Note: I'm back! This story just won't quit on me :) This is a sequel to 'Moving On' and 'Strangers in the Night' and follows Cooper and Charlotte in their life after the attack. In the previous stories, Charlotte endured therapy with Violet, became NA buddies (and neighbours) with Amelia and had some complications from her broken arm dealt with by Addison's old friend Callie from Grey's Anatomy. In this part, the saga continues-and all I'll say about this one is, anyone who has been dying to see her lean more on Cooper than anybody else is going to love this one! Hope you enjoy and as always, your feedback keeps me going, so I hope you'll comment and let me know how you're enjoying it, and what you want to see.
The dress is shiny and black and slinky. It's been weeks since she's worn something like this. Weeks since she's wanted to, and weeks since she could pull it off. But she can expose a little skin now without exposing bruises too, and as of this afternoon, she can slide on regular clothes without wrestling them on over a cast, so she's ready for this long-delayed night of, at last, normalcy.
"You got the wine?" she calls out to Cooper.
"Yes. Four kinds, plus beer and coolers. And ginger ale, for Amelia and you."
"With the little crackers?"
He comes into the bathroom, gently kisses the top of her head. "It's all done.
"Cause Violet and Pete probably still haven't left yet. So we could get 'em to stop on the way, and..."
"Charlotte," Cooper says. "It's all done."
"Just...this is important. Maybe more than it should be. First time I...we...well, you remember what happened last time we did something like this. And they remember it too."
She'd collapsed in the middle of a thing at Addison's, and it had been humiliating. There had been a legitimate medical situation, sure. Not her fault. But humiliating just the same, and she couldn't help it that she felt that way. The wounds (well, the visible ones, anyway) had at last healed, and she wanted them all to look her in the eye and treat her like everything was normal again...
"They don't remember it," Cooper says.
"No. None of this was your fault, and everyone knows..."
"They know what they saw, and that's a bruised, broken, victimized whatever, and I'm done with that. I want to move on, Coop. I want to put this all behind me and get on with my job, and my life..."
"You know what Violet said. It's not that easy."
"Violet says a lot of things. I need this, Coop. You have to help me, because I need it."
"Sweetheart, you know I'm here."
"Well, okay than. Aren't you gonna tell me how nice I look?"
There are drinks, and candles and soft music. There are people, and she floats around the room taking in their compliments on the food and on the night and on the ambience.
"Great party," Amelia says. "Very chic. Love the cheese plate."
"No, really. Nice to see you...relax a little."
"Yeah. Truth is, I didn't do all that much relaxing even before the..."
"Well, it's nice to see you doing it now. Look around you, Char. They are all here for you, these people here. They are here for you, and they are having a great time."
"Amelia Shepherd, that's a very Violet thing to say."
"We all need to hear Violet things something. Even people like you and me do..."
She shudders, takes another sip of ginger ale. "No more of that talk. Where did you say the cheese plate was?"
She's in the kitchen, making up a plate for herself, when she hears the doorbell.
"Coop?" she calls out.
But he's already answering it, and there, standing at her door, is that police detective, Price.
She goes rigid, nearly drops the plate.
"Sorry to bother you folks at home," Price is saying. "Seems like you're in the middle of something."
The party has come to a standstill. Everyone is watching this big pile of cop talking to Cooper, and watching her, coming out of the kitchen, staring at the both of them.
"Wanted you to know," Price says. "We think we caught the guy."
The blood rushes to her head. She feels her fingers clench at her sides, sees Cooper turn to look at her with shocked, wide eyes. Feels the ebb of the party as they look too, for her reaction.
It's too much for her. She turns, runs. Waits until she's in the bathroom before collapsing onto the cool, dark tile, flexing her fingers, trying to ride out the pictures in her head and the short, sharp breaths of panic and the noise of the rest of them shouting at her. Well. So much for being normal again.
She is aware, some time later, of quiet. He's sent them away, of course Cooper would send the rest of them away, and she's dimly aware of a hushed conversation among the core of them - Coop, Violet, Amelia - as they argue about who is going to come in here after her.
She's sitting now, knees drawn up, back resting up against the door. A barricade. She's not ready for them yet. She's still working a little to catch her breath, still seeing a whir of pictures behind her eyes when she closes them, still feeling that dizzy rush of fear as her mind betrays her and loses the control she's worked so hard for. And she's suddenly aware of the fabric of her dress rubbing up against her skin, thick and black and heavy, just as it was the night he...
"She'll come out," Cooper is saying. "If we leave her, she'll come out..."
"But we don't know what she's doing in there," Violet says. "She could be triggering. She could be hurting herself."
"I don't hear the sounds of anything breaking," Amelia says.
"Maybe she took wine in there," Violet counters. "Or something else..."
"Char!" Banging on the door, sharp and fast. Amelia's voice. "Char, can you open the door for me?"
Damn. Can't have a little peace, can't have a little peace...
"Char, sweetie, it's just Coop and Violet and me..."
"Go away." It's all she can manage, all the thinking and speaking she can handle right now. "Go away. Go away. Go away."
A mantra, like she's supposed to be using to de-escalate when she has a panic response. Well, fine then. "Go away," she says again, quieter this time. "Go away. Go away. Go away."
And she's whispering it, timing it with the banging of her head against her knees as she breathes and feels her pulse slowly return to normal. A moment later, she's still and calm and quiet, but she doesn't feel like facing them yet.
"Char?" Amelia calls again.
But they seem to have sensed the shift in energy. "It's stopped now," Violet says. "Whatever it was, I think it's stopped."
"So should we..."
"No," Cooper says. "Leave her, and she'll come out again. She's safe there, Violet. Leave her. Let's clean up some of this. Leave her, and she'll come out."
They drift away, and she hears the sounds of clanging dishes and running water and muted, harried whispers. She drops her head to her knees again, and breathes. There is nothing else she can do for this.
Later, she doesn't hear the running water anymore. It's pitch dark, and she's still breathing, slow and steady and calm. She's very cold, but she can't seem to bring herself to move to grab the robe that's hanging on the door.
"Charlotte?" Cooper's voice this time. "Char, baby, can I come in?"
She's too tired to fight him on this. She scoots over an inch or two, gives him just the clearance he needs to wedge the door open. He's on his knees, crawling gently over beside her, and he's carrying a blanket.
"Hi," he says.
She lets him wrap the blanket around her goose-bumped arms. "Hi," she says.
"You want to talk about this?"
"I ruined another party."
"No, HE ruined another party. None of this is your fault, Charlotte."
"Doesn't make it easier, knowing it."
"Uh huh. Violet's proud of you. You de-escalated."
"You want to tell me from what?"
"Kinda obvious, ain't it?"
"Well, yeah. But Violet says it's still therapeutically useful for you to tell me."
"Saw that cop. Didn't want to think about that anymore."
"Then it just got...got fast on me. Everything, it just got fast and I had to...had to get away from it all. Had to slow it down again. Coop, it got too fast."
"Okay. Well, it's over now. It's over, and I'm here, and you're safe again. And I love you, Charlotte. I love you so much."
She takes a deep breath, and it's easier now. "Yeah. I love you too. Coop, I'm freezing to death."
He laughs. "Come to bed, Charlotte. Come to bed with me."
She lets him pick her up off the cold, slick tile and carry her into the bedroom. But she holds back his hand when he reaches to undo her dress. No man is going to take off her clothes again. Not yet.
She dreams, as she always does, of a blurred, sweaty face looming over her. Sometimes, she can make out details in the face. Sometimes, the face changes into that of someone she knows. Cooper, Pete, one of her brothers. Sometimes, the face stays blurry. Was that why she had such a strong reaction when the cop came to tell her they had him? If she sees that face again, if it stops being a cipher she's repressed from the trauma...
She turns, reaches instinctively for Cooper's hand beside her.
He mumbles in his sleep, and she squeezes his hand, a little more urgently this time. "Coop? Can we talk for a sec?"
He jolts awake, springs up onto his elbows. "Whaa...Char, hey, I'm here, it's okay. Are you..."
"Holding. Need to run something by you though."
He rubs blurry eyes. "Now?"
"Yes, now. Wouldn't have woken you if I could wait until morning, would I?"
He notices her hand clenching his, squeezes back. "Okay. I'm listening."
She takes a deep breath. "The line-up. What if I don't do it?"
"Well, if you don't do it, he goes free, Charlotte. And we spend the rest of our lives wondering if he's out there watching us. If he's going to hurt you again. Or hurt someone else."
"Damn it, Cooper, you're not making this easy."
"But I don't...why would you not want to do it? Why would you not want to see him put away?"
"Cause if I see him put away, it means I have to SEE him, Coop. Right now, he's a shadow. A figment. A blurry shape who comes at me in nightmares. If I see him, he'll have to be a real person, and I don't...don't know if I can-if I want to-deal with that. A real face, a name..."
"I'm here for you," he says. This is the only thing he can say right now. She knows that Sheldon has been coaching him, and this is all he can say when she talks about this. He's trying to help her. But sometimes, this thing that he says, his own little de-escalating mantra, just isn't enough. She feels her breath quicken. She wants a drink. Or a pill. She needs to talk to Violet. Or worse- to Amelia.