She knows the exact moment that Luke starts to get drunk. He talks and talks and talks, and he doesn’t care if she’s listening or not. Doesn’t know how to even tell.
Her side hurts and she’s going easy on the booze so she can dose up on the Ibuprofen, and although Luke’s now-glassy blue eyes mostly stay on her, they also keep darting over her shoulder to the bar behind her.
She knows that Jo is sitting there, and she has to grant him some leeway. He lived with her for two and a half years, partners for three. She can’t be that woman. The one who gets mad when he talks to an ex. Ex-partner, ex-lover, ex-everything.
She knows too that Sam’s broad back is right behind her, and that he hasn’t moved since she sat down.
It’s an unbreakable thread. She knows where he is, when he moves, here, in the squad room, out on the street. She feels tied to the others too, but not like this…
Maybe this is what it’s like between Jo and Luke.
That makes her side hurt some more.
“You listenin’ to me?” Luke asks, and he’s laughing, like she’s the funniest thing ever, even though she’s pretty sure she hasn’t smiled in an hour, and the pain is wearing on her.
“Yeah,” she says, but without enthusiasm.
He smirks and says something about going home soon, and he puts his hand on her shoulder, and it does feel comforting. But then he moves off, behind her, down the bar, and she glances and sees Jo there, her eyes lighting up as Luke comes at her.
Despite her jealousy, she feels relief.
Her beer is warm, and she can’t drink much more anyway. The exhaustion is heavy behind her eyes. She wants to sleep, but feels alarm at the thought.
Laying in the darkness, silent and alone. Thoughts creeping up. Too much red. Red coat, red buttons, red mist in the air. On her skin.
She stands up.
Sam is cracking peanuts, his beer half-full. She sits and he turns his head to look at her. “McNally,” he says. He never looks surprised. “You oughtta be home sleeping.”
She doesn’t react. “You remember… the day we rescued Aisha?” she asks quietly. She still can’t say ’the day I killed a man’.
And she realizes that’s a stupid question. Of course he remembers. Remembers Oliver sitting on the floor in pain, slugs in his vest, Andy with her gun smoking, Aisha crying quietly in the cell.
Her bare skin against his later, in the darkness of his apartment, as she tried to heal herself the only way she could think of. The only way she could make her brain stop. With Sam’s strength and his warm mouth and the huff of his breath hot against her neck.
Even if she had to get up and leave before it went too far.
He gets still then. Focused. He holds her gaze. “Yeah,” he says. And that tells her, he remembers. All of it.
“You told me… I did everything right.,” she says. Ignoring the rest, but still feeling it there, underneath.
He says nothing for a moment, but he shifts on his bar stool, and his thigh comes up against hers, his knee pressing into hers. Warm. He doesn’t jerk away at the contact. And neither does she. She feels suddenly aware of Luke, just down the bar.
Sam studies her, his brow furrowing. “You did,” he says finally. “And you did today too.”
It’s what she wants to hear, and she’s being obvious about it, but it’s still… a relief. “I feel like there should have been something…” she’s saying, almost absently. She remembers the shots, quick and yet... “It seemed like a hundred years…”
“It could have been worse,” Sam says. “Those vests don’t cover your head.”
She tries not to wince, but does anyway.
It’s okay. It’s okay. With Aisha in his arms but his eyes on her. His words for her.
His expression softens, the hardness fading. “What were you supposed to do, McNally? Watch for sniper fire at a hippie convention?”
“I don’t know!” she finally breaks. “That’s just it. I feel like… I can never get ahead of this job. I can never get to the point where I know what to do!” She’s shouting without raising her voice. Vehement without drawing attention. In pain without feeling.
His thigh is warm against hers and his dark eyes meet hers, but not with surprise. Never. He glances down the bar to where Luke is standing, and then back at her. “And you never will get there,” he says.
She feels like… she doesn’t even know. Crying, screaming, putting a fist into his chest. Something. He’s so frustrating and so calm and so… goddamn warm.
“Then what the hell am I doing here?” she demands, and she’s not even talking to him. She’s asking herself.
Sam shifts again, and suddenly his whole body is up against hers. His shoulder leaning into hers, his weight solid, the smell of his soap, his laundry detergent, the beer he’s drinking, all surrounding her. His heat soaking in.
Her heart is pounding. She doesn't know why she feels safer with Sam than she does with Luke. Even when Sam is making her feel like she might be ripped apart at any moment.
Sam’s breath hits her cheek. “I don’t know, McNally. Why are you here?” There are always double-meanings between them.
She doesn’t look at him. She stares at the bar in front of her and she can see—feel—Luke in her peripheral vision, down the bar, talking to Jo, oblivious to her. And for once, she’s glad. “I want to be a good cop,” she says. I want…
He is silent and she can feel his stare until she finally meets his gaze. Angry and embarrassed at her own neediness, irritated by him. By his mood, by his personality, by the fact that he is the one she always needs in order to feel better. She feels the sullen set to her own lips, but she looks at him.
When he has her, and she isn’t looking away, he starts. He speaks slowly and softly, and his dark brown eyes make her feel like they are the only two people in the room. “Then you accept that there will always be things you don’t know and never will. There will always be cases that haunt you forever. It’s the job.”
She breathes and wishes the entire bar would disappear. Luke included. Just for a while…
“You deal with it,” he says. “Or you quit.”
It makes her ache, but it spurs the fight inside of her too. The stubborness. She swallows. This is her job. She chose this. For her, quitting would be… quitting.
“How do you deal with it?” she asks, quietly.
His weight lessens a bit as he shifts and sits upright again. “Whatever works,” he says, and he picks up his beer, takes a long draw off of it.
She watches his throat work and the beer glass when he sets it down, the foam clinging to the sides.
He stares at the glass for a moment too, and then looks past her again, at Luke. “And when that doesn’t work anymore,” he says, and he shifts his gaze to her. “Then you come find me.”
It’s a strange sensation. Coldness in the pit of her stomach, heat in her blood and between her legs, her heartbeat jumping… “Sam…” she says, protests. Because she should? Or because she wants to?
His gaze never leaves hers. “I gave him one chance,” he says, voice low and hard. “He doesn’t get another one.”
She stares at him. At the darkness of his eyes, not glassy, even though he’s had a few drinks, at the red fullness of his lips, at the rough shadow on his jaw.
His expression changes, to something more amused, detached. She knows Luke has finally noticed and is coming up behind her.
“Hey,” Luke says, his hand on her shoulder, his head bumping hers. “Let’s get out of here.”
He and Sam look at each other, both putting on smiles that seem a little too mocking, a little too light, and she’s sliding off the stool, under Luke’s arm. Her eyes still find Sam’s.
Sam’s gaze shifts from Luke to her, and he looks deep for a moment. Like he can see through her, and maybe he can. He gets serious, and he says, “It’s okay.” Soft.
It’s okay, it’s okay.
And she has to get away from him. She walks with Luke until the cool night air hits her skin.
Later, when she comes, with Luke’s arms around her, it is Sam’s rough hands she feels on her face.