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Interlude III

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Mac entered the cottage, hanging her hat on a peg and closing her eyes. She could smell something delicious coming from the kitchen—Frankie’s careful experimentation in the lab was often replicated in her cooking, which was a damned good thing as Mac would eat the same three meals for the rest of her life if she didn’t have someone else preparing them—but found she didn’t have the energy for it. Three complex autopsies in the morning—a perfect trifecta of murder, suicide, and accidental death—and a long shift on the women’s ward at the hospital left her feet aching and her brain already halfway to unconscious. She’d even taken a taxi home rather than risk driving. All she wanted was sleep, and possibly a glass of whiskey to get her there.

Which, of course, was precisely why she tripped over the umbrella stand.

It clattered to the ground, and by the time she’d righted it and looked back up, Frankie was standing in the door to the kitchen with her arms folded and a disapproving look on her face..

“Christ, Mac!” she scolded. "You look like shit.”

“Thank you for your insights,” Mac replied.

Frankie pointed towards the parlour with the wooden spoon in her hand.

“Go sit down.”

“I—”

“Now.”

It was a testament to how tired Mac was that she didn’t argue, just took a seat on the sofa and closed her eyes. There was a bang in the kitchen, the rattle of dinnerware, the whistle of the kettle; she wasn’t sure how long she had sat there when she heard Frankie enter, placing a tray on the low table and a kiss to Mac’s forehead before taking a seat beside her.

“You haven’t eaten since this morning,” she said, more a statement than a question.

“Autopsies ran late,” Mac said, her eyes still closed. “Didn’t have time for lunch before my shift.”

“You work too hard.”

“Says you,” Mac said, huffing a small laugh. “You were gone when I woke up this morning, and you’ll probably be working on that paper of yours until midnight.”

“Do as I say, not as I do.”

Frankie had begun unpinning Mac’s hair, working her fingers to loosen the tight plait; Mac gave a low hum, sinking further back into the cushions.

“Your fingers are lethal,” she groaned, breathing deeply to catch wafts of Frankie’s perfume.

Frankie shifted, moving closer to place soft kisses to Mac’s neck, her hair tickling Mac’s jaw.

“Yes, I seem to recall you saying that last night.”

“And the night before,” Mac agreed.

“And probably the night before that.”

“I’m nothing if not predictable.”

Frankie pulled away, loosening Mac’s cravat, and Mac opened her eyes to watch her lover; Frankie laid the cravat aside, then poured two cups of tea before drawing her legs up onto the sofa and nodding towards the plate of biscuits.

“Dinner won’t be ready for another half hour,” she explained. “I thought you might not want to wait that long.”

Mac bit into a biscuit, groaning at the taste. Really, if one had to half-starve themselves, this was not a bad way to break the fast. She ate three biscuits in quick succession, and a fourth as she drank her tea. Frankie watched her all the while, brow furrowed. Eventually Mac laid down her cup.

“What?” she asked.

“There’s something you’re not telling me.”

“There are a lot of things I don’t tell you,” Mac said. “It’s an unfortunate necessity.”

Frankie rolled her eyes.

“Be that as it may, Elizabeth MacMillan—”

“Oh, you are cross,” Mac said with a smirk, but Frankie just raised an eyebrow and Mac sighed.

“There are days I dislike my job,” she said. Frankie patted her lap, encouraging Mac to lay her head down; Mac did so, closing her eyes once more as Frankie’s fingers began to toy with her hair. “I always said that I became a doctor to save lives. Coroner duties were supposed to be a temporary thing.”

Frankie hummed, fingers still moving.

“You could give it up,” she said reasonably.

“No, I couldn’t,” Mac said. “It’s too important. And I… well, enjoy seems like a rather gruesome word in this context, but I do. I like the challenge. I like being able to bring grieving families closure. I even enjoy some of the policemen I work with.”

“But?” Frankie prompted.

“Today was not one of those days,” Mac said. “A suicide crossed my table. A middle-aged man with an incredibly devout Catholic wife, convinced it was murder. It wasn’t. I couldn’t even find a reason to label cause of death undetermined. So now there’s a grieving woman and three children who have to live with the eternal damnation of his soul.”

“You don’t believe that.”

“I don’t,” Mac said, “but I’m not the one living with it. What I believe doesn’t matter.”

Frankie was silent for a moment, her fingers moving on to massage Mac’s scalp. Mac felt herself beginning to drift off, the crackle of the fireplace and the soothing sensations and the feeling of home lulling her towards sleep.

“Do you do it often?” Frankie asked after a moment.

“Do what?” Mac asked, her voice heavy with exhaustion.

“Find a reason to rule cause of death undetermined.”

Mac opened her eyes, looking up at Frankie’s face. There was understanding there, and kindness.

“Caught that, did you?”

“You’re not nearly as gruff as you claim to be,” Frankie said.

Mac managed a shrug. “If there’s reason to doubt, there’s reason to doubt. I have quite enough lingering Catholic guilt without adding the agonies of others onto my list.”

Mac rarely spoke of the faith of her childhood, mostly forgotten in the day to day but rearing its head at the unlikeliest times. Dot Collins would be appalled.

“That’s probably a wise choice,” Frankie agreed, her voice low and soothing, her touch tender. “Now close your eyes and rest, love. I have plans for these lethal fingers after dinner.”

“Typing up that paper?” Mac mumbled, already half-asleep once more.

“Most likely,” said Frankie. “We’ll just have to see.”