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Battle Born

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1.

One of the first cases that Wes and Travis had ever worked together had been a homicide in Brentwood, a young WASP who’d been shot to death in her own home. At first they’d thought it was a home invasion or something commonplace like that, but a little digging revealed that Mrs. WASP had been knee deep in a gun running business operating out of her brother’s auto shop. It was the first case they’d seen action on, and Travis still remembers it like it was yesterday, ducking behind a Honda Civic and watching Wes pop off their three attackers in less than two minutes, all before Travis had the chance to fire even a single bullet.

So it’s not like Travis doesn’t know that Wes is a good shot – better than good, actually. Ace. Superb. Diabolically excellent. It’s probably got something to do with how naturally stiff his spine is, or something. Some kind of uptight asshole gene that lends perfectly to good marksmanship and meticulous grooming habits. It was something Travis always took pride in before things went bad between them and after, something Wes could hold over his head. So yeah, maybe he’s a little resentful of it now. In a purely “I wish I could shoot insults into firing range targets too because I would so pick cooler words than Wes does” sort of way.

This resentment is kind of cut unfairly short when Wes uses this particular skill to save his life, which is such a Wes sort of thing to do, to pull the rug out from beneath Travis’s feet and make it completely fucking impossible to find any leg to stand on. God, he’s such a bastard.

They’ve been tailing one Zhāng Ling for almost four days now, in conjunction with a couple greenhorn detectives from narcotics, and a few asshole FBI dudes who apparently find it adequate to call their cell phones every few hours and demand updates. Zhāng, being the daughter of one of those people who have more money than the US government, is untouchable without solid, unshakable evidence, and so all of their circumstantial evidence and witness statements swearing to the fact that she’s a cocaine dealer who has killed eight people (that they know of) are useless without video or audio that explicitly shows her making a deal or shooting someone in the face. It’s ridiculous and stupid, but there it is.

Their intel for tonight places Zhāng at a bar in West Hollywood, of all places, so they’ve set up a good old fashioned stake out for the occasion. Since most of her known associates are slowly showing up, one by one, they’re hoping that something will finally, finally, go down, enough so that they can arrest her and get this done already.

Luckily it’s a small place, and Zhāng is apparently in good with the owner, so it’s been closed down for the private party, which reduces the risk to civilians significantly should this be the night that they move in. Travis takes a moment to pray to all the gods of luck, chance and police work that it is, as Detective Eddie O’Halloran is an awful, awful, annoying person, and for some reason, he wants to be Travis’s BFF. It’s a rare thing that Wes is his first choice of person to spend hours in a car with, but O’Halloran is apparently just the thing to make that happen. Wes, at least, doesn’t rattle off every damn thing that runs through his head.

“I’m just saying, you should think about it,” O’Halloran is currently saying. Travis nods, his sure thing, whatever you say smile firmly in place. “I’ve got a friend who could get you a sweet deal, and then you wouldn’t have to beg for rides from your partner all the time. Ain’t right, bro, ain’t right at all.”

Travis counts to five in his head before he answers. “I actually like my bike better,” he says. “It’s kind of why I don’t have a car.”

O’Halloran slams a hand against the steering wheel, shaking his head enthusiastically. His hair flops back and forth on his head like a wet mop. “I feel you, man! And you wouldn’t have to sell it or nothin’, that’s why I told you ‘bout my friend. He’s good people, he’d work with ya. Plus you can’t drive a motorcycle around forever, man. That’s like a…” O’Halloran shakes his head, “a college thing, or sumthin’.”

Down the street, Travis spots Zhāng climbing out of the back of a limo and straightens up in his seat, seizing the opportunity to distract from O’Halloran’s mission of divine vehicular intervention. “There she is,” he says, raising his radio before the other detective can reply. “This is Marks, I’ve got the subject in sights. She’s alone, about twenty yards from the entrance. ”

“Copy that, we see her too,” comes Wes’s crackly reply. “Sit tight, everybody, and keep your eyes open. Over.”

Travis rolls his eyes. Wes always sounds like he’s in a freaking special ops mission when they use radios, the idiot.

“Nice tits,” O’Halloran comments from the driver’s seat.

Okay, maybe not an idiot, but a dork at least, Travis amends to himself.

Alone in O’Halloran’s car, Travis has no idea what’s going down. They’ve got surveillance set up inside the club but the feed is in one of the special vans they’ve got parked about a block away, where Wes and O’Halloran’s partner are. Travis is tempted to get back on the radio and demand updates, but as fun as annoying Wes can be, Travis knows better than to egg him on in the middle of an operation like this. Not to mention that if there was anything happening, Wes would be on the radio narrating it. He’s professional to a fault, Travis’ll give him that.

(“It just makes sense, Travis,” Wes had said, with that sanctimonious, fifth grade teacher look he gets, “O’Halloran seems to like you, for whatever reason, and Kent doesn’t need you spending the whole night hitting on her. So there you go.”

“I wouldn’t spend the whole night hitting on her,” Travis had muttered resentfully, but both of them already knew that Wes had won. Travis had vowed revenge anyway.)

“So where you from, man?” O’Halloran questions. “You grow up ‘round here or what? I’m from out of state, myself. Came here for UCLA and never looked back. From Texas, originally. Best place in the world.”

He looks more than a little proud of himself, and Travis contemplates how easy it would be to just reach over and slam the guy’s head into the steering wheel – it would take less than twenty seconds, really, and he’d probably pass out and Travis could spend the rest of the night in peace. He probably wouldn’t even get in trouble for it.

“Oh, I’m from around,” he says vaguely, smiling beatifically. If they end up having to drive away, it’ll be a bitch to get the dude out of the driver’s seat. So that’s a no go. “Grew up here and there, you know how it is.”

“Sure, man,” O’Halloran replies, looking like he really doesn’t know how it is and has never thought to consider it. “Didja know I was a history major at first? Didn’t ever picture myself as a cop, but I took this criminal justice class my sophomore year and it was like the light of heaven shone down on me, I just knew that was it for me. How ‘bout you, where’d you go to school? I bet you were like me, huh, had no idea what you wanted to do ‘til it hit you between the eyes.”

I’ve known I was a cop since I was thirteen years old, actually, Travis would say, if he were having this conversation with Wes. But if it were Wes, they wouldn’t even be talking about this, because Wes already knows everything.

“You know,” he says instead, “I think we should probably stay kinda quiet, you know, just in case we can hear anything from inside. Stay on high alert and everything.” He reaches out and cranks his window open for continuity.

O’Halloran nods, not looking phased at all. “Oh right, sure thing, brother. Not a problem.” Then he gives Travis a thumbs up – like an actual thumbs up. Travis finds himself staring at the guy’s hand in speechless consternation.

Well, thumbs up or not, Travis decides, at least now he’s quiet.

Nearly twenty minutes pass before anything happens, and when it does, it’s kind of anticlimactic.

“Okay, we’ve got her, Zhāng just made a deal. We’ve got confirmation on exchange of product and money,” Wes says over the radio. He sounds almost bored.

“Are we moving in?” Travis asks, exchanging glances with O’Halloran. The guy looks either nervous or constipated, Travis can’t tell.

“FBI says no,” and that’s Kent. “They want to see what else we can get.”

Travis sighs in frustration. “That’s such bullshit, we could lose her if we wait. What the hell do they want, footage of her standing over a dead body holding a bag of coke?”

“I don’t think they’d turn it down,” replies Kent wryly. O’Halloran snorts loudly.

“They’re in charge,” Wes reminds them, “whether we like it or not. We don’t go until they give the green light. We’ll keep you updated Travis, over.”

Travis rolls his eyes. “Ten four, Hannibal, over and out.”

“Asshole,” Wes shoots back. But he doesn’t add ‘over,’ which Travis counts as a victory.

Another fifteen minutes pass, with Travis watching the entrance of the club intently, for lack of anything else to do. Usually the periods of inaction don’t bother him that much, but when it’s being forced for a stupid reason from federal agents, Travis has to consciously stop himself from vibrating right out of his skin. He’d rather do paperwork all day than sit for twenty minutes doing nothing when he could be arresting shitty people – and considering how much he loathes paperwork, that’s no small sacrifice.

When the situation does erupt, it does so all at once, as it often does. Travis hears two muffled thumps that he instantly recognizes as gunfire and is already halfway out of the car when his radio explodes.

“Move in, move in now,” Kent shouts, “suspect just opened fire on two men inside the club and she’s on the move; she’s armed and there’s one other suspect with her – “

Travis is already running, and behind him he distantly registers the sounds of O’Halloran right behind him. He’s a few feet away from the door to the club when Zhāng comes bursting out and he freezes in place, his weapon already drawn.

“LAPD, drop your weapon!”

Zhāng doesn’t miss a beat, just takes off down the alleyway. The other dude who comes out after her is less quick, and since he doesn’t see a weapon, Travis leaves him to O’Halloran and takes off after Zhāng.

He’s still got his radio on, and he can hear the chatter between Wes, Kent and the FBI back up but there’s no way to stop and fill them in, not if he’s got any chance of catching her. He chases Zhāng down the long alleyway and curses when he sees her scale a dumpster like it’s nothing – cocaine dealer, murderer and a gymnast, apparently.

Travis is no slouch when it comes to jumping fences and running down alleys and such, but he must be out of practice or something because he lands wrong on his way down, twisting his ankle hard on the pavement. It’s embarrassing, really, and it becomes even more so when he looks up expecting to see the distant figure of Zhāng disappearing and instead finds himself looking straight at the barrel of a gun.

“Gotcha,” Zhāng hisses, and there’s no time to think, not even a moment to brace himself or move out of the way or have a life montage flashback or even close his eyes. Just that split second of adrenaline and a spike of sudden, intense fear before the gunshot that rings through the alleyway.

It’s like time itself stops and everything freezes, including even the blood in Travis’s veins. He doesn’t understand what’s happened at first, and looks down at his chest fully expecting to see a wound, but there’s nothing. Then he hears a small sound, like a moan, and looks up to see Zhāng’s face twisting in pain, and blood seeping through her blouse.

“Holy shit,” Travis gasps, and scrambles to his feet, wincing at the stabbing pain in his ankle. Zhāng falls to the ground limply, still breathing, but the gunshot wound in her shoulder is obviously serious enough that doing anything besides that is now out of the question.

Travis has maybe another two seconds to kick her gun away, draw his on her, and try and process what the fuck just happened before he tunes back into his radio, still buzzing with voices.

“Come in, Marks, right the fuck now,” Kent is saying, “are you injured? Someone talk to me!”

“Travis is fine, the suspect is down, we need an ambulance immediately,” comes Wes’s reply, and Travis has a moment of vertigo as he hears it in double, from the radio on his belt and from the mouth of the alley, the direction Zhāng had been running. He’s jogging towards them evenly, his weapon still drawn and pointed at the prostate figure of the woman at Travis’s feet.

“Wes,” Travis says, leaning back against the dumpster. “Thank God, holy shit, man. Did you do that?”

“No, it was Faceman,” Wes says dryly, but he walks right up to Travis and leans in invitingly. Travis takes the offer and holsters his gun, grabbing his partner’s shoulder with shaky hands. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Twisted my ankle, but – yeah, I’m fine.” Travis swallows, the reality beginning to seep in, of just how close that call was. “Dude, where the hell did you come from? Jesus Christ, that was close. Fuck. Holy shit.”

Wes lets him talk, just standing there with his gun pointed calmly at the injured Zhāng, letting Travis hold onto his shoulder and ramble away the shock, solid and unmoving.

“You shot me,” Zhāng keeps saying, as if she doesn’t even believe it, “you shot me.”

“You tried to shoot my partner,” Wes replies stonily, his face forebodingly blank, a wordless depth of violence in the sentence that shuts her up immediately. Travis swallows once and lets himself lean a little more heavily against him. Holy shit, seriously. Just, holy shit.

Wes keeps his weapon trained on her for far longer than is necessary, until after the EMTs have arrived. When he finally holsters it he turns to Travis immediately and slides his arm around his waist, steering him toward the red and blue lights at the mouth of the alley.

“C’mon,” he says, “you need a brace or something.”

“And some Vicodin,” Travis adds, letting Wes help him walk without complaint. Now is really not the time for pride.

“They’re not gonna give you Vicodin for a sprained ankle, Travis,” Wes snaps, but it doesn’t sound like his heart’s in it.

“S’not for the ankle,” Travis replies, slurring just a bit as the adrenaline crash starts to kick in. Wes squeezes his waist a little bit tighter.

It’s a clean shoot, there’s no doubt about that, and Wes gets his gun back the very next afternoon. The Captain calls them both into his office for the required good work, boys talk, alternating between beaming at them proudly and making faces at Travis’s ankle brace.

“You’ll be riding the desk for at least a month with that,” he says, smiling pleasantly at Travis’s groan. “Lucky for you two, Kent and O’Halloran will be around to help with the paperwork. Apparently, they were quite impressed.”

“Lucky us,” Wes says flatly.

“Captain,” Travis says, “permission to fake my own death temporarily?”

“Nope,” the Captain replies cheerfully. “Don’t think of it as a punishment, Travis, think of it as – an opportunity for reflection.”

Travis opens his mouth to tell him just what he thinks of that idea, but Wes beats him to it.

“Great, well I’m gonna go reflect about all of this at my desk,” he says, “I’ll be sure to clear the path for you, Travis, so you don’t trip on a pencil or something and sprain your other ankle.”

“Fuck you,” Travis replies amiably. Wes’s mouth twitches. “I tripped on a dumpster, man. A dumpster. Thing was taller than I was, okay.”

Wes nods and arranges his face into mock solemnity, like he’s humoring a little kid who has just told him he wants to be Superman when he grows up, which is just uncalled for. He turns to go, saluting in that smarmy, sarcastic way he has, but for some reason, Travis finds himself amused rather than annoyed like he’d usually be. Maybe that’s progress, he thinks. Or left-over adrenaline.

“Hey Wes,” Sutton says, stopping Wes in the door way, “that was good work, you hear? Damn good work.”

Wes’s expression sobers slightly and he nods, this time sincerely. “Thanks, Captain,” he says shortly, and walks out without further ado. Travis shakes his head at him as he goes.

“You think maybe he has a hard time taking compliments?” he asks. Sutton snorts.

“Did he tell you how far away he was when he took that shot?” he asks Travis, his voice a little more gravelly than usual. Travis shakes his head. “At the end of the alley. He said that he’d just rounded the corner when he saw Zhāng pull her weapon.”

Travis blinks at him. “That’s – what?”

Sutton just shrugs, and there’s something a little weird about his expression, some emotion or thought that Travis can’t identify. “Yeah,” he says. “I think you might owe him a beer.”

No shit, he thinks, because that alley was not a short one, and there was only one streetlight, at the opposite end, and it could not have been more than a few seconds between when Zhāng drew her gun and when Wes shot her. And that’s not just good marksmanship, that’s – that’s insane.

“I think,” he says slowly, “that you might be right, Cap.”

When he finally gets back to his desk Wes is watching him through narrowed eyes, exasperation written all over his face.

“They offered you crutches,” he says in full bitch voice, and Travis makes a face at him. Okay, so maybe it takes him twice as long to get from point A to point B, but fuck crutches. He hates crutches.

“I’m good,” he says airily. Wes rolls his eyes. “You hungry? Let’s get some lunch, man. It’s on me. For saving my life and everything.”

“As I’ve been paying for lunch for the past month and a half, I’m positively speechless at your generosity,” Wes says wryly.

Travis laughs. “I’d pay more often if you’d let me pick where we go more often.”

“I’d let you pick more often if you picked places that pass the health code more often,” Wes shoots back, and then they’re off, and Travis can’t wipe the grin off his face.

He never does thank Wes out loud, and they don’t end up talking about the nearly impossible shot Wes made, either. But maybe their fights are a little less heated, after that, and they don’t bring up each other’s sore points as readily anymore, and that’s kind of enough.

2.

As annoying as O’Halloran had been, he may have had a point about the bike. Like, okay, Travis isn’t going to be signing up for the white picket fence life with the wife and kids and minivan any time soon, but when a freak cold front moves through LA and Travis is forced to beg for a ride home from Wes for the fourth night in a row to avoid pneumonia, he admits that maybe a car might be a good idea. Just for like, emergencies or when he needs to move a couch or whatever.

Finally,” Wes says with relish, because he’s been obsessively waiting for this moment for years. “I’ve been telling you the same exact thing since 2010 Travis, I don’t know why – “

“Yeah, so I was thinking about a convertible,” Travis says loudly, and lets Wes start in on how impractical and stupid that would be instead. At least this way they can bitch at each other about cars instead of Travis’s personality flaws, which is always the better option.

He spends a few weeks idly clicking around the internet doing research, which actually just means that he types in random car brands into Google Images search and shows the coolest ones to Wes. Wes takes it all in with his trademark grace and patience, which is to say he doesn’t have either of those things at all, and by the third week of this he breaks and slams a piece of paper down on Travis’s desk.

“There,” he says, “a list of all the reputable dealerships within twenty miles of your place and the station, and the ones that sell used are highlighted. Pick one, and I’ll get you the contact information for the salesman with the best reputation they have, and I’ll set up an appointment for you.” He says all of this in one breath, then takes a step back and visibly relaxes, as if this speech has been building up in his shoulders the whole time for the past three weeks, which it probably has been.

“Thanks, honey,” Travis says with a grin, “do you want to come with me? You know how I am with salesmen, I always get so flustered.”

He’d meant it as just another we kind of act like we’re married joke, but Wes either ignores that or doesn’t notice because he agrees immediately with this eerily determined look on his face. Travis feels an actual chill run down his spine, because that look is never a good thing, no matter the situation.

In retrospect, he shouldn’t have even been surprised when Wes shows up the next Sunday with two coffees and a stack of Carfax reports.

“You have problems, man,” Travis says, wiggling around in Wes’s passenger seat, attempting to figure out a way to nap and drink coffee at the same time, “like you are seriously emotionally damaged and I am genuinely concerned about you right now.”

“There’s nothing wrong with being proactive,” Wes says primly, “and if you spill that in my car I will make you clean it up with your tongue.”

“Kinky,” Travis mumbles, sitting up straight in order to commune properly with the caffeine.

“Also, did you consider that this is an issue that involves more than just you?” Wes continues, in his most condescending King of the World voice. “Do you know how much I pay for gas every month? Do you?”

“Dude, you live in a hotel. Do not even with the money bullshit.”

“That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be frugal in other areas of my life.”

“Right.”

“And you are the worst passenger ever.”

“I do that just for you because I know you like it when you have valid reasons to yell at people, baby.”

“Stop calling me baby,” Wes bitches, “even if we were dating I wouldn’t let you call me baby.”

“Oh, you’ve thought about this?” Travis asks gleefully. “You’ve decided on the acceptable pet names for our hypothetical relationship?”

“Have you met me?” Wes replies. “Yes.”

Travis would like to ask him which pet names he decided were acceptable, but he’s laughing too hard to get any actual words out.

Wes seems unmoved. “Anyway, you said you wanted a car and I’m not letting you punk out, so. We’ll go to the first three dealerships today and make a preliminary list of options and I’ll start helping you narrow them down – “

“Preliminary what,” Travis says flatly.

“Travis,” Wes says, deadly serious, “let me have this.”

Travis sighs and mentally bids goodbye to his next four weekends.

And it’s even worse than he thought it would be. It takes them five weekends, plus two days in which Wes drags him to appointments with salesmen over their lunch break. Because God forbid they break a rule and do it during all the other times of the day when they’re driving around the city. That would be wrong.

“For the last time, Travis, you cannot get a muscle car,” Wes tells him, three weeks into this process. “They’re unreliable, they require an insane amount of maintenance, they’re expensive – “

“Okay so find me a new one.”

“Do you even know what ‘muscle car’ means?”

“Yes,” Travis insists. “No. It means it can go really fast. Right?”

Wes makes a distressed face at his computer screen.

In the end they narrow it down to two choices to fight about, because of course they do, and even though Travis is still confused as to how this became a joint decision, for some reason he can’t really bring himself to just buy the one he wants without getting Wes on board first. He’s obviously been damaged by proxy or something.

“You can’t actually be thinking that a convertible – “

“I love convertibles!” Travis says cheerfully. “A roof that disappears! And then appears again! It’s like magic!”

“The one you want is forty years old,” Wes says flatly. “It doesn’t even have power windows.”

“I wasn’t aware that having a button that controls the window was a sticking point.”

“Okay,” Wes says, looking like he’s swallowing back an entire dictionary of insults, “okay. I understand that you think convertibles are cool – “

“They are cool.”

“ – and that the Honda isn’t exactly the sexiest car in the – “

“It’s a mom car, Wes,” Travis says passionately, “it’s a car you buy when your life is over.

“That’s offensive, Travis. The Eldorado is a ridiculous choice, the paint job is shit, the air conditioning doesn’t work, and you know you’re going to buy a better stereo for it, don’t even try to tell me you won’t. You add that all up, you’re looking at something like seventeen grand, which is way out of your budget, not to mention the elevated maintenance costs – “

Travis huffs. “You’re such a mood-ruiner. You always do that, why do you always do that?”

“Because I live to ruin your enjoyment in everything,” Wes snaps. “I’m trying to help you be practical.”

“Ugh,” Travis exclaims, “look. I’m gonna tell you a story.”

“Oh, please do, I love your stories,” Wes says dryly, rolling his eyes dramatically.

“Shut up. Okay when I was twelve, I lived in this one home, right? And I had like five different foster sisters and I was the only boy, and the lady who ran the home was this former ballerina and so the only thing she used to do with us was all this girly shit, like taking us to the opera and shopping for prom dresses and crap – “

“Do you have a point or are you just going to keep reinforcing gender roles for the next twenty minutes?”

“Gender roles, Wes, really? I told you to shut up.” Travis reaches out and kicks Wes’s chair with his foot. “Okay, so we did girly stuff all the time, and I hated it, obviously. I was there for maybe eight months and I never once felt like anybody understood me, until I met this guy who lived next door, right? And he used to let me play basketball in his driveway since he had a hoop set up, and he started to teach me about cars a little bit.”

“This is very inspiring,” Wes comments woodenly.

“I’m going to gag you,” Travis threatens. “He was restoring this old convertible, okay? It was a 1951 Buick Roadmaster and it was just beautiful, man, gorgeous, he was doing such a great job. And it was like – for the first time, I met somebody who really cared about something, you know? Who put a lot of effort and passion into this one thing, because they really wanted to.”

Wes raises an eyebrow. “Okay,” he says blankly.

“Okay, so that’s it, Wes!” Travis exclaims. “That’s what I’m trying to say, man – it’s not about a car that looks cool or anything, it’s about a car that has a history, a car that people have really cared about. Something with a soul.”

“Cars don’t have souls,” Wes says. “They have forty-year-old transmissions and manual gear shifts.”

“I bet you can’t even drive manual,” Travis accuses. “I bet your ass has never even been in a car that’s older than it is.”

Wes doesn’t seem to want to even dignify that with an answer. “Look, you can rhapsodize all you want about the magical spirit of shitty cars from the 70s, but the fact remains that you can’t afford the Eldorado. Okay?”

Travis crosses his arms and harrumphs.

“I’m not trying to be mean, Travis, you’re the one who told me how much you can spend.”

“You are being mean,” Travis says. “You’re just mean naturally. You are mean without even trying.”

Wes sighs and nods his head. “Yes, and I kick puppies and steal candy from children, I know.”

Travis lets that one go in favor of staring sadly at the listing for the Eldorado on his computer monitor. It’s red, even. Cherry red. The car is just so obviously meant to be his.

“Oh, for – “ Wes throws the file he’s holding onto his desk in exasperation. “If you’re going to sulk for the rest of the day I’m going to go work in one of the interrogation rooms.”

“Whatever,” Travis replies gloomily. Wes grumbles something and storms off.

Travis has almost resigned himself to the stupid Honda (it does make sense, a bright red convertible isn’t exactly the best car for a cop all things considering, and the Honda is…well, it’s…Jesus Christ he can’t even think it, he’s so appalled at himself) when Wes stomps over to his desk one morning and throws his notepad at Travis’s chest.

“Dude,” Travis says.

“I found you a stupid car,” Wes barks. “1972 Cadillac Eldorado convertible. It’s been partially restored by a collector, it’s not in perfect shape but there are no major problems, the stereo is new and I had a GPS installed.”

Dude,” Travis says.

“Shut up,” Wes says angrily. “The owner lives in Portland and they’re driving it down next weekend, you can meet them at LAX and pick it up. They want fourteen but I think it’s a woman, so you can probably get her down to thirteen five. You’re fucking welcome.”

Travis stares at Wes’s notepad, a name and phone number scribbled in Wes’s chicken scratch handwriting.

“…dude,” he says.

“Don’t even,” Wes says. “Just – yeah.” He turns around in one motion and sits down at his desk stiffly, determinedly reaching for some paperwork and angling his face down and away. Travis spends a full five minutes just staring at the side of his head, unable to figure out if he wants to kiss him or shoot him in the temple.

The owner is indeed a woman and Travis does indeed negotiate her down to thirteen five. Her name is Shelby and she seems rather bewildered about the entire thing, so at least she and Travis match.

“Your, ahem,” she says delicately, “friend? Who set up the deal?”

“Yeah,” Travis says enthusiastically, too hyped by his new car to deny it, holy shit he owns a car and it’s not scary at all it’s actually awesome and it’s blue instead of red but who cares he owns a car, “Wes.”

“Yeah,” Shelby says dazedly. “He’s, uh, something. How’d he even know? I hadn’t even listed the damn thing yet.”

Travis blinks. “It’s kind of…” he shakes his head, utterly unable to come up with words to describe Wes that make sense to normal people. “Yeah. He’s – yeah.”

She just scrunches up her shoulders slightly, like she’s just shivered. “No, but,” she says, sounding more than a little freaked out, “he called me like, literally, the day after I decided to sell it. I hadn’t even told my husband yet.” She regards Travis through wide eyes. “How did he know?”

Travis opens his mouth, and then closes it again. There’s literally nothing on this earth that he can say.

“Like, seriously?” Shelby says, rubbing her own arms. “I might be changing my phone number after this.”

“I really would not blame you at all,” Travis tells her sincerely.

3.

Travis only lived in a group home once, when he was sixteen, and even then it was only for about a month. It wasn’t pretty, or easy, or a good memory in any way, but considering how much worse it could have been, he counts himself lucky. He’s met plenty of other kids like him that had plenty worse stories to tell, with none of the good ones that Travis has.

Anyway, the home is where he met Brandy, and even though they were never technically foster siblings, that’s what he calls her for simplicity’s sake. Brandy’s career Navy now, but whenever she gets leave she tries to get it in LA so she and Travis can get together and watch Monty Python movies and drink a lot of vodka and laugh their respective asses off. She’s pretty much the coolest person Travis knows, including himself, so he looks forward to it.

He gets a call from her in the middle of a slow, boring afternoon in February, one of those shitty days when he and Wes are just puttering around the station, waiting to catch a case and avoiding paperwork (well, Travis avoids paperwork, Wes would take paperwork out to a romantic steak dinner and then walk it to its door afterwards and call it the very next day if he could). He doesn’t feel guilty about staying on the phone with her for as long as she can talk, then, because there’s nothing else to do, and since Wes knows who Brandy is, has even met her a couple times, Travis knows he won’t get too irritated.

Sure enough, once Travis hangs up Wes immediately speaks up. “Was that Brandy?”

“Yeah, she’s gonna be in town in a couple weeks,” Travis says, excited enough to let it show through in his voice. “She says hi.”

Wes smiles absently in acknowledgment, distracted by whatever stupid bureaucratic bullshit he’s working on, but it’s still genuine. Travis smiles back, heartened.

Travis picks her up at the airport and they make a huge scene in the middle of the crowd, yelling and hollering and laughing just for the hell of it. She’s in dress uniform, which means they get sappy looks instead of irritated glares, which is awesome. Travis suspects that half the reason Brandy joined the military in the first place was so she could get away with shit like this all the time.

“Look at you, you classy bastard,” she says jovially, punching Travis in the arm. “Did you get all dressed up for me?”

“Nah, I look like this all the time,” Travis says, flipping up his jacket collar. Brandy laughs and bats it back down teasingly.

“Settle down, movie star,” she says, throwing an arm around his shoulders. She’s just as tall as he is, maybe a hair taller even, and so they can walk through the parking lot with the same ease that they used to walk across cafeterias and hallways, shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip.

“So listen,” she says, once they’re settled into the car, “I need to do this thing real quick, is that cool? At a law firm.”

“You in trouble or something?” Travis jokes. “Lemme guess, you ‘accidentally’ dated a married guy and now his wife is suing you.”

“One time, that was once,” Brandy yelps, “and she didn’t sue me, she just keyed my car and also, shut up.”

Travis laughs, ducking away as she tries to punch him in the arm again. “Watch the merchandise, lady.”

Brandy just huffs. “I got this friend,” she explains, voice sobering somewhat, “she’s in Iraq right now. She’s trying to get her will updated, and I promised her I’d drop off some paperwork to her lawyer, save her the shipping fees.”

“Yeah, alright,” Travis replies. “I can take you there, no big.”

Brandy smiles gratefully. “I dunno where it is, but it’s this huge firm apparently? Called Dodgson, Barrett and Harris.”

“No shit,” Travis exclaims, “that’s Wes’s old firm.”

“The cutie pie?” Brandy brightens.

“Shut up, don’t call him that,” Travis replies, making a face. “It’s just wrong, Brandy.”

“He is a cutie pie though,” Brandy says, nonplussed. “I thought he worked for the DA?”

“He wasn’t there for long. He started out at this place,” Travis explains. “He did civil suits on behalf of families of murder victims and shit like that.”

“A cutie pie and a crusader,” Brandy says, a little dreamily, and Travis pinches her. “Ow! Don’t be jealous.”

“Don’t be gross,” Travis shoots back. Brandy sticks her tongue out at him.

Travis manages to find the place pretty easily with the help of his fancy schmancy GPS (which has actually been super helpful and convenient, not that he’s going to tell Wes that) and he follows Brandy inside the looming, gleaming office, his natural curiosity tugging him along.

It’s weird to think of Wes in a place like this, though Travis has no doubt that he fit in seamlessly. Wes might be a total freak who sanitizes his keyboard and can rattle off random facts about everything and wants to marry his paperwork, but he’s also a cop, and can curse and belch and dirty joke with the best of them. He might act like he’s above it, but Travis has met a few of the cops Wes rode with when he was on the beat, and he knows better.

There are three women standing at the front desk when they walk up, two of them hunched over a computer monitor and the other texting. The third woman looks up immediately at their entrance, putting her phone down, and Travis can practically see her spine stiffen when she sees Brandy’s uniform.

“Good afternoon,” she says. The two people next to her don’t even look up, just continue to frown and murmur at each other lowly. “How can I help you?”

“I’m here to see David Newsom,” Brandy says. “I’m here on behalf of Sara Kensington.”

“Oh! You’re the friend dropping off her forms, right?” She visibly brightens. “Come on, I’ll take you right on back. He just got out of a meeting, and we can catch him before he heads to his next one.”

Brandy goes to follow, swiveling back around once to waggle her eyebrows at Travis, then at the secretary’s ass. Travis snorts and leans against the reception desk, grinning winningly when the other two women look up at the noise.

“Afternoon,” he says pleasantly.

“Hello,” one of them says absently, still fascinated by whatever is on the computer screen. The other woman, the blonde one who’s been standing and leaning over the desk, looks up and smiles.

“Is there anything we can do for you, sir? Or…”

“Just tagging along with my friend,” Travis says, nodding. She’s hot, and he would hit on her in a heartbeat if Wes were here, but having worked as a receptionist himself one summer, he knows enough to spare her the bullshit. “How are you guys doin’ today?”

The one sitting down sighs mournfully. “Fine.” She sounds more than a little desolate and Travis has to hold back a laugh. This is really why he flirts and talks with strangers so often – people will delight and surprise you at every turn, if you let them.

“Another day, another problem, right?” he asks, and they both chuckle.

“You have no idea,” the blonde replies wryly. Travis grins.

He learns that the blonde’s name is Katie and the other one is named Nora, and they’re both paralegals, technically, but since their section of the office is being recarpeted, they’ve been shuffling around from place to place before they get their desks back. Katie does most of the talking, and Travis realizes that she’s actually older than he’d first guessed when she casually mentions the two teenaged kids she’s got at home.

“Say, can I ask you something?” Travis says, struck by a sudden thought, “you’ve worked here for a while, right? Do you remember a lawyer by the name of Wes Mitchell?”

Katie pauses, glancing briefly at Nora, who frowns. “No,” she says blankly, “no, I don’t recognize that name.”

“Are you sure?” Travis asks. “I know he worked here for a while. It would’ve been about eight years ago or so.”

Nora shrugs. “I don’t know a Wes Mitchell,” she says. “Katie’s been here longer, though.”

“Are you sure it was this firm?” Katie asks. “I’ve been here thirteen years, and there’s never been any lawyer by that name here.”

Travis just blinks for a second, taken aback. He doesn’t forget details, and Wes has talked about his old career often enough that Travis has absorbed certain things. Like the name of the law firm where he worked for three years. This is the place where he met Alex, Travis knows that for a fact.

“His full name is Wesley, right?” Nora says, typing something rapidly into her computer. “Here, let me try something – two L’s or one?”

“Two,” Travis replies, and Nora nods, her face lighting up.

“Okay, hey,” she says, “he’s listed in our email database, so I guess he did work here. Katie, check this out.”

Katie bends down and peers at the screen, her eyebrows shooting up high on her forehead.

“That is so weird,” she says slowly. “It says he had an account on our system from 2000 to 2003, but I don’t remember anyone named Wes Mitchell working here, ever.”

“Maybe you just missed him?” Travis suggests jokingly. “He’s this real skinny white dude, maybe he just, you know, blended into the wallpaper.”

Katie shakes her head, still looking perplexed. “2002 was the year we moved into this building,” she says. “I was one of the ones organizing it, and I helped the office manager do the floor plan and decide which person was going into which office. It was worse than planning the seating chart at my wedding – trust me, if he’d been a lawyer here back then, I would remember his name.”

Travis frowns. “That is weird,” he says, “I know he worked here, this is where he met his wife – Alex MacFarland?”

“Oh, Alex!” Nora exclaims, “yeah, she used to work here. She left a few months ago, actually, got a job at a firm in San Bernardino.”

“I didn’t know she was married though, did you know?” Katie asks. Nora shakes her head.

“Huh,” Travis says, head spinning.

By the time Brandy comes back Travis is past confused and onto pissed, and as he forces himself to push it down and away and enjoy the time with her that he’s got, it just builds and crests into other emotions, ones he’d rather not have, like worry and suspicion and concern.

Brandy stays for a couple days, crashing on Travis’s couch. They still don’t have a case, so he calls in sick to hang out with her and also because he doesn’t want to face Wes just yet, because what the fuck. Just, what the fuck.

Wes finally calls just a couple hours after he’s dropped Brandy off back at the airport again, with that freaky perfect timing that he has sometimes. Travis doesn’t know how to approach this with him, or even if he should, so he opts to play it safe and say nothing. Yet.

“We caught a case,” Wes tells him without preamble, “so you should stop being ‘sick’ and come back to work now.”

“Hey, maybe I really am sick,” Travis replies, “maybe I’m puking all over my bathroom right now.”

Wes makes a disgusted sound.

“Puke and snot and sweat, Wes,” Travis goads, “and phlegm. Lots of phlegm.”

Wes hangs up on him and Travis snaps his phone shut with vicious satisfaction. Serves the bastard right.

4.

It’s weird, is what it is, weird and bizarre and not normal, and it wears and rubs at Travis like a cold sore that won’t heal.

Because Travis is a cop, and he’s always been a cop and always will be, and his natural curiosity and inability to let a question go is what makes him so good at what he does. He starts putting the pieces together almost naturally, remembering little details he’d previously dismissed as unimportant and slowly adds them all up to form a picture that he’s not sure he likes.

Wes doesn’t talk about his childhood, he just doesn’t. Travis has never met any member of Wes’s family, and while he mentions his mother from time to time, he’s never said her name or anything else about her other than that she disapproved of his career change. He doesn’t talk about college, or high school. Travis knows that he grew up somewhere in the Midwest and moved to LA when he was 21, but Wes has never told him where he’s from specifically and every time Travis has asked, Wes just dodged the question.

In hand to hand, he can take down guys twice his size who have twenty years of experience on him without even flinching. He has a nasty scar on his left shoulder blade that he says is from a car accident when he was a kid, but Travis always thought it looked more recent than that. He doesn’t like to be touched and sometimes if he doesn’t see it coming, he’ll flinch away from it. He knows a lot of odd shit about guns and the military and other random things, and he can shoot a suspect from thirty feet away in a dark alleyway with maybe five seconds of warning time.

He went to law school, but has never told Travis where. He worked at a law firm for three years, and nobody remembers him. He worked for the DA, but Travis has never met anyone who worked with him on a case.

In retrospect, Travis can’t actually believe he never noticed any of this sooner.

He could go to Wes, in fact knows that he should. Just confront him and get it over with, figure out whatever mundane, probably stupid back story there is to explain all of this, and move on. But Travis thinks about Wes’s face the entire time they were telling the therapy group about the mess with Pacman, that look he gets whenever Dr. Ryan forces him to say something he obviously doesn’t want to say. He acts like a wounded, cornered animal, really – all defensive anger and desperate attempts to escape.

And Travis knows without any shadow of a doubt that he’s not gonna tell Travis shit, if all Travis does is ask. That’s just not how Wes works.

So since Wes is out, Travis opts for Alex. She never got weird about answering questions, Travis fucking remembers.

He finds her fairly easily and doesn’t even have to snoop through Wes’s phone to get her phone number, as her office line is listed on the website at her new firm. He waits until Wes is gone, running down a lead out of the office, and calls her from Wes’s desk line. She picks up almost immediately.

“Wes,” she says, in that same Travis please don’t break any more of my wine glasses tone, “what is it? I’m kind of in the middle of something.”

“It’s Travis actually,” he says, “hi, Alex.”

“Travis?” Alex pauses, confusion seeping into her voice. “Oh. Hi? What are you doing calling from Wes’s desk?”

“Mine’s broken,” Travis bullshits, in lieu of saying, ‘because this way I’d knew you’d pick up.’ “How are you? San Bernardino, huh? How’s the new job?”

“Uh, fine, yes, and it’s great,” Alex replies. “How are you? Why are you calling? Is Wes in trouble?”

“Good, because I wanted to talk to you, and nope,” Travis replies. He leans back in Wes’s chair and props his feet up on his desk, already thinking about what Wes will say when he gets back and sees it. “You free for dinner or something this week? I thought we could get together and catch up.”

There’s a long pause before Alex cautiously says, “Travis, are you asking me out?”

No,” Travis yelps, sitting up abruptly and knocking over a pile of papers. From across the room, Randi turns and gives him the stink eye. “What? No! Damn!”

“Well, okay, what am I supposed to think?” Alex yelps back. “This is weird, Travis. You’re being weird.”

“I know I’m being weird, that doesn’t mean I’m hitting on you,” Travis says defensively, “you’re my partner’s ex-wife, Jesus Christ, why does everyone assume that I’m hitting on them whenever I invite them to do anything?”

“Maybe it’s because you flirt with anything with a pulse,” Alex says dryly, but there’s humor in her voice, and the previous awkward tension is gone. “Okay, you’re not hitting on me, got it. So you just have a burning urge to see the McDonald’s Museum or something?”

“There’s a McDonald’s Museum?” Travis asks blankly. “In San Bernardino?”

“Yeah. I’ve been twice.” Alex laughs ruefully and Travis remembers suddenly why he’d always liked her, despite how uneasy he always felt around her. She has this easy, self-deprecating sense of humor that Travis always found incredibly endearing, and that always fit into Wes’s more acerbic one seamlessly. “Seriously, Travis, what’s up? I am kind of busy.”

“I – well.” Travis sighs. “I don’t wanna talk about it on the phone. Is it okay if I drive down to see you? It’s about Wes.”

“So he is in trouble,” Alex says tensely.

“Nah, he’s fine,” Travis insists. “I just – I got some questions, and – well, you know how he is.”

Alex is silent for a second. “Yes,” she says, sounding unhappy. “I really do.”

Travis winces. “Look, if it’s – I don’t wanna disrupt your life or anything – “

“No, it’s okay. I – he’s still a part of my life,” Alex says with an audible sense of resignation. Travis sympathizes. “What about this weekend? Saturday? We could get lunch.”

“At the McDonald’s Museum?” Travis asks hopefully, and she laughs. He actually wasn’t joking. “Saturday. See you then.”

“See you then,” Alex says, the laughter in his voice turning a bit incredulous.

Wes, when he gets back, spends a solid fifteen minutes bitching about the state of his desk and Travis finds himself bearing it with significantly less humor than he thought he would. By minute sixteen he’s had enough.

“Why are you so unpleasant?” he snaps. “Do you actually make an effort to be an uptight asshole or is this just a special thing for me?”

Wes pauses, looking visibly taken aback. Maybe that was a little unfair.

But maybe Wes has a secret double life and has actually been lying to Travis since the day they met, so fuck that noise.

“It’s a special thing just for you,” Wes sneers, sharp and fast, like he always is.

“Great, thanks,” Travis says, and storms off to the break room. (Whatever. Asshole. Ugh.)

Wes and Alex didn’t stay married for very long after Travis met them, but for a while there it was awesome, because Travis and Wes meshed and Wes and Alex meshed and they all meshed together in one big happy meshing circle. Like – they used to throw these awful dinner parties, and Travis was always somehow roped into attending, but it was always worth it because he’d stay late and the three of them would sit in the dining room and drink wine and talk shit about all the guests who’d just left. Things like that, where they were all just friends, and it was simple and easy and fun.

Of course then Wes and Alex began to fall apart, which was around the time Wes and Travis began to fall apart, and now here they all are years later and it’s still mostly shit. It sucks but this is a secret Travis learned long ago: it takes far longer to make something good than it does to make something bad.

“Wow, Travis,” is the first thing Alex says when she sees him, reaching up and giving him a hug that squeezes the breath out of his lungs. “It’s good to see you.”

“You surprised about that?”

“Maybe a little.” She smiles sweetly and Travis checks her out instinctively, notices her long, slender hands, the strands of hair that have escaped her bun, the shape of her legs beneath her skirt. She’s pretty the same way that Wes is – like the way porcelain dolls are pretty, kind of charming and breakable at the same time.

She takes him to a deli that she likes and they eat huge hoagies with extra spicy mustard and jalapeños and drink huge cups of soda because it’s the kind of food they never could eat around Wes since he’d yell at them about heartburn and dental health. Travis remembers they used to do this too, whenever Wes wasn’t looking. She’d sneak a shot of Kahlua into his coffee, he’d pass her a Kit Kat bar beneath the dinner table.

“So how is he,” Alex says, not really a question, once they’ve exhausted every other topic. She’s chomping down a bag of Doritos with startling obsession. “Still Wes?”

“Still Wes,” Travis agrees, “I think he misses you.”

“I miss him too,” Alex admits easily, like it’s obvious. “Is he seeing anyone?”

“No,” Travis says carefully, “but that’s a weird question, now you’re being weird.”

“It’s not a weird question,” Alex says defensively, “what am I supposed to do, ask him?”

Travis bites his lip against a laugh. “No, no, okay. Don’t ask me anything else about Wes dating. Not like he tells me that shit, anyway.”

Alex sighs a little forlornly and tosses the now-empty Doritos bag aside, snagging a napkin from the dispenser to wipe her hands. “Fine. You’re the one with the questions, right? So what’s going on, are you fighting? You want dirt? I got dirt.”

“I would love dirt,” Travis tells her enthusiastically, “but we’re actually not doing too bad. I would still love dirt though, I’m super into dirt.”

She grins sharply. “How’s therapy going?”

“It’s going great, great, it’s like – like emotion classes. Last week we learned how to apologize, and Wes only rolled his eyes like twice.”

Alex tilts her head back and laughs. “Uh oh.”

Travis shrugs. “Once was at himself though, so it was more like just once.”

“Right.” Alex shakes her head, smiling down at her hands. “So, what do you want to know, then? Something you can’t ask Wes, I assume.”

“Yeah. I mean I could, but I don’t think he’d answer me.” Travis leans forward, spreading his hands out on the table, arranging his body language in the way he does when he talks to witnesses and victims without even thinking about it. “So I happened to be at your old firm a while back, the one you and Wes both worked at? And I asked a couple people there about Wes, just to be nosy.”

If Travis hadn’t been watching so closely, he would’ve completely missed the way her shoulders tense up at this, so slightly that anyone other than a cop would miss it. Bingo, he thinks. “Yeah?”

“And they didn’t seem to remember Wes at all. They remembered you, but not Wes, even though they found him in the email system. And that’s weird, right?” Travis smiles winningly. “I mean, maybe the people I talked to just never met him, but it wasn’t a huge place back then, there were only twenty lawyers or so that worked there. And how would you completely forget one of them, especially one that worked there for three years and married another associate?”

Alex just blinks at him slowly, her face blank.

“It’s just weird.” Travis smiles again, his charming smile, his bullshit smile. The corners of Alex’s eyes tighten in response to it. “And then I started thinkin’, you know, that this isn’t the only weird thing about Wes.”

“Travis – “

“I could give you a list, I mean hell, I have a list right up here.” Travis taps his temple once with his index finger. “But since you were married to the guy I think you know exactly what I’m talking about, am I right?”

Alex sighs. “Why are you doing this?” she asks flatly, “why are you bringing me into this?”

“Bringing you into – “ Travis pauses and swallows down the rest of the retort. “I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on.”

“It sounds like you already know what’s going on, Travis,” Alex replies, unhappy. “You’re a cop, you put the pieces together. What the hell do you want from me?”

“Well,” Travis says, “fuck. I don’t know. Details, an explanation. Jesus Christ, what do you think I want? What did you think I would do when I figured this out?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know.” Alex shakes her head. “You’re his partner, not mine.”

“And you were his wife,” Travis retorts.

“But I’m not anymore!” Alex snaps. Her voice is loud enough that a couple people swivel their heads to look at them, and she takes a breath, straightening up in her seat and ducking her chin down into her chest. “Look,” she says after a moment, visibly restraining herself, “you can’t ask me this. You need to take this to Wes, no matter how you think he’ll react. You’ve got no right to get me involved, okay, this is – “ she shakes her head once, eyes falling closed. “This is not my fight.”

“Not your fight?” Travis repeats, stomach sinking. “What the fuck does that mean?”

“Nothing. Nothing, okay, I have to go.” She scrambles for her purse and jacket, pulling away when Travis stands up and reaches out for her arm. “I’m sorry, okay? But talk to Wes, that’s all I can tell you.”

“Alex,” Travis says helplessly, something leaden and heavy growing in his chest, a realization maybe, that what he’s just stumbled onto is nothing like what he’d thought it was. Or maybe exactly what he thought it was, rather, which is even worse.

“I’m sorry,” she says again, “it was good to see you. Okay? It was good to see you, Travis.”

He nods and doesn’t try to stop her again as she walks away, one hand pressed to her forehead and the other clutching her purse to her shoulder tightly.

“Well, fuck,” he says, to absolutely nobody.

5.

“Did you go visit Alex?” Wes demands the next morning.

Travis makes his face go blank. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Wes grabs a paper bag from the floor of Travis’s passenger seat that says San Bernardino Sandwich Shop in huge, red letters and throws it at Travis’s head.

“Okay,” Travis amends, “yes.”

Why.” Travis opens his mouth and Wes holds up one hand severely. “Actually, don’t tell me, I know why.”

Travis raises his eyebrows. “Oh you do? Tell me why, Wes. I wanna know.”

“You don’t want to know what I know,” Wes says critically. His face is pinched tighter than Travis’s jeans. Which is to say, really tight.

“Nice. That’s real nice, Wes, thanks for the vote of confidence.”

“You’re telling me that if Alex showed up at your trailer tonight in a negligée and ordered you to rock her world, you’d turn her away out of – like, bro loyalty, to me?”

“Well, yeah,” Travis says, “I think. Probably!”

Wes just rolls his eyes. “Right. You really inspire confidence.” His voice is dry enough to start a fire.

“What kind of negligée are we talkin’ about here?”

“The light is green,” Wes barks, shoving Travis’s shoulder.

“Jesus, fine.” Travis shoots him a glare and accelerates sharply, hoping to pitch him forward into the dashboard. Wes, used to this tactic, braces himself against the floor and doesn’t even budge. “Also: bro loyalty?”

“Oh, is that not what it’s called? I lost my list of all those words you made up and pretend are things people actually say.”

“Okay, Wes,” Travis says, smiling beatifically, “whatever you say, Wes.”

Wes just crosses his arms stubbornly. “Is this some kind of revenge thing?”

Travis blinks once. “You’ve lost me.”

Wes huffs, looking rather put out. “You’ve been acting like a petulant fourteen-year-old for like, two weeks.”

“Petulant?! – you – you’re calling me – “

“Are you denying it?”

“Yes!” Travis yelps. “You’re insane. And hypocritical. And petulant?! I can’t believe – “

“So you’re not angry with me at all,” Wes interrupts.

“No.”

“Because you’ve been acting like you’re angry.”

“I’m not angry,” Travis says through gritted teeth.

“You seem a little angry,” Wes replies, practically simpering.

“I am not angry!” Travis says, and slams his hand against the steering wheel.

Wes raises a single eyebrow, his entire body so full of judgment that Travis actually flinches.

“Shut up,” he mutters.

“If you don’t talk to me now I’m gonna bring it up in group,” Wes threatens.

“Please, like you would share anything voluntarily in group,” Travis scoffs. “You know I’m right.”

Travis isn’t right.

“I would like to talk about Travis’s feelings,” Wes announces, apropos of nothing. Dr. Ryan’s eyebrows shoot to the top of her forehead.

“Oh my God, you are such a – “

“Travis,” Dr. Ryan interrupts hurriedly, “no name-calling.”

“Yeah, Travis,” Wes says, “no name-calling.”

Travis flips him off.

“You see that? That is why we need to discuss his feelings. That was unhealthy communication,” Wes says quickly.

“Have you and Travis been having a problem, Wes?” Dr. Ryan asks mildly.

Travis opens his mouth but Wes is quicker. “Yes. Yes, there is a problem.”

“There’s no problem,” Travis tries to assure her.

“There’s always a problem. You have problems. I have problems. We have problems,” Wes insists.

“Yeah but those are normal problems, there’s no specific problem, right now,” Travis attempts.

“It kind of sounds like Wes has a problem,” says Kara. She’s the hippie wife.

“It’s not my problem, it’s Travis’s problem, and he won’t admit that it exists,” Wes informs her. “He’s pissed off and he won’t tell me why.”

“No, I’m not,” Travis says through gritted teeth.

“Are you angry with Wes, Travis?” Dr. Ryan asks.

“Nope. No. Not at all.”

“He is,” Wes says flatly. “You see his eyebrow twitching? He’s lying. It’s a tell.”

“Hey, your eyebrow is twitching!” exclaims Peter.

Travis scowls and slaps his hand over his forehead. “Lie?! I don’t lie. I’m not the one who lies.”

Dr. Ryan arches one eyebrow delicately. “Wes, perhaps you can tell the group why you believe Travis is angry with you.”

“I can just tell!” Wes cries, exasperated. “How do any of you know when your partner’s pissed off? You just know.

The entire group starts to nod and make agreeing noises, a few of them shifting in their chair to shoot looks at their spouse.

“And he’s refusing to admit it or even tell me what I did wrong, so how am I supposed to fix it?” Wes continues, glaring pointedly at Travis. “And I’m supposed to be the emotionally repressed one.”

“We can both be emotionally repressed at the same time, you know,” Travis tells him helpfully, “like you can bottle up your emotions and I can bottle up mine too, it’s not like you’ve got copyright on it.”

“Well, ideally nobody would be bottling up their emotions,” Dr. Ryan interjects, “which is sort of the point of this therapy group.”

“Right, exactly, so, Travis,” Wes says sharply, “why are you bottling? I’m not supposed to bottle anymore, so why do you get to do it?”

“Oh, right, you never bottle,” Travis snaps, “you’re a freakin’ oil spill, Wes.”

One of the husbands, Rick, snorts loudly, then quiets immediately when Wes and Travis both turn to stare at him. “Metaphor – it was clever!” His wife pats his arm silently.

“Right, okay,” Dr. Ryan says quickly, “it sounds like that hit a sore point for you Travis, is that maybe something that’s been bothering you lately? That you don’t feel Wes is emotionally open to you? That might be why Wes has been picking up on angry signals from you – whether you meant to send them or not.”

“I’m not angry,” Travis repeats, exasperated. Wes groans, along with three or four others in the group. “Okay, whatever! Maybe I’m a little peeved. But ‘angry’ is a strong word.”

“You didn’t answer my question, Travis,” Dr. Ryan pushes.

“Yeah, answer her question, Travis,” Wes adds cajolingly.

“You want me to – okay fine, I’ll answer her question,” Travis says to him, twisting around in his seat to face Wes full on. “Yeah, okay, it bothers me. It bugs the shit outta me, actually.”

“Obviously,” someone mutters, but Wes doesn’t even blink, just regards Travis solemnly.

“You know who I am,” he says evenly, “you know how I operate. If you want me to be different I’m telling you right now, I can’t do that – not for you, not for anyone.”

“Do I?” Travis asks, a little wildly, his heart beating a rapid two-step against his ribcage. “Do I know you, Wes?”

Wes blinks, his expression contracting, in hurt and something else, something more elusive. “Of course you do.”

“Really,” Travis says levelly, and all they can do is stare at each other, trapped in a moment between what they’ve always been and what they’re about to be.

“Travis, Wes,” Dr. Ryan says gently. The rest of the group is kind of eerily silent, half of them staring at them both and the other half avoiding looking at anyone at all. “Let me ask you a question. Do you trust each other?”

“Yes,” Wes says easily, naturally, the same way Alex had said that she still missed Wes, like it’s something so obvious that the question itself is unnecessary. “Yes, we’re partners. Police partners, we don’t – we’re not like the rest of you, okay, trust isn’t about knowing he won’t cheat on me or lie about stupid shit. For me, trust is about going through a door and knowing he’s right behind me. So yes, I trust him. Absolutely.”

Travis has to look away, has to press one hand to his mouth because the look on Wes’s face when he said that, it’s – he can’t handle it.

“Travis,” Dr. Ryan prompts.

“Yeah I trust Wes,” he says to the floor, “I trust him to back me up. I trust him to be a good cop, to do right by our cases and our department. I trust his judgment and his instincts. I trust him to – make the shot when I can’t.”

Wes shifts in his chair next to him. Travis doesn’t look up.

“This sounds like an essential aspect of your relationship for you, perhaps more so than any other couple here,” Dr. Ryan comments. “As police detectives, you face situations that could literally mean life or death, so trusting each other means trusting that you will do whatever you can to keep each other safe. Am I correct?”

Travis nods dumbly, hearing Wes make a low sound of agreement, in the chair next to him.

“Obviously trust is the foundation of all our relationships,” she continues, “and without it they will ultimately fail. But for you, Travis and Wes, it’s more than just your partnership that’s at stake. It must be something that you both can depend on, one hundred percent, in order for you to function.”

Travis can’t actually believe they’re still talking about this.

“That’s not – I just said that I trust him,” he says. “I trust you, Wes. Okay? That’s not the issue, why are we talking about this?”

“Then what is the issue, Travis?” Dr. Ryan asks. “Because I noticed that you felt the need to clarify the specific ways in which you trust Wes, whereas Wes simply answered yes or no. That leads me to believe that there are ways that you don’t trust him, that have more to do with your friendship than with your job.”

Travis sighs, rubbing his hands over his face. He’s starting to regret enjoying it so much whenever Dr. Ryan’s focus had put Wes under the microscope, to his extreme discomfort.

“There’s no friendship without the job,” Wes says, sounding sullen and angry. “No job without the friendship. There’s no – it’s not two different things. That’s not how it works.”

“Is that what you really think, Wes?” Dr. Ryan asks. “That you would stop being friends if you stopped working together?”

“No, that’s – no,” Wes says, sounding frustrated. “That’s not what I mean, Travis, you know what I mean.” Wes turns to him pleadingly, asking for understanding without actually asking, like he always asks for anything. “We are the job. That’s what I mean.”

“Yeah,” Travis replies, his throat squeezing tight, “yeah, we are.”

“So tell me,” Wes implores. “Tell me.”

“Why should I tell you,” Travis says, because it’s been building up in his mouth and he can’t keep it from spilling over anymore, doesn’t even want to, “when you haven’t told me? Trust, right, it means truth, that’s really what trust is. I don’t know the truth, Wes, why don’t I know the truth?”

Wes goes very still, a shadow falling across his face, like a window slamming shut. “I can’t.”

“Bullshit!” Travis exclaims, “bullshit you can’t, Wes! I’m your partner, if I don’t know who the fuck does?”

“No you don’t get it, I can’t,” Wes insists, his shock obviously turning quickly to anger, “I cannot, Travis, and that is not my choice. I – do you need me to say it that bad? You obviously already know, or you know enough, why – why do you have to always push like this? Can’t you just know that there’s – there’s something there, and I can’t talk about it, and have that be enough?”

“How am I supposed to do that, how am I supposed to just ignore it,” Travis says, laughing through it incredulously. “You’ve met me, you know me, how am I supposed to do that?”

Wes presses his lips together tightly, shaking his head, and then they’re caught again, just staring, not moving.

Dr. Ryan, who has been watching them intently, speaks up tentatively to break the impasse. “Our pasts influence our present in ways that we don’t always realize,” she says softly, “maybe Travis wants to know, Wes, so he can feel like he’s a part of yours.”

“It’s not – “ Wes chokes slightly, crossing his arms across his chest. “It doesn’t matter, I can’t, this is not about me. It’s not my decision, it’s not like I’m holding back for the hell of it. I literally cannot.”

“Wes,” Dr. Ryan starts, and stops suddenly when one of the women in the group suddenly bursts into tears. “Leah? What’s – “

“My last boyfriend used to beat me up,” she says suddenly, and her husband startles visibly, his face draining of all color. “I didn’t tell you because I hate talking about it and I didn’t want you to know that about me, but sometimes I still feel bad because of it and then I lie to you about why I feel like that. And you always think it’s because of you, but it really isn’t.”

“Oh my God,” her husband says faintly. “Sweetheart.”

“I’m sorry, I just didn’t want anyone to know,” she says, wiping at her face with one hand. Travis sees her lock gazes with Wes briefly, their eyes connecting across the room like an electric circuit completing for the first time.

“Is that why you – Leah, holy crap,” the husband says, “honey, that’s – that’s okay. It’s okay.”

Travis watches them lean in towards each other, grasping each other’s hands like they’re trying to pull themselves up out of deep water. Around the circle, the other couples are deathly silent, most of them holding hands too or leaning into each other’s bodies.

Wes still hasn’t moved at all.

“Leah, that was incredibly brave of you,” Dr. Ryan says emphatically. “I want you to know that we’re all here to support you, especially Peter, and I’m so glad that you felt safe enough to talk about this.”

“I guess I just – I know how Wes feels,” Leah says, shrugging. Peter wraps an arm around her, pressing his mouth to her shoulder and squeezing. She smiles wobbly and squeezes back, and Travis thinks abruptly of the alleyway, Wes holding him up by his waist and Travis holding onto his shoulder, using his body to walk.

“Thank you for sharing,” Dr. Ryan says, leaning forward with her elbows on her knees.

Travis just keeps watching Wes, who just keeps watching Leah and Peter. Neither of them says another word for the rest of the session.

Two hours later, Wes drops Travis off at the station and tells him he’s going out to grab some coffee.

“I need it,” he insists, “the real stuff, the stuff that doesn’t taste like the inside of an ashtray. Especially today.”

“No complaints here,” Travis replies, bending down to talk through the driver’s side window. “Pick me up something?”

“Sure.” Wes flexes his hands once, twice, swallowing visibly. “Travis…”

“Yeah,” Travis says cautiously.

“It’s good you figured it out,” Wes says to his steering wheel. “I’m glad you did.”

Travis thinks about all the shit that’s been running through his mind, the wild theories and possibilities that have been on constant repeat since that day at the law firm, and makes a quick and firm decision to ignore all of it.

“Yeah, me too, Wes,” he says. Wes smiles tentatively, his face lighting up.

“I’ll buy you something with lots of sugar,” he promises. “I know how you like the girly shit.”

Travis laughs. “I love girly shit,” he says, and pushes away from the car with one hand.

Wes smirks at him, slides his sunglasses on with one hand, and waves once as he drives off, and that’s the last time that Travis sees him for two and a half months.

+1.

It’s a Wednesday night, three seventeen in the morning, and Travis has a meeting with the Captain at eight the next day and he was up until midnight chasing down a lead, and so understandably, when Wes shows up at his trailer the first thing Travis does is punch him in the face.

“You’ve got to be shitting me,” he shouts, slamming the door shut before Wes can even shake off the shock, “no! No!”

“Travis,” Wes calls through the door, “c’mon.”

“No!” Travis yells again, and stomps back to collapse on his bed. He hears the telltale scraping sounds and he’s up in the next second, but Wes is too fast for him, always too fast, and he’s inside before Travis even gets to the door. “Get out.”

“Can you just let me explain?” Wes asks, shutting the door behind him carefully. Travis sees him slip something shiny and metallic back into his pocket, son of a bitch.

“Explain?” Travis asks incredulously. “Oh, you vanish into thin air and nobody knows where the fuck you are for three goddamn months and you show up at my house in the middle of the goddamn night and you want to explain.”

“This is,” Wes points out, “not a house. Technically.”

“Are you – are you being serious with this right now? What is wrong with you? What is wrong with your head?”

“Lots of things,” Wes replies, and sinks down onto Travis’s couch with a sigh. Travis sees through the red and realizes that he looks absolutely exhausted. “Look, I tried to call you. I did. But I was in New York, and – you know. I couldn’t.”

Travis gapes at him for a second. “You – you were in New York? New York City? Alien invasion New York?”

“I thought they told you,” Wes says, frowning. “They told me they told you. And Sutton.”

“They told us you were called away on ‘a sudden matter pertaining to national security,’” Travis says, air quotes and all. “Which apparently means aliens. Fucking Christ, Wes – “

“It was for your own safety,” Wes insists, and holds up a hand to forestall Travis’s outraged reply. “Don’t. Just – don’t. Aliens, Travis. Trust me when I say you have no goddamn idea.”

Travis snaps his mouth shut and takes the chair across from Wes, sudden weariness turning his shoulders to lead. “Jesus, Wes,” he says, unable to say anything else. “New York.”

“New York,” Wes agrees, rubbing his temple. Travis notices a second thing he’d missed on the first round of rage – a dark line of stitches right beneath his hairline, above his right eyebrow, and what looks like a bandage beneath his shirt, on his left shoulder. His jaw is visibly red where Travis had punched him, too. Travis feels a stab of satisfied pride at that, a little serves him right. “You want the long story or the short one?”

“Fucking both, are you kidding me,” Travis replies, “short now. Then the long, unabridged, full volume director’s cut tomorrow when we have coffee and whiskey and pie with whipped cream. You bastard.”

Wes quirks his mouth, almost a smirk but also not. “Right. Well, I used to work for the government.”

“Obviously,” Travis scoffs. “Doing what, exactly? Because you are aware that I do, too.”

“I – yeah. Well, I did a lot of things.” Wes closes his eyes for a second, like he’s nodding off, but when he opens them again he looks alert, sharp as he ever does. “I can’t tell you details or anything, not without compromising other agents, but I – well, I did a lot of things.”

Right. Travis can fill in the fucking blanks. “Okay, man,” he says slowly, “things. You did things. And then they called you in to do things to aliens.”

“Pretty much.” Wes looks as overcome by the idea as Travis feels. “That was…”

Travis has to swallow the bile that rises up in his throat. Christ, it makes sense now, all the shit in Manhattan happening, what, a week after Wes disappeared? It’s obvious where he was but Travis hadn’t put the pieces together, not consciously, hadn’t wanted to think of it –

“Anyway.” Wes sits up a little, visibly shaking off the emotion. “So you were right about me. I should’ve known you’d put it together, my cover was good but it wasn’t foolproof. No cover ever is. I suppose you have questions.”

“A billion,” Travis agrees. “What the fuck happened with Alex?”

Wes’s expression falls slightly. “Just what I told you happened.”

“She left you because you became a cop,” Travis says. “You mean to tell me she was apparently okay with you going off doing…things, things with aliens, but running down drug dealers was too much to handle?”

“Alex is, was – not involved, not to the level I was, but she worked for the same…organization that I did,” Wes explains, “and if you tell anyone about her part in this I will kill you, because she’s worked incredibly hard to maintain her cover, and that’s not about me, that’s about the life she wants.”

Travis holds up both of his hands in surrender.

“When I left originally, she came with me,” Wes says heavily. “We were trying to start over. She knew – she was unhappy with the way things were being run, where we were at. She didn’t trust their motives. I didn’t either, really, though not to the same extent. And for a while, it worked. We both had normal jobs, we had a house and a yard and everything. It worked.”

Travis watches Wes carefully – the slight tremor to his hands, the way he isn’t making full eye contact. Yeah, the blanks are definitely being filled alright. “But you couldn’t make it work.”

Wes shakes his head. “It was so – “ he makes a wordless sound of frustration. Boring, he doesn’t say, doesn’t have to say. Pointless. Empty. “But I couldn’t go back. All the reasons I left were still the same, I still believe that I did the right thing, even now. I didn’t want to live my life like that, didn’t want that on my hands anymore.”

“So you became a cop,” Travis says, with sharp, aching clarity. “And she left you.”

“Yeah. And I don’t blame her. She worked hard to get out, and then what did I do? Try and bring her right back in.”

Travis just shakes his head. A million different things make more sense now, fit into place a thousand times better than before. He feels like this is what people with bad vision feel like when they get their first pair of glasses – like nothing made sense before and they didn’t even notice until someone showed them the way it was supposed to look.

“But part of the – deal, I guess you’d call it – that I struck to get out was that they could call me in for emergencies,” Wes says, and spreads his hands out wide. “And, well. An emergency happened.”

“No shit,” Travis says distractedly, thinking of the hysteria of the last three months, watching the news constantly, running around LA trying to keep people calm. It’s hard to imagine Wes in the midst of the war zone that Manhattan has become; the footage and pictures of the torn-up streets and wreckage seem as unreal to Travis as he imagines they do to most people out here on the West coast. The city itself has been almost holding its breath, waiting to wake up.

What did he do, Travis wonders. What the fuck was he doing out there?

“Wes,” he says. His voice sounds rougher than usual to his own ears. “You should’ve told me, man. You should’ve told me.”

“When? How?” Wes asks, sounding wearier than Travis has ever seen him. “When I was going through my divorce? When we were investigating Pacman’s death? When we were at each other’s throats? When, exactly, was I supposed to fill you in on my former career – a career my own wife didn’t even have high enough clearance to know about?” Wes throws up his hands. “She didn’t even know the half of it, Travis, how was I supposed to come to you with it?”

“You should’ve found a time,” Travis snaps, familiar anger welling up in his chest. “You could have, I would have understood. You know that.”

“Of course I know that. That’s not the point. I wasn’t ready.” Wes’s eyes glitter in the low light from Travis’s kitchen. “You get it? It wasn’t even about you.”

Travis swallows the sudden lump in his throat and attempts a smile. “What are you talking about, the world revolves around me,” he jokes weakly.

Wes doesn’t even bother to smile. “Nope,” he says darkly, “it doesn’t even revolve around humans, Travis.”

Well, that’s a really depressing thought. “You know just how to lighten up a conversation, Wes.”

“Yeah, it’s my specialty.” Wes lets his head fall forward, into his hands, elbows braced on his knees. “So, that’s it. You can kick me out now.”

“Kick you out? Then how would I keep yelling at you?” Travis says easily. Wes twitches. “I gotta lot of yelling saved up, Wes. A lot.

“I don’t suppose you’ve found a new partner yet, then,” Wes says cautiously, lifting his face up.

“Been going over my options,” Travis says lightly. There’s a suspicious giddy feeling in his chest but he’s not going to admit to anything. “Can’t be too hasty, you know. Gotta be proactive and…like, organized. And shit.”

Wes snorts.

“Man, I’m just – I’m glad you’re okay,” Travis continues, “can I just say that? Jesus. And you can’t do that shit again. Fuckin’ disappear without a word.”

“That wasn’t my choice,” Wes says tiredly. “I’m sorry. I really am.”

“Did you tell Alex, at least?”

Wes shakes his head, jaw tightening. “She knew,” is all he says.

Travis sighs, rising to his feet slowly. He sees Wes flinch slightly, and immediately lets his arms fall to his sides, softens his stance into something more non-threatening. “You really are something else, you know that?”

“Hm, uh. Yeah,” Wes says, sounding uncertain. He does a double take when Travis moves to sit next to him on the couch, jerking forward and then away again, like he can’t decide whether to lean against Travis or leap away and kick him in the nuts. “I’ve been told.”

“Lemme see that.” Travis reaches out and snags Wes’s arm, feeling something pulling painfully at the obvious, uncomfortable tension that Wes is feeling, that aversion to touch that he’s always had ramped up to a thousand. “What is this, a gunshot?”

Wes nods slightly, leaning into Travis’s touch with obvious effort, letting him pull his collar aside lightly and glimpse the white gauze beneath. “S’why it took me so long to get back,” he says. “Recovery.”

“Right,” Travis says, pulling his hands away. Wes visibly relaxes. “You okay, otherwise?”

“Yeah. Yeah, it wasn’t a big deal.”

Travis actually thinks that a gunshot wound literally inches away from his heart is a huge fucking deal, but whatever. Wes logic is obviously a lot more warped than he’d even previously thought. “Whatever you say.”

Wes tilts his shoulders so he’s facing Travis halfway, his expression conciliatory. “For what it’s worth, I wanted to tell you. I had to stop myself from telling you so many times.”

“Yeah,” Travis replies, “well. I guess I can see why you didn’t.”

And he does, or he can at least imagine. Wes, always so afraid of failing, afraid of losing. The more he cares, Travis thinks, the more he has to lose.

“And it’s gonna be so much funner now,” he continues. “Like, seriously. You’ve probably got so many tricks, dude, you’ve been holding out on me.”

Wes’s mouth twitches. “‘Funner’ is not a word,” he drawls. “Like, seriously.”

Travis laughs, he can’t help it. It’s impossible not to, because this is Wes, sitting here on his couch, and he’s alive and fine and bitchy and fuck, Travis missed him. He never realized how much, until this very moment.

“Is that a joke?” Wes asks dryly. “Did I make a joke?”

“You would never,” Travis says.

Wes sighs, long-suffering and very, very Wes. It’s beautiful.

“Don’t think this is over though,” Travis says quickly. “You’re a damn spy and you never told me? Groveling, man. So much groveling. You’ve got no idea.”

“I can grovel,” Wes says, surprisingly. “I can give you groveling, if you want it from me.”

And this, Travis thinks, is why I waited. “I’ll take ya.”

Wes smiles, just a quick flash of teeth, but it shoots through Travis like a sunbeam.

“Yeah okay,” he says, “I’m good with that.”

(All things considered, yeah, so is Travis.)