Dani Reese came out of the orange grove that day a changed woman.
She remembered feeling her heart flutter at the sight of him standing there, with his head tilted toward the sky. He was alive- living, breathing, basking in the warmth of the sun on his face- his fiery, red hair guiding them down that dirt road like a beacon in the night.
Dust had swirled around them, the car barely slowing to a stop before she bailed and practically flew into his arms. He had been surprised, but caught her without hesitation, and she felt a chuckle vibrate through him as he spun her around in rare moment of shared joy. Up until then, as the world had blurred around her and tears began clouding her eyes, she was convinced that she'd never known the true meaning of relief. That she'd never felt it as strongly as she had that afternoon, pressed intimately against him, locked in an embrace that would've surely ended with her punching him in the face only a few weeks before.
She hadn't cared how it might have looked, not at the time. The entire world had narrowed to just them and hundreds of trees swaying in the breeze. Nothing else had mattered. Not the LAPD, not Tidwell, and not even the FBI agent rolling his eyes at them only ten yards away. In Charlie Crews' universe none of it was really there anyway, right? So, Dani had clung to him, melting into the solid mass of his chest as he carefully lowered her back to the ground, a wide smile never leaving her lips.
He'd held her for nearly five minutes that day- or at least what felt like five minutes to her- words between them unnecessary. All she'd needed was him, to feel the reassurance of his chin resting upon the crown of her head and his warm palm steady against the small of her back. Falling hypnotized by the rhythm of his ribs expanding with each breath, in and out, over and over again, she'd been too exhausted to acknowledge the fact that he, her partner, her friend, had literally traded his life for hers less than an hour before. He'd gone in without a plan or even a second thought. His only thought had been getting her out of that SUV any way that he could, even if it meant dying as an end result, dying for her. No one, not even her father, had ever fought to protect her so fiercely, and coming to terms with it all had been too overwhelming to comprehend in that moment.
Instead, she'd focused on him. Saving the why's and what-if's for later. And only when she'd thoroughly convinced herself that he was really there and not just a figment of her imagination, that he was safe, did she seek to end their embrace. To her surprise though, he'd tugged her back in. Their hips had bumped together as his palms tenderly cupped her face, thumbs wiping the moisture from beneath her eyes that she hadn't even known was there. It was then that she'd felt something shift between them, something significant. With little to no time to process that, it had taken her longer than usual to realize that his playful grin had softened and he'd let his gaze casually drop down to her lips, as if it had happened dozens times before.
She wished that she could've said she was surprised, but that would've been a lie. She'd seen it coming long ago and repressed it just like she did with everything else in her life. Still, when his head dipped down toward her a fraction of an inch, her stomach had flipped in response, thick and languid. It had been a reaction strong enough to make her grip tighten on his shoulders and hot breath stutter in the back of her throat.
Dani had desperately wanted him to kiss her then, going as far as lifting herself up onto the balls of her feet in an attempt to meet him halfway, longing to connect them on that last visceral level. But he refrained, smiling softly as he pressed his lips against her forehead instead, runing his fingers through her tangled hair. It was an apology, a promise of what was to come. The gesture had made her blush and lean into him further, one palm sliding down his chest until it rested over the puckered scar of his gunshot wound, where he'd quickly covered it with one of his own, holding it there.
He'd lingered only a moment longer, tilting his head toward the car with a raised brow, before she let him tug her toward the vehicle and slide into the backseat right behind her. They'd sat side by side with their thighs pressed firmly together, her fingers still threaded loosely between his, just as she'd longed to do earlier that day. Back before Roman had barked at them to keep their hands to themselves and she'd been forced to stand helplessly as he'd been patted down and tossed into the very same car she'd just escaped from.
"You okay, Crews?" Bodner had asked, catching both of their gazes in the rearview mirror after turning the ignition.
Charlie had turned toward her, a shy smile flicking across his lips as he squeezed her palm, "Yeah, we're good."
Mirroring his grin- a true, radiant smile- Dani was surprised to find that for the first time in quite a while everything really was good. She hadn't felt the urge to go drown herself in booze or pick up a married man in some random bar for a one night stand.
She'd felt... serene.
And two days later, she still felt it laying there in Charlie Crews' king sized bed as she mentally rehashed the last few days.
She was so certain that she'd never see him again, never roll her eyes at him, or get annoyed when he left fruit in the car, and that had terrified her. She'd been scared before, sure- stabbed, choked, and knocked unconscious by suspects in the past- but none of those experiences, none of them, had made her heart clench in terror quite like had that day. But now that she had him back, could reach out and touch him without consequences, she was a little reluctant to let him go. And, as it turned out, so was he, especially after being held for questioning down at the station for nearly thirty six hours.
Charlie stirred behind her, his arm tightening around her waist sleepily, the hem of the soft t-shirt that she'd borrowed from him riding up slightly, "Still awake?"
She shivered, arching into him as he nuzzled her hair aside and let out a heavy sigh, his breath puffing past her ear as he relaxed into her.
"Just thinking?" he repeated, mulling it over just like he always did, "What are you thinking about, Reese?"
Letting her eyes slip shut, she remembered the late afternoon sun beating down on them as trees dotted with orange swirled around her, and the sight of him waiting for her in the middle of that dirt road, sure that she'd come back for him, that she'd know he was there.
Maybe, just maybe, she finally understood what he was always talking about.
"Zen, Charlie," her lips twitched into a faint smile, "I'm thinking about zen."