*All around me, darkness gathers; Fading is the sun that shone. We must speak of other matters: You can be me when I'm gone.*
Standing up had been highly unpleasant. Opening his eyes had been worse.
John Munch splashed cold tap water on his face and squinted at his reflection in the smeared mirror. Through the haze of hangover, he tried to weigh the relative good and bad aspects of spending the night passed out in his own bar. The concept of professional propriety, he decided, was too slippery for the early hour and his delicate condition. He did his best not to stagger as he left the Waterfront's small bathroom, closing his eyes to dodge the sunlight and consoling himself with the knowledge that he'd woken in worse places before.
"Though that's not really something to be proud of," he reminded himself, groping along the bar for his tinted glasses. He slipped them on before he looked up. As he blinked the blurred world into focus, he was startled to see a familiar silhouette standing just inside the bright doorway.
"Tim? How long have you been there?"
Tim yawned and moved slowly to sit on the nearest barstool. "I let myself in a minute ago. I just came off shift and I didn't feel up to walking home yet, so I came here to think a little. What are you doing here? Wasn't it your night off?"
"It was supposed to be, at some distant point in the past." John rounded the end of the bar and began rummaging through the various cabinets. "I came in to find a jacket I left here, and our magnificent hired help took the opportunity to clamor for sick leave - never mind that it's not allergy season or flu season - so naturally, I end up with the short end of the stick."
"Mmm." Tim nodded sympathetically, recognizing John's attempt to talk around the fact that he hadn't had a date.
Munch turned around and placed two glasses of orange juice on the bar. He handed the normal one to Tim, and took a large swallow from the one that looked to have been spiked with god-knows-what. He winced slightly as it went down. "I may have slightly overindulged after closing up. Here's to traditional home remedies." Taking another drink, he regarded Bayliss for a quiet moment. "Are you okay with things?"
Tim was confused. "Well, you weren't drinking while you were tending bar, right?"
"I didn't mean that. I meant that this is the first week you've been back on nights -"
"Since Frank left," Tim finished for him, toying with his drink.
"Sure, since Frank left. Since Kellerman left. Since you were shot, Tim. Since three of our fellow officers were killed right in our own squadroom, not to mention Ballard and Gharty getting hit." Munch shrugged. "And for you, all that boils down to 'since Frank left.' That says a lot."
"Well, you know what it's like, don't you?" Tim said, pointedly.
"Mike wasn't my partner in much more than name only. Even when things started to unravel, he thought of Lewis as his partner. And vice versa."
"John. You know I wasn't just talking about Kellerman."
He drained his glass and pressed one thin hand to his temple, but Tim continued. "I remember how you acted when Stan left. And when he was supposed to come to the bar that time, and he didn't. He went away, and he didn't come back, and he was your partner. Don't tell me you don't know."
Munch put his glass down. He started to walk away, but abruptly turned back and glared at Bayliss. "Yeah, I know what it's like when your partner leaves, and that's why I'm telling you this. I'm not a very good example to follow. You have to learn to work with whoever comes down the pipe, because the idolizing, the bonding, the unspoken connection you think you make - it will go away. People leave, Timmy; it happens all the time. Bolander, Russert, Kellerman, Pembleton, and for that matter, Felton and Crosetti. Partnership is a funny thing, and a fleeting one. Go with the proverbial flow."
Tim looked up at him, stung, denial in his expressive eyes. "It's not that simple. Frank is... we...." His voice caught, and he sipped some orange juice and shook his head. "I took a bullet for him. He would have done the same for me."
Munch was exasperated. It was like trying to explain to a cat that, yes, it was raining out and, no, he couldn't change the weather at will. "You don't really know that, Tim," he said, gently. "He has a wife and kids, he might think a little differently about these things than you do."
Tim shook his head again, negating every word. John sighed and touched him lightly on the shoulder. Yes, kitten, the rain will always get you wet.
"I believe in my partner," Tim muttered, finally. "Maybe you're just bitter because you never took a bullet for Stan, and he wouldn't have done what you did for him."
The guard went up instantly in Munch's eyes, as he pulled back, whisking the empty glasses away. He clanked them into the sink, loudly enough that his headache throbbed again and he cringed. Tim knew the conversation had gotten on both their nerves, and he eased himself to his feet, changing the subject to something less touchy. "I'm gonna go get some sleep. It was a long shift. Picked up a stone-cold whodunit, dead junkie dumped in Leakin Park."
"Who're you riding with?" Munch said, a little too lightly to sound natural.
"I went out with Sheppard on this one." Munch groaned, and Tim protested, "What? She's a good detective, and she's a beautiful woman."
"Sheppard's all right. Like the new decor in the squadroom's all right. She's got about as much personality as blue paint. She's no Kay Howard."
"No one is," Tim agreed. "I miss Kay."
"She visited you in the hospital, but you were a little... fuzzy, at the time."
"I must have been. I don't remember. You and Kay..." Bayliss trailed off, realizing Munch was in no mood for further personal questions. He headed for the door. "Never mind. See you at work tonight."
"Take care of yourself," Munch said, and the ordinary expression was suddenly loaded.
Tim wanted to argue again, to defend Frank, himself, partnership, and his whole world view, but as the anger rose in him, so did the hurt. It occurred to him that he might be more like Munch than he wanted to admit, and that made him uncomfortable. He pushed the thought away. "I'll be fine," he called over his shoulder, and closed the door behind him.
Munch removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes, and contemplated taking Jim Peem home to bed with him. Hair of the dog, they said, and he didn't have to be at work for hours yet. He spoke aloud in the empty room, not sure whether he believed what he said:
"So will I."
*Flowers gathered in the morning, Afternoon they blossom on, Still are withered by the evening. You can be me when I'm gone.*