Chapter 1: Odds Are
stitches, subtlety, and snarling dogs
It's a couple of people's birthdays today, so happy birthday all around! We thought this would be an appropriate gift for you all. We hope you enjoy it :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Struck by lightning, sounds pretty frightening
But you know the chances are so small
Hit by the A-Train, crashed in an airplane
Better chance you're gonna buy it at the mall
But it's a twenty-three-or-four-to-one
That you can fall in love by the end of this song
So get up, get up
No I'm never gonna let up so you might as well sing along
The odds are that we will probably be alright
Odds are we gonna be alright, odds are we gonna be alright tonight
The odds are that we will probably be alright
Odds are we gonna be alright, odds are we gonna be alright tonight
("Odds Are" by Barenaked Ladies)
“Dude, I swear. I’ve totally had sex with her,” Ashlyn whispered, readjusting the ice pack held to the side of her head.
“You’ve said that before, and every time, you’ve got the wrong person. A lot of people live in Anchorage; you sure she doesn’t just look like someone else?” Tobin scoffed, moving her hands behind her head on the hospital bed. She glanced down at the gash on her shin and the blood that had dried around it, making it look a lot worse than it really was.
The E.R. in Anchorage General wasn’t full, but it was busy enough for the doctors, nurses, and interns to be running around, caring for patients. Tobin was just glad that they’d had enough people on hand to rush the guy she and Ashlyn had rescued from a house fire into surgery.
She’d grown up in Anchorage, so this E.R. was familiar. It was where she’d come when she’d broken her arm in seventh grade. It was where she’d had her appendix removed right before her freshman year of high school.
It was where she’d woken up the summer before senior year, where her dad had broken the news, where her life had taken a sharp turn.
The beds were different now, and the doctors wore darker blue scrubs than they had when she was a kid, but it was still the same. It smelled just like it had back then, and a couple of the older nurses and doctors still looked at her the same way they had when she was seventeen and screaming.
“She’s got ink on her ribcage. Some deep, philosophical shit in German,” Ashlyn continued, recapturing Tobin’s attention. Ashlyn winced as she craned her neck to catch sight of the dark-haired E.R. doctor, feeling the pain in her head multiply. “She said something like she was new to the area. I swear that’s her.”
“Oh, let me just ask her to lift up her shirt then,” Tobin snorted, glancing at the doctor Ashlyn was claiming to have had sex with.
“From what I remember, it takes three beers and some sweet-talking for that to work with her,” Ashlyn grinned.
“I think I’ll let you do that,” Tobin sighed, taking a deep breath in and feeling her ribs ache. “You haven’t changed at all since college.”
Tobin let her eyes flit across the room, only stopping when her eyes landed on another doctor in the corner of the room who was putting a dislocated shoulder back in place.
Tobin had dislocated her shoulder before. She’d popped a couple of people’s shoulders back into place herself in emergency situations. It wasn’t anything new, and the scream that the patient let out didn’t startle her. Nothing really startled her anymore; nothing had for a long time.
But it was the doctor’s bright green eyes that stunned her the most. It was the way they met her own for a brief moment and sent Tobin’s heart racing that scared her. It was the way Tobin wanted her to look again that had her stomach churning.
“Think Bryce is gonna pull through?” Ashlyn asked, looking over at Tobin and noticing her attention was elsewhere. She shuffled around on the hospital bed she sat on, managing to catch sight of the person who’d captivated Tobin’s attention. A sly smirk made its way onto Ashlyn’s face when she noticed the gorgeous doctor Tobin was all but drooling over. “Fuck Bryce. You know her, Toby?” Ashlyn asked.
“What?” Tobin murmured, “Oh, no. I don’t.”
“I thought you knew every eligible bachelorette in town,” Ashlyn smirked. “You’re a bonafide, homegrown heartbreaker.”
“She’s definitely not from here,” Tobin mumbled. “And who says she’s a bachelorette?”
“No ring,” Ashlyn pointed out, gesturing at the doctor’s left hand.
“Lots of people take their rings off to work,” Tobin argued, looking at the doctor’s ring finger to check and see if there was a tan line, anything that would hint that she was married.
“Do lots of people ping my gaydar in Anchorage, Alaska?” Ashlyn countered. “Because that shit be pinging.”
“You think everyone is gay,” Tobin scoffed, pulling her eyes off of the green-eyed doctor.
“Everyone should be, but I digress. That woman over there definitely knows her way around a-”
Ashlyn’s head whipped around, her eyes landing on the dark-haired doctor she definitely knew. At the familiar way her last name rolled off her tongue, Ashlyn winked at Tobin and then refocused on the doctor.
“So, you remember me too, huh?” Ashlyn quipped, settling back in the bed with a cocky smirk.
“How hard did you hit your head?” the doctor laughed. “Your name is on the chart,” she added, tapping the plastic clipboard at the foot of the bed.
Ashlyn flushed a dark red, her eyes widening in surprise. “You- uh-” she spluttered, uncharacteristically tongue-tied.
“I’m Dr. Ali Krieger. I’m amazed you don’t have a concussion actually,” Ali replied, arching her brow in Ashlyn’s direction. It was painfully obvious she didn’t recognize Ashlyn, only furthering Ashlyn’s embarrassment and inability to form a coherent response.
“She’s got a super hard head,” Tobin said, glancing over at Ali. “Are you gonna stitch her up?”
“Where is it?” Ali replied, pulling on a pair of gloves.
Ashlyn dumbly pointed to the side of her head, removing the ice pack and lifting up a section of hair to reveal a small gash.
“I think this will be a quick fix,” Ali declared with a chuckle, grabbing a Band-Aid from her coat pocket and walking around the side of the bed so she could put the bandage on Ashlyn’s head. “It isn’t deep. No need for stitches.”
“I have a question,” Tobin said, a shit-eating grin spreading across her face despite the throbbing in her ribs and her shin.
“I might have an answer,” Ali replied, focusing intently on peeling the wrapping off the small Band-Aid and putting it on Ashlyn’s head.
“Do you have a tattoo on your ribs?” Tobin asked, ignoring the way Ashlyn was smacking the side of the bed to get her to stop.
Ali hesitated and looked past Ashlyn, narrowing her eyes in Tobin’s direction. “How hard did you hit your head?”
“Oh, I didn’t. My buddy here thinks she’s slept with you. She said you have German words on your ribs,” Tobin said matter-of-factly.
“Fuck off, Heath,” Ashlyn grumbled, her cheeks flaming.
Ali looked a little surprised at the turn of conversation, her eyes moving between Tobin and Ashlyn. But then she looked intently at Ashlyn for a few moments and froze, a sparkle of recognition in her eyes.
“Oh my God! We met at Sheridan’s right? A few weeks ago?” Ali asked, a chuckle leaving her lips as she stood back up and removed the gloves from her hands.
“Yeah, that’s me,” Ashlyn said weakly. “I think I need to get back to work now.”
“No more work for you today, Harris. A little R&R is in your future. But…if you find yourself at Sheridan’s tonight, keep an eye out for me,” Ali winked, tossing the gloves into a wastebasket and walking off.
“Duuuuude,” Tobin laughed, flopping an arm over her eyes. “Cute doctor is gonna help you R&R.”
“I hate you,” Ashlyn groused, but the small smile on her lips as she watched Ali walk away took the bite out of her words.
“You love me. If I hadn’t told her, you wouldn’t be getting a second night with her,” Tobin defended.
Even if that was true, Ashlyn wasn’t just going to let Tobin get away with the shit she just pulled. It was classic Tobin, but it was annoying nonetheless.
“Hey Ali- I mean, Dr. Krieger?” Ashlyn called out, capturing Ali’s attention.
“Ali’s fine,” she said with a smirk, putting down the next patient’s clipboard and stepping back over to Ashlyn’s bed.
“Who’s Doctor Green Eyes over there? Toby here needs to get stitched up and would really love her to do it,” Ashlyn grinned, pointedly ignoring the way Tobin reached out and smacked her arm.
Ali let out a loud laugh, making the green-eyed doctor glance over to their side of the room.
“Would you like me to get her? You definitely need stitches,” Ali said with a smile.
Ashlyn’s ‘Yes!’ drowned out Tobin’s croaked ‘No,’ sending Ali off to the other corner of the E.R.
“This isn’t the same,” Tobin whined. “I haven’t slept with her.”
“Maybe Green Eyes can help you R&R,” Ashlyn said sweetly, batting her eyelashes and looking the picture of innocence.
“She could be straight for all I know,” Tobin hissed, her heart racing when she saw Ali pointing the other doctor toward her bed.
“My gaydar never lies,” Ashlyn replied, hopping up from the bed with a small groan. “I’ll be in the truck,” she added with a salute for Tobin.
“Ash-” Tobin groaned, trying to get out of the bed and follow after Ashlyn, stitches be damned.
“I hear you need to get stitched up?” a warm, almost angelic voice stopped Tobin in her tracks.
Tobin froze, her legs dangling over the side of the bed and her stomach doing flips. “I- uh- yep,” Tobin mumbled, feeling a fresh bit of blood start to seep out of the gash now that her leg was hanging off the bed.
“Eloquent. Did someone check your head out?” the green-eyed doctor replied, her smile tinged with amusement.
“I didn’t hit it,” Tobin croaked out, wishing she had a bottle of water to chug really quickly.
“Good. Sit back for me...Heath?” the doctor asked, eyeing the chart quickly to get Tobin’s name before stepping up to the hospital bed.
Tobin hoisted her leg back up onto the bed, cringing at the even bloodier shin and the way her white socks were officially ruined. She already had to buy more pants since one of the nurses had cut the fabric, starting at the ankle and ending at her knee.
“It looks worse than it is,” she mumbled, keeping her eyes on her leg and not on those piercing green eyes.
“That your professional medical opinion?” the doctor teased, tilting her head to the side a bit as she looked from the wound on Tobin’s leg, up to Tobin’s eyes.
Tobin could feel a tiny smile creep its way onto her face at her teasing. She lifted her head slightly, her heart thudding against her ribcage when she saw the slightly amused smirk on the doctor’s lips.
“It’s my professional opinion, although I can’t say it’s founded in a medical degree.”
“Best leave those opinions to the doctors, I think.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Tobin saluted, leaning back into the pillow.
The doctor visibly cringed and pulled a chair over, settling on it as she tugged on a pair of surgical gloves. “Please don’t call me that. It’ll make me feel old,” she chucked.
“You don’t look old,” Tobin hummed.
Arching a brow, the doctor moved closer to the bed and dropped her attention to the gash on Tobin’s leg.
“You should probably leave the flirting to other people too,” the doctor replied smoothly, her lips still twitched up into a smile as she cleaned up the wound with soft touches.
“But then I wouldn’t get smiles like that. Best medicine in this place,” Tobin grinned.
Green eyes lifted to meet Tobin’s again, the small smile on the doctor’s face growing as a slight blush heated her cheeks. “You don’t want any other medicine? The stitches you need might smart a bit.”
“I’m sure it won’t be as bad as the time my co-worker gave me some emergency stitches with fishing line,” Tobin sighed, gripping onto the itchy bed sheets.
“I’ll try to be better than the fishing line,” the doctor replied, applying a local anesthetic to the wound and then starting the stitches.
“Already better technique,” Tobin winked, watching closely as the doctor made the first stitch.
The doctor just smiled again at the smooth compliment, her focused green eyes trained on the movements of her hands and the needle in them.
“Prettier stitches too,” Tobin added, lifting up part of her cut pant leg to show the doctor the thicker scar on the right side of her knee.
“How’d you get this, Heath?” the doctor asked, her brow furrowed slightly in concentration.
“The old scar or the one you’re working on...Dr. Press?” Tobin asked, glancing down at the doctor’s white coat where her name was stitched.
“Dr. Press is my mom. I’m just Christen,” the doctor replied quickly, looking up at Tobin with a tight smile. “Either one. Whatever keeps you talking and not watching me poke this needle into you.”
Tobin let out a soft laugh. “Sorry, it’s kind of relaxing to watch,” Tobin hummed, looking up at the ceiling.
“You watching me makes me nervous for some reason,” Christen admitted with a warm chuckle, turning her attention back to the stitches.
“Well, the old one was from a Search and Rescue mission. A co-worker and I were climbing down a mountain to where this hiker fell, and I slipped on the way down. The hiker had some fishing line and a hook to close me up until we got back to civilization. The latest was just your average clumsiness during a house fire,” Tobin shrugged.
“Hmm,” Christen hummed, finishing up the final stitch, her tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth as she focused. “Sounds like you live a dangerous life there, Heath.”
“It’s Tobin,” she said.
“What is?” Christen asked distractedly, sitting back with a satisfied smile aimed at her handiwork.
“My name. It’s Tobin. Only people at work really call me Heath.”
“Oh, sorry,” Christen chuckled, her cheeks filling with a pretty shade of pink as she blushed.
“The woman who stitched my leg up just apologized?” Tobin scoffed, rolling her eyes teasingly.
Christen shrugged her arms up and down as if to say, Yup, that’s me.
“You wouldn’t happen to know where a Nurse named O’Hara is, would you?” Tobin asked, looking down at the completed stitches and smiling at the perfect work Christen had just done.
Christen’s smile faltered just a bit. She pushed back in the chair and ripped her gloves off quickly.
“I’ll send Kelley around. Try to avoid danger next time so you don’t end up back on my table,” Christen advised, shooting Tobin a small nod before getting to her feet.
“Wait! I mean, maybe it’s not your job because you’re a doctor...I don’t know. All I know about doctors is from Grey’s Anatomy,” Tobin rambled.
Christen’s brow furrowed, her arms crossing over her chest. “What do you need?”
“O’Hara told me to wait for her for an x-ray about an hour ago, but if you know how to get that done, I don’t need to wait for her. Please?” Tobin asked, hoping that she wasn’t completely disrupting the hierarchy and order in the hospital.
Realization flashed through Christen’s eyes, bringing her easy smile back to her lips.
“Oh, that’s- okay. Um...what do you need to get x-rayed?” Christen asked.
“They wanted to look at my ribs,” Tobin sighed, lifting up her shirt and showing Christen the bruise that was blooming on her right side.
Christen immediately stepped closer, her hand falling to Tobin’s bare side. She prodded the bruised area, her forehead creasing in concern.
“Let’s go get that x-ray, Tobin,” Christen hummed, her eyes darting up to meet Tobin’s quickly.
“How do I ask for you every time? This is some speedy work,” Tobin said with an easy smile, the skin along the side of her ribs still tingling from where Christen had just touched her.
Christen just grinned and helped Tobin up from the hospital bed, careful not to jostle her ribs.
“A please gets you a long way in life.”
“Soooooo who was that tall drink of water?”
Christen choked on her sip of coffee and spluttered. She whipped around and saw Crystal, head of Neurosurgery and her newest friend here in Anchorage, grinning at her from the doorway.
Christen wiped the coffee from her chin and glowered at Crystal, stepping away from the coffee machine in the break room.
“A patient who was lucky not to break any ribs,” Christen replied breezily.
“She was super hot,” Crystal hummed, setting her own coffee cup under the machine and expertly pressing a few buttons.
Christen made a noncommittal noise but felt that stupid blush creep into her cheeks once more.
“Super reckless, more like it. Even for a firefighter,” Christen shrugged, her mind doing backflips to distance herself from whatever butterflies had fluttered around within her at Tobin’s easy smile and warm brown eyes.
The last thing she needed was to get distracted by someone who flirted daily with danger. Not again, and especially not with someone this heart-achingly beautiful. She barely survived the last one.
“All I’m saying is if I had a hot patient looking at me like that, I’d be stitching up that leg as slow as possible,” Crystal grinned, mixing some creamer into her coffee and taking a sip.
“I took the requisite amount of time to stitch her up. Hell, I think I went faster than my average,” Christen replied.
“You know what they say about all work and no play,” Crystal mumbled behind her coffee cup.
“It makes me happy?” Christen offered, following Crystal out of the break room and down the hallway, their strides matching one another’s.
“So, I can tell Shirley that she’s fair game?” Crystal asked with a smirk.
Christen choked on the next sip of coffee and glared over at Crystal. “Why do I bother trying to drink around you and your meddling?”
“Shirley was dying to take her for an x-ray,” Crystal shrugged.
Christen grumbled into her next sip of coffee, feeling suddenly very, very happy she’d made time to take the annoyingly attractive firefighter for her x-rays.
“Shirley’s in Peds. It’s not her job,” Christen scoffed.
“It’s not yours either really,” Crystal laughed.
“I’m an E.R. doctor, I was- I mean, I was making sure my patient was properly cared for after a traumatic injury,” Christen protested, knowing her excuse and her voice were weak enough for Crystal to pick up on.
“Your commitment to the job is really inspiring. Heart Eyes didn’t seem that traumatized, though,” Crystal winked, looking down at her pager.
“Heart eyes? No way. More like...flirt eyes,” Christen replied, hearing her pager beep as well. She checked it and sighed. “Gotta run. Let’s never talk about this again, yeah?” Christen asked, offering Crystal a small smile as she started toward the stairwell.
“All right, I’ll send Shirley in if she comes back,” Crystal laughed, following behind Christen.
“If you do, I’ll tell Pierre that his special, family heirloom vase wasn’t actually blown over by the wind last week!” Christen smirked.
“You wouldn’t,” Crystal gasped, jabbing a finger into Christen’s side.
“I would if Shirley takes Tobin for x-rays,” Christen shot back, unable to ignore the small flicker of jealousy inside of her, a flicker she had no business feeling.
“Ooooh you’re on a first-name basis with Heart Eyes,” Crystal cooed.
Christen just grumbled into her next sip of coffee and pushed open the door to the stairs. But even as she grumbled, a small smile graced her lips.
“That’s my sweater,” Christen sighed, looking up from her worn copy of Pride & Prejudice.
Ali was standing in front of the mirror dressed in her forest green sweater. Her mom had given it to her for Christmas last year, and even if she had yet to wear it, she wasn’t expecting her roommate to be wearing it tonight.
“Can I borrow it, though?” Ali pouted.
“Little late to the party there, Al,” Christen chuckled, pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose and closing the book in her hand.
“There’s a very high chance that I’m gonna get laid tonight, and if I remember correctly, which I might not considering how drunk I was last time, it’s really good sex,” Ali said, lifting her right leg and looking at the boot option that she had on her left foot.
Christen rolled her eyes. “But why does that necessitate wearing my sweater?”
“It’s cold outside, and none of my sweaters are as cute as yours. Plus, if I wear yours, I can be positive that Ashlyn hasn’t seen it on me before,” Ali smiled.
“Ashlyn...which one is she again? The elementary school teacher or the bartender?” Christen asked. She pulled the wool blanket tighter around her, fighting off the chill in the air. It was barely November and it was already dropping below 20 degrees Fahrenheit at night. As a girl from California, she was definitely not used to this yet, even if she’d been here for a few weeks already.
“The really sexy firefighter who came in today,” Ali said, winking at Christen.
Christen couldn’t recall an Ashlyn. The only patient she really remembered working on all day was Tobin Heath, which Christen blamed on the stitches and long trip to get an x-ray taken of her ribs. She definitely wasn’t remembering Tobin for the playful glint in those brown eyes and the permanent cocky grin on Tobin’s face. Nope, not at all.
“She’s the one who came in with the patient who asked for you,” Ali smirked, choosing to wear her warmer, taller boots.
“Oh, her I remember,” Christen replied, feeling that same blush that had bothered her during her entire interaction with Tobin earlier color her cheeks again.
“She might be at Sheridan’s tonight too…” Ali sing-songed. “Want to join?”
Christen shook her head and held her book up in the air, fixing her glasses as they slid down her nose again.
“I’ve got Mister Darcy and the Bennetts to keep me company,” Christen replied.
“They definitely won’t fuck you tonight, though,” Ali sighed. “Come ooooon! It’s been a year. I think it might be good to get out there again and meet some people.”
Christen pointedly ignored Ali’s response. “Go on, get out of here, and leave me to my book.”
“Okay, but just put me out of my misery before I go. Would you want the firefighter to fuck you?” Ali asked, raising her eyebrows at Christen.
Christen wouldn’t dignify that question with a response, since she hardly knew anything about Tobin, other than her entire medical history of course.
“Goodbye, Al!” Christen called out, her eyes falling to her book again, not really processing the words on the page as she tried not to think about a patient in any way other than how she should be.
“Okay, I’ll tell her you’re on the fence if I see her!” Ali teased, pulling on a jacket and some gloves.
“Don’t wait up!” Ali yelled from the front door, slamming it closed before Christen could respond.
Christen rolled her eyes affectionately and focused on her book, realizing with a start that she was holding it upside-down and had been since Ali brought up fucking Tobin Heath.
“So you’re in love?” Tobin teased over the truck’s blaring siren.
Ashlyn smacked her gum and blew a large bubble, her smile almost ear to ear it was so big.
“It’s only been a week, dude,” Ashlyn replied, tactfully avoiding the question.
“You’ve had sober sex three times, and you left her in your house this morning with breakfast in bed,” Tobin scoffed, pulling on her helmet and making sure it was secure as the house came into view.
“Is that what love in your late 20’s is?” Ashlyn joked, tightening the strap of her helmet.
“That’s marriage, Harris,” Frank laughed before he parked the truck.
“Can it, old man. You wouldn't know marriage if it bit you on the dick,” Ashlyn replied, slinging her gear on her back.
Frank let out a huge laugh before jumping out of the truck.
“Someone’s cranky. Did she keep you up late?” Tobin teased, following Frank’s lead and hopping out of the truck before she got smacked.
“Up late and awake early,” Ashlyn grinned, jumping down and landing next to Tobin. The trio sobered at the sight of the flames and the smoke billowing out of the back of the house.
Frank sent the two of them into the house, staying outside to coordinate with the other people on scene and get water trained on the blaze.
Tobin headed through the front door, Ashlyn hot on her heels, walking slowly and keeping her eyes alert so that nothing would surprise them. She tapped her feet on the ground before each step, making sure that all the floorboards were sturdy. The fire was mainly located in the back of the house, but she knew there were two people still in the building, and she wasn’t entirely sure where they were.
The two of them climbed the stairs to the second floor, bracing themselves as they walked. They opened three doors before they finally found an elderly woman and a little girl, trying to get an upstairs window open on the side of the house.
“We’ve got you!” Tobin called out, stepping into the room and getting their attention.
“We’re with both of them,” Ashlyn radioed to Frank.
Ashlyn helped the older woman out of the house, keeping an arm around her as they walked and checking the floor as she moved.
Tobin lifted the little girl into her arms, following behind Ashlyn and following the same procedure. It wasn’t until they reached the front door that Tobin heard the barking coming from the kitchen.
“Ash!” Tobin called, lifting the little girl over the threshold of the front door and placing her on the top step.
“I got her!” Ashlyn yelled, waving Tobin back into the house as she hustled back to get the little girl.
Tobin slowly made her way into the kitchen where the barking seemed to be coming from, taking each step carefully. The flames had reached the back half of the kitchen, licking the cabinets and causing the paint to peel off of them in thin strips.
“Hey, buddy,” Tobin cooed, crouching down to get the dog’s attention.
The small, chihuahua snarled at Tobin and backed closer to the flames, away from Tobin and the rescue she promised.
“Don’t be dumb,” Tobin groaned, pulling off her glove in the hopes that the dog would smell her skin and let her pick it up and take it outside.
But the dog was, in fact, dumb. It jumped for Tobin’s hand, latching onto Tobin’s wrist and not letting go.
“Motherf-” Tobin wheezed, squeezing her eyes shut and scooping the dog up with her other hand. She wasn’t about to detach it and risk losing it in the fire. And the dog didn’t seem to have plans to unclench its jaw any time soon.
Christen looked up from her book, her brows furrowing at the sound in Dr. Jill Ellis’s voice. She couldn’t quite place the emotion.
It was a quiet night in the E.R., their only visitor having been a twelve-year-old boy who’d swallowed part of an action figure on a dare. But quiet nights had a way of turning into busy ones and bad ones, even in this slower city, and Christen had the sinking feeling that was possibly about to be the case.
“Bad?” she asked, jumping to her feet, Pride & Prejudice forgotten on the table.
Jill shook her head. “One for the books. Get down there.”
Christen hustled down to the E.R., pulling her curls into a loose bun as she eyed the no-longer empty room. Two firefighters stood on one side of a bed, and an elderly woman and a little girl stood at the foot of it. The four of them worked as a shield so Christen couldn’t see who was sitting on the bed.
“I’m Dr. Press, if you all would-” Christen started to say, approaching the wall of people around the hospital bed. Her words died on her lips when she saw not just who was in the bed, but what had brought her in. “Tobin?”
“His name is Winston, actually,” Tobin grumbled, setting off another round of snarls from the chihuahua attached to her wrist.
“Um...shouldn’t you have called Animal Services?” Christen asked, ignoring the slight flutter in her stomach at the sight of Tobin back in her E.R. Her honeyed brown hair fell in loose waves around her face and she had that annoyingly alluring smile playing at her lips. If possible, Tobin looked better than she had the last time she’d been in.
“Well we would have, but I thought you’d do better stitches,” Ashlyn said, pushing Tobin’s coat sleeve up her arm and showing Christen the blood that had already spread down her forearm.
Christen winced. “All right, I’m going to need you all to wait outside,” she said, pulling the privacy curtain closed, cutting the firefighters and the owners of Winston out. She ignored the hysterical wailing from the little girl about the health of her dog and focused instead on the woman she hadn’t expected to see back in here. Not less than a week since the last time she’d been in.
“How’d you manage this one?” Christen asked with a small smile, stepping up to the bed. She reached a hesitant hand out and ran her fingers along Winston’s head, hoping she could get the dog to relax his bite.
“He didn’t want me to save him from a house fire. Honestly, he probably started it. You can see it in his eyes,” Tobin mumbled.
Christen looked down and smiled at the dog, scratching his ears gently. “I don’t know, he looks pretty cute to me. You were just scared, huh, Winston? Tobin in that big uniform and all the gear probably made you really afraid,” Christen cooed, feeling Winston release his hold on Tobin’s hand with every soft word she uttered.
“I think he’s a little devil,” Tobin said, matching Christen’s soft tone of voice.
After one final ear scratch from Christen, Winston released his hold on Tobin and all but jumped into Christen’s arms, licking her cheek.
“Definitely the devil,” Christen chuckled. She quickly passed the dog off to the little girl who was waiting behind the curtain and then returned to Tobin’s side. “What is it with you and danger?” she asked, her arms crossed over her chest as she took in the soot on Tobin’s face and the tired look in her eyes.
“Am I supposed to say it’s my middle name?” Tobin teased, bending her wrist and wincing a little at the movement.
Christen narrowed her eyes, her gaze falling to Tobin’s wrist. She pulled on some gloves and took Tobin’s wrist in her hands, inspecting it.
“No pretty stitches this time. Just need to clean it, and I’ll get you prescribed some antibiotics just in case,” Christen murmured. “Coat off please.”
“Is this the first dog you’ve gotten in the E.R.?” Tobin asked, shedding her coat and then looking down at the little puncture wounds on her wrist.
“I had a few show up at my last hospital, but this was my first chihuahua, yes,” Christen replied.
“I’m glad I got to be a part of your first here,” Tobin smirked, running her uninjured hand over her forehead and pushing some baby hairs away from her face.
Christen’s lips twitched up into an amused smile, her hands falling from Tobin’s wrist. She took a step back, forcing herself to look away from the flexing muscles in Tobin’s arm as she pushed hair away from her face.
Christen busied herself gathering some antiseptic wipes and then set out to clean the small puncture marks on Tobin’s wrist, tactfully avoiding looking up at her amused gaze and playful smirk.
“You thought you got rid of me last time, didn’t you?” Tobin asked, watching Christen intently.
“The thought crossed my mind,” Christen hummed, poking the tip of her tongue out of her mouth as she methodically cleaned the wound.
“Oh, so I crossed your mind?” Tobin asked, tilting her head to the side and lifting her eyebrows a little. Sure, she was teasing a little, but the truth was that Christen Press had crossed her own mind dozens of times over the past week.
Christen immediately flushed, her hand holding the antiseptic wipe slipping just a bit.
“Just when I had to clear some paperwork,” Christen replied, the lie evident due to the tightness in her voice and the way the flush in her cheeks remained.
“Oh…” Tobin sighed. “You crossed my mind every time I took a shower.”
Christen choked on air and looked up, not having expected anything remotely resembling such a suggestive sentence to come out of Tobin’s mouth.
“I didn’t know if getting the stitches wet would be bad or not, so I kept trying to balance with this leg on the side of the tub,” Tobin added, her smile only growing at the flustered way Christen had reacted.
Christen narrowed her eyes and pressed her lips into a thin line, trying desperately not to smile or laugh or do anything of the sort. She knew she was still blushing furiously, and she was definitely having trouble getting that image out of her head.
“Cute,” Christen managed, her focus falling to the wound again, retreating to the safety of medicine, away from the glint in Tobin’s eyes and the way that glint was stirring something within her.
“So are you,” Tobin said, suddenly feeling a lot better about the dog bite.
Christen let out a surprised huff and shook her head just a bit, deciding to take the loss on the whole continued blushing thing.
“You sure lay it on thick, don’t you?” Christen asked, a little breathlessly. She deposited the used wipe onto the table and sat back, removing the gloves from her slightly shaking hands.
“Subtlety’s never really worked for me,” Tobin shrugged. “But if you’d like me to knock it off, just say the word. I’d hate to make a Mr. or Mrs. Press come after me.”
Christen got to her feet and discarded her gloves into a bin. “I’m not married,” Christen corrected, still feeling flustered and like her heart was going to beat out of her chest.
“And I didn’t hear you say the word…” Tobin said, a lopsided smile spreading across her face.
“You can get your prescription filled at the pharmacy,” Christen replied with a smile of her own. “Try to avoid chihuahuas and danger, Tobin.”
“But how else would I see my favorite doctor?” Tobin asked, grabbing her coat with her good hand and standing up from the bed.
Christen let out a warm, melodic laugh and turned around, walking away from Tobin and feeling, for the first time, like she’d made the right decision by moving to Anchorage.
Sooooooo? Thoughts? Are we intrigued? Should we continue to post this story? Let us know!
As always, thank you to everyone, on here and on Tumblr, who supports us and these stories we write. We love you all!
-sam & emma
Chapter 2: Born to Run
ACE wrap, avocado hand, and avoidance
Long overdue update! Thanks for being patient! We hope you enjoy...
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Oh, will you walk with me out on the wire?
`Cause baby I'm just a scared and lonely rider
But I gotta know how it feels
I want to know if love is wild, babe
I want to know if love is real
Oh, can you show me?
The highways jammed with broken heroes
On a last chance power drive
Everybody's out on the run tonight
But there's no place left to hide
Together, Wendy, we can live with the sadness
I'll love you with all the madness in my soul
Oh, someday girl, I don't know when
We're gonna get to that place
Where we really want to go, and we'll walk in the sun
But till then, tramps like us
Baby, we were born to run
("Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen)
Christen heard the mechanical whoosh of the doors that led into the E.R. and jerked her head up.
If anyone asked, she wasn’t looking for someone in particular. She wasn’t. She was just being an attentive, focused doctor. She was definitely not looking for the warm brown eyes and beaming grin that had invaded her dreams every night for the past few weeks.
It felt a little odd to wish for Tobin Heath to come back into the E.R. She didn’t want to wish injury on anyone. She had taken an oath to do no harm, and here she was, wishing that another chihuahua would use the flirty firefighter as a chew toy.
When Tobin wasn’t dropping by with a job-related injury, Christen found herself missing the harmless flirtations they enjoyed. It was fun and easy and didn’t have to mean anything.
It was the first time in a long time that Christen had laughed and smiled and felt light . It didn’t hurt that Tobin was insanely attractive and seemed to think she was as well. It didn’t hurt one bit that every sweet, seductive word that left Tobin’s lips made her heart flutter.
“Incoming!” Jill called out, rushing by the nurse’s station. Christen immediately shot to her feet and hurried after her boss, feeling adrenaline rush through her just like it did every time there was action in the E.R.
She bounced from foot to foot next to Jill in the ambulance bay and watched the red and white vehicle, with the sirens blaring, race into the lot and screech to a halt. The rear doors flew open, revealing two paramedics, an older gentleman on a gurney, and-
“Hey there,” Tobin said, her smile huge and beaming despite the dark soot spread across her right cheek.
Christen ignored the way her stomach jumped at the sight of Tobin Heath and focused on the paramedics, but not before offering Tobin a small smile of her own.
“This isn’t social hour, Heath,” Frank grumbled from his spot on the gurney.
“What do we got?” Jill barked, her hands on her hips.
“To be honest, not much,” one of the paramedics mumbled.
Christen snorted and hid her mouth behind her gloved hand. She felt Jill glare at her and tried to work her mouth down into a frown. She knew Jill wasn’t her biggest fan, and if she wanted to make a name for herself in this hospital, she needed not to run afoul of the older doctor so soon.
“Frankie hurt his thumb during a training exercise,” Tobin laughed, jumping out of the back of the ambulance.
“Heath, I swear to God,” Frank hissed, pushing himself up into a seated position as soon as the EMTs had pulled the gurney out of the back.
“Possible break of the left thumb. Probable sprain. Definite dramatics,” the other paramedic declared, his attention on Jill and Christen.
“This one’s yours, Press. I have more important things to do,” Jill sighed, spinning on her heel and hustling back into the E.R.
“Call Doris,” Frank said, cradling his left hand against his chest. “This might be the end.”
“You want me to interrupt her workday to watch your hand bruise?” Tobin asked, lifting her eyebrows a little.
Christen snorted again, unable to hide it this time. She shook her head at the interaction between Tobin and her coworker and then looked to the paramedics. “I got it from here, boys,” Christen said, grabbing onto the base of the gurney.
“I could fire you,” Frank warned, sending a glare in Tobin’s direction.
“But you love me,” Tobin grinned, grabbing onto the gurney to help Christen move Frank inside.
Frank had known Tobin since she’d been a high schooler. One of his first search and rescue cases had been hers, and Tobin knew that no matter how much shit they gave each other, they were as close to family as anyone without a blood relation could be. Sometimes, he felt closer than her own family who’d moved to a smaller town after Tobin had graduated.
Since she’d joined the fire department, since Frank had hired her, he was the person Tobin went to for advice. They spent Thanksgivings and Christmases and birthdays together, confusing people who often pegged them as a father and daughter duo and not just co-workers.
They never talked about how they met one another. They never talked about how Frank carried her to safety, how she’d given him a bloody nose by trying to get out of his arms. The two of them kept their conversations as light as possible, knowing full well that their relationship was anything but light.
“Does Doris’s guy here have a name?” Christen asked over her shoulder, sending Tobin another smile.
“Chief Collins,” Frank said with a pout.
“It’s Frank,” Tobin scoffed, rolling her eyes at the way the chief liked to seem all official while whining about a sprained thumb.
“Well, Chief Frank Collins, I’m going to have to take a look at your hand there,” Christen declared, parking the gurney at the front of the E.R. “Meet me in room two?” Christen asked, her voice softening as she looked over at Tobin.
“Do you think you can walk, big guy?” Tobin asked with a huge smile on her face. “We’ll make our way there, slowly but surely.”
Christen fought off another smile as she turned to head toward room two to get the portable x-ray machine ready.
“Fuck you,” Frank mumbled, slipping off the gurney with a grunt.
“You need me to come hold your hand?” Tobin asked, trying to keep a straight face, knowing that Frank didn’t do well in medical settings.
“...yes,” Frank murmured, accepting Tobin’s offer to help him over to room two. They shuffled over, Tobin helping Frank settle onto the hospital bed as Christen wheeled the machine over.
“One of the new guys fell on his hand,” Tobin said softly, leaning against the door to room two and watching Christen work.
“Sounds like he’s the one you should be firing,” Christen offered. She situated the protective vest on Frank’s chest and then lifted his left hand up to check it out before x-raying it.
“He’s only a kid,” Frank said, wincing as Christen moved his hand. “Toby knows better. She also knows I can’t fire her. She’s the only one besides me and Harris who has her pilot's license for Search and Rescue.”
“Your hands are tied then. Can’t fire her no matter how sassy she is,” Christen teased, prodding Frank’s hand gently.
“Eh, she’s the daughter I never had,” he sighed, sending a fond wink over to Tobin and making her smile a soft, lopsided smile.
“Don’t go soft just because your hand’s broken,” Tobin mumbled, tapping the toe of her boot on the linoleum floor.
“Sprained. His left thumb is sprained,” Christen corrected, not accepting the incorrect assessment. “What did I say about keeping those medical opinions to yourself, Heath?” Christen asked, arching a brow in Tobin’s direction.
“I stand corrected. He cried so much, I thought it had to be a break. And it’s Tobin,” she said, focusing on Christen and ignoring Frank’s glare.
“What is?” Christen teased with a smile for Tobin before turning back to Frank and grabbing an ACE wrap from the kit sitting on the table. She dutifully wrapped Frank’s hand, apologizing quietly whenever Frank hissed or winced in pain.
Tobin rolled her eyes and readjusted the coat in her arms. She was secretly glad that Frank was such a weeny about injuries. It had been a while since her last hospital visit, and while she didn’t want an injury, she had been longing for a reason to see Christen again.
As much as Tobin liked to think of herself as independent, as not needing anyone, she couldn’t deny that Christen brightened up her weeks. Flirting with Christen was becoming one of her favorite things to do. Making Christen blush and smile and laugh was becoming addicting. It didn’t hurt that the flirting seemed harmless, unweighted, lacking consequences. It didn’t hurt that the flirting, that seeing Christen, made Tobin feel that much less weighed down by the rest of the world.
“I think you can let Doris know you’re going to pull through,” Christen hummed, grinning up at Frank after she’d finished wrapping his hand.
“She won’t be happy. I was supposed to grill for us tonight,” Frank sighed.
“One-handed grilling is totally possible,” Tobin said, pulling out her phone to shoot Doris a text on Frank’s behalf.
Christen got to her feet and offered Frank a nod. “If you experience any further pain or discomfort, don’t hesitate to come back in, okay? You can ask for me personally.”
“Dang, she never offers me that,” Tobin teased.
“Well, maybe I found a favorite patient,” Christen quipped, moving toward the door and inadvertently bringing herself closer to Tobin.
“You’re a lucky man, Frankie,” Tobin sighed, staring at Christen the entire time.
“Try to avoid danger,” Christen offered with a smirk, giving Tobin a version of their now routine goodbyes.
“You got it, Dr. Press,” Tobin said with a salute.
Christen chuckled and moved past Tobin on her way out of room two. Her arm accidentally brushed against Tobin’s, sending sparks shooting down to her palm and all the way up her shoulder. She was getting good at ignoring the blush in her cheeks and the butterflies in her stomach, which she did again as she walked out the door.
“Is that the fire chief in there?” Shirley asked, hovering near the door, just waiting for someone to exit.
“Nope,” Christen replied quickly, shutting the door soundly behind her.
“I could’ve sworn that brunette firefighter was just in here with him,” Shirley mumbled. “You’ve worked on her a couple times right?”
“I work on a lot of people,” Christen replied, crossing her arms over her chest and not moving from in front of the door to room two.
“Do you know if she has anyone...if you know what I mean? Dr. Dunn didn’t know,” Shirley asked, leaning to the side to peek through the window on the door.
“I don’t break doctor-patient confidentiality, Cruz,” Christen said, her voice taking on a hard edge as that small flicker of jealousy took root within her.
The thought of Tobin flirting with Shirley or any other person in this hospital made Christen sick to her stomach. Even if her and Tobin’s flirtations didn’t have to mean anything, she maybe wanted them to mean something .
“Whoops, sorry,” Tobin said, having just opened the door and bumped into Christen’s shoulder.
“We’re just leaving,” Christen replied through gritted teeth, her eyes narrowed at the saucy smile on Shirley’s face. She needed to get Shirley out of here now.
“Do you need help with paperwork?” Shirley asked, addressing her question to Tobin.
“Sure...uh?” Tobin hummed, waiting for the nurse to introduce herself.
“See, Shirley can help you, Frankie,” Tobin said, patting Frank on the shoulder as he moved past her and toward Shirley.
“Oh. Yes, of course. I’ll get the paperwork filled out,” Shirley mumbled, turning around with Frank following behind her.
“Everyone here is super helpful,” Tobin sighed, flashing a small smile in Christen’s direction.
“That was Winston-level evil,” Christen hummed with a matching smile.
“How so?” Tobin asked, cocking her head to the side.
“She obviously wasn’t interested in... Frank’s paperwork,” Christen chuckled, feeling better and better the more distance that was put between them and Shirley.
“Maybe she should be more direct next time,” Tobin shrugged, a smirk spreading across her face. “I don’t like to assume things.”
“Direct approaches aren’t always best, though,” Christen pointed out.
“I don’t know about that. I definitely escorted Frank here to see you, and I don’t feel the need to hide that fact,” Tobin said easily.
Christen felt that damn blush heat her cheeks again. There was just this way those words rolled off Tobin’s tongue. They were the perfect combination of flirty and genuine, and they had Christen’s heart fluttering.
A similarly flirty and genuine response bubbled to the surface, and then Christen heard the E.R. come to life around her, the sounds reminding her that they were in a hospital. In the place where she worked.
“It was nice not to have to patch you up this time,” Christen hummed, stepping away from the pull those brown eyes already had on her and crossing her arms over her chest again.
“I’ll try to stay out of your E.R.,” Tobin said with a nod, glancing over to where Frank was signing a few papers and taking a few steps toward the front desk.
“We’ll see if you can stay away,” Christen replied, unable to stop herself.
“Who knows? The world is a dangerous place,” Tobin called over her shoulder, sending a wink in Christen’s direction and mentally kicking herself when she realized she had.
Over the next couple of months, it became a routine, a dangerous, reckless, possibly desperate routine. One that always started with an injury, either Tobin’s or someone else’s, and ended with Christen telling her to try and avoid danger.
It wasn’t that Tobin purposely tried to get hurt. She was just as careful as she’d always been at work. However, unlike usual, Tobin was now the first to volunteer to escort co-workers and injured citizens to the E.R. Unlike before, she now jumped at any opportunity she had to go to the E.R. and catch a glimpse of Dr. Christen Press.
It hadn’t taken long for her to decide that the flirting wasn’t quite as innocent as it once had been.
In fact, it had only taken her a handful of visits to realize that she was having more and more trouble forgetting Christen Press. She’d decided a few weeks ago, right before the holidays, that she wanted to see Christen without an excuse. She wanted to see her outside of the hospital, in casual clothes, not uniforms, regularly, not just out of necessity. And now that the holidays were over, she was finally building up the confidence she needed to ask Christen if that was something she’d be interested in too.
This time for her trip to the E.R., however, she couldn’t blame anyone but herself. She pulled into the hospital parking lot and awkwardly parked the car one-handed, clutching her right hand to her chest and keeping the blood-soaked dish towel wrapped tightly around it. She made her way into the E.R. slowly, mentally chastising herself for being so clumsy.
Ali caught sight of the brown waves and the Anchorage F.D. emblem on the coat, not seeing the blood-soaked towel around Tobin’s hand, and spun around in her chair.
“Visitor for one Dr. Christen Press!” Ali called out, catching Christen’s attention.
Christen looked up from her paperwork, the end of the pen between her teeth. She narrowed her eyes at the front door and realized who Ali was talking about. But her momentary smile and giddiness quickly dissipated when she noticed the blood.
Christen shot to her feet, her paperwork and pen forgotten on the desk. She hurried up to Tobin, her brow creased in concern.
“What the hell did you do?” she asked, her voice hard with worry as her eyes took in the towel Tobin was holding tightly around her hand.
“I tried to make lunch,” Tobin mumbled, her cheeks blushing at the admission of her obvious incompetence in the kitchen.
Christen clicked her tongue and pulled Tobin over to the empty E.R. bed, tugging the privacy curtain closed. She was all business as she tugged on surgical gloves and pushed Tobin into a seated position on the bed.
“It doesn’t really hurt that bad, but I couldn’t stop it from bleeding,” Tobin shrugged, pulling the dishtowel off her hand and revealing the still bleeding gash on the palm of her hand.
Christen gently took the towel away from Tobin and discarded it, her attention captured by the wound.
“You have to be more careful,” Christen sighed, grabbing the supplies she’d need to get Tobin taken care of. She kept her gaze trained on the gash, not wanting to look up and risk Tobin seeing the worry in her eyes.
“Sorry,” Tobin mumbled.
“Sorry doesn’t un-slice a hand, Tobin,” Christen replied with another sigh.
“It’s like you’re not happy to see me,” Tobin teased, trying to take the seriousness out of the situation.
Christen couldn’t help herself then. She looked away from the wound, which she had staunched with some gauze pads for now, and up to meet Tobin’s eyes.
“I don’t like seeing you like this,” Christen replied softly. She cleared her throat and then looked back down, her cheeks warming slightly at her admission. She was having more and more trouble ignoring the pull of Tobin’s lopsided grin and her infuriating combination of genuine and flirty.
But she had to ignore it.
Tobin Heath was a walking hazard. She’d come into the E.R. no less than forty times these past few months. Even if most of those times were for other people, coworkers and citizens Tobin had rescued or saved, there were still plenty of visits of her own due to accidents or clumsiness.
Even if the draw to the danger and the ‘devil may care’ attitude was delicious and inviting, Christen couldn’t. She couldn’t let this go any further than flirtatious bedside manner and lingering looks. She couldn’t . Not again.
“Soooo, you’d like to see me outside of the hospital environment?” Tobin grinned, hoping for a positive response.
“I’d like to see you take better care of yourself,” Christen replied evasively. She had to look away from Tobin’s grin and the playful, tempting glint in her brown eyes. Christen had to force herself to look away because she already cared too much. She couldn’t care any more than she did, especially about someone who seemed to walk through life with a target on her back. Not again.
“Gotcha,” Tobin nodded, looking down at her hand and realizing what Christen was saying with her answer. It was a rejection in the vaguest and subtlest of ways, but it was a rejection nonetheless. “I’ll try to stay out of here.”
“Tobin…” Christen trailed off, hearing the dejected tone in her voice and wishing she wasn’t the one who’d put it there.
“I hear that doctors call this avocado hand,” Tobin said, deciding to focus on the injury and not on any flirting that seemed to make Christen uncomfortable. She could shove her feelings aside for this visit and then do her best to stay out of Christen’s hospital.
“We do. It’s the super accurate, scientific term,” Christen murmured, carefully bandaging Tobin’s hand up. She made sure to keep her touch gentle, winding the gauze around Tobin’s hand methodically.
“I think I’ll buy the pre-mashed avocado from now on,” Tobin sighed.
“Smart choice,” Christen hummed. She finished wrapping Tobin’s hand and smoothed her thumb across the gauze for a moment, wishing fleetingly that her touch would take the wound away.
“Well, thanks for the help, Doc,” Tobin said with a smile that didn’t fully reach her eyes, even though she tried to make it genuine.
Christen’s eyes lifted to meet Tobin’s as her thumb continued to trace across the gauze.
“Always,” Christen murmured.
“I’ll do my best to avoid danger,” Tobin added, slipping off the bed and slipping her hand out of Christen’s, wiggling the fingers of her bandaged hand.
Christen watched Tobin throw open the curtain and stalk out of the E.R., her heart sinking just a bit when she realized that something had shifted between them just now and it was entirely her fault.
“Hey, what happened?” Ali asked, adjusting the pens in the front pocket of her scrubs.
“Nothing,” Christen replied softly, knowing that nothing happening was the whole problem. Nothing had happened, nothing could happen, and nothing would happen.
“She just came in to talk?” Ali asked, raising her eyebrows at the pile of gauze and the bloody dishtowel on the rolling table next to the bed.
“Cut herself trying to slice an avocado,” Christen corrected, her eyes still trained on the sliding doors Tobin had disappeared through a few moments ago.
“Classic,” Ali chuckled. “At least it gave you an excuse to see her, right?”
“Don’t know how often it’ll happen anymore,” Christen replied, swallowing thickly.
“Why?” Ali asked, her eyebrows furrowing at Christen’s sudden change in mood.
Christen ripped off her surgical gloves and threw them with a little more force than necessary into the bin. She stalked off toward the on-call room close by, throwing the door open and collapsing down to the edge of the bed in there, her head falling into her hands.
“Chris,” Ali said, following closely behind Christen and shoving her way into the on-call room.
“Don’t,” Christen sighed, pushing her palms against her head, smoothing her hair down.
“Did you tell her not to come back?” Ali asked, raising her eyebrows at Christen.
“She asked to see me outside of the hospital and I said...well I didn’t say no, but I said no without saying no, you know?” Christen replied. She continued to push her hands over her hair, feeling guilt swirl around in her stomach.
“You realize that she isn’t the female version of Paul, right?” Ali asked, finally pulling out some tough love after a full year of watching Christen stay home and keep herself distant from other people.
“I never said she was,” Christen snapped. She deflated immediately and shot Ali an apologetic grimace. “Sorry.”
“Just because she has a dangerous job and is a bit of a klutz doesn’t make her the same kind of daredevil asshole that he was,” Ali continued, waving off the apology.
“What the hell else am I supposed to think? She was in here last week because she dove into a lake to rescue a puppy and almost dislocated her elbow after getting caught on some rocks.”
“You could think that she saves lives for a living just like you do,” Ali replied.
“She recklessly disregards her own life and I can’t-” Christen faltered and clenched her jaw. “I can’t, Al. It nearly broke me last time. I can’t be the person who sits at home and worries, not when she won’t worry about herself.”
“Paul was reckless because it fueled his ego. I don’t think that’s why Tobin jumps headfirst into dangerous situations,” Ali sighed. “But I get it.”
“Thank you,” Christen sighed.
“Even if you’re already sitting at home or here worried about her without reaping the rewards of getting to be with her...I get it,” Ali added, pulling the door open and slipping back into the hallway that led back into the E.R.
Christen felt her brow furrow as she watched the door shut, Ali’s words echoing around the room.
Tobin tossed her go-bag onto the floor next to her bunk in the station, hoping for a night free of alarms or emergencies. Her hand was still achy and throbbing, despite the two days she’d been taking care of it and bandaging it. She wouldn’t complain about it, though, not when Frank would put her in charge of something mundane. She wanted the action. She wanted to make a difference, not sit behind the scenes.
That being said, she couldn’t deny that she was exhausted, having worked the past few night shifts, which had consisted of several emergency calls in the early morning hours. Christen’s words from her hospital visit a couple of days ago hadn’t made her feel any more energized. In fact, she felt kind of bad about putting Christen in an uncomfortable situation, when it was now clear that she didn’t want Tobin coming around as much as she had been.
“I didn’t know you were working tonight,” Ashlyn said, tossing her bag on the floor next to Tobin’s.
“It’s my last night shift for the week,” Tobin mumbled, pushing away the thoughts she’d been having.
“Shouldn’t you be happy about that?” Ashlyn chuckled, noting the dark circles under Tobin’s eyes and the distinct lack of pep in her voice when she talked about her impending days off.
“I am happy about it. I’m just exhausted,” Tobin sighed, flopping down onto the bed and crossing her ankles.
“You do look like death warmed over, dude,” Ashlyn replied.
“Thanks,” Tobin laughed.
Ashlyn gave Tobin a curious look for a moment, almost like she could see what was going on underneath the surface.
“Maybe we’ll get lucky and get to take someone to the E.R. tonight for a non-life-threatening injury,” Ashlyn murmured, her words sounding more like a question, asking if Tobin did want that to happen.
“I’m hoping for a quiet night, dude,” Tobin mumbled, closing her eyes and sinking into the mattress. “All I want is sleep.”
Ashlyn nodded and turned toward the doorway, leaving Tobin alone with her thoughts and whatever had Tobin wanting to avoid the one place she’d been desperate to visit these past few months.
Tobin took a deep breath, trying to clear her mind and settle into some type of sleep. But she only had enough time to suck in a second breath before the alarm rang through the station, jerking her up into a sitting position and sending her into action.
Her muscle memory carried her through the station, got her into her gear, and settled her into her seat in the truck. She ignored Ashlyn’s worried looks and Frank’s attempts at a conversation and rolled her shoulders, trying to wake herself up for whatever she needed to do.
Her pager had never had more perfect timing. If Christen had to listen to Jared, the smarmy Plastics doctor go on and on about his track record for another moment, she was going to lose her mind.
“Saved by the bell,” Christen said, holding up her pager and backing quickly away from Jared. She knew her relief was palpable, but she was far past the point of caring. She hurried out of the cafeteria and Jared’s disgustingly potent cologne and all but ran down the stairs.
“Three patients. House fire,” Jill said as soon as she saw Christen in the hallway that led to the E.R.
Christen felt her stomach drop.
A house fire meant firefighters.
Firefighters meant Tobin.
Tobin meant…well she didn’t really know what Tobin meant anymore.
She hadn’t seen Tobin at all these past two days, not that she expected to. She’d pretty much turned Tobin down last time she was in here, so Christen wouldn’t be surprised if Tobin never came back.
And yet, as she stood right outside the doors to the E.R., Christen took a small, preparatory breath. She smoothed out her ponytail and checked her reflection in the reflective surface of the metal cart beside her. Satisfied with what she saw, Christen opened the doors and hustled in.
Ashlyn held a screaming kid in her arms, trying to bounce him on her hip while his parents waited on their own beds.
“What you got, hon?” Ali asked, sliding up to Ashlyn, her hand falling to the kid’s back.
“He’s got some burns,” Ashlyn murmured, nodding over to the man that Christen was already working on. “Kid seems fine, just freaked out.”
“You good to keep him?” Ali asked, her eyes running over the mixture of sweat and soot on Ashlyn’s face with concern.
“Yeah,” Ashlyn nodded, shifting the boy onto her other hip.
Ali squeezed Ashlyn’s shoulder and then joined Christen at the E.R. beds housing the boy’s parents.
“She’s complaining of tightness in her chest,” Christen tossed out to Ali, keeping her attention on treating the burn to the man’s arm.
“Probably smoke inhalation,” Ali said, moving around the bed to get some oxygen for all three patients.
Ali and Christen worked in silence for a bit, treating their patients and leaving their attention solely on them. But after patching up the man, whose burn was merely superficial and didn’t require her to page Jared, Christen looked around the E.R., looking for a familiar pair of brown eyes.
“Was Tobin there?” Ali asked on Christen’s behalf.
“Yeah, she pulled him out,” Ashlyn said, gesturing at the man that Christen had been working on.
“And?” Christen asked, her voice slightly strangled.
“And what?” Ashlyn asked.
“Is she okay? Usually she-” Christen stopped herself, willing Ashlyn to answer her without her having to explain that usually, Tobin came in, no matter the circumstances or the time of day.
“She decided to stay and figure out what started the fire,” Ashlyn shrugged, looking down at the little boy who was now asleep in her arms.
“And she’s okay?” Christen pressed, crossing her arms over her chest as worry bloomed within her.
“I think she’s sore, but she’s fine. She worked the last three night shifts, and she said her back felt a little iffy,” Ashlyn nodded.
That answer did little to quell the concern Christen could feel tightening around her heart.
“If it- uh, if it starts to bother her, she should come in,” Christen advised.
“You know her. She’s stubborn. Doesn’t think anything she’s dealing with is a big deal,” Ashlyn said softly, recognizing the same kind of exhaustion on Christen’s face that she’d seen on Tobin’s.
Christen simply nodded and walked to the nurse’s station to get the discharge paperwork ready, caught up in her own thoughts.
“She looks about as good as Tobin feels,” Ashlyn murmured, knocking her shoulder into Ali’s and bouncing the boy in her arms.
“She feels bad about how things went with Tobin last time,” Ali said quietly.
“Then they feel the same way,” Ashlyn replied. “Think they’ll sort their s-h-i-t out?”
“I have no idea. I’m just glad we aren’t them,” Ali mumbled, pressing a kiss to Ashlyn’s cheek.
Thanks for reading, and for all of your support and love for this new story. Chapter 3 will be out on Sunday :)
Chapter 3: What If This Is All The Love You Ever Get
in charge, interrupted dinners, and ice
we hope you continue to enjoy this world as much as we enjoyed writing it...
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
So you've fallen in love
So you've fallen apart
What if it hurts like hell
Then it'll hurt like hell
Come on over, come on over here
I'm in the ruins too
I know the wreckage so well
Come on over, come on over here
Woah, what if this is all the love you ever get?
Woah, you'd not worry so much about counting your regrets
Woah, what if this is all the love I'm ever shown
Woah, I'd not be so scared to run into the unknown
("What If This Is All The Love You Ever Get" by Snow Patrol)
Tobin rolled out her back one last time before changing into her uniform black pants and gray search and rescue t-shirt. Her back was feeling better; the few days off she’d taken and the lighter work week she’d had at the end of January had done wonders, taking away the exhaustion she was feeling and the aches she felt in her muscles.
Her hair was still wet from her shower, leaving dark spots on her t-shirt, so she grabbed a cup of coffee and sat on top of the counter, allowing herself a little bit of time to relax and her hair a little more time to dry before heading outside into the freezing cold February weather. She wasn’t foolish enough to walk out there with wet hair, not after doing it as a little kid and breaking off a frozen strand.
She sipped her coffee, glancing up at her kitchen clock. It was early. She hadn’t been able to sleep in this morning, waking up at 6:00 AM, even though she didn’t need to be at work until 9:00 AM.
February was always a hard month. It was Max’s birth month, and for the past eleven years, it marked the time that passed, the years that she didn’t get to live, the months that Tobin got and Max didn’t.
Tobin had known that big moments would be hard. She’d skipped her own high school graduation, too upset to walk across the stage without her best friend. She’d stumbled through freshman orientation at college, feeling lonelier than she’d felt in her entire life. Tobin had found a friend in Ashlyn, but that friendship came with an overwhelming sense of guilt, a sense that she was moving on and forgetting.
The big moments were hard, but the small ones surprised her. The small ones were just as painful, just as crippling, sometimes even more so, since she didn’t have time to prepare for them.
She drained her coffee mug, set it in the sink, and hurried out the door, feeling suffocated in her small house and in just her own company. By the time she got to the station, she’d cleared her mind of anything other than the workday ahead of her.
“Morning, Frank!” Tobin called, nodding her head toward where Frank was sitting in the lounge. She tossed her bag into her locker and headed straight for the coffee machine for her second cup of the day.
“Heath,” Frank greeted, eyeing her over the rim of his coffee mug. “How are you?”
“I’m all right,” Tobin said honestly, pulling a mug down and pouring coffee into it. “The lighter days were nice. I think I needed a break.”
Frank nodded. “Feeling good with the start of a new month?” he wondered, asking so much with that singular question.
Tobin turned around and met Frank’s eyes, knowing exactly what he was asking without using the words.
“I’m ready for spring, but I’m feeling okay,” Tobin answered with a tight-lipped smile.
“Last year you said you felt like shit, so this is progress,” Frank replied with a warm smile.
“It ebbs and flows,” Tobin shrugged, taking a sip of coffee and letting the liquid warm her body.
“Know what they say about the ebbs and flows?” Frank asked, his warm smile never dropping as he fixed Tobin with a look.
“What’s that?” Tobin asked, leaning back against the counter.
“Best to ebb and flow with company,” he winked, slapping his knees and getting to his feet. “You’re in charge. I’m headed to get some breakfast.”
“Bon appetit,” Tobin said, offering Frank a smile and taking her own seat in the lounge where she could listen for any incoming calls or radio alerts.
“Ooooh, you brought a sexy dress to work,” Ali cooed, looking at the black dress in Christen’s hands.
Christen rolled her eyes and stuffed the dress and her large coat into her locker. “It’s the only thing appropriate for the place my mother chose for dinner tonight.”
“And here we were thinking you had a hot date,” Crystal sighed, pulling on her scrub top.
“Nope. Just two hours of ‘Oh, dear, but we loved Paul!’,” Christen grumbled, pulling on her scrubs and tugging her curls into a high, loose bun.
“Ew,” Ali said, wrinkling her nose and making a face.
“How can Mama Press say that? She’s amazing in every other aspect of your life,” Crystal asked, slipping into the sneakers she wore in the hospital.
“The fact that his mom is my mom’s best friend really doesn’t help matters,” Christen replied. She dropped down onto the bench and laid down, covering her face with her arms.
“Have you actually told her how much he sucked?” Ali asked. “Have you told her that he put you in danger?”
“Whoa, danger? I never heard about that,” Crystal scoffed, tapping Christen’s legs so she’d lift them up. Crystal dropped onto the bench and let Christen put her legs onto her lap.
“He raced a car down the 5 even after I repeatedly asked him to stop. And that happened more than once. He’s a bit of a hothead,” Christen sighed, hating the memory of spending time with Paul, of giving him parts of herself she wished she hadn’t, of trusting him and being burned by that trust.
“A bit?” Ali scoffed, rolling her eyes.
Paul had always been quick to anger, not caring about anyone who got hurt in the process. And Ali would never forget the nights that Christen came over, worried about his safety or her own.
The breakup was what had led both of them to accept jobs in Anchorage in the first place. Christen had needed a blank slate, and Ali needed her best friend.
“He was an asshole,” Ali added.
“It all makes sense now,” Crystal hummed.
Christen removed her arms from her face and narrowed her eyes at Crystal. “What does?”
“You and the firefighter. Tobin . You’re scared of the danger. You’re scared to fall for another Paul,” Crystal said softly.
“You’re not wrong,” Ali whispered, watching Christen digest Crystal’s words.
“You two need to- just not ,” Christen grumbled, putting her arms over her face again. “I am perfectly happy with my nights in, with a book in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. I’m happy,” she repeated, almost as if by saying the word she would actually feel it.
“Tell that to the puppy dog eyes I see every time the E.R. doors open and it isn’t her or every time Ashlyn comes over after work,” Ali said.
“You maybe... never mind,” Crystal shook her head, deciding to mind her own business.
“Just say it, Crys,” Christen sighed, knowing her new but true friend would just sit on these words and eventually bring them up.
“I mean...just- Do you ever feel like maybe you’re punishing her for the job she’s chosen? For the wrongs Paul did and not the ones she’s done?” Crystal asked, wincing as she finished the question.
Christen was saved from answering when all three of their pagers went off simultaneously, signaling the start of a busy day at Anchorage General.
Tobin had expected a slow morning. It had been quiet the past couple of weeks. She might even go so far as to say the past couple of weeks had been boring. Ashlyn had taken to jogging on the treadmill in the station’s gym to keep herself busy, and a few of the other firefighters had worked on cleaning and maintaining gear.
Of course, it was when Frank was gone, when Tobin was left in charge, that the sense of boredom turned into chaos. It was the Sheriff’s Department that had radioed to let them know that two hikers had been called in missing and they were requesting Search and Rescue.
It was that chaos turned dread that had Tobin and Ashlyn and two volunteer SAR guys in a helicopter, flying over the Chugach Mountains.
“I’m gonna go blind,” Tobin said, staring at the snowy mountains that were reflecting sunlight directly into her eyes.
Ashlyn held a hand over her ear and pressed her phone closer. “I gotta go, Al. I’ll be home for dinner. I love you,” Ashlyn yelled, hanging up the phone and then turning to face Tobin. “We’re going in blind?! I just told Ali not to worry!”
“No, I said I’m gonna go blind because it’s so bright. I’m gonna fly lower. You should really be searching,” Tobin said, focusing on the helicopter and leaving the searching up to Ashlyn and the two guys in the back.
“Sir yes sir,” Ashlyn replied, looking out the window and keeping her eyes peeled for the hikers, a flare, any sort of sign.
“Also, glad you’re in love or whatever,” Tobin added with a tiny smile.
“It’s the best,” Ashlyn sighed happily.
“That’s cute,” one of the guys, Wade, said from the back.
“It’s one of the new doctors, right?” the other guy, Charlie, asked.
“Ali Krieger, from L.A.,” Ashlyn confirmed with a nod and a blush in her cheeks.
“The other one’s hot too,” Wade said with a shit-eating grin.
“Shut the fuck up, Wade,” Ashlyn snapped. “Focus up, you dick. We’ve got lost hikers.”
“Jesus Christ,” Charlie mumbled under his breath, looking more intently out the window.
“You too, Charlie,” Ashlyn tossed over her shoulder. She reached out and clapped Tobin on the back, the action meant to be comforting.
Tobin steered them higher up the mountain with a firm grip, her entire body tense. She knew Christen was attractive. Charlie and Wade and everyone else with working eyes could see that. She’d spent months flirting with her; she wasn’t oblivious to how attractive Christen was.
That being said, she didn’t need to know what other people thought about her. She didn’t need to think about Christen saying yes to a date with someone like Wade. She was in the middle of thinking about those green eyes when she just barely caught a glimpse of gray smoke, peeking up over the side of a mountain just west of them.
“Smoke,” she murmured, craning her neck to get a better look.
“Take us closer, Toby,” Ashlyn replied, pulling on her gear. “We’ve got to find a place to land.”
“You look great, dear,” Stacy said, stepping in for a hug inside of the restaurant after they’d shed their large winter coats.
“Thanks, Mom,” Christen murmured. She wrapped her arms loosely around her mom and returned the hug.
“Who knew Alaska would look this great on you?” Stacy hummed, pressing a soft kiss to Christen’s cheek.
Christen smiled softly and wiped the lipstick from her cheek as she stepped back from the hug.
“Thanks,” Christen repeated, running a hand through her hair nervously. She hadn’t seen her Mom since she moved, not having gone home for the holidays because of poor weather.
Stacy Press looked the same, with a warm smile and kind eyes. Even if Christen always felt slightly judged, slightly below the standard in the eyes of her mother, she couldn’t deny that it was good to see her.
“Right this way,” the hostess said, leading them to a table near the back of the restaurant. She placed two dinner menus and a wine menu on the table and left them to mull over their options.
Christen immediately reached for the wine menu and started flipping through it. She wasn't on-call tonight, and she was going to need something stronger than water if she was going to field questions for two hours while feeling like every answer she gave was never enough.
“Are you still enjoying Riesling?” Stacy asked, watching her daughter from across the table.
“I’m more into Pinots now,” Christen replied absentmindedly, turning to the next page.
“I love Pinots,” Stacy smiled, hoping that something she said would bridge the chasm that seemed to have formed between her and her daughter.
“Since when?” Christen asked, almost scoffing at the idea.
“Your dad took me wine tasting in Napa, and I gave Pinots another shot,” Stacy said.
“Huh,” Christen offered in reply, her eyes still tracking over the wine list.
“He sends you his love. We’ve all missed you,” Stacy added softly.
Christen finally looked up from the wine list, meeting her mom’s eyes. “I miss you guys too,” Christen replied, her voice equally as soft.
“But we’re really proud of you. Moving here was probably a scary step, and we’re proud of you,” Stacy assured, not wanting Christen to read anything wrong.
“A necessary one, actually,” Christen mumbled, Ali’s words about telling her mom about how bad things had been with Paul, things that had pushed her out of L.A., bouncing around in her head.
“Why’s that?” Stacy asked, her eyebrows scrunching together in worry.
“You know why, Mom,” Christen sighed, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms over her chest.
“I know that things with your relationship took a turn, but I don’t know much at all. You didn’t tell me. Maybe I didn’t make you feel like you could. Maybe I wasn’t available,” Stacy sighed.
Christen pulled her bottom lip between her teeth and looked away from her mom’s soft gaze, from her open expression.
“Do we know what we’d like to drink?” their waiter asked, unaware that he was interrupting an important moment.
An awkward silence descended upon the table as Christen looked pointedly away from her mom and the waiter, her eyes unfocused and her lip still held between her teeth.
“We’ll take a bottle of the Kosta Browne,” Stacy said, naming the first bottle of Pinot Noir on the menu and handing the waiter the menu.
“Right away, Miss,” the waiter replied with a nod and then left as quickly as he had appeared.
“Christen, I’d really like to know if you’re willing to talk about it,” Stacy said softly, resting her hand on the table and wishing that she could reach out.
It took a few moments, where Christen briefly considered ignoring her mother’s plea or simply getting up from the table and leaving. But she’d run from this conversation, and from her mother. She’d run all the way to Anchorage, Alaska. She couldn’t keep running.
So, she stopped running. The words flowed out of her, words full of pain and regret. They flowed easily, easier than Christen expected them. She told her mom everything, every reason why her relationship with Paul had soured. She told her mom about staying up late into the night shaking with worry because Paul was off on some new “adventure” as he liked to call them, adventures that would always bring him to the brink of danger. He was a loose cannon with a taste for thrill and a hothead, and it had ultimately led to their falling out.
Christen spoke as the wine arrived, as she and her mom drank glass after glass of it, as their plates of food came and went. She spoke until her throat was raw and her eyes burned, but thankfully, the ghosts of the memories didn’t haunt her. It was as if by speaking them, she released them and their hold on her.
“You’re my daughter, and you’re all that matters to me. You being safe and happy is all that matters to me. Screw Paul, and screw Paul’s parents,” Stacy said, shaking her head, her jaw clenching and unclenching. “I’m sorry I made you feel like you couldn’t just talk to me about it. I’m sorry if I made you feel like you had to come all the way out here to get away from it.”
“I didn’t want to disappoint you,” Christen choked out quietly, using her napkin to swipe at the tears pooling in her eyes.
“You have never, in your entire life, disappointed me. I don’t think it’s possible for you or your sisters to disappoint me. You three are the best thing I’ve ever done,” Stacy said gently.
Christen smiled through her tears and finally took her mother’s hand, gripping onto it tightly.
“I love you, Mom,” Christen murmured, her voice still weak after all the talking.
“I love you,” Stacy replied, her tone quiet but fierce. “I think it’s a good night for dessert.”
Christen laughed, the sound loud and warm and free . It came on without permission and simply bubbled up out from inside of her.
“There’s my girl,” Stacy grinned. “So, are there any Alaskans who are catching your eye? Is it even possible to be interested in people buried under all the coats and hats and gloves?” she teased.
Christen’s laughter died a bit as she schooled her features. She took a long sip of her wine, hoping to dodge the question, even if she knew that wasn’t possible when it came to her mom.
“Do we need another bottle?” Stacy asked, pouring a little bit more wine into Christen’s glass as soon as it was back on the table.
“I think I messed it up before it even started,” Christen blurted, her cheeks warming with the admission.
“I highly doubt that. You’re quite a catch,” Stacy said, running her thumb over the back of Christen’s hand.
“I told her I didn’t want to see her outside of work,” Christen mumbled.
“She works at the hospital? You can always tell HR you’re dating and clear that up if you’re worried about dating a coworker,” Stacy said.
Christen’s lips twitched up into an amused smile at the way her mom immediately went into fix-it mode.
“She’s an accident-prone firefighter who makes a lot of visits to my E.R.,” Christen corrected, her smile growing at the thought of Tobin Heath.
“And you don’t want to date her?” Stacy asked, looking a little confused about why Christen had turned the firefighter down.
Christen sighed and dropped her eyes to her wine glass. She ran her fingers up and down the stem of the glass, her face drawn in thought.
“She’s as close to danger, if not more so, than Paul. It hurt too much to go through that once, and I don’t know if I can again,” Christen replied softly.
“I see,” Stacy nodded, taking a sip of wine. “I get the hesitation. Can I ask a question? You can correct me if I have it wrong.”
Christen smiled at her mom. “You can always ask, Mom. No guarantee of an answer,” she replied.
“Did you hate the dangerous situations that Paul got into or the lack of purpose and reason behind those dangerous situations?” Stacy asked, her eyebrows still furrowed in thought.
Christen opened her mouth to reply and then hesitated. Her mom’s question wormed its way into her heart and systematically knocked down the walls she’d painstakingly built up over the last year. She found that she had no answer. She had no answer because she didn’t know the answer.
“Because it sounds like you hated that he searched for danger without a reason. He’s an idiot with an anger issue. But it sounds like this woman is in a dangerous field in order to save other people. That’s a pretty important reason to face danger, even if it is a little scary,” Stacy added gently.
“Well shit,” Christen sighed, leaning back in her chair, shaking her head slightly as she took all of her mom’s words to heart, as she realized how true they were.
“Another bottle or some chocolate cake?” Stacy asked with a laugh.
Before Christen could answer, her attention was captured by the television at the bar and the BREAKING NEWS bulletin that flashed across it, causing a hush to fall over the restaurant.
“We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you breaking news. The two missing hikers from Chugach State Park have been found, but the SARS team in charge of extraction suffered two serious injuries. All members of the hiking crew and rescue team are being sent to Anchorage General.”
Christen’s heart stopped in her chest. She worked through her wine-fogged brain and recalled that Tobin and Ashlyn were part of the volunteer Search and Rescue crew. It took her another second to process that if they were the ones sent out to Chugach, that meant one or both of them could be seriously hurt.
Christen looked away from the television, fixing her mom with a panicked look. “We have to go,” Christen declared, her words rushed.
“Where?” Stacy asked, not hesitating to wave the waiter over and pull her credit card out of her wallet.
“The hospital,” Christen replied, a pit forming in her stomach at what could possibly await them there.
“Dude, you okay?” Ashlyn asked, looking down at Tobin.
“Peachy,” Tobin nodded, trying to pull her hands out of the blanket that the EMTs had essentially swaddled her in. She wasn’t concerned about herself. She’d been fine enough to get back up to the helicopter and fly them to the closest clearing where an ambulance was waiting for them. She was worried about Charlie and the hikers, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to do anything to help if she was stuck under heated blankets, getting poked and prodded by the EMTs.
“Your lips were- are basically blue. You look like you motorboated a Smurfette. Get your hands back under that blanket right fucking now,” Ashlyn said sternly, tucking the heated blanket tighter around Tobin.
Tobin snorted at Ashlyn’s ability to joke around in the back of an ambulance. Her sense of humor was one of the things she loved most about Ashlyn; it had been what made them fast friends.
“Yes, ma’am,” Tobin shivered, her teeth uncontrollably chattering together.
“You’re such a dumbass, Toby,” Ashlyn sighed, running her hands through her hair.
“Why do you say that?” Tobin asked, her shoulders shaking under the blanket.
“I told you the ice was thin. I told you not to go out there.”
“And I was just supposed to leave tweedle dum out there?” Tobin asked, referencing one of the hikers they’d found who’d dumbly wandered onto the ice.
Ashlyn groaned and fixed Tobin with a hard look. “No...but I would have gone. I was going to. I told you I had him.”
“It would have broken anyway, and then you’d be on this bed, and Ali would kill me,” Tobin chuckled, her laugh cut off by another shiver.
“She’d kill you first, then me, then me again,” Ashlyn chuckled, reaching out to tuck the blankets tighter around Tobin again, making sure they weren’t slipping and letting any heat out.
“I want to go home,” Tobin mumbled, blinking her eyes slowly and gritting her teeth to stop them from chattering.
“We’re going to the E.R. We don’t fuck with hypothermia,” Ashlyn replied.
“Can we go to a different hospital?” Tobin whined.
Ashlyn rolled her eyes. “Christen isn’t working tonight so you can stop wasting energy trying to get us to go somewhere else.”
Tobin hated that her heart dropped a little at the realization that she wouldn’t get to see those green eyes, even if they didn’t want to see her.
“Ali’s gonna smack you,” Tobin shivered, feeling the ambulance jerk to a stop.
“Why? My ass didn’t go through the ice.”
“Because she cares about you,” Tobin mumbled. “She looooves you.”
Ashlyn blushed slightly and ran a hand through her hair again. “That’s enough out of you,” Ashlyn replied right as they arrived at the hospital.
One of the EMTs jumped out of the ambulance first, pointing the doctors, interns, and nurses toward the other three ambulances first, knowing that the two hikers and Charlie needed attention first.
“See, I’m the last one who needs attention. I could warm myself up at home,” Tobin shivered.
“Like hell you can,” Ali called out, stepping up to the ambulance. She gave Ashlyn a quick once over, checking to make sure she was okay and intact.
“I kept her safe and sound,” Tobin smirked, her teeth starting to chatter again despite her tight jaw. Ali shot Tobin a grateful half-smile in response.
“She decided to test the integrity of a frozen lake,” Ashlyn explained, helping Ali get the gurney out of the ambulance.
“I decided to pull a hiker off of a frozen lake. Let’s not put all the blame on me,” Tobin defended. “How was I supposed to know the lake was already cracking?”
“Has she talked this whole time?” Ali asked quietly, pushing the gurney into the E.R. with Ashlyn’s help.
“Haven’t been able to get her to shut up,” Ashlyn grumbled good-naturedly.
“Just keeping my vocal cords warm and toasty,” Tobin teased.
“It’s actually a really good thing. We’ll get you fluids and warm you up. We also need to get you out of these clothes,” Ali said. She and Ashlyn pulled the gurney to a stop once they’d gotten to room one, the door shutting behind them. Ali pulled the cord of the blinds to give Tobin some semblance of privacy.
“That’s what she said,” Tobin winked, her chest shaking with each shiver that ran through her body.
“You get to wear a gown, Toby,” Ashlyn teased.
“And a few layers of blankets,” Ali added, tossing Ashlyn a gown as she searched for the heated blankets in the cabinets.
“Do I get coffee?” Tobin asked, pulling off her soaked shirt and tossing it onto the floor.
“Hot apple cider. Christen brought some in yesterday- I mean that’s all we’ve got stocked,” Ali replied, adding to the pile of things in Ashlyn’s arms with every heated blanket she found in the cabinets and then gave Ashlyn to hold.
“You’re both gonna stay here and watch me strip, aren’t you?” Tobin asked with another shiver as she pulled the belt off of her pants, pointedly ignoring the way hearing Christen’s name made her heart race.
Christen was out of breath as she ran into the E.R., her green eyes wild and taking in as much as she could as she looked around the room.
“What are you doing here?” Jill asked, her eyebrows furrowing in confusion as she took in Christen’s panicked expression.
“Search and Rescue,” Christen panted, struggling to catch her breath. “The hikers.”
“Hikers are in their own rooms with some serious hypothermia. One of the Search and Rescue team members is in surgery,” Jill said, flipping through a chart on the front desk.
Christen felt her knees give out, and thankfully, Stacy was right there with a strong arm around her waist. Christen could barely breathe, let alone think, her mind hardly processing that Tobin could be the one in surgery.
“And the other team member?” Stacy asked, directing her question to Jill.
“Ali’s with her. She’s got a mild case of hypothermia but as far as we know nothing else. She won’t stop talking, either,” Jill answered.
Christen let out a strangled sigh of relief. “That’s Tobin,” she all but gasped. “Oh thank God.”
“What are you doing here on your night off?” Jill asked again, putting a hand on her hip.
Stacy gave Christen a small push on the back, sending her back toward the rooms. “I got this, dear,” Stacy whispered, setting her sights on Jill, ready to explain away Christen’s arrival and maybe even knock Jill down a peg or two.
Christen hurried through the E.R., feeling oddly out of place without her white coat. Her heels clicked against the tile floor as she made her way to room one. She forced a small smile on her face when she saw who was standing outside of it.
“Hey, what’re you doing here?” Ali asked quietly, keeping a hand on Ashlyn’s forearm. The two were standing outside of the room, talking softly with one another.
“Is she okay?” Christen managed, her arms crossed over her chest and her forehead wrinkled with worry.
“It’s just a little hypothermia,” Ali assured.
“Did you run labs? Get her on warm fluids? I left hot cider here in the break room,” Christen pressed, pushing Ali on this even if she knew she didn’t have to.
“She drank the cider and is under tons of heated blankets right now. She just fell asleep, and her temperature is going up,” Ali said patiently.
Christen let out another small, strangled sigh of relief. “Right. Okay. Thanks, Al.”
“She wasn’t in the water long,” Ashlyn added quietly. “A minute tops.”
Christen’s gaze hardened as she looked over at Ashlyn. “A minute too long. What the hell was she doing out there? Why’d you let her get in the water when it’s negative 12 outside!”
“A hiker was on the ice. She didn't know the ice was cracking. I didn’t know she was gonna try to walk out to him,” Ashlyn said, defending herself.
“It’s Tobin, of course, she was going to try! You shouldn’t have let her. She could have-” Christen faltered, her voice breaking slightly.
“Hey, let’s not point fingers,” Ali said calmly, letting go of Ashlyn and reaching out for Christen.
“I’ve got it from here,” Christen murmured, taking a step toward the door and away from Ashlyn and Ali.
“You smell like a winery,” Ali whispered. “Jill isn’t gonna let you work like that.”
“I’m not here to work,” Christen replied softly, narrowing her eyes one final time in Ashlyn’s direction before walking into room one.
Christen let the door fall shut behind her, clicking into the place. She leaned back against it and took in the sight of Tobin Heath, who usually seemed larger than life, looking small and scared and pale and shivering under a pile of blankets.
“You already saw my boobs. What more do you need?” Tobin asked, her eyes still closed in the hopes of finding some sleep.
When she didn’t get a response, Tobin cracked an eye open to look at the door.
“Ash?” Tobin asked.
“She’s outside,” Christen murmured, offering Tobin a weak half-smile, feeling any lingering buzz seep out of her.
“Oh…” Tobin breathed out, clenching her teeth even more to keep each and every small shiver in and unnoticeable.
“Do you want me to get her?”
“That’s okay,” Tobin said with a shake of her head.
“Do you need anything? Another blanket, maybe?” Christen asked, her words soft as she kept moving her eyes across Tobin, almost as if she were making sure Tobin was really here and really okay.
“I think Ali must have put six on me, so I’m good,” Tobin said, offering a small smile. She watched the way Christen awkwardly stood against the door. She didn’t look as confident and put together as usual, and it took Tobin a little longer than it typically would have to figure out why. When she did, though, she couldn’t stop noticing it.
Christen wasn’t in scrubs. She wasn’t dressed the part. She was in a down coat, the zipper unzipped to reveal a fancy black dress. Tobin’s heart sank even lower. This was worse than being turned down.
The idea of Christen being with another person was what had made her tense up in the helicopter, and here she was living that nightmare in real-time.
“Nice dress,” she mumbled, staring up at the ceiling and blinking her eyes slowly closed. She released a shaky breath, finally letting her body shiver slightly, not quite as aggressively as she had been before the cider and the blankets.
“Uh- thank you,” Christen replied, her forehead furrowing as she watched Tobin shake on the bed. She stepped away from the door and grabbed the final heated blanket. Instead of putting it on the large pile on top of Tobin, she bunched it up and gently put it around Tobin’s neck and the back of her head. “Heat escapes from the top of your head, so,” Christen explained, wrapping the blanket around Tobin with a soft touch.
“Were you on call or something?” Tobin asked, sinking into the heat that now seemed to surround her.
Christen didn’t want to, but she removed her hands from the blanket, crossing her arms over her chest so she wouldn’t do something silly like fix the baby hairs that dangled down onto Tobin’s forehead.
“No, I wasn’t. I saw it on the news at dinner,” Christen replied, her eyes still moving across Tobin’s blanket-covered body as if searching for some invisible injury, for some sign that there was more than just mild hypothermia to worry about.
“So you ditched your date to work? Have you checked on anyone else? Wade’s in surgery, but he’s definitely got a crush on you, so if you check on him, go easy,” Tobin murmured, focusing her eyes on a spot on the wall to the right of Christen.
Christen finally looked at Tobin’s face, at the hard line of her jaw and the distant look in her eyes. She felt a little thrown off by multiple questions and the dozens of emotions swirling around within those brown eyes, and she was even more thrown that Tobin wouldn’t meet her eyes like she always used to.
“It wasn’t- I just came for you,” Christen mumbled, her arms tightening across her chest.
“Definitely don’t tell your date or Wade that,” Tobin said, pulling her eyes off of the wall and letting them meet Christen’s.
“My mom knows why I’m here,” Christen replied, completely perplexed as to why Tobin seemed so fixated on her having been out on a date or on the possibility of her going on a date with this Wade guy.
“Um, that’s cool,” Tobin said, confused about what Christen’s mom had to do with anything. “Do people hallucinate when they have slight hypothermia?”
Christen’s lips twitched up into the ghost of a smile. “I was out to dinner with my mom. And the minute we saw the news, we came right over,” Christen murmured.
“Because you’re really dedicated to your work?” Tobin guessed, slightly wishing that the blankets would swallow her whole, just in case this conversation took a turn that would hurt even more than their last interaction.
“I’m not all work,” Christen replied, dropping down onto the edge of the bed. She quickly checked the monitors, noting Tobin’s vitals and the strong number she was putting out. “You should sleep. I’ll be here when you wake up, okay?”
“Are you sure I’m not asleep right now?” Tobin asked, her eyes shining with even more confusion.
Christen made a split-second decision. She leaned forward and pressed a lingering kiss to Tobin’s forehead before sitting back, ignoring the fluttering in her stomach that the gesture caused.
“Did you feel that?” Christen asked softly.
“Yeah, but I’m known for my vivid dreams,” Tobin whispered.
Christen chuckled and reached out to brush those baby hairs off of Tobin’s forehead, every moment she spent in this room making her just a bit braver.
“You’re not asleep yet, but you should be. I’ll be here when you’re done vividly dreaming,” Christen hummed, repeating the similar sentiment, the promise of being here when Tobin woke up.
“I’ll hold you to that,” Tobin muttered, letting her heavy eyelids flutter closed.
“Hey,” Ali whispered, running a hand along Christen’s back.
Christen’s head shot up from where it had been resting against her crossed arms. She groaned at the bright light of the room and wiped at the small bit of drool coming from the corner of her mouth.
“What time is it?” she croaked, blinking her eyes open.
“9:30 in the morning,” Ali said gently. “The nurses need to change the sheets.”
Christen finally got her eyes open and alert enough to look at the hospital bed she was sitting next to and had fallen asleep leaning on.
But it wasn’t occupied like she expected it to be.
It was empty.
“Where…” Christen trailed off, turning around to look at Ali.
“She was discharged over an hour ago. She said she didn’t want to wake you up,” Ali answered.
Christen swallowed the flashes of hurt and worry and got to her feet. She offered Ali a pained, weak smile and headed for the door, pulling her hair up into a bun and away from her face. She fixed the dress so it wasn’t twisted around her torso and let out a long sigh.
Whatever progress she had thought they’d made last night clearly wasn’t progress to Tobin. If anything, it seemed like they’d taken four giant steps backward.
lol gotta love a good cliffhanger!!!
Thanks so much for reading! Here is the schedule for the next few updates:
-Chapter 4 on Wednesday, July 28th
-Chapter 5 on Tuesday, August 3rd
-TBD for the last two!
We also will probably be MIA on comments and Tumblr for a week and a half as well. Please be patient with us while sam has some family stuff going on 💚
-sam & emma
Chapter 4: Sparks
we'd make a summary, but we're drunk so...sorry?
enjoy kids...but if you're an actual kid, skip the smutty parts okay?
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Did I drive you away?
I know what you'll say
You say, "Oh, sing one you know"
But I promise you this
I'll always look out for you
Yeah, that's what I'll do
I say, oh
I say, oh
My heart is yours
It's you that I hold on to
Yeah, that's what I do
And I know I was wrong
But I won't let you down
Oh yeah I will, yeah I will, yes I will
I said, oh
I cry, oh
Yeah, I saw sparks
("Sparks" by Coldplay)
“You’re such an idiot,” Ashlyn groaned, looking down at Tobin as she spotted her chest presses.
“Feeling confused about mixed signals doesn’t make me an idiot. Also, I was hospitalized for minor hypothermia, so who knows if what I heard was a dream or reality,” Tobin grunted.
“She slept at your bedside. Your bedside ,” Ashlyn retorted. “Hypothermia-induced dreams or not, that means something.”
“Last month, she said she doesn’t want to see me outside of the hospital,” Tobin sighed, putting the bar back into the rack and sliding out from under it.
“And last night she watched over you and slept by your side and was royally pissed when she woke up alone. According to Ali,” Ashlyn replied, arching a brow in Tobin’s direction and putting her hands on her hips.
“Well shit,” Tobin huffed, pressing the heels of her hands against her eyelids. “How do I make up for that?”
Ashlyn checked her watch, seeing that it was already past four in the afternoon. “They get off in a few hours, at seven. You could try talking to her.”
“And I packed sweats for after work. Fantastic,” Tobin sighed, looking down at her sweaty t-shirt.
Ashlyn cracked a smile and slung an arm across Tobin’s shoulders. “It pays to have me as a best friend. I have an entire closet in my locker.”
“Oooh what about those dark jeans?” Tobin asked, swapping places with Ashlyn so that she could spot Ashlyn’s last set.
“Nope, I’m wearing them.”
“Some friend you are,” Tobin scoffed.
“You can have the ripped black ones I stole from you last week. They’re washed and folded and in the bottom of my locker,” Ashlyn huffed, cranking out her chest presses quickly.
“You steal my clothes and hoard them in your locker?” Tobin asked, raising an eyebrow at Ashlyn.
Ashlyn did her last rep and then racked the bar. “You’re fucking welcome.”
“So...what do I say to her?” Tobin asked, messing with the hem of her t-shirt.
“I’m not saying that,” Christen sighed, taking a long sip of coffee and willing it to chase away the dreariness behind her eyes.
“Let’s think about this from Tobin’s point of view for a second,” Ali coached.
“Let’s not,” Christen replied, dropping her attention back to Pride & Prejudice .
“Oh no, let’s think about it please,” Crystal grinned, leaning over the desk in the E.R. to talk to Christen.
“Can’t you just leave me to read and mope in peace?”
“You told her you didn’t want to see her outside of the hospital-” Ali started.
“But then I told her I’m not all work and kissed her and fell asleep at her bedside,” Christen defended, almost deciding to abandon the book since she knew Ali and Crystal weren’t going to let this go.
“While she was dealing with some minor hypothermia,” Crystal mumbled.
“Yeah, Tobin was chatty, but she was a little out of it,” Ali nodded.
Christen sighed and looked up from the book, narrowed eyes moving between Crystal and Ali. “She left. I’m working. Whatever, life goes on.”
“You’re reading actually, and you’ve been rereading that book for the past few months, so I’d bet that you have it memorized by now,” Crystal said, looking down at her watch.
“I think the two of you need a sober, wide-awake conversation. Some talking would work wonders for you both,” Ali sighed.
Christen ignored Ali’s observation and kept right on reading, spinning slowly in the desk chair she was sitting in.
The doors to the E.R. slid open, sending in a cool rush of air and blowing Tobin’s hair around her face.
“Flirt Eyes, ten o’clock,” Crystal hissed, smacking Ali’s shoulder.
“I still think it’s Heart Eyes,” Ali whispered back.
“Whatever eyes, she only has them for one person,” Crystal chuckled, nodding at the way Tobin was staring, unabashedly, at Christen as she read behind the nurse’s station desk.
“Hi, Tobin!” Ali said, loudly enough for Christen to hear. Christen immediately jerked up, the book falling from her hands. She looked up toward the door, feeling a flush creep up her neck.
“Uh...hi,” Tobin answered, lifting a gloved hand awkwardly.
“Bet you wish you’d been listening to our advice now, don’t you?” Ali hissed, stepping out from behind the desk and pulling Crystal across the room and away from Christen.
Christen grabbed her book from the floor and got to her feet, not wanting to stay seated for whatever this was going to be.
“Hey,” Tobin breathed out, sliding up to the desk and resting her arms on the top of it.
“Hey,” Christen replied, her eyes a little guarded.
“I know I’m early. You have ten minutes left of work, right?” Tobin asked, pulling her gloves off of her hands and shoving them in her coat pocket.
“I actually have thirty. I started late this morning because I woke up in the exam room very unprepared for my shift.”
Tobin shot a slightly guilty look in Christen’s direction before glancing down and taking a deep breath.
“Would you mind if I waited? I can wait in my car if that’s better,” Tobin asked, motioning with her thumb to the sliding glass doors.
“You...you want to wait?” Christen clarified, struggling to catch up. When she’d woken up this morning, she was sure that Tobin’s departure was a rejection of some sort. But now...now she wasn’t sure and she hated uncertainty.
“Yeah, I have a few questions if you’re free to talk. I uh- To be honest, last night kind of feels like a fever dream or something, and I just wanted to clarify some things that are a little fuzzy,” Tobin nodded, offering Christen a small smile.
Christen looked around at the people milling about the E.R. They weren’t busy, and there were more than enough doctors and nurses to cover should something happen. Making a split-second decision, Christen walked out from behind the desk, grabbed Tobin’s arm, and pulled her toward the on-call room.
She opened the door, dragged Tobin inside, and then shut and locked the door behind her.
“ Pride & Prejudice ?” Tobin said, looking down at the book in Christen’s hand.
“Is that one of your questions?” Christen countered.
“No, sorry,” Tobin mumbled, shaking her head as if she needed to clear her brain. “You were at dinner with your mom, and then you came here.”
Christen nodded slowly and stayed rooted to where she was standing a mere handful of inches away from Tobin. She couldn’t fathom retreating now.
“Did you just miss patching me up or something? Why else would you come in on your night off to check on me?” Tobin asked, trying to read Christen’s expression and understand what was going on in her head.
Christen’s eyes flicked down to Tobin’s lips and then back up to Tobin’s eyes. Christen subconsciously wet her lips and tried to formulate some semblance of an answer.
Everything Ali and Crystal and her mom had told her was bouncing around in her mind, convincing her not to punish Tobin for something she wasn’t doing, pushing her to get over her fear of being with someone who ran headfirst into danger, daring her to give in to the feelings she had for Tobin she’d spent these last few months denying.
“I...um…” Christen trailed off, words deciding to fail her now when she needed them most.
“Cause you were pretty clear last month about not wanting to see me outside of the hospital, maybe not even in the hospital since you kept reminding me to stay out of your E.R.,” Tobin said, swallowing thickly and forcing the words out, even though she felt incredibly unprepared for Christen’s answer.
“Do you think being subtle or being direct is better?” Christen asked. She knew she wasn’t giving Tobin the answer Tobin seemed to want, but she was moments from going past the point of no return, and she just wanted to know how she should go about getting there.
“What does that mean?” Tobin wondered, her eyebrows scrunching together even more.
“Do you prefer direct or subtle?” Christen replied, her voice shaking slightly with nerves.
“Didn’t I tell you that direct approaches are best?” Tobin murmured, her stomach rolling at the close proximity of Christen and the way her voice seemed to become huskier with the last question.
Getting the answer she was looking for, Christen went direct. She went direct and bold and in your face with it. She was done miscommunicating and missing each other. She knew what she wanted, and thanks to some motherly advice and Tobin showing back up, she knew how she could get it.
Christen let her eyes flick down to Tobin’s lips once more before she surged forward. She kissed Tobin eagerly, her hands rising to frame Tobin’s face as she kept her lips pressed against Tobin’s. For the briefest of moments, Tobin didn’t respond and Christen worried that she’d read this so wrong.
But then Tobin responded, and it was so much more than something. It was everything.
Tobin’s entire mind went blank. Her skin heated up and tingled with each touch of Christen’s body against her own. She didn’t know where to put her hands, not when she wanted to put them everywhere. So instead, they moved with a mind of their own, trailing up Christen’s sides as Tobin kissed Christen back, matching Christen’s fast pace.
Christen broke the kiss for a moment, pressing her forehead against Tobin’s as she kept her eyes tightly shut. “I was here for you,” Christen whispered into the space between their lips, her thumbs moving across Tobin’s cheekbones softly. “I’m always here for you.”
“I wanted you to be,” Tobin admitted, brushing her fingers under the hem of Christen’s scrub top and along the base of her back.
Christen sucked in a stuttered breath, her eyes flying open to meet Tobin’s. “Then why’d you- why’d you leave?” she asked, her voice quiet.
“Do you know how hard it is to believe that you wanted to be here for me?” Tobin sighed, catching her breath still. “I...I wanted to give you time to change your mind, just in case it was a ‘she’s in a hospital bed, and I feel bad for her’ moment-”
Christen leaned in and interrupted Tobin with another kiss, this one slower and carrying with it the promise of more.
“It wasn’t. My mind’s made up,” Christen murmured, moving one hand away from Tobin’s face and burying it in the soft waves at the back of Tobin’s head.
“So, you do want to see me outside of the hospital, or is this just an on-call room at the end of your shift kind of thing?” Tobin asked, tracing a finger along the bottom half of Christen’s spine.
Christen shivered at the sensations that such a light, innocent touch evoked within her. “Definitely outside...and inside sometimes too,” she replied with a small smile. “I do have thirty minutes to kill.”
“I’m really glad I didn’t wait in my car,” Tobin whispered, pressing her lips against Christen’s once more.
Sheridan’s was as packed as it always was. It was a hole-in-the-wall bar that had become a favorite for locals, a hidden gem that always seemed busy, no matter the season or time of day.
This time of year, Tobin welcomed the busyness. The crowd made the small space even warmer and homier.
Tobin kept a hand on Christen’s back, noticing that Christen seemed a little taken aback by the crowded space. Tobin guided her toward the back of the bar, luckily finding a small table that was unoccupied. She let Christen take the one seat that was still sitting with the table and snagged a free one from another group of patrons, dragging it over to the table and sitting down across from Christen.
“Have you been here before?” Tobin asked, suddenly glad that tonight wasn't a live music night, and they could actually hear one another over the radio and other people talking.
“Never,” Christen shook her head, her wide eyes still taking it all in.
“It’s kind of a local favorite,” Tobin said, watching Christen glance around the space.
“Favorite bar for your favorite doctor?” Christen asked with a shy half-smile, done with her perusal of the place as she moved her gaze to meet Tobin’s.
“Something like that,” Tobin nodded, her smile immediately growing. She hadn’t heard Christen shamelessly flirt for almost a month, and she was relishing in every second of it now.
“How are you feeling?” Christen asked softly, noting the color in Tobin’s cheeks and the warmth back in her eyes, the ones that had been missing last night. Even if she’d cradled those cheeks between her palms less than an hour ago, unable to deny the warmth and life they held, she still couldn’t get the image of Tobin, pale and shivering, out of her head.
“Good,” Tobin said with an easy smile. “Frank wouldn’t let me go on any calls today, so I stayed inside pretty much the whole time. So, I’m toasty warm again.”
Christen reached across the table and trailed her fingertips across the back of Tobin’s hand. She pretended to gasp and drew her hand back, shaking it slightly.
“Definitely toasty warm again,” she teased.
“Wooow, who knew Dr. Press could be corny,” Tobin smirked.
Christen blushed and dropped her eyes to the table, pushing a hand through her curls.
“That was pretty bad, sorry,” Christen laughed, her eyes lifting to meet Tobin’s once more.
“It was cute,” Tobin said gently. “Thanks for coming to check on me last night. I should have said that then.”
Christen had to bite her tongue to keep in the immediate response, something where she would brush it off and claim it had something to do with being a good doctor. Instead, she chose to be as brave as she’d been in the on-call room a little while ago.
“I had to make sure you were okay,” Christen replied softly. “I was worried.”
“If I’d known hypothermia would make the woman I’m crushing on come to see me, I would have found a frozen lake earlier,” Tobin teased, immediately backtracking when she saw Christen’s lips turn down into a frown. “Kidding, kidding, just kidding.”
“You better be,” Christen huffed, feeling her heart flutter at the admission. “I can’t have the woman I’m crushing on getting hypothermia again.”
“I will stay away from frozen water as much as I possibly can,” Tobin nodded, a smirk growing on her face as she looked at Christen. “So...you kind of like me or something.”
Christen blushed again, dropping her eyes to where her hands were fidgeting on top of the table.
“Yes,” Christen hummed quietly, a smile playing at her lips. “I thought me jumping you in the on-call room was evidence enough of that.”
“Just making sure. I kind of like you too,” Tobin added, looking past Christen to nod at someone behind her.
Christen felt her brow furrow as she turned to look at who Tobin had nodded to. She saw the bartender approaching with a pint of amber-colored beer, the foam dripping down the side.
“Are you also a beer person? You look more sophisticated than Toby,” he said, putting the drink on the table and slapping Tobin on the back.
“Beer can be sophisticated,” Christen grinned, enjoying the sparkle of amusement she could see in Tobin’s eyes. “Do you have any North Coast Berliner Weiss?” she asked, silently thanking her older sister for being such a beer snob and forcing her to try a lot of it.
“She’s a keeper, Toby. I’ll bring you some. I’m Taylor by the way. Let me know if she gives you trouble,” he added, ruffling Tobin’s hair.
“I think she’s all trouble. Thanks, Taylor,” Christen replied with a smirk.
“She’s got you figured out,” Taylor said, letting out a deep belly laugh as he walked away.
“Don’t listen to him. He’s always been jealous because I wouldn’t go to prom with him,” Tobin said, glaring at the back of Taylor’s head.
“So you grew up here?” Christen asked, leaning forward on her arms on the tabletop, bringing her closer to Tobin. She found herself wanting to know more about Tobin, about what she was like in high school, about what kind of beer she liked. She wanted to know so much, so quickly, it should scare her. But surprisingly, she wasn’t scared.
“Yep,” Tobin nodded. “Born and raised. I think I’ve only left the state three times?” Tobin guessed, scratching the back of her neck in thought.
“My oldest sister lives in Florida now, and my other sister lives in Maryland. I went to their weddings and for my nephew’s birth,” Tobin answered.
“Not an only child, then,” Christen hummed, bobbing her head as she smiled at the fondness in Tobin’s tone.
“I have a little brother too, but he and my parents live in Sitka now. You don’t strike me as an only child either,” Tobin said.
“I have two sisters. They’re both still in L.A. with my parents,” Christen replied.
“You must hate it here,” Tobin laughed, nodding toward the front window of the bar.
Christen tilted her head to the side, keeping her eyes on Tobin and not bothering to turn and look at the snow that was piled up outside.
“Honestly? I don’t,” Christen chuckled. “I expected to, don’t get me wrong. I spent my whole life on beaches in gorgeous, sunny weather and when I came up here in October and it was already freezing...it was a shock for sure. But I-” Christen hesitated, trying to find the right words, trying to say enough without saying too much. “-I’ve found lots of reasons not to hate it here.”
“Once you get past the cold, it can be really beautiful,” Tobin said with a smile.
Christen let her eyes trail across Tobin’s features for a moment, taking in the smile lines around her mouth and the softness in her brown eyes.
“Really, really, beautiful,” Christen murmured, a pretty blush coloring her cheeks.
“It got more beautiful in October. See, I can be corny too,” Tobin added with a smirk.
“Fancy beer for the fancy lady,” Taylor said, placing a pint in front of Christen.
Christen had to force herself to look away from Tobin so she could offer Taylor a grateful smile.
“I appreciate it, thank you,” Christen said.
“Thanks for taking Toby out. Leaves more for the rest of us,” Taylor winked.
“Stop,” Tobin grumbled, a blush heating her cheeks at Taylor’s words.
Christen laughed, the sound warm and light and infectious. As Taylor walked away with a laugh of his own, Christen turned back to Tobin and arched a brow playfully.
“Were you stealing all the pretty ladies from the locals?” Christen teased.
“Absolutely not,” Tobin said, taking a sip of beer and hoping that it would cool down her flaming cheeks. “He has a boyfriend right now. He’s just trying to stir the pot.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me if you were,” Christen shrugged, playing with the label on her beer bottle.
Tobin raised her eyebrows at Christen’s brazenness. “Speak for yourself. The number of guys at work who talk about the new doctor in town…”
“But none of them are my favorite patient,” Christen pointed out before taking a long sip of her beer.
“Except Frank,” Tobin said with a lopsided smile. “But he only has eyes for Doris, so you’re out of luck.”
Christen snapped her fingers playfully as if she’d missed out on something. “Damn...but I guess that means a spot’s opened up. I wonder who’s going to fill it?”
“I happen to have lots of medical experience and unwanted opinions,” Tobin said with a smirk.
“You're hired,” Christen teased with an attempt at a wink.
“Was that a wink?” Tobin asked, tilting her head to the side as she processed the adorable blink that Christen had just shot her way.
“Straight from sunny Los Angeles, just for you,” Christen grinned.
“Well that was adorable,” Tobin chuckled, practically beaming at Christen from across the table.
Christen took another long sip of beer, feeling that ever-present flush in her face that always seemed to come around whenever Tobin opened her mouth.
“I want to take you out on a date,” Tobin said, leaning forward over her side of the table, just wanting to be closer to Christen, wishing there wasn’t anything between them. “Not here. Somewhere quieter and with better food.”
Christen slightly choked on her sip of beer and coughed, lifting a hand to cover her mouth. She really did like that Tobin was direct and forward and went after what she wanted. She really, really did. But she just wasn’t expecting Tobin to be direct and forward when she had a mouthful of beer.
“That caught you off guard, didn’t it?” Tobin asked, handing Christen a napkin.
“No,” Christen croaked, taking the napkin and daintily wiping her mouth. “It didn’t, I just- I’m not used to direct, I guess. Even after four months of you being direct.”
“I can be more subtle,” Tobin offered. “Um...maybe we could see each other again at some point after this?”
Christen chuckled and shook her head. “Direct works...and I’d like that,” Christen replied, her voice going soft at the end. “How’s tomorrow? Too soon?”
“That’s a long time to wait,” Tobin said with a smile.
“Okay then, how about tonight?” Christen countered, surprising even herself with the question.
Tobin lifted her eyebrows at Christen’s response, having not expected Christen to match her direct, forward approach.
“I’m kind of over this beer,” she said, knocking a knuckle against the pint that she’d managed to drink half of.
Christen grinned and finished off the last of her beer, dropping the empty bottle to the tabletop.
“Where to, Tobin Heath?”
Tobin pulled out a few bills and put them on the table before she led Christen back through the crowded bar and out into the cold air. She helped Christen into her car that they’d driven to the bar and quickly racked her brain for the closest restaurant that they would enjoy.
“Moose’s Tooth,” Tobin said, pulling away from the curb.
As far as first dates went, this had to be one of the best Christen ever remembered being on.
It wasn’t stiff, with fancy clothes and way-too-small portion sizes like Christen was used to. Where people got all dressed up and pretended to be someone they weren’t while also pretending not to be seriously hangry.
This date was comfortable and easy, with good food and even better company. It had Christen wondering why she put this off, why she denied herself Tobin’s warm laugh and sweet smile for so long.
“This was...definitely the best pizza I’ve ever had,” Christen declared, sitting back in her chair.
“It’s a staple,” Tobin sighed, dropping her last piece of crust onto her plate and wiping her hands on her napkin.
“You absolutely cannot leave that. Not finishing the crust is an indictment against the entire institution of pizza,” Christen teased.
“But it’s only one tiny piece of crust,” Tobin said, her smile growing at Christen’s words. “Would you like it?”
“You’re really not going to finish that?” Christen asked.
Tobin only smirked and picked up her wine glass, taking a sip of the Pinot that Christen had chosen.
“You really leave me no choice then,” Christen sighed, reaching out and grabbing the discarded crust. She popped it in her mouth and shot Tobin another one of her ‘adorable’ winks.
“Your wine choice doesn’t suck,” Tobin said with a smile, enjoying Christen’s company much more than she ever thought she would.
“You sure know how to flatter a girl,” Christen chuckled.
“The last glass of wine I had was at my sister’s wedding, and it was kind of awful, so that was a compliment. This is good wine,” Tobin said with a laugh.
“You like it, really?” Christen asked, narrowing her eyes a bit as she tried to gauge whether Tobin was just sweet-talking or if she genuinely enjoyed it.
“I already know you like me. I don’t need to lie about wine,” Tobin teased. “It’s good. I didn’t realize I was a red wine person.”
“I would offer you another glass back at my place but...my mom’s there tonight, and Ali and Ashlyn might be too. And Ash and I- well, we aren’t currently speaking so,” Christen admitted with a bashful grimace.
“Excuse me?” Tobin asked, lifting her eyebrows. “What did she do?”
“Not her. It’s totally a me thing. I might have gotten a little angry with her yesterday when she brought you in, and I haven’t had time to apologize,” Christen sighed, clenching her jaw at the reminder of her brisk tone and harsh words.
“Not to make you feel worse, but she is the one who helped pull me out,” Tobin said with a sheepish smile.
“She was also the one who let you go out there, so,” Christen shrugged, her eyes falling away from Tobin’s. “I might have been a little harsh.”
“Like I gave her a choice. But I wouldn’t have gone out there quite so willingly if I’d known they’d been drilling holes in the ice for fishing,” Tobin said with a sigh. “I’m sure your place is nicer, but we can avoid her at mine if you want. I can’t promise wine.”
Christen felt her worry and her guilt over yesterday bleed away. She was instead overcome with nerves and excitement, almost able to taste the promise in the air.
“I think I’m good on wine for the night, but the change in location is too good an offer to pass up,” Christen replied, shooting Tobin a shy smile.
“It isn’t much,” Tobin said, flipping on the light switch to illuminate the hallway connected to the garage. She was suddenly very aware that she’d left a couple of dishes in the sink and a pile of laundry in front of the washing machine.
“It’s nice. Cozy, toasty warm,” Christen observed with a teasing lilt in her voice as she followed Tobin down the hall.
“It’s small,” Tobin laughed. “Makes it feel extra toasty.”
Christen wasn’t sure why she was nervous, not when they’d spent the last thirty minutes of her shift making out like teenagers in the on-call room. They’d already kissed and touched and kissed some more. She shouldn’t be nervous to be alone with Tobin, to be alone with her desire for the other woman, but she was nervous all the same. She was nervous in that wonderful sort of way, and she had a feeling Tobin was too.
“Did you ask me all those questions you wanted to? The ones from earlier?” Christen wondered, shedding her winter coat and hanging it next to Tobin’s.
“I might have one more,” Tobin murmured, dropping her car keys in the dish and leaning against the hallway wall. She reached forward, letting her fingers slowly run up and down Christen’s arm.
Christen gulped, feeling fire in the wake of Tobin’s touch. “What- uh, what’s your question?” she stammered, her eyes locked with Tobin’s.
“What’s your opinion on kissing at the end of a first date?” Tobin asked, glancing down at Christen’s lips for the hundredth time that night.
“Considering we started this whole evening off with a kiss, I’m not opposed,” Christen replied, her voice getting just a little bit deeper.
“Good to know,” Tobin murmured, stepping into Christen’s space and catching Christen’s bottom lip in between her own. She ran her tongue along Christen’s bottom lip and trailed her hands over Christen’s back, just like she’d been wanting to do since she first met her, just like she’d done in the on-call room earlier that night.
Christen sank into the kiss easily, like they’d been doing this dance forever. She looped her arms around Tobin’s neck and dropped them onto her shoulders, bringing their bodies closer together as their kiss deepened.
Tobin stepped forward a little more, backing Christen up against the opposite wall of the hallway. She rested her hands on Christen’s hips, letting her thumbs slide under the hem of her sweater and brush over her skin. As Christen let out a soft sigh, Tobin just barely slipped her tongue into Christen’s mouth, smirking slightly when Christen’s tongue chased after her own.
It turned into something resembling a competition after that moment.
When Christen reached up to pull the hair tie out of Tobin’s hair and grip tightly onto the wavy strands at the back of her head, Tobin purposefully slid her thigh between Christen’s and rocked forward.
When Tobin’s touch skirted higher up Christen’s sides, Christen used her free hand to deftly unbutton the top few buttons of Tobin’s shirt and run a teasing touch along Tobin’s collarbones.
When one of them would skirt the boundary, would push against the next line, the other would send them both across it without hesitation.
“What’s your opinion of sex on the first date?” Tobin asked, pressing her forehead against Christen’s and trying to catch her breath, her shirt almost fully unbuttoned, and her hands pushing Christen’s sweater up higher and higher.
“Have it. Definitely have it,” Christen rasped, sucking air into her lungs. She felt her stomach tighten with anticipation, a coil of desire taking root there and chasing away any lingering nerves.
Tobin stepped back, tugging on Christen’s belt loops to pull her closer. “I couldn’t agree more,” she husked, taking Christen’s hand in her own and leading her through the kitchen, down a long hallway, and into her bedroom.
It felt strangely parallel to have Tobin leading her into a room and shutting the door with a sense of finality, just like she’d done earlier today. It also felt strangely perfect.
Christen was helpless to resist as Tobin led her over to the bed and gently pushed her down onto the edge of it, stepping between her parted legs with a coy smile.
“You’re the most stunning woman I’ve ever seen,” Tobin hummed, leaning down and capturing Christen’s lips with her own again.
With each kiss, they lost a little bit of hesitation and an article or two of clothing. Black ripped jeans and light wash blue jeans were discarded on the floor, a fully unbuttoned shirt and a forest green sweater joined them soon after.
With each kiss, Tobin offered a softly-worded, whispered compliment. Christen had never heard so many variations of the word beautiful, and she’d never felt so absolutely adored in her entire life.
Laid bare beneath Tobin, with Tobin hovering above her, with her chest heaving and want clouding her mind, Christen felt a small smile grace her lips. A smile tinged with more than desire and giddiness. It was tinged with happiness, genuine happiness.
“This is okay?” Tobin asked, pausing all her movements to look at Christen’s eyes and make sure that she hadn’t changed her mind somewhere between losing her clothes and laying down on the bed.
“Very okay,” Christen hummed, wrapping an arm around Tobin’s waist and pulling her flush against her.
Christen hooked a leg around the back of Tobin’s and rolled them over so that now she was hovering above Tobin. Christen delighted in the look of sweet surprise on Tobin’s face.
“I just wanted a different view,” Christen grinned, brushing hair out of Tobin’s face and tucking it behind her ear.
“This one’s just as good,” Tobin whispered, running her hands over Christen’s ribs.
Tobin kept her movements still, allowing Christen the time to explore and sinking into the way that Christen’s touch made her skin feel like it was on fire. Christen’s gaze alone made Tobin’s heart race, and for a minute she wasn’t sure that she would survive the night with Christen.
But then Christen’s hand was trailing up her legs and sinking into the warmth between her thighs, making Tobin’s back arch off the bed and a moan spill from her lips. Her body reacted to Christen’s soft touches more than it had reacted to anything from anyone else ever before.
Christen let out a throaty chuckle and looked up at Tobin through her lashes, her lips ghosting across Tobin’s stomach.
“Would it be corny to mention toasty warm right now?” Christen asked, leaving a trail of kisses up Tobin’s chest as her fingers continued to draw out the most addicting sounds from Tobin’s lips.
Tobin let out a breathy laugh, smirking at Christen’s teasing. She was having trouble focusing on all that Christen was doing. She couldn’t decide whether Christen’s lips or hands were more intoxicating, but she knew she didn’t want either to stop. Tobin reached around Christen, her nails scraping slightly on Christen’s back as her hips rolled up into Christen’s hand.
“You can be as corny as you want as long as you keep doing that,” Tobin husked, a completely different shiver racing through her body.
“In that case…” Christen trailed off, moving her mouth closer to Tobin’s ear. “I’m no firefighter, but I think I’m an expert in what’s hot,” she hummed.
Tobin just barely caught what Christen said, fixing her with a slightly amused look before another groan ripped itself from her chest when she felt Christen slide a finger inside of her.
“Fuck, don- don’t stop,” Tobin moaned, pulling Christen even closer.
Christen didn’t stop. In fact, she didn’t stop after making Tobin come apart for the first time. She didn’t stop, coaxing moans and orgasms out of Tobin with her hands and her tongue, over and over again until Tobin could barely even breathe.
“You’re-” Tobin panted, rolling onto her side to look at Christen. “You’re greedy.”
“I was trying to be direct,” Christen smirked, her tongue darting out to lick her fingers clean.
Tobin let out a huff and let her forehead fall onto Christen’s shoulder, her hand sliding down to Christen’s thigh. “Well, let me be direct now,” she whispered, her lips brushing against the shell of Christen’s ear and her hand sliding between Christen’s legs.
A moan slipped out of both of their mouths. Tobin hadn’t ever felt this much of an effect from feeling someone else on her fingers. She pulled her fingers up to her mouth and sucked on them, keeping her eyes on Christen’s the entire time.
“You taste amazing.”
“Jesus, Tobin,” Christen husked, fisting her hands in the sheets and feeling her hips jump off the mattress, only catching air despite wishing for friction.
Tobin smirked at Christen’s reaction, at the way Christen clearly wanted her just as much as she wanted Christen. She leaned down and pressed her lips against Christen’s, then her jaw, finally landing on the soft skin along her neck.
“No marks. Low scrubs,” Christen managed, threading her fingers in the hair at the back of Tobin’s head.
“Of course not,” Tobin mumbled, moving her lips down toward Christen’s collarbones, finding skin that would be covered by Christen’s scrubs. “Here?”
“Please,” Christen rasped.
“A please gets you a long way in life,” Tobin whispered, repeating Christen’s words that she’d said when they first met. She gently sucked on the skin underneath Christen’s collarbone, scraping her teeth over the skin and soothing it with her tongue.
Tobin groaned against Christen’s chest as she slipped two fingers inside of Christen and felt her clench around them.
“Oh...my...god…” Christen groaned.
“It’s Tobin,” Tobin smirked, curling her fingers inside of Christen.
“What is?” Christen teased, her voice hoarse and breathy and dripping with desire.
Tobin didn’t need to respond. She took one of Christen’s nipples into her mouth and swirled her tongue around it, keeping her fingers moving at a steady pace. By the time Christen’s chest was heaving and her legs were twitching, Tobin had left three marks along Christen’s chest and had decided that this view was the absolute best she’d ever seen.
She led Christen over the edge, feeling herself grow wetter and wetter with every noise that slipped from Christen’s mouth. And when she’d finally helped Christen ride out the last of her aftershocks, Tobin realized she’d been wrong.
This was the best view she’d ever seen. A sated, spent Christen Press, whose eyes were fluttering softly open and closed, whose chest was heaving, whose hair was spread across a pillow, whose fingers were tangled in Tobin’s sheets.
This was Tobin’s new favorite view.
“Tobin. Eyes on the road,” Christen hummed, her eyes locked on her phone as she typed out an email.
“Sorry, some of us are still trying to wrap our heads around the really sexy doctor who’s sitting in their car,” Tobin mumbled, drumming her fingers on the steering wheel to the beat of a Barenaked Ladies song.
Christen blushed and looked up from her phone.
“You’ve called me sexy seven times already this morning,” Christen replied with a smile, reaching out to tuck a strand of hair behind Tobin’s ear.
“And beautiful and talented and sweet and just my type. And you like me. It’s kind of unreal,” Tobin grinned, pulling her eyes away from Christen and driving through the intersection now that the light was green.
Christen’s blush deepened as she put her elbow on the center console and propped her chin on it, watching as the early morning rays of light bathed Tobin in a golden glow.
Her phone and the email to Jill were abandoned in her lap, Christen watched Tobin bob her head to the music and mouth along to the words, the picture of carefree and joyful. Christen’s cheeks were starting to ache because she was smiling and happy and also feeling like this was a bit unreal.
It was unreal how good Tobin was. In bed. At making her laugh. At being sweet by bringing her coffee in bed. At talking about anything and everything. At making it feel like they’d been doing this dance for ages, not just hours.
“You’re going to steal all the good words. What will I have left to call you?” Christen murmured with a teasing lilt in her voice.
“You went to Stanford. I’m sure you’ll come up with something,” Tobin laughed, her eyes crinkling and her cheeks aching.
She hadn’t felt this happy in a long time. She realized that she probably hadn’t felt this happy as an adult…ever.
Last night with Christen had been perfect. It had been incredibly hot, full of desire and need, but also sweet and tender. It had felt safe, like coming up for air, and Tobin couldn’t remember ever feeling that way before.
This morning had been better. It had started with coffee in bed and only gotten better when Christen joined her in the shower and sat on her counter while Tobin made breakfast.
“Hmmm…” Christen trailed off, running her finger down the bridge of her nose and tapping the tip of it. “Oooh! How about pulchritudinous? That’s a big, Stanford word for you.”
“I have…no clue what that means. But you just got sexier,” Tobin grinned, fanning herself with one hand.
Christen threw her head back in laughter, the rich sound bouncing off the inside of the Subaru. Her arm fell from the console, her hand resting on Tobin’s thigh as she continued to laugh.
Tobin’s smile grew even wider at the huge laugh and the way Christen was touching her. It felt natural, like second nature, and Tobin had an inkling that Christen felt the same way.
“Do you think we can do something like this again?” Tobin asked, drumming her fingers a little faster on the steering wheel, not with the beat but with slight nerves.
“Tonight too soon?” Christen replied, repeating the same words she’d used yesterday. She couldn’t help it. She wanted to see Tobin again and again and again.
“I was really hoping you’d say that,” Tobin hummed, reaching down with one hand and lacing her fingers with Christen’s. “Dinner? We can go out or order in or I can sort of cook.”
“Sort of cooking sounds dangerous,” Christen teased. But her smile dropped a little and she let out a small sigh when Tobin pulled the car up in front of Anchorage General. She wanted to stay in this car and not go to work. The last thing she wanted to do today was work. “How about I bring dinner over after work? I get off at 8,” she added, turning away from the view of the hospital and looking over at Tobin, her green eyes a little shy yet hopeful.
“Dinner sounds good,” Tobin said as she put the car in park. She turned in her seat to face Christen, reached across the console, and ran her thumb over Christen’s cheekbone. “I don’t want to go to work today,” she mumbled.
“Me neither,” Christen pouted, leaning into Tobin’s touch.
“Maybe I’ll have to come by sometime today,” Tobin offered, leaning closer to Christen.
“You better not show up here bleeding, broken, or needing stitches,” Christen hummed, matching Tobin and leaning closer as well.
Tobin shot a toothy grin at Christen, erased the distance between them, and pressed a kiss to Christen’s lips.
“I was thinking more about stopping by with lunch or something,” Tobin admitted with a blush.
“An injury-free lunch sounds perfect,” Christen replied, going back in for another kiss. “Maybe no avocado-based meals, okay?” she added with a smirk, pecking Tobin quickly and leaning back.
“I’ll get someone else to do the cooking,” Tobin mumbled, tugging Christen close again and stealing one last, lingering kiss.
A loud smack against the hood of the Subaru had them both pulling apart, matching blushes on their cheeks. Christen narrowed her eyes and peered through the windshield. Seeing who it was, she chuckled and hid her face behind her hand.
“No kissing in the parking lot,” Ali teased, shooting a wink at Christen and smiling at Tobin. “But can I just say, finally!”
With a wave, Ali headed inside, leaving Christen still blushing and hiding behind her hand.
Tobin pressed her forehead against the top of the steering wheel, hiding her own blush but letting out a small chuckle.
“I guess that’s my cue,” she said, turning her head to the side to look at Christen.
“Unfortunately,” Christen sighed, shooting Tobin a smile. “See you later?”
“I’ll text you about lunch,” Tobin nodded, still feeling that same unreal feeling she’d woken up with. A feeling Christen had inside of her as well.
we hope that lived up to the hype! see you on Tuesday for Ch. 5! :)
we love y'all so much! thanks for reading!
-sam & emma
Chapter 5: In my life
cuts, camping, and car racing
In honor of Christen Press's penalty kick and Alyssa Naeher's amazing game, we decided to post chapter 5 ahead of schedule! It's also Scottie Heath's birthday today (July 30th), so that's another thing to celebrate!!! We hope you enjoy this chapter! Thanks for reading!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
There are places I'll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all
But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more
("In My Life" by The Beatles)
By the time March rolled around, Christen still felt that unreal feeling inside of her chest.
If she’d thought Tobin was good after one night and one date, she was even better after one month of dates and nights and the days in between.
Christen was sure she’d never laughed this much, or smiled this much, or burned this much. She was always left wanting more. More time. More kisses. More tastes and touches. Just more.
She was also sure the on-call room had never seen so much action.
Somehow whenever Tobin stopped by for lunch or swung by at the end of her shift or had to come in for a minor patch-up, they always found their way to the on-call room.
When they were in there, with tender touches and a speedy efficiency that came from knowing each other’s bodies well, it was like the entire world outside melted away and it was just the two of them.
If only they could be in there right now.
Christen sighed and rolled her head from side to side, feeling exhaustion deep in her muscles as she sat with a pile of paperwork at the nurse's station.
She hadn’t seen Tobin in four days. She had pulled two double shifts because Ali was sick and staying with Ashlyn, which meant Ashlyn was also sick. That had Tobin pulling extra shifts as well.
She didn’t just miss Tobin’s touch and the way she made her feel cherished, she missed everything about Tobin. Her goofy grin and her questionably bad jokes and her flirty comments that still took Christen’s breath away.
She missed Tobin and she once again found herself wishing for something small. A tiny laceration. A minuscule bump. Something that would bring Tobin through the doors of the E.R and help stop her chest from aching.
Tobin felt like she was dead on her feet. She’d done two night shifts in a row and had just finished a morning shift, having only gotten a few hours of deep sleep in the last couple of days.
Even that had been restless sleep. She’d been at the fire station or at home on her own, and she was realizing just how much better she slept with Christen in her bed.
Now, though, with her shift over and all afternoon and evening ahead of her, she saw light at the end of the tunnel. And seeing Christen as soon as possible was on the top of her list.
“Heeeello,” Tobin said leaning against the front desk in the ER.
“Jesus!” Christen swore, clutching her chest with her hand. “You scared me,” she added, huffing out a small chuckle. She’d been so engrossed in paperwork she hadn’t heard Tobin come in or even walk up to the desk. But now that she had…
“What happened?” Christen asked, getting to her feet immediately when she saw the towel Tobin had wrapped around her right thumb.
“Don’t panic. It’s not that big. In my medical opinion, it won’t even need stitches,” Tobin said, holding up her hand wrapped in a towel and keeping her other hand behind her back.
Christen clicked her tongue and stepped out from behind the nurse's station. She pulled Tobin over to a free bed, thankful that the E.R. was slow today. She tugged the privacy curtain closed and fixed Tobin with a hard look.
“What did you do?” she asked, arching a brow as she gestured for Tobin to take the towel off and show her the injury she was sure Tobin had appraised incorrectly.
“Well, I brought you lunch at least,” Tobin said with a sheepish smile, handing Christen the bag that she’d been holding behind her back.
“You stopped for lunch?! Tobin!” Christen sighed, dropping the paper bag on the table and running her hands over her head. “Will you stop messing around and show me, please?”
“You do okay with blood, right?” Tobin teased, pulling the towel off of her hand and holding her thumb out for Christen.
Christen looked at the barely-there paper cut on Tobin’s thumb and felt her lips twitch up into a smile. She shook her head and met Tobin’s amused gaze, her immediate concern melting away.
“Cute. Making me worry about you is really cute,” Christen grumbled, but the smile on her face took the bite out of her words.
“I needed a reason to get you behind the privacy curtain,” Tobin mumbled, pulling Christen forward and pressing a kiss to her cheek. “You have no idea how much I’ve missed you.”
Christen sighed into the feeling of Tobin’s arms around her waist and Tobin’s lips against her skin. She looped her arms around Tobin’s shoulders and pulled Tobin in for a tight hug.
“I missed you more,” Christen hummed, pressing her smile into the side of Tobin’s head. “And I think I might have a better place than behind a privacy curtain. Care to move this party elsewhere?”
“Do I need a consult for my thumb?” Tobin teased, leaving a trail of kisses down Christen’s neck.
“In my professional medical opinion, you definitely need a private consult,” Christen murmured, biting her lip to keep in the moan that threatened to leave her lips when Tobin nipped at the sensitive spot on the underside of her jaw.
“Lead the way,” Tobin husked, leaving one last kiss on Christen’s pulse point. “Also, I totally missed you more.”
Tobin followed Christen to one of the on-call rooms, trying to school her features as they crossed through the relatively quiet E.R.
This was routine. Tobin knew which hallway to walk down and where to turn. She knew where to go, but she always followed behind Christen, enjoying the view and the way that Christen walked with such confidence in her hospital.
Christen pulled open the door and held her arm out, dramatically gesturing with it so Tobin would enter first. She grinned at Tobin and offered her one of those adorable wink-blinks that Tobin was falling hopelessly for.
“After you,” Christen said softly.
“The service in this place is really impeccable,” Tobin smirked, putting the bag of lunch on a table and turning around to see Christen slipping off her white coat and tossing it onto the foot of the bed.
Christen simply smirked and stepped into Tobin’s space. She then gripped the hem of her scrub top and pulled it off, leaving her in just a simple sports bra. But the way Tobin was drinking in the sight of her, the way her tongue wet her lower lip and her eyes darkened with hunger, had Christen feeling like she was wearing the sexiest piece of lingerie in the world.
She gently pushed Tobin down onto the edge of the bed and straddled her waist, her lips immediately connecting with Tobin’s in a kiss that spoke of just how much she’d missed Tobin.
“God, babe, you’re so sexy. I missed you so much,” Tobin moaned, slipping her tongue into Christen’s mouth. She gripped onto Christen’s ass, holding her as close as she possibly could.
Four days had been too long. And now, Tobin felt like her body was finally relaxing, finally sinking into a calmer state. She ran her hands over Christen’s body, trailing her hands over Christen’s back and down to her legs.
“I missed you too, baby,” Christen mumbled, tugging Tobin’s sweater up and off, discarding it somewhere on the floor. She buried her hands in Tobin’s hair and kissed Tobin hard, the time for soft long past. It had been torture to be without Tobin for so long, and now she wanted to make up for lost time.
She rolled her hips down into Tobin’s and swallowed Tobin’s delighted gasp, smirking into the next kiss.
“Fuck,” Tobin husked, her hips twitching up toward Christen. “When do you get off tonight?”
“Hopefully I’m gonna get off right now. And then I’ll get you off too,” Christen grinned, pressing open-mouthed kisses along the side of Tobin’s throat.
Tobin’s hands were already pulling on the drawstring on Christen’s scrubs, tugging at the waistband and running her thumbs along Christen’s hipbones as she grinned.
“Oh shit,” Shirley mumbled from the doorway.
If it had been anyone else, Christen would have been out of Tobin’s lap and pulling on her scrub top. If it had been literally any other person who worked in this hospital, Christen would be stuttering out apologies and blushing furiously. But this wasn’t just anyone. This was Shirley, who had expressed interest in Tobin and still gave her looks that were far too flirty for Christen’s taste.
So, Christen merely turned her head to look at the door and offered as sheepish of a grimace as she could muster. It might have come off more as a cocky, knowing smirk, but Christen wasn’t able to do any better.
“Sorry, Shirley, this ones occupied,” Christen said, keeping her hands buried in Tobin’s hair.
“Hi,” Tobin mumbled, her smile pressed against Christen’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” Shirley stammered, looking completely flustered.
“No, I'm sorry. I’m being so rude. Shirley, this is my girlfriend Tobin Heath,” Christen introduced, the smile on her face definitely a cocky smirk now. “Baby, this is one of the Peds doctors, Shirley.”
“Yeah…uh, we’ve met,” Shirley mumbled, stepping out of the room and closing the door behind her.
Tobin let out a laugh, trying to stifle it in Christen’s skin. “That was Winston-level evil. Also, she could totally tattle.”
Christen laughed and looked down at Tobin, her green eyes sparkling.
“Tattle? How old are you?” Christen teased, leaning down to kiss the corner of Tobin’s mouth. “And she won’t. Unspoken on-call room agreement. Nobody snitches, nobody gets stitches.”
“This is like middle school,” Tobin snorted. “But I didn’t have a girlfriend in middle school.”
“Would you like one now?” Christen asked softly, taking her bottom lip between her teeth.
“I’m pretty sure I already have one, and I’m crazy about her,” Tobin whispered, running a thumb along Christen’s jaw.
“Good, because she’s crazy about you too,” Christen murmured, tilting down to recapture Tobin’s lips and leaning them back onto the bed.
“Why are you packing that?” Ashlyn scoffed, pointing at the French press that Tobin had shoved into her backpack.
“For coffee,” Tobin replied quietly, looking down at the stuff she still needed to pack away and hiding her blush from Ashlyn.
“We have water and the instant coffee stuff,” Ashlyn said, shaking the bag of instant coffee packets at Tobin. “That’s just gonna weigh your bag down and take forever to use.”
“Christen likes good coffee,” Tobin mumbled under her breath, scratching at the back of her head in preparation for Ashlyn’s teasing.
This was their first couples trip. After Ashlyn and Ali had gotten over their shared cold, and they’d enjoyed a few double dates, all four of them had asked for the same weekend off of work and planned a camping trip.
It was Christen’s first real camping trip with tents in the great outdoors, and Tobin was determined to make her like it, to make it as comfortable as possible.
“Ooooh Christen likes good coffee,” Ashlyn teased, slinging an arm around Tobin’s shoulders and ruffling her hand over Tobin’s hair. “You’re so whipped, dude.”
“You’re teasing now, but Ali’s gonna love the good coffee too, and then you’ll be drinking that shit by yourself,” Tobin said, pointing at the instant coffee packets. “And what’s wrong with being whipped?” she added under her breath.
“Oh nothing,” Ashlyn grinned. “It’s just so cute to see you like this. You must really like her if you’re willing to carry around a French press.”
“I do,” Tobin nodded. “You must really like Ali if you’re carrying that foam mattress pad up to the camping site.”
“I’m whipped and I own that shit. We gotta do what we gotta do for the women we love, right?” Ashlyn chuckled, grabbing her backpack and the duffel with Ali’s mattress pad in it and throwing them into the trunk of her car.
“Woah woah woah I didn’t say love,” Tobin spluttered, tossing her backpack and a small bag of food supplies into the back of the car as well. “It’s only been a month and a half.”
“That’s like nine months in gay math,” Ashlyn teased. She jumped into the driver's seat and patted her pockets for the keys. “Come on, Toby. Let’s go pick up our women and get on the road!”
The two of them drove over to Ali and Christen’s house, bobbing their heads to the radio and teasing one another about anything they could possibly think of.
When they pulled up in front of the house, though, they both fell silent.
“You tell them,” Tobin said, staring at the huge pile of bags that Ali and Christen were standing next to.
“Flip you for it,” Ashlyn mumbled, grabbing a quarter from the cup holder. “Heads or tails?”
“Heads,” Tobin said, plastering a smile onto her face and waving at Christen through the windshield.
“Sucker,” Ashlyn chuckled, holding out her hand and showing that the quarter was in fact showing tails. “Godspeed!”
“Cheater,” Tobin grumbled, pushing Ashlyn’s Jeep door open and slowly making her way up the driveway.
“Hey, babe!” Tobin said in as cheery a voice as she could. “What’s all of this?”
Christen’s brow furrowed as she looked down at the two duffels and large hiking backpack Tobin had helped her pick out from the store.
“Umm…my stuff?” Christen replied, leaning in to give Tobin a quick peck. “Why? Did I pack wrong?”
Tobin flinched at the question, not wanting to make Christen feel bad.
“No baby, you didn’t do it wrong…it’s kind of a lot, but maybe we can condense it and make it easier to carry?” Tobin offered, glancing at Ali and hoping she got the message too since she was standing in front of two more duffels.
Christen shared a quick look with Ali and then the two of them started to laugh, like a ‘hands on their knees, gasping for air’ kind of laugh.
“You- you should have seen your face!” Christen giggled. She wrapped her arms around Tobin’s waist, still laughing. “We might be L.A. girls but we know how to pack for camping. Three of these duffels are just for show.”
On cue, Ali kicked them, showing just how empty they were.
“We got you good,” Christen teased with a grin.
“Oh thank god,” Tobin sighed, burying her face in Christen’s neck to cover her face. “Just for that, you can drink Ashlyn’s shitty coffee.”
“There’s no need to be cruel,” Christen replied, running her hands up and down Tobin’s back.
“You guys scared the crap out of Toby!” Ashlyn called from the car.
“Don’t pretend you didn’t fall for it too!” Tobin called back, shooting Ashlyn the bird over her shoulder. “You two ready to go?”
“Almost,” Christen grinned, stepping away from Tobin.
She threw the extra duffels into the house while Ali took the actual bags to the Jeep. She returned a few moments later with a small gift bag and held it out to Tobin after she locked the front door.
“Here,” Christen hummed, shaking the bag so Tobin would take it.
“Did I forget an important day? It’s only been a month and a half,” Tobin said, her eyes growing slightly wide as she looked at the gift.
“No! You didn’t,” Christen assured, stepping closer. “I just saw it and thought it would be a fun gift for this weekend.”
Tobin carefully pulled the tissue paper out of the bag and pulled a box out.
“A Polaroid camera,” Tobin grinned, examining the box that held a green Polaroid camera. “This is really cool. Thank you,” Tobin hummed, leaning forward and pressing a kiss to Christen’s lips.
Christen blushed and shrugged. “I saw it and I just thought it would be fun to kind of document the trip. That way we can look back at the pictures and remember it. We don’t have to take it if you don’t want to.”
Tobin put the gift bag on the ground and opened the box. She loaded the camera with the Polaroids and held it up to take a picture. “I have one very important question first.”
Christen tilted her head to the side and narrowed her eyes playfully at Tobin, her arms crossed over her chest.
“How does a naked photoshoot sound?” Tobin smirked, clicking the button on the camera and capturing the surprised yet intrigued look on Christen’s face.
“I’m wearing three pairs of socks and I’m still freezing,” Christen grumbled, burrowing closer into Tobin’s side. “No naked photoshoots will be happening in this weather.”
Tobin chuckled and wrapped her arm tighter around Christen’s side, pressing a kiss to her temple.
“You almost finished?” Tobin asked, watching Ashlyn flip the burgers on the tiny pan that they’d brought.
She knew that Christen would feel better when she got something warm to eat. Not only that, but the sooner they finished dinner, the sooner they could crawl into their tent and get some shelter from the chilly breeze outside.
“Yup. Good to go! Hon, will you grab the plates?” Ashlyn called out.
“They’re literally right next to you,” Ali chuckled, sipping her beer.
Christen grinned at the interaction and tucked her face into the crook of Tobin’s neck.
“I like camping, but it’s quite cold,” she hummed, fighting off a small shiver. Even if she was bundled up in her warmest clothes, plus one of Tobin’s jackets, she was still chilly.
“I’ll get you out of these clothes and into the warmest sleeping bag as soon as possible,” Tobin promised, reaching for her bag and pulling out the one blanket she’d brought, knowing Christen would get cold. She wrapped the blanket around Christen’s shoulders and then moved her arms around her again.
“Mmmm, now I’m toasty warm,” Christen murmured, pressing her smile into Tobin’s neck.
“Your five-star dinner is served,” Ashlyn called, handing Ali two plates for Tobin and Christen.
“Thanks, Al and thank you for cooking Ash,” Christen grinned, taking the plate from Ali. “You two looked very domestic cooking at that tiny pan,” she added with a teasing chuckle.
“Well, we have to take the cooking reins,” Ashlyn laughed. “Last time I let Toby cook, the guys from work had to help us put out a brush fire.”
“Ooookay, it wasn’t that bad,” Tobin grumbled, taking a plate from Ali with a quiet thank you.
“So it sounds like I’ll be making dinner tomorrow on our night to cook,” Christen replied with an affectionate shake of her head, leaning over to steal a chip from Tobin’s plate.
“I can chop things and stir,” Tobin offered, leaning over and pressing a kiss to Christen’s shoulder. “Plus, I think I’m getting better. After the avocado incident, I watched YouTube videos on better ways to handle a kitchen knife.”
“I’ll be doing the cutting, baby,” Christen corrected, offering Tobin a piece of watermelon from her plate. “But it’s cute that you’re trying.”
“And you call us domestic,” Ali teased, nodding at the way Tobin and Christen were sharing food from their plates and sitting as close together as they could get without being in each other’s laps.
“They’re in the honeymoon phase,” Ashlyn cooed, ruffling Tobin’s hair as she walked past to sit next to Ali. “Hiking and sleeping in a tent might change that though,” she added with a laugh.
“We aren’t opposed to close quarters,” Christen wink-blinked, making Ashlyn and Ali laugh and Tobin blush.
“Speaking of hikes, I know we already have ours planned out for this trip, but I think Christen and I found some good ones for next time,” Ali said, changing the subject.
“Oh yeah! What was that one called? Glacier Falls? No, Glacier Peak?” Christen replied, getting excited at the reminder of the research she and Ali did on one of their lunch breaks last week.
Christen was so excited, she didn’t really notice the way Tobin tensed beside her. She also didn’t notice the worried look Ashlyn shot Tobin.
“Glacier Peak,” Ali confirmed. “It didn’t seem terrible and it had good reviews-“
“No,” Tobin said, her voice tense and eerily quiet. She didn’t mean to sound weird. She’d meant to school her reaction.
But it had been years since anyone had mentioned it. People had stopped trying to talk about Max with her. They’d stopped trying to check on her, moving on just like they seemed to think Tobin had.
Anytime Tobin heard the words Glacier Peak, though, she couldn’t help the way her body tensed. She hadn’t been up there since she was seventeen. She and Max had hiked up there, feeling immortal and untouchable just like teenagers often did.
It had happened in the blink of an eye. A moment of bliss, of complete joy, had become a nightmare, one that neither of them would wake up from.
Max was gone. And Tobin had spent a majority of the past eleven years playing the moment over and over in her head, trying to figure out if she could have done anything differently.
“No,” Tobin mumbled again, putting her half-eaten plate down on the ground and escaping to the tent.
She needed a minute. She wanted to keep it together. It had only been a month and a half, and she didn’t want to lose it in front of Christen. It wasn’t time for this kind of story.
So, instead of sitting next to Christen, tense and reverting back to her seventeen-year-old self, she crawled onto her sleeping bag, covered her eyes with her arm, and drew as many slow breaths as possible.
“What did I say?” Ali wondered, a crestfallen look on her face.
“Nothing, hon. Don’t worry about it,” Ashlyn murmured softly, pressing a kiss to Ali’s forehead as she got to her feet. “I’m just gonna-“
“I got her,” Christen interrupted, setting her plate down next to Tobin’s, letting her worry carry her to their tent.
She pulled open the flap and crouched down, entering the tent. She felt her chest tighten at the way Tobin was lying so still on top of her sleeping bag, at the way her left foot bounced and twitched.
“Tobin?” Christen called out softly, dropping down onto her sleeping bag and folding her legs beneath her.
“Sorry. I’m good. I’ll be out in a second,” Tobin mumbled, trying desperately to get rid of the image of Max at the bottom of that drop out of her head. The one that kept spinning around and around, haunting her.
She needed to get it under control. She needed to be normal, to be the kind of person who could have a conversation without falling into the past.
“I know you’re not good, but…I won’t push. Tell me when you’re ready,” Christen hummed softly, reaching out to squeeze Tobin’s forearm before getting back up. “I’ll keep your food warm.”
“Thanks,” Tobin murmured, lifting her arm and making eye contact with Christen. “I’ll be out in a second.”
Christen offered Tobin a small smile and let the tent flap fall shut, leaving Tobin to her thoughts.
Tobin had been spiraling for the past eleven years. She’d thought about every single part of that day. She’d remembered what she and Max had eaten for breakfast. She could remember what clothes they were both wearing, mainly because her mom had had to forcibly remove hers in the hospital to get her into the gown.
She’s been replaying and remembering for years. But for the first time in those years, there was someone reaching out for her and telling her to go at her own pace. That thought alone made the tears come to her eyes. They didn’t fall, but they blurred her vision; they made her chest tight and her throat thick.
They made her feel an impossible feeling of happy melancholy. There was the joy of having someone like Christen waiting for her and the guilt of being happy when Max would never get to find someone special, to grow up, to start life. There was an impossible sense of loneliness that she felt, knowing that her best friend in the entire world would never come back and be by her side.
Christen didn’t ask and she didn’t push. She just offered Tobin a soft smile and her hand when Tobin finally came out of the tent.
She offered Tobin the occasional forehead kiss and a few hugs when Tobin seemed to be lost in her thoughts and not really present.
She didn’t ask and she didn’t push as dinner came to an end. As they roasted marshmallows around the campfire. As the two couples went their separate ways to their separate tents.
And even now, snuggled up beneath layers of blankets, cuddled up in Tobin’s sleeping bag, Christen didn’t ask or push. She just ran her fingers through Tobin’s hair as Tobin rested against her chest, feeling Tobin’s steady breathing skirt across her bare collarbone.
Tobin’s chest wasn’t quite as tight as it had been. Her breathing was even, matching Christen’s perfectly. She felt calm and safe and whole just like she always did with Christen.
“I’ll tell you,” she whispered, hoping that this would tide Christen over, that it would be something Tobin could actually do. “Not tonight. But someday I’ll tell you.”
“Only if you want to,” Christen murmured quietly, scratching her nails against Tobin’s scalp and feeling Tobin go almost limp against her.
“You’re magical,” Tobin hummed against Christen’s skin, wrapping her arm even more snuggly across Christen’s waist. “I’m sorry about making dinner awkward. And if I made Ali feel bad,” she added at a whisper, still feeling embarrassed about the entire reaction.
“You didn’t and she doesn’t. Don’t let your feelings about tonight sit with you and stay with you. It’s in the past and you don’t need to carry it with you into tomorrow,” Christen said in a soft voice.
Tobin buried her face in Christen’s neck, sinking into the warm, familiar skin there. What Christen didn’t know, what Tobin hadn’t told her, was that she lived her life with one foot in the past at all times. She lived her life glancing over her shoulder every chance she got.
“Thank you,” Tobin sighed, hating that when she closed her eyes she saw how the blood spread along the gray sweatshirt that Max had been wearing.
“Of course. Good night, baby,” Christen whispered, ghosting her lips across the top of Tobin’s head, wishing that her kiss could take away the pain she heard in Tobin’s voice, wishing that Tobin would tell her what was going on so that she could better understand the guilt in Tobin’s tense frame.
Tobin gently put the smoking pan into the sink, running hot water on it and sending even more smoke into the air. She shoved the cutting board, knives, any and all measuring cups, and a big mixing bowl into the dishwasher and surveyed her kitchen counter.
It was the most action her kitchen had seen in…well probably ever. But Christen had roughed it with her in the mountains for three days and then taken two night shifts at the hospital, and Tobin just wanted to treat her to a nice, lazy morning on her day off.
So, she’d begged Frank to give her the day off, bought all the ingredients for a big breakfast, and kept Christen in the dark about the entire plan.
Tobin put two pancakes on a plate along with some scrambled eggs and bacon. She fixed Christen’s coffee just how she liked it, and poured a glass of water. She placed everything on a tray with silverware and a napkin and began a slightly shaky trek to her bedroom where Christen was still asleep.
“Woooah,” Tobin murmured, having almost knocked the mug of coffee over. She glanced up and saw that Christen was still very much asleep and still very, gloriously naked.
Tobin stood there for a moment, taking in one of her favorites views, feeling her heart thrum in her chest.
It hadn’t even been a full two months of dating. But even still Tobin knew exactly why her heart was racing. It was in every interaction she had with Christen. It was in the way their flirtations had turned into fondness. It was in the patient way they spoke with one another and the gentle way they touched.
It was love.
It was a kind of love that Tobin hadn’t felt before. It was overwhelming and all-encompassing, and it had crept up on her without warning. And as terrifying as that was, for the first time in the past eleven years, maybe for the first time in her entire life, Tobin wasn’t afraid. She was entirely ready to give her entire heart to Christen, knowing that Christen would hold it carefully.
When she saw Christen stir just a bit, Tobin stepped further into the room, pushing thoughts of love to the side in favor of eating breakfast with the woman she loved most.
“Good morning,” Tobin grinned, keeping her voice soft.
Christen let out a long yawn and stretched her arms over her head before languidly blinking her eyes open. She shot Tobin a sleepy smile as she sat up in bed, the sheets pooling around her waist.
“Great morning,” Christen murmured, running a hand through her messy curls in an effort to tame them after a wild night then a pleasant, peaceful sleep.
Tobin couldn’t help the way her eyes raked across Christen’s bare chest. She couldn’t help that she kind of froze, tray of food in hand, feet glued to the floor. It just still felt unreal. It felt unreal that Christen was in her bed looking like that.
“What?” Christen asked, chuckling a little self-consciously. She wiped at the corner of her mouth and checked her hand. “Did I have drool on my face or something equally embarrassing?”
“You’re beautiful,” Tobin sighed, nearly floating to Christen’s side and putting the tray of food beside her on the bed. “You’re just really beautiful.”
Christen blushed at the sweet words, ducking her head a bit. She was feeling that unreal feeling as well, especially when Tobin said things like that and looked at her like that.
“Thank you,” Christen hummed, reaching out to brush her fingertips across Tobin’s cheek. “And thank you for breakfast. The service here is really impeccable,” she added with a teasing lilt in her voice, copying something Tobin had taken to saying to her at the hospital.
“Don’t say that before you try it,” Tobin warned. “But it’s my first injury-free meal I’ve made, so I’ll still consider it a win if I have to get something else delivered.”
“That’s a win in my book too,” Christen grinned, leaning forward to press a quick kiss to Tobin’s lips. “Are you eating with me?”
“I burnt mine, but I was planning on getting back in bed with you,” Tobin admitted with a sheepish grin. She pressed another kiss to Christen’s lips, then her cheeks, then her forehead before crawling into bed carefully and settling next to Christen.
“We can share,” Christen replied with a smile. She ripped a piece of bacon in half and handed some to Tobin while popping hers into her mouth. She let out a small, surprised moan. “This is…actually really good,” Christen said, immediately reaching out for the other piece of bacon.
“Thank god,” Tobin groaned, kissing Christen’s shoulder before taking a bite. “Can you really screw up bacon, though?”
Christen wrinkled her nose and nodded. “Absolutely. Pancake?” she asked, picking up the chocolate chip pancake that looked perfectly golden brown and tearing it in half. She held it out to Tobin with a smile, struck by that unreal feeling again as she caught the soft look Tobin was already giving her.
“Sure,” Tobin nodded with a smile, the domesticity of sharing a meal in bed, sharing a meal in a bed they regularly shared, not lost on her. “Want to go to a movie with me tomorrow or something? We don’t even have to pay attention to it if you don’t want to.”
“With you? I’d go anywhere,” Christen wink-blinked, making Tobin’s cheek ache from smiling so much.
Tobin sunk into Christen’s side, pressing her face into Christen’s skin and running her hand along Christen’s stomach.
“Me too,” Tobin mumbled, soaking in that warm, safe, invigorating feeling of love.
“Bye, you two! See you tomorrow, Al,” Christen called out, keeping one arm wrapped around Tobin’s waist and the other held in the air waving goodbye to Ali and Ashlyn.
It was already late, their weekly double date dinner having come to an end. The warmth in the air spoke of spring. The sun had started to set and the purple-pink sky was slowly turning a deep, dark blue.
“Get home safe!” Ali called back from Ashlyn’s front porch.
"They’re very cute,” Tobin whispered, squeezing Christen a little closer. Ali and Ashlyn were essentially living together at Ashlyn’s place, leaving Christen’s house free to be used, something that Christen was thrilled about, since she claimed that her mattress was better. And as stubborn as Tobin was about not admitting defeat, she secretly agreed.
“I’m happy for them,” Christen murmured in reply, skipping up to the driver’s side of Tobin’s Subaru and opening the door for Tobin. “And I think they’re happy too. We’re all just really…happy,” she added with a smile.
It wasn’t a foreign feeling, but this kind of happiness was definitely new. It was the kind of happiness that felt safe and secure and warm, like nothing could touch it, like nobody could take it away. It was a happiness that Christen felt every minute of every day she spent with Tobin.
“I’m very happy,” Tobin said as soon as Christen joined her in the car. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been this happy,” she added quietly.
“Me neither,” Christen hummed, leaning across the console to press a lingering kiss to Tobin’s lips. “And I think I know how we can continue these happy feelings at my place.”
“Not my place?” Tobin teased, pulling the car away from the curb and heading down the street. The Dave Matthews Band was already playing out of the car speakers, and Tobin’s hands were already drumming on the steering wheel as she drove, her heart light and her smile achingly wide. “I’ve spent so much time at yours that I’m gonna have to dust the next time I go to my place.”
“Aw poor baby, having to suffer on a Tempurpedic mattress every night,” Christen cooed, trailing her fingertips up and down the leg of Tobin’s jeans.
When they pulled up to a stoplight, Christen noticed a vintage car pull up next to them, on her side of the car. It was a baby blue, 1969 Mustang in mint condition and while Christen wanted to ogle the car for a second, it was the driver that gave her pause.
“Um, I think someone wants your attention,” Christen mumbled, gesturing at the young man behind the wheel of the car who was motioning for her to roll down the window.
Tobin rolled down Christen’s window and turned to look at the teenager. “What’s up, Trevor?” she asked with a laugh, almost rolling her eyes at the kid’s choice in heavy metal music.
Trevor was one of the kids she knew well. She obviously hadn’t grown up with him or his parents, her generation being between them both. But Trevor was charismatic and loud, and he often stopped by the station to see his uncle who volunteered every now and then.
“Wanna race, Tobster? This bad boy’s engine just got redone,” Trevor replied with a grin, tapping the dashboard of the Mustang.
Christen felt the words slither around her heart and grab tightly onto it, making fear and adrenaline shoot through her body. Those words were eerily familiar, similar to the ones people would yell over the sounds of engines to get Paul to race them. They had her sitting very still in the passenger’s seat, almost bracing for what was to come.
“You want to race?” Tobin asked, putting the car in neutral and revving the engine with a lopsided grin on her face.
Christen clenched her teeth together to keep from saying something, feeling her heart hammer against her ribcage. She kept her shaking hands clasped tightly in her lap and her eyes on the road ahead of them, willing for the light to remain red forever.
“Yeah…not gonna happen,” Tobin added with a laugh, putting the Subaru back in drive and keeping her foot on the brake. “I’m not really into that.”
“Come on, Tobster. Don’t be a wimp,” Trevor egged on, his voice slightly whining.
“Trevor Mathis, that is your mom’s car, and I’d put money on the line and say that she doesn’t know you’re driving it right now. Or should I call and ask?” Tobin sighed, leaning her arm on the center console.
“Don’t call,” Trevor mumbled, turning the music down.
“Take the car home, no stops or races on the way,” Tobin said, glancing up to see the light turn green. She shot Trevor a wave and pulled forward, leaving the Mustang in the rearview mirror.
As she rolled the passenger side window up, she glanced to her right to see that Christen was nearly statuesque in her stillness. Her jaw was tightly clenched, and her knuckles were practically white, laced together in her lap.
“Are you okay?” Tobin asked, reaching out a hand, resting it on Christen’s wrist, and rubbing her forearm with her thumb.
“Mhm,” Christen hummed, keeping her eyes trained out the window. She was trying to get her heart rate back to normal and finding it challenging to do so when every time Tobin hit the gas, it felt like she was going to jump out of her skin.
Tobin glanced over her shoulder, only pulling over onto the shoulder when she saw that the lanes beside her were clear.
“Babe, I can tell you’re freaking out,” Tobin whispered, unbuckling her seatbelt and turning in her seat to look at Christen. She brushed a curl behind Christen’s ear and ran her fingers down the side of her neck.
“Sorry,” Christen managed, releasing a long breath and willing away the tension in her frame. She unfurled her hands and flexed them in her lap, her knuckles aching from having been clasped so tightly. “I’m good. Let’s just go.”
“You’re not good,” Tobin said softly, reaching down to lace her fingers with Christen’s. “But that’s okay. Maybe when you feel up to it, you can tell me what just happened?” Tobin offered, hoping to be as patient, as understanding, as comforting as Christen had always been for her. Especially since she still hadn’t told Christen about Max. “You don’t have to though, not unless you want to.”
“I- um,” Christen faltered, tightening her grip on Tobin’s hand. “I dated someone before I came up here, for almost two years. Paul. He used to race and do really stupid, arrogant stuff that always put him in danger. And sometimes it put me in danger too. So, I just- that was kind of a blast from the past that I wasn’t ready for,” Christen explained, her voice slightly shaky. “Sorry,” she repeated, looking over at Tobin’s open expression and offering her a small, tense smile.
Tobin’s heart clenched tightly, a slight pang of guilt hitting her in the chest. She shouldn’t have goofed around and revved the engine, even if it had seemed harmless. That being said, she also felt an overwhelming sense of clarity.
It made sense now why Christen had said she didn’t want to see Tobin in the E.R. so many times. Christen being a little more careful, a little more hesitant, a little more cautious made sense. The way Christen got upset whenever Tobin came into the hospital with an injury finally made sense.
It was clear that Christen had been scared and hurt and worried before, and Tobin didn’t want to add to that. Despite not having said it yet, Tobin loved Christen, and she didn’t want to add to that sense of dread that Christen clearly felt at the sight of possible danger. She ran her thumb along the side of Christen’s hand, hoping to soothe the bit of tension she could still see in Christen’s body.
“Don’t say sorry. That’s nothing to be sorry for. I’m sorry if I scared you and made you think I was gonna race him. I wouldn’t do that though, not with you in the car and not with just me in the car either,” Tobin said gently, keeping her voice calm and her thumb moving against Christen’s hand.
“Thank you,” Christen whispered. She blew out a long, shaky breath and dropped her gaze to where Tobin’s thumb was tracing across her hand. “I…I already care more about you than I ever did about him, and I don’t want to lose you. It’s why I worry and get irrationally upset whenever you wind up in my E.R. I don’t want to be the only one caring about whether you make it home safely at night. I need you to care too.”
Tobin nodded softly, holding a little more securely to Christen’s hand. She understood why Christen worried. But her heart still ached a little because she knew there was always some kind of risk just because of the nature of her job.
And if asked a year ago, she might have lied and said she did her best to make it home. But if she were honest with herself, she knew that she had been reckless. The past eleven years were a blur of recklessness and risk-taking. Now, though, she wanted to come home. She needed to make it home. She couldn’t break Christen’s heart, and she refused to miss out on the life she had with the woman she loved.
“You aren’t the only one caring,” Tobin said softly. “All I want to do is come home to you.”
“Promise me?” Christen asked, worrying her trembling lower lip between her teeth. “Promise me you’ll always be safe and always try your best to come home to me?”
“I promise,” Tobin whispered, leaning over the console and kissing Christen’s cheek, then her jaw, then her neck. She worked her lips across Christen’s skin, making her way back up to Christen’s lips. She took Christen’s trembling bottom lip between her own and kissed her softly. “I promise, baby,” she murmured.
See you probably on Tuesday for chapter 6! Thanks for reading and following along, we love you all!
-sam & emma
Chapter 6: Lonely Superhero
broken promises, broken hearts, and broken legs
Warning before you start reading:
This chapter is one of the most emotional we’ve ever written. It was really difficult to write, and we know it might be difficult for some people to read. So, please be gentle with yourselves. The death of a friend is discussed in depth in this chapter, and it can be really heavy. If you need to skip the chapter, feel free to. If you need to take time to read slowly, please do that. Nothing is worth dredging up painful feelings, so if this is too much, please take care of yourselves. You can even message us on Tumblr for an abridged summary if you’d prefer. As always, we love every single one of you!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
I'm slowly killing myself
I'm trying so hard at the back of the shelf
It's just the same every day
I'm writing these songs that will never get played
I get told what's wrong and what's right
I don't have a romantic life
And everyone's dying, so I keep on trying
To make 'em proud before they are gone
But can't someone help me?
Oh, please, someone help me
I don't care, anyone, anything
'Cause I'm so sick of being so lonely
(“Lonely” by Noah Cyrus)
You know you've reaped what you have sown
You know you’re the reason you're alone
You said I was your superhero
But sometimes superheroes cannot save everyone
I had to let go
And watch you fall
And I could've saved you
(“Superhero” by Hayd)
Tobin kept her promise for a month.
She honestly didn’t mean to break it.
For an entire month, she’d been more careful than she ever had before. She’d double and triple checked gear. She’d helped with radio calls instead of going on Search and Rescue missions where she wasn’t really needed. She’d steered clear of imminent danger as much as she could and made it home to Christen every night. But just like most things in her life, just like most dangerous scenarios, it just happened.
It was nearing the end of April and it was finally getting warmer, warm enough for Tobin to roll her windows down as she drove. She had a few bags of groceries in the back of her car since she was determined to fix Christen a nice dinner for their date night tonight. She’d been having trouble keeping the words ‘I love you’ in for the past few weeks.
She felt like the two of them were finally ready. She felt like Christen was ready to hear them.
Her heart was light, her radio was blasting R.E.M., and the sun was shining, making her mood ten times better.
But then she saw the cloud of dark smoke rising over the back of a house and her mood plummeted.
Instead of turning left toward her house, she turned right, wanting to get a good look at the situation, wanting to make sure that the guys she’d left at the fire station were taking care of it.
Instead of seeing one of their fire trucks, though, all Tobin saw was a teenage girl, standing barefoot on the side of the road with her hands waving for Tobin to stop.
So, she did.
Tobin stopped and got out of her car, the heat from the house fire warming up the air around them.
“My sister,” the teenager choked out, her finger pointing toward one of the upstairs windows where a younger girl was trying to pull open the window.
“Did you call 911?” Tobin asked, staring at the house and trying to figure out just how far gone the fire was at this point.
“Yeah, they’re coming,” the girl nodded, gripping onto Tobin’s arm. “They’ll get her right?”
Tobin couldn’t answer. She couldn’t lie and say that they’d save her sister. She couldn’t even hear a siren. She couldn’t hear them coming, and she was worried that in a few minutes, it might be too late.
So, she broke her promise.
Without gear, without logic, without rational thought, she pulled her arm away from the teenager, grabbed a spare t-shirt from her car, and ran into the house. She kept the t-shirt over her mouth, not that it was really doing much, and tried to follow some sort of protocol. She felt the floor, not liking how incredibly hot and suffocating it felt in the house without her gear.
But she didn’t have time. There wasn’t time to spare, not when the fire was licking at the banister, not when it would likely ruin the stairs in mere minutes.
She raced to the second floor, yelping slightly when the fire got close, singing the bottom of her jeans. She pushed her way into the room where the younger girl was still clawing at the window.
“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Tobin said, reaching for the kid. “Is anyone else in the house?”
“No,” the little girl whimpered.
“Okay. Let’s get out of here, all right?” Tobin asked, trying to stay calm. She stepped back into the hallway and glanced toward the stairs, the fire even worse than when she’d raced up the stairs. “It looks like the window is our best bet,” Tobin mumbled, shutting the bedroom door and heading to the window.
“It’s stuck,” the kid said, her voice wobbly.
“Let me give it a try, okay?” Tobin said, tugging on the window handles. It had been painted over, making the window stick just a little bit. She pulled again, her biceps flexing as she yanked on the window.
When it only budged slightly, Tobin started to push at the top portion of it, trying to get it open. And as she pushed, she started to feel a sense of panic, a sense of dread wash through her. Because suddenly, she wasn’t twenty-eight. Suddenly, she was seventeen and slipping down the side of a mountain, trying to reach someone who was already dead.
The window finally creaked open, the paint splitting on the base of the window.
“Got it, see?” Tobin said, trying to keep her voice relaxed despite it being an octave higher than usual.
She peeked out the window to see a large group of grass and bushes on the ground. It wouldn’t be a fun drop, but it wouldn’t hurt too much with something to slow their fall slightly.
“You ready?” Tobin asked, picking up the kid and the stuffed animal she was holding.
With a slight nod from the little girl, Tobin climbed out of the window onto the small edge of the roof. She wrapped her arms as tightly as she could around the little girl, keeping her head pressed to her chest.
And then she jumped.
The thorns in the bushes ripped at her bare arms and made the little girl scream out in pain. The wind was knocked out of Tobin’s chest, her shirt was torn up from the thorns. Her ribs and her back immediately hurt, and the back of her arm ached.
But she was on the ground.
She was okay, and the kid was already up and running to her sister.
“Heath, is that you?” came an alarmed cry, making Tobin sit up slowly and wince in pain. She blinked her eyes open and saw Frank storming over, his face clouded with worry, with a slight undercurrent of anger.
She shot him a thumbs up, unable to speak just yet after so much smoke and such a heavy fall. Her breath came out in ragged coughs and quick inhales of short breaths.
But without a doubt, she knew she was screwed. She could hear Frank’s tone of voice. He sounded just like he had when she’d climbed up a rock face without a harness her first year on the force. It was the same tone of voice he’d used when she’d stepped in to stop a fight and gotten elbowed in the nose two years ago during New Year’s. It was his dad voice, and she hated being on the receiving end of it.
“What in the ever-loving hell are you doing jumping out of a burning building?!” Frank asked in a harsh voice, bending down next to Tobin and checking her for major injuries with quick pats and squeezes to her arms and legs.
“You didn’t get here fast enough. She was gonna die,” Tobin wheezed, rolling onto her stomach and revealing the back of her arm and the gash she’d gotten there.
“Shit,” Frank gasped, pulling off his coat and then the long-sleeve shirt he had on underneath, leaving him in an Anchorage FD t-shirt. He wrapped the long-sleeve shirt around Tobin’s arm, cringing when she hissed in pain. “Let’s go. You need medical.”
“Absolutely no buts out of you, Heath. You don’t get a say when you do dumbass things. While that was heroic, it was dumbass nonetheless,” Frank interrupted, helping Tobin to her feet and over to the truck.
“She’s gonna kill me. Chris is going to actually kill me,” Tobin groaned, running a hand over her forehead and feeling her skin sting at the marks the thorns had left. “I have freezer stuff in the car,” she added quietly, knowing it wouldn’t change anything.
“Tough shit,” Frank replied.
Frank left the rest of their co-workers at the house and took Tobin’s car keys, driving her to the hospital and parking right outside of the E.R.
“I’m not going in there,” Tobin said, keeping her seatbelt buckled.
She knew exactly what she’d get if she went in there. She knew Christen was working, and she knew that Christen would be angry. She knew it because she knew she’d been stupid. Maybe brave, maybe even a good person, but still stupid. And she’d promised Christen that she’d be safe.
“Like hell, you aren’t. Don’t make me carry you in,” Frank warned, getting out of the car and walking around the front over to the passenger’s side. He wrenched the car door open and waited ten seconds for Tobin to get out on her own. When she still didn’t move, Frank reached around her and unbuckled the seatbelt for her before leaning back out. “Tobin Powell Heath, get your ass out of this car right now,” he warned.
Tobin didn’t even respond. She didn’t need to. If she didn’t get out, Frank would carry her in, and if she had to face Christen anyway, she’d rather walk in on her own two feet and hopefully quell some of the worry that Christen would have. She slid out of the car, wincing as she got to her feet and trudged across the parking lot with Frank at her elbow.
Fortunately, the E.R. was busy. Doctors and nurses and interns ran every which way, treating patients in a sort of organized chaos. Unfortunately, Ali caught sight of Tobin and Frank right as they stepped through the doors.
Alarm clouded her face when she caught sight of the soot and blood all over Tobin and she immediately caught the attention of two nurses and hurried over to the doors.
“What do we got?” Ali asked, looking between Frank and Tobin, concern making her words soft.
“Dumbass here went into a burning building without gear and jumped out of a window,” Frank huffed, lifting Tobin’s arm and pointing at the bloody shirt she was still gripping.
“Take them to exam room two. I’ll be there in a moment,” Ali instructed the nurses. She gave Tobin a look that was a mix of admiration and apprehension. “You’re lucky she’s in a seminar right now,” she added, spinning on her heels and heading for the nurse’s station to grab paperwork.
And Tobin did feel somewhat lucky. She knew she’d have to explain herself to Christen. She’d have to explain why she had stitches on her arm and small scrapes on her legs and a sore back. But at least she could clean up before Christen saw her. She could make it look a little less dramatic, a little less scary.
So, instead of arguing about not really needing treatment, about not needing medical attention, she walked to exam room two and let the nurses pepper her with questions about what was hurting and what needed attention.
Once Ali had stitched up the large gash along the back of Tobin’s arm, treated the minor burn on her ankle, and patched up the dozens of cuts along her arms and back, Ali had left with strict instructions to take it easy since her lungs had undergone enormous stress.
Silence descended the room as Frank stewed in the corner and Tobin fidgeted with her tattered shirt, clothed in just her sports bra and the ace wrap around her torso.
“You’re on probation,” Frank muttered as he looked over at Tobin with worry clear in his eyes.
“What?” Tobin asked, looking up at Frank, her jaw tightening at his words.
“You heard me. Two weeks starting tomorrow.”
“If I hadn’t gone in there, that kid would be dead,” Tobin said, her voice lower and quieter than normal.
“I’m not punishing you for saving that kid’s life,” Frank replied sternly.
“But you’re punishing me. What else was I supposed to do? Just stand there and watch her burn alive?” Tobin asked, her voice bitter and her eyes burning.
“No. But you need to stop acting like life doesn’t have consequences. You made a choice that could have gotten you and the kid killed. And for that, you’re on probation. End of discussion,” Frank retorted, getting to his feet. “You’ve been doing this shit since you were seventeen. Ever since Max died, you’ve been acting like you died too, and I won’t let you do that to yourself. So, you’re out for two weeks or until I decide to let you back in. Take care of yourself, Heath,” he offered with a pat on Tobin’s shoulder before he left the exam room.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Tobin called after him, but Frank had already closed the door behind him. He’d made his decision, and there wasn’t room for negotiation.
And while the probation was a punch to the gut, while it stung and ached, while it made Tobin want to hide her face in her hands, mentioning Max felt like getting hydrogen peroxide rubbed onto each and every cut on her body.
No one had mentioned her, not for years. No one had recently mentioned the accident to Tobin, not purposefully anyway. When they’d talked about it her senior year of high school, they talked about Tobin being a hero, being brave out there alone. But no one had called her out like Frank. No one had ever told her she’d died on the mountain right alongside Max.
Suddenly, she felt like she had, and she wanted to scream, to prove that she was alive, to prove that she could keep going, that everything was fine. She needed to get out of this bed and this room and this hospital and run. She needed to go away and get Frank’s stifling, suffocating words out of her brain.
She had just gotten to her feet, a few groans of pain escaping her lips when the exam room opened again and a very frazzled-looking Christen Press rushed in.
“Oh my God, Tobin,” Christen gasped, hurrying over to Tobin’s side. Her eyes tracked across the Ace-Bandage wrapped around Tobin’s torso and the gauze around her arm and then jumped to Tobin’s face. It was still covered in soot and flecks of blood and it had the pit in Christen’s stomach growing, the one that had formed when Ali had interrupted the seminar to tell her Tobin was in the E.R. “Ali told me you were here. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. I’m good. It looks worse than it is,” Tobin sighed, feeling the walls of the exam room getting smaller and smaller the longer she stayed there, Frank’s words and Max’s name echoing through her mind.
“You and your medical opinions,” Christen grumbled, taking inventory of the injuries. She ran her fingers along the gauze on Tobin’s arm and the Ace-Wrap around her torso. She then turned to put some gloves on, grabbing a few wet wipes. “You were off today. What happened?” she asked quietly, reaching out to run the wipes across Tobin’s face to take the blood and soot off.
Tobin swallowed thickly, knowing that what she said would likely make Christen mad and preparing herself to get yelled at again. “I went to the grocery store.”
Christen paused with the wipe on Tobin’s cheek and narrowed her eyes at Tobin. “And the grocery store caught fire?”
“No,” Tobin sighed. “I was on the way home, and there was a house fire. There was a kid stuck inside. So I…went in.”
Christen’s face fell for a moment before she was schooling her features and running the wipe across Tobin’s face again.
“Is the kid okay?” Christen asked, her voice so quiet Tobin had to strain to hear her.
“She’s scratched up and scared, but she’ll be fine,” Tobin replied, watching Christen’s face morph with each new piece of information. “Frank and the others wouldn’t have gotten there in time.”
Christen simply hummed and focused on wiping the rest of the soot and blood from Tobin’s face. Once she’d gotten most of it off, she stepped back, walking to the other side of the exam room to throw away the wipes and her gloves. Once there, she took a moment to lean against the counter, dropping her chin to her chest and taking deep breaths.
She didn’t want to be mad. Tobin had done something gallant and heroic and worthy of praise. But she couldn’t help but feel a sick twisting in her gut at the thought that Tobin had broken her promise.
Tobin went in without backup, without gear, without really thinking. That didn’t sound like her worrying about her safety and trying to make it home at the end of the day. That made Christen’s heart hurt and her stomach roll. That had tears threatening to fall down Christen’s cheeks and a small flicker of anger licking up her throat.
“You promised me,” Christen whispered, keeping her back to Tobin. “I love what you did for that kid, and I’m so proud of you for doing it, but you promised me, Tobin.”
“Fuck, Chris, what would you have rather me done?” Tobin asked, hating the pain in Christen’s voice but hating the images of Max that were flashing through her head more.
She hadn’t been able to get to Max in time. She hadn’t been able to save her. She hadn’t been strong enough or fast enough. And now that she was strong and fast and just in time, she couldn’t just let people go. She had to do something. She had to do something to keep the images and memories and fears away as much as possible.
Christen whirled around, her eyes flashing with irritation at the almost accusatory tone in Tobin’s voice.
“I want you to think before you leap, Tobin!” Christen replied, crossing her arms over her chest. “I want you to remember there are people here who give a shit whether you make it out of something or not. I’m here; I’m right here! I care about you, so much that sometimes it’s all I can think about. I’m here, and I care, and you still have no regard for your own life!”
“Yes, I do,” Tobin said, her voice eerily quiet compared to Christen’s. “I care, and I know you’re here. I know you care. But this is my job. It’s why I’m here. I- I save people. I can save people. I can save her. I can be there. I can-” she rasped out, her breath getting quicker in her chest as the memory of Max slipping flashed through her mind.
“You can’t though. You can’t save everyone,” Christen sighed. “It’s the first thing we learn as doctors. You can’t save everyone and it’s okay. You’re not supposed to be able to.”
Christen pushed off the counter and walked over to the bed Tobin was still sitting on. She dropped down onto the edge of it, keeping a bit of space between her and Tobin. With another sigh, she fixed Tobin with a pained look, one full of worry.
“You weren’t even working today, baby. You weren’t on duty. You can’t be on all the time,” Christen murmured.
“So, what am I supposed to do? See someone about to die and walk away because I’m not being paid to help them? Because I didn’t punch my card that morning and clock in, I have to stand by and watch someone’s card get punched on their way out of here?” Tobin snapped, blood thundering through her ears and making the hospital sound far away.
“That’s not what I’m saying,” Christen scoffed, leaning away, feeling a bit defensive. She was trying to be understanding, but it was like nothing she said was right or good enough.
“I don’t know what you want me to do,” Tobin said robotically, staring at a section of the exam room wall and remembering how she’d refused treatment for as long as she could at seventeen, just to see if they’d bring Max into the E.R. after her. “You’re treating me like I’m Paul, but this is different, and you know it. I’m not your ex.”
Christen recoiled at the accusation, feeling it sting and hit her square in the chest, knocking the breath from her lungs.
“Wow,” Christen breathed out, shaking her head. She got to her feet and felt the burn of tears get almost too hard to ignore. “I got vulnerable with you and opened up to you, and you just throw it right back in my face. Thanks a lot.”
“Chris,” Tobin sighed, feeling like an asshole immediately for speaking without thinking. “I’m-”
“Don’t,” Christen interrupted, feeling the first tear slip from the corner of her eyes. She took a step away from the hospital bed, away from Tobin. “That was a shit thing to say to me. I don’t know what the answer is here, but I…I don’t think dinner tonight is a good idea.”
“I’m sorry,” Tobin said, wincing slightly as she rubbed at her face, having forgotten that she’d gotten a few scratches there. “I know that was shitty. I’m sorry.”
Christen shook her head and let out a strangled huff. “You’re not even- god, Tobin. You’re apologizing for saying the wrong thing, right now? That’s it?”
“You want me to apologize for saving a kid?” Tobin asked, staring at Christen, her eyebrows furrowing. She understood that the Paul statement was out of line. She even understood that working off duty was a bit dumb. But she couldn’t fully understand why Christen was so incredibly angry when everything had turned out fine.
Christen ran her hands across her hair, smoothing it out against her head, the action tinged with frustration.
“Stop putting words in my mouth! I want-” Christen faltered, gathering herself by taking a deep breath. “I want you to apologize for breaking your promise. I want you to apologize for not thinking about your own life and all the things you have to live for before running, headfirst into danger.”
When Tobin refused to meet her gaze, when she refused to apologize for any of that, Christen huffed and turned to the door. She gripped onto the handle and then tossed over her shoulder, “Saving someone at the cost of yourself isn’t heroic, Tobin. It’s self-destructive, and I don’t know if I can sit around and watch you do that.”
With that, Christen left, the door to Exam Room 2 slamming shut behind her.
Tobin shoved her hands over her face for a second, feeling completely overwhelmed. She was furious with Frank’s probation, heartbroken for the tears that she’d seen on Christen’s cheeks, annoyed that Christen didn’t seem to get it, and guilty for breaking a promise.
On top of it all, though, her ears were still ringing. Something that sounded vaguely and tragically familiar to Max’s last scream seemed to be rolling in both of her ears and all through her head.
So instead of waiting in the room or going after Christen, she grabbed her keys from the table, walked out of the exam room, bypassed the parents of the two girls who were trying to thank her, and slammed the door to her car.
The anger and guilt and heartache only got worse when she realized that the suffocated feeling hadn’t gone away, that the scream in her head wasn’t fading. And as she looked at the rearview mirror to back up, seeing the now very melted groceries from the freezer section in the back only made her frustration grow.
Christen sank onto the couch, bundled up in an oversized sweatshirt that she was positive she’d stolen from Tobin. She had Pride & Prejudice in one hand, and a glass of Pinot in the other.
It wasn’t the special date night she and Tobin had been planning, and it wasn’t even the next best thing. What used to be her preferred method of staying in was now nearly impossible to do.
But she was stubborn. And hurt. And really fucking pissed off. So, she didn’t answer her phone and she pretended like Jane Austen and her literary world could heal the pain in her heart.
She’d only managed to get through a few pages and two glasses of wine before there was a knock at the door.
With a sigh, Christen got to her feet, ready to tell Tobin to go away and let her be upset for the night. But when she looked through the peephole, she saw that it wasn’t Tobin. It was Ali and Crystal and what looked like a bag full of heartbreak remedies.
Ignoring the small flicker of disappointment that it wasn’t Tobin, Christen pulled open the door and fixed a smile on her face, the expression more like a grimace.
“Hey guys,” Christen said, her voice coming out hoarse and raspy after spending the better part of the evening crying.
“We brought three different flavors of ice cream, two scented candles, and seven different romcom choices,” Ali said, holding the bag up for Christen.
“We also have tissues and are ready to talk about Tobin’s flaws if that’s what you want to do,” Crystal added, stepping into the house.
Christen’s eyes filled with tears at her two friends’ kindness. “She only has one and it really sucks,” Christen blubbered, blowing out a shaky breath.
Ali and Crystal immediately pulled her in for a hug, whispering words of comfort and support as the three of them embraced right in the doorway. After Christen’s newest wave of tears subsided, they all moved into the living room and cracked open the candles, two pints of ice cream, and put The Notebook on low in the background.
“So…do you want to talk about it?” Crystal asked gently, handing Christen the spoon and the pint of mocha chip ice cream.
Christen sighed and shrugged, her gaze stuck on the way her spoon was digging into the frozen dessert.
“I don’t know. One second, I’m full of this irrational fury because she ran into a house fire with no protection and no regard for her own safety. And then in the next, I’m so goddamn proud of her for saving that little girl’s life and it makes me fall for her even more. I just don’t know what to do,” Christen mumbled, sniffling a bit as her eyes started to water again.
“That’s pretty…” Ali started, searching for the right word.
“It’s dumb. It’s incredibly dumb,” Crystal sighed. “She could have set herself on fire or inhaled too much smoke. And she’s lucky she landed how she landed when she dropped from the second-floor window. It’s brave but dumb.”
“Frank put her on probation,” Ali murmured, having just learned that piece of information from Ashlyn.
Christen’s head snapped up. “He did?” she asked, surprised at the information.
“Ash told me he was seriously pissed when he got to the house and saw her in the front yard. Proud but pissed. He took her to the hospital and gave her probation for the next two weeks. She’s allowed to do paperwork and nothing else,” Ali said, repeating Ashlyn’s words.
Christen felt worry bloom in her chest again. Tobin didn’t do well without something to keep her mind occupied. That much Christen had learned. She liked having an active job and the ability to volunteer. She liked being on the move. She liked having things to fill her day with.
Now that she was on probation, with nothing but paperwork ahead of her, Christen worried about what Tobin was going to do.
“Maybe that will keep her out of danger,” Crystal offered, digging into the ice cream.
“Maybe,” Christen echoed. Suddenly, her eyes were filled with fresh tears again and she shook her head to try and get rid of them. “God, I’m a mess. Tobin Heath made a crying, blubbering mess out of me.”
“You aren’t a mess,” Crystal said, setting her ice cream aside and wrapping her arms around Christen. “You’re anything but a mess.”
Ali waited until the crying slowed down, until Christen was just staring into her ice cream again before she asked the question that had been rolling through her brain. “What do you think you’re gonna do? Are you gonna break up with her?”
“No,” Christen replied quickly. “That’s the last thing I want to do.”
“Ashlyn said she’d kick her butt for you if you want,” Ali said softly, reaching out and squeezing Christen’s hand.
Christen choked out a sharp huff of a laugh and shook her head. “That’s really sweet of her but…no. I think we just need to talk. Once she’s not so upset about being on probation and I’m not seeing her all cut-up and bloody whenever I close my eyes,” Christen replied, her voice breaking slightly at the end. “We just need to talk.”
“So, in the meantime we can just have a girls’ night and eat junk food and forget today ever happened,” Crystal suggested, getting up off the couch and preparing herself to raid Christen and Ali’s pantry.
“That’s just what the doctor ordered,” Christen mumbled, unable not to smile at the dorky words that had just left her mouth.
“And just like that, she’s back,” Ali winked, shoving a bite of ice cream into her mouth.
Tobin pushed her glasses further up her nose and stared at the paperwork that Frank had given her to work on. To say it was boring would be an understatement. Part of the paperwork was about reordering and replacing gear and another was about someone’s insurance, but she wasn’t even sure what half the information meant.
She felt her head start to throb at the words on the page and her eyes start to squint in frustration, but she kept staring, trying to tune out the rest of her co-workers around her who were getting back from a false alarm.
“Explain yourself!” Ashlyn said, closing the door to the office and sitting across from Tobin.
“Good morning to you too,” Tobin grumbled, capping the pen she was holding and staring back at Ashlyn.
“ My girlfriend spent all night with your girlfriend, drying her tears and trying to cheer her up. So again, I repeat, explain yourself. Before I slap you silly,” Ashlyn huffed, narrowing her eyes in Tobin’s direction.
“She’s mad at me,” Tobin sighed, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Rightfully fucking so, if I do say so myself,” Ashlyn retorted. “But what I don’t get is why you haven’t fixed it. Christen is more important than some job, dude. At least, you made it seem like she was.”
“She didn’t want to see me last night. I was letting her cool off. I was letting myself cool off. It would have been a horrible idea to go over there, still upset about Frank and probation,” Tobin sighed, running a hand over her face. “She is more important than the job, and I didn’t want to mess up even more because I’m mad about the job.”
Ashlyn nodded thoughtfully, steepling her hands in front of her face. “Okay, new plan. After work, you get some flowers. You show up at her place since I’ll make sure Ali is at mine. You grovel, you apologize for being a fucking idiot, and you make things right. Good talk,” Ashlyn said, slapping the arms of the chair and getting to her feet. “And maybe shower. You still smell like a house fire and bad decisions.”
“I did shower,” Tobin protested, pulling the neck of her shirt toward her nose and sniffing it.
“Shower again. With soap this time!” Ashlyn teased from the doorway.
Tobin couldn’t stop the smile that spread across her face. Ashlyn was right, and she knew it. She’d known it as soon as she’d cooled off last night, as soon as she’d gotten her breathing under control and brought her spiraling thoughts back to earth.
She pulled her phone out of her back pocket, hoping beyond hope that she hadn’t completely messed up, that Christen would still pick up the phone and read her text.
I know I was really stupid yesterday and also a jerk at the hospital. I’d really love to make it up to you tonight. I can make dinner or order dinner, and we can talk. I don’t want my reckless decision to mess this up.
Tobin only got through half a sheet of paperwork before Frank was hurrying into the office, shoving his phone into his pocket and hooking a radio to his belt.
“Where’s the fire?” Tobin asked with a smirk. “Get it.”
“Glacier Peak,” Frank said, his voice thick and low, completely the opposite of his normally cheerful demeanor.
Tobin froze in her seat, the pen gripped tightly in her hand. In her seven years working full time for Frank and volunteering for SAR, she hadn’t had to revisit Glacier Peak. The last time she’d been there on those trails, Frank had been carrying her over his shoulder to a helicopter. She’d screamed and fought the entire way, the trees and trails and rock faces blurring together behind her eyes.
And now as a twenty-eight-year-old, she felt just as terrified, just as haunted by a place that had taken everything from her in a minute. Suddenly, she wanted to do paperwork. She was happy about probation that forced her to stay away from the action because there was no way she could go there again and walk away. There was no way that she could visit that place again and leave whole and okay, or at least the functional okay that she was right now.
“A fire?” Tobin asked quietly.
“Missing kids. Your probation is officially lifted for the day. It’s all hands on deck, and I need you out there. We’ve got too many guys out on vacation or injured. I’m sending you, Ash, Charlie, and Jake now. If you need any help, Jasper, Wade, and I will follow,” Frank replied quickly, tossing Tobin a radio.
“I can’t,” Tobin said, shaking her head. Her throat felt constricted to the point of hardly getting enough air into her lungs. She knew she was about to panic, about to hyperventilate if she thought too hard about that mountain, about the cliffside.
“You have to. This isn’t a suggestion. I’m short-staffed right now. Wade isn’t even back from his trip yet. He’s on the road and heading our way. They’re kids, Tobs,” Frank replied, keeping his voice gentle. “They’re kids like you were.”
“Don’t,” Tobin said, pushing out of her chair. “You don’t need to guilt-trip me. Don’t guilt me into it.”
“I didn’t mean-” Frank sighed, running a hand through his salt and pepper hair.
“Yeah, you did. But they’re kids. It’s not like I’d be able to sit this one out,” Tobin mumbled, swallowing down whatever anxiety she was feeling and trying to think about how the kids were feeling on the mountain, lost and scared.
Tobin made her way into the station garage, catching Ashlyn’s eye and grabbing her gear before following the others to a SAR truck.
“So much for an apology dinner with flowers,” Tobin mumbled to Ashlyn from the back of the truck.
“I just hope we make it back for dinner,” Ashlyn whispered, her face filled with worry.
Christen didn’t see Tobin’s text until the afternoon. She was running ragged around the E.R., playing hostess to an entire bachelor party who thought drunk knife throwing was a fun way to celebrate impending nuptials.
She’d done more stitching and patching up today than she ever remembered, and she was a little thankful for it. It helped keep her mind off of her argument with Tobin and the millions of ways it could go wrong if and when they talked.
Once she’d sent the bachelor party home, she finally got a quiet moment to check her phone and noticed Tobin’s text. It brought a small smile to Christen’s face when she read it. The message was sweet and with the right amount of regret, plenty of hope, and a desire to fix things. It was perfect and it had her heart lifting just a bit.
But the uplifting feeling was short-lived because her text in response wouldn’t deliver. Christen tried sending a few different messages, and just like clockwork, they all went undelivered.
So, she tried calling and did her best to ignore the pit in her stomach, the same one she’d had yesterday. When Tobin didn’t answer, when the call went directly to voicemail, that pit in her gut twisted and turned into something that genuinely terrified her.
“Al, have you heard from Ash today? I tried replying to Tobin and haven’t been able to get through,” Christen murmured under her breath, dropping into the chair next to Ali in the break room.
“No, she’s still at work, but my messages didn’t deliver. Maybe they’re somewhere with patchy service,” Ali shrugged. “Wait…why would Tobin be-”
“Ladies,” Jill interrupted, leaning against the doorway to the break room. “I have a huge favor to ask.”
Christen pushed down her fear, her concern, and focused on Jill. “What do you need?” she managed, clenching her hands tight in her lap.
“I know you two are supposed to get off in a few hours, but we just got news about a pretty big emergency at Glacier Peak. It’s a group of kids, and we’re gonna need as many of our best doctors here if and when they’re brought in by SARs,” Jill said quietly.
The world titled, the floor moving beneath Christen’s feet. She started to breathe shallowly, her chest getting tight as she swayed in the chair slightly.
Christen knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Tobin was there. Even if she’d been put on probation, even if the only thing she should be doing is paperwork, Christen knew Tobin was heading out to Glacier Peak because that was just who Tobin was.
“I’m sorry, did you- did you say Glacier Peak?” Christen stammered, trying to work through the fogginess in her brain and the icy tendrils of fear coiling around her heart. “That SARs is headed there?”
“A team is already there searching the area. Frank called to let us know. Four of his people are out there, and he might take a few more himself if they need help,” Jill said, unaware that each word she spoke affected Christen and Ali. “The kids have been out there for eight hours. They have two chaperones with them, but they didn’t get back when they were supposed to.”
Jill looked between Ali and Christen, waiting for an answer. When Ali realized Christen was too frozen with fear, she spoke up.
“We’ll stick around. We’ll be here,” Ali said quietly, having the same kind of thoughts that were floating through Christen’s head. Thoughts of Ashlyn coming in hurt and in pain…or worse.
After Jill left, Christen and Ali didn’t speak. They just sat there, their hands clasped together, and shared in each other’s worry and apprehension.
“We fought. That’s the last-” Christen’s voice broke. “What if that’s the last thing for us? What if the last thing I said to her was in anger?” Christen whispered, her voice shaking.
“It won’t be,” Ali said gently. “She- she might not even be there. She could be with Frank.”
Even if Christen wanted Ali to be right more than anything, the feeling she had in her gut told her Tobin was headed to Glacier Peak or there already.
“Yeah,” Christen breathed out. “I hope she is. I really, really hope she is.”
“I don’t even remember if I kissed Ash goodbye today. I was rushing out the door because I was late…I don’t even remember if I said, ‘I love you,’” Ali murmured, swallowing thickly and squeezing Christen’s hand tightly.
“She’s going to be okay, too. They both are,” Christen replied, trying to comfort Ali in the same way Ali had just comforted her. Even if they were empty words and empty promises, they did enough to keep them both sane for now
“There’s no service up here,” Tobin said, sliding her phone closed and looking up to where Max was already climbing on the nearest rocks.
“You should’ve left your phone like I did,” Max smirked, jumping off of a boulder and landing back on the trail. “Just take it in.”
And Tobin did.
It was breathtaking. She’d grown up loving her home. She loved Anchorage, the people she grew up with, the snow, the atmosphere. But this was what she’d loved the most. She loved the scenery and the nature.
By sixteen, her parents finally let her go hiking with her friends and siblings, and the freedom was exquisite. She’d leave the house early enough to drive up to a nice vista and catch the sunrise. And then, she’d spend the entire day hiking, only stopping to eat lunch or dip her feet into rivers. She and her younger brother would fish. She and her sisters would go on runs. But trips with Max were the best.
She’d met Max as soon as she was born. Max’s mom and her mom had been friends first. They’d been pregnant together, Max coming two weeks early and Tobin coming right on time. They’d been best friends in diapers and planned to be for the rest of their lives. Sometimes Max seemed closer than family, nearly reading Tobin’s mind. And Tobin knew it was special.
Most people search their entire lives for someone who will understand them and respect their deepest feelings, but Tobin got that on her first day on earth.
“See, now that’s a view,” Max grinned, pointing down the mountain toward the lake.
“Yeah,” Tobin grinned, taking a deep breath of fresh air.
“You can say it you know,” Max laughed, throwing her head back and beaming at Tobin.
“Say what?” Tobin scoffed, knowing exactly what Max wanted from her.
“Max, you were right. The really long hike was worth the view,” Max smirked.
“You were right,” Tobin said softly, her eyes traveling across the land beneath them.
“Great, now we can eat lunch and talk about how your first kiss went with Hayley,” Max smiled, sitting down on the ground and pulling sandwiches out of her backpack.
“Toby, you good?” Ashlyn asked, pulling Tobin out of the helicopter behind her.
“I’m fine,” Tobin nodded, looking up and taking in the view just like she had eleven years ago. Only now her legs weren’t sore from hiking up here and the view wasn’t quite as magnificent. It was ominous. It was debilitating. It was terrifying.
“I think we’ll split up. Charlie and I can search to the east, and you two can search to the west. We’ll radio if we find anyone,” Jake said, securing his gear around his waist.
“Sure thing,” Tobin nodded, hating that she knew exactly what was waiting for her on the west side of the mountain.
“We can go east,” Ashlyn mumbled, a hand on Tobin’s arm holding her back.
“It’s fine,” Tobin said firmly. “We’re just doing an initial sweep. I can’t let my shit get in the way, not when kids are involved,” she muttered, letting Frank’s words sting a little bit.
She started walking to the west, just wanting to get the search over as quickly as possible and get home. She needed to get home and talk to Christen. She needed to get home and make things right.
“Tobin,” Ashlyn called out, pulling Tobin to a stop. She looked between Tobin’s eyes, not liking what she saw in them. “Tell me now. Are you good? Because I can’t be worrying about you and the kids up there. I need you to have my back, just like I’ve got yours.”
“I always have your back,” Tobin promised, looking at Ashlyn’s eyes to make sure that she believed her. “I’m good to go. I promise. Let’s get back before dinner, okay?”
“Okay,” Ashlyn nodded, leading Tobin toward the trail despite knowing that Tobin knew the way up this mountain by heart and by heartbreak.
“We haven’t done this one before,” Max said, pointing up at the trailhead.
“The sun’s gonna set in a couple hours. We should probably head back soon,” Tobin said, thinking about how mad her parents would be if she didn’t make it home in time for dinner, especially since her sisters were both coming into town that night.
“We could just walk for thirty minutes and then turn around,” Max suggested. “That leaves us with an hour to hike down to the car, not that we need that long.”
“Twenty minutes in, and then we turn around. We can do this trail first next time,” Tobin suggested, smiling at the ridiculous amount of energy Max always seemed to have.
“Deal!” Max said, pumping her fist at her side. “My brother did this hike with some of his friends, and they said it was really cool. The view is the best part.”
Tobin looked over the side of the cliff at the first curve in the trail, silently thanking the universe for not giving her a fear of heights. Max had been right. The views were perfect. The rocks were a beautiful collage of grays and blues, and the mountains around them were patchworked with trees of all shades of green. It was lush, and Tobin realized that she could easily be convinced to skip family dinner, just to look at the mountains below and daydream.
Tobin stared at the mountains below and around her, their sharp peaks staring up at her. The trail was jagged and rough, loose rocks shifting under her feet as she walked. Ashlyn led the way, completely confident and calm. It was relaxing to see that Ashlyn wasn’t worried. Tobin matched her breath to Ashlyn’s trying to ground herself in something regulated.
Each movement in the brush beside the trail made Tobin tense. Every noise that an animal made sent Tobin’s heart racing. It was a new sensation to feel so incredibly out of control. And she realized for the first time just how much she’d been faking for the past eleven years.
She was supposed to rescue people. She was supposed to be this local hero who took care of people when they needed her most. But how could anyone have faith in her, how could anyone trust her to do her job when she was terrified, when she’d been terrified for most of her life?
It had been a decade-long lie. She’d pretended to be a badass, to not feel pain, to not shy away from danger. But she wasn’t that person. The gash on her arm ached, and she’d been terrified while jumping out of that second-story window.
It wasn’t just that though. She’d been scared for years, even before working with Frank. She’d been terrified that she wasn’t supposed to be here. She’d been terrified that a mistake had been made. That maybe God or whoever was in charge had picked the wrong girl. That she couldn’t do this on her own.
And so, she’d run. Into burning buildings and snowstorms and wreckages. She’d run into danger and away from the questions that really scared her.
Only now, she couldn’t run. Now she was walking directly toward what scared her most.
Christen felt like she hadn’t taken a breath in four hours.
She kept watching the clock, and then the doors to the E.R., and then her phone, willing for something, for anything , that would let her know Tobin was okay. That Tobin was safe.
There was still no news from SAR. Jill hadn’t come back with any new information recently, and Christen was starting to think that her constant questions and asks for updates were annoying Jill.
“Here,” Ali hummed, handing Christen a cup of coffee.
Christen just nodded, her eyes locked on the doors. The pit in her stomach just kept growing, with every passing moment. The pit now consumed her, filling her with worry and agony and dread.
“It’s been hours,” Christen whispered, feeling her eyes burn.
“It’s a big mountain,” Ali mumbled, remembering what she’d read about when she was looking at hiking options. “They’re probably just taking their time and being thorough.”
Christen recognized the logic in Ali’s words, but they couldn’t cut through the haze of fear that had descended upon her.
“She needs to come back, Al. I can’t- she just needs to come back,” Christen choked out, finding refuge in a long sip of crappy coffee.
“They both do,” Ali said, closing her eyes and taking a deep, shaky breath. “Ash talked about doing Christmas together with her family in North Carolina.”
Christen reached out and wrapped her arm around Ali’s shoulders. “That’ll be so fun. Christmas at the Harrises,” she replied softly, feeling her own heart ache for everything she and Tobin had yet to do. “You’ll get that. You’ll get it all with her if you want to.”
“Of course, I want to,” Ali laughed sadly. “I want every holiday with that dork.”
“I know what you mean,” Christen whispered.
“Incoming, twenty minutes out,” Jill called. “Six kids and two adults.”
“And Search and Rescue?” Ali asked, worrying her bottom lip.
“That’s all I know,” Jill said, moving around the E.R. and making sure everything was ready for the group.
Ali and Christen shared a similarly pained, panicked look and then jumped into action, helping Jill prepare for the onslaught of patients they were about to get, both of their minds focused on two members of the Search and Rescue team.
“Your radio working?” Tobin asked, looking down at the radio strapped to her belt.
“I think we’re out of range,” Ashlyn sighed. “Either that or one of the new guys forgot to replace batteries.”
“Jeez,” Tobin sighed. “Have I mentioned I hate it here?”
“Honestly, me too,” Ashlyn agreed.
“Really? What was your traumatic teenage moment here?” Tobin tried to joke, the words falling flat.
“My best friend hates it, so it’s a solidarity thing,” Ashlyn hummed, putting an arm around Tobin’s shoulder.
“I’ve never said thank you,” Tobin mumbled. “But thank you. For being you.”
“Let’s save the sap for Press, okay?” Ashlyn teased, squeezing Tobin’s shoulder. “I say we go twenty more minutes and then turn around and check back at the helicopter.”
“Twenty minutes,” Tobin agreed, memories folding themselves into her reality without warning.
“Severe dehydration, shock, and a handful of bumps and bruises,” Charlie explained, helping the two adults and the kids out of the van and into the waiting arms of the doctors and nurses at the E.R. “One kid definitely stitches. Laceration on his left leg. And Jake’s got a bite mark from one of the little rascals,” Charlie added, slamming the door once he helped the last kid out.
“That it?” Christen asked, her voice tight, her eyes searching the now empty SAR van for familiar brown eyes.
Charlie pulled Ali and Christen to the side, his demeanor a little withdrawn. “We had to get these kids out. We couldn’t wait.”
Christen went stock-still, hearing the unspoken message in Charlie’s words. A message Ali heard as well.
“They’re out there? You left them?” Ali asked harshly.
“We’re going back. Frank and I are flying back out there. It’s them and two more kids,” Charlie said, holding his hands up in front of his chest. “I couldn’t wait, and I couldn’t get their radios. I’m sorry.”
“Damn it,” Christen choked out, the confirmation that Tobin and Ashlyn were out there not nearly as bad as the one that they were unreachable by radio. She ran her hands over her head, sharing a fearful look with Ali before turning back to Charlie. “You find them, and you bring them home. Charlie, you get back out there and you bring them home to us, or so help me God…”
Charlie gave Christen and Ali tight nods and then took off for the SAR van. Only once he had driven off, leaving Ali and Christen in the ambulance bay on their own, did Christen’s knees give out. Thankfully, Ali was there to catch her and hold her as she all but collapsed under the weight of her worry, Ali feeling the exact same way.
“Okay, we can turn back,” Max said, spinning around a few feet ahead of Tobin, the gorgeous view behind her.
It only took an instant. It only took a second of unbalanced footing.
And suddenly Tobin felt like she was dreaming, like the world was upside down and inside out and she’d wake up in her bedroom to Jeff running up and down the stairs.
"TOBS!” Max screamed, slipping off the side of the cliff.
For a second it was quiet. For a moment, Tobin couldn’t move. She stared at the rock that Max had just disappeared over.
And then she ran. She threw her backpack to the side and crawled onto her stomach, peeking over the edge.
“Shit, are you okay?” Tobin asked, staring at Max’s light brown eyes that were open wide in panic.
“Do not tell my mom about this,” Max mumbled, keeping her arms around the ledge that she was clutching.
“Okay, let me come down to you and help you down,” Tobin said, standing up and trying to find the safest way down. She picked rocks that seemed stable and secure, watching as Max’s breath got quicker with each second. There was a ledge close to Max, and Tobin was certain that if she could get there, she could pull Max to the side. She could grab onto her and keep her from falling any further.
“Just give me a minute. I’m almost-”
It was the scream that would haunt Tobin the most. It was a scream that would sink into her subconscious, keeping her company for the rest of her life. The images were one thing. But images fade.
That scream was something Tobin could never forget. Her ears rang with it. It played on a loop in nightmares and kept Tobin company during times of stress. It was the last thing she’d heard come from Max’s lips, and she could never forget it. She knew, even at that moment, that she’d never forget it.
But the silence after was worse.
“KIDS!” Ashlyn yelled, her hands cupped around her mouth. “ARE YOU UP HERE?!”
Tobin followed closely behind Ashlyn, shining her flashlight up into the trees and down the side of the mountain.
“KIDS!” Tobin yelled, glancing over her shoulder at the setting sun that was almost hidden behind the tallest mountain on the horizon.
She kept looking to her right and left, trying to think about where a kid might hide or try to camp out. When she’d been younger, she’d fantasized about sleeping in a tall tree and waking up to the sunrise. She shined her light up into the nearest tree, seeing nothing.
But as she was looking up, she stumbled over a root, nearly falling down on the trail. “Shoot,” she mumbled, feeling her toe ache at the feeling of being stubbed. She hadn’t planned to do anything other than paperwork, so she wasn’t wearing the typical boots she would’ve worn for a SAR task.
“You good?” Ashlyn asked, turning around to look at Tobin.
It only took an instant. It only took a second of unbalanced footing. It only took one moment of lost focus.
“SHIT!” Ashlyn screamed, slipping on a loose rock. Her hands scrambled on the trail floor, grasping at the gravel and dirt and stones that littered the ground.
“Grab a ledge!” Tobin yelled, tossing her bag down, just like she had eleven years ago.
This time she didn’t hesitate. This time, there wasn’t a quiet moment because this time, she knew what to do. She scrambled down as quickly and safely as she could, finding her footing on a nearby ledge.
“You good?” Tobin called, reaching out a hand and grabbing a hold of Ashlyn’s belt.
“Don’t let go, dude,” Ashlyn huffed, readjusting her hands on the ledge.
“Just swing this way if you can. I’ve got you,” Tobin said, pulling slightly on the belt.
“Okay, cool. I can do that,” Ashlyn nodded, starting to move her legs back and forth to get some momentum.
At seventeen, Tobin hadn’t been strong. She’d been fit enough to hike and run and play sports, but now she was strong. She could hold on and get them both out of this situation. She could because she had to.
As Ashlyn finally let go though, Tobin realized just how precarious the ledge was that she just barely had her feet on. She kept one hand on Ashlyn, trying to find something to hold on with her other hand. She needed a crack in the rock or even a root, anything that could give her some extra balance, anything to anchor her.
But there was nothing.
Tobin had wished for years that she’d been faster. She’d longed to reverse time and do things better. She’d prayed and hoped and longed to go back in time, bartering with fate and promising that she’d sacrifice herself if it meant saving Max, if it meant getting rid of the guilt she’d been living with for so long.
So, she did.
She pulled Ashlyn as hard as she could to the side, knowing that she was slipping, knowing that she was going to fall and land eerily close to where Max had. And when Ashlyn landed on a safer slope and the ledge beneath her own feet broke, Tobin let go.
“Max!” Tobin called, sending rocks cascading down the side of the mountain as she slid down, her hands and feet digging into every surface she could find.
The closer she got, though, the more she realized that Max’s legs were splayed awkwardly, that her skin wasn’t as rosy as it usually was after hiking, that the rock underneath her head was darker than any rocks she’d seen that day.
“Max, come on! Don’t freak me out!” Tobin screamed, too afraid to approach any further. “MAX!”
The woods were quiet. What had earlier been a wonderland of perfect views and teenaged laughter and gossip was now completely silent and gray.
Tobin crawled closer on the rock, reaching a shaky hand out to feel Max’s pulse. She’d never taken more than a CPR class for babysitting. So, she did what she knew. She tried to do chest compressions. She tried to breathe for Max. What she didn’t know was that Max was gone as soon as she hit the ground.
Tobin blinked her eyes open and looked up at the sky, the first few stars just barely visible between the trees.
“Is this how Max felt?” Tobin wondered, her voice strangled and gasping.
“TOBIN!” Ashlyn yelled, shining her flashlight down into the jutting ledges lining the side of the mountain, desperately searching for her best friend. “Dude, come on! Answer me!”
Tobin felt cold against the mountainous surface beneath her. She could feel the greenery beneath her fingers, but she couldn’t pinpoint whether it was moss or just some kind of weed. Regardless of what it was, Tobin liked to imagine that it was green.
And that’s when the first tear slipped from the corner of her eye.
Because she knew she wouldn’t get to see her favorite color green again. She could feel the pain in her chest and around her torso. She could feel the way her shoulders ached and her breath moved in and out of her throat raggedly. She could feel everything but her right leg, but she couldn’t sit up and look at it. She couldn’t figure out how to push herself upright and assess the damage.
“Toby, I swear to God!” Ashlyn yelled.
“I’m here,” Tobin croaked, trying to lift her arm up despite the pain that shot through her body as she moved.
“Oh, thank fuck,” Ashlyn sighed, her flashlight beam finally finding Tobin lying about twenty feet below her, in a pile of bushes and grass. A few feet to Tobin’s right was a sharp, jutting edge of the mountain, and it had Ashlyn’s stomach twisting. A few feet to the right, and Tobin would have been a goner. “What hurts? Can you move at all?”
“I can’t sit up,” Tobin called back, trying to push herself across the ledge with her hands. “I don’t even know if I want to see my right leg right now.”
“Shit. Okay, I’m coming down,” Ashlyn yelled, looking around on the small rocky ledge she was on for a way she could get down.
“Don’t you fucking dare,” Tobin yelled, finally pushing herself up with one hand and wincing in pain. “I just saved your ass, and Ali will kill me if you do something stupid.”
“Christen will murder me if you don’t make it back, so I’m coming down there,” Ashlyn argued, finally finding a semi-stable rock that she could use to start her free-climb down.
And then they both heard it. The yells.
“Hello? Is anybody there?” a voice screamed. The voice sounded young and reminded Tobin and Ashlyn why they’d been out there in the first place.
“Get the kids. I’m good to wait,” Tobin begged. “Frank’ll send other people out here. You can tell them what kind of shape I’m in.”
“Stay where you are, kids! I’m coming!” Ashlyn called out over her shoulder. She then turned back and looked down at Tobin, feeling her heart fill with worry. “Toby, you better be there and be breathing when I come back for you! You’re not allowed to die, you hear me?”
“It’s just a little scratch,” Tobin called, waving her hand toward Ashlyn’s flashlight. “But uh- Christen’s probably gonna kick my ass when I get back, so maybe you could just tell her that I love her?”
“You can tell her that yourself, dude. You- you can tell her, and love her, and be an asshole in love,” Ashlyn replied, her voice thick with tears. “I’ll come back for you, I promise.”
With one final look at Tobin, Ashlyn started the perilous climb back to the edge, managing to pull herself over and disappear from Tobin’s view after a few minutes.
“How’d they get all the way down there?” Frank mumbled somberly, his voice carrying down the side of the mountain.
“Jesus Christ,” another voice echoed down to where Tobin was lying down next to Max.
The silence was broken, and Tobin wished that it wasn’t. She wished that she could just have one more minute, that she could try one more thing, that she could wish for Max to magically start breathing again.
But the voices got closer, and her grip on Max’s shirt got tighter.
She was cold against Tobin, and that was foreign. Max had been her best friend, warm and light and bubbly beside her. They were troublemakers. Only now they were just in trouble. She twisted her fingers in Max’s shirt and pressed her face into the ground, trying to will herself to go away to wherever Max was.
And then Frank’s fingers were on her neck, feeling her pulse race against his skin.
“One’s alive!” he called up to his partner, putting his flashlight down and reaching down to move Tobin’s hair away from her face. “Hey, I’m Frank,” he whispered, running his hands over her arm.
His hands were soft. That’s what she noticed most. He had soft hands which didn’t make sense, since he worked such an active job. But as soft as his hands were, his voice was softer.
“Sweetheart, what hurts?” Frank murmured, trying to get Tobin to look at him instead of at the ground.
Tobin looked up at him then. How could he ask her that? It was obvious.
Her best friend was gone, and everything hurt.
“Did you hurt your back or your neck?” Frank asked gently.
Tobin shook her head slowly.
“I’ll carry her up,” Frank called up to his partner, reaching for Tobin. He pulled at her waist, trying to get his hands underneath her, but Tobin was latched onto Max.
Irrationally, she felt like staying on the side of the mountain would make things un-happen, like she’d wake up from a bad dream if she just stayed on the cold rock. But she couldn’t stay. Frank scooped her up in his arms, attached a rope to the climbing harness he was wearing, and made the long trek up to the trail, Tobin fighting him the whole way.
Tobin couldn’t help but wonder if this was how it was supposed to feel. It was dark all around her, her body felt numb, her head felt fuzzy, and she felt like closing her eyes and sleeping.
The only thing that kept her from closing her eyes was Christen.
Tobin had so many things to say. She had apologies to make for breaking promises and making rash decisions. She had words of love to finally share. And she really wanted to see those green eyes one last time. She wanted to make Christen laugh one more time.
She couldn’t imagine ever feeling like she had enough of Christen. Lying on the ground, wondering if she’d make it back to the trail and back to the hospital, she wondered if she would ever feel like she’d done enough, like she’d loved enough or said enough or been there enough for the people in her life.
Her breaths were slow and shallow, and the stars were blurry above her, but all she could think about was the first time she saw Christen, focused and working in the E.R. She’d been a vision. She was beautiful and perfect and dizzyingly wondrous, and Tobin realized that her last moment with her was probably going to be one of anger.
Tobin thought about how this would kill Christen, how her recklessness might destroy her, how she’d shattered her promise. And they were both going to suffer because of it.
“Heath! Are you down there?” Frank’s voice echoed through the dark night, reaching Tobin’s ears.
“Frankie,” Tobin rasped, glancing up to the trail.
“I’m coming for you!” Frank yelled back, the relief in his voice palpable.
It took two minutes. All Tobin could hear was the metallic clink of climbing equipment and footfalls against the rockface. She could barely see the beams of the flashlights trained on her. And then Frank was there, his hands and his voice as soft as ever.
“Hey, troublemaker. This is quite the fall you took. What hurts, sweetheart?” Frank asked, kneeling down next to Tobin’s head, his hand gently picking up her uninjured one.
“Everything,” Tobin mumbled. “I can’t feel my right leg, though, so that’s probably the worst.”
Frank trained his flashlight on Tobin’s leg and barely hid his wince before looking back into Tobin’s eyes.
“It’s not as bad as it could be. We’re going to get you out of here and get you fixed up. It’s going to be okay now.”
“Did Ash find the kids?” Tobin asked, looking up at Frank.
The sound of a helicopter had Frank looking up, the sight of the chopper and the stretcher attached to it making him breathe a little easier.
“Our ride’s here. The kids and Ash got out just fine. She had Jasper drop them at the hospital and she’s the one up there in the chopper,” Frank replied gruffly. “You’re going to be okay.”
“Okay,” Tobin murmured, her voice eerily calm. “Thanks for coming again.”
“I’ll always come get you,” Frank replied with a watery smile.
Ashlyn sprinted into the E.R. from the hallway, her face flushed and sweaty. She looked around with panicked eyes until she found the two people she was looking for.
She ran right over and caught Ali by surprise, pulling Ali into her arms and refusing to let go.
“Hey, Al,” Ashlyn hummed.
“Oh, hon,” Ali gasped, hugging Ashlyn back fiercely. “Oh, God. You’re here. You’re safe. Oh my God.”
Ashlyn didn’t let herself linger in the embrace. She forced her eyes to open and looked right at Christen, who was hovering nearby looking scared and small.
“She’s right behind me. It looks bad, and she needs surgery, but she’s going to make it,” Ashlyn offered, keeping her arms around Ali. She gestured at the hallway with her head, knowing Tobin would be coming from the chopper on the roof and would be coming into the E.R. the same way she had.
Christen reached out to squeeze Ashlyn’s arm before she was rushing down the hallway, right to the elevators. They dinged and opened right as she arrived, making whatever breath she’d managed to catch leave her lungs again.
Frank and Jill were on either side of a gurney, and Tobin was lying on it, looking two paces from death’s doorstep. She looked pale and clammy and her right leg looked beyond broken.
Christen had to choke down the sob that immediately threatened to escape her lips. Instead, she stepped right up next to Frank and grabbed a hold of the side of the gurney, helping Frank and Jill push it toward an exam room.
Christen ignored whatever Frank and Jill were saying, her eyes locked on Tobin’s face, willing Tobin’s eyes to open. Willing Tobin to look at her. Willing Tobin to prove that she was really here.
And then Tobin’s eyelids fluttered and Christen caught sight of her favorite pair of brown eyes in the world and lost her breath again. This time she couldn’t stop the choked sob that wrenched itself from her chest or the way her right hand drifted up to cup the side of Tobin’s face tenderly.
“Hi, you,” Christen whispered, her eyes filling with hot tears.
“I couldn’t save her,” Tobin whimpered, looking into the green eyes she’d been thinking about nonstop for the past few hours.
Christen faltered, completely unsure what Tobin was talking about. All of the kids and adults were accounted for, as were all of the SAR members. But then she caught sight of the cloudiness in Tobin’s eyes and she realized Tobin had to already be on some kind of painkillers. So she wasn’t just in shock, she was drugged up as well.
“That’s okay, baby. We can’t save everyone, and that’s okay,” Christen murmured reassuringly, running her thumb across Tobin’s cheek. “What matters is you’re safe.”
“I’m sorry,” Tobin mumbled, trying to look at Christen, despite how cloudy everything looked around her. She tried to pull a hand up and reach out for Christen, but her hands were stuck under the blanket that Frank had tucked around her on the helicopter.
“Don’t worry about that, okay? You came home to me, that’s all I care about right now,” Christen whispered.
“Press, clear out. You can’t treat your partner,” Jill instructed when they reached the door of the exam room. “You too, Frank. No family or friends allowed in.”
Tobin turned her head slightly as Jill closed the door, catching one last glimpse of Christen before the room started to spin.
“Let’s get a coffee,” Frank suggested after two hours spent in the waiting room, putting a hand on Christen’s back and walking her down the hallway.
Christen nodded robotically, letting Frank lead her to the small café on the first floor. She couldn’t get the image of Tobin looking so broken and beaten down out of her head. She could barely even manage to stay standing and remember to breathe regularly. All she felt and thought and knew was worry and fear.
“Decaf? Cappuccino, Latte, Mocha, Tea?” Frank asked, pulling his wallet out of his jacket pocket.
Christen looked up and shot the woman behind the coffee counter, Pam, a tense smile.
“Put it on my tab, yeah? We’ll have two of whatever he orders,” she said, her voice wobbly and weak.
“You got it, C.P.,” Pam replied, offering Christen an understanding smile before turning her attention to Frank. “What’ll it be?”
“Hot chocolates sound safe,” Frank said quietly, looking over at Christen to gauge whether she was opposed to it or not. When he didn’t see a reaction, he nodded at Pam and waited to carry them over to a table.
Frank wasn’t one for talking. He never gave great speeches or spoke eloquently, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have feelings about what was going on. And he certainly had feelings about Tobin Heath.
“She’s really stubborn, you know?” he said gently. “She kept her eyes open until we got to the hospital.”
Christen hiccupped out a wet laugh and shot a quick look up at Frank. “I don’t know if I’ve ever met someone more stubborn than her.”
“She’s a tough cookie for sure,” Frank nodded. “She fell, pulling Ashlyn to safety.”
Christen blew out a shaky breath, her heartbeat thundering in her ears. “Of course, she did. She’s too heroic for her own good.”
“She’s trying to rewrite history,” Frank said, taking a sip of his hot chocolate.
Her brow furrowing, Christen fixed Frank with a curious look. “What do you mean?”
“Tobin was the first person I rescued on the job,” Frank admitted. “She was seventeen, and I found her on Glacier Peak.”
“What?” Christen breathed out, feeling her blood run cold.
Despite her question, Christen knew exactly what Frank meant. It made sense now. The comments Tobin had made while they were camping, her fearful reaction to Ali suggesting they hike up there. Something had happened, enough to make Frank go out there and rescue her when she was just a kid.
Feeling slightly sick to her stomach, Christen pushed away her hot chocolate and crossed her arms over her chest, waiting for Frank to continue and wondering if she was fully ready to hear this.
Frank pulled his wallet out of his jacket pocket and pulled open a creased pocket on the leather. He took out a cut-out newspaper clipping, unfolding it, and sliding it across the table to Christen.
“I can’t stop carrying that around. It reminds me why I do this every day,” he shrugged.
Christen looked down at the clipping and the faded photo in the middle of it. She immediately recognized the beaming grin and the warm brown eyes. Even if this photo was of teenage Tobin, it took less than a second for Christen to recognize the woman who held her heart.
But there was a girl next to her Christen didn’t recognize. She had short blonde hair with pink streaks in it, and she was holding up two peace signs for the camera, while Tobin had her arm slung over her shoulder.
“Those two were born a couple of weeks apart. Their moms were friends, so they were kind of destined to be close. Complete troublemakers, but I’ve never seen two better friends. They were attached at the hip, cradle to grave if you know what I mean,” Frank said quietly.
Christen looked at the headline, at the tragedy it held within its few words, and felt her stomach roll.
“How did she-” Christen paused, unable to even voice the word. Not when it was almost unspeakable to think about. Not when it was becoming sickeningly clear that Tobin had lost her best friend when they were both just kids.
“They were hiking up at Glacier Peak. Nothing out of the ordinary for them, but the trail up there is rocky. It isn’t easy to walk through, not without losing your balance. And when they turned around to head back, Max fell. Tobin tried to save her, but it was too late,” Frank sighed, running a hand across his eyes.
“I had no idea,” Christen whispered, her voice thick with tears, her heart aching for Tobin and the pain she’d been through.
“For a while, people talked a lot about it. Some sick people gossiped about Tobin maybe pushing her. But things fade away. People move and grow up, and Tobin’s buried Max deep in this desire to save people. Like if she saves everyone else, she can bring her back or at least get rid of the guilt.”
Christen nodded solemnly, feeling the final puzzle piece click into place. She’d never fully understood why Tobin did what she did. Why she disregarded safety and logic and common sense and did whatever she could to save people. While heroic, it was a little concerning.
But now it made sense. Glacier Peak. Saving people. Max. It made sense, and it made Christen’s heart break.
“I couldn’t save her,” Christen said, repeating the words Tobin had whispered brokenly to her before Jill wheeled her into the exam room. She traced her thumb along the pixelated image of Tobin in the newspaper clipping, feeling her breath catch in her throat. “She was talking about Max, wasn’t she?”
“I think surviving that night eats at her all the time,” Frank nodded.
“What do I do?” Christen asked, finally looking back at Frank and away from the worn picture of Tobin and Max on the table between them. “How do I help her? I can’t- I can only fix things I can see and that I know. I’m- I’m a doctor. I don’t-” Christen stammered.
“It’s not your job to fix her,” Frank whispered, reaching out and squeezing Christen’s hand. “She talked about you in the helicopter. You’re already here and caring about her. And the rest she has to figure out how on her own. I’m setting her up with the therapist a lot of the guys use. I should’ve done it years ago. I just- I didn’t know it was still so bad.”
Christen released a wobbly breath and dropped her head into her hands, the burning behind her eyes building and building.
“I didn’t know either,” Christen admitted quietly, frustration in her voice. Not at Tobin, but at the cruelty of the world around them. “I can’t lose her, Frank. I can’t.”
“She tried to quit,” he murmured, holding the bridge of his nose with two fingers.
Christen’s head lifted, and she fixed Frank with an almost incredulous look.
“She did what?” Christen asked in a low voice.
“On the way here, she told me she wanted to quit, that she couldn’t do this anymore. I told her to take some time and think it over,” Frank replied, swallowing thickly.
Christen jerked her head around, immediately jumping to her feet when she saw Jill standing nearby.
Before Christen could ask the question that was so easy to read on her face, Jill was offering her a small smile.
“She’s asking for you,” Jill said.
Christen turned back to Frank and hesitated, unsure if he wanted to be there as well.
“You go. She doesn’t need to see this face right after waking up from surgery,” he said, smiling softly at Christen.
Offering Frank a soft smile of her own, Christen hurried out of the café and all but ran toward post-op, where she knew Tobin was waiting for her.
Christen paused in the doorframe of the private room, finding herself unable to cross the threshold for a moment.
She felt her eyes fill with fresh tears and her breathing start to shake as she looked at Tobin, at her beautiful and brave Tobin, hooked up to machines, with her leg suspended over the bed and wrapped in layers of gauze.
She’d been so scared. Impossibly scared. It was like every single part of her had been tense, had been preparing for the worst-case scenario.
So, it almost didn’t feel real to see the shallow rise and fall of Tobin’s chest beneath the hospital gown, to hear the repeated beats of the heart rate monitor. It felt unreal in the best and worst possible way. This whole thing did.
“I’m really sorry,” Tobin whispered, her eyes fluttering open and focusing on Christen.
Christen stepped into the room, making sure to shut the door before drifting over to Tobin’s side. She collapsed down gently onto the bed near Tobin’s waist, tears filling her green eyes.
“Don’t apologize,” Christen whispered, her fingers toying with her white coat, itching to reach out and touch Tobin but holding herself back because she didn’t want to add more pain to the pain she knew Tobin was already in.
“I- I didn’t mean to break my promise,” Tobin said, her voice wobbly and hoarse.
“I know you didn’t. I know,” Christen replied softly.
“I’ve been- For eleven years, I’ve been running around scared out of my mind,” Tobin murmured, blinking her eyes slowly open and closed.
Christen finally let herself reach out. She grabbed ahold of Tobin’s hand, making sure to keep her touch gentle.
“I know that too. Frank told me,” Christen hummed. “You don’t need to explain. Just rest. I’ll be here.”
It was the same promise she’d made when Tobin had come into the E.R. with hypothermia when the two of them finally faced their feelings and took the leap of faith. It was the same promise she was going to make and keep for a long, long time.
“I won’t check myself out before you wake up,” Tobin promised, squeezing Christen’s hand.
“You better not,” Christen replied with the ghost of a smile.
“I don’t think I could.”
Christen let her eyes trail over Tobin’s body, taking inventory of the visible injuries.
“I don’t think so either. You got pretty- um,” Christen felt her throat close up as her eyes started to fill with tears again, as she felt that same fear and worry coil in her stomach. “You got pretty banged up, Tobin,” she finished, her voice no louder than a whisper.
“It looks worse than it feels,” Tobin said with a tiny smile, lying just like she always had when coming into the E.R.
“What am I going to do with you and your objectively terrible medical opinions?” Christen chuckled, the sound strained as a single tear fell from the corner of her eye.
“Well, it would be really really good if you could love me because...I completely love you,” Tobin said, reaching up to brush the tear from Christen’s cheek.
Christen felt her breath catch for an entirely different reason than it had every time since she’d heard about the SAR mission and Tobin’s involvement in it. She felt her heart pound in her chest not out of concern or trepidation. She felt more tears fall from her eyes, and these weren’t tears of fear or worry.
“Is this one of those ‘I almost died so I’m going to say it’ kind of scenarios?” Christen asked, pulling their clasped hands up to her lips and pressing a shaky kiss to Tobin’s knuckles.
“No, I was planning on telling you last night over dinner. Don’t say it back just because I’m in a hospital bed though,” Tobin sighed, sinking into the warmth of Christen’s lips against her hand.
Christen hid her smile against their clasped hands, looking at Tobin through her watery eyes.
“I was planning on saying it last night too,” Christen whispered, scooting impossibly closer on the bed. “I love you, Tobin Heath. Even if you’re accident-prone and a little reckless and a lot heroic…I love you.”
“I have a new resolution,” Tobin grinned. “No more accidents that require overnight stays. Your mattress is so much better than this thing.”
Christen nodded, a small laugh bubbling up within her at the easy way Tobin joked and smiled.
“That’s something I can get behind,” Christen replied, holding their clasped hands against her cheek and feeling a few more tears fall.
“I’m really gonna be okay. I promise,” Tobin hummed, trying to turn even more in the bed to face Christen.
“Hey, whoa, stay still,” Christen murmured, reaching out to stop Tobin’s movements with a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll come to you.”
Christen quickly got up from the hospital bed, shed her white coat, and gently curled herself against Tobin’s side. She loosely wrapped an arm around Tobin’s waist and laid her head on Tobin’s uninjured shoulder.
“You’re right. This bed sucks,” Christen hummed with a small smile playing at her lips.
“It sucks less now,” Tobin whispered, pressing her lips against the top of Christen’s forehead.
Christen’s breath faltered at the feeling of Tobin’s lips on her skin. She had almost lost this. She’d almost lost her.
“You scared me,” Christen whispered, running her fingers along the gown over Tobin’s hip. “I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared in my entire life.”
“I scared me too,” Tobin murmured. “And I couldn’t stop thinking about you or how you were feeling.”
Christen shook her head, finding herself completely floored by Tobin and her selflessness.
“You fell off a mountain, broke your leg in three places, bruised 50% of your body, and you were worried about me?” Christen wondered, almost in disbelief.
“I love you,” Tobin said matter-of-factly. “I always worry about you.”
“Welcome to the worry club. We get wine at every meeting,” Christen teased weakly, still a little in awe at what Tobin had been through, still struggling to process it all. “Oh, and I love you too,” she added. She turned her face and tucked it into the crook of Tobin’s neck, hiding the blush that the soft-spoken words brought out of her.
“Also I didn’t fall off a mountain. I just fell down it a little,” Tobin whispered, practically melting into the warmth that Christen was radiating.
“Not funny, baby,” Christen murmured against Tobin’s neck. “We can joke about this in like seven years. But not when you’re hooked up to machines.”
“Sorry,” Tobin muttered, tangling her fingers with Christen’s. “You want to joke about this with me in seven years?” she asked, her heart fluttering in her chest.
“If you’re lucky,” Christen chuckled, pressing a kiss to the base of Tobin’s throat.
“I’m feeling pretty lucky tonight,” Tobin said, a soft smile spreading across her face.
“Me too,” Christen replied. “Thank you for coming home to me.”
“I always will. Thank you for being my home,” Tobin whispered back.
I am beyond proud of sam. She wrote all the flashbacks and the majority of this chapter, since it was T heavy, and she produced absolutely incredible work. I remember reading it for the first time and feeling beyond moved. I even shed a few tears. I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did.
We will be posting the final chapter sometime this week/next week. Thanks, as always, for reading! We love each and every one of you 💚
-sam & emma
Chapter 7: Yours
fazed, futures, and family
the end has arrived *cue crying*
we approached it in an epilogue/snapshots of their future type of way. we hope y'all enjoy it!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Everytime I see you
When you walk in the room
No such thing as ordinary
Really we are quite contrary to
Everything that I thought I knew
I know it’s hard to find
You put your hand in mine
But you don’t ever have to wonder
Winter’s slumber to the summertime
I’m always on your side
Let’s start a fire
I want to keep you warm
Come on and strike up the choir
Throw open all the doors
Oh, I’ve looked low and high, and
I’ve never been so sure
I am yours
And you are mine
("Yours" by Robert Shirey Kelly)
“Charge paddles to 200…clear!” Christen said, holding the crash cart paddles to her patient’s chest. The shock ran through the machine, making the man who’d come into the E.R., already coding, spasm on the gurney.
Christen looked at the monitor for signs of a heartbeat, expelling a short breath. “Anything?” Christen asked as she pulled the paddles away.
“Nothing,” Kelley said, glancing at the monitors.
“Shit. Charge to 300,” Christen instructed, holding the paddles up as they buzzed. Once they were charged, she shocked the patient again. She let out a sigh of relief when the monitors beeped and registered a heartbeat. “Get him into a room and keep him stable, O’Hara,” Christen added, putting the paddles back on the machine. “Page Dunn for a Neuro consult and page Cardio.”
Christen offered Kelley a smile as she snapped off her gloves and moved out from behind the privacy curtain. She walked over to the nurse’s station and leaned against it, fixing Ali with a tired look.
“Double shifts are the worst invention in the history of medicine,” Christen sighed.
“At least yours is almost done,” Ali grinned.
Tobin made her way through a set of double doors, adjusting the crutches underneath her arms and trying to keep her soft cast off of the ground as she moved.
“Don’t think I want you to use those on me, but the paddles were kinda hot,” she murmured, smirking at Christen as soon as they made eye contact.
Christen’s smile was immediate as she moved over to meet Tobin. She let her eyes trail over the soft cast and the crutches, noting the dark circles under Tobin’s eyes and the lightness back in her face.
“You think everything I do is hot. You’re biased,” Christen murmured, stuffing her hands in the pockets of her coat to keep from reaching out for her girlfriend.
“Hey, I used my extensive medical knowledge to make that assessment,” Tobin argued.
Christen chuckled and nodded her head in the direction of the on-call room.
“Follow me?” she asked softly.
“Yes please,” Tobin replied, crutching after Christen as quickly as she could.
Christen held the door open for Tobin and then stepped in behind her, flicking the lock once the door was closed.
When she saw Tobin ditch the crutches and move to unbutton her shirt, Christen barked out a laugh.
“Absolutely not. You’re definitely not cleared for that yet,” Christen said, moving to grab the crutches and put them back under Tobin’s arms.
“My doctor just cleared me. He said I’m healing perfectly,” Tobin whined.
“Dr. O’Loughlin is not the best doctor in this hospital and he should never have been in charge of your recovery,” Christen scoffed, reaching out to re-button Tobin’s shirt for her.
“I’m sorry, you’re letting me see a mediocre doctor?” Tobin gasped.
Christen rolled her eyes at the mock offense in Tobin’s voice. “I tried to get you assigned to me , but that broke too many rules.”
“I thought Dr. O sounded really smart when he said I can get back to some strenuous activity. Sex included,” Tobin smirked.
Christen pursed her lips and felt that damn smirk do things to her she’d been so good at ignoring for the last seven weeks.
“You want the best medical opinion?” Christen asked with a smirk of her own, running her fingers along the collar of Tobin’s button-up shirt.
“I mean…I liked his answer, baby,” Tobin pouted. “I’m horny. It’s been two months.”
“But do you want the best or not?” Christen repeated.
“I think the opinion that lets me go down on you soonest is the best,” Tobin replied, the ache between her legs that had been present for all of her recovery, when Christen refused to let her do anything that would increase her heart rate, increasing tenfold.
Christen ignored the shiver that ran down her spine and stuck to her guns, a playful glint shining in her green eyes.
“I think…you should let me clear you. Run a few tests, gauge your pain, that sort of thing. I think you need a consult from the best ,” Christen murmured, leaning forward to muzzle Tobin’s nose with her own.
“Okay, let’s do it,” Tobin said, dropping down onto the on-call room bed and holding her leg out for Christen to look at it.
Christen laughed again and shook her head. “My shift’s over in an hour. Meet me at home,” Christen replied, bending down to kiss Tobin’s forehead and trailing a hand high up Tobin’s thigh not-so-innocently.
“I’ll order you dinner and open that bottle of wine you’ve been saving,” Tobin hummed, sinking into Christen’s touch.
Tobin put the pizza boxes on the counter, hopping on one leg as she moved through the kitchen without her crutches. She’d already put the wine Christen had been wanting to open on the kitchen table, lit some candles in the house, and turned on some music.
Christen had been living at Tobin’s place full-time since the accident, wanting to stay close and help. And even though Tobin tried to convince Christen that she was okay, she was secretly glad when Christen ignored her and stayed.
They spent almost all of their free time together, sharing the same space, even if they were doing their own things. That being said, Tobin couldn’t remember the last time they’d had a date night that was intentional and romantic, well as romantic as pizza could be.
“Are you putting weight on that?” Christen called out, crossing her arms over her chest as she leaned against the wall, still in her scrubs with a smile on her face.
“That would be against my beautiful doctor’s orders, so of course not,” Tobin replied, spinning around and catching herself on the kitchen island.
“Dr. O would be so thrilled you think so,” Christen chuckled, making her way into the kitchen and sliding her arms around Tobin’s waist.
“Ew, not him,” Tobin grumbled, pulling Christen close and resting her head in the crook of Christen’s neck. “You’re beautiful and a stickler for not putting weight on my leg.”
Christen kissed the side of Tobin’s head and held up some of Tobin’s weight since the crutches weren’t close by.
She sank into the embrace, into the way her heart fluttered at the barely-there kisses Tobin left on her neck, into the way her soul felt completely at peace now that she was here. Now that she was home.
“I love you, and I’m happy you’re feeling better,” Christen hummed. “I’m happy you’re here and hopping around the kitchen on one leg, and that you got us Moose’s Tooth and opened that Pinot. I’m happy, and I love you.”
“I’m happy, and I love you. I’m happy you’re here bossing me around and loving me,” Tobin whispered back, pressing more kisses to Christen’s neck. “Do you want to change before we eat? I have some things to run by you.”
“Run away. I’m good right here,” Christen replied.
“In your germy scrubs,” Tobin teased, keeping Christen secure in her arms.
Christen wrinkled her nose and ran her hands under Tobin’s shirt, along her lower back. “Same scrubs I was wearing when you checked out my ass for the first time. Don’t hate on them.”
“Mmm I do love that memory,” Tobin breathed out, her muscles relaxing under Christen’s touch. “And your ass. I love your ass.”
“Is that what you wanted to run by me?” Christen murmured, massaging the tense muscles she found in Tobin’s back.
“No,” Tobin shook her head, leaning back to look at Christen. “Do you want to sit down and eat first?”
“Tobin,” Christen hummed, tilting her head to the side a bit as she held Tobin’s gaze.
“Christen,” Tobin replied.
“Out with it. Stop trying to get me to eat. Unless you need to sit down, my love,” Christen whispered with a small smile.
“I’m gonna quit,” Tobin said softly, letting the words that had spun through her mind for two months fall from her lips.
Christen nodded and moved a hand to cradle Tobin’s cheek, running her thumb along the smooth skin beneath Tobin’s eye.
“That’s okay. That’s your decision and I support you either way,” Christen replied, keeping her voice gentle.
“I don’t- I’m not sure what I’m gonna do, but I have some money saved and some time to figure that out. I just can’t…I don’t think I can go back to work unless it’s for the right reason. And I don’t think I started that job in the first place for the right reason,” Tobin explained, trying to share all the thoughts she’d been having, all the conversations she’d had with her therapist.
Christen ghosted her lips across Tobin’s furrowed brow. “There’s no rush, Tobin. You have time to figure it out, and to do something for the right reason. Whatever that may be. You have time and I’m so proud of you.”
“I really love you,” Tobin murmured, pressing her lips to Christen’s cheek. “Thank you.”
“No need to thank me. I haven’t cleared you yet,” Christen teased, lightening the situation just a bit.
Tobin let out a soft groan and rolled her eyes at Christen’s response. “It’s like you aren’t fazed by the two months you’ve spent hovering over a patient 24/7 with no break or visits to the on-call room.”
“First things first, baby, you’re not a patient to me. You’re my girlfriend. Second, I don’t hover. I worry, and I care, and I get all worked up in a very adorable way. Third...I’m fazed. I’ve been fazed. And that’s why I think you need a personal consult. From me,” Christen replied, her voice getting a little husky as she smiled softly at Tobin.
“Wait, so…just checking, now that your voice has gotten really sexy twice while talking about this…your consult is going to be way different than Dr. O’s, right?” Tobin asked, running her hand along Christen’s jaw and down her neck.
Christen didn’t ignore the shiver this time, letting her eyes flutter shut at Tobin’s touch. “ Very different,” Christen husked.
“I’ve really really missed you,” Tobin whispered, leaning forward and pressing her lips to the side of Christen’s throat.
“I’ve missed you too,” Christen replied, one of her hands drifting up Tobin’s side, the other cradling Tobin’s jaw. “And I can’t wait to help you sexily hobble to the bedroom.”
“Is this gonna be your first scrubless consult?” Tobin murmured, slipping her hands under Christen’s scrub top.
Christen huffed out a breathy laugh, arching into Tobin’s touch. “Mhm, and you’re the only one I ever want to do it with.”
“Really?” Tobin asked softly, tracing her fingers along Christen’s lower back.
“Just you. Always just you,” Christen replied, her eyes fluttering open to meet Tobin’s as a soft smile made its way onto her face.
“All I want is you,” Tobin whispered. “Always just you.”
Christen’s smile grew as she helped Tobin hop and hobble to the bedroom, slowly but surely, sharing light laughter as they stumbled their way through the house.
“So much for pizza,” Tobin smirked, not caring about dinner in the slightest.
“I think you’ll find that I’m better than pizza,” Christen teased, gently situating Tobin on the edge of the bed.
She deftly unbuttoned Tobin’s shirt, button by button, all while never looking away from Tobin’s wide, brown eyes.
“How’s your pain, on a scale of one to ten?” Christen asked, pushing the button-up from Tobin’s shoulders and discarding it on the floor.
“Negative five. No pain,” Tobin whispered, pushing her hands under Christen’s shirt and pushing her hands up higher to get the scrub top off.
“Sorry, please keep your hands away from your doctor,” Christen smirked, stepping back just a little, her scrub top falling back into place. “She’s busy.”
“Dr. Press,” Tobin huffed, reaching out again. She tugged on Christen’s hips to pull her close again.
Christen shook her head, her smirk growing. “Hands on the bed, please. Any discomfort around your incision?” Christen asked softly, pushing Tobin’s shoulder so she’d lay back on the bed. Christen hooked her finger in the waistband of Tobin’s sweatpants and pulled them down gently, making sure to pull them delicately over the soft cast.
Tobin let out a faux exasperated sigh but kept her eyes on Christen, warmth rushing through her body as Christen kept up her charade.
“Discomfort, Tobin?” Christen asked with an arched brow, dropping the sweats onto the floor.
“No discomfort,” Tobin husked, moving her good leg slightly and running her foot along Christen’s leg.
Christen stepped between Tobin’s legs and then dropped her hands to the hem of her scrub top, pulling it off and throwing it over her shoulder.
“How are you feeling? Elevated heart rate?” Christen wondered, dropping her weight onto her hands on either side of Tobin’s head.
“I’m feeling a lot better right now. This is the best I’ve felt in weeks,” Tobin hummed, reaching up and brushing her fingers along Christen’s ribs.
Christen leaned down to kiss Tobin softly, barely a brush of lips. She then moved her lips across the hard line of Tobin’s jaw and down her throat.
“Your breathing is a little labored. Still okay?” Christen chuckled, nipping at the sensitive spot at the base of Tobin’s throat, soothing it with her tongue.
“I feel perfect,” Tobin sighed, her entire body feeling completely warm and tingly. “I’d feel better if you lost your pants too.”
With a breathy laugh, Christen continued her slow descent downwards, marking the blazing trail with her lips and her tongue.
“When I’m finished clearing you,” Christen whispered, swiping her tongue over the fabric of Tobin’s bra, taking a nipple between her lips as her hands settled on either side of Tobin’s hips. “You’re warm. Maybe you’re running a fever,” Christen murmured, giving the same treatment to Tobin’s other nipple.
“Baby,” Tobin groaned, arching into Christen’s mouth.
“Yeah, definitely warm,” Christen continued, moving downward on the bed as she traced her lips across the twitching muscles of Tobin’s stomach. “Toasty warm.”
“I feel like I’m on fire,” Tobin husked, reaching down and tangling a hand in the hair at the base of Christen’s head.
“That is one of the side effects of scrubless consults,” Christen chuckled, teasing her tongue along the waistband of Tobin’s boxers. “I’m going to take these off now. Is that all right?”
“Please,” Tobin choked out. “I want them off.”
Christen made quick but tender work of removing Tobin’s boxers. She dropped the boxers to the floor and then let her own scrub pants join them. Shooting Tobin a soft smile, she got on her knees and kissed Tobin’s unbandaged ankle, her calf, her knee. She then kissed up Tobin’s thighs, careful not to bump the soft cast as she got back up on the bed and situated herself between Tobin’s legs.
“In my professional medical opinion, you’re cleared for physical activity,” Christen husked, sliding her arms beneath Tobin’s thighs and looking up at Tobin through her lashes. “Is that okay with you?”
“Do you know how long I’ve waited to hear those words?” Tobin asked, reaching down to hold onto one of Christen’s hands.
“Probably about as long as I’ve wanted to say them,” Christen replied, settling at the apex of Tobin’s thighs, sliding her tongue into the warmth waiting for her there.
“Babe,” Tobin groaned, her hips twitching and her stomach tightening as soon as Christen touched her. “Fuck, I missed this.”
Christen felt the hoarse way Tobin whispered those words hit her right between her legs. She smiled as she continued to coax delightful moans and gasps from Tobin’s lips with flicks and swirls of her tongue.
“Chris- I- There, baby. Right there,” Tobin moaned.
Christen pulled back and kissed the inside of Tobin’s thigh. “Scale of one to ten, how much pleasure do you feel?” Christen whispered.
“Baby, don’t stop,” Tobin begged, lifting up her head to look at Christen.
“That’s not a number,” Christen replied, diving back in and flicking her tongue across the spot that made Tobin’s hips jerk and a reckless moan leave her lips.
“A million,” Tobin panted, feeling heat coil even tighter low in her stomach.
“I can work with that,” Christen chuckled, squeezing Tobin’s hand in her own and sliding her free hand between Tobin’s legs. She deftly slid two fingers inside of Tobin as she continued to move her tongue, knowing and feeling how close Tobin was getting.
A keening whine left Tobin’s lips as her body writhed beneath Christen. “More than a million. A billion,” she stuttered as Christen pushed her over the edge with a few more curls of her fingers and swipes of her tongue.
Christen helped Tobin ride out her orgasm, and when she felt Tobin continue to clench around her fingers and grasp at her hand, she realized Tobin wasn’t quite done. So she redoubled her efforts, curling her fingers and sucking gently with her lips.
Tobin couldn’t remember coming this hard. She couldn’t remember a time when her body responded like this. But she knew she was embarrassingly close to a second orgasm. She knew she was close, and she didn’t care at all.
“You’re so good baby,” Tobin rasped as her hips rocked into Christen’s hand and mouth.
Christen hummed as she crooked her fingers and ushered Tobin toward her second orgasm in a matter of minutes. She sank into the moment as she heard her name fall from Tobin’s lips, as she felt Tobin spasm beneath her tongue and around her fingers. She sank into the love she felt in her heart as Tobin crashed over the edge, into the feeling of rightness and perfection that saturated this right and perfect moment.
“My turn,” Tobin mumbled once she’d caught her breath. She reached down for Christen, motioning for her to move up and meet her eyes.
Christen licked her fingers clean and then wiped her chin with the back of her hand, moving up the bed to lay on top of Tobin. She leaned down to capture Tobin’s lips, kissing her soundly.
“I have a few more tests to run,” Christen chuckled, pulling Tobin’s bottom lip between her teeth.
“No way, you cleared me,” Tobin argued, letting her hand trail down Christen’s body to the waistband of her underwear.
“Don’t push yourself too hard, baby. I can always keep getting myself off,” Christen teased with a smile, running her nose along Tobin’s.
“Christen Press,” Tobin huffed.
“Tobin Heath,” Christen grinned, slotting a leg between Tobin’s and rocking up slowly into Tobin.
“It’s my turn,” Tobin repeated, moving her hand under the waistband and settling her fingers between Christen’s legs.
“Oh baby, I- I missed how you touch me,” Christen hummed, dropping her forehead to Tobin’s as her eyes fluttered shut at the first feeling of Tobin’s touch.
“I missed feeling you,” Tobin murmured, sinking a finger inside, the wet heat between Christen’s legs making it easy. “I missed this so much.”
A choked moan ripped itself from Christen’s chest as she rocked her hips down into Tobin’s hand.
“I missed hearing you too,” Tobin husked, burying a second finger between Christen’s legs. “And I can’t wait to taste you.”
“Fuck, baby,” Christen rasped, fisting a hand in the bedsheets next to Tobin’s head.
Tobin curled her fingers inside Christen, loving the way Christen’s hips were rolling towards her. She brushed her thumb over Christen’s clit, all the while pressing kisses along Christen’s jaw and neck and shoulder.
“I- I love you,” Christen gasped, feeling the pleasure coiling low in her stomach.
“I love you ,” Tobin replied softly, moving her fingers at a steady pace as she sucked lightly at Christen’s neck, gentle enough not to leave any marks.
“I’m taking a week off, you can leave marks,” Christen whispered, letting out another gasp as Tobin found that one spot that always made colors and lights explode behind her tightly shut eyes.
“A week of this?” Tobin murmured against Christen’s skin, increasing her pressure and nipping at Christen’s skin.
“Ye- oh God, yes. Yes, baby. Yes,” Christen panted.
Tobin braced herself against the mattress with her good leg and rolled her hips upward, pushing her fingers deeper and finding a spot that made Christen fall against her, her legs twitching.
She pressed her lips to every part of Christen that she could reach with Christen pressed against her. She flicked her tongue against Christen’s pulse point, feeling it speed up as her fingers moved.
Tobin could feel Christen getting close. She could feel her clenching around her fingers, and she could hear Christen’s sweet sighs and moans that she’d missed hearing, that she’d missed causing. And as Christen fell over the edge, as she fell apart in Tobin’s arms, all Tobin could think about was how much she wanted this. All the time. Always.
“Why am I still your emergency contact?” Tobin asked, dropping her jacket on the foot of Ashlyn’s hospital bed.
“You know I’m allergic to paperwork,” Ashlyn groaned, covering her eyes with her arm and leaving her injured hand on her stomach. “And I miss seeing you at work. I know you do that woodworking stuff now, but-”
“What the hell did you do?” Tobin asked, grabbing Ashlyn’s wrist and looking at her fingers.
“I tried to light 100 candles that spelled out a special five-word message for Ali and accidentally burned myself,” Ashlyn winced, pulling her injured hand away from Tobin, her face flushing with embarrassment.
“I’m sorry...back up real quick,” Tobin huffed, sitting on the end of the bed.
Christen pulled open the privacy curtain and immediately arched a brow, looking between Tobin and Ashlyn.
“Baby, we need a moment. Ashlyn doesn’t need immediate attention,” Tobin murmured, narrowing her eyes at Ashlyn.
“That looks like a potential second-degree burn,” Christen protested, nodding her head at Ashlyn’s hand.
“Really? It looks like someone who didn’t tell their best friend important information and did something life-altering without asking for help,” Tobin countered, watching Ashlyn cringe slightly.
Christen narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest. “If that hand gets any worse, you yell. And I mean yell, Tobin.”
“I will be very loud,” Tobin promised, sending a wink over her shoulder at Christen.
Christen blushed slightly and smiled, shaking her head as she moved the privacy curtain back into place.
“I hate you, Toby,” Ashlyn grumbled, finally moving her arm away from her face so she could glare at Tobin.
“You were gonna ask her to marry you?” Tobin hissed, leaning forward on the bed to keep as quiet as possible. “Where’s the ring? How long have you planned this? What was I doing?”
“It was kind of spontaneous. I tried to be spontaneous, and I fucking lit myself on fucking fire,” Ashlyn sighed.
“So, do you have a ring?” Tobin asked, glancing down at the burned fingers on Ashlyn’s left hand.
Ashlyn pointed with her good hand at the jacket on the chair next to her E.R. bed. “Side pocket,” she said with a smile.
Tobin quickly slipped off the bed and grabbed Ashlyn’s jacket. She reached into the side pocket and pulled out a red leather box.
“When did you get this?” Tobin asked, sinking back down onto the bed.
“I went with her mom and brother last week when we were down in L.A.,” Ashlyn replied, her smile growing as she forgot all about her burn.
Tobin popped open the box and looked at the very big, diamond ring Ashlyn had picked out.
“I’m really happy for you, dude,” Tobin breathed out, looking up at her best friend.
“I just hope she says yes. I mean, I did almost burn down my place trying to be spontaneous. Ironic for a firefighter, huh?” Ashlyn chuckled.
“You’re a complete dork, and she’s gonna say yes. You’re her dork. But maybe don’t use fire next time,” Tobin sighed, a huge smile slipping onto her face.
Ashlyn reached out for the ring with her hurt hand and yelped so loud, that moments later, Christen was pulling open the curtain.
Christen looked between the ring in Tobin’s hand, Ashlyn’s look of pain, and the shock on Tobin’s face, and felt her mouth open and close a few times.
“Umm...what’s that?” Christen asked, her heart hammering in her chest at the sight of that little red, leather box with a large, teardrop-shaped diamond in it.
“Shit,” Tobin mumbled, snapping the box shut.
“Baby, what…” Christen managed, her brow furrowed as she swayed slightly on her feet, her chest filling with an odd sort of warmth.
“For Ali,” Tobin blurted out, shoving the box into Ashlyn’s good hand. “It’s for Ali.”
“Dude,” Ashlyn whined. “It was supposed to be a spontaneous secret.”
“Chris’ll probably be her Maid of Honor, so it’s fine,” Tobin shrugged, standing up and pulling the privacy curtain closed behind Christen.
“For Ali. That’s for Ali,” Christen said, letting out a long breath, stuffing her hands into the pockets of her white coat as she ignored the slight flicker of disappointment in her chest.
“You don’t like tear-drop-shaped diamonds,” Tobin whispered against Christen’s shoulder before she pressed a kiss to Christen’s cheek.
“I didn’t say that,” Christen whispered with a small smile, leaning into Tobin.
“Really? Because I’m pretty sure you mentioned that when we were watching the Bachelorette last week,” Tobin scoffed.
“Okay, you two are cute, but my fingers have a heartbeat,” Ashlyn complained, holding her hand up to Christen.
Christen immediately moved away from Tobin’s side and pulled on some surgical gloves, taking Ashlyn’s hand in her own and narrowing her eyes as she examined it.
“It isn’t too much?” Ashlyn asked, opening the box with her good hand.
“She’ll love it, Ash. Looks just like the rings she always showed me on Pinterest,” Christen grinned. “And I’m going to page Plastics to take a look at this.”
“Ew Ali said the Plastics guy is a doorknob,” Ashlyn groaned.
“He smells like Axe Body Spray and gets way too chatty in the hallways,” Christen agreed. “But he’s more qualified to patch you up than I am.”
“Christen?” Ashlyn asked softly.
“Yeah?” Christen replied, equally as soft.
“You think she’ll say yes?”
“She’d be crazy not to. She’ll say yes to you. She...she looks at you like you’re the reason her whole world turns. Ali is going to say yes,” Christen hummed, sitting down on the edge of the hospital bed by Ashlyn’s side.
“Even if it isn’t some huge gesture with candles and spontaneity?” Ashlyn asked, fiddling with the box in her hand.
“You could interrupt her in Exam room 2 and pop the question, and she’d say yes,” Christen chuckled.
“All righty,” Ashlyn said, swinging her legs off of the bed.
“Wait, I didn’t mean now!” Christen protested, putting a hand on Ashlyn’s shoulder.
“I’m teasing,” Ashlyn laughed, tossing the ring to Tobin. “Will you call around and see if there are tables at any decently nice restaurants, Toby?”
“Sure,” Tobin chuckled, putting the ring back into Ashlyn’s jacket pocket.
“If she says yes, you’re my best dude or whatever, so just get used to doing me favors,” Ashlyn grinned.
Christen blew out a shaky breath as she watched Tobin and Ashlyn interact, her eyes getting a little misty.
“I’ll make sure they get the champagne ready at the restaurant,” Tobin mumbled, reaching out and squeezing Ashlyn’s good hand quickly.
“Press, are you crying?” Ashlyn laughed.
“No,” Christen scoffed, wiping at her eyes. “I just- I love weddings and I’m happy for you.”
“ASHLYN HARRIS!” Ali grumbled, pulling the privacy curtain aside with a scowl.
“Oh shit,” Ashlyn gulped, sitting up and offering Ali a weak smile. “Hi, hon.”
“You’re off today. What could you have possibly done?” Ali huffed, taking Ashlyn’s wrist in her hand and inspecting the burn.
“Before I answer that, will you go to dinner with me tonight?” Ashlyn asked with a dopey smile.
“Did you page Plastics?” Ali asked, ignoring Ashlyn and looking over at Christen.
“Christen’s a genius despite her taste in girlfriends, so of course she did. Now, will you please go to dinner with me?” Ashlyn repeated, reaching up with her good hand to pull Ali’s attention back to her.
“We eat dinner together every night. Obviously, I’ll eat dinner with you tonight,” Ali sighed, finally looking at Ashlyn.
Ashlyn pulled Ali in for a quick kiss. “I’ll see you tonight then,” Ashlyn hummed, kissing Ali once more before sitting back against the bed.
“Are you okay?” Ali asked softly.
“Just head over heels for you, hon,” Ashlyn grinned.
Tobin tugged on Christen’s arm and led her through the curtain, giving Ashlyn and Ali the room.
Christen wiped at the lingering tears in her lashes, letting out another long breath.
“My best friend and your best friend,” Christen murmured, shaking her head with a smile.
“Yeah, they’re kind of adorable,” Tobin whispered, tangling her fingers with Christen’s.
“This is amazing,” Christen whispered back, lifting their clasped hands to her lips and ghosting them across Tobin’s knuckles.
“You want to put on a huge joint bachelorette party?” Tobin asked with a huge smile.
“I’d love to,” Christen hummed. “You’re not really a tear-drop kinda gal either, are you?” she added, giving Tobin a soft, almost shy look.
“Nope,” Tobin shook her head.
“I had a feeling,” Christen replied quietly.
“I think we have some time to figure out what we like,” Tobin whispered, pressing a quick kiss to Christen’s cheek.
“We have all the time in the world,” Christen agreed with a smile.
“Al, breathe. Everything is going to be wonderful. You look beautiful. Breathe,” Christen assured, fiddling with her bouquet.
“I’m drenched in sweat, Press,” Ali huffed, standing in front of a fan in her dressing room.
“But you’re beautifully drenched in sweat,” Crystal pointed out, sipping from her flute of champagne.
Ali nervously spun the tear-drop-shaped diamond ring around her finger.
“Is my makeup running? I feel like I just finished a marathon.”
Christen grabbed some tissues from the counter and walked them over to Ali with a small smile.
“You’re going in there in five minutes and you’re going to marry your person. So take these tissues, dab at the mascara running under your eyes, and breathe,” Christen said softly.
“We shouldn’t have invited so many people,” Ali worried, already blotting her face with tissues. “I have to talk in front of everyone. Maybe I’m more of a courthouse or Vegas kind of bride.”
Christen laughed, as did Crystal. They stood on either side of Ali, making sure her hair was done properly and her makeup wasn’t smearing anymore.
“You’re going to be perfect,” Crystal promised.
“The most perfect bride,” Christen echoed.
Tobin knocked on the dressing room door, reaching into her suit jacket pocket as she waited for someone to answer.
Christen hurried to the door to the bridal suite and pulled it open, a beaming smile slipping onto her face when she saw who was standing there.
“Hi you,” Christen said, her eyes trailing across the suit Tobin wore, over the fitted shirt and the tapered dress pants that clung to Tobin’s frame like a dream.
“Hey, beautiful,” Tobin grinned, taking in Christen in the light blue bridesmaid’s dress that she and Ali had picked out.
“Is it time?” Christen asked softly.
“Ashlyn wanted me to give Ali this actually,” Tobin said, handing Christen a walkie-talkie.
Christen chuckled and leaned forward to kiss Tobin quickly. “No Radioshack hardware for me when- umm, I’ll see you out there,” Christen stammered, a blush heating her cheeks.
“You look gorgeous,” Tobin hummed, pressing a kiss to Christen’s lips. “I’ll see you at the altar.”
“I’ll be the one in blue,” Christen whispered, stepping back toward the room. She offered Tobin a smile and then closed the door. She walked over to where Ali was standing, holding out the walkie-talkie for the bride-to-be.
“Ali?” Ashlyn’s voice crackled on the walkie-talkie.
“Hon?” Ali replied, talking into the walkie-talkie as she covered her smile with her hand.
“Are you freaking out?” Ashlyn asked with a laugh.
“I’m sweating and my BP’s a little elevated. I’m flushed and I’m nervous. So...maybe a little bit, yeah. Are you?” Ali chuckled.
“I was for a second, but then I thought about how the sooner I get down the aisle, the sooner I get to kiss you,” Ashlyn murmured.
Ali looked at Crystal and Christen, a lovestruck smile pulling at her lips. “I’ll kiss you in front of two hundred people and be the happiest woman on the planet.”
“And then we can drink and go on our honeymoon,” Ashlyn added with a joyous lilt to her voice.
“And spend the rest of our lives together,” Ali replied, looking more relaxed than she had all day.
“I can’t wait to be your wife,” Ashlyn whispered. “Even if you’re freaking out a little bit.”
“I’m not freaking out anymore. I’m ready to be your wife, Ashlyn Harris,” Ali said into the walkie-talkie.
“Well hurry up then because I’m about to walk out in front of all these people,” Ashlyn replied.
“See you in two minutes, wifey,” Ali whispered.
“I love you,” Ashlyn chuckled.
“I love you,” Ali replied with a laugh of her own, putting the walkie-talkie down and then holding out her hand. “Bouquet me, Press. I’m ready.”
“You’re a really sexy maid of honor,” Tobin whispered, pouring more wine into Christen’s glass.
“You’re a really sexy best dude,” Christen whispered back, running her fingertips along the back of Tobin’s neck as they sat next to each other in the reception hall.
“So you don’t want a walkie-talkie delivered to you?” Tobin asked softly, reaching down and resting a hand on Christen’s thigh.
Christen’s fingertips stilled on the back of Tobin’s neck as she took a deep breath. “I did sort of say that, didn't I?” Christen murmured.
“I could write you a note instead,” Tobin offered, her voice light and slightly wobbly.
Christen looked over quickly at Tobin, hearing the seriousness in her words. “You want- you- that’s something you’ve thought about?” Christen asked at a whisper.
“Marrying you?” Tobin clarified, tucking a curl behind Christen’s ear.
Christen just nodded, not entirely trusting her voice when it felt like her heart was going to beat right out of her chest.
“Yeah, I’ve thought about it. I’d like to, you know? Marry you. Someday, I’d like to. I mean only you when I say only you,” Tobin murmured, swallowing thickly as she watched the words land between them.
Christen’s eyes filled with tears as a slow smile spread across her face. “You want to marry me? You accident-prone, reckless, heroic woman...you want to marry me ?”
“I want you,” Tobin breathed out. “For the rest of my life. So yeah, someday I’d like to marry you.”
Christen surged forward and kissed Tobin, a little messily and a little too hard, but she kissed Tobin like she meant it. Because she did. She meant this kiss and the promise it carried with it.
“I love weddings...but I think ours will be my favorite,” Christen whispered against Tobin’s lips.
“Can ours be smaller?” Tobin asked, holding Christen’s face close.
“Much smaller. More intimate. Less...everything here,” Christen replied, using a hand to gesture at the large dancefloor and the disco balls and the rainbow cake.
“With amazing food and live music,” Tobin added, peppering a few kisses across Christen’s face.
“And wine that doesn’t suck and...you. Just you. That’s all I need,” Christen murmured, wrinkling her nose and smiling at Tobin’s kisses.
“Dance with me?” Tobin asked quietly.
Christen grinned and pulled Tobin to her feet. She slipped out of her heels and then led Tobin over to the dance floor. Taking one of Tobin’s hands in her own, she looped her arm around Tobin’s neck and pulled them into a slow sway.
“So...a live band?” Christen hummed, only having eyes for Tobin as they moved around the dance floor slowly.
“Yeah, live music is good,” Tobin grinned.
“What would our song be?” Christen wondered, her smile mirroring Tobin’s.
“Something super sappy,” Tobin replied with a beaming smile.
“What was that one you were humming in the car? After our first date? I like that one,” Christen asked.
“How do you remember that?” Tobin chuckled, resting her forehead against Christen’s.
“I remember every moment I spend with you, because they’re the best moments of my life,” Christen replied softly.
“Do weddings make you mushy?” Tobin asked with a teasing lilt in her voice.
“Mushy and weepy,” Christen confirmed with a bashful smile.
“I have an important question for you,” Tobin whispered, pressing a kiss to Christen’s forehead.
“Yeah?” Christen replied quietly.
“Where do you want to honeymoon?” Tobin asked, her classic lopsided grin on her face.
Christen laughed, the sound joyous and free. “I love you...and I would love to go somewhere warm. Toasty warm,” Christen grinned.
“The beach, then,” Tobin hummed, pulling Christen closer. “And I love you too.”
As they continued to dance, in a world all their own, they dreamt up the perfect wedding with matching smiles and racing hearts.
Tobin threw the car into park and took a shaky breath. She ran a hand through her hair and straightened the flannel she’d put on after her shower. And then she sent up a quick prayer, hoping to God that Christen wouldn’t take this in a horribly wrong way, that she’d think it was romantic and kind of funny.
She reached across the front seat and pulled the tiny wooden box from its hiding spot. She’d only been sitting on it for a month and a half, and it had been killing her. Tobin tried for a second to hold the box in her hand and wrap her stupid dishtowel around her arm, and then thought better of it. She ditched the box, slipped the ring onto the top of her thumb, and wrapped the dishtowel around her hand like she’d done a dozen times.
Once she’d come into the E.R. with a sliced hand, another time she only had a papercut, earlier this year she’d bruised a finger pretty badly, but now she had nothing. Nothing but a ring and a question, and she was more panicked than all the other times.
“You’ve got this,” she mumbled to herself as she shoved the driver’s side door open and walked across the parking lot to the E.R. entrance, the sun already setting. She’d timed it right. She’d wanted Christen to be able to leave with her, not have to work for the rest of the day. She wanted to take her fiancée home after asking her to marry her.
The sliding doors whooshed open, sending another wave of nerves through Tobin as she saw the familiar E.R. and Ali’s incredibly excited face.
“We’ve redirected all emergencies to Southwell. Should be quiet,” Ali whispered, winking at Tobin and walking out of the E.R., leaving Christen alone in the room, behind the nurse’s station, her nose in a book and a pen between her teeth.
“Thanks,” Tobin mumbled as Ali passed, her eyes glued to Christen.
Tobin held her hand down and slid up to the counter of the nurse’s station, if possible falling even more in love with the woman she’d come to see.
“Hey, baby,” Tobin whispered.
Christen held up her finger, her eyes moving across the page. She pulled the pen from her teeth, a small smile playing at her lips.
“This is the best part,” Christen whispered back.
“I know,” Tobin hummed, dropping her chin onto the forearm she’d placed on top of the counter.
Christen sighed happily when she finished her page, when Darcy and Elizabeth finally declared their feelings for one another, and then shut her well-loved copy of Pride & Prejudice .
“Hi you,” Christen greeted, setting her book aside.
“Do you want to know something funny,” Tobin mumbled, a dopey smile spreading across her face as she looked at Christen.
Christen leaned her arms onto the desk and brought herself closer to Tobin, a matching smile growing on her face.
“You already told me the joke about the firefighter and the firehouse dog. It was only somewhat funny,” Christen teased.
“Two years ago, on this exact day, you gave me stitches,” Tobin said quietly.
“It is the fifth, isn’t it?” Christen asked softly. “Best stitches I’ve ever done,” she added with a wink.
“Well, maybe you can do it again?” Tobin asked, lifting her wrapped-up hand for Christen.
Christen’s expression immediately changed from teasing and lovestruck to panicked. She shot to her feet and reached for Tobin’s wrapped hand.
“Don’t do that. Your eyebrows are getting worried. It’s nothing. I was able to drive here,” Tobin said, holding the wrapped-up hand slightly out of reach.
Christen huffed and walked out from behind the nurse’s station. She grabbed Tobin’s good hand and pulled her over to the row of empty beds in the emptier E.R.
“What am I going to do with you and those damn medical opinions”? Christen mumbled under her breath, gently pushing Tobin into a seated position on the bed.
“You could just love me forever,” Tobin answered, still holding her wrapped up hand close.
“I will, baby. You’re just going to keep giving me slight panic attacks every time you come in bleeding,” Christen sighed, pulling on some gloves and grabbing everything she’d need for stitching Tobin up.
“Hey, Chris?” Tobin whispered, reaching out to grab onto Christen’s arm.
“What?’ Christen asked, pulling a rolling stool over and sitting down in front of Tobin.
“You don’t need the gloves,” Tobin murmured, reaching out with her good hand and tucking a strand of hair behind Christen’s ear.
Christen rolled her eyes affectionately and gently grabbed Tobin’s towel-wrapped hand.
“Not yet,” Tobin said as she pulled her hand back away from Christen.
“Does your medical degree tell you that you can just sit there bleeding?” Christen asked, trying not to get frustrated at Tobin avoiding medical treatment.
“Two months ago, we talked about our future a little bit,” Tobin started, ignoring Christen and jumping into the speech she’d been practicing every time she got in the shower or did woodwork or welding in the garage.
Realizing Tobin was going to be jumping into something long-winded here, based on the look on her face and the way she was breathing a little quicker, Christen snapped off her gloves and tried not to worry about the injury Tobin had that had brought her in here. Instead, she gave her girlfriend her undivided attention.
“And I know we haven’t had a conversation like that since Ali and Ash’s wedding, but I want you to know that I’ve been thinking about it for the past two months. Really, I’ve thought about it for the past two years,” Tobin continued, reaching out with her good hand for one of Christen’s.
Christen tangled her fingers with Tobin’s and felt her brow furrow just a bit, not entirely sure how all of this related to the in-need-of-stitches cut on Tobin’s hand.
“You met me when I was still running around scared out of my mind, and you still loved me. You loved me before I was even able to love myself, before I forgave myself for the past. I feel braver now, and I’ve never loved as much as I do now. So, I think I can finally be the person you need all the time.”
“Hey,” Christen interrupted softly. “You are that person all the time. You have been for a long time now.”
Tobin let out a shaky breath, her heart fluttering at Christen’s words. “You’re my person all the time. And when I think about a future with you, I don’t just think about the kickass wedding we’re gonna have. I think about the family we’ll have, even if that’s just dogs. I think about growing old with you. I think about loving you for every single part of who you are. I think about loving you in every stage of life, in really hard times and in the easiest moments.”
And that’s when Christen realized this wasn’t a regular trip to the E.R. from her clumsy, accident-prone girlfriend. This was something more and it had Christen’s heart rate picking up and her eyes filling with unshed tears. This was so much more than a cut or a bruise or a broken bone. This was the start of the rest of their lives and Christen felt so ready for it.
“I want to love you and care for you and confide in you for the rest of my life, and I really want you to do that for me too. I’m really hoping, even if it’s not now,” Tobin said, letting go of Christen’s hand and starting to tug at the dishtowel, “that maybe you’ll want to marry me and spend the rest of your life with me. I really want to spend the rest of my life with you, and I’d love it to start tonight,” she finished, the dishtowel now in her lap and the ring on her thumb sitting in front of Christen.
Christen felt the first tear slip from the corner of her eye as she looked down at Tobin’s hand that was no longer covered by the dish towel.
“Oh, Tobin,” Christen breathed out, her voice wobbly. “That’s definitely not something that needs stitches,” she added, the corner of her mouth lifting into a half-smile.
“I know the E.R. technically isn’t that romantic, but it’s where I fell in love with you,” Tobin whispered, brushing her thumb under Christen’s eyes to catch the tears.
“This is perfect. You’re perfect,” Christen replied softly, her voice catching slightly. “And I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you and your questionable medical opinions.”
“So...that’s a yes?” Tobin asked as her bottom lip wobbled a little.
“It’s a yes, baby,” Christen confirmed, a beaming smile making its way onto her face.
Tobin took Christen’s left hand in her own and carefully slipped the ring on her finger. Then, she leaned forward and cupped Christen’s face with her hands, pulling her in for a soft kiss.
“Yes doesn’t feel like enough after all of that. It feels so small after you came in here and poured your heart out,” Christen whispered into the space between their lips, her hands gripping tightly onto Tobin’s hips.
“All I want is you,” Tobin murmured, her eyes fluttering shut as she took in this moment.
“You have me. For the rest of our lives,” Christen replied softly.
And since that still didn’t feel big enough, since it felt like Tobin had rolled out the red carpet and she hadn’t done anything more than just shown up, Christen decided to tell Tobin something she had never told her before.
“I saw you that day, you know. When you came in with Ash,” Christen whispered with a slight blush in her cheeks.
“I mean, you did my stitches, so I hope you saw me,” Tobin teased, pressing another kiss to Christen’s lips.
“No,” Christen chuckled, “I saw you before I stitched you up. I saw you walk in.”
“Oh?” Tobin breathed out, her heart thudding against her chest at the new piece of information.
Christen nodded softly, her smile growing. “Ali and I flipped for it. Who got to go over and see you guys. And I wanted to win. I wanted to win so bad because-” Christen faltered, a shaky breath leaving her lips. “Because it was like my heart already knew. It already felt like coming home.”
“Baby,” Tobin forced out, her throat already thick with emotions and just getting thicker.
“ That’s why this place is the most romantic one you could have chosen. Because you walked in here and you turned my whole world upside down. You brought me home,” Christen murmured, moving her lips across Tobin’s cheeks, catching the few tears that had fallen.
“If Ashlyn hadn’t asked Ali to get you, I would’ve come back looking for you anyway. You’re my home. Even- even then, even before I really knew you, you made me feel safe,” Tobin whispered.
“I love you,” Christen whispered back, looking deeply into her favorite pair of brown eyes.
“I love you too. You’re a really beautiful fiancée,” Tobin said softly.
Christen blushed at the compliment, leaning forward to kiss Tobin soundly, not holding back.
“I can’t wait to be your wife,” Christen hummed, running her thumb along the ring that now sat on her ring finger, smiling into the next kiss at the feeling of rightness that came along with the ring.
“I can’t wait to be yours,” Tobin agreed between kisses.
“Now is this toasty warm, or what?” Christen asked, digging her toes in the sand and smiling at her wife as she relaxed under the sun.
“You want to move here?” Tobin groaned happily, rolling over on the beach towel and draping her arm over Christen’s hips.
Christen laughed and reached out to run her fingers across Tobin’s back, teasing the bikini string. “You’d miss the snow and the mountains and your budding woodworking business.”
“How about we make it a yearly thing, though?” Tobin suggested. “I could definitely go someplace warm with you every year.”
“I’ll start saving my vacation days,” Christen teased.
“Plus, you in a bikini,” Tobin mumbled, pressing a kiss to Christen’s shoulder.
“Don’t you mean you in a bikini? Because wow, so pulchritudinous,” Christen hummed happily.
“Thank you, Stanford,” Tobin snorted, squeezing Christen’s hip softly. “What I’m really thinking about is installing a hot tub in our new house.”
“Your honey-do list is getting long. A hot tub, a treehouse, a sunroom, a master bath renovation…” Christen trailed off, gently tugging on the knotted string at the back of Tobin’s bikini, loosening it ever so slightly.
“Well, the treehouse can wait a couple of years. I just want our future kids to be able to play in a really cool treehouse. The bathroom comes first because you want that big jacuzzi tub. But maybe the hot tub can come second, and then I can see you in a bikini...or less all year round,” Tobin hummed, a dreamy smile on her face.
Christen just hummed, having checked out of the conversation a few moments ago. She finished undoing the knot at the back of Tobin’s bikini, finding herself incredibly grateful for the private stretch of beach they had attached to their Airbnb.
“Are you getting handsy?” Tobin mumbled.
“I’m focused on my honey-do list,” Christen teased, trailing her fingertips gently up and down Tobin’s spine.
“God, I love you,” Tobin groaned, squirming closer to Christen and attaching her lips to the side of Christen’s neck.
As they lost their bikinis and let their hands wander, Christen was incredibly grateful for the private stretch of beach and for the woman she now could call her wife.
“I don’t like this,” Tobin groaned, flopping down onto the bed next to Christen. “There’s a reason I only date women.”
“You date women?” Christen clarified with an arched brow, looking up from her computer.
“Dated. Only dated women. Now I date one woman, and I love her so much. She’s beautiful and smart and amazing,” Tobin backtracked.
“Mhm,” Christen hummed, reaching out with her hand to tap the wedding band on Tobin’s left ring finger. “You married her too.”
“I did, and I’m in love with her,” Tobin nodded. “I’m not good at looking at pictures of men and picking out which one is...decent to look at.”
“Stop looking for decent,” Christen laughed. “He needs to have your brown eyes and your wavy hair.”
“No one has my eyes,” Tobin pouted, squirming closer to Christen and looking back at the screen of possible sperm donors.
“You’re right. But they at least have to be brown,” Christen murmured, wrapping an arm around Tobin’s shoulders.
“What if I want a green-eyed baby like my baby’s mom?” Tobin sighed, clicking on one of the donors and reading about him.
Christen dropped a kiss on Tobin’s furrowed brow, falling a little bit more in love with her wife and the concentrated look on her face. “Could still be green, but I’m holding out for brown. I want our baby to look like both of us.”
“I’m looking forward to the day when science improves and women can do this on their own,” Tobin hummed, clicking on another sperm donor.
“God, we’d make amazing babies,” Christen laughed.
“Right?” Tobin agreed, scrolling past a few blonde donors and pausing at a guy that kind of looked like her, enough that someone could possibly consider them relatives.
“You paused,” Christen murmured, hoping this meant that Tobin had finally found one she wouldn’t complain endlessly about.
“He reminds me of my brother. I don’t know if I can do it,” Tobin said honestly.
Christen laughed again and closed the computer, tossing it to the end of the bed. She then swung her leg across Tobin’s hip and hovered over her.
“Tomorrow morning we’re deciding,” Christen said, looking down at Tobin.
“And until then?” Tobin husked, her eyes tracing over Christen’s barely covered body.
“We take advantage of the sex drives we still have before bringing a baby home,” Christen replied with a smile.
“I intend on having sex with you, even when I’m exhausted and listening for the baby monitor,” Tobin said, dragging her hands up Christen’s body and pushing her tank top up. “And tonight, I want to worship the body that’s gonna make us moms.”
Christen felt her smile grow and her heart skip a beat in her chest. “We’re gonna be moms,” she whispered. “I can’t wait.”
“Me either. You’re going to be the most beautiful mom in the world,” Tobin whispered back.
“You’re going to share that title with me. I think seeing you as a mom will make me love you more,” Christen replied, dropping down to capture Tobin’s lips in a kiss.
“I have never hated you more,” Christen groaned, her grip tightening on Tobin’s hand almost painfully.
“I’m gonna call them back in for the epidural,” Tobin said, pressing one last kiss to Christen’s hand.
“Why did I let you convince me not to get an epidural the first five times the doctor asked,” Christen complained, squeezing her eyes tightly shut and trying to breathe through the pain.
“Baby, I told you to get all the drugs. You said you were interested in feeling natural childbirth,” Tobin mumbled.
“Why did you let me have an idiotic medical opinion? I’m a fucking doctor, I know childbirth hurts,” Christen groused.
“It isn’t too late. It’s fine. Let me go get a nurse,” Tobin said, standing up from her chair.
“No, don’t leave. I can’t stand you right now but don’t leave,” Christen said, finally opening her eyes and looking over at Tobin.
“I won’t leave you,” Tobin promised, sitting back down. “I’m here. We can call them in here,” she added, pressing the call button beside the bed for a nurse.
Tobin was surprised by how quickly a nurse appeared, how easily an anesthesiologist was called to give Christen her epidural, how easily Christen was taken care of. Tobin just figured that they were taking care of their own. Christen was one of this hospital’s own, and they wanted to take care of her as best as they could, and she was incredibly grateful for that.
“You are breathing so loud,” Christen said through gritted teeth, still feeling a bit of pain despite the epidural.
She loved Tobin. God, did she love her. She loved her so much and she couldn’t wait to be a mom with her. But right now, it felt like every single thing was setting her off; everything was frustrating her. And she knew it was hormones. She knew it was biology and chemistry and her body processing this beautiful moment. But still.
“I’m sorry,” Tobin answered, holding her breath for a few seconds before she tried to breathe even quieter than she had been before.
“No, I’m sorry. I’m like...mom-zilla,” Christen grumbled, running a hand over her face.
“That’s okay,” Tobin soothed, reaching out for ice chips in case Christen wanted them. “I still love mom-zilla.”
“She’s a bitch and I’m so sorry,” Christen sighed, her contractions subsiding once more and letting her mind clear just a bit.
“Don’t talk about my wife that way,” Tobin replied, standing up from her chair and brushing the sweaty baby hairs away from Christen’s forehead.
Christen leaned into Tobin’s touch, shutting her eyes tightly as the next round of contractions started up again, chasing away the momentary peace she’d felt.
“If you thought these last four hours were bad, wait until I’m pushing our baby out. I’m going to be cursing you with really big, Stanford words,” Christen managed to say, smiling tightly up at her wife.
“I’ll try not to take it personally,” Tobin hummed, pressing soft kisses along Christen’s forehead.
“Hey, baby?” Christen asked, her jaw tightening as the contractions continued.
“Yes?” Tobin murmured, preparing herself to be berated.
“In my professional medical opinion, I think you can press that button for the doctor. The contractions are 2 minutes apart,” Christen said, squeezing Tobin’s hand tightly.
“Okay,” Tobin rushed out, pressing the call button three times in excitement. “Okay, that’s good.”
Christen watched the frantic exuberance emanating from Tobin and felt that cut through the haze of discomfort and pain she was currently experiencing. “Get up here. I’m not doing this alone,” Christen said softly, sitting forward just a bit in bed.
Tobin slipped off her sneakers and climbed into the bed behind Christen, pulling Christen back against her chest and brushing hair away from her face. “I love you,” Tobin whispered against Christen’s temple.
“I love you too,” Christen replied, sinking back against Tobin’s chest.
But whatever momentary peace and love Christen felt was immediately chased away when the doctor came in flanked by another doctor she recognized.
“All right, Christen, you’re definitely ready to push. I’ve brought someone from Peds with me since this is gonna be a breech birth. I think it’ll be good just to have an extra set of hands,” Christen’s OB-GYN said softly.
“Abso-fucking-lutely not,” Christen choked out, shaking her head. “No offense, Shirley. You’re a great doctor, but no.”
“Yeah, is there someone else?” Tobin asked, knowing that Christen would lose it if Shirley had to stand down there and be a part of this experience that was theirs .
“Uh…” the OB-GYN hesitated, completely caught off guard.
“Page Dunn. She’s on-call today. So is Krieger-Harris. Page them both,” Christen gritted out, tightening her grip on Tobin’s knees. “Again, no hard feelings, Cruz. I just hate everyone right now, and I think I’d hate them a little less.”
“No problem,” Shirley chuckled, pulling out her pager.
“I even hate Tobin a lot, if that helps,” Christen offered with a weak smile.
“Thank you, baby. You can stop saying that,” Tobin whispered.
“I paged them, and I’ll be ready if there’s an emergency,” Shirley said, stepping out of the room and leaving Christen and Tobin with the OB-GYN.
“Thank you,” Christen called out.
“Isn’t she engaged to someone in Orthopedics?” Tobin asked softly. “We got their announcement last month.”
Christen huffed. “Doesn’t mean I want her looking at my-”
“Hey, Mama,” Ali cooed as she stepped into the room, followed closely by Crystal.
“You’re glowing,” Crystal grinned, rolling up the sleeves of her white coat.
“If I curse either of you two out, it’s not personal,” Christen warned, leaning back into Tobin as her discomfort grew.
“She asked me for a divorce an hour ago,” Tobin added, placing a quick kiss to the side of Christen’s head.
“You did this to me!” Christen argued, grumbling just a bit under her breath.
“Technically, sperm donor 873 did this to you,” Tobin muttered.
“Do not technically me right now,” Christen warned, her breathing starting to pick up a little bit. “Yeah, it’s time, Doc.”
The OB-GYN, a nurse, Crystal, and Ali all pulled gloves on, but only the OB-GYN and the nurse settled near the foot of the bed.
“It is time,” the OB-GYN said softly. “You can start pushing.”
Tobin kept her legs bracketing Christen. She rested her hands on top of Christen’s and let Christen squeeze her hands as she pushed for the first time.
“You’re doing great,” Tobin whispered after the first push was over.
“I- I don’t know if I can do this,” Christen choked out, feeling nerves for the first time during her entire pregnancy.
“You have to, Mama,” Ali hummed, wiping Christen’s forehead for her.
“Your little girl needs you, sweetie,” Crystal added softly.
“What if I suck at this? Tobin, what if I let her down?” Christen asked, tucking her face under Tobin’s chin.
“There is no way you could ever let her down. She’s the luckiest baby in the entire world because she gets you. And I’m here. I won’t let either of you fall,” Tobin murmured.
“Okay, okay,” Christen breathed out, feeling the conviction in Tobin’s words chase away her momentary worry.
Tobin’s convictions and her whispered words of love carried Christen through the next hour and a half of labor. She only threatened Tobin’s life once, and used some choice words for Ali and Crystal a handful of times.
And then the baby cried and all was well.
“Hey,” Tobin whispered, her voice completely awestruck. “Our daughter’s here.”
Christen tucked her face back beneath Tobin’s chin, breathing deeply.
“You did so great, baby. You’re amazing,” Tobin whispered, pressing kisses to Christen’s temple.
“I don’t actually want a divorce,” Christen replied, chuckling just a bit.
“I love you so much, and I’d like to stay married and raise that baby together,” Tobin laughed.
“Hey you two, want to meet your daughter?” Crystal asked, interrupting the moment.
“She looks like an alien,” Tobin mumbled.
Christen lightly smacked Tobin’s knee and held open her arms for Crystal to pass their baby over.
Christen looked down at the small newborn in her arms, all swaddled in a yellow baby blanket, and felt tears pool in her eyes. It sort of felt like she’d been struck by lightning, like her world had been flipped upside down once again. Just like it had five years ago, Christen felt like she was home, holding her and Tobin’s daughter in her arms.
“The cutest, most beautiful, most perfect alien,” Tobin hummed, brushing her index finger over the baby’s nose.
“Hi, you,” Christen whispered, kissing their daughter’s forehead. “Don’t listen to your mom. You’re not an alien. You’re perfect.”
“I said a perfect alien. She’s the most perfect. She’s ours. I have my whole family in my arms,” Tobin mumbled, letting the first few tears slip down her cheeks. It wasn’t just Christen anymore that was her entire world. This baby and Christen felt like her reasons for being on this planet. “I’m holding my whole world in my arms.”
“Parker Max Press-Heath. You’re our whole world,” Christen murmured, dropping another kiss to their daughter’s head before leaning back into Tobin’s chest.
“What?” Tobin breathed out, her heart racing in her chest. She knew this was Parker. They’d agreed on Parker. It was gender-neutral and kind of tomboyish, and Tobin and Christen were obsessed with it. They’d skimmed baby name books and websites, searching for the right name, and agreed that Parker would be their daughter’s name.
They were between Tyler and Anne for the middle name, deciding that they’d choose the middle name when the baby was born. At least, that’s what she’d thought. She hadn’t expected Christen to say Max. And suddenly she couldn’t see the baby in Christen’s arms because her tears were blurring everything. All she could do was hold tightly to her world.
“Has a nice sound to it, right?” Christen hummed, angling her head to kiss the underside of Tobin’s jaw.
Tobin nodded jerkily, unable to find the right words to tell Christen how much it meant, how much her heart simultaneously ached and felt completely healed. She couldn’t say it, but she knew Christen knew. Christen knew because she’d chosen Max. She knew it was important. She’d seen Tobin’s eyes pause on the name when they’d read through books and lists. She’d known, and with one gesture, she made Tobin fall impossibly more in love.
“We can change it, if you want. But it felt right,” Christen added softly, kissing Tobin’s jaw once more before looking back down at Parker. “I looked at you and I knew. Yes I did,” Christen cooed.
“I love it,” Tobin croaked out quietly. “I love her, and I love you.”
“We love you too,” Christen whispered.
“Mommy!” Parker squealed, running ahead of Tobin into the E.R., her dark curls bouncing around her shoulders.
Christen looked away from the group of interns she was training and beamed as her daughter dodged trays of instruments and other doctors.
“Hey, monkey,” Christen greeted, bending down to scoop Parker into her arms and swing her around. “Go be busy, somewhere,” she told the interns with a smile, causing them to all walk away.
Christen smoothed down some of Parker’s curls and smiled at her. “Where’s Mom and Elliot? Or did you drive yourself here?” she teased, poking her nose against Parker's and making her giggle before Parker tucked her face under her Christen’s chin.
“It was an accident,” Parker mumbled against Christen’s neck.
“What was?” Christen asked softly.
“I hit Mom with a shovel,” Parker whispered right as the automatic doors opened and Tobin walked through them with Elliot on her hip and blood collecting on a paper towel against her eyebrow.
Christen felt a sigh escape her lips as she saw Tobin walk in. “Why is she always bleeding?” Christen whispered with a shake of her head, carrying Parker over to the first bed in the E.R., the one that had hilariously been dubbed Tobin’s by everyone in the hospital.
“I- I- See, I was helping,” Parker tried to explain. “We shoveled snow.”
“It’s okay, monkey. I’ll stitch her up and she’ll be good as new,” Christen murmured, dropping a kiss on the side of Parker’s head.
“Hi, baby,” Tobin mumbled, making Elliot turn around and reach out for Christen.
Christen set Parker down on the E.R. bed and then took Elliot from Tobin, blowing a soft raspberry onto his cheek like she always did.
“Mommy!” Elliot giggled, burying his face in Christen’s neck and tangling his tiny hands in her hair.
Christen held Elliot with one arm and then pulled the privacy curtain closed, pointing at the spot next to Parker on the bed for Tobin.
“Butt on bed, baby,” Christen said with a small smile for her wife.
“We just missed you a lot today,” Tobin said sheepishly as she slid onto the bed next to their daughter.
“I’m sure. I missed you guys too, but maybe don’t make Mom bleed next time,” Christen chuckled, handing Elliot over to Tobin.
“It was an accident,” Parker promised, already squirming closer to Tobin and pressing her face against her arm.
Christen pulled on some gloves and sat down on the stool, her eyes taking in the small cut on Tobin’s eyebrow.
“In my medical opinion, it doesn’t need stitches,” Tobin said softly.
“What do we say to Mom’s medical opinions, kids?” Christen asked, arching a brow in Tobin’s direction and smiling despite herself.
Parker blew air out from between her lips, making a raspberry noise for Christen and showing Tobin a thumbs down, Elliot doing the same.
“Exactly,” Christen hummed, reaching up to gently probe the small cut that was still bleeding.
“I think I’m right this time, though,” Tobin said with a smirk.
“Hey, monkey? Will you grab that small tube of glue from the table right there?” Christen asked, gently cleaning the blood from Tobin’s face with a small bit of gauze.
“Elmer’s glue?” Parker asked as she grabbed the medical glue for Christen.
“Kind of like Elmer’s glue, yeah,” Christen grinned.
“Mommy,” Elliot interrupted, reaching out for Christen’s coat sleeve.
“Yes, my sweet boy?” Christen asked, waiting to put a bit of glue on Tobin’s eyebrow in favor of smiling down at her and Tobin’s son, who had her green eyes and Tobin’s soft brown waves.
“I love you,” he mumbled before burying his face in Tobin’s sweater and peeking at Christen.
“I love you too. And I love you,” Christen whispered, kissing Parker’s forehead. “And I love you,” she added, kissing Tobin’s cheek and then applying the medical glue to Tobin’s eyebrow, putting a butterfly Band-Aid over the cut.
“I’m sorry, Mom,” Parker sighed, leaning closer to Tobin, her dark curls tickling Tobin’s neck.
“That’s okay, cutie. Accidents happen,” Tobin said softly, running a hand over Parker’s cheek and tucking her hair behind her ear.
“To some more than others,” Christen winked, leaning back and pulling off her gloves. “Now, kids, do we want some Moose’s Tooth for dinner?”
“Yes!” Parker cheered.
“Moose, moose, moose,” Elliot grinned.
“Did you know that I took Mommy there for our first date?” Tobin whispered to Parker.
“Date, date, date!” Elliot repeated, clapping his hands happily and then reaching out for Christen.
Christen chuckled and pulled Elliot into her arms, blowing another raspberry onto his cheek and making him giggle again.
“We’ll get cleaned up,” Tobin said, pointing at the tiny bit of blood on her sweater. “And pick you up for dinner, my love?”
Christen groaned and buried her face in Elliot’s hair. “I don’t want you to go,” she sighed, holding their son close and shooting Tobin a small pout.
“I can stay!” Parker offered, slipping off the bed with Tobin’s help and wrapping her arms around Christen’s leg.
“Maybe I could ask Ali to cover?” Christen wondered, dropping a hand to Parker’s back and keeping her close as she gazed softly at Tobin, at the woman who still made her heart flutter and her stomach jump even after all this time. “It’s just an hour.”
“I bet she’d cover for you, Chris. We’re babysitting this weekend,” Tobin said, stepping forward, her lips settling on Christen’s cheek as she wrapped her arms around her entire world.
And another story ends. Thank you for joining us in this world and for loving On Call as much as you do. Thank you, thank you, thank you 💚