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Every Time We Touch

Chapter Text

It was all Dr. Ryan's fault. That was Travis' story, and even LAPD's most skilled interrogators could not have compelled him to budge from it.

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"Touch," she told them, in those honeyed, British tones of her, "is one of the most important tools in your possession for strengthening your bond with your partner. With that in mind, this week I want all of you to find new ways to touch your partner."

Wes' hand shot up with a speed Travis felt sure would have impressed even an Olympic sprinter.

"No, Wes, for the eighteenth time, you and Travis are not exempt from the homework assignment," she said, turning her cool gaze on him.

"Dr. Ryan," he said, gritting his teeth together in the way he always did when trying not to yell, "I am willing to admit that participating in some of your seemingly pointless 'homework assignments' has been surprisingly helpful in keeping Travis and me from each other's throats."

"But..." Dr. Ryan interjected, the patience in her tone only just concealing the steel lying beneath.

"Oh, can you really expect the two of us to go through with an exercise as obviously designed for actual couples as touching?!"

"Do you have a problem with touch, Wes?" Dr. Ryan asked, leaning forward and resting her chin in her right hand, all the while keeping her eyes fixed on Wes.

"Yes!" Wes exclaimed, before quickly course-correcting to, "No! I mean, Travis and I, we're not partners like that, so touching wouldn't be, er, appropriate."

"Touch goes much, much deeper than just romance, Wes," Dr. Ryan insisted. "To touch and be touched is a basic, human need - so basic that babies and young children can actually die, just from being deprived of touch."

"Well, I am not a baby, Dr. Ryan," Wes shot back.

"Really?" Travis couldn't help but interject with a smirk, "Cause you're sure acting like one right now."

"Oh, so you're telling me you're on board with Operation: Touchy-Feely?" Wes asked, crossing his arms skeptically.

"Sure, why not?" Travis replied with an easy grin designed specifically to irritate Wes. "I've got nothing to be afraid of."

"Afraid?" Wes demanded, directing his full irritation at Travis, "You think I'm afraid?"

Travis shrugged, raising his hands in a gesture intended to express, If the shoe fits...

"That...that is ridiculous," Wes insisted, crossing his arms again, this time defensively.

"Now, there's nothing to be ashamed of, son," Gary Dumont interjected, in an undoubtedly misguided attempt to help. "Lot of us guys have issues with intimacy."

"I do not have issues with intimacy, Gary," Wes hissed. "I just..." Wes trailed off, saved from finishing his thought by the buzzing in his pocket, echoed by the subsequent one in Travis'.

"Saved by the bell," Travis muttered, retrieving his own phone just as Wes gleefully announced, "Patrol found our suspect - gotta go!" and pulled Travis to his feet.

"Don't think this gets you out of anything, Wes," Dr. Ryan called out to their retreating backs, "I will be expecting a full report!"

Watching Wes single-mindedly pilot their car back to the station, Travis couldn't help but think about the way his partner had curled into his chair after he'd taunted him about being afraid. Had he stumbled upon some sort of buried secret? Was Wes actually scared of being touched?

The more Travis turned it over in his mind, the more it seemed to ring true - the hand sanitizer Wes was constantly applying; the way he shied away whenever Travis raised his hand for a high-five; the general air of unassailability he gave off at all times.

Well, then - if breaking through Wes' personal shields was his homework for the week, Travis supposed he was just going to have to go for it.

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1. Travis figured he'd start slow and sneaky. Any attempt on his part to touch Wes would definitely prompt him to withdraw, and might even provoke suspicion. But if he tricked Wes into touching him...

"Okay, who's got my hand sanitizer?" Wes demanded to the station at large.

Travis watched him with amusement from the doorway of the break room. He'd give Wes a little while longer to stew before going in for the kill.

"Seriously, guys, who has it?" Wes inquired again, as the few people who had instinctively looked up on the off-chance anything interesting was going on returned their attention to their caseloads, disappointed.

After a considerable silence made it clear no one was going to acknowledge his question, let alone come forward, Wes attempted a change of tactics. "Okay, okay," he said, trying and failing to make his tone sound amused, "You got me! Great joke, you guys, honestly. But I do kinda have to have it back. Just put it on my desk, and we'll call it even."

Travis continued to watch, grin now firmly in place, as Wes strolled away from his desk in a way which he undoubtedly thought nonchalant, but was in reality painfully obvious. After a few minutes of no one going within five feet of his desk, Wes relinquished his position behind a pillar to make a second, rather less casual announcement.

"That's it - no more Mr. Nice Cop!" Wes shouted, swinging his arms out wildly and nearly knocking a stack of papers from the arms of a visiting stenographer, prompting him to immediately apologize and offer to personally escort her from the building - and thus completely negate his statement of seconds before - before finishing with, "If the hand sanitizer is not on my desk in ten seconds -"

Deciding this would be a very good time to put the plan into Phase 2, Travis wound his way around the bullpen until he was perched casually on the edge of his desk, conspicuously cleaning his stapler with Wes's hand sanitizer.

"You can not be serious right now," Wes hissed, a tremor of anger running through his voice.

"What?" Travis asked lightly, feigning total innocence. "You don't mind, do you? My stapler was looking a bit...grimy. Gosh, I figured you'd approve!"

"You are honestly telling me that you didn't hear me screaming for this for the past ten minutes?" Wes demanded, his left hand unconsciously clenching and unclenching itself into a fist.

"Oh, that was you?" Travis asked with a smile, "Hell, I just thought that was just the mindless ranting of some psych patient waiting to get transferred to County."

Both of Wes' fists were now permanently clenched, tightly enough, Travis noted, that his perfectly groomed fingernails were digging red, crescent moons into his palms. A twinge of guilt struck Travis then, but he mentally shook it off. After all, he reasoned, a little pain was surely a worthy price to pay for personal growth.

"Give. It. To. Me." Wes snarled, spitting out each word quickly and individually, as if he hated the sound of them on his tongue.

"Oh, this?" Travis inquired, gesturing toward the bottle of hand sanitizer as he rose from the desk and began to back slowly toward the break room. "No can do, I'm afraid, brother. Not when I know we've got a couple refrigerator magnets just begging for some sanitizing."

As he turned and made his way into the break room, Travis began to silently count down from five. To the credit of Wes' unpredictability - and speed - he only got to three before he felt something slam into him from behind.

Although Travis was able to extend his arms in front of him to break his fall, he was a little surprised to find one of them immediately twisted behind his back. "Hand it over, Travis," Wes threatened, his voice low and dangerous.

"You got some skills, man!" Travis exclaimed appreciatively - well, as appreciatively as he could manage considering Wes was actively cutting off his air supply - "Where'd you pick those up?"

"Wrestling team, high school," Wes said matter-of-factly, "Went all-state my senior year."

"Oh yeah, you see, we didn't have one of those," Travis said with feigned sadness, before elbowing Wes in the face with his other arm and using the advantage of surprise to flip their positions on the floor. "Just an after-school fight club. Weren't encouraged to wear those little unitards, though."

"Singlets," Wes corrected with as much dignity as he could muster, considering Travis was lying on top of him.

"Oh, there's an image," Travis said automatically, momentarily thrown off by the fact that imagining Wes in a wrestling uniform wasn't as funny as he'd initially thought it would be. Even more disturbing than that, it was actually kind of...

Travis was saved from having to finish that disquieting thought by Wes taking advantage of his distraction to strike at his left knee - still weak from a confrontation with a perp the week before - and regain the upper hand once again. "You have moves like those in your fight club?" he asked smugly, easily blocking all of Travis' subsequent attempts to reverse their positions.

"No, pretty sure the only guys with moves like that were on the dance squad," Travis teased, unable to hide how pleased he was that his plan was off to such an excellent start.

"Oh, I'll get you for that," Wes threatened, but Travis could see that his anger of moments before had completely dissipated, to be relaxed with something that on anyone else Travis would have identified as playfulness.

"Ah, but are you going to get this?" Travis taunted, raising the bottle of hand sanitizer above his head.

"Would you give it -" Wes exclaimed, lunging forward in an attempt to grab the bottle, "Travis!"

Travis just laughed and stretched his arm above his head as far as it could go, forcing Wes to extend himself fully over Travis' torso. As he continued to reach for the bottle, Wes' neck brushed against Travis' cheek, filling Travis' nostrils with a pleasant, minty scent Travis presumed to be his aftershave.

Travis kept the grappling going for nearly five more minutes by switching the bottle from hand to hand, with Wes abandoning any grip on the floor in favor of using both hands to try and grab it, until a voice from the doorway commanded both their attention.

"Mitchell! Marks!" The Chief barked, crossing his arms and tapping his toe loudly and emphatically on the floor, "What the hell is going on here?"

"Chief!" Wes exclaimed, glancing quickly from their boss to Travis as a look of horror spread quickly over his face. "I can explain!"

"No explanation necessary, Mitchell," the Chief said, the sharpness in his tone in his voice softening a bit, "I know from my time with Dr. Ryan just how much work maintaining a relationship can be."

"Oh God," Wes groaned, trying desperately to extricate himself from Travis, but only managing to make their position even more compromising as he insisted, "This isn't what it looks...I mean you know that we're not..."

"But that doesn't mean that I approve of these kind of shenanigans in my break room," he continued, treating Wes' interjection as if it hadn't happened as he settled on a tone of paternalistic sternness. "The fact is, boys, the workplace is simply not an appropriate location for working out these sorts of, um, domestic issues."

"Sorry, Chief," Travis interjected with a cheeky, but apologetic grin, cutting off Wes' incipient response, "Guess we got a little...carried away."

"Well, now, as much as I can certainly understand that," the Chief said, the hint of a smile playing on his lips, "that's still no excuse for letting it get in the way of your work. I trust you will understand that in future."

"Won't happen again, sir," Travis promised with a little salute, suppressing his grin until the Chief had departed from the room, muttering something that sounded suspiciously like, "I'll bet Burton and Taylor didn't pull this kind of bullshit on set."

"What the hell did you do that for?" Wes demanded, shoving Travis down as he quickly retrieved both his footing and his hand sanitizer.

"You know how the Chief is about couples' counseling," Travis said with a shrug. "Figured it was the easiest explanation for why we were rolling around on the floor together."

Travis was gratified to see a flush spread quickly up Wes' neck and onto his cheeks as he gestured vaguely to his bottle of hand sanitizer, muttered, "I have to go, um, sanitize this," and hurried from the room.

Travis chuckled a little to himself as he got slowly to his feet. This was going to be fun.

Chapter Text

2. "Explain to me again why we can't just be a couple of regular guys, spending a day at the beach?" Wes asked, self-consciously tugging on his shorts for the tenth time in as many minutes.

The truth was, they probably could have been. But that would have denied Travis the fun of seeing his normally uptight partner trying to simultaneously run on sand, spike a volleyball, and not look like a cop. And it was a lot of fun.

"These guys are a tight-knit community, man," Travis said confidently, spinning the ball from one hand to another. "If we come in as outsiders, they'll shut down. It'll be as bad as flashing our badges."

"Oh, fine," Wes snapped, sighing heavily, "But are these tight shorts really necessary?"

"I suppose you'd rather play in slacks and a button-down?" Travis asked with a laugh, though he was reasonably convinced Wes would have tried it if he hadn't insisted on the current uniform.

"And you're sure these guys don't wear shirts?" Wes asked skeptically, crossing his arms self-consciously in front of himself.

Okay, yes, a preliminary Google search had revealed that most Olympic beach volleyball players did, in fact, wear shirts. And baggy shorts, come to that. But a Santa Monica league rough enough for two of its members to have turned up beaten to death was probably more into flashing tats and flexing muscles, hence his insistence on Wes' more revealing outfit. Yeah, that was it. Almost definitely.

"Would you stop blushing like it's your quinceanera and just set me already?" Travis shot back, changing the subject forcefully by shoveling the ball in Wes' direction.

Wes straightened instinctively, sending a glare Travis' way to be followed by a volleyball bounced off the tips of his fingers, which Travis easily sent spiralling into the sand on the other side of the net.

"Hey, that was actually a little better!" Travis observed, ducking under the net to retrieve the ball, "And you know what that means!"'

"I get to go put on real clothes?" Wes asked hopefully, sneaking yet another glance at the shorts.

"Time to work on your defense!" Travis insisted, testing out a few sets himself.

"Come on, Trav, we've been at this for two hours already!" Wes pleaded, letting out a frustrated sigh.

"And we'll be at it another two if you can't figure out how to bump in a straight line," Travis said firmly. "Ball coming your way in three, two, one..." Travis popped the ball above his head, before slamming it over the net and into Wes' left wrist, at which point it took a sharp right into the ocean.

"Hey!" Wes objected, rubbing his wrist. "If I'm as terrible as you say I am, I definitely can't hit something coming at me at that speed."

"Fine," Travis conceded, rolling his eyes as he jogged over to retrieve the ball, "I'll throw you a few soft ones, but just as a warm-up. The Santa Monica Hitmen certainly aren't going to be playing nice."

Of the ten spikes that followed, Wes hit four, and only one in the direction of the net - Travis was pretty sure from the shocked look on his face that it had been a total accident.

"Okay, we're going to change it up a bit," Travis announced, after wading back to the shore for his third deep-water oceanic ball retrieval, "if only to give my shorts a chance to dry."

"Oh, what now?" Wes asked sulkily, looking distinctly displeased with his progress - or lack thereof - on the court. "You're going to hurl bowling balls at my head and expect me to hit them back to you?"

"No," Travis said patiently, "I thought I'd take a more...hands-on approach to your instruction."

As Travis began to slide his arms over Wes', however, his partner quickly jerked forward with an fervent exclamation of, "Nope, not happening! I am not playing Kate Winslet in Titanic with you!"

"So...that would make me Leonardo DiCaprio," Travis observed with a smug grin. "Wow, Wes, didn't know you thought of me like that!"

"No, I - oh shut up!" Wes exclaimed, blushing a little, thus providing Travis with an unprecedented opportunity to see just how far down the flush went.

It was only when Wes spoke again that Travis realized he'd been staring. "Mm, what?" he asked, trying to act casual enough that he could play it off like he hadn't been creepily ogling his partner.

"I said," Wes said, looking at him strangely "how come you know so much about volleyball anyway? Don't tell me - trying to impress some girl."

"The reverse actually," Travis said, smiling at the memory. "She was trying to impress me."

"Let me guess," Wes said, crossing his arms, "Raven hair, perfect teeth, olive skin..."

"Wrong on all counts, my friend," Travis said mischievously. "Curly red hair, lime green braces, and so many freckles that that's what I used to call her. Now, her parents, they called her Moira - three years before they wrapped their car around a tree."

The look of confusion on Wes' face slowly changed to one of comprehension. "She was your foster sister," he said softly.

Travis nodded. "I was sixteen when she came to the home - thirteen years old, tall, gangly, with this hair that went everywhere at once like an orange tornado. It took her four months to say more than two words to anybody...as it happened, she chose to say them to me."

"And the volleyball?" Wes asked, a look passing over his face Travis couldn't quite place.

"I was shooting hoops with some of the boys out back, and she just comes up, all quiet, and says 'I'd like to play.' So I walk over to her, and bend down, and say, 'Now listen, Freckles, you wanna play, fine - but we're not going soft on you.' The girl just nods, serious-like, and says those same four words again: 'I'd like to play.' "

"And she was good, huh?" Wes asked, a little grin sneaking up on his face.

"No, she, uh, she sucked," Travis said, with a shake of his head. "Least aggressive player I've ever seen. Couldn't get the ball to save her life. Thing of it was, the five or so times I threw her the ball, that girl sank two jump shots! She may have seemed shy on the ground, but Freckles was pure poetry in motion in the air."

"So I take her aside after the game and say, 'Okay, the bad news is, you aren't going to be Michael Jordan,' and before her face can fall too much I finish, 'But the good news is, I might have something even better.' I convinced our foster mom to buy her a volleyball the very next day."

"What, um, what happened to her?" Wes asked, tucking his hands into his elbows, as if suddenly feeling self-conscious.

Travis grinned, partially to make Wes feel a little more at ease and partially because he still couldn't think about his favorite foster sister without smiling, before jogging over to the side of the court to retrieve his phone. A few swipes of his fingers later, and he was holding the phone up so Wes could see the picture displayed on it - a pretty redhead in her mid-thirties surrounded by a group of grinning girls in volleyball uniforms.

"Once she'd captained two state championship teams in high school, it didn't take long for the scouts to come calling. Four years later, she graduated UCLA with honors in sociology and three Division I titles to her name. Now she's back in the old neighborhood, teaching junior high bio and coaching the next generation of foster kids how to pull off that perfect block."

"You must be proud," Wes said quietly. The puzzling look that had come across his face a few minutes prior was back again, giving Travis no more clues as to its correct interpretation.

"Giving that girl a push is one of the few, truly good things I've done in my entire life," Travis said honestly. "Damn right, I'm proud."

A silence followed. Up until recently, the two of them had stuck to a very firm, if unspoken, rule against talking too much about their childhoods. Travis didn't know what had possessed him to do so, but he couldn't help feeling like they'd crossed some sort of line in the, well, sand.

"Okay," Wes said finally, this time heaving only a minute sigh.

"Okay, what?" Travis asked suspiciously, grateful for the distraction from his prior introspection.

"Okay, I'll let you teach me," Wes said, turning toward the net. "Just make it quick, or I'm liable to change my mind."

Travis grinned - he was a little uneasy at just how pleased this made him, but he was going to put it down to the pure joy of getting Wes to give in to any of his requests - and lined himself up behind Wes again.

"All right, now show me your best bump," he ordered, refraining from touching Wes immediately in the hope that he would soon be too distracted by trying to get the move right to shy away again.

Though Wes brought his hands together quickly enough, the resulting movement wouldn't have repelled a falling leaf, let alone a volleyball. "What the hell was that?" Travis demanded, giving Wes a light smack on his shoulder blade.

"Hey!" Wes exclaimed, rubbing his shoulder, "It's not my fault! It's a reflex - I can't do it unless there's a ball flying at my face."

When Travis sniggered instinctively, Wes flushed again and yelled, "That's it, I'm out."

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Travis interjected, quickly sliding his arms over Wes' to stop him from leaving. "Come on, you don't learn now, it's like you put on the shorts for nothing."

Wes let out what sounded to Travis like a growl and mumbled, "Fine..." before insisting, "But no more laughing or I'm gone."

"No laughing, I promise," Travis said, trying his best to inject some gravity into his tone. "Now, let's start at the beginning - your stance."

"What's wrong with my stance?" Wes demanded. "I've seen beach volleyball on TV - they totally stand like this!"

"Yeah, if they want to hit like you've been hitting, they do," Travis observed. "Legs straight, weight on your heels? One good hit and you're on your back in the sand, guaranteed."

"What you want to do," Travis continued, shifting his left hand from Wes' arm to the back of his knee, "is bend your knees slightly, just enough for a little spring, and put your weight on the balls of your feet instead."

When Wes complied, Travis made sure to say encouragingly, "There you go, perfect, that's it!"

Wes waited a few beats then muttered, "If I've got it, you can probably move your, um, hand,"

"Right!" Travis said quickly, shifting his hand from where it had somehow come to rest on Wes' lower thigh and bringing it back to his arm. "Now that we've mastered the stance, we've got to do something about your grip."

"Oh come on, it isn't that bad," Wes objected, before adding a hesitant, "is it?"

"No, no, it's not that bad," Travis lied, he hoped convincingly, "we've just got to loosen you up a little bit."

"Sounds familiar," Wes muttered, causing Travis to laugh.

"Step one, arms straight out in front of you," Travis instructed, causing Wes to hurl his arms out toward the net at a strange, upward angle. "Here, like this," Travis said, sliding both of his own arms over Wes' and guiding them down so they were perpendicular to the ground. "Better?"

"Better," Wes assented with uncustomary ease. "Er, now what?"

"Now," Travis said, extending his fingertips so both his hands were brushing over Wes', "Make a fist with your left hand and open up your right so the palm is facing left."

Wes complied correctly with half of Travis' instructions, causing Travis to laugh a little and say, "Left, Wes. Palm facing left," before physically rotating Wes' right hand into the correct position. "Did you miss that day in kindergarden?"

"What can I say, I was busy dipping Suzy Williams' pigtails in ink," Wes deadpanned.

"Wes, you made a joke, man!" Travis exclaimed, "How did it feel? You're not hurt, are you? Didn't strain anything?"

"Yes, haha," Wes said sarcastically, "you're hilarious, and I should clearly leave all the funny business to you."

"Sorry, force of habit," Travis said, almost apologetically, "You just have to warn me next time."

"Can we get back to bumping now, please?" Wes asked impatiently, "Or would you rather just stand here holding my hands all afternoon?"

"That's the thanks I get for trying to instruct you," Travis said, acting put-upon in an effort to distract Wes from the reality that he had once again found himself perfectly comfortable having a casual conversation while his hands were all over his partner, "Nothing but complaining."

"Fine, where were we?" he asked, not moving his hands from their position over Wes', "Ah, that's right, left hand fist, right hand open, palm facing left. Now," Travis exerted a little pressure on each of Wes' hands, "you push them together."

"And I have to do all this every time I bump?" Wes asked, with something that sounded like a mixture of disbelief and despair.

"Just the first few times," Travis assured him, "until your motor memory gets used to how it feels. Your right hand," he guided the fingers of Wes' right hand over those of his left, "goes over your left, setting up your thumbs side by side. Like that, see?"

"Yeah, I think...I think I get it!" Wes exclaimed, sounding genuinely excited for the first time in a long while - too long, to Travis' mind. He liked hearing Wes happy.

"You ready to try it with an actual ball?" Travis asked, feeling an inexplicable pang of disappointment that this part of the lesson was already over.

"Well, don't you have to teach me hitting technique first?" Wes pointed out, with a little laugh.

"I do, don't I?" Travis asked, brightening. "All right, now this is very important - you ready?"

"Hit me," Wes said, quickly course correcting when Travis shifted position to, "I mean tell me - tell me!"

"Spoilsport," Travis muttered, grinning, before he said, "You have to lock your elbows in place, and tilt your forearms, so the ball comes in contact with your wrist bone, right..." Here he took the opportunity to shift his hands so his fingers were grazing the tops of Wes' wrists, "here."

"Right there, huh?" Wes asked, quietly, not moving an inch.

"Uh-huh," Travis said, suddenly finding himself utterly devoid of relevant volleyball wisdom to impart. Finally, what seemed like an eternity later, he murmured, "Well, we should probably, um..."

"Practice with that ball now," Wes said with a little laugh, that sounded to Travis' ears a little on the nervous side, as Travis carefully unwound himself from Wes. "Yeah, definitely."

Ten practice spikes later, Wes was succesfully bumping one out of three in the direction of the net. Thirty after that, the ratio had risen to three out of four, and he could even choose what angle to send them at most of the time.

"What do you say, Coach?" Wes asked, his face lit up with a giant grin, "Do I make the team?"

"Make the team?" Travis asked, raising a hand in the hope that Wes would finally return his high-five, "Baby, you are the team!"

"Yeah, I am!" Wes exclaimed, raising his hand to Travis' without a second thought. After clasping it for a few more moments than he ever had in Travis' recollection, Wes let go abruptly and murmured, "Well, I should..."

"Yeah, me too," Travis said quickly, grabbing both duffel bags from the side of the course, and throwing Wes his. "I'll be seeing you."

"Well, as we work together and it's only Tuesday, you're bound to," Wes pointed out.

"Right!" Travis observed with a nervous laugh of his own, "Right! Then I'll see you...tomorrow! At work!" He turned quickly and made his way to his car before he could become even more inexplicably tongue-tied.

He was probably just tired from all the volleyball. That would explain his sudden inability to make conversation. And the lingering heat still radiating off his hand. Yeah, tired. That was it.

Chapter Text

"Travis, this isn't necessary, I'm fin - Aaah," The hand Wes had thrown over Travis' shoulder at his insistence was now bone white and digging into his black leather jacket. Travis silently thanked his lucky stars that he'd been able to get dressed before Wes' back spasm had gotten this bad.

"Well, you sound great," Travis said sarcastically as he maneuvered Wes into the conference room. "Just a little farther now, I promise."

"Really, I'm sure I'm just a little s - Aaah! - sore," Wes said weakly and without conviction.

"Yeah, you're just a little sore like you're just a little bit of a neat freak," Travis said, rolling his eyes. "Okay, now, I'm gonna put you on the table in one...two..." Travis bent his knees so he and Wes were closer to the ground and somehow managed to slide his partner forward onto the long conference table.

Wes let out a low groan and buried his face in his arms, evidently deciding to abandon the pretense that he wasn't in some serious pain. Travis was struck by a sudden, strange desire to run his fingers through Wes' hair - like one of his foster moms used to do when he was sick - but decided against it, on the grounds that Wes shouldn't be wasting his energy on sending him the withering looks that would almost certainly result from him doing it.

"I think the Chief keeps an emergency stash of aspirin in his office," Travis said instead, "And there should be some ice in the break room freezer."

As Travis turned to leave, Wes let out another groan, this one veering just slightly into whimper territory, and flung his arm out blindly in Travis' direction. Travis paused, and found himself clapping Wes gently on the shoulder and saying, "I'll right back, man - I promise."

Although he kept telling himself that he'd been reading too much into the gesture, that Wes definitely wasn't the type to seek out physical comfort, Travis made sure to get the aspirin and ice back to the conference room within a few minutes.

"Here," he said slipping two white pills into Wes' right hand and a glass of water into his left, "These should take the edge off. Are you up to...I mean, do you need some -"

"I'm not a total invalid, you know," Wes said with as much dignity as he could muster, considering he was exerting a great deal of effort to take a sip of water.

"Oh, yeah, I'm sure we'll have you doing triathlons in no time," Travis said, glad Wes was not positioned at an angle to see the grin on his face. Even sprawled across a table, grimacing in pain, his partner was determined to be in control.

Travis probably shouldn't have been surprised, then, when his attempt to remove the bottom of Wes' shirt from his pants - Travis didn't even know where to start on the fact that even mid-spasm, Wes had actually taken the time to perfectly tuck in his shirt - was met with a sharp, "What are you doing?" from Wes.

"Making my move," Travis said seriously, "I thought waiting until you were incapacitated would give me the greatest chance of scoring."

"Wha - Aaaah," Wes said, pausing in his confusion to let out an exclamation of pain.

"Relax," Travis said, feeling a little guilty - but only a little - for messing with his partner, "I'm just clearing the way for the ice pack - it should numb the pain a little."

"Oh," Wes said, and Travis could feel him exhale as he gently positioned the towel with the ice in it over Wes' lower back, "Um, thanks."

"Yeah, you're welcome, man," Travis said, carefully pulling Wes' shirt back down over the towel. "I gotta say, I, uh, feel kinda responsible - I was the one that put us on that court today."

"Hey," Wes said, snaking a hand back to reposition the ice pack and grazing Travis' own in the process, "We owned on that court today. How many other guys in this department can say they caught a murderer and won a volleyball match against the best team on the beach in the same evening?"

"Hopefully none," Travis said with a laugh, "Besides the fact that no one can even hope to match our clearance record, I really do not want to imagine most of them in shorts."

Wes started to laugh as well, but was forced to abruptly change it to a sharp hiss of pain, prompting Travis to ask, "Is it getting any better?"

Wes nodded, albeit slowly and with obvious effort. "I think the aspirin's starting to kick in, and the ice feels good, but at this rate, I have serious doubts about my ability to move off this table in time to avoid the mockery of all the whole department."

Pushing aside his initial reaction to yell at Wes for not telling him how bad it was until they'd already reached the station, Travis attempted instead to be soothing. "Come on, man - it wouldn't be that bad. You got injured in the line of duty!"

"I got injured jumping around on sand with a bunch of thugs wearing absurdly tiny shorts," Wes deadpanned, "I don't think they're going to see it quite that way."

"Okay, so they'd rag on you a bit tomorrow. By next week, Simmons would have passed out drunk at his desk again, wearing that sparkly purple tank top Reynolds keeps in her locker from her vice days."

Wes shook his head miserably. "No, you don't understand, Travis. The boys have been waiting for months to find something, anything on me after I reported Davidson to IA. They'll be calling me Misty May from now until the end of time."

It was then that an idea struck Travis. A crazy idea. An impossible, terrible, crazy idea. He blamed the uncharacteristic despair in his partner's voice.

"Maybe we should call an ambulance," he suggested, determined to exhaust all other options before giving in to the insanity of moments before.

"With that pile-up on the 405 from earlier?" Wes reminded him, shaking his head, "My back is the last thing any of the area hospitals should be prioritizing today."

"And you're sure there's no way you can make it home like this?" Travis prompted, his hopes for an alternative solution rapidly dwindling.

"I can't make it out of this room like this, let alone back to my hotel room," Wes said with a deep sigh. "It's no use, Trav - just leave me. I'll be all right. Sure it'll be weird at first, but after awhile, I'll just be one of the fixtures of the conference room. People will point me out on the tour, like the interrogation rooms, or the water cooler."

God damn him. Normal Wes was annoying enough that he was easy to resist, but In Pain and Delirious Wes? Travis simply wasn't equipped to deal with that.

"There is one way to relieve the pain that we haven't tried yet," Travis said hesitantly, leaning against the side of the table, "but I don't think you're going to like it."

"If it's anything more pharmacologically hardcore than aspirin, forget about it," Wes said firmly, "I'm not going on anything that needs a prescription without seeing a doctor, I don't care how much pain I'm in."

"No, it's nothing like that," Travis promised, "It's just...I mean, under ordinary circumstances you wouldn't even consider..."

"Would you just tell me already?" Wes demanded impatiently, "Travis, as long as it's legal and won't actually kill me, I'll do it - I'm desperate here!"

"Okay," Travis said, taking a deep breath before continuing, "So back in the day, when I was spending seven hours a week coaching Freckles on her spike, I ended up getting pretty cozy with her volleyball coach. Cute blond named Jordan, fresh out of college,"

"Could you possibly keep me updated with further notches on your bedpost at a time when it doesn't feel like a troupe of very small men are dancing on my back wearing soccer cleats?" Wes exclaimed in frustration.

"I'm getting there, I'm getting there," Travis said, holding up his hands in protest, "Anyway, Jordan taught me a lot of things, believe me, but one of the most useful was...how to give a truly amazing, post-game massage."

"Let me get this straight," Wes said slowly, like he was letting the full impact of Travis' suggestion sink in properly, "you want to massage me?"

"I don't want to, man!" Travis said quickly, "All I'm saying is that I've got the skills, and if you're as desperate as you say you are..."

"I can't believe I'm considering this," Wes muttered, shaking his head. After a couple minutes of apparent deep thought, he abruptly shouted, "No, no, this is ridiculous - I am just going to get off this damn table and - Aaaaaooohhh God!"

"Okay, not letting you try that again," Travis muttered, quickly helping Wes back into a prone position on the table after his disastrous attempt at standing had only resulted in him screaming in agony and shaking from head to foot.

As he repositioned the ice pack over Wes' back with his left hand, Travis couldn't resist running his right over Wes' shoulders in what he hoped was a soothing motion. When Wes didn't flinch away as Travis had been expecting, he continued the motion with both hands, hoping to stop the shaking.

After a few minutes of this, Wes mumbled something that sounded to Travis like, "Okay."

"Okay?" Travis prompted, wanting to make sure Wes meant what he thought he meant.

"Just...promise you won't tell anyone," Wes half-said and half-sighed.

Travis couldn't help but chuckle a little as he said, "Yeah, I promise, man."

"Okay," Travis said, taking yet another deep breath, "If you can manage to get your shirt off from this angle, then I'll just go and see if I can mix up some massage oil."

"My shirt?" Wes asked, as comprehension dawned, "Massage oil?! You can't possibly be suggesting..."

"Look, you want this to actually work, a couple glancing pats on the back aren't going to cut it!" Travis exclaimed, "So I need to know now - are you in or out?"

Wes sent him a long look, before sighing and muttering, "In..." and reaching his hands under his chest to begin carefully unbuttoning his shirt.

"All right, then," Travis said with a nod, before jogging into the kitchen, mind racing. Oil, he needed some sort of oil. He began rapidly opening all the cabinets in succession, until a small bottle of olive oil hidden at the back of one of the top shelves caught his attention.

After quickly grabbing it and silently thanking God for Thomason and his insistence on mixing his own salad dressing, Travis retrieved a small bowl and poured the remainder of the oil inside it.

"Now for the final touch," Travis muttered, striding across the hallway. "Sorry, Chief," he said, swinging open his boss's door, "All for a good cause."

Travis headed straight for the Chief's bottom drawer, being cautious not to disturb any of the many layers of mes piled on the top of the desk. Carefully, he moved aside the stacks of case-files to reveal a series of small bottles strewn over the bottom of the drawer.

"Orange blossom...eucalyptus...lavender! That'll work!" Travis wasn't sure why he was continuing to talk to himself. No, that was a lie - between this and the fact that he was actually going through with this plan, he was reasonably certain that he was going insane.

Still, as there was nothing he could do about it now, Travis figured he might as well go through with his ludicrous plan - at least Wes might get some pain relief out of his bout of mental illness.

So he sprinkled a few drops of the lavender into the olive oil, warming it slightly in the microwave, and returned to the conference room, only to find Wes struggling with the last few buttons on his shirt.

Oh God. The word that popped immediately into Travis' head was 'adorable'. Like Wes was some sort of baby turtle, flailing its legs because it couldn't flip over on its shell. Yep, definitely going insane.

"I honestly don't know how you ever manage to survive without me," Travis said, dropping the massage oil on the table and kneeling to slide Wes' torso forward so he could reach the buttons.

Travis was waiting for the customary snarky response, or perhaps an annoyed, "Oh, shut up!", but much to his surprise, Wes just looked at him and said quietly, "Yeah, me too, sometimes."

If Travis thought In Pain and Delirious Wes was unexpected, that was nothing compared to Quietly Grateful Wes. He found himself focusing an unnecessary amount of energy in getting Wes' shirt off his shoulders, in the hope that his speechlessness would be less noticeable.

"There, that should, uh, that should do it," Travis said, quickly standing back up. "You ready?"

"As ready as I'll ever be," Wes said, still sounding distinctly apprehensive about the whole matter, "Considering I'm laying on a table, getting ready for you to rub me down with a mysterious combination of liquids you found in the station - any more surprises coming my way?"

Travis figured this was probably the appropriate opportunity to rip off the final band-aid. "Okay," he started, "You know how I told you that I learned how to do this under...less than professional professional circumstances?"

"I'm afraid to ask," Wes said incredulously, "After all this, I am actually still afraid to ask."

"Well...Jordan never actually taught me how to do this from what you might call a standing up position," Travis hedged.

"Travis," Wes said through gritted teeth, "What kind of position might I call the one you can do it from?"

"You would probably think of it more as a...sitting on you one?" Travis admitted.

"Why not?" Wes said, throwing up his hands before bringing them back down quickly with a grimace. "It'll complete the picture of absurdity that is now my life. The buttoned up, put together Wes Mitchell of yesterday is no more! Bring on the massage oil!"

Travis laughed. "You're cute when you're raving like a maniac," he said fondly.

He could actually see the muscles in Wes' back tense as he asked, "What?"

Oh God. Why had he said that? "What?" Travis asked nervously, "Okay, time for that massage oil!"

He quickly picked up the bowl of oil from the table and began pouring it on Wes' back. First adorable, now cute? And this time the thought had somehow escaped the confines of the dark recesses of his mind into the dangerous territory of spoken words.

"It's warm!" Wes exclaimed, sounding surprised.

"Well, yeah," Travis said, pausing in his dispensing of the oil as something occurred to him, "Have you...never had a massage?"

"Letting some stranger put his hands all over me?" Wes asked incredulous, "Definitely not my idea of relaxing."

"I figured that," Travis said, taking the opportunity to remove his jacket and roll up his sleeves, "but what about Alex? Not even once?"

"I don't know, man," Wes said with a sigh, "She tried it a couple of times, but I could never get comfortable. She said it was like massaging a slab of granite."

"Well, not to worry," Travis said firmly, "Slabs of granite happen to be my specialty. You ready?"

"Ready as I'll ever be," Wes said dryly. "So...how do we, um, do this?"

"Here," Travis said, retrieving his jacket and handing it to Wes, "Prop your head up on this."

"Yeah, not the logistical problem I was worried about," Wes said sarcastically, softening his tone just a little to add, "but, um, thanks."

"As for the other part...probably best to get it just dive right in," Travis suggested. "It's not weird unless we make it weird."

"Pretty sure it's weird regardless," Wes observed, "but go ahead, prove me wrong."

"Yeah, I'm just gonna put my leg up here," Travis said, half to Wes, half to himself, as he began to swing himself up onto the table, "and if I turn like this..."

"Ow!" Wes exclaimed, as Travis pressed a hand against the icepack to steady himself, "You're supposed to be helping me!"

"Sorry, man," Travis said, getting situated without the aid of his hands, "Only helping from now on, I promise."

"Okay," he said, taking a deep breath, "I'm just going to start at your neck, and work my way down once you're a little more relaxed - that work for you?"

"Whatever gets me off this table and back in my bed the fastest," Wes said resolutely.

Taking this as a yes, Travis leaned forward and held his hands just above Wes' shoulders. No big deal, just Wes' shoulders. He'd touched them loads of time. Not like this, a traitorous voice whispered from inside his head.

He was about to utter an audible, "Shut up!" to the voice when he remembered, once again, that such things were the actions only of the mentally ill. Sure, he'd come to grips with the fact that he himself was probably going slowly insane, but there was no reason to bother Wes with the news.

Instead, he determinedly lowered his hands and began to gently rub the base of Wes' neck with the tips of his fingers. "That okay?" he asked tentatively. It had been a while since he'd done this, and never to someone who actually needed it medically.

"Mmm," Wes murmured, "Yeah, it feels...nice, actually."

"It should," Travis observed, his motor memory kicking in as he moved his hands down to knead Wes' shoulders, "You've got a lifetime's worth of tension stored up in these shoulders."

"Alex used to say I carried too many people's problems on my shoulders," Wes said reflectively, "Certainly didn't do me any favors in our marriage."

"Going by the size of these knots, you haven't put too many of them down since then," Travis noted, applying extra pressure to a particularly tight cluster of muscle by Wes' left shoulder blade with his elbow. "I'm amazed you haven't had a problem like this before."

"Actually," Wes admitted, "back when I was working ninety hour weeks at the firm, I had my back give out three or four times. Usually ended up laying on the floor of my office until I could drag myself out to a cab, then onto the couch at home."

"You never called Alex?" Travis asked incredulously, "When you were in that much pain?"

Travis could feel Wes shrug slightly under his hands. "I guess...I didn't want her to see me like that. Weak, vulnerable, out of control."

"But she was your wife, man," Travis pointed out, satisfied enough with his work on Wes' shoulders to transfer his attention down to his lats, just above the area still covered with the ice pack. "I mean, if you couldn't be vulnerable with her, then who..."

Travis trailed off as the look on Wes' face answered the unfinished question for him. He felt something in his chest drop. He was all too familiar with Wes' boundaries, but he'd always thought that they were the natural result of their differences in detecting style. It had never even occurred to him that he'd always had them, let alone kept them up all the time, even with Alex.

"You're, um, really good at this," Wes said, bringing Travis back from his thoughts. "If you run into Jordan, you can give her my compliments."

"Him," Travis corrected automatically. Shit. His fingers froze on Wes' back. Had his mental filters just completely abandoned him tonight? Well, nothing left now but to go for it. "Jordan was...a him."

Wes turned his head, and though Travis clearly saw shock written across his face, to his relief there was no accompanying look of horror. "You never said," Wes said quietly after a few moments, "All this time, and you never said."

"You know how it is," Travis hedged, resuming the massage so he would have something to do with his hands, "Cops aren't exactly known for being open-minded about this sort of thing, and since there'd only been a few guys since I joined the force, I figured, why put a target on my back?"

Wes said nothing, only continued to look on thoughtfully, prompting Travis to ask, "You don't mind?"

"No," Wes said, his voice tinged with something Travis couldn't quite place, "No, Trav, I don't mind."

Travis let go of the breath he didn't know he'd been holding. Wes didn't care. Even with Travis on top of him, Wes didn't care. Travis felt a wave of warmth wash over him - he'd say this for Wes, when you really needed him, he didn't disappoint.

"Well," Travis said, quite willing to change the subject, "Now that I've got you warmed up, I'm going to start working on the spasm itself. All you need to do is stay relaxed. Can you do that for me?"

Wes nodded slowly. "I'll do my best."

Travis removed the ice pack and tentatively began stimulating the muscles just around the trouble area, isolating them individually with his palms. Man, how had he never noticed how fit Wes was before? Those button-down shirts definitely did not do him justice.

"Now, I want you to tell me if anything hurts, okay?" Travis murmured, tracing his fingers lightly over the spasming muscle.

When Wes let out a low moan, Travis ceased his motion immediately, but Wes quickly said, "No, don't stop, it...it feels good."

Travis continued kneading little circles into Wes' lower back, increasing the pressure slightly, prompting Wes to mutter some combination of, "Ooh, keep going, yeah, that's it," over and over again in succession.

Travis responded by moving his fingers lower still, pressing the bunches of muscle around the base of Wes' backbone with as much force as he could muster. Wes let out another moan, louder this time, which became a prolonged cry of, "God, yes, Travis, right there."

As Travis dug in even harder, running his thumbs down Wes' backbone while stretching his fingers over Wes' obliques, he noticed for the first time just how warm he felt all over. He was ready to put it down to the exertion...that is, until Wes screamed out his name again and Travis felt an all too familiar stirring in his pants.

Oh God, no. Please. God. No. Not here, not now. Not Wes. Travis' mind began to race, trying to think of anyone or anything to get his little problem to go away.

Baseball, just think about baseball, Travis. That worked for a little while, imagining the springy feel of the astroturf, the crack of leather against wood...until thinking about baseball somehow evolved into thinking about Wes playing baseball in tight, white pants, which was the opposite of helpful.

"Travis?" Wes asked hesitantly, snapping him out of his panicked fantasies, "Everything okay?"

"Yeah!" Travis assured him quickly. Oh yeah, no big deal, he thought, just dealing with the fact that my penis decided to let me know at the worst possible moment that I'm apparently very into uptight white boys with intimacy issues. "Fine. Awesome. How's the back?"

Wes cautiously stretched a little to either side before exclaiming, "Hey, that's amazing! It feels better! It actually feels better!"

"I told you, baby, I got mad skills," Travis said, quickly swinging off Wes and hurrying toward the bathroom with a shout of, "Stay there, just gonna grab a towel."

Travis wasted no time in dunking his head in the nearest sink and switch the cold on high. "Come on, Marks, get it together," he muttered. A few minutes of cold water and determination later, Travis was able to towel off his hair and return to the conference room without having to worry about holding various objects in front of him at odd angles.

"There you are," Wes said, carefully rolling himself onto his side, "I was beginning to get worried."

"Sorry, man," Travis covered with a smile, "Couldn't find the towel."

"Could you...?" Wes gestured to his back apologetically. "Sorry, I can't quite reach."

"Sure," Travis acquiesced, silently threatening his penis with all sorts of horrible fates should it choose to misbehave again.

"You, uh, think you're ready to try getting out of here?" Travis asked as he wiped the massage oil from Wes' back with truly impressive speed.

"Only one way to find out," Wes decided, reaching out a hand for his shirt, which Travis gladly threw to him.

"All right," Wes said, once he had thrown the shirt over his shoulders, "Let's see if you really do have miracle fingers."

Though Travis had been aiming to have as little physical contact with Wes as possible for the sake of avoiding awkwardness, one look at the flash of fear that went across his partner's face as he contemplated standing up again had Travis across the room with his arms around Wes in seconds.

"Just take it slow, man," Travis suggested, "Up on the count of three?"

"On three," Wes agreed, still looking a little nervous. "One...two..."

"Three," Travis finished, pushing up from his knees to help Wes to his feet.

For a few seconds, they both just stood there, arms around each other, waiting to see if Wes' agony from earlier would return. Finally, it was Wes who broke the silence with a broad grin and an exclamation of, "We did it! We actually did it!"

Travis couldn't help but grin in return as he agreed, "Yeah, we did, man. I'm glad you're feeling better."

Wes' grin dimmed a little as he asked, "Should we tempt fate and try walking?"

"Got to do it sooner or later," Travis pointed out, shifting so he and Wes were side by side, though his arms were still wrapped tightly around his partner's torso. "A hundred steps or so, and a car ride, and you're home free - just keep telling yourself that."

Wes nodded tersely and signaled to Travis to start walking. It was only a few steps, however, before a clear grimace appeared on his face. "You okay?" Travis asked, worried, "Need to take a break?"

Wes shook his head firmly and insisted, albeit a bit breathlessly, "I'm all right. I can make it to the car, just keep going."

Travis took him at his word and kept the two of them moving, out of the office, into the elevator, then out into the parking garage toward Wes' car.

"Almost there, man, I promise," he murmured encouragingly, depositing Wes carefully into the passenger seat. After taking it as a sign of his partner's pain and exhaustion that he handed over the keys without argument, Travis put forth significant effort to drive quickly, but also carefully.

After what seemed like an eternity later, Travis pulled up in front of Wes' hotel. "Home, sweet, home, buddy," he said, shutting off the car and running around to the passenger side to pry Wes out of his seat.

"Bang goes my reputation," Wes muttered as Travis half-helped, half-dragged him across the lobby, toward the block of elevators.

"Oh, your reputation for never doing anything remotely interesting?" Travis asked teasingly, "I think you'll do okay without it."

"If interesting always hurts this much, I think I'll pass," Wes said with another grimace as the elevator made its way to the sixth floor.

"You gonna be okay by yourself tonight?" Travis asked as he quickened their pace from the elevator to Wes' door. "I don't want you relapsing in the middle of the night and getting me out of my bed to come be your personal masseur."

"No, I'll...I'll be okay," Wes said, carefully retrieving his room key and letting them both in, "Really, I owe you way too much already."

"Dr. Ryan said that if we want to be a successful partnership, we have to stop keeping score," Travis reminded him, "So as far as I'm concerned, we're square."

"Yeah, well, we'll see if you feel this way the next time I cut off your radio privileges," Wes said, letting out a sigh of relief as Travis helped him onto the bed.

"Thanks," he said, grabbing Travis' sleeve and looking up at him anxiously, "Really, Trav. I don't know what I would have done without you."

Travis playfully, but gently punched him on the arm. "Don't worry about it, man. That's what partners are for. Now, you gotta promise me you're going to take it easy and get some real rest, or that couch is gonna be my new home for the next few days."

"Promise," Wes said, raising his arms in a gesture of surrender. "Nothing but room service and bad TV for me for the foreseeable future."

"Good," Travis said with a little nod. "Well, I should let you get some sleep. Don't worry about work, I'll let the Chief know what's going on."

"Yeah, thanks," Wes said. That untraceable look on his face was back again.

"Feel better, okay?" Travis said quietly, brushing a hand over Wes' shoulder. "I'll call you tomorrow to check in."

"Night, Kerri," Wes called out, a wicked smile stealing across his face from out of nowhere when Travis turned around in surprise.

"Night, Misty May," Travis responded with a smile of his own, unsure if he was more surprised that Wes had remembered the names of the champion beach volleyball players or was actually exercising his sense of humor enough to use them.

It was only when he was safely within the confines of the elevator that Travis felt safe enough to give in to the panic that had been building for an hour. It wasn't just that he had learned in no uncertain terms that he was attracted to his partner. After all, he managed to work successfully with people he'd actually slept with, working with one he merely wanted to couldn't be that bad.

No, Travis thought, as he slumped against the side of the elevator, it was being attracted to and caring about the same person. And that person being Wes. All in all, he was in some serious trouble.

Chapter Text

Travis knew it was a bad idea the second his knuckles brushed across the door. The second the sight of Wes opening the door tied his stomach into a thousand miniscule knots, he knew it was a truly terrible idea. But what could he do? Injured Wes was apparently his Kryptonite.

"Thank God," Wes said, his sigh of relief shifting into something bordering on a smile, "I've been going out of my mind. Please tell me you brought distraction."

Travis grinned. "How does beer and a movie grab you?" he asked, brandishing a six pack in his left hand and a DVD in his left.

"With the mental state I'm in? It 'grabs me' in all the right places." Wes stepped aside so Travis could enter the hotel room. Before Travis could stop himself, he had sent his partner an extremely suggestive look, causing Wes to blush and mutter, "Not like that..."

"Hey, if I'd been cooped up with a hotel room for a week, I'd definitely be trolling for some grabbing, baby," Travis said, accompanying his words with a strange laugh he barely recognized as his own. God, why was he talking like a tipsy frat boy? Travis Marks was not obvious. Travis Marks did not stumble over his words.

"Not your first six-pack of the night, buddy?" Wes asked, crossing his arms at Travis, a skeptical look on his face.

"No, man, I'm not drunk," Travis said with a nervous laugh, "I'm just, you know, excited...for the movie...woo!" Oh perfect, now he'd graduated from tipsy frat boy to plastered sorority girl. Who was he even kidding? Travis Marks was seriously screwed.

It had been almost exactly a week since the beach volleyball game, Wes' back injury, the massage...and Travis' unwelcome realization that he was having more than just partnerly feelings toward Wes.

Wes had been spending the time on mandatory bed rest - the hotel doctor had confirmed Travis' diagnosis of a back spasm and insisted that he take a week's leave to recover - leaving Travis alone to catch up on the mountain of paperwork the two of them had backlogged over the past couple months.

It should have been a relief, not having to see Wes every day...and for the first couple of days, it was. Travis could actually go whole minutes on end without being forced to fixate on the annoyance of his inconvenient feelings for an inappropriate guy.

By the third day, however, something thoroughly unprecedented had happened: he missed Wes. He missed the way his desk would mysteriously become neater whenever he re-entered the room. He missed the way Wes would start humming along under his breath with whatever song was playing on Travis' iPod.

Most of all, he missed the subconscious rhythm that he and Wes always seemed to be falling into lately - passing files back and forth, sharing bags of chips and packages of gummi worms, swapping pens for highlighters and back again, all without uttering a word.

When Wes had called him a few hours earlier, with a thinly disguised request to come relieve him of his boredom, Travis had nearly jumped at the chance. So here he was, tripping over his words, not to mention the edge of Wes' coffee table, as he tried to salvage what was left of his customary cool.

"Well, then," Wes said, positioning himself on the couch with only a slight grimace, "It must be one hell of a movie. What's it called, anyway?"

"Hot Fuzz," Travis said, turning the DVD case over in his hands. "I remembered how Dr. Ryan kept saying how we should watch it, how we could learn a thing or two from it, so I figured, why the hell not? Gotta say, I'd been thinking it was some kind of indie movie about laundry, but stuff's exploding all over the place on the cover, so I'm hoping if there are any washers and dryers, they'll be blown sky high before too long."

Wes laughed - a short sound, but one that went straight to Travis' gut. It had been too long since he'd heard Wes really laugh, and not just because of the sick leave.

"Even if it's a hundred and twenty minutes of the permanent press cycle, I'm still in," Wes said, retrieving one of the beers and carefully removing its cap with a bottle opener. "I've watched all the movies on the hotel's pay-per-view list at least four times apiece, and if I have to see Eddie Murphy battle a magical tree one more time, I swear I'll discharge my sidearm directly into my skull."

"Can't have that happen," Travis said, instinctively reaching over to mess up Wes' meticulously arranged hair. "Not to such a nice skull."

"Shut up," Wes said - though he swatted Travis' hands away, a smile played around his lips. "You keep that up, and I'm not giving you any of the chicken parm."

Though Travis had begun to shift his attention to opening his own beer, his head whipped around at the mention of Wes' specialty. "You made...your chicken parm?" Travis knew his attempt to keep his voice casual had failed utterly, but compared to the possibility of tasting Wes' Italian food, it hardly mattered.

"Maybe," Wes hedged, tilting his body away from Travis, "but only for people who are nice to me and only if they help clean up."

"Hey, for that chicken parm," Travis said, leaning over and placing his hands on Wes' shoulders, "I will be sugar and spice and everything nice, baby."

"I'll believe that when I see it," Wes said, skeptically crossing his arms.

"Oh please, Wes," Travis said, using Wes' shoulders as leverage to lean forward and show Wes his puppy face. "Please? Please?"

"Get off me!" Wes said, giving Travis a shove, which had the unintended side effect of knocking him into Wes' lap.

Travis couldn't help it - the sudden flush of embarrassment on Wes' face had him letting out a peal of laughter and saying teasingly, "Gosh, Wes, when you said I had to be nice to you, I didn't think you meant that nice! I am simply not that kind of girl!"

Though a deeper blush momentarily darkened his cheeks, Wes recovered quickly enough, shoving Travis back into a sitting position and propelling himself off the couch in one surprisingly fluid motion.

"I knew I should have called somebody else," he grumbled, shuffling into the kitchen.

"Like who?" Travis countered. "Alex is the only other person who cares enough about your sorry ass to come, and you know that she'd be bringing tea, not action movies."

"At least she'd help me clean up," Wes said, leaning around the corner of the kitchen to look pointedly at Travis.

"Are you seriously going back to that again?" Travis asked in exasperation. "Fine, I, Travis Marks, do hereby swear to do any and all kitchen clean-up asked of me in exchange for delicious Italian cooking. Happy?"

"Not until I see a cabinet full of sparkling clean dishes, no," Wes said, returning to the living room with a tray in each hand, "but I suppose it's enough to get you a probationary serving of parmegiana."

"Oh, you are a beautiful, beautiful man," Travis said, rubbing his hands together in anticipation before reaching out to grab the tray, "A pain in the ass, but beautiful."

"And you said you weren't that kind of girl," Wes muttered under his breath. When Travis glanced at him in surprise, Wes responded with a brief flash of shockingly wicked smile before returning his expression to its default setting of 'annoyed.' "Well," he said, carefully positioning his plate on his lap, "is there really a movie in that DVD case, or was it all just a plan to get my food?"

"Wesley Margaret Mitchell, I am hurt," Travis said, reluctantly putting aside his tray and getting up to pop the disc into Wes' sleek DVD player.

"Margaret Mitchell?" Wes asked incredulously, "Like author of Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell? That's the level of coolness you think I'm at?"

"Okay, hot shot, who would you have picked?" Travis shot back, crossing his arms.

"Umm, how about fighter pilot Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, a handsome rogue who flies by his own rules?" Wes suggested, as if it were the most obvious idea in the world.

Travis arched an amused eyebrow in Wes' direction. "Unless I'm remembering Top Gun incorrectly and 'his own rules' happened to coincide exactly with official Air Force guidelines, pretty sure you two don't have a lot in common."

"Oh, just press play already," Wes said, taking a large bite of chicken and sinking back into the couch in a silk.

"As you wish, Miss Scarlett," Travis said, affecting a light Southern accent which he was forced to abandon to burst out laughing at the horrified look on Wes' face.

Any reply Wes might have made was silenced by the sudden sound of footsteps echoing loudly in an empty hallway.

As the two of them watched a shockingly competent police officer plow his way through a series of training exercises and challenges, Travis absently let his feet drift up to rest on Wes' coffee table. Wes, meanwhile, just as absently gave a swift kick to Travis' ankles to dislodge them, his eyes never leaving the screen.

Travis quickly raised his beer to his lips to hide the smile that was instinctively creeping across them. God help him, twisted as it was, he'd missed this.

"Well, that's typical," Wes exclaimed after ten minutes or so, gesturing at the television in annoyance, "That's just typical."

"What's typical?" Travis tried to ask, although the fact that he had just taken another bite of chicken parmesan made it come out more like, "Mwha tipirul?"

"He's just trying to follow the rules, to be a good cop, and they hate him for it!" Wes said, the annoyance in his voice veering into genuine anger before he finished more quietly, "They all hate him for it..."

The look on Wes' face made it abundantly clear that they weren't talking about the movie anymore. God, was that really how he thought the guys saw him?

"Hey," Travis said, brushing his thumb over the pause button so Wes would turn to look at him. "They don't hate him, man. I think they just...don't quite get him sometimes."

Wes shifted his gaze to the ground for a few moments, as if deep in thought, before returning it to Travis as he asked, uncertain, "And you? Do you...get him?"

"Yeah, I think I do," Travis said. "I mean, he may not do things the way I would, but he could never do anything he didn't believe was right."

"Or so I would assume," Travis continued with a little cough, conscious of the silence that his words had brought into the room, "We've still got a lot more movie to watch."

"Right," Wes said, letting out a nervous laugh, "the movie. Let's get back to it, then!"

Travis obliged him and pressed play, but let his gaze linger on his partner's face until he was satisfied that the haunted look which had passed over it moments before had departed.

From that point onward, he couldn't look at Nicholas Angel without seeing Wes' face instead, couldn't watch his seemingly misguided attempts at maintaining constant order without thinking of his partner's similarly deluded efforts.

Travis assumed this was why Dr. Ryan recommended the film - a way of showing Wes his tendencies through a filter...that is, until they got to the scene.

Angel and his less capable, but better adjusted partner (who Travis might have admitted under duress shared one or two characteristics with himself) were sitting on the couch after a night of swapping beers and stories.

One second they were just a couple of guys hanging out, the next they were inches apart, staring into each other's eyes. Travis saw it - what Dr. Ryan had clearly wanted him to see: two guys who complemented one another's differences; who managed to find something good amidst chaos and carnage; most of all, who cared about one another more than anyone else, far past the point of mere partnership.

Travis couldn't believe he'd been so stupid. Looking at the two men on the screen, their feelings were obvious. And judging from the way everyone from their boss to their sandwich guy looked at them, Travis was realizing with blinding clarity that he and Wes must have been just as obvious...to everyone except themselves.

This disquieting thought quickly led him to an even more disturbing one - up until this moment, he'd been so preoccupied with his own startling feelings that it hadn't even occurred to him to wonder about Wes'. On some level, could he possibly feel the same way? And if he did...

Travis knew he shouldn't sneak another glance at Wes - he'd already been looking over at him once every couple of minutes, as it was - but his gaze was there before he could will it away. To his surprise, he found that his eyes were staring directly into his partner's.

God. Shit. Fuck. When his thoughts had finally progressed past the monosyllabic, it occurred to Travis that the parallel with their movie counterparts was now ludicrously complete. If he ever got out of this emotionally charged staring contest, he and Dr. Ryan were going to have a little chat about her choices in cinema.

As it was, what the hell was he supposed to do now? Say something? Do something? They definitely hadn't covered anything like this in therapy - the downside to everyone else there being preformed couples.

After continuing to ponder the impossibility of the situation - and occasionally how he had never previously noticed how goddamn blue Wes' eyes were - for a few awkward minutes, Travis found himself unexpectedly saved by an explosion on the screen, which gave him an excuse to snap his attention back to it.

Though he mentally pledged to keep his eyes directly on the film for the rest of the evening, Travis was happy to discover the plot of the movie seemed to have become intricate enough to command his focus all by itself.

As the better part of an hour passed, this single-minded focus was the only explanation he could think of for why he didn't notice that his partner had fallen asleep until he was already half-lying in Travis' lap.

His instinctual reaction was to reach down and shake Wes awake - he definitely didn't want a repeat of what had happened the last time the two of them were in such close physical proximity - but one look at the expression of contentedness on his partner's face had him reconsidering. Wes so seldom let his guard down enough to relax, even when he wasn't recovering from a back spasm; the last thing Travis wanted to do was spoil it for him.

Instead, he reached over his sleeping partner to grab one of the throw pillows someone - undoubtedly Alex - had given him for the couch, before sliding it carefully under Wes' head. Travis' breath caught when Wes stirred, but he merely shifted position a little and went immediately back to sleep.

Travis felt a smile spread across his face. He was sure Wes would be utterly mortified if he could see himself right now; he had the rest of the movie to decide how much shit he would be giving him when he woke up.

With the issue of having a lapful of his sleeping partner at least momentarily taken care of, Travis returned his focus to the movie, which he found himself becoming more invested in by the minute.

It was not until Angel began trying to convince the police of Sanford that a fifth brutal murder was not, in fact, an extremely unlucky accident that his attention was once again drawn away by the man in his lap. Wes' breathing had become erratic, and his formerly peaceful expression was now one of deep disquiet...whether from pain, fear, or something else, Travis was not entirely sure.

He remembered what Wes had admitted during the massage, about all those nights he spent alone and in pain, unable to bring himself to share it with even his wife. It made Travis wonder what else Wes had been keeping hidden inside himself all these years.

When Wes' erratic breathing segued into a low groan, Travis indulged his initial instinct to run his fingers lightly through his hair. To his surprise, Wes not only leaned into the touch, but seemed to relax significantly. Overcome with a wave of unprecedented tenderness, he continued the gesture, long past Wes' return to a seemingly dreamless sleep.

He wished he could see Wes like this when he was awake - happy, untroubled, all shields down. He knew Wes better than almost anybody, yet it was only in the past few weeks that he realized the extent to which even he was kept at arm's length. A need to change this troubling status quo burned new and bright within him, though he had no clue how he would even begin such a campaign.

No sooner had Travis finished managing the fallout from real life Wes's issues than his fictional counterpart was exhibiting some of his own, in as idiotic a manner as was conceivable. Travis watched in alarm as Angel rushed into a crowd of homicidal maniacs, armed with nothing more than intense conviction.

"Come on, man, what are you doing?" Travis demanded of the man on the screen, gesturing despairingly toward the television with the hand not still tangled in Wes' hair. "You're going to get yourself killed acting like that!"

The horror he felt increased exponentially when Angel's partner Danny appeared among the attackers. Angel's anguished exclamation of, "Danny, no!" echoed his own sentiments exactly. How could he betray his own partner like that? His friend? His...though nothing had officially happened on screen, Travis was a good enough judge of people to have any doubt about what else Nicholas was to Danny.

So when Angel finally ran out of places to run, and it was Danny who dealt the fatal blow, it was the last straw. Travis had nearly finished mentally composing a strongly worded email to Dr. Ryan before it was revealed to have been a trick - Angel was fine, Danny had only been pretending.

Travis' instinctual reaction was one of intense relief, followed immediately by an equally intense feeling of foolishness. Why had he reacted so strongly? It was just a movie. Even if things had ended as darkly as he had originally thought, it wouldn't have mattered. These people didn't exist.

To you they do. The treacherous voice returned the second Travis looked down at Wes and saw that he had subconsciously curled his right arm protectively around his partner's still sleeping form. At this point, even if the evidence hadn't been so damning, he would have been too tired to keep fighting what was so obviously true.

He loved Wes. Not just attraction, or a fleeting crush, or even feelings of the unspecifiable sort. Love with a capital "L." The kind he'd spent a good part of his life running the other way from. The kind that made a normally sane person have a minor meltdown over the fate of a fictional character who shared some characteristics with the object of his (unwilling) affection.

And, of course, Travis just had to fall in love with a co-worker who was both emotionally unavailable and heterosexual. As far as bad decisions went, Nicholas Angel had nothing on him.