COURAGE

For Karen.


"Detective."

He lifts his face slowly from the dark cave of his hands, sits up straight at his desk as his boss approaches. "Sir?"

Gates looks him over with a critical eye. Dear Lord, if she starts in on him now...

And then she leans her hip against the edge of his desk, arms crossed, gives him a piercing gaze that leaves him feeling bare. The captain clears her throat.

"You made a wise decision today," she says, quietly but with a voice that brooks no argument.

Ryan starts to scoff, but then he catches her glare, turns it into a cough instead. "Thank you, sir."

Lips pressed together in a tight line, she stares at him, eyes narrowed. Despite her words, he feels as though he's back in Catholic school, sitting in the headmaster's office after talking in class one too many times. He has to forces his hands to stay still, has to force his right foot to the floor to keep it from tapping and betraying his nerves.

"You'll work with Detective Karpowski's team temporarily," Gates informs him, and he nods, swallowing the lump in his throat. "When Detective Esposito returns, it will be up to you whether you want to work with him or-"

He cuts her off. "He's my partner."

The captain says nothing for a moment, simply regards him with a gaze that seems almost scientific in its dissection. He doesn't look away.

"He's my partner," Ryan repeats, his voice a little softer this time, dropping his eyes to his folded hands.

"You've certainly proven yourself to be his partner."

The young detective's eyes dart up. He opens his mouth, but Gates speaks first.

"You saved Beckett's life today, Detective Ryan," she says slowly. "Had you not come to me when you did, I have no doubt that she would be dead. You may have saved Detective Esposito as well."

Ryan shakes his head. "He would have-"

"No." Her voice is firm. "He might have escaped physically unscathed, but if Beckett had been killed-"

"He would have felt responsible," the detective finishes quietly. "He would have blamed himself."

He finds no sympathy, no compassion in her eyes when he looks up - only truth, only the shimmer of experience. He's wondered about her sometimes. He knows she came from Internal Affairs, knows she has a reputation for being by the book, for being strict. And compared to Roy Montgomery, who always went a little easy on their team, who drank and played poker with them, who treated them like sons and daughters - compared to him, she seems cold, harsh.

But he sees it now, sees the way she values the truth, sees the way she values the lives and integrity of her officers. Lies had gotten them into this mess in the first place. And he had known, instinctively, that heaping new lies on top of the old wouldn't get them out of it. So he had acted on his doubts and his convictions.

"You didn't betray them."

He blinks, pulling himself from his thoughts to focus on his captain once more. His captain now, as much as Montgomery ever was. Her arms stay folded over her chest. She cuts as imposing a figure here leaning against his desk as she does in her office, as she did on that rooftop.

"You didn't betray your partners," she repeats. "They may not see that now, but they will."

He shakes his head. "And if they don't?"

She shrugs. "Better to lose their friendship than their lives."

Sighing, he pushes back from his desk, stands and pulls on his jacket. "Thank you, sir."

Gates nods, straightening her posture. "Have a good evening, Detective. I'll expect to see you here first thing tomorrow."

"Yes, sir," he answers. He meets her eyes once more, and there's something new there, something that looks a lot like respect, a lot like admiration. "Have a good evening."

She purses her lips, and he turns away, picks up his things and takes a deep breath.

He's halfway to the elevator when he hears her voice. "Ryan?"

Pivoting slowly, he faces her. "Sir?"

"Just remember, Detective," she says, her voice carrying through the empty bullpen. "It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends."

He blinks. "Did you-"

Gates cocks her head just slightly. "Did I what, Detective?"

"Sir," he says, his eyebrows furrowing. "Sir, did you just quote Dumbledore?"

She levels him with a look. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

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