Being led into the office of your new partner by one of your new superiors was slightly humbling but rather humorous considering you were jumping rank. Commander Hughes assigned the new detective with a captain. Krystal Kincaide wasn't happy about being placed with a male, ranking officer, considering it probably meant that she'd be doing paperwork. Who in their right mind wanted to work behind a desk when they could be, literally, fighting the crime in the street? But, to each his own was Kincaide's guess. The office was small, tightly arranged. Hughes cleared his bulky throat. The man had presence, Kincaide had to hand that one to him, three hundred pounds of presence.

"Captain Ricker, I'm putting you back on the streets," Hughes said, turning on his heel, opening the door, looking back, "Detective Kincaide, Captain Ricker. Make nice." The office door shut with finality. The office chair swiveled, creaked and Kincaide caught a good look at her new partner.

"So you're L.A., have to say, looks like they got a bit rough with you," Ricker said, indicating Kincaide's facial scars. He hasn't seen nothin', Kincaide thought. Ricker wasn't the type she was expecting either. Office life had let him acquire a dark ponytail, three rings in one ear, and what looked like the tail of a dragon on his left arm? Paperwork had really taken a toll.

Kincaide let a breath out as Ricker stood, seeing the issues. Devil in a suit, just what she always wanted, not. When you're stuck with a 6' 7" tall, dark-haired man in a black suit, with a ponytail, a goatee, and dark flat eyes, you know you're doomed, Kincaide thought.

"Rough? No, I seemed to be at the wrong place at the wrong time." Kincaide replied, watching Ricker slip on his black jacket.

"I see. Off we go then," Ricker said jauntily, striding to the door. Ice flowed through Kincaide's veins as they walked to his unmarked Suburban. The pair slid into the vehicle. Once they left the garage, Kincaide spoke.

"Why does it look like you know where we're going?"

"I happen to be dropping by my apartment for minute, so I can change into plainclothes. You're just along for the ride." Ricker said casting her a glance.

"I was going to say something about vampiric colors and cop work." Kincaide said, staring out the window, almost uneasy in his presence.

"Vampiric?" Ricker repeated.

"Black and blood red? I would ask where you found it but I might be dazzled by your fashion aura."

"Are you usually so odd or am I just special?" Ricker asked after chuckling, parking by an apartment building.

"Want me to wait?"

"How about you come up?" Ricker said, getting out of the Suburban. Kincaide slid out and watched him lock it then followed him to the elevator. Once on the top floor they filed out. At the end of the hall the pair stopped in front of an apartment door. Ricker unlocked it and invited her in. Following him into the apartment, Kincaide was shocked by the black and whites of the room. No color, except her crème colored shirt she wore under her black jacket. She stood, arms crossed over her chest as he entered what she assumed was the bedroom, she noted the lack of the click of the door.

The lacking noise sent a shudder down her spine. She couldn't hear him pad further into the apartment but she could see the man come out of a room. He was almost six foot, if that, barely, dark skinned the name of Riley didn't seem to fit. She felt her tension compound itself as the stranger sat on the sofa, crossed his legs, watched her.

"Riley?" Ricker called, minutes later.

"Living room," the man called back, a Hispanic accent touching his words. Ricker slipped back into view, out of the suit and wearing the same colors in the same arrangement, just different clothes. Kincaide, if not so wary, would have rolled her eyes. Now in the living room, Ricker shot a look her way then to Riley then went into the kitchen.

"Riley, my partner, detective Kincaide." Ricker said, coming out of the kitchen with a glass of water in hand.

"Putting you back on the streets?"

"Yep."

"That's bad news." Riley said with a smirk Kincaid's way. She noted the tattoos on his arms, prison. For guys like you, yes it's bad news.

"I'm gonna go check something, then we're gone, Kincaide." Ricker said, leaving her once more with the Hispanic in jeans and a black shirt, with her stomach tight in anticipation. Then she heard Ricker curse loudly and call her name. Following the voice to a bathroom she saw the blood, then the body. A woman, nude, on the tile floor of the bathroom. Approximately late twenties, blonde, slim, pretty, bullet through her temple, defense marks on her arms and a lot more on her legs.

"Kincaide?"

"You know her?"

"Never seen her before in my life."

"What about your friend?" Kincaide asked.

"Doubt it."

"Call it in and stop gawking." Kincaide suggested. Ricker shot her a slow grin that made her stomach twitch, not in a good way. Ricker called it in while Kincaide visually examined the body without stepping closer. Bruising on arms, thighs, vaginal area. She'd been raped, but she didn't stop fighting. Kincaide felt her throat close up.

"What's your take, Kincaide?" Ricker asked, watching her walk from the site.

"Rape, complete with murder." Kincaide said.

"Rape? You're sure?"

"I know rape when I see it." Kincaide said. She glanced over the bedroom, no blood, just neat organized bookshelf, neatly made bed, covered a black comforter, simple black dresser in the corner, nothing fancy nor out of ordinary. "She was dumped here. Not killed here, question's why here?"

"She wasn't killed here? That's a relief."

"Hope you don't have a secret porn stash you don't want anyone to know about, 'cause they're gonna rake through everything. Who all can get into the apartment?"

"Me and Riley, that's it. As for a porn stash, I didn't see the need to keep one."

"We totally screwed up a dump site. Actually you did that then dragged me into it." Kincaide said thoughtfully. "Probably the purpose."

"Now that I think about it, probably is."

"Did you touch her?"

"Do I look stupid?"

"Maybe I shouldn't answer that, Ponytail." Kincaide in a mocking voice as the crime scene techs entered the room.

"Rape?"

"Jeez will you people stop asking me that? It was rape and a murder. That's the last time I'm saying it." Ricker said to a reporter as they exited the apartment. Kincaide was ahead of him, feeling her stomach tighten once more as he approached her. Sitting beside him in the Suburban driving to NYCPD was painful emotionally. The medical examiner had taken the body and guessed he'd be doing the autopsy in a few hours, that he'd call them to tell them when. As the pair went back up into Ricker's office, he noticed the way his partner moved: head up, shoulders back, spine straight, solid movements. He wondered if she'd been in the military, just from her gait. Once in his office he dropped himself into his chair and she stood by the window that over looked the city.

"Why would one rape, kill, and then drop the body in my apartment?" Ricker asked absently.

"Because he felt like it? I don't know, dammit. I bet you money it has to do with either your past or Riley."

"What is that supposed to mean? How does a rape and murder have to do with either?" Ricker asked.

"He's been in the joint, as if you didn't know. And the rape and murder probably nothing to do with you or him, just the placement of the body."

"Oh? Riley has been in jail, was it that obvious?" Ricker asked.

"Only if you look for prison tattoos on your partner's friends."

"You were looking for them?" Ricker asked, bemused.

"No, they kind of stuck out though. What kind of cop spends his time with convicts?"

"One who knows what it's like to be blamed for something he didn't do." Ricker said.

"You've been in jail? And they let you into a police department?"

"Apparently. I was in juvenile hall for ten months as a kid. Larceny, didn't do it." Ricker added.

"And Riley?"

"He was in for sexual assault when he was sixteen, then got moved to a adult facility when he turned eighteen. Once more, didn't do it."

"That's what they always say, Ricker."

"Sometimes it's true." Ricker said.

"But mostly it's a big, fat lie." Kincaide said cynically.

"I really don't care if you believe me or not, you are stuck with me so if I were you, I'd drop it." Ricker said coolly. Something in his eyes told her not to push the issue. Of all the things in the world Kincaide didn't want, pissing the silent, strong types off was on the top of the list. She turned from his gaze and looked out on the city. The coming of spring was a welcome change on the dreary front of mankind and snow that was New York City in March.

"You ever been to NYC before this?" Ricker asked pleasantly, as if he hadn't just frightened his partner's fragile world.

"Once, as a kid."

"How old were you?"

"Six." Kincaide said, recalling the short trip. Her mother was home schooling her then and making a living. New York was a business trip for her. But to her daughter, it was a city that had never lost its glimmer of freedom, no matter how Mother called it names and threatened her with the crimes.

"What do you think?"

"Of New York now or then?"

"Now."

"Hasn't lost the crimes, still hasn't lost the glimmer of freedom for me."

"Freedom? Odd, well in text with the rest of what you're saying."

"I was like any other kid, I wanted to be on my own, without my mother." Kincaide said, pushing her real feelings down.

"Where was your dad when you were here?"

"He left Mother, before I could remember him." Kincaide lied, not wanting to say that she really remembered him, that she remembered why he left. He left the pair of them, in hopes of getting to her mother to make her stop hitting their child. "What about you, have you lived in New York you entire life?"

"My family moved to New Jersey when I was a kid. I moved to NYC from there when I was 17."

"Lousy family life make you leave?"

"Nah, great family. Too much for me then, still is. Too many kids, too many touches, too many girls, too much." Ricker said watching his computer boot up.

"Too much family? But you seem so tight with Riley."

"That's different. He's a friend, a brother really. Back to the case…how'd you know that she was raped and don't give me the 'because I know what I'm talking about' routine."

"Nudity was a give away."

"I didn't look so close, saw the bullet wound, saw the blood, saw her not moving and called you."

"Why strip a victim if you're going to just shoot them and that's gonna be it?"

"True, but rapists usually don't remove all clothing."

"If it's symbolic he does. If he wants them further humiliated he goes the extra mile." Kincaide said, silencing a shudder.

"Vic is Jillian Molter," Ricker said, "age 29."

"Next of kin?"

"Brother, Richard Molter."

"Let's go." Kincaide suggested. The pair left the office and hitched a ride on the crowded elevator. When they got off at the garage they found the black Suburban and climbed in. Driving out of the garage, Ricker spoke.

"I don't believe I got your first name."

"And vice versa. Meet Krystal."

"Meet Austin."

"Apartment or house?"

"Apartment.

"Where?"

"Harlem."

"Where cops are always welcome."

"Oh yes." Austin agreed. "I'm really starting to worry."

"Are you a cop or a six year old?"

"Well, we both have a attitude problem."

"Yah, so do a lot of people."

"Think about it. Attitude, Harlem."

"Thinking, finding you a sissy."

"Excuse me?" Ricker said.

"Get over it kid. Don't get pissy with me."

"Then don't call me names."

"Sticks and stones…ring any bells."

"I think I hit my school counselor at that point." Austin said.

"You hit your school counselor?"

"Some kid started a fight with me and in the process of kicking his ass the counselor grabbed for me and told me the sticks and stones bit while I was trying to defend myself, she got hit."

"You hit a woman?"

"It was an accident. But I still got in trouble for it." Austin said with a grin.

"Still you hit a woman." Kincaide said. They entered Harlem; they found his apartment and went to the desk. Flashed badges and barely dragged the apartment number out of the desk clerk. Heading up to the apartment was short as Richard lived on the second floor. They knocked on his door and a woman answered.

"What?"

"We're NYCPD." Ricker said, the pair flashed badges, Ricker, his old badge he was used to and Kincaide her new one that said her new precinct. "Does Richard Molter live here?"

"Yep. Lemme go get Richie." The dark woman said, shooting Ricker a grin. "Y'all come on in." Sending Ricker a come-hither look.

"Not too faithful." Kincaide muttered to her partner. They followed her in, Ricker shot her a grin and waggled his eyebrows. Her stomach knotted as she elbowed him in the side.

"Ow. I'll get vengeance on that one."

"That's what you think." Kincaide replied. The woman that had sashayed into the place now gestured to a ratty couch, on which neither of the partners sat. Kincaide heard a shower running and wondered if it was Richard or the neighbors showering. The woman left them and went to what Kincaide thought passed for a bathroom. The second she was gone, Kincaide glanced around, grimaced at the similarities to the place she grew up in, thus, looked for a window, she felt the bounce of contact of flesh and her ass. She whipped around to face her partner who was incidentally looking innocent as could be, except the I-am-Satan look. "That crossed a line, Ricker."

"Oh really?" Ricker asked. The woman sashayed back into the tiny, dirty room.

"He's in the shower. He'll be out in a minute. Why're you all here?"

"It's about his sister." Kincaide said, never taking her eyes off her partner, who still wore the expression of child-like innocence.

Kincaide's stomach was in her throat when the half naked Richard Molter made his premier appearance. He wore jeans from the waist down, no shoes, and no shirt. Something about him was off for the perp so she didn't pay the routine questions and answers much mind. When they left it was a relief. Then she was once more stuck in the car with Austin Ricker.

"What line did I cross Krystal?" Austin asked, driving.

"The one where I'm totally hands off, in all manners of the phrase." Kincaide said. He shot her a look.

"Is that so?"

"That is so, has been so from the day after I turned seventeen. I've stuck to it for almost twenty years."

"And that's because?"

"I can, I don't like being touched by anyone."

"Then don't hit me."

"Don't make me want to toss my cookies and I won't."

"It was a joke, one you took way too seriously, clearly. By the way, why are you so damn touchy?"

"It's the way I am, get used to it." Kincaide said icily.

"I see," Ricker said and they drove the rest of the way back to New York City Police Department. Focusing on the case, Kincaide tried to push her past from her mind, or at least to the pit of her consciousness. By the time the pair were back in Captain Austin Ricker's office, Kincaide felt exhausted, emotionally. Trying so hard to restrain past emotions, past images, past everything. As well as trying to make sure no one ever got close enough to know.

Kincaide's gaze flicked to Ricker as she heard his chair swivel, creak, then felt his eyes on her. She stood, once more, by the window with her arms crossed over her chest.

"Is that your standard stance?"

"You have a problem with it?" Kincaide asked. Ricker stood and quickly crossed the dinky office to the window.

"You look like you're brooding, that's not exactly a wrinkle-free process." Ricker said, Kincaide felt her stomach clench as she'd turned from him as he approached.

"What's you're point?"

"And it makes you testy, give it up will you?" Ricker asked, a touch of irritation in his voice now.

"How'd the guy get into the apartment to dump the body? The only way I can figure, as the pair of you live on the top floor, is that he came in the front door." Kincaide said, feeling her jaw tighten as the pair of bodies brushed. She slipped from the window, across the room to lean on the far wall, behind the closed door.

"It's good to know a killer has a key to my apartment."

"Joke all you want, but you have an opening of which a killer happened to take advantage of." Kincaide said. The office phone rang, Ricker answered. After a couple minutes on the phone he hung up the phone.

"Autopsy now. Oh the fun never ends."

"Cry later, go now." Kincaide said as he opened the office door. The pair spent the next twenty minutes fighting the elevator traffic, then early traffic all the way to the medical examiner's office. The pair entered the building together, in silence.

Over the span of her life, Kincaide had come to respect the dead. Something about playing with the flame of death regularly as an abused child, then as a raped, beaten half to death teen, and now as an adult that hunted the predators that put so many on a slab. As she suited up she tried to block the similarity of the victim and herself: some man had force himself on the pair of them. Yet she had fought, Kincaide had given up when she was violated.

Slipping into the autopsy suite, Kincaide stood by her partner through the process. Two younger detectives slid into the room. They glanced at the slab, paled, and edged away from Kincaid and Ricker.

An hour later, Kincaide first impression had been confirmed: raped before death, bullet through the brain. She was sitting next to Ricker in traffic. When they pulled into the garage next to NYCPD Ricker spoke.

"Looks like your impressions were correct, Krystal."

"I try to stay on top of the obvious." Kincaide said softly. Her cell phone rang in her pocket and she slowly answered it.

"Kincaide."

"How is the new job?"

"It's not new, it's different. I hate it when you call me."

"Why's that?"

"It's just shortly before you upend my world."

"I just called to see how you're adjusting."

"I'm just dandy."

"Fine then, I'll go."

"You do that. And Jeff? Try to refrain from upending my world until the end of the year." Kincaide said, hanging up. Ricker sent her a smirk as the pair rode in the elevator to Ricker's floor. Walking beside him, still wearing the smirk, Kincaide stomach tightening as she refrained from elbowing him again. Once in his office, she went to the window as she shut the door.