Eight

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*This chapter is unedited. If you find a mistake, please bring it to my attention. Thank you!*


Eight


"I spent too much time/ wondering if she sees me/ debating asking her out/ building my look/ to suit her appeals/ and all the while/ she stared at him/ like he moved the stars."

--Devon Walker, BlInD iN mY eYeS, You 2 Me album



"Anything happens, you get back to the van," Wes ordered in a low voice.

I snorted, but didn't disagree. We'd both already come to the conclusion that I was not field ready. After what happened in the training room, I wasn't inclined to argue. Having a meltdown in a trial fight was one thing--having a meltdown in the field could cost lives.

I would sit behind a boring desk pushing paper for 16 years if it meant not costing any lives...


I crawled over to Ryle. The smoke gathering in my lungs had me coughing and gasping. "Ryle." He lay, unmoving, an arm's width away.

A loud bang went off. The force of the explosion sent me toppling forward. I fell onto Ryle, my chin crashing into his rib. "Ry--" I coughed.

Ryle didn't move. My heart thumped hard, adrenaline hot in my veins. I placed a shaking hand on his neck near his jaw.

Painful, brutal silence.

"Ryle," I choked out. "Ryle!"

"Aria! We have to go!" Wes shouted at me. I'd know his voice anywhere.

"Ryle," I shook his shoulder feebly, "Come on man."

Ryle stared up at the ceiling. Unblinking.

It wasn't until Wes pulled me away that I saw the metal rod straight through his stomach...


I blinked out of the memory. The frequency with which those little pieces of the past kept popping up increasing. Reminding me of the gruesomeness that was my earlier life. And just as I think I can move on, just as I start getting back into work again, they flare up--bright and real.

"It's a crime scene, Wes. I think I can handle it."

Wes stopped abruptly and towered over me. From here I could smell the crisp scent of his aftershave. I tried to ignore the way my knees softened. "Anything happens, Aria. Back in the van."

I pressed my lips tight and nodded. "Got it."

The others were already walking through the park entrance and over to the taped off area.

Commander Leonger had called Wes this morning about the crime in Evergreen Park the previous night. The police had responded to a domestic dispute called in by some late night park-goers. Once they'd arrived, they'd found a homicide scene. The woman had taken off before they arrived and was now being tracked by law enforcement.

Leonger called us in because the crime scene investigators had found an empty needle that--wait for it--contained the same compound discovered at the other scenes.

I followed the others under the bright yellow caution tape. It had rained early this morning, enough to leave the grass a muddy mess. My shoes squished with every step.

"This must've been fun for the crime scene techs," I frowned at the red folded markers along the ground. No one wanted to process a scene after rain. It had a tendency to either wash away the evidence or leave it destroyed.

Some of the techs remained. One scooped up a grass sample with a pair of tweezers. Two others were in a heated discussion near the treeline.

"Leonger wants our eyes on it. We need to start making connections between the scenes. Noticing instances of similarities," Wes said.

"I thought that's what the techs are for," Brayden said. He looked a little pale today and a lot more serious. Most likely it was the death hitting him. It was one thing to talk about crimes and pour over pictures. It was another to be at a scene.

The air around this particular park was weighted. Quiet. As if nature had decided to give the dead male a moment of silence. Add in the overcast sky and lingering humidity from the rain and it made for a very somber morning.

"The techs will give it a scientific connection," I said, "We get to be the on-site eyes. The Initiative is big on emersion. Leonger wants us to live and breathe this case. We might begin to notice things that others cannot."

"Like behavior patterns," Wes continued my thought. "Even subconsciously, our brain is filing away the information we learn. It might become important later."

The team fanned out. Marlee went to talk to the lab techs. Brayden eyed the surrounding area. Eva stared hard at the marker for the male's dead body, her face tight but mostly expressionless.

They'd already taken the body away--back to the lab where he could be analyzed and dissected. It'd be a few days until his family received the body. A few more until they could have the funeral.

At the edge of the scene, I crossed my arms and looked across the grass to the marker for the needle. Wes stood at my side. His presence strong next to me. He was close enough that I could easily lean into his side. And knowing Wes, he'd wrap an arm around my hip.

If I let him.

A dullness settled behind my ribs. How did we get here? How long was I going to pretend to handle this situation? Would it be long before Wes or I snapped?

We couldn't forget the past. I couldn't forget the past. And Leonger was a fool to think the two of us on a team would work out. The memories, our past decisions, were bound to tear us apart. From the inside.

"They found a needle," I said.

"I know."

"Either they were here for a long time, or one of them just dosed themselves."

"It didn't work that fast before."

"The guy...did Leonger say what happened to him?"

Wes nodded. Even in my peripheral, I saw his jaw tighten. "He was drained. All that was left was skin and bone."

"No muscle?"

"None."

"Weird," I muttered under my breath. "What kind of drug causes such radically different side effects?"

"The dangerous kind."

Movement at the edge of the trees caught our attention. Another tech stepped from the denser trees, a clear bag in one hand and a navy tech kit in the other. Brayden was closer to that area. He traded words with the tech for a few moments.

"What is it?" Wes asked as Brayden came over.

Marlee and Eva grouped up with us as he approached. His face was grim. "They found a memory card."

"Might not be anything," Wes put a voice to my thoughts. "This is a public park. A photography student could've lost it during a nature shoot."

Brayden shook his head. "Not this time. There's blood on it. It's definitely part of this crime scene."

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