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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Seeing Red
By EponinesGhost

Chapter Four

Chris flexed his hands on the wheel again and again. He knew he should say something. Even though Kelly's face was shadowed in profile he could tell she was crying. Christ, he had no idea what to do. What the hell had happened back there? As long as he was zeroed in on activity -- getting the car, going back in for her --- he was golden. But now ... She hadn't uttered a word since they had gotten outside. He had cranked the engine but they had not yet pulled out. Shifting in the seat, he spoke softly, "Hey ...."

"Just drive."

She sounded far less shaky than he had expected. Ducking his head to check the side mirror and scoping out the street to his left, he eased the sedan away from the curb.

Drive. That, he could do.

Everything was a blur. Kelly was facing the window, her eyes wide open, but she saw nothing as the city flashed past. Nothing except Tracey and that ... woman. Each frame of memory caused another sharp pang inside her. The way Tracey had kissed her. The transparent hunger. God. Was that ... was she ... Tracey's type? If so, she thought bitterly, then Tracey liked them young. It was killing her to replay it over and over but she couldn't help herself. How long had they been seeing each other? Had she ... Rochelle ... called the office? Had Kelly answered? Did they discuss work when they were together? ... when they were together ... when they were together. Oh god. She pressed her eyelids shut, trying to keep any further images at bay. No use. In the morning. Tracey would be late in the morning. It was none of her business. If nothing else, that much had been totally laid bare. Co-worker. Nothing more. Get your own life.

"Where do you live?" She felt completely empty.

No, that wasn't quite true. The lump in her throat, the lead in her limbs, the pit in her stomach. ... the stake through her heart ... she could feel all of that. Ravell hadn't answered her. Maybe she no longer existed.

Dully she spoke again, "How far is it to your place?"

Chris Ravell was trying to get back into his comfort zone by using one his favorite techniques. Retracing his steps, mentally organizing events into chronological order, labeling each significant moment. Sometimes while working a case he ran over and over the same set of circumstances dozens of times, each pass becoming more and more familiar, rote. Often, after the seemingly endless loop of memorization, something brand new would jump out at him from his well-worn perspective. Several times the repetition had lulled him into a restless sleep, leaving his subconscious to stumble over an otherwise hidden hint. This wasn't going to be one of those times.

How had he fallen down this particular rabbit hole? He'd had a decent day on the job. He and Hector wanted to check out this new bar. He saw Gaffney's light on and thought what the hell ... Oddly enough, she'd accepted. Something came up and Hector bowed out. They pulled up at the bar. She smiled at him. He teased her until she laughed. They sat down. Then ... Holy Shit. Kibre and the hot redhead. Damn. Unbelievable. He'd heard she was into women, but he was never one to assume. He worked better with evidence. That was some damn clear evidence. His mind reeled. This was the part where he kept getting off track.

He glanced quickly at Gaffney. So she hadn't known? She'd sure looked surprised. No, check that. HE was surprised ... and not unpleasantly so. She was blown away. It couldn't be that she was offended. She didn't seem the type. Besides, it wasn't just anger that was spilling out all over the place back there. That was pain.

Before he could connect the dots, he heard her ask about his address. It took him a minute to process the actual question. It seemed so random ... made no sense. They weren't making small talk. They weren't talking at all. Then the follow up. His place? She couldn't mean "his place" as in "going back to," could she? What the hell was happening?

Almost stuttering, he blurted, "A few minutes away ... a few blocks, I guess." Was she going to be sick? He was trying to check on her and watch the traffic.

"Take me there."

She didn't sound right. Her voice was hollow, monotone. Holy crap. She still wouldn't look at him, sitting angled away. Red light. Thank God.

Tentatively he touched her arm. "Are you okay?"

Her head swiveled, her eyes fixed on his fingers for a long moment. He had hesitated to touch her, not wanting to freak her out any more than she already was. Before he could draw his hand back, her eyes swung up to his. So blue, almost glittering. She was blinking repeatedly, reminding him of someone recovering from a blackout. Her mouth opened slightly and her head tilted just a fraction. It was like she was seeing him for the first time. Then suddenly she buried her face in her hands and dissolved into tears.

He'd never felt so useless in his life.

Was she okay? She didn't think she'd ever be okay. Was it possible to disconnect from your own body to the degree that you couldn't find your way back? To just slip away. Would it matter? She just wanted ... she just wanted ... distance from this. He could help her get there.

When he reached out to her, made contact with her arm, the fragile bubble that had been surrounding her disintegrated. Everything came rushing back. His fingers on her arm were real. He was real. What the hell was she thinking?!? Horrified she looked into his eyes. So concerned. So close. What was she doing? She felt utterly unglued. Her humiliation was complete when she broke down, sobbing.

The harsh blare of a car horn startled them both. Chris had been leaning sideways, awkwardly patting Kelly's upper back. The first blast made him jump, his foot slipping from the brake. As the car lurched forward he swore loudly, jamming the pedal down again abruptly. When the horn sounded even longer the second time, he jerked the car to the right, practically onto the curb, broadly waving for the vehicle behind him to go around.

"I should flash the lights and run the siren ... Better yet, I could just shoot him."

He was overcome with relief when he heard Kelly's faint chuckle. Surreptitiously looking at her while he adjusted the mirror, he smiled as she wiped her eyes. Much better. Making an exaggerated show of scanning every direction, he put the car in gear and pulled back into the street.

As they slowed in front of her apartment building, Chris was repeatedly thanking God that he'd known where she lived. If he hadn't had occasion to pick her up there before or drop off some casework, they might have had to go through another round of "Where to?" He parked close, ignoring the fire zone signage.

Kelly was surprised when he shut off the engine. Freezing with the unbuckled seatbelt still in her hand, she fumbled for something to say. He beat her to it.

"I'll walk you up."

"No, really ... that's really not necessary ... you've ..."

"Well-mannered cocky sonofabitch, remember?" Pointing at himself, he grinned. "Besides, my mama raised me better than to drop a lady off at the curb." He was out of the car and moving around the front before she could reply. She was shaking her head and almost smiling when he opened the passenger door.

Taking his hand and allowing him to help her, she stepped out onto the sidewalk. Who would have thought that Ravell was such a gentleman? She knew Tracey always ... oh ...

Grabbing the reins before she could drift any further, Kelly started toward the main entrance. The warm pressure of Ravell's palm on the small of her back was strangely comforting. She just had to make it a few more minutes and then she could collapse. She didn't want to think beyond that.

They were quiet on the ride up in the elevator. Chris took the time-honored position of staring at the numbers on the display screen as they changed. He could hear Kelly rustling for her keys. The fluorescent bulbs were doing her no favors. Checking her face over his shoulder as they reached her floor, he was unnerved by how much of a toll the night's events had taken on her. He pressed his palm against the edge of the door so that she could pass through, then followed her down the hall.

She looked ready to drop, walking as if she were in slow motion. God it felt late. He was amazed when his watch contradicted him. It wasn't even eleven. He noticed that her hands were shaking slightly as she tried the key in the door. It took all of his will not to step in and help her. The lock clicked loudly when she finally flipped it, the sound amplified in the stillness of the hallway. He exhaled before he realized he had been holding his breath. Slumping somewhat against the door, her hand on the knob, she turned toward him.

"Chris ... "

The name felt foreign to her. She hardly ever thought of him as anything but 'Ravell.' He was leaning against the wall, watching her. "Thank you ... I mean ... I don't usually ... I'm not usually this ..."

He shrugged the shoulder that wasn't propped near her door. "I still owe you a drink."

The effort she put into trying to smile at him was pitiful. Her lower lip trembling, she looked on the verge of tears once more. Instantly protective, he moved closer, resting both hands gently on her shoulders.

Before he had a chance to speak, she swallowed hard and whispered, "I'm all right ... I'll be all right."

"I know you will."

Leaning forward, he kissed her forehead briefly, paternally. Backing away, hands shoved into his jacket pockets, he nodded toward her door. "Get some rest, okay?"

Without waiting for an answer, he headed for the elevator. Gazing at his back, her eyes brimming, Kelly silently thanked him again. Then she pushed her door open and was enveloped by darkness.

Part 5

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