This one was written for Cittykat17. Not exactly what she was after, I don't think, but it was all my brain would let me write this time around.
Set during S6, after Isolation and before Seven Feet Under, though I realized after the fact that Lily actually left during Isolation – not after. So bear with me on that, please! I apologize; I know Jordan's timeline backward and forward, but Lily's tends to escape me.
Pastries and Pulmonata
Jordan flashed her friend a bright smile as she sauntered into the break room in search of coffee, the oversized "I see dead people" mug Woody gave her for no reason at all a few years ago in her hand. It matched the bumper sticker on her car, and she had gotten a good laugh out of the gift when he had presented it to her with a flourish.
Bug just glanced up at her from the table, his own half-empty mug cupped between his hands and a pastry at his elbow. He had hardly poked at it. "What're you so cheerful about?"
"What are you so bitter about?" she countered, pouring her drink and plopping down into the vacant chair beside him. He glared at her sourly, and she gave him another innocent grin as she reached out to pull the strawberry danish he hadn't eaten closer so she could nibble at it herself. But then she turned her head to follow his distant gaze out the window into the hallway.
Lily, her very pregnant belly prominent in front of her, was standing there, glancing at a file as she prepped for a grieving family.
"Oh, Bug," Jordan murmured, setting down her coffee to touch his arm in a show of support.
He immediately recoiled from her. "Stop! You don't…you don't know what it's like!" the entomologist snapped, his face pinched with pain as it came back to hers. "Watching the person you -" But he stopped, biting back the words and staring back down into his mug.
"Don't what?" she pressed, stung as she leaned back in her chair to give him a bit of the space he obviously wanted. "Don't know what it's like watching the person you…the person you care about with someone else? Yes, I do. I think there have been two blondes through here to attest to that. I'm your friend, Bug. You can talk to me."
Bug's breath puffed out and he pursed his lips at her kind words. "Why did she have to choose him? Of all people? At least with Doctor Macy…I know he is a good person, and I could have lived with that. But him? After everything?"
"I wish I had an answer for you." Jordan touched his arm again, and this time he didn't pull away from her. "But if it makes you feel any better, none of us like him much."
He gave her a small, almost imperceptible smile. "You know, sometimes I wish I could just be a Pulmonata."
"A what now?"
"A snail. A land snail that breathes air. Pulmonata." The little man shrugged and spun his mug around idly in his grasp, the coffee inside long cold. "When conditions get too harsh, they retreat into their shells and secrete a specific mucus that hardens over the opening. It's called an epiphragm. They can survive for years in estivation that way, undisturbed until they decide it's time to wake up."
"You wish…you were a snail."
"A Pulmonata, Jordan," Bug corrected harshly, even knowing the correction was falling on deaf ears. "I just enjoy the idea of being able to retreat from the world, at least for a little while. Why am I even bothering with you?"
Jordan's eyebrows shot up at the reproof and she held her hands up before her in surrender. "Okay, fine, Mister Gloomypants. Pul-mo-nata. Happy? That's, what, a class?"
The answer was short-tempered on the outside, but she knew she had won him over. She gently pushed the danish back in his direction. "You're right. It would be kind of nice to be able to just disappear for a while. No reminders of heartache, and without the whole mess of running away. We'd miss you, though. Now eat this before I do," she demanded, pointing to the delicious jelly-and-cheese-filled pastry. "My bum doesn't need the calories."
"Give it to Woody; he loves these things."
"What, and have the temptation right in front of me? Probably not a good idea." They weren't talking about the pastry anymore, and they both knew it. She cracked a smile that Bug finally returned.
"Did you know that it can take the standard snail up to seven hours to mate?" he asked unexpectedly, his face completely serious.
"I…uh, no, I can honestly say I did not know that. That's an awkward conversation starter, right there."
"They find pleasure in it," he continued, much to Jordan's discomfort. "Their mating happens in three parts, and the first two are what people consider 'foreplay'. Seven hours. To a human, that's likely the equivalent of several years just to get through the first courtship."
"That's fascinating, Bug, really, but, uh – why are you telling me this?"
"Because that's where you and Woody are!" he told her as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. "Again! And it's where I had hoped Lily and I could be by now, if…if she weren't -"
"Weren't pregnant with someone else's baby?" Jordan supplied, tactfully ignoring his remark about her and Woody. He rarely ever commented on the two of them, and she did not want to encourage the behavior.
Bug's shoulders drooped. "It's not even that. She doesn't want anything to do with him, and yet he insists on being a part of her life."
"Yeah, well Bug, can you blame him? It's his -"
But he didn't wait for her to finish, suddenly standing and grabbing his mug off the table. She watched him, surprised, as he gathered his bag and dug around inside it to pull out a small, thin book. "Here," he muttered just as Lily ambled into the room. "Read this. Maybe it'll change your outlook on the amazing Pulmonata."
"Doubtful." She took the well-read and obviously loved paperback anyway. There was a snail on the cover.
"Good morning, guys!" Lily's wide smile faltered when Bug quickly left, and she turned to Jordan with a question on her face.
The other woman shrugged, her gaze turning down to the book he had so mysteriously given her. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating: A Memoir, by Elisabeth Tova Baily. "He's hurt, Lil," she finally said softly. "Wouldn't you be?"
Lily's face fell as she took Bug's vacated seat. "He has every right to be. I just…" She shook her head, her thoughts not forming coherently. "I just wish he would at least talk to me the way he used to. I miss him."
Jordan smiled sadly to herself at that, remembering the conversation she had just had with him. "Hey, have you heard of this book?"
"Oh, yeah! It won a few awards. The woman who wrote it was suffering from a really horrible disease at the time; she didn't think she'd ever recover. Her only real companion was this snail, and it gave her such inspiration." Seeing Jordan's laugh before it could erupt, Lily shook her head. "No, I'm serious! I mean, you'd probably understand the medical jargon behind her illness, but the woman was bedridden for most of her adult life. This research gave her a new breath of life. It's a memoir, so it's all true."
That stopped Jordan's retort. No one knew about her tumor – about the vicious growth eating away at her brain. She had hardly even admitted to herself that she was getting sicker by the day. It was a truth she was more afraid of than she could bear. Her eyes fell back to the book's cover, suddenly seeing it in a new light as her vision was briefly spotted with tears she expertly pushed back.
"Excuse me for a second," she stammered, pushing the chair back and standing abruptly, the book clutched tightly in her hand. Lily watched in confusion as Jordan dashed to the doorway, looking up and down the hall.
"Bug!" she called out, voice almost cracking through her tight throat.
The man had stopped to talk to Nigel near the doors to Trace, and he glanced up, startled at the tone of his name. Jordan bit her bottom lip for a moment, willing herself not to blow her cover by breaking down right there. "Thank you. For, um, the book."
He met her eyes, knowing very well that wasn't what she was thanking him for but not having the faintest idea what was really going on. So he just nodded once. "You're welcome."
"And I don't really appreciate being compared to a snail."
"A Pulmonata, Jordan."
"Right," she conceded, "Pulmonata. And just for the record, I think you can still be like your precious Pulmonata, too. There's hope for us yet, right?"
Bug gave her a small, thin smile as everyone else who overheard gave them both baffled glances.
"I suppose so."