Actions

Work Header

a great honor to hold you up

Work Text:

She remembers coming to and seeing Tim’s face and knowing immediately that there would always be a “before” and an “after” in her life now.

Before and after she was drugged.

Before and (thankfully) after she was buried alive.

Before and (forever) after Tim Bradford saved her life.

————-

Lucy doesn’t remember when she stopped sobbing. Probably sometime around when the paramedics showed up. Her chest hurt and the shock had worn off just enough that her cuts and bruises were starting to make themselves more known.

Tim rides with her in the ambulance. He tried to step away when they got her settled on the gurney, but she probably put a permanent crease in his uniform shirt with how tightly she held on.

“Okay. It’s gonna be alright,” he whispers.

She hasn’t stopped touching some part of his body since the moment she came to. She’s pretty sure if she lets him go she’ll be back in that barrel fighting for breath.

The medic tries to put the gurney flat so he can easily tend to her cuts, but she starts panicking slightly when all she can see is the cold, grey roof of the vehicle. It’s way too close. Before and after she was claustrophobic, she adds to the list.

“She needs to be able to see the sky,” Tim tells the guy, already reaching down to adjust the gurney himself so she can see out the window.

She knows if she speaks she’ll cry again, so she mouths a simple thank you and grips his hand tighter.

She wants to ask him a million questions. She always has questions, a fact about her that she’s pretty sure he both hates and finds endearing. But she’s not sure he’ll have answers to these.

Why did this happen?
Shouldn’t I have known?
What could I have done differently?
How did you find me?

The medic starts tending to the raw, torn skin at her wrist — she’ll never be able to use zip ties again — and she hisses in pain. Pain is your body telling you something is wrong, but it’s also your body telling you you’re alive, you can handle it. She hears her dad’s voice in her head, the first time she’d called him to complain about training in the academy.

“Sorry, Ms. Chen,” the medic says. He’s trying to gently clean dirt and sand and god knows what else off of her wrist.

Officer Chen,” Tim corrects. It’s his Officer Bradford voice. The one that clearly says I’m in charge, you’re annoying me, and I’d rather not deal with you all in one breath. Any other time, Lucy would roll her eyes at him and tell the medic it doesn't matter, Lucy is fine. But she knows Tim well enough to know he’s in protective mode. It would take a lot more energy than she has right now to wind him down.

She’s really, really tired. She needs to close her eyes and sleep, but she knows they won’t let her. They don’t know and she can’t be certain in all that happened that she doesn’t have a concussion. Mostly though, she’s afraid if she sleeps she’ll be right back there. Trapped and alone and losing hope.

“Tim.” He’s been absentmindedly running his thumb across the back of her hand and staring out the back window, but he turns back to her when she whispers his name.

“Will you please talk to me? Keep me awake? I don’t — I can’t — go to sleep.”

He shifts on the bench. Asking Tim Bradford to talk when he doesn’t want to is kind of a crapshoot.

He clears his throat. For the first time it dawns on her that this was traumatic for everyone out there. It’ll be one of those shifts that no one forgets about, and she’s not sure how she feels about that.

“What do you want to know, Boot?”

She smiles and closes her eyes. Thank god for Tim. It’s like he knows if he’d called her Lucy right then she would have lost it. It would have been too much. Keep it as professional as it can be while holding her training officer’s hand in the back of an ambulance on the day she could have died.

She knows what she needs to know, but she doesn’t know if he’ll tell her. She knows he won’t lie, though. Tim Bradford is many things, but he’s not a liar.

“Is he… is he dead?” It’s barely audible, and Tim has to lean forward to hear it, so much so that she can feel his sharp intake of breath. He glances up and she watches him and the medic exchange looks, weighing the right choice.

Tim adjusts his grip on her hand and nods.

“He is.” It’s simple, the way he says it. He doesn't hedge around it or leave her to wonder. It’s one of his best, yet most infuriating qualities. It’s part of what makes him an excellent cop and an even better TO.

She doesn’t expect this news to make her cry again, but her eyes burn and her throat clenches and she has always, always hated crying. She should be jumping for joy, really. She knows why she’s crying. She knows trauma can heighten or dull emotions and she knows this is just the beginning. And that makes her cry harder.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have told you. Let’s talk about anything else. What’s that, um, that music group you’re always trying to play in the shop? The one I complain about the most?”

She doesn’t want to be distracted by BTS right now, though. As much as she loves watching Tim’s reactions to their music, this isn’t the time.

She shakes her head, but laughs through her tears. “I don’t want to cry, but I’m afraid if I don’t now I won’t ever.”

She tries to control it, but she’s crying harder than she ever has, she thinks. She feels confined and antsy and like she’s going to jump out of her skin if she doesn’t get to move her body soon. The straps of the gurney are too tight and she struggles against them, needing to be free. She’s panicking. She closes her eyes and she’s back there, dark and cramped and running out of air.

“Open your eyes, Lucy. You’re safe,” he says, and it’s the sweetest command he’s ever given her. She can’t though. She can talk herself down from anything, but this is different.

She knows Tim has seen a lot of people through the aftermath of horrendous events, the worst days of their lives. She’s seen him support grieving parents and bounce crying babies and distract teens with sports or deploy that stupid charming smile that definitely isn’t flirting but is cute enough to distract. He knows how to take care of people. He knows when to bend the rules to get to the best outcome.

It’s why she shouldn’t be surprised, but still is, when he starts unstrapping her from the gurney.

“Mr. — Officer Bradford, she really has to stay strapped in—-” The poor medic. Lucy doesn’t even know his name, though she’s sure he introduced himself. He’s just trying to do his job. Tim just stares at him.

“She doesn’t have a spinal injury, does she? She’s panicking. Spine feels good, not gonna add paralyzed to our other traumas today, right, Boot?” It’s not a question. He unhooks the last strap and gently eases her forward a little so he can scoot in behind her. He lets her lean against his chest, lets her get comfortable before he touches her again. She shifts a little, getting as comfortable as she can with stiff legs and bruised ribs. She feels his hand card through her hair and she doesn’t understand how he knew this was what she needed.

He rests his cheek against the top of her head and she knows this is Tim taking care of her. This is him letting her cry. No judgement, no distractions.

She knows he won’t say anything until she’s ready. It should be awkward, being held by her TO in the back of an ambulance. They definitely have an audience. She’s painfully aware of how safe she feels now though, He’s warm and he reminds her of better days, of easy laughter even on stressful shifts.

She’s overthinking everything and she knows she needs to relax. She shifts against him, burrowing further into his chest. She’s cried for so many hours of the last 24 that she can’t even tell if she’s actually producing tears anymore, or if she’s just going through the motions.

She’s so, so tired. She tries not to, but she dozes off just long enough for the jolt of the ambulance doors opening to wake her.

Tim eases away from her. She thinks it’s possible he dozed off too, but she knows he wouldn’t admit it.

She sits up fully, her body sore but working. She must look like actual death. She sniffles and clears her throat before talking. “Can I walk? I can, I swear. I just. I need to move.”

The medic looks at her and then at Tim behind her, and Lucy knows he’s weighing the odds of something happening to her and risking his job versus telling two emotionally drained cops no.

“I’ve got her,” he says, and Lucy’s never believed anything more.

She knows what Tim’s face must look like, so she isn’t surprised when they get a weary nod. “Already broke protocol, so go for it.”

Tim moves around her, and his hand on her hip after how physically close they’ve just been should not make her heart race, but she has to pause to gather herself.

She ducks her head out the door and his hand is there waiting. She steps down gingerly, and she didn’t realize until just now how much her body truly aches. She winces and Tim wraps an arm around her waist, supporting her.

“No pressure, Boot, but if you fall and break your neck, that paramedic might try to find some way to sue me,” he says, and she’d laugh if every step didn’t make her chest constrict. Walking shortly after life-saving CPR was probably not her brightest idea. She takes another step and her legs feel like jello, like she’s run full out for miles.

“Tim.” It’s all she has to say. He glances down at her and stops, but tightens his grip on her waist.

“Okay,” he says, surveying the area. They’re still several feet from the door and who knows how much further to a chair or bed. The paramedic had gone ahead to start paperwork and the medic who drove was still in the rig, readying it for their next run. He’s not afraid to yell, but there’s a chopper circling above — when isn’t there in LA? — and his voice wouldn’t carry that far.

“Well,” he says, and before she knows what’s happening, he’s lifted her off her feet. She steadies her hand on his shoulder and tries not to put any undue pressure on him. She's just tired and near delirious enough that she can imagine this exact scenario in a much happier context, when him literally sweeping her off her feet would make her shriek in delight.

They’re swarmed when they walk in, and she figures a cop carrying someone in usually warrants a pretty good reaction.

John’s friend Grace — Dr. Sawyer, she thinks — is there, and Lucy’s thankful for a smiling face. Tim eases her down on a gurney and she’s surrounded by nurses and techs. Tim moves off to the side and she’s suddenly acutely aware that it’s the first time they haven’t been touching since she came to.

She watches him talk to Dr. Sawyer. She knows they’re obviously talking about her, but she’s still surprised at how often his gaze drifts to her. He’s still making sure she’s okay.

She takes a second to really look at him from a distance. His uniform pants are caked in dirt, his hands are filthy.

One nurse wraps a blood pressure cuff around her arm as another unlaces her boots. “We’re going to get you into a gown so we can get a good look, okay?” She nods. She glances around and realizes that there isn’t a single male in the area besides Tim. She’s here often enough that she knows there are dozens of male nurses and doctors. She wonders if that was by design. She’s grateful either way.

“Lucy.” She turns toward Tim’s voice. Up close, she finally sees how exhausted he looks, like the release of not physically holding onto her has finally let his energy deplete. “They’re going to run some tests and get you cleaned up, and even I can’t charm the good doctor into letting me supervise. Grace said she’d come find me when you’re back and settled in a room.”

She’s not sure he realizes his hand has been on her arm this whole time.

She nods.

“You gonna be okay?” He asks, quiet, like somehow the nurse standing on the other side of the bed can’t hear.

She nods again. She’s afraid to say she isn’t sure.

He quirks a smile at her and squeezes her hand before turning away.

“Tim?”

He turns back toward her, but doesn’t make a move to come closer.

“Thanks.”

He glances away and when he looks back, he’s cocky, teasing, challenging Tim for the first time all day. She’s missed him.

“For what? Doing my job?”

She purses her lips to keep from either crying or laughing. She shakes her head. He knows what she’s thanking him for.

He gives her a small wave and a returning nurse slowly pulls the curtain around her, cutting him off from view.

—————

She’s had some blood drawn and an IV started before Dr. Sawyer comes back in.

“Lucy,” she says, setting her chart down on the counter as she walks in. “I’m so, so sorry about this. I can’t even imagine what you’ve been through. Tim says you’re a fighter, though, and I believe it.”

Lucy gives her a small smile as the nurse comes back in with some supplies.

Dr. Sawyer moves to sit on the side opposite where the nurse is working.

“Sam here is going to help get some of these wounds cleaned up so we can see what we’re dealing with. The one on your chin might need a stitch or two, I can already see, sorry to say.”

Lucy nods. She doesn’t want to know what her face looks like. So many different parts of it hurt.

“Tim did some pretty good CPR out there. Thank god you’re all ALS certified,” she says, glancing up to look at a cut Sam is cleaning.

Lucy’s more focused on what’s going on with her wounds than she is on the conversation that it takes her a second to process the words.

“Wait, Tim did CPR?” She should have assumed, he was the only one on the ground with her when she opened her eyes, he’d been right there for her to reach for.

Dr. Sawyer looks surprised. “Yeah, uh. I’m sorry, we both thought you knew.”

Lucy nods. “I guess, I guess I did. It’s all a blur.”

“That’s totally normal after trauma like this,” she says. “Tim told me as much as he could, but there are a couple sensitive questions I want to ask you before we continue. I don’t want to cause you any more stress, but it’s important we know how best to treat you.”

Lucy nods. She’s been a cop long enough now that she knew to expect this.

“I wasn’t sexually assaulted,” she says, and Dr. Sawyer looks relieved that the topic didn’t come as a total shock. “I was unconscious for a good period of time though,” she adds quietly.

“Okay. Well, the nurses who helped you get changed into your gown didn’t notice anything that would be cause for alarm. In cases like this though, where there’s some unaccounted time, we like to cover all our bases. We can do an exam. We'll do whatever makes you most comfortable, Lucy,” she says.

She knows she can refuse. But she also knows that she has no memory of anything between the trunk closing in her face and jolting awake to the sound of a tattoo gun. Every muscle in her body is starting to ache, and she knows shock and trauma can mask other pains.

Dr. Sawyer’s been examining some of the cuts while they’ve been talking, and she brushes the hair off Lucy’s forehead as she sits back down. It’s such a maternal gesture that for a second Lucy aches for her own mom.

“Most of these cuts are superficial. They’ll bruise pretty good, but they aren’t bad. There are a couple already bruising though, and a little swelling. Just to err on the side of caution, I’d like to get a CT, just to check for any other issues. There’s some pretty obvious bruising along your ribs and left side, too. And the… wound on your abdomen will need to be cleaned well. I’m going to order a round of antibiotics to make sure we combat any unsanitary tools that might have been used.”

God, the tattoo. She’d almost forgotten.

Lucy nods. Every movement has started to hurt now. Now that the physical aspect has been added to the psychological, it’s. A lot. It feels overwhelming and she glances around the room, getting her bearings again.

She’s looking for Tim, she realizes, when she’s finished her survey of the room and still feels unsettled.

Dr. Sawyer notices her looking and pats her shoulder gently.

“You’ve got a good family out there, Lucy. It took all of my willpower to get Tim to allow us to examine you alone. John’s bringing him a change of clothes and has already called once to ask about you. Some of the others will arrest us if we don’t let them see you soon, I think,” she says.

Lucy starts to laugh, but it hurts and turns into a groan.

Dr. Sawyer frowns. “Sam, you wanna go ahead and get us in line for a CT?”

“Sure. Anything else?”

Dr. Sawyer looks down at her and Lucy nods. “Can we go ahead and do an exam? I really don’t think anything happened. I feel like I would know, but I won’t be confident until I know for sure.”

“Absolutely. Your peace of mind is vital here. Sam will get it set up.”

“You’ll be the one to do it, right? I don’t…” Lucy trails off. She needs a familiar face.

“Of course. We’ll take care of it before you go down for the CT. There is one thing, though. Our open CT is down. The only one working is enclosed. It’s quick, five minutes at the most, but Tim let me know there might be some claustrophobia concerns?”

Lucy nods. It hadn’t even occurred to her, but all of a sudden the thought of any small tube makes her feel clammy and the closest to tears that she’s been since Tim carried her in here.

“I’ve got an idea. I don’t usually like to do this, but I think the benefits outweigh any risks in your case. If you’re okay with it, after we do your exam, I’ll give you a very light sedative. It’ll just relax you a little, take the edge off. Nothing scary.”

Lucy swallows. “I don’t think Tim mentioned it, or even that he knows. But he — the guy — he put something in my drink. Maybe Rohypnol?”

“He assumed, but they weren’t sure. It won’t interact with anything else that might be lingering in your system, and we‘ll look at your bloodwork before we give you anything. But I think your body is probably physically and emotionally exhausted enough that it’ll help you fall asleep for a good while, which honestly? Doctor’s secret? Sometimes the best medicine.”

Lucy nods. She’d sleep for a year if she could. She’s afraid of what she’ll dream about, but she knows she needs the rest.

——————

True to Dr. Sawyer’s word, Lucy’s relaxed enough for the CT, but she doesn’t manage to fall asleep. They make her wait in the ER while they read her results, just in case, so she’s pretty groggy. She has no clue what time it is in the endless hallways of artificial light that make up the hospital. She’s just awake enough to notice Tim settled into a chair staring at his phone when she's finally wheeled back up to her own room.

“You stayed,” she says, and he gives the transporter a quick nod of thanks as she exits the room.

“I won the coin toss,” he smiles, setting down his phone and crossing the room to her.

“Rigged it is more like it,” she jokes, and she’s rewarded with a small chuckle.

“They all wanted to stay, but Dr. Sawyer kicked them out. She wants you to sleep. But West and Nolan promised to be back in the morning.”

“She didn’t kick you out?”

Tim gives her a look like, come on. “She’s only so immune to the Bradford charm. She already used up her daily allotment forcing me into the waiting room earlier.”

Lucy nods. “Sounds legit.” She yawns and grimaces as her chest expands. Her CT results were clear and her exam was normal and she’s thankful, but she knows she’ll be sore for a while.

“I’m going to let you get some sleep. It’s dark out now, but I thought you might like to be able to look out at the sky,” he says, and for the first time she noticed the blinds are cracked just enough to see out. He’s anticipated all of her needs before they’ve become issues. It’s exactly how they work together on shift.

He’s settling back in his chair as she tries to get comfortable in bed. She moves so she’s looking out the window, but the lights of a helicopter coming in for a landing are too bright to focus on.

She watches Tim, instead. He’s on his phone, probably updating his fantasy football lineup or checking the score of the Kings game.

He’s focused on his phone, but she knows Tim. Even when he’s giving his full attention to something, he’s aware of his surroundings. It’s what makes him such a good cop. He’s why she always knows her nearest cross streets now, no matter how distracted she is.

So he must feel her eyes on him, because he looks up and catches her staring.

“Okay?”

“Yeah. I just. I’m not comfortable.”

“Need another pillow? Want to lay flat?” He’s out of his chair before she can stop him.

But a funny thing happens as he gets closer. She relaxes more. She’s not uncomfortable physically, she realizes. She needs comforting. She wants to know she’s not alone, which makes her feel silly… but.

“Will you… I’m sorry. This is probably too much. But will you lie with me?”

He stops short. It’s not what he expected her to ask, and she can tell. But he doesn’t hesitate.

“Yeah. Uh, one sec.” He kicks off his boots — he’s changed since she last saw him, back into the surprisingly preppy-casual street clothes he favors. “Wanna scoot over?”

She does, and he settles in beside her. The bed isn’t really big enough for them to lay side by side, and it’s awkward, but he stays still while she makes herself comfortable.

There’s not a single part of her that thought that any of her days would end with Tim Bradford crawling into bed with her. He’s basically dating one of her best friends, a fact she’s pretty sure they’re both trying to ignore currently. But when she moves and realizes she’s finally comfortable on her right side, she’s ended up curled into his chest. He winds his arm around her and runs his hand gently up and down her back.

“Comfy?” She can feel his voice vibrate out of his chest from where her head rests against him.

She nods.

“Get some sleep, Boot.” She usually likes to argue when he uses his TO voice, but she’s too busy falling asleep.

———————

For a fraction of a second after she wakes up, she forgets. It’s blissful.

And then she moves and the electrodes monitoring her vitals tug and her chest burns and it all comes back.

It’s a little murky, but it’s there. She remembers it all.

Tim’s face comes into her peripheral vision and she turns to him. He’s engrossed in Teen REBEL and he’s the best sight she’s seen in days.

He rolls the chair over to her and quirks a smile at her and distracts her with BTS. She wonders if he planned that after their conversation in the ambulance yesterday, but she’s fairly positive he has no clue that it’s BTS she tries to get him to listen to. For a moment, it’s literally no different than sitting next to him in the shop for twelve hours a day. She needs this distraction, this normalcy, and he knows.

She fell asleep with him rubbing her back last night. She woke up once and he was fast asleep, his body curled into hers, his hand on her waist. She was too groggy to feel weird about it, but the way he’s looking at her now, she knows he’s thinking about it.. He’s looking at her more intently than he ever has, she’s pretty sure, and she can’t seem to look away. She has so many questions.

“Have you been here all night?” She knows he was here part of it at least, she can still almost feel the warmth of his body. But she was so out of it he could have left at any time. She has no clue how long she’s been asleep. The blinds are still open and it’s typical LA-bright.

“No,” he says, but even if she didn’t know him she’d know he was lying.

Dr. Sawyer comes in then and whatever moment was happening between them is interrupted. She tries to ask Tim how she was found, but John and Jackson come in with gifts, and then Tim gives her the best gift of all with a burger from her favorite 24 hour diner. For a while, Lucy tries to pretend everything is normal.

—————-

She waits until John and Jackson have left to get their own lunch (“you didn’t think to get us food, Tim?,” John jokes, and Lucy is so thankful there are still men she trusts and genuinely likes) before she asks again.

He’s gathering his stuff and she knows he’s probably about to leave. He can’t have slept much if at all with the nurses likely coming in and out. He wasn’t lucky enough to get a sedative, although she’s sure he felt like he needed one too.

“Tim.”

He’s got his keys in his hand when he turns toward her. She knows she should let him go, let him get some sleep. But she has to know.

“John was joking, right? It was you. I know you’re… I know what you did.” She can’t bring herself to say that she knows he’s the one who literally saved her life. It feels like too much, even after everything he did for yesterday. “...But you’re the one who found me, right?”

His eyes widen for a second and he fidgets with his keys.

“We all found you. Everybody busted their ass,” he starts, and she shouldn’t have expected any less.

“Tim. We’re not working. This isn’t a trainable moment. I know how hard everyone worked and I couldn’t be more grateful to them. And to you.. But you, you’re the one who physically found me.” The thing is, she really doesn’t know how she’s so sure. She wasn’t even breathing.

He rolls the chair back toward the bed and sits down. He nods.

She closes her eyes. She bites her lip and tries to swallow against the sudden lump in her throat.

When she opens her eyes again, he’s looking right at her. She can tell he’s about to downplay it. It’s classic Tim.

“How?” Her throat feels like sandpaper and her eyes burn.

“I didn’t do anything. You did all the work.” He stands and she shakes her head. That’s not an acceptable answer. She watches as he reaches into his pants pocket.

He pulls out her ring and it’s like the floodgates open and tears spill down her cheeks.

“You told me where you were, Lucy. I can’t even — “ he trails off and clears his throat. “There’s no way we’d have found you in time otherwise. I wouldn’t have stopped looking, but… this was you being a good cop.”

Taking her ring off had been the last tangible ounce of hope she’d had. She’d known the likelihood of being found at all - let alone alive - was minuscule.

But still. She’d hoped and she’d relied on her training.. She’d known the most logical thing to do was to leave some kind of evidence. They’d drilled it into her at the academy. Tim had taught her and showed her with his actions every shift. Know your partner. They’re your backup, your second pair of eyes. You need to be able to anticipate their moves. You need to know how they work.

Tim knew her like that.. He knew it wasn’t a coincidence that her ring was there. She wants to think anyone else would have immediately known it was hers too, but she isn’t sure like she is with Tim. Not even John, not even Jackson.

He presses the ring into her outstretched palm and it’s only then that she notices the dirt under his nails and bruises on his hands.

It’s easier to add up the time he wasn’t touching her yesterday than the time he was, and she has no clue how she didn’t notice the state of his hands.

“Is this from…?” She closes her fingers around his palm and looks up at him. She can’t bring herself to say “digging me up”, she just can’t.

“Yeah,” he mumbles, looking at their joined hands.

“Will you do me a favor?” She asks, the metal of the ring and his hand heavy against her palm.

“Still sort of in the middle of the last favor, Boot,” he jokes, but she knows it’s a yes.

“Will you hold onto this for me? It’s one of my favorite pieces of jewelry, but right now it’s a little hard to look at.”

“You know, I’m starting to think it’s me? The last time I gave a girl a ring she gave it back too.” Lucy laughs, but mostly she’s surprised. He never talks about Isabel, even indirectly.

“Maybe the third time's the charm,” she says, and he gives her that little half smile.

Her nurse walks in then to change her IV, and Tim takes the opportunity to gently pull his hand away, taking the ring with him.

“Whenever you’re ready for it back, you know where I am. It’s safe.”

She smiles at him and it feels like her first real smile in days.

“I’ve got to head down to the station for a little while. I was supposed to write my IR last night, but I couldn’t really focus,” he says, pocketing his phone and keys along with her ring.

“Wait, how is your truck here? Oh! What about my car? The bar probably towed it by now.”

“Nolan and West brought it from the station last night. And give us some credit, Boot. Your car is at the impound. We had to make sure there wasn’t any evidence, but Lopez is working on processing it out.”

She nods. It doesn’t matter, she isn’t going anywhere today. And maybe not anywhere alone for awhile, but she isn’t going to focus on that anxiety now.

“I can come back, later? Or if you need someone to give you a ride home tomorrow… Lopez always says Jackson is a terrifying driver.”

She smiles. Tim really never fails to surprise her. Sometimes she thinks he surprises himself too, when he goes out of his way to take care of someone. He shouldn’t be surprised — it comes naturally to him.

“Yeah, um… I’ll call you? I’m going to try to sleep again, might finish that burger, maybe shoot for a good burger coma nap?”

Tim chuckles. “Sounds about right.”

He glances over at the nurse, quietly typing.

“I’m gonna —“ he gestures toward the door.

Lucy nods. “Tim?”

“Mhmm?”

“Drive carefully.”

He gives her a half smile and quicker than she can process what’s happening, he leans down and presses a kiss to her temple. Easy. Automatic. Like he’s done it before.

It throws her though, and she barely registers his quiet, “get some rest,” before he’s out the door. Before yesterday, they weren’t very physical with each other. She’d smack his arm to get his attention when words weren’t an option, or he’d pivot around her, keeping her in her spot with a hand on her lower back, but. Nothing more than that. Nothing that sent her reeling.

She glances over at the nurse who’s watching her stare out the door.

“The nurse I relieved this morning told me every time she came in last night, he was awake, watching you sleep. That’s a good man.”

Lucy smiles. That’s Tim.

—————

Calling her parents and explaining the extent of her injuries is one of the hardest things she’s done. She knows they still don’t necessarily approve of her job, so the conversations are short, but emotional. She assures them she has people taking care of her, that she doesn’t need either of them to come stay with her.

Rachel keeps her promise and visits after work and brings her comfy clothes to change into. She seems surprised that Tim isn’t there, and the look Lucy gives her at that must show her confusion.

“Lucy, when I came up this morning, he refused to go home and get some sleep.”

Lucy doesn’t mention that he did get a little sleep, at least. She feels awkward and a little guilty, but she tries to remind herself it wasn’t about Tim specifically. She’d probably have asked Harper to hold her, if that’d been the option.

Even as she thinks it, it feels a little wrong. She can’t think about it now, though.

“He only left to get you food because I promised I wouldn’t leave until he got back and the diner is right around the corner. He didn’t want you to wake up alone. Kinda sweet, really.”

Lucy nods, and she realizes that Rachel sees that side of Tim more often than she does. Lucy knows him better, basically as a job requirement, but Rachel knows a side she doesn’t really. Or didn’t, maybe, until yesterday.

“He’s just being protective,” Lucy says, thinking about all the different ways Tim took care of her yesterday.

“He’s good at that,” Rachel agrees. Rachel’s told her a couple times that she doesn’t see this thing she’s doing with Tim as a long term thing and that she doesn’t think he does either. They’re having fun, but they’re totally different people, and not in the “opposites attract” kind of way. Lucy hates that those conversations run through her mind while she and Rachel chat.

Lucy nods, and the conversation shifts, but she feels a little uneasy.

Rachel leaves a little while later when Lucy is almost falling asleep sitting up. She slept well last night, and she wants to thank the sedative, but she knows that wasn’t the only factor.

She closes her eyes for a minute, just to rest, but she tosses and turns and wakes up in a cold sweat a couple times. She finally gives up when she swears she hears the buzz of a tattoo gun, and the sick, bitter taste of panic pricks at the back of her throat again.

She doesn’t know what time it is, but it’s dark outside again. There’s a bag on her tray table that wasn’t there when she fell asleep, and she pulls it closer.

She pulls a cup from her favorite smoothie place out of the bag, along with her phone and a note scribbled on a napkin. She’d recognize that legible-but-messy all-caps writing anywhere. She’s seen it on a million reports.

Thought you might need this. - T, it reads, and she smiles. She has no clue how he slipped in without her hearing him, and she’s a little sad he didn’t stay.

She takes a drink of the smoothie and unlocks her phone. It’s fully charged, which makes her laugh. She never remembers her phone charger and Tim always gives her a hard time about sharing his in the shop.

Thanks, I was feeling a little detached from the outside world, she sends to him.

Her phone vibrates almost immediately, which surprises her. Tim isn’t attached at the hip to his phone. Figured. Get some rest?

Bad dreams, she responds.

He doesn’t immediately respond, so she checks her other texts, including the group chat with Jackson and John. Jackson sent a picture of the two of them at their table at roll call, with a smile emoji over her chair. We saved you a seat.

Thanks, J 💙 Hope shift was calmer than yesterday.

There’s a light tap on the door and she looks up to find Tim peeking his head in.

“What are you doing here?” She asks, smiling.

“I was still in the parking garage when you texted. You know how massive this place is. Figured if you were awake I’d bug you for awhile to avoid some traffic,” he says, shrugging off his jacket and draping it over the ridiculously large pink bear’s shoulders. He shakes his head at it as he sits down and rolls over to her.

“You didn’t have to bring me this stuff tonight. You’re probably exhausted.”

He shakes his head a little. “I got in a good workout this afternoon, I’m kind of wired,” he says, and she nods. Tim’s the only one who sticks around after shift to get in some quiet time at the gym. They all work out and stay in shape, it’s not an option if they want to perform at their best. Tim makes it an art form, though. She knows it’s his main stress relief.

“Are you saying you didn’t get a big enough workout yesterday?” She doesn’t know why she asks, even jokingly. It’s just in her nature, from day one, to spar with him.

Tim’s face twitches, like he wants to smile but won’t. “I’d do it everyday, if I had to,” he says, picking at a piece of lint on the bed sheet.

She watches him pick at the sheet, watches the way his fingers move easily over the fabric, remembers how the feel of them on her back soothes her to sleep last night.

“Tim, I really —” “ she starts, but he stops her.

“Please don’t say thank you again, Boot.”

“Actually, I was going to say ‘Tim, I really… would love it… if you’d hand me my smoothie, please.”

He rolls his eyes but hands her the cup. He watches her take a few sips and then takes the cup back, placing it back on the table.

She waits until he’s looking at her again.

“Thank you, Tim.”

He glares at her.

“For the smoothie, obviously,” she clarifies, giving him her biggest smile. It turns into a yawn that she can’t stifle, though.

“I should go, let you sleep,” he says, moving to stand up.

“No, um.”

He pauses, watching her face. There’s a moment here, and she could easily walk it back, tell him it’s okay, she’ll see him later. But.

“Can you… would you stay? Maybe just until I fall asleep?

He bites his lip, and it’s so the opposite of a Tim move that she thinks he’ll say no, but he nods.

Her phone buzzes next to her and she looks away for a second to check it. It’s Jackson, and his message makes her smile. Can’t believe we can’t watch our show together tonight. I’m gonna need you to come home, pls. She sends approximately 32 heart emojis in reply and locks her phone.

“Sorry, it’s Jackson. He was just complaining that we can’t watch The Masked Singer together tonight. It’s a roomie tradition,” she says, turning back to him.

He gives her a blank look.

Of course Tim doesn’t have a clue what she’s talking about. She picks up the remote and flips through the channels. She’s had the TV muted most of the day. It was nice to have something to focus on but not command her attention. She stops when she comes to the show, and looks over at Tim.

“The Masked Singer. Celebrities dress up in these huge costumes and perform and then the judges have to guess who they are.”

“Why?” He’s pushed the long sleeves of his shirt up while she was focusing on the TV, and she has to take a moment before she responds.

“Because it’s fun? And America loves a good reality show?”

“If you say so,” he mumbles, but he rests his elbow on the bed next to her and focuses on the screen.

“People are actually able to guess who these people are?” He asks, when the show goes to commercial.

“Just because you’d only know them if they were all 90s pro athletes or, like, historic military heroes, doesn’t mean the rest of the viewers are quite as limited in their celeb knowledge,” she says, absentmindedly scratching over her ribs where that horrible reminder is inked.

“Truly, you wound me, Boot,” Tim replies, dryly. He notices where she’s scratching and touches her hand. “Itches?” He asks quietly.

She nods, fidgeting.

He frowns and pulls her hand away. “They’re always worst the first few days, you know that.”

She nods again, watching him rub small circles on her palm. He’s careful to avoid her wrist, but lets his other hand repeat the same motion lightly on her forearm.

They’re the tiniest touches, but it’s almost like sensory overload. She shivers and his fingers trail over goosebumps.

“It’s not so bad when they itch when they’re worth it,” she says.

“I know,” he says. It’s quiet, and she likes that he doesn’t immediately throw solutions or options at her.

“I guess it could have been worse. He could have put it on my face or something,” she says, trying to laugh.

Tim watches her for a moment and then gives her a small smile. “Yeah, that would have been a real shame.”

Her face feels flushed and she has to focus on something, anything else besides the way he’s looking at her.

She glances at the TV and laughs. “Oh, okay, so Jackson is convinced this one is Betty White? He refuses to believe it’s not likely a woman pushing 100 would dance like that.”

He gives her another blank stare, and she’s almost terrified to ask. He squeezes her forearm and smiles, and she relaxes.

“I’m not a total shut-in. Betty White is a national treasure,” he says. “No way is that her, though.”

“That’s what I’m saying!”

They watch for a few more minutes in silence before he turns to her at the next commercial.

“You watch this before bed and don’t have nightmares? Some of these are horrifying.”

“The devil you know, I guess,” she says, shrugging. “We’ll see what they’re like tonight.”

And just like that, the air is heavy again.

“I’m sorry,” he says, and she shakes her head. It’s not a big deal. She has to sleep, nightmares or not.

“No. Lucy. I’m sorry,” he repeats, and something in his voice makes her sit up straighter.

“What?”

“I can’t let go of this nagging feeling that I’m responsible for this. I mean. I didn’t do this” — he runs his fingers lightly over the bruised skin of her wrist and she shudders — “but if I hadn’t told you to go blow off steam, you’d have been home in bed and none of this would be happening.”

She has to take a deep breath before she responds.

“Tim. I’m going to say this once, because I’m not going to take on the burden of like, absolving you of whatever guilt you carry. You did not cause this. You are in no way responsible. You may be my superior when we’re on shift, but outside of that, I do what I want. Your advice was meant well. I could have gone out and had a drink with Jackson or John, or convinced you to go, but I didn’t. I wanted to go out and flirt and dance for a couple hours and maybe get kissed goodnight for a change. It’s a choice, and no one could have known it wasn’t the right one.”

She doesn’t realize she’s crying until she pauses and he’s just looking at her.

“So please, let it go, because I can’t carry your guilt around too. I won’t. This is going to be hard enough.”

He squeezes her hand and nods. “Okay,” he says, and it’s like every other disagreement they’ve had. She makes a valid point and he doesn’t fight it. He appreciates reason and honesty and he expects the same.

“I’m not here right now because I feel guilty, Lucy. If that crossed your mind. I’m here because… you’d be here, if the roles were reversed. And because I put a lot of time into your training and honestly, I refuse to let you slack off. I’m going to start code quizzing you soon.”

She laughs and wipes at her tears. He lets go of her hand and reaches over to grab a tissue for her.

“Don’t downplay it, Tim,” she says, wiping her eyes. “You’re here because you have a good heart, even if you try to act Grinchy. And for the record. The next time you think I need to go blow off some steam, just take me out for a drink.”

“Yes ma’am,” he says.

She tosses the tissue in the garbage and turns back to him. “Can you and I have a conversation that doesn’t involve me crying?”

“It’s okay if we can’t right now.”

She shakes her head. “I need it, though. I have probably weeks of therapy, iIf not longer, ahead of me, and I know it’s for the best and it’ll help, but. God, I just need a normal conversation for five minutes. Please.”

“Whatever you need.”

“Will you just. Will you tell me a story about when you were a rookie? I know you so well,” — his “too well” from earlier today echoes in her mind, but she tries not to think about the dizzy feeling it gave her — “but I don’t know any rookie Tim stories.”

He groans and looks up at the ceiling, like she’s never annoyed him more.

“One time only offer. It can never leave this room. But I’ll tell you a story no one else knows. You ready, Boot? It’s a doozy.”

She smiles and arranges her pillows.

He sighs and stands up. She knows it’s easier for him to focus when he’s moving, so she settles in to watch him.

————————

It was a doozy, he was right. She has to swear to never tell another soul, but she likes that it’ll be their secret. They talk about literally anything other than what’s put her in this room for an hour, until he checks his watch and his eyes widen.

“I should go,” he says, “it’s late. I’m working half of Lopez’s shift tomorrow.”

“Oh god, please be nice to Jackson, he’s still sort of intimidated by you. Although, if I happened to tell him the story you just told me, I’m fairly sure that would solve that problem,” she says, laughing at his glare.

“You wouldn’t.”

“Promise is a promise. Pinky promise?” She asks, holding out her hand.

“Boot, are we five?” He asks, but he locks pinkies with her quickly anyway.

She watches him gather his jacket and keys and sighs.

“You okay?”

“Yeah. It’s just, when you leave, I have no excuse to not get some sleep. I can talk myself down from panic while I’m awake, but…”

“But sleeping is totally different. I know, Lucy. I’ve been there.”

She thinks of his military service and the five times he’s been injured in the line. More than anyone, he probably does get it. She hears the jingle of keys and looks over to see he’s set them down and is taking his jacket off again.

“No, Tim. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to guilt you into staying. I’ll be fine. You need to sleep.”

“Who says I can’t do that here? If it wasn’t for your snoring, I’d have been out for hours last night,” he says, toeing off his shoes. He rolls the chair up to the bed and sits down, putting his feet up on the side of the mattress. “See? All good.”

“A. I don’t snore. And B, you cannot sleep in a rolling chair, Tim. You will break your actual neck.”

“Boot, I was in the military. My actual neck and I can sleep anywhere.”

“Okay, GI Joe Ken doll. Thanks for your service, as always, but I don’t need nightmares about you breaking your neck and never speaking to me again, thanks.”

He laughs, and the sound is the best medicine Lucy’s had in days. It’s rare to get a real Tim Bradford laugh, she’s come to find.

He puts his feet flat on the floor and looks at her. “Lucy.”

“Look, you can either get in bed with me or you can go home. I will be okay either way,” she says. She isn’t backing down from this.

He looks at her for a few moments and Lucy can almost see the wheels turning in his head. She knows it feels like a lot. She shouldn’t need this, but the thought of him leaving - and the thought of him choosing that over getting in bed with her - makes her anxious. She should have just let him go and been grateful for the distraction while he was here.

Before she can tell him she’s changed her mind, she feels the bed shift under his weight.

“This bed is too small for your obvious bed hog tendencies,” he says. His breath is warm against her skin.

“Thank you,” she whispers. It’s dark, and he’s tired of hearing it, and it should be endlessly weird how good this feels.

She moves so she’s on her right side, and he shifts until he can curl her into his chest, like he held her last night.

It feels like a lot, like close to too much, but she can’t talk herself into moving. She feels safe, but a rational part of her knows him being here won’t stop any nightmares.

“Lucy,” he says quietly. “I spend half my life now next to you. I can see it on your face when you’re overthinking, when you’re trying to come up with an answer. This doesn’t need an answer tonight. You’re safe, and nothing else needs to matter right now. Just rest.”

She sighs and shifts so her hand is resting on his chest. His heartbeat is slow and strong. He feels steady.

“No sighing. Just sleeping,” he orders.

Maybe he was right this morning. Maybe he does know her too well. Maybe they’ve crossed a line she didn’t even see coming.

He smoothes her hair back off her forehead and presses a kiss to the crown of her head.

“Goodnight, Lucy.”

Maybe things are changing.

Maybe she wants them to.