Author: A.j PM
It’s a forced denouement, but Carolyn has always preferred those.Rated: Fiction T - English - C. Barek & M. Logan - Words: 8,532 - Reviews: 9 - Favs: 10 - Published: 06-02-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3571510
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Title: Offhand Remarks
Rating: PG-13, but only for language.
Spoilers through season 5 and the very, very beginning of season 6.
Notes: Written because there is a frightening lack of Carolyn Barek fic. Also, this story would not be anything near what it is without the lovely summercadence and iingaartist. Both of them did major work on this and deserve pie.
Summary: It's a forced denouement, but she's always preferred those.
Carolyn Barek meets Mike Logan on a Thursday. This is a defining moment in her life.
She doesn't figure this out for a while.
Their first case ends in what any sane person would consider a betrayal.
That's one perspective.
When Deakins walks out of the room, Carolyn's eyes are locked with Logan's. He watches her silently. Doesn't turn his head or look away. It's the first time during the whole case that she has his complete attention.
She knows that he's waiting for something. Whether it's an apology for using the very basic information he'd given her about his mother or some kind of other tell or twitch, she has no idea.
She gives him nothing. Just watches him right back. There's no pity on her face.
He cracks first, ramping the empty stare up and into something that resembles heat. It doesn't reach his eyes, and in that moment she knows she made the right decision.
"You had no right to bring that stuff up, Barek. Not without warning. It was a low thing to do." He moves then. Rolls his shoulders and prowls towards her, body language screaming.
She shrugs, not moving. "Not giving me any warning and almost making me pull my weapon was low."
His eyebrow shoots up, and the blankness retreats just a little bit, replaced by something else. Something she can't quite put her finger on.
"So this was payback?"
He's looming over her then. Face careful and pushing intimidation with every inch of height he has on her. She still doesn't move. Doesn't blink. She raises a shoulder in a lazy shrug. "No. This was my pool stick."
He starts, surprised, before he lets the very edges of his mouth turn up.
"So noted," he says before brushing past her and out of the room. "And they call it a 'pool cue', not stick."
She watches him walk away then, face composed and sure in the fluorescent gleam of the hallway lights. This isn't going to work, she thinks.
When she was seven years old, walking on a beach with her father, a hard breeze had blown across the dunes, sweeping grit and dirt into her face, blinding her. Instinctively, she'd tugged her hand away from her father's, trying to brush her eyes clean.
Crying and blind and unsure, she'd stood, lost, in the sand. She'd known her father was nearby – she'd just had his hand in her own – but it hadn't mattered. She'd been alone, with nowhere to go, and the world was nothing but pain and grit and the smell of the sea.
She isn't seven anymore, but she still doesn't like walking into the wind.
If there's one certainty in the universe, it's that cops gossip like old women. They don't talk outside of their ranks – the thin blue line is rock solid in this respect – save to family, but chatter is the lifeblood of all precincts.
Barek knows it's a double-edged sword. For as useful as it can be, there is no guarantee of objectivity in the departmental grapevine. She knows this from personal experience and because when she joined the squad, everyone had gone out of his or her way to tell her all about Goren and Eames.
Goren the weirdo. Eames the ball-buster. They'd been painted as demons and angels and pretty much everything else in-between. The stories had been so varied and wild that, out of sheer defense from the flood of misinformation, she'd stopped listening and done what she'd always done before, watched.
What she'd seen had surprised her. They were an odd pairing. Him, tall and tending towards stocky and a face that reminded her of a teddy-bear she'd had when she was six. Eames, slender and almost jagged in her mannerisms and wit.
But they fit. They suited each other and worked in their own little messed up, but effective way.
She still watches Goren and Eames. Everyone watches Goren and Eames, even if they don't want to admit it. The circus act and golden pair of the Major Case Squad, they are nothing if not interesting to observe.
It took her awhile to realize it, but when she watches them listen and work, and she thinks: Yes. Exactly that.
Two cases in, she eyes her own partner. Watches the way Logan curves a hand down Renata's arm before glancing over at her. She nods and looks away. Purses her lips and wonders, maybe...
Carolyn took up gardening again because she missed it. She knows that the rest of the world thinks that city dwellers don't know peat from loam, but her mother dragged three kids kicking and screaming into adulthood on a budget so tight it squeaked, so when there was a chance at a community garden space, her mother had pounced. If the extra potatoes and tomatoes and zucchini meant one or two extra sets of new shoes for two growing boys, then so be it. The sweat and time was worth it in the end.
She remembers spending the long, sticky-hot months of summer in a silly hat and gardening gloves that were two-sizes too big. Remembers being elbow-deep in soil and plants and growing things. Her brothers had hated the tedium of garden work and avoided it at every possible opportunity.
Carolyn, though, she hadn't minded. She'd loved the feel of dirt under her nails. But it had been more than just the physicality of it she'd loved. It had been the learning process that came with it. She'd spent hours in the library trying to find out what they should be adding to the ground for better and bigger vegetables, and how to preserve the nutrients in the soil.
There had been several times, she knows, that her father had come home from a second shift to find her asleep at the dining room table; spread out with her books and notes. She remembers the feeling of fuzzy weightlessness as he carried her to bed, telling her that everything would be there in the morning for her to finish.
It had only been after college that she'd fallen away from it. Grad school had been too absorbing; there'd been no time and little desire to do it by herself. Lack of space, no money. A million and one reasons to just let the whole idea go. Still, it had been a shock when her mother had mentioned letting the gardening space go. She remembers how her mother had hugged her afterward, running a hand down Carolyn's face.
"It's time, honey," she'd said, eyes kind. "You can always come back to it."
It shames her a little to know that going back to gardening had taken nearly fifteen years. It hadn't been until she'd transferred to D.C. that she'd taken it up again. She'd moved into a small townhouse in Virginia – closer to Quantico – and found that for the first time in her life, she'd had a yard.
That she could use the space as a garden hadn't occurred to her, exactly, at first. She hadn't even really registered its presence in those first few desperate months after 9/11. Grief and winter had gone hand in hand that year. The silence in airports and people had been more telling than the public chest beating ever could be.
Still, the position she'd volunteered herself into, the job that was supposed to have made a difference, had never materialized. She'd spent the first two months doing nothing but reading. She hadn't minded, especially since the information she was sifting through had been fascinating and thorough in ways that she could never have imagined. Bits and pieces of people's lives laid bare for her in files and recordings. In the beginning, it had been part wonderland for a woman who found nothing more interesting than taking tiny pieces and creating the picture of a larger whole.
And then she'd walked into her superior's office and found all of her carefully compiled reports sitting in a box on the floor. She'd known then that the whole thing was useless. And there'd been nothing left except a diminishing hope that things might change.
And then something had.
She'd been eating in her tiny breakfast nook one morning before work, watching the snow melt in her backyard, when realization dawned that she could do something. Sitting there with her oatmeal, she'd stared out at the yard and really seen it. The retreating snow and winter had left the sod in sorry repair, retreating at the edges. Black dirt had peeked up here and there, dark and mysterious with promise and nostalgia. Her palms had itched with anticipation, and for the first time in months, she'd smiled.
She remembers her first budding tomatoes that summer, and the way she'd poured all of her frustration and fear and rage into that little plot of land. Her mother had commented, during one of their weekly phone conversations, that she'd sounded different. Happier. Carolyn had just smiled and made her promise to come down and see what she was doing.
Things had grown quickly that year. In her more fanciful moments she'd thought about renewal and hope and life. It had only seemed silly and sentimental when she'd been away from the blooms and the vegetables, heavy and ripe in their neat rows. She had grown something. Given back. The world moved on, and so had Carolyn Barek.
When she'd transferred home, nearly two years to the day she had left, one of the first things she'd done was look for a place with room for a garden. It had meant a nightmarish commute to work, and less money for other things, but she hadn't minded.
She likes the dirt under her nails.
The day everything changes, she doesn't notice.
It's a Saturday in mid-September and they're waiting for a CSU unit and a bus in the warm sun. Tianna Peterson is fifty feet away covered in weeds and two months worth of debris. The summer sun had not been kind, and after they'd trampled through the overgrowth around her, the smell had gotten a lot worse. If anyone asked, she's pretty sure they'd both say they moved to preserve the scene. It's a neat lie, at least for her.
Tianna is her seventy-third body. She remembers thinking, at one point, that all of this would have to get easier. Seeing the death and the aftermath. It's not easier, it's just more common.
She sighs softly and leans back against the cement railing to watch the clouds. There's nothing else they can really do until the CSU guys get here with their kits and their string and cameras.
"This will be a pretty garden."
She smiles a little. Nods. "Yeah. If the funds ever come through."
"Eh, isn't that always the way?" She hears Logan fumbling in his pockets a bit. It's an odd thing, a moment of slight discord, because as a rule Logan doesn't fumble. Smirk, snicker, and slide, sure, but fumble?
"Here," he says, and she sits back up.
She blinks away the wash-out effect of staring at the sky and looks over at him. He's staring up at a nearby building, but his hand's extended in her direction. She looks down, blinking at the piece of her favorite gum in his hand. She shrugs and takes it, popping it in her mouth before leaning back again, this time closing her eyes against the sun.
It's not until days later with thank you's and court dramas and mother's grief ringing in her ears, another piece of mint gum in her mouth, that she blinks and everything fits. Startled, she looks over at Logan. He is driving, relaxed and easy in the moderate traffic. They're halfway across the Manhattan Bridge on the way to some or other diner. Around her water and sky are bright in the early afternoon, highlighting the strange sense of wonder she's now in the grips of.
"When did you start carrying around my gum?" She tilts her head in genuine curiosity.
He smirks and raises an eyebrow at her. It's an expression that she's becoming used to. A new and regular part of her day and interactions. "It's good gum."
"That's why I chew it."
He nods absently and cuts off a slow-moving Hummer. "I noticed."
She blinks, smiles quickly and with sincerity. "Okay," she says and turns to look out the window.
She gets Logan a pair of gloves for Christmas, finding them on sale at a street market she is cruising with her nephews. She buys them because they kind of match his coat. Carolyn doesn't know why, but she feels obligated to mark this passage of time in their working relationship. Four months. He's almost off probation. Four months they've known each other, and she feels only a little strange handing over the $30 and slipping them into her shopping bag.
She feels kind of stupid wrapping them in festive paper (the kittens with Santa hats were a true find of horrible glory) but less so when she walks into work the Friday before Christmas Eve and finds a wrapped box on her desk.
The paper is covered in evil-looking monkeys waving what appears to be mistletoe. Inside is the dorkiest hat she's ever seen in her entire life. Complete with earflaps and a bill that snaps up or down depending on just how psychotic the weather is.
She's still staring at it with something resembling horror when he gets back from getting coffee. He slides her mug next to her elbow and pokes the empty box.
"Like it?" He asks, eyes glowing. She thinks, maybe, this is more payback for their first case. She blinks, remembers the box in her bag and straightens.
The look on his face when he sees the kittens is worth the stupid hat.
Three weeks later, there's a freak storm and temperatures drop to subzero and, of course, they're called to a scene the next morning. She is yawning when she slips into the car, bundled up and not really paying attention.
"Looking sharp there, Barek," he laughs before pulling away from her curb. It takes her a few seconds to figure out what he's talking about, but shrugs when she does and eyes the gloves she gave him pointedly.
"What can I say? It's warm."
"I'm glad." He slows to a stop carefully on the not-yet-plowed side-street before making a careful right. "I still think it looks cute."
She snorts and steals the thermos tucked into the console between them. "You have strange tastes, Logan."
He laughs then, nodding and pulling on to the highway ramp. "That's what they say."
The coffee is hot and strong in her mouth and the day is clear and bright. She just smiles and leans back to enjoy the ride.
Her brother takes her out to dinner on her birthday. It's not an official celebration - that had been the previous Sunday and had even rated her mother's special cannoli cake. It wasn't every day that the baby of the family turned thirty-nine. Admittedly, her mother had been using that excuse to make the cannoli cake for her every year since she'd been capable of chewing.
On Sunday, there'd been cake and presents and several long-suffering sighs from her mother about the acute lack of grandchildren from Carolyn. Those had been laughed off - and were always laughed off - as her brother Daniel's youngest had gone screaming by the table. It was sometimes strange to see all of her family gathered under one roof because it happened so rarely. Weekly and monthly dinners usually had two or three people missing.
Birthdays and holidays were different. Afterwards, she had gone home with a full stomach, a smile on her face, and a bag of mostly useless presents she always ended up donating to the re-sale shop down the street.
So, it's something of a surprise when Jake, her oldest brother calls her at work on Tuesday and offers to take her out.
"I'm going to be in the city, Caro. I'll take you somewhere nice and try and get you fat. Mom's always complaining about you and your veggie fixation."
She grins into her phone and only partially catches the intrigued look that crosses Mike's face. He sets the pen he's been fiddling with down and stares at her openly. Because talking to her brother always makes her regress twenty years, she sticks her tongue out at her partner and pointedly turns her chair so she can stare at one of the nearby pillars.
"You're going to take me somewhere nice, huh? Sure you can let the moths out of your wallet long enough to back that up?"
"Says the woman who gave me a salad for my last birthday..."
"I made a three course dinner and you know it!"
"I know, I know..."
She can feel his smile through the phone and lets herself relax into it. It isn't often that she lets herself just be in the squad room, but this is Jake, and she is probably due a short break. Surreptitiously, she eyes the two-inch stack of paperwork she's plowed through today.
Maybe six breaks.
"So you want to take me out. Won't Katie object? You out all late with a pretty woman?" She can practically hear her partner's eyebrows shoot up, but she keeps staring at her pillar and smiling into the phone. It is good for the man to get his chain yanked. Hell, it's good for all men occasionally.
"Oh, she knows I have a late meeting uptown. She actually suggested it."
"Yeah, there's a surprise. You doing something nice for me unprompted." He laughs, and she hears the quick tap of keys in the background, as well as muffled low voices and a loud cracking bang. "You okay over there?"
She waits a few seconds, listening as Jake's tinny voice - probably has a hand over the mouthpiece - sounds in the background. It is clipped and authoritative, something she'd never taken seriously even as a kid. It is weird, she muses, to realize others did. Her big brother supervises a crew of close to twenty other men, and does so successfully.
"Sis?" Jake's voice gets louder and more distinct as he turns back to their conversation. "Yeah, it's fine. Del Mato nearly dropped coffee all over the only set of plans our department has to work with. SNAFU waiting to happen that is."
"You got him at the copier yet?" She twirls her chair, just a little, letting Mike get back into line of view. He is back to his paperwork, at least theoretically. She keep her chair locked, making sure he stays just visible in her periphery. "I know how you seek to control those under you."
Jake snorts and, from the sound of it, takes a sip of something. "You know it. He was supposed to have done it two hours ago, so don't pity the man. Also, Manny says 'hi' and when are you going to call him back?"
She chuckles and keeps her voice provocatively low. "I'll call him back when he gives me a reason."
Jake's laugh is loud and strong in her ear, and for a moment she's ten and he's standing next to her, hand caught in the cookie jar. She feels her whole body relax. One big sigh, and work, cops, robbers, and everything that isn't her brother disappear.
"And that, sister mine, is why he keeps making me ask." Jake voice is still bright and light. "I'll see you tonight, okay, Caro?"
"Hey, you know me. Seven-thirty." And then he's gone, leaving a dial tone and a huge smile in his wake.
"Soo..." Logan's voice comes from next to her ear, and she groans a bit before glancing over her shoulder.
His face is pure devilment and sin, and for the first time she sees in him the possibility that his rather extensive reputation isn't an outright lie. "Hot date?"
She just rolls her eyes, and looks back towards the stack of paper in front of her.
Once, when she was thirty-three, she fell in love.
Looking back, she knows it wasn't the surprise she'd thought at the time. It hadn't been quick – because she was never, ever quick or rash – but it had been deep.
They were together for four years before it ended, and when it did, it hadn't been pretty. Screaming, tears, regret, and (minor) financial ruin had played large roles, smearing something that had been beautiful and important.
He'd been everything she'd wanted and nothing she'd expected at all. He'd been funny, vibrant, and passionate. At the time, she'd thought, a yang to her yin. Something bright and dominant in her world that made her better by being things she wasn't.
She can look back now and smile about the good things. The long afternoons in bed, the way he smiled before running a finger along her jaw and leaning in to kiss her. The feel of his hands on her hips as they walked or waited or stood.
She misses that. The possession of it and the whimsy. She even misses the fights.
She knows it's done and over with. Presented today with the same situation, she knows she would handle it differently. She is a different woman now than she was at thirty-three. She is easier in her skin and life and family.
She wakes up smiling sometimes, dreaming of him and what might have been. It's enough.
It's a robbery again.
Three-hundred thousand in miscellaneous precious stones gone to what appears to be a group of kids. They'd 'lucked' into the haul they'd walked away with. An accidental set of circumstances that qualified it for Major Case attention in the most technical of ways.
So the on-scene officers and CSU said.
They're in the squad room, settled at their desks. She's going over the manager's financials for the fifth time – Logan had been insistent – when she notices it. A tiny notation that means next to nothing if the person reading them hasn't read all of them.
"Hey, look at this." She doesn't bother glancing over at Logan, just waves a hand and then he's at her shoulder, staring at her file and scribbled notes.
She points. "There. The transfer."
She flips back a few pages pointing at different notes and numbers. "See? And here again."
"Huh. Does this mean what I think it means?"
She turns her head, just slightly and smiles. Nods. The puzzle pieces fit in her head, and the unflappable surety in Logan's eyes feels like a glass of cold water on a hot day.
"It's him," she says, not blinking. He smirks back at her, seemingly all attitude and confidence, but there's something else there too. She doesn't think he's impressed, exactly. Maybe pleased.
He opens the door for her as they exit the building, and because she's in front of him, she lets herself smile.
She doesn't know when she became Barek in her head. It's an odd shift, but one that comes slowly, so that when she finally lifts her metaphorical head from the metaphorical grindstone, the groove has already been etched.
She is visiting her mother in Brooklyn when she finally notices it, press-ganged into service by her mother to move some of the shorter bookcases around the apartment.
Lydia Barek does this occasionally. Decides that the living room is too cluttered and that the dining room is a better spot for something, or that the kitchen needs a repainting. Carolyn's used to it, and it's an easy way into a free meal, even if there's manual labor involved. Her mother makes amazing empanadas – the only savory thing the woman knows how to make that comes out edible – for the workers and always has apple soda in the fridge.
It's a Saturday in early March, and she's been partnered with Logan for almost six months. She'd walked out of the squad room the day before to his laughing comments about her latest hat. She just smiled at him and didn't mentioned that she only wore the damn thing because it cracked him up. Little things.
She's stacking books on her mother's living room floor, hauling out the Neruda and Nin to wipe down for shifting. She's been at it for a while and completely in the cleaning/stacking zone, so she honestly didn't hear her mother when she started calling. It isn't until her mother lays a hand on her shoulder that she realizes her mother had been calling her. Calling Carolyn.
"Baby, are you okay?" As always, her mother's hands are soft and smell faintly of ginger. Whether it was from the powder she'd received for Christmas or from something else, Barek doen't know, but it is a familiar smell. Something vivid and solid from her childhood that is somehow comforting in the here and now.
"I'm okay, mama." She smiles up at her mother, squeezing her hand before looking back over at the piles of books. "Just distracted."
"I called you for a whole minute. The apartment isn't that big. What is so interesting?"
Barek – because it is Barek now; Carolyn is a distant mist in her mind – just shrugs and looks down. In her head, she sees Logan smirking at her and offering her a casefile. "Nothing, mama. Just surprised at the breadth of your porn collection."
"Well, your father, he's old. He needs ideas, honey." She and her mother laugh then. After, Lydia kisses her forehead, strokes her hair, and twirls away back to the kitchen, throwing a story of Mrs. Cardazio from the market over her shoulder. Problem solved.
The rest of the day, Barek has to remind herself to look up when her mother speaks her name.
Mostly, she manages it.
At the end of April, she and Logan are in a car accident.
For once, it actually is an accident. One with no malicious intent other than someone wanting to be where their car was enough to cause major damage.
They'd been following up a few leads on a lower priority case as favor to McCallister and Johnson, who'd done a lot of leg work for them in the past. It had been only fair as she and Logan had been between cases.
"A nice afternoon in the country," Logan had joked before pulling on to the 684 towards Port Chester. She'd rolled her eyes – interviewing cranky soccer moms in Westchester hadn't been her idea of a nice afternoon – and offered him a veggie chip. He'd given up bitching about her food months ago, and had actually started half-heartedly stealing her snacks. Deakins had hooted and told her to keep it up as Mike had lost ten pounds.
They'd been in twenty or so minutes out of Danbury, comfortably sharing a silence and starting to pull into an intersection when a big, silver SUV had blown the light and t-boned into their Taurus.
She'd observed the whole thing with a detached sort of horror. Her head had been turned so she'd been able to watch, eyes wide, as time slowed, and the SUV slammed into the Taurus' frame. Glass exploded inwards, spraying Logan with hundreds of tiny fragments. The back door buckled gruesomely before Logan's head slammed into the side of her face and everything went fuzzy and bright.
She wakes up with Logan's face three inches from her own. He is yelling at her. Loudly.
"What?" It's almost funny to watch his lips move, knowing there are words coming out of his mouth, but completely unsure of what he's actually saying. She laughs a little, then some more as he makes a panic face and starts waving fingers in front of her eyes.
"No, I'm okay, I'm okay..." She bats his fingers away and tries to sit up, allowing him to help lift when the world suddenly goes a bit fuzzier at the edges. It evens out enough for her to see that she's on the ground a few feet from their vehicle. She shakes her head a little, clearing it, and Mike's voice weaves back in, like a radio station that's suddenly getting a stronger signal.
"…king SUV woman. Shoulda handcuffed her to her goddamn mirror. Least she's using the damn cell phone she had glued to her ear for something useful. Bus is on its way. You sure you're okay?"
There's blood on her partner, seeping down his face and turning him red. She looks down at herself, wincing at the handprints on her jacket. She doesn't know what blood's hers or what blood's his, but he's suddenly got his bunched up sport-coat pressed, rather awkwardly, against his head and he's waving the ripped out lining in front of her face. She blinks at the brown fabric muzzily until he notices mashes it up against her mouth. Her fingers brush his as she takes it, and then he's pulling away and staring at the screeching blonde woman across the road, pacing in a field of broken glass.
"Huh," she mumbles through the fabric, and they sit and wait for the flashing lights that mean help.
The ambulance takes them to the emergency room more because they're bleeding all over each other than because they've got anything life threatening. Also, the ER is considerably closer to a train station than the intersection where their Taurus had met its official end. Mike stops apologizing for knocking her out after the first high speed turn in the ambulance – she makes a mental note never to date a paramedic and let him drive – and they're both quiet
She's got a sprained arm, a cut lip, and bruises all over her face and, she suspects, a concussion. He's got lacerations – a rather dashing one over his eye, and a cluster of others on his shoulders – and bruised ribs. They end up sitting in the ER waiting area looking like they've gone ten rounds in a Bantam weight fight, and wincing.
It's two in the afternoon, and when it becomes obvious that they're together and not randomly sitting next to each other, the short dumpy housewife across the waiting room starts to glare at Logan.
"Someone doesn't like you." It comes out slurred, which is unsurprising given the dull ache that's taken residence on the left side of her face. She feels slightly validated in being able to say for sure that her partner has a head like a rock.
"Hmm?" He grunts it and looks around. Notices the frowning woman across the way and snickers. "You really should leave me, Barek. I'm bad for you."
"Eh," she shrugs. Or tries to. Winces as it jostles the icepack on her elbow. "I could kick your ass."
They chuckle, painfully, then and go back to staring at the rather bad abstract print on the wall.
"Yeah?" She blinks a bit, a little concerned that she seems to be nodding off in her seat, slumping sideways onto her partner's shoulder in the process.
"When we get back, dinner's on me, okay?"
She snorts and then slumps back over. Fuck it, she's tired and he's next to her and warm. Guilt isn't always a bad thing, if used carefully. And really? He'd had the upper hand for too long. "Okay. But I want waffles. And eggs."
"Any particular reason?" He asks, shifting a bit so her head hits the fleshy part of his arm. It's a small thing, but she smiles about it anyway.
"Because it's what I want."
He snorts, and she thinks she feels him smile back, but that could just be the concussion. "Just like a woman."
"Convenient, that." She closes her eyes and listens to the hospital move around her.
Covered in their bandages and limping, they get back to Union station before the biggest rush of people. It isn't a glorious homecoming, but it works for them. When they had walk out into the warm afternoon outside, they head for the subway without saying a word.
The eggs are excellent.
No one comments on her jacket.
Once, when she was ten years old, she'd made the weekly trek to the library for something new and exciting. She'd wandered in, done her normal cruising of the new shelves, and then moved on to the large laminated circulation sign. Mrs. Petrovsky – the woman who normally manned the circulation desk on Wednesday afternoons – had smiled at her, as per usual, glanced down at the title and started to laugh.
"Oh, Carolyn," she'd chuckled, waving her thick hand in front of her wide, smiling face. "Little girl, you have more brains in your head than God has seashells."
Then she'd turned to Ms. Ulanov and babbled something Carolyn couldn't understand. It hadn't been Polish. Momma had been very careful to make sure all her children had a few hours of Polish-only speaking at home. It had been something she'd been very adamant about and that her Poppa had countered with equal stubbornness that the kids learn Creole. But the words Mrs. Petrovsky said didn't sound like what she heard at home, or what she spoke.
Curious, Carolyn had waited until the conversation finished and Mrs. Petrovsky had stamped her book. "Mrs. Petrovsky?"
"Yes, Carolyn?" Mrs. Petrovsky's hands had been busy and careful with the stamps and little cards. Always neatening, even when her focus was directed at someone.
"What language were you speaking?"
Mrs. Petrovsky had smiled then. Not the bright wide one Carolyn was used to. Something quieter and more sad.
"Oh, little girl. I speak Russian to Nadia. Why do you ask?"
Carolyn had shrugged then, thrown a bit by the sudden mood shift. "Because I want to know what you said, and I didn't know what language that was."
"Well, Carolyn." The woman's hands were soft over Carolyn's smaller ones. "If you go to the 400's, you can find a dictionary. You can learn if you would like. I could help."
She hadn't known it then, but the world had opened just a little wider for Carolyn that day. It's still the one Barek looks back on and smiles about. The day when learning had gotten just that much less scary.
"Okay," Carolyn had said.
She still sends Lena Petrovsky Christmas cards in Cyrillic.
They don't talk about her leaving. Not exactly.
She finds the paperwork on her desk three days after she and Logan close their last official case. It had been dropped in a cluttered heap on top of her inbox, the only thing differentiating it from the seven other cold-cases underneath it is a red stamp labeling it from the "Chief of Detectives".
They'd been arguing over something unimportant, more for form's sake than any real upset. She'd made a face at him and skulked over to her inbox as a way to ignore him, gaining more time to come up with a cutting rebuttal. Things had been busy in the last few days, so she's not surprised at the stack.
She freezes when she hits that folder. Drops it on her desk, and it's a testament to how far she and Logan have come in the last year that he's immediately by her shoulder, staring down at the big black header that reads "Transfer".
She feels him tense next to her. She doesn't even have to look up to know his expression. She can see it in her mind, frozen and surprised and very much unpleased.
Disbelieving, she opens the folder and scans the contents. They all seem straightforward, stamped and sealed by the Chief of Detectives and the head of Organized Crime. The only thing left to do, the only T not crossed, is for her to sign them. It's somehow implicit that, even without her signature, this is a done deal.
"What the hell?" It takes her a second to realize that she'd just said that. "What... why?"
She looks up, into her partner's face and just stares. Blinks a little and then looks back down at the paperwork.
"You need to take it," he says. She starts and whips around to glare at him. Opens her mouth to yell at him for being an idiot – actually yell at him, which is something she rarely ever does – but stops at the look on his face. One that is so very different than what she expected.
She's seen this look on his face twice. The first time inside the interrogation room just after she broke their first case. The other, not more than a few days ago, watching Deakins walk back into his office. She knows that there are very, very few people who've been on the receiving end of a stare like this from Mike Logan. This is serious.
"I think it's a bad idea." She keeps her eyes dead on his. "I'm not leaving."
He shakes his head a little. She's been a reader her entire life. Loves books in all their forms and functions, and so she's probably read more than her share of trashy romance novels. She's never heard of this feeling outside of them. It's not romantic, she and Logan aren't romantic, but staring up at him, she can see the vulnerability. The worry.
She doesn't know when it happened, but she can look at this man, her partner, and read his face like a very simple map.
"You have to." He slumps down, blocking the rest of the squad out with the lean of his body. Something inside of her shifts, and she finds herself freefalling into uncertainty. This is change in motion. "This is their way of protecting you."
She blinks, confused. "What? Why would I need protection?"
He looks back at her, eyes steady. Like he needs her to hear exactly what he's saying. To get it. "Because you're valuable to them. You're a damn good cop. They want you protected."
It's one of the only moments in her life that she feels completely stupid. "What?"
And then his hand is on her shoulder, warm through the weight of her sweater. When he finally speaks, his voice is low and raw. "They don't want you to be another Deakins. They want you away from here."
From me, he doesn't say, but she hears it just the same.
"No." She shakes her head, her lips suddenly numb as everything that statement implies hits her like a brick. "That's not fair. That's not right."
"It's not. That doesn't make it any less true." And then he's gone, striding out of the squadroom – down to the smoking pillar outside, her mind throws up after fitting all the pieces together – like everything is fine and nothing is wrong.
She stares down at the paperwork, hunchs over her desk and this impossible situation. Her fingers are tingling as she runs one down the edge of the paperwork. This isn't something she's going to be able to say no to. She can't throw a fit or fight. It wouldn't matter. In that moment, she feels the metaphorical wind, driving sand and dust and anger into her face.
There is another option.
She sets her pen down, looks out over the Major Case Squad, and makes her decision.
Two days and several calls later, she hands Deakins the file and the letter. Back straight and eyes clear, she offers it to him like the sacrifice it is.
"This is your decision?" he asks, hands flat on his already half-empty blotter.
"The one I can live with." She manages to say it without any hint of inflection.
He smiles a little then, an evil little glint that she's going to miss, before taking the file. "It's probably better this way."
She shakes her head, allowing a little of everything to show. Because this is her Captain, and he probably knows better than anyone what she's feeling right now. "No it's not."
She shuts the door behind her when she leaves, closing her eyes softly at the sharp bang of metal and the rattle of glass. It sounds like finality.
She hates that she was right all those months ago, watching Mike walk out of that first interrogation room.
She's not sentimental, exactly, on her last day. It's a strange sort of feeling to walk through the squad room and know that she won't be walking through those same doors, in the same capacity, again. She's thought about it before, so it's no surprise when her brain throws up the comparison to a type of molting. Shedding of skin so that she will be something new and different.
She wonders why biologists have never asked if snakes or insects like losing their old skin. Or if it would even matter. She will miss this skin, she knows. Much more than her previous.
She spends the day shaking hands and listening while people try and come up with memories or good wishes or a grain of real emotion at her leaving. She knows that most of it is being used up on the loss of their Captain instead, and she's okay with that. That is how it should be. Deakins is a good man, a great cop, and she personally thinks that the department has shot itself in the foot over this one. Is shooting itself in the foot for a lot of reasons. Still, she smiles and makes appreciative noises until the detectives and secretaries and lab assistants wander off.
The last weeks have been strange. Disassociated in ways her brain isn't letting her process just yet. They've also been hard in ways she didn't expect. She's even smiling when she finally wanders back to her desk – she knows that this will always be her desk, even when it's not – remembering the evil glint and uproarious laugh Logan had given her when she'd told him just what she'd done. Named it "Barek's Fuck You" and bought her a drink.
It's appropriate, because when she finally makes it back, she finds him settled on the edge of her desk, empty cake plate behind him.
"Hey." She nods at him, aiming a half-smile in his direction. It turns into a larger, amused smile at the image Logan makes. He is awkwardly holding her pen mug, looking all-the world like someone kicked him. It's sweet in a strange way, and that more than anything throws her a little.
Mike Logan, sweet. Who'd have ever expected?
She shakes her head, dismissing the thought. Over the last year, she's learned better than that.
"You ready?" he asks it, head tilted, as she glides up next to him. Brushes a shoulder against his.
"It's for the best." His body is turned in to her, shielding their conversation from the rest of the squad room. She smiles a little at this. It's an ingrained thing that she's seen between partners before. Observed it in Goren and Eames on an almost daily basis. The use of body language to block others out; to hold a private conversation in the middle of a crowd. In this case, in the middle of a squad room that's still milling around with their cake from Deakins' (and hers, technically) party.
She looks at him and wonders how this became what it is. How he became her friend. No, she thinks. He became her partner. She doesn't want to leave this. Doesn't want to leave him and the work. That isn't and option, and she knows it. Is coming to terms with it.
"Maybe." Her voice is almost convincing. He nods though. Shrugs, and gives her the half smile that she's learned to read as him not saying something he wants to.
"You really don't have to leave the department. You can always tell the FBI to go screw themselves, and go where they wanted to send you. You did it once." He shrugs and plays with the handle of her Buster Keaton mug. He looks like and embarrassed twelve-year-old at a junior high dance.
She shakes her head, not sure whether she wants to laugh, cry, or rail at the decision that's out of her hands. She smiles instead, shifting to sit comfortably on her empty desk.
All her stuff, except for her pen mug, is piled in the box next to her hip. It had surprised her how much she'd accumulated in her various desk drawers. Close to two years in Major Case, and she hadn't noticed how much of herself had ended up in her desk. She'd had to snag a bigger copy paper box to fit everything. She'd taken the copies of her notes home the day before, but the pictures and mementos of her family and life that didn't involve the NYPD were left for today.
It's a forced denouement, but she's always preferred those. Her mother had always said that even if your destiny was already chosen for you, you might as well choose how you were going to accomplish it. She'd chosen the task force.
"Yeah, I do have to do this," she tells him, still smiling. "You know it and I know it."
He snorts, and they share a look of complete disgust, derision, and regret.
"Yeah." He says, and bumps her leg with his knee. "I'm sorry."
She shakes her head, smiles a little. "Me, too."
He ducks his head for a moment before lifting it and giving her a heart-stopping grin. "Does this mean you're gonna come see how big my couch is now?"
She laughs, loud and deep. He grins back, and it's then she realizes that this is the first time that's ever happened. A year in and they've finally hit their comfort zone. Fuck.
"You have my mug, Logan." She holds out her hand and his grin goes smirky, punctuated by an eyebrow raise. If she looks very closely, she can still see the faint scar from their Westchester adventure, and something in her eases as she realizes that there is something of her left on him. Something of this year besides ten pounds and a Splenda habit.
He hands it over and shrugs. "That a 'no'?"
She takes the mug and shakes her head at him. "You're an idiot."
"But you like me anyway. And hey, it's not like we won't be in the same city," his voice is breezy and light. Over her shoulder, she hears Langdon pulling one of those crackers with the streamers that the janitor will kill him for later. The pop is followed by Deakins' bellow. They ignore it. "We could go for a drink some time. As friends."
"Sure." She shakes her head knowing it's a lie as soon as it exits her mouth. She is wistful in her expression and body language, chewing her lip just a little. He will not be a friend that she calls for a drink on a random weekend. He can't be that.
She probably won't ever see Mike Logan again. As of next week, they'll have to relearn all of this with someone new. They'll have new partners.
A piece of advice that her Quantico instructor floats through her brain.
"Listen to your partner." She says it quietly to him, almost under her breath. Unironic, and straight to center. Logan smiles at her then. Reaches out and runs a hand from the base of her neck down to her shoulder. The hand is warm and big, and everything in her aches for what could have been. For the partnership, the friendship that was just starting to hit its stride.
He lets her go and steps back. "Call me, so I have someone to listen to." His voice is sincere and she lets herself blush and step up on her toes to kiss his cheek and linger. It's a sweet thing to say. A kind thing.
It is a gesture that will melt in the sun once she leaves the squad room, but it's there, and she suddenly remembers just how magnetic her partner can be. She shifts her bag higher on her shoulder and picks up her box. It's the only thing she can do.
"Anyway," she says. "I'll see you around."
She doesn't look back as she walks away. She doesn't have to.