The good doctor Angela Ziegler was restless. That was the only word for it.
It clouded about her anytime her mind was not focused intensely on work or similar. Which was not to say that she didn’t have work enough—there was always a tremendous amount to be accomplished in her profession, and particularly when working with Overwatch.
But no, this was different.
It was like a haze, always lurking around the corners and seizing her thoughts anytime they were not otherwise wholly occupied.
Perhaps twenty years ago she would have been confused at this sudden change in her own demeanor, wouldn’t have been able to understand what was happening, would have been concerned why. And really, she had been so dense to these sort of more complicated feelings until well into adulthood.
Now Angela knew herself far better, well enough to derive exactly what was going on with herself. Which was unfortunately still a cause for another kind of concern. And that concern could be summed up in two words: Fareeha Amari.
Precisely just when her particular interest in General Ana Amari’s daughter had gone from platonic (or was it ever truly even that?) to something rather more intimate was hard to pinpoint. But there was absolutely no denying her physiological response when both in and out of the captain’s presence. Increased heart rate and pupil dilation when Fareeha approached her. Elevated blood pressure and sensation of heat when they were physically close. Release of dopamine no doubt as well when she and she alone could seem to manage to get those rare, cautious smiles out of Fareeha. To get her to joke, to relax. Could convince her to enjoy a lunch outside like a pseudo picnic between the two of them…
Angela shook her head. And then of course there was this exactly. Thoughts incessantly circling around Fareeha even when the woman wasn’t anywhere to be found in the moment.
Angela’s head fell into her hands and she gave a loud sigh in the quiet of the medical bay.
This was not supposed to be happening.
Fareeha adjusted the gold bracelets on her arm absentmindedly, surveying the bar for about the upteenth time since their odd crew had entered the establishment. Lena had been adamant about it, about ensuring that on the rare off days where they weren’t scattered across the globe trying to save it that the ragtag members of Overwatch 2.0 make the most of their time and do some “squad bonding”. Which apparently equated to the bar for tonight.
Not that Fareeha herself had any particularly strong feelings here or there. Bars were hardly her regular scene, but having gone though the military, she could appreciate just how important it was for a squad of any sort to strengthen their connections off the battlefield.
She had been a bit apprehensive going in. Some nights she just wanted to be able to relax by herself in the privacy of her own quarters, not have to focus on socializing. At least everyone now seemed to know better than to bring up Fareeha’s mother to her. Part of Fareeha still felt mildly guilty for the first time, when Morrison had slapped her on the shoulder like an uncle and commented on how proud her mother must be. The acerbic response that she had practically barked back had been instinctive, and she had felt a bit badly for the shock the old head of Overwatch had displayed, clearly caught off guard. But he and everyone else who was part of the old guard quickly caught on to the fact that the subject of Ana Amari was one that Fareeha had no desire to discuss with anyone, and she preferred to keep it that way.
“Relax already, Amari!”
A massive slap to her unsuspecting back nearly sent Fareeha tumbling, though she managed with just a stumble. Zaryanova, for her part, seemed happily oblivious though. She had a large tumbler of what was undoubtedly vodka in her off hand, and a great and pleased grin plastered across her face.
“So serious all the time,” she chided. “We are here to celebrate as friends, ya? Where is your drink? I will get you one.”
Fareeha scrambled to get ahead of Zarya at the bar. She was not about to nurse an equivalent glass of vodka. The brown ale she randomly picked off the menu before Zarya could get any ideas would do just fine.
It took another beer and a half before Fareeha finally began to feel at ease and like she wasn’t in immediate danger of being coerced into karaoke like Lena had been threatening for everyone since the moment they walked in.
From her corner at a table up near the wall, Fareeha was content enough to just survey her teammates, all of whom seemed to be enjoying the night off. Good then. She shook her head and smiled, overhearing a stray bit of boasting from Reinhardt about how he was certain he could beat any of them in an old-fashioned arm wrestling contest.
However, her brief solitude proved to be just that when Angela suddenly slid on the the bench beside her, knocking legs against her and giggling just the slightest bit. Giggling.
Angela snatched the brown ale away from her before she could so much as blink about it. Her lips wrapped around the rim of the amber-colored glass, and she tilted it back, never taking her eyes away from Fareeha during the entire process.
When she was done, she placed the bottle back on the table with a loud thunk. Her pink tongue darted out to lick her lips, and Fareeha noted how her pale cheeks were ruddy from a persistent flush, and her voice and actions alike were louder and far less restrained than usual.
“Ahh! Not bad.”
“And how many beers has the good doctor herself had tonight?” Fareeha couldn’t entirely keep the teasing from voice. At least Angela seemed to be having fun; everyone knew the woman would work herself to the bone if allowed to.
“Excuse you!” retorted Angela, poking one finger accusatorily into Fareeha’s arm. “None! Why would I drink beer when I can have wine!”
Ah, that explained it. “My apologies, doctor—”
“—Angela.” She paused, raising an eyebrow. “Is there something terribly wrong with my arm?”
Doubtful, but she was amused and curious as to exactly what her inebriated friend found so fascinating about her bicep that she had decided to continue poking and prodding it.
“How? How do you get these kinds of muscles?”
Fareeha laughed at the petulant quality to Angela’s voice, and then again when she was given a scowl for her laughter.
“Perhaps you should ask our resident powerlifter instead?” She nodded toward where Zarya stood, talking animated with Reinhardt. Probably still going on about an arm wrestling competition.
Angela made a face and Fareeha had to fight the urge to laugh.
“I don’t waaant to talk to Zarya, I want to talk to you.” Angela stopped fiddling with Fareeha’s arm to put an elbow on the table and rest her chin atop the palm of her hand, giving Fareeha her very direct and undivided attention. Even if she was drunk.
“Well...what do you want to talk about?” Fareeha shifted a bit.
“You.” That was...unexpected? “I want to know more about you, Fareeha.”
Whatever she had suspected her tipsy friend might want to talk about, it was not her. She was hardly a topic of interest over drinks. “What about me?”
Surely everything of importance was in her file.
“Just...you! What was it like growing up in Cairo? Do you miss it? How did you decide to join the armed forces? What made you decide to leave it?”
She was pelted with questions, but none of them prying too deep. Just innocent, really, in an almost endearing fashion. When, even with however many drinks in her, Angela showed no signs of boredom, Fareeha began slowly to talk more in depth, answering as best as she could.
It was...relaxing almost. To speak of her past, her old home. Overwatch was still all too new and different to her, but with friends like this, perhaps it really could become her new home, rather than just her new job.
For a moment Fareeha was afraid Angela was going to bring up her mother, about how similar it was to Ana Amari’s. She braced herself for an inquiry that never came.
“It must have hurt to get. What does it mean?”
The tension she hadn’t even realized was building up in her shoulders drained from Fareeha in an instant.
“It’s the wadjet—the Eye of Horus.”
“The ancient Egyptian god?”
Fareeha nodded, continuing. She drew out the pattern against the grain of the wooden table as she spoke. “The ancient pharaohs would place it on their tombs to ward off evil and guard them going into the afterlife. It was a mark of good luck, supposed to mean restoration and protection.”
Angela suddenly reached out and cupped the side of her face, and Fareeha froze. She wasn’t in the habit of letting anyone into her personal space like this. Yet..this was Angela, and the touch was startling gentle.
Fareeha held still, letting her eyes close for the long seconds as a thumb rubbed over the tattooed skin just below her eye.
“Protection…” murmured Angela, and then Fareeha reopened her eyes.
The words held for a moment on her tongue, and yet she found she wanted to say them, to explain.
“When I first got it, I...I always thought of it as like a charm for me. Protection in the battle.”
The thumb still caressed the top of her cheekbone, but she found she didn’t mind it. “And now?”
“Now it reminds me...I’m supposed to protect those who cannot protect themselves.”
Angela pulled her hand back as abruptly as when she had first reached out. She brought her hand back to her now even more pronouncedly flushed face, shaking her head the slightest bit as she muttered under her breath.
“My god...but this is not fair! Why are you so...so…?”
So...what? Whatever it was, it would remain a mystery to Fareeha, as instead of finishing her sentence, Angela instead suddenly dropped her red face into both hands, groaning.
“Angela?! Are you okay? Are you feeling ill? Do you need me to get you water or—”
A louder groan, though Angela did not yet look up.
“I don’t need water! I’m fine!”
Only slightly belligerent.
“Are you sure—”
Another unintelligible noise, and then Angela finally dropped her hands—to grab Fareeha’s beer and toss back what remained in the bottle. Oh dear. Water really was a good idea.
“Angela, how about you wait here, and I’ll get you another drink after I use the bathroom?” Like water. Namely water. Not that Fareeha was going to say that out loud again.
Angela frowned, so she continued.
“I’ll be right back in a minute, okay? Just stay here.”
That got what could only be described as a long-suffering huff. “Fiiiine…”
Fareeha stood, and then reached out without meaning too, brushing back some stray strands of Angela’s blonde hair from her face. Immediately, whatever the cause was of frustration seemed to bleed out of Angela, and she smiled up at Fareeha.
“Come back soon?”
Fareeha didn’t laugh, but smiled warmly back. “I will. Just wait right here for me.”
She left to relieve her bladder first, rushing to wash her hands and get back out into the bar before she caught herself.
Easy...the entire squad is here. She’s hardly being left alone to fend for herself. What could possibly happen?
Right. No rush.
Just get the two cups of water from the bartender and—
Fareeha rounded the corner of the bar, waters now in hand, and stopped short.
The karaoke stage was in full swing now, with the main event being a certain blonde-haired doctor whom she had instructed specifically to stay at the now abandoned table that was off to the left.
Good lord. So much for the whole waiting for her to get back with water.
She watched as Lena clapped and urged Angela onward, Torb cheering the loudest of the onlooking bunch. She’d never see Angela this relaxed before. The lines of worry that always seemed permanently etched into her face had evaporated, replaced by a silly grin and a clear mischievous glint in her blue eyes.
The work they all did took a heavy toll on them, some harder than others. Getting the rare opportunity to unwind and let go…
Fareeha took a sit on a table near the edge of the noise—she wasn’t about to be dragged into singing onstage. But she couldn’t help but smile while watching Angela’s theatrics as she belted out somewhat suggestive lyrics into the mic.
As long as Angela was having fun, then Fareeha was happy.
And she’d still be there with a glass of water in hand afterward.
“You alright there, Fareeha? I can help you get the doc back to her—”
“We’re gooooood! I’m good! I don’t even need help!”
Fareeha sighed but still smiled as Angela wobbled up against her. She had the foresight to get Angela to throw one arm over her shoulders and had one of own her arms firmly around the the very drunk doctor’s waist. Which Fareeha had a sneaking suspicion was making the difference in keeping Angela upright since they had gotten out of the car back at base.
She used her spare hand to wave Lena’s concerns away. Lena wasn’t that much more sober than Angela after all. Based on experience, the fewer drunk people involved, the better.
“I’ve got her I think.” Fareeha waved of the concerns. “Will you be alright getting back to your own rooms?”
“Aye aye, Cap’n! Cheers!”
Which left Fareeha back to trying to guide Angela back to the doctor’s own quarters. A precarious task at best given her drunken friend’s disposition to suddenly stop, speed up, zigzag, or just practically fall on Fareeha herself.
As she did now. When they were practically in front of her door.
“Fareeeeehaaa…” Angela practically sang her name, nuzzling her nose into Fareeha’s neck all the while. It made thinking surprisingly difficult, and Fareeha had to concentrate.
“Angela...where are your keys?”
When a response was not forthcoming—was Angela falling asleep on her?—Fareeha shook her lightly, repeating herself.
Finally Angela moved, stumbling away and pulling her keys from a pocket, haphazardly throwing them up to Fareeha. Fareeha watched from the corner of her eye as Angela slide down the wall to sit loudly on the floor. No need to worry about her falling over while she unlocked the door at least.
Door at last opened, she turned…
...to find that Angela had well and truly fallen asleep on the floor.
Hardly a proper sleeping place.
“Alright, doctor…” she murmured, choosing to pick Angela up in her arms rather than bother trying to wake her. It wasn’t difficult; she was smaller and far lighter than Fareeha, enough to make Fareeha frown absentmindedly. “You need to be eating better…”
She tucked away the thought for later. Less scrambling for junkfood when Angela ‘remembered’ she needed to eat, and more regular, healthy meals. Maybe she could do something to help with that.
Fareeha navigated through the kitchen and common room into the open-doored bedroom, finally and carefully depositing the now snoring bundle that was Angela Ziegler carefully onto her bed, scratching her head for a moment afterward. What should she do now? Angela looked peaceful enough, and was likely just sleeping off the ambitious night of drinking.
Well...she could at least take the woman’s shoes off rather than let them dirty the bed.
Even after having gently closed the bedroom door to Angela’s faint snores, Fareeha found herself reluctant to leave to her own quarters. What if Angela woke up and needed something? Or got sick? Or…?
She chewed at her bottom lip in worry. After pacing for a minute, she finally kicked off her boots and tried to make herself comfy on the couch. She’d slept on far worse, and after the long night, her eyes began to droop almost immediately. Her last thought before sleep took her was that hopefully Angela wouldn’t think anything strange of her having spent the night.
Angela did not even need to open her eyes to know beyond a reason of a doubt just how hungover she was. Pounding headache, knotted stomach...the unmistakable desire to simply roll over and let everything end like a piece of soon to become road kill.
Age did not treat heavy drinking kindly, and she was a far cry from her college years, or even her original medical school studies. Not to mention it had been years since she had last drank so heavily.
In perfect timing her mind began floating up snippets from the prior night’s debauchery of a performance by her. Tugging on Fareeha’s arm, shamelessly taking her beer to throw back a deep gulp from it, running her thumb over Fareeha’s cheek...over that soft tattooed skin...singing karaoke…
A deep, pained groan escaped from her throat, and she smothered her face into her pillow, wishing for nothing more than the ability to sink into her mattress and disappear for eternity. How was she going to face Fareeha—face anyone—now? She was supposed to be a professional, not a shameless drunk flirt!
She was a grown woman, dammit!
Angela groaned again into her pillow, a mixture of pain and embarrassment alike, loud and drawn out. Until a polite knock on her bedroom door made her jerk upright, eyes open and room spinning.
“Angela? Are you awake?”
There was no mistaking that distinct voice, and as soon as she heard, Angela panicked. What was Fareeha doing in her quarters? Why was she in her quarters? What was Angela supposed to say or do when she was in this, this...state?
“Fareeha?” her voice cracked with incredulity.
Unfortunately for her, Fareeha seemed to take her name being spoken as signal that it was ok to enter. The handle moved, and before Angela could gather her wits to think of saying anything otherwise, the door was carefully and cautiously opened.
For a long moment Fareeha stood there, looking uncertain and unsure of herself.
It took far too long through the blur of exhaustion and self-consciousness for Angela to recognize that Fareeha was still wearing the exact same outfit as last night: distractingly tight jeans and a sleeveless and loose blouse that revealed equally distracting toned arms.
Mind out of the gutter, Doctor.
“Wait...Fareeha...did you not go home to your own quarters last night?
Even through the dimness of the room, it was impossible to miss how Fareeha’s back went ramrod straight, as if a steel pole had been shoved through it. Her already naturally dark skin on her throat and cheeks flushed darker still.
“I-I took you back here,” she stuttered, clearly embarrassed. “You fell asleep on the way back, and I assumed you would want to wake up in familiar surroundings. And then I hope you don’t mind that I slept on your couch—I wanted to make sure you were okay in case you woke up and felt sick or—”
What a rarity: the terse and normally stoic Fareeha Amari instead practically tripping over her words in the the effort to explain herself. It...it was endearing. Adorable. Angela brought her palm up to cover her mouth, to hide her own rising blush she could feel far too acutely in her face. Unfortunately, her guest seemed to interpret this as a different sort of reaction.
“Angela?” This time there was no mistaking the sharp concern in Fareeha’s voice
In a moment, Fareeha had taken a few long and quick strides, and then the edge of the mattress was dipping under her added weight as she sat on the edge.
A hand immediately pressed to Angela’s forehead, and whatever Angela was going to say died on her lips as Fareeha watched her intently, brow furrowed in a mixture of concentration and worry.
“Doesn’t feel like a fever…” she murmured, sounding puzzled. “Are you feeling ill?”
Angela closed her eyes, trying to fight down the flush and trying very hard not to think about how nice Fareeha felt, how nice it would feel if…
But no. She exhaled her breath, forcing her shaky thoughts to focus. “I’m fine, Fareeha, just…”
Her state spoke enough for itself, and Fareeha seemed to understand, abruptly withdrawing her hand. Angela tried to ignore how she missed its sudden absence.
As if recalling herself, Fareeha suddenly offered her spare hand—a glass full to brimming with some sort of fresh juice concoction. “I made juice, and there’s coffee brewing in the kitchen. And I was making food, if that’s okay.” She reached into a pocket and pulled out two painkiller pills, placing them on the night table as Angela accepted the juice from her. “I wasn’t sure what you’d want to best recover from a night of drinking…”
She trailed off, hesitant. Angela’s mind swirled, more than just a bit baffled. Fareeha had made sure that she had made it home safely, had slept on the couch to stay nearby, and was now doing everything under the sun to try to help Angela get over her hangover...with not even the faintest hint of judgement present over whatever antics Angela had tried to drag her into last night.
Had she been wrong? She had thought Fareeha’s seeming indifference to her attempts at flirting to be indicative of lack of interest. But...had she misinterpreted…?
Fareeha fidgeted, a rare sight, jerking Angela’s sluggish thoughts back to the present.
“If you would like to rest, I can also leave—”
“No!” Angela swallowed. “I mean...I should get up anyway. And food will do me well. Thank you...you didn’t need to do any of this.”
She took a deep swallow from the glass. Mango. Delicious.
Whatever seemed to have wound up in Fareeha loosened, and first hints of a gentle smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. That sight and the words that accompanied them made Angela practically bury herself back into the juice.
“No. But I wanted to.” She stood, and Angela could have practically cursed herself when her traitorous mind leisurely suggested how nice it would be if she would just reach up and pull Fareeha back down to bed. “Now, what do you like in your omelet?”
“Thank you!” exclaimed Angela, eagerly accepting the cup of coffee from Fareeha. Their fingers brushed against one another as the simple paper cup was exchanged, and Angela felt her heart rate bump up before she took a greedy sip from the cup, steam hiding any possible hint of blush that might have shown on her own pale cheeks.
“Thought you might want a morning pick me up,” offered Fareeha, leaning back against the edge of Angela’s desk.
More than just one when you’re providing the coffee, certainly. Though Angela kept that thought to herself.
There was never an exact schedule to it, but Angela always looked forward to whenever she could expect Fareeha to drop by the medical bay just to see her. And it had become a schedule of sorts. They’d fallen into an easy pattern like this over the last month or two, and all coming out of the very thing Angela had initially been the most concerned over.
Her severe humiliation upon first waking in her chambers, hungover from too much wine and a night out, had eventually abated when she realized Fareeha well and truly did not care. The woman seemed utterly unfazed by Angela’s less that perfectly professional behavior when wine entered the equation; if anything, she had seemed happy that Angela had enjoyed herself for a night, and remained more concerned with taking care of her...something that had flattered Angela beyond measure. The fact that Fareeha had taken such a strong and vested interest in Angela’s well being…
And it extended to well beyond the few repeat nights at the bar that they had experienced in the last few months. Fareeha had been spending far more time with her, intimate time between just the two of them, often cooking entire meals for Angela when time allowed for it, making sure that she ate well and slept well. God, but the first time Angela had been woken up from falling asleep at her desk by Fareeha carrying her to a couch…
Her heart had stopped for a moment...in the best of ways.
Angela had been making an effort to stop working such late hours, to sleep more regularly and to take regular meals rather than living partially off of the vending machine.
Imagine that...an overworked surgeon and nanomedicine researcher actually living healthier all thanks to a military soldier.
It was easy to, though, when Fareeha was there helping her and looking after her.
And yet, despite all of that initially encouraging progress, things had seemed to stall out from there. Nothing had actually happened, and Angela was still trying to fully puzzle out why before she made any further moves. To say that she hadn’t already emotionally invested herself in Fareeha at this point would be lie, but as much as she desired more, she also worried about destroying the relationship that they had already built if she was too rash. None of which was helped by trying to get a read on Fareeha herself.
The woman was, quite possibly, astoundingly oblivious...practically defying all logic. Angela had tried nearly every approach she could think of, from the more subtle compliments and leading questions on the day to day basis to the far less subtle come-ons she would engage in on the occasions they did end up at the bar.
Really though, everything seemed to indicate Fareeha was interested in her...but Angela had to admit that she was still too cowed to take a more direct step forward. Not when in one moment Fareeha would act as if she had all the time in the world for Angela, and in the next seem to be otherwise completely deaf, blind, and dumb to the very clear pickup lines Angela had attempted.
Fareeha Amari was a damnable sphinx at times with her emotions, which was only leading to an increasing amount of...frustration...for Angela in the meantime. Not that she would let that ruin a perfectly good coffee break in the present.
They had been chatting easily when Fareeha finally glanced at the clock and then back down at Angela.
“I have to go in a bit. I’m running one of the fitness courses with Zarya and Lena, and then shooting range in the afternoon. Lunch at noon?”
Angela felt her excitement fall. “Ah, I’m afraid I have Jack coming in right around then for some checkup work, so I’ll have to pass on lunch today. But maybe dinner tonight?”
Fareeha chuckled and stood fully. “Don’t work yourself too hard in the meantime, Dr. Ziegler. I can’t be around all the time to take care of you, as nice as that would be.”
Oh god, but if Angela hadn’t been hiding her face in her coffee before, she certainly was now. Curses, but Fareeha wasn’t even teasing when she said that (well, not in the way that Angela would be even more appreciative of).
She nodded, not daring to trust her voice as she swallowed a hot mouthful of blessed, blessed caffeine.
Fareeha turned around one last time before exiting, gracing Angela with what could only be called a radiant smile.
Lunch with three or more Overwatch members inevitably became a raucous affair.
Fareeha, Zarya, and Lena had managed to intersect with Hana and Mei in the cafeteria, claiming a table that soon echoed with laughter and stories alike as Fareeha wolfed down her sizeable plate of food.
She was never one to speak much to begin with, and was far more content listening to Lena or Hana direct the conversation. At least until the subject turned closer to home.
“Where is the doc today anyway, Fareeha?”
Caught in the middle of a mouthful of chicken, Fareeha had to shake her head, finally swallowing. “Busy today with work.”
“She always works so much,” lamented Mei. “Barely get to see her, especially when she’s focused on a new research project.”
“Well…” Zarya looked slyly across the table, directly at Fareeha, and raised an eyebrow. “For most of us, yes. But for some…”
Fareeha felt hot suddenly, uncomfortable, and took a large bite of her bread to avoid having to say anything. What exactly was she expected to say anyway?
“Yeah but unfortunately not all of us can walk like an Egyptian, eh? Or at least fly.”
Lena punctuated the point by elbowing Fareeha good-naturedly in the ribs, prompting a round of hearty laughter from the table...except from Fareeha herself.
She half-inhaled the bread roll she had been chewing, crumbs catching in her throat and resulting in a heavy fit of hacking coughs that left her eyes watering and her lungs wheezing.
“Easy there, Amari!” Zarya was shoving a glass of water into her hand. “Unless you were looking for another reason to get sent to the doctor?”
That prompted another round of guffaws, but Fareeha straightened, pushing the water away. “What...what do you…?”
Any remaining hints of laughter immediately quieted. She looked around the table, taking in the wide eyes and increasingly uneasy glances directed at her that said it all.
Did they seriously mean…? Did they think...she...and Angela...were…?
Fareeha shoved back from the table with her tray in hand before she’d even realized she was standing. Why was her heart so loud? She was always careful to make sure she kept hydrated.
Everyone was staring at her.
“I need to go.”
She was out of the cafeteria, not even remembering dropping her tray of half-finished lunch off, boots clopping against the artificially illuminated hallway.
Where...Fareeha was nearly at the medical bay when she stopped short. No. Anywhere but here. She needed to get away. To get space. Before her thoughts caught her and dragged her down. She turned and bolted in the opposite direction, finally ending up in the currently empty gym. Normally she waited after a full meal to dive right back into physical exertion, but she was on the bench in a second, plates loaded onto the barbell and setting her grip in an instant.
Her mind was her own jailer and torturer simultaneously, calling back to the life a slew of memories from the last few months.
Angela...face lighting up when Fareeha would stop by her office with a coffee and meal in tow. The way their fingers would brush when Fareeha would hand over the cup.
She slammed the bar up and down. Up and down.
Fareeha cooking her meals after those nights spent out with the squad with too much drinking.
Not enough weight. It was too easy. She stopped only long enough to add on more plates to the bar.
Angela asking her to their own private little lunch picnics outside. Fareeha making sure Angela didn’t work herself into the dust. Making sure that when she fell asleep at her desk that she always woke up on a couch or in a bed. Making sure that she did less of that falling asleep at 2 am in the medical bay.
And the way Angela would just look at her...as if she was the only person in the whole of the world.
Her heart hammered in her chest.
Suddenly Fareeha’s arms buckled and the bar dropped back down, forcing her attention to the present as the heavy weight barely hovered over her sternum.
Crap. She’d pushed herself too far.
Suddenly a shadow loomed over her and two hands yanked on the bar, helping to easily lift it up to the safety hooks again.
She sat up, gasping for breath and drenched in sweat.
“Thank you,” she managed. She was still sucking wind.
Zarya shrugged it off but frowned. “You’re smarter than to overload when you have no spotter, Amari.”
“Yes, I…” She looked away, admitting the amateur error. “I may have lost track of what I was doing.”
Zarya took a heavy seat on the bench opposite of her, still frowning. She was clearly thinking hard about what she wanted to say next.
“We...I did not mean to...to upset you, Amari.”
Fareeha couldn’t look at her, fought the urge to fidget.
“I did not realize you two were only friends. We assumed...the way she treats you, the way you treat her...how she even just looks at you...”
No no no. Her brain screeched to halt internally, and Fareeha felt the panic threaten to engulf her again, choking in her throat.
“Angela…” No. She shook her head, and more sweat flicked off of her nose and chin. “Dr. Ziegler...she’s—”
Why was it so hard to make the words?
Zarya reached out but did not touch her, respecting her space. She offered a fresh gym towel instead. “Easy, my friend. I do not mean to agitate you further. You do not need to explain yourself.”
Fareeha took the towel, mopping up her face with it. Yet she did feel the need to say something. How had everyone seemed to have inferred this except her?
“It’s just...she’s the team doctor. We work together!”
The surprised stare she received back was entirely uncomprehending. Whatever Zarya had been expecting her to say, it was not that. “So?”
Zarya sighed, as if reading the silent incredulity. “Amari...do you like her? Because I am fairly certain that she likes you, as more than just a colleague and friend. None of us have ever seen her treat anyone the way she does you. The way she looks at you, even, like—”
“I can’t...this…I don’t know!” She finally yelled. It echoed through the room, and Fareeha felt immediately and severely shamed. That was just it, wasn’t it? She didn’t know. It took more courage than she wished to admit to stop looking at the floor.
Zarya looked confused, and Fareeha forced the words through her clumsy tongue. “Please do not say anything about this to Angela. I don’t want...that is, she doesn’t need…”
Thankfully, Zarya’s face seemed to relax, understanding. “I will not say anything to her, and I will make sure no one else does either. I am sorry again, my friend. We did not mean to push you.”
“It’s okay,” Fareeha spoke automatically. Then she took a deep breath, feeling that she owed something. “I just...I do not know what it is I should be doing.”
Zarya stood, then gave Fareeha a well meaning and gentle slap on the shoulder.
“No one is saying you need do anything, Amari, especially if you don’t wish to. But…life is short, Fareeha.” Zarya seemed to stare at something beyond her, and she suddenly looked very, very old, far older and more tired than her true age. “And I suspect Angela knows this better than many. Live with the fewest regrets, yes? What else besides that can we do?”
Had she done something wrong?
The dreaded question dominated Angela’s thoughts every waking hour, no matter how busy she made herself, no matter how much she threw herself into work.
Everything seemed to point to Fareeha avoiding her. Seemingly out of the blue, the woman had made herself scarce as possible over the course of the week. Too busy to get a meal, to even get coffee. Some sudden and urgent task she had to attend to whenever Angela tried to engage in conversation. Practically turning in the opposite direction if the were in the same hallway or room.
She’s avoiding you.
Angela had wracked her brains for something, for anything, that she had recently done to explain it, and could only despair.
Had she started coming on too strong? Had Fareeha gotten tired of her? Had…had she simply read the situation incorrectly from the get-go, and had Fareeha suddenly become aware and...?
Angela’s eyes prickled and watered, and she cursed underneath her breath. She didn’t have time for this. To deal with this. Too much depended on her. Too much needed to be done in her research, her treatment designs. None of this was supposed to be happening. She wasn’t supposed to have let herself get to this point.
And letting herself think too much about how everything in her personal life seemed to be collapsing…
The world couldn’t afford for her to be caught up in this.
More than ever, she needed to focus, to force her thoughts anywhere but on how—
No. She was not going to fall into this again.
Angela rubbed at her eyes until the burning stopped. No doubt her eyes looked red, if only from the limited sleep. It was better to make herself useful than to lay awake staring at the ceiling, though.
The computer screens in front of her blurred. She had to focus. There was still so much data to analyze.
But God, but she wasn’t as young as she used to be. She’d need another coffee soon, or something even stronger, or she’d have no hope of making it even just the next few hours. There was still so much work she needed to do...research never rested...
Angela was slow to wake, too groggy and disoriented.
Yet there was no mistaking the familiar sensation of being picked up and carried. Or of just who carried her like this, in whose arms she felt so automatically safe and relaxed.
“Fareeha…?” She murmured, eyes cracking open just barely enough to make out the blur of dark skin and darker hair above her.
“Shhh...I thought we were getting better with these habits of yours. You’re working yourself to the bone again.”
Angela was gently placed onto her large office couch a moment later, one of the throw pillows placed under her head.
“You haven’t been around…” she murmured, blinking up at Fareeha. It was so hard to keep her eyes open. “Was afraid you were upset with me…”
Had she been more awake than asleep, she would have noticed how, in the long pause, Fareeha’s face briefly flashed with regret and guilt.
“I’m sorry. I’ve been stupid.”
She frowned. She didn’t want to hear Fareeha talking like that about herself.
“...not...stupid…” Angela muttered, eyes already fluttering back closed.
“Shhh. It’s fine now. I’m back and I won’t just disappear again. Now get some sleep. You need it.”
The words she wanted to say back barely emerged even as a murmur. She felt a being blanket readjusted over her, and a hand tenderly smoothed back her hair.
“Sleep well, Angela.”
She could have sworn the last thing she felt before she drifted fully into slumberland was the sensation of lips pressing a chaste kiss to her forehead.
Fareeha sighed and took a sip from her now regular brown ale as she looked around the bar. It had been a while since they had last come here, but she had no doubt that—like every other night spent here—it would culminate in karaoke.
Which she would still steadfastly evade.
And which Angela would undoubtedly take the lead on.
Speaking of whom…
Fareeha leaned her back against the bar and let her gaze slide across the room until she found good doctor.
Angela was talking animatedly to an amused looking Torbjörn. A cup of wine was in one hand—her third maybe?—and even with the distance that separated them, Fareeha could clearly see the bright and genuine smile on Angela’s face.
Nothing had changed in reality. Nothing but her own perception.
In the weeks since the whole lunchtime revelation, Fareeha had been thinking. Hard. Still no closer to answers either.
All that was knew for certain was that Angela was important to her, meant something special to her that she couldn’t bear to throw away.
Those long several days when she had done everything to deliberately try to avoid Angela…
Something in her chest constricted painfully. How much worry had she cause Angela? It hurt to think of it. Since then, things seemed to have reverted back to normal, whatever ‘normal’ was. Angela seemed right back to her normal self after Fareeha had made amends at least. As for Fareeha...it was almost odd at first, being so hyper-aware of herself, of her every little interaction with Angela.
At first she had been trying very pointedly to not do anything less perfectly friendly. Yet that had proven almost as miserable and difficult as keeping away from Angela. She didn’t like holding herself back around Angela; she didn’t want to.
She enjoyed seeing Angela smile, seeing her relaxed and happy. She enjoyed making Angela happy. Trying to actively fight against that just wasn’t right.
“You are doing well then, Amari?”
Zarya joined her at the bar, ordering her usual vodka. They clinked their glasses together, sharing a silent cheers.
For once, Zarya seemed content to remain in their companionable silence for a while, rather than join in the festivities of their more lively comrades. Fareeha was nearly halfway through her beer when Zarya turned to her, finally breaking it.
“I am glad to see you are doing better. I can take care of Ziegler tonight if she indulges in her wine, yes? You do not need to worry yourself.”
It took too long for Fareeha to fully understand the implications of what Zarya meant, of what her friend was offering. Her first response back didn’t even require thought.
“Oh! No, Zarya, don’t worry. I’ll be fine. I’ve got this.”
“You are certain? If you are uncomfortable, that is why I ask.”
Fareeha looked back over at Angela, now engaged with Reinhardt and Lena. She smiled when she looked back toward Zarya, feeling confident. It really didn’t require thought at all. If Angela needed her, she would still be there for her. Plain and simple.
Fareeha made her way as quietly as she could around the kitchen, trying to be respectful of Angela’s pervasive hangover, nevermind that the woman was awake and sitting at the table.
She smiled. Angela’s hangovers would take at least a solid breakfast and then some for the worst of it to wear off. They both were familiar with the normal progression of events by now. A cup of fresh coffee, a glass of fresh fruit juice...follow that up with a solid meal and a nap if needed, and all would be well in the world for Angela Ziegler. All felt right again in the world.
“I’m glad you had fun last night,” commented Fareeha, digging through the refrigerator. What ingredients did she have to work with today…?
Fareeha could feel Angela’s eyes lazily following her movements in the kitchen.
“I’ll get breakfast started in a moment. I was thinking about making shakshuka...you have these nice, fresh tomatoes. It’s a delicious tomato and egg dish. I think you would like it. Does that sound okay?”
She was expecting the usual sound of agreement—Angela always did seem to enjoy trying whatever Fareeha would cook, even if it was far from typical Swiss fare, and Fareeha did so enjoy cooking, especially when it was for Angela.
What she was not at all prepared for were the croaking and incredibly blunt words that spilled from Angela’s mouth.
“Fareeha...I’m too old and far too hungover for this. I like you. So just tell me off or ask me out already.”
Whatever semblance of a thought had been working its way through Fareeha’s mind was obliterated by the equivalent of a tactical nuclear strike from orbit.
All signal lost. Hard reset required.
Not even explicatives managed to fill in the flatline that was her thought process. Every muscle seemed to have seized up simultaneously, and it was with great, great effort that Fareeha managed to very stiffly turn around and face Angela.
Who staring straight at her, awaiting a response.
Nope, Fareeha had definitely not misheard her.
The silence stretched between them, deafening, becoming more and more tense and awkward. She should say something, anything. Angela’s face suddenly fell, and something painful twisted below Fareeha’s sternum.
“Nevermind, I shouldn’t have—”
They both started speaking at the same time, then both stopped. Then when Angela made no moves to continue, Fareeha stuttered onward.
“I...we...I mean we work together! I’m not, that is...I mean I do…I do like. Very much. But...” Her words were spilling out before she could control them. “I’ve never...I haven’t. With...not anyone.”
Embarrassed flooded her system. She had not meant to say that, to admit just exactly what her degree of inexperience was, and suddenly she wanted nothing more than the ability to just evaporate away permanently and never have to face anyone again.
The desire to hide away had never been so strong.
Before her mind could even begin to develop an exit strategy, Angela cut off her thoughts. She seemed to have an unearthly talent for doing that.
Fareeha didn’t particularly want to go anywhere except far away, but her feet were already moving. She took the empty seat when Angela looked at it pointedly. If there could be an emergency summonings right now for Overwatch, that would be ideal. The one time she’d be glad for it.
No such luck.
“Fareeha...none of that matters to me. It never did.”
Angela slid one hand slowly across the table, fingertip tentatively brushing up against Fareeha’s, staying there when Fareeha did not jump or pull away.
“I..I like you. I mean that. I like you, Fareeha Amari. And I know we work together and that complicates everything and who knows how any of this could turn out in the long run. But…” The muscles in Angela’s jaw clenched for a moment, and she fixed Fareeha with her gaze as she took a deep breath. “But...I’d be willing to try. If you are, too.”
She still looked utterly ragtag and miserable from the mixture of alcohol-induced illness and exhaustion, but her blue eyes were still piercing, still glimmered with something soft and vulnerable Fareeha daren’t try to name. Something that frightened her and yet excited her too.
“I…” She had to pause to lick her lips, to find her courage when—more than ever—she felt she had none. “I think I’d like that. I think I’d like to try.”
She intertwined her fingers with Angela’s, giving a slow but sure squeeze. It was easier than trying say the words, and she hoped Angela understood.
There was a pause, and then Angela squeezed back, and a smile broke out across her face, radiant and perfect. Fareeha felt something warm and exalting spread out beneath her chest from something so simple. Maybe...maybe this could work out after all. Maybe this was worth the risk.
Was she supposed to kiss her now? Was that expected? Was that appropriate? Should she—
In the midst of Fareeha’s careening thoughts, Angela promptly sank her face down into the crook of her own arm and the unsuspecting table, prompting an entirely different sort of fear.
“Angela?” She couldn’t keep the high note of panic from her voice.
Angela’s voice croaked out, heavily muffled from her arm and the table. “...too hungover...sleep…”
Oh. Some of the panic subsided. Fareeha wasn’t even aware of how her thumb began to automatically trace gentle circles on the back of Angela’s hand as she spoke. “Would you like to go back to sleep then? We can do breakfast later.”
That sounded about as much like a yes as could be expected. Fareeha stood, looking to move out of the way...then stopped short when her hand was tugged insistently back. Angela finally poked her head back up, resting her chin on her forearm as she peered upward. The warm glimmer was still in her eyes, and it made something do a flip flop all over again in Fareeha’s gut.
“I’d like...if I could go to sleep next to you.”
Fareeha froze. Whatever she had been expecting—to need to gently and yet again pick up the good doctor and get her to her bed—it was not that, and she was momentarily taken aback.
Until she realized it was an open-ended sort of question. Until she realized that even with the dark bags beneath her eyes and the haze of exhaustion over everything, Angela was just as uncertain and nervous and waiting as her.
So for the second time that morning, Fareeha swallowed, took a deep breath, and squeezed Angela’s hand back, this time tugging her upright.
It was hard not to grin back, when the surprise on Angela’s face melted away into a warm, irrepressible smile.
“Let’s get you to bed, then.”
She followed Angela back into the bedroom, closing the door gently and cutting off the harsh light from the kitchen.
Angela flopped onto the bed almost immediately, but Fareeha paused for a long moment, climbing slowly onto the mattress only once Angela patted the space beside her.
What was she supposed to do now? Her entire body felt as rigid and tense as if preparing for a skirmish. Did she just stay on her side of the bed? Did she turn away or toward her bedmate?
“You can put your arm around me if you want,” whispered Angela into the darkness.
Fareeha felt the now familiar heat of embarrassment and somewhat else flush through her, and then again a second time when Angela reached around to guide Fareeha’s still hesitant hand and arm to drape over her waist.
For a moment, Fareeha’s heartbeat thudded painfully loud in her ears, and every muscle in her body tensed, and then she felt Angela give a soft sigh and relax against her, clearly content. Fareeha breathed in, taking in the faint scent of floral shampoo from that blonde hair, smelling something that was oh so distinctly Angela.
She could feel Angela pressed up against her, hear the sound of her breathing as it slowed into a rhythmic pace.
It felt right. This felt easy. Felt natural.
Slowly, slowly...her racing pulse began to calm, and Fareeha let her eyes close, let her thumb trace over Angela’s hand again. And she smiled as she heard Angela, in a thickly accented, sleep-filled voice, say, “...good night...Fareeha…”
Breakfast could indeed wait until later.