“That’s a pretty tune.”
Dani blinked, startled out of her blank contemplation of the raindrops racing each other across the car window. “What?”
“What you're humming. It’s nice,” said Crews giving her a quick sidelong glance.
“I’m not humming,” she said with a glare.
“Well, no, not now. But you were, earlier. And it was nice.”
She probably had been humming. They were inching towards an hour stuck on the 10, and Dani had enforced a car-wide ban on anything in Crews’ car’s tape deck or on the radio half an hour ago when Crews’ zen tapes had done nothing to make either of them more zen. Because it was rush hour and it was raining, which meant that the freeway was only a bare step above being a parking lot, and there was little more enraging than Angelenos’ total inability to drive like reasonable people when it was raining. Listening to a voice droning on about oneness while stuck in traffic was up there though, as was Crews radio station surfing, so in the interests of avoiding road rage from either driver or passenger, they were enduring the traffic in a car, silent save for the squeak of the windshield wipers and the drumming of the rain against the roof of the car. And Dani’s humming.
They couldn’t even flash the lights and turn on the sirens to try and squeeze their way past the worst of the traffic, a suggestion from Crews that Dani had unfortunately had to shoot down; there were lane closures two miles ahead of them thanks to a multi-car pileup, and emergency services wouldn’t look too kindly on LAPD detectives fucking up their efforts to clear the lanes and direct traffic flow just to get back to HQ quicker. “I want to get this paperwork done before dinner,” was not, after all, an emergency. So they were stuck until the sigalert cleared.
The moment Dani’s mind wandered to thoughts of their current case—almost wrapped up, the suspect already picked up by their colleagues in the valley and headed for arraignment in a couple days—she found herself humming again. She’d woken up to the rare sound of rain, then her mom had called her just after her morning workout, and the combination had lodged the song in her subconscious to seep out now, called forth by boredom and the patter of raindrops. Dani’s mom would hum it on rainy days, and sing it if her dad wasn’t around: baroon barooneh, zemina tar mishe. Her dad had never known it was a Persian song, so it had been a little secret between Dani and her mom, a way to speak Farsi with each other without actually speaking. Dad hadn’t ever let them speak Farsi in his presence.
When her mom called her now, they always spoke in Farsi. There was no one to tell them not to any more. Jack Reese had been missing, presumed dead, for about eight months now. Wednesday night dinners had been put on hold for most of that time. Neither Dani nor any of the rotating cast of her dad’s former partners and squad members had known what to say to her mom, if not for the same reason. Eventually, Dani had gone to tell her mom that Dad was probably dead, and that was almost certainly for the best. Her mom had nodded, composed as ever, and invited her to dinner that week.
That had been a couple months ago now, and Dani had showed up to every single Wednesday night dinner since then, unless she’d had to work. That was why her mom had called that morning. Dani had yet to convince her mom of the wonders of texting, so what could have been a quick text exchange of “are you coming tonight, and can you bring some dessert for dinner tomorrow?” and “sure,” turned into a fifteen minute long conversation while Dani bolted down some breakfast. Her mom didn’t do short phone calls.
Dani and Crews both jumped when the rain abruptly started pouring down in a torrent. Sheets of water turned the view outside the car aquarium-like, the other cars and their headlights gone wobbly and wavering through the car windows. Doonaye baroon bebareen aroomtar, she hummed, a little wryly now. But the rain didn’t fall any softer for her humming.
When they finally got back to HQ, they’d barely started on their paperwork when Tidwell leaned out of his doorway to give them a demanding jerk of his head. Dani glared and didn’t move. Tidwell looked abashed and used his goddamn words. The ill-advised thing between them had been over for a long time now, having petered out with as little fanfare as a candle burning to the end of its short wick, but Tidwell was still gratifyingly intimidated by her.
“Reese, Crews, my office. Jesus, I’ve been waiting hours for you two to get back, c’mon.”
“Sorry boss, pile up on the 10,” said Crews.
“You Californians just cannot drive in the rain, huh? Shut the door, will you?”
“Any problems with our latest case?” asked Dani “We’ve just gotta wrap up the paperwork and take custody of him here for the arraignment.”
“No, no, you’re good. This is about a new case. It’s not your usual kind of case, and it involves cleaning up another department’s fuckup, so,” he waved vaguely in the direction of the closed door, “Discretion. LAPD was working on an investigation into an adoption scam with our esteemed colleagues in the Ventura Police Department. Our esteemed colleagues fucked up their undercover op and got made, and now it’s on us to clean up the mess.”
“I don’t do undercover,” said Dani. Not anymore, anyway.
“I’ve never really done undercover, or not anything longterm,” said Crews, frowning.
Tidwell leaned back in his chair, unmoved by their protests. “Yeah, gonna be honest, you two are not the preferred undercover picks. You are, however, the only two detectives available who could plausibly pass for a married couple in search of a precious baby to adopt.”
“That can’t be right.”
“Everyone else who’s not on a hot case right now fails for a variety of reasons, from which you can take your pick: too old, too obviously a cop, too hilariously bad at anything approaching acting, too recently in the news on a high profile case….”
“And I’m not high profile?” asked Crews with a raised eyebrow. He didn’t exactly get recognized on the street all the time, but Crews still got asked “hey, aren’t you that guy…?” every so often.
Tidwell scoffed. “Dye your hair brown and slap some glasses on, no one will recognize you.” Crews shrugged and nodded, as if that Clark Kent shit was a reasonable disguise.
“I’m sorry, did I not speak out loud earlier? I don’t do undercover.”
Tidwell leveled a serious look at her. “I heard you. And this isn’t vice. This is just a slightly more long-term sting operation than the usual busting hookers and dealers. We’ve got a fairly extensive adoption scam crossing three counties going on here, and the people running it are thorough. Thorough enough to be a legit agency if only they didn’t scam three out of four prospective parents out of $25,000 or more when the birth mother ‘changes her mind’ or ‘miscarries the baby’ or whatever. They research the hell out of their marks, and there are literal, actual children involved. One family does get the actual baby. We just need you two to go through the process and play house so we can catch these assholes in the act.”
“We have to pretend to be married and that we desperately want a baby,” said Dani, in a tone that she was aware suggested far more dire circumstances.
She found the scenario creepy somehow. Not because she couldn’t stand Crews or anything, and not just because her last undercover stint had led to a downward spiral that had ended in an impressive implosion at rock bottom. Something about the construction of some fake relationship, some fake domestic life, with Crews…it didn’t sit right with her. It didn’t feel right for them.
“Seriously, I’m not fucking with you. You two really are the only viable candidates right now.” He held up a hand and started ticking off reasons on his fingers. “You two are close enough in age to be married without it raising any eyebrows, you have a great working relationship and rapport, which will help sell a fake marriage, no one’s gonna look at you and immediately think ‘cop!’ And I trust that you’re good enough detectives that you won’t fuck this up like the other team did.”
“You said long-term. How long-term?” asked Crews.
“A couple weeks or so to set yourselves up in your new fake married life and build up a routine. Then however long it takes you to get through the adoption process with the agency, which will be another few weeks on top of that. These guys move fast, which is part of how the scam works, but this is still gonna be a month at the very least. And we can’t risk you guys blowing the sting like the other team did. Full time cover until the sting is over.”
Crews looked over at her, and she read the question on his face clearly. Do you want me to get us out of this? I can get us out of this. She could see the concern for her in his slightly knitted brow, and his own unhappiness with the situation in his tight, almost downturned mouth. She asked him a silent question of her own with an upward twitch of her eyebrow: are you okay with doing this?
“C’mon, this is practically a vacation,” said Tidwell, almost wheedling now.
She gave Crews a tiny nod, and he returned it.
“Okay,” she said. “When do we need to start?”
Tidwell slumped over his desk and pressed his hands together in gratitude. “Thank you! End of the week. First thing next week at the absolute latest. Close out your current case, wrap up anything else you’ve got going. We’ve gotta set up your covers and fully brief you on the op.”
Dani didn’t entirely know why her mom kept up the Wednesday night dinners tradition now that her dad wasn’t around. They were decidedly smaller, less raucous affairs now that Jack Reese’s assorted cop friends and former partners mostly didn’t show up. No one quite knew how to address the dark and growing stain on his legacy courtesy the Bank of Los Angeles business, didn’t know what to say to his widow, so they just didn’t say anything at all, stopped showing up to her parents’ house and avoided meeting Dani’s eyes when they passed her in the hallway at HQ. Well, that wasn’t so new. They hadn’t said shit about what a mean sonofabitch Jack Reese had been before, either. He’d been a good cop, right? Or, whoops, not really! He was still one of them though, right?
Her mom seemed unfazed by it all. She’d just quietly widened the usual Wednesday night dinner circle to include cousins Dani didn’t often see, other LAPD widows, older women her mom had met who knew where. This week it was a couple LAPD widows and one of the women her mom volunteered with.
Dani dutifully answered the usual questions: work was fine, no, she wasn’t seeing anyone, yes, her partner was doing fine, no she would not be bringing him to Wednesday night dinners. Though Crews had been angling for an invitation of late. She thought he maybe felt guilty about how his whole conspiracy/revenge thing had ended for Dani’s dad.
She broke the news of her upcoming stint undercover when the other guests had left and it was just her and Mom washing and putting away the dishes.
“I won’t be able to make it to dinner for the next few weeks.” She’d lapsed back into Farsi now that it was just the two of them.
“Going—” she fumbled for the right word, didn’t find it, and let the English drop between them like a clumsy stone. “Undercover.”
“Oh no. No, not again. The last time—”
“No, it’s not like that. Not vice, no drugs. We just have to catch some people involved in an adoption scam, it’s totally safe.” Her mom stared at her, unhappy and suspicious. “I promise. Me and Crews just need to pretend to be a couple looking for a baby to adopt. This organization is promising people babies and then scamming them out of their money, we just have to run a sting to catch them at it.”
“Your partner will be with you the whole time?”
Her mom sighed. “Well. Alright then. Will you still be able to call?”
“Then call me. Once a week at least,” she said, taking Dani’s hand and giving it a demanding sort of shake.
“I will.” Dani gave her mom’s hand a comforting squeeze, thought about letting the conversation drop there. Thought better of it as she studied her mom. “You doing okay without Dad around?”
Her parents’ marriage had mostly been a mystery to her. Jack Reese had never hit either of them, but theirs had been far from a happy household, and the older she got, the less Dani understood why her mother had stayed. Oh, she understood the practicalities of why, but the deeper reasons, what her mother felt—that, Dani had never had a good grasp on. She could only tell now that something had relaxed in her mother, some tightness had unwound. There was a relief in her. It was, perversely, a little worrying.
She smiled at Dani and said, “I’m just fine.” She must have seen the worry in Dani’s eyes, because she sighed and continued, “Your father...he was not a good man, not really. He could be a good husband, and when you were little, he was a good father, but….I was always waiting for something like this. What is it they say in English, waiting for—”
“The sword to fall.”
Her mom gave her a chiding look. “The other shoe to drop. I miss your father. But I have been missing the man I thought he was for a long time now.”
Dani and Crews spent the rest of the week wrapping up their open cases, and handing off what needed to be handed off to other teams, while the LAPD built them a believable married life. This required shockingly little input from them, which made Dani nervous. Looming around while the IT guys did their building a fake paper trail thing wasn’t helping matters.
Crews dyed his hair brown as suggested, and that plus a pair of fake glasses rendered him more unrecognizable than Dani had expected. He looked thoroughly ordinary and boring, the sort of guy your eye would pass over. When they had their photos taken for new fake papers, the IT guy taking the pictures muttered something about “talk about a mismatched couple.”
“Excuse me, what did you say?” demanded Dani.
The IT guy shrunk back a little, blinking. “Uh, nothing! Just—” he gestured vaguely at her and Crews. “You seem way out of his league, and we’re, uh, trying to come up with a plausible backstory here—”
Crews looked amused. “Well, no argument there.” Which was bullshit, because Dani had seen some of Crews’ one night stands, never mind his ex-wife. The man had no shortage of willing badge bunnies and women looking for a night of fun with a rich, not unattractive guy.
“You stick as close to the truth as possible. Less to get tripped up with. We met at work.”
“It was love at first sight.” Dani glared. “Fine. No romance in her soul,” he said to the IT guy with a sad headshake. “We met at work, got to know each other, dated, fell in love.”
“Boring,” muttered IT guy.
“Plausible,” corrected Dani.
Crews plopped himself down on one of the wheeled office chairs and spun around. “So what’re our jobs gonna be? I always wanted to be a fireman when I was a kid. Or a garbageman.”
Dani had only ever wanted to be a cop.
“You’re an accountant, Detective Crews. Detective Reese, you’re a personal trainer.”
“Seriously? How did we meet at work then? And why isn’t he the personal trainer?” That was some sexist bullshit.
“You, uh, worked in the same building?” He clicked and typed around a little. “Yeah, yeah, you worked in the same building. And uh, sorry, but the undercover job options were limited at such short notice. It’s a women only gym, and Detective Crews is going to be ‘telecommuting’ to his office in Century City. Detective Reese, someone will be checking in with you once a week at the gym, and Detective Crews, you’ll be going into the ‘office’ once a week for meetings.”
“Why can’t we just call in?” asked Crews.
IT guy shrugged. “After the last team fucked up, the brass wants to be super careful since they doubt we’ll get another shot. So full cover, no contact with the department that would be as easy to check as peeking at your phone records or hacking into your email. Use your discretion for personal calls, I guess.”
The reality of the situation began to sink in for Dani. It was one thing to work with Crews, to be partners, but living together….she told herself that they were just kind of flipping the usual arrangement of their lives: spending supposedly non-work hours together instead of work hours, and faking a different sort of partnership than the one they actually had. No big deal.
It kind of felt like a big deal though, the more she saw the trappings of a married life pile up, and the more she thought about just what had fucked up her last stint undercover: a junkie she’d been stupid enough to love, a real relationship built on lies and drugs while she’d tried to convince herself not all of it was a lie, that surely the love was real. God, she’d been so fucking stupid. And here she was, the lies were building up again, nicer now but still false. A nice two bedroom house in Mar Vista, well outside either of their usual neighborhoods in the sprawl that was LA; fake bank and utility accounts under their fake names; a relationship history almost too close to their own for comfort; wedding photos skillfully mocked up by the IT guys. Even rings.
Crews presented her with her wedding ring the day before they were set to officially begin the sting. She’d vainly hoped she could just pick it up along with her new set of fake IDs and cards. She’d dreaded the possibility that Crews would make some big deal of it and stage a whole proposal in the middle of the bullpen, in which case the sting would be over before it ever began, because Dani would have caused Crews grievous bodily harm.
Instead, he just perched on the edge of her desk and set an open jewelry box down in front of her. Dani wasn’t a big jewelry person, but it was a lovely ring, unostentatious and finely made, in what seemed to her to be an older style. The ring was made up of a simple pattern of gold leaves entwined around small diamonds. It wasn’t anything that could be described as bling. Just a pretty ring, probably an antique. After she’d examined it, Crews plucked up the box again and waggled it at her.
“Wanna see if it fits?”
“Where’d you get it from?”
“Deep in the bowels of the evidence locker. So, it’s probably a dead person’s ring. Sorry.”
She was about to snatch the box back from Crews to try on the ring, when he made a tutting noise and pulled the ring from the box himself.
“If you propose to me right now or some bullshit like that, I will shoot you, I swear—”
“I know,” said Crews with a small, fond smile.
He took her left hand, and she let him, watching his face for any sign that he was about to pull some mortifying surprise or another. So she saw when his face went still and solemn, saw the strange and muted little war between pain and calm that took place there before settling into something more earnest than Dani could stand to look at. She looked down instead, to where his cool hand grasped hers as he slid the ring onto her finger. It caught a little as it went past her knuckle, but it fit right on the comfortable end of snug, and gleamed warmly against her skin. When she looked up again, Crews was smiling with his eyes, a wry twist to his mouth.
Dani’s mouth went dry. They read each other too well, now, and had for a while. She pulled her hand from his, flexing it against the unfamiliar weight and shape of the ring. She thought maybe she’d want it off immediately, but she didn’t. It looked nice, already familiar the way the leather band of her watch was familiar.
“Yeah, I thought it’d fit,” said Crews, his voice a low, intimate rasp.
Dani gave him a small smile. “It’s—nice. Thank you. What about yours?”
“What about your ring?” she prompted.
Crews gave her one of his tight, fake smiles. “Oh, I was just going to use my old wedding ring.”
“Don’t,” said Dani, the denial automatic, and more furious than she had meant or expected it to be. Crews blinked at her, and raised his eyebrows. Yeah, she was gonna lean into this turn, she was gonna fucking gun it. If she was fucking things up again, so be it, she couldn’t let this one stand. She set her jaw and said it again, looking Crews in the eye. “Don’t. Get a new one.”
From this close, she could see Crews’ pupils dilate. He nodded. “Okay.”
She wasn’t sure what subtext he was reading into her demand, wasn’t entirely sure what she meant herself. She was a little surprised Crews had even kept the ring at all, after twelve years of no conjugal visits and a very decisive divorce. She’d have flushed the fucking thing down the toilet for all it had evidently ended up meaning. She didn’t want that on Crews’ finger, knowing what it meant.
Soon enough, they were deemed ready to start their fake married life together. They had new identities that would stand up to an adoption agency’s and social worker’s scrutiny, they had a house ready to move into, they had new cars under their new names, and Crews had a new ring, a thick gold band that stood out against his pale skin. Crews waggled his fingers and eyebrows a little as if to ask is this acceptable? Dani rolled her eyes at him, but smiled too.
They sat at their desks to go over their new identities and the assorted paperwork involved. It would take some studying to commit all the details of their new lives to memory. Crews immediately pulled out his new ID to see what name they’d given him.
“Thomas Brown. Thomas. Brown. Tommy? Tom. Hmm. Do I look like a Tommy to you?”
Dani frowned down at her own new ID: Annie Brown. Not very creative. She approved of the practicality though; she’d answer to it easily enough. She had her doubts about Crews answering to any variation of Thomas.
“Do I look like an Annie?”
Crews tilted his head as he looked at her. “It’s only one letter off from your actual name, and yet. Seriously though: Thomas, Tom, or Tommy?”
“Not Thomas,” she said decisively. “And not Tommy either.”
“So Tom then.” She grimaced, and he squinted at her. “Not a big fan?”
“We could avoid this whole names issue and just call each other by endearments. Honey. Dear. Sweetheart. Babe. Snookums.”
“Try it. I dare you,” said Dani, and bared her teeth at him.
“No pet names, got it.”
After one last day to hand off their cases and study up on their new lives, they moved into their new house that weekend, complete with U-Haul and some undercover uniforms to be their movers. With uncharacteristic helpfulness, someone in the department had made sure most of the furniture was already moved in. Though for all she knew, maybe it had already been furnished. Maybe the LAPD rented the place out for extra cash when it wasn’t being used as a convenient safe house or undercover base of operations. There had probably been some manner of crime perpetrated there at some point for it to have been seized by the LAPD. Dani didn’t care, so long as it hadn’t been a meth lab and there weren’t any obvious bloodstains.
It was a nice little house, one story and only a little rundown, the front yard pleasantly overgrown, and it was in a quiet neighborhood. To said neighborhood, a mix of young families and old timers who’d lived in the neighborhood for decades, Dani and Crews were an unremarkable couple moving into that one house that had been empty for a while.
“A little small,” said Crews as he walked through the front door with an armful of box.
Compared to the shitholes she’d frequented in her last undercover job, it was the goddamn lap of luxury. The guy she was with was an upgrade too, though she’d never tell Crews that.
“Not everyone can live in a mansion in the hills,” she said instead.
The undercover uniforms made quick work of getting the remaining furniture situated and set up, while she and Crews brought all the boxes in. Some of the boxes were suspiciously light, more for show than anything else. When she opened up one of the boxes labeled KITCHEN, she found a bunch of Ikea dishes. Another had a haphazard jumble of cooking implements. She wondered where all this stuff had come from, if the department had actually shelled out the money to send someone to Ikea for all of it, or if it was scavenged from seized evidence and repossessed houses, scattered remnants of other people’s broken lives.
The only things she and Crews had brought were their clothes, and their badges and guns, already locked up in a safe tucked away in a closet, along with the wires and surveillance equipment they’d use once the sting was underway. Dani knew they were unlikely to need the guns. Everything she knew about this sting operation said it was going to be long and boring, a lot of recording conversations and waiting for the adoption scammers to say the magic words that the DA could turn into an open and shut prosecution. It would be long and boring, she told herself. No spending time in crackhouses, or bars, or shitty squats, or assorted dens of criminal activity. No falling for someone because she thought that would make things better, would make him better, as if love were ever enough to fix someone. No. This was just her and Crews, her partner, living together, pretending they wanted to have a baby. Easy. She stacked a couple empty boxes in front of the safe, and told herself it would be fine.
“There are fruit trees!” Dani startled, then rolled her eyes.
Crews was peering out the window to the backyard, and he wrestled the screen door to the tiny backyard open with a clatter. She followed him, and looked out into a yard that looked all the smaller for seeing Crews in it. There were fruit trees lining the yard, pomegranate and orange and grapefruit, heavy with a California winter’s bounty, and a couple other bare trees she couldn’t identify, the trees all enclosing a small square of overgrown grass. Crews immediately plucked a grapefruit nearly the size of her head and smiled happily down at it. Dani fought her own smile, unsuccessfully, and left him to his fruit.
She went looking for the bedroom and put her suitcase full of clothes down as she surveyed it. One bed, one dress, two nightstands. Nothing special. She tested the mattress, then went looking for sheets, didn’t find them. Of course. They’d need to go on a shopping trip. There was no food in the house either, and if they were likely to be here at least a month, there were other odds and ends they’d need. She could already imagine the snippy emails from accounting when they submitted their expense reports, but whatever. If they were going to live here, they were going to live here properly.
She explored the rest of the house, not that there was much left to explore: the master bathroom, another bathroom, a small hallway closet that held the washer and dryer, a smallish room with a desk and chair and assorted other office type things in it, and the other bedroom. The other bedroom that already looked like a nursery.
Or, more accurately, the skeleton of a nursery. There was an empty crib, and a dresser with a changing table on it. There was a rocking chair, and a couple boxes with BABY STUFF written on them. A giant teddy bear leaned drunkenly against the far corner. Looking at the room, Dani finally had to fully absorb that this was what she was going to have to pretend to want, with Crews. She was going to have to pretend to want to make this room more than a skeleton, to flesh it out with something that could pass for real hope and real love, to pretend she wanted to fill it with an actual child. The thought filled her with a vague sort of panic. This wasn’t anything she had ever wanted.
She felt Crews come up behind her, smelling faintly of grapefruit. “Just like playing house,” he said, tone wry and darker than she’d expected.
“I never played house as a kid.”
“Ah. Just like you never dreamed about your wedding.”
Startled that he remembered that, she turned to look at him, and saw him looking down at her with something she couldn't categorize as anything other than fondness. The soft expression didn’t last. When he surveyed the room, his face went tight and sad.
“I played cops and robbers,” she said, as he stepped into the room.
“Me too. And Indiana Jones.”
Crews walked the room like it was a crime scene, and poked around in one of the boxes. He pulled out a brightly colored mobile and pushed a button on it. The stars dangling from the mobile started glowing and a tinkling, tinny version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star started playing. He attached the mobile to the crib, and watched it until the lights fell dark again and the music stopped.
“We’ll have to set this room up for the home visit from the agency and social worker, I guess,” said Dani.
“You know, we were trying before I went to prison.” Crews’ voice was light, conversational, but his back was stiff, and his hand was gripping the railing of the crib tightly.
“Jennifer and me. We were—Jennifer was—trying to get pregnant. We’d decided it was time to start a family.”
Of course they had. She didn’t much know, or care, who Crews had been before twelve years in prison as an innocent man had made him into the person she knew now. But she could triangulate who Officer Crews had been easily enough, and that guy had been your average beat cop, doing his job more or less competently, well on his way to the American dream with a pretty wife and 2.5 children. That dream was still in his reach, if he wanted it.
“You could still start a family,” said Dani, trying for casual as she opened one of the other boxes.
“I’m not that guy any more.”
Dani thought maybe she should offer to set up the nursery, if he was going to be weird and sad about this. Not that Dani would have any idea what she was doing. Maybe she could call her mom.
“I can take over here, if you want.”
Crews gave her a pinched, wan smile. “Nah, it’s okay. I’ve got this. You take the bedroom.”
“Sure,” she said, and hovered uncertainly. Should she try to do something comforting? They were standing too far apart to make a pat on the arm seem anything other than weird. So she just talked about work instead. “Make a list of anything we still need, we’re going to have to go shopping. There’s no sheets for the bed and who knows what else the LAPD didn’t see fit to provide us with.”
Crews nodded and set about unpacking the baby stuff boxes, and Dani left him to it. A few hours into this undercover assignment and she’d already stepped into a minefield. So much for it being like a vacation.
Once they’d gotten the house to a more or less livable condition, they went out shopping together. Dani had been for splitting up to hit different stores for efficiency’s sake, but Crews had rightly pointed out that they needed to start getting used to the whole married thing in a low pressure situation. So “Annie” and “Tom” ended up roaming the aisles of Target for things like sheets and toilet paper and towels.
Crews, of course, had opinions on everything.
“There are a lot of colors of towel here.”
“Yeah, there are. White’s pretty standard though.”
“But it’s boring.”
“They’re towels.” Crews blinked at her. “Please just pick a color.”
“You don’t have a preference?”
“Besides white?” He glared a little. She sighed, and pointed at the green ones. “Green.”
“Sage green,” corrected Crews. He closely inspected the sage green towels. “These aren’t Egyptian cotton though. Do you want Egyptian cotton? It’s nicer, fluffier. I like fluffy towels.”
“They’re towels,” said Dani again. “We’re in Target. They’re all basically the same thing.”
This earned her a disappointed look, but he grabbed a stack of the sage green towels and put them in the cart. When they got to the bedding aisle, she pointedly picked the sage green sheets, with a high thread count even, and Crews beamed at her. He disappeared into another aisle, and came back with throw pillows.
“For the couch,” he said.
“You didn’t have furniture for like, a year. Now you want throw pillows?” Crews nodded. Dani rolled her eyes, but left the throw pillows in the cart.
Thankfully Crews had no opinions on cleaning supplies or dish racks, and after picking up some other staples, they were done, and could head to the grocery store next. Dani left Crews in the produce section while she went aisle by aisle getting the staples of a normal people kitchen.
Dani herself didn’t tend to keep much food in her apartment: some frozen stuff, some basics, enough non-perishables to put together simple meals. But she knew that a married couple, even one that had just moved into a new place, wouldn’t have her single workaholic food habits. Especially not when her cover was a personal trainer. Annie Brown didn’t live off of frozen meals and take out. Annie Brown cooked simple, healthy meals with lean protein and brown rice. Annie Brown would be a responsible mother who would feed her precious baby healthy food. She gave the brown rice a disdainful look, but put it in the cart anyway. The sacrifices of going undercover. Personal trainer or not, she still got a couple pints of Ben & Jerry’s.
When she looped around again to collect Crews, she found he’d procured his own cart to fill with produce, mostly fruit of course. He was closely inspecting pears, presumably for optimum levels of ripeness. Which was pointless, everyone knew you had to just let them sit on the counter and eat them in the five minutes they weren’t yet too hard or too mushy.
“Stop fondling the pears, Cre—Tom.” She started transferring fruit from Crews’ cart to hers so they could check out.
“They’re never ripe enough in the store,” muttered Crews.
“They’ll ripen on the counter. Did you get avocados?”
Crews nodded. “I got avocados. And grapes and apples and bananas and kumquats and pears.”
And even some vegetables, noted Dani as she moved some potatoes, carrots, broccoli, and onions into her cart. This was really a lot of produce. She hoped it would all fit in the fridge.
“They looked cute.”
“Sure, whatever. You done?” Crews nodded happily so she maneuvered the now very full cart to one of the checkout lanes.
Crews investigated the results of Dani’s shopping and made approving little noises, though he too wrinkled his nose at the brown rice. They went back and forth on what to make for dinner, and the conversation carried them through paying for their groceries and taking them out to the car, and as Crews loaded the trunk, Dani was hit with a sudden sense of unreality that flung her awareness outside of the entirely ordinary moment she was sharing with Crews. From outside, she knew what this looked like: a married couple, doing their weekly grocery shopping. From inside, the domesticity of it felt like the ring on her finger—simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar, a new weight and form she liked to worry at and felt no real urge to take off. She’d thought she would find this charade creepy, not right. But so far, it all just felt normal.
Maybe they were bad at being undercover married. This was supposed to be an easy test run of the whole married couple thing, but nothing had been different between them.
She let Crews drive, and stayed quiet on the drive back to their house. She twisted the ring on her finger back and forth. Crews gave her a sidelong glance.
“It’s not too small, is it? We could get it resized at a jeweler, probably.”
“No, it’s fine.” They passed one green light, stopped at the next red. Crews wasn’t used to being undercover. He wouldn’t make the first move on this. So Dani grit her teeth and said, “We need to be more coupley.”
“What, you think anyone in that grocery store looked at us and thought, ‘those are cop partners, not husband and wife’? I thought we did okay!”
“Seeming married enough to convince an adoption agency to give us a child is going to take more than just okay. There’s, y’know, body language involved.” Crews was generally pretty scrupulous with her personal space. She appreciated it, usually, but it was proving an impediment now.
He nodded and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “I didn’t want to overstep before we’d had a chance to talk about it. Set boundaries.”
She gave him a dry look. “You hugged me on our first case together.”
We shared a shower together while I was freaking out about being covered in drugs, she didn’t say. The water had come out in a blast of cold before it had warmed up, and for brief seconds, Crews had been a warm, solid presence wrapped around her, hard kevlar at her back, hands awkward and hovering close enough for her to feel even with her eyes closed. He’d offered her his hand as she got out of the tub, a fleeting and incongruously gentlemanly gesture considering the circumstances, and she hadn’t taken it. She thought maybe he was remembering that now, that and all the things he had quietly learned about her from that moment, and from her silence after. Or maybe he was remembering that bare brush of their fingers in the orange grove with Roman Nevikov. She’d been the one to reach out first.
“I don’t want to overstep,” said Crews again, low and serious, at the next red light.
She smiled at him a little, and held out her hand, the ring catching the sun that slanted through the windshield. “It’s okay.”
He took her hand, and held it until he needed both hands to steer again.
When they got back to the house, they put away all their new purchases, and it was about when Crews was dumping all the sheets and towels and things in the bedroom that he finally seemed to realize that there was, in fact, only one bed in the house. Dani was too busy tearing the sheets out of their excessive plastic packaging to pay too much attention to the frown on Crews’ face.
“Can you dump all these in the washer?” she asked, nodding towards the pile of sheets.
“Because they smell all gross and plasticky? You don’t just not wash new sheets, Crews, gross.”
“Okay,” he said, and piled his arms high with sage green sheets.
When he got back, Dani had a pile of towels newly free of their price tags, and he took those to the washer too. Dani frowned at the mattress, wondered suspiciously if it was used. It smelled okay. There were no weird stains. She felt more than saw Crews looming awkwardly in the bedroom doorway.
“I can take the couch, if you want.” She raised an eyebrow at him. He was blushing a little, but he was wide-eyed and sincere. “No one’s gonna bust in and see we’re not sleeping in the same bed. I can take the couch.”
“Don’t be stupid, you’d never fit on the couch.” The couch was a modestly sized sectional. Crews’ overly long legs would dangle off it, never mind what it would probably do to his neck to sleep on it for more than a night.
Now it was his turn to raise an eyebrow. “The floor, then.”
“We’re going to be here for a month at least. Neither of us is sleeping on the couch or the floor for that long. I’m willing to share a bed if you are.”
Dani made the offer before really thinking about what it meant. She hadn’t shared a bed with anyone since Tidwell, and she hadn’t found that very comfortable. He’d been a restless sleeper. Maybe Crews was too, or maybe he snored. Maybe they were both in for a month of sleepless nights. She could always banish him to an air mattress in the office, she supposed.
“I can share a bed,” said Crews agreeably enough, and that was that.
There were still things to put away, and then there was dinner to deal with. Dani reflexively didn’t want to be the one to make dinner while simultaneously being suspicious of Crews’ cooking abilities, which left them lurking in the kitchen, both apparently hoping that dinner would just appear. It wasn’t that they hadn’t shared meals before, they had. But those meals had been messy sandwiches eaten at their adjoining desks, or burgers in the car, or tacos at a bench outside a taco truck. A homemade sit-down meal was something else entirely, and neither of them knew how to navigate it with each other.
Crews opened the fridge and poked around. Dani opened a couple of the cupboards.
“Pasta and salad?” she suggested.
“Sure. I’ll make the salad.”
They bumped into each other some, and spent a fair amount of time opening still unfamiliar drawers and cupboards as they got their dinner ready. Mindful of building their cover, Dani tried to get herself used to close quarters and easy contact with Crews. With three years of partnership under their belt, Dani didn’t find it difficult. Crews, though, took some time to loosen up.
“So you’re pretty good at this undercover thing,” said Crews as he chopped tomatoes.
“I was in Vice, so yeah.”
She’d been good at it, but it clearly hadn’t been good for her. She shoved down the sick and anxious premonition that this too would end up at some new rock bottom. Some dark and ugly thing that writhed inside her thought, how can you wreck this? You know you could find a way.
“Come up with a story for yourself. Not too far from your actual story, no crazy shit. This isn’t exactly deep cover with the mob here. You’re just a nice, boring accountant who wants to have a kid with his wife. So keep it simple, and draw from your actual life experience.”
“Alright. So. You’re my wife. Do we engage in PDA?”
What, did he want a list? Dani stifled her frustration. Crews was trying to be considerate. There were a lot of guys, even her fellow detectives, who wouldn’t have bothered.
“Just—do what feels natural. And keep it PG, no one likes the couple that’s constantly shoving their tongues down each other’s throats in public.”
“Natural, PG, no make outs, got it.”
He took a few deep breaths while he tossed the salad, then visibly relaxed. They shared space in the kitchen more easily after that, as they brushed against each other with the casual touches of people long accustomed to each other. Crews made resting a hand on her lower back seem natural, and Dani gently bumped him with her hip to get him to move out of her way as she drained the pasta. This was the easy part, Dani thought, and spared a moment to be grateful for it.
Crews actually set the table for dinner, which was more than Dani usually bothered with, and it made dinner seem oddly formal for a minute, before they both sat down to eat and their routine slid back into the familiar, if more domestic than usual. They still had some work to do to finish all the boring logistics of settling into their cover, and it would be a few days before they could make the first contact with the suspect adoption agency.
Once they were done with dinner, Dani set up her laptop on the kitchen table and got to work researching the ins and outs of adoption, while Crews retreated to the couch with his file on the Making Families Whole Adoption Agency. A few minutes of blessed silence passed, but of course, it didn’t last.
“Making families whole,” muttered Crews. “Is a family not whole without children? What makes a family whole?”
It was a creepy name for an adoption agency, Dani had to admit. She wasn’t about to indulge Crews on some whole zen meditation on the nature of family though.
“Guessing the girl giving up her baby doesn’t feel like she’s making her family whole,” said Dani.
“They should be called ‘Making Some Families Whole’ then,” said Crews, and subsided into silence again as he read through the file and made notes.
Eventually Crews called it a night and tossed the file aside, and turned his attention to the TV instead. Dani kept plugging away at her research until Crews’ incessant channel surfing got on her nerves.
“Pick a channel before I take that remote away from you.”
It was a Saturday night, and of course the LAPD hadn’t shelled out for a cable hookup, so it wasn’t like there were a lot of viewing options, just reruns and movies and local news. Crews dutifully settled on some sitcom rerun, and canned audience laughter rang out, false and cloying. It was too early to go to sleep, so Dani stayed at the kitchen table and battled her rising swell of restlessness. They were going to have a lot of hours like this to kill in the coming weeks. She didn’t know what the fuck she was going to do to fill them. She didn’t know what Crews would do either. Meditate? Do crosswords?
Tidwell had called this case “practically a vacation,” but it was more likely to be a lot of numbing boredom and awkward social situations. Maybe it was time to get a hobby that wasn’t running, NA, or picking up guys in bars. Dani messed around on the internet a little, just wasting time, before finally giving up and going to take a shower. The water pressure was shitty, but the water ran good and hot, so Dani took her time.
When she came out of the bathroom wrapped in one of the (freshly washed, sage green) towels, she almost bumped into Crews, who immediately averted his gaze, to her amusement and relief. She’d long stopped expecting the worst of Crews when it came to that sort of thing. Still, some small part of her had wondered if he would take advantage of the situation. If, now that he had a plausible excuse for it, he’d let some innuendo slip, or he’d look at her body in that hungry, devouring way that a lot of men did, coworkers or not. He didn’t. He just slipped past her into the still steamy bathroom, face flushed. Dani snorted, and went into the bedroom to put her pajamas on.
They both knocked around the bedroom and bathroom getting ready for bed, their usual nightly routines disrupted by the new surroundings and the presence of another person.
“Left or right side?” asked Crews.
“Uh, left,” she said, and he nodded and slipped under the covers on the right side of the bed.
There was more than enough room for both of them to lie in the bed without touching each other. If they didn’t face each other, it was like there wasn’t anyone else in the bed at all. Dani could still hear Crews breathing though, even and steady, another source of nighttime white noise like the ever-present murmur of LA traffic. She resisted the urge to toss and turn in the unfamiliar bed, restlessness still simmering in her. A drink would dull it, but that wasn’t an option right now. So she went over her to-do list for the case instead and eventually fell asleep, lulled by the mundane details.
She woke once in the small hours of the night, her mouth dry and cottony. She’d forgotten to leave a glass of water on the nightstand, so she rolled out of bed and into the kitchen for water, bumping against seemingly every piece of furniture and box along the way in the dark. She crept back to the bed as quietly as she could, hoping to avoid waking Crews. He was still asleep, judging by his breathing; he didn’t snore, thankfully, and he was still curled up small on the bed, taking up far less room than a man of his size maybe should. He held himself so tightly, even in his sleep. The defensive curl of his spine made her sharply sad, a stinging needle of feeling to one of the chambers of her heart that she preferred to keep guarded. Crews slept like he was on a prison cot.
Dani woke before Crews the next morning, who was still asleep, no longer curled up, but now lying on his back. He was drooling a little. She was briefly tempted to take a picture with her phone, but decided against it when she realized the existence of the picture would be kind of equally incriminating for her.
After brushing her teeth and starting a pot of coffee, she scribbled a quick note to Crews and went for a run. This far on the west side, early mornings were damp and chilly with the marine layer clinging near the coast, especially during what passed for winter in LA. Early on a Sunday morning, the neighborhood was still sleepy and quiet. It was just Dani, a couple other dedicated joggers, and people taking their dogs out, the neighborhood otherwise only just waking up, dew still heavy on the grass and leaves. Dani could feel the exertion and solitude quieting some of her earlier restlessness. She ran until the combination of the sweat she was working up and the morning chill grew more unpleasant than refreshing, then headed back.
When she got back to the house, the smell of coffee and toast hit her as soon as she opened the door, and she saw Crews sitting at the kitchen table with a newspaper. The startlingly domestic sight brought her short for a moment, and she covered by going to the fridge for a bottle of water. Dani felt a shift not unlike vertigo as she remembered that, yes, they were undercover, they were pretending to be married, this wasn’t Dani’s usual Sunday morning. She had a lot of mornings like this to look forward to before this case was over. She could only hope that Crews wouldn’t be too Crews-like early in the morning. She didn’t think she could handle that without resorting to violence.
“Good morning. Had a good run?”
“Yeah. You sleep okay last night?” She poured herself some coffee from the pot, contemplated what she wanted for breakfast. Crews was eating toast, and fruit, naturally.
“Yeah. So I was thinking we should really hammer out our cover story today, before we have to start our ‘day jobs’ tomorrow. And we should go over how we’re going to handle our contacts with the adoption agency.”
Dani pulled out a cup of yogurt from the fridge and frowned. “Sounds good. What are you even going to be doing all day while you’re ‘working from home’?”
No way could Crews fill his days with working on the case. Most of the leg work on the case was already done, they just needed to catch the guys in the act for an airtight case. And Crews was no accountant, so it wasn’t like he was going to be doing actual work. Dani at least would be at the gym for her cover job, though who knew if they were actually going to let her personally train anyone. She could fake it, probably.
“Meditate? Maybe I could achieve enlightenment if I meditate six hours a day.”
“What even happens when you achieve enlightenment? You know what, never mind, I don’t care. But seriously, what are you going to do?”
Crews looked rueful. “I hadn’t really thought of it, actually. What can I even do sitting at a computer all day?” Dani opened her mouth to answer watch porn, duh but Crews gave her a quelling look and said, “And don’t say porn. That computer is department property!”
Dani raised her eyebrows. “Okay, also, that would really only take up a couple hours at most.” Crews amended. She snorted. Men.
“Time to pick up a hobby, Crews,” she said, and sipped her coffee.
They spent the morning and lunchtime going over their cover and committing the details to memory. This involved some fairly contentious bickering over the details of their cover, because Crews liked to embellish, and Dani was dedicated to keeping things simple and boring.
“Okay, so what if we didn’t meet because of working in the same building.”
“That’s the cover, Crews. That’s what the paper trail backs up.”
“Right, right, but hear me out: I see you in a coffee shop nearby, and I think ‘wow, she’s gorgeous,’ but I don’t have the nerve to talk to you. I see you there every day for three weeks, and each time, I think, ‘this time, I’m gonna talk to her, I’m gonna ask her out.’ But then you stop showing up there! I don’t see you for weeks!”
“Is this just the plot of a rom com?” demanded Dani.
“No,” said Crews, affronted, and continued, “So anyway, I’m pining away for you, but I figure, LA’s a huge city, I’m never gonna see you again. I go on this whole quest to try to find you—”
“So, attempted stalking.”
“No, a quest, a very difficult quest. I search all the coffee shops in the area, but can’t find you. Just when I’ve given up hope, I see you in the lobby of our building! But I’m so startled that I finally found you, that I spill coffee on you, and get all awkward, and you hate me. So I work on winning you over, but then one day, we get stuck in the elevator together, and—”
“Oh my god, shut up. Save it for your screenplay.”
Crews pouted and crossed his arms. Dani was unmoved, and let him know with a disapproving raise of her eyebrow.
“We met at work, same office building, different jobs. We talked, we flirted, we went out on a few dates, we fell in love. Done.”
Most people were simple and boring, when it came down to it, so introducing any rom com nonsense would be memorable in a bad way. They only needed just enough detail to seem like real people, and they could draw that from their actual lives, with unpleasant things like stays in rehab or prison redacted. Dani was aware that this blurred the lines, that this was part of what had gotten her in trouble during her time in Vice. The story she’d just given Crews wasn’t entirely dissimilar from the course of their actual partnership, if you replaced flirting with bickering, and dates with cases.
“That’s almost how we actually met and became partners,” said Crews with a thoughtful frown, following the course of her thoughts as he often did. “Don’t you want to go with something more exciting?”
Dani sighed. “Not really.”
“Okay, but what if I join one of your classes at the gym, and while I’m trying to impress you, I drop a weight on my foot—”
She dropped her head down on the kitchen table and groaned. They went back and forth like that for a while, long enough that Dani started wondering where the hell Crews got all these ideas from. Had the prison library only held a book on Zen Buddhism and stacks of Harlequins?
“We’re trying to convince someone to give us a baby, Crews. We have to seem stable and boring,” she finally told Crews with finality after she shot down his story about an elaborate proposal involving a flash mob at the Griffith Observatory.
Crews scowled like an overgrown child. “I really thought being undercover would be more fun.”
Dani smiled, and she knew it wasn’t a pretty smile. “It’s not.”
They hit another point of contention when they were coming up with their reason for adopting at all. They agreed that Annie and Tom Brown should be unable to have a baby on their own; it added the appropriate desperation that would encourage the scammers to see them as good marks. What they couldn’t agree on was why they couldn’t have a baby on their own.
“Why does it always have to be the woman’s fault?” asked Dani.
“It’s not anyone’s fault, there’s no blame.”
“Yeah, whatever, I mean, why does it always have to be something wrong with the woman’s ovaries or—” she gestured vaguely in her uterus area, “—wherever?”
Crews blinked and sat back. “Well—it just works better for the cover, is all. If you could have a baby, why wouldn’t we just go get a sperm donation or something?”
That was a good point. She scowled anyway. She’d have to dredge up some sort of convincing sadness about her inability to have a baby. And research a sufficiently detailed medical reason. Dani was starting to think living in a crackhouse with a bunch of junkies would be easier. She had some prior experience there at least.
“Fine. My ovaries are broken and I’m very sad about it.”
Crews’ mouth twitched into a smile. “You’ll sound a little more believably sad about it when we meet with the agency, I hope.”
“Sure. Maybe I’ll even cry.”
When Dani started at her “job” at the gym, she gained some sympathy for Crews’ disappointment about how not-fun being undercover really was. The only thing that could be said for this undercover assignment’s variety of not-fun was that it was boring rather than life-threatening. Dani didn’t have to worry about her safety, unless you counted paper cuts and weight machine-related injuries. The owner of the gym, a former cop, knew Dani was undercover, so Dani’s undercover work week consisted mostly of doing back office paperwork rather than actually training with any of the gym’s customers.
“No offense, but it’d be a liability nightmare if you or anyone you were training with got injured,” the owner had said as she’d handed Dani a stack of customer files to do data entry for. Fair enough.
While Dani was at the gym, Crews made first contact with the adoption agency, and got an appointment for them for next week, along with a bunch of intake paperwork to fill out. Crews, entirely unnecessarily, called her at the gym to let her know.
“Hi honey! How’s your day going?”
Dani glanced around her little back office space to make sure she was alone, then hissed into the phone, “What did I tell you about endearments?”
Crews ignored her. “I got in touch with the adoption agency, we’ve got an appointment next week. I’m so excited! We’re gonna have a baby, sweetheart! Or, someone else will have a baby, which we will acquire. Same difference.”
“I know you’re sitting at home alone, you have literally no reason to pull this lovey-dovey shit right now.” Crews laughed and Dani contemplated hanging up on him.
Before she could, Crews said, “Seriously though, is next week fine? I could maybe call back and push for an earlier appointment.”
“No, that’s fine. We’ll let the department know tomorrow at my check-in. You got the appointment with the main guy, right?”
“Yup, Joseph Clark.”
One of the other trainers came into the back office. Dani pasted a smile on over the probably murderous look on her face. “That’s perfect, babe. I'll pick up some garlic bread on my way home, okay?”
Crews gasped with delight. “Oh my god, is this you being undercover? Is someone else there with you?”
“Uh huh! See you tonight, love you,” she said and hung up, hoping her immediate grimace of horror wasn't too evident.
They both checked in with their LAPD contacts once that week, with little to report other than that they’d have more to report next week. Apart from that, their time was their own. It was a far more leisurely undercover assignment than Dani was used to, one that didn’t require all that much effort from her, which paradoxically made her more antsy. She tried to burn off that antsy feeling on the weight machines and the treadmill.
It didn’t entirely work. She found herself eyeing the punching bags, fists itching. Annie Brown wasn’t that kind of personal trainer. Annie Brown had never punched anyone, probably.
Annie Brown’s life was simple to slip into, didn’t require the kind of keyed-up vigilance that Vice had encouraged. Dani just had to pretend to be a more pleasant, bland version of herself, the kind of woman that people would describe as “fun” and “nice” instead of “uh, intimidating” and “scary hot,” and, a few years ago, “a hot mess.” So she smiled at people in the gym and engaged in small talk. She talked about organic fruit and going vegan and juicing like she cared about any of it, and mindful of building her cover, she even started talking about how she and her husband had been trying to have a baby for a while now, and were thinking of adopting. The other women awwww’d and cooed, wished her luck, started in on their own stories of fertility successes and failures.
She’d tried to keep up her Annie-face when she got back to the house every evening, out of some desire to commit to the cover and get used to it, but Crews had just looked alarmed and disturbed, so she’d dropped that by Tuesday. Crews for his part remained more or less himself, only with a faint air of being stir-crazy. She could tell what he’d spent his time doing during his first couple days on his own: the house was now entirely put together, all boxes unpacked and everything so tidy you couldn’t tell they’d just moved in. Crews even made dinner every night, saying, “it’s only fair,” and he wasn’t half-bad at it.
They kept sharing the bed. Crews still slept curled up on his side, though on one memorable occasion he’d flung out his arm and smacked her in the face. Another night, she’d ended up burrowed close against his back, seeking warmth, probably. Dani thought maybe their bodies were slowly getting used to sharing space with someone else, and with each other.
A few days into her undercover work week, and the job had settled into a numbing routine, but going back to the house she shared with Crews hadn’t. The reversal of the usual rhythm of her life lent everything a persistent sense of strangeness. Every time she returned “home,” she was surprised anew that it wasn’t her apartment, that there was someone waiting for her. It shouldn’t have felt all that different from going to her desk in the bullpen and finding Crews already at his adjoining desk, or picking him up to drive to some crime scene or interview. But it did feel different, and not entirely in a bad way.
Crews wasn’t too bad, as housemates went. He cooked and cleaned after all, which was nice, and he didn’t make everything about work and the case. He talked instead about catching up on some of the movies and TV he’d missed out on while he’d been in prison. Dani, a little meanly, had suggested he start watching Lost. Crews didn’t have to know that she’d suggested it mainly so she could have someone else join her in the hell that was a precariously plotted science fiction mystery with no satisfying answers. She had fun humoring Crews’ wilder theories, and sitting down to watch the show with him every night was an exercise in hilarity.
“Okay, it has to be purgatory,” declared Crews. He was still on the first season. He still had hope that there would be an explanation for the polar bear.
“It’s not purgatory.”
“Fine, then it’s, y’know, one of those dome things. Like that Pauly Shore movie!” Pauly—? God, Crews’ references were dated. He really did need to catch up on his pop culture.
The weekend rolled around again, and they had little to do outside of final preparations for their meeting with the adoption agency on Tuesday. Crews went off to run some errands and give her some space, and Dani took the opportunity to try out her new time-killing hobby: reading. Reading non-fiction, to be specific, out of some vague awareness that that was a normal hobby that provided convenient small talk fodder. And it was, y’know, educational and improving, right? Right. She dragged a couple of the kitchen chairs outside to the backyard, positioning them in a patch of mild winter sunlight, one to sit on and one to rest her feet on, and cracked open her book.
She got through a chapter before she got distracted, and the kitchen chairs weren’t really that comfortable. She shifted, trying to settle on a comfortable position, but gave it up after a few more pages, and set the book down to wander around the little yard. Crews had been feasting on the citrus spoils of the yard all week. To his delight, one of the trees was a blood orange tree, and he’d been eating them for days, even though they were a little unpleasantly pithy. He hadn’t touched the pomegranates yet, and the tree was still heavy with fruit, more than a few having already fallen to be eaten away by ants and assorted other bugs.
Dani’s mom loved pomegranate. Dani usually thought they were too much fuss and mess to eat herself, but when she’d been a kid, her mom had taken the trouble to crack them open and separate out the bright seeds from the pale pulp and ruddy skin, filling up a bowl with the brilliantly colored bounty and urging Dani to eat them, only to scold her minutes later for staining her fingers and clothes with the colorful juices. Use a spoon! her mother would always say, but Dani liked the way the seeds looked in her hands. Her mom had always sung a little as she liberated the seeds, yeh dooneh anar, do dooneh anar, seh sad dooneh morwarid…. And Dani would hum along as she ran her fingers through the smooth and shiny seeds, which really did look like jewel-colored pearls.
She thought about picking a few and taking them to her mom, before she remembered: she was undercover. She wasn’t supposed to have contact with anyone from her real life, not in person at least. The strength of her disappointment took her by surprise a little. She’d missed two Wednesday night dinners by now, and she really was missing them at this moment, missing her mom and the newfound comfort of a home free of the shadow of Jack Reese. Dani would have brought the pomegranates to dinner, if she could have, and watched her mom remove the seeds for the after-dinner fruit spread, singing the song all the while. Louder now, maybe, now that Dad wasn’t around to glower about it.
Wednesday night dinner or not, Dani picked a couple of the fruits anyway, dislodging a few blossoms as she did, which put her even more in mind of the song. Mishikaneh gol-e, mipasheh gol, dokhtar goochani… she found herself singing it automatically as she went back inside to the kitchen to break open the fruit and pick the seeds out into a bowl.
When Crews came into the kitchen, she jumped and stopped mid-verse, embarrassed. She glared at him for surprising her, and he muttered a slightly shy apology as he put away the groceries he’d returned with.
“No need to stop on my account,” he said, and there was a strange look on his face, something oddly gentle and raw before it turned bland and even.
Dani rolled her eyes. “Do you want any?”
He came over to where she was standing by sink and peered over her shoulder. “I don’t usually eat pomegranate. They’re not very portable or easy to eat on the go.”
He picked up a few seeds with his fingers, their garnet color stark against his pale skin. He squeezed one of the seeds, and the thin skin burst to spread vivid purple on his fingers. He brought the seeds to his mouth, licking the juice away.
“You can use a spoon,” she said, and promptly contradicted herself by scooping up some seeds with her own fingers, popping them in her mouth.
“Where’s the fun in that?” murmured Crews. His eyes briefly fixed on her fingers and lips, before he returned his gaze to the bowl of pomegranate seeds. “Save some for dinner tonight. We can put them in the salad.”
She raised an eyebrow at him. “Getting fancy, aren’t we?”
“Those daytime shows have a lot of cooking demonstrations. I’ve learned some things.”
When it was finally time for the meeting with the suspect at the agency’s offices, Dani and Crews were so relieved to finally have something to do for the case that they weren’t even that nervous about the first real test of their cover. They had their recording equipment on and sufficiently hidden, though it was unlikely much of interest would be said at this first meeting. They had their fake papers and the paperwork they’d filled out in advance. They’d even quizzed each other on the drive to the agency. So they were as ready as they were going to get, and Dani walked into the adoption agency’s office as Annie, trying her best to convey an appropriate mix of hopeful, anxious, and excited, with her husband Tom’s supportive hand settled warm on her lower back.
According to their website and promotional material, the small Making Families Whole Adoption Agency specialized in matching families who wanted children to women who didn’t want theirs. Young pregnant women who couldn’t or wouldn’t get an abortion, but who couldn’t keep the babies either, were the main clients, unlike other adoption agencies who also placed older children with special needs, or children who had become wards of the state. Thankfully the babies were all placed with qualified, loving families. The agency just happened to bilk prospective adoptive parents out of tens of thousands of dollars in the process, and leave a lot of prospective parents still childless. Infant adoption was pricy already, between legal fees and agency fees, and there was a certain amount of built-in risk. It made for fertile ground for scamming opportunities if you were patient and clever enough, and it turned out that Joseph Clark, director of Making Families Whole, was.
Based on the investigation so far, the scam itself was straightforward: the agency matched a family with a birth mother, went through all the requisite adoption steps and handled all the fees and paperwork required by the state. So far, so good, that was all still above-board.
Where the scam started to kick in was that one baby was being matched to multiple families, with Clark running some complicated shell game with the matching and the paperwork so that some families were dutifully filling out the forms and paying the fees and doing the home studies, only to have all the money and paperwork disappear into Making Families Whole when the adoption fell through. All the while they were assured they’d been placed on a waiting list and would soon be matched to a new birth mother and child, only to start the cycle anew. On top of that, all of the prospective adoptive parents were being pumped for the birth mother’s “expenses,” before the birth mother either “changed her mind” or tragically “lost” the baby. Between fees and the wide range of things that were considered reasonable living or medical expenses for the birth mother, the money added up.
They weren’t yet sure if the birth mothers themselves were in on it, which was part of why they were running an undercover operation. That and they needed more solid proof of Clark’s wrongdoing, and to see just how much the other employees were involved.
Clark welcomed them into his office with a broad smile and an expansive sweep of his arm. He had a trustworthy sort of face, bland and kindly, and it was at odds with his oddly showman-like gesture and body language.
“We are so happy to have you here, Mr. and Mrs. Brown. I know we can make your family whole.”
“Oh, call me Tom, please,” said Crews with a smile.
Dani pasted on a smile too. “Just Annie is fine.”
Clark took a seat behind his desk, and they followed suit. Dani scooted her chair close to the desk to ensure her wire caught everything Clark said.
He shuffled around some paperwork on his desk and pulled out a file. “Now, we’ve gotten your intake paperwork and everything checks out. As far as I can tell, you two are just the sort of family we love to help. Can you two tell me a little more about why you’re looking to adopt?”
Time to perform. Dani took Charlie’s hand and gave him a smile she hoped looked shaky with equal parts sadness and love. “We’d been trying for a baby for a long time. Basically as soon as we got married. And—it didn’t work out. Premature ovarian failure, apparently.” Crew squeezed her hand. Meanwhile Dani tried to squeeze some tears out, at least enough to get the whole shiny eyes look going.
“I’m so sorry,” said Clark, with mostly convincing sincerity. “IVF didn’t work out?”
Crews shook his head. “We tried a couple rounds, but it was just—all the doctor visits and the cycle of getting our hopes up then finding out it wasn’t—it was too hard on Annie. On both of us.” Dani nodded and looked down as if she was overcome with emotion.
“We know adoption might be a long process too, but we were hoping that once we get a match….”
Clark smiled broadly. “Oh, once you get a match, things move quickly indeed! And you know, I think we can get you two a match pretty quickly, based on your paperwork and what I see today.”
“Really. I know the stereotype is that people wait years for domestic infant adoptions to come through, but that’s just not the case here at Making Families Whole. We move a little faster than standard,” said Clark with a wink. “Alright, let’s go over some things so I can get started finding you two a baby!”
Clark went over their paperwork with them, asking clarifying questions and explaining the upcoming process of adoption to them. His eyes were sharp and watchful, the questions occasionally probing in unexpected ways, and he took notes the whole time. It would be nice to figure out where he kept those notes in his office. While Clark was shuffling more paperwork around, Dani tilted her head minutely towards the notepad. Crews’ eyes flickered toward her: yeah, I see it.
Clark asked for their financials, and for how much cash they had on hand, which didn’t raise too much of a red flag. The costs with this kind of adoption added up, and any agency would need to know whether they could afford it or not. Crews gave Clark a number on the lower end of six figures.
“Now that is a nice nest egg for a relatively young couple! Inheritance?”
“No, no, just living frugally and some smart investments. I’m an accountant, you know. Good with numbers.”
“And we’ve been saving for a baby for a while now.”
Dani could practically see the dollar signs in his eyes, cartoon style. Clark smiled and said, “Good for you! That’s the kind of fiscal responsibility we like to see here at Making Families Whole.”
Now Clark’s questions grew more pointed. Clark asking what they had in the way of easily liquidated assets waved the red flag of IT’S A CON! as vividly as a matador. Could they withdraw from their 401k or IRA, what was their mortgage like and could they take out a second one, did they have any other properties? Standard questions, he assured them, to determine their financial fitness. Crews took over the answers here, since he was supposedly an accountant, and she suspected him of having gotten help from Ted given how smooth his responses were.
Eventually Clark sat back, satisfied, and pulled out a new sheaf of papers. “Alright, any gender preference for a child? If the baby is born with any congenital defects or health problems, will you still want to go through with the adoption?”
It went on in that vein for a while, more or less normal adoption questions interspersed with odder ones about married life, like who took out the trash and what was their love language. None of them would have led to a “Surprise! We’re undercover cops!” kind of fuck up, but enough awkward or odd answers, and Dani figured they’d be shuffled to the bottom of the prospective parents stack and given a polite brush off. But she and Crews did well, at least as far as Dani could tell. Nothing tripped them up, and nothing broke their cover, and even if they hadn’t rehearsed all the specifics, answers flowed easily from the foundation of a years-long real partnership and a week-long fake marriage. Though she still didn’t know what the fuck a love language was. Clark seemed convinced anyway.
The deluge of questions finally ended when Clark set his notebook aside to beam happily at them. “As soon as you complete the home study, I think we can have you matched. I really do.”
Dani widened her eyes and affected what she hoped was convincing delight. “Oh, that would be amazing. When can we get that home study scheduled?”
“I think I can pull some strings and get you in next week. Would that work for you?”
She exchanged a surprised glance with Crews, an “are we ready for company” sort of couples glance. “Um, sure!” said Crews, and Dani nodded along.
“Yes! Yes, I think that would work great. Just let us know what we need to do!”
“My assistant will get you all the details. I think I have everything I need from you two. Don’t you worry about a thing. You’ll have that missing piece of your family with you soon enough!” Clark stood and offered them his hand. “I’ll be in touch about the home study. Our social worker splits her time with another agency in the valley, so we’ll have to see where she can fit you in her schedule,” he said, and ushered them out of his office.
“Thank you so much,” they said, and walked out smiling.
In the car, they turned the wires off. “No smoking gun yet,” said Crews.
“Impatient much? This’ll make the DA happy, we’re steering clear of entrapping the guy or soliciting illegal conduct or whatever.”
“Him arranging a home study on such short notice seems strange, don’t you think?”
After the requisite post-interview back and forth, they both fell silent. The silence lasted for five blissful minutes and clearing two crowded intersections before Crews broke it.
“Doesn’t it seem weird that if you just have a baby the, y’know, normal way, you don’t have to fill out all this paperwork and do a home study and get three personal references? If we’re going to require it for adopted kids, why don’t we require it for biological kids?”
Dani wasn’t really in the mood to get into this. She communicated this to Crews with a sidelong glare from the driver’s seat. Crews was undeterred.
“I mean, Jen and me just decided, ‘hey, let’s have a baby,’ and that was that!”
“Really?” asked Dani, her curiosity getting the better of her.
“Well, okay, we had some adult discussions about ‘can we afford it’ and ‘are we ready.’ But no paperwork and no social workers involved.”
And all those dreams had burned to nothing when Crews got put away for the Seybolt murders. It was probably for the best he and Jennifer hadn’t actually had a baby.
“You worried you wouldn’t have made it through all this with Jennifer?” Crews shrugged and dodged the question.
“Regret is caused by too much past and not enough presence.”
That sounded like some Zen bullshit, though in this case, she judged that maybe he mostly meant it. As obnoxious as they could be, Dani couldn’t entirely begrudge him his cryptic Zen sayings. There were worse coping mechanisms after all, as Dani knew from unfortunate personal experience. At least this time, he didn’t say his chosen Zen proverb with the thin veneer of cheery calm over a seething rage that she’d grown so used to in the first months of their partnership.
Dani drove through another intersection before Crews broke the silence again.
“You did a good job sounding like you really want a baby.”
“Yeah, Clark seemed convinced,” said Dani absently, busy navigating onto the freeway onramp.
“No truth to that, though, right?” Crews’ pale eyes were keen on her, and Dani shifted, uncomfortable with the attention.
There really wasn’t any truth to this particular lie. Dani didn’t hate babies or kids. She wasn’t great with them, but she didn’t hate them. She just didn’t want any kids of her own.
When she’d introduced her first serious boyfriend to her parents, her mom had more or less immediately started thinking of grandkids, and Dani had shut her down decisively. She’d had one pregnancy scare, not long after she’d gotten out of the academy, thanks to a broken condom. At no point during the week and a half she’d waited for her period to make its appearance had she considered actually having a baby, and when her period had finally shown up, all she’d felt was relief. In the years since, she hadn’t entertained any what ifs or maybes.
“No. There anything wrong with that?” she asked, challenging.
“No. Nope. Nothing wrong with that. You are a modern, independent woman who doesn’t need a relationship or a baby to be fulfilled.” Crews nodded to himself.
“Sounds like you’ve been watching a lot of daytime TV.”
Crews snorted, then turned thoughtful. “Yeah. Anyway, I get it. A baby, kids—” he made a grimacing sort of face, and continued, “Not for me, at this point. But uh, Rachel—you know, I could do something like that, maybe. Help out an older kid in a bad situation.” When Dani glanced at him, he was fidgeting with his hands as he said it, staring out the car window.
“Like fostering?” asked Dani, surprised.
Huh. She could see it. Crews could be good at that; he had the patience and resources for it, and kids could certainly do a lot worse than him. Some of the teenagers who ended up in the system just needed a stable home environment and someone who gave a shit about them, before they turned 18 and got their feet under them.
“You could be good at that.”
“You think so? I mean, I’m not planning on doing it any time soon, it’s just something I’ve thought about—”
“It’s a good idea,” said Dani, softer than she’d intended. It sounded a lot like you’re a good man too.
Crews’ cheeks went a little pink, and the sight made her chest go warm and fluttery. Crews was a good man. She knew it, of course, had known it for a long time now, the knowledge a source of perpetual quiet relief to her. You didn’t fuck up with this one, she could tell herself. This one is worth trusting. This one was worth idiotically putting yourself on the line for right away. At first, it had been because of the stubborn certainty that that was partners owed to each other, plus the small seed of real trust that could grow, given time. And oh, it had grown. It had grown into something Dani didn’t entirely want to put a name to.
Clark got the ball rolling on the home study as quickly as promised. Only a couple days after their meeting, he sent them the contact information for the social worker, and a schedule for the upcoming home study. They’d need to do interviews with the social worker, both together and apart. Then they’d do the home visit part. And of course, there was yet more paperwork.
Dani was sitting at the kitchen table and scowling down at the thick stack of forms when Crews set a cup of coffee at her elbow (black, two sugars) before settling down to attack his own pile of paperwork.
“Think of it this way: would you really want adoption to be a paperwork-free process?”
Dani pointed her pen at him. “Good point. But, consider: the department could have pre-filled this shit out for us for our cover.”
They had all the requisite fake papers, and the information for a fake background, complete with character references. It was just left to them to actually fill out the paperwork and personal statements. This really was the most boring undercover job imaginable. At least when she’d been undercover with Vice, she’d gone to parties. Granted, those parties had probably only been fun on account of all the booze and blow, but still. No paperwork.
Crews got a chance to review their social worker’s file when he made his check-in at his “office” in Century City. She wasn’t a suspect, at least not according to the investigation so far.
“Probably just your standard overworked social worker,” said Crews as he wound up his case update.
“You don’t think she’s ever suspected anything?”
“Why would she? People get home studies in advance all the time, and they’re valid for two years. No reason she’d keep up with the home studies she’s already done, she’s got a full caseload. And the whole adoption process is out of her hands once she gives a family the approved stamp.”
“That works out for the best for Clark too, doesn’t it? Trying to get a social worker in on the scam is risky. They may be underpaid, but they’re usually, y’know, pretty committed people. They wanna help people. But if you pick one who moves between agencies…”
“They’re less likely to notice anything suspicious,” finished Crews.
If the social worker was legit, then they had to make sure they could fool her. Dani wasn’t worried about the home visit part. That was more or less to make sure their home wasn’t a baby death trap, and that they were reasonably clean adults. Dani was worried about the interviews. Maybe they’d managed to convince Clark, but a home study was something else.
She had a dark feeling that anyone could just look at her, really look at her, and tell that she was in no way mom material. Not that she was totally unfit. She wouldn’t ever hurt a kid, and that was more than you could say for a lot of parents, even ones that had truly wanted their kids. Dani could clear that bar at least. And Dani even liked kids fine, so long as they weren’t screaming and crying. They were just little people, and she could spare her limited reserves of softness for them.
And yet part of her was sure that there was no hiding the general aura of DAMAGED GOODS that hovered around her, that it would make the absence of anything approaching maternal instinct in her obvious and damning. She didn't think there was anything wrong with her for not wanting kids. She doubted a social worker would agree.
“You nervous about the home visit?”
“A little. Not sure I can be anything close to convincingly maternal. And forget about the home visit, what about the interviews? We can’t fuck those up.” She fidgeted with the pen, waggling it back and forth. Crews reached across the table to still her hand.
“You’ll do fine,” he said, and squeezed her hand. “We’ll both do fine.”
It would take more than some mutual encouragement to make sure they’d do fine on the home study. That would take doing their homework. Clark had given them some materials for preparing for the home study, with sample questions and examples, and Dani pulled some more from online. She and Crews sat down one evening to go over them and come up with their answers. Winging it wasn’t an option. Given that there’d be separate interviews and a joint interview, they needed to be on the same page, so they didn’t disqualify themselves from consideration when it became clear that they were two people who’d never talked about any of the details of having kids together.
A lot of the questions were similar to ones Clark had already asked, but many of them weren’t, and seemed frankly invasive to Dani.
“What is this, a therapy session?” muttered Crews as he looked over the questions.
Dani scowled down at her printout of sample questions. “There are way too many questions about my childhood in here. How is that relevant?”
They both looked warily at the questions for a moment. There were minefields in basically every category of question for both of them. They looked at each other in dismay.
“Well, it doesn’t have to be your childhood. You can make it all up. You had a normal, happy childhood, and you had great parents. The end.” Crews snapped his fingers, trying to remember something. “What is that quote, ‘all happy families are alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’?”
“Something like that. But I don’t think we can get away with being that all-around boring and well-adjusted.”
Where her and Crews’ fake love story could be perfectly boring and standard, and not raise any eyebrows, the same didn’t go for a bland and happy childhood. They had to show some uncomfortable ugliness somewhere in their fake lives, if only for the sake of verisimilitude. Too boring and well-adjusted was as much of a red flag as too interesting. Everyone had at least one skeleton in the closet or festering emotional issue, whether they knew about it or not. People who seemingly didn’t have any issues at all were suspicious as hell, and usually more fucked up than the obvious hot messes. Maybe that was just Dani’s inner cop talking, always on the lookout for weakness, or motive.
“Then we’re back to your go-to advice of sticking as close to the truth as possible. We don’t exactly have a ton of time to flesh out and memorize a whole fake childhood either,” said Crews, eyes keen and sympathetic. “I’ll start: describe the family you grew up in. That’s not too bad. My family was just me, my mom, and dad, no siblings. Dad worked a lot, mom stayed at home. I felt like I mostly only spent real time with my dad on special occasions. I was a lot closer to my mom. It was all pretty stable though, and we only moved once. Your turn.”
“That all the truth?” asked Dani, aware she was stalling. Crews raised an eyebrow.
“More or less. Your turn now.”
Dani didn’t want to look at Crews while she did this, so she kept her eyes trained on the sheet of questions in front of her and said, “Just me and my parents too. Growing up, I couldn’t tell if my dad was just mean, or if he was bad. I knew I didn’t much like him, and he didn’t much like me. He never hurt me or my mom. He was just an asshole. I still tried so hard to get his approval though. Never really worked. I used to be a lot closer to my mom when I was younger, but it was hard, with Dad being—being the way he was.”
Crews gave her a thin but sympathetic smile. “Social worker’s gonna say we both have daddy issues. Might as well segue into a related question: what’s your present relationship with your parents, siblings, etc.?”
“Dad’s dead, I’m trying to be there for my mom. Be closer, like we used to be. It’s easier without Dad around.”
“I disappointed my dad when my life didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to, and we didn’t talk for a long time. My mom’s dead, and I’m not really ever planning on forgiving my dad for how he wouldn’t let her talk to me while I was in—” Crews stopped, corrected himself before he could give away the truth. “While we were fighting. He got remarried recently, and I’m not okay with having a stepmom.”
Well that was one way to adapt the whole falsely imprisoned for twelve years story. They both shifted awkwardly and avoided each other’s eyes.
“Does any of that…disqualify us from being adoptive parents?” asked Dani.
“Maybe we’ll have to say we won’t fuck up our kids that way?”
“We’ll fuck up our kids in new and different ways.”
Crews laughed, and Dani smiled in relief, the tension of their little truth-no-dare session relaxing. There were other questions, but answers to them were more easily adapted to the right combination of true and what a social worker would want to hear. What would your support network be when you have the child, how will you discipline your child, how do you make decisions as a couple, what’s led you to adoption….they were less therapy session questions, and more like what Dani had expected from a prospective adoptive parent interview. If most of the focus of the interviews stayed on questions like that, Dani could answer those questions easily enough as Annie Brown.
They kept going through the sample questions together, fictionalizing and fudging their actual lives where appropriate, and otherwise adding and deepening their covers. All the questions about how they’d raise kids were easy enough, given that they were totally hypothetical for both of them so they were free to make up answers most likely to please the social worker.
“What are your opinions on corporal punishment? Gonna take a wild guess that the right answer to that one is ‘it’s wrong and I will never harm my precious child,’” said Dani.
“No spanking, got it. What do you see your strengths as a parent? How can we know that before we’re parents? You’ve gotta test your strength before you know it.”
“We’re supposed to have thought about it already on account of being prepared for parenthood. Uh….” Dani couldn't come up with any strengths. All she could think of were things she’d try not to be as a parent. Not mean, not dismissive, not distant. Not her dad, in short. “Supportive?”
“Patient. And fun!”
Dani rolled her eyes. “That means you plan on leaving all the bad cop parenting to me. Discuss the strong points in your marriage. Ugh, jesus, now it’s couples therapy too.”
“Well, that’s an easy question at least,” said Crews, face gone solemn. “We trust each other.”
Looking across the kitchen table at him now, part of Dani slammed right back into that moment she saw him waiting in the orange grove, standing tall and empty-handed, solid proof that for once Dani hadn’t put her trust in the wrong man. The relief of it had been better than any high she’d ever known. Dani smiled down at her ring, then looked back up at Crews.
“Yeah. And we have each other’s backs.”
Dani called her mom the day before their scheduled home study. Crews was out, off running or working out wherever it was he did his working out, so Dani had the house to herself. So it was ice cream and TV time while she talked to her mom, and as she waited for her mom to pick up, she tried not to overthink why she’d waited for Crews to leave to do it. It took a few rounds of the usual pleasantries before her mom’s ill-concealed worry finally burst through.
“Everything’s going okay with your assignment? You and Charlie are staying safe?”
Her mom, for reasons unknown to Dani, called Crews Charlie, and generally asked after him like an erstwhile son-in-law, and had ever since the whole mess with Nevikov. As far as Dani knew, Crews had only met her mom once. Maybe she should just take him to Wednesday night dinner already, kill two birds with one stone and get both of them to shut up about bringing Crews along.
“It’s fine, we’re fine. I told you, this is totally safe and boring. It’s mostly just a lot of paperwork. All we’ve had to do so far is pretend to be married and start the process of adopting a baby.”
“And how’d that go?” asked her mom, an undercurrent of indulgent amusement in her voice overtaking the worry.
Dani narrowed her eyes at her pint of Ben & Jerry’s, suspicious. “Fine. Like I said, a lot of paperwork. And pretending to want a baby.”
“And that’s more difficult than running around with a bunch of junkies and drug dealers I suppose.”
Dani flinched, and set her jaw like the words had been a punch. Her eyes were sure stinging like it had been. It was a fair hit though, Dani couldn’t deny that.
“Well, what can I say. I guess I’ve never been good at the right things.”
Too girly for her dad, not girly enough for her mom. Dani had never found the right balance between the toughness her dad’s temperament had demanded, and the grace her mom had deserved.
Her mom made a frustrated, apologetic sort of noise. “I’m sorry dear, that wasn’t fair of me. I know you don’t—I know things like that don’t come easy for you. And they don’t have to. You get that choice. I’m glad you get that choice.”
Dani wasn’t sure she believed her mom, but she accepted that as the white flag it was, and let the conversation ease after that, into asking about the Wednesday night dinners she’d missed, and what it was like living in Mar Vista. Crews came back as she was telling her mom about the house’s little fruit tree filled yard, and Dani found herself tensing up and going silent. But Crews just headed to the kitchen for water, paying her no mind.
“Dani? Are you still there?”
“Hmm? Yeah, sorry, Crews just came back.”
“Tell him hello from me. Oh, I don’t know how long this assignment of yours will last, but do you think you could save some of those oranges and pomegranates for me? Store-bought is never the same, and you know they get all those pesticides and wax on them, it’s impossible to preserve the orange peels properly. Simin has a recipe for the peels I wanted to try, I know how you like it on the rice pilafs—” Dani relaxed a little into the familiar patter, but she was still hyperconscious of Crews in the kitchen, shuffling through the stack of mostly junk mail he must have retrieved from the mailbox.
“Sure, I’ll try to save you some. Though you know Crews owns an entire orange grove, I could get you oranges whenever you want.”
“Really? You never told me that,” her mom chided. “You really have to bring him with you to Wednesday night dinner, he’s your partner.”
“Um, maybe after this sting.”
Once the conversation wound down, she got her mom off the phone with one excuse or another, and tried to release the tension that still inexplicably strung her shoulders tight.
“How’s your mom?” asked Crews.
“Good. She says hi.”
Crews beamed at even that minimum of acknowledgment before he turned his attention to the fruit bowl on the kitchen counter. He picked one of the clementines and set about peeling it, the citrus smell drifting slowly but surely over to Dani.
“It’s nice, hearing you speak Persian,” he said, before popping a section of fruit in his mouth.
Dani tensed up again and glared at him, but Crews’ eyes were clear and guileless. “Why?”
Crews shrugged, finished chewing. “Dunno. It’s just nice. It’s a pretty language.” He paused, and tore up more of the clementine peel. “I’m glad you get more chances to speak it now,” he said, with wary hesitance.
Dani’s stomach dropped in a weird mixture of relief and shame and angry grief. So that was why she’d tensed up when Crews had come in. Some part of her had been expecting Jack Reese, some part of her was still a little girl flinching when her dad told her and her mom to “speak English, you’re in America, aren’t you?” God, her dad had been such an asshole. And she still fucking missed him.
Crews was watching her carefully, a little warily even, but he stayed still and calm, and that leeched some of the tension from her.
“Thanks,” she said, and murmured some excuse to leave the room.
Their home study was scheduled for mid-week, so Dani took a day off from the gym and tried not to obsess over getting the interviews right. They’d have to do one interview together, then one each apart, and after that the social worker would take a look around the house. Dani didn't know if they usually did all these things together on the same day, or if Clark had pushed for a rush job, but their social worker was doing them all in one long visit.
Even though she and Crews had prepared and gone over the likely questions, Dani’s immediate instinct was to treat the interviews as interrogations, which probably wasn’t the right tack to take. The social worker wasn’t out to get them, or blow their cover, Dani told herself, again and again. She just needed to make sure they’d be safe and adequate parents. This wasn’t Vice. There was no reason to be paranoid. God knew the social worker wouldn’t pull out a gun and start screaming in their faces about whether they were narcs. Probably.
Dani wasn’t the only one who was nervous; Crews had thrown himself into making sure the house was spotless and baby-safe, the nursery ready to go. Dani hadn’t stepped foot in there since the first day they’d moved into the house, but the morning of the home visit, she went back in to take a look around. The room was neatly put together now, carefully gender neutral. Crews had even painted at some point, to her surprise, and the room was now a cheerful pale yellow. God, he really had been bored sitting at home alone. There were still a few boxes pushed up against the wall, lending the room an unfinished air.
“Thought it’d be creepy if the room was totally perfect,” said Crews, coming up behind her.
“Yeah. This is great though. Nice paint job.”
Crews looked a little abashed. “I got bored.”
They both did one last sweep of the house before the social worker was scheduled to arrive, to make sure there was nothing lying around that screamed UNDERCOVER COPS!!! or was otherwise suspicious, and then it was time to be Annie and Tom Brown, prospective adoptive parents.
“Don’t go overboard in the interview,” warned Dani when the doorbell rang.
“Why would I ever do that?” asked Charlie. His guilelessness was not encouraging. Dani glared at him and then put an appropriately nervous and welcoming smile on her face as she got the door. Time to put on a show.
When Dani opened the door, she was greeted with a stocky and no-nonsense looking Latina woman. She had the vaguely harried and overworked look of a lot of civil servants, but her smile was warm, and her handshake was firm and enthusiastic.
“Mrs. Brown? Hi, I’m Erica Vasquez, I’m the social worker doing your home study for Making Families Whole.”
“Hi! So nice to meet you. Come on in.”
Vasquez started looking around the house with interest as soon as she stepped in. It made Dani tense up, even though she knew Vasquez wouldn’t see anything other than a moderately neat home. It was ridiculous, but Dani still felt the urge to make the standard sorry about the mess apology. Before she could say it or something equally ridiculous, Crews came forward to greet Vasquez too.
“Hi, I’m Tom Brown.”
“Great to meet you.”
Everyone hovered awkwardly for a moment before Dani remembered, right, this part was her job, and directed them to the living room.
“Would you like anything to drink? Tea, coffee, water?” she asked Vasquez.
“Coffee would be great, thanks.”
Shit, now she was going to have to make the coffee. Dani was rusty at this hostessing thing. Or scratch that, she’d never been good at it, but she channeled her mom and made her best effort. Once everyone was settled with coffee and cookies, and the requisite small talk about the neighborhood and traffic was dispensed with, Vasquez got down to business.
“Alright, so we’re gonna get all the parts of the home study over with today, then I’ll get the paperwork over to Joseph by the end of the week, since I understand you’re on a bit of a time crunch with a possible match. I know people get really nervous about these home studies, but really, they’re not that big a deal. I’m not trying to catch you out or anything. I’ll interview you both separately, then together, then we’ll take a tour through your house, okay?”
“Okay,” said Dani.
“Who wants to go first?” asked Vasquez with a smile. Dani smiled back, and hoped the nervousness in it came across as normal.
“I will,” she said.
“I’ll just—go to my office, I guess?” Vasquez nodded, and Crews ambled off to the office, sending Dani a thumbs up and exaggerated grin of encouragement over Vasquez’s head. Dani had to clench her fists to keep from flipping Crews off.
“Alright, let’s get the hard stuff out of the way first,” said Vasquez. Dani’s stomach dropped and her pulse kicked up immediately. As far as she was concerned, this whole damn interview consisted of the hard stuff.
“The hard stuff?”
“Why are you choosing to adopt? Fertility problems?”
Oh good, Vasquez just wanted her to talk about her broken ovaries. Vasquez had put on a sympathetic, listening sort of expression, body language open and receptive. She was undoubtedly used to any number of women getting emotional about their past attempts to get pregnant or their inability to conceive. Dani could oblige her with some emotional sharing.
“Yeah. We started trying for a baby basically right after we got married. We knew we both wanted kids, and we were in a financial position where we could have them, so why not get to it right away, right? At first we just thought—you know, sometimes it takes a while. Then I went to the doctor and found out it was me, there was something wrong. Premature ovarian failure. It’s a genetic thing, apparently.” Shit, getting teary eyed on command was hard. Dani blinked rapidly, hoping Vasquez wouldn’t notice that Dani didn’t have any tears to blink away.
“I’m so sorry,” said Vasquez, reaching out to squeeze Dani’s hand. Dani gave her a shaky smile back.
“We tried IVF, but it was just—we’d get our hopes up, and then it would fail, and I just couldn’t keep doing that. Not to mention it felt like throwing money into the garbage. So that’s why we’re trying adoption.” That was enough feelings, right?
“That’s not an uncommon story. I do want to caution you though that adoption can be just as full of setbacks and roadblocks as getting pregnant. It’s not like a baby store.”
It might be a little more like a baby store than Vasquez would like in this case, thought Dani as she nodded in enthusiastic understanding. “Of course. I know that.”
“Now, you’re okay with having a child that’s not biologically yours? That’s a real hurdle for some people, and it doesn’t make you a bad person if you find it difficult to accept a child you have no biological ties to. And it can be hard to come to terms with the fact that it’s not possible to have a child of your own.”
She and Crews had covered this question in their preparation. Dani herself had no strong feelings one way or the other, what with not particularly wanting kids at all, but she figured if someone handed you a baby and said it was your baby now, then it should just be your baby, right? Who cared who it had actually come out of?
Crews had not okayed that particular answer, and had instead suggested the generic but believable one Dani went with now. “It was hard, at first. It took us a while to come to terms with adoption as an option. But you know, we talked about it, did some research. And I guess we just took some time to deal with accepting that traditional pregnancy wasn’t in the cards for us. Time where we weren’t trying to have a baby or anything, time to just be a couple.”
Vasquez smiled approvingly. “That’s good, a lot of people don’t take that time, and it’s really the most important thing.”
After that Vasquez asked the expected questions about parenting and Annie’s family and past. Dani took care to give answers that didn’t seem as rehearsed as they actually had been, and Vasquez, who was far from a poker-faced cipher, didn’t appear to think anything was amiss. Once that vein of questioning had been exhausted, Vasquez was apparently satisfied that Annie Brown was more or less capable of and prepared to raise a child, and moved on to a new topic.
“So tell me about you and Tom.”
“Uh, where do you want me to start? Like, from when we started dating, or—?”
“Dating, marriage, the works. Tell me your story.”
Well, that was obnoxiously broad. Dani cobbled together a more or less convincing narrative that matched the paper details of their faked lives. Vasquez started looking kind of bored about halfway in. That was good, probably. The whole point of their fake romance was to be inoffensively bland and boring. Was there such a thing as being too boring in this situation though? Did Vasquez even care about them as a couple, other than to confirm they were stable enough to raise a child together?
Once Dani wound her story down, Vasquez gave her a vague smile and murmured some platitude before her attention sharpened in anticipation of the real question she wanted to ask.
“Now, one thing I like to assure people of at this point is that I’m not here to judge their marriage. I’m just here to gauge how prepared you are for children, both individually and as a couple. One thing I think a lot of prospective or new parents aren’t prepared for is just how much you have to be partners when you have a kid. Marriage without kids can still feel a lot like the moved-in together stage of a relationship, right? And that’s not that different from being roommates with some benefits, a lot of the time.”
Dani nodded. Her knowledge of this was entirely theoretical or limited to this fake marriage situation, but sure, that sounded right to her. She and Crews were effectively roommates right now. Dani’s worse impulses stirred in interest at the possibility of “benefits,” but she shoved them down. It had been too long since she’d gotten laid, that was all. Anyone would entertain those impulses after sharing a bed with Crews for weeks.
“Marriage with kids is something else entirely,” continued Vasquez. “So talk to me about the strengths of your relationship with Tom. Are you ready to be partners to each other?”
This, at least, Dani could be honest about. “Yeah. We’ve been partners to each other a long time now. I think that’s the biggest strength of our relationship. We trust each other to be good partners.”
Even back when Dani hadn’t especially liked Crews, she had done her best to be a good partner to him. No one would have blamed her if she’d ratted Crews out on that first case, and she nearly had. But weird as he’d been, and still walking around in the world like freedom and exoneration were an ill-fitting suit and too-tight shoes, Crews had been a decent detective. His big hands had been gentle on an injured dog’s fur. He had helped her into that crack den’s shower, without judgment, without expectation. We don’t have to talk about it, he’d said, and they hadn’t, and then after that he’d surrendered his knife to her, entrusting her with that part of himself that would never fully leave prison, and after that he’d understood the things she had and hadn’t meant when she’d said I just need a moment, and after that—
She dragged her attention back to the present moment and to Vasquez. “Sorry. I’m not that great at talking about this kind of thing. Uh, just—that’s why this works, between us. My other relationships—they were disasters, or nothing I could take seriously, but me and—Tom, we’re partners. We, you know, started showing that to each other really early on.”
Some strange relief spread in Dani as she said it, and she answered the rest of Vasquez’s questions on autopilot, cataloging Vasquez’s body language as relaxed and pleased. Dani felt like she’d found the missing piece to solve a case, but she wasn't sure what it was, or where it fit.
It was Crews’ turn next, which left Dani exiled to the home office, stifling the urge to eavesdrop. She hoped he wouldn’t do anything over the top or suspicious. It was the first time Crews was on his own to sink or swim in this undercover assignment, and admittedly, the stakes weren’t too high. Dani at least didn’t have to worry about Crews getting hurt or killed. But if they had to return to the department in blown cover shame, she’d be the one to hurt Crews.
Crews’ interview took about as long as hers had, though it felt longer. She strained to hear anything, but she could only hear the rise and fall of their voices, and the occasional laugh. Crews, she supposed, didn’t have to get all teary-eyed over infertility. Dani was beginning to weigh the merits of sneaking back out to the living room under the guise of getting some water when Crews called her back.
“Annie, we’re done now!”
She went back into the living room, where Vasquez was sitting in the same relaxed and engaged posture she had been earlier, expression warm. Crews had charmed her, then. The smug lift of Crews’ smile confirmed it, as did the general air of self-satisfaction he exuded. Dani took a seat next to him on the couch, and sat close enough that their legs pressed against each other. Married couples didn’t need to leave room for Jesus, after all. Crews took her hand in his as soon as she sat down, the gesture impressively natural and absentminded, like they did it all the time. A bit of competitive instinct pricked at Dani, and she leaned into him in a way that she hoped looked adoring. Crews, the bastard, one-upped her by bringing her hand to his mouth to press a quick kiss to it. To her horror, Dani felt herself blushing, the heat of the brief touch of his lips to her hand lingering and fizzing on her skin. Vasquez just beamed approvingly at them.
“You’ve got a keeper there, Annie,” she said with a wink. “Alright, now you two have told me about yourselves individually, and about your relationship. Tell me, tell each other, what you love best about your relationship.”
All of a sudden, Dani wished she’d left more room between them. How was this relevant to adopting a baby? Vasquez laughed as she saw the undoubtedly frozen, awkward looks on their faces. Crews’ hand had tightened where it was holding hers, and even turned a little clammy.
“Oh, you two didn’t do the whole detailed why I love you style wedding vows, did you?”
“Uh, no. We did the standard ones. Well, mostly standard. You know, I’m kind of a dabbler in Zen buddhism, and there was one guided meditation that I really liked, so we did that—” rambled Crews as Dani smiled at him while asking him “what the fuck?” with her eyes. Crews nodded and widened his eyes in a “just roll with it” kind of way. “‘One plus one equals one,’ is what it was. ‘The word for when you plus another are one is love.’”
“That’s lovely,” said Vasquez with a smile, and then turned to Dani. “So? What do you love best about your relationship with Tom, Annie?”
Dani thought of and discarded a bunch of answers Annie Brown would give about her husband as being so boring Vasquez would find them unbelievable, and a handful of others as too breezy and obviously deflecting. That left her, of course, with the truth, the first truth of their partnership.
“That he gets me. That I don’t have to be someone else, someone he’s imagining I am, with him.”
To Crews, she wasn’t Jack Reese’s daughter, or that detective from Vice who’d fucked up spectacularly, or an addict, or the hot one. She was just Reese, his partner. She squeezed Crews’ hand, and risked a look up at him through her eyelashes. His face had gone soft, eyes bright.
“And you, Tom?”
“Will you accuse me of copying if I say the same thing?” he joked, then settled into seriousness, swiping his thumb across the ring on her finger. “But seriously, she, uh—she accepts—she trusts who I am.”
He wasn’t wrong. Dani had certainly been wary at first, and Crews had been odd, unpredictable. But just about every time she’d extended some trust to him, he’d proven worthy of it. These startlingly intimate truths laid bare to Vasquez set them both to blushing and fidgeting, Crews’ fair skin especially bright. Vasquez smiled kindly at them.
“I ask that question for a few reasons. First, it’s telling when a couple can’t come up with an answer. Those are the people I refer to marriage counseling before approving them for adoption. Second, it tells me what the foundation of a couple’s relationship is, if it’s strong enough to hold the weight and stress of new additions to the family. I think you two are set for that.”
Dani’s shoulders wanted to slump in relief, which maybe would have looked suspicious, so she leaned into Crews instead and she felt Crews bite back a stifled sigh.
“I usually ask some more questions about prospective parents’ marriage, but I think you two are solid. So, you’re hoping to adopt a newborn, right? Let’s go over how you’re preparing for that.”
After that, Vasquez subjected them to a barrage of questions about the logistics and responsibilities of having a baby, with more detailed hypotheticals and questions about parenting thrown in. This was the part she and Crews had prepared most for, and it went well enough, both of them giving the right, unremarkable mix of good answers and answers that needed improvement so as not to come across as over prepared or too practiced. Even so, and even knowing it was all fake, the almost interrogation from Vasquez was like the worst job interview Dani had ever had. Certainly the longest: all told, the interviews had taken almost four hours.
After the lengthy interviews, Vasquez’s tour through their home felt like the easy part. She poked around at the smoke detectors and checked the electrical outlets. She peered out into the yard and smiled indulgently at Crews’ comments about the dangers of climbing trees and the wonders of fresh fruit. She asked questions about their baby proofing plans and if they’d tested the house for lead paint, whether they had any pets or if they were planning to get any. Dani and Crews rattled off answers easily, most of this having been in their preparation materials. When they got to the nursery, Vasquez stopped short and looked keenly at both of them.
“How long have you had this room ready?” asked Vasquez as she looked around.
“Uh, since we moved in,” said Dani, suddenly unsure if that was a glaringly wrong answer. Vasquez gave a noncommittal hum.
Crews, nervous now too, babbled a little. “Our family knows we’ve been trying to have a baby for a while. People kept giving us baby stuff. Plus, you know, if you build it, they will come?”
Crews winced as soon as those words came out of his mouth, which didn’t stop Dani looking at him in disbelief.
“Hmmm,” said Vasquez, frowning with concern.
“I didn't like leaving it just an empty room. I know it's weird, but it felt like giving up on having a family if we left it empty,” Dani said, trying to save the moment.
Vasquez looked dubious, but didn't press them. The rest of her examination was more perfunctory, just the master bedroom and bathrooms. They ended the home visit back in the living room where Vasquez scribbled a few notes to herself.
“I'm going to recommend you get a fire extinguisher and carbon monoxide detectors before I give you final approval, but other than that, you're good to go. I'll have the report to Joseph by the end of the week.”
“Approval?” asked Dani, not even having to fake her hope and relief.
Vasquez smiled. “I can’t officially tell you you’re approved, but—I don’t see anything that disqualifies you, let’s put it like that.”
Once Vasquez had left with their copious thanks, Dani turned to Crews with a raised eyebrow.
“‘If you build it, they will come?’ Like, what, you build a nursery and the stork drops a baby off?”
Crews, to her delight, flushed bright red and groaned. “I know! I panicked a little.”
Dani snorted. “No shit. No harm done though.”
“Yeah?” Crews still looked a little anxious and keyed up. That happened sometimes after a big test of your cover. Back in the day, Dani had drank her way through it. She buried that craving now and focused on Crews.
“You did okay,” she offered, and Crews relaxed.
“So now we’re just waiting on Clark,” he said.
“And on a baby.”
While they waited to hear from Clark again, they returned to their undercover routine. By now what little novelty there had been in a new, non-cop job had worn off, and Dani’s time at the gym just became boring and numbing. Out of desperation for anything more stimulating than back office paperwork, she even joined in on a few of the aerobics classes. They were admittedly good workouts, but the instructors’ fixed-smile peppiness was a lot to take. A decade and more out of high school, and still Dani’s first response to forced cheer and group physical exercise was to scowl and want to ditch class.
When she got home in the early evenings, she was greeted with the smell of whatever cooking show dinner Crews had decided to try that night, or the sight of Crews parked in front of the TV watching Lost, or both. With the case they were actually working on not requiring much in the way of detective work, it seemed Crews was devoting his investigative impulses into figuring out what the fuck was happening on that island. Dani, having lost her patience with the show right around when goddamn time travel nonsense had been introduced, resisted joining him at first. But the lure of arguing ludicrous theories with Crews was too strong, and they spent most nights vainly attempting to solve the mysteries of Lost.
Crews, of course, couldn’t drop a line of show-related argument once he’d started. They were getting ready for bed, and Crews was still going on about his latest pet theory, even while he was brushing his teeth.
“Okay, but you can’t prove my theory is wrong.”
“They’re not in an alien computer simulation, Crews, they’re just not.” Though, god, if that fucking show ended in aliens, she wouldn’t even be surprised.
“It’s a simulation, and the polar bear was a glitch in the simulation,” Crews insisted, and rinsed his mouth out.
Dani rolled her eyes as she turned down the covers on the bed. “Let the polar bear go, forget about the polar bear. God knows the writers have.”
“My general opinion that the writers don’t have a plan is not a spoiler,” said Dani, putting her hair up into its nighttime bun. She got into bed and huddled under the blankets, impatient for Crews to get in too to warm things up. It had turned sharply chilly in LA, and this house didn’t have central heating.
“They have a plan,” maintained Crews as he turned off the lights and got into bed. “They can’t just not have a plan, making it up as they go along.”
“I’m pretty sure making it up as they go along is, like, the definition of writing,” mumbled Dani into her pillow.
“But you can’t just come up with a mystery without knowing the solution.” Crews gasped. “Or maybe you can! Maybe the answer is that there is no answer.”
“Crews. Shut up. Go to sleep.”
“‘Kay. Good night, Reese.”
Her lips twitched into a smile and as the bed warmed with their shared heat, she fell asleep.
In the morning, she woke up almost unpleasantly warm thanks to Crews draped along her back, now decidedly more cuddly than he’d been a couple weeks ago. She’d allow it this morning. When she poked out a foot from under the covers, the air was frigid by California standards, and the extra warmth from Crews pressed up against her was nice. She huddled deeper under the covers, and Crews made a sleepy sort of noise, and hello. She could feel something that was decidedly not his knee or arm making its presence felt in the general vicinity of her ass.
She wasn’t often in a position to do anything about a guy’s morning wood, what with usually either fleeing the one night stand scene or pointedly ignoring it on the basis that morning sex with half-asleep guys was rarely a productive experience for her. In this case, she’d have to politely ignore it to maintain some semblance of normalcy between them. She was about to slide out of bed when she felt Crews start tensing up behind her.
Dani couldn’t suppress the wicked impulse to fuck with him. “Good morning,” she said.
“Morning,” said Crews, his voice all morning rough and raspy in a way she was really pretty into, and fuck, maybe this was backfiring, thought Dani in horror. She felt him inching back on the mattress until he slid out from under the covers with a hiss. “Christ, it’s cold out.”
Dani turned over to look at him. He was adorably mussed and uncomfortable, and he tried to casually arrange his hands to cover his groin region. “Sorry,” he said.
She smirked, amused to see him blushing and willing now to turn the screw a little. “What for? It’s not like you really had anything to do with it, it’s automatic.”
Crews cleared his throat. “Right. I’ll go start the coffee.”
Clark called them at the end of the week with the good news that they’d passed their home study with flying colors and now he could work on finalizing a match for them.
“I’ve got one in mind for you, but it all depends on the birth mom. She’s got some specific requirements, and I’ll have to give her your profile to see if she’d like to meet with you.”
“What is this, online dating?” asked Dani once they were off the phone.
The next week, they went back to the Making Families Whole office to meet with Clark and look over possible matches. Clark was as vaguely sleazy as ever, but the scam hadn’t started in earnest yet. That would come when they were actually matched to a birth mother. They were wired up anyway, of course, and Crews opened the subject of fees first.
“I understand we’ll be paying for the birth mother’s expenses?” he asked.
Clark smiled big and wide, showing all his teeth like a shark. “Just reasonable living expenses, and any medical costs. You’re not expected to finance her living like a queen! But medical costs beyond the standard prenatal care can come up, or in some cases, providing more living expenses than usual because she’s unable to work. Pregnancy isn’t always predictable!”
Crews nodded. “Of course. I’d just like to know a ballpark figure to know how much to set aside. I know the legal fees will add up too, once we get to the point of finalizing the adoption.”
The legal fees, of course, had nothing to do with Clark, given that prospective parents retained their own lawyers. Clark had to focus on racking up the medical costs and living expenses, and spreading that around the multiple families he had on the hook at the same time.
“Let’s say $50,000 for now, and then your lawyer’s fees on top of that. That’s being very cautious and conservative, you understand. I don’t anticipate needing that much, but—” he knocked on the desk, “knock on wood that the birth mother won’t need it, but medical costs add up fast.”
Crews didn’t betray any alarm at the quoted figure. “Hmm. That’s doable.”
“And of course we’d want our baby’s birth mother to have the best care. You can’t put a price on a healthy, uneventful pregnancy. She shouldn’t have to worry about anything,” said Dani, laying it on thick. Clark smiled a sleazy shark smile again, the glint of greed visible in his sharp eyes.
After that, Clark presented them with a handful of profiles. “Now, a couple of these are babies and toddlers the caseworkers suggested might be a good fit. But I know you wanted a newborn and to be there every step of the way! So I’m so happy to give you this profile.” He slid a folder across the desk to them. “This young woman is seven months along and she hasn’t settled on an adoptive family yet.”
Dani and Crews looked over the documents. The birth mother was a pretty young Latina woman, with coloring not dissimilar to Dani’s. The pictures provided were of what looked like her high school graduation, with one current picture showing her belly just starting to round out. Her name was Araceli.
The biographical information provided was detailed in terms of her family history and health, but sparse for everything else. Araceli was young, and hadn’t exactly done much living to fill out a life history, only barely past childhood as she was. Dani felt old just looking at her and trying to cast her memory back to her own nineteen year old self.
Araceli was at her local community college, a semester away from transferring to a UC to study biology. She liked animals and swimming, and she lived with her older sister. The biological father wasn’t in the picture, and would be happy to terminate his parental rights, so there’d be no custody surprises lying in wait. Araceli wanted an open adoption, though she didn’t need a lot of contact with the child, which suggested she wasn’t in on the scam, given that a closed adoption would be the safest bet for a scam. Probably she was just what she seemed: a young woman whose birth control had failed, and who wasn’t in the right place in her life to raise a child.
“You said she had some specific requirements of the adoptive parents?” asked Dani.
“Ah, yes. She’s a lovely young woman, very bright, and she wants to do right by her baby. It’s important to her that the adoptive parents have a very solid relationship, be really in love.” Clark leaned in as if to confide a secret, grimacing. “You know, her own parents had a kind of messy divorce when she was a kid, and she’s adamant that she doesn't want that to happen for her kid. No prospective parents have hit her standard for true love yet.”
Crews beamed at Clark as he took Dani’s hand. “I think we can, don’t you?” Dani squeezed his hand punishingly hard. To Crews’ credit, he didn’t flinch.
“Absolutely,” said Dani.
“Great! I’ll schedule an introductory meeting for this week then! In the evening works best for Araceli.”
Clark got back to them quickly about meeting with Araceli, and the introductory meeting was scheduled for only a couple days later. That was good for the case, because the faster they could get a match, the faster they’d get an example of the scam in action. It was not good for Dani and Crews’ cover, because now they had to figure out a way to seem visibly in love.
“How is she even going to be able to tell if we’re sufficiently in love?” asked Dani crankily as they pored over Araceli’s profile. “Does she even know what love is?”
Crews leveled a chastising look at her. “I got married at about that age.”
“Yeah, and you got divorced!” Okay, that was insensitive. “I mean—I’m sure you loved each other, but clearly, that’s not a predictor of marital success,” she clarified.
“Right, but predictor of marital success or not, there’s no telling what she thinks counts as being sufficiently in love. Her personal statement just says, ‘Love is the only foundation that matters for a family. I want my baby’s parents to be strong in that foundation and be in love with each other.’ Nice sentiment, but it’s not exactly clear what she thinks will demonstrate that love. I don’t think there’s much point in obsessing over what she means.”
“You’re suggesting we just wing this one.” Dani crossed her arms over her chest and paced, the very idea of it making her jittery and anxious. Dani didn’t wing it when she was undercover, not unless things had gotten spectacularly fucked up.
“I guess so.”
Araceli would be coming to their house for dinner, which seemed like a nightmarishly high social stakes kind of dinner party, an order of magnitude worse than even a meet the parents dinner, as little experience as Dani had with those. Crews was burying all his nerves into planning the actual meal like he was a chef planning a state dinner. Dani’s nerves found their outlet in Google, where she entered a succession of frankly tragic searches along the lines of “how can you tell if two people are in love” and “how do you show someone you love them” and finally, in frustration, “how the fuck do normal people know what a functional loving relationship looks like.” “By having parents model them in childhood” was what Google’s answer boiled down to, which, ha, there was the goddamn problem. Dani slammed the laptop shut in frustration. Araceli was coming in a couple hours, and Dani still had no idea how they were going to play this meeting. She could only hope it wouldn’t matter, that Clark would get the scam going, whether Araceli wanted the match or not.
“Seriously, you just want to wing it?” she demanded.
“That hard for you to act like you’re in love, huh?” said Crews, focused intently on whatever he had simmering on the stove. The line of his back was tense, and the “with me” was implied.
“That’s not—I just don’t know how to do this,” admitted Dani. Maybe she had once, before she’d understood just how deep the dark and ugly thing inside her went, how twisted her good intentions could become. Crews glanced up at her.
“You’re overthinking this. Either Araceli has some romantic ideal in her head that’s impossible for us to know, or she just wants to see a couple acting natural around each other. Either way, it’s up to her. If this doesn’t work out, there’ll be another match. Clark wants his money, after all.”
Dani sighed and shook the tension out of her shoulders. “Right. Good point. And maybe she’s in on it and it won’t matter how in love we are as long as we can shell out the cash.”
“That’s a unique silver lining, but okay.”
When Araceli showed up, looking big-eyed and nervous, the first thing she said was, “Can I use your bathroom?” and she rushed off in the direction Dani pointed at. Well, she rushed as fast as she could given she was seven months pregnant. Dani and Crews exchanged grins, some of their nervousness dissipating.
Araceli came out a couple minutes later. “I swear to god, that baby is parked right on top of my bladder and likes to use it as a punching bag.” She stopped herself, grimaced, and continued with an anxious smile. “Uh, sorry about that. Hi. I’m Araceli.”
They made their introductions and engaged in stilted small talk until Crews excused himself to check on dinner.
“So, uh, Tom does the cooking?” asked Araceli.
“He works from home most days, so it’s easier for him. And he likes to try out all these recipes he sees on TV.” Araceli nodded and looked around the living room. “We, uh, we moved in not too long ago,” said Dani.
The house wasn’t suspiciously empty, but it was still a little lacking in personal touches. Dani wondered if she was supposed to be actively trying to convince Araceli to give them her baby. Was that how this worked? Araceli was wringing her hands, clearly still nervous.
“Can I ask what made you choose adoption? Instead of, you know—” asked Dani.
“Abortion? I’m not some pro-life crazy or anything, if that’s what you’re wondering. I just—couldn’t give up on having the baby. Like, for a couple months, I thought I’d keep it, because I do want kids someday, maybe this was a sign that someday was sooner than I thought. But, holy shit, I am in no way ready for it. I’ve got plans, you know? So I looked into it, and I thought, maybe an open adoption would be the best option. But, just, it’s really hard to pick your kid’s parents. Like, I thought maybe it’d feel like less responsibility than raising it myself, but wow, it does not.”
Dani wasn’t entirely willing to let go of the possibility that Araceli was in on the scam, but now she was pretty sure Araceli wasn’t. This stream of babble seemed genuine, as did her stress and anxiety about picking adoptive parents. A practiced scammer, or even some poor girl pressured into the situation, would have more polish, or be less willing to express obvious uncertainty.
“In your profile, you said you wanted to make sure your baby’s parents were in love.”
Araceli laughed, bunching the long tunic shirt she was wearing with her fingers. “Yeah, is that weird? I don’t even know what that would mean, really, like, people don’t make undying declarations of love on a daily basis. I’ve met a bunch of families though, and there’s just something—a lot of people are going through the motions, you know? They’re filling the roles that are expected of them, kinda like this whole family thing is another job. So I thought, I’ll know it when I see it, if a couple are really in love.”
Great, thought Dani. She and Crews really were only a couple because it was their job, so this was not a promising start.
Crews poked his head out of the kitchen and called out, “Hey, Annie, can you come to the kitchen real quick?”
Dani gave Araceli an apologetic smile and joined Crews in the kitchen. “Okay, so we’re officially the worst people to attempt to convince this girl to give us her baby,” she told Crews in a low voice. Crews was pulling his roast out of the oven, releasing a cloud of delicious meat fragrance.
“She wants to feel like the people she gives her baby to aren’t just ‘filling a role’ and acting like the whole married and a family thing isn’t just a ‘job.’ But it is a job! It’s literally our job!”
“Can you cut the bread?” asked Crews.
“Are you listening to me?” hissed Dani, and grabbed the loaf of bread to slice viciously into it.
“Yeah, I’m listening. Just—go with the flow. Follow my lead. I really do think you’re overthinking this.”
Dani really didn’t think she was. This was one hundred percent not the time for Crews’ zen bullshit. God, she and Crews hadn’t even engaged in any ‘we’re totally in love’ PDA yet. Crews shuffled past her in the tight space of the kitchen, and paused behind her for a moment. He put his hands on her hips, spanning them easily, and brought his mouth down close to her ear.
“Shhh. Seriously. It’s fine,” he said, his nearness raising goosebumps along her neck, the chill chased by Crews’ solid warmth and breath behind her. But there was something settling about the way he lightly held her hips. Dani leaned back into him just a bit before he gave her a quick squeeze and went to pull the serving dish from the top cabinet. When Dani turned to put the bread on the table, she caught a quick glimpse of Araceli, who was lurking near the entryway to the kitchen/dining room, too far to hear their low conversation, but in clear line of sight.
Well, go big or go home, Dani told herself, and when Crews came back to the kitchen to fetch the side dishes, she stopped him with a hand on his chest and tugged him down into a kiss. Crews’ hands quickly settled back on her hips, and though his lips were at first still and shocked under hers, he got with the program and relaxed quickly enough. It wasn’t like Araceli could see what their mouths were doing from her vantage point, but in the grand tradition of Dani’s bad undercover decision making, Dani made it a real kiss and coaxed Crews into responding, which he did with an only barely banked passion that surprised her. His eyes were wide when she pulled back. Dani felt hot all over.
“Thanks for taking care of dinner,” she said, and went out to join Araceli.
Araceli had lost some of her nervousness during dinner, and she watched them closely while Crews kept the conversation going. She asked some questions about their hopes and dreams for a child, and more about themselves and their relationship. When Crews answered those, Dani realized what he’d meant by asking her to follow his lead. Because the answers he was giving followed the trajectory of their actual partnership, details tweaked to leave out the whole cops thing, and not their boring cover story. It still sounded like a love story. Time after time, when Dani had put herself on the line for him and trusted him and had faith that he’d come through for her, he had. They’d built something real and strong, while Dani had been carefully avoiding paying too much attention.
“So, you’re partners and you trust each other, that’s what it comes down to?” asked Araceli, making patterns in the gravy left on her plate with her fork.
“Not very romantic, I guess,” said Crews with a wry smile. Shit, now it was Dani’s turn to sell this.
“And we take each other as-is. None of that changing someone bullshit, that’s always a recipe for disaster. He’s obnoxious and eats too much fruit and has totally wrong theories about Lost, but—I don’t need him to change. I don’t need to change. That’s—that’s what it comes down to.”
Dani blurted it out on the fly, winging it just like Crews had suggested, and after she said it, the truth of it hit her like a bullet to an armored vest. It bruised her and took her breath away, made her knees weak, and then the feeling washed over her—the total, encompassing relief.
Araceli’s eyes had gone shiny with tears, and she was smiling at them. Dani’s immediate urge was to just leave the room, maybe the house, because what the hell, but when she looked up at Crews—she didn’t know what that look on his face meant. It wasn’t his inscrutable impassivity hiding rage look, or his I’m delighted by idiotically simple pleasures look. It was something new, something bright and open, and maybe even adoring. He pressed a kiss to her temple, then rested his forehead there for a second. Dani couldn’t breathe.
“I’ll go do the dishes,” she said, and made her escape.
When Araceli was ready to leave after tea and dessert, she beamed at them, and moved in to hug Dani. It was kind of difficult, what with the bulk of Araceli’s very pregnant belly between them, but Araceli was tenacious.
“I was right. About knowing it when I saw it. I get it now.”
Once she left, an anticipatory sort of silence took hold.
“See? Winging it worked,” said Crews.
Dani sighed. “She’s not in on the scam.”
“No, didn’t think so.” Crews regarded her carefully. “Is this something you never want to talk about?”
She didn’t have to ask him what he meant. If she said yes now, Crews would drop it, and they’d never talk about it. Not the kiss, not what they’d said, not how easy it’d all been. She’d never say a word about the relief she’d felt, when she’d understood just what it was that she and Crews had.
“Not yet.” It wasn’t never. She didn’t want it to be never. She just needed—she needed a moment.
Crews, as always, understood. He breathed in deep, relief of his own in the sound. “Okay.”
After meeting Araceli, things began to move faster on the adoption front. Clark called them the day after Araceli’s visit to tell them Araceli wanted to go forward with them, and this required a new deluge of paperwork, and the first payments. These were the expected fees, as far as they could tell, and they didn’t hear anything else from Clark for over a week. They made their weekly report to their LAPD contact, who also provided them with some basic information on Araceli.
She and Crews stayed in their holding pattern, avoiding any mention of the events of the dinner with Araceli. It wasn’t as uncomfortable as it might have been, which only proved the truth of the conclusion she’d come to that night.
Finally Clark called them, asking them to come to the Making Families Whole office. They got wired up and headed over there the same day.
“Now, I don’t want to worry you, Annie,” said Clark, reaching across his desk to grasp at Dani’s hand. It made Dani want to punch him and his stupid smug face. Annie wouldn’t do that though, so she just widened her eyes in concern instead. “But Araceli had some early contractions, and her doctor has placed her on bedrest. Her insurance, unfortunately, won’t cover the tests we’d really like for her to have, just to be assured that the baby is okay.”
“Oh no. We’ll cover them, of course. Anything to make sure that baby is still healthy. Right?” said Dani, looking to Crews.
“Yes, absolutely. How much does she need?” Crews even pulled out his checkbook.
“Well, there’s the tests, those get unfortunately pricey, and her living expenses since she can’t go to work. $15,000 for now.”
Crews wrote the check and handed it over with a smile. “Can we visit Araceli? Is that a thing that’s allowed?” he asked.
“Oh, no, that’s not standard. We don’t encourage that, and there are legal complications to consider.” That sounded like bullshit to Dani. From the pursing of Crews’ lips, she gathered that he thought the same. “But Araceli and the baby are doing just fine, I want to assure you of that.”
Araceli and the baby were, in fact, doing totally fine. Dani threw on a perfunctory disguise (namely, a hat, sunglasses, and shapeless hoodie), and took a trip to the bakery where Araceli worked when she wasn’t in class. Araceli was behind the cash register, perched on a seat in deference to her condition, but otherwise just fine, smiling as she rang up purchases. Dani snapped a few photos from a distance.
“Is that enough, do you think?” asked Crews when she returned home to update him.
“Should be. We’ve caught him in a lie. And who wants to bet there are a few other couples who think Araceli’s their match, who’ve been fed the same bullshit story about medical tests?” said Dani.
“If we wait just a little longer, he’ll pump us for more money. I’m sure of it.”
A few days later, Crews’ prediction was proven right. Clark called again, saying Araceli and the baby needed even more specialized tests, out of an excess of caution. They got him saying, on tape, that Araceli was still on bedrest. They had Araceli, on film, still walking around to and from class and work. That was as airtight as it was going to get. Crews took another check to Clark, they turned over their evidence to their LAPD contacts, and waited for the trap to close when Clark cashed the check.
“Don’t we get to have a dramatic sting scene where we arrest him?” whined Crews that night.
“That’s overkill for a guy like Clark. And anyway, we’re waiting on a warrant for his arrest.”
When the warrant came through the next day, Tidwell called them. After so long away from the station, it was jarring to hear from him again, sounding the same as ever.
“Good job on this, the easiest sting ever! Go to the agency’s office at 10 tomorrow if you want to rub your success in his face. After that, your vacation is over. I want reports on this sting by the end of the week, and you’re back on duty tomorrow to do interviews to wrap this case up.”
“It wasn’t the easiest sting ever,” said Crews, affronted, after Tidwell had hung up. Dani was kind of peeved too. Sure, this had been easy as longer undercover stings went, but it hadn’t been the easiest sting ever.
“I’m pretty sure the stings catching people who buy minors booze are the easiest,” said Dani.
The next morning, they pulled their badges and guns from the safe in the hall closet where they’d been hidden away and drove over to the Making Families Whole office to see the final result of their work. It felt good to have her badge and gun back, and it made something click back into place for her and Crews to have their badges and guns on again, Dani driving them to the scene of an arrest while Crews munched on fruit in the passenger seat. This, Dani reminded herself, was their real life.
At the Making Families Whole office, the detectives who’d done most of the original legwork on the case made the arrest, while uniforms began roaming the office, collecting evidence. When Clark spotted Dani and Crews, he paled. Crews grinned brightly at him and waved.
“But you were—I could have sworn—you mean you’re cops? You’re not actually married?!” said Clark, sputtering.
They spent the rest of the day interviewing and interrogating the rest of the Making Families Whole staff, all of whom more or less immediately folded and turned on Clark to take plea bargains. Clark’s own records neatly outlined the scope of his scam, and while there were a lot of upset and unhappy prospective parents and birth mothers, they’d at least be getting their money back. Another adoption agency would take in the Making Families Whole clients and handle the adoptions in progress.
Dani and Crews went to give Araceli the news about Clark personally, and to schedule an interview for her. This was the one sour note in an otherwise smooth and easy sting: Araceli was an innocent victim, and they’d lied to her. There was no lasting harm done, since it wasn’t like any paperwork had been finalized, and Araceli still had a few weeks to find adoptive parents before she gave birth. This whole experience certainly wouldn’t make that any less stressful though, and Dani felt kind of awful about it. She took point on giving Araceli the rundown of Clark’s misdeeds and the sting, doing her best to cushion the blow.
Araceli looked faintly dazed and shellshocked as she took in the news. “So, wait, you guys really aren’t a couple? You’re not looking to adopt a baby?”
“No, we’re just partners,” said Dani.
“But you seemed so in love! You had that cute house!” cried Araceli in dismay. “And I really did want you to raise my baby!”
“I’m really sorry, Araceli,” said Crews.
“All the other couples whose profiles you saw and who you met, they were the real thing. There’s still a family out there who’d do a great job raising your kid,” said Dani.
“I did have a pretty strong second choice,” admitted Araceli. “You sure you two don’t want a baby though?”
Dani exchanged an amused glance with Crews. “We’re sure,” she said.
Araceli narrowed her eyes at them. “You’re still wearing your wedding rings.”
“So we are!” said Crews, but made no move to take his off.
Dani hadn’t even noticed she still had hers on. She’d grown used to it these past few weeks, hadn’t even taken it off that often. She fidgeted with it now, but still didn’t take it off.
Araceli's mouth twisted into a bittersweet smile. “Well, good job committing, I guess.”
That night, they went back to the house. They still had to pack up their personal shit, and bring the brief lives of Annie and Tom Brown to a close. Dani was a little sorry to say goodbye to the house itself. It was a nice little place, and she’d grown fond of the neighborhood and her routines in it: her running routes, the local grocery stores, that one sushi place in the strip mall a few blocks away. She liked the little yard, crowded close with fruit trees. Per her mom’s request, she picked what ripe fruit was still on the trees to take back to her mom, humming all the while.
As for returning to the status quo of her partnership with Crews, Dani wasn’t sure how she felt about that yet. Their relationship had unavoidably shifted, thanks to that kiss, and thanks to the truth Dani couldn’t shove back into her subconscious now that it had leaked out into the open air, spilling forth from her own mouth. Even if Crews kindly and dutifully didn’t talk about it, the gravity of it still tugged at them both, keeping them in a closer orbit than before. And they’d need to talk about it, eventually, or risk crashing into each other.
Crews’ patience reached its limit after they’d emptied the fridge of perishables, and made a dinner of what was left in it and the cabinets. Dani had thought she’d have until they’d wrapped up the case at least, but she’d underestimated how much this had been weighing on Crews.
“Can we talk about it now?” he asked abruptly.
Dani, mind still on the case, and contemplating if she wanted to eat the entire pint of ice cream left in the freezer, responded absentmindedly with, “Talk about what?”
“The things you said. You kissing me. Is this—what are we doing?” Crews was sitting at the kitchen table, his hands folded carefully together. He still hadn’t taken the ring off. Neither had she. She sat down across from him, and their positions were a little too reminiscent of the interview room. She preferred it when they were on the same side.
“We’re partners,” tried Dani. “That means a lot to me. And you know I fucked up on my last undercover assignment, that there was a guy—” Dani didn’t want to tell Crews about him. Crews had never asked, only observed the deceptively tidy and clean scene of the crime that was her life after him, and understood.
“This isn’t like that,” said Crews, low and sure.
“You don’t know what it was like,” she snapped back. Crews pressed his lips together tightly and waited her out. “We weren’t lying, when we talked to Araceli. I know I wasn’t, and I know you weren’t. But I can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting different results with these stupid work relationships. We’re partners, and that works, that works great. I can’t help but wonder if it’s worth fucking with that.”
She was terrified of fucking with that. The relief she’d felt earlier had ebbed like a high, overtaken by all the things that could go wrong, by the fear that she and Crews weren’t on the same page with this. If they did this, if they took this leap, it wouldn’t be casual. Dani didn’t do casual, not with people who mattered.
“I get that. I’m scared of that too. But you know—” Crews looked down at his hands, twisting the wedding ring on his finger with a wry and self-deprecating little half-smile. “When Nevikov had you, when I was working with Bodner to find you, he mentioned that his wife used to be his partner. And you know what the first thing I thought was? I want that.” He looked up at her then, eyes wide but his gaze steady. “I looked at you walking toward me in that orange grove, and I wanted that with you.”
Dani searched his face, looking for a lie, or a crack in his earnestness, and found none. “Is this a proposal?” she asked, incredulous. Crews huffed out a laugh and rolled his eyes.
“No, of course not. But you know what I mean. I didn’t think that I wanted to fuck you, I didn’t think, ‘hey, too bad Reese and me never tried a friends with benefits thing.’ If we do this, it’s—it’s one plus one equals one.”
And the word for that, Dani remembered, was love. Dani got up from the table and moved to stand over Crews where he sat frozen, staring at her. She took his face in her hands, tipped his head back, and kissed him. He met her hungrily, wildly, nothing like their first kiss that had been playacting at being their thousandth. This was Crews tossing his control aside to grasp at her hips, and moan into her mouth. It was unspeakably hot, seeing his stillness and control unravel for her. He shoved his chair back to make more room for her, and she climbed onto his lap, still kissing him deep and dirty. She ground down, tugged his hair, felt his cock starting to swell in his pants.
Dani dragged her mouth away from his for a moment, resting her forehead against his as they caught their breath. They’d gone too fast. They were still in this house that wasn’t theirs, half in a constructed life that wasn’t theirs, and Dani didn’t want to start this like that, another bad undercover decision that intersected with her real life in all the wrong ways. She ran a hand through Crews’ hair, still dyed brown, the dye only just starting to fade a little and reveal the red underneath.
“Can we—can we wait, a little, on this? Finish out the case.”
Crews looked up at her with the same calm understanding he had so often gifted her with, and rubbed his thumbs in calming circles on her hips. “Go back to our real lives, you mean. Do this when it’s just us, when it’s real.”
When there was no way to excuse it as transference or bleed over or the high of solving a case.
“Yeah. And just—spend a few nights apart. Be sure. I need you to be sure, Crews.” He nodded, mute, and pressed a more chaste kiss to her lips, her cheeks, her chin.
“I can wait. I’ll be sure.”
They went back to their own places after that. Dani’s apartment felt musty and blank, emptier than it would have a month ago. There was a comfort in returning to her own space though, to her own familiar things, the parts of her life untouched by Crews or the ruse she’d spent over a month living. If this thing with her and Crews still felt right, after this time spent apart in their separate worlds, if it still felt like relief and not a trap—then she’d pull forth what faith she had left, and put it in them.
They returned to the department the next day to cheers and a fake anniversary party, their fellow cops welcoming them back in their usual asshole way. Dani had worried that Crews would give them away somehow, or that Tidwell would spot it—which, awkward, and maybe Dani should have considered that earlier—but there were no hitches in settling back into this routine. This was the easy part between them, full of the predictable annoyances of Crews bugging her with stupid philosophical questions while she was trying to finish paperwork and eating fruit all over their desks. If the sight of Crews at the desk facing hers made something spark inside her with a feeling of rightness, and if his presence beside her in the interview room felt warmer and more necessary than usual, that was only for her to know, and Crews to see in the occasional speaking look.
She’d kept the ring, too. It was on her right ring finger now, because she wasn’t stupid, but she really did like it, and she didn’t especially want to give it up along with Annie Brown’s IDs and keys. She didn’t know what Crews had done with his ring.
At the end of the week, Crews read the tilt of her head and the smile in her eyes as the invitations they were, and followed her home to her apartment.
“What do you want for dinner?” he asked, and poked around her mostly bare shelves and fridge. His tie was loosened, dress shirt unbuttoned at the throat and sleeves pushed up to his elbows, gun holster empty with his gun in the safe alongside hers. He shed more of the workday’s detritus as he roamed the kitchen and dining room: draping his tie across the back of the kitchen chair, setting his cellphone on the kitchen counter, then fishing his wallet and keys out of his pocket to put in the bowl with hers. He was making himself at home, and the sight didn't make Dani bristle. The opposite, actually. Dani took the opportunity to ogle Crews’ ass and the broad span of his back while he was at it. He doubled back to the kitchen, where he unearthed a box of pasta and an unopened jar of sauce. “Spaghetti?”
They ate on the couch, and watched more Lost. Crews had held off on watching any more episodes without her, which, honestly, was maybe more of an indicator of true love than anything else. When they finished eating, they stretched out on opposite ends of the couch, legs tangling together.
During a break between episodes, Crews asked, “Is this a date? This doesn’t feel like a date.”
Dani narrowed her eyes at him. “I don’t need you to take me on dates.” She didn’t like them. If she just wanted sex, they felt like wasting her time and the guy’s, and if she was ill-advisedly trying for something more, they felt stiff and stilted, a choreographed dance that no one was good at.
“I think we’re past dates,” concluded Crews. He tipped his head back against the couch’s armrest and peered at her. “So. I waited. I rattled around my giant house alone. Slept in my giant bed alone. And I just—missed you. We spent the whole day together, a few feet apart, and I still got home and missed you. Is that sure enough?”
Dani raised an eyebrow at him and fought back a smile. It was probably showing in her eyes anyway. “That’s sappy,” she said, and laughed at Crews’ pout. Then she admitted, “Yeah. Me too,” and crawled up the length of his body to kiss him. He smiled into it, which was a nice feeling, and they traded unhurried kisses back and forth for a while, the episode of Lost entirely forgotten.
It was slow and comfortable, and the heat of their shared arousal built steadily with every long, deep kiss, and every roaming touch. They weren’t either of them used to taking their time, thought Dani. No one else had been worth it, lately. In search of more skin, Dani tugged Crews’ dress shirt off, leaving him in just his undershirt. The outline of a necklace chain was visible under the thin material and Dani tugged it free to reveal the wedding ring strung on the chain. Dani froze, looked up at Crews’ eyes. He’d gone apprehensive and shy, a flush working its way up his throat.
“I didn’t want to get rid of it. But wearing it would have been suspicious—”
Dani tugged him up with the chain to give him a hard, claiming kind of kiss. The sight of the ring she’d told him to get hanging against his chest ignited her desire with the force of a flash grenade. She kept her finger hooked in the chain and pulled him up off the couch, yanking him not especially gently in the direction of her bedroom. Crews gave a strangled sort moan at the gesture, and his pupils dilated huge and wide. His breath was coming in fast almost pants now, and as he stumbled after her, he kissed her sloppily, desperately, all the way to her bedroom.
In the bedroom, Dani got her shirt off while Crews clumsily pulled his pants and socks off before he was distracted by the sight of her breasts, or maybe specifically her breasts in her carefully chosen, very nice bra, a lacier and prettier sort than she usually wore. But, well, she’d had hopes for tonight. And she had some suspicions that Crews was a man who appreciated good lingerie.
“Sage green,” said Crews in a gratifyingly raspy voice.
“If all you’re noticing is the color, then we’ve got a problem here, Crews.”
“Oh no, I’m noticing a lot more than the color.”
Dani tugged her own pants down and off to reveal matching underwear, which wrung a groan from Crews’ throat. Oh yeah, he was into it. She beckoned him on to the bed with a crooked finger, and he followed like she still had the chain around his neck in her hand. They spent a profitable few minutes exploring the wonders of bare skin, Crews using both his mouth and his hands everywhere he could reach, which made Dani’s skin come alive to every single touch and texture.
When Crews was in the vicinity of her bellybutton, tantalizingly close to where her cunt was already wet and swollen, Dani got a little mean.
“Hey, remember when you got me that underwear during that Black Friday sale last year?”
Crews looked up at her, eyes narrowed. “You told me you threw them away.”
She smiled sweetly. “I didn’t. I wore them. A lot, actually.” Crews groaned into the sensitive skin of her stomach. “I’d’ve worn them tonight, but I didn’t have a matching bra.”
“I’ll get you a matching bra,” he mumbled, pressing a line of kisses ever lower, before redirecting his attention upwards to her breasts, unclasping her bra one-handed. Impressive. “I’m rich, I can do that.”
“Hmmm. And I’ll wear them, at the department, under my normal clothes. And you’ll know, but you won’t be able to do anything about it, because you’ll have to wait—”
“Oh my god, you’re mean, why did I think you’d be less mean—”
Dani laughed but followed Crews’ lead as he went about repositioning her, pulling her underwear down and off, and then asking, “Hey, sit on my face, would you? I would really, really like to—”
He didn’t have to ask her twice. After a bit of awkward flailing and bumping, Dani got in the right position straddling Crews’ shoulders, and he went to work with gratifying enthusiasm. Dani could only grip the sheets and enjoy the ride while Crews teased at and around her clit with his tongue, using pressure that was just light enough to drive her crazy. She tried not to move too much, mindful of not blocking his airway, but soon enough she wasn’t mindful of anything but the need for him to go faster and more until her orgasm unwound in her in one long flutter.
It wasn’t enough, and she lifted herself off of him to move down the length of his body to where his cock was straining and hard against his boxers, and ground down as Crews thrust up against her with panting gasps. She rolled off of him to lunge for the bedside table, ignoring Crews’ agonized groan and grasping hands, and opened the drawer where she’d optimistically left a box of condoms.
“C’mon, condom condom condom,” she muttered and finally got one free of the box. She yanked his boxers off and rolled the condom on with what prior partners had called, variously, “jesus christ, woman” and “nnghhrle” and “brutal efficiency,” and sank down onto Crews with a satisfied moan as his cock filled her up. The sound Crews let out at that was something between a shout and a moan, and he was looking up at her with a faintly embarrassing sort of awe.
“This okay for you?” she asked, a little breathless.
“Yeah. Yup, this is—oh my god.”
He let her set the pace, his big hands firm but not bruising on her hips, head tipped back and looking at her with hazy intensity. She wrapped her fingers in the length of the chain around his neck, tight enough to make the chain bite into Crews’ neck a little, and his eyes fluttered closed, face gone loose and rapt, and there, that was what Dani had wanted without knowing she wanted it. She leaned down to kiss him, chasing her own taste in his mouth, and he let her, making broken little noises in the back of his throat now. She kept her rhythm as slow as she could for as long as she could, drunk on how hard and big he felt inside her, on the desperate sounds he was making.
Crews, thankfully, didn’t run his mouth off while she rode him, and he lasted impressively long before he begged her, “c’mon, faster, please,” so she obliged him, searching for the just the right angle and rhythm before she used her free hand to tease at her clit and bring herself to that whiteout space of a truly excellent orgasm, crying out with the release. When she clenched around him, Crews cried out too and drove up into her hard a few times before coming himself.
She flopped off to the side, out of breath and thighs trembling with the exertion. Crews lay panting beside her for a couple minutes before he rolled aside to toss the condom and pull off his undershirt, which he’d still been wearing. Oops. Dani’d been in a bit of a rush. When he came back to bed, he kissed her, long and sweet, a reassurance and a thank you.
Now that he was shirtless, she spotted that tattoo he’d alluded to, back in the first year of their partnership. It was an indistinct and blurry thing on his chest, old prison ink that hadn’t made it through the years intact. There were other scars there on his chest, scattered among the ginger hair and freckles, a canvas of the memory of violence. Crews shifted, apparently feeling a little self-conscious at the attention.
“Do I want to know what that tattoo was?”
Crews snorted. “No.”
Softer now, she asked, “Do I need to know what these scars were?” She kissed one, felt Crews shudder and sigh. He pulled her in close, and she let him.
They were quiet after that, the same comfortable silence of shared car rides and evenings spent together, only now it was with added touching, Dani curled up by Crews’ side while he ran an idle hand through her hair and over her back. They were still Reese and Crews, and it rose up in her again, that relief she’d felt when she’d told Araceli the truth of her and Crews’ partnership. One plus one equals one. It was bad math, but it made sense to her now.
“Hey,” she said, poking Crews back out of his post-orgasmic doze. “Come to Wednesday night dinner at my mom's next week.”
Crews blinked fully awake and gave her a ridiculous, dopey smile. She smiled back at him, feeling some decidedly warm and mushy feelings at how happy the invitation made him.
“Yeah?” he asked.