The initial pain in her left shoulder wasn’t too bad. That was probably just shock. Reade had cleared the corridor while Tasha checked out a nearby room. He said the hallway was clear but the gunman had been overlooked as one of the dead Sandstorm operatives. He’d gotten off a good shot: the bullet missed the vest and ripped through Tasha’s shoulder. The force of the hit spun her around but the wall had stopped her progress and now she slumped against it, allowing herself to slide to the floor.
Reade seemed to notice that she’d been shot before the injury truly even registered with Tasha. He fired his own weapon at the operative and then rushed back to where Tasha was drooped against the wall staring straight ahead. Blood quickly began to soak through her shirt and she was overcome by dizziness. The shot had ripped through her subclavian artery and she was losing blood fast.
They’d been guarding the hallways leading to the server room so Patterson could set to work shorting out the lab. Shepherd and her team were after the Homeland Security Intranet connection and the lab was home to the only terminal in the entire building with access to it. Once she’d gained access to the server room, Patterson had been able to destroy her lab with just a few keystrokes. She made the call to the Department of Homeland Security to spread word of the attack and then jogged back along the hallway and around the barricade Reade and Tasha had crouched behind only moments earlier.
"They were able to evacuate the high val—" Patterson began conversationally as she headed towards Reade. She spotted Tasha slumped against the wall, her blouse soaked crimson. Reade was holding her hand and the color had drained out of her face. Patterson rushed to her and crouched down in front of her. She was struck by a wave of panic and her voice rose an octave as she spoke. "Tasha? No no no no no."
"She’s lost a lot of blood," Reade told her. "We can’t risk moving her."
"I’ll radio. I’ll radio for help," Patterson stammered as she got back up.
"Go! Go!" Reade yelled, urging Patterson to move more quickly.
Patterson dashed away back towards the server room where she’d left her radio and Reade turned his attention back to Tasha. The brunette was squeezing his hand in an attempt to get his attention. Tears were streaming down her cheeks and she struggled for air. Each breath came out as a ragged gasp. She met his eyes.
"You gotta go," she whispered. It was an effort just to speak. "You gotta protect her."
Reade shook his head.
"No, I’m not gonna leave your side, alright?" he said as he gave Tasha’s hand a squeeze. "I’m gonna be right here with you. Alright? I’m not gonna leave you. You just gotta stay with me."
Tasha heard Reade’s voice, but he seemed so far away. The words he was saying meant nothing to her. She was vaguely aware of the pressure of his hand in hers and she tried to squeeze it again. He needed to go. He needed to leave her where she was and go protect Patterson. She gave his hand a weak squeeze in hopes that he’d understand that there was nothing he could do for her. It was a waste of time to be sitting here holding her hand. Patterson was more important. She needed him to go and watch over Patterson.
Reade returned the squeeze.
"Hey, I’m here," he said. "It’s okay. Patterson’s gone to get help. You’ll be okay."
Tasha tried to shake her head but barely was able to look up. He wasn’t understanding.
"No," she said faintly. "You have to go with Patterson. Keep her safe. For me."
Reade leaned closer to Tasha. Her words were so faint he could barely make them out.
"Don’t worry, Tasha," he said. "You’re safe. Help is coming."
She tried to take a deep breath and shake her head but the effort of simply taking the breath was too much. Tasha closed her eyes and let her weight go fully against the wall. Patterson’s face filled her mind’s eye. She’d had one job, protect Patterson and keep her safe, but she’d failed. She never wanted to fail Patterson but there was nothing she could do now. She could barely hold her head up on her own. Tasha fleetingly wondered if this would be where it ended for her. Would she die in the hallway of the NYO? If she did, she’d never get a chance to tell Patterson everything she wanted to say to her.
Tasha took a deep shuddery breath and opened her eyes again. Reade was staring at her intently. His face was full of worry and Tasha knew it wasn’t good. This was going to be the end. She’d failed Patterson, the most perfect person in the entire world, and in failing her, she’d never be able to tell her that she loved her.
It wasn’t just that she loved Patterson. Tasha was in love with the scientist. She wasn’t sure when it had happened but somewhere along the way, she’d found herself head over heels in love with her best friend. When Reade tried to kiss her, she’d stopped him. She wished it’d been Patterson. She wouldn’t have stopped her. But Patterson was in the hospital recovering from the torture Borden and Shepherd put her through. Seeing her there later had almost broken her. It’d been too much. She couldn’t stand the idea of losing Patterson. Now Tasha made peace with the possibility that she might die but she couldn’t get over something possibly happening to Patterson. She tried Reade again.
"Please," she said. "Patterson. You can’t let anything happen to her. If I die—"
"You’re not dying, Zapata," Reade interrupted. "Don’t talk like that. You’ll be okay."
"Shut up," Tasha rasped at Reade and coughed. She thought she tasted blood. She gathered up her strength again. "Listen. If I die, protect Patterson. Please, Reade."
"Okay," he said and gave her a serious nod. "But you’re not dying. Not today."
Tasha gave a weak smile. The hallway seemed to grow dim and another wave of dizziness rocked through her. She licked her lips. There was more that she had to say.
"Tell Patterson I lo..." her words trailed off as the world seemed to slide sideways. Everything went black.
Patterson rushed back to the server room and looked around wildly for her radio. She’d had it only minutes earlier but now couldn’t find it. She cursed herself for not clipping the stupid thing to her belt like she would have any other time. The seconds were ticking away and all Patterson could think about was Tasha sitting on the floor and all of the blood. There was a lot of blood.
She swallowed hard and spun around in the center of the room, scanning every surface. Her radio was on a nearby server stand and she grabbed it up. She pressed the talk button.
"Agents down," she said, trying to keep the worry out of her voice and replaced it with her most professional, business-like tone. "We need immediate medical response."
The radio crackled back almost immediately.
"Patterson, it’s Weller and Jane," Weller’s voice came through the speaker. "We’re in the building."
"Weller, Tasha’s down. She’s bleeding out." Patterson replied frantically. "And multiple other agents are down, too."
Weller’s voice was calm and full of command and Patterson found a little comfort in it.
"Alright," he said. "All units have a green light to breach the tunnel and enter the building. Patterson, take care of Tasha."
Patterson didn’t hesitate. She jammed the clip of the radio onto her belt and sprinted back out of the server room to where she’d left Tasha. Reade was still crouched over her and holding her hand.
"Medevac is coming," she said and pushed passed Reade. There was even more blood than there had been just a few moments earlier. Patterson flicked her eyes over Tasha’s body. The bullet had entered through her shoulder. From the amount of blood, Patterson guessed it’d hit an artery. "Have you tried to stop the bleeding?"
Reade shook his head.
"No," he admitted a bit sheepishly. "I didn’t want to move her."
Tasha was frighteningly pale and looked unconscious. Patterson put two fingers on her neck and felt a faint pulse. She pulled the radio off her belt and shoved it at Reade. She set to work on unbuckling her belt, ripping it quickly through her belt loops. She glanced over at Reade to see what he was wearing. Just his vest and dress shirt. She’d hoped for a pocket square or pretentious vest. Tasha was bleeding out, and Patterson wasn’t about to watch her best friend die on the floor in front of her. They needed to stop the bleeding or at least slow it. She dropped her belt to the floor and yanked her shirt free from where it’d been neatly tucked into her slacks. Her fingers worked the buttons quickly and she shrugged out of it.
"Woah, Patterson," Reade objected. Patterson was hovering in front of Tasha in just her bra and pants. She was folding her shirt into a square. She thrust it at Reade.
"Do you have a better idea?" she asked. "I need you to hold this over the entrance wound."
Reade didn’t react immediately and she grabbed the shirt back and carefully put it against Tasha’s bloody shirt. She pulled on Reade’s arm until his hand was holding the shirt in place.
"Just hold it there!" She scooped up her belt and wrapped it around Tasha’s torso. She tightened it until it was securely holding the shirt in place. Satisfied with her work, Patterson went to Tasha’s right side and grabbed the hand Reade wasn’t holding. She gave it a hard squeeze. "Okay, Tash, help is coming. Just hang on for me, okay? Just hang on. Please."
Patterson felt a tear run down her cheek and she squeezed Tasha’s hand again. She wasn’t ready to say goodbye to her friend. She didn’t want to lose Tasha without getting the chance to tell her all the things she wished she’d told her before. Tasha was more than her best friend, or at least Patterson wished she’d be more than her best friend. When she’d woken up in the hospital after Borden and Shepherd tortured her, Tasha had been waiting for her and Patterson’s heart fluttered. She’d never been so happy to see anyone before and she couldn’t imagine someone she’d rather see. It was then that she realized that she had fallen in love with Tasha.
It wasn’t fair. Tasha couldn’t die. Not here, not now. Patterson needed to tell her how she felt. She needed Tasha to know that she loved her so intensely that she’d lay down her own life just to protect her.
Patterson’s mind began to run away with her. It made the awful leap she was unwilling to make: what would life be like if Tasha died? She’d already lost one person she was in love with and she wasn’t willing to let that happen again.
They saved a lot of lives all over the country with just that one phone call Patterson made to Homeland Security. Federal buildings were evacuated and Shepherd’s plans were thwarted for the time being. Patterson should have felt good about that but she couldn’t get rid of the pit in her stomach. Dread had settled there and just walking down the corridors felt like a chore. She looked ahead towards her destination. It seemed so far away and the pit in her stomach grew. She needed to reach the door and go inside. She urged her feet to move her forward until she was face to face with a simple wooden door.
Patterson peaked through the small glass window and saw Reade. He was sitting in a chair, and the bulletproof vest he wore while clearing corridors at the NYO sat at his feet. She took a deep breath, rapped loudly on the door, and then pushed her way inside the hospital room.
"Good. Second shift has arrived," Reade said getting out of his chair. "I told her to take it easy and rest. Maybe you can knock some sense into her." He turned back to Tasha and gave her a serious look. His eyes were full of worry and exhaustion. It’d been a long day. "I’m gonna find some food and head back to the office. Sleep, okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Tasha replied irritably. She gestured to the wires and tubes running out of her body. A thick white bandage covered her shoulder and part of her neck. "Not like I can go nowhere."
Reade stood for a second longer looking at her.
"I’m counting on you, Patterson," he said and clapped a hand over her shoulder as he headed towards the door.
Patterson didn’t say anything until Reade was out of the room. She stared at the closed door for a second before turning back towards the bed. Tasha looked so small and Patterson hated seeing her there but then she looked into Tasha’s eyes. She might be recovering from a gunshot wound but the fire hadn’t gone out of Tasha’s eyes.
"You can sit," Tasha said, looking to the chair next to the bed. "Unless you’re not staying."
"No, I’m staying," Patterson said and went to the chair. She set her bag on the floor and sat down next to Tasha. She looked down at her own hands before looking back at Tasha. "How do you feel?"
"Like I was shot," Tasha replied. She gave a small smile. "My ribs are sore like some cinched a belt around me."
Patterson’s eyes went wide.
"I’m sorry!" she said. "I had to. You were bleeding out. I didn’t know what else —"
"It’s okay, Patterson," Tasha interrupted. Her smile widened. "Reade told me what you did. You took off your shirt?"
"I didn’t want to lose you," Patterson said. She felt her face go three shades of red. "I needed something to try to stop the bleeding."
"Looks like it worked," Tasha said. "I’m still here."
Patterson nodded and looked away. She nervously played with her fingers. There were so many things she wanted to tell Tasha but now that she was sitting beside her hospital bed, she didn’t know what to say.
Tasha sensed the tension and she watched Patterson carefully. After a few moments of silence, she cleared her throat.
"Are you okay, Patterson?" she asked.
The question caught Patterson by surprise and she realized that she’d been sitting next to Tasha staring at the floor for a long time. She looked back up and met Tasha’s eyes. She quickly diverted her gaze.
"Yeah," she lied. "I just... when I saw you in the hall, there was a lot of blood. I was afraid you might die."
"I was afraid of the same thing," Tasha admitted.
When she’d been slumped in the hallway there were so many things she’d wanted to say to Patterson. She was afraid she’d never have the chance to tell her how she felt but now confessing those feelings was frightening. Patterson was her friend. What if Tasha admitted her feelings but it freaked Patterson out. She didn’t want to lose her best friend. She bit her lip as she thought about what to say next. There were so many what-ifs running through her mind.
What if she told Patterson and she freaked? What if she didn’t tell Patterson and she just continued to bury her feelings? Their lives were so chaotic. It wasn’t like neither of them had been seriously injured at work before. Would she be okay never telling Patterson? If something else happened, Tasha feared that her feelings would gnaw at her.
"What are you thinking?" Patterson asked after a moment. "Are you okay? Should I get a doctor?"
Tasha shook her head. "No, I’m okay," she said. She took a breath and decided to throw caution to the wind. It was now or never. She didn’t want to think about never. "I was just thinking about what happened. I was sitting there and I was sure I was going to die."
"Tash, you don’t have to —" Patterson began.
"No, lemme finish," Tasha insisted. She licked her lips before continuing. "I was bleeding out. I was really, really scared I was gonna die. But I was less worried about dying than protecting you. I tried to get Reade to follow you to the server room to guard you. He wouldn’t go."
"No," Patterson agreed. "He needed to stay with you. I was okay."
"I know but I didn’t know what was happening. That you’d stopped Shepherd. I didn’t know," she said. She looked up to the ceiling to gather her thoughts and then looked back at Patterson. She looked straight into her eyes and gave a small smile. "I didn’t want – I don’t want – anything to happen to you."
Patterson smiled and reached out for Tasha’s hand. She gave it a friendly squeeze.
"I didn’t want anything to happen to you, either. I’m really glad you’re okay."
Tasha returned Patterson’s smile but held her hand tighter. Holding her hand made her feel stronger and what she was about to say became easier.
"You’re my best friend," Tasha continued. "And I love you."
"I love you, too, Tash."
Tasha shook her head. "No, Patterson, you don’t understand," she said. "I’m in love with you. When I was bleeding out, I was worried I’d never get to tell you. I’m in love with you."
Patterson didn’t respond. She just stared at Tasha. For a full minute she thought she’d misheard. Tasha had not confessed her feelings for her, that was just her brain telling her what she wanted to hear. Patterson was in love with Tasha. It wasn’t the other way around. She felt Tasha let go of her hand and pull back slightly. Patterson became aware of the awkward silence.
"Did you say you’re in love with me?" Patterson asked quietly. She wanted to look away but she didn’t want to take her eyes off Tasha. She was certain she’d misheard.
"I’m sorry," she said. "I don’t want to screw up our friendship. I just needed to tell you."
Patterson stood up from her chair and turned away from the bed. She didn’t know what to do. Tasha just said the exact thing she’d been thinking herself when she’d held her hand in the hallway and waited for the paramedics. She started to pace as she tried to work through all of her thoughts.
"Please don’t leave," Tasha said quietly. "Please. I’d rather be your friend if it means I’ve freaked you out."
Patterson stopped pacing and realized how close she was to the door. It actually looked like she’d been getting ready to leave. She turned back to Tasha.
"I wasn’t leaving," she said and took a few quick steps back to Tasha’s side. "I was just thinking about what to say."
"You don’t have to say anything."
"No, I do," Patterson replied. "I was really afraid I was going to lose you and I’ve already lost one person that I loved. I didn’t want to lose you, too."
"David," Tasha whispered.
Patterson nodded. "Yeah, David." She sat back in the chair and faced Tasha. She gave her a serious look and brushed her hair out of her face. This was it. She’d either tell Tasha or keep it to herself forever. She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. "I’m in love with you, too."
Tasha was about to respond when the sound of Patterson’s phone vibrating in her bag filled the room. She glanced towards the bag on the floor and saw Patterson rush to it, fish it out, and look at the screen.
Patterson looked from the phone over to Tasha.
"It’s Weller," she said. "I have to get back."
"Okay," Tasha said. "I should probably sleep. The doctor wanted me to rest."
Patterson picked her bag up off the floor and headed towards the door. She stopped with her hand on the knob and hesitated. She turned back to Tasha.
"Did you mean that?" she asked suddenly.
"You said you’re in love with me. Did you mean it?"
Tasha nodded. "Yeah."
Patterson lingered at the door for another second as she made up her mind. She hurried back to Tasha’s bed and leaned down. She kissed Tasha lightly on the lips. When they separated she gave her a small smile.
"Good," she said. Her phone vibrated in her hand again and she glanced at it. "I have to go. I want to talk about this more but..."
"You have to go."
"Yeah," Patterson said. "I have to go."
Patterson gave Tasha a final look before heading to the door and slipping back out. Tasha closed her eyes when the door closed and she was once again alone in the room. She’d kissed Patterson or, rather, Patterson had kissed her. She wondered if anything would come of their declarations. If anything, she wouldn’t mind kissing her again.