Imperfect Cadence

A/N This is so ridiculously overdue that it's not even funny. But hey, we finally have something that's not just piles and piles of backstory. Hello, plot.

Disclaimer: Once again, Vivica belongs to Jack Off Jill, not me. The story of The Gift belongs to the Torah, and... I think that's it for now.

Chapter Eight.

Jack had given Saber his number, in his exact words, in case of an emergency.

It was something necessary, really; they should have been able to contact each other quickly if the need were to arise. However, five o'clock in the morning was never necessary.

Jack shifted slightly in his bed, pulling the blankets up to his ears to block out the insistent beeping, but it was no use. Ruffled and grumpy, he sat up and reached across to his jacket from the day before to pull out his mobile phone.

"If this isn't a life or death situation, Taurel, I'm going to hurt you." At least, that's what Jack tried to say. It came out in more of a vague impression of an angry mumble.

"Where do you live?" Well, that hadn't been expected. Saber's voice sounded tired, yet alert, and… was that fear? "I'm coming over."

After a few moments, Jack finally managed to build up the energy to speak properly. "It's five in the morning."

"It's that late?" Saber asked, then paused. "Where—?"

"Ten minutes from the department," Jack replied, lying back down. "Down the road from Fallendale Highschool. Twenty Pemberly Avenue. It's—"

"I know, Cadence," Saber butted in. "I went to that Highschool. I'll be ten minutes, be waiting outside."

When Saber hung up, Jack shifted so that the hand holding the phone was draped over the edge of the bed. He had over an hour until he really needed to be up, and it was only six hours ago that he left work. Jack longed for Rebecca's easy carelessness about timing, and waking up half an hour before he had to be at work.

He pushed his face into the pillow and sighed. He wanted a shower and a cup of coffee, but with only ten minutes to spare, he had to put all concentration into actually getting out of bed.

By the time he had dragged himself to stand, he only had a few minutes left. Things were not looking up. Jack sighed and pushed his dreadlocks back from his face, fingers twisting around them and pulling slightly.

Clearly ten minutes wasn't long enough for him to get ready, adult or not, as when the signal started sounding in the hallway he was halfway through brushing his teeth and had yet to find a shirt.

"Come up," he said around the toothbrush, and promptly tripped over a shoe after buzzing him up.

It was just too damn early.

"I told you to be waiting outside," Saber pointed out as Jack let him in, sunglasses shining bright and dark.

Jack was about to reply, frustrated, hand halfway to snapping a band around his dreadlocks, before he took a moment to actually look. Saber was disheveled. The dark sheen of his glasses only proved to make his skin seem paler, and his jaw was set in a way that looked less stubborn and more paranoid. "What's wrong?" he eventually asked, slipping on his shoes and trying not to stare.

"I'll explain on the way back to mine. I need to get a CD, then we're going to see the Rays." Saber glanced at the door, then back to Jack. "Have you got your gun?"

"Is this CD potentially threatening?" Jack asked. By God was he not a morning person.

He couldn't see Saber's eyes through the barrier, but Jack could feel his glare. Raising his hands in defeat, Jack turned and retrieved his gun.

"Don't freak out," Saber told him as he opened the front door, "but I think I'm being watched. Don't look around, just walk to my car. Okay? Okay."

If anyone was freaking out, it was Saber. His hands were twisting in the material of his shirt, causing it to ride up slightly, then smoothing it down in small gestures. The walk to the car was increasingly uncomfortable. It seemed to Jack that the cool calmness that was his partner was crumbling in front of him. He looked… like a child.

When Jack finally sat in the car, and Saber made sure to lock all doors, he braved speech. "What's going on?"

"I shouldn't have come back here," Saber said under his breath, starting the car. "I should have stayed away, I really—Shit." He looked out of the side window, then started to drive hastily.

"Taurel, will you tell me what's going on?" Saber started shaking his head, and his hands weren't steady on the wall. "Did you sleep at all last night?"

"No," Saber admitted, then frowned. He seemed to be putting the pieces of himself back in place. "Okay, here's the deal. When you left last night I was sorting out paperwork, and I got to thinking."

"Your thought process leads to this?" Jack asked, rubbing his eyes on his palms. Why did he have to get the potentially insane partner, why?

"Shut the fuck up." All Saber managed to sound was weary. "I was thinking about Nathan Ray, Cadence, and—and it occurred to me that the song he said he was listening to wasn't right."

Jack sighed. "What do you mean, it 'wasn't right'? We already know he wasn't listening to a song. He admitted to letting people into the house."

"Exactly," Saber replied, and Jack wondered if he was missing the point entirely. "No, exactly. He wasn't listening to anything. So why would he pick 'Vivica'?"

"Why the Hell not?" This conversation was getting more and more nonsensical, and twenty past five in the morning was not the ideal time for nonsensical conversations.

Saber looked at him, and then back to the road. "Jack off Jill used to be one of my favourite bands, just after I left Highschool. They're not exactly popular, especially to a guy like Nathan Ray. He looked every bit the little prep-boy. Even if – and let's entertain the thought – he liked the more 'gothic' music, what's the likelihood he'd lie and say that band? That song?"

"As likely as every other song, Taurel," Jack replied, ready to hit his head against the dashboard. "I'm really not following."

"No," Saber agreed. "Okay, say you're like him at school. You're preppy, probably quite popular, and the style is to listen to mainstream music. If you're going to say you were listening to a song, are you going to pick the first shit-goth band that comes to mind?"

Jack was amazed. "You got me out of bed for this?"

"Of course not," Saber snapped at him. "I figured that I was being paranoid. It's just a song I used to listen to. No big deal. But then – and here's the catch, Cadence – someone posted a picture through my door." He reached across and opened the glove compartment, and pulled out a folded piece of paper. "It's from the song. It's trying to tell me something."

Jack unfolded the paper, and was faced with a picture of a tree. It looked like a child had drawn it, as the colouring wasn't all within the lines, and the little red apples were misshapen. One of the apples was placed on the scribble of green grass.

"It's just a drawing," Jack pointed out.

Saber shook his head, slightly manically. "The apple falls far from the tree," he said, and when Jack gave him a look, went on: "it's from the song. The apple falls far from the tree, she's rotten and so beautiful."

"Coincidence," Jack replied, folding the paper back up.

"That's what I thought, too." Saber's voice was catching an uneven tone, now. "I thought it was a gift from one of the kids around or something—but then I went back to work and down to Forensics, and got someone to look over it for me, and there are no fingerprints. None. What does that mean, Cadence?"

There was no getting past it. "Someone was wearing gloves when they were drawing it. But that—"

"Not just any gloves. Hand-warming gloves would have left—something. Rubber gloves." His right eye met Jack's, the green almost startling. "What kind of kid wears rubber gloves whilst drawing a picture?"

Jack took in a deep breath. "You're not thinking—"

"That's exactly what I'm thinking. We talk to the Rays, then we get down to Missing Persons."

Jack turned to watch the road instead of his partner, and tried to get his sleep-deprived mind to work. Saber was obviously being paranoid, but he may have had a point. There should have been fingerprints on the picture, if nothing else. But did that really constitute the assumption that it could have been drawn by one of the missing children?

He glanced back to his partner, whose jaw was set so sternly that he didn't dare speak in case of jolting him. He was an officer in the OCD; he would be a target to anyone involved in organized crime. But was that enough to assume anything?

When Saber parked, it was outside of another apartment building. "Stay here," he ordered Jack, and then opened the door and stepped outside.

The change in his body language was immediate. He stopped looking tense and—was he smiling? "Mrs. Jakubowicz," he greeted a small, elderly lady, and Jack opened his car door in order to watch. "Here, I'll take these, ma'am."

The lady pinched his cheek in a manner that only someone as old and small as her could naturally pull off. Jack wondered why Saber wasn't snapping at her; instead, he looked like a child who had pleased an adult. "Such a good child," Mrs. Jakubowicz said, clarifying Jack's thought.

She was old, but she didn't look so frail. Jack took Saber's keys and locked the car anyway, then approached the pair. "I'll help," he suggested, then more quietly: "If you're right then I don't want you to be alone."

"I told you to stay in the car," Saber pointed out, pulling several bags out of the trunk of Mrs. Jakubowicz's car. "Learn to do what you're told."

"You're not the boss of me," Jack replied in an equally light voice, as to not disturb the elderly lady. She beamed at the two of them, and between them they managed to hold all of her bags. "Go on up, boys, I'll lock my car."

Jack followed Saber, struggling with balance. What the Hell did she buy, anyway? "Why're you so nice to her?" Jack asked. He sure as Hell didn't get the same treatment.

"She reminds me of my nana," Saber replied shortly, and lead him into an elevator. He pushed waited for Mrs. Jakubowicz to join them, then pressed the five. "Why're you up so early, Mrs. Jakubowicz?"

She smiled. Her hair was long and dark grey, and the thickness and straightness of it made her look so much younger. "Early birds," she said. "Your Holly was making quite the racket with you gone, a few hours back, she was. Lonely, I imagine." She gave Saber a pointed look. "So I thought I'd head down to the twenty-four hour. I'm not as old as you treat me, you know."

"Not old at all, ma'am," Saber agreed, "life begins at eighty."

"I'm sixty-nine, you fool," she replied, and the elevator beeped on arrival. "I do wish you'd take off those glasses. You have such pretty eyes."

"I'm not a girl," Saber said, not snapping in the way he usually would. The two of them continued to talk as Jack followed them into an apartment and placed her bags down in her kitchen. "Do you want help putting everything away?"

Jack imagined Saber as a child, suddenly: all eager to please to some people, and a downright bully to others. He smiled slightly at the thought, and caught Saber mid-sentence, one of his eyes sparkling blue through the gap between skin and glass. Maybe not quite a bully.

"Really, child, I'll be fine. Go entertain your guest," Mrs. Jakubowicz insisted ushering them out of the door. Before they left, Saber kissed the back of her hand. Jack remembered how he'd kissed Caroline directly on the mouth, and Sasha, his ex-partner.

Saber's sisters, the twins, had insisted yesterday that he was a "peach" and a "sweetie". He supposed that in that moment Jack started to understand what they meant.

Unfortunately, the more positive part of his personality was only directed toward other people.

When Saber unlocked his own door and stepped inside, he immediately ducked into the bedroom. Jack hung back and took a look around; it was the usual male-dominated apartment, minus the leather.

There were boxes scattering the rooms, and not much was actually unpacked, but all of the walls appeared to be newly painted. The main room had white floorboards and black couches, with dark green walls. It practically screamed that a male had decorated; there was no warm and comforting female touch. Jack wondered for Saber's Holly, and why she hadn't seemed to help him, then decided that any female who lived with Saber couldn't exactly be classed as normal.

"Holly's asleep, so keep quiet," Saber said, returning from the bedroom. He had several CD cases in his hands, and the lay them out on the table in front of the couch. "I don't remember which album it's from…"

When Saber was looking through them, Jack continued to observe his surroundings. There was a painting on the wall behind him, he realised. It wasn't finished, but some observation of the penciled outlines let him know that it was going to be The Fall; the penciled willowy figure must have been Eve, and the strange figure curling around the tree—

"Clear Hearts, Grey Flowers," Saber said, holding up the CD case. "This is the one." He moved to leave again, but caught sight of Jack. "Cadence?"

"Taurel," Jack said carefully, now staring at the picture. "You—This painting—"

"It's The Gift. A story of Genesis," Saber explained. Jack shook his head.

"Taurel," Jack tried again, "in The Fall—The Gift, the forbidden fruit is just a generic fruit, right?" Upon Saber's confused nod, Jack swallowed. "So what made you paint an apple tree?"

"It just seemed appropri—oh." There was a pause as both men turned from the painting to look at the window situated on the opposite wall.

The moment of silence was deafening. They were now facing another block of apartments, with another block of windows. "Shit," Saber hissed, and rushed to close the curtains. "Shit!"

Jack moved to the other set of windows, in the kitchen, and closed those curtains just as hastily. In less than a minute, all of the curtains in the apartment had been closed.

"What do we do?" Jack asked, glancing back at the apple tree. "Should we—We should leave."

"What if we're being watched?" Saber asked, hand on his gun.

"Then we've already been caught out by closing all of the curtains. Let's get out of here." Jack tried to tell him that Saber's paranoia was affecting him, but knew, really, that the panic was all his own.

They were probably overreacting, but when you've been in a certain amount of life-or-death situations, you learn to prepare for the worst. Both men kept their hands on their guns as they sped down the stairs, neither quite trusting the elevator in their current state.

Upon walking outside they slowed down, trying not to look as if they were quite as tightly wound as they were, and Saber unlocked the car with slightly unsteady hands.

Then, once again, his face shifted. "Cadence, get in and lock the car," he said, tossing him the keys and walking toward the road.

"Taurel?" Jack asked, raising his voice.

"Look the car, Cadence," Saber repeated, and Jack locked the car – from the outside – and followed.

Saber lifted one arm, catching someone's attention, and a man across the street halted. "Elijah," he called, crossing the road without looking. "Elijah Rosen?"

"Saber!" the man appeared shocked by his appearance, and Jack stood behind Saber and slightly to one side. "I haven't seen you since—" He stopped, and they both looked sheepish.

"How've you been?" Saber asked, then made a frustrated face. "That was a stupid question."

"Yeah," Elijah agreed. "I've been better, really."

There was an uncomfortable pause, and Saber reached behind his glasses to rub his eyes. "I'm sorry I didn't come to the funeral. I didn't know."

"I know," Elijah said quickly. "I told Helaine, but she said she didn't want you to go. Y'know, see everyone. That's why you didn't know."

Saber laughed lightly, but it sounded cold. "Interfering little bitch."

"She loves you," Elijah reminded him. "And—you've done well for yourself, Saber."

Saber sighed and shrugged, and the pair avoided each other's eyes. Jack wondered if he should go back to the car, but then Saber turned and looked directly at him. "This is my new partner, Cadence," he introduced him. "Cadence, this is Eli. He's—an old friend."

"A very old friend," Elijah agreed. "Well, a very old sort-of friend."

"I didn't mean to leave you all behind," Saber said in a serious tone.

Elijah's hair glinted as dark as Saber's glasses, and he smiled. "Yes, you did."

Saber didn't bother denying it, which Jack supposed meant that it was true. "I should have shown up after Ruth died," he went on, frowning. "I should have—I don't know. I shouldn't have stayed away."

"Say," Elijah reached out and touched him on the arm, "it was six years after you were even in touch with any of us. I understand."

"When I heard that Kyla—"

"Can we not talk about that?" Elijah withdrew his hand, and the tension grew between the two.

"It's been six months," Saber pointed out, unhelpfully. Elijah's dark eyes struggled to glare, but he seemed defeated. "It's—"

"I know," Elijah replied, running a hand through his hair. "I can't—I know."

Saber took a deep breath, and both men seemed so tired that it hurt. "I didn't help like I should have," he said, sounding grave. "I plan to start now."