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Day Eighteen

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Holder couldn't say that he'd never thought about this. That in his weaker moments, when he was tired of ignoring the nagging pull of desire deep in his belly, that he didn't think about her. What her hair would feel like wrapped around his fingers (it’s plush, soft), whether she would dominate or let him take the lead (she's bossy, of course), what sounds she'd make (she swears and sighs and says his name like it's a blessing and a curse).

Her windows are wide open, the cool pre-dawn  air floating over their overheated bodies. His legs are getting tired now, starting to shake.  He can feel his toes gripping the nappy berber carpet, his knees pressing into the side of the mattress.  

He slides his hands along the milky expanse of her back, from her neck to her hips.  He’s really trying to control his pace, to not leave Holder-shaped handprint bruises on her hips. Linden twists to look at him over her shoulder. Her hair is a mess, her eyes are wild.  

"Holder," she whispers. "Stop being so polite."

He pulls her back, hard, and she gasps, clutching fistfuls of the sheets and arching her back. 

He can't believe this is real.

* * * * *

Maybe it was inevitable.  Maybe it had always been there, lying in wait for one of them to feel that frission of intensity that sparked between them and act on it.

Well, he had, finally.  Or maybe she had.  It didn’t matter.  If he was lucky - and by lucky, he meant the luckiest son of a bitch to ever walk the earth - they’d bicker about that later, have one of those flirty couple fights about who made the first move.  Come on, Linden, it was totally you.  Calling me late at night, telling me to come down to some random bar.  Actually Holder, it was a restaurant, and it wasn’t MY hand up my dress in public.  Pretty sure that was you.

It had happened on a Friday in August, in the middle of a record-setting heatwave that had settled on the city like a thick flannel blanket, robbing them of sleep and energy and sanity.

Summer in Seattle is usually heaven - not too hot, breezy, bright, beautiful. The leaves bloom in big green bursts from the trees, the harbour fills with sailboats, and the sun buffs the city to a high shine.  People bask in the sun like lizards at every opportunity, forgetting the ten months of rain they’ve just suffered through.  They’re in love with Seattle again.  This is the best city on earth! You couldn’t pay me to live anywhere else!  And on and on.

But for the past two weeks it had been hitting 95 degrees by mid-morning, and shit was starting to get real.  Seattle is temperate, so no one has air conditioning.  Those starry-eyed sun lovers were starting to get testy.  The violent crime rate was starting to spike.   

Like true Seattleites, Holder and Linden each had their own weather obsessions.  Linden fancied herself to be some kind of amateur meteorologist.  She examined the clouds every morning, developing theories about whether a particular color or density or formation meant it was going to rain.  Her track record was shit.  Holder preferred to take an almanac approach, googling historical trends.  He’d been keeping track of how many sunny days they’d had in a row.  He’d update Linden every day, announcing their progress towards drought.  

It was day eighteen of the sunny streak.  Day eighteen was the day they lost their minds.

Holder had gone in extra early that morning with the intention of airing out their office.  The SPD building was a mortar and brick oven with no air circulation, and these days it was filled with red, sweaty men packed into kevlar vests and uniforms that didn’t breathe.  The smell was off the charts.

He was lurking under their tiny office window trying to reposition their overworked fan when she came in, looking like any old thing would set her off.  The heat made her extra bitchy.  He’d told her that a few days ago.  It didn’t go well for him.

“Day eighteen, mama!” he called.  She jumped, looking around to see where he was.   

“What?” she snapped.  

He forgot what he’d said for a minute, ogling her covertly from his corner. The punishing temperatures were forcing Linden to adopt a new go-to uniform.  It was nothing fancy, just jeans and a t-shirt, but her shirts were tighter that he would have expected.  It was worth suffering through the body odor napalm in the office just for that.

He cleared his throat.  “Day eighteen, no rain.  Come on, Linden.  I update you daily.  The heat fry your brain, or what?”

She gave no indication she cared.  “Did you check on the warrant?” she asked, rifling around the papers on his desk like they were hers.  She’d been on him about this warrant for a day and a half.  Like he was just sitting around on his ass all day with his feet up.

“No dice.  Fucking Judge Newman.”

“I’m going to find him at the courthouse today.  He’s being a dick on purpose,” she muttered.  She looked back at him, scowling.  “What are you doing?”

“Trying to maximize fresh air flow in this stank-ass office.  You’re welcome, by the way.”

She ignored him, sitting down at her desk and turning on her computer. He sighed, wandering over and slumping down into his chair.

“Look,” he told her, flicking a paper clip at her.  “Don’t go ruffling Newman's feathers.  We’ll be lucky if he signs it without you giving him shit. Anyway, we got court today, so you’re not gonna have time to harass him.”

She just raised her eyebrows and gave him that little nod that meant she planned to do the exact opposite of what he just said.  

Today was the second day of their testimony in the trial of a low-level mob boss they'd managed to pin for a series of executions last winter.  Court made Linden crazy.  She couldn’t stand sitting around all day, waiting to be called.  Holder was actually looking forward to it, only because the courthouse had air conditioning.

He swiveled on his chair and shot a balled up piece of paper at the garbage can, scoring a perfect 3-pointer.  Linden looked at him pointedly across their desks, apparently unamused by his display of athleticism.  He knew she was antsy.  Their current case was stalled out, and they both knew the warrant was a stretch.  They were spinning their wheels.

He watched as she gathered her ponytail up and shoved all her hair through her hair elastic, creating a giant messy ball on the back of her head.  She’d been doing that lately, trying to keep her hair as contained as possible.  It made her harder to spot in a crowd, without that shock of copper down her back.  But he also got to check out the back of her neck this way, which he’d never considered a particularly sexy part of a woman, at least not until now.

He was a mess these days.  Thrown right off his game.  Partly, it was the heat.  But mostly, it was because a few days back, there had been a little...incident.  And he couldn’t stop thinking about it.

They’d been questioning a nervous little engineer at the Boeing factory, the colleague of a suspect in their case.  Neither of them had really expected to get anything - it was like the fifth time they’d tried - but they were getting desperate. Through some combination of determination, dumb luck, and Jedi mind tricks, Holder had managed to crack him that day.  He gave them some information that turned out to be nothing, but at the time it was a huge break, the first they’d had in a long time.  Holder was beside himself, dancing around Linden as they walked down the hall and doing a play-by-play of his masterful interrogation.  Some nerds in labcoats passed them, looking at him like he was from another planet.

“Seriously,” she told him as they got into the elevator, “your ego won’t fit in here if it gets any bigger.”

“Yeah, whatever Linden.  You love watching me work my magic.”  She was excited too, he could tell, even though she was pretending not to be.  He winked at her, and that squeezed a little laugh out of her.

A guy with a giant mechanical contraption on a cart got on at the next floor, cheerily yelling “excuse me sir!” and forcing everyone to press themselves against the walls.  Holder had ended up right next to Linden.  He was feeling great, and nothing was better than teasing her, so he casually propped his elbow on the wall above her and gave her a pervy once over, just to get a rise out of her.

And then he realized how close he was to her, and he panicked a bit.  Because she wasn’t moving away or glaring at him or any of the other things he expected when he pulled a stunt like that.  She was looking right up at him with her eyes wide open, a serene expression on her face.  He could smell a spicy-sweet combination of coffee and strawberry shampoo.

Everything in his peripheral vision faded to black, his focus narrowing to the woman in front of him.  He was vaguely aware of the elevator dinging through floors on its way down, people edging around the huge machine to get on and off, oblivious to the moment happening in the corner.  

Holder and Linden stayed locked in a staring contest, pushing it from unexpected to intense, although neither of them had moved.  Looking at her like this was against the rules.  Her eyes were magnetic.  He was intoxicated by her.  The elevator swayed just a bit at one stop, and his fingers brushed her bare arm.  He caught a flare of something in her eyes that shot a jolt of electricity right through his guts.

Her gaze started drifting to his mouth, over and over, and he realized she was thinking about kissing him - and then the doors opened and the guy with the machine was backing out yelling “thank you sir!” and Holder was on the opposite side of the elevator like it was a race and his life was at stake.  He couldn’t look at her now, ironically, and rest of the ride down felt like the longest ten seconds of his life.

When the doors finally opened to the lobby, he made some awkward attempt at chivalry by motioning for her to get out first.  She walked by him slowly, her little smile back in place, but slightly different now, like she knew something about him she didn’t know a few minutes ago.  

Since then, he’d been extra careful.  He stayed on his side of the car, he didn’t touch her, he tried not to let the teasing go too far.  She made it hard.  A few times he’d caught her staring at him with this look, and his heart had practically stopped.  So he bottled that shit right up, because he had a feeling it would be uncontrollable if they let it out.

* * * * *

He let Linden go hustling off in search of Judge Newman when they got to the courthouse, completely uninterested in getting his balls handed to him.  There was no way they were getting that warrant.  It was questionable at best.

He stretched out in a chair in the lobby and basked in the delicious air conditioning.  Outside, heat shimmered off the pavement, making everything look slightly warped.  People came through the front doors in droves, looks of complete relief on their shiny red faces.  All these poor bastards in suits, he thought, lifting his t-shirt off his stomach for a minute to get some air under it.

He wondered idly how many new bodies they were going to pick up if this heat stuck around.  There was a charge to the air, a subtle current of barely contained insanity.  He could feel it. People were about to start losing their shit, doing crazy things.  Like eye-fucking their partners in elevators.

Speak of the devil, he thought as he spotted her stomping towards him, a stormy look on her face.  She slowed in front of him, and he could almost see the cartoon steam coming out of her ears. He nudged her leg with his foot.

"We'll find another way. Always do."

She puffed out a frustrated sigh and sat next to him. "What time is it?"

He closed his fingers around her forearm, lifting her wrist up into the air. "See, this is called a watch, and since you wear one - "

She yanked her arm away and turned to glare at him.  He couldn't keep a smile off his face. She made it too easy sometimes.

"Linden!" someone called from the front doors.  They both turned, and Holder's eyes narrowed as he tried to place the guy coming towards them.  Thick rimmed glasses, slicked back hair,  Goodfellas-looking son of a bitch.

Oh snap, he thought.  That little FBI boy toy of hers.  Organized crime.  Honestly, he had forgotten this guy existed.

But she obviously hadn’t, he realized, watching with growing irritation as her face transformed into a huge smile. What the fuck, he thought.

She stood up, and Holder suppressed a gag when the guy caught her up in an awkward hug. Linden was as far from a hugger as you could get.  He was glad to see she looked uncomfortable about it.

"Corey, you remember my partner, Holder?" she asked, still smiling.  

Holder stood slowly for the obligatory handshake, applying more pressure than necessary. Corey.  Total douchebag name.

"Hey, nice to see you," Corey said. "You guys here for the Mancini trial too?"

"Yep," Holder replied, before Linden could say anything. "Livin that organized crime life."

Corey looked at him blankly, then moved to catch up with Linden, who had already started walking down the hall to their courtroom, probably to avoid this awkward fucking scene. She looked back briefly to see if Holder was following too, and he just raised his eyebrows at her like really? This guy?

She shot back a little frown and walked on. He trailed behind, listening to Corey talk to her about the trial.  He suddenly felt murderous.  For no good reason.  For all he knew, she hadn’t seen this guy in a year and a half, since he’d helped them with the Larsen case.  But it still raised his hackles, and that was a problem in itself.

All he wanted now was to get called first so he could testify and get the fuck out of there so he didn’t have to watch her look at Corey with her face soft and her guard down.  The way she sometimes looked at him.

* * * * *

By the time they broke for the day, Holder was in the shittiest of moods.  He’d had to endure Corey’s boring-ass stories and smarmy little smiles for hours.  He’d watched him and Linden talk for a solid 20 minutes at lunch, looking way too friendly.  He hated himself for being such a little bitch about it.  He wasn’t that guy, that lovestruck teenager hoping his first crush would notice him.  Even when Corey left, he couldn’t shake his foul mood.

As if that wasn’t enough, the courtroom’s air conditioning had quit midway through Holder’s testimony, the system grinding to a halt with an audible screech.  The judge wanted to keep going, so Holder sat on the stand and tried not to think about the fact that even his balls were sweating.  Linden looked sorry for him at that point.

She tried to grab him as he was leaving, but he kept walking, desperate to get home and shower.  “You headed home?” she asked.

“Fuck yeah, I’m stewing in sweat here.  Peace out, partner.”

She looked at him funny as he passed her, with her head tilted just a bit like she didn’t quite understand what he was saying.  As he stood in the shower, being doused with blissfully cool water, he wondered whether she’d wanted him to stay.  But to do what?  Hang out?  As close as they were, they weren’t really on that level.  

But he couldn’t ignore that things had been shifting between them, even before the elevator incident.  He could feel it in the way they sometimes lingered in the office after they were done for the day.  He could feel it in the way he’d grown bolder in touching her, just casually - a poke in the shoulder, a hand resting briefly on her back - and she didn’t seem to mind.  He could feel it when he looked up and caught her staring at him with her eyes just slightly narrowed, like she was trying to figure something out.

He was too tired to think about it tonight though, drained from court and the heat and suppressing a desire to kill Corey all day.

He had three fans at home, and he set them all up in the living room.  He turned off all the lights and ate leftover pizza in the dark.  He watched a documentary about stingrays and moved as little as possible to avoid breaking out in a sweat again.  By about 10:00 he was half-asleep and trying to work up the energy to move from the couch to his bed when his phone rang.

He groaned loudly, fumbling for it on his coffee table.  “Holder,” he barked into it, scrubbing his hands over his face to try to shed the exhaustion.

“Hey, it’s me,” Linden replied.  “Do, what are you doing?”

"Just chillin. For real. You should see the setup I got over here with these fans, yo. It's like air conditioning, but windier."

She didn't say anything.  He could hear loud voices and music in the background.

“Where are you? We get a call?" he asked.

“, I just couldn’t stand how hot my apartment was, so I went out.”

Holder sat up straighter on the couch, his mind starting to put the pieces together.  This was a social call, he realized.  Not the first time, but definitely not a common occurrence.  And very interesting, considering recent developments.

“Sarah Linden, out on the town,” he teased, standing up and stretching.  “Are you gettin some digits, or what?”

“Oh, tons.” He could hear the smile in her voice.  He suddenly wanted nothing more than to see it in person.  

He took a deep breath, then went all in, wincing like he was ripping off a bandaid.  “Where you at?  Want me to come down?”

There was a pause, just long enough for him to start second-guessing everything, before she gave him the name of a little restaurant near her apartment. "But I don't want to bother you if you - "

"It's all good, it's not like I can sleep in this heat either," he lied.  With his scientific fan triangulation he could actually sleep fine most nights.

"Okay," she said finally. "I'm on the patio."

She hung up before he could say anything else.


Chapter Text

He started getting nervous on the drive over, for no good reason.  There was nothing to be nervous about.  Two amigos, hanging out on a Friday night.  Totally legit.  He leaned halfway out the window as he drove, trying to keep cool, literally and figuratively.  He would have killed for a cigarette, but he'd convinced Linden they needed to quit. For the third time.

He had a domino hanging from his rearview mirror, and it nearly clipped him in the face as he took a corner too fast.  Davey had given it to him a few months back, after Holder had helped him with a school project.  

“I’m doing domino theory,” Davey had told him in his wise little voice.  “When one domino hits another one, the energy transfers, and then it builds up, and you can knock down something real big in the end.”

Holder had spent countless hours helping the kid set up increasingly complex systems of dominoes, until they were knocking down a jumbo box of Cheerios, which for some reason Davey had decided was the piece de resistance.  He was so excited that he presented Holder with his favorite red domino for being “the boss of domino design.”  Just one of his many titles.

He parked across from the restaurant, which was tucked onto a relatively quiet street, just a few buildings down from Linden’s.  He wondered how often she came here.  The crowd was definitely not her scene, although neither was the neighborhood - hipsters with ridiculous clothes and too much facial hair, some of them even wearing sunglasses.  At night.  “Ass clowns,” he muttered.  

She’d surprised him when she got a place here after she cut ties with Sonoma, way back when.  It was better than the shitty motel she’d been holed up at, but he always teased her about it.  You on the prowl for a little hipster side piece, or what?

He thought what she really liked was the energy, and how she could fade into it.  She had a hard time when Jack decided to stay in Chicago, and the constant buzz of the restaurants and bars and coffee shops here was a way for her to distract herself. But a person like Linden could never truly disappear in a crowd, even if she tried.  

Holder stood beside his car for a minute, jingling his keys in his pocket, trying to settle his nerves. The domino was swaying, winking in the light of a streetlamp overhead.  He hadn’t thought about Davey’s domino theory in relation to him and Linden, but maybe that’s what was really happening here.  Little moves, gathering steam.

He spotted her sitting at the bar, looking like a straight up honey in the middle of a sea of beards and skinny jeans.  From the looks of it she’d pared down her summer uniform even more.  He could see a lot of skin.  Gray tank top, bare arms.  Her hair all shoved up in that crazy ass bun.

Holder parted the plaid sea, jostling people out of the way as he made his way to the bar.  He edged out a guy standing a bit too close to her in his opinion, earning himself a dirty look.  Eat a dick, buddy, he thought, giving him a nod and a smile.

He leaned on the bar and knocked her shoulder with his.  She turned to him with a withering look on her face that quickly faded when she realized it was him.

“Sorry,” she laughed.  “I thought you were...anyway.  Hi.”

“You thought I was who?  Someone hassling you, girl?  Want me to beat him up?”

She raised her eyebrows, still smiling.  “I’m good.  But give me some credit.  No one here weighs more than 100 pounds.  Pretty sure I could handle myself.”

He laughed, and it felt good.  This is going to be fine, he told himself.  Just keep your shit together and your hands to yourself.

The bartender came by, offering Linden another round.  She ordered club soda instead of whatever she'd been drinking.  It was a small gesture, not even one that she’d meant for him to notice, probably, but he felt a tug in his heart all the same.  He’d stopped drinking entirely about a year ago, and since then she didn’t drink around him, ever.  

There were some days she shut him out so hard, he felt like he'd never really known her at all.  And then times like this, when she’d adjust her life to fit his like it was the most natural thing in the world, and you could knock him over with a feather.

Holder leaned against the bar, scanning the patio.  “You know, you keep telling me you ain’t into these plaid-ified, shaggy-haired kids, Linden, but here we are.”

She rolled her eyes.  “Whatever.  This place is two minutes from my apartment.” She swiveled on her bar stool to face him.  Her knees knocked into his thighs, and he jerked backwards.  Holy fuck, he thought, panicking.  What he thought was a tank top was actually a dress.  Nothing crazy, just cotton.  Almost like a long shirt.  But that was more skin than he’d ever seen.  He shuffled back just slightly.

“Anyway,” she continued, “something Corey said today got me thinking.  I think I know how - ”

Holder interrupted her, the mention of Corey souring his good mood.  “Yeah, Corey, what’s up with that guy?  Seems kinda shady to me.”  Fucking Corey.  He thought he was done with that jackass for today.  

Linden stared at him, her eyebrows creeping into her hairline.  “Corey seems shady?”

“Come on.  You don’t see it?  Yo, those glasses are definitely fake.”

“Holder. Seriously?”

“I am 100% serious.  You check ‘em out, next time you dial up that booty call.”

Linden's eyes narrowed.  He had his reasons for trying to ask her in his own stupid way if Corey was still in the picture, but it was a cheap shot, and from the look on her face she didn't appreciate it.

Check yourself, asshole, he told himself, annoyed that he’d let his mouth get ahead of his brain, as usual.  She’d called him up to come down here for...whatever this was, and within two minutes he’d pissed her off.  

She let the unspoken question hang in the air for a minute, and then a smirk slowly melted the irritation off her face. “You can relax.  That was two years ago.”

First domino down, he thought, shocked.  That was a straight up hint, or an opening, or an invitation, or...something.  It was something.  He leaned his hip against the bar, studying her carefully, trying not to grin like a total idiot, but damn it was hard.

"Anyway, like I was saying,” she continued, “I have an idea for how we can get around the warrant.”

Holder made a buzzer noise, like she was on Jeopardy and she got a question wrong. “Nope. No work talk.”  He tapped the back of her hand.  “You didn't call me to talk about work.”

She sat up straighter, cocking her head.  He’d definitely knocked her off balance with that one, forcing her out of her comfort zone.  He could tell her busy mind was calculating, weighing her options.  How honest to be.

She opened her mouth to say something, then stopped, like she thought better of it.  Holder waited, trying to act casual, but his pulse was racing.  He had no idea whether she’d test this out, or jump and run.

“Okay,” she said finally.  “I’ll drop the work stuff.  For now.”

Well, shit, he thought, surprised it had been that easy. Game on.

They dipped their toes in carefully, sticking to safe subjects, like the weather, and Jack’s new girlfriend Mia.  Linden was all twisted up about it, worrying like a mom about Jack getting his heart broken, or knocking her up.

“Don’t worry.  He’ll wrap it up,” he told her with a wink.

“Stop,” she groaned, playing with her straw.  “I can’t even think about it.”

She wasn’t much of a talker, usually.  Linden lived in her head.  He was the one that filled dead air with non-stop commentary.  But when she got going, he couldn't take his eyes off her.  She was a methodical story-teller, laying out the relevant details like she was making a case, and drawing him in with her bright eyes and her emphatic points.

It was surprisingly easy, talking to her like this, without the safety net of work buffing down the undercurrent of tension between them.  Minutes bled into hours as he stood beside her, elbows on the bar.  He could have grabbed a stool, but he loved being able to lean in to talk to her.

As they got more comfortable, they started blurring some lines, and he kept seeing dominoes falling in his head. It was like a slow, sweet slide into madness.  Her knees were brushing against his legs nonstop, and he couldn’t be sure, but he wondered if she wasn’t sliding forward on her stool just a bit so that she could keep up the contact.  He was flirting, which wasn’t that new.  But she was flirting back, which was.  It was getting dicey.

In the middle of a sentence, she paused suddenly, a look of fear crossing her face. She grabbed at the back of her head.

"What's wrong? Linden, you ok?"

"Oh no," she half-whispered. "My hair elastic..."

She pulled a broken black band out from her tangle of hair, releasing red waves around her face and shoulders. He had to work to keep his jaw from dropping.  He’d never seen her hair down before.  She’d been complaining about how nuts it got in this humidity, and it was definitely out of control, but it was also pretty incredible.  He had a sudden, not entirely unwelcome vision of it trailing over his chest as she kissed her way down his body...

“Oh snap! Literally,” he blurted, dragging himself back into reality. He took the ragged scrap of fabric from her, clearing his throat. "Yo, it's because you keep shoving all that hair into it. Look at this. This thing worked hella hard, it deserves a medal."

She yanked it back from him. "You try walking around with this much hair in this weather.  It’s like wearing a heated blanket on your head.  Damn it," she muttered, pulling at it and trying to re-knot it.  She gave up, tossing it on the bar in disgust.

"Alright, keep it together, killer. Let me see,” he said.  He pretended to study the elastic carefully, stretching it and trying to reconnect the frayed ends.  He probably could have made it work, but he didn’t want to, so he dangled it in front of her face apologetically.  “No way, no how - it’s done for.  Say goodbye,” he told her.

“Bye,” she said simply, sighing and trying to comb through the knots in her hair with her hands.  His fingers twitched, struck by a sudden urge to dive into that hair, to know what it felt like.  It was a bad idea to try to find out, but he could already feel himself doing it.

“It’s not a bad look, you know,  You should do it more,” he murmured, closing the tips of his fingers on a small piece.  He rubbed it experimentally, marveling at how easily it slipped over his skin, setting his nerve endings on fire.  He tugged on it gently before he let go.  Her eyes widened, darkened, but she didn’t say anything.  

Even while his last functioning neuron was desperately signalling bad idea son, he was leaning in extra close, so close that he could feel the radiant heat of her body.

“And this off-duty-Linden thing you got going on...” he continued.  He dropped his head like he was about to tell her a secret, and maybe he was.  He smoothed one finger over the hem of her dress, just above her knees.  “I like it.”  

It was his biggest move yet, touching her like that, laying his feelings out without making a joke about it.  Her lips parted, a small puff of air escaping.  She sat perfectly still for a moment, then suddenly clamped her hand down on his, flattening it on her knee.

Domino down.  Rows and rows of dominoes down.

The look in her eyes - he’d never seen that look before.  It was dark, open, hungry.  Suddenly he couldn’t control his breathing.  His heart was hammering like it was about to bust through his ribs.

He knew then that he was in it for real.  In his mind’s eye, he was raising a white flag of surrender, rolling over to expose his soft underbelly.  He was hers.  She had him.

Slowly, she uncrossed her legs, keeping his hand in place and her eyes locked on his.  He was hyper-aware of the odd sensation of his hand being carried by the movement of her knee, his mind working overtime.  Please don’t let this be it, he thought desperately.  He couldn’t stand the thought of her prying his fingers off her, telling him she had to go.

As it turned out, that wasn’t what she had in mind.  Not at all.  When she slid his hand up her leg just a fraction, he almost died on the spot.  Without taking her eyes off his, she pulled the dress out from under his fingers, letting it fall on top of his hand.  All he could feel was the incredible softness of the skin of her thigh.  There was no other sensation in the world.  Except maybe all the blood in his body heading south.  

He moved his thumb just slightly, caressing the inside of her leg.  He heard a hard exhale escape from her parted lips.  Not quite a sigh, but so close.

She was staring at his mouth now, and he couldn’t tell whether she was avoiding his eyes or waiting for him to kiss her.  

He flexed his hand and swept his finger over the top of her leg, inching just a little higher.  She closed her eyes briefly, like a slow blink, and he felt her fingers sliding through a belt loop on his jeans.  He could feel her breath on his neck, hot and fast.

"Linden,” he whispered, his throat tight. He was trying to ask her if she was sure about this, before his hand got any higher on her leg, before they got arrested for public indecency, but he couldn't find the words.  All he could see was her familiar face so close to his, looking so unfamiliar.

She searched his eyes.  "It is what it is," she said.

It wasn’t really an answer to his non-question.  But right now, with his hand creeping up her leg and his body strung tighter than a piano wire, he couldn’t care less.  He let her pull him towards her by the belt loop, watching in stunned amazement as she parted her knees so he could step in between.  

For some reason, he flashed back to their little incident in the elevator a few days ago, when just the brush of his fingertips on her skin had made her look at him like all she wanted to do was rip his clothes off.  Maybe she’d been bottling this up as long as he had.  He dragged his thumb along the inside of her thigh again, and caught the sharp intake of breath as she bit her lip, her eyes sliding closed.  It was one of the sexiest things he’d ever seen.

Slowly, he reached around with his other hand to the small of her back, pulling her forward on the stool until she was pressed against him, and there was no doubt about the effect she had on him.  She gasped at the contact and tipped her head back to stare at him.  Her eyes were feral.  

“We should go. Now,” she whispered.

“Yes we should,” he ground out, surprised he still had a voice.  But he couldn’t let her go without pushing himself against her again, he needed it so bad, and she arched into it with a quick little noise like a moan, her knees tightening on his thighs.  God, he was already so gone he could fuck her right here.  How had this happened?

He nearly jumped out of his skin when the bartender appeared at his elbow.  “Last call folks,” he announced.  Holder took a breath - it seemed like the first in hours - and a big step back, turning towards the bar in a weak attempt to hide his raging hard-on.  Linden yanked her dress down and spun on her stool, sitting straight up with her palms flat on the bar.  She stared straight ahead.  If there was a time she’d pick up her dominoes and go home, it was now.

“Just the bill,” she told the bartender, her voice calm and measured.  He recognized the tone.  It was the tone she used when she wanted to open up a can of crazy on someone, but she knew she couldn’t, so she was extra nice and careful with her words.  But he knew.  She was unhinged.

She slid off the stool, being careful not to touch him.

“I’m going to the washroom.  Get the bill,” she ordered.  He wanted to tell her that she’d just asked for the bill, like two seconds before, but who was he to point out that her brain was an addled mess of hormones when he could barely remember his name.

She slipped through the crowd to head inside, catching his eyes one more time with a quick glance over her shoulder.  He had no idea what his face looked like.

Holder tried to bring his breathing back to normal, turning back to the bartender, who had moved down the bar to talk up some girls.  “Yo, you heard the lady,” he called.  “Don’t waste no time, son, we got places to be.”

Please let that be true, he prayed.  

Chapter Text

Holder was a confident guy, by nature and by nurture.  It took a lot to knock him off his game.  His game was strong.

But as he sat at the bar, his heart rate settling and the blood returning to his extremities, uncertainty and dread started creeping along his spine.  Over the past few hours, they’d created a little pocket universe, where it was okay to sit together at a restaurant and generally push the limits of common sense.  In the bubble, talking, laughing, and flirting were all fine.  It was totally acceptable for her to get all up on him with her hair and her laserbeam eyes and her hot little body pressed into his.  It was okay for him to feel her up in public without a thought about how many people were around.  Not a problem, in the bubble.

The bubble had burst when she went inside.  She’d taken the warm, hallucinatory glow of their little universe with her, and he was left with the cold reality of the situation. Which was that there are lines you don’t cross, and then way the fuck past those lines, there’s sleeping with your partner.  

What had just happened between them had happened so fast, that you could almost convince yourself it hadn’t happened at all.  Or that it didn’t mean anything.  Well, he couldn’t - but he knew she could.

Linden was nothing if not determined, and she’d rationalize anything if you let her.  Maybe it had been a while for her.  It had definitely been a while for him.  It was hot.  They were frustrated right now, stuck with this case going nowhere.  She’d convince herself it was just emotional transference, or some shit.

As the minutes ticked by, and Linden didn’t come back, it was pretty goddamn easy for him to convince himself she’d bailed out the back door.

“Here you go, man.” The bartender interrupted his downward spiral, dropping the bill in front of him.  Holder’s eyes bugged out when he saw the total.  It was mostly soda, with two vodkas from earlier, no food - typical Linden.  But it was $65.

“Hold up, are you serious?” he asked the bartender incredulously. “You charge $18 for a vodka soda?”

“It’s artisan,” he replied, in a tone that implied Holder should show some respect.

“Artisan.  Right.  So is it, like, brewed by fucking blind albinos in the Himalayas?”

The bartender didn’t think that was funny, owing to the fact that he was a douchebag.  Holder dropped $80 on the bar anyway, because suddenly he was exhausted and just wanted to get home.

And then, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted her threading her way towards him through the rowdy crowd, like a woman on a mission.

She was fanning her face with her hand, holding her hair off her neck, and he couldn’t stop his chest from puffing out a bit with neanderthal pride.  Because it was still warm outside, but it wasn’t that warm.  Sarah Linden, hot and bothered - thanks to him.  The bubble of insanity enveloped him again as she drew up beside him, and his hands tingled with the desire to touch her.

She paused in front of him with her lips pursed a bit, like she was thinking well, I don't know what happens now either.

He stood up, shoving his hands in his pockets with a little shrug, trying to smile to ease the tension, but his face felt stiff, like it was molded out of clay. He was half-expecting her to make some awkward speech about how this was a bad idea and she had to go.  But then a smile ghosted over her face, and she made a beeline towards the exit.

He was sweating trying to figure out his next move as they wandered slowly and silently up the sidewalk.  He was hyper-aware of every little noise, every shift in her pace, every muscle in his body that was abnormally tense.  Time was fucking with him.  Every second was being burned into his memory, yet he had no idea how long they’d been walking.

He couldn't read her at all, this person he knew so well.  She was either giving herself a pep talk or a what the fuck are you thinking talk.  Maybe both.  

Either way, the silence was killing him.  It was way too loaded to be comfortable.  He needed to get her talking.

The street was mostly residential, and as they got further from the restaurant, the noise from the patio faded to a raucous murmur, punctuated by the odd car passing by.  Up ahead, three guys sat on the stoop of a small brownstone, looking drunk as hell. One of them was butchering his way through some Dylan on a guitar. Holder saw his opening.

"Hey.  Wanna dance?" he asked, elbowing Linden in the ribs. She actually laughed, and a little spark of hope flared in his heart.

"Yeah, All Along the Watchtower is my favorite," she deadpanned, her eyes twinkling. He listened harder to the off-key twangs, just barely picking out the melody.

"Shit, is that what that is?" he said under his breath as they passed by.

One of the kids stood up suddenly, calling "hey Sarah!"

Holder stopped dead in his tracks as Linden turned back.  “Hi,” she said, sounding surprised.  “I didn’t even notice that was you.”

The guy looked about twenty - long hair in a scraggly man-bun, 90 pounds soaking wet, obnoxious t-shirt (“whatever forever”) and the skinniest jeans Holder had ever seen on a physiological male.  He loped towards them in that overly deliberate way people have of walking when they’re hammered and trying not to be.

For the second time that day, Holder watched through narrowed eyes as some dude try to hug Linden.  She dodged expertly.

“I don’t think you guys have met,” she said.  “Alex, this is Holder. Holder, Alex.” She was waving her hand between the two of them, trying to rush the introduction.  Holder stared right at her, waiting for the qualifier, until she added, “Alex is my neighbor.”

Holder examined the little punk standing too close to her, taking in his dopey expression and the way he leaned towards her like she was a magnet.  Surely she hadn’  No way.  The kid was barely older than Jack.

But just the thought was enough to jolt his irrational jealousy to the surface, the same shit he’d felt when he watched her with Corey earlier.  He was an idiot if he thought he could hide this anymore, bubble or no bubble.  It was like she’d scraped away all his defenses with one flick of her eyes in that elevator a few days ago.

Alex’s eyes lit up as he turned to Holder.  “Oh, you’re Sarah’s partner, right?  Like her cop partner?”

Holder leaned in, using his height and weight advantage to invade Alex’s personal space, just to cement his spot as alpha dog.  In case there was any doubt. He raised his eyebrows at her over Alex’s head.  “You been talkin ‘bout me, Linden?”

“No,” she stated firmly, crossing her arms.  The movement pushed her tits together and up, and damn, what she hid under her layers was a crime.  She caught him staring, a knowing smirk tilting her mouth upward.

It took him a second to realize Alex was talking to him again.  “That must be so rad,” he was saying.  “Someone having your back 24-7.  So intense, man. 'Specially Sarah, she’s so cool.”

Holder could practically see hearts in Alex’s eyes.  Linden looked like she’d rather be anywhere else on earth, and he couldn’t agree more.  She made a little jerking motion with her head like let’s go.  

Alex was on a roll though, weaving on his feet and peering between Holder and Linden like he wanted to know all their cop secrets.  “Yeah, like you’re so close, right?” he slurred.  “That’s fucking awesome, man.  I mean, what’s better than intimacy?”

Jesus Christ, he thought.  Hipster conversations were the worst.  Linden was backing away down the sidewalk now, half-smiling but with a pained look on her face.

“Well, we gotta keep it moving,” Holder said.  “Cop life, you know how it is.  See you around.”  He turned Alex back towards his hobo guitar session with a gentle push.

“Text me if you wanna go running tomorrow Sarah!” Alex called as Holder caught up with Linden.  She tossed a little wave over her shoulder, picking up her pace.

“Wow,” Holder drawled, dragging it out. “Wow. 1-900, you are burning it up today.”

“Stop,” she scoffed.  “He lives next door.  We run the same route sometimes.”

"Is that what the kids are calling it these days?” he asked, sounding more bitter than he intended.  “Used to be called a booty call, back in my day.”

Linden’s smile was a thinly veiled warning.  “Funny.  What’s with you?  You jealous?”

It was one of their jokes, one that was normally funny.  But the words were coming out of his mouth faster than he could stop them now.

“Yo, are there any other secret hookups you wanna tell me about? Any other fellas on your speed dial gonna make an appearance, or - ”

Linden stopped walking, and his throat closed up.  Her mouth was perfectly straight, something he knew from experience was not good.  "What are you trying to say?" she asked, point blank.  "Seriously. Just spit it out."  

"Come on, you know I'm just teasing," he hedged, but he could tell she wasn't buying it.

“Sure,” she said, in a way that really meant fuck you, turning and walking towards her building.  Shit, he thought, panicking.  He caught up to her with a few long strides.  

“Linden.  Hold up.”  He snagged her elbow to slow her down, but she kept walking.

She made it to her building and up two stairs towards the front door before he grabbed her again.  She spun to face him, throwing his hand off her arm.  He was expecting her to look pissed, but she looked like she was being very careful to maintain a totally neutral expression.  For some reason that was worse.

Holder scratched the back of his head, at a loss.  They’d obviously pushed it way too far, their emotions bubbling at the surface like pots boiling over.  This was where he should say sorry.  And then say goodbye.  And then he should walk back to his car, get in, and drive home.  He should do those things.

And yet, he thought.  And yet, she was standing here still.  And there was a giant maple tree creating a canopy above them, and the hazy sulphur glow of the street lights was filtering through the tree branches to cast her in grays and golds.  And his heart was stuttering as he drank her in, because he’d never seen anything quite as beautiful as her in his entire life, even if she did look like she was plotting his torture.

Whatever had cracked this thing between them wide open that day - whether it was the heat or the bubble or the way he suddenly couldn't control himself when other guys looked at her - he was tired of second-guessing it.

“Stop me,” he whispered, closing the distance between them.  He bracketed her face with his hands, giving her one last chance to back out. She held his gaze, her hands sliding up his chest to rest there lightly.

“Just…” she started, then paused, heaving a sigh.  “Just kiss me already.”

The pent-up, push-and-pull energy he’d been wrestling with all night swelled in his chest. For as long as he lived, he’d remember the way she said that.  Simple, straightforward, expectant - like there was no other choice.  And there really wasn’t.

He bent to press his lips to hers, she stretched up on her toes, and it was absolutely perfect.  

She was paradoxical, undefinable. Like bittersweet chocolate.  He couldn’t believe he’d gone so long without knowing how good she tasted, how soft her mouth could be, how easily she fit into his arms.  

Their lips brushed together softly, breaths mingling in the warm night air.  Her hands crept up to rest at the back of his neck, pulling him closer as her mouth opened to his, drawing him in.    

He kept it light for a while, exploratory, like they were saying hello for the first time. But then she angled her mouth under his to deepen the kiss, and the wet, persistent slide of her tongue jacked his temperature up by about 100 degrees.  He was hit by a sense of vertigo, of tipping over some imaginary edge.  A sharp frission of arousal ripped along his nerves, settling in his stomach like an anchor, and suddenly he couldn't wait to get her inside.

From there, it was out of control.  

She was like a jungle cat, winding her body against his, dragging her sharp little nails along the back of his neck.  They fumbled up the stairs, through the front door, to the elevator. He couldn’t get enough of her, stopping constantly to press her against any available surface, devouring her mouth.  

And damn, the elevator - they really lost it in there.  He was drowning in this insane, incredible reality, and in his Linden-haze, he wanted to pretend they were back at Boeing, to show her what he had really wanted to do that day.  

He spun her around so her back was to him, their reflections staring at each other in the mirrored wall of the elevator, wide-eyed and breathing hard.  He closed his fingers around her wrists and slowly lifted them until her arms were straight up over her head, her hands pressed onto the mirror.  

She shivered as he dragged his hands down her arms, along her ribs, around to her stomach.  Her eyes slid closed.  She was breathing little steam clouds onto the glass.

“Are you checking for concealed weapons?” she rasped, pushing her ass back into him.  

“Stay still, goddamn it,” he ordered, trying to refocus on the task at hand.  Linden grinned at him in the mirror, but then that faded when he gathered up the sides of her dress and slid his hands up the backs of her thighs, nudging her legs apart with his knee.  She buried her face in the crook of her elbow.  Waiting.

“I don’t...I-don’t-remember-this-from-basic-training,” she said into her arm, the words rushing together in one soft, breathy moan.  God, her voice.  It was like he could feel it on his skin, branding him like hot coals.

He had just reached her ass, which was fucking unbelievable, when she lifted her head, looking around.

“Six,” she said.  He had no idea what she was talking about.  “Six, is this six?”

He realized they’d stopped at her floor, but now the doors were closing.  He slammed on the buttons a few times, his heart sinking as the ancient gears kicked in to head back down to the lobby.  She blinked at him dazedly in the mirror.  

He figured he could use this extra time well, skimming his palms along her overheated skin to rest on her taut stomach.  A spark of understanding flared in her eyes, and she opened her mouth like she was going to tell him not to get any ideas, but it was already too late, and she looked more curious than hesitant.

He kept one hand on her stomach, and they both watched the other one moving under the fabric of her dress, down, down.  Her eyes were like saucers as he teased his fingers under the elastic of her underwear.

“Holder,” she hissed, a warning.  But she didn’t move to stop him.  He raked his eyes over her, their reflections.  She was breathing hard in anticipation, her chest rising visibly.

The ding of the elevator snapped them back into reality.  She stiffened like a board in his arms as the doors opened to the lobby.  There was no one there, but he used his free hand to slam on the button to shut the doors anyway.  All he needed was for fucking Alex to show up.

“Ready for another ride?” he asked, pressing the button for six.  She puffed out a laugh, but the smile didn’t quite stick.  She was distracted.  For good reason.  

He eased his fingers into her underwear, in complete disbelief that this was happening. The evidence was right in front of him - her flushed face, mouth open slightly, her hands still outstretched above her, leaving humid prints and streaks on the mirror. His face shadowed above hers, reflecting the strangest mix of amazement, determination and mind-bending arousal.

He watched her mouth drop and her eyes squeeze shut as he slid his fingers against her in a slow circle, clenching his teeth to try to maintain some semblance of control. Fucking amazing.  Hot, wet, amazing.

She leaned back against him, her head slamming into his shoulder, one hand latching on to his forearm while the other one grasped air until it landed on his head.  She clutched a fistful of his hair as his fingers continued their lazy explorations, her hips rolling forward to urge him on.

“God...ohmygod,” she groaned.  “Don’t you dare stop.”

“Fuck no,” he growled, increasing the pressure.  She gasped, her eyes flying open.  Jesus Christ, this was not a good idea, even though it was so, so good.  He was way too close already, and they hadn't even made it out of the elevator yet.

He recognized the sound of the doors opening again, and he flung his hand out to keep them from closing.

“Come on,” he whispered, withdrawing his hand reluctantly.  She shook her head, trying to keep him going, but he pulled her out through the doors.

“I’ll make it up to you,” he promised, and then, because time was critical and she looked unsteady on her feet, he lifted her up and carried her down the hall, which was a terrible miscalculation because it let her wrap her legs around his waist and grind into him, her mouth crashing into his hungrily, and he thought, shit, I might literally come in my pants.

They didn't get past her kitchen.  They barely got her door closed before he was backing her into the table, their movements rough and clumsy.

She shimmied onto the table, wrapping her legs around his hips and going right for his shirt, dragging it over his head and tossing it aside.  He shoved her dress up and grabbed her ass, which was just as incredible as it had been in the elevator, but he wanted to keep checking on that.

“Oh fuck,” she gasped.  “Get your pants off.”  She was fumbling with his zipper and trying to kiss him at the same time.

He wanted to press pause.  He wanted to slow everything down.  She deserved more than this sloppy, half-undressed version of what could be.

But he was so close that it was about to get real embarrassing, real quick.  So he helped her rip his jeans open and shove them down, and he jumped and froze when her hand plunged right into his boxers.  He had to steady himself when she closed her fist around him, it was too good.  She was going to kill him.

He yanked her underwear down her legs, giving up when it got snagged on her left ankle.  But she didn’t care and neither did he, because then she was helping him get the angle right, and he was sliding into her like he was made for her.  

His eyes would have rolled back in his head if they weren’t clenched shut in concentration.  Nothing had ever been this perfect.

Linden breathed in a long, shuddery breath and let her head fall back.  Her heels pressed into his ass, urging him to move.  He thrust into her once, hard, and she moaned like this was all she needed in life.  

And that was how they lost their minds.  That was how he came to be fucking his partner on her cluttered little kitchen table, his jeans around his ankles, her dress bunched up around her waist, pens and papers and cutlery falling and skittering across the hardwood.  Amazing things tumbling from her lips, like harder and fuck yes and oh my god and Holder.  Holder.  No thought in his head except for how incredible she felt, and was this even real?

He only hung on for about three minutes, which he was pretty impressed by, actually.  And it was okay, because it only took her about two and a half, and god he loved her for that.  

Her eyes slammed shut as she shuddered and writhed against him.  She dragged her fingers down his chest as she collapsed backwards and he followed her down, pulling her to the edge of the table.  She gave him the ok with a sloppy nod and a hand on the small of his back, and within ten seconds he was done for.

He buried his face in her neck when he came, his forehead pressed against the tabletop, grinding out some version of her name through clenched teeth.  

Linden stroked his back as he floated back down to earth, which seemed to take forever.  He was probably crushing her, although she wasn’t complaining.

Minutes, hours, days later, he finally blinked away the stars in his eyes and surfaced for air.  He propped himself up on unsteady arms, letting out a long, shaky breath.  She pulled the hair out of her face, still breathing hard.

“Linden.  Damn,” was all he could say.  She looked as stunned as he felt.  

She traced her fingers over the tattoo on his chest, her eyes heavy-lidded.  A little grin turned up the edges of her mouth as she shifted beneath him, her eyes sparkling like stars in the dark.

“So,” she breathed. “That happened.”


Chapter Text

Holder felt like a ship adrift at sea.  Alone.  Buffeted by waves of doubt.  No hope of survival.  Cue sad violin music.

It wasn’t how he expected to feel, immediately after the most intense sex of his life.  Five minutes ago she’d been arching off the table, moaning his name like she’d found religion, and now he was standing alone in her kitchen, which, by the way, looked like a goddamn hurricane had blown through.  

He was completely at a loss.  He didn’t have a playbook for this part.  His last relationship had been years ago, and he didn’t count anything that happened when he was high.  He had a hard enough time trying to figure her out as his partner and his friend, let alone as...whatever this made her.

Her words echoed in his ears, tipping him back and forth between delusion that everything was fine, and panic that nothing was fine.  So. That happened.  So. That happened.  

So. That happened.  Captain Obvious on deck.  

He’d thought the silence when they’d first left the bar had been bad.  But when he’d stared down at her on that table after rocking her world - or so he thought - her expression had done a slow nosedive from amazement to something that looked like regret.  That had been so much worse.  

And then the awkwardness had set in, and it had been all let me help you up, no no I’m good, here’s your underwear, I think you left your keys in the lock, your shirt’s by the door, um, so, um, yeah.

Holder had cringed as he pulled his boxers and jeans back up, not wanting to stand around with his dick out and not knowing how to shuffle into the bathroom to clean up without looking like a complete idiot.  That was the shit that never happened in movies.  You never had to watch the hero try to figure that one out.  

Linden had just stood there, surveying the kitchen with a blank look on her face.  The floor was covered in papers and cutlery and god knows what else they’d knocked off the table.  The table itself was about two feet into the living room.

And then she’d ducked into the bathroom without a look or a word, and now he was standing alone trying to stop his mind from reeling.

He could hear her moving around in there, the tap turning on.  Waiting for him to leave?  Probably.  Too bad that wasn’t going to happen.  She had to face him eventually, and he wasn’t in the mood to wait until Monday to have the conversation where they pretended like this was just a slip-up fueled by the heatwave and loneliness and yeah, it probably shouldn’t have happened, but no worries, it’s fine, I’m fine, you’re fine, we’re good.  Fuck. That. Shit.

To kill time while she stalled, he pulled her table back towards the kitchen.  He picked up the shit on the floor and piled it onto the table.  He shook off a sticky note stuck to the back of his hand - coffee, paper plates, gum, gun oil.  Looked like a typical Linden shopping list.

The bathroom door swung open.  Linden paused in the doorframe, her face hidden in the dark.

“Hey,” he said.  As far as opening lines went, it was pretty weak.  So he and followed it up with “Is this where your table was?”  Because that was way better.

She padded towards him slowly, her face carefully composed.  She hadn’t tied her hair back up, he noted with interest.  And she looked gorgeous.  Color in her cheeks, light in her eyes.  Sex looked damn good on her.

“You didn’t have to…” she trailed off, waving her hand at his token effort to clean up.

He leaned against the table, one leg jiggling with nervous energy.  “Yeah, well, I ain’t touching the rest of this place.  Cleaning lady call in sick, or what?”

Her mouth twitched.  It was another one of their jokes, how messy she was.  The world righted itself for a minute, and it could have been a random moment on any other day, just him giving Linden shit for being a slob.

Except it wasn’t.  She looked down and scuffed the floor with her toe, arms crossed.

Here it comes, he thought, steeling himself.  Take it like a man.

Linden puffed out her cheeks and let out a slow breath  “I’m going to shower,” she stated simply, looking up at him.  

His mouth worked to get some words out as she turned back towards the bathroom.  He had to assume that was his cue to get the fuck out, but it was confusing, even by her standards.

She stopped at the door to the bathroom, one hand on the frame, her head turned slightly to the side.

“You can come, if you want.”

Not what he expected.  He bit back about ten questions on the tip of his tongue.  There’s a time for questions, and then there’s a time to just follow your partner into a dark bathroom.  He let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding, marvelling at what a mean curveball she could throw.  

He wandered in slowly, still halfway convinced he’d heard her wrong.  She shed her wrinkled dress with a smirk at him in the darkened mirror, so that took care of any residual doubts he had.  He dropped his pants with enthusiasm, watching her carefully.  Her eyes flicked over his naked body quickly, efficiently, and he could tell she liked what she saw. But who wouldn't?

He flexed his biceps for her, and she let out a surprised little laugh - tinkly, bubbly perfection.

With the curtain drawn, enclosed in the humid dark of her shower, relaxation started seeping into his veins.  Under the tepid water, she let him fold her into his arms and rest his cheek on the top of her head, her fingers tracing slow paths up and down his chest.  

Holder closed his eyes and shut off his brain, letting his other senses take over.  Soft fingers moving in rhythmic patterns on his collarbone, the steady splatter of water on tile, the faint, sweet smell of wet woman hair.  He matched his breathing to hers, concentrating on the gentle rise and fall of her chest against his.  

Eventually, she eased out of his grip, her gaze calm and steady as she stretched up to press her lips to his.  He kissed her slowly, tracing the curves and edges of her mouth, savoring her like he couldn’t before.  She turned soft and sweet under his hands as he mapped every inch of her skin, because he didn’t know if he’d ever get a chance again.

When he opened his eyes, she was looking at him with her eyes just slightly narrowed.  Analyzing.  Trying to figure it out.

He framed her face with his palms, tapping her temples with two fingers.  “Stop thinking,” he chided.  She shook her head with a wry smile.

“Can’t.  It’s what I do.”

“Hmm,” he hummed, sliding his hands down her back to her hips.  “Well, maybe I can help you out with that.”  

Even in the dark, he could see her eyes start to smolder, her lips parting slightly.  Linden, turned on.  How amazing.

“Really,” she breathed.  “How’s that?”

It was unfair, maybe, to use sex to keep the magic spell intact for a bit longer, but he wasn’t above it.

And all it took were her hands sneaking down his chest and her tongue sweeping over her lower lip, and he was ready to go again, like a goddamn teenager.  How had they ignored this for so long, he wondered, sweeping his thumbs over her nipples experimentally and watching her eyes widen.

Holder turned her to face the tiled wall.  She swiveled her head as he did, looking back at him with a question in her eyes.  Off his wink, her face melted into a knowing smile.  She quirked an eyebrow at him and slowly, deliberately lifted her hands to press against the wall.

“You making it up to me?” she asked, peeking back.  Bold as anything, this one.

“I am a man of my word,” he told her.  “And I think we left off”

Her soft gasp echoed in the small space as he slid his fingers against her.  He picked up the same slow rhythm he’d started in the elevator, wrapping one arm around her shoulders to pull her back against him.  Her hair stuck to his skin in wet clumps as she rolled her head against his collarbone.

She interlaced her fingers with his, showing him what she wanted, arching into his touch and perching one foot on the edge of the tub to give him better access.  

The tenuous bonds of his self-control started snapping as he slipped one finger into her and felt her moan rumble through his chest.  He ground himself against the small of her back like a total barbarian, but she didn’t seem to mind.

“You ain’t never gonna ride that elevator without blushing,” he whispered into her ear.

“Mmmm, I don’t blush,” she sighed, and he believed her.

After a while, she was back to grabbing his hair like she had in the elevator, the other hand braced on the tile for stability as he picked up the pace.  By the way she jerked and gasped and let out a tight little cry at the end, he did a damn fine job of getting it right.

He wished he could be that guy who could just give her what she needed and leave it at that, but that wasn’t in his blood.  And she knew it, based on how she turned to look at him, still breathing hard, the fire in her eyes an open invitation.

He hoisted her by the thighs, surprised by how light she was.  Her legs were strong around his hips despite the faint shudder he could feel in them.  She had a look of dazed contentment on her face.

“This okay?” he managed to ask, moving so she could lean back against the wall.  She smiled lazily, and he took that as a yes.

Gravity did the hard work as she eased down onto him, her eyes widening a little more with each inch.  She tilted her hips to take him in fully, and he dropped his face onto her shoulder, every nerve in his body singing.

“Oh,” she breathed.  “Oh. That’s good.”

It was.  It was so fucking good.  He couldn’t tell her, there were no words, it was so good.

And it didn’t take much at all to push him over the edge, careening back into space like a rocket.  He fought it, even while he knew it was impossible to hold off, because this was twice that he’d been a minute man and he couldn’t have her thinking that was him, on the regular.

But he stood no chance against the incredible feel of her, the elemental roll of her hips, her nails scraping his scalp, the way she just barely whispered his name right before he came - so quiet he almost wasn’t sure he’d heard it.

“Holy fuck,” he wheezed into her hair after, sliding her down.  He balanced on unsteady legs, propping himself up with one hand on the tiled wall.  Linden laughed, one of her quick little closed-mouth chuckles.

“You gonna be okay?” she teased, one hand on his slumped shoulder like she was really concerned for his health.  

“Yo, I ain’t usually so quick on the draw,” he panted.  “Just for the record.”

She smiled bigger and said “duly noted,” which wasn’t a promise that this would happen again, exactly, but it wasn’t not a promise, you know?

“You’re quiet,” she observed when they got out.  He hadn’t said much the rest of the time they’d been in there, sliding girly bath stuff over each other in a half-sexy, half-exhausted groping session.  He smelled like strawberries now.

“Still recovering,” he said.  “Minimal speech capacity.”

He was towel-drying her hair, mostly because when he’d started she hadn’t stopped him, and it was heart-wrenchingly domestic and he knew it was dangerous to let himself feel that way but he was too tired to stop it.  He watched in fascination as her hair took on a life of its own in the muggy dark of the bathroom, swelling into a sugar-spun halo.

“Ah, I see” she said, muffled by the towel. He rubbed harder to see how big he could make it.  “Is that what it takes to shut you up?”

Predictable Linden joke.  He pulled the towel off her and dropped a kiss on her smiling mouth, somehow, through the hair.  “Yeah, whatever Linden.  Is this what it takes to make you funny?”

She mock-gasped, smacking him in the arm.  “I’m funny!  I make jokes!”  

He grunted noncommittally, wrapping her up in the towel.  She huffed a bit, trying to tie back the tangled mess of her hair, frowning at him in the mirror.  He knew she was trying to figure out whether she wanted him to stay or go.

“It’s late,” she started.  He nodded, letting her choose the path, even though he was so bone-tired and would have happily slept on the floor of the bathroom.  She shook her head slightly, like she was trying to clear it.

“I’ll wash those,” she said suddenly, grabbing his clothes off the floor and darting out of the bathroom.

He grinned to himself.  Another stay of execution.  Maybe she wasn’t in such a hurry to get rid of him after all, minute man or otherwise.

In her room, she shrugged into a huge white t-shirt and dug through her closet until she came up with an unopened 3-pack of boxer shorts.  She tossed them his way.

“What, you just keep stacks of drawers around, just in case?” he asked incredulously.  He tore the package open and stretched a pair at the waistband.  Size medium.  Fuck.

“Ross Dress for Less sale rack,” she said from inside her closet.  “I buy them for Jack and forget to give them to him.”

“Yeah, we ain’t the same size, obviously, but…”

Linden poked her head out, laughing when she saw how short they were on him.  “It’s not a bad look,” she deadpanned, echoing what he’d said to her earlier.  They had new phrases now, he realized.  New verbal mile-markers in the rambling, sometimes rocky road of their relationship.  

He settled beside her in her bed, too restless to sleep despite how tired he was.  He tossed and turned and rubbed against her until she laughed, swatting him away.

“Come on,” she groaned.  “Stop moving already.”

Holder propped himself up on his elbow, his head in his hand.  He couldn’t leave her alone.  He was hooked.

“Linden,” he said.  She turned onto her back, looking up at him like she was questioning the logic of letting him stay.  He gave her his best Maury Povich interview face.  “Tell me about your first time.”

Her eyebrows flew up.  “No.  We are not doing that.”

“Aww, you’re no fun,” he wheedled.  She tipped her chin down, staring at him pointedly.

“Okay,” he corrected.  “You’re kinda fun.  Off-duty Linden is fun.”

“And on-duty Linden?” she asked, rolling onto her side to face him, looking rumpled and sleepy and pink-cheeked.  He’d never tell her this, because he wanted to keep his balls intact, but the only word to describe her at that moment was adorable.

He pretended to think about it.  “Sometimes fun.  In a different way.  If she has coffee.  And donuts.  And if I let her be the boss.  And if she isn’t PMS-ing, which I never know if she is or not.”

She rolled her eyes.  “You can tell her that on Monday and see how fun she is then.”

He grabbed her around the waist and snuffled into her neck.  He closed his eyes and breathed her in, etching this surreal moment in his brain.  He could tell she was riding the endorphin wave into sleep, because she was quiet and pliant and her arms around his neck were getting heavy.

“Holder,” she whispered.  He lifted his head to look at her.  She laid her hand against his cheek.  “I can’t sleep with anyone touching me.”

He turned his head to kiss her palm.  “I get it, you gotta play it cool.  You do your thing.  I know you’re gonna be all up on this in a couple hours, though.”

She pulled him down for a kiss.  He leaned into it, but she just smiled and rolled over.  “Sleep,” she ordered.

But he lay awake for ages, staring at her curled-up form, until the gentle rise and fall of her breathing lulled him to sleep.

* * * * *

So that’s how it happened.  And he called it - she was back for more before the sun came up, her small hand sliding over his stomach and startling him awake.  He grabbed it reflexively, blinking and dragging himself through the fog of sleep into consciousness.  It took him a minute to remember where he was.  Linden was propped up on an elbow, her face floating above his.  Her eyes were huge and bright in the dusky pre-dawn light.

Her hand stirred beneath his, and he eased up his grip.  He stared into her eyes as it resumed its lazy path, slipping lower, her fingers fluttering at the waistband of his too-small boxers.  His stomach muscles jumped.  She gave him a slow half-smile that took his breath away.

It was almost dawn.  Out her open windows, he could see a few wispy clouds. The sky was a deep, rich blue, just starting to tinge warm at the horizon as the world tipped to find the sun. Another day with no rain.

"Day nineteen," he said, his voice still rough with sleep. Linden turned her head slightly to check the sky too.

"Those clouds are pretty high," she whispered, sliding her pinky under the waistband of his boxers. "Hard to say what they'll do."

He smiled, palming the back of her neck to bring her down for a kiss. "Don't go quittin your day job," he mumbled into her mouth. "Your meteorology skills need work."

He could feel her smiling. "What about my other skills?" she asked idly, her thumb tracing his hip bone.  "I have other skills."

He made a nonsensical noise, his heart pounding its way into his throat. Linden lifted her head, grinning down at him like she'd just figured out that she could turn him into a mute this way.

Holder had pictured this, of course he had, in his weaker moments. When he let himself go there, he imagined she'd be passionate, intense, dramatic, single-minded. Almost unreachable. Like she was when they were neck-deep in a case.

But she was playful. Carefree. Unguarded. There was a light in her eyes that was new to him. Maybe that had something to do with him. Maybe it was just how she was, when she was with a man. But he'd be doing his damnedest to keep it there.

He grabbed her and rolled them, smoothing the hair out of her face with his hands.  There was something else in her eyes, just a hint of gravity behind that new light. This was important to her.

Her breathing was picking up as he burrowed his hand under her giant shirt, and he needed to feel all of her skin on his, and when he scraped his teeth along her neck she hummed quietly and pressed herself up against him.

He didn't deserve this. Her. One of them was going to fuck it up large at some point.

But he had that light in her eyes to think about.

That light was his to protect now.