The federal building was buzzing with gossip for the next three days.
Alex and I were at the root of it, along with Stahl, of course.
Because Stahl had killed herself.
As soon as we left her office on Monday, in search of SAC Casteel, she'd slid her hand into her desk drawer and pulled out her service weapon.
Poor Lacey hadn't even realized what was happening until the shot had been fired.
The other agents in the building were divided into ones who believed the allegations against Stahl and those who didn't.
The ones who didn't were the ones who blamed me and Alex for pushing her to do what she did.
In the mean time, it had been a whirlwind of activity for the two of us. We spent the next few days offering statements, explanations, and providing official affidavits.
On Friday, Moran and Maas both came to the federal building to stand behind us in our defense to Casteel.
Because he was furious that he'd been kept out of the loop.
"Who do you think you are?" he boomed. "You conducted a witch hunt in my department without my knowledge!"
"Well, it wasn't exactly a witch hunt, now was it Bill?" Moran had countered. "That terminology might suggest that no guilty party existed. And we all know that's just not true."
"And we couldn't tell you about it since we didn't know how deep the corruption ran," Maas added.
"You're going to suggest that it could've been me?" Casteel shouted indignantly. I'm not sure from where he knew Maas, but it was clear that the two of them didn't care for each other. "Stanley, I've been doing this job since you were a snot-nosed little brat in the schoolyard."
"Captain Maas is a twenty-two year veteran of the NYPD," Moran corrected. "And he's exactly right to say that we had no way of knowing. We lost one of our own due to a dirty agent. You can't blame us for wanting to find the responsible party."
"By hijacking my department?"
"Correct me if I'm wrong, Bill, but I'd bet that Goren and Eames made your department look pretty damn good for the past nine months. And I'm guessing that you're only pissed off because you know they're not going to stay on at the Bureau. So get off your damn high horse and admit that they conducted an air-tight investigation that led to the exposure of a corrupt agent."
See, when I said that Maas and Moran stood behind us, what I really meant was that they stood in front of us.
"Besides, there's no law against the two of them looking into things on their own time. They acquired their jobs with the Bureau through proper channels. And they didn't use Bureau resources for the investigation," Maas added. "In fact, they probably have quite the lawsuit against the government for its use of invasive surveillance."
"It was for their own protection," Casteel replied gruffly. "Undercover work is dangerous."
"We know," Moran agreed. "And even more dangerous when the undercover can't trust his handler. So you might be embarrassed that you had a rogue agent under your command, or irritated that this investigation went on without your knowledge, but the fact of the matter is that Stahl was dirty. And they caught her."
"And then she killed herself," Casteel pointed out.
"It was the last desperate act of someone in a helpless situation. Goren and Eames aren't at fault for that."
"I know," the SAC admitted, finally settling down and letting go of his anger. "I know they're not."
"Good," Moran said with a nod. "And the official statement?"
"Agent Stahl was killed in the line of duty while in pursuit of a suspect," Casteel said.
Because we couldn't let Hassan know the truth.
We had no idea where he was presently located, if he was even in the country, but if he was, and he happened to hear about her death, then at least this story wouldn't be suspicious.
And in the mean time, investigators were going to go through Stahl's place with a fine-toothed comb and see what they could learn about Hassan's organization.
But me and Alex were out of it.
We'd come here to find the mole, and that's what we'd done.
"So what's next for you two?" Casteel asked, looking at me and Alex. "You know, you don't have to go. You completed the required training. You could stay on with the Bureau. There are a number of SAC's who have expressed interest, so you wouldn't have to stay in this department."
I heard Moran chuckle, but he didn't say anything, so I answered.
"We appreciate the opportunity to work here, sir, but assuming our jobs are still available with the NYPD, I think it's safe to say that we'd like to go back."
I glanced at Alex as I finished my statement. She nodded her head in agreement and then both of us looked at Moran.
"Your jobs are there," he assured us.
We concluded our meeting with Casteel, and I was glad to see that he didn't seem to harbor any lingering feelings of resentment towards us.
I knew that it was going to take some time for his department to get back on its feet after such a devastating loss, but they were good agents. They'd prevail.
We left the SAC's office and the four of us headed for the elevator.
"Really nice work," Moran said to us as we got on. "And I meant what I said. Your jobs are there. But take some time first. Eames, you've got your exam in two weeks. I should have the results by the first of the year. We'll schedule a meeting for the three of us in my office for the first Monday in January. How does that sound?"
Four weeks off?
That sounded like heaven.
"That sounds great," Alex told him. "Thank you, sir."
"It's probably going to feel weird, going home to separate houses after living together for so long, huh?" he remarked without looking at either of us.
"I'll just be glad to know that no one's listening," Alex replied after giving me a quick smirk.
The elevator doors opened up in the parking garage.
"Pass that exam, Eames," Moran said as he headed off towards his car. "I'm going back to 1PP to fill out the paperwork to put you back in that office where you belong."
"Yes sir," she said with a smile.
"And Goren…" he said, stopping to turn around and look at me.
"Don't think that I'm giving you four weeks off out of the goodness of my heart. It'll take me that long to find some poor unsuspecting detective who'll be willing to have you as a partner."
Of course, his grin gave him away. I swear, I've never seen the man smile so much as I had in the past hour. He'd really enjoyed the scene in Casteel's office. There had always been an unspoken competition between the department and the feds and it looked like this time the NYPD had come out on top.
"Maybe I should take longer," I joked.
"I'll come up with something," he assured me. Then he gave me a nod and got into his car.
Maas patted me on the shoulder and then shook my hand.
"It's been a pleasure working with the two of you," he said, moving on to shake Alex's hand, too. "Enjoy your time off. I'll see you both in January."
And then it was just me and Alex.
"Wow, I can't believe that it's really over," she said quietly.
"Uh huh. So what now?"
"Let's go home."
So we went home.
To my place.
And right away, I called Jimmy and had him do a comprehensive sweep of the place so that we could be sure that every device was disabled and removed.
Once he left and we were finally, truly alone, I wrapped my arms around Alex and held her tight.
"We did it," I said as I buried my face in the crook of her neck.
"Did you think that we wouldn't?"
"I didn't think it would take this long," I admitted.
This long with our lives on hold.
This long with her career on hold.
"It was worth it," she assured me. "It was absolutely worth it."
We spent most of the next week making love in all of the places that we'd been denied over the past nine months.
The bed, the kitchen counter, the foyer…
Literally, for six days we didn't leave the apartment.
It was the best kind of debriefing imaginable.
When we were finally ready to leave the house, we went to visit her parents.
We still didn't get into details about what had happened, but we did let them know that we were both going back to Major Case.
Her dad was ecstatic.
"It's about damn time," he said gruffly as he hugged his daughter. "That's where you belong, sweetheart. None of that narcotics mess."
Then to my surprise, he hugged me as well.
"You, too, Bobby. And if my little girl ever tries to fire you again, well…you call me."
Her mom reacted slightly differently.
I mean, she was happy, but she seemed to have an aha moment.
"So you'll be working together," she said with an understanding nod.
"Well, in the same department," Alex clarified. "We have a meeting with Moran in a few weeks. I'm hoping to be offered the captain's job."
"You'll get it," I said confidently. "He all but announced it already."
"I'll wait until he says it officially," she replied.
"Still," her mother said. "The same department. Where there are rules."
"Of course there'll be rules," her dad said in confusion. "Where aren't there rules?"
But her mom ignored him and gave me a pat on the cheek.
"You'll still be watching her back," she said pointedly to me.
"Good boy. Okay, who's ready for dinner?"
So apparently that was Alex's mom's version of giving her blessing, and that was a first for me.
In my younger days, I'd never had any trouble finding a girl, but I'd also never been well-received by any of their parents.
For some reason, my family history always seemed to precede me and no one ever wanted their daughter involved with the likes of me.
But lucky for me, now that I finally had the woman I planned to spend the rest of my life with, I also had the approval of her family.
So I was in a great mood when we left the Eames' place and headed for the morgue.
And odd, maybe, to be in a good mood on the way to the morgue, but we'd wanted to catch up with Dr. Rodgers and Alex had called earlier to find out that she was on the late shift today.
We found her fully absorbed in an autopsy, but she welcomed us with surprise.
"What are you two doing here? And where have you been? It's been way too long!"
She set down her scalpel and put her gloved hands on her hips, tipping her head to look at us.
"Where have you been?" she asked again, narrowing her eyes. "And why are you together? The word on the street was that you fired him."
Her scrutinizing gaze fell on Alex as she finished her sentence, and I felt a rush of affection for the doctor for her seeming support of me.
She actually appeared to be upset with Alex for something she'd supposedly done nearly a year ago.
But as we continued to stand together in silence, her face suddenly changed.
"It wasn't real, was it?" she asked carefully. "It was a cover for…for…what? What did you do? Did you go after Danny's killer?"
"We had to find out who was behind it," Alex said quietly.
"I knew it," she said under her breath. "I knew you would never fire him. So, did you? Did you find him?"
"Yes," I said with a slow nod. "It was actually a her. It was his handler."
I watched her carefully as a maelstrom of emotions worked their way across her face.
I knew that she'd been close to Ross. Even though they'd stopped dating several months before his death, at one time she'd loved him.
And however their relationship had ended, they'd shared a closeness for more than two years, and that kind of emotion doesn't just go away.
She expelled a deep breath and closed her eyes as she whispered, "Thank you."
Then she opened her eyes again, only now they were glassy with unshed tears.
"So…um…" she began as she pulled off her gloves and tossed them on the exam table. "So, you have enough evidence? This woman is going to prison?"
"She's dead," I told her. "She killed herself. But in answer to your question, yes. We have her taped confession. There's no question about it. She's the one responsible."
As I finished my sentence, she wrapped her arms around me and gave me a hug.
"I knew that if anyone could get to the bottom of it, it would be you two," she said, and then she let me go and turned to hug Alex. "Thank you. I know that it doesn't change what happened, and it doesn't bring him back, but…"
"I know," Alex said in understanding.
"So what now?" Rodgers asked as she stepped back and regained her composure. "I mean, if it was all for show, then are you coming back?"
"January 3rd," I said with a grin. "And it won't be long after that before I'll be back down here, questioning your findings and getting in your way."
She let out a quick laugh at my unexpected humor, and then she gave me a smile and rolled her eyes at me like she always did in the old days.
"I can't wait, Detective."