Title: One Moment
Category: Post-ep, Crews & Reese
Spoilers: Everything up to and including 'One'.
Notes: This is my first bit 'o fic inspired by my fic meme. madjm asked for Crews and/or Reese and Fruity Pebbles. Happily, this gave me an excuse to go back and rewatch the series (*sniffs*) finale, which is awesomeness itself, even if it leaves us with as many questions as answers. This fic went back and forth many times between being overtly shippy and not. Considering the last word of the last episode, I think I would be justified, but I decided to be a wimp and leave it open-ended.
Bodner’s suggestion is that they lay low for a while, go underground until Tidwell can work everything out.
He’s affronted by Charlie’s suggestion that he go underground as well. “Why should I? I’m not involved, remember? Besides, I got a hole in my house the size of a…”
“Car?” suggests Charlie, trying to be helpful. He suspects that Bodner’s eagerness has nothing to do with garage door repair and everything to do with reuniting his family.
Charlie can’t blame him. He can’t disagree with the idea of going underground, either. As Bodner’s already pointed out to him once today, half of the LAPD is looking for him. And not in the good, ‘great job, Charlie, we want to lift you up on our shoulders and carry you down Figueroa Street’ way, either. More of the ‘you’re somehow involved in illegal weapons, run-over FBI agents and dead ex-cops no longer being dead, so we’re putting you somewhere where we can keep an eye on you until we get all of this figured out’ way.
Charlie would like to avoid that if at all possible.
Reese isn’t in the same boat, of course, but showing up at headquarters will inevitably lead to some very difficult questions from the brass. Questions like ‘how did you get away from Nevikov?’ and ‘where is Nevikov now?’ and others that she can’t truthfully answer without implicating Charlie.
She tells him that she’s happy to lie. She tells him that she’ll happily tell everyone that she killed Roman herself. Something dark and flickering in her eyes says that she wishes she had.
But Bodner convinces them that they should go underground. Wait for Tidwell. See how things shake out. And Charlie lets himself be convinced.
The scent of the orange grove clings to his clothing, his hair, his skin.
In the movies, ‘going underground’ has a couple of possible meanings. Sometimes it literally means ‘underground’, like in Demolition Man. (He loves that movie.) Sometimes it’s figurative, a reference to hiding out among the criminal element. In flicks that Reese once scornfully referred to as ‘cop porn’, sometimes ‘going underground’ means hiding out in a safe house, or – more often – flying to Portugal or Amsterdam or Greece and living a life of quiet luxury until no one back home cares about you anymore.
In their case, all it means is that Bodner drops them off at a motel in the ass-end of the city and promises to contact Tidwell for them, so that there’s no phone trail connecting Tidwell directly to their shenanigans. Charlie watches Reese’s face every time the Chief’s name is mentioned, but her expression remains impassive, even tranquil. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything. This is Reese.
The bedspread is the color of vomit. The carpet smells vaguely of vomit. But the clerk who took cash for two nights didn’t ask questions, didn’t even make eye contact, although the way his eyes made contact with other parts of Reese’s anatomy leads Charlie to believe they also let rooms by the hour.
They’re on the second floor, next to a clanking, creaking metal staircase that clings to the stucco like something that was once alive. Charlie approves of this. They’ll be able to hear if anyone is coming.
He doesn’t really think he has anything to worry from Roman’s people. Roman was too much of a control freak, too paranoid to keep someone around who could take up the reins of his organization with any ease. But in the past 48 hours he’s slipped out of Zen several times, and it’s harder than he thought to retrace his steps.
“They have little bottles of shampoo in the bathroom,” Charlie reports, trying to be optimistic. Reese is standing in the middle of the room, as though trying not to touch anything.
“You’re assuming that it’s actually shampoo,” she says.
He admits that he is.
They need food, and room service is out of the question. Reese points out that across the street is a “shop-and-rob”, which is her affectionate nickname for a gas station mini-mart.
When he moves towards the door, she sidesteps and blocks his way. “Listen, Crews, maybe I should go by myself.”
He hesitates, realizes he’s only hesitating because he doesn’t really like the idea of letting Reese out of his sight, and relents. “Half of the LAPD is looking for me,” he concedes.
“More than half,” says Reese, “if I had to guess.” She looks at him with something akin to sympathy. “You’ll stick out too much, Crews. In this neighborhood. I’m just another Latina .”
He wants to point out that she’s not just another anything, but decides that this probably isn’t the time or the place, and she might take it the wrong way, and he’s not sure what the right way is anyway. He thinks about how early on she would have just told him that he’s too weird to be seen in public, and he wonders if maybe she’s right about that.
By the time she’s done thinking, she’s already gone.
He lies back on the vomit-colored bedspread, just to rest his eyes. When he opens them, he can hear the shower running, and there are two plastic bags sitting on the little table by the window.
He is vaguely ashamed. Roman’s evil twin could have come galloping up the staircase with more than half of the LAPD behind him, and he never would have heard a thing.
The contents of the bags: a quart of milk, three microwavable cups of soup, some cheese-and-peanut butter crackers, instant coffee, and a few individually packaged boxes of cereal. Toothbrushes and toothpaste. A cheap comb. A bottle of Advil. All the comforts of home.
There is also a large cylinder of antibacterial wipes.
The room does have a microwave. Inside he finds a dead lizard, brown and crispy, limbs disintegrating, and decides not to mention it to Reese.
In the wastebasket he finds plastic wrapping that once held travel-sized containers of shampoo and conditioner. That explains the shower.
He takes off his jacket, then the tie, and begins to vigorously attack the microwave with the antibacterial wipes. He’s not a hypochondriac, doesn’t have an unreasonable germ phobia, but there’s nothing Zen about heating your food up where a lizard may have been irradiated to death.
After the microwave has been decontaminated, he moves on to the room’s other non-porous surfaces. The packaging on the cylinder of wipes says that they are lemon-scented. Charlie decides that whoever came to this conclusion must have had his smell receptors permanently damaged by years of working with acrid chemicals.
When he is done, he sits on the edge of the bed with the plastic bags in front of him on the floor. He pours milk into one of the single-serving cereal boxes, because the back of the box says that you can do that, and because Reese didn’t buy any Styrofoam bowls.
In the bottom of the bag are a few plastic-wrapped plastic sporks with the tensile strength of a coffee stirrer.
He sits on the edge of the bed and eats milk and cereal out of the box with a plastic spork.
After a few mouthfuls he thinks to look down at what it is he’s eating. In the second plastic bag, the tiny boxes sport brand names: Apple Jacks, Banana Nut Cheerios, Fruit Loops, and Raisin Bran Crunch. In his hand, cavorting Flintstones characters grin up at him. Fruity Pebbles.
“The place didn’t have any actual fruit,” says Reese, in a tone indicating that she thinks less of them for it. “That’s as close as I could get.”
The sounds of the shower had stopped without his noticing. Reese is standing in the doorway of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel, hair dripping.
Charlie doesn’t know how to answer her. It’s okay. This is fine. Thanks. I used to eat these as a kid. He’s not sure which response is most appropriate, so he uses all of them. He pictures Reese, tired and hungry and dirty, standing in an aisle of the shop-and-rob, scanning the shelves for pseudo-fruit, and suddenly everything he’s just said seems inadequate.
He pictures Reese five seconds ago, stepping out of the shower, pulling the rough and worn towel around her body, and suddenly a paste of milk and masticated Fruity Pebbles has sealed tongue to palate.
He looks at Reese. She’s thinner than he remembers, but not emaciated. There is a bruise developing on her right cheekbone, but none visible on her limbs.
Roman had been cruel, but maybe he could have been a lot crueler.
He doesn’t know how much time has passed since he thanked Reese for her careful cereal selections, but now she blurts out, all in a rush, almost faster than he can take the words in. “I feel like I should say something. I mean of course I should, I should have said it right away, but I didn’t even know how to do it. I don’t know how to tell somebody ‘thank you for saving my life’. I especially don’t know how to tell you.”
The words are hard, clipped, jagged, but if they are cutting words they only wound the speaker. Charlie says, very serenely, “We’re partners.”
Reese glares. “Yeah. Partners have each other’s backs.” She makes it sound like an accusation.
“Crews, he could have killed you.” This time it is unmistakably an accusation.
“Could have,” Charlie agrees.
“I thought you had a plan.”
“Plans can backfire. Sometimes you’re better without a plan.”
“I never would have let you make the exchange if I’d known you didn’t have a plan.”
“Then I guess it’s good you thought I had a plan.”
She stares at him. She looks incredulous, like she’d looked in the passenger’s seat next to Bodner in the orange grove. She looks at him like she’s not sure what she’s looking at.
He wonders if, the next time he sees an orange, he’ll be able to shut out the sound of Roman’s death rattle, his final gasps.
Reese sits down next to him on the bed. She sits heavily, with an air of resignation, and stares down at the carpet. Her lips are slightly parted, her brows furrowed, as though she is thinking deeply about something. Charlie decides not to offer her a box of cereal.
“I knew you would find him,” she says at last.
“You were right.”
“I told him it was all connected. Him. Me. You.”
Charlie imagines connections like gossamer strings, linking soul to soul across the sun-baked, smog-laced city. He thinks of connections between himself and Reese, Ted, Bobby, Tidwell, Seever. Tom and Jennifer and Constance. Rayborn, Bodner, Ames, Jack, Rachel. And all of them with their own connections, floating like spider silk in the ether.
He thinks: Reese, Roman, Rayborn, me. He thinks: what’s another kind of connection? An umbilical cord, passing nourishment between two people. But it can pass other things, too. Dangerous things.
He thinks: the connection was me. If I wasn’t connected to her, and to Rayborn, Roman never would have taken her to lean on me. And if I wasn’t connected to Tom Seybolt, Rachel would still have a family.
These are sobering thoughts. For the first time, Charlie does not want to see the connections, but they have transformed from gossamer into heavy black tape, and they won’t go away.
“I wanted to kill him,” said Reese. “I’ve thought, before, that I wanted to kill someone, but that was just being pissed off. This was the real thing.”
Do the connections go away just because someone is dead? Because you killed them? Or do they only get stronger with time?
“I know,” he says.
“Are you glad you killed him?”
He looks at her through a fog of his own confusion. He tries to think of something Zen to say, but all those crucial precepts seem to have abandoned him.
The smell of the oranges. The summer sunlight stinging his eyes. The clarity. Rattle and gasp.
When he looks at Reese, he thinks how glad he is that he was able to deny her this one burden. “No. But I’m glad it’s done.”
His confession loosens something within her. She sags, leans into him, he drops his cereal, turns towards her, and then he’s holding her, or she’s holding him. The wet warmth of her seeps into his clothes, his skin, his bones, and he thinks he will have bruises to mark the places of her fingertips along his shoulders and back.
And Charlie thinks, she smells like peaches.
And Charlie says, “You smell like peaches.”
She laughs a slightly hysterical laugh that might have been part sob and mutters something about shampoo.
For one moment in a dirty hotel room reeking of vomit, dead lizard and chemical lemon, all Charlie can smell are peaches. They overwhelm the clinging scent of oranges. They remind him of summertime.
For one moment in a world of heartbreak and loss, violence and rage, connections that wound, connections that poison, Charlie lets himself believe that one plus one equals one. He holds, and is held in turn.
*Quote attributed to Lisa Niemi