Astrid's hospital room is empty.
The IV bag's still half-full, but the catheter with yesterday's fentanyl is dangling from the pole, a gentle perpetuum mobile. The clamp is closed. For a moment, a chilly hand reaches through my ribcage, poised to squeeze. But then Consuela brushes by me in the hallway while pushing the anesthesia trolley, her casual smile warm. So is the bed when I run my hand along its rumpled covers.
I exhale, step outside again. Astrid could walk, has done so yesterday -- if only with help. She leaned pretty heavily on my arm, and her face was ashen.
But this is a new, opioid-free day, and Astrid is who she is: stubborn, strong underneath the sweetness. Something must've drawn her. Maybe the hospital cafeteria has made cupcakes? She did talk about going down to the candy counter first chance she'd get.
Even before I round the corner, I can hear her. Quicken my step, and there she is, standing in front of another hospital room next to -- yes, it's Dr. Bishop. They both have the widest smiles on their faces. Surely the red licorice whips in their hands can't be quite that good?
Out of the corner of her eye, Astrid must've seen me, because she turns, and then her full attention is on me, and it hits me like a ton of bricks, as ever. "Kaya," she says, "Kay-Kay, it's so good to see you."
Well, likewise. I laugh, cross the distance, and then she's in my arms. I try to be gentle, careful after the surgery that removed a bullet lodged in her small intestine if missing vital organs, but her kiss isn't: it's bright, hot, and much too brief. I like my girlfriend a lot better off strong analgesics, turns out.
My smile aimed at Bishop is probably a bit sheepish, but he doesn't leer; he's still beaming -- at me, now. "Ms. Mercredi, how lovely to see you again."
"Good to see you, Dr. Bishop." I take the red whip he offers me.
It's soft and a little sticky in my fingers, and I remember the first instance of this particular nexus: him and candy. Three years ago I called Astrid just to tell her I'd been saddled with another shift at Brigham's: back-to-back, hardly unusual for residents but still tough. I was fully expecting her to be silent for a second, bite her lip on the other end of the line. Instead, she sounded animated, annoyed even: not at me, because even in our role-plays my name had never been Walter, and also I didn't really need to be reminded that people had lived for millennia without milkshakes. My stomach didn't love them, but to each his own genetic mutation and corresponding delight. My wry Your new boss is particular in his tastes? got me the verbal equivalent of an eye-roll -- again not directed at me -- plus the answer that he wasn't even her boss but a scientific consultant. Who would really very very much appreciate a milkshake, he yelled in the background, chocolate, or ideally, chocolate and strawberry, swirled!. Demanding and forlorn at once; I had to think of my grandfather, of Uncle Mas on one of his bad days. Are you still in the Harvard location Dunham chose? I can meet you for lunch in the square and bring you one. The reaction when Astrid told him was instantaneous: joy, elation. Astrid's voice was considerably more cheerful as well at that point. He says you're wonderful, and clearly the best lady-friend a junior agent could have.
From the way Bishop leans in and gently pulls me toward the door by my elbow, pride in his eyes, I'd say yeah, he still believes that to be true. Happily, he points into the hospital room, and proceeds to tell me all about his...upcoming grandchild? Oh, wow. Astrid's face is luminous, too, even more beautiful than usual. I probably shouldn't pursue the urge to ask about Olivia's pregnancy parameters, and I do resist drawing up a mental schedule. I'm pretty sure Olivia already has an ob-gyn (and besides, that would be majorly weird, even more so than their cases).
"Olivia, hi," I say when she looks up from where she's standing, so close to Peter Bishop that their foreheads are still touching.
"Oh, hello." Olivia Dunham turns her head; her smile at me seems a little distracted -- understandably so, I guess? "Never mind Walter there, Kaya; feel free to be glad that Astrid is doing so much better."
"I am, but still -- congratulations, Olivia." It's no hardship at all to respond in kind.
She's gorgeous in a way that's more handsome than pretty, but usually that gorgeousness is masked by her being slightly...severe. Astrid once said of Olivia that she was focused to the point of practically being a laser beam. I don't know -- must not know -- the details of their work, but I'm thinking anti-terrorism, domestic attacks including biological warfare, just from the too-frequent scent of chemicals on Astrid's skin. A unit like that wouldn't lend itself to lax approaches. Actually, knowing both her and Olivia, if the latter mostly second-hand, I sleep a little easier at night (when I get to sleep at night). I also happen to know that she does ease up. That one time I was meeting Astrid in the Cantab Lounge for a post-shift, respectively post-case drink, Olivia had ambled along, was well into her tumbler: only a finger of amber liquid left. She was talking almost-animatedly, hands up in the air, and Astrid was shaking her head, grinning from ear to ear too. Olivia stood to leave when she saw me but I told her she could stay put -- didn't expect her to, but she did. Astrid's lips tasted like the white wine she was drinking; I eyed the glass purposefully. Sauvignon Blanc, girl? Really? She smirked back at me, It's just a very pale Shiraz, babe. Very very pale. You should have one. Olivia watched us with visible amusement in the now-soft curve of her mouth. Kaya, let me buy you a drink, anything from water to whiskey. I informed her, with a long look at Astrid, that I preferred real wine, and the waiter did a double-take at Olivia's wide smile when she ordered an Aussie Shiraz for me. The wine, my one glass, was fine, but I don't remember its taste from that night -- just the sound of one Agent Olivia Dunham thanking me for taking such good care of her field partner.
My one-for-all partner. And taking care -- well; in my downtime I, do in all the ways I'm good at. But I'm not the one who's good with people. Not their outsides, anyway. Astrid is the one who lets me sleep after a double shift, who wakes me up with brownies (that, this one time, smelled so good that I found I'd drooled into the pillow where she'd set it down). Astrid told me, back when we met, that she didn't mind, since at the lab she could at least partially share the task of making sure that Walter was fine with Olivia; a portion of the time Astrid could focus on case analytics while Olivia was gently bringing Walter down, or up, where required.
Come to think of it, I haven't smelled any cakes and cookies for quite a while now, and Astrid spends more time with Walter Bishop these days and nights and night missions, like this last one where she was shot. The latter is not his fault, clearly, but coincidences are rare. I wonder if Peter Bishop has something to do with these developments.
He put the 'prodigal' in 'son', appearing out of thin air and lodging himself into their team's life at a pace that was startling to me. Are you sure he's not a conman? I asked Astrid, because long-lost children seem more common in soap operas than real life. And because once they're gone, they're generally gone for good, and worse -- the worst. She blinked at me for a long moment, dark lashes fanning her cheek, before telling me with slightly too much eye contact that he was definitely the son of Walter Bishop. I admit that when I did meet him only three weeks ago, picking up Astrid at Harvard Square, he was perfectly charming. Hey, he greeted me, you must be Kaya. His eyes were a little too cool for my taste, light like water, but his handshake was firm and his smile didn't set off any alarms either. Astrid told me...okay, she told me only the basics. But those sound great. I had to laugh, tightened my own grip. Do I have to prepare myself for the usual ob-gyn jokes, or the more personal ones? Fine; maybe I was testing him, but Peter Bishop grinned. None at all. I'm just glad about any and all medical doctors nearby, really. Which sounded like the truth and nothing but the truth. With Astrid already walking down the path to the car park, Peter said my name again, and I looked over my shoulder. His facial expression was soft but serious. I'm glad Astrid's got someone, here. That she's got you.
This time around, his smile seems oddly more personal than Olivia's. "Oh, come on, guys. You don't have to stand there in the doorway. Get in, or get out." Walter walks in, awkwardly but enthusiastically embraces his son and Olivia too. I look at Astrid, questioning, because while this is somewhat standard for opposite-sex couples and not unfamiliar to me professionally, it's also a deeply personal moment -- intimate even. I don't want to intrude. Astrid's lips brush my earlobe, and the huff of air from her whisper makes me shiver. "They've all asked about you...at various points in time. I liked it then, and you're here now."
I'm gallant and offer Astrid my arm. If she's made it this far, she probably doesn't need it. But she still wants it, because she smiles at me and lightly circles my wrist, steadying herself while both of us step up to Olivia, Peter, and Dr. Bishop.