"You know, I think I finally have it all figured out," Penny remarked to her friends. It was the time of limbo...a few days after Christmas, and a few days before New Year's Eve when every day felt like it should be a holiday, but usually consisted of working hard and coming home exhausted. However, today was Sunday, and two Mikes and a Tim had been invited to dinner by the three roommates. They had all accepted the invitation - after all none of them could really cook, so this was a chance for a decent meal - and they were sitting in the living room talking while Mik prepared dinner.
"What's that, Tink?" Logan asked.
"Why my boyfriends' parents usually don't like me."
"Penny, you know that my parents really enjoyed meeting you. I don't know why you keep harping on this," Kellerman said from the sofa. He was sitting with Logan and Tara on the couch, while Tim opted for the easy chair a few feet away. Penny was sprawled on the floor in the middle of the room, her arms and legs spread out.
"That's it. That's how I figured it out," she said as she sit up. "Their parents don't like my job. It has nothing to do with me. Now that I think back, saying that I was a cop wasn't so bad, but if I said I was a Homicide detective, that's what turned them off. I mean, God forbid their little boy go out with some chick that works with dead bodies...who could get killed on the job, leaving their son heartbroken." She faced Kellerman as she continued. "Your parents are used to the idea because that's what you do. You're a Homicide detective, so why would my being one be a shocker?"
"My mom always liked you, Pen," Logan threw in.
"She doesn't count. I was never a prospective girlfriend. And besides, you're a detective too, Robin."
"What's with the nicknames?" Tara asked, irritated. She was hungry and impatient to eat. Plus she was a little annoyed with Penny...it frustrated her to no end how much her temper clashed with Logan's, while he and Pen never seemed to fight.
"Hey, babe, calm down," Mike said, putting his arm around his girlfriend. "I've called her Tinkerbell in front of you before, and I'm sure she's explained the Robin thing to you."
"Dinner," Mik announced, emerging from the kitchen in her new apron, part of her Christmas present from her roomies.
The five of them entered the dinning room and sat down. Mike and Pen on one side, Mike and Tara across from them, and Tim and Mik at the heads of the table. Tara and Penny had set the table before their guests arrived, leaving the job of bringing the food to the table, as well as preparing it, to Mik. They all started with salad, which was followed by an ample amount of Italian food. Spaghetti galore, made with Mik's famous homemade tomato sauce and meatballs. Garlic bread was also plentiful, and when everyone had food on their plates, Tara approached the subject once more. "And you're called Robin, why?"
"Oh, I forgot." Mike finished off his garlic bread before explaining. "Back in the 2-7, everyone made fun of me because I pitied the working class. Those big rich CEOs always pissed me off, but I have a lot of respect for the working man. One day, my Captain called me Robin Hood...and you know Penny, always looking for a new name to latch on to. She heard about it, and stuck with it. Hence, you're all in the presence of a legend."
"Locksley, I think, wasn't such a braggart," Penny said.
"Not as good looking, either."
They all laughed, and Kellerman was about to inquire into this "Tinkerbell" thing when the course of the conversation changed. By the time dessert came around, he had forgotten all about it. Dessert consisted of homemade brownies, Tara and Penny's contribution to dinner. Mik had wanted to make dessert too, but her two friends would hear nothing of it, thinking that she already had too much to do. After polishing off the brownies, everyone helped clear the table, and they returned to the living room, leaving the dishes piled in the sink.
"How about some entertainment?" Penny asked. The group nodded, and she left the room, only to return with a guitar.
"You play the guitar?" Kellerman asked. He knew about the piano, but other instruments? "Sure. This is my new one, courtesy of the two sweetest girls I know."
Penny's Christmas presents were relatively large, or expensive as the case may be. Her roommates decided that it was better to give her one big combination present for her birthday and Christmas. She already owned a guitar, but it was from her childhood days, and when left in the damp storage for some years, it had started to fall in disrepair. She could still play it, and had been since she had moved in with Mik and Tar, but it was only a matter of time before it was bound to fall apart completely. Thought it was true that Mik also played the guitar, Penny felt uncomfortable borrowing hers, so the girls thought that a new one would be just right.
After warming up for a few minutes, Penny approached the stereo system and turned it on. "This first piece is a request from Mike." As she sat down on the piano bench, the first notes of Eric Clapton's "Layla" filled the room. Logan immediately grabbed Tara and began to dance, followed by Tim and Mik a moment later. Kellerman, being without a dance partner, remained on the couch and watched Penny play. At first, he wondered why she chose to play guitar, rather than the piano, for this song, but his questions were answered later in the song when the guitar was more prevalent than the other instruments.
The song ended, and Penny was preparing to play another when Kellerman interrupted her. "Why don't I hear the guitar in the music?"
"This is a relatively high-tech system," Penny explained, pointing to a series of knobs and switches on the stereo. "If you know what you're doing, you can block out almost any instrument. I specifically bought it for that purpose, so I could play with various bands." That said, she went on to play a few songs on her guitar before Logan asked her to play piano. She willingly traded one instrument in for another, and found her "piano songs" tape. She replaced her new "guitar songs" tape with the former, and went on to play a few songs. The couples danced for the most part, leaving Mike to watch his Penny play her music.
Everything was great until the 10,000 Maniacs version of "Because the Night" came on. As usual, Penny knew the music, so her mistakes were non existant...the problem came in the middle of the song. The piano did, in fact, play throughout the song, but too many other instruments came in, so there were parts of the music she didn't know. Rather than stumbling through them, she'd simply stop until the next part she did know came up. This time, she didn't only stop, she went to another instrument. The violins came in, and suddenly there she was with an invisible bow and violin in her hand, playing along. When Tara took note of this, she stopped dancing and tapped Mik on the shoulder, who also stopped dancing. They watched their friend, who had gotten too wrapped up in the moment to realize what she was doing, play a fine violin solo. Pen came to her senses when the violins once again were part of the background. She was startled at her own actions, and immediately got up and turned the music off.
"Well, I think that's just about enough of that," she commented.
"Pen? You ok?" Tara asked.
"Yeah...I don't know what came over me, it's been such a long time." She sat back down on the floor, her eyes looking into the past while her friends quietly sat down on the furniture, waiting for her to continue. "My mother played the violin."
Michael Logan already knew that. "She was good at it."
"So was I," she said, not really paying attention. "When she died, the first thing I sold was her violin. It was in such perfect condition, I figured I could get top dollar. I did...but I haven't played since." Her eyes came back into focus, and Pen was once again in the present. "I'm not done entertaining just yet...why don't I do my Logan impression," she said with an evil grin.
"Your what?" Logan asked.
"Do it," Mik said giggling.
"I'll be right back," Penny said, racing out of the room.
While she was gone, Mike Logan took it upon himself to explain his Tinkerbell. "When she was a kid, her parents made her learn how to play instruments. Twice a week she had piano lessons, guitar lessons, and violin lessons, leaving her one free day for voice lessons. They worked her pretty hard."
But he couldn't go on because Penny reappeared. Now she bore Mike's worn jacket. She half-strutted, half-swaggared into the room, with a touch of amused arrogance on her face. She walked directly up to Tara, sat down beside her and said, "Hey, babe. Why don't I take you out for a night you'll remember for the rest of your life."
Tara burst into laughter as soon as Penny had finished her proposition. Mik had been giggling from the first sight of Pen in the jacket, and Mike and Tim tried their best to cover their laughter. The only one unamused was Logan.
"Are you saying I act like this?"
Penny got up and approached him. With pure Logan sarcasm in her voice she said, "Why, Mikey-boy, what are you gonna do about it?" The edges of Mike's mouth were trying to stay where they were, but she saw them quivering up. She turned to the others, "Four shots of Johhny Black and he'll be purring like a kitten."
Logan couldn't take it anymore, he burst out laughing, remembering how many times he predicted how many servings of a particular drink would get a woman woozy. The entire group was hysterical, including Penny herself, when the doorbell rang.
"I'll get it," she volunteered, hanging up Mike's coat on the way to the door. A smile was still on her face when she opened the door, but it soon died upon seeing who it was. "Lance."
Penny's former boyfriend of over three years stood on the porch, in the cold, looking the same way as he had several months earlier. He had the same beard and mustache, the same soft black hair, and the same warm brown eyes that she had once felt understood her.
The two just stared at each other for a long time before Penny finally invited him in. He entered, closing the door behind him, and took off his coat. For whatever reason, that motion hit a spot deep within Penny, and three years worth of memories struck her in an instant. She stumbled backwards, but Lance steadied her arm before she fell. Once Penny got ahold of herself, she shook him off and glared at him, pushing her memories aside for the moment.
"What do you want?"
She closed her eyes and swallowed hard. Whatever anger she felt about the last night she had seem him was long gone, but the hurt that had followed still remained. She didn't want to go back to that hurt again.
"Please," he pleaded softly.
"Hey, Pen, you coming back or what?" Logan called from the living room.
"I'll be right there," she yelled back. She turned to Lance, "Ok, we'll talk."
Penny knew that she'd have to say something to the others, she couldn't just sneak away, as much as she'd like to, so she led Lance to the living room. Logan was the first one to spot the two of them, and stood as soon as he saw them. His standing was not a matter of respect, but was rather the reaction of someone who had been threatened. He was going to protect Penny from Lance come hell or high water, if that's what she wanted.
"Logan," he said as a means of greeting.
"Medil," Logan snarled from across the room.
Mik and Tara also stood, ready to throw the bastard out of the house as well. "Tara, Mik, how are you?"
"Fine," Tara responded, her voice cooler than an ice storm.
"Lance," Penny said before any unpleasantness took place, "I'd like you to meet Detectives Tim Bayliss and Mike Kellerman; Bayliss, Kellerman, Dr. Lance Medil." Tim shook the stranger's hand carefully...he remembered hearing something about some guy doing something to Penny...damn his memory. Kellerman also shook his hand, knowing full well who the man before him was, and knowing that Penny was going to have to deal with him.
"We're going to the kitchen to talk," Penny stated, and directed Lance where to go as Logan grabbed her arm.
"Why are you talking to this guy?" he asked her. "Does he deserve that?"
"Everyone deserves a chance to explain, Mike."
Lance strayed at the door to the kitchen, curious to hear what the others were going to say to her about him.
Kellerman was still standing, and she passed him on the way to the kitchen. "You ok with this?"
"I can't just turn him away. This is something I have to do." She leaned over and whispered in his ear, "And just because I'm giving him a chance to explain, it doesn't mean that I'm giving him another chance with me."
"I know," Kellerman replied out loud, and squeezed her hand for luck. By the time her attention was focused on the kitchen, Lance had managed to slip in before she could see him watching her. She found him sitting at the kitchen table, and sat across with him.
"Well?" she asked expectantly.
"You know, honey..."
"Don't start that honey crap with me, Medil," she snapped. "Say what you want, but don't you dare try to win me over with your sweet sentiments."
"That's it? You're sorry? Well, it's been nice talking to you," Penny stood up ready to go.
"C'mon Penny," Lance said, his own voice beginning to show signs of annoyance, "I didn't come here to fight."
"Why did you come here? Why the hell did you drive all the way to freakin' Baltimore in the middle of the holiday season..." her voice trailed off as realization struck her. "You came down here to see Julianna, didn't you?"
"You bastard! You came down here to see her, and you think that you can just show up unannounced on my porch to apologize?"
"I wanted to explain," he said calmly.
"Explain what?" Penny said softly, no longer having the energy to yell. "There's nothing to it. I went to your apartment, you were making love to some other woman. Exit Penny. Permanently."
"You think it was hard for you? What about me?" Medil replied. "You were off on these God forsaken undercover assignments...and when you weren't undercover, you were spending about 20 hours on the job."
"That's not fair. You knew what you were getting into when we started dating. I told you..."
"And then, when you weren't working, you wouldn't even spend the night with me half the time. How do you think that made me feel?"
His words were a stake through her heart. "Just because I needed some time to myself, it didn't mean that I wasn't in love with you."
"Well, I have feelings too, and I have needs too. You just didn't understand me." He paused. "You're not an easy person to love, Pen."
More wounds to Penny's already bruised heart. She did understand Lance, or at least she thought she did until she caught him cheating. And she thought that he understood her as well. "So, rather than talking to me about it, you go off and fulfill your needs with some other woman."
"No, that's not how it happened at all." Lance waited until Penny was looking directly at him before he continued. "I met Dr. Cox during one of the cases Manhattan was collaborating with Buffalo on. She was smart, funny, pretty...we went to dinner after working together for a week. You were never around, so I figured that it wouldn't hurt to go out myself. You know what I mean, don't you?"
Pen nodded, he was trying to tell her that his intentions weren't romantic as of yet. She went out with guys from the precinct all the time, so it was only fair that he do the same.
"But Julianna was a crafty one. I invited her to my place after dinner." His tone became defensive after a moment's pause, "Still, just as a colleague...friends enjoying a drink together." Penny nodded again. "One minute we're talking, the next minute she's kissing me..." Pen sat back in her chair and folded her arms - she didn't like where he was going with this. "It reminded me of you," Medil recalled, smiling a little. "She was so assertive, she took charge of the whole situation, and the next thing I knew, I was in bed with her."
"You slept with her on your first date? Well, no, it wasn't even a date...you slept with her after your first out of work get-together. Wow, I call that loyalty, all right."
"It was a stupid thing to do," he admitted, "And after that, I started to fall for her."
Why people found it necessary to give her all the details was beyond Penny, but she began to rub her temples with her fingers. "Great."
"But this is the part you don't know...I fell in love with her for all the same reasons I fell in love with you."
"Oh, so you could fall in love with the Penny in Julianna even though in doing so you were betraying the original. That sure makes sense." She leaned back in her chair and sighed. "How long were you sleeping with her before I found out."
"Two months." Penny raised her eyebrows and Lance leaned forward. "I swear to you Penny, it was only two months...and if you hadn't walked out that night, it could've ended then and there."
Pen shook her head. "No. Cheating, lying...I don't stand for that kind of thing. There was no going back. So I left - I left you, I left the 2-7, and I left New York. I left so I could start fresh."
"Are you glad you left?" Medil asked, genually curious.
"Are you asking if I'm glad you cheated, or if I'm glad I left?"
"Both," he shrugged.
"No, I'm not happy that you cheated, but the past is past...it's dead. No one can change it. As for my move, I could have been perfectly content to live in New York forever, but I've grown to love Baltimore as well, so I don't regret it."
"If I broke up with Julianna right now, would you come back to me?"
There was no hesitation on Penny's part. "No."
"You found someone else," he said, motioning in the direction of the living room.
"Yes, but that has nothing to do with you and me."
The two sat in the kitchen for another ten minutes, but no more words were exchanged. Their conversation was over, they had nothing move to say to each other. She showed him to the door, and as he put on his coat, spoke once more.
"'You were my lesson to learn, I was your fortress to burn.'"
"Still quoting?" he asked, not waiting for a response, "I always wished I could do that as well as you could." He paused and looked her directly in the eye. "I'm sorry Pen. I don't think there's anything I've ever felt sorrier about. If I could make it up to you..."
"No, Lance. It ends here with the only word I never thought I'd say to you - good-bye."
"Good-bye, Penny." He leaned over to kiss her cheek, but she turned her face away. Lance let himself out and Penny stood in the hall, alone once again.
Meanwhile, the remaining five people in the house had been making quiet conversation. The subjects had been forced due to the fact that they were more interested in Penny and Lance than anything else at the moment. After a half hour, Penny appeared in the doorway of the living room, looking quite shaken.
"I'm going to start washing the dishes," she told them. The others protested, but she was firm. "I need to be alone for a while." She returned to the kitchen and headed for the counter, above which hung all of their pots and pans...the clean ones, anyway. She grabbed the biggest one she could find and flung it with all her might to the other side of the room. That done, Penny sat down at the table, her back to the door, and thought back to the night in question...
Penny was exhausted. Last month she was undercover...for almost the whole friggin' month. Not that she didn't like working undercover, just that a month was a long time. Since she'd been back on regular duty, her and Lennie had been working their asses off. Somehow they managed to catch all the hard cases, while their fellow detectives were only working 9 hour days. She'd been out to dinner with Lance twice in that time, and made it a point to see him at least once a week, but times were hard for her, so they hadn't been spending too much time together. She'd been sleeping at home - the apartment she shared with Tara and Mik - rather than staying with Lance...she was simply too tired to do so. If she went to Medil's, she knew exactly what they'd end up doing; not that Penny had a problem with sex, but she didn't have the energy for that kind of thing. She was burned out. She needed some time alone. But she loved her Lance.
Tonight was going to be different, though. She left work early, stopped by her apartment to freshen up, put on something sexy, and went over to Lance's place. She wanted to surprise him...mistake number one.
When she reached her destination, she slipped the key he had given her into the lock, and once inside closed the door behind her quietly. The apartment was dark. Penny figured that he was asleep, and what a way she was going to wake him up...but then she heard sounds. Still, she thought nothing of it, thinking that it was just the TV. As she walked in the direction of the moans, she realized she was heading for his bedroom..
The last thing she thought before she flicked on the light was, "Wow...whatever the hell he's watching, the characters sure are workin' at it..." Click. Mistake number two.
The moans stopped. There were two people in his bed. One, two. Uno, dos. She watched Sesame Street as a child, she knew how to count. But there was a problem - where there should have been one person, there were two. The male she knew and loved...and a female, who's name was presumably Julianna, since that's the name her boyfriend had been moaning.
Penny had her gun...at that moment she felt the weight of it on her hip. She must have put her holster back on before she came, as a matter of habit. Right then she could've ended it. Right then, two nice clean shots, and it would've been over for that cheating SOB and his lover. But she was no murderer, she spoke for the dead. She didn't create new dead.
She turned around and went straight for the door...she could hear Lance calling after her, but she didn't care. Penny walked out the front door and slammed it behind her without looking back.
Pen heard someone come into the kitchen behind her. She ran her fingers through her hair once, and without being told who it was, asked, "What's she like?"
Kellerman approached her cautiously. "Who?"
She turned around. "Julianna."
Something clicked inside Mike's head as he sat down next to her. Now he understood why she and Julianna had acted so strange when he introduced them. And why Penny hadn't wanted to talk about it since then. "She's the one who you caught with Lance."
"I just want to know what's she like," Penny said. "I know you've slept with her, you told me as much before I met her. So tell me about her."
"Julianna's...Julianna. She's an excellent M.E...she won the M.E. of the year award a while back. She's a hard worker, she's proud...what do you want to know?"
"How it happened."
Kellerman sighed. "I met her when I was on desk duty...about two months into it. I was going absolutely stir crazy. Somebody sent me down to get her report on some body, and there we were. She didn't even know about the indictment, and when I told her about it, and told her that I didn't do it, she believed me. You gotta understand that up to this point, everyone in Homicide said that they believed me, but I could see the doubt in their eyes. When Julianna said it, I knew she meant it. We kept bumping into each other, or rather, she kept bumping into me. She was a good listener. Finally, one night she came to the boat and...well, you know."
"That's it? In other words, you're telling me that she seduced you."
"In a manner of speaking..."
"When you were vulnerable."
"Tell me about her and Bayliss," Penny ordered.
"They slept together for three weeks or so, then she dumped him."
"Why only three weeks?"
Mike hesitated. "Lewis said that she told him that she hadn't wanted to be alone during the holidays."
"Is she like me?" she asked.
"You share some similar characteristics, sure. But I would say you two are alike. I mean, I can't see you ever doing something like that. Using men, and throwing them away."
"Never," she said harshly. "And I'd never let a man get to me like that either, especially if I'm already involved with someone. Bitch. And that damn bastard Lance..."
"You hate them, don't you?" Mike asked. He had never seen her so negative before, and it startled him.
"No," she said weakly, holding her head in her hands. "It's not in my nature to hate."
"And that's why it's so hard for you?"
She nodded. "I've never hated anyone in my entire life...and no matter how much I want to hate them, I can't. So I'm left with a lot of anger and hurt, and no way to let it all out."
"You have me."
She smiled at that. "I certainly do."
"Hold that thought," he said and ran out of the kitchen, only to return minutes later with a large wrapped box. "I forgot to give it to you the other day...Merry Christmas."
Penny was surprised, after all, he had given her a gold necklace just a few weeks before. She ripped off the wrapping paper and opened the box. She pulled the long piece of clothing and stared at it in awe. It was a bathrobe. The outside was baby blue, and the inside lined with soft, light pink fabric. On the blue, a delicate pattern of flowers was embroidered in the same color pink as the inside of the robe, the trim on the sleeves and sides with the same pink, and a pink rope to hold it together. Of the presents Penny had received from men, this was the most feminine. True, she usually had a very sleek, modern style, with little room for flowers, bows, and lace, but she sometimes secretly wished that someone would give her something just like this...something that said, "I'm a classy lady." This definitely said it.
"It's wonderful," she said.
"I kinda figured that you could use something like this. You know, working all day with us guys, hanging out with the guys after work, I thought you probably needed something to remind you that you're a woman, and that you have the right to have pretty things."
"Kellerman, you're amazing."
"Yeah, I know."
She smiled again. "Now you hold that thought." She dashed upstairs, grabbed her present for him off her desk, and ran back down. "Merry Christmas yourself."
Mike tore through the wrapping paper and opened his box to reveal a black sweater with horizontal thin white stripes every two inches or so. He held it up to see if it would fit, and Penny began to explain.
"I was shopping, and I wasn't sure what to get you. I was looking at a bunch of sweaters when I found that one...I thought it would look pretty hot on you, so I bought it."
"Pretty hot?" he asked, grinning.
"But then again," she said, leaning forward to kiss him, "I always think you're pretty hot. Now let's get back to the others before I get burned."
January sixth. Over a week had passed since her reunion with Lance. It was funny, Penny found herself thinking about him more than ever since then. She allowed herself to remember him, and remember the way they were. After she left him, she pushed anything that had to do with him out of her mind. In fact, Celine Dion had her on point, "And I built myself so strong again somehow...and I banished every memory you and I had ever made..." But seeing Medil after all this time, and having the opportunity to finish the relationship on a definite note ended up being a positive thing. Sure, a lot of her feelings had resurfaced about the situation, but now she could look back on the better part of three years without flinching. She saw what was, and remembered the good and bad times with fondness. With no regrets.
Today was a special day, and there wasn't a single person who entered Homicide who didn't notice her, though no one said anything. She was dressed pretty much the way she always dressed for work with one exception - her crown. She had a floppy crown, that was half jester-like, and half royalty, made of shiny gold fabric on the outside, and shiny red on the inside. On the end of each point was a large pompom, and along the circular part were large plastic jewels. No one knew what to make of her...and their curious stares only made her smile.
When Logan decided to show up for work, reasonably late as usual, he knew exactly what was up. "Is it that day already?" he asked as he checked the calendar on his desk. "Why, yes it is. How could I forget? Bon Fete des Rois, mademoiselle."
"Mikey, that's Spanish," she laughed.
"Hey, you're lucky I remember that much French, Pen. Take what you can get."
"Detective Graham," Gee interrupted, walking over to her desk, "May I ask what on earth you're wearing?"
"It's a crown," she said matter-of-factly. Gee was about to say something else but she cut him off. "It's in honor of the Festival of Fools. In Medieval times in France, January sixth was the day of the peasant festival."
"And my mother was French. And I have an affection for Clopin, king of the Gypsies, in The Hunchback of Notre Dame."
"Personally," Logan said, "I think she makes one hell of an Esmeralda, but she won't listen to me."
"Same thing," Penny shrugged, "They're brother and sister."
"Well," Gee interjected, "It's not exactly what I'd call suitable attire for Homicide, but as long as you don't wear it out on any calls, I guess it's ok."
"Thanks," she replied and returned to her work. That mystery solved, the rest of the unit also got back to business, back to the mysteries they were paid to solve.
It was only a half hour before quitting time when the call came in. Mik directed it to Penny, who picked up on line three, pen and pad in hand. She wrote down an address, and asked the dispatcher why he had asked specifically for her, since anyone can take a call from the dispatcher. She visibly paled when she heard the answer, hanging up the phone seconds later.
"Need help on this one, Champ?" Kay called across the room.
"I need one of the guys on this one, Kay," she said through gritted teeth. "I need someone who'll hold me back, or we'll have two homicides instead of one."
"Sure," she replied, scanning the room, "How about Frank."
"Fine. And I want Brodie or Tara there too."
"Pembleton, you're with Graham," Kay instructed him as she got up. "I'll get one of the videographers in the garage in five minutes."
Penny tore off her crown and threw it on her desk. Pembleton followed her downstairs, and as soon as Brodie showed up, they were on their way.
"What's the deal?" Frank asked as they drove in silence.
"I'm not sure yet, but if that bitch did anything to hurt him..."
"I guess we'll find out soon enough," she replied as they pulled over in front of a red house. They walked up the front path to the front door. Once there, Penny flashed her badge, and the uniform took them inside.
"We received the call at about six," the officer said as she led them upstairs, "When we got here, the mother didn't want to let us inside, but the little girl inside kept saying, 'Why isn't he moving, mommy?' so we finally convinced her to open the door, and we found him." The group ducked under the police tape, and Penny saw what she knew she would, even though she was hoping she wouldn't.
"Tommy," she said softly as she approached the bed. He wasn't moving at all, obviously, and actually looked more peaceful than a lot of the other bodies she'd seen in her life. "Brodie, tape everything in this room, every corner, every crack, got it?"
Julianna was writing something in her notepad when Penny noticed her. "Cause of death?"
"Can't be sure. His mother said that he had terminal cancer..."
"And I talked to him less than a week ago, he called to wish me a happy new year. He was fine. Any other ideas?"
"Possible suffocation," Cox said, pointing to a pillow, "Small beds like this usually only have one pillow on them, this one has two."
Penny nodded. "Defense wounds?"
"No, which brings me back to the cancer. Even a child will put up a hell of a fight if you're trying to suffocate him. Unless..." her voice trailed off and her brows knit in a thoughtful line.
"Yeah," Julianna responded. "If he was unconscious at the time, he would've just laid there."
"I already know his mother didn't want him to feel pain, so killing him before his cancer got worse is a definite option. I want a full tox screen as soon as possible," she instructed the M.E.
"It'll go on the top of the list," she said before turning to Pembleton, who had taken the opportunity to examine the body himself while the two women spoke. "You finished?"
"Bag him," she told her staff.
"Where's the mother?" Penny snapped. She followed the uniform to the kitchen, where Mrs. Hunter and Mary sat, under the supervision of another patrolman. Pembleton remained at the crime scene, to take a more detailed look for any evidence of a crime.
"Detective Penny!" the little girl exclaimed as she ran up to the detective. "I knew you would come and make things all better." Penny leaned over and picked the child up.
"Detective Graham," the older woman coldly greeted the detective. She sat with her arms crossed, a touch of anger on her face.
"Do you know what happened, Mrs. Hunter?" Pen asked her, equally cold.
"He laid down for a nap - with the cancer he was often tired - and never woke up. Mary found him like that," she shrugged, "She got scared and called the police. She's just a kid, what does she know? She doesn't understand death."
"We're done here," Pembleton said as he entered the kitchen. "Mrs. Hunter, will you accompany us to the precinct?"
"We just have to ask you some routine questions, get a statement, that's all."
"What about Mary?"
"She'll come too," Pen responded before addressing Mary, "Would you like to visit the police station again?"
"Yeah!" she shouted with joy.
"Bring Mrs. Hunter to the precinct," Pembleton told an officer, "We'll take the girl."
"Let me get your present," the child said, wiggling out of Penny's arms and running up the stairs, returning a few moments later with another flat package, wrapped in brown paper.
The ride back to the precinct was a stressful one for Penny. She had to keep her spirits up for the sake of Mary, which was proving to be very difficult at the moment. Although she had become a master of her emotions, it seemed that this would be one of those rare occasions that she was going to have to vent in a major way. She sat in the back of the Cavalier with Mary, while Brodie sat next to Pembleton in the front.
When they got to the precinct, she walked up the steps at a fast pace, Brodie and Pembleton at her heels. The majority of the day shift was still there - they had noticed a definite change of mood in Penny before she left on this particular call, so they had stayed to make sure that everything was ok. She entered the Homicide unit holding Mary on her right hip, with a flat package in her left hand, and a look of quiet determination that they'd never seen before. The little girl immediately asked to be put down, where she planted herself at Penny's desk and put the over sized crown on her head. Penny put her gun in her locker before attempting to question Mary, leaving strict instructions that no one was to interrogate Mrs. Hunter without her.
Penny took the child into the coffee room, where she wouldn't be able to see her mother being brought in and taken to the Box. Pembleton joined her a moment later, followed by Kellerman, who came with blank paper and some crayons.
"Hi, Detective Mike," Mary said cheerfully.
"Hi, Mary, how are you?"
"I'm fine. Are these for me to use?" she asked of the crayons.
"Yup," he replied as he sat in the chair next to her.
"Mary," Penny said gently, "This is Detective Frank. He's going to help us find out what happened to Tommy."
"Hello, Detective Frank."
She began to draw on the blank paper. "Mary, honey, can you tell us what happened?" Penny asked.
Frank took out his notebook, and prepared to take notes. "Tommy was sleeping. I went to wake him up because I wanted to play, but Mommy was already trying to wake him up."
"She was in the room already?" Pembleton interrupted.
"What was she doing?"
"She was leaning over him." Mary put down the crayons and tried to think. "She had a pillow in her hands...I don't know why, Tommy's head was already on a pillow. When she saw me, she told me to go away, that Tommy was still asleep. But when she left, I went back. Tommy wouldn't wake up."
"Then what happened?" Penny urged.
"I knew something wasn't right. I called 911, the way the told us at school. I told the lady on the phone my name and my address, and I asked her to get you."
The three adults looked at each other. This kid had just handed them a murder conviction, though she didn't know it. Now the question was, who was going to explain to her that her brother wouldn't be coming back?
"I did the right thing, didn't I?"
"Of course you did, sweetie," Penny reassured her. "You did a good job. Now Detective Frank and I are going to talk to your mommy, ok?"
"You're going to leave me here?"
"Hey, she didn't say I'd be leaving, Mary," Mike said. "I'll stay and color with you."
This seemed to satisfy the child, and she returned to her drawing.
"She says anything else, I wanna know," Penny whispered to Kellerman, who nodded in response. Penny then went directly to the Box, with Pembleton close behind.
"Mrs. Hunter, we need you to sign this," Pembleton explained while Penny brooded in the corner. He made her initial each part of the Miranda statement, and sign the bottom. She did so willingly, and when she was done, Penny laced into her.
"So, when you found Tommy, he had already stopped breathing?"
"That's what I said."
"Then why did your daughter just say that she saw you leaning over him with a pillow in your hands?"
"She's probably just mixed up."
"I don't think so, Mrs. Hunter," Pembleton spoke up. "In my experience, small children are particularly honest. She went into too much detail to have made it all up."
"I don't expect you to understand," she said defiantly, then turned to Penny. "But you, you loved my son. You didn't want to see him suffer, did you?"
"He wasn't suffering yet. You could have at least let him live as long as possible."
"I went to check on him...he looked so peaceful. In that moment, I knew that I didn't want my child to experience the pain that I knew what was coming. I wanted him to leave this earth before he could learn what it was to suffer. So I picked up the pillow..." Mrs. Hunter's eyes overflowed with tears, "And I smothered him..."
She began crying, and Pembleton pulled Pen to the back of the room. "If what she's saying is true, it's a crime of passion. The D.A.'s will probably show mercy."
"But if she drugged him first, then it's Murder 2. She wanted the kid dead, Frank."
They returned to Mrs. Hunter, and her crying subsided for the moment. "You not only smothered your son, you drugged him first. When you found him still alive, you decided that you'd have to do it with your own two hands."
"No, I didn't do that..."
"Do you want to wait for the M.E.'s report? I have all night," Penny said.
"I loved him, I didn't want him to suffer..."
"No," Penny interrupted. "You didn't want to suffer. You were being selfish, you thought by ending his life now, you wouldn't have to suffer later. That's despicable."
Penny left the Box and returned to Mary. They sat together coloring until Mr. Hunter came to take her home, at which point she didn't want to let Mary go, but Kellerman gently pried the child out of her arms, and returned her to her father. After all of the Hunters left, Mr. Hunter and his child to their house, and Mrs. Hunter to her cell, Penny replaced her gun, and opened the package on her desk. She stared at it for a few minutes before speaking. "Mea culpa."
Pembleton was about to try his hand at saying something to make her feel better, but he stopped in his tracks. "What?"
"Mea culpa," she repeated before continuing. "Confiteor Deo Omnipontenti, Beatae Mariae semper Virgini, Beato Michaeli archangelo, Sancits apostolis omnibus sanctis, Et tibi Pater, Quia peccavi nimis, cogitatione, verbo et opere, mea culpa."
As she spoke, the unit surrounded her, drawn in by her foreign words. Pembleton immediately recognized them, and translated them as she spoke, "I confess to God Almighty, to blessed Mary ever Virgin, to the blessed archangel Michael, to the holy apostles, to all the saints, and to you, Father, that I have sinned in thought, in word and deed, through my fault."
"What is that?" Bayliss asked.
"Confession," Logan said gravely, exchanging a glance with Kellerman. "She's confessing her sins to God."
She was silent for a moment before she looked up and realized that everyone was surrounding her. "Excuse me," she said in a low voice. Everyone moved, and as she walked out, she threw every single desk chair to one side of the room or the other, with the grand finale of tipping over one of the file cabinets. Right before she left for good, she turned and looked Pembleton right in the eye, "Mea maxima culpa."
"Through my most grievous fault," he translated.
The only place Penny thought to go was the back of the station. No one went back there at night, though it was a popular place to go during the day. She wanted to be alone, with no chance of anyone coming across her - which ruled out basically everywhere else, including home. She was strumming her guitar, her old one that her mother gave her, which she had taken from Mik's trunk. They were going to see if they could sell its strings, or anything else, but hadn't gotten around to it.
As her fingers plucked the strings, she thought about her newest painting. It was a dramatic change from what he had previously done. She was in a desert, with mountains in the far distance, and a storm with black clouds and piercing lighting in the background. Her figure was shown in full form, floating about a foot off the ground. She was wrapped in a black and red cloth that covered from her feet, all the way to her upper chest, with tattered edges that were flying in different directions in the wind. Her hair was knotted and flying in every which direction as well. Her right hand was coming out, with long, black nails, as if she were trying to coax the person looking at it into the painting with her. Her face was calm, but her eyes were full of rage and spite, and gleamed with an evil that no one had seen in her before. It was a terrifyingly gorgeous portrait. It's title, as written on the back, was "Fatal Beauty."
The one thought that went through her head over and over was the fact that Tommy had known her. He was able to see her greatest attributes, and her worst faults. He could see her happiness and joy, her loving nature, her individuality, her strength...and at the same time he could see her anger, her depression, her uneasiness and fears, her weakness. And despite all that, this child had loved her.
Meanwhile, Tara and Mik were still in Homicide. Kellerman, Bayliss, Logan, were telling them what had happened. Munch and Lewis were at The Waterfront - both had missed the entire thing, and Pembleton was already late getting home, so he left...with the understanding that one of the others would keep an eye on Penny. Brodie was in the coffee room with the others, adding in what facts he could.
"I haven't seen her like this since Bobby died," Logan remarked when they were done recounting the story.
"Bobby?" Bayliss asked.
"Her first partner in Homicide back in New York," Mik explained. She had been living with us for a while when it happened. Boy was she angry."
"I'm telling you, you should have seen her tonight, spouting out scripture and wrecking the squad room," Logan insisted. "She can be as bad as me...and I'm no picnic when I'm really mad."
"What should we do?" Kellerman wondered aloud.
"There's nothing we can do. Penny deals with things in her own way. We'll have to wait and see what happens," Tara said. "We'll figure something out if she needs our help to get through it."
"She loved that kid so much," Kellerman said. "It's always worse if you know the deceased."
"And it's always worse if it's a kid," Tim added, remembering for a moment Adena Watson, and how that case tore him up. Since actually being able to move on, he occasionally wondered if getting a confession would have made any difference to him. An 11 year old was still dead.
Brodie left the others and wandered around the precinct, trying to make sense of it all, when something caught his attention. He followed the sound to a window that was slightly opened - the heating was on the fritz, so they had opened some of the windows to keep from roasting like turkeys. In the lot behind the building, he could see Penny sitting on a picnic table, playing her guitar. The lights from the harbor and the full moon made it easy to make her out in the dark. He ran to get the others, and in a matter of seconds, they had joined him along the series of windows facing the lot.
She played for 10 more minutes before breaking into a song they were all familiar with being that it was of the more popular tunes of the year before.
Down below them, unaware that her privacy was being secretly invaded by those who loved her, Penny had been aimlessly playing notes that belonged to no particular song. But the more she thought of Tommy, and her situation, the more one particular song stuck in her head. She finally gave into the temptation and went into the first chords of the song, followed by the words.
AND I'D GIVE UP FOREVER TO TOUCH YOU, 'CAUSE I KNOW THAT YOU FEEL ME SOMEHOW. YOU'RE THE CLOSEST TO HEAVEN THAT I'LL EVER BE, AND I DON'T WANT TO GO HOME RIGHT NOW.
ALL I CAN TASTE IS THIS MOMENT, ALL I CAN BREATHE IS YOUR LIFE. BUT SOONER LATER IT'S OVER, I JUST DON'T WANT TO MISS YOU TONIGHT.
AND I DON'T WANT THE WORLD TO SEE ME 'CAUSE I DON'T THINK THAT THEY'D UNDERSTAND. WHEN EVERYTHING'S MADE TO BE BROKEN, I JUST WANT YOU TO KNOW WHO I AM...
AND YOU CAN'T FIGHT THE TEARS THAT AIN'T COMIN', OR THE MOMENT OF TRUTH IN YOUR LIES. WHEN EVERYTHING FEELS LIKE THE MOVIES, YEAH, YOU BLEED JUST TO KNOW YOU'RE ALIVE.
AND I DON'T WANT THE WORLD TO SEE ME 'CAUSE I DON'T THINK THAT THEY'D UNDERSTAND. WHEN EVERYTHING'S MADE TO BE BROKEN, I JUST WANT YOU TO KNOW WHO I AM...
Her friends watched as she got up and began to pace. Her fingers abused the strings with such a fierceness that it wouldn't surprise them if she was drawing blood. They watched her kick the fence hard, with such force that it rattled long after she stopped. But Penny could hear the whole orchestra in her head. She heard the violins, the drums, the electric guitar...all playing along with her. She didn't hear the fence rattle or the wind blow, only the music. She felt no anger, fear, or joy. She just felt the music.
She repeated the chorus again after moving past the coda. Everyone thought she was done when she dropped to her knees and stopped playing. But as she detached her shoulder strap from her guitar, she shouted the chorus to the dark sky.
AND I DON'T WANT THE WORLD TO SEE ME 'CAUSE I DON'T THINK THAT THEY'D UNDERSTAND. WHEN EVERYTHING'S MADE TO BE BROKEN, I JUST WANT YOU TO KNOW WHO I AM...
Then she kept saying the last line over and over...and raised her guitar over her head.
"Oh my God," Mik muttered as she finally understood what was about to happen.
Penny smashed the guitar into the asphalt, still repeating the same line, over and over and over....until there was nothing left but wooden splinters and tangled strings. With that, she got up and looked at what she had done, running away into the darkness a minute later.
"She hates that woman so much," Brodie commented.
"No," Mike corrected, remembering the previous conversation he had with her. "It's not in her nature to hate."