Chapter 1: Fruit Basket
Dani strikes Charlie's cheek firmly.
"Crews, answer me, dammit," she grits out, straining to maintain pressure on the detective's wound. Charlie flinches away, groaning weakly and spitting flecks of red onto the pavement.
"Still here," he rasps, his blood-soaked fingers twitching erratically beneath Dani's palm. His head lolls to the side, his grey-blue eyes meeting hers as a small little smile creases his face. "I've had worse," he whispers, visibly struggling to speak, to hold still. Dani watches, concerned, as he coughs.
"In prison?" She asks when he's finished. Charlie nods, his eyes sliding shut. "Hey, don't clock out on me now," Dani presses slightly harder against the wound in his lower abdomen, eliciting a strangled cry and an angry glare from the detective.
"Don't talk so much," she orders, "just stay awake."
She can hear the sirens now, and grumbles, "About time," under her breath, keeping an eye on Crews. He looks awful - the color is drained from his already pale skin, leaving his face a sickly grey, and his eyelids droop over near colorless irises. Blood stains his lower lip and chin along with his shirt, pants, and vest.
"Hey, Reese?" Charlie's croaky voice shakes her out of her trance.
"Yeah, what is it?"
"Do you think I'll be reincarnated as a panda? Or a whale? Or what about-"
"You're not going to be reincarnated, Crews, because I'm not letting you die today. Got it?"
"I didn't say I-"
"Please, stop talking. I'll buy you a fruit basket or something. Just. Stop."
"Okay, fine." Charlie feigns hurt before a small smirk twitches his lips upwards.
The sirens are deafening now as the ambulance turns into the parking lot, and Charlie settles back against the pavement patiently until the EMTs are lifting him onto a stretcher. Dani watches as he's put in the back of the vehicle, a couple police cars quickly pulling into the lot. She thinks about what kind of fruit basket she'd get him, if she were serious about it. Which she wasn't.
Dani Reese will most certainly not buy Crews a fruit basket.
Charlie wakes up in the hospital feeling generally exhausted and achy, even with the painkillers. There's a huge bandage over his hip that's itchy and annoying, and the bland grey walls and tiny window reminds him of the prison hospital.
But when he looks over to the side table to check the time, he sees something that makes him smile.
Sitting innocently on the table, without a card or tag to identify its giver, is a fruit basket with an assortment of tiny pineapples and oranges.
Chapter 2: A Nice Gesture
Charlie spent a week in the hospital before getting permission to go back to work. The detective had pestered Reese, Tidwell, and everyone at the hospital until they'd all given in, just to get him to shut up. (He wasn't even healed yet.)
The first day he wasn't allowed to go back to work, so Ted drove him home and tried his best to keep Charlie from doing anything too strenuous. Which was incredibly difficult.
"Charlie, you can't go swimming," Ted insisted, "the bandages will get wet, and then the chlorine will get into your wound. And then I'll have to take you right back to the hospital."
"Plastic wrap?" Charlie quirked his lips in a grin and raised his eyebrows. "Come on, there's got to be a way. I want to swim, in my pool, because I never get time to with work. And now I have the time."
"But you're injured , Charlie." Ted sighed, watching Charlie kick off his shoes and roll down his socks. The redhead smirked at Ted and rolled his pants up to the knee before sitting at the edge of the pool. He dipped his feet into the water and smiled, settling back onto his hands and soaking in the California sun.
"Oh. That-that's fine. Just don't fall in, then." Ted let out a sigh of relief. He had half-expected Charlie to ignore him and dive right in. Maybe he hadn't learned, then. Charlie never did what people expected of him.
"I'm still swimming. Just not today," Charlie murmured.
"Yeah, ok," Ted agreed, mostly just to acknowledge that Charlie had spoken. "I think I'm going to join you, if you don't mind?"
Charlie turned at the inflection in his voice. He smiled and patted the stone surface beside his hip invitingly. "You know I don't mind," he said simply. Ted nodded and did exactly what the young detective had done, sitting next to him and dipping his feet in the water too. Briefly, he caught a glimpse of one of Charlie's tattoos, something tiny and black on his upper calf, along with several rough white scars on his knees.
Ted didn't say anything, though, just settled back to bask in the sun and enjoy his freedom; appreciate Charlie's kindness and friendship.
Charlie did end up using plastic wrap - but only so he could bathe the next morning. He was dressed, as usual, when he came down to the kitchen to eat breakfast and go to work.
"Grapes, today," he said to himself as he dug through the fridge. Charlie found the big bag of fresh grapes and plucked off a branch to store.
Ted could understand Charlie's new appreciation of fresh fruit, even felt the same to some extent. However, it still amused him how particular Charlie was about the freshness, taste, texture, and color. It seemed unnecessary to know so much trivia about every fruit he purchased. But he felt that after what he'd been through, Charlie was allowed to be a little bit crazy about something. Better fruit and fast cars than something dangerous.
"Reese bought me a fruit basket, while I was in the hospital. Did you know that?" Charlie's voice drew Ted out of his vacant musings.
"Really?" He asked, surprised. "That seems...unusual, given what you've told me about her."
"Yeah. Oranges and personal pineapples. The card was blank, but she bought it."
"You know, that little one I bought at the farmer's market a few weeks back? She found a whole bunch of them," he eats between sentences, great big spoonfuls of Raisin Bran Crunch that somehow don't result in milk on his chin.
"Why those? I mean, the oranges are obvious, but why would she add the pineapples?"
Charlie shrugs. "Maybe she remembered our conversation."
"When I brought the pineapple to work, she finally asked me 'what the deal was' with the fruit," he chuckles, "and I told her how it was what I missed most while doing time." He stops abruptly, like he always does when prison comes up in a conversation, and tucks back into his meal.
"Well, it was certainly considerate of her," Ted concludes, "maybe you should buy her something in return."
"A thank-you gift?"
"Yeah, something like that. It's a nice gesture."
"Something like that," Charlie echoes. "Hm. I'll think about it."
Chapter 3: Jewels
"We've been awake for hours," Dani groans, her head pillowed in her arms. She's slumped over her desk, displaying an unusual lack of formality. Charlie isn't far behind, though - his hair is flat on the left side from using his hand as a pillow for too long.
"Are you sure we're even awake?" He queries, smirking as he recalls the last time he'd said that. The case had been a year ago, but he still remembers it clearly. He can remember everything that happened after prison more clearly than the rest.
"Maybe this is a dream," Dani mumbles, quoting him, "maybe we wake up when we die."
Charlie chuckles. "You do listen to me."
"Only when you make sense. Remind me again why we have to be here?"
"The case," Charlie sighs. "Lab is still processing...something..." He feels himself nodding off again. There's a dull ache in his body that had started hours ago, but now his injury twinges painfully, too. "Painkillers must've worn off," he mutters, grimacing.
"I can't believe you convinced them to let you out," Dani's voice is muffled, but he can hear the incredulous tone of her voice. "Should've stayed at least four more weeks."
"I was restless," Charlie admits. "Spent a lot of time in the hospital at Pelican Bay. Started to feel like I was there again."
Dani is silent, looking up at him thoughtfully. Charlie manages a half-smile, a twitch of his lips that doesn't reach his eyes. There's a haunted look there, the glazed look of a bitter memory that'd rather be forgotten.
"Oh," he grins at her suddenly, "I just remembered." Charlie pulls open his desk drawer and rummages through it, searching for something. Dani watches with cautious interest, expecting the detective to whip out some exotic fruit and give a thirty-second speech on the thing.
Instead, Charlie pulls out a small purple box. It's flat and fits in his palm, and there's a white ribbon tied neatly around it. Smiling, he presents it to Dani.
"You bought something for me?" Dani frowns at Charlie suspiciously, and takes the box at his nod. She unties the ribbon and pops the lid off to reveal a necklace.
"It's a rose," she says, hesitant. "Crews, why-"
"Look closer," Charlie interjects.
Dani takes out the necklace with an eyebrow raised at the other detective. She inspects the sterling pendant, which she finds is engraved with a phrase in Farsi.
"He who wants a rose...must respect the thorn," she translates. Dani sits back in her chair and looks at her partner for a moment. His lips are quirked in a full smile now, the one that creases his eyes and seems to convey a lot more emotion than his other expressions.
"Wow," is all Dani can think to say at first. "This...this is really thoughtful of you, Crews."
Charlie shrugs a little. "It's a thank-you gift. A token of my appreciation."
"The fruit basket, while I was in the hospital. That was you, wasn't it." It's not a question, and Dani can't help the smile that crosses her face.
"It was not me," she says, but the brightness of her eyes tells Charlie what she really means.
Dani puts the necklace on with a sense of gentleness that touches Charlie.
"Looks nice on you," he voices the compliment in an uncharacteristically low tone of voice, mirroring Dani's own break in character.
They settle in that moment, wading in it, breathing it, the brief seconds that suggest something more than partnership based solely on work, something more than a stuttered and half-formed friendship passing between their locked gazes.
Charlie is the first to break the moment, pulling out a small cutting board, an empty tupperware container, and a great big red fruit that Dani doesn't recognize. She's past the denial of her curiosity and doesn't wait to ask this time.
"What's on the menu today?" She inquires.
"Pomegranate," Charlie answers, cutting into the skin. "Sorry, no speech prepared. You want any?"
Dani watches hundreds of little red berries that remind her of jewels spill out onto the surface of the board.
"Sure, why not. Gimme some."
Chapter 4: An Empty Fireplace
It was so quiet. Too quiet. Silence never meant anything good in prison. Nor did it last long. Charlie shifted, found the thin blanket in the dark, and listened to his own breathing.
There was no sense of time in solitary. It dripped through his hands like water, liquid and impossible to really keep track of. He knew it was late when the noise started. Not the laughing, or the crying, or the screaming that usually pierced the daytime, but the moaning, the breathless sobs, the stifled cries.
The guards didn't much like it if you cried. So you did your best to stifle it, push the emotion into the back of your mind.
But it was different in solitary. With nothing but four walls, a florescent light, and a tiny bed, a man went mad. You stopped caring about the guards because they never really came in to stop you.
Charlie curled into himself, feeling the moment of clarity slipping away. He didn't know how long he'd been here. He'd kept track, the first three weeks. The first week hadn't been much different from his time before solitary. He didn't speak, just did pushups to build his strength back up after such a long stay in the prison hospital, and kept track of the time as best as he could. The second week he'd gotten lonely. He imagined people there, spoke to them. He knew it wasn't real, but after a few days he forgot that fact, and started to believe they were. It hurt too much to believe otherwise.
The third week and all those that followed blurred into a droning, indistinguishable mass of time and delusions and hopelessness. Charlie refused meals sometimes, which only made his visions feel that much more real. During moments of lucidity, he'd read The Path to Zen and tried to imagine what he'd do if he got out of prison.
He imagined what would happen if they found out who'd beaten that guard, the one who singled him out and let them take so much blood from him that he'd needed 241 stitches. He'd beaten the guard to nearly the same extent he himself had suffered, broke nearly every bone just as he'd had his broken. Charlie's leg was still stiff, and a few of his fingers weren't quite as flexible as they had been before. The guard, though - he’d never walk again.
His vision flickered, and at first he thought it was the lights turning back on for breakfast, but then he was outside of his cell and taking a blow to his stomach that completely floored him.
A shoe slammed into his face, and he heard a sickening crack. Blood began gushing out of his nose as he took on more damage, heard more bones crack and shatter under the assault of heavy shoes.
He was pulled from the floor by his armpits, his eyes swollen shut and pain everywhere making him cry out in agony.
"Charlie," a voice called out to him, but he took a fist to the face that dislocated his jaw. He heard the shifting of fabric that indicated a man retrieving a weapon.
"Charlie, wake up," the voice insisted. Confused, he opened his eyes and saw the guard in front of him, a knife gleaming in the dim light.
"No," he rasped, trying to squirm out of the confining grasp of the other inmates. "No, no, no. Let me go."
"You need to wake up," the guard said, but his voice didn’t match. Grinning maliciously, he shot forward, and the cold hard blade sunk into Charlie's gut and retreated so suddenly he was frozen in place, no pain yet registered in his brain.
He looked down at himself, stunned, saw the tear in his shirt, the blood seeping through. Then the pain hit him, all at once, and his knees gave out under him, the other men the only thing that prevented him from slamming into the linoleum floor.
His eyes flew open to see a face right in front of his, and he instinctively threw out a fist in defense. The man fell back, his grip on Charlie's shoulders retreating, and the detective sat up and pushed himself back against the wall, his heart hammering in his chest. Every time he blinked he saw red, and he stared down at himself, but there was no blood, only dark tattoos, raised white scars crisscrossing his stomach and ribs, and the clean bandages covering his bullet wound.
"You hit me," Ted's voice said shakily, and Charlie glanced up at the other man in surprise.
"Ted?" His voice felt rough, overused.
"Are you...here now, Charlie? You hit me." He was still, a hand held protectively against his cheek, dark eyes locked with Charlie's.
In that moment it all hit Charlie, who started and shot out of bed. He ran, tearing down the stairs, heart seizing in his chest. He couldn’t deal with this, he couldn’t, he could not. Charlie needed to get out, get away. He nearly hit the door in his hurry to reach it, but once his fingers brushed the handle, he froze.
Charlie retracted his hand and stood for a moment, listening to Ted's footsteps as he came down the stairs. Charlie leaned against the door and slid down to the floor, drawing his knees up and grasping at his flannel pants.
Ted stood before him, breathing heavily.
"Ted," Charlie's voice shook as he spoke, "what happened?"
"You really should get some furniture, Charlie. It'd do a lot for the acoustics in this place," Ted says, approaching him cautiously. His eyes are tracking something, and Charlie looks to see his hands shaking violently, twisted in the fabric of his pants. He realizes he's trapped in a full-body shiver when his teeth clack together painfully.
"W-what happened, Ted?" He asks again, trying to force his body to relax. He's wound up like a guitar string, about to snap, twitching and spasming. Ted sits down beside him, sighing.
"You were having a nightmare, Charlie. It woke me up." He's silent, waiting for an answer, but Charlie doesn't speak. "Do you...do you want to talk about it?" Ted poses the question so carefully, as if he's afraid Charlie will snap and attack him.
"No," Charlie says flatly, letting his knees drop and feeling a sharp, searing pain in his abdomen. He gasps and looks down to see blood staining the white bandages.
"Shit, you must've torn the stitches," Ted says, alarmed.
"I hit you," Charlie rasps, gazing at the developing bruise across Ted's cheek and eye. Ted notices that his eyes are dull, glazed, like he's there but not really there at all.
"Yeah, you did," Ted agrees vacantly. "But I think I should take you to the hospital."
"No," Charlie's voice is sharp with fear. "I don't want to go back. I'm sorry I hit you. I didn't mean to, Ted. Don't make me go back. Ple-"
"Hey," Ted interrupts Charlie's panicked speech, "you're alright, Charlie. It's over now. Just the hospital, okay? I'm not mad that you hit me. You were scared. Let me get you some help, Charlie."
Charlie's hand shoots out, grabbing Ted's tightly. His fingers are still shaking, and Ted realizes it's a number of things making Charlie so stressed: the nightmare, the pain of his injury, the fear of whatever had happened to make him so bad off while he was in solitary. He knew Charlie hadn't done so well in there, had gone a little crazy despite all of his strength, but he'd never witnessed the mental unbalance he was displaying in this moment.
Ted squeezes his hand in reassurance and helped him stand up. He grabbed a coat and draped it over his friend's shoulders.
"Come on, Charlie. Let's get you fixed up."
Charlie nods, the shaking beginning to slow, and Ted could see the lucidity returning to his eyes.
"You should do something about that empty fireplace," Ted tells him. "When I was younger, I always sat in front of the fire if I was upset about something. It's relaxing."
Charlie nods vaguely, his face tight with pain and his gaze a million miles away.
Ted sighs. "We'll do something about it when you get back, then."
Chapter 5: Scratch
This time they don't let Charlie out early. He was now being forced by the hospital (and Tidwell) to stay his full three week minimum, as he'd 'proven to them that he couldn't be left to his own devices with an unhealed injury.' Simply put, he'd ripped open an injury that hadn't even begun to heal and thereby made it worse, and, much like a child who'd spilled milk from a glass, was now back to a sippy cup. Trust is so easy to break, and so hard to earn back.
Ted drops by the most often, whenever he isn't teaching at the college. Charlie has a hard time looking at him, at the black-purple bruise that’s spread across his cheek. He feels so guilty.
Dani is the second person to come pay him a visit.
"Heard you had a nervous breakdown," is how she greets him. Charlie gives her a blank look, but his eyebrow twitches in irritation.
"Ah. Sore spot, huh? Sorry." Dani sits down in the chair next to him. She's wearing the necklace he gave her, which makes him smile a bit. She glances at it briefly.
"It's nice," she tells him, "the only one I wear, actually. I'm not big on jewelry, but this I can appreciate. So. Thanks again."
"You're welcome," Charlie croaks. They're silent for a beat, neither having anything to talk about. Charlie is uncomfortable in the silence, tense and stressed. He taps his thumbs over each of his fingers and back across again.
"I can't deal with the silence when I'm alone," he says suddenly. He doesn't really mean for Dani to hear it, having nearly forgotten she was there.
"Is that why you had your breakdown?" She's needling for information, which strikes him as unusual. He's more often the one digging for information about her. He wonders if Tidwell has put her up to this. He'd been by the morning Ted brought Charlie to the hospital, to make sure he stayed put this time. Charlie had still been shaken up then, and the captain had been witness to his nervous, terrified energy. Delirium, they'd called it. Said it was from the pain. Tried to cure it with more medication. He’d only been a step away from being cuffed to the bed. Thankfully Ted was there to tell them why that was a bad idea.
"Not exactly," he dodges an answer. "I was just thinking about how I couldn't stand the silence in prison. It was never a good thing, not really."
"But now you can deal with it, just as long as you share it with another person?" She finishes the thought for him, but poses it as a question. Charlie nods sagely, letting his eyes slide shut. He wants to open up, expose the raw core of his being. He wants to blossom like a flower.
But he's kept prison close, bottled up and locked away, best forgotten. He doesn't want to talk about it, yet somehow he always does. When there's no case to distract him, no personal investigation to keep him on his toes, his mind always goes back there. He thought he'd had it under control, but the nightmare had proved him wrong.
Twelve years of hell wouldn't just go away after two of freedom.
He needs something more. The orange grove, the fast cars, the Zen, even the job - they're all just distractions. He needs something solid, something real. Something to soothe the chaos in his heart and head, something to stop the pain of things from the past. Something that isn't just him running from the mess of his soul. He thought he'd find peace in catching the real killer, in putting together the puzzle of who framed him, but it means nothing to him anymore.
"Crews?" Dani's voice draws him out of his thoughts. "You alright?"
Charlie realizes there are tears in his eyes, and he scrubs them away angrily. He nods, afraid to speak through the tightness of his throat, looks away. He hates looking weak. Vulnerability was something he'd taken with him to prison and left there, bloody and bruised. He gained nothing from it, only humiliation and suffering.
"Crews," Dani's voice is lower than usual, less confident and demanding. "I know we don't talk much outside of work. It's nothing personal. If you need someone to talk to, I'm here. We're partners, we've seen a lot of shit together."
Charlie is still for a moment, his gaze locked with the younger detective's. He smiles, a tiny and bitter expression.
"Tidwell put you up to this? I know he saw me the other day."
Dani sighs. "Yeah," she admits. "He did ask me to check up on you. Make sure you're 'fit for duty.' But that's it. Everything else here is me. I would have come even if he hadn't asked me to. I'm worried about you, and that, Crews, is all me."
Charlie sighs, dragging a hand across his face and sinking back into the pillows. "I'll be okay when I get out of the hospital," he rasps. "It was just...a bit of a scare. Tore the stitches, the pain made me delusional. It happens. I'm better now. I'll be back to normal when I get out."
"Right," Dani says, clearly not believing him. He can see it's the story she'll tell Tidwell, but not the one she'll think of when she looks at him. Charlie decides to take the plunge.
"Do you ever feel like it's just you and me against the world, Reese? I feel like, ever since I got out, nobody really wants to be my friend. Except for you and Ted. I know we are none of us alone, but...sometimes I feel so alone here."
"Crews," Dani smiles grimly. "I know exactly what you mean. We're both cops who fucked up. You were innocent, but you still did time, so everyone else figures you had to have been guilty of something - and I was just too damn good at my job, too good at the drugs. Good cops who go through bad shit never get treated the same."
She seems to have a realization then, an epiphany of sorts.
"You weren't delusional from the pain," she states. It's almost a question, but not really. Charlie shakes his head no.
"Not the pain of this," he says, placing a hand over his bandaged hip. He smiles tightly at her, knowing she's figured it out. He's afraid she'll look at him differently, see the weakness in him and turn away in disgust, or convince herself that that's a lie too and he isn't to be trusted. But he doesn't see any of that in her expression. Rather, she looks at him with a touch of wonder, like she's just found a connection with him she hadn't ever expected to make.
"It's something you carry every day," she says slowly, "but some days it seems heavier, like it's doubled in size, and it does its best to smother you, to crush you."
"And you can't breathe, you can't relax, you jump at shadows and hurt your best friend, and it doesn't go away for hours. It never really goes away. It just slides back into you and waits. Waits for the next chance to attack. Waits like it did in solitary, scratching in the back of your head like the rats trapped in the walls." Charlie chuckles humorlessly, looking at his partner. "Yeah. That's what happened."
"I can understand that,' Dani says softly. "I was the same way for a while."
A silence passes between them, stretches and settles until Dani breaks it.
"You can always talk to me if you need to, Charlie. You have my number."
The redhead looks at her, surprised, and she realizes she'd just used his first name. She shrugs, sketches a smile. "This isn't work," she explains. "We're friends, right?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I guess you're right, Dani." Charlie smiles back at her, a warm smile that reaches his eyes. One she's never witnessed before, because it's an expression reserved for close friends.
She pats him on the arm. "I'm glad we had this talk," and it isn't a sarcastic comment, for the first time. "Unfortunately, I do have a case to investigate, and I'm five minutes late. I'll drop by with the details later, if you'd like. I know I can't stand lying in the hospital with nothing to do."
"That'd be fine," he agrees, "see you around, Dani."
The younger detective stands, nods to her partner, and leaves, the sound of her heels tapping down the hallway slowly fading away. Normally he's reminded of the times Constance had visited, the sound of her walking away and leaving him in that godforsaken prison for another day, another week.
But that memory doesn't cross his mind at all. Instead he sees the moment for what it really is: a good friend walking out of his hospital room to investigate a murder and possibly save a few lives.
He realizes the rats in the back of his mind have finally silenced their scratching.