THIRD TIME AROUND
"Yeah?" I look up at Lieutenant Anderson and try to look interested and alert, although I have no idea how long he has been calling my name.
I really hope he isn't about to give me a lecture for not listening during roll call. My inability to keep focus when they brief us is really starting to become a problem. I have always had a problem with that, but as long as I had a partner, things worked out anyway because all my
partners have been great listeners – especially Faith. But nowadays I'm flying solo for the most part and have no one to cover my ass. He doesn't look mad, though, only concerned.
"You OK, Boscorelli?"
He's a good guy – especially for a lieu. He isn't Swersky, but he's totally OK and I like working for him. The only odd thing with him is that he worries a whole lot more about people than guys usually do. Maybe he's gay, but he isn't the slightest bit of a sissy. In fact, he is one of the toughest guys I've ever met.
So, I just give him my best faked smile and reply, "Yes, sir. I'm fine, just have a lot on my mind."
And, unlike Swersky, he buys it. But he has no idea that he actually has a reason to worry about me. Nobody knows that except Faith, and since our last fight – just before the old precinct got blown up – she has chosen to keep her mouth shut. I don't really know why. Maybe all my harsh words finally got to be too much for her. Maybe she had proven her point. Maybe she has stopped caring, or maybe the fact that Swersky believed me and not her, finally made her think she was wrong. She wasn't. I don't think she has ever been wrong about anything that involves me. But as it is, no one knows about it but me and I intend on keeping it that way.
"You're with Detective Yokas today. She's investigating some hooker murder and needs an escort to the Butterfly club."
I stand up and put on my hat. "Sure, sir. No problem."
He nods in return.
I nod back and walk out from the roll call room, stopping by the desk to wait for her.
The thought of working with Faith sends the familiar wave of expectation and fear, sadness and joy through my body. We have worked together from time to time over the years on different cases. She always seems to choose me when she needs back up. I guess it's her way of telling me she still trusts me and that she's sorry. I don't really mind. I always feel better when I can keep an eye on her because, no matter what happens between us, I meant what I said when I told her I'd always be there for her.
Her soft voice jerks me out of my thoughts and I turn around to face her.
"Hi, what's up today?"
"I'm going to a strip club to talk to a real ass and it's my partner's day off…."
Her voice trails off when she realizes what she said. For some reason neither of us seem to be able to get over this partner stuff.
She takes a deep breath, offering me a tiny smile and continues, "So, I thought a uniform would put a damper on things."
I nod in agreement.
"So, you ready to go?" she asks with another very small and very nervous smile.
"Sure. Lieu said I was with you for today."
She turns around and starts walking toward the door. I follow her with a frown on my face.
Something is off with her today and the odd thing is that it feels familiar. I have seen this before but I can't figure out when. I'm out of practice. It's been years since one look into her eyes told me what she felt and what she needed from me. It was before all this shit with Cruz happened, before the shooting; before Fred left her…wait a minute! Fred! Now I remember. This is how she always smiled when they were fighting. She always smiled that smile before I helped her out by making a smart ass comment, or behaving like a jerk, giving her a reason to take her anger and frustration out on me. Miller! That son of a bitch! If he has been mean to her, I'm going to kill him!
The drive is quiet. It usually is nowadays. We have nothing to say to each other anymore. It's not that we fight either. There's just nothing to add – especially not since she moved it with Miller. For me, that was the final proof that she had moved on. I'm not important to her anymore and she doesn't need me. It's also the one thing she did that hurt me the most. She chose Miller over me – even though I took four bullets for her. She never chose anyone over me before – not even Fred.
She's letting me drive – like she always does. I wonder if that's another way of telling me she trusts me. I glance over at her. She stares out the window with empty eyes. Just as she always did back then and it gives me an irresistible urge to test the water, to see if I still have it in me.
I stop the car outside the club and just when she's about to get out I ask, "You OK?"
She turns to face me, her hand still on the door handle. "Yeah, of course. Why wouldn't I be?"
I just shrug and follow her out of the car. I have nothing to add. I've got all my answers. The tiny, nervous smile was there, and so was the brief flicker of hurt and uncertainty in her eyes. A flicker only the man she loves can put there and I'm going to kill Miller next time I see him.
I stand a few steps behind her, with my hands resting on my gun belt, guarding her, like I always do – like I always did. We always used to work like this when we were partners. She has always been a people's person. People always seem to confide in her and her patience –unlike mine – has always seemed endless, so this was how we used to do it. She talked to the morons and freaks. I guarded her from behind, looking for any signs of trouble, ready to back her up if she needed it.
I feel secure when she's in front of me. I have always liked it best when I can see her, when I know exactly where she is. It's easier for me to protect her when I know where she is, with one exception. If I know we most likely would get shot at, I prefer to have her behind me, because that gives me a chance to take the bullets before they hit her.
Not being able – or allowed – to be her partner, or even her friend, anymore is hard on me for several reasons. I miss her. I feel incredibly lonely and unimportant to the world when she doesn't need me, but what gets to me the most is not being able to protect her anymore. I'm so afraid that I will lose her completely, that I'm not even going to be able to see her from time to time.
I know she doesn't want me to protect her. She doesn't think I can do it anymore. She made that clear when she talked to Swersky five years ago. Still, she always asks for me when she needs uniformed back up. I wonder why? Maybe she really bought what I told Swersky and is trying to say she's sorry, or maybe she's just taking pity on me. Either way, it makes me feel depressed. I made a huge mistake five years ago. I know that now. I should probably have told her how I feel, but I didn't. I guess I thought I didn't need to. I guess I thought that taking four bullets in order to protect her would take care of that for me. Obviously I was wrong.
Her body language tells me that the conversation is going to be over soon and that it didn't turn out the way she wanted to.
She turns around abruptly. "Come on, Bosco. Let's go."
I follow her out to the car without a word, like I'm her faithful dog and that's probably not too far from the truth. I unlock the doors and we go inside. She looks angry and I debate for a few seconds if I should try to talk to her or not. But I want to hear her voice, so I decide to push my luck.
"How did it go?"
She sighs tiredly. "I didn't get the information I wanted. He sure knows how to twist out of my grasp." She sighs again. "Maybe I'm losing my touch."
"You're good at what you do, Faith," I say softly.
She looks at me and smiles that tiny, pathetic smile and I just know she's saying thank you. Something really is different today. It's almost like back in the old days. I wonder if it's because she's hurting. She always needed me the most when she was hurting.
She puts her head back against the head-rest and closes her eyes. I take the opportunity to look her over. She's very pale and there are black circles around her eyes that her make-up doesn't quite manage to cover. I wonder if this thing with Miller has been going on for a long time.
She opens her eyes and looks gratefully at me. "Yes, please. That would be great."
I nod and start the car. "Coffee it is."
When I get back to the car, she's resting her eyes again. I get inside and hand her the cup. She takes it with a smile that widens when she tastes it and realizes I still haven't forgotten how she takes it – like I could ever forget anything connected with her. I keep a special room both in my heart and in my brain just for her.
We sit in silence for a long time. It's not a tense silence, but it's not very comfortable either and finally, I just can't take it anymore. I turn toward her to ask if we should head back to the precinct. She has her head turned away from me, but it's already dark and I can see the reflection of her face in the window. A single tear runs down her cheek. It breaks my heart and the desire to kill Miller increases ten times but it also makes me insane, because the stupid words are out of my mouth before I have a chance to stop them. Things really are back to the old days.
"He screwed you over, didn't he?"
Great work, Boscorelli! I can't believe I couldn't come to think of any other way to approach the subject. I really am a jerk and the problem is that she doesn't love me anyway.
I watch her body stiffen and she quickly dries the tear away. "It's none of your damn business, Bosco. Leave me alone!"
She tries to sound angry but I can tell she isn't really. She's just trying to keep herself from falling apart, but she's right. It's none of my business – not anymore.
She sighs. "No, I'm sorry. You're right. He did, but that's not your fault and I have no right to take it out on you. Please forgive me."
No, it isn't my fault. Not this time….
She doesn't answer.
"He's a jag-off"
"Well, I got my job and my apartment. You know what? I'm probably better off without him. He was no prize." She almost whispers the last part and I can hear the tears in her voice, but her tiny smile tells me she remembers the last time we had this conversation.
Her gaze wanders to my hand and for some reason, I don't even understand myself, I reach out and cover hers.
There's no "I miss you, Bosco" this time, though. I guess you can't have everything. Instead, there's another silence but it's not uncomfortable and, although it has been years and years since the last time, I just know that this is her way of asking for my support and I'm telling her – by keeping silent – that she has it. But her next statement takes me by complete and utter surprise.
"You never would have, would you?"
I'm considering if I should just pretend that I don't understand what she means but that wouldn't be fair. She's wearing her heart on her sleeve and, after all we've been through together, she deserves the truth, because what she's offering me. Not to mention that I almost feel ashamed for underestimating her. I didn't have to tell her. She knew. All these years she knew the truth but something made her chose Miller anyway. I guess I was the one who read the signs wrong – as always. She never loved me the way I love her.
"No, I wouldn't."
She nods knowingly. "I'm such an idiot."
I don't know what I'm supposed to say to that so for once I'm trying the option of keeping my mouth shut.
"I really thought it would be the best for both of us – to be apart, you know?"
"Exactly how would that be better?"
She chews nervously on her lower lip for a second. "Because we seem to keep doing these insane things in order to cover for, and protect, each other."
"Like getting shot?"
She nods. "Yeah, so I thought that if we were apart it would increase our chances of survival."
I nod in agreement. I have to admit she's got a point there.
"But if you think it's better for us to be apart then why do you ask for me very time you need back up?"
"Because I miss you. I miss you so incredibly much, Bos. I feel like a piece of me is missing and I can't stand it."
I don't answer. I want to be angry with her for pushing me away and leaving me alone. I want to hate her for not letting me know that she knew all along how much I loved her. But I can't, because I can see that she's hurting, too, and I don't want to make it worse. I love her too much for that. If I could have it my way I would lock her up somewhere safe, where nothing or no one could harm her, and keep her there forever.
She takes a shuddered breath. "I'm so sorry, Bos. I never meant to hurt you. I guess it was another bad decision, but those are the only ones I seem to be able to make nowadays.
"Welcome to my world," I murmur.
She smiles slightly.
"So, all this nagging about my eyesight, all this drama about not believing me when I said I had passed the test on my own, that was just an act to make me pissed at you and drive me away?"
She looks horrified. "God, no, Bos! I could never be that cruel! I did it because I was afraid."
"Afraid of what?"
"What the hell do you think? I was afraid you would get hurt! Is it really so hard to understand? The thought of you out there, without being able to see properly, scared the shit of me. What if a perp attacked you and you didn't see him coming, or missed the shot because you couldn't see what you aimed at? I would never have been able to live through that, Bos. Never. That day at the hospital, when you got shot, I tried desperately to keep you alive. I tried to breathe for you, but it didn't work. I preformed CPR on you and it didn't work either. You were slipping away from me and there was nothing I could do to stop it."
Her voice cracks because she's crying now and she takes a deep breath to try to get control of her emotions. I try to wrap my brain around the fact that she did that for me. I had been shot in the head, right through my cheek. I see the result of the damage that bullet made every time I look in the mirror and I can only imagine how horrible it looked before they put it together. I can't believe she could get herself to even touch me under those circumstances. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe she loves me, too. I can't believe that no one bothered to tell me she saved my life just as much as I saved hers. I wish someone had bothered to tell me she's a hero.
She closes her eyes and the expression on her face is tormented. "I see that scene every time I close my eyes, Bos. I can taste your blood in my mouth. I'm sorry, but no matter how much I love you, I could never do that again. Please forgive me."
I reach out and take her hand again; squeezing it so hard I'm almost afraid I'll break it.
"I'm so sorry, Faith. I didn't know. I wish you had told me. You should have told me. Why didn't you?"
"I don't know. I guess I never found the right moment. It isn't something you just say out of the blue, you know…and then things started to fall apart and all we did was fighting and it didn't feel like an appropriate thing to bring up."
I nod. It makes sense. Actually, a lot of things that I didn't get at the time make sense all of a sudden.
The way she looked at me from time to time after I woke up, like she couldn't believe I was really there. The way she kept thinking I couldn't take care of myself. The ways she tried to keep me at a distance. Poor Faith, all she ever did was to try to keep the ghosts away.
She has her head down and I know she's struggling hard not to cry. I squeeze her hand again to get her attention. "Faith."
She looks up and meets my eyes.
She smiles weakly. "I guess we're even."
I gaze fondly at her. "You never owed me anything, Faith."
She gazes back at me and her eyes rapidly fill with tears. She breaks free from my grasp and put her head in her hands, crying so hard she's shaking.
"Faith, it's OK now. It's over. Please, don't cry."
She doesn't answer, just keeps crying. I can't stand to see her as heartbroken as this. It makes me feel desperate, so I do what I should have done years ago if I had only known. I reach out and pull her into my embrace, caressing her hair and whisper meaningless, but soothing, words in her ear. She cries for what seems like an eternity and my chest, back and neck start to hurt from the awkward position we're in, but I don't care.
Finally she pulls away and dries her tears and we sit in silence again while she composes herself.
"I don't usually act like this – I'm sorry. I don't know what's wrong with me today," she says and smiles apologetically at me.
"I know that, Faith. It's OK. Don't worry about it."
She smiles a grateful smile and this time it's one of her real smiles.
There's another silence and then she asks with her voice filled with something between hopefulness and fear, "So, where do we go from here, Bos? You and me, I mean. Is there any chance that we can rebuild what we had?"
I look affectionately at her and gently run my hand along the side of her face. "No, Faith. We can't. But maybe we can build something new."
She covers my hand with hers and gives me another bright smile. "I think I'd like that, Bos."
I smile back and rub my thumb over her cheek.
She shivers slightly, covering a yawn with her hand.
"Tired?" I ask, and pull some of her hair behind her ear.
I find it more than strange that such an intimate gesture can feel so normal to both of us. It's like we have been doing it for years and maybe we have – in our minds.
"Yeah, I haven't slept all that well lately."
I caress her cheek again, still amazed that she lets me. "Wanna talk about it?"
"Not really…." She hesitates for a second. "At least not now – not here." Her eyes are pleading with me to understand.
"It's OK. How about I take you back to the precinct and we can talk about it some other time?"
"Sounds great," she replies quietly, looking sad and beaten again.
I so need to kill Miller!
"He's an idiot, Faith. He doesn't know what he's letting go," I say softly.
She chews on her bottom lip and nods, but she avoids meeting my eyes and I know she blames herself – as always. No surprise there, but I guess since all the men in her life – including myself – keep doing the same thing, she doesn't know any better.
I brush my fingers over her lips. "Don't do that. You're gonna hurt yourself."
She smiles slightly but the sad look remains in her eyes and makes my chest hurt.
I gaze intensely at her, trying to make her feel my love. "It's gonna get better from now on, Faith. I promise. Thing will work out – like they always do."
She nods slowly and I'm mirroring her action and then I start the car and drive us back to the house.
When we arrive at the precinct, we get out and I turn to her and smile. "See you tomorrow."
She smiles back and asks shyly, "Can you come over and talk tonight?"
"Not tonight, Faith. I'm sorry. I have something I have to do," I answer softly.
"Oh, I see. It's OK if you don't want to…I mean; I understand that it has to feel awkward. You know what? Just forget about it, OK? I didn't mean to act like so clingy." She twists her hands nervously and refuses to look at me.
Her uncertainness is heartbreaking and makes me feel even worse for turning her down, but I have no choice. I can't be with her tonight. Tonight, I'm going to spend in bed trying to live through another migraine. There's no doubt about that. I can already feel the pulsating pain in my temples and down my jaw and the light from the street lights hurts my eyes. If I'm lucky, I'll have an hour before my vision blurs and I have to throw up, but it's probably more like twenty minutes and I don't want her to know about this – at least not right now.
"You're not clingy. What kind of word is that anyway?" I say, trying to sound annoyed.
My little act has the desired effect on her because she smiles fondly at me. "Just another word you didn't care to learn, Bos."
"I know what it means. It's just stupid and you don't act like it, OK? But I just can't make it tonight. I'm really sorry. I can come by tomorrow, after my shift, if you want me to."
She smiles softly. "I'd love that, Bos."
I grin at her. "So, tomorrow it is."
She nods and leans in to hug me. I hold her tight and whisper. "It will be OK. I promise."
I'm lying on my bed with my arm flung over my eyes. I take a few deep breathes, trying to make my tense body to relax. It hurts like hell and I know it's going to be a while before the meds kick in. Usually, I wish I was dead when I feel like this, but not today. Today, I m thinking of Faith and the fact that she's the reason I feel like this right now and that makes it all worth it, because she's alive and she's coming back to me again.