A Dark Path – Chapter 20

That weekend passed uneventfully. She saw her mother several times; she did not see Crews. Helping clean out her father's study and box up his clothes gave Dani closure – an ugly chapter of her life was over. She no longer had to worry about disappointing a man she could never please. She wondered about Crews and his interest in her father. She knew now that he'd lied when he told her that Jack was not involved in sending him to prison, but the question was why. She suspected it was to protect her, which both touched and irritated her. She couldn't decide how she felt about what he'd done, but had long since given in to how she felt about him. The idea that he – they would be together inevitable. He'd just had to out last her and in truth it was a battle she didn't mind losing. Still she resisted the impulse to reach out to him to prove to herself that she could.

Saturday, Ted grilled steaks, droning on about Olivia and Spain while Charlie half listened and nursed a longneck his mind on a certain dark haired woman he knew. If Ted noticed or minded Charlie's distraction, he never let on. On Sunday, Rachel called and in her own stilted emotionless way asked if he was okay. He said he was, but Rachel knew him better than most people.

"If it's that girl….you should just tell her," Rachel counseled. He didn't ask what girl or try to play it off – there was only one and he and Rachel had long since given up any pretense of lying to each other. He sighed in response, unwilling or unable to talk about his struggle. She rang off awkwardly and he later called back to apologize.

"Just tell her Uncle Charlie," Rachel urged.

"I have," he confessed.

"Oh," was her shocked response. After a moment, Rachel found her voice again and filled in the empty air between them. "Keep telling her," Rachel suggested, "sometimes you can't see the truth that's right in front of you." He agreed, but that didn't change the fact that Dani Reese was somewhere far from him - in body and mind those long 48 hrs.

Those two events neatly divided the weekend into two separate days with unending nights for Charlie. He slept little and wondered a lot – about her, about himself, about what really mattered in life and who.

Later that night, he sat alone in his closet staring at what consumed him - until she did - and found it no longer held the same magnetism. He tried not to think about calling her and failed, but he resisted the impulse even though he fingered the digits to her phone number often enough they stayed warm from his touch. He tried to see the way ahead but it was dark and unknown to him.

Monday, they were back at work. Neither was doing much talking; both were content to think about where they were headed next. Crews' face still bore her handprint from their last heated exchange. Time had only caused it to be more visible against his fair skin. It was hard to miss.

"What'd you do Crews…start dating a dominatrix?" Tidwell joked darkly.

Both Dani and Charlie shot him dirty looks. Tidwell froze, thought, opened his mouth to speak, but Dani held up a finger and he pivoted and disappeared.

"You've got him trained well," Charlie remarked cynically.

"Hmmph," was her noncommittal reply.

"Sure you don't want to go get him back from the pound?"

"God," she hissed back across the desk at him, "you are just determined to piss me off today aren't you?" She couldn't decide if she was mad at him today or not. He was being sullen and moody and she knew she was the reason for his mood.

"Sorry," he said glumly and returned to the mundane task of putting staples into his stapler, one she never actually saw him use on any paperwork. She imagined he'd done silly things with it like stapling his tie to his desk, but then Crews usually treated his clothes better than that.

"I'm a bad dog, the kind no one adopts," he mumbled, but it was intended for her ears. "From the pound," he clarified, "the kind that gets destroyed because no one can manage to control them." Now he was talking to her and looking straight at her.

"I think you need you to think about work, Crews," she implored.

"Maybe I'll get a dog," he switched tracks and jumped off on a tangent.

"Maybe I'll get a killer," she teased.

"As a dog? Or you mean…" he gestured to the pile of paperwork on an unsolved cold case that covered both their desks. Her messiness had spilled over to his side and he didn't seem to mind.

"Both," she met him boldly holding his eyes. "This case and as a pet," she taunted.

"Wild animals can't be kept as pets," he continued to play with fire.

"But dogs who've been made to be mean can be controlled," she correct her word choice when he grimaced, "gentled." That word choice made him smile. "Even if they are never the same again, they can learn to be kinder and even play nice with others," she continued the conversation in a way that could be construed as actually talking about a dog to anyone who overheard them. Her voice was not low and dangerous; it was normal conversation – except that it wasn't.

"But you can never turn your back on them," he egged her on, "never trust them."

"With my instincts, some times they are all I trust," she said presciently. Mad dog killer or Zen partner - she meant him and they both knew it. Just as quickly, she shut him down grabbing her coat. "Come' on. Let's go. I need coffee."

Two could play at this game. He could be as cool and aloof as a cat. He leaned back in his chair pointedly put his feet up on his desk and pronounced, "pass."

She stared hard at him. It was no longer a glare. She simply couldn't summon those anymore when it came to him. "Crews," she coyly suggested. His legs came off the desk and she smiled and patted her leg, "come."

His eyes narrowed at her joke. Was she taunting him? She could be that mean. But his curiosity made him follow anyway. "I'm not a dog," he said sullenly once they were safely alone on the elevator.

"No," she smiled, "you're not."

He smiled reflexively in return and paled when her look turned predatory.

"If you were," she turned and closed on him, "you'd be bad dog," pinning him to the wall with a look, "and I'd be holding your leash."

He gulped nervously and straightened his tie. He focused his gaze at a point over her head intent on trying to maintain that cool aloofness that was so much an act. Her hand rode up his shirt under his tie.

"I want you to kiss me," she demanded.

"You what?" he tried to sound shocked instead of excited. "Here?" he couldn't help it that his second question came out a full octave lower. She did things to him.

"Here," she confirmed as she tugged on his tie.

The "why" he meant to ask died on his lips. Hers were soft and full and lush. She nibbled on his lower lip and he just couldn't help himself.

Calm, cool, aloof – all went right out the window. What replaced them was the sizzling blue of electricity, humming and igniting the air around them. When they broke she was in his arms, arms he couldn't remember wrapping around her, arms that warmed her and held her fast. Safe and yet somehow dangerous; snug, yet not binding, arms that held her gently and that felt right – it didn't hurt that he was a superb kisser either. He eased his grip; she straightened and stepped away.

The bell dinged their arrival and he asked what he wanted to before, "why here?"

"There is no place you need to be but here. There is nothing you need to do, but this," she replied softly, just for his ears with her back to him, but he could feel the emotion in her voice when she said it. Something was changing in her; they could both feel it happening even though there was no visible sign.

The doors opened and she stepped into the bright sunlight. It was so bright he lost her for a moment, but blinked and stepped into the unknown regardless. He'd follow her anywhere – to the gates of hell and beyond.

At the car, she stopped and connected with him. Even though the sunglasses she wore he could feel her eyes on him.

"Charlie," she whispered. "You're not invisible. I see you." Then just as suddenly she disconnected and climbed into the car.

He took a moment to appreciate what she'd said and what she'd done. He had no idea what they meant, except that her words, thoughts and actions were real, personal and heartfelt. Wherever they were going next was uncharted territory, but they'd go there together.