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Equilibrium

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It's five in the morning and Mel's in surgery again and the hospital corridors are silent and empty. Krista and Bobby are sitting side by side on hard plastic chairs, and they've read every crappy gossip magazine they can find and they've been alternating Coke and coffee for the last couple of hours because Krista's secretly terrified to let herself fall asleep and wake up in a world where her father is dead.

She doesn't know what to say to Bobby, so she doesn't say anything and for once in his life he's not trying to salvage the situation with humour and charm. (She might love him for that fact alone.) He just keeps up a steady supply of the caffeinated beverages of her choosing and when she suggested, without meaning a word of it, that he should go home and get some sleep, he shook his head and squeezed her arm, just for a second. He won't leave until she does.

(Krista has no idea where her fiance – fiance! - is right now, and she's not sure whether that bothers her.)

The surgeon emerges just as the hospital is beginning to gear up for the day, and just when Krista is beginning to wonder if she can keep her eyes open another hour. “Miss Ivarson.”

She stands hastily, searching the surgeon's face for any hint, and feels Bobby standing close behind her, warm and solid. “Your father's out of surgery. We've repaired the internal damage, and he's in a critical but stable condition. He's on his way to recovery now.”

Critical but stable. Critical but stable. Krista swallows hard and seems to lose her balance. She steps backwards and into Bobby who puts his arms around her and holds her. Critical but stable.

Bobby says, from behind her and far away, “What's his prognosis?”

“It's hard to say, but there's a good chance he'll pull through this.”

Krista still can't talk. Bobby says, for her, “Can we see him?”

The Mel in the hospital bed isn't the father Krista knows. He's pale and still, with a tube down his throat and wires everywhere. She thinks the steady pattern of the heart rate monitor should be reassuring, but the artificiality of it all, the evidence of her father's mortality, is terrifying. She holds Mel's hand and watches his chest rise and fall, with Bobby behind her until she realises she's crying.

“Krista.” Bobby pulls her up, and into his arms. “Krista.”

“I'm tired.”

“I know. You need to sleep.”

Krista wipes her eyes, and props her forehead against Bobby's shoulder. “We've got a dozen supply runs to catch up on. If we don't make those deliveries we lose the clients.”

“You're not flying.” Bobby drops a feather-light kiss on her head. “I'll get Shontal to help Hailey figure everything out. We'll pull it off. We always do. Now, I'm calling you a cab.”

Krista bites her lip, and takes the plunge. “I don't want to be alone.”

**

Bobby's place is still only half-furnished; if she was thinking clearly she might wonder if he was hesitant about staying in Yellowknife or if he just couldn't care less about interior decorating. He finds her a t-shirt and a pair of his boxers and points her to the bathroom, telling her that if she's not out of the shower in twenty minutes he'll figure she's passed out and come to rescue her.

Half an hour later, Krista finds him asleep on the couch with his mouth open. She's tempted to let him sleep, but then his eyes fly open and he sits up and smiles. “Krista.”

“Hi,” she says, deeply conscious of just how much leg she's showing, and of the likelihood of the boxers falling down.

“Are you hungry?”

She thinks they had a few candy bars in the middle of the night. “No.”

Bobby says, “You know I can sleep on the couch.”

“I noticed.”

Bobby laughs, and Krista reaches out and takes his hand in hers. “Come on.” She's suddenly exhausted, and craving the sleep she'd rejected before. “Bobby.”

“Okay.” He leads her down to his room and draws the curtains while Krista hovers awkwardly in the middle of the room, and then comes back over to her. “Well then.”

Krista climbs into Bobby's bed, and it dips under his weight as he joins her. “Here,” Bobby says softly, pulling her against him, wrapping his arms around her. Krista settles her head on his shoulder, closes her eyes, and listens to him breathe. “Thank you.”

Bobby kisses the top of her head. “Get some sleep.”

**

Krista wakes alone a little after three in the afternoon, groggy, scared, and ravenously hungry. She drags herself out of bed and stumbles into the kitchen where she finds Bobby reading the paper at the counter; when he sees her he reaches out an arm and Krista steps into his embrace. He's still wearing the clothes he wore to bed, and this feels like a couple. “I talked to Deanna, she's sitting with Mel. He's hanging in there. Nelson arrived a few hours ago, Caitlin's doing good, Loreen is awake and talking and Doc's out of danger. Want a pizza?”

“How long have you been awake?”

“Not long. Pizza?”

“Yes please. And then I should go to the hospital. Have you talked to anyone at the office?”

“Cece. Hailey has everyone organised and she's running the place like a general, he says. She's convinced Axel Roth to take Lady Lou to Aylmer tomorrow with Dev and she got almost all the urgent shipments out today.”

Krista swallows. “Is Blake there?”

“Out on a supply run with Astrid, apparently,” Bobby says, but Krista knows he knows what she means.

“I should probably talk to him,” she says, and pulls herself out of Bobby's arms.

“Are you still going to marry him?”

Krista swallows. “I can't,” she says, and Bobby nods.

“What kind of pizza?”

***

The cab makes a detour by Krista's so she can put on some clean clothes and drops Bobby at Arctic Air, because one of them should be there. Krista carries on to the hospital alone.

She finds Deanna sitting at Mel's side. “Krista,” Deanna says, and stands up and hugs her.

“Thank you,” Krista says. Mel is exactly as she left him this morning but she's glad he wasn't alone. Glad that one of their weird and complex family had been here, just in case. “Has there been any change?”

“No.”

“Okay.” Krista sits down, and takes her father's warm, rough hand in hers.

“I'm going to go sit with Loreen for a while,” Deanna says. “I'll see you later, okay?”

Krista nods. “Yeah. Thanks.”

It seems like forever that she sits there in silence, listening to machines and the sound of footsteps passing by in the corridor. One of the doctors comes in to update her, and Nelson pops in on the way back from the cafeteria, and then someone else opens the door and Krista looks up hoping for Bobby.

It's Blake.

“Hi,” she says, before Blake can say anything, like if she just manages to say what she needs to say it'll fix everything. “I never thanked you. For yesterday. And for today, actually, because Bobby told me that Cece told him that you were there today, and...” Too late, she realises that mentioning Bobby was neither helpful, nor tactful, nor kind, and trails off.

“I didn't think you'd been home.”

“I stopped off to grab some clothes on the way here.”

“I'll move my stuff out now.”

“Blake,” Krista says, a little desperate, the situation beyond her control. “I'm sorry.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

Blake turns to leave, and meets Bobby in the doorway. They pass, saying nothing, and Blake shuts the door behind him.

“How is he?” Bobby asks, gesturing at Mel.

“Same as before."

"You okay?"

Krista bites her lip. "No."

Bobby drags a chair over from the corner and sits down beside her. "Want to talk about it?"

"Talking makes things worse," she says, remembering the look on Blake's face when she mentioned Bobby.

"Okay."

They sit there quietly, side by side. Krista wants a hundred things and has no idea how to fix any of this or where she should even start and she still doesn't even know if her father's going to be okay.

God.

She presses the back of her hand to her mouth, trying to choke back the urge to cry. She's exhausted and confused, that's what her problem is.

"Have you seen the doctor?"

Krista swallows, and removes her hand. "Yeah. Doc says he's stable. They're hoping to bring him out of the coma tomorrow, if nothing changes."

"That's good."

"Yeah."

Bobby puts his hand on the back of her chair, and they sit and wait and watch in silence.

***

One of the nurses kicks them out at 8pm, when visiting hours end. "What do you want to do?" Bobby asks as they make their way out.

It's a broad question with a range of possible answers. "I should go home," Krista says. 'Should' is not 'want to', but if she goes back to Bobby's she'll kiss him again and probably screw things up just as badly as she had with Blake. She stops, and turns to face Bobby. "Thank you. For everything."

"What are friends for, right?"

Krista lets herself hug him, and for longer than she really should. Bobby is her best friend. She can't be in love with her best friend, can't be remembering every awkward, embarrassing and wonderful moment of that night they had sex all those years ago. "I'll see you tomorrow," she says, stepping back. "I'll try to get into the office before I go to the hospital."

Bobby pauses, and then nods. "Call me if you need anything."

***

The house is empty when Krista gets home. Blake's been and gone; there are spaces in the living room and her bedroom where his things had been.

Krista takes a long, hot shower and stands there under the water, letting it wash away the tears that just keep coming.

***

Astrid must have come home while Krista was in the shower, because she's sitting on the sofa in the living room wearing fuzzy purple slippers with her feet propped up on the coffee table. Blake had hated that habit of hers, but Krista had never had quite managed to care.

Astrid's looking at Krista warily, as though she thinks Krista might going to bite her head off. "Hello."

"Hi." Krista goes into the kitchen and grabs a bottle of beer from the fridge, intending to sit in the kitchen and drink it. Some impulse stops her and she grabs a second bottle and goes back into the living room. Astrid takes the offered drink with the same expression of wariness, but she pops the top off as Krista sits down opposite her.

Krista wants to forget about Blake, forget about Bobby, forget about flying over the wreckage of that plane, forget about everything else that happened yesterday. She takes a long swig of beer, and looks across at Astrid. "How was your day?"

Astrid looks startled, and Krista can't blame her. She's pretty sure it's never really occurred to her to take any interest in Astrid's life before now. "Good," says Astrid, cautiously. "It was very busy."

"Yeah." Arctic Air had been down two pilots - three, if you counted Bobby as a pilot which Krista doesn't, not yet - and they'd had an extra day's flights to catch up on. "Anything exciting?"

"I flew with Blake," Astrid says, still in that careful tone of voice. Krista wonders how much Astrid knows. "Frances Lake, Hay River and Deline."

"It's good to get your hours up."

"Yes. Dev flew to Aylmer with Axel Roth. He says he still has many things to learn about skis."

"My dad's ordered ski training for everyone, so he'll learn. You too. Speaking of Dev, where is he?"

"Hailey says the weather turned bad. They're staying in Aylmer overnight."

"Just you and me." Krista's finished her beer already. She stands up and goes back to the kitchen and as she does she says, without looking at Astrid, "I guess you know Blake moved out."

"His DVDs are gone."

"Yeah, Dev's going to be sad about that." Krista eyes the contents of the fridge. Week-old salad, leftover pasta Blake had made for dinner a few nights ago, deli meat - nothing worth eating. At least they have beer. They always have beer. She picks up as many bottles as she can carry at once, deposits them on the coffee table, and returns to inspect the pantry. Chips and a jar of salsa seems like an adequate meal.

Astrid's looking at the beer. "I have to fly to Aklavik tomorrow."

"You don't have to drink it." That comes out harsher than Krista had intended. "Sorry."

Astrid shrugs. "You drink the beer and I will fly the planes."

***

Krista oversleeps the next morning and wakes regretting her decision to consume as much alcohol as possible. Astrid's already left, so Krista fries a couple of eggs, forces herself to eat them, and tries really hard not to think about Bobby or worry about her father.

(No phone calls from the hospital; at least that's something.)

She showers and dresses and makes her way to Arctic Air, dreading an encounter with Blake and telling herself she doesn't need to see Bobby. The first person she sees is Hailey, who has a dozen questions about the patients, about a dangerous goods consignment scheduled to go out this afternoon, about whether Krista wants to reschedule two of Lady Lou's upcoming flights or fly them herself, because Axel Roth is asking to be paid.

Talking shop restores some of Krista's equilibrium, but then she walks out of the office and finds herself off-kilter again as Blake walks past her without even looking at her. It's like a kick in the guts, and yet she deserves every ounce of his pain.

She still needs to give the ring back.

She finds Bobby in the warehouse, helping Kirby and Cece with the cargo for Shontal and Astrid's morning flight. "Hey," Krista says.

Bobby looks at her and smiles that goofy, charming, genuine smile of his. "Hey."

"You got a minute?" Krista asks, with no clear idea of what she's going to say to him.

"Sure," Bobby says, and follows her to a quiet corner.

Krista looks around to make sure no one's listening, and takes a deep breath. "I've been thinking," she says, stalling for time. "If my dad's doing okay tonight, do you want to go for dinner somewhere?"

"Krista," Bobby says.

She recognises his look of surprise, and looks at the floor, and waits.

"You sure?"

"Dinner," she says again, not because she isn't sure but because part of her is terrified of diving in head first again. Dinner doesn't have to be anything, can just be two old friends sharing a meal. Easy.

"Okay," Bobby says. "Dinner."

***

By the time Krista gets back to the hospital, the doctors have already begun weaning Mel off the meds keeping him sedated. Watching her father come back to himself is an agonisingly slow process rewarded only when the breathing tube is removed and he focuses on her. "Krista?"

"Hey," she says, blinking back the tears that would probably annoy him. "Lazy bones."

Mel coughs. "What day is it?"

"Thursday. You slept through Wednesday."

"Oh." Mel lies silent for a while. It's hard for him to speak, and Krista knows that probably frustrates him almost as much as the time she tried to convince him not to fly. "The others?"

"Doing okay. You saved Doc's life, you know."

"And I won't let him forget it, either. Grumpy old bastard."

"I know you won't," Krista says as relief sweeps over her. That comment is Mel to the core, and if he can talk like that he's going to be just fine. "I should get the nurses to make you two room together. I know everyone would love that. I'm pretty sure Loreen and Caitlin are having a sleepover just down the hall. You guys could be next door."

"Smartass."

"Smartass yourself," Krista says, and squeezes his hand.

Mel says, later, "Where's Bobby?"

Krista remembers what Mel had said on the plane when he thought he was dying. She and Bobby had been holding hands, and she hadn't wanted to let go, which pretty much sums up her whole relationship with Bobby. "He's helping Hailey hold down the fort. By the way, I think Loreen's going to have to fight Hailey if she ever wants her chair back."

Mel pulls a face. "Tell him to get some flying lessons."

"Tell him yourself."

***

Bobby arrives a few hours later. Mel's sleeping (Krista's pretty sure that if he hadn't been, he probably would have told Bobby to take flying lessons), so Krista kisses him on the forehead and follows Bobby out into the corridor. "How is he?" Bobby asks.

"Making jokes and insulting people so, you know, really good."

Bobby breathes out. "Good. That's good."

They stop in to see the other survivors, and then make their way out to the parking lot. "Where do you want to go?" Bobby asks, as casually as if they were still teenagers deciding what to do after school.

Krista leans back against his truck, strangely content with life without knowing why. "Anywhere."

"Not helpful." Bobby looks at her. "I can make you mac and cheese."

"Mac and cheese?"

"I am a connoisseur. And I have really good wine, which is all that matters."

Krista laughs, and decides there's nothing in the world she wants more than mac and cheese and really good wine. "Okay then."

***

It's almost midnight, and Bobby's house is warm and peaceful. They're sitting on the couch and somehow Krista's ended up leaning against Bobby's chest with her head on his shoulder while he plays with her hair. She thinks that they shouldn't be doing this so soon after she broke up with Blake but can't bring herself to move and probably wouldn't even if she could.

"Crazy couple of days," Bobby says.

"Yeah." Krista closes her eyes, listens to the sound of Bobby's breathing and her own. "Bobby?"

"Mmm?"

"I'm an idiot."

"I wasn't going to say it, but..."

"You're lucky I like you," Krista says. "Who else in the world would put up with you?"

Bobby slips his fingers down through her hair and across her jawline. "Lots of people."

"So you say." Krista captures his hand and holds it tight. Serious time, now, and she wishes there weren't quite so many butterflies in her stomach. "Do you think we can make this work, you and me?"

Bobby catches her mood and changes his tone. No more teasing. "I think you and I can do anything."

"What about Shontal?"

"I'll talk to her. It was never anything serious and we both knew it."

Krista had thought Blake knew they weren't serious either, right up to the point where she got really confused. "If we're going to do this, we shouldn't tell anyone for a while. It's not fair to Blake." That, and she's still a little wary of the rumour mill. Things spread fast in Yellowknife, especially among the aviation community.

"Tell anyone what?" Bobby asks, his voice becoming lighter again.

Krista turns herself to meet his eyes. He was right. They could do anything together - they always had. "This," she says, and kisses him slowly.