By the time Maggie pulled the Tahoe up the drive of the rehabbed brownstone on the Near North side she called home and dragged herself up the walk, the sun was painting rosy streaks of light over the Chicago skyline.

She tugged her leather jacket tight against the chilly morning wind whipping off the lake as she climbed the steps to the front door. She opened it with her key and stepped inside.

Exhausted, she stood in the hall a moment, savoring the warmth and the cleanliness of home. Too tired to go to bed, she wandered through the living room and into the kitchen.

Ned was already up for his early class, eating breakfast at the island and dressed in a blue dress shirt and tie combination that set off his fair coloring and made him seem more muscular than he was. Was it her imagination that he seemed to be dressing better lately?

He glanced up at her from his bowl of Cheerios. “How was your night?”

“Long.” She slid onto a stool across from him.

He crunched away for a moment, concentrating on a folder that lay on the marble surface beside his bowl. “Do you want some breakfast?”

Maggie suppressed a yawn. “Maybe just some coffee.”

“You shouldn’t drink a stimulant if you’re going back to bed.”

Ever the physician. He didn’t look up at her. Maggie could tell he was still upset. “You’re right.” She stood up and turned away.

“Is your case closed?”

The subtle note in his tone that sounded like concern made her long to tell him every detail of the case, but she couldn’t.

“We’re just getting started. An officer was shot. He’s in the hospital. On death’s door.” Just saying the words sapped her remaining energy.

Ned stopped chewing and stared up at her, his face pale. “Good God, Maggie.” He rose and crossed the floor to her. “Are you all right?”

“Yes. I’m fine.”

“Was it one of your team members?”

She shook her head. “No. It was a Timberwood officer. The partner of my cousin Jen’s son, Tony, in fact.” She didn’t want him to hear it on the news. Orton had told her there’d be a press conference this morning.

He continued to stare, as if dazed by her words, then put his arms around her.

She squeezed her eyes shut and buried her face in his chest. His sudden touch made her want to cry like a child. She knew what he was thinking. That officer could have been her.

He stroked her hair, kissed it gently. “I’m sorry I was such as ass earlier.”

“You don’t have to apologize.” She understood how he felt. Always on the outside looking in. Always wondering whether his wife would come home to him or not. She hated having to put him through it. Her mind went back to the one time he’d asked her to leave her job. Right after Dominick Carmelli was locked up. When she promised to cut back her hours as a compromise.

He ran his long fingers over her back. “Oh, Maggie, Maggie.”

She reached around his waist and drew him to her, suddenly wishing she could stay this way forever.

“Mommie, you’re here.”

Maggie opened her eyes. The little angel that was her baby girl stood in the doorway in her pink flannel nightgown, her light hair tousled on her head.

Maggie smiled and the child bounded into the room, her bare feet tapping over the tiles, like a little ballerina.

She should get her some socks, Maggie thought. But now her child was at her side, throwing her arms around both of her parents’ legs. “Mommie. Daddy.”

“Angie, my love.” Maggie broke out of Ned’s embrace and leaned down to pick up her daughter. “My, you’re getting big. What are you doing up so early?”

She titled her head and shrugged. “I heard you come in.” She peppered Maggie’s cheek with sloppy little girl kisses that warmed her heart, though Maggie was glad her daughter wasn’t eating breakfast. “I love you, Mommie.”

No, being coated with Cheerios wouldn’t be too high a price for those kisses, Maggie thought as she ran her fingers through Angie’s hair, trying to straighten it. “I love you, too, sweetheart.”

Her eyes twinkled, not unlike her grandfather’s had. “Can I have tachio ice cream?”

“Pis-tachio,” Maggie corrected, laughing. “Not for breakfast.”

Angie frowned as if that made no logical sense whatsoever. “Will you take me to school today?”

Guilt sliced through the moment of joy. “It’s too early for school or breakfast. You should go back to bed.”

Frowning, she wagged her head from side to side. “I’m not sleepy. Will you be at my play today?”

Maggie fought back the fatigue and tried to think.

“My school play. I’m Goldilocks, Mommie.”

“Of course.” Was that tonight?

“It’s at five,” Ned said, taking his bowl to the sink. “Can you make it?”

The vision of her little girl on stage in the lacey blue costume Maggie’s mother had made for her last week, danced on her heart, wringing it like a wet dishrag. They had just started the Perez investigation. If they were lucky enough to get a break they’d have to follow it. If they didn’t get a break, they’d have to hunt one down before the killer disappeared into the ether.

Maybe she could get away for an hour. “I’ll try.”

“Yippee. Did you hear, Daddy? Mommie’s coming to my play.” Her bright blue eyes widened. “Can I watch Sponge Bob, Mommie?”

What the hell was Sponge Bob? She turned to Ned.

“Cartoon character.”

“Right. The yellow thing. Is he on now?”

“It’s a DVD,” Ned reminded her.

Of course. “Sure you can, sweetie.” With a parting kiss, she set Angie back down on the floor and watched her skip happily into the living room. “The child can work the remote better than I can,” she laughed as she turned back to Ned.

Ned wasn’t laughing. His foul mood was back. So, she’d temporarily forgotten who Sponge Bob was. But she knew Ned’s attitude wasn’t due to just a cartoon. He’d returned to his own, separate world. Over the last several years, she’d learned to cherish the tender moments that had become so few and far between.

“Get some rest,” he said, turning his back to put the milk in the fridge. “Bonnie will be here any minute. I’ll watch Angie until she gets here.”

“Thanks.” Without hoping for another hug from him, she started for the stairs.

This time it's not business. It's personal.

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