Dark Night – Bright Soul

"Hey," he called out to her as if the thought just occurred to him.

Then his tone becomes timid, conspiratorial. He wants something, she realizes.

"Uh, Rachel's come home. We're having – actually she's having a little party tonight – at the house, at my house. Would you come?"

It was odd – the whole thing. That it seemed like a last minute invite, that the usually sure and stolid Charlie Crews stumbled over it like a nervous school boy and that he was careful to ask her to come – and not if she wanted to.

Dani Reese had begrudgingly come to know many things about her partner. They came to her slowly filtered through the intense layers of sunshine that he projected, his false brightness as effective a shield as her dark armor.

Charlie Crews was not dumb; he knew what he was asking. He was asking her to come to a house full of noise and music and kids, but he didn't do it because he was sadistic. He asked because he needed her – he needed his partner. He was scared. Not of the liquor or the music, but the people and having people in his inner sanctum – that monstrosity of a house that he lived in because he hated the idea of being confined again. He who never asked for anything – asked her for this.

"Reese?" He shifted his weight and waited expectantly for her reply.

In classic Dani Reese style, she never actually said yes, "What time?"

The sigh of relief that escaped him was palpable. He didn't even try to hide it, "9 o'clock."

Later that night, he was standing alone on the quiet stone portico in the moonlight. All the lights in the house were on, but Charlie stood in the dark recesses at the edge of the world. He felt them – the house full of people pressing in on him. He was a bright soul on a dark night, like that moon hung low in the sky; so unlike the other celestial objects. At times like these he felt alone because he didn't understand people anymore, he didn't get what they got, he didn't feel what they felt. He felt like a solitary spacemen on the lunar blasted surface of the moon he stared at.

He heard a door open and the sound of people living their lives roared in his ears for a moment before it shut again and faded. It was probably Ted coming to tell him to dutifully play host. He waited for the sounds of loafers on stone to reach him, but no such sound came.

Then suddenly, she was there, appearing at his elbow as if summoned by magic out of the fine thin air. Her approach was as silent as a layer of dense fog. She approached like a stealthy cat to stand beside him in the moonlight – his dark angel. She said nothing and made no effort to draw him back into the fold; but she did draw him back, simply by being there, by breathing beside him, by appreciating his stillness and his struggle – without meaningless words, gestures or commentary.

After a few moments, he sighed and stuffed both hands deep in his pants pockets. "I guess we should go back in," he offered risking a glance back at the stuffy confines of his massive house. It felt like he was slowly being suffocated in there when normally it felt spacious and was his comfort zone. It was all the people, all the noise. Parties now reminded him off prison in the moments before a riot. It made him nervous, edgy.

"Why?" her remark made him look down at her. A light breeze ruffled her hair and he noticed she was barefoot, hence her silent approach.

He shrugged, "I'm supposed to, I guess."

"Do you want to be in there?"

"No," he gave her the truth she deserved. "I don't. I feel like I have nothing in common with those people. Like they are a different species," he explained. "They look like us, but they aren't like us," he ended sounding forlorn.

"Us?" her lips twisted in a wry grin tugging at his tiny, shy heart.

"Well…I mean, I thought…" he rambled then stopped suddenly – embarrassed.

Sometimes she forgot just how broken he was. He was so good at pretending, but with her he dropped the pretense and let her see his fears. He trusted her, so she gave him a little something for his effort, "I do feel that way,"

Then her patented sarcasm returned, "just don't go lumping me in with your freakish hang-ups. I got enough of my own believe me. And don't think we're gonna have a group hug or anything," she remarked with her usual caustic wit. Dani used sarcasm the way he used Zen – as a shield against the world. He saw it for what it was and smiled anyway.

"I wanna get away from here," he surrendered more, "away from them," he gestured to the house.

"Didn't you throw this shindig?" she challenged.

"Yeah," he exhaled blowing his frustration at the heavens. "I thought could…"

"But you can't?"

"I can," he countered.

"You don't want to?"

"I'm tired, Reese. I'm so tired of pretending for everyone."

"Take off your shoes," she demanded and the look he shot her asked a silent question not unlike the ones she gave him when he invoked Zen.

"Just do it, Crews," she rolled her eyes. She then sat beside the pool, rolled up her pant legs and eased her feet into the water. "Come here and sit with me," she bade him. He was mute and compliant.

"Now put your feet in the water," she commanded.

He did as she instructed and then watched her lean back resting her elbows on the stone porch, drawing lazy circles in the water with her feet. He followed suit and turned his head to look at her.

Eventually, she reclined fully and put both hands behind her head to stare at the stars and after a time she spoke to him – really talked to him about something they shared, something that mattered. "When I was a kid, my dad and I argued - a lot," she patiently told him as they gazed out into the heavens.

"Some how that doesn't surprise me," he commented.

"Hush, I'm talking now," she rebuked him lightly. "I used to sneak out my house and go to my best friend Katie's," she drew him a mental picture. "She had a pool and we'd pretend it was our oasis in the desert with palm trees and camels. She'd sit with me and we'd do this for hours, until I summoned the courage to go home," she shared. "Something about the water, relaxes me."

"Hmmm," Crews agreed without conscious thought, as the fluid surrounding his legs and feet flowed through his toes. He imagined it flowing through his heart washing away the bitterness and fear. He felt it soften up stubborn stains of hate and slowly they melted away. They fell silent, but it wasn't uncomfortable. Reese was good at silence – it was one of the things he liked best about her.

"It isn't that I'm not glad to see her - Rachel," he said after a long time. "I really am. I'm just not ready for that…that," he gestured to overcome his lack of words for what he couldn't handle. "When I come here, I take off the cop and I just…" He stopped talking when he felt her warm hand in his.

"I know," she said as if that explained everything and maybe it did.

Rachel found them hours later while she was cleaning up. She figured Charlie would have melted away from the throng of young people celebrating her return, retreating to his room away from the music and people. It was too loud, too much. It was clutter – real and metaphorical – far too much for her fragile uncle to endure.

She was gazing out the window washing some glasses when she spied them reclining by the pool, their legs in the water and the tension she'd earlier observed in Charlie's affect was gone. She knew it was Dani even though she couldn't see her. The form, size and shape were right and only she could summon that level of ease from her guardian, almost father. She remembered her shrink telling her she didn't have to connect with everyone. He told her "all it takes for you not to be alone in this world is for one other person to get you." Dani Reese got Charlie – some times she didn't want to – but she did.

Rachel rapped her knuckles on the glass and was rewarded with a flash of red as Charlie's head lifted. He looked at the window and she smiled and waved him inside. He stood reluctantly, holding his shoes in one hand and offered his other to his partner. She climbed to her feet and dusted herself off. They came inside and Reese almost immediately made her apologies and vanished.

"Think we scared her off?"

"Nooo," Charlie laughed, "very little scares Reese. In fact I can't think of a thing that does," he lied. Charlie knew her fears nearly as completely as his own, but that was something he and Reese shared and a secret he would take to his grave.

She's good for you," Rachel commented in her best parental and approving tone.

"Ya think?" he wondered staring at the closed door. One minute Reese was real and warm beside him as close as to people could be and the next she was a phantom.

"I think…" Rachel ventured, "that she's not afraid of the darkness in you and with her you don't have to pretend." Her comment was far more personal than they'd ever gotten before.

"You're pretty smart for a kid," Charlie grinned at her. He looked after his absent partner a moment longer and then reengaged with Rachel, "Did you have fun tonight?"

"I did," she smiled. "I hadn't realized I'd made friends or that I'd missed them. It's almost like having a normal life."

"Except for the 'you live with the guy convicted of killing your whole family' part," he sounded chagrinned and cheerful at the same time.

"Uncle Charlie," Rachel protested rolling her eyes, "that is ancient history. All they care about is free food, the keg in the kitchen and the limo taking them home."

"And you…" he added.

"Maybe," she allowed herself the possibility of normalcy.

"I know I wasn't here – here, but I am glad you're home," he pulled her close and hugged her. She bristled for a just a moment and then relaxed and hugged him back.

As he pulled her into his embrace, Rachel was overwhelmed with it all, the warmth of his reaction, the familiarity of what she now considered her home and the sensation of being wanted, being loved. She dropped her head to his chest as tears came. She cried quietly against his chest for a few seconds as her emotions burst through the carefully constructed gates she'd built to confine them.

"It's okay," he shushed her, "you're safe now. You're home." He rocked her gently against him in a twisting motion of his upper body. "It's okay, Rachel." He kissed her gently on the forehead and sent her to bed. "I'll get the rest of this. Go to bed."

He cleaned up quietly and efficiently and when he finished he returned to stand on the patio again. This time the moon was directly overhead bathing the patio in a bluish grey light. The coyotes yipped wanting to howl, but not quite ready yet. They hadn't found their voice yet. Kind of like him – he thought. While Ted feared the coyotes, Charlie liked them. They were survivors, kindred souls.

He thought about Reese's gesture and what it meant. He hadn't expected her to come when he halfway extended the invitation. There would be kids and beer – two things she tried to avoid for different reasons. Then it dawned on him – like a bolt from the blue. She came for him. She some how knew he would need her and she came only for that reason. She rescued him as effectively as he'd ever done for her.

She was good for him just as Rachel said. And despite her frequent gruff protestations to the contrary, he was beginning to suspect she did like him. Rachel was right about something else too – he no longer pretended with Reese. He didn't see the need to. She knew the worst things he'd done and she never judged him for his violence and or his need for vengeance. Together they enforced fair rules, bent unfair ones and dispensed their own brand of justice. His partner – that word said so much about them now.

Down the hill she watched, from the darkened cab of her small car. He smiled in the moonlight as the first coyote burst into song and the eerie wail filled the canyon. Charlie turned and went back inside, the lights went off in sequence as he climbed the stairs to his room. When the house was dark and silent, she sparked her engine to life and drove home. It was what partners did – watched each other's backs.