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the island of conclusions

A Voice in Ramah (Southland fic, gen)

the island of conclusions

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A Voice in Ramah (Southland fic, gen)

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Ben Sherman
I can’t quite believe I wrote this kind of fic for Southland, and I’m kind of embarrassed that I have. I’ve had the idea for a while, but it morphed into something that takes place after 3.04 (though there aren’t any explicit spoilers for the ep.). I’m posting in something of a hurry, because I think 3.05 might be a game changer.

Title: A Voice in Ramah
Rating: gen, pg-13
Genre: straight-up h/c, y’all—insofar as that is possible for Southland.
Word count: ~3.4K
Warnings/spoilers: it’s set after 3.04, but there aren’t any explicit spoilers in the fic.
Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit.
a/n: title from Jeremiah 31.15

Summary: It was Monday morning, John’s back was killing him, and Ben seemed to have caught a cold. Or at least he was sniffling and rooting around the car trying to find things to blow his nose with like someone who had a cold. It was driving John crazy. Nothing like starting out the week already on your last nerve.



It was Monday morning, John’s back was killing him, and Ben seemed to have caught a cold. Or at least he was sniffling and rooting around the car trying to find things to blow his nose with like someone who had a cold. It was driving John crazy. Nothing like starting out the week already on your last nerve.

“You sick?” he asked finally.

“Nah,” Ben said. “I’m good.” He hastily aborted a move to swipe at his nose with his wrist.

“Because,” John continued as if Ben hadn’t said anything, “the Department has these things called sick days. Precisely so as to prevent you from spreading your germs across half of LA. Or, say, to the guy sitting next to you in the car.”

“Not sick,” Ben repeated. “Hate being sick,” he added. And sneezed. “Allergies, maybe,” he conceded, as John handed him a napkin left over from lunch.

“Uh-huh. If you say so.” John felt a burst of involuntary sympathy. “Wanna to swing by a drugstore so you can pick something up?” It was a compromise, but maybe it would stop the sniffling.

“Yeah. Okay. Thanks.”

John tried to assess things out of the corner of his eye as they detoured. Ben seemed more alert than he had the past couple of weeks—back to doing everything by the book and absorbing all John’s moves so strenuously it was like watching someone take notes without a pen or paper. His nose was red, though, and there were dark circles under his eyes, as if he still weren’t sleeping well.

Well, John wasn’t going to call him on that. It wasn’t like he was sleeping that well himself. In fact, John would’ve been willing to bet that there wasn’t a cop in LA who was sleeping well at the moment.

So when Ben came out of the pharmacy with Tylenol Cold and Flu instead of Benadryl or Sudafed, John didn’t call him on that either.

By Wednesday, though, Ben was coughing too. Mostly trying to swallow the coughs, really, which led to a truly annoying kind of sputtering--or stepping a few feet back from whomever they were trying to interview with a muttered “excuse me” and hacking into his elbow. His face was bone-pale around sunglasses John was sure hid shadowed eyes.

John tried to strong arm him into going home, but came up against a surprising amount of resistance. John wasn’t sure why a day off in front of the TV, sick or not, was such a bad prospect, but there was clearly something about the idea Ben didn’t like, that had him denying and deflecting John’s attempts.

And that’s where things stood when they saw a guy duck out of convenience store, tucking something into the back of his jeans. The man—a boy really—broke into a run as soon as they slowed the squad car, and sheer force of habit had Ben out the door in pursuit and John letting him do it before he could adjust for current conditions. When the guy cut into an alley between two buildings, Ben followed and John automatically pulled the car around the block to the other end.

Usually, when this happened, John found the same scene when he exited the car: a suspect furious at being felled by one of Ben’s patented welter-weight tackles, and Ben snapping on the cuffs like the world’s smallest and happiest linebacker. It had cheered John up on a lot of bad days, that scene.

But not this time. This time the perp was nowhere to be seen, and Ben was hunched over mid-way down the alley, hands on his knees, coughing like he was about to lose a lung.

“You alright?”

“Sorry,” Ben gasped out between coughs, still bent nearly double. “Sorry.”

“Hey—it happens. Not to you, I know, but it happens. I’ll call in a description—they’ll pick him up.” John moved closer, got a hand on Ben’s bicep, because it looked like keeling over was a real possibility. Then, startled by the heat coming off him, he reached around towards Ben’s face.

Reflexively, almost violently, Ben shook him off.

John stepped back. “Sherman,” he said, crossing his arms.

Ben heard the command. He sucked in a ragged breath, spat, and raised himself to something like standing—kept himself still, almost rigid, while John pressed a deliberate palm to his forehead. Ben’s skin was far too warm, and dry, when he should have been sweating from the chase.

“You have a fever,” John said, because he wasn’t sure if Ben even knew. “C’mon, I’ll take you back to the station.”

“Yes sir.” Ben gave John a look like it was his fault he was sick, but trudged obediently towards the car.

John shook his head. Sometimes he almost wished he’d had that kid with Karen. At least then he’d have gotten some of the cute and cuddly out of parenthood, not be perpetually stuck in the sullen post-adolescence of rookies.

++++++

Still, when he came off shift, he scrolled down until he found Ben’s number on his phone.

He had a momentary pang about the possibility of waking the kid up, but Ben answered on the first ring. And he didn’t sound like someone who had dosed themselves with cold medicine and spent the afternoon snoozing on the couch. He sounded alert, wired even.

“Hey,” said John. “Just checking up on you.” There was no point in beating around the bush. “You taking it easy like I told you to?”

“Yeah. Sure thing.” Ben broke off to cough harshly. “Just reading, you know, staring at the walls.”

He definitely sounded weird, but John couldn’t put his finger on exactly how so he let it go. “Okay. Get some rest.”

He hung up, and tried to quell his prickle of unease. Ben had family in LA, after all—a mom and two sisters he could call if he was feeling really bad. No need for John to get involved.

He drove for a few more minutes, and then found himself pulling into the deli near his house. Who was he kidding? Ben’s mom was just as likely to give him vodka as orange juice, and as for the sisters—well, it was pretty clear the caretaking only ran one way in the Sherman family.

He got some juice, and a take-out carton of chicken soup—it was something they actually did a good job on here—and, then, on impulse, a tub of vanilla ice cream.

“Doting much?” said a sarcastic voice inside John’s head, and sniggered until he respectfully told it to shut the fuck up.

++++++

John saw a hand twitch back the blind as he pulled up in front of Ben’s house, and the door cracked open before he’d even gotten a chance to ring the bell.

“John?” Ben asked, one hand on the doorframe, the other busy securing something at the small of his back.

He looked rough, bundled into a LAPD hooded sweatshirt. Whatever temperature he’d been running that morning seemed to have only gotten higher. His eyes took up even more of his face than usual, and a sharp flush stood out along the ridges of his cheekbones.

“You didn’t sound so good,” John said, because why start with subterfuge now? “So I brought over some soup.”

Ben squinted at him suspiciously, and cleared his throat a couple of times. “You did? Um, that was, uh—nice. Thank you.”

But he made no move to open the door further, even though John could see his knuckles going white from the strain of keeping himself upright. And now John was definitely getting it, the vibe he sometimes got off domestic violence calls, the one that told him he’d better check inside.

So he put his hands on his hips, and smiled just enough to show that he was serious. “Aren’t you gonna ask me in? Or you got a girl in there? Someone come over to mop your fevered brow?”

“Nah.” Ben half-smiled, half-scowled. “Not my thing.” But he opened the door and stood back to let John pass.

++++++

A clutter of tissues and blankets and half-full cups of water lay scattered around the couch, as if Ben has struggled and failed to get comfortable there. But nothing seemed particularly amiss. Certainly nothing to justify the anxious eye Ben swept over everything as they came in.

He was moving slow, like every step hurt, but he still managed to convey tension and vigilance with every line of his body—like he’d jump a mile or throw a punch if John so much as raised his voice.

And so John waited until Ben had stowed the ice cream in the freezer—with an incredulous eyebrow raise and the first hint of a real grin John had seen all week—and had found spoons and bowls for the soup before asking, “Something spook you, boot?”

“What?” Ben paused. He was leaning against the counter, bowl in hand, apparently too wary even to sit down. “No. What? Why?”

John shrugged, kept his voice neutral because for all he knew there might legitimately be something going on. “No reason. Just wondering why you’re carrying a weapon at six o’clock in the evening in your own house.”

Ben scowled, but didn’t deny it, so John pressed on. “Something going on that I should know about? Someone threaten you?”

Ben shook his head, but wouldn’t look at John. “No. Just thought I heard something. Maybe. Lots of strange noises this time of day. Just felt better with it on me, y’know?”

John did know, and he hoped the wave of sympathy he was feeling didn’t show too much on his face. Paranoia was an occupational hazard for cops, and he had a feeling it might’ve pre-dated the Academy, in Ben’s case. Not to mention the week they’d had. And to be sick and fuzzy-headed on top of that?

“Ben—“ he started.

But now Ben did raise his eyes, glared at John almost belligerently. “What? You gonna ream me out some more? Lecture me on the dangers on firearms in the home? Tell me how working sick might have gotten both of us—“

He stopped abruptly, and the two of them stared at each other for a long moment. Then Ben clattered bowl and spoon back onto the counter and pushed himself away.

“I’m gonna take a shower,” he said. “Thanks for the soup.”

++++++

John frowned. It had clearly been a dismissal. But then again Ben hadn’t explicitly told him to go. And you’d have to be blind not to know something was out of wack here. So he stalled instead. Collected the plates, fussed with the dishwasher. Waited until he heard the water shut off and Ben padding back towards his bedroom.

And then followed, feeling awkward as hell, but telling himself he would just make sure Ben had gotten himself to bed, and then take off.

The room was dark beyond the half-open door. “Ben?” John called cautiously, feeling again like he was out on a call. “Just making sure you’re okay before I go.”

No answer. John nudged the door open with his foot, scanning the gloom for his partner. Then he saw him. Ben was pressed up against the wall next to the window: shirtless, hair spiked from the shower. His gun was out now, cocked and at the ready.

A stab of cold fear went through John. Because whichever way you cut it—real danger or imaginary—it wasn’t good.

“Hey,” he whispered. “What’s up? You hear something?”

“Shh,” Ben hissed, and now that John was closer, he could see that his eyes were a little too wide, a little wild. “Can you hear that?”

John listened, he did. But all he could hear were the ordinary sounds of an L.A. night—the whizz of cars, the distant thrum of a chopper, some kind of dance music playing too far away to catch the tune.

“No,” John said, as gently as he dared. “Everything sounds okay. How ‘bout you put that thing down, huh?”

Ben shook his head, a tense little jerk of fury. “No. You just saying that because yo think I’m hallucinating—that I’m delirious or something.”

And, yeah, that’s was pretty much what John was thinking. But he said, “No. No—you’re right. Never hurts to be careful. Why don’t I go check things out? You keep a watch here, and I’ll go take a look outside.”

That seemed to satisfy Ben. He nodded more naturally, but John noticed he’d started shivering hard enough to set the gun shaking in his hands.

“Here,” he said, snagging a shirt off a chair and handing it to Ben. “Stay warm. And try not to shoot me."

++++++

There was nothing untoward outside Ben’s house. John hadn’t thought there would be, but he diligently checked all the corners and shadows just the same. It was still early, and occasionally he could hear car doors thunking shut, and people laughing as they went into their houses. An ordinary evening, if you were lucky enough to enjoy it.

++++++

“It really is fine out there,” John said when he came back into the bedroom, putting all the confidence and authority he could into his voice. “I checked everywhere, and there’s nothing to worry about.”

Ben had flattened himself even tighter against the wall. He was sitting now, knees drawn up, with the hand holding the gun slung across them and his head resting on that, like he didn’t have the strength to hold it up any more. He lifted it at the sound of John’s voice, though, and nodded mutely.

John lost a breath at the sight of his face. It was as if the fever had burned away all the intervening years, leaving only the four-year-old Ben had once been behind. And God if it didn’t make John wish for the belligerence or the sullenness or even the crazy back again. Because this was worse.

But his time on the job had taught him nothing if not to work with what he had, so John crouched down to Ben’s level, ignoring the pull along his back, and repeated, in almost the same tone he would have used with a scared kid, “Nothing to worry about. Whaddaya say you give me the gun now, and lie down?”

Ben’s face was wide open now—not scared anymore but simply sad. He handed the gun to John with a kind of heartbreaking trustfulness, and John quickly emptied the chamber and flipped on the safety. Then he tugged Ben to his feet—though in the end it wasn’t entirely clear who was helping who—and steered him towards the bed. They had to pause halfway across the room for a vicious coughing jag, but John held him steady through that too—and if Ben’s eyes were streaming at the end of it, John was willing to pretend it was due to illness and nothing else.

When Ben had curled himself up under the covers, John rustled through the bathroom medicine cabinet for supplies. Ah, the meager needs of youth, he thought half-enviously—nothing but OTC pain relievers, an ace bandage and an almost full bottle of Ambien, which John seriously considered pilfering for himself. But there was some Nyquil at least, and a thermometer, still in its packaging, on the top shelf.

Ben took the pills and drank some water with same silent, awful, childlike compliance. He even let John take his temperature without complaint. 103 even: bad, but not disastrous, and the cold meds would probably bring it down some.

“Get some sleep, okay?” John felt like he had been saying the same thing all day, but Ben was clearly too out of it to care.

++++++

But once he was on the other side of the bedroom door again, John couldn’t quite decide what to do. He could probably leave—the gun was disarmed, and hopefully the meds would let Ben sleep for the rest of the night. Still, it had been an unnerving hour or two, and he didn’t feel entirely comfortable taking off now.

Besides, since he was in an honest mood, John was prepared to admit that the solitude of his own house had been putting him on edge all week, and that even a night on the couch, listening to Ben cough, was preferable to another night staring at the dark paneling of his room, counting the minutes until it would be remotely justifiable to take another pill.

And so he stayed—though in the end he decided the floor would be marginally more forgiving on his back than the sofa cushions. And even though he thought the restless sounds of Ben muttering and coughing in his sleep would keep him awake, John must have crashed hard, because the next thing he knew, morning light was coming in the windows, and someone was running the shower.

He groaned—clearly “forgiving” had been an overly optimistic estimation of the floor’s effect on his back. It took a good minute and the help of a handy end table to lever himself upright. And even then, “upright” was just a nice word for his relation to vertical. But he shuffled into the kitchen, downed couple of pills with a glass of tap water, and set about looking for the coffee.

Before the pot had finished brewing, Ben emerged, hacking roughly into one fist and holding something loosely in the other. He still looked terrible—red-eyed and pale. But whatever psychic scaffolding made Ben Sherman a highly functioning adult was clearly back in place. And if John had ever doubted the iron nature of that scaffolding, its strength and tight construction, he didn’t now.

Ben did a kind of cartoon double-take when he saw John. “You’re still here,” he said blankly, as if he had no idea how to process that information. “You stayed.”

John couldn’t quite believe he’d stayed either—but he bluffed his way through nevertheless. “Yeah. Didn’t want any Disturbing the Peace citations messing up that nice record of yours.”

“Oh.” Ben dropped his eyes, clearly remembering. “Yeah. Thanks. And sorry.”

John shook his head, because apologies weren’t really what he was after. “That happen often?” he said instead.

“No.” Ben still didn’t look up. “Not really. Not so much anymore.” And even though that was only what John had already guessed, it still hurt to hear it out loud. “Just sometimes if I’m really stressed or tired. Or sick.” So that explained the whole not wanting to go home thing, at any rate.

Ben put the thermometer he’d been carrying down next to the sink. “Still up over 101,” he said disgustedly. “Hand me my phone, willya?”

John did, and poured them both coffee while he listened to Ben call in sick and then make a doctor’s appointment for later in the day.

“Maybe it’s bronchitis or something,” he suggested hopefully. “A couple of doses of antibiotics and you’ll be fine.”

“Nah,” Ben snorted. “I don’t have that kind of luck. Probably just one of those viruses you have to hunker down and survive.”

John smiled, glad to have the stoic and phlegmatic Ben Sherman back on board. “Need a ride to the doctor’s?” he offered.

“No—thanks, though. I’m okay. And if I feel really woozy I’ll call my mom. She’d get a kick out of it.”

Then he did raise his head and look at John full-on. “Glad she wasn’t here last night, though,” he said. And there was enough naked gratitude in his face that suddenly John was the one dropping his eyes.

He forced them up though, forced himself to acknowledge the depth of connection in Ben’s gaze. “I’m glad I was,” John said.

end
  • I love the way you write these two. They're so very, very broken, and yet so damned decent, too. :)
    • Thank you so much! That is really the way I see the characters, and I love them a lot, so I'm really glad it feels like I've done them justice.

      Thanks for reading!
  • This was lovely! Thank you for sharing.
  • I love this--the connection between them is so clear.
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it, and especially that the connection between them came through--I find it so moving.

      Thanks for reading!
  • oh this is wonderful
  • I really liked this. It was sweet but not too much which fits them. I liked John wanting to help and feeling awkward while doing so but I'm glad he was there for Ben.
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it, and very glad you felt it didn't go over the top with the sweetness. I feel like John does really want to be there for Ben and/or help him, and he'd be a weird mix of absolutely blunt about it, and awkward.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • I really enjoyed that, Thank you.
  • OMG, I love your style of writing this fic. It was simply wonderful. I love the connection, and John being there for Ben, even if he felt awkward!
    You just made me day better with this fic! Thank you so much <3
    • You are very welcome--I'm so glad it made your day! I'm really glad the connection between them came through, I find it really moving on the show.

      Thanks for reading!
  • Awww, they're so adorable :)
    • omg, your icon! *starts crying all over again*

      But I'm so glad you enjoyed the fic--they are adorable, in their brusque, gun-wielding way ;)

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
  • I really enjoyed this, the way Cooper's there for Sherman.
  • I especially liked this line:

    He still looked terrible—red-eyed and pale. But whatever psychic scaffolding made Ben Sherman a highly functioning adult was clearly back in place. And if John had ever doubted the iron nature of that scaffolding, its strength and tight construction, he didn’t now. Good assessment of Ben and nicely visual wording.

    • I'm so glad you liked that image--I wasn't sure it was going to work!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • This was just wonderful, I love the connection between them and John looking out for him. ♥
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I find the connection between them on the show so moving, and I'm glad some of it came across here.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
  • Voice in Ramah

    Loved this story; it is really so well written. I'm a huge Southland fan and as I read your story, I could visualize Officers Cooper and Sherman and the growing interdependency of their relationship. I hope you consider writing more Southland fiction. Good work!
    • Re: Voice in Ramah

      Thank you for the lovely feedback! I'm so glad you could visualize this happening for the characters. I'm a huge fan of the show, too, and I love the characters. They are hard to write, because the character work is so nuanced, but I expect I'll write more.

      Thanks for reading!
  • N'awww, gotta love the h/c! They're both adorable in this. Lovely fic <3
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I can't really help myself with the h/c, but I'm glad it worked okay here.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
  • Wow - this was lovely
  • This was excellent. The reveal of the rawness of Ben's self under the "scaffolding" was well done, and captured and played across what we saw at the end of the episode (oh man that was painful)--only this time Cooper was there to take over for a little while. Most excellent.
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it! That reveal was the thing I really wanted to get across, so I'm really happy it worked for you--the two of them have such volcanic things inside them, but are so tightly buttoned up, it's hard to know how to work it...

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
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