A/N: Hm, it's been ridiculously long since I've written anything...well, short and sweet enough to post here. And this is what I get? What a cruel muse I have. Um, yeah...so this seems to be, curiously enough, a sort of fanfiction to my other story, black coffee. It would appear I stole the characters and basically dropped them in an AU and then had a stream-of-consciousness sort of heyday and this is what I get from reading so many similarly-styled fanfictions. So...yeah. I'd appreciate feedback, because maybe then I'd know what to make of it. Oh, and there's some swearing, but that shouldn't offend so much you can't review!
ebb and flow
Sometimes he wondered what would happen if things didn't flow anymore and everything just stopped.
He had asked her that once, out of the blue as they were walking down the street. It was a little cool, but that was autumn in the city, and the sidewalks weren't as covered with leaves as the tree-lined lanes back home. But this was home, in a way. He supposed that was because she was here.
Although defining home as where Faye is brought several disconcerting thoughts to life, like that goddamn cliché home is where the heart is and sometimes he hated logic.
She had quirked an eyebrow at him and given him The Look and after a moment of scrutiny, laughed and waved her hand and asked him, "James, when will you stop being so deep? Isn't it enough to live without being ridiculously philosophical about…about everything?"
He had huffed defensively and muttered something incoherent that even he can't remember now, but on occasion he wished he could because those words were probably important somehow. He does remember that she had rolled her eyes and dug her elbow into his arm and laughed again.
She laughed a lot, he realized. She seemed made for it. For happiness. Like any other expression on her face was some foreign, evanescent thing that would eventually have to go packing because it simply didn't belong there.
And he had asked her that once, too.
"Why're you always happy? Doesn't your face ever hurt?"
She had glanced up from her book—the spine so creased he couldn't read the title anymore, and why did she always read books? Wasn't reality enough?—and impudently stuck her tongue out. "Beats being mopey and depressed, doesn't it?" she offered in rebuttal, a devious little grin curving her lips and he tried not to stare at that grin because then his thoughts sidetracked onto all manner of crazy things and words like warm and soft and pink popped into his head, most unbidden and definitely unwanted.
He had settled for meeting her eyes, those bright and clear cobalt eyes that were bluer than any sky he'd ever seen, before he snorted and returned his attention to the window. That was all the reply she required, as she chuckled a bit and resumed her reading.
He still watched her from his periphery. Maybe he could understand the constant-reading thing; he was a writer, after all, but he found that writing required less time with a pencil and more time staring out a window and thinking thoughts that didn't connect until you slept on them for five weeks and drank so much coffee your fingers quivered from the caffeine and deadlines rammed themselves, bitter and harsh, down your throat.
And sometimes, sometimes he looked at her and was absolutely certain that if he were less reserved, even just the tiniest shade, he would spout impromptu sonnets about her beauty or her soul or his undying love. Because that was the entire problem, really, when you got right down to it.
And then sometimes he didn't like the writer's part of his mind that chose to phrase it as a problem because that made it sound like some sort of debilitating disease that he'd never recover from and even though he knew that he'd never recover, he found this disease more agreeable than perfect health.
He rolled his eyes at his own thoughts. His muse had run away from him again and departed on a lengthy schpiel he really had no desire to hunt down and ponder. Stupid muse.
"Are you gonna stare out that window all day?"
Blinking, he looked back at her, and saw her eyebrow arched and questioning over the top of her book.
"Better than reading a book all day," he shot back, a feeble reply, but it reminded him so much of what they'd just said that he couldn't really resist it.
She laughed, bright and shiny and tinkling, and her flash of smile before the book rose again made his chest swell with something too big to be love and he settled more into the chair, utterly content.
She liked ice cream, all types of ice cream; he knew this because she always stole of lick or five of his. Even during the winter months when snow blew and sleet clogged wheel-wells and icicles grew upside down off his apartment's concrete window sills, she would still eat ice cream.
"This is ridiculous," he muttered as they entered the old-fashioned ice cream shop downtown and studied the rows of buckets filled with chilly, sugary confectionary.
"As you say every time," she said in a sagely sort of voice, as if she were imparting great wisdom.
"I have snow in my shoes. I have snow in my hair. Hell, I have snow on my eyelashes and we're still getting ice cream."
She rolled her eyes and pointed to the bucket of mint chocolate chip. "If you didn't have such girly eyelashes, you wouldn't have to worry about that," she quipped, daring him to reply with a grin soon blocked with pale green scoops.
"I do not have girly eyelashes," he retorted, even as he raised his hand to brush the ice flecks from the long lashes.
"Careful," she warned, her eyes alight with malicious teasing, "you'll smudge your mascara."
He glared at her fiercely. "Vicious. That's what you are. Vicious." After a moment, he added petulantly, "And I do not wear mascara."
She dragged him outside—he barely had time to pay the poor man—and her laughter echoed, muffled, off the snow at every turn. "Of course you don't, Jamey! But hell, your eyelashes are nice enough. It's just not fair that a boy could have such pretty eyes, right?"
"Your eyes are pretty," he blurted before all possible connotations had been analyzed by his tactical mind, and he absently wondered if the flush on her cheeks was from all the cold and wind or something else entirely.
She stayed quiet, softly so, for a moment before she poked his cone. "Eat up before it melts."
He stared at her in blatant incredulity—It's below freezing out here, how the hell could it possibly melt?—but licked up the side of his cookie dough without any real words.
And he noticed, as he gazed at her sidelong, that she had mint cream on the tip of her nose, no doubt due to over-zealous consumption. He reached out a lazy gloved finger and wiped it off, and she batted his hand away before he could retract it fully.
"I was saving it for later," she pouted, though the pout was ruined by the fact that she was smiling.
"Mm-hm," he hummed, and used his teeth to free a clump of frozen dough.
"You look like hell."
She tossed him a glare, or as much of a glare as she could muster in her worn-down state. "Yeah, thanks, Jamey. I love you, too," she said snarkily, her eyes re-glued to her clipboard before she had even finished her statement.
He endeavored to ignore the warm feeling that tingled in his stomach and instead focused steadfastly on the lines on her brow, the circles under her eyes, the stoop to her shoulders. The ever-present light in her blue eyes wasn't so ever-present now, and without it, he experienced that strange sensation that she wasn't really Faye anymore. "What's wrong?" he asked, more tactfully this time.
She heaved a sigh, the exhale blowing her bangs upwards, and she made an expansive gesture to the hospital around them with her free hand. "We're in a cancer ward, James. I'm an oncologist. When I have a bad day at work, I really have a bad day at work."
I know and I'm sorry but I can't fix that for you and goddammit, why can't I fix it for you? his thoughts demanded, pleaded, and outwardly he simply chewed on the inside of his cheek, his hands fisting in the pockets of his blazer; he always had been well-dressed, even in his teens. Another thing for her to tease him about.
"I came by to pick you up," he remarked obviously. "Maybe get a cup of coffee?"
She scrawled something on the top sheet of paper, though she spared him a flinty glance. "How many times, how many times, do I have to tell you that I don't like coffee?"
He remained unbothered; a hint of gratitude at the familiarity, at the playful repetition of the question, had leaked into her voice, and so he continued smoothly. "Yeah, yeah. Come on."
"But—" she began, only to be interrupted as someone hailed her.
"Dr. McAvoy! Dr. McAvoy, what the hell are you still doing here?"
James's icy eyes narrowed, and they didn't widen again when they landed on the hailer. He was a tall, handsome man, probably only a few years their senior, and James instantly disliked the look in the other's gray eyes when he surveyed Faye. There was the concern of a fellow worker, but then there was also something else entirely, and stop looking at her that way before I rip your arms off and make you eat them!
"Dr. Remington…" Faye sighed, and she hooked her pen back on the clipboard. "What?"
"I asked you a question," he answered, oozing nonchalant charm. "What the hell are you still doing here? Waiting for me, perhaps? Wanna find a nice supply closet? Perhaps even the break room?"
James was almost positive he was seeing red at all the innuendo so easily passing the other man's lips, and he had to force himself to continue breathing and to unclench his jaw before his teeth shattered under the pressure, and for that matter, to unclench his hands before his fingers did the same.
"Lovely, Alex," she quipped. "Preying on me when I'm at my weakest. That's so admirable."
Alex chuckled and leaned his weight against the nurses' station; James was really beginning to hate him. "I'd prey on you, as you so eloquently put it, when you're at your strongest—for the obvious reasons—but then you'd probably land me in the ER, and do I really need that to happen again?"
"Reckless exaggeration," she huffed. "It was a minor sprain. And you slipped and I caught you and it's too bad, really, that you have such weak wrists."
Alex laughed again, the too-ready laugh of an experienced playboy. "But seriously, Dr. McAvoy, the Chief's gonna blow a gasket if she finds you here hours after your shift ended again."
Hours after her shift ended? James repeated in his head. Had he gotten the time wrong? Had he seriously done that? Had he almost made her wait for him? What kind of person was he?
Faye's voice cut through his irrationally panicking thoughts. "Hours? Hardly, Remington. Make that about fifteen minutes. And…" She gestured futilely to her clipboard. "I wanted to re-check on Markowitz, see that he's doing all right…the bloodwork's positive but still—"
Alex snatched her clipboard away and held it out of her reach. "I'll check Markowitz and you can leave. I'm sure you'll find a way to repay me later," he added with a slight leer.
"In your dreams," Faye rebuffed.
"Oh, believe me, babe, you are," he called back as he walked away down the hall.
Faye leaned heavily against the nurses' station, finally sliding her stethoscope from around her neck; it dangled lifelessly from her hand, and James thought it a strange metaphor for something that always kept track of heartbeats.
She rubbed at the furrow between her eyebrows with slender fingers. "Ugh. One, one impromptu make-out session and you'd think we got married or something…" she muttered grumpily.
The outburst happened before he could even think about swallowing it. "What? You made out with that bastard? Why the hell would you do that?"
She looked up at him, rather taken aback by the violence of his reaction. "Whoa, hold hard there. I didn't say we had a string of rousing romps in back rooms or anything, and even if I did—" here her voice started a crescendo like it did when she was about to shout but never quite breached talking very loudly "—I don't think it's any of your damn business what I do or do not do with the opposite sex!"
He blinked, thoroughly chastened and more than a little humiliated. But it is my business, he wanted to yell, wanted to take her by the shoulders and yell at her so there was no possible way she couldn't hear him, because I love you love you love you! He didn't, though, and merely bore the weight inside.
"And maybe it was a stupid idea," she continued, her eyes dangerous slits, "and maybe I did it because I wasn't thinking or I was too tired or maybe, just maybe, James, I did it because I was so fucking lonely I'd grab any asshole who happened to be male and breathing!"
He recognized that this was a perfect opportunity to sweep her into his arms and kiss her so soundly she forgot about everyone else in the world for those blindingly bright moments, but his arms were locked at his sides and his feet to the floor and his gaze on a point about her right shoulder and his jaw, his useless, worthless jaw, was locked shut so that not even words could escape.
She was breathing hard, the glint in her eyes similar and yet so foreign from the usual light, and he could only swallow hard and mutter, "I'll drive you home, then."
It wasn't an apology. It wasn't a confession.
But it was all his voice could manage to say.
"Summer is the best season!" she proclaimed loudly.
He hid a grin at that. She had an almost unnerving habit to proclaim her random opinions loudly, as if she were so convinced and so bursting with ridiculous joy that she simply had to yell them to the entire world, or at least a city block. And he, in turn, frowned.
"You know, I really prefer autumn," he mused.
"Fall is so…so…depressing," she decided, wrinkling her nose at him. "Everything dies, for god's sake! The trees get all bare and the air gets too cold and there's not even any snow to cheer everything up. Fall sucks," she declared, as if that summed it all up.
"Fall is beautiful," he contradicted, warming up to the topic, his poetic side emerging from its secluded dark corner. "Fall is about the days growing shorter so that the little sunlight there is seems stronger and brighter just because there's less of it. It's about the leaves changing colors and falling like the softest, quietest rain until you trample them on the sidewalk and let them whisper their secrets. It's about picking apples and drinking cider and wearing jackets and breathing air that is crisper and cleaner than any other time of year. It's about appreciating everything evanescent because sometimes the best things are those that don't last at all."
Except those that do, he added to himself, stealing a sidelong glance at their linked arms.
She surveyed him with an amused half-smile, and he would almost go so far to say that she looked at him fondly. "Ah, Jamey. You and your sporadic bouts of poetry. I still think summer's better."
"That's because your weekly engorgement of ice cream actually makes sense now," he deadpanned, smirking at her glare from the use of engorgement.
"Well, yeah," she said instead, riding it out. "Plus, my birthday's in the summer! Two weeks, actually." She laughed her sunny yellow laugh and shook her head. "I can't believe I'll be twenty-five! That's so unbearably old!"
"I really don't want to be here in five years," he realized, chuckling when she slapped his shoulder.
"Be nice, Jamey," she reprimanded before adding loftily, "A woman is very sensitive about her age."
"Because twenty-five is an age," he snorted. "Ow, stop hitting! Keep that up and I won't buy you a present."
She waved her hand, as if that were the least of her worries. "Come off it, Jamey. You'd buy me a present even if I moved to the moon."
"Yeah, like extra oxygen tanks," he retorted, settling into the banter.
She nudged him repeatedly, intent on being as annoying as possible. "So what're ya gonna get me?"
He shrugged, slipping one hand into the pocket of his cargo shorts, the other still holding the remnants of his chocolate cone; Faye had downed her mint chocolate chip in about three bites, and sometimes he wondered at her ability to get the same type of ice cream fifty-two times a year. He cycled through the flavors, so as to keep things interesting, but she seemed steadfast to her routine of shiny green scoops. But then again, Faye was anything but fickle and sometimes, more often than he'd care to admit to anyone, himself included, he was glad of that fact.
"What do you want?" he finally asked, grateful his aviators shielded his eyes from the sun. Summer in the city seemed exponentially brighter than summer anywhere else; he realized it probably had something to do with the wealth of reflective material everywhere. Or perhaps it was because the sun had to try so much harder to get into all the valleys made by the skyscrapers.
She paused on the steps of her apartment building, gazing down at him thoughtfully. He pretended not to notice, her insistent focus already making him warmer than the sun's rays alone could accomplish.
"What do I want," she repeated musingly, her fingers unconsciously sliding through the keys on the ring. "What do I…hmm…" she trailed off into silence, and she finally stuck the key into the door. "Hey, come on up," she said, her voice back to its usual bubbly pitch.
In his mind, he tried desperately not to connect what do I want with come on up. That sort of thinking would only lead to dangerous places, and she probably wouldn't enjoy lending him the use of her shower, especially not for that reason.
He followed her in silence, occasionally licking at the now-soup of his ice cream, up the three flights of stairs to her door. Another fumble with her keys, and she let him into the small apartment. While small, it was not cramped; most of the place was devoted to open spaces, as the only dividing walls were those that held the doors for the bathroom and bedroom. The rest of it was as sprawling as it could be with a couch and coffee table, kitchen and kitchen table, television, stereo, mountain of medical textbooks from college...
He sat on the couch, crunching on the sugarcone, as she scrambled about opening windows—"Damn, it gets so freakin' stuffy in here!"—and largely enjoyed the shade of indoors. His cone finished, he let his eyelids slide shut, and he settled back into the couch.
"Want anything?" she called. Even though she was about ten feet away, she still raised her voice like the kitchen was actually in a different part of the building.
"I just ate ice cream," he pointed out.
"I meant to drink, idiot," she replied with a grumbling tone that belied her lightheartedness.
"Vodka on the rocks."
"Same difference," he quipped, just to hear her laugh.
The breezy sound lingered in the air, and she was still grinning when she handed him the already-perspiring glass, the ice cubes clinking. "It's still on the rocks," she said teasingly as she reclined next to him, propping her flip-flop clad feet on the coffee table.
He eased his eyes open halfway, enjoying the quiet as they sipped the refreshing beverage, and he found himself staring at her toes. She never painted her fingernails—she was almost ridiculously adamant about it—but she religiously colored her toenails. Today they were purple. Last time he had seen her in sandals, two days ago, they had been red. He closed his eyes again and took another sip. He preferred the red.
"This is nice, isn't it?" she said, almost sleepily.
He felt her shift her weight, but she still wasn't close enough to touch him; he chalked that up to the heat, though. Any other time she would've practically sat on top of him—you're just so comfy, Jamey!
He smiled faintly at the memory. "Yeah," he agreed.
"We should do this more often," she continued, her voice definitely sleepy now, like a murmuring child.
"Because seeing you at least once a week is rare?" he inquired, anticipating her playful smack.
"You know what I mean," she pouted, and her head slid across the back of the couch until it rested on his shoulder. He liked the weight, but he inwardly confessed that he didn't exactly know what she meant.
"Your shoulder shouldn't be this comfy," she mumbled, shifting slightly. "All muscle and bone and whatnot, especially on you, Mr. No-Excess-Even-Though-I-Eat-Lots-Of-Ice-Cream."
"I eat lots of ice cream?" he echoed, sounding politely incredulous.
"True, true," she agreed, and a soft sigh escaped her, only a slightly heavier exhalation. "But we fit, you know? The dent in the side of my head, the bump of your shoulder…"
"Been banging your head against the wall again, have we," he said, lowering his glass of lemonade to his thigh, where the moisture swiftly bled a damp circle onto his shorts.
"Only when you annoy me," she replied without missing a beat, and her free hand shifted, fingertips tracing invisible patterns on his forearm. He couldn't quite ignore that shiver that raced up his spine.
"James?" she asked, softer than before.
He glanced down at the top of her head, at the sunstreaked strands that spilled across his shoulder, across hers. "Yeah?"
He could almost hear her eyelids sliding shut.
"I love you."
He blinked, completely off-guard, and tried his best not to grin like the world's biggest idiot. He swallowed against the sudden emotion that leapt triumphantly in his throat and managed to say with a remarkably level voice, "Well, then. How about a diamond ring for your birthday?"
She shrugged, not even raising her head from his shoulder. "Eh, maybe next year. Such short notice for you, the poor struggling artist."
"I am neither poor nor struggling," he protested. "Being a writer and a jazz pianist pays better than you might think."
"If you insist," she murmured, cuddling a little closer to his arm, her fingers lacing through his.
He realized she had never done that before; sure, she'd held his hand more often than not, but she'd never actually laced their fingers, weaving them together until it was just too much effort to separate them on a whim. There was probably something profound to that, but he didn't care to dwell on it at the moment.
"Faye?" he asked quietly, his own eyes closing.
"I love you, too."
She laughed a little, the sound lifting his heart even higher. "Duh, Jamey."
They sat in perfect, comfortable silence for a very long time; the sun had begun to slant through the window at shallower and shallower angles before he finally spoke.
"I'm hungry," he said in that same musing tone, as if nothing of any importance at all had transpired. "Pizza?"
"As long as there's pineapple," she replied.
He smirked but reluctantly rose and walked over to her phone, opening the cabinet with the numbers of various restaurants and other services posted on the inside of the door. After he had made the call, he paced back to the couch, just watching as she curled into the cushions, her face completely at peace, summer-sky eyes staring distantly at nothing.
"Do you remember," she said, "a long time ago, when you said something about wishing you could stop time or something?"
"What would happen if things didn't flow anymore and everything just stopped," he clarified. He had thought about that a lot since then.
"Yeah, that. Well…" she pushed herself into a sitting position and looked him in the eyes for the first time since confessing her love. "If that happened right now and this afternoon, this evening lasted forever...I'd be okay with that."
He smiled faintly, echoing her own quiet smile.
"So would I."