Hi guys – sorry for the wait. If I didn't get the chance to thank you for your reviews I apologize – they were all deeply appreciated. This chapter was delayed until the worst of my coursework was out of the way. Exciting news: I now intern at the ROM where they filmed the episode Acceptable Risk. Amazeballs. On the downside: less writing time for this sad Panda. Thanks for reading. Love.
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The first thing she noticed, waking that morning, was the cold. Usually Wordy knocked the thermostat up a few inches when he got back from his nightshift. She'd register the soft clicking of the lock and the padding of feet across the hall. He'd dial the nob up a few degrees and her furnace would roar into action, clanking into life with a mechanical belch. Then he'd slid into bed beside her, curving his body along side her and fall into a dead sleep.
Not today though. She pulled the fleece blankets up to her chin and nuzzled her face into the pillow. She was tired – she'd gotten so used to his presence it made it hard to sleep without him sometimes.
She still had nightmares. They weren't nearly as vivid or frequent as she had just months ago. She'd dream of his eyes – those dead, lifeless eyes. Or his hands, rough palmed and flushed red from the drink, reaching for her in the dark. Enough to have her jolting awake. But fear no longer ruled her life. It was hard to believe, she thought, as she cuddled back into bed, how much your life could change in just a half a year.
She glanced over at the clock, perched perilously on the edge of the bedside table, its green numbers glowing in the breaking dawn's half-light.
Her heart pitched.
Was it really 7:32?
It couldn't be.
Wordy wasn't home. He was always home by 6. Always.
Her hand shot out, scrambling for the wristwatch lying on her bedside table. In her haste she knocked it to the floor and heard the clockface crack, hitting the hardwood floor. Snatching it up, she peered through the fractured glass.
Sure enough. 7:32.
She sat upright in the chilly air, and frantically pushed her sleep-knotted hair from her face.
Her mind raced with possibilities, each more devastating and unpleasant than the last. He'd been in the middle of a hold-up, he'd been hurt in some kind of car accident, he'd been shot. He'd been killed.
"No." She ordered herself. She forced herself to breathe – unstably sucking in air. "No. He's fine."
"He's fine." Saying it out loud made it real.
The phone rang, that shrill trill so much like a death knoll.
She lurched out of bed, racing through the apartment to the phone. Her feet danced across the frigid floors, her thin nightgown no protection from the unheated apartment.
It seemed to shriek again. She reached for the receiver tentatively. Is this what it would be like? She wondered. He'd been late before – once or twice. It had never incited that rush of terror and dread. That icy feeling that raced down her spine and settled in her belly. Would this be what it was like from now on – always worrying? Always expecting the worst? Fearing the telephone's ring?
She snatched up the receiver.
"Hey Shelley. It's, uhm, Marks."
The silence dragged on, the only sound her heart drumming wildly in her chest.
"Is … is something wrong?" She heard herself ask, voice eerily calm.
"I don't think so. We took a bad call last night and I thought I'd check in ... is Wordy there? Is he with you?" He voice seemed unnaturally strained and, in the background, she could hear the din of the bullpen.
"No." Her hand shot up to push back her tumble of hair. "He didn't come back this morning. He's okay, right?" She asked.
"He wasn't hurt." Marks replied hesitantly.
That wasn't really the same thing, she thought, rubbing her thumb across her brow. Cops were good at that – misdirection, avoiding ugly questions and uglier answers.
"Listen, Shel, I've got to go. I think though – well, I think he might need you. It's hard to explain. Just be there when he comes, okay?" She didn't have time to respond before the line went dead.
She stood perfectly still for a minute, caught somewhere between relief and panic.
If he were hurting, why wouldn't he come to her? She thought. Where the bloody hell was he?
The dialtone buzzed against her ear, springing her back into action. Tossing the receiver back on the hook, she took off, racing back to the bedroom. She snagged a pair of jeans off the top of her laundry hamper, and shimmied into them, still fastened. She yanked off the nightgown, ripping the flannel over her head and tossing it on the floor. The sweater she pulled off the dresser was his – left over from his University of Ottawa days. There was a coffee stain on the right shoulder and a small hold in the left sleeve. It was worn soft by hundreds of washes and smelled exactly like his aftershave. Like a punch to the gut.
She raced out, yanking boots on over bare feet. She hopped on one foot, the leather catching on her heel, until she forced harder and it slid into place. Snatching her purse off its perch by the door, she shot out of the apartment and down to the street.
Later she'd wonder if she even remembered the lock the front door.
The carbide to Wordy's apartment couldn't have taken more than fifteen minutes, but it felt like forever. Each time the driver hit another red light, another angry snarl of morning traffic she had to resist the urge to bury her face in her hands and groan.
"In a hurry?" The cabbie asked. His voice was dry and cracked, like a dust road in august. Years of cigarettes had clearly taken their toll.
The news muttered in the background reading out the predictions for the weather – almost perpetually wrong. Rain, it called for. Lots of rain.
"Sort of." Shelley said through a strained smile. She forced her fingers, tapping a furious beat against her thighs, to stop. But after a second, the unconscious rhythm returned and they drummed ever more anxiously against the coarse denim.
"Everyone's got somewhere to be this morning." He said, pushing back his faded Blue Jays' cap to scratch at his near-bald head.
She could only nod and tap those long fingers.
The radio buzzed and crackled with static. She caught a few words – enough to have her snapping forward, jerking as the hard seat-belt bit into her chest.
"Turn it up. Please." She insisted, straining to hear the words.
"Sad, ain't it?" The cab driver asked, gnarled and arthritic hand slowly dialing the knob until the hissing subsided and the broadcasters' voice pumped cleanly into the cab.
… One was taken to the hospital where he succumbed to his injuries. It is believed that the shootings are gang related. These murders come hot on the heels of a violent incident which claimed the lives of two Toronto Police officers.
She tried to remind herself that Marks had said he was okay. She just needed to be sure.
His apartment building loomed ahead, a brutalist 60s monstrosity of cold cement and dirt brown paint. It had been dated before the first pillar had been poured, she was certain. It was the ugliest building in all of L'Amoreaux, but also one of the cheapest. Even before New Years Wordy hadn't spent much of his time at his own place, dividing most of his days between the gym, precinct and his family.
It seemed to glare down at her as the orange taxi sped nearer.
The taxi pulled up alongside the curb, wheels carelessly scraping concrete. She didn't even glance at the fare counter with its blinking dials, stuffing a handful of bills through the gaping mouth of the glass driver shield. She shoved out of the door, scrambling out onto the sidewalk.
She ate up the distance between the street and the front doors in long, quick strides.
The door swung open just as she reached for it, the cool metal bar sliding out of her grasp as it shoved forward. She stumbled out of the way.
Hot, hard hands seized her by the arms, steadying her.
It was him of course, standing framed in that doorway. Relief poured through her. He really was okay. She hadn't fully believed it until now.
"Shell." His voice was whisper soft. His hands drew back, dropped away from her and fell to his sides.
His eyes were rimmed with dark shadows and shot with red. His mouth pressed into a firm, flat line. Exhaustion was etched on his face, each muscle tensed stiff.
She reached up, hands meant to comfort.
He turned. Not away, but just enough. That gesture said a million things. Stay back. Don't touch me. Leave me be. I don't need you.
It was like a slap.
"I heard on the news. Just now." She said lamely. She tucked scorned hands back into her coat pockets to keep them from reaching again. She wanted that contact – craved it. She wanted to wrap her arms around him, bring him whatever comfort she could manage. He needed an anchor. She wanted to give him one.
"Yeah. Well." He dragged a hand down his face, dragged the back of it over his mouth.
"I'm sorry." She couldn't think of anything else to say.
"Why, Shell? What the hell have you got to be sorry for?" It burst out of him, angry words tumbling over themselves.
Guilt seared through him immediately. He never wanted to hurt her, but keeping the anger inside, all bottled up, was eating him up. "God. I'm sorry Shelley. I just can't today. I can't do this right now. I need some space."
Panic swelled. She had to swallow the surging lump in her throat.
"Kevin." She kept the cracks from her voice. She'd be strong, she told herself. "What are you saying?"
"I don't even know anymore." He sighed heavily. "You shouldn't be here."
The silence built between them like a wall – a thick and impenetrable barrier.
"Okay." She said at last. She could feel her heart crushing in her chest – it pounded painfully inside her, filling her head and resounding in her ears. "Okay. I'll go. I just wanted to be sure that … " She couldn't finish.
He wouldn't see her cry. She promised herself that. She wouldn't foist that guilt upon him. She rounded on her heel. Her eyes strung with the effort to keep them from welling over and her hands tingled numbly by her sides.
She didn't make it more than two feet.
"Shell." He didn't reach for her, instead choosing to shove his fisted hands into his coat pockets. He couldn't bring himself to touch her with those hands – the same ones that had pressed to that bleeding wound in that dark and festering hellhole. The same ones that had leveled his service weapon at a child. The same ones that had failed to save those boys' lives. He couldn't.
"I'm sorry, Shell. I don't know what to tell you – what to say to make you understand. This is all really new for me and I don't know where the hell I'm supposed to step. "
She pressed her eyes shut. This was just as confusing for him and it was for her. It was unfamiliar and alien territory for the both of them.
"We'll figure it out together." She promised.
"I'm just so angry." He sputtered. His pulled his hands from his pockets and splayed them front of him like some kind of shield, fending her off. "I can't contain it. I don't want you to see me like this. I don't want to scare you."
"You couldn't. You don't scare me, Kev. I know that you couldn't hurt me."
"Do you?" He looked so miserably unhappy.
"I do." She wanted to shove those hands out of the way – hold him close. She wanted to ease that wild and hard look from his eyes, wipe the exhaustion from his face. He was in pain – she wanted to soothe it.
"Come with me." He said suddenly.
"Where?" She asked.
"Does it matter?" He barked out a laugh. "Everywhere. Nowhere."
"Anywhere you go, I'll go." She smiled wryly.
They walked to the car. He stayed ever vigilant, careful not to touch her – no brushing of hands, no looping his arm around her as they strode forward in tandem. No palm spread wide on her lower back, giving her those sharp little thrills. Careful and precise, he never touched her - not once.
They stayed silent as they clambered into his old pick-up, no empty words to clutter the cab.
Wordy eased out onto the roads, merging and weaving through traffic until the city, with its bright lights and dominating skyscrapers faded in the rearview mirror, flecks on a seamless horizon. His hands gripped the frigid steering wheel until his fingers whitened with effort. Shelley could do nothing but watch.
The highways narrowed from the massive sixteen-lane asphalt ribbons. They grew ever smaller with each mile. The barren roadsides gave way to greening farms and surging hills budding with new life. Trees were on the verge of sprouting new leaves, shy and tentatively unfurling from their limbs. The light above faded from the harsh glare of morning to a gentler glow of afternoon.
Slowly the speedometer rose, the tiny orange needle wavering ever higher. Never beyond his control, but steadily climbing. He was running – speeding away in that red Dodge towards some unspoken destination.
The car lurched as Wordy spun off onto a red dirt lane, barely wide enough for their car. The broken and snarled branches of the brush scraped along the doors of the car in a mournful wail. Ahead dark waters churned against grey land, white foam thrashing on the heads of surly waves.
The car rolled to a stop at the head of the trail, tires crunching over pebbles.
"Wordy?" She asked tentatively. He didn't respond, merely shoving open the door and stumbling out into the wind. Struggling to prise open the heavy door she followed. The breeze was chilly, shooting through the sweater and straight to her bones. She gritted her teeth.
"We used to come here as kids – Mom and Dad used to bring us. Me, Hailey, Jenna. Ash and Amy until they hit about 15 and it wasn't cool anymore. The whole family." He licked his lips.
"I always envied you growing up – big family and all."
"Yeah. You're never alone." He smiled. "In the city we were all busy. You know? School, work, friends, sports. We were all pulling in a million directions. Here the world just stopped. Felt safe. Loved. It was like the land stripped you back until you were purely you again. Everything bad just went away."
"Kevin. You can lean on me. I won't break." She assured him, stepping forward until they were side by side. She reached for his hand. He didn't resist.
"They were so young, Shel." He muttered, the words sorrowful and bitter on his tongue. "They'd never known a different life – something decent. They were just cannon fodder in this horrible war that we pretend doesn't exist. We walk around like everything is okay – but it's not. It isn't okay."
He sucked in a deep breath and that salty air filled his lungs. He could feel the wall of anger fracturing, peeling away.
"That boy was so terrified. He was bleeding to death in front of us and we couldn't convince him to put down his weapon. When he went down – fainted – he was still clutching that gun like it was the only thing saving him. What the hell is the point? If we can't save kids like him, what the fucking hell is the point?"
"I know it doesn't seem fair, but you can't save everyone, Kevin. The world doesn't work like that. You can only do your best."
"It's not enough." He replied, shaking his head.
"It was for me." She said quietly. "You were there That made all the difference in the world. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you." Her smile was sad as she turned back towards him.
"You care about people. Maybe it means you get hurt. But it 's also what makes you amazing at what you do. Because the cases you see, the people you meet matter to you." Her hand clenched his tighter, fingers interlocking, palm to hot palm.
"Shell." Suddenly his arms were wrapped around her, hauling her closer. On tip-toes she pressed back against him. Relief poured through her bones, filling her body. There he was – solid, whole, okay. Her hands locked around his neck, anchoring him as her lips met his. The kiss was scored with need, with hot lashes of a desperate ache and an equally desperate need to soothe and comfort. She poured herself into that kiss. His fingers clutched the soft material of her sweatshirt, clenching against the rising need.
"Shell." I love you. "Thanks."
She smiled. "You're gonna be okay. Let's go home, cowboy."