Title: Family (or the Perfect Fruit Salad)
"You've been awfully quiet today," Dani says from where she's lying next to him in her bed. They generally spend the night at her place, not his. "What're you thinking about?"
"I'm working on the recipe for the perfect fruit salad," Charlie admits, taking a moment to savour the way her hair falls loosely around her face. How it curls, just enough but not too much, especially when she's had it up all day and finally releases it. How it falls over his face and his chest when they’re making love and she's on top. He loves running his fingers through her hair and he loves that she'll let him do it now.
"The perfect fruit salad," she repeats, bemused. "Right." Her tone says, I should have known better than to ask, but he hears an undertone of affection in it too. Not that he'd ever call her on it.
"And here I thought you'd say that all fruit was perfect."
"Well, all fruit are perfect in their own way," he agrees, "but not every fruit works in a fruit salad."
Dani rolls her eyes at him, and then shifts her body closer to his, so her breasts are pressed up against his arm. She's only wearing a bikini strap tank top and underwear to sleep in, and the flimsy material of her shirt is really the only barrier between them right now.
"Yes," he continues hurriedly,"choosing the right ingredients is the most important thing. The right mix of tastes-" he swallows as she begins to trail feather-light kisses down his neck, "-textures." Her lips move down to his clavicle now and it's getting harder for him to formulate coherent thoughts. "These things are critical."
"Mhm," she says, but he knows she's not really listening and somehow that's okay.
"Mix the wrong flavours, the wrong textures and it will be a disaster."
Her lips move lower still and then coherent thought is no longer possible at all.
Forbidden fruit. Yes, apples are definitely going in the fruit salad.
They don't discuss it the first time she spends the night at his place. It seems only natural to Charlie when, after coming over for dinner one night, Dani just... doesn't leave. Ted bids them a distracted goodnight from behind piles of financial paperwork that Charlie doesn't even pretend to understand or care about as he leads Dani up to bed with him. He immediately decides that he likes having her in his bed - not that he has anything against hers - and endeavours to find ways of convincing her to spend the night again in the future. Preferably: as frequently as possible.
He's surprised the next morning to wake up to sunlight streaming in through the window and the other side of the bed empty. He's usually up before she is. He slips into a flannel robe and shuffles barefoot down the stairs, stopping just out of sight of the kitchen entranceway, his attention caught by an unusual tableau.
Rachel has come home from... somewhere - he'll ask her about it later - and from her body language she seems displeased to find Dani in the kitchen, in pajamas.
"You spent the night, didn't you," she says to the older woman. It's not really a question.
"Yes," Dani says, crossing her arms. Charlie wishes he could see her expression from his vantage point. "Have you got a problem with that? Because it's going to happen again."
Dani looks up at Rachel; she has no choice, seeing as she is shorter than the teenage girl. Rachel is silent. Charlie can't help but smile at the picture they make - these unlikely women who just happen to be two of the most important people in his life - and who are more alike than either of them would ever be willing to admit. They're quite the pair. Pair. Pear. He's always liked pears.
"You'd better be good to him," Rachel says finally with her chin thrust out, breaking the standoff.
Holding his breath, he waits to see Dani's reaction.
Dani nods. "I will."
Rachel's expression softens. "Good. He's been hurt pretty badly. I won't let that happen to him again."
"Neither will I," Dani agrees and Charlie can hear the steel in her voice. There's another slightly tense moment, before it fades entirely as Dani asks, "do you like scrambled eggs?"
"Yeah, they're okay," Rachel says, sitting down at the kitchen table.
He counts to thirty, and then walks into the kitchen.
"And how are my two favourite ladies this morning?" he asks brightly.
Pears will definitely go in the fruit salad.
Charlie loves grapes. Green, red, with seeds, seedless, he doesn't care. He tries to keep some in the fridge at all times. What he isn't expecting is to find that Dani has started keeping them in her fridge at all times too. It's a Saturday morning, and since neither of them needs to go into the station today barring some sort of crisis, they sit together comfortably - Dani sitting on her kitchen counter eating grapes while he drinks his morning coffee - considering what they should do for the day.
"It's a beautiful day," he points out, "we could go to the park."
"We could," Dani agrees, popping a grape into her mouth.
"Or we could go down to the beach," he suggests.
"We could," she says skeptically, popping another grape into her mouth, "But I thought you don't tan."
He watches her take another grape from the bunch. "Want a grape, Crews?" she asks.
She drops it down her enjoyably low-cut shirt, the cylindrical little green fruit falling to rest in her cleavage.
"Go ahead," she says, grinning.
They don't make it to the park, the beach or anywhere else that day. He doesn't care.
He really loves grapes.
Grapes need to be in the fruit salad.
"Crews, how do you feel about fondue?" Dani asks him one morning.
"Chocolate and fruit - a match made in heaven," he declares. "If in fact there is a heaven. According to the Buddha, Heaven is a temporary place where those who have done good deeds experience more sensual pleasures for a longer period."
Dani snorts. "Sensual pleasures, huh? I like the Buddha more and more."
She comes home with four tubs of strawberries and sets up a small fondue pot. Before long, her entire kitchen smells like melted chocolate.
When they're finished, he knows he'll never be able to think about strawberries again without thinking of licking chocolate off of her - and tasting strawberries when he kisses her.
But then, he's always liked strawberries.
Strawberries belong in a fruit salad.
Charlie has to admit he's surprised when one morning, over breakfast, Rachel asks if they can get a Christmas tree and decorate it this year. She glances from her bowl of cereal to Charlie's face and away again as she asks, and he smiles, seeing one of those rare, hidden glimpses of the girl she is behind all the walls she has built around herself, and there is very little he would deny her.
"Ted, we're getting a Christmas tree," he announces.
Rachel can't quite hide her pleasure in time; he sees it pass over her face before the impassive teenager mask settles back into place.
Ted looks up from his orange juice and laughs. "You mean, Ted you're getting us a Christmas tree. Right?"
Charlie grins. "Yes Ted, I would very much appreciate it if you would get us a Christmas tree." Ted is generally better at these things than he is anyway. "Nothing too Charlie Brown-ish, ok? Oh, and something potted please, we don't need to kill a tree to celebrate Christmas."
Ted gives him a skeptical look. "Charlie, what are you going to do with a potted tree after Christmas? This isn't exactly the right environment for a spruce tree to grow." He points to the window, motioning to the decidedly not snow covered California landscape.
"Oh, we'll find somewhere to put it," he says, the wheels in his head already turning. "I've always wanted to build a greenhouse.
"A greenhouse?" Ted repeats. Charlie can see the Ted working through the math and decides that now may not be the best time to talk about building the greenhouse. Maybe in the new year.
"Thanks, Ted." He turns his attention back to Rachel. "We'll need to get ornaments."
"I can totally handle that," Rachel says.
He leaves Ted and Rachel to the planning, and then drives to pick up Dani. Of course, he moves to the passenger seat and lets her get into the driver’s seat. She always drives. They're waiting at red light about three blocks from the station when he works up the courage to ask her if she wants to join them for Christmas - hoping she'll say yes; but convinced she'll say no. She's silent for several long minutes, her fingers tapping on the steering wheel, and with an act of will he manages to say nothing at all.
"Okay," she says finally, just as the light turns green. "Yes. I'll spend Christmas with you."
For a minute, he's sure hasn't heard her right. "Really?"
She glances over at him, then back to the road. "Yes, Crews, I'll spend Christmas with you." Her tone makes it clear he’d better not ask her to repeat it a third time. He relaxes back in the seat, thinking that things can't possibly get any better than they already are.
He's wrong and he finds that out the night they get together to decorate the Christmas tree that Ted has found. It's perfect, standing at approximately seven feet tall; and it's green and lush and smells of real living things. Also, it comes in a pot.
Ted is muttering about what a hassle it was getting a seven foot tall live tree into the house. Rachel is giddy, like she is in his memories of her as a little girl, before betrayal and death became a dark shadow over their lives, and it does him good to see her laughing and smiling as she digs fruit-shaped ornaments from boxes of decorations.
When Dani gets to the house, she presents him with a small brown box. He doesn't know where she found the light-up pineapple Christmas tree topper, but he laughs with delight as he pull it from the box and insists she put it on the tree. He gets a small step ladder from the garage, and grins as she climbs it to place the pineapple on top of the tree and turns it on. It glows a warm yellow.
It's kitschy - this cheerful, plastic pineapple on his tree. It's the epitome of the sort of thing Dani hates. But she bought it for him. Grinning, he lifts Dani down from the step ladder and pulls her against him for a kiss.
Ted averts his eyes.
"Get a room," Rachel says, rolling her eyes. "It's not like we don't have enough of them here."
"And most of them are empty," Ted points out. He glances up at the Christmas tree topper. "Are you sure you wouldn't rather get something more traditional, you know, like a star?"
"Never! I like my pineapple," he says. "Did you know that the most common pollinator of the pineapple is actually the hummingbird?" he continues thoughtfully.
"Shut up Crews," Dani says and he can feel her smile against his lips.
Pineapples are definitely going in the fruit salad.
"This is ridiculous, Crews," Dani says, her tone making it clear she's absolutely exasperated. "You need to get some furniture."
Rachel laughs. "I've been telling him that forever. Do you know how much I had to fight just to make him buy the kitchen table?"
Charlie frowns at this sudden tag-teaming against him. "Why?" he asks, somewhat petulantly. "I'm trying to live a life devoid of unnecessary material goods."
Dani advances on him. "Furniture is not unnecessary."
"I have a bed!" he protests, backing up. "And a table. Look at the beautiful table Rachel picked out."
Unfortunately Reese is unwilling to be diverted by the table. "Crews, get in the car. We're going to buy you some furniture."
"But I-" he protests again and Dani silences him with a look.
"Get. In. The. Car. Crews," she repeats. "Rachel, you want to come?"
Rachel leaps to her feet, "I am so there."
Five hours and twelve stores later, Dani is satisfied when Charlie has selected (under duress, he argues) a sofa, a love seat, two recliners, a coffee table, two end tables, a wall unit and three book shelves, all of which will be delivered to him the following weekend. He's grumbling as they pile back into the car, muttering about killing trees to make furniture, with both Dani and Rachel pointedly ignoring him. Dani's driving - of course she is - when a sign catches his attention.
"Turn around, Reese, turn around. We have to go there," he says pointing excitedly out the window.
She gives him a look, but dutifully turns into the next drive way so they can go back to the supermarket that has captured his attention. When she parks the car, he rushes out to grab a shopping cart and happily pushes it into the store.
He's amused by the dumbstruck look on the cashier's face when he pushes the laden cart to the cash desk to pay. It's loaded to the brim with Cantaloupes and Honeydew and nothing else.
"Will that be all, sir?" the cashier manages to stammer out.
"Yes, yes it will!" he says, delving into his wallet for the necessary cash.
He's whistling the entire car ride home. Dani only shakes her head at him and laughs.
Ted comes in later that evening, when he, Dani and Rachel are sitting at the kitchen table. Rachel begins telling Ted about their shopping excursion and Ted makes his way toward the fridge.
"Ted, wait-" Dani calls out, but it's too late.
Ted opens the door and melons come pouring out, rolling and bumping onto the kitchen floor.
"Charlie, WHY is the refrigerator full of melons?" Ted asks with a long-suffering sigh. Dani and Rachel are laughing too hard to answer him.
"They were on sale Ted," Charlie says with a shrug. Ted groans.
Charlie decides then and there that melons need to be in the fruit salad.
As he's walking toward their desks, he can see that Dani has her back to him. Her feet are propped up against her desk and she's reading something. When she hears him approach she hastily shoves the book away into the top drawer of her desk, a tinge of pink visible across her cheeks. He greets her, curious beyond words at what she's just hidden from him, but lets it slide.
Later when he's sure she's distracted, he casually opens the drawer and grins delightedly at what he finds there. 'Culinary Fruits of the World'.
He realizes then that he doesn't need to come up with the recipe for the perfect fruit salad. He's already found it.