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Now That You're Gone

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Reade was pacing in his office when Patterson knocked on the door and let herself in. He was on the phone but took one glance at the file folder in the scientist’s hand and waved her over to sit in one of the chairs opposite his desk. He held up a single finger to her.

“If you hear from her, could you let me know?” Reade said into the phone and paused while he listened. “No, don’t tell her I’m looking. That’s okay.” Another pause. “Thanks, Jake.”

He ended the call and looked at the phone in his hand for a moment before turning back towards Patterson and heading to his desk chair. Reade sat down heavily and set his phone on the blotter.

“Still looking for Zapata?” Patterson asked.

Reade nodded. “Yeah,” he admitted. “No one’s heard from her since she signed her exit paperwork. Have you seen her?”

Patterson shook her head. She’d tried calling and texting her friend a few times after Jane and Weller were both hospitalized but she’d been met with voicemail and silence. The last time she tried calling, she didn’t even get voicemail. The call just disconnected.

“No,” she said. “I’ve called. She doesn’t pick up. She doesn’t text back.”

Reade sighed. He’d gotten the same treatment.

“At least it’s not just me,” he said. “I thought maybe she was avoiding me after what happened.”

“Not just you,” Patterson confirmed and then stopped. “Wait. After what happened? After we caught her taking the president’s phone?”

Reade didn’t respond immediately. He looked down at the desktop for a minute and then out through the glass wall of his office into SIOC before turning his attention back to Patterson. 

“She came to my place that night after she was fired,” he said.

Patterson furrowed her brow and fidgeted with the folder in her hands. “You don’t mean...” she trailed off.

“It just happened,” Reade said. He spread his hands out on his desk. “And then she came here the next morning to sign her paperwork and said it was the 'wrong time’ for us. Then she had her tribunal with the CIA, and I haven’t seen her since. I called Keaton, but he said he hasn’t heard from her either.”

Patterson swallowed hard and felt something like dread or hurt maybe even disappointment settle into the pit of her stomach. She fidgeted with the folder in her hands for a moment. She was surprised by her own reaction to what Reade was telling her. What did she care if Tasha and Reade slept together? She already knew that Tasha had feelings for Reade. It was inevitable, if Patterson was being honest with herself, but she still felt sick from the news. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“Maybe she just needs time to sort things out? A lot happened very quickly.”

Reade shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’m thinking about going by her place to see if she’s there.”

“That’s a bad idea,” Patterson said.

“What? Why?”

“She’s obviously not answering her phone for a reason,” she said. “When Tasha wants to be found, she’ll be found.”

Reade stared at Patterson for a long moment before looking down at the folder in her hands. That was not the answer he wanted from her, and he was honestly surprised that she wouldn’t advocate for looking for the former agent. Patterson and Tasha were best friends. She should want to find her friend as badly as he did.

“So, what’s up? What’s in the folder?”

Patterson had almost forgotten the folder even though she hadn’t stopped turning it nervously in her hands since Reade's confession about Tasha. She looked at it now like it was a foreign object before sliding it across the desk to him. He flipped the cover open before she could explain and started reading.

“What is this?” he asked.

“Rich and I found this on the drive Roman gave Jane in South Africa,” she explained. “I thought you should see it before it was included in a briefing.”

Reade nodded once and closed the folder again.

“Have you shown this to Jane?”

“No.”

“Don’t tell her yet,” he said and flipped the folder closed again. He tucked it away inside a desk drawer. “She doesn’t need to know this right now.”

***

Patterson sat in her desk chair and stared blankly at her computer screen. She wasn’t interested in any of the work waiting for her or anything that might have appeared in her email inbox. All she could think about was Reade and Tasha. She felt sick.

She’d tried to contact Tasha after the team returned from South Africa but had been unsuccessful. Voicemails and texts had both gone unanswered, and eventually Patterson had stopped trying to contact her. Her friend simply needed some space after being fired from the CIA, and Patterson assumed that Tasha would come around again soon. But it’d been weeks and now Reade was telling her that he hadn’t heard from her either. That was completely unlike Tasha. At the very least, she would have gotten a text from her about a Wizardville quest she needed a hint for. But there had been radio silence. She wondered if Tasha was okay.

She pulled her phone out and called up her conversation with Tasha. She’d been the last one to text and her message hung out there unanswered:

It’s weird not seeing you every day. Drinks tonight?

Patterson hated the idea of double texting but Tasha was her best friend. She tapped out her message and hit send.

Haven’t heard from you in forever. Everything okay?

She knew Tasha wasn’t going to respond, and she shoved the phone back in her pocket. She drummed her fingers on her desktop.

What is Tasha up to? Where is she? she wondered. The idle curiosity slowly became something more urgent. What if everything isn't okay? What if something has happened?

Patterson got up abruptly from her desk and walked quickly towards the locker room, stopping inside only long enough to grab her jacket and purse.

***

The hallway leading to Tasha’s apartment was unusually dark, and Patterson cast her eyes to the ceiling as she approached Tasha’s door. One of the light fixtures overhead had burnt out. She knocked and listened. If Tasha was home, she was doing a great job of being silent. Patterson heard no movement inside and the TV was off. Nothing but silence. She knocked again and waited.

She turned to leave and nearly banged into a man carrying a ladder and toolbox. Patterson recognized him almost immediately as Tasha’s building manager. He’d let them in one night when they’d gone out drinking and Tasha locked her keys inside. She stepped out of his way and watched as he set up his ladder outside of Zapata’s door.

“Hey, I don't know if you remember me. I'm friends with Tasha Zapata. We met once,” she said and considered reaching for her badge and then thought better of it. “Have you seen her lately? I’ve been trying to reach her but haven’t heard from her.”

The building manager stopped and set the toolbox down on one of the ladder’s steps. He considered the question for a minute.

“You two got locked out that time. No, not recently,” he said finally. “Maybe one? Two weeks ago?”

“She still lives here though, right?” Patterson pressed.

“If she’s moved, no one told me,” the building manager said. “Just got her rent check a few days ago.” He started up the ladder and stopped. “If I see her should I tell her you’ve been looking for her?”

Patterson shook her head. While she was disappointed that even Tasha’s building manager hadn’t seen her in weeks, she almost felt relief at hearing she was still paying rent on her apartment. At least she still lived there.

“No, it’s okay,” she replied. “Thanks.”

***

Walking home from Tasha’s was either the best idea Patterson had all day or it was the absolute worst. She couldn’t decide. Their apartments weren’t that far apart and it was quicker to walk than grab a bus and then the subway and then walk from the stop to her own front door. Walking gave her time to think, but same problem: walking gave her time to think. And the only thing her mind wanted to think about was Tasha. Tasha’s one-night stand with Reade and Tasha’s sudden disappearance. Every single thought in her mind right now was upsetting, and she didn’t know what to do with herself. So, she walked home and tried to silence the thoughts that insisted on running rampant through her mind.

Her brain fixated on Reade’s news: He’d slept with Tasha. And the more she tried to shove that revelation out of her mind, the more Patterson’s mind held onto it and amplified it. Reade slept with Tasha. Tasha had slept with Reade.

Patterson climbed the stairs to her apartment and unlocked her front door. She locked it automatically and tossed her jacket and purse in the general direction of the couch before heading into the kitchen. She grabbed for a rocks glass and pulled the stopper from the bottle of Bulleit she kept on the counter. She poured two fingers and tossed the glass back, draining it. Patterson poured a second glass and closed the bottle again. She took the glass back to the living room and fell onto the couch.

Reade didn’t deserve Tasha. Her smile, her laugh, the way she looked at you. That look. It was almost too much to take. Tasha had a way of looking at you that could make time stop. The whole room would just cease to exist. She had a way of making it seem like the whole world was circling around you. And Reade didn’t deserve Tasha looking at him that way or her laughter or that smile. Thinking about Reade with Tasha just made Patterson angry. And it was irrational.

Reade’s my friend. Tasha’s my best friend, she thought as she sipped at her bourbon. If anything, Patterson should be happy for them. But she wasn’t. The more she tried to calm herself down, the more she fumed. Reade didn’t deserve someone as wonderful as Tasha.

Patterson felt bad for even thinking like that. Reade deserved to be happy, and she was certain that he thought Tasha would make him happy. They were great friends, after all. And Reade’s single; Tasha’s single. Of course, Tasha’s the reason Reade is single. Reade probably thinks he’s in love with Tasha.

That thought made Patterson want to throw up, and she finished her drink in one long swallow. She turned the glass in her hand and looked down into its emptiness.

There’s nothing wrong with Reade, she rationalized, but he’s wrong for Tasha.

She got back to her feet and returned to the kitchen. She poured another glass of bourbon and hesitated. She closed the bottle again and decided to bring it with her back to the living room. Patterson dropped back onto the couch and set the bottle on the table in front of her. She took a long swallow from her glass.

How could Tasha sleep with Reade? What could she possibly see in him? Sure, he’s a nice guy. A perfectly nice guy but on what planet is he the right match for Natasha Zapata, Patterson thought as she continued to sip at her bourbon. She felt a wave of anger rush over her again and she downed the rest of her drink in one large swallow. She suddenly felt herself growing furious with Tasha. What was Tasha thinking? Was she thinking at all? Reade? Really!?

Patterson considered pouring herself another bourbon but closed her eyes as the room started to slip sideways. She slowly set her glass back on the table and pressed the palms of her hands over her eyes as she leaned back into the couch and tipped her head towards the ceiling. Why was she slamming glass after glass of bourbon? Why did it matter that Tasha and Reade had hooked up? It’s not like it was the first time Tasha had shown poor judgement.

Why would she choose Reade? Patterson’s bourbon-soaked mind wailed, and Patterson felt herself starting to tear up. Her heart felt too large for her chest and she felt sick to her stomach. She took a few deep breaths and reached for her purse on the floor. It had fallen there and half of its contents now lay strewn on the floor. She groped for her phone and speed-dialed Tasha’s number. She listened through the four rings and then the voicemail greeting.

“Tasha, it’s me. Patterson,” Patterson slurred into the phone. “No one knows where you are and you haven’t answered your phone in days. Weeks, even. We’re worried. I’m worried. I miss you and you’re not here and it’s not fair. You can’t just up and disappear and not tell anyone where you are. Don’t you know that people care about you? We love you. I love you, and I need you to call me back because I love you, and you don’t even know it because you don’t answer your damn phone and you just leave and you’re gone and I love you. Not Reade. Me.” She took a deep breath and paused in her ramblings. She seemed to realize what she’d just said, and she adopted a quieter, less rambling tone. “Just call me back. Please. Call me back.”

Patterson disconnected the call and finished her drink. She set the empty glass on the coffee table. She willed Tasha to return her call but after staring at the phone for what seemed like an eternity, she sighed. Tasha wasn’t going to call her. What was wrong with Tasha? Didn’t she care that people were worried about her? Was she so oblivious that people were in love with her? Or maybe she was just that uncaring. Maybe she just didn’t care that someone might be in love with her and feeling lost and untethered without her.

Patterson snatched a throw pillow off the couch and shoved it against her face. She screamed into it until her throat began to feel sore and her eyes watered.

She realized then that this was the first time she’d gotten Tasha’s voicemail greeting in nearly a week, and she slowly pulled the pillow away from her face. The first few times she’d called, she’d gotten voicemail. After that, the call would just disconnect. Was Tasha actually monitoring her calls? Could her voicemail have been full and she’d now emptied it?

Patterson closed her eyes again and tried to gain control of her breathing. She tried to remember what she’d just said to Tasha’s voicemail. If her friend was monitoring her messages, she was about to hear a rambling, drunken message. Patterson was certain she’d just confessed being in love with Tasha, and she wasn’t sure how Tasha would react to this.

She’d long since come to terms with her own sexuality but had mostly dated men, most notably David and Borden and that one date with Jack Izenberg but Patterson knew she was also attracted to women. She’d never tried to hide or shy away from that. Tasha was her very best friend, and she’d felt uncomfortable crushing on her but she knew that it was more than just a crush. She was in love with Tasha. Why else was she so angry that Tasha and Reade had... She couldn't even finish that thought. It made her stomach churn. It was all wrong. If it weren’t for Tasha’s insistence that she had feelings for Reade, Patterson had Agent Zapata pegged as a lesbian. But she’d also wondered if Tasha was just in denial and latching onto some perceived attraction to Reade as a way to convince herself that she wasn’t gay. They’d never talked about, and Patterson had no idea if Tasha knew that she was gay or if she actually was gay at all but Patterson wagered she was. And she was usually right.

Tasha is wonderful. She’s smart and tough and funny and damn, she’s beautiful. She can drink any of us under the table, and she knows her way around a computer, Patterson mused. She’s the sexiest woman I know. But Reade...

Patterson poured another drink and left the stopper off. The bottle of Bulleit was about one third full and she thought she might be returning to the bottle again. She thought briefly about how many glasses she’d had but wasn’t sure if it is was three or four. Could have been five. She hadn’t been counting. Her face and lips were feeling a little fuzzy so she knew she’d probably be hungover in the morning. She was about to slam the glass back again when she heard her phone vibrating nearby. She grabbed for it just as it started to slide off the couch and looked at the caller ID. Her breath caught in her throat. Tasha. She took a deep breath and accepted the call.

“Tash?”

“Hey, Patterson,” Tasha’s voice came from the other end. She sounded tired but Patterson could almost hear her friend’s smile. “I got your message. Are you okay?”

Patterson was nodding and then realized Tasha couldn’t actually see her. She licked her lips. “Yeah, yeah. I’m good,” she slurred. “I’m sorry about the rambling message —”

“Are you drunk?”

“I’ve had a few drinks,” Patterson agreed and set her glass back on the table as if Tasha could see the glass. She felt ashamed and fell silent.

“I’m sorry that I haven’t answered any calls or texts,” Tasha said when the silence started to become uncomfortable. “It’s been busy.”

Patterson said nothing. Her first instinct was to say “it’s okay” but it wasn’t okay. Her visit to Tasha’s apartment and then date night with the bottle of bourbon both told her that it wasn’t okay.

“I know that’s a shitty excuse,” Tasha said. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to say.”

“Are you okay? We’ve been worried.”

“I’m okay,” Tasha replied. She took a breath and hesitated. When she’d gotten Patterson’s message, she’d listened to the voicemail immediately just like she had with every other message she’d left her. She’d read each text as it arrived, too, but when this message came in, she had to call her back. It wasn’t that Patterson sounded drunk, and it wasn’t that her friend had been worried. It was the other thing she said. “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“What you said on your message —”

“We are worried,” Patterson interrupted. She had a feeling she knew what Tasha was getting at and wasn’t sure how to answer it. She was in love with Tasha, and had been since the first day they’d met but they were friends. She didn’t want to screw that up. And what did it matter anyway? Tasha was gone. She’d moved on. She’d moved on to Reade. Patterson had missed her chance.

“Not that,” Tasha said quietly.

“Oh.”

“What you said,” Tasha began and stopped. She took a deep breath and tried again. “You love me?”

Patterson didn’t respond right away. The bourbon had clouded her mind and she wanted to make sure she said the right thing.

“Patterson?” Tasha asked when her friend didn’t respond. “You said you love me. What did you mean?”

Patterson sighed and glanced at her full glass of Bulleit and decided to leave it on the table. She licked her lips again and chewed her bottom lip. Forget it, she thought and grabbed the glass, tossing its contents back.

“Reade told me,” she said finally. “He told me that you and him slept together so it doesn’t matter what I meant.”

“We did,” Tasha said. “I also broke it off with him the next day. What did you mean?”

Patterson closed her eyes and counted to five to calm her nerves. She finally just said what she wished she’d said a hundred times before but had never been brave enough to say.

“I love you. I’m in love with you. I’ve loved you since the first day we met. We banged into each other as you were getting off the elevator and I was getting on and my coffee went all over the front of my white shirt. I didn’t even care. I was too busy staring at you and trying to stammer out my own name,” Patterson said. She suddenly felt very sober and pressed on. “But you left. You’re not here and you’ve moved on so it doesn’t matter if I’m in love with you. I missed my chance to tell you how I feel because I was just too afraid of ruining our friendship. I love you. And I should have told you that every day since we first met. I’m in love with you.”

It was Tasha’s turn to be silent. She remembered meeting Patterson that day and knocking over her coffee. She’d been instantly captivated with the blonde and had spent days developing and harboring an enormous crush on her. And then Patterson had introduced her to David one night at the nearby bar, and Tasha’s dreams of maybe dating the scientist had gone out the window. Straight girls don’t date their gay coworkers. So, Tasha had focused on work and her new partner Edgar Reade instead, and they’d become best friends. And she’d slept with him only because she knew she wasn’t going to see him again for a long time and he wanted her. It all felt so silly now.

“You’re in love with me?” Tasha asked finally.

“Yes,” Patterson said matter-of-factly.

More silence.

“It’s okay if you don’t feel the same way,” Patterson said quickly. “But I needed you to know. I just wish I hadn’t waited until you were gone.”

Patterson heard the deep breath Tasha took and braced herself for a complete shutdown. Tasha was going to disappear again and this had been one big mistake.

“You have no idea how long I’ve hoped you’d say that to me one day,” Tasha said. “I’m in love with you too.”

Chapter Text

Patterson didn’t respond. She wasn't even certain she was still breathing, and she had to tell herself to take a breath.

In her mind, she heard Tasha say that she didn’t feel the same way and she was sorry, but her heart belonged to Reade. But then her ears chimed in and told her mind to shut up and pay attention: Tasha was in love with her, too. She nearly dropped the phone and her grip on the now empty rocks glass loosened. She set it down on the table before it could slip from her fingers and fall to the floor.

“You what?” she asked. Her voice sounded small and choked even to her own ears.

“I’m in love with you,” Tasha replied, her voice soft. Patterson could almost picture the brunette looking at her with her small smile and shining eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Patterson said. “I think my phone is messed up or something. Did you just say you’re in love with me too?”

Tasha sighed. “I've been in awe of you since we first met but there was you and David and then you and Borden and you and Dr. Izenberg. I didn’t think there could ever be you and I.”

Patterson shook her head. She reached for her glass and remembered it was empty. It was best to leave it that way. “There can’t be.”

“Why not?”

“Really, Tasha? You have to ask that?” Patterson asked, her voice incredulous. “Where are you even? No one has heard from you in weeks. You just disappeared from our lives.”

Tasha was silent. She couldn’t tell her where she’d been or what she’d been doing. She chose to pass off a white lie instead.

“I’m home.”

“No, you’re not,” Patterson said. “I just came from there. Your building manager says he hasn’t seen you in at least two weeks. Look, you don’t have to tell me. That’s fine, but you and I can’t be you and I.”

It hurt Patterson to say this. She’d finally worked up enough liquid courage to tell Tasha how she felt about her and now that Tasha had admitted to sharing those same feelings, she was turning her down. Sober Patterson would either be very pleased with her drunk self in the morning for being so level-headed or she’d be pissed that Drunk Patterson had tossed away what might be her only opportunity to date Tasha.

Silence stretched out between them for what seemed like an eternity, and Patterson checked her phone’s screen to make sure the call hadn’t disconnected.

“Tash?”

Tasha sighed heavily into the phone as she tried to decide what to do. She’d been crushing on Patterson since that first collision at the elevator and even after they went their separate ways when Weller and Jane split for Colorado, she still couldn’t shake Patterson from her mind. Now she was facing the possibility of turning her crush into something more but couldn’t get out of her own way.

“Can we meet? Public House? Near Fort Greene Park?” Tasha asked finally and instantly regretted it. It sounded like Patterson had been drinking for a while. Inviting her out for a drink might not be the best idea. “I can be there in an hour?”

“Okay,” Patterson replied without hesitation. She glanced at the clock. It was still early, just 7:30, but she’d been drinking like it was 10 o’clock or later. She’d walk to the bar and try to sober up on the way. Maybe the cool night air would help. “I’ll see you in an hour.”

“One hour,” Tasha agreed. “I’ll see you then.”

Patterson ended the call and remained sitting on the couch for a long minute while her brain played catch-up. She'd agreed to have drinks with Tasha.

Is this a date? she wondered and then immediately decided that no, it wasn’t. This was just a meeting. A friend meeting. She’d already told Tasha that they couldn’t date with the way things currently were. This was most certainly not a date.

She looked down at her clothes. It may not be an official date, but she couldn’t go meet Tasha looking like she’d spent an entire day peering into a microscope and then an evening tossing back glass after glass of bourbon. Patterson disappeared into the bedroom and began frantically pulling clothes from her closet, rejecting them, and tossing them into a pile on the bed.

It’s not a date, she told herself as she continued searching for the perfect outfit that looked like she wasn’t trying to look good but still did. Getting dressed was suddenly hard. It sure feels like a date.

***

Tasha was sitting at the bar at Brooklyn Public House nursing a glass of Scotch and glancing half-heartedly at a small menu labeled “To Eat.” Wings sounded amazing right now. And, to be honest, so did the nachos. She hadn’t eaten dinner and her stomach was growling. Tasha thought she was going to be late and hadn’t even had the chance to go home and change. She was still dressed from the meeting she’d been in earlier and took a moment to try to look less business-like but knew it was a failure. Patterson had seen her outside of work and this was definitely not her casual look.

She took a sip of her Scotch and eyed the door nervously. It was unlike Patterson to be late to anything but it’d been an hour and 10 minutes, and there was still no sign of her. She was about to pull out her phone and text when the blonde opened the door and stepped inside. Patterson looked around for a minute searching for Tasha and then spotted her. A wide smile spread across her face and she gave an awkwardly adorable wave before making her way towards the bar.

Tasha noticed Patterson’s uneven stride and the hint of unsteadiness about her and got up to meet her half way. She gave her a smile and a hug to stabilize her.

“Hey,” Tasha said as she pulled back from the hug. “I’d ask if you want a drink but I think you’ve already had a few tonight.”

Patterson blushed and looked down at the floor. She’d walked the few blocks from her apartment to Public House with the hope that the exercise combined with the cooler evening air would help sober her up, but her walk had been more of a stumble and she was still a bit buzzed. She’d had too much bourbon.

“I think I’ll start with water,” she agreed as Tasha signaled for the bartender who was wiping down the bartop nearby. Moments later a tall glass of water and a second glass of Scotch appeared and Tasha passed the water to Patterson.

“Wanna grab a booth?” she asked gesturing towards one of the red vinyl-covered booths nearby. She suddenly felt nervous being with Patterson even though they’d gone out together more times than she could count. It felt like tonight would be a good night to choose a more private booth than just grabbing a pair of stools and sitting at the bar.

Patterson nodded and they headed towards the nearest booth, Tasha walking just a step behind Patterson so she could catch her at the slightest hint of unsteadiness. They slid into the booth opposite each other and neither spoke. Patterson fiddled with the straw in her glass and had a hard time meeting Tasha’s eyes. It wasn’t a date but she couldn’t shake what felt like first date jitters.

Tasha didn’t miss the awkwardness between them. She wasn’t sure if it was their mutual confessions or how she’d left things when she’d been fired or the fact that she’d been AWOL for nearly two weeks. She took a large swallow from her new Scotch and then finally broke the silence.

“I’m sorry I just disappeared.”

Patterson half-nodded, half-shrugged. She didn’t know what to say to this. She was upset that Tasha had just vanished without saying anything to anyone but she just didn’t know what the appropriate response would be.

“You probably want to know where I’ve been and what’s going on,” Tasha said. She looked away and then down at her drink.

“I figured you were hiding after Keaton fired you,” Patterson said. That wasn’t exactly true. She’d already figured that it was more than simply hiding. Tasha was dressed too well for someone who had been hiding somewhere licking her wounds and trying to rebuild your ego. She looked business-like and, if Patterson was being truthful, hot. Something about those suits Tasha had started wearing when she’d joined the CIA really worked for Patterson.

Tasha hmmed and took another sip of her Scotch. She wondered how much she should or could tell Patterson. After she’d signed her exit paperwork she hadn’t headed off for a CIA tribunal as Reade thought. Instead, she’d hopped onto a private plane with Blake Crawford and they’d charted a course to South Africa where Blake had shot and killed Roman. Tasha wasn’t sure she could tell Patterson about that no matter how much she wanted to give her friend all the details.

“What aren’t you telling me?” Patterson asked. She’d been watching Tasha closely and had seen the way she had suddenly grown very interested in her drink. “I mean, don’t tell me. It’s okay. It’s probably none of my business but what I said earlier? I might have feelings for you. I mean, I do. I definitely do have the feelings, but I can’t do this..." She gestured back and forth between them. “There’s something going on with you and you can’t tell me about it or you don’t want to tell me about it so we won’t work. And I don't want to try this if I can’t trust you.”

“You don’t trust me?”

“I don’t know.”

Silence fell between them again and Tasha started to panic. She’d invited Patterson out for a drink so she could see her. She missed her face. Her beautiful face. More than that, she wanted to tell her friend about what had been happening and assure her that she was okay. Patterson had said she loved her and Tasha’s heart had soared. And then that moment of happiness was snatched away. Of course, Patterson didn’t trust her — Tasha had been selectively handing out the truth for months.

You and I can’t be you and I. Patterson’s words echoed in Tasha’s head. She finished her Scotch and made her decision.

Tasha let out a long breath and held Patterson’s eyes.

“Remember how Nas came back and helped us with PopUpKid?” she asked. “How she said she was sort of working ‘freelance’ for the CIA and was a well-kept secret? Even at the CIA?”

“Yeah.”

“Sort of the same thing,” Tasha said. She reached for her glass and remembered it was empty. She put her hand in her lap and tried not to fidget while she waited for a reaction.

Patterson said nothing for a second while she let this sink in. She drank down half of her glass of water in one swallow.

“You’re still working for the CIA?” she asked.

Tasha shook her head and wished she hadn’t finished her drink so quickly. She’d get up for another ordinarily but this wasn’t the conversation to get up from nor was it the time. She tried to catch the bartender’s eye.

“Not exactly,” Tasha said slowly. The bartender looked at her and she held up her empty glass. He nodded and set to filling another glass with ice and Scotch.

“Make it two,” Patterson yelled across the room. She had a feeling she was going to need something stronger than water in a few minutes. She lowered her voice and turned back to Tasha. “So, what exactly?”

“I’m sort of off-the-books. It’s not undercover work. I don’t have a shield or anything anymore but I guess you could say I’m like a mole,” Tasha said and stopped talking as the bartender stepped up to the booth and set down the two glasses of Scotch. She handed him her credit card. “Can we get a plate of nachos and open up a tab?” Tasha looked back to Patterson. “I’m starving.”

The bartender took her card, collected the empty glasses from the table, and nodded. He disappeared back behind the bar.

Patterson picked up her glass and took a pensive swallow. Tasha preferred Scotch to bourbon; it was the other way around for Patterson but she didn't much care right now.

“You’re a mole? For who?”

Tasha licked her lips and set her new glass back down.

“It’s complicated. I report to Jake. Keaton, I mean. Officially, I’m not CIA. Unofficially? I’m like a consultant,” she slowly as if she was considering or reflecting on her new role. “I can’t really talk about what I’m doing or where I’ve been. That’s why I just disappeared. That’s why you couldn’t reach me and why I haven’t returned any of the 5 million messages Reade has left.”

“That’s why you look like you’re dressed for work,” Patterson observed.

“I was in Midtown,” Tasha said. “But I was out of the country before that.”

Patterson fell silent. She was curious about what Tasha was up to but she wasn’t sure she would get much more information from her. She picked up her glass and took a small sip, swirling the amber liquid around in the glass. Her curiosity was strong on the one hand but on the other, she felt a little bit relieved. Tasha wasn’t sitting home in her pajamas eating takeout and avoiding them. She was definitely avoiding them but for actual reasons other than injured pride. Patterson looked down at her hands and played with her fingers for a minute.

“So, you’re working,” she said quietly. “You’re just avoiding all of us.”

Tasha froze in mid sip. Patterson’s voice sounded sad and she frowning at her. Tasha realized that she’d unintentionally cut her friend deeply with her admission that she’d intentionally disappeared and her lack of communication wasn’t done because of a self-imposed exile after her public firing. She set her glass down without taking a drink and pushed the glass away as the bartender reappeared with a large overflowing plate of nachos. Her stomach gave another growl but Tasha pretended she wasn’t interested in it.

“I’m sorry, Patterson. I had to. It’s my job,” Tasha said quietly. “It was so hard to just leave and not tell any of you where I was going.”

“But you did,” Patterson said. “You left and you didn’t tell anyone where you were. We were worried. Reade is losing his mind trying to find you.”

Tasha sighed again. She grabbed a chip from the plate of nachos and ate it.

“I’m so sorry I made you worry,” she said. “But you can’t tell Reade where I am. I haven’t returned any of his messages for a reason.”

Patterson said nothing for a minute and took a chip from the plate. She chased it with a swallow of her Scotch.

“You called me back though,” she said finally. “Why did you call me if you weren’t returning any of Reade’s calls?”

Tasha looked up startled. She hadn’t expected this question. She thought the answer was obvious.

“Because it’s you,” Tasha said. “It’s different, Patterson. It’s you.”

Patterson finished her Scotch and set the glass down on the table. She closed her eyes and licked her lips before looking back at Tasha.

“I’ve got this perfect scenario in my head,” she began. “I call you up and ask you out to dinner and we go out on this amazingly perfect date. I’ve thought it about a hundred and ten times. Every time we ate take out in the lab or ate peanuts at a bar. I always thought that it would be incredible to actually take you on a real date.”

“That would be nice,” Tasha agreed and smiled.

Patterson smiled back and then shook her head. “It’s too complicated,” she said. Her smile turned into a frown and she had to fight to keep herself from looking away. Anywhere but into Tasha’s eyes. “I understand that you’re just doing your job and everything is different for you. I get that, I really, really do. And I’m happy that you landed on your feet. But I can’t. We can’t. It’s just too complicated. After everything that happened with Borden — Nigel— and now your new job... I can’t. I need to be able to trust you and right now, I don’t think I can.”

She slid out of the booth and stood up. She adjusted her purse on her shoulder. Patterson felt tears welling up behind her eyes and she fought to keep them from spilling over.

“I love you so much,” she continued sadly. “This hurts me so much. I’ve waited for so long to be able to tell you how I feel but this is wrong. I need to be able to trust you. And I can’t. I’m sorry, Tasha. I’m so sorry.”

She took a deep breath and turned towards the door. She began walking away slowly. Her mind was racing and she silently chastised herself. Here was her chance to be with Tasha and she’d just thrown it all away.

“Patterson,” Tasha called after her. “Please. I’m sorry.”

Patterson turned back and stuffed her hands in her jacket pocket.

“I know. I’m sorry too,” she said. She turned back and Tasha watched as she slipped out of the front door and into the night.

Chapter Text

Tasha sat dumbfounded in the booth for a very long moment. Her first instinct was to run after Patterson, kiss her, and make her change her mind but she was frozen in place. She couldn’t move. It almost felt like Patterson had struck her with her words and tears began to stream down her face. Her heart ached. Patterson didn’t trust her. And she’d done this to herself. Every half-truth she’d told and every secret she’d kept was roaring back and finally leaving destruction in its wake. This was worse than Patterson freezing her out. She closed her eyes and covered her face with a hand while she tried to figure out her next move.

The insistent rumble of her stomach brought her ought of her stupor and she began absently eating the nachos that were cooling off in front of her. She knew what she had to do next.

***

Patterson pushed her way insider her apartment and worked the lock. She’d walked from Public House to her apartment and never even looked back. If she looked back she knew she’d turn around, pull Tasha out of the booth, and kiss her so hard she’d leave behind bruises. She dropped to the floor behind the door and drew her knees up to her chin. She’d kept the tears at bay the entire walk home but now they fell freely. She could have had Tasha. They could have been laughing or kissing or on her couch right now but her stupid brain had gotten in the way. Who needed trust when they could have Tasha Zapata all to themselves? Clearly her brain thought she did.

“Stupid,” Patterson muttered to herself as she wiped the tears away with the back of her hand. “I am stupid.”

She sat on the floor and looked around her apartment as if seeing it for the very first time before she finally got to her feet and went to the bedroom. She dug pajamas out from a drawer and changed, kicking the outfit she’d so carefully selected earlier into the corner. Sober Patterson would be mad that Drunk Patterson didn’t pick up after herself but she didn’t care. She dragged herself to the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator to put beside her bed. It wasn’t all that late but Patterson wanted to put this day behind her and the best way to do that was to simply go to sleep.

***

Tasha rushed into her apartment and let the door bang closed behind her. She could fix this. She threw her blazer onto a nearby chair and let her purse fall to the floor as she moved quickly to a small desk in the corner of the room. She began yanking drawers open, pulling out file folders and legal pads as she went. Soon the pile was starting to tilt to one side and Tasha moved her search into her bedroom. She returned a moment later carrying the box she’d used to cart her items out of the NYO only weeks earlier. She moved the pile of folders and notepads into the box and then returned to the bedroom.

***

Patterson lay on top of her bed with her sleep mask over her eyes. She hadn’t bothered to pull back the comforter or sheets; she’d simply fallen onto the bed and that’s where she stayed. She couldn’t sleep and for once it wasn’t the sound of traffic rushing past her window or her neighbor practicing his trumpet at an ungodly hour. It was all her. Her brain was too active. She couldn't turn it off, and thought after thought raced through her mind. She couldn’t help but feel like she’d made a mistake. Tasha had told her all she could but it hadn’t been enough. Patterson desperately wished it had been enough. She sighed and rolled over again.

***

Tasha didn’t knock on Patterson’s door. She banged into it repeatedly with the box she carried. It didn’t seem all that heavy until she started walking from her apartment to Patterson’s. Now all she wanted to do was put it down. She heard Patterson on the other side of the door shuffling around and Tasha stopped banging into the door. The door chain jangled on the inside of the apartment and then the door opened and Patterson was standing in front of her. The blonde wore pajamas and her hair was mussed. It looked like she’d been asleep for hours but she’d only left the bar 90 minutes earlier. She frowned at Tasha and looked from her face to the box that the brunette had been slamming against her door.

“What are you doing here?” Patterson asked.

“You were asleep, weren’t you? I should have called.”

Patterson shook her head. “No, not sleeping,” she said. “I can’t sleep. I’ve been trying. What’s with the box, Tash?”

Tasha thrust the cardboard box at Patterson. “Here. Take it,” she said and let go when she felt Patterson grab onto it.

“What is it?” Patterson asked, taking the box and readjusting her grip when she realized how heavy it was. She carried it into the living room and set it down on the coffee table next to the bottle of Bulleit she’d left there.

“It’s a box,” Tasha said as if that explained everything. She didn’t make a move to enter the apartment. “My life in a box, really.”

Patterson didn’t reply but stared down at the box with her brow furrowed.

“You said you didn’t trust me,” Tasha continued. “This is everything you need to know. I’m leaving it with you. Go through it. If you decide you still can’t trust me, then I’ve done everything I can think of to change your mind.”

Tasha started to leave the doorway and head down the hallway but turned back and put her hand on the doorknob.

“I want you to change your mind,” she admitted. “I want you to trust me. I love you, and I don’t want to lose you over something like this. Please, just look through it. Call me when you’re done. I’ll be awake.”

She didn’t give Patterson a chance to respond; Tasha quietly closed the door and started back home.

Patterson stared at the closed door and then looked back down to the box Tasha had forced into her hands. She went quickly to the door and opened it again, looking up and down the corridor for Tasha but her friend was gone. Patterson stepped back inside and relocked the door, turning her attention back to the box on the table. She went to the couch and sat down cross-legged, pulling the box onto the cushion beside her and lifting off the lid. She took out a handful of file folders and looked at them curiously.

It’s her life in a box, Patterson thought as she flipped through the files and then set them down on the table. A pile of legal pads came out next and Patterson set them down next to the folders. She reached back into the box and pulled out three passports held together with a rubber band, airline and train ticket stubs, and a small stack of loose papers. She set them down on the table beside the pile of notepads. What the hell is all of this?

Patterson surveyed the piles she’d created. She was too curious to just ignore them. She picked the bottle of Bulleit up off the table and set it on the floor so she could use the full surface of the table and took the first folder off the stack. She began to read.

***

Tasha answered her phone on the first ring. She’d been sitting in her living room, phone in her hand, for the last three hours in the hopes that Patterson would call soon. After the first two hours passed without a peep, she worried that Patterson hadn’t bothered to look in the box and had simply gone to bed. She was thinking about going to bed herself when the phone began to ring.

“Hi,” Patterson said quietly. “You’re still up.”

“Yeah. I’m awake. So?”

“That was a lot of stuff,” Patterson admitted. “I’m pretty sure I don't have clearance to see any of it.”

“You don't,” Tasha said. “I won’t tell if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Patterson didn’t say anything. She’d called because Tasha had asked her to, but she didn’t know what to say. She’d read through every single scrap of paper Tasha had put in the box and had learned everything Tasha had been up to since she joined the CIA right up until that very morning. The notepads had been filled with handwritten meeting notes and the passports were each full from recent trips around the globe. The file folders contained intel that was clearly classified but gave a better picture of how Tasha had been filling her time.

“Why did you give me all of that?” she asked finally.

“You said you don’t trust me. That you couldn’t trust me,” Tasha explained slowly. “I didn't know any other way to earn your trust but to tell you everything. So that’s everything.”

“Hmmm,” Patterson replied and then fell silent again.

“Look, Patterson,” Tasha began. “I know I haven’t been entirely truthful since coming back to the FBI. I’m sorry about all of that. It was my job. I mean, it still is but...” she trailed off and waited for Patterson to say something but she was met with more silence. “Patterson?”

“I’m still here.”

Tasha sighed. She’d hoped that by giving Patterson the inside track of everything she’d done and every move she’d made as part of the CIA, she’d gain her friend’s trust back and maybe have a shot at some kind of relationship. Her three-word response didn’t make her feel very optimistic.

“Okay... I can’t promise I’ll always be able to tell you everything just like there are things at the FBI you can no longer tell me about. I get that,” Tasha said. “And I know I’ve done a lot of stuff that would make you question whether you can trust me but you know me. You know me better than anyone in the whole world. I don’t want to lose my shot with you because of work. I have had a crush on you since the first second that we met, and I always thought that the reason I wouldn’t have a shot with you is because straight girls don’t go for their gay coworkers. I don’t want lack of trust to be the reason you and I can’t try.”

“What about Reade?” Patterson asked.

“What about him?”

“You had sex with him,” Patterson replied. “He’s going crazy trying to find you.”

“He’s not happy with me,” Tasha said. “I went to his place that night but the next day I told him we couldn’t be together. He’s one of my best friends and I love him but I don’t love him like I love you. I never have. I thought I might because it’s Reade. He left Meg for me. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to see him for a long time so it was like saying goodbye. It was a mistake.”

“A mistake,” Patterson repeated.

“A mistake,” Tasha agreed.

“If Reade was a mistake, what would I be?”

“The best thing that could happen to me?” Tasha said. She took a deep breath and continued. “If you’re worried that you’d be a rebound, you’re wrong. I’ve been waiting for my chance to be with you and it’s here and I don’t want to blow it or let it slip by because of things I may have done in the past. When I think about the future without you in it, it’s a sad, dark picture. I need you in my life. I’m happy to have you as a friend but I’d rather have you in my life as my girlfriend.”

As she spoke a sharp knock came on Tasha’s front door, and she glanced at the time. It was nearly 1:30 a.m. She grabbed for the pistol that was once clipped to her waist and realized it wasn’t there. It hadn’t been there in weeks. She got to her feet and peered through the peephole. She quickly unchained the door and opened it to face her late-night visitor.

Patterson stood outside Tasha’s apartment with her Bluetooth headset jammed in her ear. She carried the box that Tasha had brought to her place. Tasha disconnected the call and shoved the phone into her pocket. She gave Patterson a confused look.

“Thank you,” Patterson said quietly as she handed the box back to Tasha. “But I don’t want to be your friend.”

Tasha took the box back and frowned. She’d played her last card and no longer knew if there was anything she could do to make it right with Patterson. This was it. They’d never be “Zapatterson.”

“I’m sorry, Patterson,” she said. “I’m so sorry. I should have never lied to you and —”

“Would you shut up?” Patterson interrupted. She licked her lips nervously and took a breath before continuing. “When you were gone, I felt like I was floating around untethered. My best friend was gone and I missed her. But I don’t want to be your friend if I have the option of being your girlfriend.”

Tasha took a step backwards to let Patterson into the apartment, and she dropped the box on the floor.

“Do you want to go out with me sometime?” Patterson asked as she entered and closed the door behind her. “On a date, I mean.”

Tasha smiled. She closed the distance between them and kissed Patterson.

“I thought you’d never ask.”