think about returning to active duty for some time yet. You need time to gather yourself together, to work through things in your mind. Saruman can wait. Your health and wellbeing is a priority.”

“I know things,” he said softly.

Talia and Thranduil exchanged looks.

“What things?” he asked with a slight frown.

Anguished eyes met his over her head. “He’s bringing girls into the country,” he whispered. “Young girls. Girls who are only just legal age and no more. None of them can speak a word of English. They’re terrified, and he’s abusing them left, right, and centre before shipping them off elsewhere to be farmed out. It’s all being operated from that house, Thran. Every single thing is being controlled from there.”

Talia took a silent deep breath. “That explains everything,” she murmered. “There’s an absolute shitload of money to be made from human trafficking, especially in the sex trade. He thinks he’s hit the jackpot.”

Thranduil’s jaw tightened. “What did Allan have to do with it?” he wanted to know.

His partner lowered himself to sit on the edge of Gandalf’s desk and folded his arms. Weariness and exhaustion were clearly etched onto his features. “He was the front-runner,” he told them. “The girls are being brought in from several different countries. Allan was the point of contact for the traders, as it were, in each location.”

“Not any fucking more,” she grunted.

“Baby, please sit down,” Thranduil pleaded softly. “Are the girls being held at the house?” His question was directed to Bard, who shook his head.

“No. Some of them are dropped off there for a few days…I heard so much…I don’t think I will ever forget what I heard…”

Talia halted mid-sit and went back to him, settling an arm across his shoulder as his head lowered. “Gandalf, I think there definitely needs to be some follow-up on this,” she said. “We can’t abandon him to deal with this by himself. Do you still have the support and aftercare team?”

“Of course,” the old man replied instantly. “And believe me when I say that they will most certainly be put to good use. I will not have any officer of the law attempting to deal with such atrocities alone. I shall have someone with him within the hour, I promise.”

She offered him a smile of gratitude.

Thranduil stepped closer and slid an arm across his other shoulder. “We are with you around the clock, day or night,” he assured his partner. “We’ve bounced things off each other for years and years, been one another’s sounding boards. We’ll do it again, and we’ll get you through this.”

“What’s the next move?” Bard asked, lifting his head and gazing up at his partner.

The blonde glanced at Talia then Gandalf.

“We get you fed, watered, and rested,” Gandalf answered. “Try to put everything out of your mind and concentrate on getting some sleep. We will congregate in the morning and throw some ideas around. I am sure between us, with all the experience we have, we will come up with a plan of sorts. Have faith.” A warm smile accompanied his words.

Talia met Thranduil’s eyes, and knew that the worry she could see in the ice blue depths was a mirror image of her own.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWENTY

 

Thranduil slid a concerned glance in Talia’s direction, the worry clear in his eyes as she met his look. His gut was telling him that she should be resting, healing, taking things easy.

Was she hell.

She was crouched just a foot away, resting her weight on her left leg with her hand on her Sig. She reminded him of a big cat waiting to pounce on some unsuspecting prey.

She lifted one eyebrow in silent question, but he looked away again and left it unanswered.

Less than two hours had passed since Bard’s information had been relayed in Gandalf’s office, and everyone on their squad plus a few Agents were assembled at random points around the perimeter of Saruman’s property. None of them spoke, having had a hurried but informative meeting before leaving the unit headquarters. Instructions were clear, boundaries laid down, expectations set out. There was no need to speak or ask questions – everyone knew what they were to do.

A soft whisper of a sigh drifted towards her, and her head turned in her husband’s direction again. Sensing his unsettled frame of mind, she reached over and grasped his hand in her own. His eyes lifted to hers once more and she offered him a small smile before releasing him. Her head turned briefly as Thorin cracked a small twig to catch their attention and pointed forwards. She nodded and rose from her crouching position to slouch forwards.

Thranduil moved silently at her side through the undergrowth.

Saruman had been seen hurrying to his car and speeding off just a few minutes before, and the teams had remained under the cover of the foliage until they knew for sure he had left the premises. Gandalf had two pairs of eyes following him with radio contact at all times, so they stood in good stead to raid the vacant house.

Approaching the building, his Agents had already gained entrance through a carefully but rapidly removed window pane, the same technique Talia had used on her entry. Thranduil wondered briefly why they’d chosen this particular method, but she whispered to him that the doors would be alarmed for sure.

One by one, everybody going inside piled into the house through the window, where he silently helped her to clamber through and settle on her feet. Several officers stayed outside, concealed and alert as they scanned for any signs of danger.

“Ok Bard, we’re in,” Thorin said.

The Detective’s voice crackled back through his earpiece, indistinguishable to those nearby.

“We head up to the second floor,” Thorin said decisively. “He says the computer and his records are up there in the office.”

Talia led the way, knowing the rough layout of the house from her gate-crashing episode the previous day. Thranduil followed close behind her with one hand on her waist. She suspected it was more for his comfort than his, as she was completely focused and neither showed not felt any hint of disturbance.

This was her territory.

This was where she came alive.

The team followed her as she pointed further along the hallway towards a room two doors from the end. Silent feet crept behind her, noiseless in case there was still someone in the building. The door opened to reveal a large, airy workspace.

Highly polished desks were placed at various points. Several laptops and computers hummed quietly in the eerie silence. A ceiling fan whirred almost silently above them. A large aquarium was home to several brightly coloured fish. Potted plants lent a calm, serene atmosphere.

Talia thought it looked more like a doctor’s office than an office in someone’s home. Saruman obviously ran his business efficiently and effectively, and took his work space seriously.

She came to a halt as her eyes scanned the room and the layout. Two fingers signalled to proceed, and the team moved in uniform with her. She made her way straight for the laptop and booted it up.

“Ok Balin, talk me through this,” she said. “It’s looking for a password.”

“You need to jump through that and enter through the bios,” he replied through her earpiece. “Give me a second; I will talk you through it.”

Her fingers moved swiftly over the keypad as she followed his instructions, and Thranduil watched her. He remained less than two feet away from her; tall, imposing, silent, and protective. A small smile of amusement graced her mouth briefly.

A couple of minutes passed. “I’m in,” she said.

“What is on the screen now?” Balin questioned.

“Loads and loads of icons. Dude really needs to tidy this shit up,” she replied. “All those on the desktop just slows the machine right down.”

He laughed in her ear. “Now here comes the tedious and never-ending task of copying the entire computer’s contents onto the memory stick you have,” he joked.

“Yeah…I wonder how I’ll pass the time,” she said dryly as she inserted the stick. “I’m sure I’ll be in my sixties by the time it’s done.”

He cackled. “Modern technology, my dear,” he said. “It should only take a few minutes.”

Her eyes lifted as the screen filled with files flashing past, and landed on Kili. The team had split and were slowly wandering around the office, examining and scrutinising without touching anything at this point. A slight frown creased her forehead, and she leapt away from the desk.

“Talia-“ Thranduil began as she barged past him and knocked him aside.

Kili let out a startled yelp as she charged across the room and rugby-tackled him. The pair crashed to the floor with a thud, and drew the attention of everyone in the vicinity.

“What the fuck..?!” he yelled as he shoved her off.

“Talia!” Thranduil moved swiftly to her and lowered to his haunches. “What the hell happened?”

“That-“ she gasped as she pointed towards the picture on the wall. “-is a motion sensor. This place must be rigged to blow.”

Several bodies congregated behind him and peered at the painting, and sure enough, the tiniest green light in creation was barely visible in the bottom right hand corner of the frame.

“Well, I’ll be damned…” Thorin whispered.

Thranduil leaned forwards a little with a deep frown of concentration. “I would never have noticed that,” he murmered. His eyes dropped to his wife. “Get up. We are getting out of here. Now.”

She grumbled in protest as he pulled her gently but firmly to her feet. Her head swivelled back towards the computer as a ping sounded. “The files are copied,” she said, fighting to free herself from his grasp. “Let me get them.”

“Nori, grab that memory stick,” he commanded. “Shut the laptop down, and let’s go.”

Hobbling beside him as they headed back towards the door, she winced in pain.

“Your leg?” he asked.

She nodded.

Then squealed in surprise as he swept her up into his arms.

“Thankyou for saving Kili’s life, but no more heroics,” he said. His stride was determined as he carried her out into the hallway and descended the stairs. She decided not to argue, and instead slid her hand up over his shoulder.

Back down on the ground floor, Thorin climbed through the window before them, and he passed her to him.

“Dammit…I feel like I’m in a game of Pass The Parcel,” she muttered.

“You are too precious a parcel to lose,” her husband retorted as he climbed through after her.

“I concur. The lives of our team are more important than raiding some old geezer’s house,” Thorin said.

His Detective slid his arms under his wife’s weight and eased her back into his protective hold. “I think it best to send the dogs and the bomb disposal robots in, followed by the specialist team,” he said over her head. “I will not risk her life.”

Thorin nodded. “Definitely. Balin, are you catching this?” He grinned as the reply sounded in his ear. “And God bless technology,” he said. “Come on, people. Let’s get out of here and back to safety. It’s too risky to hang around – the entire building could go up at any time.”

Talia rested her head against Thranduil’s shoulder and stayed like that as he walked with her to their Captain’s 4x4. Her eyes drifted closed once they were settled in the back seat, where she remained cradled across his thighs. For once Thorin didn’t bang on about seat belts; he merely gave the couple a look and climbed into the driver’s seat. Her fingers lightly stroked the soft, warm skin of his neck as the vehicle moved away.

“Is everything alright, sweetheart?” he asked quietly.

She hummed in response. “I’m just thinking,” she told him.

“About what?”

Her head lifted from his shoulder and she gazed up into his eyes. “How can people be so fucking horrible? Like what Saruman’s doing to those girls. He’s luring them to this country with promises of employment and wealth, forcing those who refuse, he’s raping them once they’re here, beating the shit out of them. What kind of a world have we brought our daughter into?”

Ice blue gazed at her as he thought over his answer. “A tough one,” he admitted. “One where she along with everyone else will have to fight for a place in life. Fight for what she wants. Fight to prove that she’s worth whatever it is she’s trying to attain. But one where her parents will have conditioned her to be strong, to be resilient, and to persevere. One where she will know that no matter what, both her parents will always love her and be there for her, no matter what her lifestyle choices are.”

She nodded slowly as she digested his logic. “Yes…she will know that,” she murmered thoughtfully.

“Do not concern yourself with what you cannot fix,” he advised softly. “The world in general has far too many problems and issues for you to tackle. All you can do is to ensure that your own space within this world is safe and secure. The rest will hopefully fall into place around you. If it does not, it isn’t your problem, little kitty.”

“Spoken by someone who sounds like he has thousands of years’ worth of life experience,” she said with a smile.

“Maybe I have seen too much in this life,” he responded. “This job opens up things which you would never normally imagine. You know that.”

“I do,” she sighed. His heartbeat thudded rhythmically and reassuringly below her ear as she leaned against his chest. “Sometimes I wish I could undo a lot of what I know, what I’ve seen and learned. But I know that I can’t; I just have to try to categorize everything and learn.”

“What you have seen and learned has made you the person that you are,” Thorin put in. His eyes met Thranduil’s in the rear view mirror. “Not one of us would be right here, right now if you didn’t know what you do.”

She hummed slightly in agreement and lapsed into silence.

“Balin is ready to get into the files from Saruman’s computer,” he said, speaking to her husband more than her. “Once we can see what he was up to in black and white, things should even out from there on. I’m looking at storming the place before the day is over and dragging the bastard away in cuffs.”

“And I still think that putting a bullet in him would be far too good a fate,” Thranduil grunted. “What he has been putting those young girls through beggars belief. They may never recover from the damage he has inflicted on them.”

“Two wrongs do not make a right, my friend,” the reply came. “Let him stand trial and justice will be served.”

He huffed silently and tightened his arms around Talia.

*****

Balin’s bushy eyebrows twitched comically as he tapped furiously away on his computer. Muffled utterings and disjointed statements fell from his lips as he worked. Talia’s amused smile made Thranduil smirk as he watched her watching him.

“How is your leg?” he asked.

Her head turned towards him. “It’s ok. I just jerked it when I tackled Kili,” she told him. “I didn’t plan my landing to have any finesse.” A laugh accompanied her words.

“Dammit!” Balin shouted. “Sorry.” His apologetic gaze swept those in the room who had jumped at his exclamation, and he went back to his task.

“Do you think Saruman only rigged his office?”

She looked back at her husband. “Probably. That’s where all his records are kept, so it’s what he would be looking to protect. I guarantee he’ll have a copy of whatever was in that computer, though. If something triggered the sensor and the place blew, he’d lose everything there, so it makes sense he’d have a back-up copy.”

“Stored in a safe deposit box, I’ll wager,” Bofur commented as he slid two coffees onto the desk before the pair. “Man might be a freak, but he’s not stupid.”

“Nope. He’s just a twisted, perverted freak,” Fili responded. “One whom I hope rots in prison for the rest of his days.”

Balin continued to grumble and threaten his computer.

“I want to see Tasha,” Talia announced suddenly. She glanced at Thranduil. “Wanna come with me?”

“Of course,” he answered, and helped her to her feet as he stood up. “I wonder what nonsense Legolas has put into her little head…”

“Whatever it is, I’m sure Tauriel has managed to replace it with something more suitable for her age,” she said with a laugh. Her hand gripped his as he led her out of the workspace and along towards the elevators. “I need to ask him how he got on at the shooting range.”

“I am sure he will bore us all to tears with the details in due time,” he replied in a dry tone. “He forgets that as his father, I have extensive experience in shooting ranges, and outside on the street.”

“Ah, but this is different,” she told him. “This is a government shooting range. This is an Agent thing. This is all secret service shit, and he’ll be under a spell with that.”

Thranduil snorted softly.

“I know, we all do the same job, give or take,” she said. “But you know how impressionable young guys are, babe.”

The elevator pinged to announce their arrival on the top floor, and they stepped out into the hallway.

“Dada!” Tasha’s excited squeal echoed down the corridor. “Dada! Dada!”

A huge grin lit up his face as he stepped towards her. Her little arms lifted as she wriggled on the floor.

“How is my little Princess?” he coo’d as he swept her up into his arms. “Have you been behaving yourself?” His gaze fell on Tauriel, who was sitting cross-legged on the carpet surrounded by a large mess of chunky building blocks.

“She’s been adorable, as always,” the redhead replied with a smile. “We were trying to build a dinosaur.”

“A big, angry, nasty dinosaur?” Talia said, tweaking her daughter’s cheek. “Where’s Leggy?”

“Gossiping with Bard,” she answered as she indicated over her shoulder. “Between the two of them, they have you pegged right up there as a cross between Superwoman and Batman.”

“Oh dear God,” she muttered with an eye roll. “Babe…go and do some damage control,” she pleaded to her husband. “Before this gets out of hand.”

He chuckled and handed their child over. “I shall knock their heads together and remove any notions of super-heroism,” he promised. “Instead, I shall tell them how stubborn and reckless you can be.” A smile accompanied the swift kiss he dropped on her pouting mouth as he turned and walked towards their rooms.

Her eyes followed him, absorbing the heart-stopping view of his long hair swishing against his waist as he moved. “Damn…that man could have the Pope questioning his religion,” she murmered. Her gaze shifted to Tauriel, who was trying to smother a grin. Unsuccessfully.

“Do you fancy grabbing a coffee?” she asked, getting up from the floor. “I think you could do with taking the weight off your feet, from what I’ve been hearing.”

“More dramatized, emphasised bullshit, no doubt,” she said. “The rumour mill in here is worse than in High School, seriously.”

The younger woman chuckled. “You know the guys are as bad as the women for gossip, only they won’t admit it,” she said. “Are you alright carrying Tasha?”

“Yeah, she’s fine,” she replied. “Aren’t you, my little peachy?”

“Dada,” the youngster replied.

Talia opened her mouth to respond, closing it again as a panicked shout echoed along the hallway. Both women turned to see Gandalf running towards them.

“You must get to the Safe Room on the east wing,” he panted as he came to a halt in front of them. “Saruman has breached the security, and is running amok downstairs. Three Agents are down already.”

The blood drained from Talia’s face as she processed his statement. She whirled to face Tauriel. “Take Tasha. Go with Gandalf to the vault; I’ll find Legolas and Thranduil. Go!” She shoved her daughter into her arms and ran as fast as her injury would allow. Closed doors flashed past as she hurtled through the double doors and bounded down the stairwell. Her heart thudded like a parade drum in her ears as she approached the floor she’d recently vacated and threw the doors open.

A sea of heads lifted and turned in her direction; mystification written on each one.

“Saruman’s here,” she panted. “And he’s on a mission.”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE

 

“We have to split up, now!” Talia roared. Her chest heaved as she battled for breath and to suppress her pounding heartbeat. “Saruman’s here, and he’s taking everyone down who stands in his way!”

Everybody scattered, teaming off automatically in pairs. Balin remained at his station, determined to crack into the files he was fighting with.

“Balin, leave it!” she yelled. “That’s not important right now!”

“We need the evidence!” he shouted back, typing furiously. “We have nothing without it!”

“We have him on kidnapping,” she hissed. “For fuck sake leave it! We have enough to put him away!”

The computer emitted an ominous ping, and his face went white.

“Oh my good God,” he whispered. “Oh no…no…”

“What?!”

He slammed the screen down. “You can’t see this, not right now,” he said. His head shook with determination. “Later, maybe. But not now.”

“You’re not making sense,” she spat. “Come on, Get out of here!”

He complied, hurrying around his desk and following her out of the exit on the far side.

“Go down to the secure room; Tauriel, Leggy, and Tasha are there with Gandalf,” she instructed him. “I don’t want you wrapped up in this, Balin. Just please go and do it.”

He opened his mouth to protest, thought better of it, and closed it again. She watched him as he disappeared out of sight, and sighed as she pulled the Sig from her waistband, checking the ammunition. Satisfied that she was fully loaded, she crept forwards down the corridor. A deathly silence filled the air which made the hairs on the back of her neck stand to attention. Tension frizzled down her spine, and her leg throbbed in pain as she moved.

Slowly pushing each door open as she passed, she swept the floor and found it deserted. She knew her team would be doing the same as she; carefully and silently creeping around to flush Saruman out of wherever he was hiding. The old geezer had finally flipped his lid and gone crazy, and she knew in her soul that somehow, in whatever means necessary, he would never leave the building a free man.

The staircase loomed before her. Gingerly placed steps carried her noiselessly to the second level, where she caught sight of Fili and Kili checking each office. A silent nod passed between the three as she approached.

“Downstairs is clear,” she whispered. “He’s not there.”

“Thorin and Dwalin are on the upper floor,” Kili whispered back, and she nodded.

“You guys keep going here; I’m going to find Thranduil and check the compound,” she told the two as she backed off.

The compound was a building attached to the main headquarters, and housed the shooting range, the fitness suites, and training rooms for the Agents. Most of the agents were out in the field or on assignments, leaving only a handful of trained staff to assist the team in their mission.

The building was in darkness as she set foot over the threshold and glanced around. She stood as still as a statue as she assessed her surroundings. Saruman had obviously cut the power, as that part of the complex was always fully lit, twenty four seven. It had to be, due to the amount of foot traffic in and out of there.

Every sense was on high alert. Her left ear twitched ever so slightly as she picked up the faintest sound, but it was only the air cooling system going into a sleep as the temperature had reached what the program required. A metallic odour lingered, and she registered it as fresh blood. Somebody was down in this part of the compound, possibly dead.

Her feet padded softly over the polished floor. The Sig was held in both hands a little before her, cocked and ready to fire. Her eyes roamed the vast space as she advanced.

Her breath left her with a squeal of surprise as her weapon was knocked from her grasp. A body lurched itself into hers and knocked her sideways, and they toppled to the floor with a heavy thud. She instinctively switched from defence to offence as she found herself face down on the hard floor. Both feet kicked out and her hands shot underneath her torso to elevate her. Hands pawed at her, fingers tangled in her hair, and knees pressed against her lower back. She threw her body over onto her side with a determined grunt and flipped her assailant over with the momentum.

“You!” she snarled, continuing the move and pinning him beneath her.

Saruman snarled like a dog as he gripped a handful of her long hair and yanked with force.

“You fight like a fucking girl,” she spat as she punched him.

His head thumped back onto the floor with a sharp crack and he yelled in pain. “Bitch!” he cried. ”The sooner I am rid of you, the better!”

Talia shot to her feet as he struggled to stand after throwing her bodily off himself. “You don’t have what it takes, old man,” she taunted. “Look at how many times you’ve tried and failed already.”

“I made the mistake of hiring incompetent idiots when I should have taken you out myself,” he hissed. His eyes glittered dangerously as the two circled each other. “It appears it would be true what they say about having a dog and barking oneself.”

“Shoulda got a bigger dog then,” she quipped. There was no humour in her voice. “Give it up, Saruman. You’re finished; you know that.” She jerked back in reflexive response as he produced a long knife from somewhere in his baggy clothing and swiped it at her with lightning speed.

It missed her stomach by millimetres.

“I will never be finished,” he snapped. “You will be finished, not I.”

“Like your nephew? Why did you kill him? And don’t give me any bullshit – I know you did it,” she said.

The knife swiped again, and her upper body tipped back as it narrowly missed her face. The pair kept circling.

“He became too greedy. He demanded far too high a percentage,” he grunted, still swinging the blade.

She lost her patience at his inept knife skills and booted the weapon from his grasp. Within a heartbeat she’d thrown herself forwards, tackling the old man to the floor. Punches and kicks flew from the two of them as they rolled over and over, each one hitting the intended target. Saruman roared as she grabbed a fistful of his long hair and pulled with all her weight. His scream echoed throughout the empty building.

This is for what you put my friend through,” she snarled, landing a solid punch on the underside of his jaw. “And this is for what you’ve done to all those young girls!” Another hit landed, sending his head reeling to one side.

She gasped as his knees shot up and he toppled her weight forwards, and her hands automatically braced on the floor on either side of his head. Her head flipped to one side as his jerked up, and his forehead cracked against her cheekbone. She threw herself in a forward roll right over the top of him and crashed onto the floor above his head.

He crouched facing her with his eyes narrowed and one hand on the floor. “You have proven to be a worthy opponent,” he told her. “Such a pity. I could have used someone with your talents.”

“I wouldn’t give you a smell of my shite, you rotten son of a bitch,” she retorted. “You tried to kill my husband and my child.”

One eyebrow arched briefly. “Collateral damage,” he explained. “If your detective spouse had kept his nose to himself, none of this need have happened.”

“And that’s your excuse?” she shrieked incredulously. “You try to wipe out my fucking family and that’s all you have to say about it? Fuck you, old man. Fuck you and every fucking dodgy thing you’re involved in!” She jumped to her feet and tackled him, letting all her anger, fears, and frustrations out as her fists made contact. Refusing to feel bad over attacking an old man, she vented everything as he tried to fend her off.

Youth came hand in hand with speed and strength, and he started to tire under the onslaught. Several times he lost his footing and almost went down, but he managed to correct his stance and land a few well-aimed blows himself.

Talia had a fleeting thought at the back of her mind that although he may be elderly, Saruman possessed a strength and durability she’d never come up against before. Nothing seemed to keep him down, and her punches became harder as her temper increased. Her husband and daughter were in the compound somewhere, and she’d die before she allowed any harm to fall on them.

Blood oozed from a split on his cheek as he held her glare. His chest heaved as he panted for air, and she was winded as her energy began to deplete.

Her eyes narrowed as his darted to one side, and she followed the path.

He’d spotted her dropped weapon.

Both dived for it.

He knocked her aside as though she weighed nothing with a clothes-line blow, and she landed on her back gasping for air and clutching her throat. He grabbed the gun and flipped around as he rose to his feet again.

“It has been a fun game,” he told her as she struggled to her elbows. The weapon lifted and he stared at her over it. “But it ends here, Agent Thomas.”

Talia’s life flashed before her eyes as she gazed down the barrel of the Sig.

Thranduil’s warm kiss as they’d repeated their wedding vows to each other, and the tender smile as he’d tucked her hair behind her ear. His encouraging words as she’d screamed blue murder delivering their daughter. Tasha’s innocent but cheeky smile whenever she looked at her father. His strong, safe hands as he held their child. Ice blue eyes that burned into hers as they made love. Strong thighs that turned her to a pool of mush whenever he wore shorts. Warm, loving arms that had held her any time she’d cried, for whatever reason.

Saruman raised the gun a little higher, and tightened his finger on the trigger.

She jumped in fright as a gunshot pierced the air, and a hole appeared in his forehead. He gazed at her in astonishment and shock, before thudding down onto his knees. Time stood still as she gaped at him, and he finally toppled over.

Her head slowly turned to her left.

Thranduil was down on one knee, both hands holding his Glock which was still trained on the old man.

Nothing moved.

“Her name is Oropherion, you son of a bitch,” he said finally as he lowered his weapon. His eyes met hers, and she sucked in a lungful of air on a choked sob.

He moved quickly towards her, kicking her gun away from the corpse on the floor. Strong arms wrapped around her and lifted her, and she clung to him as her sobs broke free. “Sshhh, everything’s alright, little kitty,” he whispered as he turned and carried her away. “It’s over. It’s finished.”

Her arms tightened around his shoulders and she buried her face against the warm skin of his neck. Deep, shuddering cries ripped through her as shock set in, and he tightened his hold on her.

Voices floated around her as most of the team congregated around them, but she ignored them and blocked them out. The only thing that mattered was Thranduil, and she needed only him and her daughter. Bright lights made her close her eyes as he left the compound and headed back into the main section of the huge building.

Bard appeared and placed a hand on his partner’s shoulder, walking side by side. “Let’s get you both cleaned up and fixed,” he said quietly.

*****

“I thought I’d never see you or Tasha again,” Talia said softly.

Ice blue eyes met hers as Thranduil wiped a soft piece of cloth over the gash on her cheekbone. “You thought wrong then, did you not?” he replied with a grin. “You should have come and found me, sweetheart. It was foolish to take him on by yourself.”

“I didn’t think one cantankerous old man would be so hard to beat,” she admitted on a sigh. “It just goes to show you how wrong you can be about someone.”

“Well he is out of the picture for good,” Gandalf put in from his seat on the edge of the desk. “And my Agents are working to locate the missing girls as we speak. They have found over two hundred so far; Saruman left a good electronic trail. I hope that by the end of the day, we will have tracked down most, if not all, of them.” A hopeful smile accompanied his words.

“Greed. Just pure, plain greed,” she murmered.

“It’s what makes the world go around, little kitty,” Thranduil told her. “This will need an ice pack; it’s beginning to swell already.”

“It can wait,” she said, and pushed his hand away gently. “I need Tasha.”

He rose to his full height and extended his hand. “Come on. We’ll go and find her. Legolas and Tauriel are with her.”

“We’ll catch up with you in a bit, Gandalf,” she told the other man.

He gave a single nod. “Whenever you are ready.”

The blonde led her from the office and down to the work room. “I believe they are down here with the guys from the precinct,” he said by way of explanation. “I can guarantee the little one is eating them out of house and home.”

Talia laughed. “She always seems to bat her eyelashes and they part with their food,” she agreed. “Maybe I should try that sometime.”

He grinned down at her as he pushed the double doors open.

A sea of heads lifted, and a chorus of cheers and hollers sounded.

“Where’s my baby girl?” she asked. “I need a hug from my Princess.”

“Right here, Talia,” Legolas replied, and lifted her from Bofur’s arms. “hey Tasha…look who’s here!”

Baby ice blue eyes crinkled in a smile as her gaze settled on Thranduil. “Dada!” she squealed. “Dada!”

Her eyes shifted to Talia, and she went silent for a moment.

“Mama.”