Despite this and that, Dani Reese realised, in no uncertain terms, she knew nothing about her partner. She knew the rhetoric – innocent cop, unjust prison sentence, innocent cop again – but, unlike her other partners, she barely knew how he took his coffee, let alone his shoe size.
She was, however, used to the surprises. Small ones, at first, where he'd open up and tell her about numerous prison tattoos (but not where they were), about what Jennifer was wearing when he'd proposed and how she'd smelt like the burger they'd shared after the restaurant he'd booked closed early, about his father buying him a remote controlled car then using it for shooting practice when he'd gone out without cleaning his room; small, tiny details that worked, seemingly, against painting a picture of who Charlie Crews was in her mind.
Mainly, because they worked against the rhetoric – so she knew she shouldn't have been so damn surprised when, after receiving a phone call from Charlie frantically telling her to get to his house ASAP, it was for something that looked suspiciously like a birthday party.
He was sitting at his kitchen bench, back straight, and his housemate – Ted, she remembered, quickly – sitting to his left with a rather sad looking party hat.
“It's my birthday.”
“It's your...okay.” She squinted her eyes. “Is this the really important thing you rang and told me I had to drop everything for?”
The low California sun hit his face squarely through the kitchen window, and he grinned. “Yup.”
“I don't have a present. I don't - ”
“You like cake, right, Reese?” Charlie fixed her with that look he often fixed her with, the one that made her feel like her entire spleen was vented and out on the floor, like he understood her without ever asking a direct question, and she nodded.
He stood, leaving his plate of a sliced apple and opened the fridge – which, she could see from where she was standing, was strangely empty – and he pulled out a chocolate cake with nothing on top but one candle and a sprinkling of raspberries.
“Ted made it!” And she looked to Ted, who looked vaguely embarrassed, and she did the only thing she could do – she sat down, putting her keys on the counter and her jacket on the chair, taking the party hat offered to her by her odd, secretive partner and put it on her head.
At different times, in different places, Ted had been told he was just like Dani, and Dani told she was just like Ted – leaving the two of them vaguely at odds with each other, because it's hard looking in a mirror when you're not expecting a middle-aged man with grey hair or a pretty brunette who did everything to hide the pretty.
But here they were, the cake uncut because Charlie had decided he wanted take-out from some hideously expensive organic place down the street. “I want avocado,” was his reason, followed by “did you know the avocado is a fruit, not a vegetable? And it's my birthday,” which, both Dani and Ted thought, separately, was fair enough. So they'd ordered, and waited, then eaten, the silence only really broken by Charlie remarking about his food and asking them questions about theirs.
It wasn't awkward. Just – completely normal, considering.
Charlie talked enough for all three of them, really. It was up to Ted and Dani just to listen, because he'd probably spent twelve years internalising and compartmentalising, plotting and planning, and Lord knows both of them had their share of prison counsellors/rehab doctors telling them to “just talk” and “feel free”, when they felt anything but.
After everything, after Roman, and her father and Rachel, after everything was fixed and happy and she'd gone home with Tidwell and Ted came back from Spain, Dani realised she didn't like it when Charlie didn't talk. Ted, she surmised, didn't either – they both probably lived in a sort of stasis, waiting for him to talk, to tell them the clouds looked like lobsters or the newspaper was missing a page – because when he talked, he was fine, and when he didn't? There was emptiness at the end of the phone and a course of events that left them all a little out of control.
But then again, being apart of Charlie's life assured you gave yourself over, that you allowed yourself the constant surprise because that would mean you'd eventually have another piece of his difficult, complicated, absolutely cryptic puzzle.
Dani pushed her plate aside, the sun almost set and casting a bleaching light over the empty house that seemed to big for any of them.
“You should have told me it was your birthday.”
“Where's the fun in that?”
She shrugged. “I would have gotten you a present.”
He looked interested at this, propping his chin on one pale hand and regarding her with that look again. “What would you have gotten me?”
“A kick in the teeth.”
Charlie smiled, leaning back into his chair. “Exactly what I would have wanted, Reese. You know me so well, it's almost scary.”
She noticed the grin that pulled at Ted's mouth. “What did Ted get you?”
“He -” Charlie pointed at Ted, “got me the greatest gift a man can ever receive.”
She looked at him, wryly, and crossed her arms over her chest.
“Two Swedish twins wrapped in nothing but a bow, right?”
“Close. Tell her Ted.”
“I got him a Filofax.”
“A Filofax!” Charlie slapped Ted on the shoulder, who was now rolling his eyes, embarrassed. “How great is that! It has a place for business cards. And an address book, and a place to jot down my finances.”
“That'll go unused, I'm guessing,” Dani smirked, stealing a raspberry off the cake. Ted laughed.
“Most probably used for paper airplanes.”
“Or a list of Chinese fruits he's yet to eat.”
“The amount of citric acid in his oranges.”
“His plan to take over Whole Foods and call it Charlie's Fruitapalooza.”
“Or which orchards he'll buy in order to make the take-over easier.”
They both laughed, easily, as Charlie looked at them both silently, his mouth turned up in a strange smile. A smile, like one you'd see on a man who's so used to looking in, he wasn't sure what to do once he was welcome inside.
“I put your birthday in it, already. And Ted's.”
They both looked at him, and Dani felt something come over her, suddenly and violently – a delayed reaction, maybe, to the past few months, to those moments in the abyss when she'd thought she'd lost everything. When she'd sat, tied to a chair, Roman tracing a knife along her cheek, seeing that shock of red-hair in her mind's eye, and her heart felt slightly less broken.
Crews – Charlie – a big kid with the soul of an ancient man, who found something in her and in Ted – another lost soul, who'd managed to keep both himself and Charlie alive in a nearly impossible situation and who, in part, had lead them all to this point.
She looked up, into Ted's eyes, and they both smiled at each other, tentatively, across the table.
They realised – knew – they'd given him exactly what he needed – companionship. Not the fleeting, sex-with-a-blonde-you-meet-at-Joe's-Bar companionship, but the necessary kind. The kind that brings a man back from the dead, and gives him something other than a need for revenge that was, for the most part, over. Companionship, that in turn lead her away from a bottle and needle and towards a semi-healthy life, that had lead Ted to pursue happiness in Olivia and a stable, stupidly fulfilling job.
It was something she had to be grateful for, however much it pained her hard-cop sensibilities or how ever awkward it made her feel, even if it made her roll her eyes as he grinned at her and bit into an apple he probably paid way too much for.
Just do it, he'd say, like an overly-inspirational sports billboard. Just do it, just feel it. Go with the flow, Reese.
So she lent over and, in a sign of affection completely out of character but completely necessary, she kissed him – squarely on the cheek as Ted half-stood and put his arm around his friend.
He smiled. A full smile, a happy one - but not a surprised one, she noted - as he moved towards his cake and, with a lighter neither Ted nor Dani knew he carried, lit the one candle that sat on top.
The sun was almost gone as the three of them – a group, who knew nothing about each other, really, except that it was enough to know they didn't know everything – watched the candle flicker.
“Are you going to make a wish?” She asked, quietly.
“I wish for world peace. And a Filofax.”
“I got you a Filofax.”
“Well, then,” he grinned, leaning forward and blowing the candle out, “I got everything I could have wished for.”