Officer Ben Sherman is still trying to understand what it is about the Los Angeles Police Department that draws him into this life. And why, even after everything that he's seen since he first put on that badge, he still can't walk away from it.
X X X
You're twenty-two years old and you're scared and you're wondering why the hell you ever wanted to do this goddam job in the first place. Why the hell you ever thought you'd be capable of doing this job.
You left home today prepared to face the lowest rung of Los Angeles society. You were ready to deal with the mean streets so unfamiliar to you. You were not, however, prepared for this six foot three wall of solid muscle who is now yelling at you to get your head outta your ass and glue yourself to his. You nearly fall over your own feet in your hurry to follow him.
John Cooper is a cop's cop, you see that immediately. Everyone greets him, cracks a joke with him. He's well-liked within the division. And respected. Everyone looks up to him as the best cop they know. Cooper is golden as far as his colleagues are concerned and right now you don't believe you'll ever feel as capable as him.
Your first day is a blur and your heart never stops pounding in your chest as you try to absorb everything that's going on around you and everything John Cooper is telling you. In fact, the only moment you feel calm is when you gently squeeze your trigger and watch Dewey's attacker fall. The only moment when the sense of panic that has been fluttering all day leaves you.
You draw in a breath, watch the chaos exploding around you without really noticing it. And when Cooper sits you on the steps, it still feels like you're not really there.
Cooper towers over you, his blue eyes alight with adrenaline. "This is warn-a-brother."
The idea that he could consider you highly enough to regard as a brother-in-arms stirs you. You look up at him, meet that intense stare. And it feels like he can see into your soul; that he knows everything there is to know about you. And you allow him because you already trust him and it calms you to know that, somehow, John Cooper gets you.
You want to tell him you have no idea what you're doing. That nothing the academy had taught you means anything now it's for real. Want to yell at him that surely he'd been this scared and uncertain and completely overwhelmed once. But you can't, because you have a feeling this brick wall of muscle, whose entire demeanour screams control and capability, has never been scared of anything. And that knowledge makes you pull yourself together.
X X X
He's talking at you again. You have no idea what he's on about but he's got the 'lesson' look on his face and that usually means you're about to be told how not to fuck up something. Dewey is listening with that wise-ass grin on his face and you fight the urge to knock him out.
Dewey, you've already learnt, is fucking crazy. Cooper may be a cocky bastard but at least he isn't a loudmouth. He doesn't need to be; he has enough of a presence without needing to shoot his mouth off. He's in control of every situation and he knows it. You've already seen when he puts in a tackle on a runner, there's no one who can outmuscle him and he hits like he was born in the NFL.
"You hearin' what I'm saying, Boot?" he asks.
You nod quickly and hope he hasn't noticed you didn't actually understand any of it. His eyes tell you he isn't fooled for a minute but he'll let you get away with it this time. The laughter lines betray the fact he has kind eyes, although you know he can make them hard as ice when he wants to. It already feels like you've spent half a lifetime looking into his eyes, because when he thinks you need to pay attention, he won't let you look away from him. The intensity that burns in the deep blue keeps your gaze glued to his.
"Listen up," he tells you. And starts on the next lesson.
X X X
At first you are intimidated by John Cooper but you gradually come to realise that he was in fact a good-humoured guy at heart. A hard-ass, no doubt, but not a bad guy. You have learnt not to be daunted by the persona he exudes in the uniform, come to admire his enviable ability to go from chilled out to totally intense the second an idiot got in his line of view.
He's got issues but so do you. Maybe that's why you click; you're very different people but he's been through similar things to you. He gets it. And he's prepared to listen, something you hadn't expected from this tough-talking vet.
The two of you talk a lot. There's not much else to do when you're chasing the radio. You've grown comfortable riding together, come to know each other's traits.
You know he won't touch anything with avocado. He knows you hate bananas. Soon as he found that out, he left a peeled banana on the seat of your bike every day for a week. Bought you banana milkshakes in coffee cups to see if you were dumb enough to take a sip. Even found banana-flavour chewing gum to offer whenever your guard was down.
When the time comes to go solo in the U-Boat, you're scared at the prospect of being without the partner you have come to rely on but you try to hide it behind a smile. He knows though, you can tell by the reassuring way his eyes lock onto yours as he tells you to watch the hands.
"Okay, Dad," you say, trying to play it down.
His words calm you and later, when it's all fallen apart and you feel like nothing in the world could get through to you, his presence comforts you as you sit together watching the firemen rescue the sneakers.
You get what you see with Cooper. He's rough and he's hard on fools and there's no beating around the bush with him. He doesn't hide what he is, a tough guy with a zero tolerance for idiocy. But he's got a good heart and that night on that cold sidewalk, you finally understand that.
X X X
He asks you what you want to talk about. Not in the confessional way for once. Like he's genuinely interested in what conversation you may have. You smile.
You're desperate for his approval. For a smile or a nod or a word of praise. He's hard on you; that's the kind of cop he is. But occasionally, he lets the front slip, allows you to see that at heart, he's a good guy who wants you to be the best cop you can be. You quietly value for those moments.
"You been studying your map book?" he asks sardonically.
"I have actually," you shoot back with a grin.
You think you see pride in his smile but it's hidden before you can check. He's not about to let you get overconfident. You let it go but it gives you a boost that keeps you hyped up all watch.
The way he talks to you after he hears about the parole of your mom's assailant means a lot to you, even though you can't acknowledge it. He gets it. These emotions that rush through your blood, that cloud your brain until the anger finally breaks lose. He's been there. He understands your frustration and he doesn't judge you for it.
But he's not about to let you get away with losing control. He knows control is the most important weapon a cop has and even though he empathises with you, he is still your TO and he will make you learn a lesson from this whether you like it or not. John Cooper is a brawler and he's not ashamed of the fact, not like you who has always felt you have to hide the aggression that is within you.
You can still feel the rage in your veins and you want to punch something until your knuckles cave in. But Cooper stays by you and his presence calms you, as if it so often does. So you let it go. You swallow it down and pretend it isn't there.
X X X
You come to hate seeing him in pain, being forced to watch how it affects him. During the shootout, you verbally battle with him to let you be the one to grab Sergeant Johnson. You know why he won't let you: he refuses to put you in danger. Won't considering letting you step into the line of fire when he can do it himself. Yes, he may be bigger and stronger than you, but you know that's not his reason. Cooper would rather he took the bullets than you.
And you have to see him suffer for his own bravery afterwards. It makes you angry to watch this proud man struggling to walk. Cooper doesn't deserve this shit. Yes, he's bull-headed and almost impossible to get through to, but you admire him and you don't want this to beat him.
But you're scared it will. He tries to hide the pain from you; changes the subject whenever you try to ask about it. You still talk together and the conversation flows easily but he won't let you into that dark part of him. That's too deep yet.
He's battling his demons physically as sure as you are mentally. You want to help him. You try to help him. Because he's your partner and for many months now, he has been your teacher and your protector. And goddamn, it hurts to see him like this. But he won't let you. He's fighting every step of the way, against the pain and against the reality of his situation. And he's so busy fighting that he doesn't realise you're there for him.
X X X
"Little Boot's growing up," he declares. He calls you Ben now; Boot has become a nickname he uses when he's ragging on you.
He still gets pissed off with you when you screw up, even more so now, because you understand now he sees you as a cop in your own right and it angers him if you screw up this capability status he has given you. John Cooper is a good judge of character and nothing riles him more than being wrong. He will not give you the chance to make him wrong.
It stirs you when he yells at you, because you're desperate to prove yourself. But he always gives you the chance at redemption; never dwells on your screw ups once he's made sure you understand what went wrong. Never holds grudges against a misdemeanour. Is always willing to give you your head again, even if it's just for amusement to see how bad you can fuck it up. Particularly when it comes to giving bad news to the wrong mother. Or neglecting to keep hold of your suspect.
The first time you square up to him, pissed off about his riding your ass for not securing a PCP shithead, you expect him to go crazy at you. But he doesn't; his eyes are gentle as he tells you a few home truths. He's forceful but even you can see he's fair. He knows it's not long now before you'll be out there on your own and he doesn't want to see you or anyone else get hurt because you haven't got your shit together. He makes his point. You walk away in a reflective mood. Spend the rest of the evening thinking it all through.
X X X
You gotta hand it to him though; he's not afraid of giant snakes and he will risk a bite to rescue a pet dog. Leaves you to deal with the snake afterwards of course, but at least he made the first move. You still think the taser was a better option. But he's a dog lover; you've always been more of a cat person.
You're uneasy with the way he handles the guy driving under the influence of prescription drugs. You know he's treating the guy rough to deny his own demons, to deny what he himself is doing. It doesn't sit well with you; Cooper is many things but he is not a hypocrite and you worry that he is getting in too deep for him to handle.
But you can't help but feel bad when he confronts you in the locker room over the correct count of evidence pills. You made the wrong call and damn you feel bad for it. You wish you could tell him sorry, take it back. But you can't. So you just leave.
X X X
You tell him he's not alone, try to get through his thick skull that you want to be a good partner, you want to get him through this. He's having none of it, just as you expected. And the anger is starting to build within you, because you know you are both at risk now. And because you know John Cooper is losing himself for no good reason.
You turn away then, before you lose your temper. You've said what you wanted to and it made no difference. The frustration burns and you want to yell at him, make him understand that the cop you admired so much is gone, broken. The fact that he won't let you in makes it worse because now, as well as angry, you feel helpless. And this isn't the way it's supposed to be; this isn't how it should end.
On that last day, the day it finally falls apart and everything between you is lost, the day that had started off so well with jokes in roll call and talc in the air conditioning, you hate how it ended. Cooper was an asshole to you all morning, just like he had been on your first ever-watch. Reminding you not to get ideas above your station. You didn't mind that. It's the silence that gets you.
And when it all comes to a head, when you slam him up against the dumpster and you can't stop the words firing out of your mouth, you know it's all over. Your rage at having to take a beating alone, without any back-up, is so strong it almost overwhelms you. He's betrayed your trust in him and God it hurts, hurts more than the cuts and bruises.
You say it's about protecting the next boot he is charged with, but it's not. It's about protecting him. Partners save each other's lives and you know that what you're doing now, no matter how bad the moment is, will ultimately keep Cooper from dying. Even with the anger coursing through you, you still have to save him.
There's no talk during the drive to the hospital but you're working up the courage and when you pull to a stop, you ask him if he wants to you to go in with him. Because you still want him to know he's not alone. You're not surprised when he's says no but when he hands you his spare keys, you're assured you've done the right thing.
And even though you're still mad at him for falling so hard from grace, you respect the fact he has the strength of character to face up to this alone. And you can't help but feel your anger calm when he quietly thanks you; his dignity reassures you that John Cooper is not lost forever.
The only response you can give is to nod, let him know you appreciate his thanks. There's nothing else you can say. And you watch him make that slow, painful walk inside. Blow out a long breath. And silently hope that it will be all right.
X X X
On the first day you ride with Sammy Bryant, you can't keep the ironic smile from your face. It's just like Cooper again and it makes you feel safe, the yelling and cursing and the constant rebuttals that come flying at you. The fact this shit is reassuring to you makes you laugh.
Your first few weeks with Sammy, you're constantly on edge. Bryant is wired wrong and you feel he's about to explode at any moment. In short, he's fucking crazy. You miss Cooper's reassuring bulk beside you; you like Sammy as a guy but you fear he will lead you down a dangerous path. Either that or he will get you so hyped up you'll take yourself down it.
Gradually, the two of you settle down together. Become good friends. It feels good to ride with someone you don't have to worry about. Your first months together are a blast. You and Sammy click and even though he does nothing to calm you down, every watch with him is an adrenaline rush.
Then you rush in and screw it all up. That damn crack pipe breaks the partnership and the friendship that meant so much to you. You've done it again. You fucked it up with Cooper. Now you've fucked it up with Sammy. You wonder what the hell's wrong with you.
So you turn to the one person in the division who understands why you're like you are. And it's awkward 'cos you haven't talked in a long time but Cooper doesn't give you any shit, just takes you for a beer, buys you a burger as you sit together at the bar 'cos he knows you're always hungry after you finish the shift. Let's you talk. And you're twenty-four years old and you're a cop in your own right now, but you feel like that young kid once again.
"We might live in the grey, Ben," Cooper says quietly after you've vented every unsettled feeling within you, "but you still see things in black and white. You gotta realise that not everything's clean-cut."
"You saying I shouldn't have said anything?" you ask, surprised because Cooper is as straightforward as they come and you can't imagine him letting something like this slide.
"I'm saying you shoulda waited to check it out first. Being a cop's about finding the evidence, not jumping to conclusions."
"And I still got that to learn, right?" You hear the defensiveness in your voice but Cooper doesn't react to it.
"You're the one who accused your partner of being dirty," he says calmly.
You look down at your beer. "I didn't think. I just wanted to get to the bottom of it."
"There's better ways to do it than your method. You still go rushing in; you let your heart get in the way of your head." Cooper slugs from his own bottle. "Every cop starts out like that. It's no big deal when you're young and you're full of ideals. But eventually you realise you gotta slow down and think before you act."
You can feel his piercing gaze on you and you force yourself to make eye contact with him. His blue eyes are not judgemental; in fact you think they are understanding. You can imagine back in the day, John Cooper was like a raging bull when he thought something had compromised his belief system.
"I don't know what to do," you say.
"Sammy won't talk to you?"
"He won't even look at me."
"He's got a right to be pissed off, y'know."
"Can he be pissed off at me forever?"
Cooper raises a finger to the barman and two shots appear before you. "Sammy's gone through a lot since Nate Moretta died. You gotta remember that."
You pick up your shot between your thumb and forefinger. "I think he compares me to Nate."
"'Course he does. But that doesn't mean you measure up badly. Nate was a good cop, Ben, and you're very different to him, but that doesn't mean you're not a good cop in your own right. Sammy understands that."
He holds his glass up and you touch it with yours. You grimace as the spirit burns down your throat but he doesn't react. He could always handle his alcohol better than you.
"I heard about you smacking that chick," he says.
You glance awkwardly at him, waiting for him to continue.
"You don't hit women, Ben. You and me know that better than most. It just can't happen."
"I know," you say quietly. "It's never happened before."
"You need to learn how to get a hold on yourself so it never happens again."
That riles you and you want to tell him he's got no right to tell you what to do anymore. But you don't, because deep down you still crave his approval. Because you still want to be the sort of cop John Cooper is. You know your actions will dictate the kind of cop you become. That scares you.
You feel like you're losing control. You still haven't learnt where the line is. You spend hours in the gym, pumping iron, trying to rid your system of this bubbling rage. But it never quite goes away. It's always there, under the surface. Sammy thinks you're messing with steroids but your quick temper and beefed-up biceps are nothing to do with juice.
This is part of you, and you hate it.
You still have a photo taken by Chickie when you were all at yet another retirement party together. You and Cooper, relaxed and waving beer bottles at the camera. Your forearms rest casually on each other's shoulders. Neither of you are smiling but both pairs of blue eyes are alight with laughter as the two of you allow Chickie to capture the moment of kinship. And when you wonder why the hell you carry on doing this goddam job day after day, you take out that photo and remember those words John Cooper said to you on your very first day. And it reminds you exactly why you are a cop.
Because you don't know how not to be.