Chapter 11: Gold dust woman
When Dani kissed Charlie after the toast, she vaguely regretted not being able to taste vodka on his lips. Instead, she had to settle for the taste of oranges. Her disappointment vanished as he wrapped his arms around her. There was something in him that changed whenever they touched. As if he was really himself during the contact. She felt it within herself too.
As they kissed hungrily, they made their way to the bedroom. He hit his head against the doorframe, which made her laugh. While he rubbed his head, he frowned at her amusement, so she quickly kissed him.
The vulnerable area between his neck and shoulder was slick with sweat. Dani licked the exposed vein, savouring the prickling sensation of salt on her tongue. Impatiently, Charlie pulled her shirt up. For a moment, she was suspended within the warm, white confines of her shirt, until he pulled it over her head. A smile played on his lips and when he kissed her it was as if he transferred the smile to her face.
Sexually transmitted happiness, she thought. A moan escaped her when she realised the stupidity of that thought. Charlie interpreted it as desire and well, she had that in spades too. She pushed him down on the bed and unbuttoned his shirt. Just above his hipbone, Dani kissed him. The skin flushed slightly at the touch of her lips. She traced the curve with her tongue, sucked at it and even sank her teeth gently into his skin.
From between his ridiculously light eye lashes, he watched her movements. Dani raised herself on her elbows and looked at him. The faint curve above his hip was pink. She leaned in and breathed on the spot. His response was to groan. Smirking, she pursed her lips and softly blew air onto the raw skin.
As she loosened her hair from the tight bun at the back of her head, she kept blowing cool air at the tender spot as if she was kindling a fire. Her hair was less silky and stringier thanks to her afternoon visit to her mother's attic, but when she raked her fingers through it a few times it felt fine. Charlie's hands guided her up, her lips to his mouth.
With his hands on her shoulders and her on top of him, they kissed for a while. A few times, he brushed her hair behind her ear. The pressure of his lips on hers ranged from feather light to bruising. It took Dani a good five minutes to realise that the kissing wasn't actually going anywhere. Despite their initial lust, the kissing wasn't going to lead to sex, which was a first for her.
The fiery intensity that they had started out with was gone. In its place, Dani felt a comfortable warmth spreading through her abdomen. She rolled off Charlie and looked at him sideways. How many times had this happened with Kevin? Zero.
It was strange, because she was much more attracted to Charlie than she ever had been to Kevin. Yet, this was nice too. Laying side by side, his fingers tracing imaginary lines across her arm, from the inside of her elbow to her wrist. It was so nice that she almost dozed off.
With a shock, she woke from her light slumber. Perhaps she was just tired. Perhaps she didn't need to jump his bones right this minute because she had enough time left to do that. Like the rest of her life.
'I'm going to take a shower,' she announced, hopping off the bed. The spot above his hipbone was still a bit red. Unperturbed, he lay there with his shirt open, smiling a lopsided grin.
Trying to return to familiar terrain, she nodded, shrugged out of her jeans and did a slow, sexy walk to the bathroom. It made her feel weird, as if she was putting on an act. It felt... unnecessary: Charlie didn't need a striptease. Feeling self conscious, Dani removed the rest of her clothing, while he did the same.
Simultaneously, they stepped into the steaming shower. Charlie grabbed a washcloth and began to rub it over her back. She was convinced that it wouldn't take him long to move to more interesting areas, but she was wrong. For ten minutes straight, he drew soapy, ever expanding circles on her back. After she overcame her initial frustration at his leisurely tempo, Dani began to enjoy his tentative touches.
He kissed her shoulders and her earlobes; first the right one, then the left one. Sweeping her hair over her shoulder, he placed his hands on her shoulders and his lips caressed her nape. Slowly, he trailed kisses down her spine.
Unable to endure this any longer, she turned around and pinned him to the wall. Feverishly, they kissed and again Dani felt no need to take it to the next level. She was tired, he was tired and sex simply wasn't the objective. Of course, this was thoroughly debunking her physical attraction approach, but she had long since given up on that. However undefined what they were doing was, they were definitely in some sort of relationship.
She allowed him to wash her hair, which turned into a scalp massage. Eventually, when they were wrinkly and clean, they dried themselves off and went to bed. Charlie kissed her and mumbled goodnight.
Dani listened to his breathing and shifted into her usual sleeping position – curled up on her right side. In the semi-darkness, she located his hand. She didn't care a great deal for hands, but his were beautiful. The long fingers, the slender wrists, their strange tenderness. She placed her left hand in his palm and he closed his fingers around it.
The next morning, she woke up with the smell of fruit in her nose. Charlie was still sleeping, so she quietly got out of bed. From the nightstand, she extracted the tape. In the kitchen, she took the walkman of the counter. In the living room, she found a pair of earplugs and then she retreated to the bathroom.
Leaning against the sink, Dani thrust the earplugs into her ears. When she checked the batteries of the walkman, she saw that they were speckled with a few spots of rust, but otherwise fine. The walkman's cassette deck opened with a sharp click. She inserted the tape and pushed the deck shut. All that was left for her to do was to press play.
A doubt came to lie at the back of her mind. What if she was wrong? What if Charlie didn't love her? What if this was just a regular Zen tape; some instructions on how to arrive at inner peace or some such bullshit? What if she offered him her love and he politely declined? She pressed play and anxiously heard how the walkman rattled to life. There was static for a few seconds and then a clear male voice.
'What we learned as children, that one plus one equals two, we know to be false. One plus one equals one. We even have a word for when you plus another equals one. That word is love.'
She stayed in the bathroom for a while. When she went back to the bedroom, she immediately put everything into the nightstand. Charlie opened his eyes when she closed the drawer. She slipped under the sheets and climbed on top of him. He pulled her closer for a kiss. This time it did lead to sex.
Afterwards, in the kitchen they performed what in Dani's eyes seemed like an obnoxious, rehearsed dance routine.
Dani looked in the cupboards for something edible; Charlie brushed past her. She opened the fridge; he nuzzled her neck. She took down the bowls; he smiled at her. She handed him a spoon; he touched her hand. His behaviour reminded her of her mother. Haleh was also extremely affectionate. In the morning, Haleh would rummage around the kitchen, patting Dani's arms, shoulders and head, while Dani blinked at her breakfast and tried to keep her temper. Dani simply wasn't a morning person. She never had been.
Her mother's displays of affection would set her teeth on edge, because Dani didn't like to be touched. Especially not when she was having one of her moods, which in the morning was practically always. She would freeze, but try not to show her annoyance, so as not to hurt her mother. Now she was doing the same with Charlie. The feeling his behaviour created was too mushy and the scene too... domestic.
During breakfast – generic cereal; it was all Dani had – Charlie took her father's notebook out of his pocket and browsed through it. Dani poured milk over her cereal, frowned and poked around the bowl with her spoon. The longer his attention remained fixed on the pages of the notebook, the deeper Dani's frown lines became.
'Revenge isn't very Zen,' she eventually remarked. Surprised, Charlie looked up. He saw her soggy, untouched cereal, her knitted brows, and her taciturn demeanour and closed the notebook.
'You're cranky,' he observed. Scowling, she pushed the bowl away.
'That doesn't make it any less true,' Dani snapped.
'It seems a little late to stop now. In fact, thanks to you I think I might know where Rayborn is hiding,' Charlie said and nodded at the notebook. Expectantly, he gazed at her, attempting to gauge her reaction. Dani shoved her chair back. When he didn't move, she tapped her foot impatiently.
'Well, don't just sit there. Your car or mine?'
That was definitely Rayborn's yacht. The rest of the dock was empty. No witnesses around. Dani checked her Glock. She pressed her lips tightly together as she contemplated the gun. Charlie waited until she was ready. Sighing, she emptied the magazine, slipped the bullets into her pocket and clicked the magazine back into place.
The thought of Rayborn and what he had done got her blood boiling and there was no telling what she would do when she came face to face with the guy. She sure as hell wasn't going to go to jail for killing Mickey fucking Rayborn.
In the chamber, there was still one bullet left, in case he gave her lip. Foot or leg; Dani didn't much care. She could live with the idea of shooting Rayborn without the intent to kill him.
They walked onto the yacht. Rayborn didn't seem thrilled to see them, but he didn't seem scared either. Their visit didn't warrant him getting out of his deck chair in any case.
'Detectives,' he drawled with a faux ingratiating smile. 'To what do I owe the pleasure?'
Charlie took off his sunglasses and tucked them into his shirt pocket. Flecks of light played across the water. Its reflection caused him to squint. Leaning against the railing, he absentmindedly smiled at Rayborn.
'What are the names of the other three men?'
Rayborn's reaction was telling. His eyes flicked from her to Charlie and back in an effort to assess the seriousness of the situation. She coldly stared at him, while Charlie kept smiling pleasantly. Neither of them showed their weapons; it wasn't necessary. Eventually, Rayborn zeroed in on her. Whether he thought he'd have more of a chance if he appealed to her for reason, she couldn't say.
'I see you've brought your little friend,' Rayborn softly said. He was looking at her, but talking to Charlie. Talking about her as if she wasn't there or as if she was dumb: his strategy wasn't earning him any bonus points.
'If you don't answer his question, I'll show you my little friend.'
And shoot you with it was heavily implied. Charlie raised his eyebrows at her in amusement. 'Bad cop?' he mouthed. She shrugged. If the shoe fits. The wind was relatively cold here by the waterside, but Rayborn looked awfully warm. Affecting breeziness when Dani was pretty sure he didn't feel in the least bit breezy, Rayborn chuckled and turned to Charlie again.
'Someone has seen Scarface one too many times,' he said and winked. Calmly, Charlie remained staring at him. The smile around his lips never wavered, which visibly unnerved Rayborn. Dani leaned closer to the sweaty man.
'Someone is underestimating how not Zen I feel about being used as a pawn in a power play between Nevikov and you,' she whispered.
'She's definitely not Zen,' Charlie confirmed. He offered Rayborn a handkerchief. Gratefully, Rayborn accepted and mopped the sweat off his forehead. His eyes were all over the place. Charlie, her, the cabin, the land, the water. He turned towards them and Dani saw that he was smiling.
'You wouldn't kill me.'
God knows how he managed to sound so sure, while Dani wasn't even sure she didn't want to kill him. And Charlie... He looked inscrutable. Part of her thought that he would never do that and another part thought about Nevikov. If provoked, Charlie was certainly capable of murder.
She squatted in front of Rayborn, forcing him to look at her. Her hand brushed against her gun. It felt impossibly light without the bullets. Like a toy gun. With his back to them, Charlie looked out over the water.
'Let me explain something to you. This act we're doing here; it's not an act. I'm all for killing you, but Crews is a good person. See, Crews here was shot and then he went and shot the guy who tried to kill him with the same bullet. Now, while I might think that's terribly cute; I don't play the pass the bullet game. If I shoot you, you won't be returning anything to me.'
Trying to gain Charlie's attention and failing, Rayborn finally reconciled himself with the thought that they might actually kill him if he didn't give them what they wanted. Yet, he stayed obstinately silent. Suddenly, Charlie spoke.
'I know what you're thinking; you're thinking of Ms. Puryer. On the off chance that she is watching, though, I'm confident that if I ask very nicely I can convince her not to hand a tape of what happens here to the police.'
This shook Rayborn. Unperturbed, Charlie turned to admire the view again. Dani straightened up and sighed. Rayborn just needed the tiniest of pushes. Just a glimpse of how easy it would be for them. She cleared her throat and laid it out for him.
'Also, here's the thing: as of now you are developing a bit of a habit of getting killed. Since your previous shenanigans, I think the police would like some solid proof this time that you're actually dead before they launch another expensive murder investigation. Something like, say, your body. There won't be one. Just off the top of my head, Crews has got coyotes in his back yard. Done.'
She allowed Rayborn some time to mull over his options.
So, she was really really really pissed off at Mickey Rayborn and Roman Nevikov and their damn games that got other people killed. She wanted to shoot him for sitting here on his yacht and joking when he had ruined Charlie's life and gotten numerous people killed. But she'd shoot him in the leg; apparently she did play the pass the bullet game, because she wasn't about to commit murder. However, there was a sort of line and while she explained to Rayborn how they would go about killing him, she realised how easy it would be to cross it.
The line was neither as far away nor as clearly defined as she had imagined it. This man sitting before her: he was a murderer. He deserved to die. Dani had committed worse sins than the sin it would be to kill Rayborn. Behind her, Charlie shifted. He appeared relaxed, but there was something tense in his gaze. Something cold.
Of course, she was pretty sure they weren't going to cross that line, but - like nearly everything with Charlie - she wasn't entirely sure. The look in his eyes indicated that he was seriously considering it and she believed it. She'd understand if he did do it. There was a, for lack of a better word, darkness there that she recognised. Underneath all the Zen that he wanted to believe and which he needed to cover up the darkness, because it made everything make more sense and perhaps hurt less.
Courtesy of Jack Reese, she couldn't remember a time when there hadn't been darkness in her. Charlie, on the other hand, had gotten 25 years of blissful ignorance until he got a taste of his own darkness. It must have come as quite a shock too. Happily married, a spotless career, a bar with his friend: it was all light and good. A charmed life, until Mickey Rayborn and Jack Reese had happened. Like Roman Nevikov had happened to her, except by that time there had been very little left to destroy.
Darkness was an old friend of hers. From time to time she checked back in to see how it was doing. Nowadays, it was mostly curled up, asleep.
Being a cop, Charlie naturally would have known about man's hidden nature, but probably not its depth. Prison must have educated him in that respect.
Her thoughts were drifting, which was only natural. Things like that happened when you were standing on a yacht with your partner and he was deciding whether or not to kill one of your father's friends. With some trouble, she pulled herself together. Rayborn's eyes were calculating, but if he believed them there were only two choices: talk or die. Dani leaned closer.
'So, how about you answer my partner's fucking question?'
He told them the names of the three other guys involved in the conspiracy to turn Charlie into their next crime lord. Charlie wrote them down.
Back in the car, she discovered that she was glancing at Charlie every few seconds. Finally, she swerved into a side road, drove until she couldn't see the main road anymore and parked the car. She could hear only crickets and the sound of her own breath. She could see only high grass, more yellow than green, boxing them in on all sides.
'What's your plan?' she asked.
'I don't know,' he admitted. She could see that the idea that his unresolved shit would soon be resolved shit was still in the process of slowly sinking in.
'Want to hear mine? For right now?' she offered. A tad bemused, he nodded. With a little manoeuvring, she managed to sit in his lap. She undid his belt.
'I like this plan,' he murmured, slipping his hands under her shirt and cupping her breasts. Roughly, she grinded against him, eliciting a deep groan from Charlie.
'Thought you might.'
After their long interlude in the countryside, they were dressing. It was warm in the car, so she rolled down a window. The air was filled with the strong scent of hay. Dani watched as he pushed each button through its corresponding hole. She liked watching him. She liked how he could be an open book and an enigma at the same time.
'I listened to the tape you gave me,' she said. One button between his fingers, ready to be returned to its place, Charlie waited for her to elaborate, so she did. 'It featured some seriously questionable mathematics.'
'One plus one equals one?' Charlie ventured, resuming the buttoning of his shirt.
'Yup,' she said. She wasn't wrong. She knew she wasn't wrong, even if she feared that she might be. 'But it's how I feel too, you know. About us.'
Forgetting about buttons and dressing and their surroundings completely, he looked up. Her heart was doing that thing to indicate that she cared as he searched her face. Like he had done that day in the orange grove when he had killed Roman. Like he had done a few weeks later when he had tried to tell her that he loved her. Or so she thought, because she hadn't let him finish.
'We are questionable?'
'No, that's not what I mean.'
Bastard. He was trying to make her say it. The chirping of the crickets swelled to a crescendo. As they remained locked in the sounds of the insects' concert, Charlie started to smile. It began at the corners of his mouth and eventually reached his eyes. Though she tried, Dani couldn't resist the infectious nature of his happiness and smiled too.
'Aw, you love me,' he teased.
'Yes, I do,' she responded. This surprised him, but most of all her. He narrowed his eyes and waited for her to take it back. Stoically, she stared at him until he believed that she wasn't going to retract anything.
'I love you too, Reese,' he said, quietly. So softly that she would have thought she was making it up if it weren't for the expression on his face. No trace of nervousness or regret; just relief at finally being able to say it.
'Dani,' she prompted.
'I love you, Dani.'
'I love you, Charlie.'
'Gold dust woman,' Charlie mumbled. He was kneeling next to the body of a naked model. It was covered in a fine coating of yellow, partly crystallised powder, the smell of which made Dani feel edgy. A couple of the forensic guys looked at her for an explanation of her partner's cryptic comment. She rolled her eyes.
'It's called angel dust, Crews. Maybe you should just stick to PCP. And why do you always have to do that?' she asked. He got to his feet, flashing her a smile that she found far more charming than she should have.
'Voice some catchy but nonsensical phrase, as if we're starring in a cop show. Like the theme music is going to start up next. Any day now, I expect you to take off your sunglasses or put them on in the middle of sentences,' she rambled and caught herself as she was about to put on her sunglasses. Then she thought, fuck the irony, and put them on anyway.
If he was feigning innocence then it was a really good imitation. Knowing Charlie, though, he was probably truly clueless.
'Like David Caruso,' Dani added, but he continued to level an uncomprehending look her way. 'On CSI: Miami? You don't watch TV.'
'I don't watch TV,' he happily confirmed. They looked at the drugs, the murder victim, her lack of clothing; it made for a weird case. But then again, her partner was weird too, so it was kind of fitting.
'Well, he's annoying and a redhead like you,' she explained. It sounded rather final, because she was trying to end their nonsense conversation. Back to the case at hand, she thought, but Charlie didn't pick up on her tone.
'Is he pretty like me?'
She glared at him. By now, she had the feeling that the conversation was attracting some unwanted attention. The medical examiner was hovering over the body, the forensic investigators were dutifully labelling evidence and a few uniformed police officers were standing around, but they were all suspiciously quiet.
'You're pretty, alright. Pretty stupid,' she said. Bobby Stark grinned at her and nudged one of the other lower ranking men. They laughed, but not at her. At Charlie, who took it with good humour. A few minutes later, in the car to headquarters, he decided to ramp up the obscurity.
'All we have to do now is take these lies and make them true.'
Her face must have been one giant question mark, because he immediately tried to clarify his statement.
'Freedom 90 by George Michael.'
That only served to turn the question mark into a what the fuck?
'So?' she queried. Charlie seemed to have lost the thread of the conversation too.
'I thought we were doing pop culture references,' he admitted, sheepishly. Dani shook her head and sighed.
'We're not doing anything. And at least mine was up to date. George Michael; really?'
When they arrived back at headquarters, Dani had worked out that Charlie's sheepishness had been cleverly calculated and he hadn't lost sight of anything. It was as if he was trying to slip a subliminal message into their conversation. I mean, come on, Dani thought: take these lies and make them true? Plus, he knew absolutely nothing about pop culture nor had he ever shown any interest in it.
Clearly, he was referring to the rumours that were probably still circulating about them. Them as a couple, which she supposed they technically were now. What she didn't quite understand, however, was what he expected of her. A sweeping declaration of love in front of everyone? Never going to happen.
She already felt uncomfortable about telling Charlie that she loved him. It was way out of her comfort zone. Allowing herself to be vulnerable, giving someone the possibility of rejecting her. In addition, it was so cloyingly sweet. Horribly, horribly corny.
Perhaps he wanted her to sign Tidwell's absurd form, but she didn't want to do that either. In fact, the minute they entered the squad room, she marched over to her desk, plucked the form from one of her drawers and slinked into Tidwell's office.
Tidwell looked up, rather amazed at her sudden appearance. Without further ado, she dropped the form on his desk.
'Yes, we're together. No, I'm not putting it in writing. Deal with it.'
Strangely, when she exited his office, he looked satisfied, as if he had gotten what he wanted. In a way, he had. Since the kidnapping he had been nagging her to admit that there was something going on between her and Charlie. Now he had gotten her to admit that she was in a relationship, which was more than she had ever said about the two of them when they had been dating. Who knew Tidwell was such a master manipulator?
'I don't give a shit about what other people think,' she muttered, plonking down in her chair. It rotated a little to reveal Charlie and his raised eyebrows. Three or four people were standing by the water cooler, talking. Tidwell was looking at her with a puzzled expression on his face. A dozen other people were scattered around the room, doing whatever it was they were doing.
After careful consideration, Dani decided that Charlie's eyebrows were mocking her. They were needlessly reminding her of her angry outburst when she had first found out about the rumours. Disagreeing with her statement that she didn't care. Daring her to prove it.
'Get up,' she ordered. Charlie got to his feet in a hurry. There was something weirdly adorable about him when he so faithfully obeyed her commands. Not that she would ever admit that. Also, it made her want to tear off his clothes, throw him down on a desk and have her way with him. That she would admit.
'I don't do hints or subtlety, so tell me. Care to make it official?' she asked, advancing on him. Mutely, he nodded. Public displays of affection were not in her character. To be honest, she abhorred them, especially in the workplace. Yet... just to be clear.
Dani wound Charlie's tie around her fist and pulled him down. Then she kissed him. If she had been listening, she would have heard that all conversation stopped. She would have seen people looking away in embarrassment and others craning their necks to get a closer look. She would have seen Tidwell smiling before he resumed his paperwork.
The reason she didn't hear any of this, was because other things were drowning out the silence. Blood rushing through her veins. Her own heart thumping painfully in her chest. The sound of Charlie's accelerated heartbeat. Her eyes were closed. She couldn't have been more in the moment if she'd tried.
If it had been up to him they would still have been kissing next week, so she broke away. From rumour to truth. From partner to lover. And damn it, she was going to enjoy every second of it. People were staring, snickering.
'See? I couldn't care less,' she said as she sat down. Except about you.
Author's note: Hope you enjoyed reading it. I know I really enjoyed writing it. Check out my other Life story 'Handle with Care' also on , if you feel so inclined. And thanks for all the wonderful reviews!