Tasha's face was stuck in Patterson's head. The way it crumpled when Keaton suggested she'd gone rogue in front of her whole team, twisted with betrayal, it was like it was printed onto the back side of Patterson's retinas. She knew betrayal, knew loss. And she didn't want Tasha to feel it, didn't want to have to lose another of the few people she'd let close to her heart. So she abandoned everyone else who was just accepting that Zapata was leaving the CIA and not coming to join the FBI. She went to find her, to convince her that leaving them wasn't the only choice, that maybe she was wrong in her conviction that she was a poison destroying everything around her.
Patterson flung open door after door on her way to the locker rooms, hoping Tasha was still clearing out her things. She kept searching for that familiar sweep of dark hair just brushing shoulders, the beauty-marked skin, the swing of her gait. Finally, Patterson flung open the SIOC locker room door and rushed around the corner, brushing her hair back off her flushed cheeks. Tasha turned from her locker at the interruption, mouth opened already into the shape of loss.
"Patterson..." Tasha said. "Please."
"No!" Patterson cried. "You don't just get to leave like this. Were you even going to say goodbye?"
With the crack in her voice, she turned half away from Tasha and blinked a sudden onslaught of tears from her eyes. Tasha squared her shoulders, trying to appear strong and willful when the other woman met her eyes again. Patterson stepped closer to Tasha, who just merely avoided flinching at the proximity, and grabbed desperately, and almost too tightly, around Tasha's wrists.
"I can't let you walk out of here thinking that you're poison, that you're going to ruin us, when..." Patterson started, her voice getting smaller the longer she continued. "Opposite opposite."
She let go of the other woman, starting to feel her heartbeat speed and crawl uncomfortably up her throat. She swallowed against a lump in her throat and tried to ignore the fluttering in her belly, the desperate shake that climbed her spine.
"Tash, if you asked me a few weeks ago, I wouldn't have had the clarity to say this. But even when you were breaking my heart, you thought you were protecting me. You were caring about me. And that fixed about eighty little bugs in my system. You're not poison. You don't ruin everything you touch. You're good. And if you walk out of here, I just might not be."
Tasha moved forward at once, gathering the blonde in her arms and holding her. Patterson slumped into the touch, afraid it would be the last one. She tried not to let her shoulders shake, tried to hold down any possibility of a sob. Tasha shook her head against the other woman's shoulder.
"This is why I didn't come see you," Tasha said. "I didn't want to betray you again with a goodbye after what I did to you. And I thought..."
"We've already established you think completely differently than I do about these kinds of things," Patterson said. Tasha had been so thoroughly convinced that Borden's death was a comfort for Patterson that she couldn't see how much his supposed death was actually killing her. Tasha's idea of protecting her had never yet not hurt. "If you left without saying goodbye... That would kill me. I don't care how mad at you I've been."
Tasha stepped back a little in surprise. "I don't think I know how not to hurt you. I'm sorry. But I have to go because no matter what you think, I've watched pain and grief follow me and..."
"And what Tasha?! Do you not think with our jobs that it isn't true for all of us? My ex-boyfriend died because he saw some of the tattoos that should've never left my lab, that I brought home to him. If you're poison, so am I."
"That wasn't your fault."
"Yes, it was. But Tasha, this one isn't yours. So stay."
"I don't know that I can."
Patterson lost her razor's edge of control over her tears, and they clung to her eyelashes before sliding down her cheeks.
"I thought you were changing," Patterson said. "I really thought… I should go."
Patterson wiped her tears away with an angry swipe of her shirt sleeve, turning on her heel and leaving the room as fast as she'd entered it. If Tasha wanted to continue her horrible habit of presuming to know what was best for everyone without ever just asking what they needed, then she just couldn't trust Tasha not to hurt her. In fact, she already had.
Patterson doesn't go back to her lab, despite it being her usual routine to work herself into the late hours of every night so she didn't have to face her empty apartment. She just wanted to curl up in her bed and mourn her best friend, who she'd only just allowed to creep back into her life after her misjudgment. She had missed her so much, and was going to miss her even more since she'd realized that she hadn't felt half as much when she lost Borden than when she lost Tasha. The betrayal stung twice as much because while, yes, she'd been gun-shy after David, Borden didn't make her feel the deep joy or the deep hatred she felt for Tasha. Borden hurt her by trying to kill her. But Tasha knowing he was alive was what actually killed her, hurt worse than her getting shot or kidnapped or bugged. Because she loved her. She loved Tasha in all the ways she couldn't love Borden, in all the ways she tried to convince herself she loved David while constantly pushing them both away. Her heart was simply already accounted for.
After gathering her stuff, she got on the elevator to head down to her car, looking at her feet as she waited for the doors to close.
"Wait!" she heard. When she looked up, someone was getting on the elevator with her. Tasha was getting on the elevator with her.
Tasha startled when she saw who her elevator mate was, then just looked relieved. "I thought you were gone. I knew you'd never open your door for me."
Patterson shrugged in the small space, refusing to meet Tasha's eyes.
"Please, will you just look at me," Tasha begged.
Patterson met her gaze, defiant, refusing to show her fractured interior.
"I'm sorry, Patterson," Tasha said. "The last thing I wanted was to hurt you. So can we just go get a drink and talk about this?"
To punctuate her statement, Tasha reached for Patterson's hand. "Please?"
Patterson found herself melting. She lifted a finger as if in warning. "One drink."
She was tired of fighting Tasha to actually see her. She hoped this invitation meant maybe she was finally actually really looking.
Soon after, the two sat at the bar, so close that their knees occasionally brushed together. Patterson felt heavy with the weight of Tasha's possible leaving and just wanted her close, wanted to crawl into her skin and force her to stay. But she didn't want resentment between them. She wanted Tasha to choose to stay, to want to be with her as much as she wanted the same. But she was never going to get that. Tasha had admitted it already, her feelings were for Reade. With that, she downed the drink Tasha had bought for her in one painful gulp and looked at her hands against the wooden bartop.
"Look, Patterson, I don't know how to love people. I keep trying and either I hurt someone or they hurt me. I guess I'm a little bit… cautious. And you're my best friend, okay? The only person I feel has ever loved me unconditionally. And I love you. Losing you would be the worst thing that ever happened to me."
Tasha's eyes were pleading, tears threatening to fall. Patterson felt like she was choking on her own breath. I love you. I love you. I love you. She didn't mean it the way Patterson hoped.
"I'm telling you how to love me. You love me by staying," Patterson said. "If you really don't want to be with us at the FBI, fine. But do you really want to leave me?"
"I won't leave you," Tasha said.
"Promise," Patterson urged. "Promise me."
"I'm not going anywhere, I swear. I'm going to sit on my couch for a few weeks and find my new calling," Tasha said.
She slipped her pinky over Patterson's. "We could watch TV on the weekends and eat bad takeout. You can keep me up to date on all the non-classified office drama."
Patterson met her eyes without pain for the first time this evening. "Can we start now?"
"Yes," Tasha said. "Of course."
Patterson took Tasha's hand fully and pulled her along after her. They soon found themselves curled up together on Tasha's couch, silent except the sounds of their own breathing. They'd just held each other, Tasha stroking Patterson's hair and lightly scratching her scalp. Patterson sighed and twisted their hands together.
"Stay tonight?" Tasha asked.
"Okay," Patterson said without pause. She wanted to be near Tasha long enough to convince herself she would still be there tomorrow.
"C'mon, up," Tasha encouraged. "You shower first. You know where the pyjamas and towels are."
Patterson got ready for bed in silence, showering and dressing in borrowed clothes. The routine was familiar to her, a few too many drunken girls nights had ended this way. When she left Tasha's ensuite bathroom into her bedroom, she found Tasha sitting on the bed and joined her. Feeling suddenly brave, Patterson sat very straight and opened up her heart.
"I have to tell you one thing before this night ends," Patterson said. "When I say I love you, I mean I really love you. Like not just friends love. And I know you don't love me that way and that's okay. It's okay if you want me to go, if that makes you uncomfortable, but I can't stop myself from feeling it. And it doesn't stop me from needing you as my best friend."
"Promise me something?" Tasha asked.
"Of course," Patterson said.
"Don't try to stop feeling it, okay?" Tasha said. And then she leaned in and kissed her friend squarely on the mouth.
Patterson stiffened in surprise a moment before settling into the kiss, pressing one hand against Tasha's neck as they explored each other's mouths. The soft brush of Tasha's hair against Patterson's knuckles, her breath in her mouth, the taste of her tongue, it all drove Patterson crazy. She moaned as Tasha drove her hands under her shirt to grasp at her waist and pull her onto her lap. Tasha traced her hands down to Patterson's hips, then into a grip of her thighs as they came apart, pressing their foreheads together as they caught their breath.
"I thought… I thought you were into Reade," Patterson said, not bothering to move from her spot so close to Tasha that her breath fanned across her neck.
"I thought I was too. But his rejection didn't hurt half as much as knowing I'd hurt you," Tasha said. She cupped Patterson's cheek and pulled back just enough that they could lock eyes. "I didn't really realize it. But, I think it's you."
"Wow," Patterson said. "I thought I was going to ruin everything."
"No," Tasha said. Then a sly grin came over her face and her hands closed over Patterson's hips once again. "We can ruin these bed sheets though."
Patterson blushed quick, letting out a surprised laugh before shaking her head and dropping a light kiss on Tasha's lips. "Okay."
Patterson bit her lip and Tasha's grin only widened. As if pulled by magnets, they came together in another deep kiss, finally content in knowing that no one was going anywhere for a long while.