Chicken

They were back in the car. By some miracle or planetary alignment, Dani Reese had passed her psych eval and Charlie Crews avoided charges (for the meantime); both were returned to duty. Kevin Tidwell didn't dare broach the subject of new partners with either stubborn Detective. Dani hadn't let him touch her since the night the hospital released her and she walked out the front door and almost disappeared from his life. He watched them go out the door – together – again; on yet another Homicide call. What he wouldn't give to be in the backseat of that car listening, he thought.

They walked together and in silence in the cool quiet of the parking garage to their unmarked. Reese jingled the keys in anticipation. It was a simple no frills murder, a homeless guy in an alley; no one important. "No one is no one," echoed in the back of her brain. A hint of a smile crossed her lips under the polarized shades she wore to hide her eyes from the world.

The doors shut, the engine cranked to life and air conditioning set to high, she backed them out and when they emerged from the darkness of the garage into the bright LA sunshine it was like being reborn. She understood now, in some small measure, why Crews loved the sunlight. After being locked away in the darkened basement of Roman's lair, kept hooded for hours, the darkness felt oppressive whereas sunlight felt like a wide-open field of flowers. She breathed easier once the sun hit them.

Charlie was uncharacteristically quiet. He was thinking about the right thing to say. Nothing seemed to be working fine, but he couldn't say nothing to Reese forever. He settled for a simple truth.

"I'm glad you're back," he said quietly.

"Me too," she sighed. It wasn't much but it was a start. It was encouraging.

"I worked with Bobby for awhile when you were gone," he offered.

"Yeah? And how'd that go?" she asked. Her voice dripped with sarcasm. She made no secret of her dislike for Crews first partner from his old patrol days.

"About like you'd expect," he confessed. "He's not… well…he's better at patrol."

"Hmm," Dani kept her negative opinions of Officer Stark to herself. She was trying to be kind he realized.

"Hey," he brightened with a thought. "Remember that case we were working on with the hitman? Hitman woman?"

"The one Stark almost bit it on?" she confirmed. Okay, so maybe not that kind. She survived her experience with Roman mean streak intact. He could tell from her caustic comment that she remembered, but he ignored her jab.

"So…Bobby and me, we noticed something," he teased.

She glanced at him as she drove. Her stern look told him he'd better not make her ask what they'd discovered.

"Did you ever notice how you never see any baby pigeons?" he continued happy for the distraction of meaningless conversation to avoid the heavier topics weighing on both of them. "I mean think about it, have you ever seen a baby pigeon?"

Reese slid her glasses down her nose and gave him a look one might a child.

"What?"

"Just because I've never seen a baby pigeon does not mean they don't exist," she argued.

"Then how come you've never seen one? Bobby's never. Not in all the time he worked downtown? Me neither," he objected.

She smiled. The first real smile he'd seen from her since Roman. "Crews," she began in a scolding tone. "If I looked for a baby pigeon, I'd find one," she was sure of herself.

Neither he nor Bobby had bothered to investigate or openly search for them. They just leapt off onto a tangent. Before she'd leap to any conclusion, she'd test it; she'd tested herself. Reese grounded him; she kept him honest. He missed that. She made him a better cop, and if he wasn't careful she'd make him a better man.

"Wanna see if we can find one?" His voice held both charm and delight. It was an invitation and a challenge.

"We have a murder," she reminded.

"After," he rephrased his offer. He wasn't suggesting they ditch the crime scene for some snipe hunt, but instead that they plan for their future together solving puzzles that had nothing to do with murder and mayhem.

"Are you asking me out?" she puzzled. She didn't sound pissed, just uncertain.

"Would you go if I did?" he wondered. So far they were in theoretical territory.

"Guess you'd have to ask to know," she toyed with him. Two could play at this game.

Their arrival at the crime scene neatly quashed any further conversation, but as he held the crime scene tape up for her to duck under, she leaned close and whispered one word to him. That word was "chicken."

He almost laughed, but a dirty alley and dead man weren't the setting for it. His own shades covered his eyes, but he followed her closely and when they knelt beside the dead guy and began to glove up he corrected, "no, pigeon."

Then because he wanted to - he continued. "I've seen baby chickens. At Easter and other times," he baited her. She'd called him out and he'd switched the conversation back to birds – for now.

Her smirk was not well hidden. "What is it with you and birds?"

About that time, Officer Stark came sauntering over; thumbs hooked through his gun belt, "Hey kids. Look at you two. Back in the saddle," he chuckled at his own joke. Neither Crews nor Reese laughed, but Charlie rose to greet him. He stripped off a rubber glove and shook his old partner's hand.

"Hey, Bobby," he smiled easily. "Good to see you," he pumped Stark's arm. "Isn't it Detective Reese?"

"What?" she said obviously annoyed at the two of them and their display.

"Isn't it good to see Officer Stark?"

Now shamed into it, she rose and stripped of her gloves and extended her hand. "Yeah, sure. I never got a chance to say thank you," she offered and the effort clearly showed.

"How much did he have to pay you to say that?" Stark joked.

She turned and went back to the body. Charlie shook his head and Bobby knew his mistake. "Detective?" he questioned. She looked back. "I'm glad you're back," his sincerity hung in the air just long enough for Reese to nod, before he was back to class clown.

"Someone's gotta keep this rookie in line right?" He slapped Charlie on the back.

"Did you maybe do some canvassing for us Bobby?" Charlie tried to help his old partner be relevant to his new one. "Find anyone who saw anything?"

"It's an alley," Stark complained. "Me and Juarez asked around. But there's nothing back here but hookers, dopers, the homeless and a couple of cats," he indicated that he'd come up empty.

"No baby pigeons?" Reese questioned as she took notes on the appearance of the body, noting clothes, tattoos jewelry, injuries, that could help them ID the dead guy.

Stark was dumbfounded. He was speechless. He looked from Crews to Reese and back to Crews. "You….you told her?"

Charlie grinned. "Of course, I told her," he laughed. "She's my partner," the way he said it made it sound as if those three words were the answer to everything.

"You tell her you love her yet?" Stark cracked off wisely.

That Charlie wasn't ready for. It was a low blow, even for Stark. It was cruel.

For the first time since she'd known him, Charlie Crews was rendered speechless. It should have made her embarrassed, but that she already knew his secret. Even though they'd never spoken or acknowledged it, she knew. It made her furious to watch the casual cruelty Stark inflicted on a man who had never shown him anything but patience and kindness. It was a kindness he did not deserve in her estimation.

Dani Reese was indescribably angry and so absolutely determined to rescue her partner that she said something she could never take back; something that would change the nature of their relationship forever. Two words that she spoke without thought from her heart.

"She knows," Reese stood.

Time stopped. Even Stark was still and quiet. Once the words were loosed like errant doves she could feel and hear the beating of their wings in her chest. God, what have I done? She wondered. But the tiny crinkles in the corners of Crews' eyes were her reward. They screamed his appreciation in ways he could never say, things he couldn't bring himself to speak.

"Come' on Charlie," she demanded. Charlie, not Crews...Charlie. Something profound in the universe shifted.

Crews turned and followed in silence. They stopped at the car, but did not get inside. They stared at each other from behind polarized shades over the roof of their unmarked. She knew, reverberated in his brain. This changed everything.

"Reese," he began. He wanted to say so much, but nothing would come. Then he really did chicken out.

He sought something routine, familiar and comfortable as their world tilted and swam. "Want coffee?"

She reached for the life preserver that he'd thrown into the torrent of emotions she'd unleashed. "I'd love coffee."

They clung to each other and their shared delusion that the past could be preserved. A crowded coffee house was safe. No profession of love would occur there. Not in public, not in front of strangers, but a time was coming when her words would require some form of explanation from them both.