Do Not Cross

Rating: PG-13

Summary: Charlie finds out, and he isn’t pleased about it. A short meditation on what it feels to be the one left out.

Tags: short, 3rd party POV

The place was already crawling with black and whites when Charlie arrived, the night air lit up like a disco with all the swirling lights. He did not often have to limbo with the crime scene tape, but when one of his detectives was attacked in her own home by a serial killer, he thought it was advisable to put in an appearance. He knew she was unharmed, but the press was starting to swarm and he wanted to be on hand to run interference if necessary.

He found six uniformed officers just standing around in her crowded living room. Stanley Blake was long gone, but every cop within ten miles had apparently shown up hoping to get a belated piece of the action. "All right, all right," he said, parting them like Moses with the Red Sea. "The show is over, folks. If you're not bagging evidence or taking statements, then you need to be elsewhere."

Officer Hernandez actually had his notebook out. "Blake broke in through the back door, Captain. We found broken glass on the patio. The CSU is back there now."

Charlie looked around, impressed at how neat the place was, save for a small bloodstain on the floor. You would almost never know McCall had nearly been killed here an hour before. Speaking of… "Where's McCall?" he asked Hernandez.

"She and Hunter went back that way a few minutes ago," he said, gesturing towards the rear of the house.

Charlie walked around the corner and down the shadowed hall toward what were presumably the bedrooms. It grew quiet at the back of the house. He could see a partially open door at the end, light spilling out onto the floor, and he heard them talking in low voices. The faint scent of her perfume filled the air. He was just about to push open the door fully when McCall laughed, and there was an intimacy to the sound that froze Charlie in his tracks.

He hardly dared to look but he had to know. He held his breath and shifted slightly so that he could see into the room. Hunter sat in an armchair, completely clothed, and McCall was in his lap, dressed in her pink satin pajamas. Their arms around were each other. Charlie jerked away as if stung, recoiling into the darkness. His cheeks flushed hot and his throat tightened. He leaned against the smooth, cool wall for support. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, what the hell was this about?

He heard more talking and wondered if maybe he had the wrong idea. They were always a bit grabby with one another, and it had been an emotional night. Maybe this was their version of a hug. Hesitantly, he crept forward a bit, only to stop short again when the voices ceased.

A female murmur of pleasure floated out to him, and he knew they weren't just hugging anymore. He vibrated with disbelief and burgeoning anger. He'd come here out of concern for them, and they'd turned him into a peeping tom. He pursed his lips and beat a hasty retreat back to the living room. "Hernandez!" he yelled, causing the young officer to jump.

"Yes, sir?"

"See those reporters on the lawn out there? I want you to back them all up to the other side of the street. Do it now."

"Yes, sir."

Charlie glowered at the rest of the uniforms still milling around. "I thought I told you all to get going. This is not the only crime scene in town."

They exchanged disgruntled looks but started shuffling for the door. At that moment, Hunter and McCall emerged from the bedroom. She was redressed in jeans and a red sweater, looking much the same as she always did. But he knew better now. "Captain," she said, pushing up one sleeve, "you didn't have to come all the way down here."

He could see the finger marks on her arm from her struggle with Blake. "I wanted to be sure you were all right."

"I'm fine. Thanks to John Skouros."

Ah, yes, their resident psychic. No doubt he knew the score where Hunter and McCall were concerned. Maybe he'd even been treated to an X-rated picture show. Charlie remembered the soft sounds of them kissing and felt his face turn hot. "Where is the little fortune teller?"

"He was pretty shook up so we sent him home," Hunter said. "Hernandez has his initial statement, and Skouros will come down to the precinct tomorrow to fill in the details."

"Great. We can file it under 'H' for 'Hocus Pocus.'" He looked from one detective to the other. "So that's it? Stanley Blake is our guy, and he's dead, so case closed?"

"That's it," said Hunter, rubbing the back of his neck. It was almost one in the morning by this point.

"You're sure? There's nothing else you two would like to add?"

"It will all be in the report tomorrow, Captain," McCall said.

"I doubt that very much," Charlie muttered darkly. He was fighting the urge to rail at them. I know, okay? Your little secret is out. But this would just underscore the fact that he hadn't known until about ten minutes ago. Plus, there were two CSU guys underfoot, a half dozen unis still crawling over the property like ants, and a full press corps across the street. Now was not the time. "I will go talk to the cameras," he said finally, adjusting his tie. "You two…you two just stay where I can see you."

McCall's eyebrows knit in concern. "Everything okay, Charlie?"

"Just peachy." He wanted to reassign them both on the spot, but instead he went out into the chilly night air, where the TV cameras lit up the street like Christmas. He stood there, the man with the answers, and told the city it was safe to go to sleep again. After all, his top two detectives were on the case.


In the morning, he stewed with his door shut for an hour so he wouldn't have to look at them. They were sitting out there working, all buttoned up and proper, but he kept seeing them curled against one another in the chair. The sound of her sigh echoed in his brain all night while he tossed and turned in his empty bed. He was a fool, a chump. How long had they been lying to him by omission?

Finally, he had to say something or risk downing his entire bottle of Mylanta. He hefted himself from his chair and went to summon them. "Hunter? McCall? My office – now."

The rest of the squad room turned to look, even the perps. His detectives moved slowly but in unison, pushing away from their desks and walking across the room. Charlie stood in the doorway and made them walk directly past him. They took their usual seats in the battered old chairs, Hunter slumping perhaps a little lower from the long night they had all endured courtesy of Stanley Blake. "Why do I feel like we're not here to be congratulated?" he asked her.

"On the contrary," Charlie said as he shut the door with a little more force than was strictly necessary. "I gather congratulations are in order." He returned to his desk but did not sit down. "It took six years but the rumors are finally true."

They exchanged a look. "Uh, rumors?" McCall asked, shifting in her seat. Hunter studied his fingernails.

"Cut the crap, McCall. I saw the two of you last your bedroom."

"Oh," she said, with a small, chagrined smile. "That rumor."

There was a terrible awkward silence. "Well, at least you have the grace not to deny it," he said, yanking out his chair so he could sit. "Do I even want to know how long this has been going on?"

Hunter sat up straighter. "Uh, about…four months?"

"Five." She spread the fingers of one hand.

"Five months," Charlie repeated steadily. "I see. And were you ever planning on sharing this bit of news?"

It was McCall's turn to look at the floor. Hunter gave an expansive shrug. "We thought about issuing an APB…"

"Go ahead and make jokes. I've half a mind to reassign you both."

This got their attention. "Wait a second," Hunter said, sitting forward. "You can't do that. You have no cause. We've done nothing that's against regulations."

"I can do whatever I damned well please. This is my department and I determine the assignments around here. I don't care what the regulations say: when I have two cops keeping a secret like this, I start questioning their judgment."

"Captain, that's not fair," McCall said. "What we do on our own time is our business."

"Maybe you're not hearing me. I don't have to justify my actions to you. Officers get reassigned all the time, for transgressions far less serious than this."

"Transgressions?" Hunter scoffed. "You've got to be kidding me. We don't owe you or anyone else a status update on our relationship. We show up here and do our jobs, just like always, and that's where our responsibility ends."

Charlie stiffened. "I'm sorry you see it that way," he said coldly.

"Captain, please, can't we just talk about this?" McCall's tone was conciliatory.

"The time for talking was about five months ago," Charlie told her. "Now you can go back to work while I figure out what to do about this."

"Charlie," Hunter said. "Don't do this."

"Out," he replied, rising to open the door. "Now."

They were barely over the threshold when he slammed the door again, the sound rattling through to his very bones. He had been their mentor, their protector, their counselor, and their friend. And this was his repayment. He took his seat again, shuffling paper around without really seeing it. Then he stopped short and rubbed his tired face with both hands. What else, he thought, don't I know?


He skipped the local cop bar and instead went to O'Reilly's, his backup spot for when he didn't feel like talking to anyone he knew. O'Reilly's had dark wood booths and a stained concrete floor; it was plain and solid, like him. He ordered a scotch, neat, and sat alone in a back booth, one eye on the Laker game. His earlier anger had burned away, leaving him gray as ash on the inside. So what if they're sleeping together. It's their relationship to screw up.

The last time Charlie had said "I love you" to a woman, she'd never replied. He wondered sometimes if he would ever say it again, to anyone.

The scotch left a fiery trail down into his gut. He traced the dark wet ring on the paper napkin and considered ordering another. Careful, careful, he told himself. There's no one around to drive you home.

He glanced around idly at the few other patrons who shared the smoky haze – a couple of suits by the bar, a group of off-duty construction workers enjoying their third pitcher of beer. There were a few women in the place – the sandy-haired bartender and two middle-aged ladies in work clothes, deep in conversation in the booth across the room. Charlie knew that other people found sex in bars, but he could never seem to make it happen that way. When he bought a woman a drink, she was more likely to pour out a long story about her abusive ex or her dog that was battling cancer. Something in his face said "I want to take care of you" not "I want to take you" and thus Charlie Devane always went home alone.

He stared at the two women until his vision blurred, aided by the warm hum of alcohol in his veins. Then suddenly his view disappeared behind a checkered shirt and dark sports jacket. "Hiya, Charlie."

"Hunter." Charlie did not bother to hide his sigh. "How did you know I was here?"

"I'm a detective, remember? That's why you pay me the big bucks." He slid in across the booth and helped himself to a handful of Charlie's beer nuts.

"Let me rephrase then: why are you here?"

"I came to buy you a drink," Hunter said, popping a nut. "And to apologize. You're right, we should have said something. I'm sorry."

Charlie felt his ears grow warm. "Just forget it. You're right, it's really none of my business."

Saying it aloud made his throat close up. He had watched their partnership from afar for years, the way they solved pretty much anything he cared to throw at them. When he'd come in as Captain, he'd been warned about them. Hunter and McCall will ignore you, infuriate you, and drive you to drink. Not entirely wrong, he thought, throwing his head back to down the last of his scotch.

But somewhere along the way, he'd cracked their code and learned their rhythms. They were now more likely than not to discuss their hare-brained schemes with him before running headlong into danger. He was finally part of the team. They trusted him. Or at least he'd thought they had.

"Look," Hunter said as their new drinks arrived. "We didn't tell anyone at first. And then, well, it's like you said – the rumors have been dogging us for years. We just didn't need more aggravation."

"Yeah, okay." Charlie sighed and turned his glass around in his hand. "Sorry I, uh, kind of lost my cool."

Hunter grinned. "You were pretty pissed at us, all right."

"I got caught with my guard down," he said, annoyed again. "After six years, you start to assume the rumors are just rumors, and it's just not going to be an issue. I'm supposed to be in charge and it turns out I don't even have a clue about what's going on in my own department. I mean, Jesus, Hunter, five months is a long to keep this sort of thing to yourselves. A simple heads up would have been nice."

"Sorry," Hunter said again, actually looking contrite for the first time. He paused. "I'll tell you whatever you want to know, okay? Ask me anything."

Charlie raised his eyebrows. "Anything?"

"Within reason."

Charlie considered a long moment, swirling the remaining amber liquid in his heavy glass. He sighed. "You know, people would say to me sometimes, men and women can't be partners because the sex part gets in the way, and I would say, no, I know of at least one case where that's not true. I guess we all know how that turned out."

"It doesn't get in the way," Hunter said calmly. He said something else too, but Charlie missed it because he was busy realizing that Hunter had just confirmed that they were having sex. Not that it needed confirming, really. But it was one thing to assume it and another to hear him admit it out loud. The unwanted images flashed across his brain once more, making him shift uncomfortably.

"So it’s true then," Charlie said, "Men and women can't be friends."

"We're still friends," Hunter protested, and Charlie shot him a look. "Okay, yes, also more than that, but Charlie, that's probably been true from the beginning."

"Great. I don't think I need this kind of detail."

"No, no, I don't mean it like that." Hunter took a sip of beer and licked his lips. "You ever have a female partner?"

Charlie shook his head. "Weren't many women on the force back then." His last partner was Don Gibson, a round, talkative guy with six kids by three wives. He'd nursed Charlie through the demise of his own marriage with beer and Rams tickets on the forty-yard line. Then Charlie had been promoted, and Don was dead of a heart attack within the year, at the tender age of fifty-one. Three years younger than I am now, Charlie realized with a start.

"Most of it is exactly the same," Hunter said. "You get the same long hours together, the same bond formed from the daily grind of man's inhumanity to man. But it's also different. I mean, you can say stuff to a woman that you can't to another guy. I've told McCall things I never thought I would ever say out loud to another person… you know, stories about my Dad or from Vietnam."

He took another handful of nuts and popped several into his mouth. "And of course the physical part is different too."

"Of course," Charlie muttered, looking at his lap.

Hunter grinned. "You wanted to know…"

"I changed my mind, okay?"

"I'm not talking about sex," Hunter said. "I mean, well…like after the incident with Mariano, I stayed at her house for a while. At first I slept on the couch, but then that asshole shot me, and there was no way to make that work. So we shared her bed. Just for sleeping, of course," he added quickly. Then he hesitated a moment, as if he were deciding how much to give away. "But there were nights she fell asleep in my arms."

This was almost more intimate than any sex story, and Charlie felt himself flush. He couldn't recall the last time he had held anyone through the night. Sarah, he supposes, her name still an ache in his heart.

"So… so you two wanted to, even then?" he asked, torturing himself a little with the details.

"No, not really. But I guess you could say the possibility was always there and we did a good job ignoring it."

"Then, what?" Charlie asked curiously. "After six years, you just decide one day to go for it?"

Hunter leaned back in the booth. "Not exactly, but kind of. I guess that kind of curiosity builds over time, and eventually you just have to find out one way or the other. I mean, it could be like kissing your sister, right? So we were watching a movie at her place one night, and I decided I had to try it and see."

"Let me guess: not like kissing your sister."

"Actually, it was really weird for about three seconds," Hunter said thoughtfully. Then he grinned. "Seconds four and five, however…"

Charlie held up both palms. "I get the picture."

Hunter smiled with satisfaction and tossed a nut into the air so he could catch it with his mouth. Charlie hated him just a little bit right then. His two detectives already shared so much, it hardly seemed fair that they got this too. Most nights, Charlie would give anything to have a beautiful woman sitting across the dinner table from him, sharing stories about the day. Taking her to bed afterward might just be the end of him.

He scowled at Hunter. "So you're in love now, is that it?"

"I have loved her for years. This can't be a surprise." He took a sip of his beer and smiled slightly. "What I am now is happy."

"Happy," Charlie said, blowing out a breath as he tested the word. Must be nice. He sat up a bit straighter as he caught sight of a familiar female figure at the entrance to the bar. McCall was looking around, trying to spot them. As usual, about every male in the place had already spotted her. Maybe this would be easier if she weren't so damned pretty. "What did you do, leave a trail of breadcrumbs?" he asked Hunter.

Hunter craned his neck around to see what Charlie saw, and his face broke into a slow, contented smile. "What can I say, Charlie? She's a detective too." He waved her over.

She approached them and stopped at the edge of the table, looking apprehensive. "Everything okay?"

"Yeah, I think I've convinced him that we're not groping each other in Interrogation."

"Hunter!" She looked at Charlie. "Not even once," she assured him, slapping Hunter with her purse as she slid into the booth next to him. "You can't believe half of what he says."

"I don't know," Charlie said grimly, "I think he's been pretty honest."

McCall gave Hunter a speculative look, which he ducked by draining the rest of his beer. "I hope he conveyed how sorry we are for not keeping you in the loop," she said.

"No need to suck up any further, McCall," Charlie said with a sigh. "He's already done it for you."

"So we're not being split up?" she asked hopefully.

Charlie waved her off. "I wasn't serious about that," he said, and the relief on her face made him feel a twinge of guilt for even threatening it. With their gaudy close rate, both of them had turned down chances to be promoted up the ladder and away from each other, and he'd never really understood why. Sitting here tonight, with the two of them on one side of the booth and the one of him on the other, he finally got it. It was lonely at the top, something he had failed to appreciate before it was too late.

McCall reached across and took his hand. "Thanks," she said, and he jerked away. His skin burned where she had touched, another sense memory he could take to his bed.

"Don't mention it." He dug into his pocket for his wallet and took out some cash, enough to cover the booze he'd consumed with Hunter and some extra in case they wanted to stay for another round.

"No, I've got it," Hunter said, also moving for his wallet.

Charlie tossed the bills on the table. "Please, I insist. I was out of line earlier, and it's the least I can do."

Hunter eased back down with a half shrug, probably afraid to push too hard at this point. McCall stopped Charlie as he went to leave. "You sure you don't want to stay? Have some food?"

He looked down at them. They weren't even touching, but Hunter had his arm possessively across the back of the booth behind her. How had he missed this? "No, I've got to get going." Whatever connections he was seeking, he wasn't going to find them here, with the pair of them.

Charlie pushed open the heavy wooden door and went out into the night. He stood alone on the sidewalk, breathing deeply of the chilly air. Traffic hurtled past on the street as the rest of the city hurried to find its way home.


Sniff. I miss Charles Hallahan.

© syntax6 2015