by B. Cavis
by B. Cavis
He watches, quietly, and grows into his new space with all the adaptability he thought he had lost. New job. New duties. New partner.
Never had a woman before. Never had a blond before either. Branca's skin is softer than the last one's was, and her eyes crinkle when something is running through her carefully trained brain.
He likes that. Not sure why, but he does, and who the hell is he to question anyhow.
And when her eyes crinkle and her forehead bends, and he can see the logic running through her body, painting her features pensive and coloring her eyes with thought.
(And he really likes that.)
He wonders if that's a woman thing, a blond thing, or an agent thing. He hasn't had a whole lot of experience with any of the above, so when Branca does something, he tries to dissect her motivations, because that's really all he can do. He's contemplated asking her, "Hey, what's up with that?" but knows that then she'd give him the Crazy look, and he likes the fact that she stopped doing that after their second case together.
The Crazy look has stayed in its waterproof container; hasn't been used in far too long, and he likes that. Thinks it's a little bit funny, actually, and he likes that too.
Sometimes, at night, he'll wonder if Branca likes giving him the Crazy Look, and end up forcefully shaking his head disjointedly back and forth on his motel room bed, and grunting.
Mother fucking damn it-- he should know these kinds of things. Is he a profiler or is he a profiler?
And then he remembers that he's learning Branca differently than he does the people who spill blood onto the street, sighs, and calms down quickly.
Creegan is a master at learning people. Usually, he has to jump to a mental picture as quickly as possible (one more minute equals one more dead victim which equals one more reason he can't touch his kids at night), and he likes the change in his method this time. It's liberating-- almost comforting.
And it only makes logical sense, after all. Branca has a different standing in his existence than any of those people he's had to learn in the past; it only makes sense to do something different with her.
Creegan learns Branca slowly. Always slowly.
The pen she's tapping against the desk could be impatience.
He doesn't know her well enough to say, and when it occurs to him that this could be another Lesson in Branca, he allows her to continue instead of jumping up and distracting her.
Pen tapping equals...
It could be frustration. Anger. The actions of an overworked, underpaid, confused agent just trying desperately to figure out who killed who.
He looks down at himself quickly ("What did I do? Did I do anything?") and, appeased with his own innocence, turns back to interpretations. Pen tapping.
Sadness? The actions of a woman in need of a mild distraction as she tries to keep from crying? No, too fast a pace. A sad Branca is a distracted one-- this is too upbeat.
Need? Want? No. She'd ask. Branca always asks.
The idea is a little disconcerting, but he runs it over his tongue for a good minute before he has to recognize it as a viable option. Joy.
He looks up at her quickly, almost guiltily, and finds a look of complacent peace on her clear face, broken only by a soft smile. Ah, he thinks, the mysterious smile of a woman.
...I know what that means...
He looks back up at her, not even daring to think it's true without a second opinion, and hates himself for doing it. Still there. That god damned smile is still there.
Branca's got a lover, purrs the voice in his head that he hopes chokes on its own tongue for no other reason than he can't identify why it makes him feel so angry.
Branca's got a lover.
He runs a hand over his hair, glances at her to make sure she hasn't seen his reaction, and looks back down at the file in his lap that he is not at all reading right now.
It falls into place when he lets it. When he lets the puzzle pieces free, they fit themselves together and fill in her actions in Technicolor.
The little sighs. The contented smile. Her insistence on helping get him on better terms with Holly and the kids. There are the actions of a woman with a woman's secret.
Womens' secrets are vastly different from mens' secrets. Calmer, more peaceful in their nature and less sexual in their content. A man's secret is his mistress. A woman's secret is her own business and her own body.
Women's secrets nestle inside their wombs for 9 months, kicking and thrashing, and filling them with light. They bloom soft and red on cotton and silk at the most opportune late days. They leave bunches of flowers on their doorsteps and make dinners at home with candlelight that brings out everyone's eyes.
He wonders, as he watches her fingers move rapidly on the pen and tries not to hate her, is they're roses. Violet? Daisies? What is Branca's favorite flower? Her favorite color? Favorite song?
He doesn't know the answer to any of these questions, and while he knows that this is the was it is, is supposed to be, with partners who share coffee, stories, and a vague acknowledgment of mutual lives outside of work, the idea still shocks him.
He doesn't know if she'd a Bob Dylan fan or if she likes the Beatles.
Creegan glances up at her, and she offers him a soft smile, before looking back down at her own folders and playing with the papers that don't need to be played with.
He's been learning her slowly, he thinks, and maybe that's the problem.
He tries. Tries to take her and break her down into digestible, comprehensible parts. After those few all telling moments in the office, he pushes her into a new place in his life, one that goes right along with the men and women who spill blood onto the street, and he hates her for it.
Learning her slow has just gone out the window, and he doesn't give a fine rat's ass.
And hours later, when he has to measure up to that decision, he can see his day playing in a continuous loop in the dark spot where his peripheral vision used to be. Taunting him with things that seem much worse the more he watches it and the farther he gets away from the mindset of the Heartless Bastard.
He sees the man he knows killed someone no matter what the evidence says. He sees the look Branca gave him when they brought him in and he admitted to knowing the killer. He sees the man give her a look that speaks of hurt feelings and even more deeply hurt hopes. And he sees that man open his mouth and tell his partner-- his partner-- that she was just keeping him on his back to let Creegan search his place.
He can feel the bile rise in his throat, the heat build in his stomach, and then he has to-- has to leave because if he doesn't he'll say something cold and hard and completely unforgivable to the newest woman in his life, and he refuses to let that happen.
... So, of course, she follows him.
In his blind spot, he can see her try to get him to face her and talk to her. Can see his anger bounce off her and shatter away pieces of the armor. Sees her swing around to get in front of him, tears in her eyes and emotion in her voice, and feels the urge even now to take her in arms that (hey, it worked with his kids) should have been able to fix whatever was wrong.
He remembers the anger, the self loathing, that accompanied the desire-- that urge. He sees his mouth opening once more, spilling the dark poison out from between his teeth and lips. Take that, he remembers thinking, you're not so special after all. I can learn you fast because that's all you deserve.
And he can still feel the sting and the sound and the shock (and, hey, he thinks, alliteration)of her cool strong hand coming into angry contact with his face.
Sitting in his motel room, staring at his feet, he touches that spot now with his hand, softly, and ponders the memory of Branca and her woman's smile.
The phone rings and he looks at it, tightens his face up angrily, and rises. Another body. Another betrayal.
He holds her in a shower of glass, keeping her feet from touching the razor sharp fairy dust and the red that's spreading towards her like a disease on hardwood floors. He's got her in the same arms he wanted to hug her in only hours before, and she's still crying.
I can't get her to stop, he thinks, desperate and afraid for the first time in not long enough. Why won't she stop?
Her teeth bite into his shoulder, her eyes clenched down tight, and he gasps for breath at the feeling and desperation that fill his body.
"It's okay," he finds himself whispering, "It's okay, I've got you. It's okay, I've got you." God only knows how long he's been telling her that, but she hasn't stopped shaking and crying, so obviously not long enough.
Hands are pulling at her, pulling at him, and he finds her arms wrapped tight around his neck and not letting go. He gives a glare to the agents trying to pull her from him, wraps his arms under her legs and stands up with her still pressed against him.
...God, how did he ever think he could learn this woman fast?
And so he walks. Down the steps that normally he would have skipped over. Slowly down the hallway that normally he would have done a slow cha-cha in just to hear his shoes echo on the ground. He walks with his partner in his arms and a dead man's blood on the soles of his shoes.
He remembers the look in her eyes when her lover put the gun in his own mouth, and recognizes it as her largest fear-- her bone shattering phobia of abandonment in blood. He looks down at the dirty blond head tucked against his shoulder and makes a silent promise that no matter how crazy he feels, how far off the deep end he is certain he's going, he won't ever take his own life while he's acquainted with this woman.
He feels better just thinking it-- as if his lack of motivation to keep breathing was just taken care of forever. She's still crying in his arms, and he opens his mouth to tell her his promise, then closes it again. It wouldn't make the tears stop.
He takes her outside, the rain beating down on his back and splashing in his face, and the sound of her mourning is almost drowned out completely but not the force.
He finds a ledge to sit her down on, and even though she scratches at him to get back against human flesh, he forces her to sit down. He's seen the blood dripping from the bottom of her foot and knows that it's not hers, but knows that he can't allow it to stay there either.
She watches with detached eyes as he kneels down in front of her and draws a handkerchief from his pocket. He sticks his hand out in the rain and they both watch the impact of drops on the fabric, darkening the color and changing the texture to something smoother. He brings it back, and she's still crying, but now it's a gentler, quieter kind of crying with tears just running down her face instead of coming from the bottom of her being and spilling out to coat her in grief.
"Gimme your foot," he says, and she looks at him blankly, before doing at told. He holds it in a warm hand, while squeezing the rain soaked cloth in his other palm. She watches him, and he watches her-- focused and certain.
She flinches at the first feel of the cold water, but he holds the heel of her foot steady and does it again.
The blood starts to run down her foot in pink streams. He watches, fascinated, as Branca's own clean sole appears under the violence. He squeezes out the cloth and takes the sleeve of his coat and slowly dries the fresh, white skin.
She's still crying, but now the shakes have stopped.
"I've got you, Susan," he says, repeating what his own personal mantra has consisted of for the entire evening. "It's all right. I've got you."
He gets pulled away by one person or another-- what happened, who pulled a gun first, did he threaten Branca-- and he tells the truth, with an ear to what sounds best for her. He doesn't lie... but the bias is there.
Her statement is taken, over and over again, and she sits where he left her, unresponsive unless someone is talking to her directly and demanding her response. He keeps the corner of his right eye on her, and thanks God that He had the foresight to allow him to keep the peripheral vision on one side at least.
The other side is still a non-fiction movie on repeat. He tries not to look.
When it's all over, when the body has been traced, bagged, and tagged, he picks a blanket up from someone's hands and carries it over to her as a sacrifice. She's stopped crying entirely now-- numb inside and out. He puts the wool around her shoulders and sits down beside her because he can't imagine going anywhere else right now.
Her head is on his shoulder, his arm is around her back, and no one comes near them.
"Where do you want to go?" He asks her sometime later, and she lets out a heated puff of air against his shirt.
"The office," she responds, and he nods sporadically in understanding. Motels are great because someone else cleans up after you, but for a shattered soul, you want something you recognize around you.
He takes her feet and slips them into a pair of worn out sneakers someone brought from her closet. The laces are tied in permanent knots and the plastic thingies at the end are long since gone. She rises, and he keeps his arm around her back.
He doesn't like to drive. But in this case, he packs her into the passenger side and slips behind the wheel with as much thought as he would have given such a move before the gunshot.
She glances over at him, her pajamas making her look young and more relaxed than the professional he usually works with and tries to shock just for kicks.
"It'll be alright," he says again, and she looks up at him with a little bit less apathy and numb acceptance than she demonstrated an hour ago. "I promise, Susan."
She blinks, rubs a spot on the back of her neck, and lets her hands fall to her lap in a pile. "I know," she responds.
Susan, he thinks, not Branca tonight, and starts the car up.
They sit in the quiet of their office, watching each other and everything but each other. The rain beats a steady pat against the window, and off in the distance they can see the promise of a pink and orange sunrise.
Shock has set in for Susan, who makes the polite queries about the wellbeing of Holly, Samantha, and Lily. He responds with truthful answers, and she nods along with what he's saying.
He doesn't have the energy to be weird tonight.
She gets coffee for the both of them, he drinks it politely and watches how steady her hands are and how she handles the boiling hot liquid like it's nothing. He wonders, briefly, if this is the Susan that the fiance he has never met saw, and shakes himself free of the thought.
None of his business. All of his concern. When she's not three steps away from falling down into a pile of emotionally destroyed female, he'll ask her.
She walks over to the ridiculously A-Line sofa they have and sits down, staring out at the light that promises to become a beautiful day. He looks at the curve of her back and searches for some sign that he isn't welcome, finds none, and sits down beside her.
She glances up at him, offers a weak smile, and looks back out at the sun bleached corner of the sky. They keep their hands by their sides, but in the middle of them, their no-mans land, their fingers touch.
Gentle and soft, and not done on purpose, Creegan feels her skin on his and wonders if it's that soft all over.
The sun peaks over the horizon, he glances over at her, and feels another lesson on his tongue.
"What's your favorite flower?" he asks. She keeps her eyes on the horizon, calm and focused. And like with all of the questions he asks that fit into this category (a complete and utter non sequitor) she answers without a second thought.
"What's your favorite color?"
"What's your favorite song?"
"Sympathy for the Devil," she finishes, and her voice has regained some of the strength that he thinks about when he thinks her name. Susan Branca is returning.
"Okay," he says, and she nods in response. The sun lifts more fully into the sky, and they start to hear people buzzing around the floor underneath them. The moment is over.
"We should get going," she says. "I can't work in my Pjs."
He grins. "I don't know, Susan, the little bunnies are a nice touch." She punches his arm like everything is normal again, and he watches her as she gets up and takes a spare suit from some helpful little niche in the room that he would know about if he cared.
She walks down to the ladies room, and he sits and watches the haze surrounding the sun.
A lesson. He shakes his shoulders to loosen the tension in his body and sighs. A lesson. It takes time to learn Susan Branca. More time than he puts into most things, more time than he's put into learning someone in a long time.
Spending time on his partner. An investment in their future work together.
"Okay," he tells the sunrise, and goes to wash his face.