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The World Could Be Burning

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“Did you fall asleep?”

Angie squeezes her eyes shut. The concussion is already making her nauseous, and Matt's driving doesn't help. “I didn't fall asleep. The guy came out of nowhere, he t-boned me. You know this.”

He hums vaguely, and she hears the turn signal click on before the car swerves and her stomach swerves with it.

“Take it back,” she says, sliding down in the seat and tipping her head back, eyes still tightly shut. “Take it back or I'll puke in your car.”

“It was a question, not an accusation, but fair enough. I take it back.”

Part of her feels like she should maybe be nice to the guy who picked her up at the hospital and is taking her home for a twenty-four hour concussion observation, but the other part of her thinks she might actually puke and at least this way it'll look intentional.

Or something.

The car pulls up and parks, so Angie assumes they've arrived, but she can't actually open her eyes and she's not sure she can move so it doesn't make much of a difference. Shade gets out of the car, and he definitely doesn't come straight to open her door. She wouldn't be surprised if he got all the way inside before realizing she wasn't behind him.

But he comes back, so there's that. “Hey Ang, you need a hand?”

“Can't open my eyes.”

“Okay.” He must crouch down, because his hand is on her arm and then lifting her hand to settle on his forearm. “Can you be Jules for a minute?”

Right. Be Jules. She lets him help her out of the car, then he guides her through the office and gets her seated on the couch, even sets up a pillow behind her and gives her a blanket.

She's starting to think this might not be too bad when he offers to get her a drink, and then adds, “Uhh... of water, because that's all you're allowed to have.”

Crossing her arms over her chest, she drops her head back and sighs, but peeks her eyes open the tiniest bit. The lighting is low, and she does a cautious sweep of the room through her eyelashes before opening her eyes a little more. By the time he gets there with her mandated glass of water, the eyes are open, and she says, “Eyes are open.”

“Wow, good work. I was about to google 'refusal to open eyes with concussion,' and I can tell you now, it wouldn't have been good news.”

“Shut up,” she says, almost laughing, and he sits down at the other end of the couch and grins, looking very pleased with himself.

“Remind me why Dr. Ken isn't doing this?”

That's the thing with Matt Shade. He never seems to quit while he's ahead.

“He's working at the hospital. You know. Because he's a doctor.”

“Right,” Matt says, “so I'm just...”

“A good friend?” Angie tries.

“...chopped liver?”

“Oh my God.” Pressing a hand to her forehead, Angie tries to figure out if her brain is still in there somewhere. “Can you not antagonize me right now?”

He shuts up, and Angie decides to lie down so her head won't roll off her shoulders.

What feels like a second later, Shade is crouched in front of her and shaking her awake.

“What,” Angie says, disgruntled.

“I have to wake you up every few hours to check on you,” he says, then taps her on the end of her nose so her eyes cross and she has to squeeze them shut to recalibrate.

“Ow.”

“Are you sure you don't want to sleep in your bed?”

Keeping her eyes closed, she says, “Stay out of my bedroom.”

He takes a breath, like he's going to say something, then just stands up and walks away.

Next time I wake up , she thinks, I'll be nicer .

He wakes her up again, and again, and she never feels any nicer but eventually she does wake up on her own, sitting up and reaching for the glass to guzzle down the water. She looks around for Matt and finds him sitting at the counter with some work, and... wearing glasses?

Standing up from the couch, she keeps one hand on it as she walks around, then takes one big step across to the counter and leans on it. She could probably stand up straight but it's not worth the risk.

Then she leans in as he looks up, almost nose-to-nose with him, and says, “Are you wearing glasses?”

“Are... you okay? Can you see?”

“I can see,” she says, offended. “But you're wearing glasses.”

He moves as if to take them off and Angie stops him, her hand covering his on the counter. Tilting her head slightly, she looks at him, and he looks back with a serious expression. She's not sure if the glasses make him look more serious than he really is, but they stare at each other for a long time, and then she frowns.

Removing her hand, she says, “It's a good look,” and turns away. “Makes you look smarter.”

“Ouch,” he says pointedly, and she shrugs, walking back to sit on the couch and pulling the blanket up over her lap.

What can I do?”

“Not much,” he says, getting up and following her. “I, uh... I could read to you?”

She gives him a look, more surprised than anything, and he sticks his hands in his pockets, offering his own shrug.

“Yeah, okay,” she says, snuggling into the couch. “That would be nice.”

He goes to get a book, and she doesn't know where it comes from so she can only assume it's his. Sitting back down at the end of the couch, he opens the book and begins to read, and she watches him for a while before closing her eyes, and it doesn't take long for her to fall asleep again.

When she wakes up this time, she reflexively turns her face into the pillow and pulls it closer to her, then realizes it is not a pillow and is instead Matt's lap. In horror, she sits up too fast and ends up having to lean against him as her head swims and he wraps an arm around her to keep her steady.

The room stops spinning and she very cautiously raises her head, looks up at Matt, and it feels natural to raise her hand to his cheek and kiss him.

Almost immediately, everything slots back into place and she pulls back, doubly horrified.

“Oh no,” she says, turning away and covering her mouth with her hand. “Oh, no no no no.”

“Settle down,” Matt says, sounding annoyed. “It's not contagious.”

“That was the concussion,” Angie says firmly.

“Okay. Which concussion symptom made you want to kiss me? Just in case the doctor asks.”

Confusion,” she says. “And I didn't want to kiss you. I just... felt like I should.”

“Like you had a dream you were madly in love with me and when you woke up you thought it wss true?”

No,” Angie says, looking over at him, “but that was very specific. How many times have you had this dream?”

“I—“

“Less than five? Less than ten?”

“That's—this is not about me! You kissed me!”

“Barely,” Angie says. “And it doesn't count. Concussion.”

“It counts a little.”

“Nope.”

Matt sighs, giving up. “Do you want me to read to you?”

“Yes please, but keep your distance this time.”

“Keep—my—“ he splutters. Getting up from the couch, he grabs one of the chairs from the table and plunks it down beside his end of the couch. He sits down, opens the book and looks at her over the tops of his glasses. “Happy?”

She smiles, tips her chin up, and nods, and he rolls his eyes but starts to read.

Angie lies down on her back, staring at the ceiling, and she actually makes it through more than a chapter before falling asleep again.

This time, when she wakes up and looks around, she doesn't see Shade, and she feels this jolt. “Shade?”

“Yeah.”

She follows the sound, sees a hand sticking up on the other side of a table, then Shade gets up off the floor and dusts himself off. He walks over, running a hand through his hair, and Angie feels another jolt, more easily identifiable this time: guilt.

“What time is it?” she asks, and he turns his wrist to look at his watch.

“Four... thirty-ish.”

“In the morning,” she says. It's not a question, but he answers in the affirmative. Angie has lost all sense of time, and all sense of exactly how many hours she's slept today. “All right, change of plans.” She points to the stairs. “Up we go.”

Off his raised eyebrow, she adds, “I underestimated how long twenty-four hours actually is. I need to eat and you need to... not sleep on the floor.”

Upstairs, Matt says, “I'll sleep on the couch.”

“No, you'll sleep in my bed.” Angie cringes, and Matt gives her a look. “That was unfortunate, but let's move on. I'm going to make food and try being not-asleep for a little while, so you'd better sleep in the bed. Alone. Which is a normal thing friends do sometimes. Sleep in each other's beds. Alone. With permission. Totally normal.”

He might be too tired deal with that, because he just waves her off and turns to go into the bedroom.

“Don't touch anything, though!” she calls after him.

She makes herself some eggs, finds a deck of cards in the junk drawer and plays a game of solitaire on the couch.. Then another one. Then she puts some music on, lies back and stares at the ceiling until she falls asleep.

Overall, what Angie learns from this experience is that concussions are boring as fuck. Shade plays cards with her when he wakes up, and that's better than being alone, but she's still pretty sure twenty-four hours has never passed more slowly. All she can think about is how great it's going to be when she can sleep normal hours again.

Even then, though, Shade won't let her work. Okay, technically the “doctor” “recommended” time off work, but Angie blames Shade.

Blames him in the sense that she sends Zoe out for a nice bottle of whisky and a thank you card. Over the two full work days it takes to pull together, Angie lurks around the office, not really allowed to do anything but trying to catch snatches of conversation here and there and sneak peeks at the boards. Watching Matt from across the room, he looks different now, somehow. Or maybe it's more like she feels different when she looks at him.

Over those twenty-four hours, he was everything to her—nurse, friend, parent, doctor. She feels like she'll never have a clearer picture of who he is as a person and as a partner, and the truth is... he was great. Warm, caring, gentle, willing... comforting, safe. She can't help but think about him in that way, now. Far too often.

At the end of those two first business days, she catches him on his way out the back door and shoves the gift at him.

“Here,” she says, and he looks at her in surprise, then studies the bottle. “It's to say thank you. You took really good care of me and, uh, you didn't have to, so. Thank you.”

He looks at her for a long moment in silence, expression serious, and Angie ducks her head, tucking her hair behind her ear. “That's what partners are for, right?” he says, and then jokes, “Next time you need a sponge bath, you know who to call.”

She makes a face.

“Sorry, I'm an idiot,” he adds quickly, and she's just surprised enough to look up. He seems genuine, his eyes soft, and she moves forward impulsively to hug him.

“Thank you,” she says again, squeezing him. The hug lasts a beat too long, but then when Angie tries to pull away she finds herself kissing him. The closeness and warmth of him are magnetic, won't let her put space between them, and she'll kick herself later but for now Shade is kissing her back and she can't think past that.

The first word out of Angie's mouth when they break apart is, “Shit,” and Shade gives her a look. She gives him a look right back, because he knows just as well as she does what a disaster this is.

“If you're going to keep doing that, I'm going to have to talk to Mel.”

He says it matter-of-factly and Angie stares at him, eyes wide with doubt.

Gently, he asks, “Are you going to keep doing that?”

“I kind of want to,” she says, and then, off another look, “Yes.” She would add, “If you want to,” but he looks so pleased by her answer that she doesn't feel she needs to.

“I'll talk to Mel.”

He leaves her with a kiss to her forehead and Angie stares out the door after him, feeling like she was just hit by a truck. But not the truck she was actually hit by a few days ago. More like a truck of emotions.

Which is, naturally, worse.

“Shit.”