This is written with special thanks to everyone who wrote to say they enjoyed Credo. It was my first visit to Shipper-ville, so I appreciated it more than I can say.
I am not a shipper. Truly. I never have been. Since my earliest writings (and those were very early indeed) I have always preferred reading and writing about sibling relationships, with the focus on males. So I have no idea where this stuff is coming from.
I guess the Don/Robin relationship with its Tracy/Hepburn, Bogey/Bacall overtones captured my imagination. So here we are.
She had meant it to be a surprise. An unexpected court recess had resulted in a suddenly free afternoon, so she had decided to put together dinner (all right, take out, but high class take out!) and slip into something minimal and girly and be waiting when he got home. It had been a flawed plan to begin with because she could never be exactly sure when he would get home, that worsened when she slid her key into the lock and pushed the door inward to spy the telltale holster, weapon still snugged inside, sitting on the table just inside the door. She paused, hand still on the knob, and called out, "Hello?"
She heard what sounded like something - several small somethings, actually - scatter on tile with the faint clicking noise of plastic rain, followed by a thud, a thump, and an emphatic curse, impressive in both its fluency and its creativity. She dropped her briefcase and bag of takeout near the entryway table and moved deeper into the apartment, tracking the sound of the swearing. "Eppes? You okay?"
"Yeah…" She followed the groan to the bathroom, found him huddled on the floor clutching his head, small breathmint-like pills littering the floor around him. "Startled me."
"Sorry." She leaned against the bathroom doorjamb, trying not to sound amused. "I should know better than to try and surprise an FBI Agent. A good way to get myself shot. Sure you're all right…?"
He peeled his right hand carefully away from his scalp. "Yeah. Got up too fast and whacked my head on the sink, is all…"
"What were you doing on the floor in the first place - ? Oh, I see - here, let me help…" She crouched close, chasing the minute pills, dropping them into an amber plastic vial she found rolling around on the floor by her foot.
He bent opposite her to pick at the tiny tablets dotting the tile like pale green snowflakes, then paused abruptly and flattened one hand hastily on the floor when the lean didn't quite agree with the bump on the head. "Whoa." He froze, shoulder muscles bunching together. "Clumsy today."
"Well, not even you can be a testament to physical prowess every day," she teased. "Here, let me see where you hit your head…" She had her hand under his chin before he could protest, feeling along the bright red mark at his hairline that was already curving into a bump. "Ouch. Did a good job. Hope these pills are good for a headache…" She turned the amber bottle to look, swooping it out of his reach as he made a grab for it and tilting the label to the light. "Let's see…" She wasn't sure exactly what she had been expecting, but as she read, a frown pushed her brows together. "This is Oxycontin."
"Yeah." He made a snatch for it again, lost his balance and landed on his knees, sitting back on his heels with a sigh and another rub at his head. "Hate that stuff, but…it does what it does."
She gave him a sideways glance. He seemed embarrassed, but not more than that. Oxycontin was notoriously abused among law enforcement personnel and healthcare workers, and for a moment her heart had skipped a beat. Of course, she probably would have noticed the signs of drug abuse by now, but then again, he was good at hiding things. She checked the label. It was dated today. "What's it for?" she asked with assumed casualness.
He made a face, hand moving from the lump on his forehead to rub at his eyes. "Moderate to severe pain."
"Oh, ha ha. Maybe you should have been the lawyer." She tilted her head, trying not to be distracted by the sight of him, barefoot and bare chested, clad only in his jeans. He looked a little pale, actually, now that she had a minute to note it - even for him, his eyes heavy-lidded. She let her gaze run along the top of the sink vanity, noted another small amber bottle and reached for it. "What's this?"
He didn't even try to beat her to it this time, rested his back against the sink vanity instead and closed his eyes. "I don't know - exhibit A?"
"Penicillin," she read slowly. Her hand found a stack of paper-wrapped squares and she pulled them down for a closer look. "And…sterile wrapped dressings." She pursed her lips and crossed her arms, unconsciously mimicking a pose she used in cross examination in the court room. "So. What happened?"
"Nothing happened." He turned his head in her direction without lifting it from the vanity and opened his eyes.
She craned her neck, gaze sweeping over him, fighting to keep her mind on the evidence, strictly on the evidence. She caught sight of a flesh-colored rectangle outlining one bicep and twisted the arm in her direction for a better look. She lifted her chin and her brows at him.
He made a face. "That is - I caught one. Just a nick, really."
"A nick. Is that what the doctor called it?"
He tugged his arm gently out of her grasp and settled back against the vanity again. "I think he called it 'minor GSW'. It's nothing. I'd still be at work, except muscle wounds always bleed like crazy. Made me a little unsteady on my feet, so Merrick put me on DL for the rest of the day."
He sounded more exasperated and impatient than anything, and it drew a faint smile from her. "Uh huh. And did he say 'for the rest of the day', or is that a Don Eppes interpretation?"
"I'll be fine by tomorrow morning."
"That wasn't the question, Agent."
"Then I'm gonna havta plead the fifth, Counselor."
"Hm." She watched as his heels slid slowly forward, relaxing his lifted knees. "Hey." She brushed a hand along his cheek. A little warm. "Are you planning on sleeping in the bathroom?"
He didn't bother to open his eyes this time. "Thinking about it."
"I've got a better idea. Let's get you to bed." She glanced at the twin amber bottles. "Have you taken this stuff?"
"Yeah, I guess I can see that. Come on - up - " She shook his uninjured arm lightly to get his attention and then kept hold of it to steady him.
He opened slightly unfocused eyes and fumbled along the edge of the sink with the arm she was holding, using it to lever himself to his feet. He staggered a little and ran smack into her and she slid her arms around his back to keep him upright and held on.
She searched his face anxiously. "Okay?"
He met her gaze blearily and broke into a wide, muzzy grin, full of meaning. "'Sgood idea."
She couldn't hold back a chuckle. "Sorry, cowboy. Somehow or other I think the spirit is willing but…"
He leaned into her a little more heavily, nuzzling her hair so that his breath skimmed warmly along her ear."…be… surprised…" he suggested.
"Yeah. You're full of surprises." She prodded with one arm to propel him forward. "Come on…"
"You said bed." He sounded a little sulky now.
She steered him awkwardly toward the large four poster, the inertia of the drugs making him a lead weight. "I meant for you…" Finding the side of the bed, she reached around him to yank down the covers and gave him a little push so that he landed on the edge of the mattress with a bounce. "Anything I can get you? Glass of water? Ice pack for your head?"
He kept hold of her hand and tugged. "Join me?"
She smiled wryly and patted his hair, careful to avoid the growing bump at his hairline. "Guess we know what Oxycontin does to you. Come on, Eppes - lie down and take a nap. Do you need help getting out of your jeans?"
He mock pouted. "Now you're just - being a tease." He interrupted himself with a huge yawn and dropped back on the mattress and closed his eyes.
She tried not to notice that his left arm hung limp and unresponsive and got busy with the button on his jeans. She had released the zipper and was sliding the jeans down his hips when his fingers reached up to comb through her hair. "You're not helping." But she couldn't help smiling.
"If yer gonna undress me, you might as well…have your way with me…" He cupped the back of her head and tried to pull her down for a kiss.
She let her lips brush lightly over his, then propped herself on her elbows above him, their faces very close. "You are not making this easy."
"Make me feel better?"
"You're on DL."
"Take advantage. My cell won't ring."
"Hm." She kissed him again, then pushed herself up and tugged the jeans off over his feet. "Take a nap and we'll talk."
His eyes fluttered and closed, a faint scowl creasing his face.
"Come on - legs up. I'll tuck you in and everything."
With a surprising burst of dexterity, he retracted his legs and curled onto his right side, muttering something that sounded like 'bossy'.
"Get used to it." She smiled to herself, pulling at the comforter, then paused in the act of tucking the covers around his neck, bending to inspect the rectangle of dressing closely for the first time. It was self-adhering and almost invisible, except for a dark, rusty shadow underneath, near the center. Something trembled through her stomach and she folded the comforter over it as delicately as she could, smoothing it out of sight. She stood studying his face for a moment, relaxed and deceptively innocent in repose, grazed the backs of her fingers over his cheek. "Don't scare me like that," she whispered, "I hate it when you scare me." Then sighed. Not the evening she had envisioned, certainly.
She returned to the entryway to stow her neglected take out in the fridge and then retrieved her briefcase, extracting her laptop. She looked around for a place to set it up in the bedroom, clucking her tongue softly to herself.
Nothing, really, but a huge television and the bed. Even the dresser was built-in. And this was probably almost the only room in the place he really used. Of course, realistically, there was no reason she couldn't set up in the living room, but…she glanced at the bed…well, a nightstand would have to do. Place needed a woman's touch.
I did NOT just think that - tell me I didn't just think that…
She powered up the laptop and tapped on Google, typing into the search bar and scanning her choices. Let's see…gunshot wounds, basic care…her fingers froze on the keyboard and she squeezed her eyes shut for a moment.
Gunshot wounds?? What's a nice girl like me…?
She swiveled to stare at the long lump stretched under the covers, only a sleek dark crown showing.
Oh, God. Eppes, what have you turned me into?
She awoke with a start, trying to figure out what had disturbed her. The room was dark now, lit only with the thin fingers of moonlight filtering through the arched window and the faint green glow of her laptop charger. She sat up, trying to decide whether or not she had been dreaming.
The sound came again, a muffled moan, and she saw Don rock toward her, only to stop with a sharp grunt. He dropped onto his back before sinking into stillness again.
She pulled closer, trying to get a glimpse of his face in the scattering of light. He must have rolled onto his bad arm. "Eppes?" she whispered.
He didn't answer, his face immobile. He looked heavily asleep.
She hesitated, trying to remember what she had read through her research, then rested a palm carefully on his forehead.
I hope you appreciate this, Eppes, she thought. Because I have never done anything like this in my life.
He felt a little warmer than she remembered, but he was often warm in his sleep. She paused, wondering if there was something she should do, if he needed more medication or hydration or whatever, but he looked so peaceful that it seemed a crime to wake him and ask. She moved her hand to test his cheek this time and he mumbled something and nestled into her palm before falling quiet again. She stayed very still for a moment, feeling the sharp edge of his cheekbone under her fingertips, the friction of his stubble and the whisper of his breath against her fingers, the way the curve of his jaw fit perfectly into the cup of her hand, like two interlocking pieces of a puzzle. Something hot prickled at her eyelids and she released his face with a parting stroke of the thumb, slid over her side of the bed and hunted with her feet for her slippers.
"What's goin' on?"
She jerked her head up, wondering how long she'd been huddled in here in the dark. Her eyes moved to the grey rectangle that represented the bathroom doorway and the black shadow, wavering slightly, filling its frame. Dashing the backs of her hands hastily over her cheeks and bending her head away from the door she swallowed and struggled to sound confident.
"N - nothing." Was that a quaver in her voice? That sounded a whole lot like a quaver. Maybe he was sailing away on Oxycontin and didn't notice.
The pause that followed seemed inordinately long, but that could be the delayed action of the drugs; then she noticed an extension of the shadow detach itself and fumble toward the light switch.
"Don't!" Yeah - smooth, Robin. Now he'll think everything's copasetic, right? Situation normal. Of course, there are those drugs. How long ago did he take them again? Come on, drugs!
The pause felt even longer this time. "Okay…" His voice sounded a little ragged, but still carefully measured, and she could see the hand move away from the light switch and massage in the area of what must be his head or his eyes. Both, probably. "How about I just turn on the hall light then? It'll give us a little light to work with, but not too much. How would that be?"
She blotted her nose irritably on the hem of her nightgown. Oh, great. The voice he uses with frightened crime victims. Yeah, this is perfect, he doesn't suspect a thing. "Fine," she grated sullenly.
"Great. I'm just gonna turn on the hall light…" The tone was easy, soothing.
Come on, Eppes, I'm not armed. No need to talk me down.
The hall light flickered to life and she blinked through swollen eyelids, trying to adjust, saw his hand fly to shield his own eyes with a strangled curse. Still, when he spoke again, the everything's-okay-no-need-to-panic-here-just-hand-me-the-gun voice was still gamely in place. "How's that? Okay?"
She pulled her knees tighter to her chest. "Dandy," she grumbled crossly. Better - that had sounded more like her.
"You okay...?" He stayed in the doorway, squinting against the light, and she could almost watch him assess the situation for critical tactical positioning against potential weaponry...Sharp words? Below-the-belt guilt? Raging hormones...?
She hid her face in her knees. "Go back to bed. I'm f- fine." Damn. There was always a chance that little, hiccupping sob had gone unnoticed...?
"Hey - "
Nope. Definitely noticed.
"Hey, hey, come on, what's wrong...?" He was kneeling in front of her now, gently prying her face from her knees.
She tried to turn her head, but admitted to herself that it was a pretty feeble effort. There was just something so steady and reassuring about his presence. But…she dragged a forearm across her face. "I d-don't want you to see my like this - "
"Like what?" He sounded bewildered and teasing at the same time, swiping at the tears she was trying to pretend weren't on her face with his thumb, sliding a hand over her hair. "Tell me what it is. Is there some public defender I should be having a talk with?"
"Of course not!" Indignation yanked her head up and she slapped his chest without thinking. "I can take care of myself with them! I'll have you know that I can make six-figure defense attorneys quiver in the courtroom!"
"Okay, okay!" He intercepted her hand before she could land another blow. "Okay...sssh..." Somehow, he maneuvered her around until he was the one sitting on the closed toilet lid with her curled in his lap. Her arms slipped around his neck and it occurred to her that, for someone who had wanted him to go away, she was certainly clinging tightly enough to cut off the blood supply to his brain. She didn't loosen her hold though, burying her face in the crook of his shoulder, acutely conscious of the warm skin and faint pulse against her cheek, the steady thunder of his heart against her own. She curled more closely. He felt so warm and solid and vital and alive.
"...quiver, huh...?" There was a sly note in his voice and she slapped the back of his shoulder this time so that she wouldn't actually have to lift her head or loosen her grip.
"Shut up." How dare he make her cry and then have the nerve to try and make her laugh?
He didn't answer, just moved his lips over her hair, her forehead, her hot, damp eyelids. She sniffled again, eyes closed, focusing on the comforting sensations, conscious of the play of muscle under his skin, of how secure and right she felt in his arms. She sighed deeply. How could someone make her feel so safe and so scared at the same time?
Something cardboard nudged her arm and she glanced down and released him enough to gratefully accept the offer of the Kleenex box. She blew her nose satisfyingly, blotted at her face. Robin Brooks, dragon lady prosecutor, reduced to this. Sheesh. Another sob gulped from her chest, and she snatched impatiently at a new Kleenex, balancing the box in her lap.
"I p-promised myself that I would n-never d-do this..."
The hand in her hair paused, fingers tangled in the strands. "Do what?" The voice sounded more guarded this time.
"THIS." She buried her face in a fresh tissue. "C-cry over this st-stuff like some...dumb...g-g-girl..."
"Oh." He sounded vaguely relieved, and even a little amused, but she didn't have the energy to analyze it right now. "Well, first of all, we both know you're anything but dumb. And secondly, in case I never mentioned it? The whole girl thing is a big part of the attraction."
She chuckled damply into the tissue. Damn him. She blew her nose again. "I'm no good at this. I'm not."
"Huh." The hand had moved down to her neck now, then her shoulder, rubbed soothingly at her upper arm. "Well, if I'm allowed to weigh in an opinion - "
"Stop it." She slapped at him again. "I know we're good at - that. Can't you think about anything else, even for a minute?"
"I don't know," he didn't sound remotely penitent. "What you got?"
"You got shot!" She hit him again before she could stop herself.
"What?" His hand dropped and he twisted to get a look at her face. "That's what this is all about? Sweetie, it's nothing! A scratch! Seriously."
She wanted to shake him. "It's a bullet wound! It's not nothing! Those k-kill people!"
He laughed. "I'm not sure this one would have taken out a fly. Barely got me."
"This time." There. She'd said it. Exactly what she'd sworn she'd never say.
Silence. His arm tightened around her waist and rocked her back against him, his cheek on her hair. The silence stretched between them, not exactly uncomfortable, but poised with waiting.
"I don't get shot every day," he said at last, sounding both resigned and a little defensive.
"Well, thank God for that."
"I don't know what to say," he sighed. "I'm careful. I'm thorough. I know what I'm doing. But I do what I do. I don't know what to tell you."
She felt the traitorous wetness fill her eyes. "Promise me it will never happen again. Promise me."
It was a ridiculous request and a promise he would never be able to keep and they both knew it, so she was deeply grateful when, without the smallest hesitation or the slightest hint of humor or sarcasm, he answered, "Okay. I promise."
She let her head loll back against his neck. How many women, she thought sadly, had asked him to promise the same thing? She hunted for a dry spot on her Kleenex. "Is that why you date women you work with?" she ventured. "Because they can accept this - because they understand?"
She felt the rumble of a chuckle where her back met his chest. His good hand found hers and folded around it, settling in her lap. "Understanding doesn't really help. The first time Kim had to pick me up at the hospital, she was a mess. Think she needed medical attention more than I did. And to be honest..." He kissed her eyebrow and whispered in her hair, "This is just between us, right?"
"To be honest...I'm not so great about it myself, when the roles are reversed. I guess when you care about somebody, all the understanding in the world doesn't really cut it."
Huh. Somehow, that made her feel better. She dabbed at her nose again. Maybe one more confession. "You should know. I'm - I'm no Florence Nightingale."
He shifted his hand, entwining her fingers, a soft laugh blowing across her hair. "That whole lamp thing never did much for me anyway."
"Idiot." But she tightened her fingers in his.
They sat that way for she wasn't sure how long, rocking slightly, quiet and each lost in their own thoughts. After a while, she felt him hitch his shoulders.
"You know, under normal circumstances, I would pick you up and carry you back to bed. But, uh…"
"Oh!" She sat up straight. "You should be in bed! Is it time for more medication?"
"Yeah…" he shifted her to her feet with a hand under her elbow. "But…we okay?"
She took his face in her hands, drinking in every detail. "Depends. You really promise to stay alive for me?" She meant for it to come out sounding light, but a telltale wobble fractured the sentence.
His mouth lifted slightly at the corners. "You promise to stick around, and I'll see what I can do."
"Sounds like a fair deal." She leaned in for a kiss that was long and unhurried and undemanding. When she finally pulled back, she felt a little light-headed. "I'll draw up the papers tomorrow."
He frowned as she led him back to the bedroom. "You're kidding, right?"
"…maybe…" She leaned in for another kiss, forcing him down onto the bed, then pulled back a little. "You're really warm. Are you running a temperature?"
"Probably." He traced the shape of her face with one forefinger. "Usually happens. No matter how many times we ask the bad guys to disinfect their bullets, they just don't listen…"
She stiffened her arms to loom over him. "That's not funny."
"You and Charlie. How come nobody ever laughs at my jokes?"
"Because they're not funny." She hit him again for good measure. "Being injured isn't funny."
He held up a hand, lips pressed tightly together, a white line rimming them. After a long minute, he took a deep, whooshing breath. "Sweetie," he eked out in a tight voice. "I promise you, it IS just a scratch. And I know you've had a rough day. But…I've really gotta ask you not to hit that arm."
She clapped a hand over her mouth, eyes brimming again with those wretched tears. "I can't believe I hurt you!" she choked. "I told you I was really bad at this!" She stared at the bandage, searching it for new damage, didn't quite manage to stop a fresh sob. "Your beautiful arm…"
This time he really did laugh. "It'll be fine - like new in no time. Come a little closer and I'll show you how good the other one works."
She mussed his hair roughly and took a step back. "I'm getting your medication. Get under the covers."
Despite his smart words, she thought he looked more than ready to obey. She measured out his pills and dropped them into his waiting palm, then watched while he tossed them down. She offered a glass of water and, when his eyes remained closed, poked his shoulder.
"Take them with water! You really need housebreaking, Eppes."
He snorted a laugh and opened his eyes, accepting the glass and taking a token sip. "That's what my dad says." He put the glass on the night table and tucked his good hand behind his head, watching her climb in next to him.
"Your dad. How is your dad?" It might help her wavering self-esteem to know somebody was taking this worse than she was.
"I don't know." He yawned. "Okay, I guess."
She positioned a pillow under his bad arm and inserted herself carefully in the curve. Then it hit her. "Are you saying that you didn't tell your dad that you got shot??"
He opened one eye to look at her, genuinely surprised. "Of course not. Why would I get him all worked up over a little thing like this?"
She pushed up so that she hung over him, staring. Once she found her voice again she said firmly, "You will call your dad tomorrow morning and tell him. I mean it. Or I will."
He opened his mouth to object, studied her face, then closed it, lower lip pushing forward. "Fine," he muttered, followed by what sounded like 'bossy' again, and maybe something about 'pushy'.
"And don't you forget it." She settled her head comfortably against his chest, cuddling close. "Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"I don't know." She could hear a hint of roguish drawl in his voice. "Wanna show me how you make those defense guys quiver?"
She resisted the urge to hit him this time, hiding an involuntary giggle in his shoulder. It didn't do to encourage him.
"Idiot." Somehow or other, it came out sounding like a caress.
"Yeah, I know…" His eyes were closed, but even in the dark she could make out the bright slash of his wide smile. "But you love me anyway."
She looked at him sharply. It had to be the drugs, because neither of them had used that word so far.
The smile faded tiredly before making it to full candlepower, but she was ruefully amused to note that her heart dissolved to goo anyway.
Like a slushie in the sun. Speaking of idiots, she mused wryly.
She stayed poised, looking down at him as his face relaxed into sleep, then settled her cheek on his chest again, hand tracking the staunch, comforting rhythm of his heartbeat.
Yeah, she thought quietly, closing her eyes and breathing in his scent.
Yeah, I really do.