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Five Years and Ten Days

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May 4, 2018: Friday evening

He takes his time after work, even opting for the drippy, institutional-green showers in the locker room instead of waiting until he’s back home again. There is a leaden lump in the pit of his stomach that makes all his movements slow and difficult. Not long ago, the end of the work-week meant burgers, beers and darts, and Eddie with her hair down and her ribald laugh ringing sweet and loud. Tonight, it means driving home in the dark to his silent apartment and cursing himself out some more.

He’s lost her. As far as anyone can presume upon another’s presence, company and affection, he’s lost her, and he’s the only one to blame. Not Barry, not Eddie. She has every right to her own life and companions, and she wasn’t going to stay in their stasis bubble with him forever.

After a half hour of wasting time, he figures he should be able to escape without seeing Eddie in her Out On A Date getup. Her old suede jacket over her tight black jeans, the ones that showcase the ass that her uniform trousers and duty belt do a good job of hiding. Her makeup just a little more dramatic, and her neckline just a little lower than she’d normally wear at work. That wistful look in her eyes. He doesn’t think he’d deal with that very well.

So of course, when he rounds the corner towards the exit, she’s standing there looking amazing, eyeing her cellphone with an expression he can’t decipher, the heel of her boot braced against the wall.

His stomach drops a half inch further. “Hey, what’re you still doing here?” he asks, aiming for normalcy.

She gives him that unreadable look. “I work here,” she says. He takes a second glance at her. She’s tense and unhappy, but not with him.

“Yeah, I meant, uh, I thought you had a thing with Barry.”

“He cancelled.”

History repeating? he wonders. He doesn’t get why on earth she’s wasting her time on a schmuck like that. He feels a kaleidoscope of feelings wash through him: genuine concern for her, anger and alarm that she can’t see or doesn’t care that Barry’s blowing her off again, despondency that he can’t tell her that he’d never treat her with any less respect and adoration than she richly deserves. Bleak hopelessness, that she apparently can’t see that for herself, or if she ever did, his fault is the greater for holding her away from him all this time.

“What, an hour before?”

“Something came up,” she shrugs. Her smile is forced, deflective. He winces inside. It reminds him of how she used to cover up her feelings, in the early days before she came to trust him.         

“Well. Sorry to hear it.”

She inhales quickly, and then asks, all casual, “You got plans?”

Oh.

This is what he was hoping to avoid. Having to listen to Eddie’s dating problems like the supportive friend he’d always been, with her sitting just a little closer to him than strictly necessary and looking so fucking pretty. There’s this thing they do with resting a hand on each other’s arm for a moment, instead of bringing each other in for a hug when they need one and can’t ask for it. Even that would take it out of him tonight. Usually he’d find a way to help her laugh it off, to remind her that nobody who couldn’t see her value was worth her time. But he can’t laugh about Barry.

Bleeding inside, he can’t stop the snark from escaping.

“Ah, yeah. I said I’d be second fiddle.”

She stops dead in her tracks. “Hey,” she says, when he turns around. “You’re not.”

If there’s a clearer definition for being someone’s second choice, he’s not sure what it might be. He supposes she means they’ve always been each other’s default for company, which is true, but that’s the part that hurts the worst right now. She’s hasn’t wanted or needed him around off-duty since the return of Barry, and he feels the loss of her more keenly than he ever thought he could. Especially with her standing right there in front of him.

And the only way forward is to let her go. Keeping her near to him in the old way will drain the life out of him. He tries not to think of the old saw about letting go of the ones you love and trying to trust they will come back. It’s too damn close to the bone. He doesn’t know how he’s going to haul himself through the next days and weeks and years if he says the words out loud, but he has to say something. Anything. Because he can’t keep up the façade much longer, and still be a good partner.  

“Seriously, I think it’s…it’s not good for me…you and Barry…”

He sees the impact of his vague words land far harder than he intended. Twisting her fingers unconsciously, she comes to a decision and says quietly, “All right. I lied. Barry didn’t cancel. I did.”

That gives him pause. What is she trying to say? Have things gone bad with Barry, somehow, that she feels she has to make excuses not to see him, and then lie? To her partner as well as her...whatever Barry is to her? But Eddie’s no damsel in distress, and she has no time for assholes in her life.

“Why?”

“’Cause. This week’s been kind of emotional. He wouldn’t get it. You would.”

Oh.

That’s his Eddie again, standing in front of him. No shadows, no awkward smiles, no filters. Just her trust in him and her need of him shining out through her eyes. Between the frantic hunt for the baby, talking the baby’s kidnapper off a fucking bridge, babies in general (because he knows, of course he knows) and realizing that Barry doesn’t cut it as a rock of support, Eddie’s been through her own mill this week, too.

“We went through it together. Please,” she finishes.

She darts a glance back towards the bullpen, delayed reactions threatening to overwhelm her for a moment. Eddie does not break down in front of people, especially at work. He’s the only one she can do that around, when she has to. Sometimes it’s enough for her just to know she can. Sometimes you just need to be with someone you don’t have to explain anything to.

God knows he could sit with her in total silence and feel a bad week slipping into place within their shared history. He may be a good listener, but talking through emotional stuff gets his guard right up, however eloquent he may be in his head. She gets that about him. And when he does talk, she listens hard to the spaces in between his words as much as anything, and she gets it. It’s one of many reasons why he loves and appreciates her so much.

He feels a jolt and a lift in his gut, and wonders what she’s really telling him. Regardless, she needs to get out of there.

“If we do go, we gotta talk about it the whole time?” he deadpans. Partly to remind her how much he appreciates the way they deal with shit together, and partly from self-preservation. He doesn’t think he can handle a whole lot of stories about how Barry doesn’t understand her.

No,” she insists.

“Okay. What d’you feel like?” he asks. Their old pattern.

“Whatever you feel like,” she assures him, and he holds his breath for the follow-up. “--as long as it’s Thai or Vietnamese.”

As he holds the door, she passes by with a kick in her stride and flick of her hair. The familiar scent of her so close makes his senses reel for a moment. For once, he’s not hit with a wave of cautionary self-restraint (or, since Barry happened, abject self-loathing) in the second after.

He pauses for a moment and takes a deep breath. The cold, leaden lump is melting away. In its place is a buoyancy he’d thought had deserted him.

Eddie chose me.

When it came down to it, when she needed a safe place and a partner in arms, she chose him.

What else might it mean?

His evening has just gotten interesting in a way he hasn’t felt for a long time.

He hopes he’s not about to be wrecked completely.

*** *** ***

They’re sitting over steaming bowls of phở, and not-talking about Barry. They’re talking quietly over old times, instead. It’s a far cry from diving into a beer glass and escaping into raucous laughs with rest of the shift, or even sparring back and forth over some stupid joke or point of trivia, as they usually do to release tension. They’re drifting back over five years of shared stories and peak experiences, lives saved and lives they couldn’t, running in-jokes and small victories. A partnership they were assigned through the promise they showed as officers, and deepened through years of unspoken promises to each other.

Being in a public space, they can only talk in code about police business, but even that lends it a sort of intimacy. It’s gentle. It’s kind. It’s exactly what they need. Jamie realizes that before Eddie’s revelation about ditching Barry tonight, he might have interpreted this as a warning that she was about to drop a bombshell on him. But it’s not that. The crackling atmosphere that so often surrounds them is suffused with something like serenity. Whatever is going on, it’s going to be okay.

He’s spent so long dialling back his more tender and appreciative and, well, appreciative responses to her that it hits him quite suddenly that maybe this is the moment he can stop doing that.

He catches himself gazing, and gazes some more.

When Eddie’s sweet coffee is ready, she wraps her hands around her mug and sits smiling back at him for a moment. The bobbing candlelight between them casts her hair and the lines of her face in gold and shadows, and her skin seems to glow from within. She’s so lovely his heart quakes. He lets himself think of her, just for a moment, stretched out on his bed, wearing nothing but candlelight and that same smile. Could they possibly…?

“Jamie?”

“That’s me.”

For a long second, he finds himself entranced by her eyes and the curl of her smile all over again, before she looks off to the side.

“I feel like I owe you some kind of explanation,” she says.

“You don’t,” he assures her, “If you mean the Barry thing.”

“I wasn’t trying to make you jealous. I’m not that girl.”

They’re long past pretending they haven’t been beset with jealousy over each other from very early on. Have they found a way back to admitting it?

“I know. You got a right to your own life, Eddie. And I…have not been exactly…” he pauses. “Are we talking about this?”

“We absolutely have to talk about this,” she tells him flatly. “At least clear the air. With words.”

She’s right. He only prays it goes well. He can orate extemporaneously on a point of law for a good half-hour, but this is far beyond his comfort zone. And it’s maddening, because once he’s firmly, truly committed to a girl, once he’s in all the way, the words just flow. But getting there – and with someone like Eddie, who makes him so viscerally aware of how much he needs her and how deeply her leaving ever again would wound him…

I have to try, he tells himself. For her.

He brings his napkin to his mouth to stall for a moment. “Starting where?”

“Starting with…loneliness,” she says, and then takes a sip of coffee to steady herself, because this is all very real and very big for her, too. “And me trying to convince myself to move on. To believe I could still feel something for someone if I just kept trying, because nothing was ever going to happen with us, because – I don’t even know why. We’ve just been stuck. We’ve gotten really good at pretending nothing’s going on. And then when Barry happened the first time, we could laugh about how he didn’t get our crazy life at all. And suddenly it seemed – it felt like we were in the same place we were last year, only different. Like we were finally on the same page at the same time. But then it felt like you just – backed off again. And I didn’t know what to think.”

“I really did take a hint, when you took that shot,” he says, all jerky and in a rush. He’d thought he might never get a chance to tell her that. “I was going to say something. But I wanted to – I needed to get through it, too. The thought of what might’ve happened to you was…so I had this idea just to be whatever you needed, get you back on your feet, and then find the right time…but then Barry came back. Because I waited too damn long. So how could you know where I was at? And how could I get in the way of you being happy? I didn’t want to bust up any chance you had with the guy, and I knew he had issues about us. For all I knew, any history we had was just…history.”

His hands are clenched together under the table to forestall the fidgets. Eddie looks at him with sympathetic eyes. She knows how far he has to be pushed to come out with things like that.

“I wasn’t happy,” she tells him, low. “I wasn’t even settling. I was just filling time. Don’t get me wrong, Barry’s a good guy. He’s a lot like you, actually, which just made it worse.”

They’re still dancing around the flame, talking in their usual shorthand and assuming the other will fill in the difficult blanks. But this is a time to be brave if there ever was one.

“Jamie,” she says in a small voice, the words wrung out of her, “I can’t lose you.”

“You’re not going to lose me.”

“It’s more than that.”

She’s right. They’ve been so focused on not losing each other, as a way of ignoring all the possibilities of what they could be to each other.

“Eddie...”

She tilts her head and waits. He feels the world give under his feet and all he can do is fall with it. He braces his palms on the table and takes a rapid breath.

“You are everything to me. Everything. Words aren’t enough. And the words I want to say I can’t say here. But don’t ever doubt that.”

For once, Eddie is speechless. She stares in surprise, struck hard, and eyes glimmer with suspicious brightness. But she reaches to cover his hand with hers. And slowly, seriously, she nods.

“Everything,” she says, so quietly he can hardly hear her over the thudding of his heart. She’s so proud of him for saying it first, and he feels about ten feet tall. It's more than a confession. It feels like a promise made and returned.

He slides his fingers through hers, and doesn’t miss her indrawn breath though parted lips as she watches. He feels it too, the old leaping spark and the flutter and oh, God, what is happening tonight?