DISCLAIMER: Characters belong to Dick Wolf and NBC/Universal.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: "Watch" (5.12)

The Clean Horse of Our Courage
By Mira


You've never really liked drinking, you think, as you choose a seat in the corner, where you can see the whole place. Time passes quickly, too quickly, for you sometimes, and you know to your cost how the view alters, how life becomes dulled and warped around the edges, and how alcohol seems to speed it up.

You like this, though, the bar, the way your toes just scrape the bottom rung of the stool. You like that the bartender, too young for you, lifts an eyebrow when you ask for a scotch on the rocks, and you like the fact that he seems impressed. You like the sound the ice makes, clinking against the glass, and the gentle gurgling of the scotch poured on it, the way the ice cracks and pops. The weight of the glass in your hand, and the fiery feel of the liquor in your mouth, and the smooth, smoky trail it leaves in your throat.

You like cop bars, how quiet they are, how wary, and you like that everyone checks out everyone else and that everyone pretends they're not noticing. And you only start your own sweep of the bar after you've had your first scalding sip, fighting down your instinctive grimace, because your partner's rubbed off on you a little over the years, and you like the comfort of routines. Crew cut and leather jacket: rookie, newly ex-military. Fedora and ugly too-loose tan trench coat: homicide. Black sweater and curly hair: Barek.


You try to figure the odds of running into her here. Not that low, you think after a few seconds, ruefully, because it's the third-closest bar to One PP where they like cops, and if you're trying to avoid your coworkers, like you are tonight, you wouldn't go to the closest, or to the next-closest. So.

And Barek just looks at you, just looks. Like she's not surprised, like she's been expecting you.

Next to you, she looks at the brown rings staining her coaster, and her lips are moving a little. You can't really believe this, that Barek talks to herself even in a bar, late at night, and it's making you uncomfortable, even though you're used to it. Maybe she's praying, you think, and you won't snicker out loud, you won't. Smartass, you think.

You look at the mirror behind the bar, at you and Barek in the mirror behind the bar, and you watch yourself toss your hair out of your eyes, a gesture that always startles you when you see it because you never know you're doing it. Your left eyebrow looks warped, and the cks in Smithwicks is written over Barek's forehead. Of course it is. Of course it fucking is, and you're off duty and you don't want to read between any more lines tonight.

"What are you doing here?" you ask finally, like the place belongs to you.

She looks at you from behind a mass of curls that you don't find attractive, except maybe you do a little, and anyway her hair seems like it'd be interesting to touch. She shrugs. "Weird case," she says.

You almost laugh, because of course it is, because they're all weird cases. That's your job, the weird ones, and it's your job, not hers. "Oh?" you say, and you wouldn't encourage her normally, but you might as well talk, because otherwise you'd just be at home, drinking alone, maybe, and reading in your pajamas. Which would be okay too, really.

Barek nods. She has a nice neck, you think. "Little shit we popped today," she says, and she sounds a little reluctant when she says "we," like she knows it's a sore subject, even though you're over it, mostly. "Little shit," and she looks into her murky glass. "Little shit we popped today had just bought a gun."

You don't say anything, but oh, the scotch feels nice smoking down your throat. "We found a, we found a cartoon, an animation," she says, "on his computer. He killed everyone. He shot them. With the gun." Of course he did, you think. What else would you do with a gun?

Come to think of it, though, you know plenty of other ways to kill people. Push vending machines after them down the stairs, smash their heads in with paving stones, inject peanut oil in their gum, dilute their chemo drugs. Maybe you're getting old for this.

"He shot us," she's saying, and you startle out of your thoughts. "Logan and me, he shot us," and it hangs in the air.

Today? you think, and you wonder why she's here, and you wonder why Deakins didn't call you.

She looks at you again, and she has nice eyes, you think, if a little distant, and anyway you're no Miss Congeniality yourself. "On the video, on the computer," she clarifies. She stares back down at her coaster, her fingers twirling the stirrer of her drink. "There was blood everywhere." You're paused, your glass halfway to your lips (or is it halfway back down to the bar?), and you wonder whether you would have cared much. You want to say "So what?" but you know how this can get to you, you do, and Barek looks like she might be a little shaken, even.

You twist your lips, and maybe she reads it as a smile. Maybe it is.

You're a little drunk in the cab, but not so drunk that you don't notice Barek giving the driver her address. Not so drunk that you don't notice her ankle twining around yours. Not so drunk that you can wake up tomorrow and pretend this didn't happen.

"I'll. I'll just turn on a light," she says. Her voice is higher than it should be, girlish, almost.

"Don't," you say, your voice harsher in the darkness than you meant, except maybe not really, because you don't want the lights on, don't want to see her living room, don't want to see her art, don't want to see her.

You feel her moving closer, as though she's compressed the air between you, and her body is very close to yours, and you really, really wish you weren't sort of looking forward to this. "Okay," she says, placating, and maybe it's a little weird of you but she's hardly one to talk, anyway.

And suddenly she says "Alex," and before you have time to tell her not to call you that, her mouth is on yours, and your lips are chapped, and Jesus Christ why are you opening your mouth, and she tastes hot and sweet—was that, was that really rum and Coke she was drinking, and why didn't you ask, anyway? and her hand brushes your hip, hesitantly, like a wing, and you're stepping into her and no, your hand is against her neck, this is awful, this is Barek, and she's got you now around the small of your back and you gasp.

She steps backward, still holding your hip, and you can hear your breathing, ragged in the darkness. You're sure she can hear your heart beating, the pulse throbbing in your neck. You feel her squinting at you.

"I don't—" you say. You don't, what, exactly? "I'm not—I like men."

"Of course you do," she says, in a tone that may or may not be the one she uses on suspects. But it's not the whole truth, is it, Detective, so help you God, because you can both hear the way your breath catches when she kisses your throat, her tongue flicking over your pulse, and she does the same job you do: you're not fooling anyone here.

She doesn't apologize, and you figure maybe you should stop making excuses, because if the wetness between your legs is any sign, any clue, it's possible you might like women, too. Or at least this woman, with her calm voice and her long fingers and her magnetic smile and the way she didn't ask your permission to use your first name.

"You can turn on the light," you say. "If you want."

Barek's bedroom is cold, and you curl your toes into her rug. Your head is mercilessly clear, and everything seems etched, like it's somehow more than normal.

It's cold and dark and the only light is silvery-blue, the moon through the window. Barek kisses you again, and maybe it's not so awful after all, because her eyes, after you let her turn on her lamp, were liquid and dark and warmer than usual, and her hands on your body are sure and gentle, and her hair twisted in your fingers is softer than you thought it would be. When her fingers along your neck—you're not sure you approve of the way the touch makes you shiver—when they slide down to trace your collarbone, slip under the collar of your shirt, you think about them wrapped around the handle of her Glock, think about the little shit she and Logan popped today, about how he wanted to kill her. About blood everywhere, Barek's animated blood spilling in flat, matte crimson across the computer screen, and you can't breathe.

You would have cared. You would have cared.

When she slips your shirt off your shoulders, runs her palms down your sides, you're not embarrassed anymore at the way you press yourself toward her. She smiles against your neck, and maybe she has a right to be a little smug. You wonder, as you kiss the line of her jaw—is it possible you're doing this, really?—whether she's going to take off your pants first or unclasp your bra. When her fingers trail down your stomach, confident, slow, you have your answer, and you don't gasp as she unzips your slacks and slides them off your hips.

She steps back from you, and you don't manage to consider how you must look standing there, thin and shivering. You've just remembered the shower you took this morning, how the razor seemed dull and how you threw it out and forgot to open another. How, aside from a smooth strip along your right shin, your legs are unshaved. How your bra (nude, microfiber) doesn't match your underwear (cotton, and was it pink or green today?). You're standing here, almost naked, in your coworker's bedroom, your female coworker's bedroom, and you haven't shaved and you don't match. It's cold enough, you think, that the goosebumps would make your legs rough anyway—maybe she won't notice—and that helps enough that you remember you should probably take Barek's shirt off.

You're going to take Barek's shirt off. The thought's not so funny that you can't keep yourself from laughing, but you can't help smirking. Maybe, you hope, she'll think the smile is sexy, or, for Christ's sake, this is ridiculous, and you step forward and kiss her again and slide your hands under her sweater.

She jumps at your touch, and you'd like to be flattered, but you know your hands are cold. And this part, this you know how to do, this is just like a man, really. Her mouth is softer and warmer and she uses her tongue perhaps better—maybe a lot better, you think ruefully, as she runs her hand through your hair—but lips are lips, and a tongue is a tongue, and this you can manage. And this, with the sweater, this is the same, and as you slip your hands up toward her ribcage she seems to get it, steps away from you, and pulls it over her head. The way she shakes her hair out, with a half-smile that reminds you of a dog drying itself, is suddenly, inexplicably endearing, and you're a little disappointed, if you want to admit it to yourself, by the fact that she takes off her own pants.

Barek's bra (black, lace) matches her underwear.

"You're cold," she murmurs, her hands smoothing down the goosebumps covering your arms.

"So are you," you say, and although you mean to sound kind, concerned, because she could have died today, really, it sounds like a retort, because you'd prefer not to be reminded of all the ways you don't have control over this.

"Under the covers, then," she says practically, like all she means is that you can curl up together, as if you weren't throbbing, as if you didn't need this, as if more than half your goosebumps had nothing at all to do with the temperature, as if when she kisses you, the space between your thighs didn't seem like the only heat in your body.

On your back, naked between Barek's flannel sheets (you'd never have expected it, but they're so lovely and warm that you don't think much about it), you're grateful that she didn't ask whether you were sure, that she seemed to know you would have bolted if she'd said something, and as her lips, as the trailing ends of her hair, as her fingers move lower, you wonder how you're going to manage to do this back.

She kisses along the inside of your right thigh, her fingers tracing light, electric circles along your left, and then she looks up at you, watching her wide-eyed and anxious. She smiles, and you think, suddenly, that she looks beautiful. "Alex," she says.



And then her mouth is there, oh God, where did she learn to do that, and she's licking you very gently, excruciatingly slowly, and her right hand is stroking between your thighs, and her left, her left is tracing the stretch marks that are the only tangible reminder of how close you came to motherhood, and you've never felt so beautiful.

She slides a finger into you, carefully, and it hurts, actually, a little, God, it's been too long, and then no, it doesn't anymore, and maybe there's a second finger now but her tongue against your clit is too distracting to tell, and her fingers are slick and full inside you, stroking you, teasing you, and you can feel your clit harden against her tongue, and she's insistent now, her fingers inside you powerful and her tongue outside you rhythmic, and Jesus, this is embarrassing how quickly you're about to come, and you won't be able to reciprocate at all, at all, and she curls up her fingers inside you, palms your breast, flicks her tongue against you, and your back snaps forward as everything goes white and hard and hot.

You open your eyes, and the darkness of the room is a relief as you try to locate yourself. You're sitting straight up, Barek's head still between your thighs, her hair spilling over your legs, and you've got her left hand in a vise grip. You hope it's only been a few seconds as you let go.

"Jesus," you breathe. Your heart is pounding, your mouth dry as dust. "Just…Jesus, Barek."

She raises her head, wipes her mouth, doesn't smile. She leans forward and kisses you, her hand cupping your shoulder like it's something precious, and you discover that you don't mind the way you taste on her lips. "You could call me Carolyn," she says, and you can't read the tone of her voice. "Considering."

You're so relieved when she laughs that you can't help but join her.

When you open your eyes, squinting against the harsh light of early morning, you don't know where you are. There are no curtains on the windows and the bathroom door is in the wrong place and there's a weight across your waist. You look down, without moving your head, straining to see what it is, and it's an arm. A woman's hand, curled over your stomach. Barek. Carolyn. And that's her body against your back, not pressing, not insisting, just there, and this comfortable looseness between your legs, that's her doing.

Last night is all fragments. Coming here. Hating Barek, not hating Barek. Being afraid of Barek. Her fingers inside you, the way she made everything go blank, her gentle chuckle at your first clumsy attempts, kneeling between her legs like you were praying. Her voice, betraying (carefully, you assume) no amusement as she guided you, "There, a little harder," her soft sighs as you caught on, her sharp hiss when she came, fingers catching at your hair. Your dizzy, relieved sense of accomplishment: you did it, you didn't fuck up, you'd be able to face her in the morning. Her arms, wrapped around you, the way she kissed your forehead, your cheek, your lips, how comfortable it felt. How affectionate.

You're not sure what things are going to be like once she wakes up, but the bedroom is still cold, and it's warm under the covers with the flannel and Barek's body against your own, and it's Saturday, so you let yourself close your eyes again. You could leave, probably, without waking her, but you've never been much for running away.

The room is brighter but gentler, the light softer than the sharp-edged yellow-white of earlier, and Barek is stroking your shoulder, very gently. You open your eyes, turn to her. Your mouth tastes awful, day-old scotch grimy on your teeth, so when you say "Hey," you do it into her neck.

"Hi," she says throatily into your hair, and holds you a little tighter. Your arms are straight out below you, pressed awkwardly and uncomfortably between your bodies, but still you're surprised at the way you fit into her, that her body feels so right.

Barek plays with the hair at the back of your neck. "Thanks for letting me spend the night," you say, because you can't remember asking permission and it seems rude.

Her shoulder jerks with snorted laughter. But her voice—deeper in the morning, finally fitting the rest of her—is gentle as she says, "Any time."

You don't know how to respond to that, and you guess it was a weird thing to have said anyway. So you just lie there, snaking an arm out from between you to run your hand along the smooth olive skin of Barek's side, the flat plane of her outer thigh, the crest and flare of her hip.

"You want breakfast?" she asks finally. This feels against the rules, like if this is a one-night stand (and that's what you want, right?) she shouldn't offer it, and you're about to say no when your stomach rumbles. You've already broken enough rules. You're hungry, might as well be honest.

"Sure," you say.

It's a few minutes before either of you moves to stand up, as though you both fear the way the view alters once you're vertical again.

Barek's coffee is strong enough to erase your lingering morning breath, which is a relief, and she likes her orange juice pulpy, which is a lucky coincidence because so do you. She makes pancakes, another surprise, although on balance, you guess you'd figured she'd be the type who knew how to cook. She puts the plate down in the middle of her table with a bowl of startlingly red strawberries you didn't realize she'd washed. A lot of effort, you think.

She catches your raised eyebrow, gestures toward the strawberries. "They might be a little past their prime," she says, and shrugs.

They aren't.

"Let me do the dishes," you say, and she gives you an odd look and then says, "All right."

When you're done, you dry your just-pruning hands on her dishtowel. She's watching you from the table, watching you in her t-shirt and her old sweats, and she smiles, tentatively. "About last night," she says. "Listen, I…didn't want to push you."

"You didn't," you say.

She tilts her head, her rumpled hair like a halo around her face, her eyes dark and friendly. "Would you," she says, and looks down. She opens her mouth, closes it. "Would you want to do this again?" she asks in a rush, and it surprises you, because this seems like the kind of thing she would have asked while you were both still lying down.

You look away. But when you say "Yeah," you mean it.

The End

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