DISCLAIMER: Women's Murder Club and its characters are the property of James Patterson, 20th Century Fox Television and ABC. Popular belongs to Ryan Murphy. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The version of Sam used in this story comes from another embarrassingly long Brooke/Sam saga I wrote a while ago called Just a Little Insight. But you donít have to read that to get this. I just used Sam becauseÖ itís Sam. And Carly Pope is hot.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Misty Flores
On the morning of the famed Pride Parade in San Francisco, Brooke McQueen ducked into a yellow taxi and gave the driver the Hotel Nikko as a destination. Jet lag was a necessary evil with her line of work, but the fact that it was dark when she took off and, thanks to the wonder of daylight savings time, it was dark when she landed, had left her in an exhausted, uneasy mood.
This wasn't alleviated by the fact that from the sound of her conversations with Sam, her girlfriend was getting an acute case of the kind of curiosity that killed cats, and had somehow hooked up with a crime reporter, and a homicide Inspector because of it.
It wouldn't do anyone much good to try and restrict Sam once she put her mind to something. There had been countless arguments both with Sam and with Sam's mother, with Brooke the unhappy mediator that proved that. Sam believed in what she was doing, she always had, and Brooke couldn't fault her.
Brooke always did have a shallow side, and while she had her share of photo essays that spoke of the plight of the South African segregation and once won a contest with a picture of a little girl in a trunk in a border town in Arizona, she found she had drifted.
She had been okay with that. Brooke found her satisfaction derived from discovering culture, and didn't always feel the need to expose everything that was wrong with it.
It was one of her and Sam's many differences, but thank God, through the years they had at least learned how to accept them and work around them.
They had come a long way from the anorexic popular girl and the rebel misfit who tore an entire school apart with their rivalry.
Then again, Brooke supposed fights always were easier to resolve when there was the possibility of mind blowing make up sex.
"So, here for business?"
The driver gave her a friendly smile, nodding to her through the rearview mirror. His eyes were twinkling, and with a twinge of amusement, it occurred to Brooke that he was about to start flirting.
"Just came off of it, actually," she drawled, shrugging off the trenchcoat she used for the more severe London weather, running fingers through her cropped blonde hair. Sam preferred it long, but these days, with the amount of travel she did, and the hours she kept, it was just easier to keep it chin length, pack a good leave-in conditioner and let the hotel hair dryers do the rest.
"Oh, so you live in San Francisco."
She smiled, "No. I live in LA."
"So you're here for fun!" he surmised.
She smiled mysteriously. "I hope so." She could see the grip on his steering wheel tighten, and decided it was too early in the morning to play with an over anxious cab driver. "Actually, I'm here to meet my girlfriend for the Pride Parade."
She could see the interest deflate out of him like a balloon. "Oh," he muttered, and her mouth twitched, fighting a smile. "Well," he continued, trying to be polite. "I bet she's very beautiful."
"She is," she assured him. "She's really gorgeous." Unable to help herself, she reached into her large purse. "Want to see a picture?"
He shrugged. "Sure."
Digging out the digital camera she never left anywhere without, she quickly pulled up one of her favorite pictures of she, Sam and Mac, huddled together on the rare occasion both girls were in the same state and able to visit their little sister.
Eyes on the road, he reached back for it and carefully took a look. "I hope she's the older brunette."
"Of course," she said, and without thinking, continued, "The other girl is our sister, Mac."
The wheel jerked, and the taxi swerved, as the poor driver nearly dropped the camera.
"It's a long story," she responded, face suddenly flushing. "Sam and I are not actually sisters."
He still looked confused, but seem to give it up easily enough, handing the camera back with an apologetic smile. "Well, beautiful girls," he replied, "All of you."
"Yeah, we got lucky," she quipped, and he grinned in response.
"I've always wondered," he began, turning onto a windy one way street, behind a loud trolley car. "Is it easier to be with a girl? Because when I'm with a girl sometimes I just don't get them at all."
Brooke considered the question. "Actually, it's harder." Curiosity piqued at the honesty behind the statement, her cab driver once again looked up into the rearview mirror. "But not because we're women," she continued, and he nodded. "We both have jobs that make us travel a lot so we don't spend a lot of time together. So we have to make a really conscious effort to stay committed to making the relationship work. And we're just both a little stubborn and we've known each other a really long time, so if we want to really piss each other off, well we can make it happen. I mean, when we fight? We really don't hold back."
He snorted, and nodded. "Yes, I had a girlfriend like that."
"Though the plus side to that is we can make each other really really happy, too. Even when she drives me crazy, Sam always knows how to make me smile." Brooke's smile faltered, thinking back to the horrible phone call that came during a shoot in New York from Sam's mother, telling her as calmly as she could that Sam had been flown to the hospital in Iraq. "I honestly don't know what I'd do without her."
He must have seen the flash of momentary pain, because his expression straightened, and after a mile of quiet, said suddenly, "Sounds like you did get lucky."
He moved smoothly through an intersection, and a car, not looking, skidded tires as it slid to a stop as they passed.
A phantom flash of vivid lights bearing down on her, the sound of Sam screaming her name, and the image of Nicole Julian behind that wheel, eyes glittering with hate, forced an unwelcome shudder.
"Yeah," she said thickly, rubbing at her healed wrist, broken in three pieces thanks to that prom night incident. Three long months in a coma, and Sam had told her she had died at least once on the way to the hospital.
Inherently, she knew that was what caused the fear.
Maybe it was selfish, but the idea of Sam, broken like she was, and Brooke being forced to watch?
She wasn't sure she could handle that.
Jill Bernhardt wasn't exactly a monster without her coffee, but she was prone to her addictions, and welcomed a good cup of brew.
The fact that Cindy Thomas, unintentional red-headed rival, had currently handed her what appeared to be a steaming tall cup of green tea, was not amusing.
"It's six-thirty am," she snapped, wrinkling her nose at the weed smelling concoction. "My conditions for getting my ass out here at six-thirty am was a latte. Not weed tea."
"It's green tea," Cindy corrected, and took a swig herself, pressing the up button of the hotel elevator, and looking anxiously at the numbers above it. "And it's good for you. It's got anti-oxidants and lots of good supplements, monumentally better for you. Try it."
"I don't like you bossy," Jill grumbled, and gently raised the cup to her mouth, trying to goad herself into taking a sip. "Don't try to foist your hippy college kid new age mumbo jumbo on me."
"I figured you needed all the help you can get at your age," Cindy replied sweetly, stepping inside the elevator as the doors opened. "What?" she asked, when Jill directed an icy glare her way. "You can make cracks about my age but I can't throw them back?"
Jill hated logic.
"I'll buy you a coffee when we're done here," Cindy said, as the doors closed. "I promise."
At least the girl was reasonable. Swigging a swallow of bitter tea, Jill blanched. "So explain to me again why we're not doing this with Lindsay?"
"Because I don't want to go to Lindsay yet," Cindy replied distantly, eyes once again focused on the numbers rising above the elevator. "We were up all night trying to figure this thing out and so far all we've got is more questions. If we go to Lindsay now, especially with what we've got, which is a big fat zero, she'll think we're crazy and Ashe will just get suspicious."
"We?" Jill queried. "You mean you and McWhatsit."
"McPherson," Cindy replied hotly, "And yes."
"I thought we told you to stop playing with her."
"We're not playing," Cindy said automatically, and turned to her, green eyes flashing with something that appeared to be either excitement or anxious fear. "Agent Ashe came to see her last night."
Tongue darting out to moisten her bottom lip, Cindy nodded. "Yeah. He showed up at her hotel room, showed her classified information about the Kiss-Me-Not killer, and told her to basically try and con me into conning Lindsay to upping her search for Kiss-Me-Not, because he was afraid that if we forgot about him, the serial killer would 'remind' us. Tell me that's not creepy."
It was a lot of information to handle, but it was immediately disturbing. "No," she agreed, voice low and tight, brows coming together in contemplation. "You're right. That's creepy."
"So she called a source she knows at the FBI and obviously he couldn't tell us much but once she convinced him it was off the record? Agent Ashe isn't even ON the Kiss-Me-Not killer case."
"Wait, what?" She stopped walking, body flushing cold at this revelation.
"Yeah, he's an NCAVC all right, that part checks out. But he covers terrorist threats. Not serial killers. According to the paper work, he's technically on vacation."
Jill's mind flew with the implications. "So what's he doing here?"
"Exactly." The look in Cindy's face was somber. "Look, it could be nothing. It could be that Ashe is just this super intense guy who cares too much about murdered chicks so he came out here to give the case a kick in the ass-"
"But what if he's not?" Jill finished, and Cindy nodded sagely.
"But you know Lindsay. If we tell her all this then she's going to put a bullet in him faster than we can stop her. Sam and I needed to make sure you heard it all first. Everything we got. That way we know if we're on to something or if we're just being you know reporters."
It was hard to battle the fear. The ache in her chest that had tightened to being nearly unbearable ever since Lindsay told them about the newspaper with her picture on it, and those black lines mimicking her mouth being sewn shut, now felt like there was a fist tightening around her heart, squeezing out the blood, making her feel faint.
Attempting to calm herself, she took a gulp of coffee. Her eyes immediately widened when she was reminded it was tea. "GAH," she gasped, and thrust the cup out to her friend. "Get this crap away from me."
Thankfully, the doors opened, and Jill spied a trash can. Dumping her cup, she walked with Cindy down the hallway. "So why are we meeting her here?"
"Her girlfriend's supposed to be in from London any minute," Cindy automatically responded, looking at the room numbers on the door. "She doesn't want to miss her."
That piece of information was new. "Wait." Grabbing hold of Cindy's shoulder, she forced the other girl to stop. "McPherson has a girlfriend?"
Cindy blinked, thrown by the sudden question. "Yes."
Jill's grip only tightened. "So Lindsay has nothing to worry about."
"What?" Looking confused, then irritated, Cindy shrugged her off. "No. God. Why does everyone - I'm crazy about Linds-" Abruptly, her friend noticed the small smirk sneaking its way on Jill's face, and shut up. "You know what? Kiss-Me-Not, creepy Agent - let's focus."
As her friend moved away, rapped hard on the appropriate door, Jill found herself struck with the slightest bit of relief. Personal jealousy aside, at the very least Cindy Thomas had just made her feelings for the lovestruck Inspector pretty clear.
The hotel door opened, and Sam McPherson stood in the doorway, looking haggard and twitchy. "Hi."
"Hey," Cindy breathed, and immediately stepped in, thumbing behind her. "You remember Jill, right?"
"Yeah," Sam said, and extended a friendly, if not a little distracted, hand shake, opening the door wider to allow them both to enter. "Excuse the mess," Jill heard behind her, as she walked into the small hotel room. "I didn't really sleep last night."
"Lot of that going around," she breathed, but her eyes were on the bed, where beside an open laptop, and interspersed with sheets of typed ink, pictures of murdered women lay strewn on Sam's white hotel sheets.
An unintentional bit of bile rose in her throat, and she choked slightly, tears sprouting in her eyes from the acerbic reaction.
Soft pressure landed on the small of her back. "I've got it," Cindy breathed. "Jill gets queasy around this stuff."
"No," she choked, voice raspy. "It's just God - this guy is sick."
But Cindy had already gone to work, helping Sam scoop up the photos, making room on the bed. "So did you tell her?"
"Just the gist," Cindy breathed.
Preferring to remain standing, Jill crossed her arms, dragging her eyes away from the photos that were now gathered up in Cindy's hands and focusing on the attractive brunette. "So Ashe left you with a case file?"
"Every sordid detail," Sam confirmed, reaching down to pluck a page from the strewn file. "Autopsy reports, forensics " she hesitated, eyes moving from Jill to Cindy. "There's even that picture of Lindsay Boxer in here."
She had heard about it, she hadn't seen it. Sam pulled out a photocopied newspaper article, and Cindy's eyes followed it, looking stricken. Hesitantly, Jill reached for it, and saw the article, with Cindy's name in the byline, and Lindsay's angry face, mouth obscured by ugly black marks, a horrific mimic of the lips sewn shut on every single victim.
"Oh my God," Cindy breathed, and Jill's palm rose to her face, trying to hold in the very real panic that emerged at such a graphic illustration.
Blinking away the tears, she sucked in a lungful of air and handed the photocopy back. "Is your FBI source legit?" she asked, voice rougher than she intended.
Sam nodded. "Yeah, but it's not like I can just run around naming him as a source. He'd get into serious trouble if anyone found out he gave me that info."
"Right," Cindy said, obviously all about protecting the source. "So what do we do?"
Both sets of eyes moved toward Jill. Sliding her palms into the pocket of her slacks, she inhaled again deeply, trying to clear her head. "I've got some legitimate sources," she began. "Obviously," when Cindy offered her a small smile. "I'll do my best to confirm your information. Once we do it, we have very good reason for questioning Ashe and what he's doing here." She glanced back at Cindy. "Can you do some snooping for me? Find out everything you can about this guy without him knowing?"
"There's not much out there," Cindy said, looking apologetic.
"Well, if anyone can find it, you can," she admitted, and felt a sudden surge of friendly affection for the always dependable girl. Suddenly she was ridiculously happy to have her in her life. "Chances are if he came to you, he would have anticipated that this put him on our radar "
"So be careful," Cindy nodded. "Got it."
Another look, another smile. Jill's attention now landed on Sam.
"Uh this is going to be awkward " Sam rubbed at her neck, looking a tiny bit miserable. "But today's Pride. And I have an article."
"Oh, shit so do I," Cindy breathed. "Fuck."
The joys of the real world. "Okay," Jill nodded, throat clogging with frustration. Cindy glanced down at the crime scene photos, absently handing a couple to Sam. "I'm going to go back to the office and make some calls-"
A click on the door was surprising, and trailing off, Jill waited, turning on her heel to discover a stunning, tired-looking chicly dressed blonde entered the room, dragging a luggage parcel behind her, crystal eyes surveying the room strangely.
"Brooke," Sam breathed, and Jill suddenly made the connection, as the brunette on the bed rose, coming forward with a brilliant smile that told her immediately that this woman was the girlfriend. "You're here."
Brooke had inquisitive eyes, and they missed nothing as they locked glances with Sam, the pictures in her hand, and the other two women in the room. "Hi."
Very much aware of their audience, the girlfriend reached forward and squeezed Sam's arm, meeting her halfway for a quick kiss, before once again staring at the photos in her hand. "What are those?"
Coming to stand beside her, Cindy shot Jill an uncertain look.
"Oh." Sam's features seemed to freeze, and she strained for a carefree smile. "They're just something I'm working on with look this is Cindy, the babysitter, and her friend Jill, an attorney."
Despite an obvious issue with what Sam was holding, Brooke managed a polite smile and a handshake for them both.
"It's nice to finally meet you," Cindy said, shaking almost a little too enthusiastically. "I've heard so much about you."
"Yeah, likewise." Brooke turned to Sam. "What are you working on?"
"You know, I should go," Jill began, palm coming up to rest lightly on Cindy's waist, a subtle hint.
"Yeah," Cindy blurted immediately, "Me too."
"Take these with you," Sam responded quickly, and Jill didn't miss the way that Brooke frowned, as Sam scooted over to the bed, working quickly to stuff the remaining sheets into the folder, and handing them off to Cindy. "The two of you could use these more than I can, I'm sure. See you tonight?"
"Right," Cindy nodded. "Sure. Brooke? Nice to meet you."
"Bye," Jill said, and walked quickly around the pair to the door, holding it open for Cindy and then shutting it firmly behind her.
"Wow," Cindy said, as soon as the door was shut.
"I know," she breathed, doing her best to reorganize the hastily stacked pile of papers into a more manageable stack. "What was that about?"
"Apparently there is ongoing conflict about unnecessary danger in Sam's job that she should not be taking," Cindy explained. "She did a piece in Iraq and was almost killed for her trouble."
A workaholic with a dangerous job and the woman in her life worried sick.
"That's a depressingly familiar storyline," she breathed, and a grimace of recognition flashed over Cindy's face. "Okay," Jill said, as they walked down the hallway, "Forgetting the obvious tension, allow me to regress for a moment of cheap objectification, and say did you see the body on that one?"
In the midst of shouldering her purse, Cindy's eyes widened. "Were you checking out Sam's girlfriend?"
"Objectively," Cindy responded, completely serious. "Totally hot. Man."
To fall into such cheap laughter was an utter release, and Jill leaned into her friend when the little reporter with a hard on for Lindsay slipped an arm around her waist. "Come on, Bernhardt. Let's buy you that coffee."
"How was your trip?" Sam asked, weaving around her girlfriend to grab hold of her bags. "You look tired."
"Sam." Brooke's voice was hard, in that familiar tone that told Sam she wasn't going to let her get away with playing innocent. "Those were crime scene photos."
Fighting the urge to wince, Sam forced a calm swallow, and straightened up, forcing herself to meet Brooke's disappointed look head on. "Yes, they were."
"Of murdered women," Brooke continued, because her girlfriend had always been sharp, with a good eye. Years of photojournalism had trained her well. "You said the Chinese guy murdered a guy. In a club."
"It's not the same case."
"Sam." Brooke's moves were jerky, bordering on furious, as she removed her scarf, and flung it on a nearby chair. "What aren't you telling me?"
Sam hesitated, unsure how to even approach the conversation Brooke wanted that would ruin their day. "I told you about Cindy and her group, right? It's like a murder club."
"A murder club?"
The M word. Right. Tongue pressing into the side of her mouth, Sam crossed her arms, and tried again. Slower. Quieter. "Lindsay Boxer was apparently threatened by a serial killer. Last night an FBI agent came to see me."
"He just had some questions, but it raised some flags and I called the girls over. That's all."
Sam let that sink in, watched as Brooke, exhausted, scared Brooke, sighed heavily and reached for her temples. "Sam "
"I know what you're thinking," she said gently, edging toward her, fingers wrapping lightly around Brooke's slender wrists, bringing them down. "But I'm not in any danger, okay? This is their deal. I just had a source and I wanted to help their friend."
Brooke's jeweled eyes looked into hers, testing her sincerity. "You know, when I said that covering the Pride Parade sounded like a great assignment, and you should think about taking it, I didn't mean for this to happen."
It was said half in jest, but the tone behind it was a serious one. Still, Brooke was warming slightly, seemingly unable to help herself as she rubbed her knuckles along the side of Sam's arm.
Breathing in, Sam could smell the airport on her, mingled in with the same perfume Brooke had been using since college. It was her smell, and inhaling it was always refreshing, always sweet.
Forehead tilting against her lover's, Sam rubbed gently at Brooke's biceps. "You look tired. I missed you."
"I am tired," Brooke admitted, eyes fluttering closed, offering a hint of a smile. "And I missed you too."
Shifting, until her nose skimmed soft skin, and her mouth found Brooke's, Sam kissed her sweetly, feeling Brooke's lips part under her attentions. Palms pressed against her t-shirt, and with a shudder of approval, Brooke's tongue darted out to lick Sam's lips lightly.
But her hands stayed on Sam's t-shirt, a deviation from Brooke's usual hungry assault, which would have had Sam already splayed out on the bed.
She was tired. And still a little rankled over what she had found. On the tail end of a 16 hour trip from London. Sam couldn't blame her.
Pulling back from their kiss, Sam reached up to tenderly thumb Brooke's moistened lips. "You're tired," she repeated, and with a tender smile, continued, "How about a shower? Then maybe a nap? Before we go crazy with Pride?"
Brooke didn't answer, but she didn't complain when Sam smoothed hands over her shoulders, drawing the trenchcoat off of her and letting it fall to the floor. "You didn't sleep all night, did you?"
Fingers underneath Brooke's shirt, lifting up, Sam offered a small, sheepish grin. "Can you tell?"
The shirt slipped over Brooke's head and drifted down. Sam took a moment to appreciate the sight of a topless Brooke, before reaching behind her, nimbly following the bra line with her finger tips until they slipped over small hooks. A quick snap of her wrist, and the bra straps loosened, the supportive garment also slipping.
"You also stink," Brooke answered gravely, and reached forward, one finger looping against Sam's elastic waistband and pulling, until she was flush against her.
Heart thumping in sudden feeling, Sam grinned widely, mischief sparkling in her brown orbs at the feel of Brooke's fingers dipping lower still. "Then I guess I'll just have to get in there with you."
"We need to tell Claire."
The jovial mood that had flashed for them the second they were oogling Sam's partner had faded quickly in favor of the very real threat that they were facing now.
It was a difficult, delicate situation, and as a reporter, Cindy had always had a hard time with delicate. It was one of many reasons she was glad to now consider Jill Bernhardt a friend.
"If we tell Claire and not Lindsay, Lindsay might kill us," Jill breathed, taking in what had to be a scalding cup from the coffee in her hand. "It'll take me maybe a couple of hours to figure this all out, confirm what Sam's told us from a source we can actually name, and then we can even take it to Tom."
"And in the meantime?" Cindy asked, feeling jittery and unfocused. The jumpy feeling had nothing to do with the tea she was having, and everything to do with the unseen threat that seemed to be closing in on them.
"In the meantime you cover your Pride parade." Jill shot her a sympathetic glance, obviously commiserating with the prospect of even pretending to care about a routine assignment when Lindsay's life was on the line. "I'll call you if I have anything. I swear."
Glancing over the busy coffee shop, Cindy considered her situation, and felt suddenly old. "You know, when I first heard of Lindsay Boxer, she was just a name in print. This almost mythical figure. I followed the Kiss-Me-Not case so closely I wanted her to catch him so bad." Across from her, Jill's expression tightened. Cindy smiled sadly in response. "She's a person, now, Jill. I thought I knew what I was getting into, when I decided to try and make her a source. I had no idea. I've never felt so out of my head in my entire life. Not that I'm that old," she continued quickly, before Jill could make the obvious crack about her age. "I know."
Quietly, Jill seemed muse, delicate with her coffee, looking gorgeous and distant. "If it helps, none of us were expecting you either, but now we couldn't really imagine things without you." She smiled, eyes kinder than Cindy had ever seen. "I know for sure Lindsay can't." The flush that went through her sent a slightly humiliating tinge of pink to her cheeks. "We're gonna get this guy, Cindy. For Lindsay. For all of us."
With that, Jill reached forward, palm resting over her own, looking sincere and calm and so damned beautiful and sure of herself that if she hadn't been so freaking crazy about Lindsay, Cindy would have fallen in love.
"I know," she managed, and squeezed back. "We're gonna get this guy."
Sam still had nightmares.
They used to involve Brooke, and prom night. Watching her step-sister get hit with a large car and a sickening crunch. Lately, those nightmares involved Iraq. Shattered limbs, and the stark image of a child, kneeling with a father drenched in blood.
She knew what it was. Post-Traumatic-Stress. Her therapist had spelled it out for her, mingled in with a healthy dose of fear and uncertainty.
In the career she had chosen for herself, uncertainty was the only constant. The other was her family, and most notably, Brooke.
The years had not passed easily, but they had passed, and Sam suspected that a lot of the reason why they had made it this far was because of this feeling:
Breasts, chest and thighs plastered against a strong, scarred back and deceptively lean figure. Brooke's skin was always smooth despite the scars that littered her body. Tiny indentations of puckered tissue that seemed almost too insignificant in relation to the story they told. After spending weeks apart, Sam always fingered those little lines, almost as if reacquainting herself. She did it tenderly, almost reverently, but she did it to remind herself.
Of what she had to lose.
Their hair was still wet, sinking into the pillows. It was a bad habit, but Sam couldn't bring herself to move.
Sighing, she closed her eyes and curled herself further into Brooke, pressing a soft kiss against a chilled shoulder.
Brooke keened into her, eyes closed with sleepy intentions. "You know I just want you safe," she murmured.
Sam stilled, eyes opening, mouth lingering against Brooke's skin. "I know. It's okay, Brooke." She tightened her hold, and closed her eyes, nose buried into Brooke's mane. "Nothing's going to happen to me. I swear."
It was a promise she told herself fiercely that she would keep.
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