Credo

Credo

Missing scene from "When Worlds Collide". Brief spoilers for "Burn Rate" and "Protest".

She lowered her book when she heard the key in the lock, listened to the hesitation on the threshold, knew that he recognized immediately that he was not alone. For a second she wondered if she had miscalculated – maybe he would rather be alone? Then her heart twinged at the sound of the slow footsteps traversing the living room – heavy and weary, nothing like their usual crisp, brisk, energetic pace. Maybe he would prefer to be alone – but she needed to know that he was all right. And then he was standing in the bedroom doorway, sliding the belt from his belt loops, slipping off cell phone, holster, cuff pouch, and bunching it in his hands, folding it and setting everything aside.

"Hey." His expression was shuttered, unreadable. "I didn't expect to see you tonight. Thought you had an early morning in court?"

"I do." She put the book aside. "I just – thought you might need a little company."

"Yeah?" He tilted his head, studying her.

"Yeah." She held his gaze, almost in challenge, as he moved toward her, his eyes revealing nothing.

He perched on the side of the bed next to her, still holding her eyes. She wondered what he saw there, what he hoped to see. Then he had her in his arms, hard and tight, less like an ardent lover than a lost child, buried his face in her neck. "Thanks," he breathed after a minute.

She didn't answer in words, reached up instead to cup the back of his head, running her fingers through the soft, thick silk of his hair. "So. How is – everything?"

She was almost sorry she'd asked when he pulled back a little to face her, visibly tugging the tattered remnants of his composure in place. His lashes looked damp and stuck together. "Well – " His voice caught and he tried again. "Charlie's home. So I guess…" He trailed off.

She nodded, smoothed an errant curl at the nape of his neck around her finger. "Hair's getting long," she murmured. She loved it this length – loved the way it seemed to struggle against the severe style, fighting to break into curls. It seemed symbolic of so much of the man himself. "Maybe you should grow it."

He gave a brief, moist chuckle. "Not gonna happen."

She smiled in return. She'd known the answer, of course – the important thing had been the laugh, even a small one. She felt something oddly gritty next to his scalp and frowned, rubbing it between her fingers. "What's this in your hair? It feels like – " She pulled her hand away to look. "Glass."

"Hm? Oh, yeah…" he dragged a hand over his eyes. "Probably. There was a shootout today – lots of glass flying."

Her hand stilled for a second, her expression neutral. Oh, God. She hated these little reminders of the violence that spattered his days, distanced herself from the thought that any one of them could end them. But she had schooled herself not to show it, afraid that if she did, he would automatically pull back, tell her less, or tell her kind half-truths. She hated the truth, but she wanted it straight nonetheless.

"That would explain it," she said with assumed lightness. She let her hand slide from his neck to cup his cheek. "You could use a shower, Eppes."

That earned her just a suggestion of a smile. "I'll bet."

"Go on." She rested her hands on his shoulders and pushed. "Wash the glass out of your hair. You'll feel better."

He nodded, but didn't move from the edge of the bed. "They wouldn't let me sit with him for questioning – " he blurted unexpectedly, " - just watch through the one-way. We couldn't be in the same room – you know – in case…" He gave a long, slow swallow, Adam's apple bobbing in his throat.

"…of collusion?" Her voice was very gentle, but she still felt like a vicious prosecutor.

He nodded, eyes dropping. "You know, they have to…" The shoulders shrugged under her hands. "It's only natural. Procedure."

She wanted to ask how this might hurt his career, what kind of damage it might do, but decided this wasn't the time and held her tongue. Instead, she let her hands slip down his arms to clasp his, running her fingertips over the familiar calluses. His fingers felt cold and bloodless and she rubbed harder, hoping to warm them.

After a second, he squeezed back, gave her what was probably meant as a smile. "Probably would have just made it worse anyway."

She let go of his hands to work the placket of his shirt, freeing buttons, still more like a mother then a lover, leant forward to kiss him lightly on the lips. "Shower," she whispered against his mouth. "I mean it. Then talk." She finished with the buttons, pushed the shirt over his shoulders and down his arms.

He rose slowly, his movements still weighted with the uncharacteristic heaviness. The sight made her eyes sting.

She waited until she heard the water turn on, then climbed out of the bed and made her way to the small kitchen, peering in the refrigerator. A beer probably wouldn't go amiss. Sheesh, Eppes, don't you keep anything else in here? Even one of the other food groups, just to keep the beer company? And these ancient and slightly scary cartons of leftover Chinese takeout don't count.

She decided a glass was superfluous and was back in the bed with the beer on the night table before the water turned off. Steam puffed from the open bathroom door and suddenly she was nervous. As much as she hoped to be supportive, she knew herself, and feared that any words out of her mouth would come out sounding cold and clinically legal instead. So she clasped her hands around her knees and watched as he exited, one towel around his waist and another rubbing at his hair.

His eyes went straight to the beer, and he stopped scrubbing at his scalp and let the towel dangle around his neck. "That for me?"

"You looked like you could use one."

"Good call." He sat on the edge of the bed again and accepted the beer she offered, facing the windows this time.

"Just don't expect the little woman to fetch your beers on a regular basis."

He took a long drink and threw it back. "Don't worry." After a second he took another swallow, slower this time, and let the bottle dangle between his knees. "Dad said it was just a matter of time before this happened. Charlie said it was amazing we had managed to work together this long. Thing is…" He lifted the bottle as if he was going to take another swallow, then lowered it without drinking. "I didn't know it, you know? I thought we were doing good. Why is that? That everybody saw it but me? Am I really just some - dumb - jock?"

She turned cold. "Nobody called you that."

He shrugged one shoulder. "Maybe not exactly that. Recently. Same thing though. Professor Glaser - this guy in a bomb case we worked on last year - told Charlie we were a bunch of gum-chewing thugs. Meant me, I guess."

"Charlie told you that?"

"He didn't mean anything. You know Charlie - speak first, regret second." He sipped at the neck of the bottle, lowered it and rolled the damp cylinder between his palms. "Anyway, it's not exactly a new thing among Charlie's associates. I mean, usually they're not so blatant - like they think that because you're not Academia, you won't get enough to be insulted as long as they use big words. Guess that's why I always found Larry so refreshing. But all this kind of…makes me wonder…"

She waited, hoping he'd fill in the blanks, then reached forward to touch his shoulder when she got it. "Hey." She ran a hand along his collarbone. "Charlie does not think of you that way."

"No?" He upended the beer and drained it. "Lately I'm not so sure."

"He doesn't. This isn't a push against you. It's not."

"I guess." He hung his head, carefully lowering the beer bottle to the floor. "Part of me knows that. But another part of me…feels like he's telling me that everything I stand for - who I am, what I do - is bad. Wrong."

She leaned forward to rest against his back, cheek nestled where his shoulder and neck met, as if her nearness could absorb and share his pain. She ruffled his damp hair, smoothed it again, looking for words. "Don. Charlie has a right - even a responsibility - to do what he believes in. That's what he was doing. I don't think it has anything to do with you."

"You really think that?"

She kissed the back of his ear. "I do."

He reached up and clasped the hand on his shoulder, rubbed a thumb across her palm. "So you don't think - I don't know - that it's me that led him here? I mean, if I hadn't exposed him to all this stuff…"

She slid her free arm around his chest from behind. "I think his colleague exposed him to this one, pal. I don't think you get to take responsibility."

"I guess you're right." He pressed a kiss on her palm and sighed. "It's just…"

She waited, alternately tousling and smoothing his hair, felt some of the stiffness ease out of his back.

"When I was three - "

She paused in surprise. In all their time together, she couldn't remember him ever saying anything about his childhood - well, nothing more than that he had played baseball and hockey and that he and Charlie had graduated High School the same day. The rest had always felt taboo.

"My Mom and Dad- they were big into protesting Vietnam. Took me to all these protests, sit ins - that kind of thing. I remember one - they arrested my dad. Took him away in cuffs. I remember how scared I was…" His hand moved as though he thought he still had the beer, then, when he noticed he didn't, he slumped forward, elbows on knees and hands hanging limp. "You know how much Charlie looks like Dad."

She shushed in his ear, soft meaningless sounds, one hand gently soothing his chest, fingers tangling with the moist, springy chest hair.

"It was like that all over again. Worse. Because - I mean, I guess I feel responsible for Charlie. Like it's up to me to fix it somehow."

"It's not," she whispered. He released a soft expulsion of air in protest. "I know Charlie's your little brother. But he's also an adult. An adult who makes choices." She watched the hands rise again and wrap around his head, cradling it, elbows still propped on knees. She hesitated, because she knew this next question was on delicate ground. "What did your dad say?"

The hands dropped and his head rose slightly. "Not - what I expected. I was waiting for him to tear me a new one - to start the lecture about how Charlie's not an agent…blah blah blah…that I need to understand…blah blah blah…"

She tugged gently, pulling him down and against her until they were spooned together, reclining in the pillows. "But he didn't?"

His head dropped back, hair tickling her neck as he wordlessly shook his head.

Good. She'd been worried about that one, was glad if Alan finally seemed to realize that understanding went both ways. She brushed a light kiss on his temple, noticed that his eyes were closed. Even better. She'd lost track of the number of times during the last couple of nights that she'd woken to find the rumpled sheets next to her vacant, spotted the dark silhouette in front of the windows, staring out at the lights of LA. A little sleep would do wonders for his state of mind. She hoped. She felt his fingers reach for the nape of her neck, combing gently through her hair, and smiled. "Go to sleep. It will all seem better in the morning."

"My mother used to say that." The fingers stilled, breath releasing in a sigh. "Do you think history really repeats itself?"

"This isn't then, Eppes. You're not three anymore. Believe me, I'd notice."

He breathed a short laugh. "Yeah. It's just…everybody in my family - they seem to be on the same wavelength. And then there's me." He shifted sleepily, head turning until it was half buried in her neck. "Hard not to…question myself."

She ran a hand over his hair. "Well, if you want one woman's opinion…I trust your judgment."

His eyes stayed closed, but his lips curled into a drowsy smile. He captured one of the hands resting on his chest and kissed the palm again, letting his fingers enfold hers and settling entwined fingers in a tight clasp over his heart.

She smiled, tracing the curve of his ear, knowing from the position of his lashes and the tempo of his breathing that he was almost gone.

"Say, Brooks?"

The faint murmur of his voice took her by surprise. Go to sleep, Eppes. "Hmm…?"

"Do you suppose I'm adopted?"

She just stopped a laugh. Like that kind of stubbornness could be anything but hereditary. Like he and Charlie were explicable as anything but two sides of the same coin. She reached down and pulled the covers up over both of them, tucking them tight.

"Not a chance, Eppes," she whispered, kissing the long, straight line of his nose. "Not a chance."

Fin