What Partners Do
Eddie knows he should open his eyes. He knows he should give Monty a sign that he's awake, listening, ready to help. That's what partners do. And under normal circumstances, actual emergency circumstances, he would open his eyes, but Monty's voice is needy, not alarmed, and Eddie can tell from the knot between his shoulders and dimness of the room that it's early. Too early. On a Saturday, no less.
Eddie doesn't open his eyes. He stays as still as possible.
"Dude," Monty says again, a little more urgently. He's closer now, too; Eddie can smell Monty's breath, minty from the small blue candies he carries with him everywhere he goes. He can picture Monty in this moment: leaning forward, ridiculous floppy hair falling into his eyes.
Eddie sniffs a bit to keep the act believable. The bed shifts and for a moment Eddie thinks it's worked, that Monty is leaving, and feels, strangely, disappointed instead of glad. But then the mattress sinks right by his head and Eddie feels, a moment later, the unmistakable beginnings of a wet willie.
"Jesus Christ!" Eddie doesn't mean to shove Monty away so roughly that his body would make an audible thump when it hits the wall, but somehow that's how it happens. Eddie wipes at the side of his face with a corner of the sheet. "What are you, twelve?"
"Ha." Monty clicks his tongue and wipes his finger on his pants. "You were awake. Why were you ignoring me?"
"Because it's early. And it's Saturday. And I knew you were going to ask me for some ridiculous favor."
Monty's eyebrows jump a bit. "Totally unfair."
"I guess I was hallucinating when you woke me up at dawn two weeks ago to borrow Pete for a dog-owners' singles group meeting?"
ridiculous," Monty says, blowing a strand of hair out of his
eyes. With the exception of that small movement, he looks perfectly
at ease crouched on the floor, leaning against the wall. "That
was a perfectly reasonable request from one man to another man, in a
time of desperate need."
"And is this another one of those? A reasonable request from one man to another man, in a time of desperate need?"
"Yes," Monty says. "Yes, it sort of is. Only perhaps just a bit more on the side of the ridiculous."Monty squinted on the word "bit." Eddie knows how to respond. "No."
Monty begins to unfold himself from his place on the floor. "But you haven't even heard -"
"No," Eddie says, and flops back down on the bed, tucking the blankets up around his chin. "The answer is no."
Monty shuffles to the edge of Eddie's bed on his knees. "You know I wouldn't be here if it wasn't important."
"Sure you would."
"All right, I would," Monty says. "But this time it really is important. Really. Dude."
Monty's face is so close that Eddie can see the flecks of different colors in his eyes, smell the smoky club he must have been at the night before. His face shows the kind of nerves Eddie has only seen Monty reveal in the Superintendent's office, just after Eddie has said something rude, imperious, and American.
"Please," Monty says, and Eddie closes his eyes.
Of course it's about a woman.
"She's mad," Monty whispers through the slightly-ajar bathroom door, which he pushed open after Eddie started brushing his teeth. "Mad as a hatter. She sent me love notes for six weeks the last time we were together. She said we were meant to be." Eddie can hear the eyeroll accompanying the last three words even if he can't see it.
"And?" Eddie says, around the toothbrush in his mouth.
"And I ran into her last night."
Eddie finishes brushing and spits into the sink. "And?"
"And she's after me again about how we were special, the kind of thing you don't walk away from," Monty says, in an unfinished way. Eddie waits, hand poised under the water he's just started running to rinse with. "And she's downstairs."
"What?" Eddie forgets about rinsing and pulls the door open. "She's here?"
"Shh," Monty says, pushing Eddie back into the bathroom. He looks over his shoulder at the stairs and then shimmies into the small bathroom, shutting the door behind him. "I couldn't lose her, Eddie, it was incredible. She should do police work. Instead of whatever it is she does do. A librarian, maybe? Or she works in a bookstore. Something with books."
"It sounds like you guys had a real connection."
"That's just it!" Monty leans in. "We didn't. No connection at all. Or so I thought, until she started showing up at my door at all hours with meals and decorating catalogues, talking about exchanging housekeys and attending work functions."
"You don't want that," Eddie says.
"Heavens, no." Monty grimaces. "Are you going to rinse?"
"Rinse. You've got a little - " Monty gestures toward his own mouth, and then points at the water running out of the faucet. "Also, that's incredibly wasteful."
"I generally run water for five minutes before using it," Eddie says. "It gets the impurities out. That's how we do it in America."
Monty looks appalled. "Eddie, that's terribly –"
"I'm kidding." Eddie rinses. "So what's the deal with the girl? Do you need me to arrest her?"
"No." Monty shakes his head and runs a hand through his hair. It falls back into place perfectly. "No, no, no. She's a very nice girl, really. Just a bit too vulnerable to my charms. Don't want to arrest her for that."
"Maybe suggest some counseling," Eddie says, looking into the mirror. Used to be four hours of sleep was plenty, he could roll out of bed looking and feeling like new. Not anymore.
"She could probably do for some," Monty says.
"More like definitely." Eddie opens the medicine cabinet even though he doesn't really need anything. He's tired of looking at himself. "Either way, why is she in my living room?"
Monty doesn't answer. Eddie shuts the medicine cabinet with a sharp clack and looks at Monty, who is leaning against the door, avoiding Eddie's eyes.
"Pippin," Eddie says, taking a step toward him.
Monty's voice is thin with nerves when he says, "You see, this is where the ridiculous factor comes in."
Eddie folds his arms across his chest. "I thought we'd already added in the ridiculous factor with this girl's infatuation."
"That's not ridiculous." Monty seems to be genuinely insulted. "Ridiculous implies something out of the ordinary to the point of inducing laughter, or ridicule. Hence the word. And as I think I've established over the course of our time as partners - "
Eddie snaps his fingers in Monty's face. "Focus."
"Right. Well." Monty is back to looking uncomfortable again. "Eddie, the key to understanding the situation we're in now is to understand the situation I was in last night: Club Zero. Loads of ladies, each one lovelier than the one that walked by before, and none of them immune to the old Monty Pippin charm."
"How you get anyone to go out with you when you say things like, 'the old Monty Pippin charm' is beyond me."
"Quite obviously, dude. It's the charm." Monty grins and tilts his head a bit when he says this, and if Eddie's honest with himself, he can see it. "But that's not the point. The point is, things were happening. I had two Swedish girls willing to -"
"Spare me the details," Eddie says, holding up a hand.
"Really?" Monty looks genuinely surprised. "All right then. Two Swedish girls, positively breathtaking, ready to - well, at the moment, waiting for me to bring them their martinis. And then, at the bar -" Monty makes a slashing movement across his throat.
"The girl arrives," Eddie supplies.
"Precisely." Monty reaches up and fiddles with the collar of his shirt. "I tried the usual tricks of the trade: the brush off. Evasion. Hiding in the restroom. Nothing worked. I got desperate. I told her - I told her there was someone else. The only problem was -"
"She'd seen you with the Swedes."
Monty nods. "Apparently she'd been watching me for a while before she approached me, which I found disturbing, if not exactly surprising."
Monty pauses, and takes a step toward Eddie, his face earnest. "Eddie, you must understand the circumstances. Two Swedish girls willing to do very impressive things, things that are probably illegal in your country, and the only thing standing in my way? This one, completely off-her-rocker, girl."
Eddie tries not to roll his eyes. "My heart bleeds for you."
Monty looks offended. "Now, you may have grown up in a repressive, Puritanical culture, but I did not. Perhaps moral, upright, asexually handsome, American Eddie Arlette would have handled the situation differently, but – "
Eddie points a finger at Monty. "I am not asexual! I am also not depraved, unlike some people, who maybe could have used a little more in the way of Puritanical repression in their upbringing."
Monty shrugs in an unapologetic way.
Eddie jabs his finger at Monty. "Get to the point."
Monty stares at Eddie for a long moment, and then sighs, covering his eyes with one hand. His words come out in a rush. "I told her that I was having an affair with my partner. You. I told her that you and I were embroiled in a clandestine homosexual love affair, and I was at the club trying to cover my tracks. Except she didn't believe me."
Eddie stares at Monty, slumped against the door, peeking out between his fingers. "No."
"No," Eddie says again, this time in a stronger voice, and moves toward Monty, or, more specifically, the door behind him.
"Dude." Monty grabs Eddie by the shoulders. "Please. I'm desperate. And also sorry. Deeply sorry. It'll hurt me just as much as it hurts you. Possibly more."
Eddie stops at this, the asexual comment still ringing in his ears. "What do you mean by that?"
Monty loosens his grip on Eddie's shoulders, but doesn't let go. "I am, of course, operating under the assumption that this will very likely result in you punching me, or possibly shooting me. We've never actually discussed our feelings about alternative lifestyles, and while I have always been open minded, I know you grew up in a – "
Eddie waves a hand impatiently. "I have no problem with gay people."
Monty's eyes light up. "So you'll go along?"
"No!" Eddie does his best to ignore the disappointment on Monty's face, as well as the weird way the room seems to have gotten smaller since Monty put his hands on Eddie's shoulders. "And also, again, will you get off these ridiculous stereotypes? Americans don't shoot each other to solve their problems. Most of the time. Partners definitely don't shoot each other."
"That's right, partners help each other. Especially in times of desperate need." Monty looks so hopeful, so desperate, and underneath it all, so annoyingly certain that Eddie will go along, that Eddie is tempted to agree.
Tempted, but not persuaded. He's about to say no in a voice even more certain than Monty's expression when another voice fills the air. A female voice, from the hall. Not Fiona.
"Dude," Monty whispers, pushing Eddie further into the bathroom.
"No," Eddie whispers back, turning so that his back is to the sink, Monty across from him, close enough in the tight space that Eddie has to lean against the sink to keep them from touching.
"She named a turtle after me," Monty whispers, and turns his head sharply to the door. There are footfalls in the hall. "She killed him when I stopped returning her phone calls."
Eddie looks to the door, and back at Monty. His profile is sharp in the artificial light of the bathroom, his cheeks flushed. "She killed a turtle?"
Monty looks back at Eddie. "She says he fell behind the heater. A likely story."
"Monty? Are you in there?" A soft knock on the door.
"Dude," Monty says, one last time, in a quiet, desperate whisper.
Eddie thinks he sees the door start to open out of the corner of his eye, but he can't be sure because most of his vision is taken up by Monty, looking genuinely scared. Eddie lets out a sigh with the word "fine" at the end of it.
Almost before the word completely leaves his mouth, Monty has placed his hands on either side of Eddie's face. Eddie leans back instinctively, grabbing the sink behind him to keep his balance, and in the split second before Monty's lips land on his own, Eddie gets to experience the kind of panic he's only felt twice before: when Carrie Flanagan came up to him before sixth period and told him she was late, no not for class, late-late; and two years ago in Brooklyn, when he lost his gun in a scuffle to a dealer, who then held it to Eddie's head and pulled the trigger. Carrie turned out to have miscalculated her cycle and the gun jammed, but Eddie knows he won't be saved here. Monty is definitely going to kiss him.
And he does. Eddie scrunches his face up, wants to shove Monty away for the second time in one hour, but then Eddie remembers: he's supposed to be acting. He pushes the panic aside and closes his eyes, forces himself to relax or at least give the impression of being relaxed. He loosens his grip on the sink and gives in to the gentle pressure of Monty's hand, tilting his head to the side so that their lips meet at a less-awkward angle. Monty's lips and his own lips, at a less-awkward angle. Monty is kissing him. He's kissing Monty.
Eddie hears something in the background, something like a disappointed, "Oh," but it's overwhelmed by something else: the fact that Monty is a pretty good kisser.
Monty's lips feel different than a woman's, and it's altogether very weird, but Eddie likes the warmth of Monty's hands on his face, the confident way he uses his mouth. Likes it enough to give over to the performance, to let it go a step farther, to let hands and tongues get involved. Monty's mouth tastes sweet, like the mints, with something darker underneath. Eddie is glad he brushed his teeth. It's been a long time since anyone kissed Eddie Arlette, which is why he's going along with this. That's certainly it. Also, there is the whole reason it started, some virtuous reason, someone to convince and possibly protect or maybe that was Monty -
Eddie stops thinking for a while.
Eddie starts thinking again when Fiona discovers Pete's latest present outside her bedroom door and lets out a shriek of horror so loud that Eddie loses his balance against the sink. He catches himself before he falls, just in time to hear Fiona slam her door and say, "You filthy, disgusting, wretched - Eddie!"
Eddie straightens up, takes a deep breath. Monty has stepped away and is breathing weird, too, staring down at his shirt, which has come untucked on one side.
"Did I -" Eddie wants to pick the words out of the air, push them back down his throat. He certainly doesn't want an answer.
Monty looks up, something like his usual expression on his face. His cheeks are flushed, lips swollen. "Appears as though you did, mate. Might have been me, it got a little -"
"Yeah," Eddie says.
"What are you two doing in there?" Fiona is standing in the open doorway, one mangled pink shoe dangling from her index finger.
Eddie jumps about a foot. "Nothing, we were just -"
Monty joins in. "I came by to - well - "
"I really don't care," Fiona says. She's wearing men's boxer shorts with hearts on them and a thin yellow tank top, a ratty pink robe over it all. Her hair is falling out of a loose pony tail. "Eddie. Look at what your vile dog has done."
Eddie looks at the shoe, then back at Fiona. "I'll pay for it."
Fiona's mouth opens, then closes. "These shoes were very expensive."
Eddie nods. "That's fine. Send me the bill."
"I will," she says. "Very soon. Tonight."
"Fine." Eddie tries to keep his breathing regular and control the urge to run away and hide.
Fiona looks from Eddie to Monty, a funny look on her face. "Are you two–"
"We're fine," Eddie says.
"Better than fine," Monty offers.
"Great," Eddie says.
"Fantastic." Monty spreads his hands in an expansive way.
Fiona looks confused. "Glad to hear it. But I was actually wondering if you were quite done in there with whatever it was you were - "
"Absolutely, miss," Monty says, pushing past Eddie to get to the hallway. "My apologies."
"Thank you, Inspector," Fiona says, giving Eddie a sour look when he steps around her into the hallway.
"No thanks for me?" Eddie says.
"No thanks for you." Fiona shuts the door in his face.
"Such a sweet girl."
Eddie stares at the door for a long moment, runs a hand through his hair. He remembers what he's wearing - a plain white T-shirt and boxers - and feels exposed, naked. He freezes, hand on the back of his neck; he can remember how Monty's hand felt there, fingers in his hair. The pressure at the base of his neck, the warmth of Monty's hand. Eddie knows he can't stand there staring at the bathroom door forever, but he kind of wants to. If he turns around, he'll have to look at Monty, who might be looking at him already. He doesn't want Monty to be looking, of course. That would be weird and strange and uncomfortable. It would.
When he finally does turn around, Monty is peering down the stairs, his back to Eddie. Soon Monty straightens up but doesn't turn around. "I think she's gone."
"Looks like it." Eddie can't think of anything else to say, and so he stands there, staring stupidly at Monty's back, until Monty suddenly turns around, looking as if nothing is wrong.
"Dude," he says, walking toward Eddie with an outstretched hand. "I can't thank you enough. Seriously. Above and beyond, dude. Above and beyond."
Eddie reaches out without thinking about it and shakes Monty's hand. "No problem," he says automatically, and then grimaces. "Scratch that. Let's just say -"
"Let's just say - let's just say something clever to show this isn't a big deal." Monty is still shaking Eddie's hand, and talking a lot faster than usual. His calm facade is crumbling. "Because it isn't, isn't at all. I know things are different in America, but really, here in England, we aren't nearly as – "
"Hey." Eddie's interruption seems to wake Monty to the fact that he's still shaking Eddie's hand. Monty lets go and folds his arms across his chest, an embarrassed expression on his face. "Stop freaking out."
"I am not freaking out." Monty meets Eddie's eyes. "Okay, yeah, I'm freaking out a bit here."
"Me too," Eddie says first, and then, with more assurance than he feels, "It's going to be okay."
"Of course it is." Monty doesn't look convinced. "Is it?"
"Yeah, it is," Eddie says. He means to say more, but nothing comes to mind.
"Okay," Monty finally says, stretching the word out to fill the silence.
Eddie decides to say something, anything. He verbalizes his most fervent wish. "I mean, what if the last ten minutes? Never happened."
"Never happened," Monty says.
"That's right. They never happened." Eddie is growing increasingly attached to the idea. "Let's say you came over to borrow - borrow a shirt," Eddie says.
Monty squints. "That's just a little hard to believe, though, since I can't think of myself ever doing such a thing."
Eddie gives Monty a dirty look out of habit, but really he's grateful for the nod to normalcy. "I'm trying to unravel a very awkward situation and you're not being any help, standing there offering fashion criticism."
"It's not so much a criticism as it is a recognition of divergent tastes."
"Whatever," Eddie says, still mostly relieved. "You came by to borrow something, you woke me up, I was annoyed, I did you the favor of letting you borrow it, and then you left. That's it. And then when we see each other Monday morning, maybe you'll forget about it and so will I and we'll just, you know. Go catch bad guys."
Monty considers for a moment. "That does sound appealing."
"It's settled, then." Eddie folds his arms across his chest, feeling satisfied.
"Settled," Monty says.
"Good." Eddie smiles. It only feels a little bit forced, and the smile he gets from Monty in return looks just like his normal one, only it stays on Monty's face a little longer than usual. The silence between them stretches a little longer than usual, too, outlasting the smiles.
"Right," Monty finally says, with a nod, and turns to the stairs, which he goes down quickly but still gracefully. His hair actually bounces with the movement. Any cop with hair long enough to be bouncy in New York would get killed. Any cop who made out with his male partner would get killed, too. Eddie decides not to think about New York.
"So, I guess I'll see you Monday," Eddie says, watching Monty open the first of two sets of doors to get out of the apartment.
"Monday," Monty calls back, holding his left hand up while he pulls the second door open. He doesn't turn around. His shirt is still only half-tucked in the back, the last thing Eddie sees before the door shuts behind him.