Curtis Lemansky had hardly touched his beer, while his buddies had already worked their way manfully through a couple of pitchers between them. The jokes and jibes at each other's expense in full flow as they sought to put the day to bed, chilling out after work in one of their regular late-night haunts.
Normally he'd have been all over that - especially given the spot they'd chosen, a buzzing little bar with a good vibe about it. But somehow it just didn't sit right with him tonight.
His tiny apartment usually seemed too quiet after a long day on the job, making him reach for either the tv or stereo remote until he was ready to crash. He'd usually much rather be out with the guys than left home alone.
Not tonight though. Not when a kid was cooling in the morgue, thanks to him.
"Yo, earth to Lem! Man, you really need to pull your head outta your ass over this," came Shane Vendrell's own particular brand of Southern comfort. "Quit brooding over some little punk-bitch who, need I remind you, tried to blow a goddamn hole in me!"
He threw him a look but said nothing, leaving it to their leader to intervene. They might be friends, but he knew Shane too well to expect understanding from him on this. Besides, he'd seen the size of the big-ass bruise that bullet had left under his vest - it wasn't like he begrudged him the right to be pissed at whoever had taken a shot.
"Listen, Lem," Vic Mackey sighed, a warning glance shutting Shane up for once. "His tact bypass aside, Shane's got a point - you need to put this in the past. Jeffrey made his choices and they got him killed ..."
"At what - fourteen, fifteen?" Lem finally spoke up, an edge to his voice. "He was a kid!"
And that was the part that really got to him.
It wasn't like he'd never had to use his gun before, but - while it wasn't ever easy exactly - this time the target had been a skinny little kid, albeit one with some serious issues. And while Shane had lived to tell the tale, Lem himself had blown that scrawny kid away with a shotgun. Problem solved.
Except he could still see that pale face, wide-eyed as he lay dead on the floor. Probably would for many nights to come. "He was just a kid ..." he repeated, the words catching in his throat as he dropped his gaze to the table.
"True," Vic nodded, before his own tone hardened and he pointed a stern finger in the blonde's face. "He was also a hate-twisted little Nazi with a gun in his hand, who killed other kids and took pot-shots at my men. I ain't expecting you to dance on his grave, but don't you go forgetting that part when you're busy beating yourself up over a kid. Now ... your round, I believe."
Knowing better than to argue when their boss had set his mind to something, Lem pushed himself reluctantly to his feet and fished in the pockets of his jeans for his wallet as he prepared to brave the last-orders crowd at the bar. Zoning out again rather than really trying to battle his way through the jostling of the queue-jumpers ...
The calls didn't register at first and then he turned back to his friends, thinking it must be one of them looking for him before the voice registered properly. Decidedly female and drifting over the noise from the far end of the bar.
"... and then he just went crazy. Jumped up, grabbed the bat and started swinging. Cam tried to stop him and ... well, you can see where that got him. Look, can I please go check on my brother now?"
"I really should get a few more details," Holland Wagenbach tried haplessly. Wishing, not for the first time, he was one of those guys who could handle women - but if he put more pressure on her, he was just going to look like a grade-A jerk ... let her go and there went what was looking like his sole sober witness to the vicious bar brawl.
"Hey, Dutchboy, you're free to leave," came the cheery shout from all the way across the street. Of course, Mackey never could see fit to try humiliating him quietly. "Big-boy cops are here now."
With Lemansky and, oh joy, Vendrell in tow, his long-time adversary strode through his crime scene like he owned the place. An honour that actually fell, at least in part, to the little brunette with the big green eyes that had gotten him all tongue-tied in the first place. "I think you'll find we have this one covered, Vic," he smiled tightly, trying to keep his tone polite in deference only to their very public setting.
"Nah, really - skip on home, Dutch," Vic shrugged. "Captain's orders - thinks there might be a link to the turf war we're looking into round the corner. And who am I to disagree with our dear captain?"
"Never stopped you before," the dismissed detective muttered darkly, but he only got a smirk in return and Shane had already guided his witness aside with an appraising look.
"Now, why don't you tell me exactly what happened, darlin'? So we can get this here all straightened out while it's still fresh ..." the southerner tried, a comforting arm slipping around her shoulders - at least until she spotted the paramedics loading their patient into the back of the ambulance and quickly shrugged him off to run to his side.
"Jesus, Cameron, you couldn't just stay out of it!" they all heard her scold tearfully.
"Damn ..." Shane sighed. "Boyfriend?"
"Brother," Dutch supplied with a disapproving look, but his fellow detective only brightened up at the admission.
"Oh, good - 'cause I sure would like to interview the hell outta her ..." Shane grinned, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively at his colleagues.
"And you were doing so well," Dutch said wryly. "She ignored you way less than she ignored me."
"All right, children - play-time's over," Vic interrupted. "Lem, you go talk to the girl. See if being hit on by Dumb and Dumber here hasn't traumatised her too much to give a statement. Shane, do a sweep and see if any of the punters know anything - preferably not ones drunk off their asses. I'm gonna see if I can track down the owner."
"Uh, you're looking at them," Dutch pointed out, even as he tucked his notebook away. "It's the brother and sister's place. Cameron and Layla Colvin ..."
"Was starting to think you weren't even going to come say hi," Layla teased from behind the bar, tucking a stray lock of her long dark ponytail behind her ear as she poured vodka shots for the guys in front of him.
"Sorry ... Guess I'm not exactly great company tonight."
"Doubt that," she smiled softly, but the slumped shoulders and the lack of spark in those bright blue eyes were pretty hard to miss. Especially when she'd grown used to seeing him full of energy and enthusiasm, usually bursting to share tales from his job and jokes often at his friend Shane's expense. "Why so down, honey?"
"Long story," Lem sighed, starting to feel bad for being on such a downer and trying to shake himself out of his funk. They weren't past the casual stage and ready for serious unburdening and, even if they had been, that wasn't who he was. He didn't believe in letting anyone else shoulder his woes. "You don't need to hear this shit."
"Looks like you need someone to hear it though ... Look, I'm kicking this lot out soon - stick around. Cam's off tonight, so you'd actually be doing me a favour. Say no and I'm just gonna think you don't like hanging with me."
Meeting her knowing gaze, he found he didn't have to try quite so hard to find the little lopsided grin that tugged at his mouth in spite of everything. She knew how he felt about spending time with her - had to after he'd spent so much of their last date showing her exactly that, in the best way he knew how.
"Besides," Layla added, with a nod over his shoulder towards their now vacant table. "I think your buddies just ditched you ..."
Starting to look round for the rest of his team with the familiar feeling he'd been set up, Lem tilted his head back on his shoulders in a moment's exasperation and then fished for his cell phone. As expected, one text message courtesy of a certain Shane Vendrell ...
Gettin under her is the best way to Get. Over. It! Later, dawg ;)
Subtle never had been a word in Shane's vocabulary.
Setting two coffees down before sliding into the corner booth opposite him with an easy grace, Layla smiled at his questioning look and held a finger to her lips. "Don't tell my regulars, but sometimes booze isn't the answer," she shrugged. "I did spike it just a little though."
"Guess there's gotta be some perks to owning your own bar," Lem said, wrapping his hands around the mug and watching the steam curl into the air as she let down her hair and shook it out.
"Remarkably few," she smirked, head tilting back against the wall. "Late nights, rowdy drunks, bad chat-up lines ... Oh yeah, it's all glamour round here. Still, beats working in an office for a living. Even if my feet are killing me."
Neon lights from outside bathed the windows in blotches of watery colour as the darkness slowly deepened inside the dimly lit bar and Layla drank her slowly cooling coffee while Lem still nursed his. The companionable silence that had descended between them broken only by the sounds of the city, finally winding down in the early hours of the morning after the night before.
There were indecipherable shouts as those still roaming the streets headed home, the occasional police siren, once a car back-firing ... The sound that rang out like a gunshot the only thing that made Lem lift his head.
Stalking through the yard, boots crunching across the gravel and his faithful Remington shotgun braced against his shoulder, Lem could feel the adrenaline already pumping in his veins. Every muscle tensed and sense heightened, listening for each move of his comrades - or their targets - as he ploughed steadily forward.
And that was even before the shots rang out and everything rushed into even sharper focus.
"Oh god - Shane! Shane!" he heard the rest of his team yelling. Shane himself crying out in shock and pain with no one having any idea how badly he'd been hit, save for the fact the blast had thrown him backwards.
Seeing Ronnie rush to drag their fallen man to safety, still ducking gunfire from inside, Lem steeled himself to deal with the problem at its core. He was the point man after all. Neutralise the threat - that was his job ...
Moving closer to the nearest window, he tried to get a look through the broken glass and tattered curtains at the shooter and for one split second their eyes met. Deep blue on pale gray. Both staring down the barrel of a gun.
Lem recognised him from the picture his worried family had provided. Jeffrey Cole - the boy whose father had tried so hard to save him. And they were each aiming shots right at each other's head.
Or at least they were, until Detective Curtis Lemansky - a 36-year-old fully trained and experienced officer of the law, with his police-issue bullet-proof vest and shotgun - pulled the trigger first. And bang, job done.
A little boy, hate-filled though he was, left dead on the ground.
Layla slid her hand over Lem's much larger one for a second, hating to see him so obviously questioning himself over whatever it was that had gotten to him. And then she was slipping back into the heels she'd kicked off and out of the booth. Feeling his eyes on her as she made her way to the old-school jukebox by the bar.
"We do this sometimes when we're closing up - me, Cam, Diego, Max, Camila. When we're still too buzzed to just go home," she explained over her shoulder. "Turn the music back on and just ... cut loose."
And then she was back in front of him, holding out a hand. "So come on, Detective - life's too short. On the floor."
If he'd simply planted his weight, she'd never have shifted his six-foot-one frame from the booth, but she was a tough chick to turn down and something beyond her prompting sent him slowly to his feet as the first guitar notes filled the otherwise deserted bar. His gaze drifting over her slim curves, long legs in vintage Levis and a simple white vest worn over a teal-blue bra and knotted at her hip. A silver pendant on a long, delicate chain and chunky leather-strapped watch the only jewellery she wore.
Aboard his ship, he stops to stare - needs to smell her, touch her hair. Says "I can't be without her" ...
"I love this song," she confessed, her little grin becoming a delighted laugh as her not-so-reluctant partner twirled her around before catching both her hands in his and letting her guide him to what passed for a dance floor in front of the jukebox. Grinning himself, despite everything, to see her enjoy herself as they moved to the music.
"I'll be there waiting for you, in the morning when times have changed," Layla sang along, in a voice that would never make her a rock star but went down well enough on karaoke nights. "I'll be there through the lies and all ..."
Twirling her again, Lem pulled her close to his chest - one hand keeping hers caught in his and the other curling round her waist. "Hey, you been holdin' out on me?" she teased, just a little out of breath. "You got moves ..."
"Maybe one or two," he admitted, smiling down at her as he felt her free arm settle comfortably around his neck. Her much slighter frame pressing close to his as she looked up at the tall blonde, half trying to figure him out amid the growing heat between them.
When I wake to find the solace of all that we've become, I can't wait to make the promises that I've been leery of ...
Even as the song built to its climax, the pair were barely moving any more. Soft green eyes locked on deep blue and the hand that held hers letting go to cup her cheek. "Layla-" he started huskily.
But she shook her head and simply rose up on tiptoe to meet him. "About fucking time, Lemansky ..." came the murmur, just before his mouth claimed hers.
A/N: So I wanted to put this at the end because, to me, there's nothing more off-putting before you've even read a fic than a rambling author's note lol!
As will hopefully have become obvious, this is set almost right at the end of season two and was inspired by one particular little glimpse of our favourite shotgun-toting blonde - those few seconds where we saw an upset Lem pacing in the aftermath of the shooting. This actually isn't the fic I've mentioned having in the pipeline and is instead just something that came to me out of the blue and was distracting me, so I thought I'd run with it - but debated not posting it and then thought what the hell! I think it's a one-shot ...
The song - which I toyed with never actually specifying - is Hootie and the Blowfish's I Will Wait. I hope it didn't come across as ... songfic-esque. It wasn't meant to and, while obviously some of the lyrics (including some not used here) do have some resonance with the characters, it's not supposed to be one of those big "Damn, they're singing exactly what I'm feeling, man" moments.
This is my first ever Shield fic - ha, maybe it'll be my last! Would love to hear your thoughts and thanks for reading! :)