Part VII: In Which Chris is a Girl
Military men never read more into the situation than what is there. It's dangerous to assume, because even though things are sometimes not what they appear to be, to think that things are there when they aren't can tend to screw you up.
Even so, it was a testament to how far gone I was, when I couldn't sleep. "She chose you." Words that haunted me, washed over my soul, because Chris chose me over Burress, and that had to mean something. It had to mean something if my partner wanted me instead of him.
I woke up early the next morning, headed to the range, changing into workout gear to try and take on the course, clear my head a little with exhaustion.
I didn't expect to see a woman in a tanktop and army boots, slamming into a punching bag, left arm reddening with every thud.
"Chris," I said immediately, dropping my duffel bag and walking toward her. "What the hell are you doing?!"
With an 'oomph' and another slam into the bag, she faltered, just for a minute, wiping sweaty bangs away from her forehead to take in my form, catching my gaze before turning back to the bag, slamming a roundhouse straight into it.
"What the hell does it look like I'm doing?" she replied, throwing a punch and then a reverse, before backing away and executing a perfect sidekick that sent the bag swinging.
I watched her for a moment, the way the redness was seeping from the gauze, and again I stepped forward. "Chris, look at your arm."
She shrugged me away. "I'm fine. It's just a scratch."
"You're not fine. You just got shot!"
She stopped, catching the bag with her gloves, eyes lingering on the band-aids on my knuckles, before she said pointedly, "Yeah, you're one to fucking talk."
I had nothing to say to that, glancing at my palms before smoothing them on my shorts, swallowing hard and starting trepidly, "Look, can we talk?"
"Why?" she said between punches, "It's not like you tell me shit when we do. No reason to break tradition and keep me out of the fucking loop-"
"Chris, stop punching the bag for a second, and let me-"
"No, Jim. I chose you, and that's all you fucking care about right?" A powerful reverse kick sent the bag spinning before she caught it with an ax kick. "You got your partner back. That's all that matters."
This was not going well. Chris was pissed, and I had no idea why.
With a sigh and a step forward, I grabbed her arms, trying desperately to pull her back from the bag. "Just listen to me for a min-"
And then I was blinded by a furious force that crashed into me right on the bridge of my nose. I was unprepared for it, and stumbling back, I landed on my ass, falling back and clutching my throbbing nose, feeling the blood seep from it as Chris stood over me, eyes blazing and chest heaving.
One hand on the wooden floor, I was about to push myself back up when she clipped, "Stay down, or I swear to God I'll beat your ass, Jim."
There was enough conviction in those words, that I had no choice but to believe her. Not to mention, Chris hits HARD, and my brain was exploding with pain, splinters of it screeching from my nose, swelling with blood.
"I chose you for two reasons," she began heavily. "One, because you and I are great fucking partners, Jim. I've never had a partner like you, and I never will again. You and I connect out here. We know each other, and when we're on the job, there's nothing like the two of us together." She looked like an Amazon, hair falling around her shoulders, eyes blazing with fury, but her words did something to me, made me stare in wonder, until she took it upon herself to break it all down again. "The second reason, was because I don't think it's a good fucking idea to date my partner."
"You're still dating Burress." The words rushed out before I could stop them, and it only incensed her further, fingers tangling into her hair as she stepped back, as if she didn't trust herself not to hit me again.
"Yeah, I'm still dating David and you know what? I missed the part where that was any of your fucking business. You and I are great together, Jim, but as partners, and if it ever became more than that? Then no one fucking told me! So if you wanna tell me when this became a fucking relationship that I didn't know about – now is a good time, Jim! Because the word out in the entire SWAT division is that I'm in the middle of a love triangle that's screwing up my team – AND I'M THE LAST TO KNOW!"
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Trying to get myself together when I was sprawled out on the floor, holding a bloody nose and squeaking , I only managed, "Look, Chris-"
"No. No. I'm not ready for you to talk. Because if it's true, if that's the reason I got shot – then I'm gonna fucking kill you. I never gave you shit about Mandy, or Tania, or Mary, or any of the little bimbos that paraded past your bed, because I thought it was none of my business. I made a point not to care, Jim – because you never did. So if what you're going to tell me, is that you're in love with me, or some shit, I don't want to hear it. You never seemed to think it was important enough to tell me before, no reason to do it now."
I didn't have to tell her. She could see it in my face, my dumbstruck expression that looked at her as if she had handed me the world just to take it back, and it was in that stare, that I think she finally under stood, just a little.
Her breath came out in a soft gasp, and she tore her gaze away, leaning on the bag and closing her eyes.
"We're partners, Jim. From here on out, that's all we are. What the hell happens in my love life stays out of the uniform, and when I'm on it, you and I are together. But you have zero say with what happens with Burress, and the minute I see you fucking up again with me just because of something idiotic like this – I'm dumping you as a partner. You got it?"
What else could you say to that? When your nose is bleeding and the girl of your dreams is so mad she can kick your ass?
"Yeah, I got it."
"Good," she said, suddenly broken, eyes open and glittering at me. She stepped back to me, leaning down and pulling my palm from my face, inspecting the damage. "Come on," she said after a minute, "Let's get you to the nurse. I think I might have broken it."
She pulled me up swiftly, curled an arm around my waist, and kept her promise. She had chosen me as a partner. While we were on this range, she was mine.
It was the after that had left my heart reeling.
Burress must have gotten his ass talked to too, because although he didn't' sport a bruised nose that made Deke's mouth drop open and Boxer grin, he still kept his mouth shut and his mind on the job.
We were a team, but there wasn't any laughing, any jokes, Chris still probably dealing with what she had heard, me trying to figure out who had told her. Hondo made some bullshit speech about us being a team, but I didn't care.
At lunch I called Mandy, asked her to meet me at the bar, ignoring the glance away from Chris, the look that Boxer and Deke shared.
I didn't know what I was doing, or what I was gonna say when I got there, but I did it anyway.
Showed up at the bar, and saw a perfectly nice girl smiling and waving in my direction, sipping a beer and motioning for me to come over. She fawned over my nose, asking me what happened, and it was then, feeling the soreness, looking in her eyes, not Chris' I knew what I had do to.
"Hey," I said, offering my cheek instead of my lips. "Listen, I need to break this off."
She didn't understand. It hard for her to hear, that for the first time in my life I was terrified of losing something, that I wasn't sure if this was love, but it was someone I could picture being with for the rest of my life, and couldn't stop thinking about, and if I didn't make it right, nothing would be okay with me every again.
She left me at that bar, angry and without a good-bye, just a whisper that I didn't know what I'd lost. I didn't tell her that I couldn't care less. I let her go and I sat on that barstool, looking at an empty beer bottle, wondering where the hell to go from there.
A too hard slam on my shoulders made me suddenly aware of Deke, as he heaved his muscular build into the space she vacated.
"Damn, Street," Boxer said, coming up the other side, and motioning for a drink from the bartender. "Forget everything I said about my sister – you're a dick. Don't ever come near her."
I smiled, a bitter grin that made me laugh in spite of myself, peeling off the label of my beer bottle.
"Wanna know who told her?" Deke said suddenly. "Hondo. Soon as you and Burress left, he started screaming at her about dicking around with her partners."
I blinked, eyes widened.
"Yeah," Boxer agreed. "Next thing we knew, she's shouting that she has no idea what the hell he's talking about and they're were shouting for like, fifteen minutes in there. It got ugly."
"And we didn't even get to hear all of it," Deke added. "But I tell you what we did hear. Soon as Hondo got her to shut up for a second, soon as he told her point blank to made a decision, without hesitating for a moment, girl chose you."
"Yeah," I mumbled. "No wonder she was pissed."
"Thing is, Street," Boxer said, thanking the bartender and curling his Budweiser to him. "You gotta understand something about women. Now I'm miserable, but I'm married, and I know – girls? Kinda don't like to be called 'guys' all the time."
"Yeah," Deke agreed. "Cause they may be tomboy as shit – but they're girls. In the uniform, that's one thing, but out of the uniform? Different story."
"Look," I began thickly. "We're partners, all right? I can't think of her like that because we're partners. And we're damned good partners. I don't want to fuck it up."
"You kind of already did, dog," Deke said, a wry grin on his face. "How's that nose, by the way?"
"Fuck you," I responded, shaking my head.
"Look, Deke and I have been watching this like a damned movie," Boxer added.
"Yeah, don't think I haven't noticed, asshole," I snapped.
"Right. Anyway," he began again, unconcerned with my temper. "It's the reason you make such good partners that It'll work. And yeah, partners can't get married, but... we'll cross that bridge when you come it."
"Woah, woah-" I looked up, vestiges of my bachelor life swinging back, "Marriage? I haven't even slept with her yet! Fuck, I haven't even kissed her yet!"
"Hey, hey!" Deke laughed, slamming down on my shoulder again and making me wince. "No one's saying you gotta buy a ring or shit, but hell boy – if you're serious about Chris, you better be prepared to go all the way, cause you know that Boy Scout's already thinking that way."
Boxer agreed, murmuring into his beer about asshole boy scouts, and just shook my head, ordering another beer for my buddies, mind swimming with ideas, problems, the unmistakable urge to panic.
Falling hard for Chris was a ready-made husband, a guy who treated her like a queen and would want to take care of her for the rest of her life. The last thing she needed to fuck that up was her asshole partner who had never even told her he wanted to sleep with her, maybe stick with her a while, because they had fun.
I was a screw-up. I lived my life like I could die any minute and my life was SWAT.
But Chris was SWAT too, and although her life was her kid, and I had met the kid and liked the kid, she wasn't looking for a dad.
She was looking for a partner.
It was because of that that I slammed my car door shut on the curb next to her house, in my hands a huge ass bouquet of flowers, I had sweaty palms, a furiously beating heart, and a conviction in my soul.
When she opened the door, found me standing there in the moonlight, holding my flowers like a fifteen year old boy, an uncertain smile on my face, she obviously didn't know what to think.
"Street?" she asked, coming forward and closing the screen door behind her. "What the hell are you doing here?"
With a heady breath in, I said matter-of-factly. "I'm here to ask you out."
She blinked, mouth opening before looking back at the house uncertainly. "Jim-"
"I'm not here as your partner, okay? I'm just a guy. A guy who broke up with Mandy and really wants to try to be with you. Just you. A girl."
Her lips quirked, eyes narrowing, as I held out the flowers, seeing a flash or something in her eyes, just enough to make me almost step forward.
I knew it then, I knew what I was risking my heart for, because I was in love. I was in love with my partner, and it was fucked up and I had done it all wrong, but I could fix it. I knew I could. It was Chris.
"Jim..." The screen door opened, and all my fleeting hopes suddenly held tight in my throat, as David Burress stepped out onto the porch, smile fading as he took in the flowers and Chris and me. "What are you doing here?"
He put a possessive hand on Chris, and he knew what he was doing. I knew what he was doing, and Chris knew, standing between, staring at me and glancing back at David.
"I'm asking Chris out," I said finally, looking back at Chris, trying to make believe he wasn't there, he didn't exist here, that Chris was mine, and I had every right to ask her this.
"Shut up," Chris suddenly barked, face flushed, and eyes narrowed. "Jim... go home, okay? I'll talk to you later."
And that was it. Her rejection wasn't even outright, but implied, and I could not have been more stupid, standing there with my stupid ass flowers, my downcast face.
"Jim!" Eliza stepped out then, eyes lighting up and smile only for me as she bounded down the porch and grinned at me, hugging me around the middle.
"Hey munchkin," I answered, tweaking her noise, voice gravely and fake. "Just came by to say hi." I glanced at Chris, who stood there with this unreadable expression on her face, to David, who still held her hand on his shoulder. "I'm gonna take off, though."
"Who are those for?" she asked, peering at my flowers suspiciously.
I smiled, kneeling down and placing them in her little hands. "They're yours."
With a kiss on her forehead, and another glance to her mom, I walked back to my car, slipping inside and turning the key.
I wanted to get out, to beat the crap out of Chris' choice, because it wasn't' right – she should have been with me.
But her kid smiled and waved, and I couldn't do much but wave back, slammng my foot down on the gas and speeding away from her house and her family.
I went back to a dark, empty apartment, fed my dog, stuck a cold piece of pizza in the microwave and then didn't eat it. The phone rang, but I didn't want to hear it. I took it off the hook.
I thought of Chris and David and the ready made family, me alone with me and my dog, and I wondered how easily I could have given it up, to be a part of that world.
It was two am when the door cracked with a furious knock.
I almost ignored it, but Rox yelped and the knocks kept coming, until I stumbled off my couch and headed toward the door, kicking away a messy take out box and fumbling for the locks.
When it opened, I discovered a sleepy little girl yawning, blanket wrapped around her body, Behind her, hands on her shoulders, was Chris, looking pissed and worried.
"You didn't answer your phone," she said evenly.
I stood there dumbly, mind reeling, and all I could manage was, "Yeah, I wasn't much in the mood for talking."
"Get in the mood," she bit back, pushing past me with Eliza, gathering her into her arms and settling her on the bed. I blinked, rubbing at my scalp and taking in the scene, as Chris wrapped her in my blankets, petted Rox and commanded him to join Eliza on the bed. "We're going for a walk," she said in a low tone.
And that was how I ended up on the beach on an after midnight stroll with my partner, watching the waves crash into the sand, moonlight casting shadows on her face.
"You know, you're kind of a schmuck," she said, breaking into the conversation as she wrapped around her torso, eyes on something in the distance.
"Yeah," I answered, nodding once. "A little bit, yeah."
"I could kick your ass, right now."
"Yeah," I said, tone hollow. "I know that, too."
She nodded, pausing, steps faltering in the sand as she turned to face me, face passive, unreadable. "So what do we do?"
I blinked, completely unsure. "About what?"
"Street, are you always this dense or just really good at pretending?"
I wanted to tell her I knew what the hell she was talking about, but as my mouth opened to retort, I couldn't. I had no idea what she was talking about. The last thing I knew, she had told me to leave because she was there with-
She heaved in a sigh, closing her eyes to breathe in the scent of the sea air. "I broke up with David. Took me two hours to sit and try to explain the twistedness of all of this."
I was at a loss. Suddenly, her words began to make something close to sense, and a hard swallow prevented me from saying much at all, as she looked at me and continued walking, leaving me to follow.
"We're great partners, Street."
"Yeah," I agreed.
"I mean, we are really good. So fucking good together, and I love that we click, you know? With you it's like, I don't even have to think you know? I don't even to try, cause you know. So now I don't know what the hell to do. Because I can't be with David without thinking about you. About what I want when we're not on the job, and it's not David."
"It's me," I breathed, small, disbelieving smile crossing my face as I stumbled in the sand, because she was here, and with me, and she wanted ME.
She looked pissed. "Yeah," she said frankly. "It's always been you, Street. You asshole."
And I grinned like an idiot, too overwhelmed to ravish her like I wanted to, because she still looked pretty pissed.
"But I was okay with what we were, even if fucking Mandy had you when we weren't together, I knew it was me that really had you, you know? And it wasn't enough anymore, and we were partners and we CAN'T be more, and fucking David was there being NICE and different..." she kicked at the sand, finding a rock and watching it fall into the waves. "And now I don't know what the hell to do. Because you want me, too. And we're partners, and this can't happen, but I'm still here at two in the morning, dragging my poor kid out of bed when she's got a six am bus ride to school because I'm thinking about you."
She loved me. The giddiness infesting my soul made me look like an idiot, but I didn't care.
"What the hell do we do?" she asked, seriously, looking at me for guidance, anything for her to go on.
I looked at her, staring into the eyes of my partner and the girl of my dreams, and we were suddenly well and truly fucked. "I don't know," I responded. And my mouth widened into a grin, and suddenly I was laughing in such a way, that she couldn't keep frowning – and she was laughing too.
We stood there, in the sand, laughing out asses off because there was nothing we could do, and we were partners, and we couldn't do SHIT about what was between us, and suddenly it was just really, really funny.
We had fun together. I always knew that.
"Well, I don't know about the partners, thing," I said, after the laughter had died down and we kept walking. "But I do know how to keep you if I ever did get you."
"Oh yeah?" she asked, distracted by waves and moonlight.
"Yeah," I said, leaning in with a saucy grin. "Great sex."
It took a moment for her to get it, to remember one drunken night and a proclamation, but suddenly I was smacked on my shoulder, and the laughter started all over again.
That was our night. Laughing and talking, two partners giddy and having fun together, on a non-sex, non-kissing, non touching date, just like we had before, because it was all we could have.
The next morning, we sent her kid to school, nursing coffee and driving in together, and when we walked into the facility, and Burress saw us together, I knew that he knew.
It was okay to like him again, okay when Chris gave him a smile and an affectionate smack on the head, because the look she gave me was different and heavier and nothing like I had ever had before.
He caught me in the coffee room, arm extended, saying some shit about how the best man had won, and how he hoped we could learn to be friends.
David Burress was a good guy, I could see why Chris had given him a chance. So I shook his hand back, squeezing tightly and responding, "We're on the same team, David. We're already friends."
He grinned, plastic for a while, before it softened, and he held my hand tighter, nodding. "All right, then as Chris' temporary partner, I say, if you make her any more miserable than she is, I'll beat you down. Hard."
I knew why he had grinned that day. Because I smiled at him right now, there was no way in hell I would ever hurt Chris if I could help it, and he knew it. I decided I liked him.
I knew who else would like him.
"Listen, we're all getting together at Boxer's tonight. His wife has this barbeque that really kicks ass. Show up. There's someone I want you to meet."
Chris had a baby-sitter that night, and I picked my partner up in my car, and we showed up at the barbeque together, hanging with our team, laughing and swearing, and doing things that SWAT people do.
She had her beer, and I had mine, and when Lara smiled in our direction, it was Burress that got bugged and slapped, until Chris got up and grabbed his hand and pulled him over to my beautiful ex-girlfriend, introducing them and slapping Burress on the back.
She came back to me, setting beside me in the squeaky metal aluminum chair, elbow on my shoulder and Boxer, Deke, Sanchez and I watched Burress be himself; polite, honest, sweet.
Hondo was there for a while, too SWAT to not make a crack about dating musical chairs, and enough of an asshole to bark and Sanchez to watch her hands. But he said it with a smile, and he looked at me with a shake of his head, because he knew it was going to happen anyway.
Later that night, after Chris made sure Burress got Lara's number, and I made sure Boxer wasn't going to kill me, everyone said their good-bys, and me and Chris walked down the driveway, never touching, talking and being partners until we reached our appropriate doors.
I looked up, met her glance, and there was Chris, beautiful and smiling, and a girl, THE girl.
"So, how long do you have the baby sitter for?"
She processed the statement, the look in my eyes, and it hung in the air, before she laughed, opening my car door and sliding inside.
I took my dog and locked him out on the porch, closing the glass door to turn and find Chris Sanchez standing in my bachelor pad, looking at the empty beer bottles and pizza boxes and shit on the floor.
"It's a mess," I said, suddenly embarrassed, coming forward to stand beside her, seeing it like she might.
She smiled, arching her eyebrow in that way, before she shrugged. "Nah," she answered. "It's you."
There we were, partners, who stood staring into each other's eyes, before her eyes closed, and I kept mine open, watching as her lips met mine, clinging for a soft kiss, soft and lush. Her eyelashes slid against my cheeks, her palms smoothed over my chest, and with a breathless sigh, her mouth opened under mine, because she was my partner, and she didn't have to think with me, she knew what to do.
We had fun together. We laughed as we tripped over boxes, and collapsed too hard on the bed, when I bit her a little too hard and when my zipper got stuck.
And I kissed her, over and over, dipping my tongue in her mouth for a deep taste, finally slipped palms over her breasts, rubbing thumbs over nipples, learning her in this way – how she gasped, how she moved, how she liked to make love.
I loved that she liked to be on top, that she threw her head back when I touched her, that she was so wet when I tasted her between her dark curls. I loved that she liked to play, that she treated going down on me like a chance to explore, testing me out, glancing up at me with glittering eyes, and that beautiful smile that had gotten me into all of this in the first place.
She never shouted, no matter how many times I made her come. She only gasped and moaned, held me tighter, and bit my neck, my shoulder, sweaty and beautiful.
And later, hours later, when our bodies gave up, and we needed a break, I loved that she ran fingers through my hair, tickling my scalp as I lay, my head on her belly, palm tracing patterns around her belly button, feeling her breath with every inhalation.
We lay across tangled sheets, Chris above me, watching me as I drew on her skin, amused at me, as usual.
"You know," she began, smoothing her fingers over my back, trailing my spine. "We have really screwed up, here."
I didn't move, too comfortable in my post orgasm bliss to process what she was saying. She was right. We were partners. We were partners who were going to keep on having great sex despite that, and it was really a problem.
"Yeah," I mumbled against her skin. "We really did make a mess of all of this here."
"Hmm... We're fucked."
That was enough for me to lift my head, laughing as I shifted my posture, looking over her naked breasts to her face. "Yeah... we are."
We laughed, because we have fun together. That's half of what makes us great.
"It's half your fault," I answered. "If you weren't as dense as a guy, you would have seen it coming and stopped it."
"Fuck you, Street," she responded. "This shit is all your fault."
"We're partners and we're together, and it's going to screw us up on the job. You know that. Partners can't work and sleep together."
"We did just fine."
"Shut up, Street – you know what I mean."
I did. And I still maintain that this was some of Chris' fault, because if she was a girl she could have stopped this – girls think more than we do. But looking back, I don't really care about it. Yeah, it's a mess, I'm a mess, but I've never been this happy.
I don't mind being this fucking messed up for the rest of my life.
I shifted, pulling up with my arms, until I covered her, feeling her legs part to let me rest between them, gently pressing kisses on each breast. She watched with hooded eyes, amused because I amuse her, and I whispered, "Trinity and Neo were great partners. And they fucked like bunnies."
She smiled, kissed me hard, shifting until I was on my back, and she was staring down at me, eyes glittering with amusement. "You do realize that they both died, right?"
I blinked. "Oh... I never watched the last one."
"Good," she answered. "Because it sucked."
And we kissed again, partners in a whole lot of trouble, because the trouble with partners is, you can't really do what we just did.
Are still doing.
But we're great together. We'll figure it out – because if we weren't through that must shit just to get together – chances are everything else is a piece of cake.
Right? Shit. I don't care.