Counting the Ways

by BMP

WARNINGS: Language - after all, these boys are no angels...

DISCLAIMER: These Characters do not belong to the author or me (but if it were our sandbox, we'd let YOU play in it...) That said, this story was written purely for self entertainment (and the possible entertainment of me, thanks BMP!) and no money is being made, has changed hands, or has been paid out for the contents therein. The Author wishes to thank MOG for the ATF AU, she came up with it, and graciously lets other play there. Special thanks to GSister for Beta-ing, encouraging, and all around nagging. Without her patience and insistence, these stories would never have been.

~ Constructive Criticism will be passed on to the author
~ Flames will be used to toast marshmallows

Only an idiot thinks a new set of brakes tells a woman "I love you." So it was no surprise to find her crying her eyes out in the kitchen, tears pouring down that beautiful face. Her, eight weeks pregnant, two weeks in her new house, and already the honeymoon's over. And me, saving the sorry butt of that idiot out in the tool shed, oblivious to the mess he's made.

It hurts to see her cry. And I'd deck ol' Chris if he were standing here. He's done some pretty stupid things. I know it ain't the first time he's made her cry. But as far as I know, it's the first time he didn't come back to say he was sorry.

I clear my throat, 'cause I don't want to startle her. "Sarah?" I say, real quiet. Real soft, the way you talk to a hurt animal.

She blinks and her hand comes up to wipe her eyes, as if she really thought I hadn't noticed.

"You okay?" I ask her.

And her eyes melt and fill up again and her lips tremble as they turn up into that sweet little smile she gets when she sees people she loves. And when she sees me.

Sometimes I swear that if Chris had been just a tiny bit more oblivious, had his head been a little bit farther up his self-absorbed ass, and had he missed it, missed that look she gave him, missed the smile that lights her face every time she lays eyes on him, she'd have been mine. And I'd have caught her, too.

But then I remember that I ain't the marrying kind. Or the settling down kind. Or even the move-in-for-a-while-and-share-my-space kind. So she's probably better off picking the one, between the two of us, who can steer a steady course.

Plus, I remind myself, she really loves him. She loves that hardheaded idiot. So the least I can do for my idiot best friend is remind her that he loves her, too. He just forgets that sometimes a woman needs to be told.

I'm close enough now to take the piece of paper out of her hand. She knows I already know what it is. 'Cause I asked him.

"It's her first birthday with you, you know," I reminded him six hours ago. 'Cause stuff like that matters.

He looked at me like I'M the oblivious one. "I know," he said. And went right back to filling out paperwork on our last bust.

So I stood up, reached across both our desks and pulled the pen out of his hand.

"So you got her something romantic, right?"

I asked this morning 'cause I figured he'd still have time to fix it if he screwed up.

See, I know how Larabee shops. I could just see him at the card store, three feet inside the door and picking up the first thing he sees that might do. Cheesy-looking stuffed apes holding red satin hearts that read "I'm bananas over you" come to mind.

Okay, that might not be entirely fair. I've known Chris a long time. Been to battle beside him — in a lot of different ways. We've killed a lot of beers together. Other killings we don't talk about. I know that Chris isn't that cheesy. He's nowhere NEAR that cheesy. Trouble is, he's nowhere near that romantic, either.

I got a nasty glare for my efforts to assist, just to let me know that I'm sticking my nose where it don't belong. And just to remind me that, despite the fact that both of us know who's the expert in the romance department, ol' I-know-everything-Larabee ain't about to give an inch or ask any questions or take any advice.

"It's already taken care of," he said, his tone and the way he pulled the pen back out of my hand both telling me to mind my own business. I can do that. After all, a day in the homicide division can be a long one. Long and boring, with plenty of time to practice my interrogation skills on my unwilling partner.

It was at the end of our long day, as he was pulling on his coat and heading for his car, that I finally figured I had him off guard enough. I used the weapon he hardly ever sees coming: the direct question.

"So, what'd you get her?" I asked.

He grinned. And said the last thing even I ever expected. "Brakes."

"Brakes?!" I roared in disbelief.

He was in the car and gone before I could even find words to express exactly how stupid that idea was.

Apparently he did get to the card store, though. There's a ripped yellow envelope on the table half-hidden behind her, with a card beside it, that as far as I can make out, seems to be reasonably pretty. For Larabee, anyway.

I'm not interested in the card, though. I'm looking at the paper in my hand. 'Cause it's even worse than I thought. It's the bill. From the repair shop. Itemizing exactly what has been fixed on Sarah's car. He did cut out the price listing and the total cost and the credit card number and the signature. Because you don't let people know what you spent on their gifts, obviously.

Knowing Chris's way with words, I imagine the card says "Here. New brakes. On me. Happy Birthday. Chris."

Well, what woman wouldn't swoon?


I bend all the way down to squat in front of her and snake my hand up onto her knee.

"All right," I say. "He ain't Casanova." Hell, we all knew that. "But he does love you."

And the tears practically jump right out of her eyes. Now she's sobbing. And I think I'm going to kill him.

"What's going on in here?" the voice demands. And it's got an edge to it that makes me remove my hand and my person far from his wife, even though I ain't done a single solitary thing but try to fix up the mess HE made.

Sarah stares at him like she doesn't know what to say. Chris's eyes fly from the card and ripped envelope to the paper in my hand and back to her.

"You couldn't wait?" he asks. Like that's the only problem he sees with this picture.

Then she's on her feet and she flies into him so fast, she nearly knocks both of them into the foyer wall.

A second later, her lips are locked onto his so hard, I feel like I should slink off into the living room now.

"I love you," I hear her say, when she lets go.

He grunts in amusement, as I consider inching toward the exit. That's when I notice the roses, still in paper. A full dozen of them. No, more. More like fourteen, fifteen, sixteen... I'm counting. I should be leaving.

"I'm going to Vegas," I hear her say.

I stop counting. But I'm still not leaving. Because I'm standing here staring at both of them. His eyes are smiling right down into hers and he is grinning one of his world-champion smart-ass grins.

"I'm buying plane tickets," she says, and she sounds like she might giggle.

"Tell 'em I said hi," he returns all casual, the smart-ass smile leaking into his voice.

Now I remember, I think, a half-heard conversation I wasn't paying attention to—in my defense, the game was on, and I don't think anyone was talking to me anyway. Something about Sarah, Las Vegas, and some college girlfriends. That's where I tuned in, I think. Just in time to hear her tell Chris that he wasn't invited. That part, I remember clearly. And the irritated look on Sarah's face as she put an end to the discussion by announcing that it didn't matter what he thought because she wasn't going anyway.

Now I'm starting to get the picture. I can put two and two together. I am a fully trained homicide detective, after all.

Sarah's a practical girl. To put it nicely, her daddy doesn't like Chris. Never could see the good in him. So the two of them ran down their own savings accounts to pay for the wedding, so they could put most of their joint funds into this house, which is gonna need a lot of work, let me tell you. Anyway, after that, neither one of them had much mad money left. And now, there's a baby to think of. You get the idea.

Now Sarah's smart-ass smile pops out onto her face as she says, "Wait 'til I tell the girls you bought me brakes for my first birthday as your wife."

Boy that information oughta provide several days worth of fun for Sarah's girlfriends. By the time they're done finding ways to rake him over the coals for that brilliant idea, the reunion weekend will be over.

Chris frowns, as he thinks about it. "Should have got you the plane tickets," he says, his tone suddenly less certain.

Aha! Into that thick head, a little daylight finally shines.

But Sarah, God bless her, just shakes her head and lays her cheek against that flannel shirt that must smell like eight days worth of sweat and sawdust.

"No," she says. Her voice is muffled, so I have to strain to hear. "Plane tickets say I'm free to go."

She squeezes him a little harder. "Brakes say you want me to come back safe."

Now he's kissing her.

And I realize neither one of them have any idea that I'm still standing here.

"I'm going to Vegas," she sing-songs as they break apart. "With the girls."

"I know," he says smugly, his eyes smiling down into hers.

"But I'm not going tonight," she purrs. And his smile takes on a whole new meaning.

I back right out of the kitchen. I head for the back door. And neither one of them sees me go.

Looks like I'm on my own for dinner tonight.

I get into my car. It's parked next to Chris's 'cause Sarah keeps her car in the garage. A cherry red, gas-guzzling hot rod. And when Chris is making fun of my obsession with my own vintage truck, she makes fun of him by sighing and mooning over her car, the last remnant of her carefree single days.

Well, shit!

I start to laugh.

Maybe Chris is the romantic after all.

He just says it different, that's all. Guess he just needed to find a woman who understands his language.

And she does. You know, she really does.

So if Chris is the romantic, I guess that makes me the dumbass this time. And you know what? I don't mind. 'Cause that makes me happy down to my toes.

~The End~