"So where did you learn to catch like that? Barclay's gonna want you on the softball team."
"Yeah, she's already asked me." She'd practically begged him, actually. Please, Ben. Come on. She'd made it too hard to say no, played him, so instead of no he'd said maybe, I'll think about it. He meant no. He'll say no eventually.
They're cruising along Monroe. Two hours to end of shift and this is the first quiet spell they've had all day. Ben just wants to do his job and go home. "And I said I'd think about it."
"Jeez, Cooper, I didn't know you cared so much." It's been a long day, long week, month, whatever. They've dropped into too many fucked-up lives and walked out on them again, still fucked-up. Sometimes it's hard to see what the hell they're doing or why they're doing it, and right now the last thing Ben wants is Cooper on his case.
"Stop ignoring the question. It was simple enough."
Ben wonders how Cooper would react if Ben told him he sounded like Ben's mom. Or Chloe. Ben's not sure which of the two of them is more stubborn, his little sister or Cooper. "I answered your question," he says, cracking the window. It's too hot in here. Ben thinks he manages to sound suitably aggrieved. "I told you I was thinking about it."
"That wasn't the question. I asked you where you learned to catch like that." Cooper's a persistent bastard. It's part of what makes him a good cop. And a good partner. And fucking annoying.
"My dad," Ben says. Now would be a good time for a crash or a domestic, or even someone pulling them over to retrieve locked keys. He doesn't want to talk about this.
Cooper has to know that. He asks anyway: "Your dad played ball with you?"
"Not exactly." Ben lets his tone come through loud and clear. Back off.
Cooper ignores it. "So what exactly?"
Ben shakes his head. Cooper's not going to give up today. "He used to throw things a lot, okay? Sometimes I'd duck, but sometimes they'd be things I didn't want to get broken or stuff I knew mom would be upset about, so I learned to catch. Satisfied?"
"Yeah." Cooper slows for the lights. He smirks. "And just think, I've saved you a fortune in therapy admitting that."
There are a couple of kids on the corner of Marathon and North Western. They cut and run when they see the car, which means Cooper has to swing around and head after them. They catch one of them — the other slips between two buildings and Cooper shakes his head when Ben makes to go after him. The kid they catch swears he's as innocent as a newborn, curses up a storm when they pat him down, and hightails it when they let him go with a warning. He stank of dope but there was nothing on him, no cause to take him in. Another one left on the street to get a little bit dirtier day by day.
"Wanna go get a beer after the shift's over?" Cooper asks. He sounds as frustrated as Ben feels.
It's unexpected, somehow, but better than Ben's non-existent plans for the evening. "Sure," he says.
And now that he thinks about it, it isn't so unexpected. And maybe it's not just a beer. There have been little signs, tells he's picked up on, looks he's caught. Sometimes he's even held them, thrown them back. Cooper's sure to have noticed — he's a fucking cop, he's paid to take notice.
"Where?" Cooper turns onto Romaine.
Ben shrugs. Offers a casual suggestion. "Your regular will do."
Cooper hides his response — pleased and a little surprised — but not so quickly that Ben doesn't pick up on it. "You sure?" he asks. Casual too.
Ben grins. "What, you don't want to take me there? Ashamed to be seen out with me?"
Cooper cracks a grin. "Little twink like you? Hell yes? But I guess I can swallow my pride for one evening. Slum it."
Ben doesn't feel awkward here. He'd wondered, thought he might. Could be Cooper's solid presence next to him that makes it feel okay. Ben's used to Cooper at his side.
He has to speak up over the noise of the bar, even though they're pressed shoulder to shoulder. It's popular. "I'm good at catching other things too, you know," he says.
"Oh, yeah?" Cooper takes a long swallow of beer. God knows what it's doing to him on top of the painkillers. Ben should probably say something. He won't. Not yet. He has to earn the right, and he's not sure he's there yet.
"Yeah." Ben doesn't bother to elaborate, just dangles the idea in front of Cooper.
Cooper holds on for all of two minutes before biting.
Ben's only had one beer but it's enough to make him feel less serious. "Well, let me see? I can catch a lucky break if I get one."
"Good for you," Cooper says, dry and mocking. "Let me guess — you can catch a falling star too."
Ben laughs. "Given the chance, who knows?"
Cooper mutters something that gets lost in the din.
"And hints," Ben says. "I can catch them too. Even subtle ones."
"Most guys aren't any good at that."
"Yeah, well, I'm not most guys." He manages not to leer as he says that, though he's tempted, just to see the look on Cooper's face.
They don't say much again until they're on their next beer. Cooper just picks up where they left off, like there hasn't been five minutes of quiet drinking in between. "Caught any lately?" he asks. He looks as though he didn't mean to ask, as though he's not sure if he wants to hear the answer. As though the answer's important.
Ben nods firmly. "As it happens, I might have," he says. They're touching thigh to thigh now, pushed together by the growing crowd. He leans in anyway, close enough that he doesn't have to do more than whisper. "I thought you might have dropped them."