Like most of the cases they’re on together, tiny things start going wrong along the way until they’re this close to having the entire plan derailed- “It’s not even me this time,” Travis mutters, obnoxiously unrepentant, and Wes hisses, “Of course it was,” back- and that’s when shit hits the fan.
The suspect draws first blood, or, at least, he tries. The shots that go off overhead aren’t a threat because of the car they’re hunkered behind, but that fact stopped holding true the moment Travis decided it was Time To Wing The Plan Again.
“Oh, for-” Wes feels dangerously close to repeating the whole incident that got them suspended and thrown into therapy to begin with. “Travis, fucking get down-”
“We can’t be sitting ducks for another hour,” Travis yells, taking two potshots and crouching down just as another barrage of shots takes itself out on the car’s sideview mirror. “Unless you’ve got a better plan than just sitting and waiting-”
He does. By the time Wes wrestles Travis down he’s thought of the best one yet.
“Get the- off- mhh-” Travis says, mutinously, his voice muffled around Wes’ palm, and Wes bears down the best he can and knees hard against his thighs, because it’s easy to forget Travis has at least ten pounds on him in pure muscle. “Wes, you’re fucking-”
“Shut up,” Wes tells him, tightly, “Look-” and when they turn towards the car underbelly he points at the clear opening.
Travis glances at him, and Wes nods. “Aim up.”
They might have enough beef with each other for two movies and a musical, but the thing is sometimes they work, like now. Travis turns his wrist up towards the undercarriage and fires, arm braced for the recoil by the side of the door.
The resounding ricochet and cry that earns them means he didn’t miss. They wait for signs of returning fire, and when nothing comes, Travis seems to count it as a win. Wes feels it in the way his whole body eases up under his, and suddenly he realizes he can feel the whole length of Travis’ body against him. It’s nothing that hasn’t happened before- hostage situations, gunrunner takedowns, hiding from one of Travis’ exes, you name it- so Wes isn’t really sure why he’s noticing at all.
Clearly Travis hasn’t noticed, because he jerks his head up so fast their noses bump. It brings on a brief moment of disorientation that’s gone in the amount of time it takes for Wes to blink, and then Travis grunts, “Whoa, ow,” and pushes at Wes’ shoulder. “Come on, we gotta, gotta go, get off me-”
He’s right. Wes jolts backwards and to his feet. “Let’s go.”
“The purpose of this is to establish a rapport through meaningful gestures in favor of your partner’s preferences,” Doctor Ryan says. “A meaningful gesture, meant to convey affection and a certain degree of concern.”
She looks a little too pointedly at Wes and Travis as she’s speaking. It makes Wes uncomfortable, but Travis just grins widely and says, “Wes here, he’s not so good with the gift-giving, don’t you know, doc?”
Wes turns to glare at him. “Excuse you, you don’t know anything about the quality of the gifts I do give. Case in point: I’ve never given you one.”
“-Which sums up the purpose of our exercise,” Doctor Ryan says, calmly. “It doesn’t have to be a big gift, or an expensive one-”
“-Yeah, ‘cause I don’t have the money for your tastes,” Travis says, and Wes valiantly resists throttling him.
“-But it has to be one that’s meaningful, or carries special significance to you both,” She continues, like she’s not watching them argue. “Basically, just give each other something that reminds you of the other person. That’s your assignment for this week.”
Like they didn’t have enough to do already, Wes thought. Now he’s gotten roped into buying a present for Travis too.
He runs that over in his head and wonders why he’s considering it like it’s a possibility at all. He’s not going to do it. Clearly.
“Better make it good, Wes,” Travis says into his ear. He sounds way too happy. “You know how I don’t like boring things, and you’re probably going to get me the most boring thing ever.”
“Who says I’m going to get you anything at all?” Wes shoots back, fisting his hands in his pockets.
Travis just grins, with just enough of a patronizing edge to get to him, and pats Wes’ shoulder like he knows something Wes doesn’t. It’s a sobering thought.
See, the thing is this: if Wes gets Travis anything, he’s playing into his game, but if he doesn’t, he’s playing into it anyway because he’s not doing it for the sole purpose of proving a point. Wes doesn’t get how Travis managed to engineer the perfect Xanathos Gambit, but he does know he hates losing to Travis more than he hates Travis winning one on him.
In retrospect, that didn’t make much sense, but Wes’ logic does have him getting Travis a belt. It’s good enough quality that he doesn’t have to feel any shame over it and it’s not that good that he’s treading into genuine concern territory.
It takes him hours to come up with the idea. More accurately, he waits hours to be told about the idea.
Theoretically speaking, he finally texts Alex, fifteen minutes into fruitless internet advice, What would be a good gift for a male colleague you didn’t very much like and sometimes wanted to maim?
Two and a half hours later, she texts back, Is it therapy? If it was Captain Sutton I’d tell you to get him a watch, but since it’s Travis you’re probably only willing to get him a belt.
He makes the effort, at least, Wes thinks. He’s got a Nobel Peace Prize for Enduring the Most Irritating Human Being Ever to Exist long overdue.
Maybe he chooses a little more carefully than he should. It doesn’t have to mean anything. Doesn’t mean anything.
It’s a while later on that Wes realizes just how in over his head he is.
His enlightenment happens on a Tuesday. It starts innocuously, the type of murder where Dirty Joe sneaks up on some poor schmuck and strangles them in their sleep. Travis has Wes waiting (fuming) in the car while he picks up marigolds.
“For mom,” Travis tells him, fingering the cup holder absently. “I just- you know- hey, you might actually want to try caring about somebody sometime, that’d save me so much of explaining-”
“It’s not caring if you’re only doing it to get into someone’s pants. You could try understanding that sometime, that’d save us from running into your exes all over the damn place,” Wes shoots back, and Travis winces.
“Touche,” he mutters, and gets the door. Wes doesn’t watch him go.
So for the most part Wes spends the wait going over the case file again. It’s a while later that Travis raps his window, sharply, and reflex has him unlocking the door with one hand and turning the file over with the other. When Travis clambers in with a bouquet sizeable enough to block out his periphery, Wes tells him, without looking up, “You’re lucky that this is on the way, because if you were expecting me to make a detour down to her place- yeah, well, I’d say those flowers are gonna have an easier time surviving in the gutter than lucking it out at the office.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Travis replies, and something rustles. “Why is it so much harder for you to do something nice for me than anyone else, anyway? Remember that time when I brought you bagels? From that place across 25th street-” and that’s when Wes looks away from the case and at Travis, and.
He’s fidgeting with the wrapping of the bouquet, gold and yellow all over, and Wes suddenly realizes he smells like the flowers from the shop, warm and fizzy sweet. The clear blue of his eyes in the midday sun knocks all the breath out of Wes’ throat, and just like that, the smart one-liner that’s already on his tongue tips over clear out of existence.
“-Dude,” Travis says, looking at him oddly, and Wes realizes he doesn’t have a clue what he’s been saying. “Did you just miss your cue for a cheap shot?”
Wes feels shell-shocked and winded, like he’s just gotten punched, and it’s a wonder he can breathe at all. Somehow he manages to snap, “Your face is gonna be on the receiving end of a shot alright,” and reaches for his phone to hide the way he’s weak in the wrists.
Travis doesn’t stop looking at him, and the back of Wes’ neck prickles, hot and uncomfortable. For the rest of the drive he keeps his eyes determinedly on the road, fingers tight on the steering wheel, and very carefully doesn’t think at all.
Wes spends the weekend tending to the lawn. There’s something in the methodological way he has to go about it that’s weirdly soothing. Step one step two step threefourfive, again, until the sky’s greying itself and the quiet roar of Alex’s Chevy pulls into the driveway.
The door opens and closes behind him. “Wes?”
She sounds tired. Wes thinks about back when he’d have offered to look over her cases, cleaned up the litigation papers, anything- and how strangely now he doesn’t have that right anymore, and every time he realizes it he feels like he’s just realized it for the first time all over again.
“Hi,” He offers, turning, instead of I’m sorry I’m here, because he thinks she’s gotten sick of hearing it behind his words by now. “I’m just, yeah, I’m just going to finish watering it and-”
“Of course, it’s half your lawn,” Alex says, rubbing one hand over her face. She sighs. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be- I just- it’s been a long day.”
She’s always been so graceful about everything. It’s one of the hardest things to let go, even now. “Tell me about it,” Wes says. He wipes his hand on the terrycloth wrapped around the handle of the hose.
“The client backed out of the merger deal,” she obliges, leaning against the car. “What happened with you? Travis again?”
Wes turns on the hose. Isn’t it always? He thinks.
“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, something like that.”
The belt sits on the hotel mantelpiece like a dirty secret. Wes is really sort of hates looking at it, because when he does, he feels this weird inside-out panic in his chest, like he’s let himself into a vacuum jar.
But Wes can’t not look at it because it’s just- there, stupid and naked and ashamed and achy along the inside. He’s not so sure he’s gonna be able to give it to Travis anymore, which is completely stupid, because that’s what he got it for. A total reordering of priorities, in his opinion, because now he’s not at all sure what he wants to do with the damn thing.
Monday night rolls around. Stabilized a 415 just downtown, looked over the Stonesburg case and wrote up possible motive for coercion and assault, handled two stupidly drunk guys trying to rob a bank on 4th street.
After, when they’ve relinquished the sophomore idiots to the pickup team, Travis catches him by the elbow and says, “Hey, wanna get something?”
They’re tipped close enough on the sidewalk that Wes can feel his body heat through his jacket. The streetlight makes Travis’ skin look glossy, shows off how his shirt clings to him from the sweat- something small and shameful inside Wes makes him say no.
“What,” Wes says, voice a little unsteady, “With you?”
Travis laughs and pulls away from him. He’s not looking at him anymore. Wes’ stomach hurts. “Jesus, man, you can be really cold, you know that?"
Wes does know. He doesn’t say anything, doesn’t offer Travis a ride home, doesn’t put his hand over his mouth like he wants to. Just watches Travis walk away and thinks of the stupid belt sitting back in his room.
“Because it’s stupid,” Wes lies the next day, and Travis pulls a face at him.
“Well, sorry ‘bout not getting you a bottle of hand sanitizer the size of the Empire State building. I’d have done it, since the whole idea has your name all over it, but frankly-”
“Don’t quit your day job,” Wes tells him. “Or actually, do. That would make my life a hell of a lot easier-”
“But then what would you do without me?” Travis quips, and smiles disarmingly. It’s startling how he’s acting like nothing happened last night, when Wes can’t stop replaying it and analyzing his own stupidity from every possible angle. Travis’ thumb brushes across Wes’ palm when he closes his fingers around the tiny bottle, and Wes’ mental processes veer dangerously close to the borders of A Very Bad Place.
In a rare stroke of karmatic weirdness, Doctor Ryan swoops in to save him this time. “So, Wes and Travis. How are the both of you doing?” she asks innocuously, and Wes is so thankful for the interruption he doesn’t even tell her how stupid her gift-exchange therapy ideas are. (The disgustingly cutesy couple look like they’ve gotten each other matching plushies. Sometimes Wes wonders why the hell they’re in therapy at all.)
“We’re doing great,” he says, the same time Travis tells her, “Hey, doc, guess what? I got Wes this awesome gift that totally complements him, and he didn’t get me anything-”
“You got me a bottle of hand sanitizer,” Wes counters bluntly, and glances at the Doc. She’s got this look on her face and then suddenly he’s not so sure he’s still glad she’s here anymore, because he’s afraid of whatever it is she thinks she’s figuring out.
“Aww,” Travis says, obliviously, still smiling. “You’re welcome, don’t mention it,” and slides his hand firm and warm across Wes’ back, so easy. Wes’ throat is completely dry.
She looks like she’s sighing on the inside of her head. “Maybe you could both bring your proper gifts for the exchange next week. I’m sure the other couples would love to see what you’ve got for each other,” she says, and gives them a smile, the one that means I expect to see actual work on this one, do not expect me to give. She’s still looking at Wes, and then she nods like she’s sending Wes a message he didn’t at all get.
“Oh, come on,” Travis whines at her retreating back. “You said, ‘pick a gift that reminds you of your partner’ and sanitizer reminds me of Wes, so what?” Travis turns to scowl at him. “Man, this is all your fault! Couldn’t you just have gotten something just to get her off our backs-”
“Oh, you really want to know what I think about you?” Wes hisses. He’s so disproportionately furious he doesn’t quite hear the silence over the pounding of his pulse. It isn’t until after he realizes everyone’s gone quiet that he also realizes he’s got his hands fisted in the front of Travis’s shirt. It feels like neither of them have taken a breath at all.
Travis opens and closes his mouth, his eyes wide and blue and Wes thinks, god, you’ve got your hands all over him, and immediately wrenches himself away. He feels sick.
“I didn’t-” mean it, Wes says, doesn’t say, fumbles, and then, “I gotta go,” because that’s easier than trying to explain it all in words. He doesn’t have the words for any of it.
It’s the first time he leaves therapy without Travis. He doesn’t look back when he shuts the door.
He’s maybe two drinks in when Doctor Ryan- Emma, for god’s sake, Emma- finds him again at the bar. Neither of them say anything when she does.
She’s got her coat on, and it’s obvious she’s not his date. Wes sips at his scotch duly.
“Listen, I don’t need you to psychoanalyze me or whatever and-” he scrubs a hand over his face. “Just- please. Not now. Just do me this one favor.”
Someone’s laughing somewhere in the room, far away and quiet. The bartender passes over another scotch and she touches her fingers to his, briefly, as he reaches for it. “I didn’t come here to psychoanalyze you,” Emma says. “I just thought maybe you could use some company.”
Wes drinks and doesn’t say anything else, because it’s easier to pretend the burn at the back of his throat is from the alcohol. He doesn’t break until he’s starting on his sixth glass, and then he says, “I don’t. It- I wasn’t supposed to. Want to.”
It’s only when he’s finished that she says, quietly, “You know, not lying to yourself is simply good practice,” and puts her hand up for the tab. “Let’s get you home.”
The next day dawns offensively bright and exhausting. Wes’ head is sort of terribly tender, which sucks, but it’s a lot better than he deserves. He ends up wearing earplugs to work anyway.
Travis doesn’t make any effort to talk to him the whole day. Wes doesn’t let himself look at him at all because he doesn’t even know what he’s looking for there, only that he’s not going to find it.
Things really start going to shit on Saturday night, sometime after one, when Wes wakes up to the repeated battery of his door.
“What-” Wes says, and Travis calls through the door, “Lemme, lemme in-”
He’s drunk, Wes realizes. He’s so, so drunk, and he probably smells terrible, and Wes is not at all equipped to handle the cause of his existential crisis dragged to his doorstep. He opens the door anyway.
He starts, “Travis, this is harassment and if you’re planning to cause damage-”
Travis pushes into him and Wes sees the decision happen so perfectly in his mind that he knows what’s going to happen before it does, but he turns his head too-slow and Travis’ mouth ends up on the side of his face anyway.
It’s sloppy, off-center, and his skin burns where Travis touches his. He thinks, abruptly, of electrical impulses- synapse depolarization- and shoves Travis away as hard as he can.
His chest is heaving when he manages, “Get out,” and Travis looks straight at him and says, unevenly, “You don’t really want me to, you don’t-”
Travis looks messy, reckless. The lapel of his jacket hangs open like someone undressed him and his mouth is red. Wes’ throat is so tight. “I don’t have to deal with your bullshit,” he says, shaky. “I don’t give a-”
“Yes you do, Wes,” Travis says over him, too-loud, damning, “Yes, you do,” and Wes yells back, “So what? So- fucking what?”
“‘So what?’” Travis echoes, blankly. “So-”
He doesn’t finish. He doesn’t have to. They stare at each other, shocked-open and raw, and Wes thinks, hysterically, that they’ve only ever learned how to outdraw each other but never to shoot.
“Stay here or leave, I don’t care,” he says, before Travis does anything else, and goes into the bedroom. His hands are shaking so badly it takes him four tries to lock the door, and he puts on his earplugs so he doesn’t have to hear what Travis does or doesn’t do.
He doesn’t look at the belt on the mantelpiece. It’s a long night.
In the morning, there’s an approximately Travis-shaped dent in the couch. One of the throw pillows have been shoved under the coffee table, but Wes’ place is otherwise blessedly puke-free.
It’s a weird day. Wes spends it trying very hard to think about his not thinking, and it doesn’t work. He’s seriously considering talking to Captain Sutton about transferring over to the FBI and wondering how his life turned into a primetime special when the doorbell rings.
He’s filled with this weird sense of- anticipation, dread, even before Travis’s voice comes from the other side of the door. “Wes, open up.”
Wes feels like he can’t breathe, can’t do this. He doesn’t let himself move from the couch. “Wes, I know you’re in there.”
“Go away,” he calls back, weakly.
“I’m sober,” Travis says.
Wes doesn’t look at him. He’s a little brittle right now and maybe afraid that if he does he’ll say yes, say please, say oh god, oh fuck you, Travis, Travis, please. He presses his face into his hands. “So what?”
“So,” Travis pauses. “I’m still here.”
Wes finally goes over to the door and looks through the keyhole. Travis’ wearing a clean set of clothes, and he’s leaning against the door, but the stiff set of his shoulders means that the throwaway air of his usual careless gait is a lie. Something inside of Wes fucking aches.
Abruptly a whole host of things seem so ridiculously obvious that he wants to take and shove them raw into Travis’ hands: that the coolly impersonal hotel décor feels foreign and abrasive most nights, that he doesn’t know if he could stand the finality of getting a new place- the concrete proof of having left his old life behind- and that he still misses her, that he’s half-baked and out of place and all over, that focusing on the job makes it easier, that routines and invariants make it safer, that Travis takes away all semblances of order in his life and carves out a place for himself to fit next to Wes’ bones and he’s fucking terrified and so goddamn lonely he’s ashamed of it.
Wes opens the door.
He’s proud of how even his voice is when he says, “Are you just going to stand there forever?”
Travis blinks and looks at him, up-down, like a full-body shiver. “Are you asking?”
His neck burns. “What do you think?”
Travis smiles so brilliantly it hurts to look at.
“Took you long enough,” he says.
When he finally manages to insinuate himself under the covers, the bed’s big enough for a single that they still fit. It’s the strange newness of how Travis feels against him- curved together like parentheses- that gets his skin prickling, nervous. Travis’ knees bump against his, and he’s warm under all his clothes, and Travis’ eyes are so, so blue.
“Wes,” Travis says, his hand hot against Wes’ shoulder, and Wes lets him slide it down to the bend of his elbow, thumb the inside of his wrist, the rough slide of the flat of his palm, fingers catching. He was subtle with the cologne today. He remembered. “Hey, Wes.”
“I wasn’t ready,” is what Wes says, fixing his gaze on the lamp beyond Travis’ shoulder. “After Alex, I just. Wasn’t ready. And you’ve got a girl every other day of the week. I didn’t. Know.”
If Travis tried anything then he would’ve bolted, would’ve backed away, and it would’ve been the worst thing that’s really ever happened between them. It would’ve been something they couldn’t bounce back from, maybe ever. It’s like Travis knows that, somehow, because he doesn’t- just kept looking at Wes’ face, his mouth- sort of like. Like he wants to. But he doesn’t.
“And-” Travis says, voice so low it’s like a physical touch. “And now?”
Wes stares long enough that the light glazes his eyes over, fractures the space in his vision where Travis’ face is. He has to close his eyes before Travis blurs right out of his vision, and Travis lets him.
It’s easier, Wes realizes, to say nothing than to say he doesn’t know. It is easier.
“Well, it’s- been five years,” Travis says, finally, and Wes loses his own inhale in his throat. “A couple more doesn’t matter. If you want. Wes-”
Kissing Travis is like biting into a sugar cube: the rough crunch and gritty feeling of the first sweetness that stuns. It’s all new, the soft shape of his mouth, the shock right down to the base of his spine, the shudder that crawls up his throat. Travis kisses so reckless and easy and lavish and Wes thinks, who taught you how to do that?
The heat of Travis’ palm through his shirt is vertiginous, electric, and Wes shifts until his knee skims the outside of Travis’ thigh, and. Travis is a great kisser. He’s a fucking amazing kisser. Or maybe it’s just been so long since Wes had kissed anybody, been with anybody, that he’s forgotten what it feels like for someone he actually wants to want him like that. The world looks so brand new and terrifying and acrobatic when he’s trying out the shape of desire in his mouth. It has Wes closing his fingers tight around Travis’, just to tether himself, because the stop-stutter of his own breath won’t stay. He keeps his eyes closed when Travis tongues his mouth open, and breathes his name like he’s trying out a question.
Wes wouldn’t ever have let Travis thumb at his face before. Wouldn’t have let Travis nose back into the kiss until it felt like every soft part of their bodies are touching. All new.
World of new.
Travis isn’t there when he wakes up, because weirdly enough Travis is in the kitchen. He’s turned on the radio, because he’s always going to be insufferable and irritating, but he’s also doing something weird with Wes’ frying pan.
Wes clears his throat. “Are you expecting me to eat that?” he says, and it’s weird that it’s Travis in his kitchen wearing his shorts. It’s weird that he looks at Travis’ body and what gets him is that he knows how all of that feels.
“Hey, I get points for trying,” Travis says, and grins at him. It’s a little infectious, or maybe it’s just that Wes is happy and he’s not sure how to deal with it just yet. The song on the radio is going, electric twist, it’s electric twist-
Travis keeps looking at him, and he swallows. “This isn’t-” he tries, waving his hand around to encompass everything, them and the kitchen. “This isn’t par for the course. I mean, if that’s what you thought.”
Travis’ mouth is soft when he looks at Wes, which still means so many new things. “Yeah, I know that,” he says, evenly. “Just felt like doing it. Could use some help, though,” he adds, and he’s smiling when Wes steps closer.
Wes can’t stop himself from smiling back, because it’s such a weird, good sort of hurt. “Let me show you how it’s done,” he says, and twines their fingers together on the counter.