It was all Dr. Ryan's fault. That was Travis' story, and even LAPD's most skilled interrogators could not have compelled him to budge from it.
"Touch," she told them, in those honeyed, British tones of her, "is one of the most important tools in your possession for strengthening your bond with your partner. With that in mind, this week I want all of you to find new ways to touch your partner."
Wes' hand shot up with a speed Travis felt sure would have impressed even an Olympic sprinter.
"No, Wes, for the eighteenth time, you and Travis are not exempt from the homework assignment," she said, turning a cool gaze on him.
"Dr. Ryan," he said, gritting his teeth together in the way he always did when trying not to yell, "I am willing to admit that participating in some of your seemingly pointless 'homework assignments' has been surprisingly helpful in keeping Travis and me from each other's throats."
"But..." Dr. Ryan interjected, the patience in her tone only just concealing the steel lying beneath.
"Oh, can you really expect the two of us to go through with an exercise as obviously designed for actual couples as touching?!"
"Do you have a problem with touch, Wes?" Dr. Ryan asked, leaning forward and resting her chin in her right hand, all the while keeping her eyes fixed on Wes.
"Yes!" Wes exclaimed, before quickly course-correcting to, "No! I mean, Travis and I, we're not partners like that, so touching wouldn't be, er, appropriate."
"Touch goes much, much deeper than just romance, Wes," Dr. Ryan insisted. "To touch and be touched is a basic, human need - so basic that babies and young children can actually die, just from being deprived of touch."
"Well, I am not a baby, Dr. Ryan," Wes shot back.
"Really?" Travis couldn't help but interject with a smirk, "Cause you're sure acting like one right now."
"Oh, so you're telling me you're on board with Operation: Touchy-Feely?" Wes asked, crossing his arms skeptically.
"Sure, why not?" Travis replied with an easy grin designed specifically to irritate Wes. "I've got nothing to be afraid of."
"Afraid?" Wes demanded, directing his full irritation at Travis, "You think I'm afraid?"
Travis shrugged, raising his hands in a gesture intended to express, If the shoe fits...
"That...that is ridiculous," Wes insisted, crossing his arms again, this time defensively.
"Now, there's nothing to be ashamed of, son," Gary Dumont interjected, in an undoubtedly misguided attempt to help. "Lot of us guys have issues with intimacy."
"I do not have issues with intimacy, Gary," Wes hissed. "I just..." Wes trailed off, saved from finishing his thought by the buzzing in his pocket, echoed by the subsequent one in Travis'.
"Saved by the bell," Travis muttered, retrieving his own phone just as Wes gleefully announced, "Patrol found our suspect - gotta go!" and pulled Travis to his feet.
"Don't think this gets you out of anything, Wes," Dr. Ryan called out to their retreating backs, "I will be expecting a full report!"
Watching Wes single-mindedly pilot their car back to the station, Travis couldn't help but think about the way his partner had curled into his chair after he'd taunted him about being afraid. Had he stumbled upon some sort of buried secret? Was Wes actually scared of being touched?
The more Travis turned it over in his mind, the more it seemed to ring true - the hand sanitizer Wes was constantly applying; the way he shied away whenever Travis raised his hand for a high-five; the general air of unassailability he gave off at all times.
Well, then - if breaking through Wes' personal shields was his homework for the week, Travis supposed he was just going to have to go for it.
1. Travis figured he'd start slow and sneaky. Any attempt on his part to touch Wes would definitely prompt him to withdraw, and might even provoke suspicion. But if he tricked Wes into touching him...
"Okay, who's got my hand sanitizer?" Wes demanded to the station at large.
Travis watched him with amusement from the doorway of the break room. He'd give Wes a little while longer to stew before going in for the kill.
"Seriously, guys, who has it?" Wes inquired again, as the few people who had instinctively looked up on the off-chance anything interesting was going on returned their attention to their caseloads, disappointed.
After a considerable silence made it clear no one was going to acknowledge his question, let alone come forward, Wes attempted a change of tactics. "Okay, okay," he said, trying and failing to make his tone sound amused, "You got me! Great joke, you guys, honestly. But I do kinda have to have it back. Just put it on my desk, and we'll call it even."
Travis continued to watch, grin now firmly in place, as Wes strolled away from his desk in a way which he undoubtedly thought nonchalant, but was in reality painfully obvious. After a few minutes of no one going within five feet of his desk, Wes relinquished his position behind a pillar to make a second, rather less casual announcement.
"That's it - no more Mr. Nice Cop!" Wes shouted, swinging his arms out wildly and nearly knocking a stack of papers from the arms of a visiting stenographer, prompting him to immediately apologize and offer to personally escort her from the building - and thus completely negate his statement of seconds before - before finishing with, "If the hand sanitizer is not on my desk in ten seconds -"
Deciding this would be a very good time to put the plan into Phase 2, Travis wound his way around the bullpen until he was perched casually on the edge of his desk, conspicuously cleaning his stapler with Wes's hand sanitizer.
"You can not be serious right now," Wes hissed, a tremor of anger running through his voice.
"What?" Travis asked lightly, feigning total innocence. "You don't mind, do you? My stapler was looking a bit...grimy. Gosh, I figured you'd approve!"
"You are honestly telling me that you didn't hear me screaming for this for the past ten minutes?" Wes demanded, his left hand unconsciously clenching and unclenching itself into a fist.
"Oh, that was you?" Travis asked with a smile, "Hell, I just thought that was just the mindless ranting of some psych patient waiting to get transferred to County."
Both of Wes' fists were now permanently clenched, tightly enough, Travis noted, that his perfectly groomed fingernails were digging red, crescent moons into his palms. A twinge of guilt struck Travis then, but he mentally shook it off. After all, he reasoned, a little pain was surely a worthy price to pay for personal growth.
"Give. It. To. Me." Wes snarled, spitting out each word quickly and individually, as if he hated the sound of them on his tongue.
"Oh, this?" Travis inquired, gesturing toward the bottle of hand sanitizer as he rose from the desk and began to back slowly toward the break room. "No can do, I'm afraid, brother. Not when I know we've got a couple refrigerator magnets just begging for some sanitizing."
As he turned and made his way into the break room, Travis began to silently count down from five. To the credit of Wes' unpredictability - and speed - he only got to three before he felt something slam into him from behind.
Although Travis was able to extend his arms in front of him to break his fall, he was a little surprised to find one of them immediately twisted behind his back. "Hand it over, Travis," Wes threatened, his voice low and dangerous.
"You got some skills, man!" Travis exclaimed appreciatively - well, as appreciatively as he could manage considering Wes was actively cutting off his air supply - "Where'd you pick those up?"
"Wrestling team, high school," Wes said matter-of-factly, "Went all-state my senior year."
"Oh yeah, you see, we didn't have one of those," Travis said with feigned sadness, before elbowing Wes in the face with his other arm and using the advantage of surprise to flip their positions on the floor. "Just an after-school fight club. Weren't encouraged to wear those little unitards, though."
"Singlets," Wes corrected with as much dignity as he could muster, considering Travis was lying on top of him.
"Oh, there's an image," Travis said automatically, momentarily thrown off by the fact that imagining Wes in a wrestling uniform wasn't as funny as he'd initially thought it would be. Even more disturbing than that, it was actually kind of...
Travis was saved from having to finish that disquieting thought by Wes taking advantage of his distraction to strike at his left knee - still weak from a confrontation with a perp the week before - and regain the upper hand once again. "You have moves like those in your fight club?" he asked smugly, easily blocking all of Travis' subsequent attempts to reverse their positions.
"No, pretty sure the only guys with moves like that were on the dance squad," Travis teased, unable to hide how pleased he was that his plan was off to such an excellent start.
"Oh, I'll get you for that," Wes threatened, but Travis could see that his anger of moments before had completely dissipated, to be relaxed with something that on anyone else Travis would have identified as playfulness.
"Ah, but are you going to get this?" Travis taunted, raising the bottle of hand sanitizer above his head.
"Would you give it -" Wes exclaimed, lunging forward in an attempt to grab the bottle, "Travis!"
Travis just laughed and stretched his arm above his head as far as it could go, forcing Wes to extend himself fully over Travis' torso. As he continued to reach for the bottle, Wes' neck brushed against Travis' cheek, filling Travis' nostrils with a pleasant, minty scent Travis presumed to be his aftershave.
Travis kept the grappling going for nearly five more minutes by switching the bottle from hand to hand, with Wes abandoning any grip on the floor in favor of using both hands to try and grab it, until a voice from the doorway commanded both their attention.
"Mitchell! Marks!" The Chief barked, crossing his arms and tapping his toe loudly and emphatically on the floor, "What the hell is going on here?"
"Chief!" Wes exclaimed, glancing quickly from their boss to Travis as a look of horror spread quickly over his face. "I can explain!"
"No explanation necessary, Mitchell," the Chief said, the sharpness in his tone in his voice softening a bit, "I know from my time with Dr. Ryan just how much work maintaining a relationship can be."
"Oh God," Wes groaned, trying desperately to extricate himself from Travis, but only managing to make their position even more compromising as he insisted, "This isn't what it looks...I mean you know that we're not..."
"But that doesn't mean that I approve of these kind of shenanigans in my break room," he continued, treating Wes' interjection as if it hadn't happened as he settled on a tone of paternalistic sternness. "The fact is, boys, the workplace is simply not an appropriate location for working out these sorts of, um, domestic issues."
"Sorry, Chief," Travis interjected with a cheeky, but apologetic grin, cutting off Wes' incipient response, "Guess we got a little...carried away."
"Well, now, as much as I can certainly understand that," the Chief said, the hint of a smile playing on his lips, "that's still no excuse for letting it get in the way of your work. I trust you will understand that in future."
"Won't happen again, sir," Travis promised with a little salute, suppressing his grin until the Chief had departed from the room, muttering something that sounded suspiciously like, "I'll bet Burton and Taylor didn't pull this kind of bullshit on set."
"What the hell did you do that for?" Wes demanded, shoving Travis down as he quickly retrieved both his footing and his hand sanitizer.
"You know how the Chief is about couples' counseling," Travis said with a shrug. "Figured it was the easiest explanation for why we were rolling around on the floor together."
Travis was gratified to see a flush spread quickly up Wes' neck and onto his cheeks as he gestured vaguely to his bottle of hand sanitizer, muttered, "I have to go, um, sanitize this," and hurried from the room.
Travis chuckled a little to himself as he got slowly to his feet. This was going to be fun.