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"Annie Traven. Mrs. Annie Rebecca Traven. Doesn't it just sound so - " Annie wrinkles her nose. "It sounds weird."

Jack's face is carefully blank. "I really, truly don't have a problem with you keeping your name, Annie."

"Maybe I could start going by 'Anne' instead, 'Anne Traven' sounds a bit better." Annie squints at nothing, rolling it around in her head. "Wait. No it doesn't."

Jack makes a noise of bland, utter neutrality, and takes a very long sip of coffee.

"Annie Traven is a character on Aaron Spelling show, but Anne Traven is a geriatric lady detective who lives in England," Annie complains. "You know what? Why didn't my parents name me Anna instead? Anna's a good name."

"You could tell everyone your name is Anna," Jack offers. "If you wanted. I don't have a problem with that, either."

"When I was a kid I went by 'Anne' for like two weeks before this kid in my class made an 'ann-orexia' joke, and I changed it back," Annie rambles. "I was skinny, but not that skinny! Man, I hated that little shit. Made sixth grade miserable."

Jack jerks his head up, looking a little wild around the eyes. "What kid? You never told me you were bullied."

"Calm down, Detective, it was twenty-five years ago," Annie says. "Besides, he was nice to me later. He stopped teasing people when he got a girlfriend."

"Oh." Jack sets his coffee cup down, then shakes his hand out, like he'd been gripping it a little too tightly. Annie hides her smile behind her own cup, watching him gather his anxious thoughts together with great, silent affection. "Well, Annie, you know - I mean, if it bothers you this much, we could just - uh, I could take your name?" He scratches his head, frowning down at their pockmarked counter top. "Is that a thing people do? I think I read an article about it once."

"You'd do that?" Annie asks, genuinely. "I was only kidding around."

Jack shrugs, smiling sheepishly. This is how he navigates important conversations: facial expressions, body language, and his neutral vocal noises, which can either soothe her temper or send her flying into one, depending on the topic at hand. He's afraid of saying the wrong thing, always afraid of scaring her off, which she understands and tries to accommodate, with varying success. Sometimes she wonders if they're setting themselves up for disaster, later on down the line. But who doesn't wonder that? Who doesn't second-guess the exits they take?

Life is short. "Jack," Annie says, slipping around the edge of the counter to get closer, her arms open. Jack leans in to her offered embrace, hugging her with one big arm, squeezed tight around her hips. Annie leans her forehead against the crown of his head, breathes in his aftershave, and thinks, wow. Get a load at this guy. "Annie Porter-Traven," she mumbles.

"Sounds like the mean popular girl in a high school movie."

"Oh, ouch!" Annie laughs out loud. "You're hugging the 1986 Homecoming Queen of Roosevelt High School, thank you very much."

"Excuse me, your highness," Jack murmurs, and kisses her chin. Annie kisses his right back, and then steals the last of his bacon.

 

 

 

Her friends tease her about the "cop's wife" thing, which is something Annie's seen in a bunch of movies. It's like, a thing. A trope. The hard-ass wife with curly hair and a cardigan, stone-faced as the hero stumbles in late, again. The tearful woman with tacky earrings, sobbing at the partner's funeral. The Jersey accent girl, hairsprayed to heaven, sassing her kids in the yard as he leaves for work.

It's a thing in real life, too. Jack takes her to a party at his new partner's house, a soft-faced middle-aged guy named Brian, and she ends up in the kitchen, crowded around an island, with a bunch of wedding-ringed women. They give her a wine spritzer and tease her about how cute Jack is.

"What a baby face," says one girl, whose name Annie has not caught yet, "real quiet, though. Kind of intense, huh?"

"Very," Annie says, laughing, because she always laughs when she doesn't know what to say. Her last boyfriend told her she sounded like one of those toys where you pull the string and it makes a creepy giggling noise. Ass. "He's a keeper, though. Really good, uh, cook. Stable."

"So romantic," says another nameless girl, either Lisa or Jo. Maybe Lisa Jo. "I heard that 'good in bed' you almost said there, babe."

Annie's laugh is a bit more genuine this time. "No! I swear, 'cook' is not a metaphor, I promise."

"Uh huh," says a third, who Annie is almost positive is named Ricki, "sure wish Hal would open a cookbook every once in awhile. Maybe branch out from take out, if you know what I mean."

"Nah, whataya mean, Ricki?" asks Lisa Maybe Jo. "You want a little more...finger food?"

Annie snorts so loudly Ricki startles, standing next to her. As if in tandem, the entire room starts shrieking with laughter.

"Hot home cookin'!"

"Ask him to scramble your eggs, honey!"

It only gets worse from there.

Annie could be friends with these people, maybe. Lisa - no Jo, turns out, just Lisa, Annie's not sure where Jo came from - is an accountant with a wicked sense of humor and Ricki trains dogs for movie sets, which is hella interesting. The third whose name Annie never discovers just drinks, for the most part, standing in the corner and laughing at everyone else's jokes. Then after about half an hour she wanders off, flipping her hair with one hand over and over.

Lisa sighs, pulling a pack of cigarettes from her open purse. "I think Casey's roughin' her up again."

Annie goes quiet, taken aback by the sudden seriousness of the subject, but Ricki snorts. "Piece of shit." She glances at Annie. "John Casey's her husband. And he's a piece of shit."

"Yeah, don't let him corner you at one of these things," Lisa says, with the tone of a secret. Annie is reminded firmly of the time Brittany Shoemaker pulled her aside on the first day of seventh grade and told her to make sure her bra straps weren't showing in algebra because Nate Taylor would snap them in front of everybody. "He hits on anything with a pulse, and you know how it is. I told Billy about it once, you know what he said? 'He's just jokin'." She shakes her head, leaning over the kitchen sink to open a window, her cigarette dangling out of the side of her mouth. "Jokin' my ass."

Annie feels out of her depth here, discussing such a thing so cavalierly. "Is she, I mean - she's okay, right?" She feels like such an asshole, not remembering the woman's name.

"Who knows." Ricki pats her arm. "Just be nice to her, don't take it personal if she seems a little, you know. Standoffish."

"I won't."

"She's a sweet girl." Lisa lights her cigarette, propping one of her feet up on the rim of a cupboard. "Jack's not like that, huh? That's good. He's not a drinker, is he?"

"No," Annie says. "I mean, he drinks, but not - not like that."

"Good," Lisa says again, and smiles at Annie sweetly. Ricki nudges her with an elbow, hands her another wine spritzer, and then suddenly they're talking about movies.

Annie's quiet on the way home. Jack keeps looking at her, gently concerned, and finally she says it: "John Casey hits his wife."

Jack's hand fists on the steering wheel. "Yeah."

"You know?"

"Everyone knows. But she won't say anything on the record, file charges, nothing. There's not a lot anyone can do, other than keep an eye."

Annie leans forward and cradles her face in her hands, feeling gross. Gross and weird and kind of nauseous, like she's bitten into a rotten apple.

"Did you talk to Mandy tonight?"

That must be his wife, Annie figures. "Yeah."

Jack is still frowning, staring intently at the stoplight. "Uniforms have been called to their place half a dozen times, but she always recants. That's how it goes - and he's got a lot of friends." He sighs, reaching out and softly touching her arm. Annie reacts like she's been shocked - like he's shuffled across a carpet in his socks, and jolted her out of her sulk with a little excess static. "You tell me if he tries anything with you. Alright? I don't hang out with the guy, and the guys I like, my friends - they don't either, but - he's in Homicide, he's a big deal. He gets invited to all these things - "

"So you just have to put up with him?"

"Pretty much." Jack looks angry, staring down the street through the windshield like it's insulted him. "We can't do anything until she's ready to follow through. If she's ever ready."

Annie reaches out and takes his hand, smoothing out his fist with her fingers. He flexes beneath her grip, then turns his palm upwards in invitation.

"I'm so glad I found you," she says.

Jack blushes, amazingly. He doesn't say anything, but she knows that's only because it's hard for him, sometimes, in the heartfelt moments. She gets it.

"I should invite her out for coffee or something," Annie muses, leaning back against the seat.

"Yeah," Jack replies earnestly. "You'd be good for her."

Annie smiles at him softly, feeling precious, and very lucky.

 

 

 

Annie's parents are dead, and so are Jack's. Their wedding guest list is embarrassingly small, and there's a period of a month or so where they both talk around the idea of eloping before Annie finally gets fed up and blurts it out one morning while Jack is making coffee.

"Harry was gonna be my best man," Jack says quietly, staring down at the percolator with intense eyes. Annie blinks at him, unsure of what to say, but he shakes off the moment. "Yeah, okay. Let's do that."

"We can have a ceremony if you want," Annie says tentatively, but he's already shaking his head.

"I just meant," he says, rubbing his neck, "it would've been nice. But you're right - there's nobody we care about that much."

They go to Vegas.

"I think I like this one better," Annie says, as they wait to board the plane. Jack is sitting tensely beside her, as he always does in big public places like this. Airports, bus stations, subways. Annie shudders a little, thinking about empty train cars, handcuffs on dirty wrists, and gently takes his hand. He smiles at her, the tension melting away a little, just around his eyes. "What do you think?"

"You don't want a diamond?" he asks. "My mom had a huge diamond. Big honkin' thing, with little rubies all around it in a circle. Dad used to tease her about how much it cost, but she loved the damn thing."

Annie smiles at him. "I'm not really a diamond girl," she confesses, as if Jack hasn't already figured that out. "I'd rather have something practical, that we could replace if I lost it. Oh God, what if I lose it?" She grips his arm dramatically. "Will you still love me?"

Jack squints at the jewelry catalog. "For...sixty-nine ninety-nine? Honey, I'll buy you as many of those as you wanna lose."

Annie kisses his cheek. "You never told me that about your mom," she says. "I thought they were divorced."

"They were," Jack says fondly. "But they were one of those...you know, break up, get back together, break up...et cetera." He shrugs. "Made my childhood hell. But they seemed like they enjoyed it."

Annie hums thoughtfully. "My parents were just bored with each other," she says. "Bored with their life, too. When Dad passed, my mom moved to Florida and opened her own bakery shop. She was a terrible baker, don't get me wrong - " Jack laughs in surprise. "But it made her happy. She had...oh, I don't know, three good years, before the cancer? It was probably the happiest three years of her life."

Jack leans in and kisses her forehead. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I wasn't that close to them." Annie thinks about her childhood as a distant sort of fairytale story, like something that happened to someone else. It's strange to connect it to her present day life - to Jack. She was so lonely when they met that she'd stopped noticing how lonely she was. The difference is only apparent now, when he asks her questions like this with such genuine interest and compassion. She feels guilty sometimes that it doesn't affect her that much.

"I'm still sorry." Jack frowns thoughtfully. "My old man - he was an ass. A real piece of work. But he loved my mom and me, and he tried his best. My mom, too - some people just weren't meant to be parents. But back then...that was just what you did, I think."

Annie nods, leaning her cheek briefly against his shoulder. He smiles, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye.

"Should we have the kid conversation?" Annie asks, muffling it into his t-shirt. "I know we've sort of had it but maybe we should have it, you know, officially."

"I was sort of hoping to knock you up in the hotel room," Jack says, "you know, after Elvis marries us. It feels like an appropriate way to finish out an elopement."

"Damn it." Annie snaps her fingers. "I already took my birth control today."

"Well," Jack allows, "there's always tomorrow."

Annie grins, and bites his shoulder. "I want the ring first."

"Deal."

 

 

 

Their house is the weirdest house in the entire state of California, which is one hundred percent why they bought it. There's a live tree growing out of the floor in the garage, which was apparently a deliberate thing by the original owners, but having passed from one careless renter to another, it's mostly dead. Now there's just a big hole in the floor with a traumatized Oak crawling out of it. Jack hates it, but he's got no clue what to do about it, so they've just been parking in the driveway until they come up with a plan.

The kitchen is painted blue, and the bedrooms are all painted black. There are two dishwashers but no clothes washer. The fridge is fucking gigantic, and there's a skylight in every hallway. Annie adores the tacky wood panelling, and Jack is downright ecstatic at the hidden room behind the fake bookcase in the basement.

"Aw, honey," Annie says fondly, "you can keep your guns down here!"

"And your knife collection, too," Jack says, as excited as she's ever seen him.

Jack has this bemused reaction to almost everything, which is one of the reasons Annie loves him so much. She's only ever seen him get angry about work stuff, which he doesn't like to talk about at home anyway. She's been reading books and things about cops, and living with cops, and while some of it makes sense most of it seems to be aimed at women like Mandy. Annie doesn't mean to be insensitive about that, but she does feel like she and Jack are a bit sideways of the norm, when it comes to that sort of thing.

Mostly he just goes quiet. She can always tell when he's into something awful, because he barely talks at night. He'll listen, of course, with wide eyes, and he'll sit close to her on the couch and get a little clingy, wanting to hold her hand while they watch TV or whatever. But he doesn't like to talk about it, which is fine because Annie doesn't really want to hear it, and he doesn't take it out on her. He just...sinks into it. Leans his head against her chest as they lie in bed, kisses her like he's dying. Annie hopes she's doing the right thing by not pushing him about it all, but it's not like anyone could tell her what the right thing is, if there were someone she could ask.

She's perfectly alright with being his safe haven. The thing that makes it work is that he's hers, too.

They remodel the house. Annie does most of the work. She paints and hammers and screws things into other things, and loses her wedding ring twice. Jack finds it the first time, wedged in the little slot things in an air vent, and the second time he buys her three identical silver bands, all at once, lined up in a row on their nightstand.

"Just in case," he says. Annie laughs so hard she gets a headache.

Weeks and months slip away to quiet happiness, and then suddenly: Jack takes her downtown to a fancy sushi restaurant for their one year anniversary. Annie blinks at herself in the mirror that night, counting the months. It doesn't seem possible: an entire year, and then three whole more before that. Add on the however-many months of back-and-forth calls and false starts before that, and it's been longer than she's ever made it with anybody.

"Mrs. Annie Traven," she murmurs to her own reflection. At some point, when she wasn't paying attention, it became the only name she's ever had.

"Mrs. Homecoming Queen," Jack mumbles sleepily from the bed. He smirks at her, his feet crossed, propped up on the edge of the footboard.

Annie crosses her eyes at him in the mirror, and his laugh turns into a cough halfway through, choking on the gulp of water he's just taken. What a dweeb, she thinks fondly.

"I know you like the name Travis," she teases, crawling up on the bed on her knees, "but you realize what his full name would be."

"Travis Traven is not that bad," he argues.

"It is that bad, and I cannot believe you can't see it," Annie says with a laugh. She slips into his lap, tucking her legs alongside his hips. Jack's hands settle on her arms, warm and familiar. "And you know Harry would kill you if we named our kid after him. Like he would literally crawl down from heaven and kill you."

Jack grins up at her. "Matt Traven sounds like a douchebag."

"Better than my sister's suggestion. 'Jayden Traven.' Oh sweet Jesus." Annie rolls her eyes. "I still say we should wait until we see him to decide."

"Yeah but what if we still don't come up with anything? The kid needs a name. That's an important aspect of, you know, being born."

"We could always go with our last resort," Annie says, leaning down to give his scruffy chin a kiss. "Jack Jr."

"No way in hell," Jack swears.

"Hey, I kinda like it," Annie says.

"You would," he replies.