Rated: PG-13

Summary: "I can't believe it's you," he murmured against the top of her head.

"I'm here," she said. "It's me." And for the first time in a long time, she felt that it was true.

Dee Dee slept deep and dreamlessly, thanks to the aid of the little round pills sitting on her nightstand, and so it took her a while to realize he was shaking her. His touch was gentle, and when she opened her eyes to the gray dawn light, he was leaning down over her. He had shaved off the beard last week and she still wasn't used to his new face. "What is it?" she asked, squinting at him.

Alex squeezed her shoulder. "Sorry to wake you, but there is something you should see."

She slid from the bed and followed him to his office, where his computer screen glowed on the desk. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes as he leaned down and adjusted the mouse. "What?" she asked again.

"Here," he said. "It's for you. Look."

He had an email account through the university, and occasionally people would use it to contact her as well. She saw the sender's name, "Hunter, Richard" and the subject line, "sad news," and lowered herself into the chair.

"I didn't read it," Alex told her. He touched her shoulder briefly and then backed away.

She held her breath and clicked to open the message. He had written before once or twice, terse updates that bespoke his discomfort with this new medium. Rick Hunter was a man of few words, and electronic communication had shrunk his vocabulary even further. She leaned in to study the short missive.

Hi. Sorry to have to tell you that Charlie Devane passed away last night. Heart attack in his sleep. Services are on Sunday. Rick

She tightened her mouth as tears filled her eyes. "Oh, Charlie," she whispered, and stroked the screen with her fingertips. She had not seen him since her wedding nearly six years ago. In her memories, he was solid and alive, with his serious three-piece suits and his rare, deep belly laughs. It did not seem possible he was gone and she'd never said good-bye. Tears leaked from her eyes, blurring the words on the screen. She sniffled and wiped her face with the edge of her pajama sleeve.

"Everything okay?" Alex sounded tentative and a little afraid. He knew things were far from okay, even before the message arrived.

"Charlie Devane died," she told him, and he moved back into the room. The ancient wooden floorboards creaked with his weight. Six years in, and she still wasn't used to how old everything was in Oxford, England. Back in Southern California, a building was considered historic if it dated before 1920. The cottage they had rented was built in the 1600s some time. "Charlie was my old Captain from back in Homicide," she added for clarification.

"Right, I remember now." He put his hands on her shoulders and rubbed them in a comforting fashion. "I'm sorry."

She clicked the message closed and pulled free from his touch. "I want to go to the funeral."

"Of course," he said. "Absolutely." He hesitated and looked at the floor. "It's just I can't go with you. I have to be in Lesotho on Friday."

"That's fine." She was used to being on her own by now. She got up to leave the room, but he caught her hand as she tried to pass him. His grip was warm and tender, the way she remembered from years ago.

"I'm sorry," he said softly, "about your friend."

She'd had enough of sorry to last them both a lifetime. "I'm going to go pack," she murmured as she pulled away. At least this time, she was the one leaving him.


She managed to doze some on the first leg of the flight, but as her plane crossed over the Rockies, she could no longer close her eyes. She pressed her forehead against the cold plastic window and gazed down at the familiar white peaks. Just another hour or so and she would be home.

Alex had grown up a Navy brat and lived all over the world with his family. He loved travel and new places; there was no place on earth that held decades of his history. He could not quite understand her elemental longing for hazy sunny days, ribbons of freeways and corner-stand tacos. Three years ago, when her city burned, she had watched the news in anguish, feeling helpless and lost and scared for everyone involved. It felt personal. Men and women in blue were out there on the front lines, where she could have been, only they were now the enemy as a century of racial tension went ablaze in the space of a few short days.

She had spoken by phone to Hunter in the aftermath – the last time they'd talked – and he had sounded exhausted and defeated. "You wouldn't know the place anymore," he'd said, and she quivered now because she feared it might be true.

The urban sprawl looked the same from the air, though, her stomach rising as the plane gradually came down. She could pick out the 405 with no trouble at all; the wheels practically kissed it on the descent into LAX. By the time she had cleared customs and retrieved her suitcase, it was past four by the clock but midnight in her head. She felt like a time traveler to her own life.

Sunglasses. She welcomed them again with a grin. Oxford had been green but drizzly when she left, spring moss starting its creep up the omnipresent damp stone walls. She collected her rental car and set out on the streets she knew by heart. The white sandstone walls of city hall gleamed in the distance, showing her the way.

As she drove, she saw the scars that had yet to heal – boarded buildings, storefronts charred and chained. The news had said nearly four thousand places had burned in total, and there was not nearly enough money available to fix it all. The buildings sat neglected but impossible to ignore. She could practically feel the anger still simmering under the streets.

She drove to Parker Center because she needed to see him more than she needed sleep. Giddy but anxious, she parked the car and looked up at the building. She didn't know if he was even there, hadn't told him she was coming. Keeping in touch had proved a lot harder than she had anticipated. Hunter was not much for phone calls, and he certainly wasn't going to exchange long letters with her. He had tried writing short notes at first, but at that time, it was she who had the problem following through. There was a cottage to rent, a new job to find, and Alex, of course, hungry for her every night. Her correspondence during this period was a bit…lacking.

And this was only part of the problem. Walking away from her life had not been easy, and nothing made her question that decision more than a signal flare from Hunter. She had been in Oxford just six weeks, barely even gone, when he sent her flowers for her birthday. She had cried in her tiny bathroom for an hour. She had mourned the loss of their deep friendship in private, away from her new husband, lest he think she had actually changed her mind. She loved Alex but she missed her best friend.

For a while, she could tell herself that it wasn't really that different. Their connection would remain unchanged even if it wasn't nurtured daily with bad coffee and homicides. It was only when she'd had her first miscarriage and she did not tell him – she told no one outside of Alex and her family – that she admitted their friendship had waned. By that point, their exchanges were mostly about work and the weather; she didn't see a way to create their old intimacy again in a quick note or ten-minute phone call.

So her heart hammered in her throat as she thought about seeing him again, possibly in just a few moments, this old friend and new stranger. She got a taste of how it might feel when she had to sign in for a visitor's pass. This place where she had worked so many long hours, and she no longer belonged here. There were so many new faces. The desk sergeant was no one she recognized. "Hi," she said, trying to peer around him. "I'm looking for Sergeant Hunter."

"You mean Lieutenant Hunter? He's back that way to the left."

She blinked. He had never mentioned a promotion. "Uh, yeah. Thank you."

They had rearranged the desks again, so she had no way of determining which one might have been hers. She let her eyes linger on the one that was the closest approximation. It was manned by a woman, at least – a young Hispanic detective in a smart-looking charcoal suit.

She wandered further until she found Hunter and then froze at the sight. He had a pencil between his teeth and was using two fingers to type on a computer keyboard. Some things never changed. She stood rooted to the floor, staring and wondering what to say, when some little bit of their old telepathy must have kicked in because he suddenly turned to look right at her. She gave a tiny, awkward wave. "Hi."

He grinned from ear to ear as he got up from his chair. "Hey! You didn't say you were coming." He grabbed both her hands in his and squeezed with such delight that she relaxed with a laugh.

"I left in kind of a hurry."

"I guess so," he said, still holding her hands. "It's good to see you." He looked down at her with fondness and amazement. "Well, come over here. Sit down." He dragged her to his new desk, and she took a seat next to it.

"I see you've moved up in the world," she said as she reached over to touch his new nameplate.

"Yeah, about a year ago," he said. He shrugged. "More control over which cases I take, slightly saner hours."

"Good for you." He had been offered the job before, she knew, back when they were partners, but had declined it then, citing no desire to move into a manager's role. Secretly, she'd been glad at the time not to lose him; then a year later, she had left him.

"When did you get here?" he asked, leaning back in his seat.

"Just flew in now." She paused. "I, uh, I haven't even checked in at the hotel."

He gave her a slow smile. "Just couldn't wait to see the old place, huh?"

"Something like that." She glanced to the Captain's office, which sat in shadows with the door closed. "I was so sorry to hear about Charlie."

"Yeah," he said quietly. "We all were. Everyone around here is pretty torn up about it. There is a memorial fund set up, with all proceeds going to the ASPCA."

"Just show me where to contribute." She hesitated a moment. "Thank you for letting me know what happened," she said. "I appreciate it. He…he meant a lot to me, and I'm glad I could be here for the services." She could only imagine how she would feel if she'd found out too late to pay her respects.

"Of course," he said. "I wrote as soon as I heard. He asked about you often, you know – just last week as a matter of fact."

"Oh, yeah?" She ducked her head, embarrassed. Her last communication with Hunter had been a fairly generic Christmas card. It's not like she had given him a lot of news to pass on.

"Is Alex here with you?"

"Uh, no." She folded her hands in her lap. "He's in Africa this week – Lesotho, specifically – running part of a clinical trial on a new HIV drug."

"Sounds important."

"Mmm, yes." It was important, of course, way more important than anyone's marriage, so she saw him off to the airport with a small kiss and a promise to be back when he returned. She always kept her promises.

Hunter checked his watch. "So are you free for dinner then? Or are you too wiped out from travel?"

"I could eat," she said, and he laughed and wagged a finger at her.

"I knew it was you," he said. "Let me just make a quick phone call first, okay?" She sat and eavesdropped nakedly as he chatted up the person on the other end. "Yeah, I'm just leaving now, but I ran into an old friend. We're going to grab dinner. Uh-huh. No, not too late. Yeah, me too." He hung up and spread his hands. "We're all set."

She raised her eyebrows at him. "I'm not keeping you from a hot date, am I?"

He looked down and cleared his throat. "No, that was Clare. We, uh, we live together."

"What? Since when?" He had apparently left a lot of big things out of their exchanges too, because she was sure she would have remembered hearing anything about a woman.

"Um, last October, I guess."

"October! How come you never said anything?"

He looked her up and down and then shrugged. "I'm not sure."

There was silence then, as she wondered about this mysterious Clare who had moved into his heart and his house. She wanted to know everything and nothing at the same time. "Well, shall we go?" he asked as he stood.

She followed him to the elevator, where they eyed each other from opposite sides as they waited for the door to open. How many times had they stood like this? The ding signaled the elevator's arrival, and he touched her back lightly, like the old days, as they stepped inside. It was empty except for the two of them.

"Come here, you," he said when the doors slid shut, and he tugged her into a fierce embrace.

She understood then why he had not hugged her in public. Tears stung her eyes as she held onto him for dear life, breathing in his familiar scent.

"I can't believe it's you," he murmured against the top of her head.

"I'm here," she said. "It's me." And for the first time in a long time, she felt that it was true.

They had dinner out on the patio at her hotel restaurant as the sun dissolved the sky into a swirl of sepia and tangerine. When he reached for his wine glass, she noticed a new scar on his forearm, and she caught his hand. "What happened here?"

"Oh, that. Witness in a drive-by gave me that about a year ago."

"Don't tell me even the witnesses are armed these days."

"He got busted for possession – three strikes, you're out – and he really, really didn't want to go back to prison. He had a butcher knife to drive home his point, if you catch what I'm saying."

The three strike laws were also new since she'd left the force. She had only been gone six years but so much had changed. In her head, she'd imagined her old desk just sort of waiting for her, in case she ever wanted to come back, but it was clear this would never be able to happen – not unless she wanted to repeat the Academy training again like some rookie.

"Seventeen stitches," he said as he pulled free from her grasp. "That's how I met Clare. She's the one who sewed me up."

Apparently so, she thought to herself. This was two mentions of Clare now, so she figured she had to ask. "Tell me about her," she said, reaching for her wine.

"Aw, she's a sweetheart," he said, smiling. "And way smarter than me. She is a doctor in the ER at Wilshire Memorial – hence our fateful meeting. She's seen as much awful human behavior as I have, so I don't have to put on a happy face for her at the end of every day."

"Must be serious," she said, "if you've moved in together."

"Yeah, I guess so." He shrugged. "After a while, you just get tired of chasing the next best thing. I'm getting old, McCall." He blanched as soon as the name was out of his mouth. "I mean, Dee Dee. See? I'm getting senile. I can't even remember your name."

"Relax," she said. "It's okay."

He was still flushed. "I never had a chance to get used to your name change," he muttered.

This was true. She had married and flown across the ocean to her new life all in one day. They had been apart now as long as they had been together. She felt the weight of that separation between them as they struggled to find conversation.

"You're not so old," she told him, giving him an appraising look. There was a bit of gray around his temples now but his hairline was holding pretty steady. He was as fit and tan as he ever was.

His blue eyes crinkled with his smile. "You may need glasses."

"They're in my purse," she admitted, and they both laughed.

"I'm forty-five," he said. "That's halfway to fifty."

"No, twenty-five is halfway to fifty."

He nudged her under the table. "I forgot what a know-it-all you are," he said, and she grinned as she squirmed out of his reach. "And if twenty-five is halfway to fifty, then I'm halfway to dead."

She sobered and righted herself. "How old was Charlie?" she asked softly.

He squinted beyond her at the horizon. "Fifty-three."

"God," she said, rubbing her tired head. "Too young."

"Sounds younger with every passing year," he agreed.

"Boy, he saved our butts a time or two, didn't he?"

"When he wasn't threatening to kick them up and down the street himself," he replied with a smile. He held up the bottle. "More wine?"

"Pass, thank you." She was already light-headed with fatigue. She tilted her face to the setting sun and closed her eyes. "Hunter?"


"How come you've never been to visit me?" When he did not answer, she opened her eyes to look at him. "You said you would, but then you never did."

He looked uncomfortable. "Turns out I don't speak the language," he said eventually, opting for a bad joke.

Fine, he wasn't going to tell her. She sighed and put her napkin on the table. "I think I should probably say good-night," she said, fighting a yawn. "Before I fall asleep right here."

"Go," he told her. "I'll pay the bill."

"No, I've got it," she protested.

"I'm making the big bucks now, remember?" He jerked his thumb at the door. "Go get some rest. I'll call you tomorrow. We can…we can have lunch or something."

She looked at him searchingly. "You'll call?"

"I just said I would."

She nodded a little and decided to trust him. "Okay, then. Tomorrow." She got up and went to leave, letting her hand rest briefly on his shoulder as she did so. "Night, Hunter."

He caught her hand and held it tight. "You never asked."


"Why I never visited – you never asked."

"I must have…"

He shook his head. "Go on," he said gently. "Go to bed."

In her room on the fifteenth floor, she turned the lights out but left the curtains open, leaving only the sheers to diffuse the view. The city sparkled at her, its familiar skyline twinkling as dusk faded into night. In her dream, it all went up in red flames around her. She kept trying to find a way out of the city, but the streets changed even as she drove them, the fire always chasing her just behind.


As promised, Hunter picked her up for lunch the next day in an unfamiliar silver sedan, and she felt a pang of loss for the old green Dodge. But dressed in jeans and a pale blue button-down shirt, Hunter, at least, looked even more like the man from her memories. "Clare won't be joining us?" she asked as he held the car door open for her.

"She has to work today. But she'll be at the service tomorrow."

She tucked her long floral-patterned skirt out of reach of the car door and wiggled her bare toes. It felt good to be wearing sandals again. Oxford was lovely, truly, but as they liked to joke there, Summer was on a Tuesday this year. "Where should we go to eat?" she asked as he started the car.

"I already have reservations," he replied, but would tell her no more.

She guessed the location before he made the last turn. " Rex's!" she said with delight. "I can't believe the Board of Health hasn't closed this place down."

"The Chief would never stand for it," he said as he slid the car to a stop. "His nephew owns the place now."

The sign was decrepit – it hadn't lit up since the days that she had been a regular. The specials listed in the window hadn't changed either, but the red lettering was now a dull pinkish gray. She could not have been more thrilled. "Reservations, huh?" she asked as they walked to the door. "I'm not sure they were entirely warranted."

"Not with the restaurant," he said, holding the door for her. "With the people."

Sure enough, at their old usual back-end booth, Kitty O'Hearn and Brad Navarro waved frantically at her. "Oh my God," she said, holding her face as she grinned. She hurried over to hug each one in turn. "Finally," she said, "some cops I still recognize."

"Not me," Kitty told her. "I retired at the beginning of the year. Did my twenty and I'm getting out."

"Not to worry, though," Brad said. "She'll have plenty to keep her busy."

Kitty laughed and touched her middle. "I'm four months pregnant," she said. "Due two days before Christmas – can you believe it?"

Dee Dee managed to keep her smile. "Congratulations," she said, hugging her friend once more. She leaned back to eye Navarro. "You're not the father, I hope."

He held up his hands. "Kathy had twins last year – two boys. I have all the babies I can handle right now, thank you very much."

Dee Dee slid into the booth next to Hunter as the waitress arrived with their terrible coffee. "So who's the lucky guy?" she asked Kitty.

She gave a happy sigh. "His name is Paul," she said.

"He's an accountant," Brad interjected, as if he still couldn't believe it.

"He's a successful accountant," said Dee Dee as she held Kitty's left hand. "That rock could be under lock and key with the Crown jewels."

"I guess you would know," Kitty replied with a smile. "How is London? Do you absolutely love it? I would die to live there. Literally die. Do you bump into the Queen at the grocery store?"

"We live in Oxford, actually – it's about sixty miles away. No royalty wandering around the premises, I'm afraid. Though there is one man at the local pub who sometimes drinks too much and then thinks he is King George."

"So what about you?" Brad asked her. "Any kids yet?"

She froze. She had been asked this question a hundred times and still never had an answer. Three pregnancies, the longest one ended at 17 weeks – a tiny, perfect girl. "No," she said, clearing her throat. "No kids."

Under the table, Hunter's hand slid over to find hers. She could not look at him as he squeezed her. "I've got five dollars for anyone who dares to try the pot roast special," he said, changing the subject.

"That wouldn't even cover the bottle of Pepto you'd need afterward," Brad replied. "Let alone the hospital stay."

"I'll risk it," Dee Dee said, sipping her coffee. "I never could pass up a chance to take his money."

They talked and ate and laughed for a good two hours before Kitty and Brad had to be on their way. "Kathy starts to go a little feral if I'm gone for more than half a day," he explained. "I don't think she'd actually eat one of our young, but…"

"I'm going to tell her you said that," Kitty replied, swatting him. She hugged Dee Dee tight. "See you tomorrow, kid, when we bid good-bye to one of the all-time greats."

When they had gone, she sat back with a sigh and rubbed her stomach. Hunter eyed her, a toothpick dangling from his mouth. "You're regretting that pot roast, aren't you," he said.

"No," she said, "I'm thinking about pie."

"I don't know what they pay Oxford professors these days," he replied, "but I hope Alex makes enough to feed you."

"I haven't been this hungry in a while," she said, realizing it was true.

He gave her an inscrutable look and signaled the waitress. "Better order that pie then."

Later, they visited the Getty Center at her request. Hunter stood in front of a codpiece with his brow furrowed. "Do you think some 15th century dude could have guessed that we would be here, five hundred years later, looking at his jockstrap? And that we paid for the privilege?"

She smiled. "It is a little strange, isn't it? Makes you wonder what people will see in museums five hundred years from now and wonder about us. Microwave ovens, maybe?"

"I have a theory about this, actually," he said as they strolled onward.

"Of course you do."

"You know those plastic take-out bags – the ones that say THANK YOU on them? Well, they are slowly piling up by the millions in all of our landfills. I think future civilizations will find these bags and think they were offerings for some crazy, bag-based religion."

She stopped because she was laughing too hard to continue. "That is perhaps the craziest thing you have ever said to me."

"Like you wouldn't be some sort of high priestess in this religion," he told her. "You ordered enough takeout to make your own landfill."

"And you helped me eat it," she reminded him.

He smiled and took her hand. "Let's go look this way. Maybe we can find some Greek guy's petrified toupee from the fourth century BC."

She smiled and let him lead her. But they went back in time just six years, and soon they were sharing bottles of water on a bench together out amid the topiary trees. "So what do you want to do next?" he asked, squinting in the sun.

She considered for a long moment. "Take me to the beach," she said. "I want to see the ocean."

An hour later, she was barefoot and holding her skirt away from the dancing edge of the surf. Hunter had rolled up his jeans enough to dip his feet in as well. "I've missed this so much," she said as she took in the sparkling blue sea.

"Don't you, like, live on an island?" he asked, kicking some water at her.

"It's not the same," she replied as she ducked out of the way. "The beaches are full of rocks, not sand."

They spread out an old blanket, and she laid with her eyes closed, listening to the sounds of the gulls crying overhead as the water curled itself in rhythm against the shore. His huge frame blocked the worst of the wind. She was warm and sleepy, content, and she let herself drift as if floating on the waves themselves.

When she opened her eyes again, the sun had dropped low in the sky and she was pressed right up against Hunter's side. She froze and blinked rapidly but did not immediately pull away. "Welcome back," he said, amused.

"Sorry," she said, rolling back to her side of the blanket. "Jet lag."

He moved too, closing the distance between them again as he propped himself up on one elbow to look down at her. "It's hard, isn't it? We were yoked to the same schedule for years, but now you're asleep when I'm awake and vice versa. England might as well be on the moon."

"Yeah, it feels that way sometimes." It was easier to blame the distance rather than any personal failing on their parts. She sat up and shivered. "I forgot how quickly it can cool off as the sun goes down," she said.

He sat up next to her. "You want to go?"

"No," she said quickly. "I want to see the sunset at least once." It was Mother Nature's nightly curtain call, a breathtaking ritual she had taken for granted when she could see it every day.

"Okay, then come here before you freeze to death," he said as she shivered once more. He shook the sand loose from the edges of the blanket and drew it up around them.

It was awkward at first as she sat between the V of his legs, careful not to touch him too much, but then the blanket and his arms closed around her. She gave up all pretenses and settled back against him with a contented sigh. He rested his chin on the top of her head and she could swear she felt him smile. "I've missed you so much," she said as they watched the wind ripple across the sea.

His arms tightened around her. "Then why did it take you so long to come back?"

He must know. He had said the words himself all those years ago: What we've had is almost like a marriage… But he was wrong, of course, that saying good-bye was not like a divorce, because there was no way she could be married to two men at once.

"What would Clare say," she asked, "if she saw us here like this?" Because this was who they were together; Alex might love her, but Hunter had killed for her. This was a history that would not go away as long as she still drew breath.

He found her hands and laced their fingers together. "I don't think she would be too happy about it," he admitted.

She nodded slowly. "That's why," she said.

He stroked her wedding band with one finger, and she was relaxed enough to let him do it. She knew the questions that were coming. "And Alex?" he asked eventually. "What would he think?"

"I guess…" She took a deep breath. "I guess he probably wouldn't be surprised."

Certainly not as surprised as she had been last year when she had dropped by Alex's office unannounced and found him half-naked with his research assistant Liana. She'd known even as she had stood there in the doorway that he still loved her; the stricken look on his face said it all. He had banished poor Liana to another department and spent weeks apologizing to her. Indeed, he was more sorry than she was. Now that it was over, she was supposed to pay attention to their marriage again, and she had no attention left to give. She could not blame him for seeking solace elsewhere.

"You know, I almost tried to stop you from leaving," he murmured, his words so low they were almost lost in the wind.

She took their joined hands and held them against her body. "What do you mean?"

"I mean I considered trying to argue you into staying. I had six years with you – you were my friend, my partner. Who was this guy to come in and just take you away?" He sighed. "I didn't know how I was supposed to do the job without you."

"You seem to have managed okay," she said.

"It's not the same," he said, squeezing her. "It was never the same."

She felt a flush of relief that at least it had been as difficult for him as it had been for her. The bone-deep loneliness inside her started to ease, just a bit. She hugged his arms closer to her and closed her eyes.

"Plus," he said, sounding regretful, "I was a little bit in love with you."

She went completely still, her eyes shut tight. "No," she said. She shifted in his embrace so she could see his face. "That's not true."

"Dee Dee," he said, and pressed his forehead to hers, "I know it's been a long time, but you must remember how it was."

"No," she said. "You never said anything like that. I remember…I remember shortly before Alex came, we talked about it, the night we spent together. Then later when I asked you inside with me…"

"I said no," he finished for her softly.

She nodded. "So don't try to tell me you were in love with me," she said, pulling away a bit. The wind swept her hair across her face, obscuring her vision. "Because I do remember exactly how it was."

He brushed the hair from her eyes and cupped the side of her face. "I thought there would be other opportunities," he said. "I didn't realize then it was the end. Some things, I guess you can only see from a distance." He sighed and dropped his hand. "Then Alex showed up, and if I had doubts about my feelings, he had none. He wanted to give you all the things I never could – marriage, a family – who was I to interfere with that? He loved you very much."

"I know," she said, hugging her knees to her chest.

Hunter bit his lip. "I hope…I hope that's still true."

She squeezed her eyes closed and took a shuddering breath. "I don't know what I hope for anymore," she said at last. The blanket slipped from her shoulders, and the wind rushed past, stealing the heat from between them.

He was quiet for a long moment. "Is he really in Africa?" he asked.

"Yes. He's there most of the time now."

"That must be hard. For both of you."

She glanced at him. "It was hard, once. Now it's maybe easier." He gave her a questioning look, and she sighed. She couldn't figure out how to explain the two and a half years she had spent enduring hormone shots and doctors' visits; between Alex's travel schedule and her fertility calendar, their lives were no longer their own. "He's such a good man," she said at length. "After everything, it's the one thing I am still so sure of."

He pulled her back against him, righting the blanket and covering them once more. "Pardon me if I'm reserving judgment."

"No, it's not his fault." She braced herself for the truth. "I'm the one who went crazy."

Her traitorous body could not produce a child, and she had tried to force it to her will with every hormone, every pill, pumped so full of strange chemicals that she started hearing voices. Alex had flushed all the drugs in the middle of one awful night. Enough, he'd said while she'd sobbed. We're not doing this anymore.

"I can't have children," she said. She felt light and strange having said the words out loud. "But it took three miscarriages and an endless parade of doctors before I could admit it – and a long bout of depression before I could accept it."

"I'm sorry," he said, hugging her close. She closed her eyes and accepted the comfort she had denied herself at the time. He rocked her slowly, with the rhythm of the crashing waves. The sun had almost disappeared over the horizon.

"Adoption is not a possibility for two non-citizens," she said eventually. "Alex says we do have kids already – he through the clinic and me through the shelter. And that's true, in a way, but it's not the same. I tried to make it be, but it just made it harder."

He wrapped her in full hug then, pulling her deep into his lap. She slid her arms around him and buried her face in his warm neck as he stroked her back slowly with both hands, the way he used to do. She pulled back a bit so that they could lean heads together. "I can't believe it's really you," he whispered.

They held each other tightly, as if making up for lost time. She kissed him chastely on the lips and he murmured something she did not fully understand but took to mean again. So she brushed his lips with hers once more, and then he started kissing her too, over and over, as they found a rhythm that was uniquely them. It was too much for just friends but not passionate enough for lovers – lips just barely parted but somehow unable to stop the slow, gentle kisses.

She felt the moment it turned sexual. His hand at her neck held her still as he deepened the kiss. She gave a choked sob, desperate to be closer, and pressed her breasts against him. They kissed openly for long minutes as they relearned each other's taste and feel. Missed you, she thought, her hands in his hair. Missed him, missed herself, and everything they once were together.

Abruptly, he pulled away, breathing hard. They were totally alone on the dark, cold beach. "We can't," he said. "Not like this. This…this is not a memory I want to have with you."

She shut her eyes as regret and shame washed over her. "No, of course not," she said as she moved to climb off his lap.

"Wait," he said, a catch in his voice.

She was on her knees over him. "What?"

"Back then, if I'd asked you, would you have stayed?"

She traced the shell of his ear and smiled sadly. "Back then? If you had kissed me like that…yes. Yes, I would have stayed."

He hugged her one last time, his face pressed in the valley of her breasts. They drove back to her hotel in relative silence, and he kissed her cheek before she got out of the car. "See you tomorrow," he said, just like old times.

She lay alone in the dark on her too-large bed without changing her clothes. They smelled of sand and sea and Hunter, and she wrapped herself inside them, these scent memories of the person she used to be.


Charlie Devane had no proper family but he had built himself a new one that turned out in force to say good-bye. Rows of white chairs, fifty feet deep, surrounded one gleaming wooden casket that seemed somehow too small to hold him. She thought on his gruff exterior and quiet kindness, how he had saved her from herself at least a dozen times. She only hoped she had thanked him enough.

She cried just a little when they lowered him into the grave, the one next to Sarah. If nothing else, he was back where he belonged at her side.

After the service, Hunter introduced her to Clare Delaney, and she did her best to smile and make eye contact. "Rick has told me so much about you," she said warmly, shaking Dee Dee's hand.

The woman was exactly as she might have expected – young, blonde, pretty enough to turn heads – but also a total surprise. She had a calm demeanor and gentle blue eyes. He smiled when she took his hand, and Dee Dee looked away.

"Can you join us for lunch?" Clare asked. Hunter's expression was unreadable.

"Uh, thank you, but I can't. I have to check out and get to the airport before too long." A lie. Her flight wasn't until eight. She met Hunter's gaze. "It was good to see you," she said.

He leaned down to peck her cheek. "You too. Have a safe trip home."

Home. Her heart squeezed at the word, and she pulled free from Hunter's grasp. "Bye."

At the hotel, she enjoyed a white wine on the restaurant patio and watched the sun set one last time. Beyond the fence, a group of children shrieked with laughter as they dunked each other in the pool. She drank in the scent of chlorine and the sounds of their joy.

She drove back through the same streets, navigating on instinct. The sun was low enough she didn't need the dark glasses, but they hid the tears that kept threatening to overflow. She pulled herself together and returned her rental car. At the gate, she flipped through a woman's magazine without really seeing any of the content. A shadow appeared over the page.

"Hey," he said, and she looked up, startled.

"What are you doing here?" she asked as he took the seat next to her.

"I can't stay," he said. "But I wanted to say good-bye in private."

She laughed. "There are a hundred people here at least."

"I only care about one of them." He held her face in his hands for a moment and then leaned down to kiss her. There was no mistaking this one. Her mouth opened on a sigh, and she wound her arms around his neck, ignoring the hot tears that stung her eyes as they held each other and kissed and kissed and kissed.

Breathless, he pulled away. "Here," he said, handing her a slip of paper. "I have a cell phone now, and that's the number. You can call me any time, okay? If you need to talk or vent or, you know, to get a ride home from the airport."

The PA announcer came on to let her know they were boarding the flight. "That's me," she said, sniffing. "I've got to go."

"Go," he said, and kissed her head.

She clutched her things and forced herself to walk across to join the line. She did not want to turn around and watch him leave. On the plane, she held his number tight in her hands and shut her eyes against the passengers around her. Come on, come on, she thought. Let's get out of here. If she did not leave now, she never would.

Finally, the engines roared to life, vibrating her whole body. Her heart threatened to beat right out of her chest. Faster and faster, up and away. The plane tilted suddenly in the sky, and she opened her eyes with a gasp as her past fell free, left behind on the ground below. Los Angeles was spread out in an endless blanket of twinkling lights, as if the stars had all fallen to Earth, silent and far away. When she looked again, she was alone with the black night, hurtling through space toward her uncertain future.


Notes: Many thanks to Maybe_Amanda for saving me from myself. Any remaining errors are all on me.

Street Wise aired when I was an emo-tastic 16 years old, and I thought it was just unbearably sad. Now I am a grownup and I still practically had to write this story with my eyes closed. ;-) I understand why Stepfanie had to leave, but to me, Hunter and McCall are forever. Deep down, I am a happily-ever-after kind of girl.

Since those days of Street Wise, I also spent four miserable years in Southern California, during which I longed to be pretty much any place else. Imagine my surprise when I returned later and discovered that somehow, improbably, the area had become a kind of home to me. I love the descent into LAX now - the barren beauty of the San Bernadino Mountains, the prickly Joshua trees, and the endless blue of the Pacific Ocean. Even the eight-lane highways no longer give me the shakes.

This is what happens when I get a day off: I write fic. 

Feedback always welcome at

© syntax6 2015