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Taking The Stairs

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"But are we really stuck in an elevator? I mean, we're sitting in an elevator, but I don't feel stuck to anything. What about you, Ted? Do you feel stuck?"

"Yes, Charlie, I do feel stuck."

"But not sticky."

"Is that even zen?" Tidwell asks. "It sounds more like arguing semantics."

"A lot of philosophical discussions do end up being about semantics," Crews said, then paused. "Or with Reese threatening to shoot me."

Tidwell grinned. "No, but seriously. Is zen really just a bunch of riddles and argument about word choice and grammar? Because it kinda seems that way."

"Do you want the short answer, or the long answer?" Crews asked. Normally, he didn't give you the choice.

"The short answer, please, Charlie," Ted begged.

"No."

Tidwell waited a beat. "No?"

"No," Charlie said serenely. Tidwell hated when he did that; it always meant trouble.

"What do you mean, no?"

"I mean, no. Is zen just words? No."

"Okay," Tidwell said. "I think I need the long answer."

Ted mumbled something despairing under his breath. Tidwell magnanimously decided to ignore this. He didn't think Ted was handling being stuck in an elevator very well at all; the man was sweating and pale, and Crews had taken one look at him a few minutes ago and hadn't stopped babbling since.

"Zen is about words in the same way that...that wedding vows are about words." Crews paused, head cocked. "I wonder what deaf people do for wedding vows. Or people who can't speak. I've never been to a wedding where the bride or groom couldn't speak. Or hear. And the whole point of a vow is to speak and be heard, isn't it? Have you ever been to a wedding like that, Ted?"

"Uh, no, Charlie. I can't say I have."

"They probably use sign language. Right? That would make sense, wouldn't it?"

Now Tidwell was wondering about it, too.

"I wonder if there were ever problems with it. Maybe someone's claimed that speaking with your hands isn't technically the same thing as speaking with your mouth, so it doesn't count. Legally, I mean."

"That's terrible. Why would someone ever do that?" Ted asked.

"Maybe they were the long-lost heir to a fortune and got cut out of their inheritance by the gold-digging black widow who killed their dad."

"A deaf, gold-digging black widow." Ted seemed dubious. Tidwell thought it sounded a lot like an episode of the soap operas his second wife liked, and a bit like an old homicide case he'd heard about back in New York.

"Why not? Deaf people like money, too."

No one could really argue with that. Tidwell had the strange urge to disagree, though, if only because the conversation was way too crazy. Instead, he asked, "So zen is like wedding vows?"

"Right. Yes," Charlie said. "Because they're just words, but it means something different. Or like being sworn in as a cop. Some people just say it, but some people say it."

"You mean, they mean it."

"Right."

"Or like interrogating someone, when you know that they're lying, and they know that you know that they're lying."

"Exactly. Zen is about experiencing the truth in things." Charlie's voice took on the strange, reciting tone that it got sometimes when he said things like this. "Zen is knowing that truth is a word for the truth, but not truth itself. It is merely the shadow cast in our minds by that which is true. It is connected, as all things are, but it is not the same as that to which it is connected. And if you do not know it yourself, it does you no good."

It was at this point that Tidwell's brain started to tie itself into a pretzel.

"Charlie, that just made my head hurt," Ted said.

Crews just smiled. Serenely.

Tidwell really hated when he did that. Really.

An awkward silence fell. Ted shifted uncomfortably on the ground. His leg brushed against the plastic bag he'd been carrying since Tidwell encountered the pair on their way back from lunch, and it fell over with a peculiar thump.

"What is in there, anyway?" Tidwell asked.

Ted looked up, surprised, and Tidwell realized that he hadn't spoken directly to Ted this entire time. "Oh, it's, uh...grapes," Ted said. He hesitated. "Would you like some?" He offered the bag.

"Sure," he said, reaching out to grab a handful. They were the regular, seedless, green kind of grapes. Tidwell was glad; he'd seen some of the weird fruit Crews liked to try. They were still warm, like they'd been sitting in the sun, but were firm and juicy. His stomach rumbled, because Tidwell had skipping lunch, and maybe breakfast, too, unless he counted coffee as a food group — and Tidwell knew more than a few cops who did.

Ted turned and offered some to Crews as well. Crews gave Ted a warm smile (real, nothing like his usual ones, and that was really why Tidwell hated the serene-smile thing he did, because it was only a shadow of a true thing), and Ted smiled back and ate a grape.

"It's nice to not be in prison anymore," Crews said around a mouthful of grapes, out of nowhere, and Tidwell really didn't know what to say to that.

But of all things, this made Ted relax, in a shockingly abrupt way. He actually laughed. "Yeah, Charlie," he said. "It's nice not to be in prison."

And it wasn't until Tidwell watched Ted look around the inside of the elevator, that he realized that it was just about the size of a cell.

Silence fell again — aside from the slightly absurd sounds of three grown men eating grapes in a small, enclosed space — but now Crews was smiling down into his hands, and Ted was relaxing against the wall, and Tidwell had sun-warm grapes to eat while they waited for building maintenance to do its thing. A lifetime in New York, city of elevators, and the first time Tidwell got himself stuck in one was in L.A. That was messed up.

A few minutes later, the elevator jolted. They all stood as the elevator began to heave itself upward once again.

The doors slid open, and Crews bolted outside without a parting word. He slowed down on the walk over to his work area, Ted trailing behind like a relieved duckling.

"Have a nice day!" Tidwell called after them, sarcastically. He wandered slowly back to his office, eavesdropping as he went.

"There you are," Dani said, clearly annoyed as Crews approached their desks. "Where have you been? We're going to be late." After a beat, she said, "Hi, Ted."

"We were stuck in the elevator," Ted said. He was clutching the bag of grapes to his chest and looking at her warily. Smart man.

"Okay," Dani said, slowly, and shook her head. "Let's go, Crews."

She grabbed her jacket from the back of her chair and strode off to the elevators. She stopped, her hand halfway to pushing the button, and abruptly detoured. "We're taking the stairs," she said, voice fading into the stairwell, and Crews followed close behind.