No Man Is An Island
Lilly leaned her elbows against the railing and stared at the streets below, hypnotized by the swish of traffic and the little red and white dots of headlights and taillights. Part of her was looking for a Maserati in that mix, though her vantage point on the balcony would make the already-difficult task next to impossible.
The rest of her was sort of glad for that. Seeing that car, actually seeing it, would just be another knife thrust to her already-punctured heart.
"You'll freeze out here."
The words gave her a start, because she hadn't heard the door open, hadn't heard anyone come outside. For a wild micro-moment, she thought it might be Saccardo, but a glance over her shoulder proved what she'd known in her gut.
It wasn't Saccardo. It was just Scotty.
"I'm not cold." At least, she hadn't felt it if she was. But when she looked down, she realized her arms were laced tightly across her chest. Her hands rubbed at her goosebump-covered flesh in a useless attempt to ward off the nip in the November air.
"Here." Footsteps grew closer behind her, fabric rustled at her back, and the next thing she knew Scotty was draping his jacket over her shoulders. The warmth from his body clung to it; she caught a whiff of the aftershave he always wore. It was almost like an embrace.
Tugging it a bit tighter around herself, tracing the lapels, she glanced to her right, where Scotty had taken up a position against the railing. He had to be cold; the stiff breeze ruffled his raven hair and pinned his white tux shirt to his upper arm. But he wasn't complaining.
A slight smile tugged at the corners of her lips. "Thanks, Scotty."
"Sure." He tossed her a grin, followed by a brief, but searching, look. "Everything okay?"
Avoiding his eyes, she looked out over the city, over the deep dark somewhere where Saccardo was preparing to become someone else, to ship out and disappear into a dangerous underworld.
Her partner gave a quiet chuckle. "We're really gonna do this? We're gonna do this thing where you're out here, freezin' your ass off and starin' at traffic, and you're still gonna claim you're fine?"
She hadn't wanted to talk about this with him. Hadn't wanted to open herself up for another round of sarcastic comments about Saccardo's fashion sense or his choice of beverages. But the compassion in Scotty's coffee-colored eyes told her he wasn't going to do that. Not tonight. Tonight he was a friend.
She needed a friend.
With a soft sigh, she stared out at the city again. Her fingertips found the diamond pendant and rocked it gently back and forth on its delicate gold chain. "Saccardo had to go back under."
Scotty blew out a breath. "Guess his boss must not think fundraisin's quite so important."
His comment brought a smile, despite everything. "Guess not."
"I'm sorry, Lil."
The compassion in his voice did for her heart what his jacket was doing for her skin. She tugged the coat more tightly around herself and looked over at her partner. "Oh, it's…who he is. It's what he does. I'll be fine, really, it's just…" she gave a soft, self-deprecating chuckle. "Tonight was supposed to be special."
"You don't...wanna go back in there, do you?" She glanced up to find Scotty watching her out of the corner of his eye, his profile sharp against the night sky.
She shook her head. "I was just about to call a cab."
"This late? Alone?"
"Well, they do let me carry a gun, y'know."
He turned toward her. "I know, just…sorry. Didn't mean to imply…"
Her lips curved. It was sort of adorable, watching him twist in the wind. "I know, Scotty."
"It's what partners do, I guess." He shrugged.
"Hmm." Mischief bubbling to the surface, she stole another glance in his direction. "Y'know, I don't think I've ever worried about you taking a cab alone at night."
"Well, now I'm just insulted."
She laughed, a genuine laugh she hadn't known she was capable of at this moment. He laughed, too, his eyes sparkling with amusement—and a bit of relief, if she wasn't mistaken. How long had it been since they'd laughed together? Too long.
He seemed to think so, too, because he suddenly straightened to his full height and pinged both hands off the railing. "C'mon. Let's get outta here."
He thought for a moment, then flashed a mysterious grin. "I know the perfect place."
"Well, you were right." Scotty caught a flash of a smile as Lilly leaned over the edge of her chair and lifted her second bottle of beer out of the box between them. "This is the perfect place."
They were on the roof of his building, the city spread out before them like a quilt of twinkling golden lights. It was peaceful up here. Quiet. He came up sometimes when he needed to be alone with his thoughts; when the close quarters of his apartment got to be too much for him.
He'd never brought anyone else here before.
He tossed Lilly a grin and the bottle opener. "Glad you like it."
She was still dressed up, still wearing that gorgeous red ballgown, although she was, to his relief, starting to look more and more like herself. The Lil he knew was still there, underneath the fancy hair and the makeup, and he was glad.
She was also still wearing his jacket. He'd never asked for it back, and she'd poked her arms into it on the way out to the parking garage, to his beloved Mustang. It was no Maserati, but she didn't seem to mind.
"This the car you bring on dates?" she teased as she climbed in. That was when he realized that, in all the years they'd been partners, she'd never seen his pride and joy.
"Sometimes," he'd shrugged, then changed the subject. He'd never been comfortable discussing any aspect of his love life with his partner. He'd never really been sure why.
Lilly handed back the bottle opener, which he used to pop the top off his own beer, then stuffed the opener back into the pocket of the Phillies hoodie he'd thrown on over the remnants of his tux during their brief stop in his apartment. He'd grabbed some coats and blankets, the six-pack they'd picked up on the way here, and a couple of lawn chairs. Now here they were, in their own private little rooftop paradise.
Such as it was.
Lilly took a long, luxurious sip of beer, then laid her head against the back of the chair and closed her eyes, snuggling deeper into the folds of his tux jacket and the blanket, overcoat, and scarf he'd insisted she add on top of it.
"You ain't cold, are you?" he asked.
She smiled without opening her eyes. "No, I…I think it's nice."
Her response warmed him better than any fireplace or furnace ever could. "Good."
Lilly opened her eyes then, eyes that twinkled a deep midnight blue in the dim light, and smiled over the rim of her Oktoberfest. "Think Boss'll be mad we ditched?"
"Hey." He gestured toward her with his beer bottle. "Dunno about you, but I did my job. My conscience is clear."
"Spent the evening suckin' up to Gina Newman."
Lilly's eyebrows shot up. "Gina Newman? Oh, God."
"The one and only." He swirled his beer, then took a sip.
"Wow. You really took one for the team, Valens."
"Y'know, that's what I said. Least someone appreciates it."
She grinned. "Think we'll get a new fax machine out of the deal?"
Scotty polished off the rest of his beer and leaned down to set the empty bottle on the concrete next to his chair. "I…mighta mentioned we think ours is possessed."
Laughing, Lilly drained her own bottle and reached for another. "I should've schmoozed."
"'S'okay." He dug the opener out of his pocket and popped the top off her beer. "You had a date."
He held his breath, afraid the comment would remind her she was sad. But to his relief, she just smiled at him, those endless blue eyes sparking with mischief. "So that girl you were dancing with was…?"
"Some lab tech. Frankie…somethin'." He took a long, appreciative sip of beer. The brief encounter with the brunette from the bar already seemed a lifetime ago.
"That sounds right. You know her?"
Lilly shrugged. "She's cleaned up some old photos for us a couple times. I think she plays softball, too."
"Yeah, she does." He frowned over the rim of his beer bottle. "Hey, you remember last Saturday, right?"
A corner of her mouth quirked. "Your home run?"
"Yeah." He smiled, remembering, then eyed her quizzically. "You…happen to see if I touched first base?"
Lilly looked blank for a moment, then nodded. "Of course. You never miss a base."
"You got no idea, do you?"
"No, but I've got your back." Grinning, she lifted her beer. "Partners, right?"
"Partners." He clinked his bottle against hers, then drank, unable to remember the last time things had been so relaxed between them, so comfortable, so casual. He'd never in a million years have thought he'd be finishing the night on the roof of his apartment with a six-pack and a ballgown-clad Lilly Rush, especially not the way things had been lately. But he realized, as the warmth of her smile reached deep into his heart, he wouldn't have it any other way.
That surprised him a little.
He looked over to find her wincing. "Everything all right?"
Lilly glanced up, lips curved in a sheepish smile. "Ever hear of a bobby pin headache?"
Scotty grinned. "Oh, yeah. Elisa had a bad one the night of our senior prom." He was surprised at how easily the name rolled off his tongue, and how little pain saying it brought.
It was probably the beer.
He glanced up to find his partner studying him with that sussing-out-your-secrets look she got sometimes. He hated that look, because it was usually followed by a question he didn't want to answer.
"You were that pretty-boy quarterback king of the prom, weren't you?"
There was amusement in her voice, but also a hint of disdain. Not so much that he felt she'd think less of him for it, but enough that he wasn't sure he wanted to admit to it.
He gazed down into the bottle of beer, swirling the clear brown liquid around in circles before answering. "Maybe."
She burst out laughing. "Oh my God, you were."
Scotty had to smile. Lilly's laughter was so clear, so musical, and so goddamn rare that he'd savor it, even if it was at his expense. Take one for the team, Valens. You been doin' it all night.
"Did you have a crown and a sash and all that?" she asked.
He turned to her, a touch exasperated. "So what if I did?"
Her laughter only increased.
"This does not get out at work." He pointed his nearly-empty beer bottle at her in a gesture of mock severity.
Her eyes still dancing, Lilly pressed her lips together and pantomimed zipping them shut. "What happens on the rooftop stays on the rooftop."
"Exactly that." He took the final swig of beer from the bottle and dangled it between two fingers, gazing out at the city, quiet for a moment with his memories. That stupid crown that kept falling into his eyes. Elisa, with her pink flouncy dress and her bobby pin headache. Dancing with her, the future so bright he needed shades. No idea of the giants lurking in the shadows, waiting to devour everything he held dear.
"Least one of us had a good time at prom." The voice next to him snapped him back to the present, to blonde hair and a red dress and eyes that still twinkled in the moonlight.
"What happened?" he asked. "Your date get handsy? Drunk? Throw up in the middle of the dance floor?"
She made a face. "Try all three."
"Oh, man." Scotty winced in sympathy. "That's rough."
Lilly drained her bottle to the dregs, then set it on the concrete. Leaning back, she reached up and started pulling bobby pins out of her hair. "Guess that's why I got all dolled up this evening," she said, absently stuffing a couple pins in the pocket of his coat. "Thought this was a chance to finally get that magical night."
"Least Saccardo didn't puke." Scotty gave a hopeful grin.
She laughed again, much to his relief. "No. He didn't." A thick lock of moonlit blonde hair tumbled uncertainly from where it had been pinned in place. "I'm wonderin' about Miller, though. Did I see her dancing on the table?"
Scotty nodded and polished off the rest of his beer. "You missed quite a show."
"Nah. Nicky took her home."
Lilly looked surprised for a second, but that surprise changed to a grimace as she yanked another bobby pin, along with a few strands of hair, from her head. "Ow. Dammit." She glared at the offending sliver of metal for a moment before jamming it into his coat pocket. "So much for magic."
His heart squeezed with sympathy as he looked over at her. "I'm sorry, Lil."
"Oh, don't look so guilty." Another bobby pin free, another tendril of hair tumbling down over the back of her neck. "You're the only reason I've got a smile on my face right now."
Scotty was thoroughly unprepared for the way her words shot straight to the deepest part of him and filled the center of his heart with a tender, yet triumphant, ache. All he'd ever wanted to do was protect her from pain, and if he was actually doing that, even in this small way, then it made the whole goddamn evening worth it.
She swore again, both hands skirmishing at the back of her head, her face contorted in irritation and pain. "I don't even know how many of these damn things I've got in here."
He was already half out of his seat. "Need a hand?"
"You mind?" She looked surprised.
"Nah." His feet crunching across the concrete, he closed the short distance between them and took his spot at his partner's back. After a moment's hesitation,he plunged his fingers into the maelstrom of curls and pins and styling products. She tried to help; her hands brushed against his as they worked in tandem.
"I think if you just…" she inched her fingers to the left. His followed.
"No, that's a different one…"
"Jeez, Lil. How many of them are there?"
"Little more to the left, I think," she said.
He wiggled the pin, and it started to come loose. "That it?"
"Oh. Yeah. Right there."
Bracing his left hand gently against the top of Lilly's head, he wiggled a seemingly infinite number of bobby pins free with his right. One by one, he dropped them into her outstretched palm. As he worked, her hair tumbled over his hands. The outside was a little stiff and crunchy from the hair spray, but the inside…Dios mio, the inside was like a silken waterfall over his fingers, spilling free from its metal-and-aerosol-imposed cocoon.
He couldn't remember ever touching Lilly's hair before. Not really. Not like this. He couldn't have, because he would have remembered how soft it was.
She let out a sigh then, a delicious sigh of contentment that did strange things to his insides. He stepped back, removing reluctant fingers from her mass of half-formed curls, just as she reached up, massaged her scalp for a moment, then tousled her blonde mane, completing its escape from the elaborate hairstyle.
"Mmmmm. Oh, Scotty, thank you. I think I may live."
He stood there a bit awkwardly for a moment, then remembered he had a chair. His own chair. Over there. He should go back and sit in it.
"No problem." His voice sounded thick and croaky.
No. No, there wasn't a problem. It was the beer, he was sure. He'd decided the evening warranted something better than the cheap crap he usually drank, so he'd opted instead for a local craft beer Vera had been raving about. Sinking back into his chair, he glanced down at the unfamiliar label and tried to determine if it was stronger than normal beer.
He'd had a pretty steady stream of scotch at the gala, too, the gala that suddenly seemed like it happened decades ago. Mixing booze and beer was a bad idea; at least, it had been the times he'd tried it. So that's what this was. Had to be.
A soft chuckle next to him, and he glanced up to find Lilly shaking out her hair again with a self-deprecating grin. "I must look ridiculous."
He glanced over at her, snuggled deep into his overcoat. Crimson pumps and flashes of skirt peeked out from beneath the Eagles blanket he'd yanked off his sofa. His gray woolen scarf looped lazily around her neck. Her hair was a wild tumble around her shoulders. And those blue eyes still shone like the stars overhead.
"Nah, Lil…you look beautiful."
He was startled by how much he meant that.
She smiled. "Thanks, Scotty."
"Yeah." He tore his attention away from that smile back to the cityscape, the twinkling lights, and the traffic below.
It was the alcohol. Had to be.
He was almost positive.