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The Silence That's Our Trademark

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Laurel’s stumbling home from her Trial Ad class, exhausted because its 10:00 p.m. and she hasn't eaten since noon and had to race from her externship with Philly Legal Aid to class that evening and now its starting to snow, the ground already coated with a thin layer of powder that’s already beginning to brush the tops of her toes and Laurel is cursing her decision to wear heels today, expecting that the snow wouldn’t begin until later, long after she was safely back home.

She loves the snow, really does, but still can’t wrap her brain around how to prepare for it; eighteen years in Mexico and then South Florida somehow starving the part of her brain necessary for winter weather prep of oxygen until it withered and died.

She should’ve listened to Frank, should’ve worn boots today and just stuck her heels in her bag because he promised her the snow would start around dinner time and he was right, damn him, the snow melting icy against the exposed tops of her toes, sharp knives cutting across her feet. She just wants to go home and put on some pajamas and curl up exhausted on the couch and maybe eat some soup, certainly drink some whiskey to cut through the icy chill.

Its then when she hears it, a soft little cry, high and thin and insistent. She can’t quite tell at first where the noise comes from, but then she sees it, a little blur of motion that shoots towards her from between two parked cars, brushes against her ankles and then throws itself on the tops of her feet.

A little cat, a grey tabby, small and thin but not starved, not rangy like the feral cats she sometimes sees slinking away from her as she walks to the bus early in the morning. No, those cats look at her with only suspicion, skitter away from her footsteps, but this cat, well, this cat is practically begging to be petted, looking up at her with something insistent, something prompting in its green eyes.

Laurel crouches down as best she can without disturbing the little creature now using her feet to try and keep off the snow, without having to kneel against the cold ground in her skirt and tights, runs her hand across its soft grey fur.

“Hey there,” she says to the cat, more kitten really, as it meows insistently again at her touch, like its asking for more. “You got a collar?”

It obviously doesn’t, even as her fingers card through the fur at its neck searching for one her gaze may have missed. Its ear’s not knocked either, probably too young to have been picked up and neutered and released if it really was a stray. But its friendly enough, back on its feet again and swirling between her ankles, letting out more sharp, insistent cries.

She glances around, hopes that there’s someone, somewhere around who will come and tell her that this cat is theirs, that it just snuck out the door, the silly thing, and take it back from her. But the street is deserted and the snow is coming down hard and fast and the weather’s been saying to expect at least six inches and the cat is barely taller than that.

Laurel scowls because this is really, really not part of her plan for the evening or the week or the year or her entire life, but well, if she’s learned anything, and she’s learned a lot of tough lessons, is that sometimes you just have to work with the unexpected cards you’ve been dealt, sometimes you have to roll with the punches. So she looks around again, tries to find anything that might suggest someone else’s ownership of the cat and sighs, runs a finger along the cats cheek softly until its eyes slip closed in pleasure.

“Well then,” she says, more to herself than the cat. “I guess you’re coming home with me tonight huh?”

She doesn’t examine the compulsion inside her that insists she take responsibility, take at least temporary ownership of the cat, doesn’t look too hard at the things inside her that all scream at her to pick up the cat, lift it out of the snow and take it someplace warm, that tell Laurel she’s the only one who is going to do anything about the cat so its her duty now. Its too late and too cold and she’s too tired to really stop and think about why, all she knows is that she has to, knows its her obligation now and she can’t just walk away.

So she reaches out, one hand wrapping around the cat’s chest, the other under its legs, lifting it up into her arms, cradled tight against her chest. It struggles at first, surprised or disoriented and Laurel’s grateful beyond words for her thick winter coat against its claws, but eventually the cat settles against her body, looks up at her with eyes she swears are full of questions and simply allows itself to be held.

“Easiest one night stand I’ve ever had,” she tells the cat, almost shocked herself at how easy the animal came with her. But then she can feel the tremble in its little body, the humming shiver and the way the cat burrows against the warmth of her coat and Laurel realizes that the cat is probably freezing, probably willing to accept warmth however it comes.

She trudges the four blocks home, hopes the corner bodega doesn’t close early due to the snow because she’s not sure what she can feed the cat if she can’t grab a couple of tins of cat food or a small bag of kibble, doesn’t think leftover chicken parm will do the trick, wonders if empanadas are cat friendly, decides they’re probably not, another series of nagging thoughts insisting that she find real food for this cat, that she make it as happy as possible for the few hours its her’s.

The cat makes another unhappy little noise, high and annoyed as Laurel jostles him pulling the door to her building open, but quickly settles back against her chest once the warm air of the lobby hits him.

“We good?” she asks the cat, quirking an eyebrow at the little bundle of grey fur now studiously ignoring her.

She calls the elevator, shakes off some of the snow on the lobby floor, feeling momentarily bad about the little puddles she’s spreading over the wood as she sloughs the worst of the flakes from her hat, shoulders. Again the cat chirps in annoyance and again Laurel rolls her eyes at the cat, at its muted outrage.

“You’re acting a little entitled already,” she tells it, both of them knowing before she even speaks that she doesn’t actually mean the words at all. “Keep it up and you’ll be out on the street again as soon as the snow stops.”

And then she remembers Frank, wonders how he’s going to react to the stowaway she’s picked up, wonders if he’ll laugh and kiss her and roll his eyes at how she’s been taken in by this little fluffy con artist, wonders if he’ll be annoyed by their new, unexpected houseguest.

They’ve never discussed, even idly, getting a pet together, the things between them still too tentative, too fragile to discuss anything so permanent, anything so irrevocable as a dog, a cat. She’s not even really sure he likes cats all that much, though she can vaguely remember Frank idly reaching down to scratch the ears of his grandmother’s cat when it emerged from hiding the couple of times they’ve visited her.

And well, even if Frank’s not particularly happy with their new roommate, he only has to put up with the cat for the night, maybe a second if the snow’s particularly bad and then they can put up posters, hopefully find the cat’s owner, get it to a shelter where it can find a new one.

She knows he will, will put up with the new guest she’s acquired, because he loves her most of all, but because he understands her too, understands the things that drive her, the things that make her do stupid things like pick up stray cats off the street, bring them home and in out of a snowstorm. He knows she does things like that because he knows she takes care of everyone, knows the responsibility she feels even for things, for people outside her control, that she doesn’t owe anything. He knows her too well to really be surprised by this, by the cat that she’s acquired, hopes he just accepts it with the same slanted smile, same huffing roll of his eyes he deploys against every other decision she makes that he doesn’t really understand, doesn’t truly get, but decides to accept anyway, simply because he loves her.

Still, there’s a little nervous clench in her stomach as she slides her keys into the lock, a little twinge of apprehension at how Frank’s going to react to her impulsive hitchhiker.

“Laurel?” she hears Frank call out as she nudges the door open with her hip. “That you?”

“Yeah,” she calls out, suddenly cautious, suddenly apprehensive, worried that she’s somehow violated the delicate balance between them, the tentative partnership, some unspoken agreement about how they conduct their relationship. “I uh, brought someone home with me?”

She can hear Frank laugh from the kitchen, hears his voice growing closer. “Prom Queen looking for some leftovers again?”

“Not quite,” Laurel says slowly, kicking off her heels and setting the little cat down on the floor, hanging her coat up and hoping that Frank comes into the hall and sees the cat, that she doesn’t have to confess her hasty decision to him.

She hears him pad closer, hears the moment when he stops, refuses to turn around and meet his eyes.

“Laurel,” he says again, slowly and she turns, sees him leaning against the doorjam, arms crossed, staring down at the little cat, an expression she can’t quite name lingering behind his eyes. “What’s going on?”

“I uh,” she starts, falters, her teeth sinking into her lower lip. “I found it. Outside. It doesn’t have a collar and its starting to snow.”

“You stole somebody’s cat?” Frank asks incredulously, eyebrows raising and a little smirk creeping across his lips.

“I didn’t steal it,” she argues, insists really, a little surge of guilt and foolishness twisting in her chest. “Or, well not deliberately.”

“Relax,” Frank reassures her softly, padding closer and tugging her against his chest, thumb slipping along her icy cheek. “It looks like a stray.”

“Yeah?”

He nods, glancing down at the little cat, now wending its way between their ankles, slouching against Frank’s warmer feet.

“Look at how skinny the little guy is.”

“But he’s so friendly,” she points out. “He doesn’t act like a stray.”

“He acts like he’s hungry,” Frank corrects with a laugh, pressing a lingering kiss against her lips, then sinking into a crouch, holding out his hand to the cat. The little gray bundle of fur approaches him, sniffs at Frank’s hand, butts his head against his fingers, insistent and eager. “You hungry kid?”

They both laugh as the cat ignores him, wanders away from Frank and under the coffee table, flops to the ground.

“You think the bodega’s still open?” she asks, both of them watching the cat, curling itself into a small little knot and completely ignoring the attention being paid to it, licking despondently at its still wet paws.

Frank huffs, curls his body into hers. “We can’t just feed it some turkey slices?”

“Frank…”

He sighs, scrubs a hand across his beard. “Alright,” he tells her. “I’ll throw my boots on.”

“Thank you.”

He comes close, kisses her sweetly, slowly, throwing a long glance at the little grey cat, still lurking under the coffee table. “You better be grateful too kid,” he throws towards the cat. “I waited to eat for you, but go ahead and start without me.”

“Nah,” she tells him, kissing him softly again, loving that he waited, how he goes out of his way for her, to be with her, looks out for her, how he simply rolls with the new direction the evening’s taken, just shrugs and agrees to go out in the snow after cat food. “You waited for me, I’ll wait for you.”

Frank kisses her again, throws his coat on, heads out the door and Laurel’s left alone with the little cat, with the consequences of her hasty decision.

“Well,” she says to the cat. “Make yourself at home I guess.”

She ignores the cat, pads towards the bedroom, shucking her shirt and blouse and throwing them haphazardly towards the hamper, pulls on yoga pants and thick socks and one of Frank’s old, worn sweatshirts, looks up and finds the cat curled up in the center of their bed, watching her through narrowed eyes.

“Don’t get too comfortable there,” Laurel tells it, but makes no move to further kick the cat off the bed. She knows Frank will be annoyed to find the cat there, be annoyed that its taken up residence in their apartment, in their bed like it belongs there, like it has as much claim to be there as he and Laurel do. She knows too, he won’t do anything about it, will just shoot her an exaggerated scowl and sigh and kiss her and they’ll move on, move on to some other thing that matters more, that really needs their attention.

The cat ignores her, gives no indication whatsoever that it even heard Laurel’s words, appears to believe that Laurel is an easy mark, poses no threat to its position. Its right, or right enough, she decides, she’s clearly a sucker to this little ball of fur.

“You’re kind of a brat, aren’t you?” she throws at the cat as she heads to the bathroom, more than ready to scrub her face clean of the cloying makeup she can feel clinging to her skin.

The cat follows her after a moment, casually picks itself up from the bed and trots after her as though going to the bathroom was its own idea, has nothing to do with Laurel’s presence there.

“You sure you're not a dog?” she asks it with a laugh as it plunks itself down on the lid of the toilet tank, shoots Laurel a mutinous, frustrated glare, annoyed, Laurel thinks, that she’s moving around, forcing the cat to follow her.

She laughs again as she heard the front door open, the cat’s ears quirking flat against his head and its tiny body tensing slightly. “Relax,” she assures it. “It’s just Frank, you met him already.”

The cat chirps, doubtful, but trails after her when Laurel finishes removing her makeup, heads towards the kitchen.

“Hey,” Laurel says, watching Frank shrug out of his coat. “Thanks.”

He huffs, rolls his eyes and hands her the bag of food. “I got litter too,” he says, nodding behind him. “Figured we could use some of that.”

“Good call,” Laurel agrees, setting the bag aside and pulling Frank’s knit hat off his head, pressing a kiss along his jawline.

“How bad’s the snow?”

“Not great,” he chuckles, grasping her wrist in his icy fingers. “Got an inch already, maybe more. Looking like little guy’s gonna be with us for a few days at least.”

“You think?” Laurel asks as his thumb traces the thin bones around her wrist, fighting then failing to resist the urge to kiss him again. Her lips glance off the corner of his mouth, cracking wide into a grin, smirking.

He nods. “Yeah, I don’t think anyone’s going anywhere tomorrow.”

“Snow day?” she asks, her own smirk sliding across her lips because its been too damn long since their last unexpected holiday, the last time they stole hours together and played hooky from work and Laurel can’t quite admit how much she craves one, craves the lazy comfort of holing up in their apartment, just the two of them, the languid, easy sprawl of their bodies together, hands and lips tangling, craves simply being with Frank with none of the obligations, commitments of their lives pulling them apart, pressing down on their hours.

“Think so,” Frank tells her, grinning crookedly. “Guy at the bodega said we’re looking at a foot now.”

Laurel rolls he eyes, steps away from Frank and back towards the kitchen. “Frank, he was trying to psych you out. Get you to buy milk and bread and I dunno, toilet paper you don’t need.”

He laughs, trailing behind her. “You think Roman would do me like that?”

He catches up to her just as Laurel tugs the fridge open, hand slipping around her waist, pressing a kiss against the place where her neck meets her shoulder, sending a little shiver of desire sparking against her skin. “Absolutely I do.”

Frank’s fingers continue to trace patterns against her hipbone, chuckling at the tremble that runs through her when his teeth scrape along her pulse point. “If you’re looking for food, I waited for you. Pasta should still be warm.”

“Frank,” she murmurs, leaning into the steady weight of his body, suddenly the only thing she can feel, the only thing she can think about the brush of his fingers and his lips and his teeth, suddenly searching desperately for words that he’s stolen from her. “You didn’t have to.”

“Course I did,” he tells her smoothly, stepping back, stepping away from her, though he catches her fingers in his, threads them together so he can tug her backwards with him, draw her towards the counter where the pot of what’s presumably pasta rests.

“Well thank you anyway,” she tells him, turning away and dropping his hand so she can reach up and grab a couple of bowls from the cabinet and that’s when she hears it.

“Goddamnit cat,” Frank snaps, just as there’s a clatter and a second and the sound of skittering feet against the hardwood just as Laurel turns to see the cat streak past her, and somewhere into the living room.

“The hell Frank?” she asks, just as she spies the pot lid still rolling idly across the floor.

“Cat was trying to get into the pasta,” he growls, shooting a mutinous glare in the direction the cat ran before snagging the pot lid between his fingers. “Flipped the lid right off.”
Laurel laughs, can’t help herself as she sets the bowls down on the counter. “Little thing must be hungry.”

Frank’s glare softens though he crosses his arms over his chest in an effort to disguise it. “Little thing’s a menace,” he mutters, though his mouth quirks into a grin when Laurel’s lips catch his, his arms relaxing so they can rest gently against her hips.

“I’ll go feed him,” she tells him, stepping back. “Try and coax him out if you dish up.”

“Hope he stays hidden,” Frank throws over his shoulder, though there’s no real heat behind his words, something resembling the almost weary affection he has for Asher creeping across his voice. “If he knows what’s good for him.”

She could grumble herself, roll her eyes and tell him that no matter what the cat does they’re not putting it out tonight, that even if it’s a complete menace and starts ripping at everything in sight, including their fingers, their ankles, she’s still not going to let Frank put the cat back out in the snow. But she knows Frank well enough to know when he’s already accepted defeat, already bowed to whatever decision or desire or whim Laurel has and knows there’s no need to press the issue. “Just dish up,” she says again, grinning at him as she grabs a clean Tupperware container, goes hunting for the bag of cat food she left by the door.

She rips open the bag, pours some into the Tupperware, slowly and with as much noise as possible. By the time she’s filled the container, she can see the little tabby peeking its head around the corner to the bedroom, watching her cautiously, ears perked up at the sound of the rattling food.

“Hey,” she calls softly, rocking back on her heels to watch it.

The cat takes a hesitant step forward until its shoulders and front paws edge around the door jam too, sniffing at the air.

“Don’t worry,” she tells it. “That was just Frank before. He’s not actually mad at you.”

Laurel sits down, scoots back against the wall to give the cat a little bit of distance, watches as it takes another few hesitant steps forward, throwing a suspicious glance towards the kitchen where she can hear Frank puttering around, banging dishes and drawers and forks as he fixes them both spaghetti.

“Promise,” she tells it, giving it a soft smile and holding out her hand for the cat to sniff if it wants it. “Frank’s harmless. He’s a bigger softie than I am. You probably scared him worse than he scared you.”

The cat gives another lingering look towards the kitchen, pads forward lightly until its about six inches away from the food bowl, stops and sits, regarding Laurel with a long, assessing look.

“That’s your dinner,” she insists, gesturing at the bowl of food. “You’re not getting anything better. And if you want Frank on your side, you better appreciate it. He went out in the snow for you.”

The cat chirps but doesn’t make any moves either towards the bowl or away from it.

Laurel shrugs, stands. “Suit yourself.”

Chapter Text

She heads back to the kitchen, the cat weaving between her ankles as she goes.

“Little guy doesn’t look to interested in food,” Frank comments as she returns, hands her a bowl of spaghetti and watching as the cat brushes against Laurel’s legs, head pressing against her shins.

“I think he’s interested in our food,” she laughs as the cat begins to circle Frank’s legs, looking up at him and giving another chirping meow.

“Nah,” Frank tells the cat seriously. “This is mine and you’ve got kibble.”

The cat chirps again, high and plaintive, settling back on its heels, sharp little ears perking up at Frank’s voice.

“Maybe I should bring it in here?” Laurel asks.

Frank shrugs. “He’ll eat if he’s hungry.”

Laurel scowls because they’ve had this cat in the apartment for less than an hour and she and Frank are basically proving they shouldn't have anything to do with an animal. Its not like an animal was something they’d discussed, something she’d wanted, and yet, it disappoints her that they clearly don’t have the skills necessary to take care of this cat, work together and keep it alive even for the next few days until the snow melts. It sets a little nagging worry somewhere in the corner of her mind, worry that they’re not as good a team, as strong a team as she thought they were, that they can’t figure out the complexities of getting this cat fed, keeping it happy and alive until they can find its owner or find it a new one. She knows its not a big deal, not as significant as she thinks it is, and yet, and yet, it sets doubt and a gnawing at her chest, clawing across her skin. “Maybe he doesn’t like kibble.”

“He’s a cat,” Frank assures her, a little too casually. “He’s probably not hungry. If he hasn’t eaten by the morning, we’ll figure something else out.”

Laurel scowls despite herself. She doesn’t know what it is, but the little cat pulls at her in a way she can’t really understand, wanting to make sure its happy, wanting to make sure they take care of it while they have it, while its their responsibility. She knows its her own issues, her own need to try and control everything, fix everyone, put their needs ahead of her own. Its extended to a cat now, and if she thought she could do anything about it, she’d laugh. But she knows she won’t do anything about it, will still try to coddle the cat, baby it, make up for whatever it may have suffered on the street. “You sure he’ll eat?”

Frank nods, gives Laurel a tentative little grin, something suddenly lighting across his face, a recognition she thinks, an understanding of what’s going on, why she’s so tied already to the cat. “I’m sure, babe,” he promises, reaching out and taking her hand, smoothing his fingers across the curve of her wrist. “We had cats as a kid, they were always begging for food. But when they got hungry enough they ate the kibble.”

She sighs, glances down at the cat again, still staring up at them expectantly. “Ok.”

“He’s just tryna con you,” he laughs as he watches the animal as well, looking between the two of them, ears quirking again as they talk as though its trying to decipher their conversation, trying to puzzle out what they’re discussing. “He knows you’re an easy mark.”

Laurel grins shyly, embarrassed, because its true, she really, really is and the cat knows it. Hell, the cat probably knew it the moment she stopped and crouched down to let it sniff at her hand. She’s a definite easy mark, for people, for animals, for anyone who needs help, needs the protection or comfort or care that Laurel herself always lacked in her own life. It’s a guilt, or a shame or a lingering hurt she’s trying to correct, a way to retroactively save herself or one of those other bullshit ideas her therapists always tried to get her to acknowledge, lingering, painful echoes of a childhood spent alone, unnoticed, virtually abandoned as completely as the cat has been. And Frank knows it too, knows the things inside her, the things that haunt her past that make her take care of everyone else, that make her ignore her own needs, her own wants.

He knows it, tries to get her to rely on him, to give up some of the white knuckled control she has on her life, on herself, tries to get her to lean on him, let him take on some of the burden she carries. He knows her tendency to pick up strays, starting with long buried Wes Gibbins, but so far they’ve all been human ones, and Laurel can’t quite decide whether bringing home a cat is an improvement or not.

“I am an easy mark,” she admits as their fingers tangle on the counter. “But I don’t want him to be unhappy. He’s probably confused in here.”

Frank laughs, grins crookedly. “Little guy is definitely not unhappy. Look at him.”

Laurel turns her attention to the cat, still sitting at attention, eyes tracking between them. As she regards it the little cat cocks its head, chirps again and gets to its feet, circling a few times before settling into a tight little ball against the hardwood.

“Guess not,” she agrees, letting a slow smile trickle across her lips.

“Probably just wants to warm up before he eats,” Frank promises as the cat yaws widely, needle sharp teeth snapping against the air, though its eyes remain closed tight. “Its crazy cold out. But he’s fine now, he’s inside, he’s got us watchin out for him.”

“Ok,” she nods, letting out a quick little exhale, trying to let go of the knot of worry in her stomach. The cat’s inside, out of the cold, it has food, its got a space to sleep and she and Frank will look out for it, will keep it safe and comfortable until they can get it where it belongs. She knows its fine, knows she doesn’t need to be so worried. “Ok, yeah.”

“C’mon,” he says, fixing her with another of the crooked grins she loves so much, that settle the nagging worry in her heart.

“Lets get some grub. Maybe it’ll convince the fluff ball to eat too.”

He slides the container of parm closer to her, prompting, deliberately tempting her, grin spreading as she takes it, shakes some out over the bowl of pasta.

“Love you,” she tells him as she twirls a fork though the spaghetti, a little thrill shooting through her as Frank’s hands pause, hitch around the container of parm, loving how even now the words get him, even now the words seem weighty between them, important.

“Love you too,” he replies as Laurel feels her own flare of hopeless, desperate wanting, love and gratitude and the ever present thing like surprise, shock that he loves her, that its so easy to say, so easy between them and yet it still catches her off guard, still makes her wonder how they’ve been so lucky as to get to this place, to find each other and carve out this life, this piece of something good together.

The cat makes a little noise near Laurel’s foot and they both snort.

“Love you too I guess,” Frank throws at the cat, giving Laurel a little eye rolling look.

“Yeah,” she grins, watching the cat’s eyes narrow as it appears to fall back asleep, satisfied with their responses. “Love you too cat.”

“That what we gonna keep calling it?” Frank asks, shaking out even more Parmesan until there’s a little mountain of it atop his pasta. “Cat?”

“We should call it literally anything else,” she tells him, rolling her eyes.

Frank’s grin slips wider. “You’d rather call it Pussy?”

“Jesus Frank, really?” she asks, rolling her eyes because she should’ve known he’d go there, should've known he wouldn’t be able to resist the opportunity to make a pussy joke, even an obvious one, even when its not really even funny or creative or even likely to wind up getting him laid. “Plus, I think it’s a boy.”

“That’s very sexist of you,” Frank smirks. “Even if it’s a male, we could still name him that.”

“Tim maybe,” Laurel announces. “That’s what we should name him. Or Andrew.”

He chuckles. “Andrew huh.”

“Yeah,” she grins around a mouthful of pasta. “He looks like an Andrew.”

There’s a little twist to Frank’s lips then, something between a scowl and a smirk until she’s not really sure if he’s pleased or upset, a look she’s not sure she’s ever seen on his face before, despite years now spent memorizing Frank, memorizing the language of his body, the language of his silence. He looks, she thinks, both pleased and sad, heartbroken and happy. “We’re keeping him, aren’t we?” he asks her finally. “If we can’t find its owner?”

“I,” she starts, stutters, because she hasn’t thought about that, not in any concrete way, but well, yes, they’re going to keep the cat if it doesn’t have an owner, because Laurel’s taken responsibility, taken ownership of the cat and she’s not going to give it up, knows its not something she can give up unless she’s ceding it to someone else. That’s another thing she knows is a product of her own mind rather than what’s best for her or Frank or the cat, but well, there’s not really much to be done now, she supposes, because she’s not going to be able to change the things inside her that compel her to keep the cat, not in one night, not before the snow melts. She knows she can’t send the cat to a shelter, can’t send him back to the street, the things inside her that are still raw and cracked screaming at her that she can’t do that, that she can’t leave the little fuzzy cat to fend for itself.

“Its ok,” Frank tells her gently, like he knows the things churning inside her. “We can hang onto him if you want.”

She nods, suddenly feeling angry tears pricking at her eyes, suddenly feeling something sharp and heavy settling against her throat.

She can’t speak all the things she wants to, not if she ever wants to stop talking, not if she doesn’t want words spilling from her lips and never stopping, an unending torrent of ghosts and griefs. Sometimes Laurel’s felt like her whole life has been a series of departures, of moments where people leave her, again and again and again, moments where people tell her she matters and then walk away or turn their back. She knows it has nothing to do with her, knows that intellectually, therapy managing to get that bit of information stuck in her mind even if it failed at just about everything else, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t leave scars, doesn’t mean it still doesn’t hurt or compel her to stupid, silly, impulsive things like taking a cat in off the street in a snowstorm, like deciding Wes Gibbins was her own, personal project to save or make happy or fix somehow, like concluding that if she was gonna be involved in a murder, she was damn well going to get everyone else out in one piece and through to the other side.

Laurel knows she’s always been stubborn, probably from birth, and goddamnit if she wasn’t going to succeed where everyone else, her parents first and foremost, had failed her, had left her to fend for herself long before men with guns and eyes like blades, smiles like blades had put her independence, her resilience to the test, kept her alone, kept her in darkness and silence for what had felt like years, like decades but which Laurel later found out had been only eighteen days.

She’s been stubborn, been sharp and cruel and withdrawn possibly since before the first signs of her mother’s fractured mind had seen her left behind at barely three while her mother decided she needed to spend the day in Laredo, left Laurel nearly as soon as her father had departed for work, as soon as her older brother had darted out the door to school. She’d been barely three, but Laurel still remember the brief feeling of vertigo, the brief little stab of confusion low in her chest when the clock ticked forward and the shadows along the floor got longer and still her mother didn’t return and Laurel had briefly felt helpless, desperate, felt like crying, running to the neighbors house and asking for help, asking for someone to fix things, to save her. Instead, Laurel knows, though her father pretends she can’t remember, only knows from the stories he tells her, equal parts pride and love and guilt and horror in his eyes, she simply picked herself up, made herself some cereal and a peanut butter sandwich, spent the day at the neighborhood park where a friend of her father’s found her just after dark, collected her and took her home and it was discovered, finally, that Laurel’s mother was somewhere else entirely, some strange compulsion of her already splintering mind sending her three hours north into Texas, her toddler child all but forgotten.

And well, she doesn’t just save herself anymore, she saves everyone else, cats and people and anything else that needs it, sometimes at her own expense. And Frank knows, or knows enough, knows about the eighteen days and the afternoon at the park and the six months when her father fled Mexico, left Laurel and her brother behind before he could finally send for them, get them across the boarder and then east to Florida. He knows she takes care of people because of the bruised and fragile places inside her own heart, the specters still lingering at the corner of her mind, the shadows that never really fade. And he gives her that, allows it, doesn’t try to heal her or fix her or take care of her if she doesn’t want it, if its not what Laurel herself thinks she needs.

He accepts that what she needs is to protect others, not find someone who can finally protect her, that Laurel’s way of moving beyond the things that remain from her childhood, the lingering scars is to be a better person than her greedy, grasping father, her weak, fractured mother, to be smarter and better and stronger and softer than either of them, smarter and better and stronger and softer than she has any right to be. And Frank lets it, lets her, accepts the things she is, the things she’s become in order to survive.

“Its ok,” he says again, voice still low and soft like Laurel herself is the spooked animal, because he knows that she saves everyone she can, knows her need to protect the people, the things that can’t protect themselves. “He’s inside and he’s got food and two people he’s gonna turn into suckers to his every whim.”

“Who’s the second?” Laurel asks him, teasing as they decide, almost on instinct, to retreat together to the couch, to stop standing up against the counters as they eat, separated by too much distance, too much cold, lonely space on a snowy night, after something like eighteen hours apart. Once it would have worried her, once it would have made her doubt her own strength, the need she has inside herself, always, for Frank, for his touch, the weak place in her heart where only he can make her strong. Once, it would have sent her running, once, but not anymore, because she’s strong on her own and Frank makes her stronger, gives her the added strength that lets her be weak.

“Oh c’mon,” Frank laughs. “I’m clearly a sucker for adorable tiny things that follow me home.”

Laurel sinks into the couch, legs folding under her and fixes Frank with look she hopes carries a bit of derisive heat. “I did not follow you home,” she tells him, rolling her eyes. “If anything, I was lured with the promise of, I dunno, sex and pasta.”

He laughs again, sharply, head thrown back to expose his throat and Laurel wonders briefly if he knows, if he senses how desperately it makes her want to run her lips, her teeth against the arc of his neck, over his Adam's apple, if he does it deliberately sometimes because he knows how completely it unravels her. “Are you saying I lured you back with me?”

“I’m definitely saying that,” Laurel agrees as Frank settles beside her on the couch, careful not to edge too close to her, careful to put an inch or two of distance between their bodies, still, even now, careful to allow her space should she want it, even after years together, even after he knows she doesn’t really want that space, that distance, but careful to still allow her the choice, to accept his shoulder against hers or to reject it.

“Then if that’s the counterfactual reality we’re going with here, can we at least say that you kidnapped the little guy?” he asks as Laurel slips her feet from beneath her, presses them against Frank’s thigh, worms them underneath his leg so he can warm her still icy toes.

“Nah,” she tells him. “Andrew definitely hitched a ride.”

“Still going with Andrew huh?” Frank asks, grinning as he presses his thumb along the ball of her ankle, running along the curving bone.

“He’s an Andrew trust me,” Laurel assures him, looking around for the little cat, hoping he hasn’t remained in the kitchen, hoping he doesn’t go after the leftover spaghetti again, create some kind of mess which will inevitably mess up his chances with them, get him sent back out to the street as soon as the temperature rises.

She spies him padding along the edge of the room, almost warily, hugging the walls and giving the two of them a look that settles somewhere between suspicion and something Laurel can only characterize as hunger.

“Hey Mister,” she calls out to the cat, finally deciding once and for all she’s going to act like it’s a male until someone gives her evidence otherwise. “You can come over here if you want. You’ve even managed to win Frank over.”

Frank snorts as his fingers continue to trip over her ankle. “He’s cute enough. And I may not’ve told you this, but you definitely haven't been cuddling me enough, so a cat might be just what I need.”

“He doesn’t seem too cuddly,” Laurel points out, rolling her eyes and trying not to let herself feel guilty about what’s clearly a joke, about something he clearly doesn’t mean but which she sometimes suspects, sometimes feels guilty is true, that there’s too much that’s guarded inside her heart, too much that’s fractured and distant and frozen over, too much that will never soften, never thaw, too guarded and wary to ever be what she should be, what Frank deserves.

“He’s still getting his bearings,” Frank assures her. “Kinda like you at first.”

Laurel scoffs around a mouthful of spaghetti before she can help herself because she gets it, she really does, the things inside herself that are broken and fragile craving a solution in the other, broken things, but it always seems a little silly, a little too pat when it gets put into words, put so simply. It makes her seem pathetic and obvious and Laurel has tried very, very hard not to be either of those things, ever. “We admitting you lured me at least?”

“Oh I am absolutely willing,” Frank tells her, voice dropping to a low, rumbling purr that arcs through her, pools low in her gut.

“To admit I was trying to lure you in. Basically from the second I saw you. Only surprise is that you took the bait.”

“Course I took the bait,” she laughs, not entirely just because she hopes Frank can avoid seeing the helpless blush spreading across her cheeks and throat and chest. “Your beard was too good to resist, even after you acted like a total ass for a month.”

“That what we should do to get the cat to like us?” he teases, settling his bowl down on the coffee table slowly and deliberately, pulling Laurel’s ankles across his lap, fingers now spreading over the span of her calf. “Act like an ass?”

“Nah,” she murmurs as the cat pauses, stares at the two of them for long moments, back still against the wall, green eyes unblinking, before finally letting out a little huffing yawn and creeping forward towards them. “I think we gotta try a more subtle approach.”

Frank nods, something serious in the cut of his jaw, in the way he regards her, like he too is trying to judge her intentions, the things inside her mind. “Let him come to us.”

“See,” Laurel says, catching his fingers with hers as the cat pads a few steps closer, freezes as he glances at them again, looks for any sign of change or danger or that their attention has shifted to him. Apparently satisfied, he inches a few steps closer until he’s nearly at the coffee table, settles himself under it again, resting his head against his front paws and watching them through slotted eyes.

“Maybe he’ll eventually get close enough we can really pet him,” Frank murmurs, turning his head a little to better regard the cat.

“He’s let me pet him,” Laurel points out, with only a hint of pride that the cat seemed, at least when it was cold and wet and looking for help, to trust her, had let her pick him up and carry him home. She’s not quite sure what to make of him now, and not quite sure she likes the cat’s hesitation around Frank, doesn’t think she wants to tease Frank about the little creature’s caution stemming from Frank. She's not sure that’s it at all, thinks he’s probably a little scared of her too, scared of being suddenly inside, in a new situation, not sure he can get out if things take a turn for the worse. So even though he trusts her a little, Laurel’s fairly certain that gloating is inappropriate at the moment.

“Cause he likes you,” Frank says easily. “Everyone likes you.”

She rolls her eyes, gives a little huff to disguise the way her heart clenches tight in her chest, suddenly so full of love and gratitude she can barely breathe for it.

“Little man’s probably half in love with you already,” he tells her with a chuckle. “Probably keeping his distance cause he so in awe of you.”

“Awe?”

He shrugs, flashes her a crooked grin. “You did rescue him,” he points out. “You’re basically his god now.”

Laurel rolls her eyes, pulls her feet from Frank’s lap so she can rest her bowl on the coffee table next to his. “Easy there,” she snorts. “We went from him liking me to me being a god in like three seconds.”

“Too much?”

Laurel nods. “Definitely too much.”

“Look at him though,” he points out, and Laurel tilts her head to get a better look under the table at the cat. “He can’t keep away from you.”

Frank’s right of course, the little cat sliding forward on its belly across the hardwood until he can press his body against Laurel’s, drape himself atop her foot like he had out in the snow. Laurel lets her other leg drop to the ground, settles it softly beside the cat, trying not to scare him, and without missing a beat, the cat stretches out so that his front paws brush against the side of her foot, claws catching softly, but not painfully against the skin there, as he kneads the empty air.

“You think he’ll let me touch him or is he just using me as a bed?” she asks idly, sliding forward so she can lean down, watch the cat settle further against the top of her feet.

“Give it a try,” Frank suggests. “I’ll patch you up when he takes a chunk out of your hand.”

She tries her best not to laugh, careful not to jostle the cat too much, reaches slowly down and strokes her hand along the cat’s head, the soft space between his ears.

A little rumbling purr rises from his body, shaking with the force of it, but otherwise the cat doesn’t react. Frank’s giving her a wide grin, practically triumphant for a victory that isn’t really even his, eyes still glimmering with something she can only describe as pride as her finger slips along the cat’s cheek, his chin.

“Look at that,” he murmurs softly as the cat presses itself against her hand in something like contentment. “You’ve got him wrapped around your finger already.”

“Or the other way round,” she points out. “He was the one who suckered me into hitching a ride home.”

“Home, huh?” Frank asks the cat, leaning over until he can watch the cat, watch her pet it, until he summons the nerve to reach his own hand down, stroke it over the soft fur at the cat’s spine. “That sound good to you buddy?”

The cat’s head twists, looks up at Frank through green eyes that are still half closed, like he’s wary of the new hand against his body but too content to really move, wanting to reassure himself that Frank poses no danger to him, is going to continue to run his hands along the cat’s fur and doesn’t appear interested in hurting him, turning him out on the street again.

“Think he seems pretty up for that idea,” Laurel decides, leaning her body into Frank’s, watching the cat settle himself again atop her feet.

“Good,” he says simply, like there’s no more thought needed on the subject, like he doesn’t need to consider any of the implications of deciding to adopt this cat, like they don’t need to contemplate their lives and their schedules and the commitment it will be to own a cat, keep it alive, keep it happy. She knows now that he considers all that, takes it into account and thinks it through and calculates the risks and rewards, knows how thorough he is about his conclusions. He’s ruled by emotions far more than she is, ruled by his gut or his heart where Laurel is all brain, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t think, doesn’t consider, she knows, it just means his mental calculus, the weight he assigns the things that matter are different than hers, come to Frank much faster than they do Laurel herself. And this, the cat, well he’s decided already when Laurel’s still not entirely sure its was a good decision to have taken him inside at all.

Frank’s grinning though, wide and crooked, tugging her body closer into the crook of his arm, lips whispering at the side of her head and something in Laurel that she didn’t know was tense, wary eases because somehow, in the years they’ve been together, Frank’s confidence, his easy assurance has become another factor in the long, complex equations she runs to make a decision, to feel easy about the choices she’s making. Somehow, she’s come to rely on Frank, trust his instincts almost as much as she trusts the slow, guarded caution of her own mind. And if he’s accepted the cat already, when its barely shown Frank more than the same hesitant caution Laurel showed him the first month they knew each other, well, it still makes her feel better about keeping the cat if they can’t find its owner, still makes her feel like maybe her instincts were right to scoop him up at take him home with her.

“How was Trial Ad tonight,” Frank asks then, fingers dipping down again to run across the cat’s fur, then straightening up again, his attention fixed on her, fully. “Good day?”

Laurel nods, sinking deeper against his chest, head resting in the curve of his collarbone. “Yeah,” she hums. “But I’m glad its over.”

“Glad for the maybe snow day?”

She nods again, hoping he can’t see the wicked grin that slips across her face. “Only gonna use it to study half the day.”

He huffs and she can tell from the lazy patterns he’s now drawing against the skin of her upper arm that he’s at least picked up a hint of her meaning. “Only half?” he drawls. “What about the other half?”

“Well, I fully intend to spend that naked, hopefully with you buried between my legs,” she tells him teasingly. “But if you’re not up for that…”

His fingers hitch in their wandering patters, only for a moment, but long enough Laurel can feel the stutter. “You uh,” he asks and she can detect the catch in his voice as well, the sudden thickness that wasn’t there before and her teeth sink into her lower lip to keep from grinning more. “You wanna start our snow day a little early? Really make the most of it?”

Laurel laughs around the catch of desire in her own throat, slides her feet from beneath the cat’s body, trying not to startle him. He remains mostly asleep, only throwing her a muted glare through eyes he barely deigns to open, making a little whine of annoyance.

“If you really wanna stay,” Frank tells the cat, though his grin is wide and affectionate. “You’re gonna have to learn to share her. And you may be cuter, but I was here first.”

Laurel laughs, almost a giggle, suddenly feeling light in a way she can’t quite name, can’t quite glance too closely at, too bright white to stare at for too long. “I think you’re pretty cute too,” she tells him, lips meeting the sharp curve of his jaw, pressing against the thick bristles of Frank’s beard. “A little scruffier than the cat, but still cute.”

 

Chapter Text

She wakes a few hours later, the darkness heavy around her like a thick blanket, head still fuzzy and thick with lingering pleasure, limbs loose and liquid. It takes her a minute to realize that Frank’s body is no longer pressed tightly against hers, that when she reaches a hand out, searching for him, craving contact with his skin, her fingers meet only empty air, the soft slide of cold sheets.

She can hear the snow falling outside, a nearly silent hiss, the whisper of flakes settling against the icy ground, can see the unnatural darkness that comes not from a moonless night but from something else, something thick blocking out the sky. And there’s a stillness too, heavy, like the entire world has fallen silent, has frozen while the snow continues to fall, like every living creature is tucked inside some lair, hibernating until the thaw.

She thinks idly about going after Frank, seeking him out and wrapping her fingers around his wrist and leading him back to bed, asking without words for Frank to come with her, wrap his arms, his body around her, shelter her and protect her until she drifts back to sleep. Her sluggish, sleep fogged brain can’t quite decide whether that’s too needy, too desperate, whether she should just wait until sleep takes her under when she remembers the cat, remembers picking it up and bringing it home and the discussion about keeping it, making it not hers or Frank’s or its own creature, but theirs, a part of the strange fragile family they’ve summoned into being through white knuckled determination and luck and blind, desperate hope, spent years crafting and turning into something good and steady and true, something safe, something strong.

Laurel rolls over, places her feet against the floor, shuddering at the cold wood against her skin, pulling the blanket her grandmother made her from the bed, tugging it around her shoulders, cocooning her body in the lingering warmth of the fabric. She pads out into the hallway, seeking out Frank, seeking out the cat, seeking out some kind of comfort, reassurance to the sudden pang of worry, of something like unease tripping across her chest.

She doesn’t have to go very far, barely makes it out of the bedroom before she nearly trips over Frank’s body, clad only in his boxers and slumped against the wall, one leg straight out in front of him and the other bent at the knee and jutting upwards.

He looks up as she stops, leaning against the doorjam, runs a hand sheepishly across his beard.

“I didn’t wake you, did I?” he asks with something like guilt, voice soft but still sleep rough.

Laurel shakes her head, not quite awake enough for speech, gives him a small thin smile and lingers in the doorway, hitching the blanket further around her shoulders, balancing on one leg because the rest of her is warm but the floor’s still cold against her toes and she can’t really think of a better solution to that problem.

She goes to pad forward but something about Frank’s face stops her, something about the look she can see shining in them even in the darkness pauses her steps.

She knows she was right when he holds a finger up to his lips, smile cracking wide around it. “Quiet,” he urges, voice low, eyes flicking to the side and that’s when she sees it, the cat, stretched out, body long and curved against Frank’s side, from his hip to his knee, deeply asleep now. And the cat’s food bowl beside them both, mostly empty now, a little layer of kibble bits in the bottom of the bowl the only remains.

The fingers of Frank’s left hand are running, soft and smooth across the cat’s side, feathering across his fur in time with the deep inhales the animal pulls, little chest rising and falling in sleep

“You got him to eat,” Laurel whispers, finding her lips curling into a smile, sharp and pleased, heart churning with affection, with pleasure because she and Frank have a cat now, the two of them, its not just her cat, her responsibility, its Frank’s now too and when he said they could keep it, he’d meant it. And now he’s making sure the cat is fed, is happy and taken care of, is taking some of the burden of caring for this tiny creature, woke up in the middle of the night and got out of bed even when its cold and snowing and he could just as easily stay curled up around Laurel, got up and padded into the hall to ensure the cat was eating, was happy and comfortable and taken care of. She loves him, Laurel thinks, loves him and loves the cat, for being her partner, for caring not just about her, but about the people, the things she cares about, loves her enough that he will love the cat, maybe not yet, but someday, someday soon.

Frank nods, smirks, too pleased that he’s the one who convinced the cat to eat, loving that it was his efforts that have put the cat at ease enough to try the food. “I did.”

“Thank you,” she tells him, unsure what it took, unsure how long he’s been up, been coaxing the cat to let down his guard, to relax enough, to trust enough to eat. “I love you.”

“Love you too babe,” he murmurs, hands not pausing the carding of his fingers through the cat’s short fur. “Wanted to make sure he ate. I knew you were worried about it.”

She wants to press him, about how or why that translates into waking up in the middle of the night, coaxing the cat into eating, about how his love for her takes form, becomes this but Laurel forces herself to remain silent, forces herself to simply accept the things that Frank does, for her, the strange beasts their love becomes. “What was the trick?” she asks instead.

“Would you believe I had to eat a bit of his food before he’d believe it was something he should try?” Frank asks, grin crooked.

“I can,” she admits slowly, because Frank is nothing if not committed to his goals, to obtaining the things he wants, to removing walls even if he has to do it brick by brick, hands scraped raw and shoulders burning. He did it with her, spent months waiting patiently for Laurel to open her heart to him, spent months painstakingly waiting for her to let down her guard enough that they could be anything more than cautious allies, anything like the things he knew already they could be. It makes her sad, almost beyond words, that they wasted so much time on her caution, on her guardedness, on waiting for her to finally realize the things right in front of her face, and yet she knows they are stronger for that trust, for the slow thing that built between them, walls around the two of them now, tall and strong and with a gate she’s finally willing to lower. “How’d you like it?”

Frank pulls a face. “Pretty terrible actually. But it got him to eat. Don’t worry though, I’ve brushed my teeth.”

Laurel huffs, slides forward and drops to the ground next to Frank, leaning her body close against his and her arm snaking out between the edges of the blanket to grasp his fingers in hers. “Good, or you’re sleeping somewhere else tonight.”

He presses a kiss to the juncture of her neck and shoulder where the blanket has slipped down, just the barest hint of his teeth against her skin. “That’s ok,” he laughs. “Cat’ll keep me company even if you don’t want me anymore.”

“Why do I get the feeling the cat is suddenly your cat?” she asks, only a slight twinge of something sad spilling across her heart. She feels guilty for it, guilty and a little embarrassed, because she should love that the cat loves Frank, that Frank loves the cat and she does, she really does. But she can’t help but wonder if she’s second best to everyone, everything in her life, that she’ll never quite be good enough to come first. She knows its silly, knows that Frank will always love her, has put his whole heart and more into the business of loving her, that he loves her more than she really thinks she deserves, is always the thing first in his mind, and knows, even as she thinks it, that he’s already admitted that he’s acting for her, making sure the little cat is happy and fed and comfortable because Laurel wanted it, was concerned. She knows its silly, knows its hopelessly self pitying, and yet she can’t stop the feeling as it bursts across her skin.

“If anything,” Frank tells her, his lips now glancing against her jaw. “I’m the cat’s human, not the other way around.”

“Or you’re just whipped,” she points out as a little shiver arcs across her shoulder blades from Frank’s touch.

“Pussy whipped?” he asks, smirking against her skin so wide she can feel the spread of his mouth, feel the laugh rumbling in his chest.

Laurel doesn’t quite have it in her to roll her eyes, to snort and respond with something alternatively sarcastic or flirty.

Instead she just yawns, rests her head against his shoulder as her eyes slip closed. “No more pussy jokes Frank.”

She can sense the roll of his eyes without seeing his face. “That’s half the reason I agreed to this cat,” he tells her, laughter sparking underneath his voice. “You can’t take that away from me.”

“I can,” she assures him, her efforts to control the rolling of her own eyes failing miserably. “And I will.”

He nods, kisses her hairline. “You will,” he agrees. “Anything for you.”

“Frank,” she murmurs because she’s suddenly seized with the thought that she doesn’t want him doing things just cause she wants it, just cause she asked. She doesn’t want him serving her, ignoring his own needs, immolating himself in the hopes it will make her happy, in the hopes it will fill in the cracks inside her, the lingering hurts and fears and haunting grief and simmering anger, trying to repair the damage of a whole life before she met him. She doesn’t want Frank to be unhappy just in the hope of making her hurt a little less, edging her a little closer to a place like happiness.

“No pussy jokes, I get it.”

“No,” she tells him softly, just as the cat’s head pops up, peeks over Frank’s knee, regarding her with wide, dark eyes. “No, make the jokes. If I get to keep the cat, you get to make the jokes.”

Laurel reaches out, across Frank’s body, runs her hand over the cat’s ears, the feather soft fur under his chin, watching as the cat’s eyes slip closed, grinning at the rumbling that comes from the cat’s chest, shaking his body with the force of his purrs.

“I’ll try to resist,” he offers. “At least a little.”

“No you won’t,” she answers as the cat stalks forward, hops over Frank’s outstretched legs and wedges his little body between the two of them, into the small space between their hips, curling himself against the fabric of her blanket.

“No,” he echoes with a smirk, watching as the cat winds itself around and around before finally settling as Frank runs his hand across the cat’s back. “I won’t.”

“Love you anyway,” Laurel yawns against his shoulder.

“I think you love me because of it,” he tells her with that same brazen confidence she used to hate and now finds herself loving more and more until she’s not sure why she ever hated it at all.

He presses another kiss to the exposed curve of her shoulder, silent laughter rippling across his skin. “What do you say? Time to pack it in?”

“Cat just fell asleep though,” Laurel whispers, feeling the warm puffs of his breath against her skin even though the blanket, not wanting to disturb the little cat, not wanting to force him to shift again, not wanting to jostle him or wake him. She’s a sucker, already, and she knows it, hell, Frank and the cat both know it too, already knows she’s going to spoil the cat beyond anything reasonable, going to let it have anything it wants and more. She’s sure it has something to do with trying to make up for her own pathetic childhood, for all the times it felt like no one heard her, like she was invisible and unwanted and alone.

It doesn’t matter though, Laurel decides, because the cat still deserves to be spoiled because he’s small and cute and generally well behaved and no one deserves to be out in a snowstorm. “Be a shame to move him.”

Frank smiles at her, his mouth, his eyes so heavy with affection she can’t say for certain what he’s thinking, can’t begin to wonder at what he’s seeing when he looks at her. Its love, of course, she’s not so blind, not so insecure or doubting that she doesn’t recognize that, but there’s something more, almost like he’s looking at her like time doesn’t exist, seeing her at six, at sixteen, seeing her at thirty six, at fifty six, seeing the Laurel that she was, the Laurel that she will be, all the things that lead her here and all the possible futures that will flow from this moment.

“Then we stay here I guess,” he murmurs and Laurel can feel the way his body eases back against the wall, like he’s settling in, the way he shifts his shoulder slightly so that he can offer her a softer space to rest her own body, let her nestle her head against his chest. “Until he’s ready for us to move.”

She wants to tell him she loves him, wants to tell him he’s a good man, a better man than she deserves, wants to tell him she knows of no other person who would sit with her on this cold floor at two in the morning just so they don’t disturb a cat, sit upright and uncomfortable just so the cat has what he wants. But her words are so much less than he deserves, pathetic and meaningless and instead she kisses him once, featherlight against his jaw, rests her head in the curve beneath his chin and closes her eyes.

“This is not what I expected,” she tells him, hearing Frank’s breathing go deep and soft and slow. “But I wouldn't want anything else.”

She can feel a hitch to Frank’s body, a shift in response to her words. “Yeah,” he breathes, and Laurel’s honestly not sure whether he’s even awake or not, whether he’s not talking in his sleep. But then his fingers find hers, tangle their fingers together tightly, just a hint of pressure against her skin from his and she knows he’s not asleep, knows he’s meant his words.

“Me neither. I’ve got everyone I need right here.”