Title: Three To Count By

Fandom: Cold Case

Pairings: Scotty/Lilly, friendship-flavored

Warnings: Mature themes: adult situations

Genre: Drama/Friendship

Rating: PG-13 or T

Feedback: Appreciated.

Notes: It's kind of a stretch to call this "friendship-flavored," but I'm going with it anyway. This was written entirely while listening to two songs: Stay by Michelle Featherstone and Vida Mas Simple by Nil Lara. Also, I have not forgotten about The Education of Scotty Valens. It's been a very difficult and intense couple of months where very little writing has been done. I only just finished season six of Cold Case, of which this is written directly off of.

It was late, even for a day like today.

He knew this, but after the call, after the precise panic that galvanized him, his jacket halfway on and ready to slip off, into notifying the Captain of the wreck, of where Lilly had said she was right before all he heard was the scream of metal and the rush of air and the give of water and no matter how fast the Captain picked up the phone to call in a diving team, Scotty was already gone; after that and after she was pulled up, there but almost not, he couldn't just go home, no matter how much he should.

Masochistic as it was, Scotty listened to the message again and then again, the crunch, the whoosh, the splash, but mostly that little gasp, not a cry, not real fear, not Lilly. He could have deleted it at any time as they had already taken a recording of it for evidence, but he found he couldn't bring himself to do it. His finger hovered over the seven, ready to erase it if not from memory, at least from storage, and always ended up pressing four instead. Save the message, play it again. He was listening to it in the elevator as floor after floor binged, taking him to the ICU ward.

He wasn't sure if it was the possibility of losing a second person he cared about to drowning or if it was that this was the second time he could and would feel responsible for his partner ending up in the hospital, alive only because she was Homicide Detective Lilly Rush and she didn't have it in her to die no matter how many times someone tried to force her into it. Whatever it turned out to be, uncertain as he was, his heart beat behind his eyelids like he'd just received a beating there was no coming back pretty from. The lack of sleep probably didn't help.

The message ended as the doors opened, a gray haired man that Scotty knew he recognized but in his exhaustion, couldn't place, moving to step in before he saw Scotty and smiled a weary greeting. Scotty returned it with a tight-lipped grimace as he snapped his phone shut and stepped from the elevator, already moving down the hall.

"Late for visiting hours." Scotty stopped and turned, saw the man was still standing there, letting the elevator doors close and looking at him. "Or should I say early?" Valens' overworked mind clicked rapidly before the recognition made sense.

"Could say the same to you." Lilly's father gave him that same weary smile, full of missed opportunities and second chances, and Scotty felt it like it was his own.

"Better late than never." Scotty nodded, silent in his agreement. "Third room from the end. She's been waking up off and on." Paul said this as he pushed the down button and the elevator doors opened again, taking his eyes off Scotty as if releasing the detective from any duty to linger. Scotty used the moment, turning away and moving quickly enough for the heels on his dress shoes to click, click on the off-white linoleum, missing the considering look Paul directed his way as the doors closed.

When Scotty got to Lilly's hospital room, he sat in the same chair her father had been in, heat not yet gone from the vigil. His phone weighed heavily in his jacket pocket, just the plastic cover of a losing message, and Scotty, hesitantly, laid his hand over Lilly's, knowing the reason he came here was as much to touch her as it was to see her. He needed to feel her warm and to see her breath before sleep would come. There was nothing else he could do.

"How many more times are you going to do this to me, Rush?" It came out softer and sadder than he thought it would, the strain he heard in his own voice surprising him. There was no response except the beep, beep of the monitor and her quiet, steady breathing. Asleep, not dead to the world, but asleep, breathing and alive and okay.

And she might not have been. Twice now, she might not have been, and he knew that he was supposed to accept that as just part of the job, but he had a message in his pocket that told him it would never be that easy.

It was better that she wasn't awake. He didn't know what he would say if she were.

"That's two times now, you and Jefferies, in the last six months. What? Are we going for a record now?" He shifted his hand, so he was actually holding hers rather than just letting the warmth of it seep through his palm. Half-hearted smile flattering, he added more quietly, "is it my turn next?"

The question hung in the air and several minutes passed, Scotty staring intently at his partner's face, unconsciously counting the rise and fall of her chest. One (inhale), two (exhale).

One, two.

The monitor beeped and Lilly breathed and Scotty, feeling the weight he'd been carrying all day ease off just a little, leaned forward and brushed the hair off her face, just as he had done when they pulled her out of the water and he couldn't stop himself, no matter how overly intimate it had been or how many liberties it had taken. He knew that if Stillman hadn't clapped him on the shoulder and given him that look – the I'll Take It From Here look – he would have jumped into the back of the ambulance with her. But they were alone now and Lilly was asleep and Scotty was too exhausted to care about whether or not he should. He simply did.

There was something in his mind, beneath the one, two, rattling around like it wanted to come out, and Scotty was intent on listening to the noise, leaning back again and sneaking his other hand under Lilly's to cover it completely in his own, that he missed the slight fluttering of her eyelashes, not awake but waking.

"I make bad decisions," he said at last, listening to the rattle and sensing there was a confession hidden just below. "First time you came in like this, Thomas and I-" Scotty stopped, knowing he didn't need to say anymore. "Then Frankie, after Will. She probably expected me to show up at her door hours ago. News travels fast."

He watched as he ran his thumb over her wrist, thoughtful. Quietly, he added, "After Elisa too." That after had almost ruined them.

And all of them were mistakes. Mistakes that he hadn't learned from.

And one he probably would have made again tonight, if not for the heaviness in his pocket. There was no place to hide this time, no comfort or distraction he could find outside of this hospital room, and so while Frankie waited for him to show up at her door and seek what she so freely offered, Scotty's only thought was to be near Lilly.

From the moment he first listened to that message until this very second, and the ones he felt coming over the next few hours, the only place he wanted to be was right here, doing nothing more than waiting. He always thought he couldn't handle it, being in a hospital room and watching as someone he cared about lingered between life and death, but he realized that this was better. Being here was much better than where he had taken to hiding.

"That's two, Lil." He looked up from their hands, where he had been running the pad of his thumb over the nail of hers, to find Lilly's eyes opened in slits and watching him. His move to take his hands away was halted by the slightest of pressures from her own. He hesitated then settled his hands around hers again. "You've only got seven left."

Lilly's mouth moved but no sound reached him. He stood and leaned over her, ear hovering over her lips, hand next to her head to keep himself from losing his balance. She spoke again and this time, the faintest of whispers registered in the air.


Three times almost dead.

Three times alive.

Scotty directed his face towards hers with a soft smile, not moving back.

"Yeah, guess you're right." Her eyes were closing again, Lilly drifting back into her dreams, and Scotty ran his finger along her forehead, moving that stray piece of hair out of her face, which kept sliding back despite his attempts to tame it. "Means you only have six then."

Scotty tilted forward, not thinking, not registering what he was doing until he was close enough to smell her hair and then he was pulling away just shy of his mark. The line that had been steadily smudged all night had almost been crossed. He moved back, taking his hands away, standing beside her bed and checking his pockets to make sure everything was there so he could leave. Wallet, keys, badge, phone, everything where it should be. He glanced at her face, to see if she was aware of what he had almost done, but by all appearances, she had already fallen back asleep.

Scotty took one long look at her face, wane and pale and strained but somehow relaxed, and touched his knuckles on the top of her hand before saying, "see you at the office," and left.

Lilly's father was waiting on the other side of the wall, sipping coffee from a paper cup as Scotty walked by, seeming not to notice him. By the time Scotty looked back, the hallway was empty; Paul had already disappeared into his daughter's hospital room.

At the elevator, Scotty pulled out his phone and dialed his voicemail. Again the message played, the crash and freefall and landing and gasp, and he held his phone out in front of him, waiting. The message concluded and his finger hovered indecisively over the seven.

And pressed four instead.

Not yet. Soon, but not yet.

And there was a confession in there, rattling around in his mind somewhere behind the one, two of her breathing matching his own and the clock on his phone showing 5:49 AM in black on green, but he didn't think it was the kind he would say. Somehow though, he thought she might already know.

- END -