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How Can I Help, Detective?

Chapter Text

It was 10:00 AM on a Monday when Scarlet was finally able to take a break from the dispatch line. It had been a long Monday already. She’d put out three APBs, passed about twenty messages between the coroner, technical services, and a dozen detectives, and had looked up god knows how many addresses for a ridiculous amount of cases throughout the city. All of this, and without so much as a cup coffee to keep her going. Her neck and fingers were stiff from poring over address books and police documents to help out the detectives who had called in. As Scarlet finally left the room to get her much needed caffeine, she recalled the events from earlier that morning.

She had arrived early, and before she had even gotten the chance to settle in to make herself some coffee, there was talk all over the station about the new detective that would be starting later that day. The other girls in the dispatch room whispered in excitement about what the new detective might be like, and if he might be a handsome man. Scarlet listened silently, not contributing to the chatter. She wouldn’t be surprised if he was a former patrolman who had been working on the beat for years before finally making it to detective. He’d be eager to start, but would be at a low priority desk for a long while, and most likely get bored with his assignment. He’d do his job, but not really excel at it. He’d close some cases here and there, and he’d fail at some others. He’d take up smoking as a serious hobby, and maybe drinking to accompany it. After a few years, perhaps he’d move onto burglary or robbery or something other than commercial crimes or traffic, and stay there for the rest of his career. It was rare to actually see the ever-curious and diligent detective they all claimed they were to the newspapers.

Scarlet enjoyed her job, however. She had known some great detectives - and some not so great ones. There were detectives who treated everyone with kindness and respect, and then there were others who only believed everyone else in the station existed to serve them. She had worked at Central Station for three years now, and had seen her fair share of questionable behavior from some detectives. She had also seen how different she was from many of the other girls in her own department. Some of the girls had absolutely no problems with the aforementioned questionable behavior. Scarlet had been subject to some flirting - and even some direct advances - but had never taken any of the men up on their offers. She liked her job too much and felt that professionalism was key when working in such an environment. However, there were some girls who didn’t seem to mind leaving on the arm of a rather bold detective on Friday night, only to arrive on Monday morning either ecstatic or crying to the other women. Generally, if the former happened, the fleeting joy would turn into tears when she realized that he had no intention of ever calling her back for another date. Scarlet tried not to judge. She got along very well with the rest of her coworkers, despite not relating to them very well. She could empathize, listen, and offer advice, but everyone knew to not push her towards anything she didn’t want to partake in. Some girls thought she was prudish or strange. She didn’t associate with those women, and was happy to be around her coworkers who respected her space. She would go out for the odd drink whenever the girls suggested an outing after work, but after a drink or two, she would retire to her apartment and enjoy the solitude.

At twenty-five years old, Scarlet was a quiet and intelligent woman. She was professional and hard-working. She was friendly and courteous, but unfortunately for her, she had a penchant for dry wit that dumbfounded the people around her. She truly did not fit into the mould of society, and she knew it. Being sarcastic was not lady-like in the slightest, and she was often given strange looks because of her unique comments. She couldn’t help it, though. She looked at the world through a realistic - sometimes pessimistic - lens, and the sarcasm and wit just came with it. As a result of her way of looking at the world, dating and domesticity were not on her list of to-dos. She sometimes envied the other women of her generation, and how easy it was for them to do what was asked of them and be happy about it. Finish school, get the husband, have the kids, stay at the house, care for the husband and kids, and be quiet and content. Despite her ability to be reserved, Scarlet had a determined spirit, and she wasn’t about to let the arbitrary expectations from the world around her stop her from doing what she wanted, no matter how difficult it could be. She wanted independence, simplicity, and fulfillment from her work. What more could a girl ask for? But these things separated her from fitting in well, and she had realized a while back that a life of relative solitude was what was in store for her. At first it had been lonely, coming to that realization, but after some time, she knew it was what she wanted. So, she was rather surprised when she found herself curious and excited about working with this new detective.

As the morning continued and word got passed around the station, she heard more and more about this anomaly of a man who would be a traffic detective. He had spent just a single year on the beat before landing this job. And before that, he had come home from the war with a Silver Star to show for his bravery on Sugarloaf Hill. Scarlet had kept up with the news of the war while she was a college student. She had tried to familiarize herself with the Pacific Theatre, since that’s where all the local boys were headed. She knew about Sugarloaf Hill, and she remembered hearing about this Lieutenant who was the last survivor of his men. She thought about what it must have been like to be a young man, fighting for your flag in a foreign place. Death and destruction surrounded you, and you were thousands of miles away from anything familiar. She respected the hell out of the men who willingly went to battle, and she felt grateful that she was where she was. All of this just made her even more intrigued about meeting this man at some point. He almost seemed unreal. He was a hero, and such a dedicated police officer that he made detective in one year? Sounded like hell of a man.

Scarlet had finally made herself her cup of coffee and was headed back to the dispatch room when she could hear the girls chattering excitedly once more. Some of them had gathered around the door of the room and were trying to peer into the hallway.

“What are you all doing?” Scarlet asked one of them as she stood outside of the room.

“The new detective is here!! We’re trying to get a good look at him!” replied a bespectacled young woman named Sheila.

Scarlet had no hope of getting back into the room while the girls were crowded against the door, so she decided to lean against the opposite wall of the hallway and wait until they were done. Although, she had to admit that she, too, wanted to see the detective. As she drank her coffee, she heard some comments from the girls that made her chuckle.

“I bet he’s tall and has looks that would make you keel over!”

“I wonder if he’s married…”

“I bet he’s actually really ugly, but people keep spreading rumors…”

“What?! Why would anyone spread a stupid rumor like that?”

“Yeah! He’s a war hero! War heroes aren’t ugly, Jane!”

“Exactly! They’re blue-eyed and dark-haired and…”

Suddenly, Sheila started shushing the other girls, and they all started shushing each other. Scarlet kept her coffee mug between her hands and casually examined it while taking quick glances to the end of the hallway. There, she saw the watch commander walking down the hallway with his own cup of coffee, and following him was a man wearing an immaculately pressed brown suit, a matching hat, and a blood red tie. It was obvious that the commander was showing the new man around.

The girls stayed dead silent while they all peered down the hallway from the door, eyes wide and curious. Scarlet tried to be a bit more discreet about it and kept her eyes forward while she took sips from her coffee mug. Suddenly, the commander and the man started walking toward the dispatch room and in an instant, Sheila and the rest of the girls had disappeared back into the room, leaving Scarlet standing by herself in the hallway. The watch commander approached Scarlet and smiled.

“Scarlet! How are ya? Been a busy day for you girls, seems like! I see ya got your morning coffee there.”

“Just like any other Monday, Commander. Saving the world requires all the coffee the universe has to offer,” Scarlet replied with a bright smile of her own. Scarlet glanced at the detective next to the commander.

He had a boyish look to him, and he couldn’t have been older than thirty-three, she thought. He had a sweet face that somehow carried an air of dignity, and he actually looked like a rather serious fellow. He wasn’t exactly what she was expecting, but that just made her even more curious. This was the man who had received the war medal? The one who had apparently single-handedly solved the murder of a shoe store owner as a patrolman? She took another sip of her coffee, silently pondering.

“Phelps, this is Scarlet. She’s the best dispatch operator we’ve got here. I’m sure you’ll be needing her assistance soon so you better be nice to her and start doin’ her favors. You’ll be lost without her,” the commander said with a wink.

“Cole Phelps. Pleasure to meet you, Miss…”

“Just ‘Scarlet’ is fine, Detective.” Scarlet smiled and held her hand out.

“Well, it’s very nice to meet you, Scarlet,” Cole said as he shook her hand.

“It’s nice to meet you, too. I’ll be compiling the list of favors I’ll need you to do in order for this to go smoothly.”

Scarlet playfully raised an eyebrow at Cole, who looked slightly taken aback at her comment.

“She’s quick, Phelps. You better watch out for her, otherwise she’ll leave ya in the dust,” the commander said to Cole with a laugh before motioning for Cole to follow him into the dispatch room.

Scarlet smiled wryly before taking her seat at her desk. She always found that the best way to judge a person’s character was to observe how they responded to being poked fun at. Some people would be insulted that a woman had the audacity to talk that way. Others would be shocked and not reply at all. But every now and then, there would be the person who surprised her and would be up for a little verbal joust. She always felt like those people were worth keeping around. She admitted that she had basically sucker-punched Cole with that joke, so she wouldn’t be surprised if he reacted poorly. She figured she’d wait to see what sort of man Cole was.

The commander gave Cole a short explanation of the dispatch room, and ended it with “These are the rest of the lovely operators. You’ll be assigned to one eventually. C’mon, it’s time to get you upstairs to your new desk and the rest of the detectives.”

As the commander motioned for Cole to follow and started to leave the room, Cole approached Scarlet’s desk and quietly said, “That list of errands of yours…I suppose completing it will be dependant on how much help you are to me.”

Scarlet raised her eyebrows in surprise. She was expecting any number of responses, if he had even chosen to respond. This was not one of them. She felt a pang of anger, and another of embarrassment. She was only trying to be friendly, and here was, chiding her. She was about to open her mouth when he suddenly continued speaking.

“I’ll get my wallet ready. I have a feeling you’re going to take me to the cleaners…literally.”

Cole gave her a small smile and huffed out a quiet laugh before following the commander out the door.
As soon as Cole had left, the barrage of comments and questions from the other women started.

“He’s so cute!!! I wasn’t expecting him to look like that!!”

“He’s the war hero? Well…I suppose he does look rather heroic…”

“Did anyone see a wedding ring??”

“No, I was a bit too busy wondering what he has under the suit…”

“Jane!!”

“What?? He’s not as ugly as I thought he’d be!!”

“I wonder who’s going to get assigned to him!”

Sheila turned to Scarlet and excitedly asked, “Scarlet, what did he say to you?? Was he hitting on you?”

Scarlet chuckled and replied “No, nothing like that. He should be an interesting man to work with.”

She truly meant that.

Chapter Text

Soon after her first interaction with Cole, Scarlet had received a call from Officer Hart, who alerted her to an abandoned vehicle left at the PE Freight Depot downtown. Normally this wouldn’t be something to call into the station, but Hart described the interior of the vehicle as being soaked with blood. Naturally, a detective needed to be called upon to investigate the scene. Scarlet hung up after her call and wrote a note to be passed to Captain Leary. As she watched one of the secretaries go upstairs with the note, Scarlet wondered who this new ‘mystery man Cole Phelps’ would be partnered with.

From her brief meeting with him, she gathered that he was an intense and proper man. His brand of humor, if one could call it that, was even drier than Scarlet’s. He had paid her a compliment, though, so he did have a soft side. Scarlet found herself pondering what being around Cole Phelps’ soft side was even like. Scarlet turned back to her desk to document the call in one of the many notebooks she used on a daily basis, and suddenly realized that she had a note for the watch commander about an APB suspect.

She rose from her desk to the deliver the note and walked down the hallway towards the commander’s booth. Just as she had reached the stairs, she saw Cole walking down the stairs with someone behind him. She gave Cole a small smile and looked up to see who his new partner was. She was pleasantly surprised to see Stefan Bekowsky walking down the stairs as well.

“Hey, Scarlet! You’re looking ravishing today, as always,” Stefan said as he wiggled his eyebrows at her.

She laughed. “Hello, Stefan.. Well, thank you very much, but I think you’ve got a few more important things to do today than ogle me. I hear you’ve got a date with a car full of blood at the freight depot! Better not keep the ol’ girl waiting.” Scarlet winked at him playfully.

“Oh yeah, can’t wait to see what this is about. Certainly excited to start working with the hero of the century here. Phelps, this is Scarlet. I’d say she’s probably in the top ten of my favorite dispatch girls. You’ll like her, though, she’s got the brains to go with the beauty. Right up your alley, college boy,” Stefan said, and smiled mischievously as he motioned toward her.

Scarlet rolled her eyes and smiled at Cole, who gave her a nod.

“Yes, we actually met earlier today,” Scarlet said.

“Oh. Well, then. I guess I’m late to the party,” Stefan replied.

“Could we get on with the investigation, Detective? I’m sure the victim is fine with your sense of urgency, but I came here to work, not make chit-chat with the operators,” Cole said coldly.

Scarlet couldn’t help but stare at Cole with her mouth open. He had just unabashedly chastised Stefan not even ten minutes into their new partnership! Scarlet wasn’t sure how to feel for the second time that day, she realized. This moment felt similar to her earlier experience with the new detective. There was one part of her that felt guilty for being the reason Cole was agitated with Stefan, but there was another part that almost admired Cole for his drive and determination as an investigator. Never had she seen a detective be this serious towards his work. She was actually rather impressed with Cole, even if he had been a bit rude to her friend. Stefan, however, took the sarcastic comment in stride.

He huffed out a laugh and looked at Scarlet’s bewildered face before calmly saying “Alright, Phelps. Don’t get your panties in a twist, we’re going.” He motioned towards the door and Cole immediately started walking. Stefan smiled at Scarlet and gave her a small wave.

“See ya later, dollface,” he said before following Phelps towards the door.

“Good luck, Stefan. Don’t get into too much trouble, now,” Scarlet replied with a smirk.

He turned and gave her a wink before finally leaving the station to catch up with Cole.

Scarlet had to admit that her stomach did a little flip as he left, but she quickly pushed away the thought, and finally completed the task that had brought her to the hallway in the first place.

As Scarlet walked back to the dispatch room, she recalled meeting Stefan, as well as their previous interactions.

Stefan Bekowsky had started at the traffic desk two years ago after being a patrolman for six long years. She remembered the first day he walked into the station as a detective. Of course, all the girls in the dispatch room had been fawning over him. He was rather attractive in his pressed plaid suit and hat, and he had known it. However, his first day as detective had not been their first meeting. He had sometimes stopped at Central Station during his usual duties as a patrolman, and had boldly tested his luck with the women who seemed interested. He had managed to charm one or two ladies into going on a date with him. He had even approached Scarlet once. She recalled that day.

She had been getting a cup of coffee and chatting with another one of the dispatch operators when he swaggered up to her, in uniform, after his shift. He gave her an admittedly gorgeous smile before languidly saying, “Hey there, dollface. Been seein’ ya around the precinct and I was wondering if you’d be so kind as to accompany me to dinner, and maybe a movie, too?” The other operator giggled before leaving Scarlet and Stefan alone in the break room.

Scarlet looked at the uniformed officer blankly and stayed silent for a few seconds, deciding what exactly she was going to do with this proposal. Before she could reply, however, he followed up his cartoonish inquiry with a rather bashful admission.

“Um, sorry. I didn’t really mean to come off as such a crumb, but I have seen you around here lately. And honestly, I’ve been hoping to at least talk to you.” Stefan rubbed his neck and stared at the floor.
“Though, I will admit that I do want to ask you to come out with me sometime. Maybe for dinner and a movie?”

She raised her eyebrows at him, not quite sure what to make of this man. She was obviously going to decline. But instead of her usual polite and subdued rejection - the one that held back all of the sarcastic comments she wanted to make - she had decided to be real with Stefan. She hadn’t been entirely sure why she felt comfortable enough to do so, though maybe it was because of the follow-up to his first attempt. Although, she had to admit, she did see something she liked even when had approached her in such an animated fashion.

“Bekowsky, right?” Scarlet asked.

“Yep, although I don’t mind you calling me ‘Stefan’,” he replied, standing up a little straighter and smiling.

“Stefan….hm…” Scarlet liked the way his name sounded. It was different. He seemed different. She still didn’t understand why she felt that way, and she was doing her best to keep her professional demeanor intact. She was absolutely going to reject him, and not give the slightest acknowledgement to the tiny part of her that wanted to say ‘yes.’

“Well, Stefan, I’m going to tell you right now that your approach…or I guess, ‘approaches,’ need some work. In fact, I think that your true approach here is to make me decide which one of those performances is the real you. Because they were both equally terrible.” Scarlet smirked at him, waiting for his response.

Stefan gave her a puzzled, sideways look. He squinted at her and remained silent before finally giving her a playful smirk and saying, “You are one bright spark, dollface. Way too bright for a knucklehead like me.”

“You’re not giving yourself enough credit, Stefan. I’d call you about as bright as a candle,” said Scarlet quietly. She smiled and found herself unable to look away from him.

“A candle? Well, as long as I’m on the dinner table that you’re sitting at tonight, that’s more than alright with me.” He smiled back at her.

At that, she couldn’t help it, she burst out laughing. “As long as I’m…on…the….wow. That was fantastic!!!” Scarlet managed to get out between breaths. “Phew. Stefan…I really needed a laugh like that.” She beamed up at him and giggled at his expression.

“Glad I could be of service…” His face was red, and he was obviously flustered. He was about to walk away from her, shaking his head, but she stopped him by putting her hand on his arm.

“I’m Scarlet,” she said, holding out her hand and smiling brightly.

Stefan looked at her with a sour expression on his face.

“I’m sorry! I’m not trying to poke fun at you! That really did make my day!!” She continued to smile.

He finally cracked a smile at her, too, before taking her hand in his and saying “I’m very glad I could make your day, Scarlet. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Pleasure to meet you, too.”

“So…about the movie and dinner?” he raised his eyebrows at her.

“That’s very sweet of you, but no,” she said with a shake of her head.

“Damn. Can’t blame a guy for tryin’ though, can ya?”

“No, you certainly can’t,” she said, smiling fondly.

Stefan gave her a warm smile. “Well, I should get going. It’s the end of my shift, and I am very much looking forward to kicking my feet up. Nice talkin’ with ya, Scarlet.” He started to walk toward the hallway.

Scarlet stopped him with a quick “Hey!”

He turned to look at her.

She smiled and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear before saying “Maybe no movie and dinner, but, it really has been nice to chat with you. Come visit me the next time you’re at Central, okay?” She looked him in the eye and felt butterflies in her stomach.

“You got it.” He smiled and gave her a quick wave. As he was about to walk out the door, he turned around and gave her a wink.

“See ya later, dollface.”

Scarlet and Stefan had become good friends after that. He would visit her when he could, and they both usually had many stories to tell each other. Most of his consisted of random encounters he had on the beat, and hers were colorful stories of the calls she had received since she last saw him. Scarlet’s butterflies soon subsided, and she was confident that she was able to talk to Stefan without any fear of falling for him. She realized that he didn’t seem to have any actual intention of getting serious with anybody, let alone herself, so she felt comfortable with his flirtatious demeanor. She knew he wasn’t looking, and he knew she wasn’t either. The only exception to her carefully controlled feelings was when he would call her that one name and wink at her, as he left. He was the only person in the world who made her feel slightly giddy when he called her that. She would be able to re-center herself, but without fail, his exit always made her stomach flip.

One year had passed since their first encounter, and Stefan had made detective. He had been assigned to traffic, meaning he would be operating out of Central Station. Although the two were working in the same building, Scarlet and Stefan rarely saw each other. She missed her friend, but knew he was working hard as a detective on the traffic desk. Stefan was a good man. A really good cop, and a really good friend as well. Another year had gone by. It was filled with brief but banter-filled and lively conversations. And no matter how much time had passed, she felt those same butterflies every time he left her. She continued to ignore them - they weren’t worth thinking about anyway.

All of her memories of Stefan made her chuckle when she realized her sarcastic, flirtatious, and carefree friend was assigned to be the partner of possibly the most serious and intense cop in the entire city of Los Angeles.

She couldn’t wait for the future.

Chapter Text

An hour and some had passed, and Scarlet was busy taking calls and helping detectives all across the city with addresses and messages. Stefan and Cole had probably finished investigating the crime scene for that abandoned vehicle by now, she thought. She wondered where they were now and if they had obtained any leads already.

Meanwhile…

It was 11:12 AM, and the two detectives had just stepped out of the car. They had arrived at Adrian Black’s place of residence, somewhere near Bunker Hill. Stefan had been walking the new detective through their first case, and he had to admit that Phelps was doing rather well on his first day. But despite all his intelligence, he was an incredibly intense man, and he had the tendency to be cold and standoffish. Stefan figured that if anything, they should probably start working on improving their camaraderie. They were stuck with each other for the foreseeable future, after all. Although, his first attempt at befriending the man ended with Phelps rudely insulting Stefan about not being a military man. Stefan knew he had nothing to prove to Cole, but he couldn’t help but feel insecure around him. How was he supposed to know that he mentioned being a patrolman for six years, three separate times? Cole exuded a sense of superiority and condescension, and Stefan couldn’t help but feel like he needed to keep up. There was a good reason that Stefan hadn’t joined the military, but Phelps certainly didn’t need to be privy to that information. Stefan decided that he was going to kill this man with kindness. Getting worked up and angry wouldn’t land him anywhere, he had to work with the man. Cole actually managed to give him a compliment after Stefan had ensured him that they were on the same team. If Phelps was stumped about what to do next, Stefan was always happy to help, and Cole seemed to be surprised by Stefan’s genuine offer of assistance, but thanked him wholeheartedly.

As Stefan and Cole approached the front door, Stefan quickly let Cole know what was on his mind. “Let’s go introduce ourselves. You talk to her, Phelps. I’m no good at this shoulder-to-cry-on stuff.”

Admittedly, that wasn’t entirely true. He had been there for Scarlet when she needed a shoulder, and she had been his as well. But, he recalled with fondness, that there was no crying involved. Both of them being professional individuals with many responsibilities resulted in them having to deal with rather frustrating situations. He had always been comfortable about telling her what really was making him angry, and she always knew how to make him laugh with that sharp wit of hers. He had hoped that he was as good of a friend to her as she was to him. There was a part of Stefan that knew they had something special, but it would probably never be said aloud. He kept that part locked-up in the back of his mind, never feeling like it was something to seriously consider. There was a time after they had first started to become friends when he had considered it, but he realized he was too young and red-blooded to think about those things. At least, that’s what he told himself.

During that brief deliberation, he had admitted a few things to himself about how he felt towards her. There was something about her that he didn’t find in other women. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what that ‘something’ was, but he decided to not dwell on it for too long. He wasn’t sure what would happen if he finally figured it out. She was the only woman who made him feel truly relaxed. She had a warm and inviting presence that he enjoyed being around, which is why he had always kept his word on visiting her when he could. That sense of humor of hers was incredibly unique. It had shocked him at first, but after some time, it put him at ease, and he realized he could be as open with his own sense of humor because she seemed to truly like it. The last thought he had was incredibly easy to admit to himself. He thought she was gorgeous. He couldn’t help but think that. He was a simple man, and he had absolutely no qualms with frequently talking to a pretty girl. However, he had long since stuffed all of those thoughts into the deep recesses of his mind with every intention to never think about them again. Instead of dwelling on those things, Stefan’s conscious mind decided to explain his fondness for her with the idea of a purely platonic friendship. He also was more than happy to play the field and had no plans to actually get serious with anybody.

Stefan finally brought himself back to the present as he and Cole stepped onto the porch. Cole knocked on the door.

“Just a minute!” called someone from the inside of the house.

A moment later, a middle-aged woman wearing yellow answered the door.

Cole began speaking as soon as she had fully opened the door.

“LAPD, Mrs. Black. May we come in? We have some bad news and we would rather discuss this in private.”

“I’m Margaret Black. We can discuss this in the living room. Please, come in.”

Cole walked into the house behind Margaret and sat down on a chair in the living room to talk to her.
Stefan entered the house and shut the door behind him, all the while taking in the sights. The house was cozy. It had simple, generic art on the walls, paintings of flowers and other scenes. Stefan decided to let Cole do all the talking and stood close by, listening-in to the conversation. Cole asked Margaret about her husband’s car and informed her that it had been found with a rather suspicious scene inside of it. He explained that he and Stefan thought that Adrian may be injured. She responded with a dramatic exclamation.

“Oh no!! My poor Adrian!!”

Stefan couldn’t help feeling a great deal of pity and sadness for the woman. It was evident that she truly was scared for her missing husband. Of course there was always the suspicion that maybe she was hiding something from them, but, she - so far - hadn’t given them any reason to suspect her. He’d reserve his judgment until Cole had finished interrogating the woman. Cole finally informed Margaret that he and Stefan would be searching the house.

“Let’s check the place out. Come on.” Stefan exited the living room and walked to the nearest bedroom.

The first thing that caught his eye was a picture of Adrian Black himself. Stefan immediately thought it was a strange photo. It was Adrian sitting at what appeared to be a dining room table and smiling into the camera. His wife was nowhere to be seen in the picture. Stefan picked up the frame and looked it over. He thought it was bizarre of someone to have a picture of just themselves, but he couldn’t help feeling like there was something more to this photo. He turned over the frame and opened it, revealing a note from a woman named Nicole. At that moment, a few different thoughts entered Stefan’s mind. First, he couldn’t help but inwardly laugh at the photo itself. Adrian looked chubby and jolly. That thought brought him to think about what this Nicole even looked like. Most men didn’t cheat with broads who looked like their wives. They’d cheat with the broads who looked like the fantasy girl they could never obtain. Stefan suddenly imagined a blonde, curvy, outgoing woman that was nothing like Margaret Black. He also had a feeling that the words Nicole had written in the photo weren’t genuine. Adrian, so far, didn’t seem to have all that much to offer her, so what was her motive? Stefan knew he was making a whole lot of assumptions, but this entire case had been made up of disjointed clues and evidence that painted a very odd picture. Stefan found his mind wandering slightly away from the case as he continued to search the house.

He could never understand why a man would choose to marry a woman he didn’t think he could be happy with for the rest of his life. Why even get married? If you were single, you had all the freedom in the world to ogle whichever broads you wanted to ogle at. You weren’t hurting anyone’s feelings, least of all the woman you said you would stand by for the rest of your days. Why leave a woman that you most likely fell in love with, for a broad? He knew in the back of his mind that most people were weak, and that promises and vows didn’t mean much to them. That thought sometimes made it hard to be a police officer. This was definitely one of those cases. Why is the LAPD spending time trying to find a man who had no respect for his wife? He also knew that he was just a stranger from the outside looking in, so he tried to keep his emotions at a minimum. It just disappointed him a bit that it was so easy for people to break one of the most important vows one could ever make.

Stefan walked to the kitchen and found a matchbook from a place called ‘Cavanaugh’s Bar.’Adrian didn’t seem like the type to drink all that often. From looks alone, he seemed to be on the straight-and-narrow, but of course, that was obviously not the case. Stefan’s pity for Margaret and his contempt for Adrian grew a bit after seeing the matchbook. All of this evidence presented a sad reality that Stefan wished wasn’t the case. It seemed that Adrian was interested in other women and most likely frequented a bar. Where did his faithful and earnest wife fit in with that? The answer is that she didn’t.

Stefan opened the door to a small laundry room connected to the kitchen. He took a brief look around and didn’t see too much of interest. There was an iron sitting on a table. Stefan absentmindedly picked it up while his mind continued to wander. Stefan, somewhat unknowingly, separated females into two categories: “women” and “broads.” Women were the wholesome females a man couldn’t live without. They were the ones who reminded men why they loved women so much. They were the loving and nurturing mothers, as well as the hard-working and affectionate housewives. Women were faithful, trustworthy, intelligent, and beautiful. Women reminded men why they should always be the best person they could be. Women were some of the most powerful beings on the planet, because they had the ability to wrap a man around their tiny fingers. Stefan had seen firsthand how powerless a man could be in the presence of a woman, no matter how masculine the man was. His mind suddenly brought up an image of Scarlet. She was a woman. And a damn wonderful one at that. One of the best out there. Stefan walked away from the laundry room and went into the dining room. He occupied himself by skimming over a few lines of a newspaper on the table.

His mind suddenly conjured up an image of a ‘broad.’ He didn’t have anyone particular in mind, but he could describe this specific category of female. A broad was the girl that drove a man to drink. A broad was the one who whispered in a man’s ear and promised him all sorts of things, without actually delivering on them. A broad was the girl who was only self-serving. She didn’t care about the community or the greater good. She was the one who encouraged bad behavior, whether or not it was illegal. She encouraged a man to be selfish, and reaped the benefits of it. Stefan had seen his fair share of broads who were directly responsible for men engaging in crime. He tried not to look at it in such a stark way. He knew that it wasn’t as simple as that. But still, there was something to be said about the character of a female, and how easily she could influence the world around her.

Of course, Stefan knew that men weren’t innocent angels by any means. He sincerely wanted to beat each and every single woman-abuser within an inch of their lives to see how they felt about being powerless and helpless. He could understand hurting someone who was trying to hurt him or someone else, but using violence as a way to maintain control was barbaric. Stefan knew his line of reasoning was altruistic. He knew better than anyone that life never went how it was supposed to. Why else did cops exist?

He huffed out a silent laugh and shook his head a little before returning to the living room and sitting on the couch in front of Margaret Black. Cole had finished doing whatever he had been doing and walked back towards the living room. But before entering it, he stopped at a phone in the middle of the hallway. Cole picked up the phone and Stefan listened into his call.

“Operator, message for KGPL.”

A few seconds later, Stefan heard the operator reply.

“Putting you through now.”

“Phelps, badge twelve-forty-seven.”

“How can I help, Detective?”

Stefan knew exactly who was on the other side of the line.

Chapter Text

Scarlet suddenly saw a jack indicator light on her switchboard illuminate. As she connected the cord to the socket, she silently wondered if it was maybe Cole or Stefan. They had been assigned to her board soon after they had left the station. Detectives were assigned to operators based on badge numbers. After the detective had given his badge number to the general dispatch operator, he would be transferred to the operator he was assigned to. Stefan had been assigned to Scarlet when he had started on the traffic desk, so by protocol, Cole would be as well. She was excited for Stefan to get back to Central so she could hear his hilarious take on the partnership. She was sure he would have plenty of stories to tell her when he came back, all of them spun with his special Bekowsky charm. A moment after the phone cord clicked into the board, Scarlet spoke.

“How can I help, Detective?”

After a moment, a man’s voice came through over the line.

“I need an address on a Cavanaugh’s Bar.”

Scarlet smiled a little bit and suddenly noted that she was…anxious? Why was she anxious? She talked to dozens of detectives a day. This was just a normal, routine call. With Cole Phelps, her brain suddenly added. She knew she had developed a tiny crush on the man after she had met him. But it was nothing serious! Just a little funny feeling from meeting someone so new and exciting and different! She mentally kicked herself for being such a giddy school girl about a coworker.

“Certainly, Detective. One moment…”

Scarlet’s noticed that her hands were slightly shaking as she opened the address book. What was happening?? Why was she acting so ridiculous?? He was just a detective! Just a man! She felt angry at herself for having such a reaction to talking with Cole in a purely professional capacity. He wasn’t calling her to ask her on a date! Although…that would be….Scarlet stopped her line of thinking by squeezing her pencil and reminding herself why he was calling.

“Cavanaugh’s Bar. Corner of Aliso and Hewitt. South side of Union Station.”

“Thanks, Scarlet.”

Scarlet blinked and her heart pulsed rapidly. But, before she could say anything else, he had hung up. No detective, ever, besides Stefan, had realized it was her on the phone. She knew that most of them didn’t even understand that they were assigned a specific operator. And none of them had ever thanked her by name. Why would Cole of all people remember her name? She attempted to quell her thoughts by hastily telling herself that he probably had a great memory, otherwise, how would he have become a detective so quickly? Although, a large part of her hoped that maybe she had left an impression on him. She was looking forward to hearing his voice again.

At the Black Residence…

Cole put the phone down and made his way to the couch. As he sat next to Stefan, Margaret Black spoke up.

“I’m alright now, Detectives.”

Cole took out his notebook and began asking questions.

He asked about a receipt they found in the trunk of Adrian’s car and that someone named “F. Morgan” had signed on it. Margaret explained that Frank Morgan was a foreman at her husband’s tool business. He was an apparently shady character and she woefully told Cole that Adrian and Frank were always out drinking together. Cole then asked Margaret about Cavanaugh’s Bar. Stefan had to look away from Margaret when she replied to Cole’s question by saying, “Adrian practically lives there after work.”

Stefan felt even more awful than before. He had a feeling that Margaret was as timid as she had first seemed, but he wasn’t expecting Adrian to be even more of an ass than he already had proven himself to be. The man had to have it all, didn’t he? He couldn’t just choose either drinking with the lads or cheating on the wife. He had to have both. Neglecting his obviously loving and devoted wife on two levels. If Adrian was dead, Stefan hoped he at least had the decency to ask the universe for forgiveness for taking advantage of his meek wife. After a few more questions, Cole got to the issue that Stefan was most curious about. He asked Margaret about the note on the back of the photo of Adrian.

Stefan intently listened and watched Margaret to see what her reaction would be. She looked slightly panicked that Cole had even brought it up before she answered his question with a question. “What is there to tell?” She sounded a bit agitated. “It’s…from his most recent business trip to Seattle.” She hesitantly gave Cole her answer, all the while looking ashamed for obviously lying to the police. Stefan couldn’t blame her though. There was no one in the world who would proudly admit that their spouse was cheating on them, especially not someone as resigned as Margaret. It would mean having to say out loud that she knew, and wasn’t strong enough to do anything about it. Cole, however, was not as…sympathetic as Stefan, it seemed. He went straight for the kill.

“There’s plenty to tell, you just won’t tell it. You’re lying about the photograph, Mrs. Black.”

Surprisingly, Margaret didn’t back down, even though she looked like she was about to burst into tears.

“You’re incredibly rude and insensitive! But, I guess you know that. I told you what I know about the picture.”

Stefan knew that they wouldn’t get anywhere unless Cole told Margaret, outright, that they knew about Nicole. And that’s exactly what he did.

“What about Nicole, Mrs. Black? Was your husband going to leave you for her?”

Stefan again felt that mix of pity and anger rise up as Margaret looked at Cole with the most somber face he thought he’d ever seen. Adrian had better be dead. If he wasn’t…Stefan had to keep himself from thinking of all the things he’d do to the man if they actually found him alive.

“I’ve seen the photo frame.” Margaret’s voice began to break. “He thinks I’m stupid…but women sense these things. I don’t know if he intended to leave me, or if it was just a fling…God only knows. I only want to know that he’s safe.”

Despite her reluctance to confront her husband, Stefan knew that Margaret was a good woman. Much too good for Adrian. He felt a bit disappointed in her, though, as it seemed that she had all the leverage in the world to throw his ass onto the curb, but she still wouldn’t do it. Stefan wondered if this was what most relationships were like. Two people who were too afraid to confront each other or too timid to share their true feelings with one another, so they’d simply settle. And as time went on, they’d become even more miserable. But instead of trying to fix it, they’d just go behind the other person’s back instead of having to deal with the inconvenience of confrontation. People were weak. He told himself that if ever he found himself in love, he’d fight tooth and nail to keep the trust and openness alive.

Cole asked a couple more questions. For the sake of the investigation, he had to ask Margaret about her alibi. Stefan knew, without a doubt, that she hadn’t done anything wrong and she was obviously upset that Cole was hinting that she may have had something to do with Adrian’s disappearance. She answered his question truthfully, though. She was at home alone, waiting for her inattentive husband to return to her. There was really nothing more to say. After letting Margaret know that they would keep her informed, Stefan and Cole rose from the couch and finally exited the house.

The thick atmosphere that seemed to be choking Stefan finally let up as he stepped outside. He got into the car with Cole and headed for Cavanaugh’s Bar.

“Jesus, I’m glad to be out of there.” Stefan said aloud.

“Mr. and Mrs. Black don’t seem to have the happiest home life,” Cole added.

Stefan summed up all the emotions he felt as he and Cole had searched the house and talked to Margaret by commenting, “He’s too scared to divorce her, and she’s too much of a shrinking violet to throw him out. If this hadn’t happened, they could have stayed miserable together forever.”

“You think she could have killed him?” Cole inquired.

“She sure as hell doesn’t seem the type. But stranger things have happened,” Stefan replied.

After some time, the pair reached Cavanaugh’s Bar, and luckily enough, they managed to find Frank Morgan there. During their brief interrogation, Stefan had to make sure that Cole was able to see right through this asshole’s bullshit.

“Oh please. Don’t tell me you actually believe this jerk-off, Phelps.”

Cole easily broke through Morgan’s flimsy facade of innocence. It probably helped a bit that Stefan was looming over the man, waiting for him to say something stupid. Between Cole’s precise questioning and Stefan’s intimidating presence, the two managed to get Morgan to admit that Adrian Black was hiding at Morgan’s apartment. After the interrogation was over, and Cole thanked the man for his assistance, Morgan decided to let his sparkling personality shine.

“Hey - I’m just glad I could help. I love cops.”

Stefan rolled his eyes and grabbed Morgan’s arm while informing Cole of his options. “Cuff him, let him go - it’s up to you, Phelps. No way I’m writing this idiot up.”

Cole motioned for the two of them to leave and replied to Stefan. “He’s not worth our time. Let’s go.”

Stefan gave Morgan another look before following Cole to the entrance of the bar. He heard Frank talking as he left the room, “Well, if it’s all the same to you I’ll go back to my drink.”

Cole and Stefan returned to the car and started their journey towards Morgan’s apartment. As they drove along, they heard the KGPL operator’s voice crackle through the radio.

“KGPL calling Car 11K. 11 King, come in.”

Stefan picked up the radio receiver and replied, “11K, go ahead.”

“Message from Technical Services: blood found in the abandoned Lincoln at the PE Freight Depot is not human. Repeat: not human. Compositional analysis reveals swine as most likely match.”

“Roger, KGPL.” Stefan put the receiver down and pressed on the accelerator of the car slightly harder.

“Time to reel this guy in, Phelps.”

Stefan couldn’t believe it. The bastard was still alive and had put he and Cole through the most ridiculous wild goose chase the LAPD traffic desk had ever seen. Stefan imagined himself grabbing Adrian by the collar and dragging him out of the building, making sure it hurt as much as possible. He also hoped that the pig that Adrian and Frank killed had died quickly. Stefan found himself wishing for a heaven for pigs. The poor animal that had to get bought by these two nutjobs so they could get away with fraud deserved some peace.

The duo arrived at Frank Morgan’s apartment several minutes later. They took a look at the mailboxes in the lobby and determined that Frank lived in Apartment 2. Stefan was eager to see this sorry excuse for a man, and was itching to just kick the door down. They ran up the stairs to the second floor and found the door to Apartment 2. Cole banged on the door and Stefan waited behind him. The door opened, and Adrian Black revealed himself to the detectives. He coolly asked a rather stupid question that made Stefan want to deck him.

“Help you, gentleman?”

Cole replied to his question sternly. “LAPD detectives, Mr. Black. You’re under arrest.”

Stefan shook his head as he looked at the man. Adrian looked rather pathetic standing there in the doorway. It was like he had absolutely no idea what sort of trouble he had gotten himself into. And he was obviously an idiot. Although it was easier for he and Cole for Adrian to open the door, Stefan wondered why this guy had even bothered to do so. If it were him, he’d be somewhere that no one could find him, if he really was going to go through with this stupid plan. But, of course, Adrian was no genius.

Adrian looked at Cole with a pitiful expression. “Look - I’m really sorry about this. I never tried to hurt anyone.”

Stefan pursed his lips. Apparently, the pig Adrian bludgeoned to death didn’t count. Not to mention all the emotional turmoil he had put Margaret through.

Adrian continued, “I just needed to get away from L.A. I won’t put up a struggle…” Adrian started to slowly back away from the door. “Just let me get my things…”

Stefan didn’t think this idiot would actually try to run, how far would he even get?

Adrian stared at the detectives for a second or two before slamming the door in their faces and taking off. Stefan threw his hands into the air as Cole kicked down the door.

“I knew it! Phelps, go after him! I’ll try and head him off in the car. Remember - the gun is the last resort!”

Cole ran into the apartment after Adrian while Stefan sprinted to the car. He hit the siren and slammed his foot on the gas. A part of him wanted to just run the guy over and be done with it. But he instead decided to cut him off in a grassy area between two houses. Stefan leapt out of the car and drew his gun, holding it up to the running Adrian, causing him to stop and throw his hands up in surrender. Cole caught up a moment later and asked Adrian, “Why not just come clean with her, Black? Why the melodrama?”

Stefan waited for man’s answer, fascinated to know how this man justified his ridiculous charade. Adrian had that pitiful look on his face again as he answered Cole’s question.

“I thought it would be easier!”

Cole shook his head in disappointment before replying, “No, it just got a whole lot harder. Adrian Black - you’re under arrest for conspiracy and fraud. We’ll see what the DA has to say about wasting police resources on a wild goose chase like this.”

Stefan wanted to make sure Adrian knew exactly what was about to happen to him. “You’re gonna lose your wife, lose your job, and probably end up in the big house.” Stefan shook his head before saying with finality, “I hope she was worth it, Adrian.”

Chapter Text

Stefan and Cole had booked Adrian and brought him to Central Station. They were to meet with Captain Leary as soon as they had returned. What an eventful day it had been, but it was far from over. There was always the dreaded paper work that took up most of the evening and sometimes carried Stefan far into the night. He figured the formalities for this case wouldn’t be too bad. He was hoping to finish the work quickly so he could go visit Scarlet and tell her about his first day with Cole Phelps. The two detectives walked into Captain Leary’s office and sat down in front of the man’s desk. Leary looked up from the files on his desk and began speaking to the pair.

“That turned out to be quite some case, huh? Adrian…what an idiot.”

Stefan smirked and looked at Cole, who was shaking his head in what seemed like disbelief. Talk about a first case…Stefan was glad to be a part of Cole’s debut as a detective. Cole had proven to be almost machine-like with his determination and work ethic, but Stefan figured he was a good man. He was certainly a foil to Stefan, but as long as they could work together, it seemed like this partnership would bring about good things.

The Captain continued speaking. “You got an arrest and a clearance in your first case, and in fine style, too. Well done, Detective.” Stefan looked at Cole, who seemed pleased with the praise. It was obvious that Cole was trying to hold back his pride, but Stefan thought that he deserved the Captain’s compliments.

“Efficient investigation technique, good public presence. You keep that up, and you learn from Bekowsky here, and you could go a long way in this Department,” the Captain finished.

Soon after, Cole and Stefan exited the Captain’s office and made their way into the detectives’ room. Stefan sat down at his desk, and looked at Cole who sat down at his own.

“So, how’s that for a first case, Phelps?”

“Is this what we deal with on a daily basis? Morons like Adrian?” Cole asked.

“More or less, yeah. But don’t worry, there’s always something to keep you on your toes. It makes up for all the shitty paper work we gotta do when we get back.” Stefan grinned at him.

“What I wouldn’t do for a drink, Stefan…” Cole put his face in his hands.

“Be careful with that line of reasoning, Phelps. That’s how a lot of good cops end up in bad situations.”

Cole exhaled before opening up the Black case file on his desk and getting started on the paper work. Stefan decided to get a cup of coffee before diving into the next two hours of boredom. He also wanted to visit a certain little lady down in the dispatch room. Stefan grabbed himself a cup of coffee and made his way downstairs. He walked down the hallway to dispatch after giving a quick wave to the watch commander.

“Workin’ hard there, Bekowsky?” the Commander called out.

“Come on Mel, you know me better than that,” Stefan replied with a grin.

He continued walking and finally reached the door to the dispatch room. The room was relatively quiet. Most of the girls had already left for the day and there weren’t too many detectives out on the streets after 5:00 PM. Five girls sat at the switchboards, making notes, and several of them were on the phone. Stefan waited at the door for Scarlet to notice him. She was currently writing something down and looked very focused on what she was doing. Her headset was on, but it looked like she wasn’t on the phone. Stefan continued to wait, but a few seconds later, Sheila noticed him standing there. She knew exactly who he was waiting for.

Sheila was a friend of Scarlet’s and she knew that Scarlet and Stefan were close friends. A lot of the other girls would talk about how there was definitely something more between them. Some rumors started flying around about them having rendezvous in the supply closet, but Sheila did her best to make sure the rumors didn’t keep getting passed around. Sheila knew that Scarlet and Stefan weren’t fooling around. They were both laid back jokesters, sure, but another thing they had in common was that they put work first. Sheila thought it was really nice that Scarlet had a man she could confide in, without needing to go home with him. She encouraged their relationship, and honestly, she would be so ecstatic to see them turn into something more. But for now, all she could do was hope. Sheila waved to Scarlet who finally looked up from her notebook. Sheila pointed at Stefan in the doorway and smiled, nodding her head to tell her to take a break. Scarlet smiled and mouthed a quiet ‘thank you’ before pulling off her headset and walking to the door.

Scarlet grinned as she approached the door frame, always delighted to see Stefan. She had to admit that every time she saw him, a breath she didn’t know she was holding in was released. Scarlet couldn’t help but think about some sort of tragic scenario where Stefan never came back to see her. It made her anxious sometimes, but she knew he was careful.

“Hi!” She said as she reached the hallway.

“Hey there, dollface. How ya doin’?” Stefan looked down at her with a grin.

“Oh, y’know…just living the dream.”

“Is that right? Well, don’t let me wake you up.” Stefan continued smiling at her as he took a sip of his coffee.

“No, no, please do. I’m dying of boredom. I feel like I can’t even see straight anymore from how many addresses I’ve had to look up today.” Scarlet pressed the temples of her forehead and closed her eyes.

“Well, then the day I’ve had should be the exact thing to remedy that problem. C’mon, let’s go up to the balcony.”

“Sounds good! Oh…” Scarlet looked up at his forehead and squinted. “Hmm…you’ve got a little…something…” She reached up and put her thumb on his forehead.

Stefan raised his eyebrow. “Did you get it?”

“No…it’s not coming off. It’s right there.” She pointed.

Stefan silently asked Scarlet to hold his coffee mug. She took it from him and he reached up with his hand to deal with whatever was on his face. As soon as he touched his forehead, Scarlet laughed and walked away, drinking from his mug. “Thanks for making me coffee, Stefan!”

Stefan looked at her, his mouth half open. “So….is it still there?” He broke into a smile as she laughed even harder. It always made him happy when he could make her laugh. He caught up to her and the two of them walked upstairs to the station balcony. They sat down at the small table.

“Sorry, I really needed some coffee,” Scarlet said after a moment.

“And you couldn’t have made your own?”

“Well, there was a perfectly good cup of coffee in your hand. So I thought, ‘why bother?’” She smiled. “So, tell me about your day! Tell me about this freight depot mystery!! What happened?” Scarlet had the urge to ask Stefan outright to tell her about Cole, but she decided to be a bit more discreet about her interest in him.

Stefan recounted the events of the day to her. She shook her head in sadness when he told her about Adrian’s wife and wholeheartedly laughed at his description of the interaction with Frank Morgan.

“This asshole is sitting there with the most ridiculous expression on his face. I swear, Scarlet, the man has obviously missed his true calling. He looked like a damn cartoon, sitting there with his mouth puckered and shaking his head as if he had no idea what Phelps was asking him,” Stefan explained.

“Well, it sounds like you sorted him right out, Mr. Intimidator.” She laughed at the thought of Stefan making the meanest expression he could and towering over this Frank Morgan guy.

“Oh, don’t you worry. I did. He was scared by the time we were through with him. I could tell by the way he was sitting there, drinking. He was so frightened, he made a sarcastic comment as I walked out the door. The guy was shaking in his boots.”

“I’m sure he was.” Scarlet loved the way Stefan told his stories. It was hilarious and fun. She felt so lucky to be around this man, he made even the worst days at the station bearable.

“So I heard you talking to Phelps over the phone earlier today,” Stefan commented. He retrieved his coffee mug from its spot in front of Scarlet and took a sip. “How’d that go?”

“Oh, it was fine! I guess the reason you guys found this Morgan character is because of me!”

Stefan chuckled. “Yeah, I suppose that’s right, isn’t it?”

Scarlet hesitated before she spoke again. “So…Cole Phelps…”

“Cole Phelps.” Stefan exhaled as he drank his coffee. “That man is a rarity these days. I mean, I wouldn’t call myself a bad or lazy cop by any means, unless we’re talking about paper work. But, Phelps is somethin’ else. Never seen a man so driven to get the job done. He takes a bit of getting used to, though. He’s got this…sanctimonious side to him.”

“Stefan Bekowsky, have you actually started reading in your free time?” Scarlet teased him.

“Ha. Ha. Very funny,” Stefan replied, keeping his smile hidden behind the coffee mug. “Anyway, I was just trying to make friends with the guy, but Jesus, the man is more wound up than you can imagine.”

“Well, maybe there’s a reason for that. We don’t know exactly what he went through during the war,” Scarlet reminded him.

“Yeah, just a word of advice, don’t bring it up to him. He doesn’t want to talk about it, he says.”

“Hm…noted. So, other than him being wound up, what else did you notice about him?” Scarlet stared off into the distance. The sun was setting over L.A., and it was a beautiful sight. This is why she and Stefan liked coming up to the balcony. It was hard to appreciate Los Angeles when they worked on the ground, but from up here, it all seemed worth it.

“Scarlet,” Stefan suddenly said. She looked over to him. He was looking at her intently. He raised an eyebrow at her and said “Do you fancy the intrepid Detective Cole Phelps?” He asked the question in a deep, comical voice, as if he was a variety show host asking a contestant a question.

She hesitated for a second, a blush forming on her cheeks. “NO.” She said forcefully. “I…I don’t even know the man! How could I possibly have feelings for him??”

“You tell me, dollface,” Stefan said wryly.

“Stefan!!!”

“Yes?” He grinned at her.

“Stop it!!”

“Stop what?”

“Stop…doing that…thing you’re doing,” Scarlet said to him, stumbling over her words. But it was no use, the red on her cheeks had only deepened. “I don’t…I…” She trailed off and put her face in her hands.

“Hey, I was just teasing ya. Scarlet, what’s going on?” Stefan asked calmly.

“I don’t know. There’s something about him that I just really like! I can’t explain it. There’s no real reason for me to be attracted to him. It’s so embarrassing and so unlike me to feel these stupid feelings,” Scarlet replied.

“Take it easy, dollface. It’s alright for you have some feelings for the man. It’s not a crime to be attracted to somebody,” Stefan told her.

“I know. But, why? Why is my brain doing this to me? It’s not like I have any hope of getting anywhere with it, so why even bother having these feelings??” Scarlet clenched her fists in frustration.

“Scarlet,” Stefan took her hands in his and gently stroked her knuckles with his thumbs. “First of all, you’re being way too hard on yourself. You’re human. You’re not a machine, you have feelings and that’s okay. Second, why the hell wouldn’t you have a chance with him?”

Scarlet’s heart skipped a beat, but as she looked up at his face, Stefan let go of her hands and placed them in his lap. “Just…be patient. You even said you didn’t know much about the guy.” He leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head. “Leave it to me. I’ll get you all the details you need. After all, I am the number one detective at Central Station.”

Scarlet rolled her eyes and smiled. “Uh huh. More like ‘number one asshole.’”

“Hey!! That’s not nice. I got a fragile ego…” Stefan smiled back.

She giggled in response. This is what Scarlet liked most about Stefan, his ability to be so compassionate one moment, and then make her laugh the next. She had admitted to herself that there were many things she liked about Stefan. But she certainly didn’t want to ruin what they had if he didn’t feel the same way. She had a feeling he did, with his tender looks and sometimes tender touches, but maybe he did that with other women, too. Scarlet didn’t want to take the risk. Stefan was usually chasing some girl or another. That’s how they had met after all. She decided to keep her feelings to herself. There was no point in making things awkward and serious and losing these sorts of moments with him. She tried not to think about all of his conquests, and to his credit, he usually never seriously mentioned them. Usually, he’d make a joke about his attempts failing, and Scarlet didn’t feel too bad poking fun at him, either. Scarlet appreciated having him in her life, even if he just ended up being a friend. It made her sad sometimes, but she always recalled that this is what she had expected to happen - a life of solitude - so it was alright. She was grateful for this friendship.

“So, you wanna hear another story?” Stefan interrupted her thoughts. “It’s a short one because as much as I wanna keep chatting, I do have some paper work to do that I, unfortunately, can’t pawn off onto Phelps.”

“Sure! And it’s alright. It’s getting late. I gotta finish up downstairs and get going,” Scarlet replied, a little glumly. She did want to sit here enjoying the warm Los Angeles weather with Stefan, but she had to go home sometime.

“So, did you read about the guy on the crossing yesterday? Over on Lincoln Avenue?” Stefan asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” Scarlet replied.

“Well, this guy is driving along and his oil light comes on, right? He stops the car and gets out…he pops the hood, and…” Stefan chuckled.

“The guy parked his car on a damn train track…” Scarlet said, her hand over her mouth.

“You got it. He’s got his head under there checking the oil, when the South Pacific freight slams into his car doing ninety miles an hour,” Stefan shook his head, amused. “Car came to a rest more than a mile down the track.”

“Holy shit,” Scarlet said.

“You can say that again,” Stefan chuckled some more. “Absolutely ridiculous.”

“It really is.” Scarlet scoffed and shook her head. “Damn, Stefan, that’s one way to end a night.” She smiled at him.

“Hey, you’re not bored anymore, are ya?” Stefan raised his eyebrow at her again as he stood up from his seat.

She chuckled and rose from her chair. “You are right about that. I am definitely no longer bored. But I am sad that we both have to leave,” Scarlet admitted quietly.

“Me too, dollface…” Stefan said equally as quietly while glancing at the ground. “But, there’s always tomorrow! I’ll see you bright and early?” Stefan asked.

“Unless I buy a car and it runs out of oil and I get hit by a train, yes, I’ll see you tomorrow,” Scarlet laughed.

“If your car runs out of oil, and you’re in the path of a train, for God’s sake, woman, RUN. At least far enough away so you can call me,” Stefan said as he opened the door to the station.

“Oh? Call you? And what would you do in that situation?” Scarlet raised an eyebrow at him.

“I’d make sure we’d get a tow truck to drag your junk pile of a car to a scrapyard.”

“Yeah…and then?” Scarlet asked as they walked towards a set of stairs.

“And then your ass is walkin’ home,” Stefan laughed as Scarlet smacked him on the arm. “Hey, watch it! How am I supposed to save you if I suffer from grievous bodily injuries?”

“He says, as if he wouldn’t be the one who needed saving,” Scarlet mocked while rolling her eyes and putting her foot on the first stair.

“Ouch.” Stefan laughed while looking down at her. “Well…” He paused. “Guess I should get back to work,” he said forlornly.

“Yeah, me too,” Scarlet agreed in much the same tone, looking back at him.

Stefan smiled softly. “Don’t worry, I’ll see ya later, dollface,” he said with a wink before walking back to the detectives’ office.

Scarlet’s stomach did a flip. She expected it. What she didn’t expect were the butterflies that followed her all the way to her seat in the dispatch room. She took a few deep breaths before burying her nose back in her end-of-the-day tasks. She pushed the butterflies away and focused, ready to go home for the night.

Chapter Text

Stefan returned to the detectives’ office, and finally sat down to do the paper work. As he took off his hat and jacket and picked up his pen, Cole spoke. “Where’d you run off to, Bekowsky?”

“Just seeing a friend, Phelps.” Stefan wasn’t sure if he should reveal that he was talking to Scarlet. After learning about her crush on Phelps, he wasn’t entirely sure how to go about bringing her up in a casual manner. There was a feeling that was bothering him, though, something like an itch in the back of his brain. It annoyed him, and he tried to just ignore it. That little feeling appeared to be jealousy, but he definitely wasn’t going to let it get the best of him. He wanted Scarlet to be happy, and Cole seemed like a good man. He suddenly realized that he had no idea if Phelps was married or not. He wasn’t about to just come out and ask him about it, though, and realized he had never actually attempted to look for a wedding band on Phelps’ finger. Stefan decided that he’d drop it for now. Phelps would probably tell him if he was married.

“A friend? At Central Station?” Cole inquired.

“Yeah…” Stefan paused before continuing. “You remember Scarlet from earlier today?”

“Oh, right. The dispatch operator,” Cole affirmed.

“Right. I just went down to talk to her for a while.”

“She seems like a nice girl,” Cole said nonchalantly.

“She is. You should get to know her, Phelps. I was serious when I said she was right up your alley,” Stefan said, while continuing to write up his report.

“Hm…”

The two sat in silence after that, each doing their own work. After an hour, the sun had gone down completely, and it was dark in the station. There were still some people milling about, though. The station had to always remain open, after all. Stefan had just finished his work and yawned exaggeratedly, stretching his arms and getting up from his desk to stretch a bit more. He looked at the clock on the wall. It was after 7:00 PM at this point. He started to put on his jacket as he turned to Cole. “Well, Phelps, I’m gettin’ outta here. I’m surprised you haven’t finished your report yet. You were working on it for a long while before I was,” Stefan teased.

“I’m just trying to be thorough,” Cole said, a little agitated.

“Alright, alright. Just, don’t spend all night here, partner. We’ll be back bright and early, so make sure you get your rest,” Stefan said as he put on his hat.

“Will do. See you tomorrow, Bekowsky,” Cole waved as he continued to focus on his work.

“G’nite, Phelps,” Stefan replied before walking out the door.

Cole rubbed his eyes, and put his pen down. He sat back in his chair, and looked out the window, taking in the view of L.A. at night. It seemed serene from the station, but he knew there was all kinds of shady activity happening down there. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back to the ceiling. He had already finished his paper work, but he couldn’t bring himself to get in his car and go home. Suddenly, he felt very alone.

His mind constantly raced, and he was always focusing on the task in front of him, but now that there was really nothing to capture his attention, the thoughts he had always tried to keep hidden re-emerged from their hiding place within his mind. He tried to silence the thoughts. He thought about today’s case, but there was really nothing more to note or add to it. He thought about what cases he might encounter during his time at the traffic desk, but he had no idea.

Then, his mind jumped to Scarlet, and suddenly all went quiet. He thought about his first meeting with her, and how she had surprised him with a joke right off the bat. No wonder she and Stefan were friends - they had a similar sense of humor - the kind that would take you by surprise. He found himself wanting to talk to her more, the thought of her suddenly becoming a salve to soothe the constant irritants to his mind that were his memories and guilt-ridden feelings. He recalled talking to her earlier today, and how easy it would have been to strike up a conversation over the phone, but he needed to remain focused.

Right now, however, the thought of talking to her sounded incredibly relaxing and appealing. Although, a slightly worrisome feeling made its way to the forefront of Cole’s thoughts: if just thinking of her made him feel soothed and calm - the thing he craved the most these days - talking to her may prove to be an addiction. Cole pushed the thought away. He felt like he couldn’t control his own mind anymore. The things he experienced permanently scarred him, and the whole idea of joining the LAPD was to wash away the regret and shame he felt by trying to make the world better, after admittedly making it worse. These feelings were a constant looming presence, threatening to drag him under the waves of his own mind. He wouldn’t let that happen. He wouldn’t let his thoughts win. And if the thought of Scarlet was his ticket to being in control of his own head, he wasn’t about to argue.

As Cole continued his internal battle, he finally opened his eyes and stood up. He was about to put his jacket on when someone walked through the door.

“Oh! Detective…I….I didn’t know you were still here!”

Cole looked up and saw Scarlet standing in the doorway, a paper in her hand and a small blush on her cheeks. “I was just going to put this on Detective Rimsky’s desk…” she continued, trailing off. Cole found himself unable to speak - the person he was just thinking about so deeply unexpectedly showed up in front of him. By the looks of it, both of them were surprised to see the other, so they stood in silence with flustered expressions on their faces. Cole finally cleared his throat.

“I didn’t expect you to be here, either, Scarlet. Do you usually work this late?”

“Yes, Detective. This is a pretty average day for me,” she said.

“Ah. I see. Well…”

“Oh, I’m sorry! I don’t mean to keep you, you must be on your way out!” Scarlet suddenly said, interrupting Cole’s thought.

“No, no. You’re not keeping me. I just finished working, myself. Uh, do you still have work to do?” Cole asked, looking at the floor with one hand on his neck and the other on his hip.

“No, I’m done for the night after I deliver this paper work. I was just going to go back down to get my things, and then I was going to head out,” Scarlet replied. “Speaking of which, let me just put this down on his desk…” she said quietly, as she walked over to Rimsky’s desk and put the paper down. She walked back to the door of the office and was about to say goodbye when Cole spoke.

“Scarlet…” Cole suddenly said.

“Yes, Detective?” She turned around to face him.

“How do you get home usually?”

“Um, I walk most of the time. If I’m too tired, or it’s too late, I’ll catch the bus or a taxi.”

“Are you walking home tonight?”

“I was planning to, yes.”

“Do…do you mind if I walk you home?” Cole asked as he looked up at her.

“Uh…” Scarlet paused for a moment.

Cole was just about to retract his inquiry when Scarlet spoke up and said, “Not at all, Detective. That’s very nice of you to offer. I’ll just go get my things and I’ll meet you in front of the station.” She smiled at him.

Cole was slightly surprised, and it took him another moment before he was able to reply to her. “Oh! Yes, of course. I’ll be waiting for you outside, then.”

“Sounds good!” She gave Cole another smile before walking back downstairs.

As Scarlet left the room, Cole finally put his jacket and hat on. As he straightened his jacket, he had to ask himself exactly what he was doing. What was he going to accomplish by spending time with Scarlet? He wasn’t entirely sure. All he knew is that it felt nice to talk to her.

Cole headed downstairs and passed the watch commander’s booth before reaching the doors to the station.

“G’nite, Phelps,” called out the Commander, while keeping his eyes glued to a newspaper he was holding.

Cole was so focused on his thoughts that he had to take a second to realize that someone was talking to him. “Oh, good night, Commander…” Cole said hastily before walking out the door.

Cole wasn’t sure why he was nervous. He was just walking the girl home. He was just taking a stroll and she happened to be there with him. There was no harm in it, and nothing would happen. Cole mentally kicked himself for even considering the thought that something could possibly happen. Scarlet had seemed very sweet, but he doubted that she would take his offer to walk her home as anything else but being polite. He just didn’t want to go home.

He finally had to admit to himself that being home with his wife and children after the war was trying. He had carried the emotional scars that he never wanted to tell his wife about back to his house. How was he supposed to be the loving, supportive, strong, husband that Marie wanted if he told her about them? Would she even understand? Would she be empathetic and responsive? His mind had answered the question for him already, the answer was no.

Marie was too sheltered, too innocent, maybe even too naive to understand those feelings. Cole was grateful that she didn’t understand. He didn’t wish that upon anybody. But… it certainly made it difficult for him to share his thoughts and fears and true feelings with her. He knew that he should be worried about that line of reasoning and where it might take him, but he couldn’t help it. He had to be selfish. He had convinced himself that in order to keep doing his job, and to keep being the hero of the LAPD, he needed to do whatever it took to keep those feelings at bay. And right now, the path to his success was Scarlet.

Cole continued to wait, and one minute later, Scarlet walked out the door and joined him after saying good night to the commander. She had her purse in her hand and a purple pillbox hat on her head. Cole couldn’t help but stare. She looked rather adorable.

“Are you ready to go?” Scarlet inquired with small smile.

“Yes, let’s get going. It’s getting late,” Cole replied, a little too seriously.

“Ah, okay. Sure.” Scarlet tucked a lock of hair behind her ear before walking forward.

They had soon fallen into step, and continued walking in silence. Cole wasn’t sure what to do now. He noticed that Scarlet had occupied herself with looking at the windows of the shops that they had passed. He felt grateful that she wasn’t trying to push any conversation - he wanted to be the one to start it. He, after all, had suggested this little adventure. Cole pursed his lips and blinked rapidly, trying to get himself together. He was silently cursing himself for even thinking this would be a good idea. He should have just left her alone. He was content with thoughts of her. They seemed to silence his loud mind, so why did he have to go dive head-first into spending time with her? This was a stupid idea. But, here he was, so he had to at least try to salvage the trip.

“So…” Cole cleared his throat. “How…was your day?”

“Oh! It was good!” Scarlet replied happily. She sounded relieved that he had finally broken the silence between them. “It was really busy. Between you and Stefan hunting down Adrian Black and all the other stuff I had to do today, it was a very tiring, but eventful day. I like days like this. It makes time go faster, y’know? It’s a real drag whenever there’s not much going on. Like on Saturday nights, pretty much all the calls I get have to do with some drunk person doing something stupid…” Scarlet chuckled and then trailed off.

“Please continue,” Cole said politely. He was more than okay with letting her take over the conversation. He felt so incredibly awkward, but something needed to fill the silence. He actually found it relaxing to listen to her talk. She wasn’t loud or annoying. She was calm, and she sounded genuinely pleased that someone had asked about her day. He suddenly wondered if she had a man waiting for her, and what sort of life she lived. He had only realized at that moment that he wasn’t sure if it was okay for her to be walking alone with him. The thought alarmed him and he pondered whether or not she was doing the same thing as he was: escaping by being in the company of someone else.

“Do you have someone waiting for you?” Cole suddenly said aloud, in an almost accusatory manner.

Scarlet stopped talking. She was in the middle of describing one of the many calls she had received in the past about drunken behavior when he had interrupted her. She blinked rapidly and looked at him in surprise. She furrowed her eyebrows before saying, “Well, that was incredibly out of the blue.” She blinked once more before her face relaxed again and she returned her eyes to the sidewalk. “Are you trying to ask if I’m seeing someone?”

Cole inhaled and swallowed before finally replying to her question. “Yes, I suppose that’s what I’m asking.”

“No, Detective. I’m not seeing anybody. And the only one waiting at home for me is my cat,” Scarlet said quietly. “Why do you ask?”

“Just…curious is all. I figured a nice girl like yourself had someone to get home to,” Cole explained.

Scarlet chuckled. “No. I don’t think that will ever happen. I tend to rub a lot of men the wrong way, with the way I am.”

“The ‘way you are?’”

“Yes. Actually, I figured that you found me rude and uncouth.”

“Why would I think that?” Cole asked, puzzled.

“Well, you’re a rather proper man. You seem incredibly on the straight-and-narrow, so I figured that a woman cracking a joke at your expense the first time you met her might have upset you,” Scarlet admitted.

“Oh. Well, it was certainly surprising. But no, I don’t find you rude or anything. Actually, I was hoping to…” Cole suddenly stopped himself. What was he thinking? He couldn’t keep doing this. So what if she provided the peace he so desperately craved? It wasn’t right. But… “I was hoping that we could spend some more time together,” Cole said quickly.

Scarlet only smiled softly. Cole wasn’t sure how to take that reaction. He was already beating himself up mentally. Why did he say that? This wasn’t right. This wasn’t okay. He couldn’t do this to Marie. But, there was something about Scarlet that made him feel comfortable. He even felt inclined to be honest with her about his thoughts and feelings. Marie didn’t even have that effect on him. Maybe the universe had granted him some peace through this woman, Scarlet.

His mind suddenly started racing when he couldn’t help but wonder how far this was going to go. Was it okay for him to be walking her home? Would she invite him in? Would he wake up the next morning next to her? What would he do if Marie found out? What about his daughters? He couldn’t control his thoughts, and he felt himself starting to spiral.

“Detective?” Scarlet suddenly said, a worried expression on her face.

“What?” Cole replied. He looked flushed, he felt nauseous, and his heart was racing.

“You look as pale as a ghost… We should get you some water. Come in and sit down. You look like you’re about to pass out,” Scarlet said quickly as she fished her keys out of her purse. Cole hadn’t even realized that they were at her apartment. She lead him upstairs to the third floor, as quickly as possible. She opened the door and turned the lights on before turning around and guiding Cole to the couch.

“I…I’m fine…” Cole said, wiping the sweat off his brow with his sleeve. When did he start sweating? He took his hat off and placed his hands on either side of him, trying to calm himself.

Scarlet quickly left the room and presumably went to the kitchen. Cole closed his eyes and breathed deeply. The scent of Scarlet’s apartment filled his nostrils. It was a sweet smell, a cozy one. He suddenly found himself relaxing, his mind finally quieting down. The scent brought him feelings of warmth and tenderness. He felt around the couch and his hand suddenly made contact with something soft. He opened his eyes and found Scarlet’s cat staring up at him.

Cole huffed out a laugh and pet the cat’s head before laying his own head on the edge of the couch and staring at the ceiling. Scarlet returned finally, a glass of water and some aspirin in her hands. She placed them on the coffee table and knelt down to look at Cole’s face. He looked at her, suddenly exhausted.

“Hey there. Are you okay?” Scarlet asked softly.

“Yeah…I’m alright.”

“I’m glad. There’s some water and some aspirin there.” She motioned to the coffee table. “You look sleepy, Detective.” Her eyes bounced around his face, trying to examine him.

“Yeah, I suppose I’m a little tired. I’m…sorry…about that. I’m not sure what happened.” Cole was fully aware of what just happened. It had happened to him a few times before, but he was always alone, and was able to deal with it himself. This was the first time he was around someone else. It felt strange, and he felt guilty for putting Scarlet in this position.

“It’s not your fault,” Scarlet said simply with a warm smile. She took his hand and held it. There were no forbidden feelings in her touch, just a physical reminder that she was there with him in that moment. It calmed him down even further. Who exactly was Scarlet? Why did she have this effect on him? He had never experienced being so calm and relaxed with a woman.

Not even Marie could do this. If Marie had witnessed what had just happened, she’d probably be beside herself with worry. Cole was sure she’d most likely try to call a doctor and get him to come to their house immediately. She’d pry and she’d push and she’d demand that Cole tell her what was wrong. He knew that everything Marie did came from a place of caring, but he just didn’t want to have to deal with it. Scarlet, however, seemed completely in control. She didn’t look panicked in the slightest.

“Would you like some coffee, Detective?” Scarlet asked as she let go of Cole’s hand.

“Please. That…sounds great. And Scarlet, you can just call me ‘Cole,’” Cole replied, sitting up straight.

“Alright, Cole. One coffee, coming right up,” Scarlet smiled at him before walking back to the kitchen.

Cole reached for the glass of water and the aspirin. He took the aspirin and downed the rest of the glass before slumping back into the couch. Why hadn’t she asked him what happened? He felt like the first thing anyone would do was ask what happened, and probably lose their composure. But, Scarlet seemed to know exactly what to do. And she had left him alone afterwards, which he found himself being so incredibly grateful for. She didn’t pry, she didn’t push, she let him gather himself. He knew that something was strange when he realized that the thought of her soothed him. This was just even more evidence that he needed this woman in his life. He was already addicted to her presence.

Chapter Text

Scarlet returned to the living room with Cole’s coffee in hand. He lay his head on the back of the couch languidly while continuing to pet her cat. As soon as Scarlet entered the room, Cole gave her a look that she couldn’t quite interpret, but it made her blush. He was staring at her intently, almost with awe mixed with confusion. She simply gave him a small smile and put his coffee on the coffee table.

“Here you go. This should do something for the exhaustion.” Scarlet sat down next to him, her cat crawling into her lap.

“Thanks,” Cole said, plainly.

“Sure. Hope it makes you feel better,” Scarlet pet her cat, trying to remain calm.

Although she had handled the last twenty minutes with the utmost care and patience, she was actually rather overwhelmed. There were a great deal of emotions flowing through her head. First, the fact that Cole had a moment in her presence that had seemed incredibly out of character. He was always so measured and composed, so to see him so vulnerable frightened her. She wondered where all that fear and anxiety came from, but she wasn’t sure she truly wanted to know. However, there was another part of her that felt a little bit of pride. She wondered who else had been privy to see him in such a state. Of course, that wasn’t something to be celebrating, but it was definitely something to think about. Cole never would have let her see this, she thought, but maybe it was just that she happened to be there. She felt incredibly stupid and petty for trying to rationalize not why he had had an outburst, but why he had had one in front of her.

Cole had finished drinking his coffee and had once again closed his eyes, slumping against the back of the couch. Scarlet let him be. She wasn’t going to say anything until he did - she knew it would be for the best. In the meantime, she had a few other things to think about. Scarlet had been wondering since she met the man if he was married, and now it was confirmed. She had seen his wedding band. She had first seen it in the detective’s room when she was dropping off the note for Rimsky. She had paused after Cole asked her if he could walk her home. The pause had given her mind a moment to figure out what to do. It was then that she had seen the ring. A sinking feeling had overtaken her, almost one of nausea. She hated the idea of herself having feelings for a married man. Although she never planned on it herself, she could at least empathize with the feelings of being married and waiting for her husband to come back home from his dangerous job, only to find that he was out with some other girl.

She did not want to be that other woman, but the look in his eye as he had asked her suggested he was almost pleading with her to say ‘yes.’ It almost seemed like he didn’t want to go home, presumably to his wife and maybe even children. The thought of his children made her stomach drop even more, the nausea only getting worse. What was this man doing? Scarlet had absolutely no intention of doing anything improper with Cole, but did he have ulterior motives? Obviously, she was attracted to him, but she cut her feelings off the second she saw that wedding band. But what about him? Scarlet had to find out. What did Cole want from her? How far was he willing to go? Cole did not at all seem like the man who cheated on his wife, and so far, Scarlet had no evidence to suggest that he did.

However, a married man asking a single girl if he can walk her home would be considered borderline improper. Cole was at Scarlet’s apartment, late at night. It was already past nine o’clock. If anyone had seen them together and him entering her apartment building, they’d both have to answer for their actions, even if they were completely innocuous. Scarlet began to feel slightly uncomfortable. It was obvious that Cole wanted to be here, and she honestly had no issues with his presence. She, in fact, welcomed it, but the thought of being spotted and becoming the newest piece of gossip at the station sounded far from appealing. People had already made judgments about Scarlet and Stefan, but she was able to deal with that. After all, there was nothing dishonest about their friendship. But Cole and Scarlet? A married man, most likely a father, and a young, single female? There was bound to be talk.

Scarlet decided not to bring it up right now. Cole was still recovering, and she didn’t want to cause any more stress. She’d let Cole stay as long as he needed to. She wanted to know why he was still sitting here, why he even offered to walk her home. She was honestly surprised to hear that he didn’t find her rude and outrageous. There were so many questions she wanted to ask him, but she refrained, waiting for him to speak first.

Cole opened his eyes a moment later and looked at Scarlet. She gave him a small smile, and she was shocked to see that he gave her a genuine smile back. A wide, warm, happy smile. It made her heart flutter, and she quickly looked away at her cat to hide the creeping blush on her face.

“Thank you,” Cole said quietly.

Scarlet paused and waited for him to continue. “I…have never had a moment like that in front of anybody before. But… I’m really grateful you were there.”

Scarlet’s blush didn’t stop. Her face felt hot but she managed to get out a few words. “I’m glad I was able to help in some small way…” Scarlet finally looked up at him and saw that he was giving her that look from earlier that she couldn’t figure out.

“You helped more than you can imagine, Scarlet. There are so many things that have been going through my head and you’re the only person I’ve met that seems to have a calming effect on them. I realize that being around you makes me feel…genuinely happy,” Cole admitted.

“Wow…I’m not sure how I did that. I’m just me…” Scarlet said.

“Yes, but that’s more than enough. I was serious when I asked if we could spend more time together. And I have the feeling you wouldn’t be opposed to it,” Cole said with a little more confidence in his voice.

Scarlet had only noticed now that Cole had gotten very close to her- his leg almost touching hers. It alarmed her. As much as she was attracted to Cole, she couldn’t let this happen. She had a feeling that if she reciprocated with these actions, things might end up getting out of hand. She closed her eyes and gathered her resolve. She wanted to be there for Cole, but not in any way that would hurt either of them or the people around them. When she opened her eyes, Cole was very close, and was looking at her face intently. She had a feeling about what he was about to do, and she was prepared to stop him.

Cole leaned in towards her face, looking at her lips. She looked into his eyes and as much as she wanted this, she couldn’t do it. He looked back at hers and leaned in more, almost coming into contact with her lips. It was then that Scarlet held her hand up to his mouth, stopping him in his path. She closed her eyes, hating herself for being in this situation and finding herself slightly angry with him. Why was he doing this? He was ready to throw everything away? For a fling? For an impulse?? It was obvious that he had some demons he was in a constant struggle with, and maybe this was a way to make them stop, but she couldn’t be the one he used. She hoped he wouldn’t think of doing this again, with her or anyone else.

Then there was another part of her that was beating herself up because she really really wanted to kiss him. His lips felt so soft against her fingers. Why is he married?!? she wanted to yell. Instead, she exhaled deeply and spoke. “Cole…”

“Scarlet…I…I’m sorry. I just…need…you,” Cole said quietly.

“No, Cole. You don’t. I promise you that you don’t. I can see you fighting with yourself here. Instead of doing something that we’re both going to regret, why don’t you just talk to me? I do really like you. More…than I really ought to admit. But this, right here, is not a good idea. I’m not much for giving a damn about what people think, but when it comes to my work, and my reputation, I do care. And you should too. You’re already one of the most distinguished officers on the entire force. Don’t throw that all away. Not for me, or for anyone else,” Scarlet finished.

“.…And what about for me?” Cole asked, still looking into Scarlet’s eyes.

“I think we all want things that we can’t have. And if we think about it, there’s a reason why we shouldn’t have them.” Scarlet searched Cole’s face. Cole exhaled, resignedly, and looked at the floor. Scarlet tilted his chin up with gentle fingers. He looked back into her eyes and she continued speaking.

“Cole, there’s a way for me to be there for you without us doing this. Can we just be friends? I’m really not trying to guilt you here, truly, but I think there may be some people in your life who might object, don’t you think?” Scarlet asked him, still holding his face.

Cole nodded before speaking. “You’re right. But yes, I’d like that very much.” He gave her a small smile. She smiled back at him, warmly. Cole continued, “On that note, though, I should get going. It’s almost ten.”

“Good idea. You should definitely get a full night’s sleep. I’m sure you and Stefan will have a full caseload tomorrow.” Scarlet let go of his chin, and the both of them stood from the couch. Cole moved to put his hat on, but paused. He stood there, his hands at his sides, silent.

“...Cole?” Scarlet asked.

“You…and Stefan…is there…” Cole quietly mumbled.

Scarlet paused as well. She needed to choose her words very carefully. She wasn’t going to say anything about her relationship with Stefan. It was special, and very dear to her. And it meant so much that she wasn’t about to let anyone else go psychoanalyzing their…whatever it was they had. Scarlet finally said, confidently, “If you’re worried, don’t be.”

Apparently, that was good enough for Cole, because he put his hat on and smiled at Scarlet. Scarlet inwardly exhaled before leading him to the door of her apartment. She opened the door to see him out, but as he crossed the threshold, he turned around to look at her. She was shorter than he was, especially since she was still in her heels. She smiled up at him. He looked like he wanted to say something, and grasped at the air trying to find the right words. Finally, he put his hand down, but to her shock, he began leaning in toward her. Her mind raced, wanting to push him away and ask him what on earth he was doing. Did she not just tell him no? But before any of the words could reach her mouth, Cole gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek.

“Thanks,” he said quietly. Scarlet closed her eyes, settling her mind. She opened her eyes and gave Cole a small smile.

“Anytime. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Scarlet calmly said as he walked down the hallway. As soon as Cole turned to walk down the stairs, she closed the door, turned around, and threw her back against it. She held her head in her hands.

“Jesus Christ, Scarlet. What the hell was that?!?” Scarlet said aloud to herself. She looked at her cat, who had come to nuzzle his face on her leg. She smiled at him and picked him up, holding him close. “That was not good, was it, kitty?” Scarlet asked him. He responded with a tiny meow. “He goes and does that, and makes my life super difficult, and then wants to ask me about Stefan?? What is with this guy? As much as I like him, and I want to help him, I can’t be that woman!! I…shit, I am confused. I don’t want to be that woman, but I do really like him. But I can’t!! He’s married!! And…then there’s Stefan!! And…wait, what am I saying? What does Stefan have to do with this?” Scarlet ranted aloud.
She paced her apartment, her cat still in her arms. After a few minutes, the cat had had enough of Scarlet’s constant movements and jumped from her grasp, walking casually into Scarlet’s bedroom.

Scarlet huffed out an exaggerated breath before continuing to speak aloud. “Damn…I…don’t know what to do. I’ve already made it clear that I don’t want anything like that from him…but, jeez, my mind is racing. I’m sure it didn’t mean anything,” she told herself, barely believing her own words. Scarlet decided that she needed to take the rest of the night, what little there was, to calm down. She slipped out of her heels and put her shoes in the closet next to the front door, and surveyed the rest of her apartment.

It was small, but it was cozy, and it was just for her. Typical of an apartment owned by a girl of her age and income, Scarlet had lovingly furnished the place since she had been hired at the station three years ago. It had become her safe haven when the world around her became too much for her to handle, which was often. To the right of the front door was a plush red couch with pillows. In front of it was a coffee table, which made it the perfect area for kicking her feet up and drinking her coffee. To make the area even cozier, Scarlet had put the furniture in front of the fireplace. Two large - but still over-filled - bookshelves sat on opposite ends of the fireplace. Scarlet enjoyed many a book, and made sure to keep her favorite ones in easy access, as she picked them up often. On the opposite wall of the front door was a large bay window with a window seat. The apartment faced a row of shops close to to City Hall, and Scarlet had spent many hours enjoying the view. She felt so lucky to have such a nice place to live, even if it wasn’t the fanciest or the most modern. To the left of the door was Scarlet’s small dining room. It had a simple wooden table with two chairs and a vase of flowers resting atop the table. Scarlet rarely had company over, so the second chair wasn’t used too much, but she made sure to have fresh flowers in her apartment as much as she could. It was a small touch, but it made all the difference. To the left of the bay window was the kitchen, separated from the rest of the apartment by walls. The kitchen was typical, but Scarlet kept it well stocked with all of her favorite foods. Fresh cheese, meat, and bread was always available, along with the coffee she liked the best. Scarlet tried to cook as much as possible, but had to buy her lunch from nearby cafés and restaurants often. Her shifts were long, and she sometimes didn’t have the time to cook herself a proper meal, but she certainly made good use of the kitchen. A window sat on the opposite end, looking towards another part of the city. Scarlet didn’t use that window for much else but lighting up the kitchen, as the fire escape took up the upper view of the window. Between the kitchen and the dining area was a door which lead to her bedroom. It was a small, but well-furnished paradise for her. The bed was soft and had many pillows, all in various shades of purple. A vanity that held her hair brush and makeup sat to the left behind the door, while to the right of the bedroom door was a wardrobe for her clothes. To the right of the bed was a third window, with a similar view as the one in the living room. But Scarlet liked this one the best, as she could see City Hall under the vast expanse of the sky, even while laying in bed. It was her way of reflecting on the day’s events. and she truly appreciated it. At the foot of her bed was a space for her cat.

Scarlet had a hard time naming her cat. None of the names she chose seemed right. She didn’t really push to name him anything, but usually addressed him as “Kitty.” So, she decided that his name should, indeed, be “Kitty.” Kitty was a fantastic companion for Scarlet. She was so happy to have him around. It made coming home so much less lonely. She had found him outside of her apartment building two years ago. After calling him over, he was so incredibly friendly that she thought he had to have been someone else’s cat. Scarlet took him in and asked around the neighborhood, but no one ever came forward. The cat had seemed as taken with Scarlet as she had been with him. She and the cat had grown incredibly close and she couldn’t imagine parting with him, so she kept him. Kitty had made himself comfortable in his place at the foot of Scarlet’s bed.

Scarlet began to undress and went into the bathroom, which was connected to the corner of her bedroom next to the wardrobe. Scarlet had to admit that apart from her bedroom, her bathroom was her favorite room in the house. Despite the apartment being small, the bathroom was relatively large.The walls were a pale blue, and she had placed a plush dark blue rug onto the floor, which was a pale, speckled marble. To the right of the door was the toilet in its own separate alcove. Scarlet had put a lovely orange curtain above it to make it more regal looking. Across from the door was the sink and a large round mirror, behind which sat several small shelves where Scarlet put her bathroom accessories. Directly to the right of the mirror was a small closet to store her towels and bathrobe. On the other side of the wall for the toilet, to the right of the closet, was a bathtub surrounded by large wall tiles. Scarlet had put another curtain above the bathtub. She loved lazing in the tub, relaxing after a long day. To top off the relaxing experience of the bathroom, a large window was present across the room from the bathtub. Just like how Scarlet could lay in bed and see the sky, she could do the same from the bathtub. Her apartment building was a bit too high for anyone to see her through the window, so she felt safe being in the bathroom.

As Scarlet glanced out the window, she ran the bathtub full of steaming hot water. She brushed her teeth and washed her face with a cloth before stepping into the tub and sitting down. She languidly stretched her arms and crossed them on the edge of the tub, placing her head on them. She stared out the window and thought further about the whole situation with Cole. She tried to think of it in a logical manner, but she found herself getting butterflies again when she thought of him trying to kiss her. The butterflies only became more furious after she recalled his kiss on the cheek, but they soon turned to nausea when she thought of the wedding band on his finger. Scarlet buried her face in her hands and once again spoke aloud.

“Dammit!! No! Why would he do this?? It’s horrible!! Not just jeopardizing his marriage, but his entire career!! For what? I can’t even try to think of a reason to excuse him! And what does that make me??? It’s obvious he wants something from me!! I don’t want to think about what. Was his whole confession on how I make him feel just utter bullshit? I don’t even know. Shit, I have absolutely no idea what to think or what to do. Can I just go on being normal with him?? It feels so…odd to even think about!”

Scarlet groaned in frustration and began to wash. She thought about how to treat Cole from now on. Was this really just not a big deal? Scarlet couldn’t seem to decide for herself. As she finished her bath, she started to drain the tub. She stood up and grabbed a towel to dry herself, watching the water go down the drain. Suddenly, she paused as an idea flew into her head. She had considered doing it, on occasion, but she had never attempted to as of yet. She wondered if it was okay - it was already so late. Scarlet finished drying and quickly ran back to her bedroom to look at the clock on her bedside table. It was almost 11:00 PM. She chewed on her bottom lip before finally deciding that in order to get through this, she needed someone to talk to. This was important, and it was one of the only times in her life she could recall that stressed her out this much. To hell with whatever it was that had stopped her from doing it before. Scarlet picked up the phone and began speaking.

“Operator, could you please connect me to Plaza zero-six-two-four?”

“Putting you through now.”

After several long moments of nothing but static, someone answered on the other line.

“H-hello?” came the voice through the phone. It sounded groggy, deep, and slightly agitated. Scarlet felt a pang of guilt for waking him up.

“Stefan?”

“...Scarlet?”

“Hi….”

Scarlet heard what she could have sworn was a chuckle on the other end.

“Hey, dollface. Everything okay?”

Scarlet smiled, blushing at the sound of his voice. She could get used to talking to Stefan over the phone.

Chapter Text

Scarlet smiled at his response, truly happy to hear her friend’s voice. She heard Stefan exhale softly, as if he were getting up from laying down. His voice sounded a bit less tired, but was still soft as he continued speaking.

“Are you alright? Did you actually go and get your car totaled by a freight train?!” Stefan asked, concerned.

Scarlet laughed. “No, Stefan. I’m okay. Nothing like that.”

“Good, good. I’d hate to have something happen to ya…” Stefan trailed off.

Scarlet held her breath, waiting for him to continue, all the while trying to keep her butterflies in check.

“So, then…not to be rude, dollface - I do really like hearing your voice right now - but I’m assuming you called for a reason?”

“Oh! Right. Sorry. Oh, shit. It’s so late…I woke you up, and dammit, I shouldn’t have…I’m sorry…” Scarlet couldn’t keep herself from panicking even more at the situation. She had spent the last hour freaking out about this whole exchange with Cole, only to call Stefan and realize that she had woken him up. “I…never mind, you need your sleep!! I didn’t mean to wake you! I’ll…just….”

“Scarlet, relax. It’s just me. Tell me what’s going on.”

“Okay. So, mind you, it’s going to be a long and strange story.”

“’Long and strange,’ you say? You’ve piqued my interest, little lady.”

Scarlet smiled. “Good. Now, you should make sure you’re comfortable and relaxed, because this is a really odd situation. I need to know what you think.”

Scarlet heard Stefan opening a drawer. A moment passed before Stefan spoke.

“Okay then, shoot,” Stefan said with something between his teeth. Scarlet heard the metallic plink of a lighter and Stefan inhaling.

“So…you obviously know Cole Phelps.”

“Yes, I believe that I do.”

“Well, after you left the station, I still had some work to do. I went up to the detectives’ offices because I had a note to drop off. When I walked into the room, Cole was there. He was just about to leave, but he had this really sad look in his eyes.”

“Cole was still there? Hm. Either that guy really loves his paperwork to the point of it never ending, or he really didn’t want to go home.”

“Yeah, that’s sort of the impression I got, too. So, he sees me and looks kinda…shocked, I guess? He starts talking to me, and it’s a bit of an awkward conversation.”

“What’d he say?”

“Nothing all that interesting until he asked me if I was walking home.” Scarlet heard Stefan pause, as if holding a breath. “When I told him that I was, he asked if he could walk me home.”

“...Hm. Okay.” Scarlet waited for Stefan to continue, but he didn’t, so she spoke again.

“The walk to my apartment was rather awkward. We didn’t have much to talk about, but then he asked me about my day. I sorta took the reins from there and just kept on talking to fill in the silence.” Scarlet heard Stefan chuckle. She smiled before continuing to speak. “Well, I kept talking, but I wasn’t even sure if he was listening.”

“That bastard wasn’t listening to you? He and I will have some words tomorrow…” Scarlet could tell Stefan was joking, but she wondered how he would react to the rest of the encounter.

She laughed and responded, “Oh, really, now? ‘Words?’ Like what? I didn’t know you knew enough words for that sort of verbal confrontation.”

Scarlet heard Stefan laugh before he spoke again. “Jeez, woman, what is it with you always going after my intelligence?”

“It’s just easy. Because there’s really not much to go after.” Scarlet smiled wryly.

“.…Okay, I’ll admit I walked right into that one.”

Scarlet laughed again. She could hear Stefan laughing too. She smiled fondly and found herself wondering what his apartment looked like and what sort of clothes he slept in. His hair must have been messy - not neatly slicked back like it normally was. She wondered what that looked like, too. She found that talking to him over the phone was exactly like talking to him in person: easy and relaxing. She truly wanted to hear his voice more often. They barely got to see each other at work, so she hoped that maybe he’d want to call her in the future as much as she wanted to call him.

“Sorry for interrupting. Please go ahead.”

Scarlet heard Stefan inhale more smoke before exhaling a moment later.

“It’s okay. Well, the reason I called is because…on the way to my house, I think he had some sort of…shell shock episode. He started sweating, and I think he was having trouble breathing. I managed to get him up to my apartment to calm him down.”

“Poor guy…”

“Yeah, I really hope I didn’t cause it.”

“No, I really don’t think it was you. Actually, you have a very calming effect…on people.”

Scarlet heard his hesitation, but decided to ignore it. She continued speaking.

“Well, after he had calmed down, and I brought him some coffee…”

“Wait, you make him coffee, but you steal mine??”

“What was that about not interrupting?” Scarlet tried to sound stern, all the while holding in her laughter.

“My feelings are hurt!”

Scarlet could hear Stefan struggling to hold back his own laughter.

“I’ll make it up to you. I promise,” she said while smiling.

“I’ll hold you to that. Okay, for real now. I won’t interrupt.”

“Okay, good, because honestly I’m not entirely sure how you’re going to react to this…” Scarlet absentmindedly chewed on her bottom lip.

“...You’re making me a bit worried, dollface.”

“I’m sort of having a bit of trouble myself. It was just a really…odd situation. I…so…um..” Scarlet once again found herself panicking. She again questioned her actions. Here she was, sitting in her towel, hair still in its turban, calling Stefan and ruining his night with her silly, school girl antics. She felt angry with herself for being immature.

“Scarlet.”

“Yes?”

“Take a breath.”

Scarlet did as she was told and inhaled deeply. She closed her eyes and tried to focus. She needed to not panic. She was asking for Stefan’s opinion, and if there was anyone on the planet that Scarlet could trust, it was Stefan Bekowsky. She exhaled, audibly.

“Feeling a bit better?”

Scarlet smiled. “Much.”

“Good. Now go on and tell me the rest. I promise nothing bad will happen.”

Scarlet immediately felt secure and confident about calling Stefan. She knew it had been the right choice.

“Well, he started giving me this funny look. I can’t quite explain it, but I don’t know it sorta made me blush, I guess…” Scarlet half expected Stefan to crack a joke at that, but all she heard was him inhale and exhale once more. “So, I’m sitting there with him and I realize that he’s getting closer and closer to me. And he tells me that I make him feel genuinely happy, and that he wants to spend more time with me.”

“Can’t say I bl--” Scarlet heard Stefan start to speak, before quickly clearing his throat and starting over. “So what did you say?”

“Um, I said ‘yes.’ But first, let me put out a disclaimer, because I saw his wedding band.”

“...So he is married.”

“Yeah…”

“Sorry to hear that, dollface. I know you were sort of hoping for…”

“No, no. It’s really not…I mean, I barely know him. And honestly, it doesn’t even matter. He tried to kiss me, but there is absolutely no way in hell I’m about to do something stupid like that.” Scarlet interrupted Stefan, and realized that she had let drop the part of her story she was most afraid of telling him. She wasn’t as worried about his reaction to the situation itself. She was mostly worried about what he would think of her. Stefan was a good and moral man, but he was never one to sermonize. Even so, his opinion of her meant so much. She hoped that he wouldn’t find her actions objectionable. Scarlet waited for him to speak. He seemed to have finished his cigarette. The moment he took before speaking seemed like an eternity to Scarlet.

“...He tried to kiss you? Didn’t he just meet you today?”

“...Yes. And yes.”

“Why?”

“I…don’t know. He said that he ‘needed me.’”

“To which you said…?”

“That he didn’t, and that he’d be making a huge mistake by trying this with me or anyone else. And that I wasn’t about to throw my life’s work, or his, for that matter, away for some sort of fling.”

“And then?”

Scarlet couldn’t tell if Stefan was angry, but all of the mirth that was in his voice previously was gone.

“Stefan…are you angry…with me?”

Scarlet heard Stefan sigh before he started to speak again.

“Of course not, dollface. I could never be angry with ya. I think what you did was level-headed and damn mature. Not only were you able to deal with him having a moment, but you calmly dealt with the after-effects of it.”

Scarlet found herself smiling once more, pride filling her chest. She honestly wasn’t sure whether or not what she did was the right thing, but after hearing Stefan’s compliment, she felt much more comfortable about what had happened. She didn’t let it get out of hand, and she was there for Cole when he was vulnerable. Who could have known that one experience in the past would have prepared her for such a situation? In fact, it was Stefan who had actually prepared her for that moment.

Two years ago, Scarlet and Stefan had been having a conversation about the war. Stefan always said that he had a reason for staying back home, despite some people giving him hell for it. Scarlet never knew what that reason was until Stefan mentioned that he had an older brother named Leon.
His brother was a Marine and stationed in Okinawa. Leon had been one of the first to be sent out. Stefan seemed incredibly proud of his brother, and the way he talked about Leon made it seem like they were very close.

Stefan was two years younger than Leon, and had always looked up to him. Leon had decided that he wanted to be part of the fight in 1943. Stefan was scared for his brother, but was incredibly proud of him for being so brave. Stefan and Leon’s parents were a bit more reluctant to let their eldest son go, not knowing if he’d come back, but Leon was undeterred. After training in the spring of 1944, he became a Marine and was shipped out in the fall. Stefan had still been a patrolman at the time, but when his brother left, he decided that he, too, would join the Corps, so he could be there with his brother. Stefan had to admit that he wasn’t as gung-ho about the cause as other men, but if this was the reality of the situation, Stefan was going to be there to support his brother. His parents had been upset, but when he explained that he was going to support Leon, they respected his decision. It was undeniable how close the two brothers were, so his parents gave him their blessing. It didn’t matter in the end, though.

It was six months after Leon had shipped out, and Stefan had made preparations to join the Corps. Stefan was supposed to leave home for training within the next couple of weeks when two Marines wearing Dress Blues and a chaplain came to the door of the Bekowsky home. The chaplain had explained that Leon had perished in Okinawa during one of the fiercest and most violent battles anyone in the military had seen. Stefan and his family were told that Leon - and hundreds of others so far - died fighting for their flag, their home, and their families.They were given a folded flag, and offered the sincerest of condolences from the chaplain and the two Marines.

Stefan’s story had ended there. He couldn’t bring himself to tell Scarlet the rest. All he said was that he didn’t once envy that chaplain or the two men with him. When people saw the three of them walking up their porch steps or driveways, it was like the grim reaper himself was standing behind them. Scarlet had never seen Stefan shed a single tear until that day. Suddenly, he had gotten very quiet. Scarlet had tried to snap him out of his stupor several times by calling his name, but he looked so far away. And that’s when his breathing became erratic and the panic set in. His eyes widened and he was obviously terrified and confused about what was happening to him. Scarlet didn’t know any better, but she figured that if one of them was panicking, it would only be helpful for the other to be calm. She had told him to breathe and to listen to her voice. She had assured him that everything was okay, and that he needed to come back to the present. Finally, after several minutes of panic on both sides, he had calmed down. She made sure that he was comfortable and had rushed to give him some water. As he took the cup from her hand, his other hand grasped hers. He didn’t make eye contact with Scarlet or say anything. He simply drank his water and squeezed her small hand in his. Scarlet returned the squeeze, assuring him that she was there with him. After several minutes, he had let go of her hand and gave her a weary smile.

Scarlet never asked Stefan to explain what had happened. She pretty much guessed that talking about losing his brother was one of the most traumatic moments of his life. All she had asked him was if he was okay. After he had assured her that he was alright, they didn’t speak of it again. Scarlet knew that if Stefan wanted to talk about it, he would. She never pried, but she was glad to be there for him. She often wondered if he felt the same.

“So…” Stefan said, bringing Scarlet back to their conversation. “To clarify, I’m definitely not angry at you. However, there’s a part of me that wants to take Phelps by the collar and yell at him.”

Scarlet was about to reply when Stefan started to speak again. “But…I think we should cut the guy some slack. We don’t really know why he did what he did. You did say that he had an episode, so it’s possible that his actions had something to do with that. Who knows what he was thinking of or remembering? And it sounds like you were his tether to the present. I don’t blame the guy for wanting to cling to the thing that makes him stable.”

Scarlet thought for a moment. Stefan was right. Neither of them knew what Cole had been thinking. He had been panicking, and Scarlet was there to comfort him. “You’re right. I didn’t really think about it that way. Should I have let him kiss me, then?” Scarlet chewed on her bottom lip. She was really hoping she had done the right thing. She had chosen to forgo the kiss to maintain the status quo. If she had let him go through with it, who knows what would have happened? She also imagined that this conversation with Stefan would have gone completely differently.

“Honestly, I think you did the right thing by refusing him. Maybe he did have a moment, but there are consequences to actions like that. It would definitely have had lasting effects. So, you did good, Scarlet. You helped a man get through a very tough moment.” Scarlet heard Stefan pause for a long while after that.

“Stefan?”

“...I’m really glad you were there for me, dollface. And for Phelps.”

Scarlet felt her face get hot. She never knew what to say when Stefan became sincere and tender. This was just another moment where Scarlet knew that there was something between them, but instead of addressing it, the conversation would move forward and the moment would be gone. But this time, even though neither of them wanted to address it, neither person wanted to move on with the conversation. The silence stretched on for several more seconds before Stefan spoke again.

“So…I hope that I helped you out a little bit.”

“You did. A lot. Thank you.” Scarlet found herself smiling. “Hey, hang on one second?”

“Sure thing.”

Scarlet put the phone receiver onto her bed and quickly changed into a nightgown. She looked at the clock and saw that it was almost midnight. She wanted to continue the conversation, but both she and Stefan had an early start to the morning. Scarlet let her wet hair out of the turban before returning to her bed. Kitty had come up to her as she sat down so he could lay his head on her lap. Scarlet picked the receiver up and spoke into it.

“Sorry about that. So…”

“So…”

Suddenly, Scarlet couldn’t think of anything to say. The conversation she wanted to have was over, but she didn’t want to put down the phone just yet. She again chewed on her lip, trying to think of something to say. She started to pet Kitty’s head. He purred happily and nuzzled her leg. Why was this suddenly so hard? The conversation was flowing fine just a moment ago. What the hell happened? Scarlet decided that the best way to get through this was to just state the obvious.

“Why can I suddenly not think of anything to talk about?”

She heard Stefan laugh before he spoke up again. “Glad I’m not the only one. Although it’s probably because it’s so late.”

“I was thinking of that, too. We should get to sleep. We’re going to hate ourselves tomorrow if we don’t.”

“I agree. But…we should definitely do this again sometime. Feel free to call me whenever you feel like it.”

“Whenever? Better be careful with your words there, Stefan. What if I get the urge to call you at 2:00 AM?” Scarlet smiled and wrapped the phone cord around her fingers.

“Then you’ll get to hear what I sound like after being woken up at 2:00 AM.”

“Really? You’ll pick up the phone even if I call at two in the morning?”

“Always, dollface. No matter what time it is, I’ll be here for you.”

Scarlet swallowed hard before mustering up the courage to reply. “Same to you, Stefan. I hope you know that.”

“Don’t worry, Scarlet. I know.”

Scarlet smiled once more and was about to say good night when Stefan spoke up again.

“Oh, but just to let you know, Phelps is going to have another thing coming if he tries something like this again.”

“I wholeheartedly agree. If he does this to me again, well…there might not be anything left for you to be angry with.”

“I don’t doubt it for a minute.” Scarlet laughed and heard Stefan laughing with her.

“Well…” Scarlet hesitated. She really didn’t want to hang up the phone.

“Well…” Stefan repeated after her. “We should get our beauty sleep. Especially me. It’s not easy to look this good.”

“Right, of course. I’ll let you rest up then, Princess Stefan.” Scarlet giggled, switching the receiver to her other ear.

Stefan laughed quietly before bidding Scarlet good night. “I’ll see you tomorrow, dollface. Sweet dreams.”

“Bye, Stefan.” Scarlet could tell that Stefan didn’t want to put the phone down, either, but with great reluctance, she managed to place the receiver back onto the phone. She gave Kitty one final scratch under the chin before tucking herself into her blankets and turning the light off. Kitty returned to his spot at her feet and quickly fell asleep. As Scarlet also tried to fall asleep, she quietly thought of Stefan and wondered if maybe he was thinking of her, too. She pushed the thought away, again feeling silly for letting her emotions cloud her logic. She had no reason to think that. After all, she had called him. But then there was the entire conversation that gave her the feeling that maybe there was something there, maybe she wasn’t imagining it. Scarlet put a pillow over her face and quietly screamed into it. Kitty awoke and gave her a semi-annoyed look before putting his head back down. She whispered an apology to him before falling into a restless slumber, hoping that none of the events from tonight would carry into tomorrow.

Her hopes, unfortunately, were in vain.