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East River Rising

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"It's okay, we'll be okay, just stay put, yeah?" I whispered, never taking my eyes off the skinny guy who'd killed the outboard motor. The guy with the gun.

We'd moved downriver enough to see the Brooklyn Bridge up ahead, sleek arches glowing against a backdrop of gathering clouds on what had been a fine clear night.

Detective Martinez, tough and alert and ready for anything, got busy assessing the situation and keeping the civilian safe. The rest of me - the Jo part, cold and anxious (wanting a drink, always aching for Sean) - stepped back as the adrenaline kicked in, letting the cop do her job.

Middle of the East River.

Three in the morning.

Disarmed. Outnumbered.

Not good, the Detective concluded.

All on me, now.

Not a word from Henry, crouching next to me on one side of the boat - but he'd gone stock-still in a way that meant unpredictable trouble and his arm felt all too tense beneath my restraining hand.

There was something he wanted, there in that pile of (presumably valuable) stolen crap the other two guys were sorting through. A glance at them showed metal gleaming in reflected city lights, the big guy tossing a candelabra overboard, the bald guy holding a sack.

"All right, Henry? Okay, good, take it easy, I've got this..."

My mind was already fast-forwarding to figure out the best moves for escape once we got to wherever this boat was going. Whatever Henry was after could damn well wait - because I was going to get us clear of this, and keep him safe, no matter what, and Lieutenant Reece would never get a chance to chew us out for this stupid boat ride, since she'd never even hear about it.


And then, once we got clear, Dr. Henry Morgan and I would be having some words.

Because he'd taken off on his own, in spite of all those never again promises. Taken off right after doing the autopsy on the antiques dealer and hearing that all her stock had been stolen when she was murdered.

He'd turned distant in the driven-obsessive-Henry way, and then he'd slipped out alone, again, and I'd only just caught up to him at a riverside warehouse when these three guys jumped us. They'd grabbed my cell, my gun, and thrown both of us in the boat along with their loot.

"Hey, check this out - worth much?" the big guy said.

"Ah," breathed Henry, boosting my adrenaline another notch as I recognized the sound of a Sherlock moment.

"Nah, dump it!"

My grip on Henry's bicep tightened. Detective Martinez kept up the reassuring patter, for whatever it was worth.

"Good, stay down, I've got this, we're gonna be fine, just stay down and - Henry! No!"

That, of course, was when he jumped up (twisting away from me like no one without special training should be able to do, damn him!) and tackled the big guy, wrestling with him for the thing he held - small sword? long dagger? - and everything went very south, very fast.

The boat rocked violently, once at Henry's lunge and then again as I scrambled to my feet and spun around.

Couldn't watch the skinny guy anymore, had to watch Henry, only Henry - watch him, stop him, get him out - while keeping my body positioned between him and that gun.

My job, this. Take a life or take a bullet, if it came to that, to keep people safe.

I failed.

One second... behind my back, the click of a gun being readied for action.

Two seconds... the big guy's curse and Henry's grunt of effort as the dagger changed hands.

Three... all the big city, all those bridge-lights and street-lights, reflected in one sickening flash of the bald guy's switchblade: too fast for me (oh, Henry), too fast.

Four... the warm hurting weight of him as he stumbled back against me, rocking the boat once more, still clutching the dagger. The sudden scent of his blood. I half-turned, fighting for balance, holding him tight. Saw the skinny guy raising the gun.

Five... I wrapped my arms around Henry and pivoted again, lunging forward with all my strength, muscles screaming as I hurled us both over the side and deep down into the river's dark waters.

Endless moments later, I surfaced, spluttering - left arm around Henry, right trying to keep us afloat - and heard the outboard starting up.

"Outta here! Go, go!"

They went. Not shooting at us, not trying to catch us. Good news, sure, but feelings of relief didn't seem to be on the menu.

Silence, save for the distant city traffic and Henry's ragged breathing.

Okay, Detective Martinez... now what?

I could get us to shore. I was a strong swimmer, and I'd done basic water rescue training. I'd make it... for all the good that would do.

A brief sobbing laugh, uncontrolled, left me inhaling water, coughing - and not caring at all, because Detective Martinez's calm action plan crashed into a crazy counterpoint reality check right there, where Henry's blood ran hot against the chilled fingers I pressed to the side of his throat.

Too much blood, in a really bad place... and no, people didn't survive this, did they? Not unless they were already in an ambulance or something, and maybe not even then. Not, for sure, if they were in the middle of the East River - no matter how good a cop was desperate to save them.

"Henry?" I asked in a voice I couldn't recognize as my own.

His head rested on my shoulder. Not much light around, but enough to let me see his eyes open, up close and looking straight into mine.

I waited, then, for him to be brilliant - to be Henry, plucking some genius fix from thin air and pixie dust, along with an excellent explanation for what he'd done in the boat.

Silence, and traffic, and shallow faltering breaths.

He didn't speak. Couldn't: I knew it, as surely as I knew he was dying. And suddenly there were a thousand things to tell him, but I couldn't think in words.

Then Henry touched me, his right hand brushing the small of my back, and hope flared for an instant - oh, he's all right! - before I saw his face tighten in pain and realized what he was doing.

That goddamn dagger... somehow, against all reason, he'd kept hold of it all this time, and now he was using the last of his strength to pass it to me. Holding my gaze as he tucked the hilt gently beneath my waistband, the blade flat against my spine. I shivered at the icy touch of it through my shirt - colder than the water around us, unnaturally cold...

"What the hell?"

I could have sworn the bastard smiled at me, for the briefest moment, before his hand fell away from my back and his eyes slid closed in a way that said the dying was serious this time.

Silence, darkness, and the whole world so impossibly far away...

"Breathe," I told him, treading water and doing my best to keep his head steady on my shoulder, his face clear of the river, because he had to keep breathing - I told him that, fiercely and clearly, over and over again, because it was so very important. "Breathe, Henry," I said, holding him closer still, my cheek pressed against his, my own breaths slowing and fading in sync.

Not losing it. Not, because Detective Martinez was already on the case, mapping out what had to be done: swim to shore with the body (just another dead body), find a phone, call for help, tell Reece, file reports, inform the next of kin (poor sweet Abe, how could I tell him?), grab Hanson and hunt down the guys who did this, bring them in...

"Breathe!" I pleaded, all alone with death in the vast dark river.

Something was coming for me, something unspeakable and terribly familiar and the size of the Empire State, heading right at me. Nowhere to hide, with the last seconds of Henry's life bleeding out in my embrace.

Another faint breath - felt rather than heard - and another, and then...

It hit me then, one pure wave of absolute foreknowledge: showing me exactly how much pain lay ahead, then throwing me right into it, all at once - and of course I recognized it, I'd felt it before, when the call came from Washington, oh Sean - and Henry's last breath went on forever, soft against my skin - and one second was all the time in the world: time to realize, time to know, time to feel it all over again, that well-remembered agony of love and grief; time to connect the dots and see the clues (thank you, Detective Martinez), time to compare the loss of what was and the loss of what might have been, time to face the piercing truth: that I loved him and never knew it, and I'd failed to keep him safe, and we'd never even kissed and now we never would, and I had no idea what I'd do without him... and oh god, why didn't I know?

When his body vanished from my arms, it seemed no more than I deserved.

Why didn't I know?

I flailed in the water, unbalanced by the loss of Henry's weight and utterly unprepared for the shudder of ice-cold lightning that raced up my spine.

Should have known. How could I not know?

Not prepared either, not at all, to see him rise up from the river and breathe... but I was moving before I could think, closing the space between us, and his second breath came from me - because my arms were around him already, my mouth on his, and nothing mattered but telling him what I knew.