Author's Note: I don't blame any of you for losing interest in this one. It only took me forever to actually focus and write it!
Two pale faces with blue-tinged lips stared up at Merri out of the dark.
"Brody!" LaSalle's disturbingly pallid face broke into a Cheshire grin.
"You're certainly, a sight for sore eyes," Pride said, smiling up at her as well.
Brody couldn't help but grin back at her boys... her blessedly alive boys. Thank god! It looked like it was a close call. They were clinging to what appeared to be the metal rungs of an access ladder bolted into the side of the bulkhead, and the dark water was lapping at their chins.
"I hate to interrupt what looks to be quite the refreshing swim and all, but we've got some bad guys to nail," she said, unable to resist teasing the agents as she was flooded with relief.
"Christopher." Pride invited the younger agent to climb out first with a wave of his hand.
"Age before beauty, King," LaSalle said, making his friend sigh in exasperation. Brody didn't especially envy Agent Pride, and not just for the nearly-drowning part. He must be more immune to the way LaSalle's charm could begin to grate on a person's nerves after a while. He had spent nearly every day with the guy for the past ten years. Brody herself didn't mind him, rather liked the Boy from 'Bama in the normal daily doses she got, but she had spent several stake-outs cooped up in a vehicle with the man, and it wasn't her favorite part of the job so far. It's not that Chris LaSalle talked incessantly or anything. He just insisted on conversing a little more than she would prefer. Brody liked a good amount of contemplative silence on her stakeouts.
She grabbed Pride's arm as he reached the open hatch, and following her lead, her merchant marine friend took the other and they helped the water-logged agent out of the nearly-filled ballast tank. LaSalle's head poked up next and they assisted the other agent who -she hated to admit the Conley's were right- looked quite a bit like a drowned rat.
"I hope you two learned your lesson not to run off and play Indiana Jones..." Brody felt like an irate -yet secretly amused- mother scolding her errant boys as the two men stood in front of her, dripping on the floor, shivering and studying their drenched boots. "...Especially without leaving your fellow agent a note or some sort of message about what the hell you're doing!"
LaSalle continued to stare at the floor, but Pride seemed to remember that he was in fact the agent in charge of this little unit, and pulled himself up to his full height and usual commanding bearing.
"Have you called NOPD for backup?" he asked.
Now it was Merri's turn to feel properly admonished, but she was pretty certain she kept the embarrassed blush from her cheeks. Pride frowned, however, in obvious disappointment. But she knew it wasn't disappointment in her, but rather over the fact that she still didn't feel comfortable enough in the city yet to call upon her fellow LEOs for assistance. But he merely pressed on. That was something she'd learned about Pride. He wasn't one to cry over spilt milk, or tolerate wallowing in others. The only way to fix the mistakes of the past was to do whatever you could to make up for them in the present.
"We need an officer or two to sit on the ballast tank until it's emptied again to retrieve the evidence we left down there," he said, back in full command mode despite the involuntary trembling of his soaked body. "And a full sweep of the ship needs to be done, in case the Conley brothers are still here."
"Oh, they're still here," Brody said. Both LaSalle and Pride gave her curious looks.
She smiled a devious, self-satisfied grin, like the cat that got the canary.
"Good work, today, Brody."
"Thanks," she said, smiling down at the senior agent as she handed him a steaming mug of herbal tea. Caffeine was the last thing that either of the physically exhausted agents needed. They needed to sleep, which would be difficult if they were pumped full of stimulants and still chilled to the bone. So hot liquids, peppermint tea specifically, it was.
"No cocoa?" LaSalle whined after taking a sip of his own mug of tea and wincing, making a face she'd expect from someone who had just drunk horse piss. Merri glared at the younger agent.
"No sugar. No caffeine. You two need to take it easy, get a full night's rest." After the agents had been checked out by the EMTs, showered and changed into dry clothes, she'd quit filling out the paperwork and returned to feeling like a nursemaid, seeing to her sickly boys. Even though they had brought it upon themselves.
"Yes, ma'am," Pride said, groaning lightly when he struggled off the sofa onto his feet before heading towards the kitchen.
"And where do you think you're going?" Merri really couldn't help it. She was in full Mother Hen mode, and discovering it was really hard to dial back the controlling aspect of her nature once it was unleashed.
"Followin' orders," Pride said. "Goin' to bed, which I'm fortunate enough to have just upstairs."
He paused, giving her an amused half-smile. "If that's alright with Nurse?"
Merri felt her cheeks flush. Too far. She had definitely gone too far. But goddamnit, she had almost lost the two men who were the closest friends she'd had in years, who openly claimed her as family to them. She simply nodded sheepishly.
"But seriously, I really don't know how, we managed before you got here, Agent Brody. You saved our skins. And you been takin' good care of us."
He winked as she stood there, a little shocked and a lot pleased, before he disappeared, leaving the younger agent to withstand the wrath of her fussing alone.
"King's right," LaSalle said, as she sat down on the sofa beside him. "I think it was jus' plain ol' dumb luck that we survived long enough ta meet ya, and steal ya for our own li'l fam'ly."
He raised his steaming mug of tea. "So, thanks, Meredith Brody. For savin' our asses."
"If anything, I should be thanking you and Pride, for saving me."
LaSalle nodded his head, accepting the somewhat rare emotional display of vulnerability from her.
"Cheers," he said.
She clinked her own steaming mug of tea to his.
A/N: There may be an epilogue of an alternative (shippy) nature… to be posted separately.