Not Less The Soul, Nor More
by Tobiascharity

The small apartment was dark, the only light cast by a high window no bigger than a hardback book set on its side. The green glow of the digital clock declared it to be 5:21 and cast a weak light on a dark head resting on a pillow. The bedframe creaked, the covers rustled, and suddenly the figure in the bed jolted upright, a horrified sob tearing through the silence.


Frank blinked once, twice, slowly coming to grips with the fact that he was not in a filthy horse stall staring at the body of his partner, was instead sitting in his own bed, in his own apartment, listening to the sounds of a slowly waking city outside. He let his head drop to his chest and exhaled heavily, his muscles going slack. Third nightmare in as many days, he thought idly. Why, when he dreamt, was Joe always the one who wound up with a bullet in his chest?

He glanced at the clock and, deciding that maybe he'd get a head start on the day since he certainly wasn't going to be getting any more sleep tonight, swung his feet to the chilly floor and stumbled into the kitchen.

Half a pot of coffee and a leisurely shower later, Frank had banished all thought of nightmares from his mind. He pulled on his suit coat and grabbed his keys from his dresser, heading for the door a full half hour ahead of schedule.


"Don't tell me you've been here for an hour already, Frank."

He started and nearly spilled coffee over an open file. "Mornin', Joe." Last night's nightmare suddenly rushed back, bringing with it the image of Joe lying dead on the hay-strewn floor, a maroon stain spreading unevenly across his back. At that, Frank did spill his coffee, sending a wave of brown liquid across the neatly organized stack of crime scene photos he'd just worked on.

"Jeez, Frank." Joe grabbed a pile of napkins from Rydell's desk and dropped them onto the encroaching pool of coffee.

"Fuck," Frank said eloquently, mopping up his mess. Joe didn't smile, just sat down behind his desk and reached for the now-damp file.

"Relax, Frank; it's just coffee," was all he said before opening the file and flipping through the statements. "Rhodes case?"

"Yeah." They fell into the easy rhythm of phone calls and follow ups, but underneath it all was Frank's memory of his nightmares, the thought of Joe dead. Irreversibly, uncomprehendingly, suddenly dead.


He was losing his mind, Frank decided, letting his coat and his bag drop to the floor where he stood, and kicked the door to his apartment closed behind him. He threw his keys onto the kitchen counter and pulled a beer out of the refrigerator, then, as an afterthought, grabbed the strap to his bag and pulled it over to the couch. Sitting down and turning on the news, he emptied the contents onto the cushion beside him and separated the files into mentally labeled stacks. Murders, kidnappings, rapes. Divided them into subgroups--men, children, women. Crime scene photos spilled out onto his lap and he picked them up, sifted through them.

Hell, he'd already lost it, Frank decided, and threw the photos onto the floor. Couldn't handle this; couldn't even do the basics anymore. Couldn't sleep, not when every time he closed his eyes he saw Joe's bullet-ridden back. Couldn't eat, not when every thought led him to that one path of Joe Is Dead and made him feel as if he were going to be sick. Couldn't work, not when in every photo Joe was superimposed over the victims.

It was understandable to a degree, Frank thought, pushing the photos into a messy pile. Joe was the one who always put himself in the dangerous situations. A desperate man with a gun plus a small enclosed space where no one had Joe's back if the gunman decided to do a little target practice--Frank rememberd the cold rush of fear when Joe tucked his gun back into the holster and held his hands up high as if to say, nothing you can do now, boys.

Crazy, he thought. Joe came out of that one unscathed, but it wasn't the first time and Frank knew it wouldn't be the last time Joe decided to throw himself into a dangerous situation. Crazy. He's been on the force what, nineteen, twenty years, and he still acts like an eager rookie. It's not right, Frank mused, for me to worry about him. But there's still that memory of the icy crawl down his spine, the unadulterated fear that oh my God, Joe's gonna die. Reason abandons him when his partner's life is on the line, and Frank can't get it.

Understandable to a degree. After all, Joe's his backup too, and they'd got the easy rhythm of partnership down. Frank took nearly a year to get used to his last partner, and when you haven't got the rhythm, the dance on the street gets a lot more dangerous. So sure, Frank could dismiss it as worry over having to break himself to a new partner if Joe went down. He'll just ignore whatever's telling him that that's not the only reason why he's worried.

Frank stuffed the files and photos back into his bag and picked up the remote, trying to banish the nightmarish images creeping closer to his consciousness.


"Detective Smith. Smith!"

He hauled himself back to reality, effectively locking the nightmares that had begun invading his waking hours into a corner of his mind he tried not to think about, and nodded affirmation at Officer Cutler, who cast him a wary look and leveled his gun at the door. Joe jerked his head at Frank, who knocked twice and shouted, "Police! Open up!"

"Get the fuck outta here!" Someone slurred back from inside. Joe rolled his eyes and gestured again. Frank pounded the fleshy part of his fist against the door ("Less wear and tear on the knuckles that way," Joe had explained, demonstrating. "Makes a nice noise if you do it right, too.") and shouted again. "Open this door, sir!"

"You wanna make me open it, fuckin' pig you oughta..." the voice dissolved into mumbles and Frank bit back a cold smile. At Joe's nod he stepped back from the door and delivered a swift kick to the center of it. The cheap metal lock screeched and bent under the attack and it was a simple matter for him to shoulder it the rest of the way open.

He looked up and found himself nose to barrel with an ugly little .45. Somewhere behind him he vaguely heard Joe shouting for him to raise his weapon, to duck, to do something, goddammit! but he found himself instead giving thanks that at least this time it wouldn't be Joe on the floor with a bullet in his chest.


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