. . .
. . .
It seems beat work isn't agreeing with Blake. By the second week, he's looking more faded and rumpled than his uniform. I can't blame him too much, though I'd like to try. After my first few days on the job, I'd looked a lot worse than he does now – dark bags forming under his eyes, lines curving around the perfectly pale little mouth. Even his hair has suffered the change in his hours, no longer tame and slicked back like he'd had it the first time I saw him in the Captain's office. He must sacrifice time in front of the mirror for what little extra sleep he can get.
Whenever he looks particularly worn out, I hand him a cup of coffee and tell him to buck up. After all, no one told him it'd be easy. And if they did, they were lying through their teeth. Sure, beating isn't as strenuous and time-consuming as Vice or Homicide, but even those guys did their share of hard work when they were on patrol duty. They had to bite and scratch and kick for everything they got. Sleep was often sacrificed for duty. That's just how it works around here.
The first shift of the night finds us parking across the street from the abandoned warehouse again. There's no game on tonight, so I prepare for a long night of patrol on foot. Keys in my breast pocket, radio clipped to my shoulder, I glance at both ends of the street to make sure no cars are coming. Blake is very quiet next to me, indicating he's either half-asleep again or very confused.
"What are you doing?"
"Working," I reply. Obviously the latter is the case, since he sounds more alert. "Care to join me?"
He follows suit, gathering everything he needs for the night. Radio, night-stick, flashlight, cap. He even makes sure to take his coffee with him, just in case a spell of sudden fatigue comes over him again. "On foot?"
"That's usually how it works." I slam the door behind me and give our perimeter a quick glance over. No one on the streets, not even the after work stragglers I'm used to seeing. The shop keeper of the convenience store looks just as exhausted as ever, leaning over his register with a far off look in his eyes that I can spot from here. I can tell he's dreaming of escaping this place. What it would be like to be out, to be free. No more jokers or scarecrows or mobsters with god-complexes, who think the world belongs to them and everyone else is just paying rent. I don't even know the guy's name. He's always just the shop keep on the corner who never seems to get any business, outside of my occasional stop-in before my shift starts.
I turn back to my partner, finding that he's just finished positioning his radio. "Try to keep up, Blake, you can't play the rookie card forever."
There's a dark, foreboding sort of look on his face. His hands fall back to his sides, one of them gravitating toward the night-stick like he's guarding it from me. "Don't patronize me. I'm sure it took you a while to get through the learning curve."
"All in the past. I'm a vet now…and vets don't take any shit, not even from baby-faced beat cops like you," I inform him, joining him on the curb. "Just how it works."
"You sure like pulling the 'just how it works' card a lot."
I heave out an impatient sigh, my chest expanding with the rush of cold night air. "I guess I was wrong about you."
He cocks his head slightly, causing a subtle shift in his demeanor. It's so unassuming and natural to his usual disposition that I almost miss it. "Why do you say that?"
"No reason," I reply. "It's just you talk an awful lot for someone who doesn't know anything."
The change goes out of his face as quickly as it had come. His mouth flattens again, returning to the hard, uncompromising line that seems second-nature to him. "Where do we go first?"
"Well, this street looks clear." I give it another quick sweep, making sure no one showed up while I wasn't looking. "Might as well start hanging around the clubs."
I gesture to the holster dangling off his hip. "Keep the safety on, but keep it close."
He nods and begins to follow me as I move down the street. The night is dark, clouds forming in the east and hiding the moon behind them. We seem to be going in the thick of the gloom.
I straighten my shoulders and walk a little faster. I'm not afraid.
The entire apartment is filled with the smell of garlic when I hear a knock at the door. Everything goes quiet as I look up from my book. For a second, I think I've imagined the sound, shaking my head as I close the crime novel in lap and toss it to the coffee table.
Then, it comes again.
This time I know I heard it. Slowly, I set down my mug and grope blindly for the holster I'd left on the table in front of me. When I walked in a few hours before, I'd left my gun and keys together at the edge of the surface nearest to the door. It's always been that way. As I get up from the couch, careful not to make one sound, the knock comes one more time. I grab my holster and take the gun from it, flicking the safety off. I'm not expecting anyone – no pizza delivery boys or staggering drunkards who know my name. Everyone in this complex stays away from each other, and I make it a point to distance myself from the other tenants as if they carried plague. There's no one else in the world who gives enough of a damn to be seeking me out without some purpose behind it, dark or otherwise. Who the hell is standing outside my apartment this late at night?
I bite my lip, cross the length of the floor on the tips of my toes, and duck underneath the keyhole. It's quiet out there. Maybe they've gone – or maybe they haven't.
A voice filters inside. "C'mon, Nina, it's just me."
Recognition clicks into place. John Blake? I peer through the keyhole – sure enough, there he is, his appearance as disheveled and brooding as ever.
I practically rip the door off its hinges as I open it. He's standing in front of me, shoulders slumped forward from a long night on the beat. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
He glowers at me in return, though the expression is short-lived as I yank his whole body inside. "I came to check on you. There's a - "
I cut him off. "How do you even know where I live?! We're not on good terms. We're not buddies. I only give my address, Blake, to people I consider friends."
He doesn't even look surprised. I should feel slighted by the fact that he's adapted so quickly to the changeable moods of what Hernandez called 'bitch swings', traits of mine that my former partner never quite got accustomed to. And I'd liked it that way. It kept the greasy old codger from prying into my life, focusing his attention instead on the fact that I am a surly bitch and someone not to be trifled with. It's a mold I've shaped for myself. Not the world around me, not circumstances or hard childhoods. The work of my own hands made me who I am.
Blake, still as dispassionate as he was when he walked in, reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small, leather-bound address book. He leafs through it for a moment, going back and forth between pages, and then snaps it closed. He holds it up for me to see.
I grab it from him as quickly as I can. "Hey!"
The care with which he handled the old thing is not present in the way I rifle through it, hunting methodically through the neatly printed records as search for my name. I find it, at last, in the back of the book, on one of two last remaining pages that he hasn't bothered to alphabetize. Mine is at the top of the very last sheet – Nina Chase. I rip it out and shred it, throwing the remnants on the floor. I might as well have kicked a lost, starving animal in front of him by the way he's looking at me.
"What'd you do that for?!"
"You have no right. Man, you've gotta ask about these things first, not just lift my address from the data base like some kind of creep. For God's sake."
Now the surprise begins to flood his sharp features. It bleaches his face and turns him white as marble stone. For a long time, he just stares at me, watches me nervously as if I were some ticking time bomb. "You're crazy, you know that? You are out of your mind, completely insane. What did you think I was going to do? Climb in your window late at night and watch you sleep?" He's shouting now, his voice loud enough to rattle walls. "You're not that special, Nina!"
"Don't call me that."
That shuts him up. "Call you what?"
"Don't call me Nina. You don't haven't earned the privilege to call me by my first name."
"Oh, I get it." His voice is flat, no emotion in its low, cruel timber whatsoever. I've never seen him like this. I thought my anger was a force to be reckoned with, but look at him. I watch him for a long time, my heart aching with fear. His nostrils flare. His cheeks were pale and cold when he walked in, but they burn now like fire. But it's his eyes. They're black. Pure, flat darkness with no light in them whatsoever. But there's a spark in them. I feel like if I got too close to him, if I brushed my hand against his arm, I'd catch fire too. "No, I do. I get it."
He props his arms up on his hips, pacing in place. "It's okay for everyone else in the department to treat you like some cheap whore, but if your own partner wants to talk to you, he's gotta take a number and get in the back of the line. Is that how it works?"
I don't say anything.
"I'm the first to admit that I'm no saint. I get angry, I get tired. I don't want praise if I haven't earned it – I told you that the first time we met. But I get nothing but shit from you. After a month, you'd think we'd at least be on friendly terms. Not you. No, you hate my guts."
He's still yelling, walking around in circles like some madman on the brink of breaking. I figure it'll be good for him to let off steam. The anger's just stemming from the frustration. It builds up after a while – the stress, the constant exhaustion, everything. Letting him vent is the best thing for him. So I stand there. I don't say a word and I wait. But then he stops dead still. He looks me straight in the eye.
"Do you hate me? Do you?"
I cross my arms over my chest.
His temper seems to cool some. "Tell me," he demands. "Go on, I can take it."
I throw the ledger back at him, click the safety back into place and return it to its spot next to my keys. My heart is still racing. I've never liked uncertainty, not knowing exactly what's going on. Charging blindly into anything, even something so simple as opening a door, has never been a strong suit for me. I like to know what I'm getting into. Blake just scared the living hell out of me and he doesn't even seem to understand why. It's late, this is not the best neighborhood in Gotham, and he expects me to invite him in with coffee on the table and fucking cookies in the oven. I pinch the bridge of my nose as I try to steady myself, the anger still churning hot and thick in the pit of my stomach.
"I guess since you're already here, you might as well go ahead and tell me why in God's name you're skulking around my apartment at twelve in the morning."
Something flickers across his face. It almost looks like hurt out of the corner of my eye, but when I meet him full on, the stone-cold mask has returned. Even the anger has appeared to recede.
He swallows and looks away. "I was walking home. Saw some strange guys filing out of the alleyway near your complex. I thought you might want to know."
My throat tightens. "What?"
I round the back of the couch and make for the row of windows that line the south-eastern wall of my apartment. Drawing back the patched-up curtains, they're the first thing I notice as I look outside. A group of them – at least four – all standing in a circle chattering away like they're off to Sunday brunch. They seem fairly normal, besides the way they're dressed. "Strange, I wonder who they are…"
"You mean they don't live around here?"
I shake my head, still watching them closely. "Never seen them in my life."
"Should we call it in or what?"
I scowl at him over my shoulder. "Down boy," I scold. "You can't just go around arresting everyone you see walking around the street at night. Some people have late shifts, you know. You've gotta have probable cause first."
"Fine," he replies curtly. "What do we do then?"
"Just…stay here," I say. "As much as I don't like the idea of you being here so late, I like the idea of you getting jumped even less."
"Well, gee, thanks for the concern." He deadpans.
"Shut up and sit down."
I hear his footsteps drawing closer behind me, muffled against the carpet. He appears in my peripheral vision, choosing a seat nearest to the window, and sits down quietly. For a long time, we don't say anything. Not even about what had just happened between us, especially its wide open ending. I never gave him an answer. He must feel slighted.
Finally, he speaks. "I wonder what they're doing."
I roll my eyes. "Even for a cop, you're nosy."
"It's kind of weird to have a group of guys standing on a street corner in the middle of the night, don't you think?"
"Not any weirder than a beat cop taking a stroll at twelve in the morning."
If looks could kill…
"God, would you relax? They're probably just a group of friends that work together. You gotta learn to turn it off when you're not on the job or you'll go nuts."
"You mean like you?" He sneers. "You suspect everyone."
There's a lot of weight in that remark. I choose to ignore it and switch gears. "Yeah, and look where that's gotten me. Bringing my gun with me every time I answer the door."
He smiles a little, though it's rueful at best. "I didn't take you for a gun enthusiast."
My insides start to twist. I keep my eyes glued on the scene below us. "Yeah, you know what, I know this is a cozy moment and all but don't, okay?"
"You don't like people." It's not a question; he's pointing it out, bringing it up right here, out in the open for us both to see.
"Wow, you just figured that out?" I snort.
He ducks my jab and I must say – it's a graceful recovery. "Why, though? What happened to you to make you so guarded?"
My voice is hard as a slab of concrete. "None of your damn business."
The conversation ends. This is why Hernandez and I never talked much. He sipped his coffee, complete with tequila chaser, and I listened to my game. He never pried, he never questioned. It was an understanding that we took up as soon as we became partners. I liked my privacy. He liked not having to keep tabs on my emotions like he had to with his wife, who expected him to remember birthdays and anniversaries and family reunions during a sixty hour work week. Except for the occasional slip up, sitting with me in our patrol car had been a break from the emotional turmoil of home life.
Blake decides not to push it any further. I can almost hear the white flag rising up over us.
"Kinda heavy for a midnight snack, don't you think?"
I look over in his direction, narrowing my eyes at him. "Huh?"
He points to the kitchen.
Realization dawns on me and I can suddenly smell something burning. "Shit!"
I dash into the kitchen, turning off the heat on the stove and wave my hand over the scalded oil. It bubbles up, catching the hairs on my arm, and I curse under my breath as I try desperately to save it. That's what I get for answering the door so late at night. I get distracted from what I'm doing. Damn it.
I hear him come up behind me.
"Why are you cooking so late?"
"Because I was working earlier."
"Don't you sleep?"
I pause, looking up from the pan and at the clock. "I make it now and freeze it for later, when I'm tired after work and don't feel like cooking."
"What is it?"
There's a note of softness in his voice. "But you're Mexican...shouldn't you be rolling out homemade tortillas or something?"
I shake my head and smile a little, dicing into a chunk of garlic that I just might be able to salvage. "Racist, but okay," I reply. "No, but I make a mean marinara. My mom's recipe - "
It takes me a second, but I realize where I'm going with this and back off. He's very quiet, standing next to me, breathing over my shoulder. He's a little too close. I can smell his cologne wafting over the pungent scent of garlic like a gust of fresh air.
"The guys still there?"
He goes back to the window and glances down at the street. "Yeah."
I throw in the bowl of meat that's been waiting, patiently, nearby. "Well, might as well get comfortable. You'll be here for a while."
"I am comfortable," he replies.
I gesture pointedly to the small living room. "My furniture doesn't bite, Blake."
He considers this for a moment and then gets up and moves to an arm chair, sitting down carefully as if it will bite him. Satisfied with his choice, he settles in and picks up a newspaper I'd left open on the table, where I'd been reading the sports section earlier. It's quiet for a long time as I continue cooking, mixing in tomatoes and oregano and, finally, a dash of sage.
I hear him groan behind me. "Damnit, the Griffins lost again?"
A smirk curls around the corners of my mouth. "Told you they sucked."
"The Knights didn't do so well either," he retorts scathingly.
"At least they had a few homeruns. How many did the Griffins get again?"
He's quick to reply. "Their time is coming."
The atmosphere in the room takes on an air of contentment. It's almost unnerving how domestic it is – Blake on the couch, his hands folded across his lap as he thumbs through the Sunday paper. And here I am, standing in the kitchen in front of a hot stove, cooking. The snotty brat in me almost wants to put two and two together and imagine myself leaning over a pregnant belly, no shoes, my stomach bulging under a pink apron embellished with little white and red hearts. The picture causes me to swallow down a laugh. It's so opposite of who I am, what I stand for, that the whole thing seems ridiculous to think about.
When I've finished the sauce, I bag it up and stick in the back of the freezer. It's so quiet in the living room that I forgot Blake was even here. Running the used pan under a stream of cold water, I find him slumped over in the arm chair. The newspaper has fallen to his feet, covering his shoes, and his mouth hangs slightly open.
I cross my arms sullenly as I take in the sight of a man sleeping in my living room. "Damn it," I seethe, and throw the last dirty dish in the sink, making as much noise as I can so he'll wake up and leave.
He doesn't budge. It's no use – he's out like an old light bulb.
Resigned to the situation, I stomp through the common areas (making sure to be loud) and stop in front of the linen cabinet. I take out a blanket, threadbare from long years of use, and unfold it, returning to Blake's chair. His limps are spread out everywhere. I nearly trip over one, cursing and looking down to find a very long, spidery leg poking out from beneath the newspaper.
I'm still muttering to myself as I hurl the blanket over him. It barely covers all of him, but I'm not in the mood to try again. For a second, I pause and look him over. His face is peaceful for once. No lines, the hardness smoothed out until his skin gleams like freshly spun glass again.
I yawn and move toward the kitchen again, turning off all the lights as I go. At the window, I stop and peek through the curtain. The men are still there.
I've never seen them before. They're strangers in this neighborhood.
And it makes me nervous.
(Wow. Well, that was an emotional experience. Sorry it took so long to update! And thank you so so much to Saint-Brooke-Lynn for the tip! I decided to focus more on the non-cop aspect of the story until I can gather enough research. :) Enjoy!)
disclaimer - i don't own john blake. only my character.