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The thing about almost getting your partner killed because there were of a lot of bad judgment calls made involving deep-cover, sociopaths, and some poorly timed sex, it's sort of like receiving a giant thumbs down from the universe. Andy is all about signs, and Sam stumbling out of that farmhouse five weeks ago, bruised and bloody, well. That was a sign. Almost losing her job? Hey, another sign. Everyone at work avoiding her because apparently poor life decisions are transferable and contagious -- yep, that would be a sign too.

So Andy does the grown-up thing and takes a few couple of maybe sorta giant steps back from her relationship with Sam, because steps? Andy's a fan of those, too, especially ones that get people to drop the looks and the water cooler gossip like this is, what, high school or a crappy office job and seriously no one has anything better to do? Seriously?

And it's fine at first, it's absolutely fine, because Sam is a guy who backs off remarkably easy. But then, two weeks after their suspension ends, just as things have finally started to slide back to normal -- Frank has even stopped looking Andy in the eye after ending every parade with his usual Serve, protect, and for the love of god, keep it smart motivational speeches -- Sam's suddenly all buddy-buddy with her, even though she's spent her first week back making sure she's been paired up with Oliver or Traci or Chris or -- anyone but Sam, basically. Like the coffee thing. Suddenly he's a guy who likes his coffee at the exact same time Andy's usually stirring in some creamer, how-do-you-do conversation and three feet of space separating them like it's still so awkward. It is awkward, it's awkward as hell, obviously, but Andy would really like it if he'd clue in and get a little better at pretending they're 100% non-awkward again.

Andy's one of the first in the parade room, habit now because she's gotten used to ducking in before the gossip begins just so she can preemptively glare at people to shut their mouth-flaps, when Sam slides up beside her. She's got a space by the wall, a space where, sure, maybe Sam sometimes shows up in her line of sight, but it's the back of the room, no one usually even notices --

"What are you doing?" is what she says to him, maybe already tilting towards overreaction (awesome, the talk today: McNally seen in company of Swarek; ETF called in!)

He looks at her like she's nuts. "Morning to you too, McNally," he drawls, eyes scanning clear across the room. He throws his head in a nod towards -- wonderful, that was at Oliver, and there's no way Oliver's mind isn't hamster wheeling away all kinds of memories of having to drag Sam out of the farmhouse.

She smiles -- slightly deranged, who cares -- and moves past him to take a seat by Traci. Good ol' Traci. The only one who's faithfully stuck by Andy's side throughout everything, even though they did have one I-told-you-so blowout early on. Easily fixed with an offer of free babysitting services, so, you know what -- totally not a big deal even.

Traci says, "Hey," in a way that might as well mean So, I saw Sam talking to you and now I have to wonder about the state of your emotional sanity.

"Yep, it's fine," Andy says, real quick, eyes on the podium.

A shadow falls over the table, bright overhead lights momentarily blocked out, and then Sam is right there. Like, in her personal bubble there, leaning over her -- into her. "We need to talk," he says, low so that only Andy can hear it, but enough for everyone else to know that words are being said.

"What? No."

Sam straightens, which is good, except for how it doesn't feel good, but then he doesn't even go anywhere. What he does is kick out her chair from underneath the table, like he's not exactly casually inviting her here. This is something that is happening, and she can come along nice and quiet, or they can do this the hard way with good ol' fashioned public embarrassment.

"Fine, okay. Geez," she says, up on her feet, except Sam's still right there. "Go," she says to the stupid grin on his face.

"Going, I'm going," he tells her back, leading the way.

 

&

 

"What, we're not friends now, is that it? I have to give back the beaded bracelet you made?" And he's teasing her -- obviously, smirk and all, beaded bracelet -- except he's serious about it too; she hears that plain as day beneath the sarcasm.

"I think it makes sense to lie low. You know. Not stir the pot."

"Stir the pot," he repeats, in a voice that means are you on drugs?

"Gossip," is all the explanation she gives.

He goes, "Gossip," like they aren't speaking the same language here. Then, "What do you care about gossip?"

"A lot, okay. This is my job."

Proving her point, someone walks by; one of the D's who throws a nod at Sam, this short but assuming gesture, and just -- ugh, this is why, okay, this right here, the way she feels like her and Sam's sexual history is being projected onto a giant screen over their heads, this is exactly why they need to avoid each other until things cool off some.

"So," Sam says when it's just the two of them again; quiet, too, because he knows she's looking to bolt, "we don't talk, we don't work together." Some cocky swagger comes out to play, like they've rewound almost two years worth of learning each other and he's blowing steam at her outside a cop car, first day working together. "Head-in-the-sand's not really my style."

And she can't even say anything to that because Frank's slipping past all of a sudden, close enough that Andy gets a move it along, kids tap on her shoulder while he goes.

"All good?" he asks, peachy as can be, and it's got this knowing lilt to it, this tone that is totally calling them out, but, like, professionally.

Probably Sam catches sight of Andy's automatic need to launch straight into denial -- and she is such a bad liar, no way is she going to come off as anything but demented -- because he leaps right in, goes, "All good, boss," in that clipped, no-problems-here voice he gets when that window of actual openness has rolled shut and he's back to being closed off. Which is good. Totally great.

Frank's halfway down the hall already, has his back to them. "See, now that's what I like to hear," he calls out.

Sam pulls away wearing this smile that's tight all the way across. "McNally," he offers. It's the kind of alright, alright, go direct your energy at someone else dismissal she used to get back when he was her training officer still and ten hour shifts spent riding together really tested the limits of his patience and tolerance of her.

She nods once, stupidly, and has to quell the urge to, like, reach out and shake his hand or offer up some parting words (you know, it's been fun or I'll see you around sometime; truly ridiculous things like that, like it's 8th grade and they're heading off to separate summers or something) and instead redirects herself back to the parade room.

 

&

 

The first time they're partnered again, it's this weird sort of torture. Maybe she's imagining it, maybe she's crazy, but people definitely drift in huddled masses when she walks past, heads pressed together and nosy stares aimed her way. There's not even a comfort in maybe it's not about Sam's farmhouse rescue because then it's like, right, that means it's probably Andy and Sam and how they couldn't stop screwing each other.

She reads the board first, sees her name by his. It hasn't even sunk in all the way and Traci is already there, eyes huge, somehow already knowing.

"We could switch," she suggests clear out of the blue, like, hey! Problem solved! This totally isn't a big deal if they don't let it! "Last time I had to ride with Gail, she actually compared my kid to a dog. Licks itself, pees outside. Covered in fleas? That kind of dog. You'd be doing me a favor."

And Andy gets it, what Traci's trying to do here. She does, and it's sweet, and she's half compelled to take the out she's being given, but that part of her is getting shut way down by the part that wants to prove that she can absolutely handle whatever life throws her way. Besides, riding shotgun with Sam doesn't have to turn into a huge thing unless they make it a huge thing. They had sex. Now they're not having sex. It's really not more complicated than that.

She gets to their cruiser before he does and has to wait outside the locked car. It's cold, that October chill making the wind prick at her neck; she's got her jacket zipped up to her chin, gloves all the friggin' way back in her locker though, so she hunches over, blows warm air into her cupped hands.

It's a long couple of minutes later that Sam finally shows up. He slips to the driver's side, eyebrows practically in his hair, that's the kind of look he's giving her. Like she's being unnecessarily stupid waiting out in the cold like she is, but what else was she going to do, stand outside the locker room, wait on him there?

She tugs at the still locked door handle with a point to make. It doesn't get past him. There's a grin on his face when he ducks into the car, gone and out of sight before it has time to really bother her. Still, she pauses, thinks about catching up with Traci, how easy that would be -- only she's not a wimp, she can totally handle this.

In the car, the seat belt gets stuck the first couple of tries. Probably because the universe really has it out for her, or maybe it's because her fingers feel like ice, solidly frozen from knuckle to tip; Sam flicks on the heat, doesn't say a single word about it.

 

&

 

It's slow that first half of the morning, early enough on a Tuesday that most people aren't getting into trouble. Mostly they drive listening to the chatter of dispatch, and it's only when either of them answers the radio that they even talk at all. It's awkward, obviously, but it's almost so awkward that it cartwheels back around to normal.

They turn onto one of the back roads behind this enormous apartment complex that sees a lot of red and blues, lots of trafficking and assault charges. The blinker's still tapping out noise when Sam says, "New look?" completely out of nowhere, like he's picking up some conversation they'd been having when, uh, no, definitely not.

"Excuse me?"

Without taking his eyes off the road, Sam circles a hand around his head, implies she's got something going on up there. "Hair's different," he says. And then again, only way more passive aggressive this time: "New look. It suits you." With a smirk, too, like there's something he finds funny or ironic about the whole thing.

So, what, they're not going to talk at all, and when they finally do, it's about Andy's suspension-fueled makeover? And it's actually not even a makeover, more like -- a fresh start. And anyway, her hair's barely any different than it's ever been. Darker, a little. More bangs, maybe, if you wanted to bust out a ruler and get technical. And what the hell is it suits you supposed to mean?

Ditching the mess of thoughts inside her head, which happens to be Andy's preferred method of dealing with complicated, grown-up emotions, she shrugs, way up high. "New me." He can suck on that vagueness.

He nods for a solid ten seconds, his mouth pressed thin like he's holding back, or like he expected as much.

She's not stupid, okay. Despite how he thinks he's being totally slick here, he's actually really, really not.

"What?" she demands.

His response comes muffled -- he's looking out his side of the car, head turned all the way around. "Nothing."

Yeah, except it's not nothing, though, because why even bring it up then?

The car slows to a crawl, she notices, at the same time that a couple of kids swatting clumsy fists at each other up near the street corner grabs her attention. Sam hits the button that makes the siren blare out a quick, sudden warning. At the interruption, the three kids doing most of the fighting push off each other, their bravado all the way gone now that they think they might be in trouble, while everyone else scatters in the direction of a playground that's seen better days.

Sam's all Mr. Tough Guy when they pull up, window rolled down, this no-nonsense scowl. "Hey hey hey," he barks out to further separate them, total Bad Cop. The kids look suitably busted, half like they might bolt, or maybe cry. Andy pegs them as teenagers, but just barely.

Sam rattles off, "Fighting in the street, now there is an incredibly stupid thing to do."

Right away, this scrawny little guy, the runt of the three, swipes at the biggest kid, looks like he might honest to god burst into tears. "Told you," he says, whine and everything.

"Dude," the middle one says to the big kid, "shut your dumb brother up." That gets them riled up again, only Sam makes his voice go loud enough to cut through their noise.

"Hey," he says, "how about you all shut up?" Then, "What's the problem?"

The middle kid shoves his hands deep in his sweater pockets, glances down the street. "Nothing," he says. The other two kids, the brothers, just stare at each other. Nobody's spilling.

Sam glances over at Andy. "Nothing," he echoes in a voice that makes it clear he's not buying it. "We pulled up, these three here were going at it. That look like nothing to you?" he asks.

"Looked like something," she agrees.

Ten, fifteen seconds whiz by before the small kid blurts, "Cal got pissed 'cause--" Only then he's getting looks from both the other boys, so he shuts himself up real quick, mutters instead, "Never mind."

Busting up playground fights doesn't exactly rate high on police responsibilities. That, and the fact that they get a call over the radio for immediate response regarding a possible B&E three streets over, cuts this Scared Straight tactic short.

"Go," Sam tells them before they peel out, "get a move on. Keep it off the streets."

They shove at each other again, one last need to act out their boyish aggression, but do as told and head off in mostly separate directions, no doubt bound to be somebody else's problem. (Not that she's one of those people who likes to blame societal issues on, you know, video games and rap music, but holy crap, kids are monsters these days. That is a fact.)

Andy watches them in the rear view mirror, waits until they're out of sight, at which point Sam gets them moving again. "Wow," is what she eventually says. Just that, which, of course, makes Sam flick this barely interested look her way.

"Wow, what? Spit it out, McNally."

"I mean, it's cool. You've obviously got a new style. I've actually seen it on some episode of CSI before, but hey, whatever works, right?"

He's staring at the road again, has this really forced smile. "CSI, huh?"

"Yup."

"That's cute."

 

&

 

A little later, Sam stops and gets himself some coffee. The second he shuts the door after him, all that weird air between them disappears. Just sucks right out, like all it'd been waiting for was a three minute Timmies break.

When he comes back, some of the chill sneaks in too, but he pushes a cup into her hand, warm steam escaping out of the top. He takes his time, not in any kind of rush, shifting until he's comfortable; the whole car moves with him, and he takes this long, unhurried drag of his coffee before sticking it in the cup holder and starting up the engine again.

Andy, though, she's holding hers with actual caution, like who knows, it might explode in her face or something. There's some confusion, mostly, because she definitely didn't order anything. "Okay?"

Sam's short on patience, or maybe he thinks she's reading too much into things. They pull back into traffic, cutting quick onto Dundas to make the light. "What? There's a problem with me keeping you hydrated now?" And then he gets sarcastic, mocking her with, "Oh. I guess that is a friend thing to do."

"Ha," she drones, then runs the cup under her nose. Pumpkin spice.

"It's tea, Andy," he tells her, like she's being ridiculous and can she please stop so they can carry on as adults already?

"I know," she says. A second later, she stops being a chump and adds, "Thanks."

 

&

 

"So," he says, five hours into what may officially be their deadest shift ever. Seriously, that B&E from earlier was actually a distracted homeowner who forget their alarm code, that's the kind of day they're having. And normally Andy would not be complaining, she wouldn't even be thinking about it just to keep safe from accidentally invoking the Karma Gods, but holy cripes, there is a lot of alone time going on here. "How goes the toilet factory?"

His tone is all teasing, but she still feels this flare of, like, proprietorial defensiveness. "Great, actually."

He nods and hums out, "Ahh. Great."

"It is."

He shrugs, seems to say: why would it not be?

"I mean," she finds herself adding, "sometimes the heat really sucks, so I practically freeze to death, but I hear that keeps you healthy. So."

"Oh yeah. Nothing like a little hypothermia to keep you going." There's a noticeable increase in the lift of his eyebrows -- at least a 40% rise in elevation -- so she's pretty sure he's taking a light-hearted jab at her glove-less oversight here.

"Anyway. The neighbors are pretty friendly, and the view doesn't suck." Which is a colossal understatement, people. The view is what sold her in the first place. It's incredible in the morning, the way sunlight filters through most of her apartment. Every day she wakes up with the same appreciation for it. Also with a mental "SUCK IT" to Traci, because she knew she'd never have to settle on any crappy-lighted, wrong-facing apartment.

They're quiet again, drifting down a residential road, heading back to the barn soon. Andy's got a lunch thing with Chris and Dov to get to in the next hour. Probably she will wind up being a third wheel to their weird bromance.

"You're happy," Sam finally says, a full ten seconds later. He's detached about it, too, like he's got no real interest one way or the other. Could be talking weather or politics, for all he cares.

Her shoulders tuck up below her ears, this shrug that stays. "Getting there," she tells him. She ignores his look that comes after.

 

&

 

"Ridin' with Swarek." That's what Dov greets her with, along with a salute of his coffee. This is because he has all the tact of a crackhead. "Must be pretty awesome. You know, only not."

She slips onto the table beside both him and Chris, where they are meeting up in the empty parade room for some good eats. Usually it's takeout, or whatever the detectives left behind after fueling up for a case, too focused to deal with trash disposal. Today it's pizza, and from the slightly roughed up look the box has got going for it, ten to one, it's waxy and far from fresh.

Chris knocks his shoulder into Dov's. "Dude, lay off," he warns, puffed up like a watch dog.

Andy grabs herself a slice, starving all of a sudden now that there's food around, while Dov says, "Hey, you ask me? It's fair game by now. The whole precinct's talking about it. Front page juice."

Which is great, absolutely wonderful. Exactly what she didn't want. Not like she can do anything about it, though, outside of actively choosing to not care anymore. She screwed up, she screwed Sam, fine. Totally happened. People need to friggin' deal with it already. Through a mouthful of, yep, completely cold pepperoni pizza, Andy says, "Whatever, like I care." Carefree, legs swinging out in front of her and everything: "It's cool."

Chris mouths the word cool, bewildered by it, while Dov says, "I knew it. See, because you?" He sweeps a hand in front of him, flattens out some invisible space. "You're level. Chill."

"Yup," she agrees.

"Like ice," Chris tacks on. It makes Dov elbow him. "What?" he defends with a wince and wounded look.

"Not ice," Dov lectures. "Like... frozen water, but awesomely."

"Yeah," Chris says, this tone that might as well be a duh. "Ice. Exactly."

"No," Dov argues, and great, here we go, "because ice is all -- look, you call a girl ice, that's like calling her a--" He leans away from Andy to pretty much mouth the word, "bitch." Then he tugs at his vest, doles out additional bullshit. "Trust me. Not a good idea."

Chris nods along like Dov's being really sage here, like he's throwing down some inarguable logic.

"Yeah, so," Andy says, cutting their bros-teaching-bros seminar short. There's a rustle of movement outside the room, three, four cops noisily walking past. They don't even look in. "You guys see any action yet?"

Chris' whole face lights up, which must mean yes. He gets excited. "So, there was this assault call--"

"Guy with a machete he tried to use on his own wife," Dov interrupts with, just to set the story. "Seriously insane."

"Totally insane! It took five of us to wrestle him down, and then--"

"Gail," Dov remembers, smiling really fondly.

"She totally jumped this guy's back--"

"Never mind the machete that he's still holding onto."

"She didn't even care! She jumped right on, practically piggybacked him the whole time while Dov, here--" And Dov practically preens when Chris jerks a thumb at him, is still smirking as Chris goes, "He knocked the guy's legs out from under him like a total bad ass. He went down hard. Like, yeah, a tree or something. And Gail cuffed him."

Dov blows out a sigh. "Good times," he says, like the memory isn't just hours old.

Andy chews slowly through a bite. She's supposed to be impressed here, that's obvious, and she is, but. Jealousy might actually be the prevailing emotion. "Wow," she obliges.

"What about you?" Chris asks her.

"Me? Pshyeah. Totally busy. Non-stop."

"Really?"

"No," she says on an exhale, just this side of whining. "No, not at all. Trade me?"

Before any kind of blood pact/body swap/switching arrangement can be made, Dov jumps back in. "Speaking of action," he says. A grin follows, like he thinks he's being clever. "You and Swarek. Together again. 15's finest."

Chris shakes his head. "Subtle. Real subtle. Like the least authentic segue ever."

"Fine, so I want to know. Sue me. Call it friendly concern. Andy," Dov says, staring her straight in the eyes while he tries to pull off a serious look. He grips her one-handed by the shoulder and tells her, "We're here for you."

She shakes him off with an eye roll. That's the sociable reaction, because her first instinct was to inflict bodily harm. It's not even that she minds talking about it with them, because, hey, friends talk. It's that she's feeling a little annoyed, maybe, that they're out there doing actual, exciting cop things while she's been stuck endlessly driving around town, about as vigilant as every civilian driver on the road. Which is to say, not at all. Vigilant to exactly the percent of zero.

She shrugs, picking at her pizza, not so hungry anymore. "Like I said. It's, whatever. Totally cool." Under her breath, she mouths, "Let it go," and means by it, everyone in the universe.

Dov, though, isn't buying it, still has unsolicited wisdom to dole out. "I don't know. I mean, forced to spend the entire day with who could conceivably be considered my ex? Might be less than cool."

Chris laughs. "What ex?"

Which makes Dov drop the know-it-all attitude to get defensive. "Uh, Sue. Hello?"

"Dude, that doesn't count. You want bad? Try riding with Gail. I swear, sometimes it's like she's still mad about the whole--" He trails off a little, gesturing vaguely at Dov. "You know. Thing."

"Peck with a grudge," Dov snarks.

Andy slips to her feet, drops the half-eaten pizza back into the box. "Gotta go," she announces. She smacks a hand against Dov's shoulder, as much of a farewell as it is her using him as a human paper towel in the fight against grease. "It's been fun. And by fun, I mean: you two need lives, stat."

"Hey," Chris stops her with; she's halfway out the door already, this old, familiar tilt in her stomach because Luke's office is so close by. "Seriously, though. You're okay?"

She must be mellowing out in her old age, because that gets to her a bit. "I'm okay," she tells him.

 

&

 

In the locker room, Traci finds Andy almost all the way dressed, only her shirt left to pull on. Her shift is over, on time for once, and that's thanks to the continued dead action. Sam wrote a traffic ticket. That's the kind of night they had. A traffic ticket. So horrible.

"Soooo." She stares at Andy like she can't believe she is even having to initiate this conversation, it should've happened the second she walked through the door. "How'd it go?"

Andy pulls the shirt over her head, shrugs into the sleeves. "Fine," she gives, totally noncommittal, turned around and shoving her uniform into her duffel bag. Traci is this unmoving physical presence behind her that might as well be a beeping bullshit detector.

"Sure, yeah. What else but fine? I mean, it's not like you two've got some kinda seedy history that'd make the ride uncomfortable as hell or anything."

That's, well, true, mostly, which makes the locker door shut maybe a little more forcefully than Andy means for it to. And who uses the word seedy?

Probably because she's used to calming down Leo, or maybe she's just a natural at it, Traci's voice gets this really soft, soothing lilt to it. "You gonna tell me what happened today?"

"Just." Andy lets out a self-deprecating breath, ready to fess up anyway. And she wants to talk about it. Wants to bust out the wine, slip into some sweats, and dish. "It was awkward. You know?"

Totally unassuming, Traci says, "Okay, but. You kinda figured. Right?"

"Yeah," she says, sharp like a hiss. "Yeah, okay, Traci, yes. Obviously. Awkwardness definitely factored in. But it surpassed that, only. Then it was like--" She shakes her head, can't quite say the rest of it out loud.

Traci scoots close, one leg over the long bench seating, then the next. "Like?" She's standing right there, ready to get the girl-talk going.

"I don't know, kind of... not?" That ends in a legit squeak. Like, high pitched as her voice has ever been since before puberty hit, all kinds of annoying and embarrassing.

Real fast, Andy shoulders her duffel bag, moves around Traci without another sound, can probably make it to the exit --

"I know you're not about to try and bail," Traci stops her with.

Andy spins back around, bends at the knees and dips straight into a whine. "Trace."

"Yeah. Nuh-uh. Spill."

Screw that. She's walking backwards, has a big ol' dazzling smile on. "Sorry. Can't."

"You know I'm going to get it out of you eventually, right? With force, at this point."

"Night," Andy sings over her shoulder, turned around and gone.

 

&

 

Her luck, people: she runs into Sam in the parking lot. He gives her this look like she's the last person on Earth he expected to see, but they're walking out at the same time and it'd look really obvious, plus obnoxious, if either of them acted like it was anything less than normal.

"McNally," he says, cool and casual.

She gives right back, nodding tight. "Hey."

Her apartment is four blocks away. It's a breezy fifteen minute walk, max, which might be Andy's current favorite thing in the world, not counting cable TV. Sam, however, catches her heading for the gate, realizes she's on foot, and calls after her, "Need a ride?" And, like, he's being friendly, she knows, this isn't one of those situations where she's 98% certain he's hinting at something more than just transportation.

She can count on two fingers the times she's let him drive her home. Post-shift one night, right after the whole really wonderful Luke-and-Jo thing, Traci had to leave the Penny early to battle a stomach virus Leo picked up out of nowhere; totally okay one minute straight into full-blown barfing the next. Andy'd been squeezed onto a bar stool beside Sam for going on an hour, pleasantly buzzed off a single beer and the celebration of a good collar -- lulled, too, by the way he'd shifted once, all his weight going heavy against her, then didn't bother to move away until the very end when he looked her way, kept on looking, and asked, "Got a back-up plan to get out of here?"

Second time was that night they both got suspended, so.

Sam stares past her shoulder, gives her that smile that makes his eyes wrinkle at the corners, kind of a take it or leave it thing. He nods towards his truck, which is tucked way back in the shadows, like always. "Your call, McNally."

So she says, "Thanks," and accepts.

It's dark in the truck once they get going. Quiet, too, just late night traffic and the low rattle of heat coming from the vents. It's stupid how badly she wants to fill up the silence, has that urge to blurt whatever's on her mind just to have something to say. They rode together all day, no big deal.

It takes all of two minutes. He stops right there in front of her building, keeps his foot on the brake instead of switching off the engine, so he definitely has no plans to linger. But then there's this couple of seconds where it seems like he's got something he wants to say, the way he's staring at her, piercing and serious all of a sudden.

Only in the end he doesn't; he holds out a hand, seems to say with it a tired here we are. It's possible, she realizes, he's not just talking location.

 

&

 

"Seriously?" she demands of the universe when it reads right there on the board Swarek/McNally again the very next shift. She must've pissed someone off in a previous life. Probably some ancient reincarnated version of Frank.

Traci comes up, sees what Andy sees, and enjoys the moment a little too much, truth be told. "Would you look at that," she gloats. Andy gets the feeling this might be payback for the locker room bail. "Day two and the fun continues."

"Shut up," she jabs back. It's automatic, reflexive. Also? A little warranted.

"Hey now," Traci keeps on teasing, stern like she actually means it, "respect the board."

"Pft. Respect it with an axe, maybe."

Dov appears from behind, fingers hooked onto his vest. "I heard the word axe. I'm in. Seriously, whatever it is. No questions asked, just total, 100% commitment, and the guarantee there will be manly hefting of said weapon."

Traci completely ignores Andy's optical warning to play it cool, instead saying pointedly, "Murder of the board."

That's when Chris shows up. He jokes, "Boardicide. Heh." It's really lame, obviously, but of course he's super proud of it, throwing a grin around like he expects it to be reciprocated with whatever the facial equivalent of a high five is.

Dov's eyes are scanning, they are landing, and then they are knowing. "Ahhh," he says, like it reads up there ANDY McNALLY: LIFE SENTENCE. He's half-decent about it, though; there's definitely some sympathy there this time around. That might actually be because he's paired with Gail, and discreet as the two of them thought their weird thing was, that easy sweep of blurted then repressed feelings under the rug, the high (and low) side of being friends with Chris is that he's got a huge freaking mouth. He talks a lot, people, and with Sue and Dov broken up, let's just say he's been extra mouthy lately.

Beckoned by thought, Gail winds up joining them. When she sees she's with Dov for the day, she shares her annoyance. "I hate this thing. No, seriously, it's like the Magic 8 Ball of crappy pair-ups nobody wants." And then to everyone else, who are generally pretty okay with who they have to work with and are thus staring at her like she is a soulless monster: "No offense."

Traci snorts. "Gee, why would that be offensive?"

"Says the person on desk duty," Dov lashes out, never mind his previous axe commitment. He is ridiculously quick to throw down and turn on them all. "You have to deal with, what? Phone calls? Please." He hooks a thumb at Gail. "Try riding with someone who speaks fluent demon."

"Actually," Chris brings up, "phone calls can be pretty taxing. Yeah, because it's always annoying, little old ladies who hate their lives, it's never anything good."

"Yeah, I don't know." Way too delighted, Gail reminds them, "Andy's got her ex-nookie bear," and her voice rolls out mockingly sweet at the end there, making Dov snicker, though he is human enough to cover it up with a cough.

Andy scoffs, half like she can't believe Gail actually went there, half, also, like it's really not anyone's business. "Thanks?"

"Whatever, I'm just saying. Trump card. You've got it."

From out of nowhere, Oliver barks at them, "Hey, children," and he's walking up with some serious authoritative swagger, "what're you hanging around here for, let's get this play-date moving." He starts shooing them away, literally motions at them like they're pesky loitering teenagers. Even though he's not their training officer any more, and hasn't been for a while, they absolutely scatter.

 

&

 

They get stuck on a stakeout out near Jarvis Street.

The gist of it is, they've got a warrant for a guy wanted on some fraudulent check charges, only who answers the door is his 92-year old grandma. What they get from her is that their suspect, a Mr. Elliot Reeves, age 29 and currently unemployed, just slipped out to pick up the week's groceries; he should, however, be back in no time, and since it's another slow shift, they wait him out.

Except it's an hour later and the guy still hasn't shown.

Sam's got his head tilted way back against the head rest so that he can watch the apartment's entrance, otherwise completely relaxed, while Andy has lost all ability to get comfortable. Like her body no longer accepts sitting as a natural thing to do. To deal, she flips open the glove compartment, starts rooting around in there -- it's like Dov's bedroom got shoved into the small space. A mess of napkins falls out first thing, some looking already used, which makes Sam pin this brief dry look on her.

"Gross," she mutters, but keeps on going. Only it's nothing but, like, obligatory glove compartment stuff, plus this really old takeout menu, so it soaks up her attention for a sad two minutes before she's bored all over again.

"Not exciting enough for you?" Sam drawls in this slow, baiting tone, eyes on the building again. Yeah, except he's tapping lazily at the steering wheel, so he's obviously not feeling the fun either.

"Who takes this long to pick up groceries?" is what she argues back with. "Get in, get your stuff, get out. And instead we get the one guy who like, makes a day out of it."

Because he can't just be like Andy, that is some straight up truth you're dropping, this situation blows or ever outright agree with her, he says back, completely conversational, "Maybe there's a crowd."

"At the grocery store? A long checkout line, sure, but a crowd? Besides, it's Wednesday. No one shops on Wednesday."

"Maybe he hit traffic," Sam responds with, furthering his need to be contrary.

"Hey, let's arrest the grandma."

Sam snorts, finally looks her way. "Oh yeah. Cuff her, bring her in. Charge her with aggravated compliance."

Right then, dispatch stirs to life like some kind of divine intervention. "15-19, we've got a possible 10-50 at 339 George Street, are you 10-8?"

Andy raises her eyebrows at Sam, practically sets her facial muscles to the PLEAD position. He wants out of here, too, she knows it -- he'd have to be some kind of robot not to. Plus, their guy's a no-show. Just saying, 92-years old or not, that old lady definitely looked shady; she probably tipped Reeves off, told him they were out here.

Sam lets out this loud, resigned sigh and sits up, stretching out his sore muscles as he does. "Alright," he allows, but curt, like he wants her to know this is a one-time deal.

Andy's smiling big when she grabs the radio. "15-19, we're on our way."

 

&

 

So, definite 10-50 is what they pull up to.

There's a small group of men gathered in front of Seaton House, this shelter for the homeless that part times as a hostel. Most of them are circled around this one cracked-out, crazy-looking guy who keeps spinning on people like he can't figure out where to direct his yelling. And he's loud, okay; they can hear him through the car.

Sam gives Andy a look before they get out. "Looks like you got your excitement."

When they come up on the disturbance, the crowd backs off some. The man's still going off, talking about something he calls seclusionism-and-segregation. From the looks of his blown out pupils, he's definitely on something.

"Sir," she says, "I'm going to need for you to calm down."

"He's been like this all morning," a guy with a clipboard tells them. He's wearing a pair of chunky-framed glasses that look straight out of the 90's, mostly bald except for these thin, ropey patches of hair that lay lifelessly across his head. "Uh, I work here, and normally we have a very, ah, nondiscriminatory policy about substances, but Charlie's a repeat offender." Then he stresses, "Violent," in a hush-hush voice, like any louder and it might set the guy off.

By now, Charlie's shut up, caught on to the fact that his shouting has attracted the attention of cops.

Sam asks in this over-the-top casual way, "What's going on, buddy?"

And of course the guy decides to grab the short straw of crazy again, starts getting excited while he picks back up on his claims that there's evil going-ons at work, that he's being discriminated against just because he accidentally knifed a guy once while in the throes of a heated argument over the top mattress of a bunk bed.

"Thirty eight stitches," some guy in the back laments, showing off a scar that runs down his entire forearm. There's a beat for this to process, where everyone's quiet but Charlie, who laughs.

Then: "Look," Sam says, straight up telling it like it is, "you can't stay here."

"Nope," clipboard guy agrees. "You gotta go, Charlie."

Not exactly up for that, Charlie raises out his arms, crows up at the sky, "This is my kingdom! I stay where I choose!"

"Not today," Sam chirps back.

"Every day!" Charlie counters with an enthusiasm Andy has never felt in her life, ever. "Holidays!"

She asks him, trying to cut through the crazy, "You have some place to go? Family? Friends?"

Someone else from the gathered crowd snorts, says, "Yeah, 'cause we come here when there's somewhere else to go. It's a spa!" which makes everyone laugh, rowdy and a little mean. Andy shifts on her feet, tries not to give off such strong I'M AN IDIOT vibes.

Clipboard guy says, "We can't let him in," and sounds genuinely apologetic about it.

They wind up serving as a taxi, essentially, escorting Charlie back to the barn for a night of sobering up. Only he throws up in the back seat halfway there, violent and noisy.

"Bam," he slurs after, like he's got something to get obnoxious about here.

"Just doesn't stop being exciting, does it?" Sam says, and there is something in his smirk and general at-her-expense amusement that tells her she will be the one to clean up the mess.

 

&

 

"Ugh," is what Traci says to her when she finds her in the locker room, face scrunched up, one hand waving the smell away, "what crawled on top of you and then took its own life?"

Andy stares for a long, silent minute, basically saying via facial emoting: SUCK IT.

Eventually she gets to forming words. "Guy threw up in the back of the cruiser."

"And then some. You reek like a morgue."

"Yes. Thank you. Which is exactly why I'm in here changing."

Still trying to keep the vomit smell away, Traci takes a seat near Andy, who's pulling off her soiled uniform and freshening up in a new one. There's some vigorous spreading of antibacterial lotion going on. "So," she says, more empathetic this time. "That kinda day, huh?"

Andy shrugs. She's slipping into a clean shirt, still has four more hours of work to go. "It's okay."

"Sure, you got puke perfume all over you, but other than that..."

Andy shoots her a smile, all teeth, while working on the buttons from the bottom up. "Hey. Didn't get in my hair, though."

"Score," mocks Traci.

Gail comes in and right away gets a whiff of what Andy's shared with the whole locker room. "God, that's rank," she says, hand over her nose. "Is that barf?"

"One and only," Traci confirms.

Looking like the smell is definitely getting to her, Gail gets to the point and tells Andy, "Swarek's looking for you," before escaping out of there.

Traci turns back towards Andy, interested in a big way. She makes this hmmm noise in the back of her throat. "Oh yeah? And what's that about?"

"Work?" Andy shrugs, just as clueless, before taking out and spritzing on a ton of pretty-smelling body spray. After, she shimmies at Traci, like that might distribute the smell some. "Better?"

Traci swats at the cloud of body spray mist that hangs around them. "Better," she chokes out.

 

&

 

"Hey," Andy says when she catches up with Sam.

He looks up from where he's bent over a desk, pouring through some paperwork. A lift of his eyebrow says she's definitely still smelling like something, but he doesn't comment on it, just straightens and gets right to it. "Elliot Reeves. His grandma called it in ten minutes ago, said he finally showed up."

"Great. Let's go."

Only he's not done yet. "Fifteen minutes before that, call comes in for a 245 at Starskys. Cashier got stabbed; guy who did it, though, took off before anyone could catch him."

"Okay."

"Now, according to his grandma, Elliot Reeves tried to buy his groceries with a check, same place, same time, only Starsky's wouldn't let him -- already had him flagged. Grandma said he came back in one hell of a mood."

She's working it out in her head, brain juiced up and connecting the dots. "You think he did it?"

He flicks a smile at her that says, don't know; let's go see.

 

&

 

"Yep, that's him," they get from an eyeball witness, another employee from Starskys who was one aisle over at the time of the stabbing. He's nodding, over and over, pointing out Reeves picture from a photo line-up Andy's holding out. "That's definitely him. Man, like, he was nuts, okay? Like, yelling at first, throwing shit around--"

It's trashed, actually, that front part of Starskys. Like some kind of wild animal tore through, one with a serious vendetta against the grocery industry. There are still puddles of blood around, too, but Victoria Mercy says the guy's going to be okay, at least after they finish rearranging his insides back to normal.

Sam says, "What about the knife?"

The guy thinks about it for a second."Not that big. More like--" He holds up his hands, pulls them about six inches apart. "Not, you know, psycho/serial killer stuff, but pretty size-y. He pulled it out of his coat."

"He have anything else on him? Any other weapons?"

"What, like a gun?" The witness shakes his head, slow. "Just the knife. It's all he needed."

Sam looks at Andy. It's definitely their guy.

 

&

 

By the time they get back to that apartment on Jarvis Street, backup's already rolling in; Oliver and Chris pour out of their cruiser, fall into formation on the sidewalk. Because Reeves is considered armed and dangerous, they go in with their guns drawn, up four flights of stairs until they're busting down that little old lady's door.

He's right there at the kitchen table, surprised as hell that his lunch of canned Spaghetti-Os is getting interrupted, but he only puts up a brief struggle before dropping to the floor. Sam kneels into his back, gets the cuffs on him, while Andy shouts at him to comply and Oliver ushers the grandma safely into a bedroom before they've having to call for a bus.

 

&

 

"To us," says Chris, knocking his bottle of beer into Andy's. They're winding down at the Penny, coming off the adrenaline of their arrest.

Andy grins, loose and happy for the first time in days. "Go us," she rolls out, will totally toast to that.

Traci's giving them some serious side-eye, full of judgment. "You planning on doing that the whole night? Just saying, I will shoot both of you."

Andy sways towards her, smile out of control at this point. "Jealous?"

Traci counters, "Drunk?"

Andy rolls her eyes, shakes her still completely full beer bottle in Traci's face. "Second drink."

From across the table, Gail snorts. "Lightweight."

Tonight provided the first real police action Andy's seen since she came back from suspension, okay. She's psyched about it, probably to an unhealthy degree, but only because after weeks of routine, it finally feels like normal again. So, you know what, screw Gail, and screw being boring.

"Alright, alright," Traci says, because she's good when it comes to sensing these things about Andy, "get your buzz on. Just remember, it's your toilet you'll be dry-heaving into tonight."

Dov grins. He got there before them, so he's already three beers in, thus well on his way to feeling it. "Nightly prayer to the porcelain Gods. Awesome."

 

&

 

Normally Andy cuts herself off after two beers, especially when she's her own ride slash walk home, but tonight, she feasts! On alcohol. She saddles up to the bar for her third drink, cuts first through Oliver and one vaguely familiar cop from another precinct going at it over some ancient hockey game. Oliver presses his hand against her arm as she goes, just this friendly touch that says I acknowledge you before he's back to defending his point, twice as loud this time.

The thing is, the beer makes life just easy enough that when she winds up near Luke, nothing in her rises up in response. Nope, it's all smooth sailing inside.

Luke, though, looks surprised to see her, which she gets. It's not like she's talked to him at all in the past month. You know, not like she makes any effort to see what he's up to, outside of work, or asks around about him, ever.

"Andy," he says. "Hi."

"Hey."

Actually, they were relatively civil towards each other right before Sam went undercover. By then, enough time had passed that there wasn't that Pavlovian response where she saw him and instantly felt jilted or angry or like he would look really good with a basketball hurled at his face. But afterward, after the whole J.D./Candice thing had gone public, they'd reverted to casual politeness. Have stayed stuck that way.

He leans back, one elbow on the bar, and gives her his full attention. He's growing out a beard. She can't tell if she hates it or not. "I heard about your guy."

She shrugs, just this quick up and down of her shoulder. "We got lucky."

He smiles at her, almost. "Hey, want to know what I did today? Spent six hours pouring over evidence to try and cinch the Locklin case, only after all that time, after being THIS CLOSE, Jerry finds a discrepancy that wipes out half of what we got." He laughs, and it's got a hard edge to it, but there's some humor there too. "We get to start all over again tomorrow."

Something in her says to hell with it; she slides onto the empty stool beside him, gets mockingly affronted. "Hold up, are you trying to play the My Life Sucks More game with me? Because I totally win that."

This time, he definitely smiles, both elbows on the bar again. "Maybe call it a draw."

The beard, she decides, is not so bad.

 

&

 

It's forty minutes later, that third beer downed, and a whole lot of exhaustion that gets her up and going, though Dov and Traci try to use the power of peer pressure so she'll stay, like the good friends they are.

She runs into Sam when she's leaving. Of course she does.

He's up near the exit, has been all night. A couple of times she felt his eyes on her. She'd definitely been looking too. When he notices her coming, he starts to hang back from the guys he was talking to, blocks her path.

"McNally. Hey," he says.

She stops there in front of him, and when she does, it's the opposite of what she felt with Luke. With Sam, it's like everything wakes up inside of her, some kind of insane emotional rush like too much coffee and too much sugar combined.

She says, "Hey," softer than she means to, but also, it's exactly how she feels. And she was just leaving -- no joke, she has some serious plans to go home and drop into a sleep coma -- except there's that feeling again, like when she was at the Alpine Inn so long ago now, that stupid feeling like she just wants to hang out and TALK to him for, you know, ever. Forever would be okay.

He gives her this look like he knows what's running through her head, like he's saying, too, wasn't my idea, a reminder that, if it were up to him, they'd be having one of those honeymoon phases in their relationship right now, but it doesn't stay long. He steps out of her way, backs way off, and that's that.

 

&

 

A merciful higher power must be smiling down on her, finally, because she gets paired up with Noelle her next shift. Who mostly sticks with traffic violations and paper work, which sucks, since it's super boring most of the time, but at least it requires only minimal brain functioning.

Plus, Noelle's been feeling crappy lately, this weird winter bug that must be going around, so Andy gets to drive.

 

&

 

"Seriously, though, you're not with Sam... why?"

That's Traci's idea of casual conversation; she brings it up while tossing together a salad. They're having a much needed movie-and-dinner night, but with the way Traci's already setting the mood for the evening, nuh-uh. Forget it. No way is she getting to any bases tonight. Just saying.

Andy wields her spatula at Traci while she waits on their burgers to flip. "Whatever happened to 'Stay away from Sam, Andy! Bad idea, Andy!'"

"That was while he was undercover!" Traci defends, like she wants no part in Andy's logic.

Andy shrugs, pats down one of the patties. "Same diff."

"Yeah, but he's all Swarek-y again," Traci straight up complains. "Seriously, I think he said three words to me the entire time we worked together. Know what they were?" She counts them off on her fingers, heavy on the sarcasm. "Move and Move faster." She goes back to the salad, but not before deciding it: "You broke him, Andy."

Which is not the most amazing thing to hear, go figure. It hits hard, in a way that Traci doesn't even mean for it to, but, just -- his face when she started up the conversation that led to them not being together, that was rough. It happened, too, after the whole wanna be normal together thing, is the ironic part of it, after she'd actually made some kind of commitment and got in his truck.

He got it together fairly quick, but for a second there, right between trying to talk some sense into her and finally giving her what she wanted, he looked pretty wrecked.

Traci says, "He'd take you back, you know," not presumptuous at all, which makes Andy wonder how obvious she's being.

"Nothing's changed," she reminds her. "We still work together."

"Yeah, and so do me and Jerry."

"That's different. Okay, no one talks about that. No one cares, because you never got Jerry in trouble, you never got yourself in trouble. Everyone knows what happened with Sam."

"So why keep fighting it?" Traci says, like it's that freaking easy.

 

&

 

She hates Traci. She does. Because it's Traci's fault that Sam's this presence behind her that she feels as solidly as if there was a tether attached between them. And they're at parade, and Frank is getting really into it, but Andy's whole head is filled up with distracting thoughts, like how she wants to murder Traci, but it also keeps looping back to Sam.

They're not riding together -- he's with Gail, she's with Chris -- but after Frank sends them on their way and everyone starts spilling out of the room, a sudden boldness gets its grips in her and she goes after him.

"Hey," she says, breathless.

Gail's right there, not moving, not catching on until Sam finally gets that Andy wants to, you know, talk. At which point he goes, "Peck, want to drive?" and dangles his keys in front of her. She snatches them up with a grin that is more of a leer before skipping on out of there, though she does give Andy a look before she goes, one that says try not to screw this up, which -- yes, fine, it's everyone's business, that's great.

Not noticing, or not caring, Sam says, "You need something?" like he's expecting her to hit him up for a favor.

"Actually. The thing is, I wanted--"

But then Oliver brushes past, pushing his way between them. He claps Sam on the shoulder. "All good, brother?" he asks, and he is just -- not subtle at all, making sure Andy feels two inches tall with that.

Sam slaps Oliver back, pushes him off down the hall. He's laughing. "Get outta here," he razzes good-naturedly.

"Hey, heed your own advice," Oliver calls. "That's what I always say. Self knows best."

Sam shakes his head, little bit of a smile still there, like Oliver's being innocent enough and is only dropping general life advice on Sam, not super pointedly suggesting Andy get lost.

Once it's just the two of them, Sam drops the grin, gets serious again. "What is it?" he asks, and his patience plus the polite tone shuts down whatever dumb thing she might've been thinking about saying.

"You know what, never mind. Forget it."

"You sure?"

"Yeah. Sorry."

"Okay," he says, easy; a shrug and he's gone.

 

&

 

She's in a bad mood. Like, the seat belt won't click fast enough, traffic is annoying, if-dispatch-won't-freaking-shut-up kind of bad mood.

Chris is driving, because after her occasional use of the horn to move slow drivers along, he'd gotten worried she might ram them into some innocent.

"Yeah," he says, quick glance her way and then his eyes are back on the road; he's got his hands at 10 and 2, by-the-book. "Slow days always suck." When she doesn't say anything, or acknowledge this as truth, he continues rambling, "And traffic. Man. Gets me so mad sometimes--"

"I'm not mad," she scowls.

"Yeah! I know."

"I'm not. I'm tired."

Completely sensing the bullshit behind that, but probably fearing a second wave of anger, and it getting directed his way, he drops it. For about three seconds. Then he says, "Know what really sucks though? Not getting enough sleep. And mornings. And alarm clocks. Hey, what if we had roosters? No way you could get mad at a rooster for waking you up, that's it's job."

Andy adds the sound of Chris' voice to the list of things she would currently like to punch.

 

&

 

It's probably karma that has her getting the fist end of someone else's thrown punch, right to the mouth, this way drunk guy who'd been aiming for a ducking family member, only the ducking family member is gifted with some kind of freakish ninja agility. It's just a grazing, really, because seriously, the guy is out of his mind drunk, but still. Punching a police officer? Not the smartest thing you can do in your life.

Right away, Chris gets the guy in this tight hold with his arms pinned at his sides so he can't hardly move. Through the brain-slowing sludge of alcohol, he's realizing his stupidity at the same time that some claustrophobic panic kicks in, which gets him struggling enough that he knocks the wind out of Chris. The crouching family member pitches himself forward to try and calm the guy down, previous dispute now entirely forgotten, but that just pisses everybody off; both men wind up being hauled back to the barn, shared cuffs and all.

 

&

 

"Ouch," Oliver says when he checks in on her; just a graze or not, Andy getting punched in the face is still news that spreads. She's sporting this attractive split lip, and if the guy hadn't passed out in a puddle of his own urine and murmurings of failure, she might've been feeling more cocky about it. Like: check it out! A war wound. Or, you know, on-the-job evidence she's a badass. Can handle anything! Punch to the face? Whatever. Mouth of steel. Hit that.

But, no, because the guy can't even control his bladder, let alone the trajectory of a punch, so instead it's more like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree of injuries. Dov and Traci have already come through, wincing more at the non-spectacle of it than the close call.

Not caring that he's in the middle of the ladies locker room, Oliver tells her, "You're supposed to avoid right hooks, McNally, not walk into them." He feigns a couple of lunges, makes these quiet pow-pow noises like he's going up against a punching bag.

She's still feeling some leftover sting from his comments to Sam earlier, which drops her maturity level to that of a scorned twelve-year-old, has her non-responsive. She just gives him this silent, tight-lipped, wide-eyed nod, like yep, okay; see you later now, buddy. He must sense it, and maybe he's feeling like a jerk about it, because he comes up close, raps her gently upside the head.

"Next time, duck."

It's so paternal. She gives him a quick smile, can't help it. He goes all soft and affectionate over it, like maybe they're cool now, no more hurt feelings, but that lasts half a second before he kicks back a step, gets this scowl on his face to overcompensate for the show of emotions. "Seriously," he says, an order now, "a fist comes at you, you move out of the way. That's basic rookie stuff. Fist? Avoid. That goes for anything else thrown at you, not just the appendages. Anything you can stick the word projectile in front of."

"Got it," she says, obedient.

 

&

 

Sam's waiting around the corner, quick to ambush. Clearly the just-a-graze part of the McNally-screwed-up gossip didn't make it full circulation. His eyes are heavy with worry, looking her over for some sign of imminent death, but she's got hyper-healing powers or something, because there's hardly even a mark anymore. Heck, Sam's still sporting damage from the Brennan-thing worse than what she's got.

"What happened?"

"Drunk guy. Drunk fist." She shrugs, feels a whole zoo messing around inside her ribcage, Sam-related.

He huffs out a laugh, quiet, and then they get stuck in one of those stare-offs that stopped being easy to ignore a long time ago.

"Sam," she starts, without knowing what to say next; his eyebrows go sky high.

 

&

 

So, turns out the best way to own up to and get over previous poor life choices is to make current, even poorer life choices.

In a darkened interrogation room, Sam's got Andy pushed up against the two-way mirror, one hand curled around the back of her head, over her ponytail, acting as a buffer.

"Like--" She keeps trying for actual conversation here, only his mouth is on her neck, distracting her. "It made sense, you know? At the time. Or, I thought it did. I mean, I definitely thought it did, except--"

"Andy," he says, not so much a heat-of-the-moment type of thing as it is a please-shut-up-already uttering, but it spills out of her anyway.

"I messed up."

That gets his attention, or maybe he realizes they've got to barrel through the talking part first. He sighs, puts his forehead against hers for a long couple of seconds, then backs off entirely. He doesn't go anywhere, though, just plants himself at the wall beside her, close enough that they're shoulder-to-shoulder and it's an awkward angle she's got to tilt to even look at him.

What she wants to say is sorry and whoops, I'm an idiot and a whole lot of other things, but what comes out is, "I miss you."

She can't make out his reaction clearly, near pitch-black surroundings and all, but she can tell he probably doesn't hate hearing that. "Miss me, huh?" He leans back in, starts to nuzzle up against her. Their mouths are just barely touching. Definitely didn't hate hearing that, then.

He's extra attentive of her cut lip, kissing there carefully, which is unnecessary, but, uh, also kind of hot. His vest is on, snug all the way around, but she tugs at his tucked in uniform shirt, pulls hard enough that their hips bump; he hauls her up against him and keeps her there, holding her by the belt and kissing back less controlled now.

Then the light flicks on, crazy bright, and, man, she just knows --

Sam pulls away first, says, "Frank," nice and cheery with a side of doom.

They stand there like a couple of kids busted for making out in a parked car. Frank just stares. And stares. He stares for so long, it starts being funny, but then he shakes his head, throws the door wide open.

"Go. Now," he says, and right away they both lurch forward, slip past him, and head off towards booking.

"Separately!" Frank calls after them, which makes Sam swerve to the right while she goes left.

 

&

 

She waits for him in the parking lot after work, freezing because she stupidly left her gloves back in her locker again and October nights are no joke. She doesn't want to miss him, though, so she sticks it out, burrows down deep into her jacket to try and stay warm.

When Sam finally shows up, she pushes off his truck, gives him a great big smile. He looks glad and somehow unsurprised to see her, in that order, before defaulting to cautious and guarded.

"Hey," she says. Her breath fogs in front of them both. "Think I can get a ride?" And she's hinting at that 98% range where the implications of offered transportation are not safe and platonic, but more, way more.

He grins, quick and revealing, and then it's gone. "Hop in."

 

&

 

End!