The clock on the kitchen wall reads half past midnight when she knocks on his door.
And it is her, of course. There's not even a question in his mind that Sarah Linden is standing out in the hallway, frowning as she looks for the key that isn't there anymore.
Holder closes his eyes and wills her to go away, even as he knows that she's too stubborn for that. He'd spent the last few hours wallowing by himself in the dark apartment, crying and smoking and retching to the point where his throat burns and his head pounds, and he wants it to stay that way for a while.
It's what he deserves, he thinks. He's sure the inevitable suspension that gets handed down to him will help ensure this is exactly what happens.
There's another knock. "Holder? It's me."
Not if Linden can help it, though. He sighs, knows there's no use avoiding her; she's like a dog with a bone, his partner, and if he doesn't get up and let her in, she'll go away and come back with tools to pick the lock. The truth of it is, he could never truly ignore her, anyway, so he pushes himself up off the couch and trudges across the room as she starts knocking again in earnest.
"Holder? Are you awake? Open up, Ste–"
Linden looks surprised when the door actually opens and he's standing there in front of her. "Hi," she says softly. She's balancing two coffees and a paper bag on a cardboard tray, and looks him over with sad eyes. "You look like shit."
"Did I wake you?"
Her eyes move past him. "Can I come in?"
Resigned, he opens the door wider to let her walk in under his arm before he closes it again. She sets the cardboard tray on the coffee table and peels off her coat, tossing it onto a chair.
"Maple bacon donuts," she says about the paper bag. "And coffee, if you want it."
"Thanks," he mumbles, sticking a cigarette between his lips. He lights it and drops onto the sofa with a sigh.
She sighs and moves to sit beside him, pressing herself against his side. "When's the last time you ate something?"
"I don't know," he shrugs, because it's been a long day and his stomach turns at even the thought of food. He exhales a puff of smoke.
"You should eat something."
She picks up the pack of cigarettes on the table, shakes it, and frowns at its emptiness. A question is thrown at him in the form of a quirked eyebrow, and he offers her another shrug and the lit cigarette from his mouth. She takes it and inhales deeply.
Holder scrubs a hand down his face, and she narrows her eyes as she catches a glimpse of his bloodied knuckles. "What happened there?"
He looks at the back of his hand almost like he'd forgotten. "I, uh… I went over to Reddick's," he says. "Found out he actually talked to her last night. Bullet. She called the station."
Linden lets her eyes flick down to his hand and back to his face. "And you hit him?" She stubs out the cigarette in his nearly full ashtray.
"Yeah." He shakes his head. "I know. Stupid."
She purses her lips, but doesn't scold him. Instead, she says, "It was either going to be you or me, right?"
The stoic look on his face breaks a bit at that, and he allows a small chuckle. "Would've liked to see that."
She gives him a small smile and reaches for his hand, holding it up to inspect the damage. He winces. "It's too dark in here."
"Let me clean that up," she murmurs, already up and moving across the room to turn on a lamp. "Where's your first aid kit?"
He jerks his chin toward the kitchen. "Under the sink."
He watches as she goes to the kitchen and bends in front of the cabinets, coming up with a white plastic first aid kit and setting it on the counter. She picks through it for the necessary supplies before carrying her loot back to the couch.
She puts everything on the coffee table and grabs the hydrogen peroxide first. "This might hurt," she warns needlessly, soaking a couple of cotton balls.
Taking his hand in hers, she brushes her thumb across the back of it, waiting for him to acknowledge her. He nods, and grimaces as soon as the wet cotton ball touches his skin. The blood has mostly congealed, his cuts bubbling and fizzing on contact with the antiseptic in the spots that are still raw, and Linden hums an apology as she cleans each wound.
"Why under the kitchen sink?" she asks when she's done, waving her hand over his to dry it. "Why not the bathroom?"
"Sometimes need it when I'm cooking," he says, and adds, "Cooking is when you take raw ingredients and –"
"Ha ha," she deadpans, rolling her eyes. With a smirk, she adds, "Be nice to me, Holder, or I might decide you need stitches. Pink ones."
She prods at his fingers with hers for a moment. "Anything feel broken?" she asks.
There's a moment of hesitation as he considers the question before he shakes his head. "No," he says quietly.
Bacitracin comes next, smeared across his raw knuckles, and then Linden takes a length of gauze and begins wrapping it around his hand. She works gently, quickly, and when she looks up at him through her eyelashes, she finds him watching her intently.
"Don't," she says, and her voice has gone soft again. "Don't."
"I fucked up." He shakes his head. "I shouldn't have…"
"It was stupid, and selfish, and –"
She shakes her head. "Stop. It's fine. It was just… it was bad timing," she tells him. "Okay?"
Holder stares at her, confusion in his eyes as he considers her words. She nods almost imperceptibly and gives his hand a small squeeze.
"Okay?" she says again.
"Yeah," he says quietly. "Okay."
Linden gives him a tight smile and finishes with the gauze, securing it before running her fingers gently over his knuckles. She lets go of his hand, only to watch as he drops it and lets it slip down her leg to cup her knee. He rubs little circles there, and for a moment, the air between them is charged and she has to stop herself from shifting her legs farther apart.
Then he pats her knee, just as she'd done earlier, and takes his hand back nervously. He clears his throat. "So, uh. You know these ain't exactly normal visiting hours, right?
She blinks, and he can see her recompose herself. "Yeah."
"Couldn't wait until morning to see me?" he teases, trying to sound like himself and just missing the mark.
She drops her gaze the spot where he'd touched her. "I just wanted to make sure… I wanted to see how you were, after today," she says. She shakes her head. "Everyone went out to celebrate."
He snorts. "The fuck are we celebrating?"
"Yeah," she says. She gives him a sad smile. "I'm going out to see Ray Seward in the morning."
"I'm going to show him the rings and see if it's…" She presses her mouth into a line. "We are running out of time." She's speaking in a quick, hushed tone, the way he's noticed she does when she gets wrapped up in a case. "Seward didn't kill his wife. I know it, Holder."
"Yeah. I know," he says, even though he doesn't. He touches her knee again for a quick moment. "We'll get it."
She nods at him, and then frowns. "It's late. I'm keeping you up," she says. "You need to get some sleep."
"You're not," she insists. "You're running on fumes. And it's not going to help you to stay up all night thinking about it, either."
He presses his heels to his eyes. "Yo, Linden, shouldn't we be working a lead, or reading that file for the hundredth time, or something?"
"Lay down for a few hours, grab a shower, and we'll get back to it." He opens his mouth to protest again, and she cuts him off. "You're no good to me like this, Holder. "
He blows out a breath and nods his head. "Yeah, all right," he concedes. He nudges her with his elbow. "What about you?"
"When's the last time you slept?"
She waves him off. "I'm fine."
"Oh, you're fine. Okay." Holder rises from the couch and offers her a hand. "Come on," he says.
She glares up at him.
"What's good for the goose, Linden," he teases. He waggles his fingers. "Come on. I'll stay on my side if you stay on yours."
She rolls her eyes, but takes his hand and lets him pull her up, then follows him down the hall and into his bedroom.
He flicks on a lamp in the corner of the room, illuminating the sparse furniture and the unmade bed and the stack of books taking up residence on his nightstand. His sneakers get toed off at the foot of the bed, and she does the same with her boots, lining their shoes up neatly side by side.
There's a pair of earrings on the dresser where she places her gun, and she raises an eyebrow.
"Where's…" She draws a blank on the name.
"Caroline," he supplies, his jaw tight. "Gone."
With a nod, she decides not to press the issue, and crawls onto the bed instead. She sits with her back against the headboard and her legs tucked underneath her, watching him. The mattress dips under his weight as he collapses onto the space beside her.
He reaches back and pulls his hoodie over his head, tossing it just past her nose and onto the floor. She shoots him a look, and is rewarded with a pull at the corner of his mouth.
Linden stretches her legs out, and they lie on their backs next to each other, not touching except for the slight weight of her foot leaning against his leg.
After a few quiet minutes, she hazards a look at him and finds him staring at the ceiling, his arms folded under his head.
She touches his side with her fingertips, and he turns his head to look at her. She shrugs. "It was a bad day."
His eyes scan her face, lingering on her lips, the cuts at her jaw and her eye. "Yeah," he agrees.
"It'll be okay. It'll all be okay." She curls and uncurls her fingers in his undershirt. "Please trust me when I say that."
Holder nods, because he does, because it's her, and moves his arm down so that he can take her hand in his. He kisses her knuckles, his lips lingering for a long few moments before he pulls away.
She turns on her side and scoots herself closer to him, leaning her head on his shoulder. Their hands are still knotted, and she strokes his stomach lightly with her thumb. His muscles twitch under her touch.
"Thought we were staying on our own sides," he mumbles.
"Shut up and go to sleep," she orders.
He smiles and closes his eyes, his fingers tightening around hers. "You got it, boss."