whelve (v.) to bury something deep; to hide.
There was nothing quite like being assigned a new partner to begin Red’s day in a less that spectacular fashion, and there was nothing quite like being assigned a brand new, sunny-faced homicide detective as that partner to make his day even less stellar. He’d been through the same routine almost more times than he could count. By this time, it was like preforming some old, tired script from a play that he’d been in for far too many years. He knew all the lines and stage directions, but he took no pleasure from it. He only did it out of duty.
The faces of his previous partners blurred behind his eyes—names and features that he couldn’t be bothered to remember or that he didn’t want to remember. As he continued down the hallway, he could feel the weighted glances against him, eagerly waiting for his meeting with the new recruit to be over so that some new batch of gossip could be spread through the department to distract from the twin, paradoxical natures of the job—banality and horror.
He stopped in front of the door to the homicide department and exhaled before entering. In front of the white board containing photographs surrounded by scattered arrows and words stood a young woman, her back to him, dark hair falling across her shoulders. He’d known that his new partner was a young woman, but when Cooper began to go on and on about her good track record, bachelor's degree in criminal psychology, and top marks in her three years as a patrol officer, he’d declined to hear anything further. The same could be said of all of the new homicide recruits in the past—otherwise they wouldn’t have gotten a position as a homicide detective. Hearing the same generic, rote qualifications told him nothing about what they would be like in the field or in the interview room when procuring a confession hinged on saying just the right words and making the right expression. There was far more to working in homicide than having some nice, high numbers on a piece of paper.
The woman seemed so absorbed in the white board that she didn’t notice when he stepped up beside her. “If you in lean much closer, you’ll end up rubbing off half off the notes with your nose,” he said.
Her shoulders jerked and at words, and she spun around on heel, eyes wide for a moment as they swiped across his face. As she did so, he seized the moment to take her in. Well, for one thing, she wasn’t unattractive—what with those high cheekbones and and dark, intense brows shadowed by the sweep of her hair. However comeliness was hardly the most important thing when it came to her new duties as a detective. Though he supposed that she could at least use her looks to coerce a vital information from a suspect.
Whatever she thought of his appearance didn’t show on her face, for her features soon shifted into tight professionalism as she jutted her hand forward to him. “Hello, Reddington. I’m—”
He ignored her hand and walked away from her, leaving her standing as he pulled out the chair behind his desk and sank into it. “Elizabeth Keen. I know. My new partner," he said with false sweetness.
True, she’d done nothing to outwardly raise his ire, but he resented being saddled with a rookie and being distracted by training her and keeping her in line when he had duties that were more important.
“Is something wrong?” She raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms.
“A great many things, Keen. For one, do you know that the coffee maker is broken once again?” Red shook his head and rolled his eyes. “The maintenance man is going to have hell to pay when a herd of under caffeinated cops come pounding at his door wondering where their morning fix is.”
Her mouth parted, and she blinked with the shake of her head as if she couldn’t believe what he was saying. “Okay, no. Obviously the problem is me. There’s no other reason you would be acting this way.”
“Oh, of course not.” He pressed a hand to his chest, feigning shock. “I’m simply horrified at how under maintained our office equipment is. If I’m bothered by you at all, it’s that you don’t seem suitably distressed by this plight.”
Elizabeth walked toward him, arms still clamped across her chest, and she bent down over him where he sat lounging in his chair, her hair falling off her shoulders and fanning around her head. He tilted his head up to her with a smile.
“Listen, I’ve heard what they’ve said about you—”
“All glowing things, I hope.”
Her chest rose, but she kept her composure. “The reviews were certainly mixed. I’m not scared of you or your reputation, okay?”
At that, a little, breathy laugh exploded out of him. The first day he’d been partnered with Donald he’d said something similar, and the past five years of their partnership had proceeded in much the same vein from that day forward. He dearly hoped that she wasn’t going to essentially be a female version of Donald. He didn't think he could take half decade of such insipid moralizing.
“Well, I’m glad to hear that. One wouldn’t want you being paralyzed by awe. Now then,” he reached over to one of the many paper clipped stacks of paper littering his desk and thrust it out to her, “you can do these.”
She just stared at the pile of papers in his hands. He shook the stack at her and frowned. Maybe she didn’t think that sheaves of paperwork were as important as going out and investigating, but she needed to learn early on that a good percentage of detective work was plowing through pages and pages of reports until one’s eyes burned and head pounded.
“I think you’ll find these quite important if you give them a brief glance with your youthful gaze. You see, my poor, aged eyes aren’t what they used to be. I presume you don’t want your partner going blind on the first day of the job.” He rattled the papers again, and they whispered together.
She darted out a hand and snatched them from him, the skin near her nose wrinkled like a dog that was about to snarl, but hadn’t yet committed to full aggression. “Fine.”
He pressed his hands against the arms of the chair and launched himself up. “Excellent. Well, I have somewhere rather important to be right now.” He tapped his finger against the top of the papers and grinned at her twitching face. “Enjoy.”
The look she shot him before walking out the door could have flayed him.
The only consolation about being buried in a pile of paperwork was that she was sitting in Reddington’s chair and she had completely readjusted it. If he wasn’t going to be civil or cooperative, then she didn’t owe him anything in return. The only debts she had was to her new position in doing the best that she could, even if she was only doing paperwork.
As she tapped at her laptop, glancing down every so often at the paper that contained witness statements, she let out yet another sigh. She had been under no illusions that working with Reddington would be easy. Though she hadn’t met him in person until that day, he was infamous, tales of his exploits trickling down even into the fringes of the patrol officers.
Reddington was something of a department legend—built up to larger than life status like some kind of mythic creature. And like a mythic creature, the opinions on what he was like wildly varied. Some said that he was callous and hard, impossible to know, and not someone that you would want to know anyway. Others said that he was bright and convivial, although undeniably strange and eccentric. Before she had met him and he had simply been a whispered, almost fictional persona, Liz believed that the truth of whatever he was lay somewhere between the two extremes. But now that she had met him, she was more inclined to believe that he was a cynical, aging detective whose only defense mechanisms were his wit and ability to push around those less experienced than himself. If it were another man, Liz might have assumed that his dislike of her perhaps stemmed from some unconscious, sexist disdain for a someone as well known and as experienced as himself being partnered with a young woman who was new to the homicide unit.
However, she thought that Reddington simply disliked everyone equally, and if he had anything personal against her, it was likely the fact that he believed his star was fading in the wake of a newer, younger generation of detectives. Of course, that was all speculation on her part. She hadn’t gathered enough information on him to know if any of her analysis was solid, but at the very least she was putting her four years of a criminal psychology degree to use while she mindlessly typed up a narrative report. The longer she typed, the less her keystrokes were gentle and soft taps against the keyboard, and the more they became the rapid hammering of the tips of her nails on the keys.
By the time a shadow fell against her screen, she was all but stabbing the keyboard, a pen between her teeth. She swiveled around in the chair, tips of her shoes pressed down into the carpet so she didn’t spin in a full circle. Her shoulders were almost beneath her ears as she was ready to go on the defensive if Reddington had come back to jab at her again.
But that wasn’t who was standing in front of her. Rather it was a stranger that was staring down at her—a young, blond detective somewhere in his thirties with a jaw strong enough that it looked like it would bruise the hand of any criminal that tried to punch it. Liz slipped the pen out of her mouth and tossed it behind her, where she heard it clatter and roll across the desk, only to smack against the floor.
“Good to see Reddington is putting his partner to some use,” the man said.
It might have been a joke, but her earlier exchange with Reddington had put her on edge and had plunged her into a black mood. “Unless you need something important, I can’t talk. I have things to do.” She waved a hand and the screen half-filled with tiny letters.
She was about to whirl back to the laptop and continue typing when the young detective held up his hands. “Hey, I understand. He had me doing the same thing the day I was first partnered up with him.”
“…You’re Donald Ressler. I heard the stories.” Mostly, the stories weren’t about Ressler himself. They were about Reddington, of course, and Ressler was merely a side character in their adventures. Typically, he’d been cast as the stiff, do-gooder sort that always stood in the way of his partner’s occasionally questionable ethics and methods.
While Liz wasn’t the sort of person to pull out the police handbook every time some did something questionable, she considered herself to be fairly moral, and even then she tended to be put off by the overly self righteous people. However, she was willing to let her first impression of Ressler go in the face of being presented with someone to commiserate with.
“Yeah, if Reddington was the one that spread them, you have to take them with a grain of salt.” He rolled his eyes.
“He probably spreads half of the stories about himself. He seems like he has a massive ego.” She reached out a hand and closed the laptop for a moment.
“You don’t know the half of it.” The look in Ressler’s eyes said that he’d seen five years too long of that ego.
“I’m sure I’ll see more than half of it before the day is even over,” Liz said, leaning her elbow against one arm of the chair and dropping her chin into her hand. She moved one leg back and forth.
“Well, I’ve got something I need to do, but if you need help or if you just need to get away from Reddington for a while, my partner Samar and I sit over there.” He jerked his chin to a long desk across the room where a woman with dark, curled hair sat, her head bent over an open file.
“Thanks.” She flashed him a quick smile. “I’ll probably take you up on that sometime—”
But before she could finish, her space was invaded by yet another presence, his broad shadow washing across the desk. Reddington stood between her and Ressler, smiling as he glanced back and forth at them. Ressler’s face had grown stiff, one muscle in his jaw flexing.
“Ah, Donald, how very unpleasant it is to see you again. Are you suffering from a bout of separation anxiety and you’ve come over to my desk to fall on your knees and beg me to get Cooper reinstate you as my partner and hand Keen off to Navabi?” He turned one shoulder away from her to turn that thin, smug smile on Ressler.
“Actually, I was just saying hello to Keen because you weren’t at your desk. Good-bye, Reddington.” Ressler gave a jerking nod and headed back toward his own desk.
“Ah, isn’t he delightful? All the charm and grace of wood cork.” He began shuffling a pile of papers next to the one she was working on. “Now then, please relinquish my seat.”
“Excuse me?” She stopped jostling her leg and pressed an index finger to her cheek.
“I’m sorry, Cooper didn’t tell me that you have a hearing impairment. I will be sure to make accommodations for that. But, as I said, please move. That’s my seat, and I need it. There’s an extra chair over there you can take. It was Donald’s, and before that it was—what was his name? Gosh, I can never remember—”
The air was filled with a thump as she kicked up from the chair and was standing in a moment. The chair rolled forward a few inches from the outburst and bumped against Reddington’s knees. He paused, fingers pinched around a pair of wire-frame reading glasses he had pulled out of his jacket pocket. Despite herself, scarlet blotched her cheeks and the edge of her mouth twitched, one hand clenching and unclenching behind her back. He pressed one side of his mouth together, the other side open as he waited for her to say something.
But she just grabbed her laptop and shoved it under her armpit, marched to the other side of the desk and dragged the chair as far away from him as possible.