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Critical Care

Chapter Text

“Christen, can you just take bed seven before you go?” Crystal’s voice rang out pleadingly. She knew just how bone-tired Christen was. Her shift had been just as long, but with the added stress of being the one responsible for it all. If anyone else had asked, Christen would have been infuriated, but Crystal had done her enough favors dating back to their days in medical school to take the sting out of the request.

“Bed seven,” she acquiesced with a heaving sigh, mustering up a barely there smile in the direction of her dearest friend.

She had been so close. Her shift should have ended well over an hour ago, and all she could think of was the leftover slice of lemon meringue pie sitting in her fridge. She’d spent the last six or so hours daydreaming about pulling on her thickest, fuzziest pair of socks, climbing into bed, and savoring that slice of pie -- the only worthwhile part of her failed dinner date from the previous night.

“I promise. Bed seven, and then you can go home,” Crystal said, laying a sympathetic hand on Christen’s shoulder and giving her a reassuring squeeze.

Christen gave her another, brighter smile this time, hoping Crystal wouldn’t pick up on it being just as fake as the smile she gave before.

No such luck. Crystal gave her shoulder another squeeze before she was off to handle the next emergency, yelling her thanks as she rounded the corner.

The moment she was out of sight, the fake smile dropped from her face and she steeled herself for one more patient.

“She’s cute. You can thank me later,” Crystal shouted, her head peeking back from the corner she had just disappeared around. With a wink, she was gone again.

Christen couldn’t help the bark of laughter that escaped her. If she didn’t laugh right now, she’d cry. One more patient, she told herself. One more patient, and then she could put her aching feet up and maybe even treat herself to a heat patch on her lower back. God, even her scalp was sore from the tight bun her hair had been pulled back in for the last nineteen hours. She rubbed at her temples futilely.

Just one more patient.

***

Tobin couldn’t believe she was here. Of all the ways she could end up in the emergency room, this was never one of the scenarios that would have crossed her mind. She hadn’t even been on shift. It was just meant to be a quick drink with some buddies from the precinct and then she had three glorious days off after pulling three double shifts. Of course she would be the landing pad for the drunk bridesmaid with a penis headband when the heel of her stiletto slipped on a lemon wedge, sending her vaulting forward. Her glass of rose caught the edge of the bar before subsequently making itself at home in her torso.

She didn’t think it was that bad.

It hurt like a bitch, but the little things always did. Like a paper cut or a splinter. All she needed was a little rubbing alcohol and neosporin and she was convinced she’d be fine. Captain Saurbrunn didn’t think so though. She’d gone as far as escorting her to the front desk at the ER and checking her in herself just to make sure she didn’t go home to play doctor. She’d made it clear that Tobin would not be setting foot back in the precinct unless she had discharge papers that definitively cleared her to return to duty.

She was a big girl. She could handle a little cut. What she couldn’t handle was the exorbitant medical bills she was soon to be the recipient of for the care of said cut.

The thought of all the extra shifts she was going to need to pick up to pay this off was overwhelming.

She shifted uncomfortably in the bed trying to find a position that hurt just a tiny bit less to no avail. To make matters worse, the sheets were scratchy against her skin, and they rustled absurdly loud every time she so much as deigned to breathe. Everything was irritating her. Especially the length of time she’d been in this tiny room watching people run back and forth past her door but never stepping inside.

All she wanted was to go home, crawl into her own bed, and forget this night had happened, but the rate this was going, she’d still be here for breakfast tomorrow morning waiting for a nurse to slap a bandaid on her stomach and charge her a year’s worth of her rent.

They must charge a rental fee by the minute for these beds or something. She sat up a bit, biting back the groan at the searing pain ripping through her abdomen at the action. She had wanted to lift the gauze the receiving nurse had pressed against her when she’d arrived, but her discomfort sent her collapsing back against the mattress, with a whispered, “fuck.”

“Hello, Ms. Heath.”

Finally.

She grunted out a greeting she hoped was sufficiently polite and hoped the sweat she’d just broken out in wasn’t too noticeable. Not that the woman would notice anything. Her attention was entirely focused on the tablet in her hands, tapping away at whatever it was that doctors tap away at.

Tobin noticed her though. Her slight, hunched figure was engulfed by her white coat, and a mass of curls had escaped from what Tobin imagined had been a neat bun at some point many hours before.

“Can you tell me what happened?”

She looked like she wanted to be here just as much as Tobin did. She still hadn’t even looked up from her tablet, scribbling down her notes on the chart as she listened to Tobin’s brief recounting of how she was on the losing end of a fight between citrus fruit and a glass shiv wielding, phallus-clad, bridal party.

The doctor just hummed at her.

Hummed.

That was all.

And she continued to stare at the tablet.

If Tobin hadn’t been uncomfortable before…

“So, uh, think you could tape me up and jot down a note that I’m good to go?” Tobin stammered, not accustomed to having someone interview her and ignore her simultaneously.

“Of course, Ms. Heath. I’ll get you right out of here,” the doctor replied nonchalantly, tapping the stylus pen against the edge of the tablet a few times before setting it to the side and turning to wash her hands.

She still hadn’t even looked at Tobin. It didn’t fill her with the confidence one would hope to have in the medical professional that was about to be poking around an open wound on their body.

Despite not having the best bedside manner, Tobin couldn’t help but empathize with the sheer fatigue rolling off the other woman in waves. It matched her own weariness.
It also made her want to lighten up the mood a bit.

“The worst part was the shrieking. I guess I dripped blood on her Jimmy Choos.”

That managed to pull the doctor’s head up. She turned to Tobin with a half smile and sparkling - if a little tired - eyes. It knocked the air out of Tobin’s lungs, her first real sight of the doctor. She suddenly couldn’t remember how to breathe.

The doctor, Press, she noted from the stitched name on her coat, gave her a once over and took stock of her vitals before finally dropping her gaze to Tobin’s wound. She hummed again, dried her hands and pulled a pair of gloves out of a box with a snap. She sat back heavily on a rolling stool, like her legs had given out on her, before rolling herself over to Tobin’s side to take a look.

“I’d probably shriek too. Do you know how much those cost?” She gave a quiet laugh, and Tobin felt her soul ascend at the sound. She knew she needed to hear it again.

“People will stab you, and then get offended, saying you have no right to bleed,” she shrugged, as if her ordeal was just another casual occurrence.

That managed to pull another slight smile out of her.

Tobin was officially a goner. She should probably get herself out of here before she embarasses herself.

“Anyway, Doc, if you could just bandage me up and write my Captain a note saying I’m fit to work, I’ll be out of your hair.”

“Captain? Police officer?” She asked while cutting a larger swath of material away from Tobin’s black dress shirt to better assess the damage. She had to peel it away from Tobin’s skin, stuck with half-congealed blood.

“Detective,” Tobin answered, watching regretfully as her already miniscule wardrobe was rendered even smaller.

Dr. Press just hummed again. Instead of the irritation she had felt earlier, this time, Tobin found the hum endearing.

“I’m going to need you to lift your hands so I can see the damage.”

“Oh, right, uh, yeah,”

When Tobin removed her hands, Christen’s eyes went wide.

“I thought you said it was just a little cut.”

“Yeah. No big deal.”

“If this is your idea of ‘no big deal,’ I’d hate to see what is a big deal,” Christen retorted, standing up with a newfound burst of energy, grabbing for a clean pack of gauze. The pieces that had previously been applied had been entirely soaked through. The dark dress shirt helped disguise the extent of the bleeding.

Tobin couldn’t help the mewling whimper escaping her when Christen pressed the clean gauze on her and began to irrigate the area.

“Sorry, Detective. You’re in for a long stretch.”

***

Christen could not believe the pain threshold of some people. There was a literal hole in this woman’s side and she’s fucking cracking jokes.

And dammit, Crystal was right. She was cute. Well, maybe cute wasn’t the best word to describe her.

Smoking hot was more precise, with her slightly lopsided smile that lit up her entire face, and there was no missing the hard lines of defined abs even beneath the blood and swelling.

Christen let the guilt wash over her momentarily that she had let her own misery overshadow her professionalism when she had first entered the room before she pulled herself together again.

When her next swipe over the gash pulled a hiss from the detective, she tried to make up for her former negligence. “Let’s see if we can do something about that pain.”

“S’alright. Just wrap me up and I’ll be good to go.”

Christen couldn’t help the snort. “Sorry, but you’re definitely going to need stitches. And a lot of them,” she said while preparing her supplies. She tried to match the brilliance of Detective Heath’s smile with one of her own. She already missed the self-assured look on the woman, replaced, instead with an ashen sullenness.

***

Fortunately, though the laceration ran deep, no real damage had been inflicted, and the worst of the pain had been negated by a few magic injections along the injury.

By the time Dr. Press had stuck the last corner of the bandage down with tape, Tobin was exhausted and a little delirious.

Maybe it was the lidocain, or maybe it was the sleep deprivation, she’d never be able to tell, but she scrounged up some courage surprising even herself as she laid her hand on top of the doctor’s gloved one.

“Thank you.”

Tobin knew she’d be eating packs of ramen noodles for the rest of her life, but it was worth it to see the beaming smile on the doctor’s face. She sent a silent prayer of gratitude up for the celebrating, dick-brandishing bachelorette party that landed her in the emergency room that night.

She sent another prayer up in hopes of seeing Dr. Press again.

But next time, she hoped, would be under better circumstances.

Chapter Text

As luck would have it, their next meeting was not, in fact, under better circumstances.

Tobin had to wonder if she had manifested this entire scenario with her desire to see the doctor again. She had woken every morning with the image of her vibrant eyes sparkling with mischief as she sympathized with Tobin’s assailant for dripping blood on her very expensive shoes. She had gone to sleep every night remembering the sound of her small bursts of laughter, wishing she’d been able to hear more of it during their all too brief encounter. With every sip of coffee she took during her day, she remembered the shy smirk the doctor had given her when she had finally stopped staring at her stupid tablet. She preferred that smile over the concerned looks she gave Tobin while sewing her up, but Tobin did have to admit to herself that it was nice to think that someone cared enough to be worried. And every time she had a quiet moment, she remembered the strong, sure, skillful hands that attended to her wound… and imagined other things those hands could attend to.

Also, each time she moved and pulled at the healing injury she sure as hell wished for the soothing reassurances spoken softly and the palliative effect of just being near the woman… and the painkillers. She really missed the painkillers.

Her hopes of seeing the doctor again had been dashed the day after she’d left the hospital. Reading through the aftercare papers, she’d learned she wouldn’t be returning to Dr. Press for the removal of the stitches. Her primary care provider would suffice.

She was, for the most part, entirely healed, although some movements still sent a twinge of pain across her abdomen. A careless twist, and she’d be breathing through her teeth for a few minutes. She had learned the hard way not to push herself too hard, but she was beginning to get back into her pre-injury routine.

It had been nearly three months since that fateful day a lemon and a glass of rosé wreaked havoc in the bar. She should be embarrassed about how she still couldn’t get the doctor off her mind, but she was too occupied with remembering the freckles on the woman’s nose, the few rogue curls that had escaped the confines of their hair tie, the perfect line of her profiled jaw as she was turning from the sink after washing her hands, the sure way her hands had made quick work of sewing her up, and the hideous Crocs she wore which she somehow managed to make look cute.

There was no detail in her memory that she had not spent an absurd amount of time reliving a dozen times over.

In spite of her seemingly never-ending reminiscing, she was still a professional, and when it mattered, all thoughts of the other woman left her mind.

She’d found her morning unfolding in much the same way as any other once she sat down at her desk. Stacks of paperwork she had been steadily making her way through taunted her while she tore bits of an everything bagel and tossed them into her mouth. The extra, extra cream cheese and splash of hot sauce threatened her crisp white button-down shirt with every attempt. It had been weeks since she’d made a complete mess of herself with the challenge though, so her confidence was running high.

She leaned back in her chair, launched a bagel piece into the air, and smoothly caught it. She swiveled a bit in her chair while she chewed and hummed in delight before leaning back to repeat the action. Head tilted back, she flicked the bite up, and watched as it sailed up before gravity pulled it down again.

“Heath.”

She jolted up.

The bagel smacked, cream cheese side down, directly onto her right brow.

Captain Sauerbrunn raised her own eyebrow at her.

“Uh, yup?” Tobin responded, unsticking the bagel piece from her face, swiping in a desperate attempt to keep hot sauce from dribbling into her eye.

“You’re going with Rapinoe. Drive-by on Seventh,” she ordered. “And I’m still waiting on the Davis report.”

“Got it, Cap,” Tobin threw her a thumbs up while pressing the heel of her other hand into her eye trying to alleviate the burning.

Rapinoe sauntered around the cubicle partition, ready to go until she saw Tobin’s state and promptly guffawed loudly in her face.

Tobin could only smile good-naturedly as she grabbed her jacket from the back of her chair and pressed her hand to her eye harder.

***

Christen stretched her arms over her head and groaned in satisfaction when her joints popped loudly.

She was more than halfway through her shift and staring at two whole, consecutive days off. Really off. Not off but on-call praying not to hear the phone ring. Not off but knowing there’s a shortage in staff, so the phone will probably still ring. Not off but there’s a massive biker convention in town, careless car drivers everywhere, and living in anticipation of the phone ringing. Off off. With no foreseeable reason she shouldn’t set her phone to silent, climb into bed with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food, and only leave the comfort of her sheets to grab her backup pint from the freezer.

She didn’t dare dwell on the activity level of her shift thus far. That was always the surest way to jinx it. Instead, she let herself sink down into the comfort of the worn armchair in the staff lounge, kicked her feet up to rest on the coffee table, and let sleep slowly overtake her.

***

Tobin’s eye stung.

Rapinoe had helped her pour water into it before they’d left the precinct, but it hadn’t been enough to flush away the red-hot sensation completely. It wasn’t as bad, but it was still enough to be irritating. Swollen and bloodshot, it probably looked like she had conjunctivitis.

When they got to the scene, Tobin’s irritation grew when she saw how poorly the area had been cordoned off. It was overrun with people milling everywhere, trying to get a glimpse of the gore - or worse, a photo of it.

“Alright, squints. Let’s check out the circus,” Rapinoe chuckled, jostling her shoulder after shifting the car into park. She knew just how much the spectacle of a crime scene irked Tobin.

Tobin could only respond with an undecipherable grumble as she climbed out of the car.

Weaving their way through the crowd of gawkers, a chill went down Tobin’s spine. She scanned the faces of the bystanders. She didn’t know what she was looking for. It wasn’t like she’d find someone with “shady” tattooed across their forehead.

Her discomfort must be getting the best of her. Or maybe it was seeing how overwhelmed the one officer tasked with keeping people back was? Either way, she was unsettled as she reached Officer Ramos.

“Hey, man! How’s the baby?” She greeted him. She hadn’t even known Ramos was back after the birth of his daughter.

“She’s perfect. Getting big already,” he beamed at her as he lifted the tape to let them through.

“You got any new pictures?” Rapinoe asked, patting his shoulder in thanks.

“You know I do! Had to upgrade my cloud account to keep them all,” he laughed. “When we’re done here I’ve got enough pictures to put you to sleep for sure. But maybe from a distance,” he smiled at them again but took a step back. “My wife would kill me if I brought that junky eye home to the baby.”

“It’s not-”

Her words died in her throat at the crack of a gunshot.

***

Yeah. She definitely jinxed it.

She had been right in the middle of a heavenly dream featuring soft brown eyes and a bright smile - mainstays of her dreams as of late - when the page had come through.

Multiple gunshots fired into a crowd of people on Seventh Street.

Several wounded.

Shit.

Christen felt personally culpable for the mayhem at hand. She had tempted fate by thinking it was quiet enough to sit back and relax for a while. She should have been making another round, checking in on her patients. She should have been updating her charts, cleaning a supply closet, counting tongue depressors, sorting and alphabetizing lollipop flavors, or anything other than fixating on the gorgeous detective who thought getting stabbed was an acceptable excuse to ruin a pair of Jimmy Choos.

She should have known better.

But she was finding it no easier to get the woman off her mind months after their encounter than she was the day it happened.

She gave a heavy sigh as she gathered with her colleagues in anticipation of the arrival of the ambulances, pushing all thoughts of gentle waves of honey colored hair, gravely spoken words, and hard lines of abs to the side as best she could, and listened as Dr. Dunn shouted out orders over the sounds of the approaching ambulances.

“Press. Number four to bed twelve. Gunshot wound to the right shoulder, head laceration, possible concussion, unconscious at the scene but EMTs report she’s responsive now.”

Christen nodded in acknowledgement of her assignment. Her team was already standing by to receive their patient.

When the fourth ambulance pulled up, Christen knew she could kiss a good part of her days off goodbye. She stood back as the back doors swung open and several EMTs hopped out. One EMT who looked barely old enough to drive, let alone take charge in a medical crisis, was loudly reading off the patient’s vitals and much of the same information that Dr. Dunn had already passed along.

“Her vitals have held pretty steady, but she was pretty distressed when she came to. Her heart rate skyrocketed. Asking about another officer at the scene and said something about a baby. I told her we’d find out for her,” the EMT added.

Christen was already busy assessing the damage. The gauze on the woman’s head was soaked through, her face and hair covered in blood. Her shoulder didn’t look to be faring much better. She listened as her own team began to attach equipment and take readings, yelling them out over the din of chaos as they transported her inside. With a fresh wad of gauze, she applied pressure to the officer’s wounded shoulder, murmuring a soft apology when the woman whimpered.

“Thanks,” Christen looked at her name badge, “Pugh,” she said, trying not to be too dismissive in her tone. The kid looked even younger as she got closer. Christen’s priorities did not include anything or anyone other than the patient in front of her. She didn’t have time to waste trying to puzzle out who was where and how they were doing in a mass casualty incident.

Pugh’s hopeful face dropped. With her mouth in a tight line, she nodded before backing away and letting Christen’s team get to work.

Christen felt the guilt like a punch to her stomach.

“You did good, kid. Thank you. See if you can find out anything for us?” She asked.

Pugh’s smiling response before turning away was enough to assuage Christen’s guilt and let her focus again.

“This was more fun last time,” rasped an all too familiar voice. The same low, dulcet tone that had been featured in every reverie she’d had for months.

Her attention snapped to her patient's face, still obscured by the copious amounts of blood, but she was still met with those captivating brown eyes she couldn’t stop thinking about.

“Detective Heath,” Christen grinned at her, ignoring the way her stomach plummeted as she acknowledged the circumstances that had brought them together again. “Tell me you didn’t ruin a perfectly innocent pair of designer shoes this time.”

Tobin’s responding chuckle was like music to her ears before the wince of pain cut it short.

***

“I wouldn’t consider them designer, but I’m sure those Crocs can count themselves as another victim,” Tobin choked out when she could breathe again. She wanted to ask about Ramos, but she had heard Dr. Press send that toddler EMT to get her an update.

She saw Dr. Press look down at her shoes and crinkle her nose adorably at the state of them. When she looked back up at Tobin, she shrugged before shifting her focus back to Tobin’s shoulder, taking command of the situation.

Someone above her line of sight was wiped vigorously at her forehead and face, clearing blood away, and also what felt like several layers of skin in the process. She grimaced, all the while hoping they’d swipe over her eyes too. Opening her eyes was becoming more and more difficult, due in large part to the congealing blood clinging to her eyelashes, although she suspected the head injury she knew she sustained when her skull bounced off the sidewalk had something to do with it as well.

The headache was nothing compared to the bullet wound on her shoulder, though.

As much as she wanted to close her eyes and take a long nap, now that she had another moment with Dr. Press, even with so many other people in a maelstrom of organized madness, she didn’t want to miss out on anything that might continue to fuel her daydreams.

“I found him,” a voice squeaked from the periphery. No one seemed to acknowledge her, but Tobin had heard it. The baby EMT had returned.

“Ramos?” She asked, hopeful.

“Yeah, I had to make some calls around to my team asking who else took care of officers. It took a while. Sorry about that. A lot of them wouldn’t answer their phones the first, or second, or even third time that I called,” she rambled nervously.

Tobin could see her own heart rate spike on the monitor.

“But I heard back from everyone eventually,” the girl continued.

“And?” Dr. Press inquired on her behalf.

“Well,” she began, looking startled by Dr. Press’ interruption.

“Just say it,” Tobin let her head drop back and closed her eyes as she fought off the urge to vomit.

Her instincts told her there was something dodgy in that crowd. She shouldn’t have ignored her gut. Her cursory glance over the faces of bystanders hadn’t settled her nerves, and she didn’t understand how she had allowed herself to not be more proactive. If she would have been more observant, maybe she could have prevented this whole thing from happening.

Her eyes watered, mingling with the flecks of dried blood embedded in the lines of her skin and along her eyelashes, sending trails of pink down the sides of her face despite her best attempts to keep them in check.

“Oh! No! You thought- No. It’s just-”

“Pugh, say what you need to so we can work here,” Dr. Press cut through the sound of her heart drumming within her ears.

“He’s still at the scene. That’s why it took a while. He says you’ve got a gnarly tackle. You knocked the wind out of him, but he’s fine.”

Tobin heard her, but her brain wasn’t quite catching up. She lifted her head to look at the girl.

“He’s what?”

Pugh smiled brightly. “He’s fine. A little shaken up since you knocked yourself out throwing yourself into him and all, but he’s good. Says you didn’t have to go that far just to get out of looking at all the pictures of the baby.”

Dr. Press snorted, “Oh God. Baby pictures? I’d take the bullet too, Detective.”

Tobin couldn’t help the roar of laughter. Even though the motion sent an icepick into her brain, it was worth it to see the smirk on Dr. Press’ face.

***

The rest of the evening flew by even as time stopped.

Christen was run off her feet between caring for Detective Heath and the other victims of the shooting. She kept herself busy as best she could, especially while Detective Heath had been taken into surgery.

When she had finally been given the green light to go home, she couldn’t bring herself to leave without checking in on her favorite patient one last time.

It was how she found herself shifting again in the plastic chair next to the detective’s bed while she slept off the last of her anesthesia. The hard edges of the chair finding just the right points in her body to be torturous, but the alternative option would have been to stand creepily by her bedside and her legs were in no shape to take on such a task.

She supposed it was creepy either way - watching her sleep. But making observations and checking vitals were a part of her job description, so really she was just being a diligent and tireless doctor putting the needs of her patient ahead of herself.

Even if she should have headed home to enjoy the remaining 36 hours of her time off. A glance at her watch made her grunt. 34 now.

But she had scored some subpar ice cream from the cafeteria and was busy shoveling it into her mouth. It was no Phish Food, but it would tide her over until she could crack open the pint at home.

“Do I get ice cream too?”

The question made her jump. She felt the corner of the armrest jam between her ribs, and she was sure she’d just dribbled ice cream out of the corner of her mouth. Praying the other woman was too hopped up on painkillers to notice, she used her sleeve to wipe her face.

“Just a little?” She asked again with a croak.

“We’ll start with a bit of water and see how that goes,” Christen replied as she reached out for the cup of water and held it for her to drink from.

“You’re not trying to stall just so you don’t have to share, right?”

“I’d never,” Christen giggled and threw her a wink.

“SQUINTS!”

The sudden shriek sent the cup of water flying from her hand, splashing all down her pants. Her shoes squelched as she leapt up to face the intruder.

The newcomer was doubled over, clutching at her stomach, wheezing in desperate attempts to breathe through her laughter. “Oh my God!” She managed to screech out. “The pair of you,” she said while grasping at the door frame to hold herself steady. “Toby, did you see? She’s like you with the bagel!” She pantomimed throwing something in the air and being hit in the face.

Christen looked back and forth between the bed and the door, trying to figure out who this new woman was and what was happening.

“Oh my God!” She yelled again, wiping tears from her eyes and giggling still. “Man, aren’t you the lucky one that gets to kick back in bed indefinitely. You wouldn’t believe the mess you left behind on Seventh. Jesus Christ. The paperwork you left me with.”

“I’ll leave you two to it, then,” Christen said awkwardly. She picked up the cup that had rolled to the far side of the room before making her getaway.

The still laughing woman dropped herself into the chair Christen had just vacated.

“Dr. Press?”

Christen paused at the door and looked back.

“See you later?”

All she could do was offer her a shy smile and nod.

Chapter Text

Goddammit. Sometimes she really fucking hated Pinoe.

Mortified, she watched as Pinoe played at throwing an imaginary piece of bagel into the air, tossing her head back as if she had been struck by its descent before she bent over and let out horrendously ugly, choking guffaws. She all but collapsed onto the door frame, clutching at it to keep herself upright as she gasped for air, her face turning purple.

Tobin knew her own complexion must have been approaching a similar hue. Fire, fueled by shame and humility at Pinoe’s spectacle, coursed through her body. Droplets of sweat were already making tracks down her temples from her hairline and soaking into the neckline of the barely-there shift that passed for hospital attire.

Yeah. She really fucking hated Pinoe right now.

Especially when Dr. Press wouldn’t meet her eye. And especially when just moments before the doctor had been an absolute vision of perfection, with her hair free from the tight bun it had been held in and cascading in stunning curls over her shoulder. And the way she had licked her lips after casually shoveling ice cream into her mouth, her tongue making slow, careful work of getting every bit of the vanilla ice cream from her pink lips...

Tobin watched helplessly as she retrieved the cup she had thrown in fright, leaving watery shoe prints on the linoleum tiles in her wake.

Dr. Press mumbled something before she hastily made her way toward the door.

Fucking Pinoe cutting her time with the beautiful woman short and depriving her of untold moments to obsess about later. Tobin would make sure Sue heard all about this.

“Dr. Press?” Fuck. She hoped she didn’t sound as desperate as she felt.

Supplications nearly spilled from her lips when tired, embarrassed eyes finally met her own.

Please let her stay.

Don’t let her go yet.

Just a little while longer. That’s all I need.

Don’t let her leave me.

Please.

Please.

Please.

Tobin winced as her steadying breath sent a shockwave of pain through her shoulder and across her chest.

“See you later?” She asked, grateful that her pleading remained between herself and God.

At Dr. Press’ responding nod, her breaths came a little easier until she turned down the hall and walked out of Tobin’s sight.

“Geez, man,” Pinoe chuckled to herself. At least she was giving no indication that she had just bore witness to Tobin’s heartbreak at the departure of the star of each and every dream Tobin had been having for months.

Pinoe laughed again before she jerked her limbs out wide and let an obnoxious squeal rip with her tongue hanging out of the side of her mouth. She broke into hysterics again and repeated the action.

“God. I fucking hate you,” Tobin growled in a scratchy voice regretting that the water she had been so graciously offered was still puddled on the floor nearly as much as she regretted being partnered with Pinoe four years prior. She settled her head back against the pillow.

“Shut up. You love me,” she retorted, flicking water pooled on the armrest toward Tobin.

Tobin grimaced and had to use the rough sheet draped across her to wipe her face off. When she looked back at Pinoe, her out-of-control goofiness was uncharacteristically absent. Instead, she found her friend serious and guarded.

Tobin found she hated this version of her friend most of all. Vulnerable and terrified, she didn’t look anything like her best friend.

“Hey. How are you doing?”

Pinoe scoffed and inhaled slowly. Her grip on the armrests tightened enough to show off the veins in her forearms and turn her knuckles white. “I feel like there might be more pressing matters right now,” she said with a watery chuckle. “Was that your new piece?”

Tobin could only roll her eyes at her.

“Did you think you were being discreet? I know you. You can’t pull one over on me.”

She sighed.

“For real though. She was cute. Who was that?”

“My doctor,” Tobin grumbled.

Pinoe looked thoughtful for a minute before her face lit up. “Is she the one that’s had you off on fucking pluto the last few months? Since you lost that fight with the drunk bridesmaid?”

Tobin groaned and gave her a wary look, letting the fatigue of her ordeal show through.

“Fuck, I thought you were just processing getting stuck in a way you weren’t expecting by a girl with a plastic member or confronting your mortality or some shit after getting shivved,” Pinoe was dancing in her chair with excitement. Her entire body squirming as she dug for gossip. “God, Sue is going to love this!”

She was grating on Tobin’s last nerve.

“Doctor, though. Make sure you sign a prenup. Med school tuition is no joke.”

Tobin gave another exasperated sigh. She didn’t have the energy to take the bait. She covered her face with her hand and rubbed at her eye. It was still a little sore, despite the incident feeling like it had been a lifetime ago. Everything ached. Her shoulder and head throbbed. Her entire body felt like she was anchored to the bottom of a pool, the weight of the water heavy against her frame and her motions slowed to a crawl. Breathing was strenuous work, and she was still sticky with sweat. She wanted to push the little button for a dose of morphine but she was afraid she’d say something in her altered state that Pinoe could weaponize. Her ego was too fragile to withstand the onslaught of abuse if it had anything to do with a certain green-eyed beauty.

“I’m serious, dude. Protect that pension,” she punctuated her words with hard jabs to Tobin’s uninjured shoulder. The movements sent jolts across her body.

Tobin dropped her hand from her face, cursing when the IV line snagged. Pinoe grabbed her hand and helped straighten out the line that had caught on the bed rail. She held it gently, cradled in her own and set them both softly onto the bed after she’d worked her free. Somber Pinoe was back.

“You really had me scared there, Tobs,” she sniffed as she tenderly stroked her thumb across Tobin’s knuckles.

“Scared me too,” Tobin whispered. And it had. It terrified her. She had never been more afraid than she had been when that first gunshot had been fired.

She remembered throwing herself into Officer Ramos, trying to get them both behind the barricade and relative safety of the parked squad car. Several more shots fired in rapid succession before she had even made contact with Ramos’ body. Then there was nothing until the ambulance. The brightness of a pen light and the baby faced EMT filling her field of vision had her thinking she was done for until the agony of her shoulder made itself known. The burning was not dissimilar to what she was feeling now.

She swallowed hard, fighting off a wave of nausea and holding back her own tears.

“You should get some rest. I’ll be here to get as many embarrassing pictures of you drooling as I can,” Pinoe’s voice belied her joking manner. She gave Tobin’s hand a little squeeze and waved her phone in her other hand, wiggling her eyebrows.

Tobin gave her a barely perceptible nod.

Pinoe leaned back in the chair and directed her attention toward whatever her game of the moment on her phone was. Her thumb continued its pattern over Tobin’s knuckles until Tobin finally drifted off to sleep.

***

Christen had her tablet cradled against her stomach with one arm and her hip rested against the desk of the nurses’ station at the entrance to Corridor B. Her gaze fixed solidly toward the other end of the hall, where Detective Heath was recovering in her room. A room she had yet to make her way to, despite being more than halfway through her shift.

Her day off had been consumed by thoughts of the woman. Her previous memories of the detective had been replaced by scenes from nightmares. She saw her sandy colored hair thick with congealing blood plastered to her scalp. The crimson mask covering her face disguised her features enough to be unrecognizable. The gaping wound in her shoulder. The terror she saw when she was demanding information about her friend and the resigned devastation when she thought she was going to hear the worst. And the god awful whimpers of pain.

When she finally made it home that day, all she could do was crawl into her bed and stare at her ceiling, desperately attempting to conjure up visions of a bright smile and soft brown eyes. The ice cream she had eaten earlier sat like a rock in her stomach, the Phish Food in her freezer still sat untouched and forgotten. When she’d finally had time to process what had happened, Christen no longer had an appetite. She didn’t leave her bed, staying wrapped up in sheets and buried beneath pillows until her alarm went off for work this morning.

“Girl, what is wrong with you?” Crystal questioned as she snatched the pen out of Christen’s hand. She hadn’t even realized she’d been tapping it against the raised countertop of the station. Crystal reached over and stuffed the offending pen into Christen’s coat pocket. She gave it a little tap once it was in place. “Everything okay?”

Was everything okay? Christen didn’t really know. She pulled her bottom lip between her teeth before turning to smile at Crystal. “Yup,” she lied, ignoring Crystal’s incredulous face.

Crystal hummed at her expectantly.

Feigning wide-eyed innocence, Christen nodded enthusiastically. “Everything is fine,” she assured her.

“Right,” Crystal rolled her eyes. “How’s your hot cop?”

Dammit.

“Um, she’s good, I think,” Christen’s eyes went back to the corridor she’d yet to travel down.

“You think?” Crystal stared at her with her eyebrow raised, teetering on the razor’s edge between friendly curiosity and professional responsibility.

Christen didn’t want to admit to sending a few inquiring texts to her colleagues about the status of her patient over the course of her day off, and she certainly did not want to admit to the tab she’d had open on her tablet monitoring every detail of her recovery thus far. She knew exactly how the detective was doing. She knew too much about how the detective was doing.

“Fortunately for you,” Crystal continued slowly, “I know she’s doing well enough to be discharged soon. As soon as tomorrow if all keeps going well.” She looked at Christen, trying to gauge her response.

Christen knew there was no point trying to hide her feelings about how the woman was healing well, and that she was making progress quickly enough to go home soon. She knew her friend would be able to see that her relief went beyond duty-of-care and into other dangerous waters. She gave Crystal a shy smile before averting her gaze back to the hall.

Crystal poked at the dimple on her cheek before turning to get back to her paperwork. “Do us all a favor though?” She looked back over her shoulder to where Christen was still standing. “Make sure she’s no longer a patient before you cross that thin blue line?” She winked before gathering her papers, tapping them against the worktop to straighten them up, and walking away.

***

By the time Christen worked up the courage (and it turned from courtesy to obligation) to stop by Detective Heath’s room, she was minutes out from finishing her day at work.

She rapped gently against the partially opened door, before swinging it wider and stepping inside, not waiting for an acknowledgement to her knocking. Inside the room, she found the detective sound asleep and softly snoring. Her features were smoothed in her peaceful state. Someone had helped her wash her hair. Damp tendrils were strewn about the pillow in messy tangles, and Christen fought the compulsion to help tame them. The line of stitches on her forehead was hidden by a long bandage, the taped ends already curling upwards and peeling away. The bandage only hid part of the angry bruise that painted her forehead and temple in shades of reds and purples. Her right arm was restrained in a sling, strapped close to her body to keep it still.

Christen let herself admire the woman for a moment before focusing on the task at hand.

She hoped this was the vision she saw when she closed her eyes that night, instead of the bloody mess she’d been on that stretcher.

 

“DOC!”

“Fuck!” Christen swore, as she dropped the tablet she’d been carrying directly onto the sleeping detective. She’d been pulling the sheet higher to cover the woman’s shoulder when the intruder made her entrance yet again. Both herself and her patient starting at the unexpected shout. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. Are you alright?” She began apologizing profusely, pointedly taking no notice of the cackling blonde woman at the door again.

Detective Heath blinked at her, her sleep-addled brain unable to process what was happening.

“Yeah, no, I’m good,” she finally croaked out, trying to sit up in the bed before giving up and dropping back down. “She’s an idiot. Not your fault,” she reached out, catching Christen’s hand that was fussing with her sling, trying to make sure she was okay.

“I’m so sorry,” Christen repeated. “Are you sure you’re okay? Can I get you anything?”

“I’m in the market for a new best friend,” she replied, glaring at the still howling woman.

“So jumpy! Toby did you see?” The woman managed to wheeze out between gasping breaths.

“I’ll just- I’m gonna,” Christen couldn’t seem to string together a full sentence, pulling her hand out of the detective’s grasp and turning toward the door again.

She made her getaway, making a concerted effort not to break into a full on sprint.

“I really fucking hate you, Pinoe,” she heard over the laughter as she power walked down the hall.

***

Tobin sat in the wheelchair she’d been abandoned in some thirty minutes ago. Pinoe had left her in the lobby claiming she needed to do something before they could go. Tobin had already read through her discharge papers twice and had taken to rolling herself in circles as she waited for her to return. Her one-arm propelled circles were all she could do to help alleviate the feeling of being trapped in one place. She was so close to freedom, with the doors to the outside world just fifteen yards away, but no conceivable way to get there that wouldn’t involve someone scolding her for walking out on her own accord. She’d already tried. Twice.

“I thought we ruled out a brain injury,” Tobin’s head whipped toward the gentle voice, finding the exact person she had been longing to see more of. “Seeing you now, I’m thinking we may have missed something.”

The doctor’s smile was radiant as she approached from the doors, clearly just arriving at work. Her sunglasses were perched on top of her head, holding back her mass of curls. She held a steaming cup of coffee close to her chest, both of her hands wrapped around it like a prized treasure. After tasting the hospital coffee, Tobin was sure the coffee from the outside world was worth its weight in gold.

Between the smell of the doctor’s perfume, the little crinkles at the corners of her smiling eyes, and the splay of freckles scattered across her nose, Tobin forgot how to speak, too engrossed by the exquisiteness of the other woman.

The doctor’s smile faded when she didn’t get a response, replaced instead by a look of concern. Tobin needed that smile back, shaking her head a little to clear the fog.

“Too late to check now,” she waved the discharge papers. “Might have been a result of an iPad being thrown at me,” she winked. Tobin wished she could take it back when she saw the doctor go scarlet, all traces of her calm demeanor gone.

“Detective Heath, I’m so sor-”

“No! I’m only kidding!” Tobin interrupted, hoping she could bring back that smile. “I want to throw things every time Pinoe walks into a room, too,” she chuckled and watched as the blush began to fade from the doctor’s cheeks. Her smile hadn’t made it’s return yet, but she didn’t look quite so humiliated.

“Still. I really am sorry Detective-”

“It’s Tobin,” she interrupted again. “You can call me by my first name, you’ve had your fingers inside me.”

The doctor’s face flushed bright red again before Tobin realized what she’d said.

“Wait! Not like that! I just mean.. You- um- shit,” she stammered.

“There she is!” Tobin had never been so grateful to hear Pinoe’s obnoxious approach. She strutted over to the pair of them carrying loudly crinkling plastic bags displaying the name of the hospital gift store. When she’d reached them, she roughly jerked a baseball hat onto Tobin’s head before taking a step back and admiring her choice. “What do you think, Doc? Suits her, right?”

Dr. Press was still blushing furiously, but whatever Pinoe had done had made her smirk a bit. Tobin reached up to pull the hat off and have a look at it. She groaned when she saw the black cap had “DADDY” in white block letters across the front of it. She caught Pinoe winking at the doctor before she made her way behind Tobin to push her out the door.

“See ya later, Doc,” Pinoe shouted as she rolled Tobin toward the exit.

“Yeah, thanks Dr. Press,” Tobin said quietly, twisting herself in the wheelchair to get just one last second to appreciate the woman.

“Christen,” the doctor responded just as quietly, giving her a wave goodbye.

“Christen,” Tobin repeated with a smile, before sitting back in the chair… Just in time for Pinoe to roll her close enough to catch her injured shoulder on the still opening motion-activated doors.

She heard Christen’s sigh from behind them over her own hissing breaths. “Come on. Let me check that out before you go.”

Chapter Text

Tobin swiveled back and forth in her chair, slumped down so she could lean her head against the much too low backrest and stare at the ancient, water-stained ceiling tiles. She squinted her eyes, trying to find the shape of the elephant she saw the previous week, but she had a sneaking suspicion that the heavy downpours they’d been subjected to by mother nature the last few days had altered the patterns splayed above her. Instead of big, round ears and a trunk, she could make out the wrinkly face of a grumpy pug looking down on her. A jagged line of an older, darker stain formed a pronounced underbite. It mixed with lighter shades and along the swiss cheese surface of the ceiling to create the rest of her new friend.

She decided he looked like an Oscar. Just her and Oscar against the world, it seemed. A guardian watching over her, or a feral beast biding his time, at least she wasn’t alone in her confinement. He was as trapped as she was. Just her and her water-logged companion directly above her head.

Oscar should be her real concern. If she were in any sort of imminent danger, it would be from the exposure to mold in the ceilings of the old precinct, or the likelihood of the ceiling caving in due to water damage. Anything else that was happening beyond the perceived safety provided by the partitioned half-walls surrounding her desk was not nearly as threatening as her immediate surroundings.

Including the danger she presented to herself. The straps of her sling constricted like a straightjacket, tightening its hold on her the more she struggled against it. As long as she was wrapped up in that sling, she could expect to be stuck right where she was- chained to desk duty for the foreseeable future. Her captivity was only interrupted by physical therapy sessions which left her aching and miserable at her slow progress. It was a tortured existence. Her only solace was now Oscar.

And of course the green-eyed beauty that never quite left her mind.

Christen.

Just her name provided a palliative effect, soothing the discomfort in her shoulder.

Though less soothing for her pride as she tried to open her water bottle with only one hand.

“Let me get that for you, T,” Megan offered, swiping the bottle away from her and cracking the seal. She unscrewed the cap and set it down in front of Tobin with a little flourish. “Voila,” she pretended to flip her hair back before turning to sit back down at her desk.

“Thanks,” she grumbled, feeling like an invalid. Everyone has been so kind. They were all looking out for her, helping her out without her even asking them for it. They were always doing little things that made her life easier- especially with only one fully functioning arm, but all it did was serve to make her resentful.

She buried those feelings as best she could, not wanting to lash out at someone showing her kindness, but it was becoming a more arduous task by the day. She wasn’t ungrateful for their generosity and thoughtfulness. She knew if the roles were reversed she would be behaving in the exact same way. She simply wanted things to go back to normal.

“I got you, dude,” Megan winked at her, throwing her body down awkwardly into her own chair, limbs flailing and grunting at the strain the action took on her joints. “That’s not the only thirst I’m gonna quench for you today, though,” she said with a shiteating grin.

Whatever she was about to say, Tobin knew she most definitely did not want to hear it.

Megan waved a blue Post-It back and forth, delighted with herself and keenly awaiting Tobin’s response.

“Am I supposed to know what I’m looking at?” Not that she could see what was written on the Post-It as it fluttered through the air, but she’d worked with Megan long enough to know that her chicken scratch would be illegible and she’d likely need to jump to some mystifying conclusion through inferences that made sense only to Megan.

She reached for the paper, only to have Megan pull it out of her reach.

“I believe the words are ‘Thank you, Pinoe. You’re a lifesaver, Pinoe. How did I ever make it through the day without you, Pinoe,’” she continued with her theatrical flair, clutching her hands and Post-It to her chest with all the melodramatic aplomb of a film noir actress.

Tobin snatched the paper from her hand.

“What the hell is this?” Numbers, some of which were indistinguishable were scribbled out in the last dregs of black ink from a pen. Some numbers only visible by the indentation the dried up pen left behind. “Is that a four or a nine?” She brought it up to her nose to try and get a better read. “And is that one a one or a seven?” She gave Megan a puzzled glance. “Christ, no wonder Cap makes you type all your notes.”

“It’s a four, I think,” Megan replied, taking the paper back to look at it herself. “And I don’t know what the rest are, I’ll have to look it up again.”

“And these numbers are,” Tobin prompted, already regretting asking the question.

“You’re a real shit detective, you know that?” Megan quipped, handing the Post-It back over. “It’s a phone number,” she grinned again, looking as if she just handed Tobin an invaluable gift.

Tobin rubbed at her eyes, her temples starting to throb. Exasperated, she stuck the note to the disheveled stack of case files on the corner of her desk. “Great. I’ll get right on that,” she conceded, giving the pile of manila folders a mournful tap and picking up her phone ready to dial the number. “Which case?”

“It’s not for a case, dummy,” Megan rocked back in her chair, her smile looking less shiteating and more maniacal.

Tobin placed the receiver back down and flicked the coiled cord off the side of her desk.

“Are you sure you didn’t knock a few screws loose when you bounced your head off the pavement?” Megan leaned forward and pointed at the number. “Maybe give that number a call and have her take another look at you,” she whispered, her eyes darted around the room to make sure no one else was listening in on their conversation.

“Fuck’s sake,” Tobin mumbled, “Please tell me you did not use police resources to look up information on my doctor?” Despite the rhetorical question, Megan frantically nodded her head looking far too pleased with herself. The throbbing in Tobin’s temples intensified. “And what do you want me to do with this number?”

“Spray paint it across Cap’s SUV,” Megan deadpanned.

“What about my SUV?” Captain Sauerbrunn shouted as she exited her office, approaching their cluster of desks and glaring at Megan.

Tobin had to stifle a laugh at the panicked face her friend made.

“Heath here’s just going to spend her afternoon washing some squad cars,” Megan smirked at her and threw another wink in her direction, giving a valiant effort to cover up her transgression and utterly oblivious to the Captain not believing a word she was saying. “Told her she shouldn’t forget yours!”

Captain Sauerbrunn crossed her arms in front of her and narrowed her eyes at Megan for a moment. The indecision to further interrogate written plainly on her face for only a moment before it became clear she did not want to know what Megan had really been up to. She turned to Tobin and softened.

“Last I checked your medical clearance did not state physical labor of any sort,” she smiled at Tobin sympathetically. “You’re at that desk or you’re at home.”

“That’s alright, Cap. Wearing this white button down to wash some cars was going to end in at least a few harassment complaints, anyways,” Tobin sighed in relief. As much as she wanted to do anything not tied to her desk, the prospect of washing cars one handed in the crisp, autumn air sounded miserable.

“Pinoe, Morgan hasn’t made any progress on the robbery on Whitaker. I think she needs some fresh eyes on things,” Captain Sauerbrunn turned back to Megan, her gaze not quite as steely as it had been when she first approached. “I’d like you to go help her out.”

Megan wordlessly gathered her badge from her desk drawer and her jacket draped over the back of her chair, making a quick getaway before Cap could ask too many more questions. She held her hand up to her ear like a phone and pointed to the Post-It still stuck to the file before disappearing around the corner in search of Morgan.

“I can help too,” Tobin tried. “My eyes are fresh. Fresher than fresh even. Fine-tuned from nothing but reports.” She fidgeted in her chair, hoping the Captain would take some pity on her and let her do something that made her feel productive.

“Heath, you’re good where you’re at,” Captain Sauerbrunn didn’t even look at her. She just spun on her heels to return to her paperwork, not even glancing back to see if she had listened.

Tobin wished she was a bit more rebellious in moments like this. It would have been too easy for her to just up and leave and go where the action was, but she knew the ice was thin and cracking in several places. She was fortunate desk duty was even an option for her at the moment. She hadn’t been medically cleared to do anything other than shuffle papers about and take a few phone calls. Doing something stupid now might send her straight back to moping on her couch, steadily making her way through cases of Flaming Hot Cheetos, and wondering if she should just paint her walls the same color as the intense smears of orange blemishing her couch and clothing.

“Cap, please. You gotta give me something,” she begged, knowing if it was just going to be her and Oscar for the next several hours, Home Depot was going to need to start mixing cans of paint.

Captain Sauerbrunn turned to look at her then, a sympathetic smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. “You want to organize the welcoming celebration for the new recruits?”

No.

She absolutely did not.

“Sure,” she sighed. It was the best offer she was going to get.

Chapter Text

Christen bustled into the cafe, proud of herself for only being about ten minutes behind schedule. She saw Crystal, already at a table, halfway through her pastry and engrossed in her book.

“Sorry,” she grimaced, embarrassed at her inability to be on time for anything. Unwinding her scarf, she draped it along with her jacket on the back of the chair across from her friend.
“I wasn’t even expecting you for another 20 minutes,” Crystal laughed, motioning at Christen to make an order and turning her attention back to the book she had been reading.

“Can I get you another coffee?” Christen asked. Crystal shook her head in decline. Grabbing her wallet out of her purse, she headed to the counter to place her order.

When she returned, coffee in hand, Crystal tucked her bookmark between the pages and set it down, ready to give Christen her undivided attention.

“Anything good?” Christen asked, nodding her head toward the book resting between Crystal’s elbows on the table.

“Eh,” Crystal shrugged, “It’s not bad. Mewis bet that I couldn’t figure out who the killer is before the end.”

Christen eyed the book, noting the bookmark was a little more than halfway through. She raised an eyebrow, “And?”

“And, okay,” she began, eyes sparkling and wiggling in her seat, “something isn’t lining up with the protagonist. She isn’t who she says she is. There’s no way she turned her life around the way she supposedly did without leaving nothing but carnage behind you. She’s hiding way too much. She’s not the psycho, but it’s gotta be someone from her past. I’ve narrowed it down to a few possibilities. Another chapter or two and I’ll present my case.”

Christen couldn’t help but laugh at her exuberance, “What do you get for figuring it out?”

“Lunch from anywhere of my choosing,” she grinned wickedly, “She didn’t specify a price range.”

Christen threw her head back laughing again, “Oh no. Surf and turf from Sienna?”

“Surf and turf from Sienna, girl,” Crystal confirmed. “Come hungry on Friday,” she joined Christen in her laughter.

Wiping tears from her eyes, and still giggling, Christen reached over to have a look at the book. “You know, as amazing of a doctor as you are, I think you missed your life’s true calling as a detective. Poor Sammy. She’s gonna be picking up overtime for weeks.”

“She’d pick up the hours anyways. There’s a new guy in radiology she’s trying to impress,” Crystal snickered. “And no thanks on the cop front. All dress pants and button ups. Give me scrubs any day of the week.”

Christen hummed in agreement, lifting her coffee to her lips. Her first sip was ruined by the scalding temperature burning her tongue. She flinched and set the mug back down.

“Speaking of cops-”

 

“Oh no,” Christen interrupted, knowing exactly where her friend's mind had gone.

“Seen yours lately?” Crystal asked with feigned, wide-eyed innocence.

Christen wrapped both of her hands around the mug. She let the heat of the ceramic soak into her bones, grounding her to the moment as she tried to find words that wouldn’t make her sound quite as pathetic as she felt.

She still wasn’t able to get Tobin off her mind. Even now, staring into the black liquid swirling in her cup, she could see the woman’s wide smile and soft eyes as she checked over her shoulder that last time. She had been so tempted to smooth her hands through Tobin’s hair, tousled from the drying hospital shampoo and the ridiculous hat her friend had put on her. She may have drawn out that last encounter a little longer than necessary, hyperaware of the line of professionalism that she was dangerously close to leaving in the dust. Tobin seemed to appreciate the break from her perpetually exasperating friend, though, and Christen was grateful for the few extra minutes she was able to spend with her, even if she was just unwrapping and rewrapping bandages.

Crystal cleared her throat and nudged her with her foot under the table.

“Um, no, I haven’t seen her,” she mumbled, her cheeks blushing and unable to meet Crystal’s eyes.

“You know, things have a way of working out,” Crystal whispered sympathetically, nudging her again beneath the table.

When Christen was finally able to lift her gaze away from her coffee and look at her friend again, she was met with an encouraging smile. “I hope so.”

“Hey, did you hear what Rose did the other day?” The playfulness was back full force as Crystal fidgeted in her seat with the excitement of gossip. She pushed the rest of her pastry toward Christen to share.

“No,” Christen laughed, thankful for the change of topic and the sugar. “What did she get herself into this time?”

Crystal launched into her account of a belligerent drunk harassing the nurses and how Rose was able to subdue him by pretending to speak to his mother over the phone until her phone interrupted their giggling. “Shoot, gotta run. Duty calls,” she sighed.

Christen gave her a quick hug before she ran out the door before settling back in her seat. Her coffee was finally at a perfect drinking temperature, and she savored each sip, focusing on the warmth and comfort the drink was bringing to her and not on a certain pair of kind, brown eyes.

The shop wasn’t busy, so Christen let herself relax and enjoy the moment long after she’d placed her empty cup down on the table. A bored barista had picked it up for her not even a second later.

Eventually, life couldn’t be avoided any longer, and the endless list of errands running through her mind became too loud to ignore. She stood from her seat, and began to gather her scarf and jacket. When she grabbed her purse, she noticed the zipper pulled open.

Her stomach dropped.

With shaky hands, she rifled through the bag.

Her wallet was gone.

***

“Hey, Rob,” Tobin greeted the officer on duty at the front desk. “You seen a car circling around at all?”

She’d been on the phone with the kid attempting to deliver the sandwiches for the recruits’ welcoming party, but he got himself hopelessly lost when trying to find someplace to park.

“Nah. Can’t say I was on the lookout for it though,” he said as he placed his word search book down.

Tobin sighed as she tried to listen to the teenager describe his location so she could direct him back. She set her elbow down on the counter and leaned forward, already frustrated with the way the setup for the party was unfolding.

The coffee urns hadn’t been emptied from the last luncheon. She had spent the first hour of her shift scrubbing the mold from the inside of them before she could do anything else. When she had gone to reception to pick up the delivery of donuts from the trendy new bakery downtown that had been requested by the new officers, she’d discovered that a “dozen” for them had a different definition. Instead of receiving the three dozen donuts she had ordered, she had just one. Apparently, because they triple stacked very thin donuts, each “dozen” donuts only equated to four donuts. Now she was trying to help keep the kid dropping off the food from having a full-blown panic attack because he wasn’t able to locate the police station.

“Buddy, it’s fine. Where does the GPS say you are?” She tried to calm him.

“I don’t know, ma’am. It keeps spinning and reloading and jumping to different locations. I must be in a bad spot,” he explained, anxiety evident in his voice.

“Okay, do you see a street sign where you are? Are you near a business?”

“Um, yeah, I see a sign that says Richards Street and I’m near the laundromat.”

“Perfect. Stay there. I’ll meet you where you are,” she sighed and made for the direction he’d indicated.

As she walked back into the station, arm piled perilously high with boxes impeding her line of vision, she heard a timid voice at the front desk.

“I- I-um, need to file a police report.”

That voice sounds familiar, she thought, even though it was shaky and broke at the end.

She maneuvered her way past the desk to set the boxes down before turning to look at the source of it.

“Christen,” Tobin couldn’t help the worried tone as she rushed forward to the doctor.

Christen looked at her, pale and with tear-filled eyes.

“What happened?” Tobin asked, looking her up and down trying to find any evidence of trauma, thankful to find nothing that immediately screamed out to her as being out of sorts. She was as put together as she had been the day Tobin left the hospital. She didn’t appear to be injured. She looked smaller, though. Fragile.

Tobin wanted to gather her up in a hug. She didn’t trust herself to cross to the other side of the desk.

“Oh, um. It’s nothing major. Just my wallet got stolen,” Christen answered. Her lip quivered as she tried to keep her emotions in check. Her eyes, a vibrant and stunning green in all their previous encounters, were a muted gray behind the sheen of tears gathered along her lower lashes.

Tobin hadn’t realized how much she had tensed up until her body relaxed knowing that physically, Christen was fine. Although, the strain mentally was heavy. She could see that she was putting on a much braver face than she felt. It’s just a wallet to the police, but the violation of boundaries was a cruel reminder that there are some awful people in the world. The hassle and stress of having to deal with stolen bank cards and identification, not to mention any cash, was a lot to deal with, and Tobin understood why she was distraught over it.

Rob handed her the paperwork to fill out on a clipboard and politely directed her toward some chairs along the wall where she could sit to fill them out.

“That’s okay, Rob. I’ll take her. She’s a friend,” Tobin gestured for her to come with her.

Christen gave her a watery, grateful look and sniffed out a thank you before following Tobin to the other side of the desk.

When Tobin attempted to pick up the pile of boxes again, Christen took the top few from her.

“That seems like a sure way to land yourself back in my hospital,” she chuckled at Tobin’s struggle.

“Maybe that was the goal all along,” Tobin winked at her, glad to see the corners of her mouth ticking upward into the slightest semblance of a genuine smile. “Come on, let’s get these to the conference room and you can tell me what happened.”

With the sandwiches safely delivered, she sat down and listened intently as Christen recounted the story.

“I’m not usually so careless,” scornful and full of disdain for herself, Christen rubbed at her eyes with her palms.

Tobin couldn’t help herself any longer. She reached out a comforting hand and laid it on Christen’s slumped shoulder.

“I’m not usually such an emotional wreck either. Sorry,” she sighed heavily and used the sleeve of her sweater to swipe at the teardrops that had landed on the paperwork. It smeared little lines of black ink across the pristine white background.

“A shitty thing happened to you,” Tobin shrugged. “You don’t need to apologize for how you feel about it.”

Emotional situations were never something she was comfortable handling. Usually, she made a quick exit as quietly as possible to avoid having to deal with anything vaguely to do with feelings. Even when required to deliver news or interact with victims, despite countless hours of training, she relied heavily on her partner to figure out the best way to provide comfort while she made herself scarce.

She didn’t even like to acknowledge her own feelings, let alone the emotional state of another person, so she was entirely out of her element with Christen. She thought she might have said the right thing, though, when Christen leaned into her touch. Tobin began to rub her thumb back and forth over the curve of her shoulder until she felt Christen take a deep breath and pick up her pen.

“Thank you,” she whispered as she got started on the report in front of her.

“Um, you’re welcome,” Tobin wasn’t sure if she was making a statement or asking a question, unsure what she was being thanked for. She let her hand drop from Christen’s shoulder and stood up, her chair scraping loudly against the floor. “Here, let me grab you some coffee while you work on that. It’s somewhat fresh. I just made it a little before you came in.”

Another small smile directed toward her had her beaming in return, a little more confident that she’d handled the situation relatively well.

She grabbed a cup and lifted the spigot on the now spotless urn. Christen was busy scribbling away at the report, still looking vulnerable, but no less beautiful. She looked downright cozy in her beige cable knit sweater. Her burnt orange scarf was still wrapped messily around her neck, the tasseled ends caught up and tangled in her hair. Maybe less cozy, and more sweltering hot at this point, Tobin thought. It wasn’t exactly chilly in the conference room and Tobin was warm in a short sleeved button up shirt. She wondered if Christen even noticed the temperature in her distress.

“Fuck!”

Christen jumped, whirling around to see what had caused Tobin to shout.

Tobin stood in front of the urn, wiping up the spilled coffee from the overfilled cup and trying to hide the fierce blush painting her cheeks.

“Really?” Christen asked, snickering as she stood up to see how badly Tobin had managed to burn herself.

Chapter Text

Christen cradled Tobin’s burned hand in her own as she held it under the cold tap. The flow of tepid water from the ancient pipes of the aging building provided a little relief to the sting of the burn, but the gentle caress of Christen’s hands holding hers was proving to be more of an analgesic. It was one that she feared she was already addicted to. She just hoped Christen couldn’t feel her racing pulse or the measured, intentional breaths she was taking.

Tobin felt more than a little creepy for letting herself enjoy the close proximity. Being so close to the doctor as she cared for yet another one of her injuries felt almost as though she were taking advantage of her kindness. It felt selfish that she enjoyed being near enough to be able to smell the soft fragrance of her floral perfume and feel the soothing caress of skin on her own. She bit her lip and focused on the cloudy water just beginning to cool. Far too soon for her liking the tap was turned off. Gently, Christen patted her down with a paper towel before taking a closer look.

“You’ll survive,” she assured as she looked up from the scalded, red skin along the back of Tobin’s hand and the side of her thumb.

Tobin’s heart nearly leapt from her chest at the smile Christen gave her. She hadn’t seen this smile from Christen before. It was so different from all of their previous interactions. She didn’t look anything like the scrub clad professional she had first met, weighed down with exhaustion and all business. She also didn't look anything like the casual breath of fresh air that Tobin had encountered as she was discharged from the hospital, relaxed and carefree with her freckles on full display even through her blushing cheeks when Tobin had made a fool of herself stumbling through their conversation. This smile lacked some of the brightness Tobin had come to expect from the other woman. Her eyes were bloodshot and swollen, still more of a subdued gray than sparkling green. Dried tear tracks were still visible down her cheeks. She was still the most beautiful woman Tobin had ever seen.

“It doesn’t look too bad. Pretty superficial,” Christen observed as she let go of Tobin’s hand and patted her own hands dry.

Regretfully, Tobin let her hand drop. “Um, I don’t think I've shared enough with you for you to make that sort of assumption.”

Christen looked at her, forehead furrowed with confusion, until Tobin winked at her. With a snort, she flung the damp paper towel at Tobin’s face.

“Okay, smartass. Why don’t you put something greasy on it. I recommend butter.”

“Hey! Isn’t that against the Hippocampus oath? Do no harm? Even I know putting butter on a burn is a bad idea.”

“Hippocratic. Sometimes the remedy has some side effects. In this case, in order to remedy your jerkfullness, you’ll need to suffer a little burn.”

“Jerkfullness? Is that your official diagnosis?”

“Super official.”

“Will I need to seek medical advice if this remedy leads to blistering?”

Christen shrugs, “With your track record, you’ll be seeing me anyways.”

Tobin beamed at her. “Now that I can get on board with. I’m sure there’s a mini fridge with some butter in it from the last decade around here somewhere.” She craned her neck to take stock of what was potentially available outside of the conference room that she might be able to pilfer.

Christen rolled her eyes at her again. “You’re already down to one functioning arm. Maybe hold off and try this again when your other is in working order.”

Tobin gave her best pout, and revelled in the responding grin she received.

They couldn’t help but laugh at each other again until a soft knock at the door interrupted them.

“Detective Heath, is this where the free food is?” One of the rookies stood uncomfortably just outside the room. George? Gio? Tobin couldn’t remember his name, but she could see the eager face of Officer Sonnett peeking conspicuously around the door frame, eyeing the pastries. She could also hear the harsh whispers of the officer trying to get the rookie to press for more information.

“Yeah, bud. It’s ready whenever you guys-”

“Hell yeah!” Sonnett screamed as she raced forward to fill a plate.

“-are.” Tobin sighed with all the resigned energy of a long-suffering Sonnett-minder and turned to Christen. “Grab anything you’d like before Sonny demolishes it all,” she offered. “We can finish the paperwork back at my desk.” Ignoring the whirlwind of the young officer taking advantage of the free food, she helped Christen gather her things and they made a quick exit as the rest of the new recruits started to trickle in.

***

“Looks like this is all set,” Tobin stated regretfully as she knew her time with Christen was coming to an end. She tapped the papers on the arm of her chair to align them and clicked her pen a couple of times. “Is there anything else I can do to help? This situation sucks.”

“I don’t think so,” Christen grimaced, her teeth worrying at her lip. Tobin hoped she didn’t feel as helpless and as small as she looked under the fluorescent lights, but by her pained expression, Tobin knew that was exactly how she felt.

“Were you able to contact your bank before any damage was done?”

“Yes. Thankfully. No harm done there. It must have happened just before I had noticed. The bank was able to freeze my accounts before I fulfilled every item on someone else’s Amazon wishlist.”

“Good,” Tobin smiled and tapped the papers again. “That’s good.”

“Yeah,” Christen glanced around awkwardly.

“Well, I guess that’s everything you needed to do here. You’ve got all the information you need to show you’ve filed a report with us should something come up. I’ll walk you out.” Tobin reluctantly stood up and guided Christen through the maze of desks.

As they approached the door to the conference room, she could hear Sonnett’s taunting voice, “C’mon Josh, haven’t you ever been to a kegger? Just put your mouth underneath the spout!”

Tobin watched Christen’s eyes go wide as she jogged a few steps forward to stop whatever mayhem was about to go down. She reached out to grab her hand and stop her. “Yeah, no. Let’s go the other way.”

“But that kid-”

“Sonnett won’t really let him do it. She just likes to see how far she can push them,” Tobin interrupted and gave her her best reassuring smile. She gently tugged Christen’s hand. “We’ll go around the other way. Sonnett won’t be the cause of any intentional injury but with all those nervous, awkward rookies in one confined space, someone is guaranteed to be needing medical attention at some point soon.”

Christen didn’t look entirely convinced that she shouldn’t intervene. She eyed Tobin sceptically before allowing herself to be pulled in the opposite direction in avoidance of the conference room door.

It wasn’t until they made it to the lobby that Tobin realized she still held Christen’s hand in her own.

Unwillingly, she let her grasp of Christen’s hand soften. Her heart raced when Christen didn’t immediately pull back. Instead, she tightened her own grip on Tobin’s hand, and gave her a shy smile before worrying her bottom lip with her teeth again. Tobin could feel the blush rising in her cheeks.

“Let me give you my number. Just in case you need anything, especially while you’re sorting all of this out,” she offered, tightening her grip again on Christen’s hand before letting it go so she could rummage through her purse for her phone.

***

“Jesus, thank you,” Christen shouted as she whipped open her front door. She threw her arms around the diminutive shoulders of her best friend.

“Not usually the name I go by, but I am about to turn your water into wine so,” Christen felt Crystals shoulders shrug from where she was draped over her. She gave a little chuckle and allowed herself to enjoy being comforted after the day she’d had.

She had called Crystal sobbing not long after she had left the precinct. On her way home, she made a stop by the store, intent on drinking her sorrows away for the remainder of the evening. She wanted to wallow in her misery for a night before she forced herself to start fresh and put it all behind her the next day, but her plans had been dashed by the teenage cashier just doing their job by asking to see her ID. The ID which, inconveniently, had been inside of the wallet that had been stolen. No amount of tearful pleading had swayed the stalwart employee from their duty, and she had left the shop empty handed.

Gratefully, she took the bottle of wine proffered by Crystal when she’d finally pulled back from the hug and stepped back to let her inside.

“You have had a day, huh,” Crystal said sympathetically, helping herself to the wine glasses and corkscrew as Christen moved to take up her place on the couch beneath a pile of blankets again, the bottle of wine clutched to her chest.

She sighed in relief as Crystal passed her the corkscrew, nodding her response.

“You’re sure you didn’t orchestrate this whole mess just to see Hot Cop again?” Crystal nudged her with her shoulder and grabbed for the blankets, snuggling down to watch whatever emotional support show Christen had lined up to binge for the evening.

“Hot Cop was very sweet about the whole thing,” Christen gave her friend a half-hearted glare before draining her first glass and refilling it. “She gave me her number if I needed help with anything.”

Crystal took the glass from her hand, keen to slow her down. “Hot Cop gave you her number and you called me when you needed rescuing tonight?” she shrieked with indignation. “What is wrong with you?”

Christen made a grab for her glass again, huffing when Crystal kept it out of reach. “What was I supposed to say? This horrible person just doing their job won’t give me my alcohol? I could call her and say the same thing now,” Christen’s glare was not as half-hearted or playful as it had been moments before.

“Well, why not?”

Well, why not? Christen didn’t think she’d had enough wine for her judgement to be clouded already. Why shouldn’t she? Tobin had said she was giving her her number just in case she had needed anything.

“Fuck it,” she whispered as she took out her phone and opened her messages app.

Christen:
I need to report another crime.

Crystal grinned at her proudly and handed her the wine back. She took a gulp and nearly choked as her phone rang.

***

“Harry!”

Tobin startled at Allie’s shrill call, her half-raised cup of lukewarm coffee splashing over the rim and dribbling down her chin onto her white button down shirt. She swiped a crumpled napkin from her desk to dab at it.

“Harry?”

“Harry!” Allie screeched again.

Tobin scowled as she noticed she’d not managed to save her shirt from the spill and only made it worse by smearing something greasy from the sandwich she’d rescued from Sonnett’s clutches.

“Harry,” Allie said again, dropping her hands heavily onto Tobin’s shoulders and bending down so she was eye level. Her expression was stony and grim, despite the affectionate nickname she was using.

Tobin’s frustration with her shirt situation dissipated at Allie’s serious face. “What is it Har?”

“Something terrible has happened,” Allie whispered.

Tobin sat up straighter and grabbed Allie’s forearms, worry knitting her brows together. “What happened?” She couldn’t recall ever seeing such a grave look on her friend’s face. Something must be very wrong for Allie Long to be coming to her like this.

She looked around the room, trying to take note of who was at their desk and who might be absent. There hadn’t been a big fuss, so news couldn’t have hit yet if it was something related to work. If the calm atmosphere was anything to go by, shit would be hitting the fan at any given moment.

Pinoe was notably missing.

“Fuck, Allie. Is it Pinoe? Is she okay?” She tried to rise from her seat, but Allie used her own weight to keep her pinned to the chair. “Just tell me. Oh, fuck. Is she dead?” Tobin felt like all the air had left the room. Her ears started to ring and her vision went blurry as her breathing became more difficult.

Allie shook her by her shoulders, gently at first, and then with more force as Tobin began to spiral further.

“No you fucking moron,” she shouted, slamming Tobin’s shoulders into the seatback. “Unless she’s lodged a mascara wand into her skull getting dolled up for her date, Pinoe is fine.”

“Then who? Is it Morgan? I know there’s some dodgy shit happening with that big case she’s been working on. Did they get her? Did Morgan get whacked?” Tobin was in a full-blown panic.

“Did Morgan get whacked?” Allie repeated. “Is this 1920? Calm down Bugs, Morgan is fine too.”

“Just tell me what happened!” Tobin begged.

“Relax Capone. Everyone is fine.”

“Then why do you look like that?” Tobin yelled, her panic making a quick transformation into anger.

“Because I’ve been betrayed by my best friend!” Allie screamed back, giving Tobin a shake again, not caring that their emotional outbursts had drawn the attention of the entire room.

They glared at each other until she got her breathing under control.

“What are you talking about?” Tobin hissed.

“Did you not hear me the first time?” Allie enunciated slowly. “I’ve been betrayed by my best friend,” she said patronizingly.

“Still don’t know what you’re talking about.” Tobin shoved Allie’s hands from her shoulders and stood up.

“Why does the whole precinct know about your hottie?” she demanded. “I had to find out from Baby T!” She shoved Tobin, trying to knock her back down into the chair, but Tobin held her ground. “Baby T!” Allie bellowed, punctuating her words with sharp jabs to Tobin’s chest.

“Uh, guys, Cap is watching this play out.” Tierna, as though summoned by Allie’s rage, peered around the desk partition.

Tobin and Allie both turned to Captain Sauerbrunn’s office. They could see her standing at the window, arms crossed, with a single eyebrow raised. Both had the sensibility to look abashed at their dramatics in front of their superior, before Cap waved her hand at them, gesturing for them to continue.

“Tobs, she just asked why there was an extra chair pulled up to your desk,” Tierna continued. “I told her you helped a woman with a report.”

“Sonnett said she was hot,” Allie spat, reaching out to jab at Tobin again. “And we have interview rooms for that. So who was she, Harry?” she snapped.

Tobin rolled her eyes and scoffed. “She’s my--” the vibration of her phone interrupted her.

“Your what, Harry?”

But Tobin was already turning away, her phone pressed to her ear.

“YOUR WHAT, HARRY?” Allie screamed again, but Tobin could barely acknowledge her after reading Christen’s text.

Christen:
I need to report another crime.

Chapter Text

Christen gave a sputtering cough as she struggled to swallow her mouthful of wine. Droplets sprayed across her blanket and the sleeve of her shirt, unable to cover her mouth with her glass in one hand and her phone in her other. Despite her disgust, Crystal gave a few resounding thuds to her back, rattling her ribcage and doing nothing to aid in clearing her windpipe.

“Shit.” She coughed again. “Crys, she’s calling. What do I do?” She looked at Crystal with wide, desperate eyes, breathing ragged from more than just the wine.

“Answer it, obviously,” Crystal retorted, rolling her eyes for good measure.

“But what do I say?” She’d only meant to send Tobin a humorous text. It hadn’t even occurred to her that Tobin might call in response. Who makes phone calls anymore, anyways? Actually having to speak to someone instead of typing out a well-planned and thoughtful response? Criminal.

“Start with ‘hello’?” Crystal reached for the bottle, filling her glass to the top. “I have not had enough wine for this,” she muttered, bringing the too full glass to her lips with a steady hand even the top surgeons in the hospital would be envious of.

Christen’s thumb hovered over the screen, waiting for her deep breath to bring enough oxygen back into her deprived brain after her battle with the wine, hoping that with a bit more air, she would be able to function properly and to calm down. Just as she decided she was ready, the call ended. A notification appears letting her know she’d missed a call.

Tension visibly melts from her shoulders at the decision being made for her, only to reappear twice as quick and strongly enough for the vertebrae in her neck to pop as though expressing annoyance. Tobin was calling her again.

“Shit!” she yelled again.

Crystal took a few more large gulps of her wine before snatching the phone from Christen’s hand. “Hot Cop, how ya doin’?”

***

“YOUR WHAT, HARRY?” Allie screamed after her, following her as she made her way to the stairwell in hopes of finding a quiet space. By the thumps of Allie’s stomping feet behind her, she wouldn’t be finding any peace no matter where she ended up.

“Pick up,” she murmured to herself as she held her phone to her ear with her shoulder. It continued to ring unanswered. “Come on! Pick up!” No sooner than her fingers found the handle to pull open the door leading to the stairs did Allie catch up with her, she grabbed her shoulder and tugged her back to face her.

“Tobin, what is going on?” Her brows were drawn tightly together and her expression was as serious as it had been before, but her eyes betrayed just how hurt she was at Tobin’s avoidance.

Dammit. She did not have time for this. The phone continued to ring with no answer on the other line until the robotic voice told her to leave a message after the tone, not even a recorded, personalized voicemail message from Christen.

She hung up the phone without leaving a message. “I need to make sure she’s okay, Allie. I’ll explain later,” she assured her, hoping to soothe away some of the hurt she had caused. She tapped the phone icon to call again.

Instead of settling Allie down with her promise of an explanation, Allie’s face twisted into an annoyed sneer, “So, I was right! You do have a girlfriend!”

Tobin growled at her, and wrenched her shoulder from Allie’s grasp, feeling the all-too-familiar sharp sting as the movement pulled against her wounded arm. With the phone held between her shoulder and her ear again, she stormed into the stairwell, Allie hot on her heels.

She didn’t bother attempting to flee further.

She dropped onto the third step leading up to the next floor, leaving space for Allie to do the same beside her.

“”Hot Cop, how ya doin’?” a vaguely familiar voice answered when she’d expected the call to go to voicemail again.

“Oh, uh, sorry,” Tobin apologized while pulling her phone back to make sure she hadn’t misread the sender in her blind panic. “Your text said you wanted to report a crime?”

“Yeah, wasn’t my message,” the mysterious voice claimed with a snort.

Tobin stared at her phone again, confirming for a second time that the number she’d gotten the text from was the number that she called and was the number she had saved as Christen’s after Pinoe had given it to her - not that she told Christen that. When she returned the phone to her ear, she heard the distinctive shuffling noises of someone covering the microphone with their hand. It sounded like a small struggle was occurring on the other end.

A timid, “Hi, Tobin,” finally came through in a much more recognizable voice. Tobin would know that voice anywhere having thought of little else other than its owner for some time now. At the recognition, her panic returned.

“Chris, what’s happened? Are you okay? Who was that? Where are you right now?” Tobin shot off rapid-fire questions without pausing so much for a breath let alone time for Christen to answer a single one.

“I’m so sor-” Christen began remorsefully, but was interrupted by Tobin’s panicked questioning.

“What happened?”

“It was just meant to be funny, but I can see now how alarming it would be to get that and how not funny it actually was,” she babbled.

“What happened?” Tobin asked again, scooting over as Allie leaned in uncomfortably close to hear the other side of the conversation.

“Cudntbine,” she replied, indistinct and muffled. Tobin wasn’t entirely sure it wasn’t a groan.

“Chris?”

“I couldn’t buy wine.”

“You- You couldn’t buy wine?” Tobin thought she must have misheard her.

Allie jabbed at her shoulder to get her attention, mouthing ‘what the fuck’ when she’d gotten it.

“Um, yeah,” Christen confirmed after a painfully awkward silence. “I got ID'd and obviously didn’t have it, because, well you know,” she trailed off.

“Right. Definitely a crime that ne-” The phone was no longer in her hand, as Allie began climbing the stairs.

“Hi, is this the hot chick that was sitting at Harry’s desk today?”

***

Christen startled at the unexpected stranger shouting into the phone.

The question itself was baffling, too.

She could hear Tobin in the background demanding her phone back from the woman. Her stomach plummeted. There’s only one reason a woman would snatch a phone from someone and demand to know if they were the ‘hot chick’ present anywhere... Of course Tobin would have a girlfriend. How could she be so stupid?

“I was at Tobin’s desk,” she admitted nervously, trying not to hold on to a sliver of hope that this was just a simple misunderstanding and that Tobin wasn’t involved with another woman.

“Great. What are your intentions with my Harry?”

“Your who?”

“Harry.”

“I don’t think I know anyone by the name Harry.”

“HAR-RY. You literally just said you were at her desk today.”

“Har- Tobin? Is Tobin Harry?”

“Who else would Harry be?”

“I don’t understand what’s happening right now.”

The stranger sighed heavily, layering it dramatically with rasping frustration. “God. Is there a brain cell to be had between the two of you?”

“Excuse me?” Hackles raised, Christen’s confusion gave way to fury at the audacity of this person to speak to her that way. Maybe it was the culmination of the day she had had, or maybe it was the wine she had all but chugged finally going to her head, but there was no stopping the fresh round of frustrated tears from pooling in her eyes. Her own inability to control her emotions hastened their descent. “Who the fuck are you?” She seethed, ignoring the way her voice cracked partway through the question and deftly evading the reaching hand trying to take back the phone from her.

Christen’s watery eyes met her friend’s steely gaze, and she noted the clenched jaw and raised eyebrow accompanying the fire behind her eyes. She tried to pacify the brewing storm that was her best friend with a slight shake of her head, trying to communicate that it was fine. She was fine. Despite all indications and evidence substantiating Crystal’s belief that the obligatory hellfire reserved solely for when her best friend was hurting was called for in this moment. Everything was fine.

“Fuck. Oh, fuck. Are you crying? I’m sorry! Here.” The following clatter and muffled cussing as the clattering continued surprised her nearly as much as the words she had heard. Tobin’s girlfriend was sorry? For making her cry?

“Chris?” Tobin asked, winded and a little tinny. “Shit, are you still there? Allie just dropped my phone down the stairs.”

Well, at least that explains the seeming bedlam that erupted from the other side seconds before.

“Hello?” Tobin tried again.

Oh, right. “Um, yeah, I’m still here,” Christen answered, embarrassed again by the betraying crack of her voice. She swiped at the tear tracks on her face and tried to pull herself together before Crystal reached the end of her patience with the situation.

Tobin’s initially relieved sigh was interrupted by a sharp intake of breath at Christen’s emotional response. “I’m sorry about Allie. She grabbed my phone and ran up like six flights of stairs,” she said shyly.

“Who is she?” The question slipped out before she could stop it. She didn’t want the confirmation. Not today, at least. She’d had enough for one day. Another knock and Christen knew the one bottle of wine that Crystal had brought with her wouldn’t suffice.

“My best friend. She went a little rabid when she thought I was keeping a secret girlfriend,” she chuckled. The sound was distorted from what Christen assumed was the phone’s unfortunate trip down the stairs.

“Are you?” Again, her mouth ran off before her brain could catch up.

“Am I what?”

“Keeping a secret girlfriend?”

The resounding laughter she heard in response caused her cheeks to flare crimson and her eyes to burn. “No. No secret girlfriend.”

Christen felt some of the tension leave her body. Enough to allow her to lean back into the couch cushions at least. She hummed in response.

“So, you wanted to report a wine related crime?”

And her short lived reprieve came to an end, and her spine was once again straight as an arrow, holding her shoulders up near her ears.

Christen couldn’t bring herself to do anything other than let a nervous bark of laughter cover up how foolish she felt.

“Maybe you can tell me about it over coffee tomorrow?”