Winnie likes what she does, likes the stress of the job, the pace, likes the people she works with, there's actually precious little she doesn't like. She hangs out with Jules sometimes, Paul from Team Two, used to go to movies with Lew and Spike, asks Sarge for advice when it comes to her career.
After Lew, Spike fell off the planet a bit. She couldn't blame him, let him be, never pushed, missed his friendship in silence. And then he called her, the night after his first shift back, asked her about something she can't even remember now and just like that, she had him back. Kind of. They go for coffee sometimes but it's not often and she doesn't touch why that might be, thinks that maybe it's because it was Spike and Lew and Her and Lew and without Lew, they just don't know how to figure it out. She thinks about it sometimes, the fact that they talk on the phone some nights, fall asleep on the phone some nights, that he knows an actual shit ton about her, about her brother who died when she was a kid, about her best friend, about the course she's taking. He talks too though, about Mac and Lesley, about his childhood friend Taylor, about his dad. She's the only one who knew, before Toth came in and broke open all of those scars.
She's still thrown off when Spike asks her out.
She's learned to ignore the smell of his deodorant (god, she feels like a creep but she knows it's not aftershave, knows old spice when she smells it), the way he leans over her desk, the way he can always make her laugh. They work together, he doesn't like her like that and come on, she knows she's not his type (ok, so maybe she's not exactly sure what his type is but she's pretty sure the dorky girl who works behind the desk and who is the exact opposite of glamorous is not it). Her sister always jokes that she's his work-wife. Winnie doesn't know whether to laugh or be horrified that she's evidently talked enough about this guy for her sister to make that comment.
He's a friendly guy, always talking or laughing, flirting with the women on the other teams (never Jules though, has always been fiercely protective of her - Winnie's got to be messed in the head because she kind of melts over it) and it actually takes her a second to realize he's asking her out and not just being Spike.
Which, like, when she thinks about it later probably makes her one of the dumbest people in the world. In her defence, she kind of figured that after that many years, well, he was never going to do it. She's never been able to figure out if the feeling she got from it was relief or disappointment.
She has no idea what in the actual hell is coming out of her mouth because obviously her mouth is hard-wired to her brain and that's precisely what her brain is saying but the rest of her? The rest of her is lighting up like the CN Tower, neon sign with a hundred exclamation marks after a three letter word.
God. That rule. That stupid stupid rule. A rule that wasn't a rule when she was in college, when she took the dispatching classes, when she was studying her ass off and working retail and living off ramen noodles, when she first started and would flinch every time she heard a siren over the headset. Became a rule When she dated a cop for the first and only time, a cop who was perfectly nice, decent on paper but a total head case in secret, who, by association made her feel like a head case. Because she'd be cool and collected and intelligent at work and then she'd shove on her sunglasses, get on the streetcar and start tearing up, burst through her front door and start dry heaving and crying and thinking about all the calls that had ended badly. What she'd needed was a break and what she'd got-well, it hadn't been that. That cop had helped make her into a head case who had to have her younger sister fly twenty hours to come and save her.
So she made her rule, sitting on the floor of a motel with her baby sister, crying her eyes out and confessing the past two years, how she'd lost all her friends, was afraid of always saying the wrong things, or doing the wrong things, of setting off the person who claimed to love her, her hands shaking into the clothes in her duffle. She didn't want hard, she wanted easy, easy like Melanie had it with her boyfriend, just two people wanting to be together and just getting on with it. Mel had cried too. Winnie remembers that. And that feeling of wanting something easy, well, it only got worse when she moved to SRU, saw Sam and Jules, always making hard choices, always putting their lives on the line, always always fighting to be together.
Winnie just wants it to be easy.
But as she watches Spike leave, things don't exactly feel easy.
She thinks it'll be awkward the next day, like maybe Spike won't want to hang around her anymore (like if a guy shot her down like that, she'd possibly never come back, find a different job scooping ice cream or walking dogs or something) but he's the same, still making her laugh, still leaning over her desk, still flashing her that grin every time he walks past (and honest to god, how unfair is the dimple? Like so unfair).
Well it doesn't matter, is what she tells herself, because everything's back to normal and if she feels a bit, well, like she just missed the winning lottery ticket by one number or something, it really doesn't matter.
The thing that's really making her squirm though is the fact that Leah keeps giving her these encouraging looks, like she's about a second away from making shooing motions with her hands. Winnie thinks about how mortified Spike would be if he knew and compensates by being super-professional, straight backed, hair neat, uniform starched. She doesn't know if it makes things better or worse because Ed gives her funny looks and at the end of shift, asks her if she's feeling all right.
She stops putting starch on her uniform. Let's things ease back into how they used to be.
Except three weeks later, she suddenly notices that Spike stands a little bit too close, has her backing up so that she isn't talking right into his neck. He brings her coffee, draws doodles on the edge of her pad of paper, steals her pens, reaches around her instead of asking her to move, offers her rides home that she never accepts. He sends her silly texts, ridiculous cartoons, funny tweets he's read. Winnie has zero idea what to make of it, can't for the life of her remember if this is how it was before or not. Maybe it was the same. Only now it means stuff. Maybe. Possibly. Or it doesn't and she said no and now, she's just his friend and this is how he treats his friends. She doesn't know whether to be relieved or really really fucking depressed.
She thinks about it sometimes, thinks about what might have happened if she'd said yes, if they'd gone to dinner, if he'd have kissed her good night. It makes her cheeks flush so she forces herself not to think about what might have happened after that.
Winnie always slips her workout in around whatever team she's working with. She hates people talking to her when she's running, likes the quiet, especially when it's first thing in the morning. But at this very second she's fully rethinking her entire life's choices because Leah is working out next to her and Winnie has this uncomfortable feeling that the other woman's going to say something. Call her out on her bullshit, maybe. Ask her if she needs to be medicated because a few weeks ago, she turned down like the greatest guy on the planet. Not that she's still thinking about it.
"Fine. You?" Actually, she got caught in the rain and her socks are wet.
Leah raises an eyebrow, purses her lips at her. "Not sleeping well?"
Fucking profilers. Honest to god, she almost wishes these people were just a little more crap at their jobs. "Long week."
It's excruciating, Leah not looking at her, counting her reps, this weird silence hanging between them. "You want to ask me why I said no?"
"If you want to tell me."
"It's messy, dating cops. I just...I want to keep my professional and personal lives separate."
Winnie kind of thinks that Leah's seeing right through her and it really kind of sucks. "Yeah."
"He's a really wonderful person, you know," Leah says mildly. "He'd probably be the same way in a relationship."
What she wants to say is a bitchy, 'well you date him then' but what actually comes out is, "Yeah. He is."
Leah raises her eyebrows and then goes back to her free weights.
Shift is long, really long, the kind where you hope the ceiling's going to cave in on your head just so you can go home. She gets through it with a steady diet of coffee and Advil. Boss has her pulling records from six different Ministries, running plates, checking traffic cams. She really has to bite her tongue not to sound rude. She has zero idea what's gotten into her but chalks it up to a night of bad sleep and wet socks.
Sam shoots her a sympathetic smile when Team One heads in the door, Ed a wink. Boss pauses by her desk, tells her, "Good work today, Winnie."
If it's possible, it all just makes her feel a bit worse, like she's been having visions of throwing things at him and then he stops by and is super nice to her. Makes her feel like an asshole.
Spike's last, gives her a bottle of fruit juice and a grin. She stares at the juice in her hand, eyes following him until he disappears into the locker room. It's probably not normal to feel like you're on the verge of tears just because someone hands you your favourite flavour of juice.
She takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly and then turns back to her disaster of a desk. Wonders if anyone would notice if all her notes from the afternoon just ended up in the trash. She categorizes everything methodically, copies it out in writing someone could actually read, prints the transcripts and the pictures from the traffic cams, binds it all together and hands it to Boss as he's on his way by.
He smiles at her. "Have a good night, Winnie. Hope you brought your umbrella, it's cats and dogs out there."
She thinks about her wet socks and sighs because well, no, she didn't but she's not going to tell him that.
And then like clockwork, Spike stops by, hair still damp, asks her if she wants a ride home. It's raining, has been all afternoon. She stares at him, at the friendly smile (the dimple, dammit), the dark eyes and hears herself saying, "Sure, do you mind just giving me a few minutes? Sid's running late." She does her best not to look at Sarge, like somehow she's been caught doing something she shouldn't be doing. Which is stupid.
If she wasn't so aware of her heart beating out of her chest, she'd probably have smiled at the way Spike's eyes widen, how his jaw drops a little.
She spends an agonizing five minutes in the locker room thinking that doesn't it just figure that she has nothing remotely cute in her locker and seriously, what was she thinking buying these jeans? And furthermore, why does it even matter, it's just Spike. She takes a deep breath as she walks out, finds herself smiling when she sees him chatting to Sid, both laughing.
"Ready to go?"
She nods, swings her bag up higher over her shoulder and has this vision of herself wiping out on the stairs.
Winnie wonders what it means that she always expects things between them to be weird and they never are. They talk about pie on the way to his car, it's easy, the way things always are between them and when he opens the door for her, she can't keep the smile off her face.
He raises an eyebrow at her, gives her this grin and she giggles (ok seriously, who the fuck has she become?), shakes her head and gets into the car. She watches him walk around the front to the driver's side and wow ok, seriously, is it normal to want to jump your co-worker for opening a car door? Tom from Team Three gave her a ride home once in a blizzard - he opened the door for her too and she certainly didn't want to make out with him. Not that she wants to make out with Spike, it's just, you know. Nice. She chalks it all up to a long shift, puts the thought out of her mind.
They talk about movies on the way home, how Winnie loves a good shoot-em-up, how Spike can't concentrate, just looks for the inaccuracies in them and she finds herself relaxing, the knot of tension in her spine unfurling and before she knows it, he's pulling up to her apartment building, putting the car into park and turning to grin at her.
Seriously, what is up with her chest? It's like a bird's taken up residence inside the cavity of her rib cage.
"Thanks for the ride."
"You're welcome. I thought you were going to insist on walking in the rain and getting wet."
God, is she blushing? Possibly, she might be blushing. She coughs. "Uh. Yeah. Well. Um. I'll see you tomorrow." Brilliant. She's clearly brilliant.
Maybe if he would stop smiling, her brain would return to her head, stop leaking out of her ears. "Um. You too, bye." She gets out of the car, waves at him, feels super self-conscious as he waits for her to walk up to the front door and rummage in her purse for her keys.
She gets the door open, waves at him without dropping her keys or her purse, forgoes the elevator and books it up the stairs. She pauses outside her door, slightly sweaty and shaking her head at herself. It's just Spike, for fuck's sake. What has gotten into her?
She's sitting on the counter picking her way through a dinner that might have been good a couple of days ago. The caller id says Melli-who-likes-jelly-bellies (quite clearly NOT programmed by Winnie) and like always, it makes her grin as she answers.
"So what is this, you suddenly too busy to call?"
Winnie rolls her eyes, can't keep the grin off her face. "Would I ever be too busy for my favourite sister?"
"I'm your only sister."
"You called me." Winnie hops off the counter, makes a face at her plate and then scrapes it into the garbage. "How's work? Le boyfriend?"
"All good!" she chirps and then she's off, hundred words a minute.
Winnie tunes her out a little as she folds her laundry, phone cradled between her ear and shoulder, thinks about how different they are, her sister who took off for Asia as soon as she could, who lives with her boyfriend of a hundred years, who adores everyone she meets, is more open and honest than Winnie even knows how to be.
"What is it?"
"Win...ok I don't want to be rude but I just told you about the sweet leather skirt I bought and you didn't even say anything."
She laughs. "Ok, I'm sorry. Just thinking."
"Yeah? Is the fire alarm going off?"
"Hilarious," Winnie says dryly.
There's an expectant pause. "So? What's been going on?"
"Not much, really. Just work. Same old."
"Same old?" her sister snorts. "Sure. Okay. And what about that guy?"
"What guy?" Winnie honestly has to rack her brain to think if she was seeing someone the last time they spoke.
"You know which one. The one you work with. The cute one who's always in the news for some award."
It's stupid for her to be embarrassed. Like what is she even embarrassed about? Maybe some girls would find him cute. He is cute. In, like, a totally objective way. "You mean Spike? He's uh...he's good."
There's a pause and for a second, Winnie thinks she might actually have convinced her sister not to- "Oh my god, what happened? Did you totally jump him in the bathroom at work? Or where they keep all their equipment? It was in the back of one of those SUVs, wasn't it. Ugh, Winnie, seriously, how cliché is that?" Winnie can hear the grin in Mel's voice.
"What? No, we didn't-nothing...ok, that's so not at all what I said. Nothing happened!"
"Really." Her sister sounds so amused, like she doesn't believe her for a second.
"Really." She swallows, pauses, finds she really can't lie by omission and says, "He uh...he asked me out." There's a beat. "Why are you laughing?"
"Nothing going on my left tit!"
"I said no!"
Mel keeps laughing, starts talking about six times and keeps interrupting herself to laugh some more.
"Melanie, seriously, it's not like that."
"Well why the hell not?"
"I don't date cops." It's a really good reason, Winnie thinks. You have rules. You follow them. It's not stupid.
"That's really stupid." Her sister sounds unimpressed, like Winnie just told her she's got to spend the rest of her life eating nothing but broccoli.
"I'm sorry," she says with another snicker, "but seriously, how do you tell yourself this shit and then just follow it blindly?"
"We can't all make off-the-cuff decisions and have them work out."
"They're not off-the-cuff - I just don't make ridiculous choices and then follow them when they're not working out."
Winnie doesn't really know what to say to that one. Because it's true. It's like she doesn't know when to give up, even when she's crying every single night and doesn't ever want to go home to the person she lives with.
"Sorry. I shouldn't have...is that really the reason you said no?"
"Not because of Officer Psycho? Because that was a long time ago. And this Spike dude? Not that half-wit traffic-cop."
"Ok ok, sorry. He wasn't a traffic cop."
"Win!" she mimics and then sighs. Winnie can practically hear her rolling her eyes. "So if he weren't a cop, you'd be married with three kids?"
Winnie doesn't even bother responding to that.
"You're going to shoot someone down because of their completely decent, honest job?"
"I didn't 'shoot him down'," Winnie mutters.
"You said no. That's pretty much a shoot down. Is he still talking to you?"
"He's not thirteen. And we work together. He even gave me a ride home today!"
"Maybe he's trying to wear you down."
She's blushing. Something about the idea of him going to the trouble of- "Mel...it's not like there's a shortage of girls hanging around him."
"Yeah, I really don't think this is about a one night stand. You don't ask out someone you work with unless you're really willing to put it on the line."
Winnie swallows hard. "Yeah well. It's a totally moot point. Because nothing happened and nothing's going to happen."
Mel pauses, sounds like she's picking her words carefully. "This isn't like last time, Winnie. You're older, you're not going to get taken in by a uniform, by some guy who's going to be secretly battling PTSD, hiding it with scotch and taking it out on his girlfriend. You're not going to have to handhold him. Or save him."
She rubs a hand over her face, thinks about how much it sucks that they're even talking about this. "Mel, just leave it."
"Okay. Okay. But you know, all I want is for you to be happy. Of all the people on the planet, I think you deserve it."
"Doesn't matter. Ugh, can you hold on a second?" Winnie can hear yelling in the background and then very distinctly, 'I'm on the PHONE, why don't you make an executive decision on that chocolate bar and fill me in on it later? Jesus!' It makes her laugh, like there's still some kind of normalcy out there in the world. "Sorry. Seriously, sometimes I wonder about him. He's got to enjoy having me yell at him because sometimes he goes out of his way to make it happen!" Even as she says it, Winnie can hear how pleased her sister sounds, how happy. She wants that too, she thinks dimly. "Ok, back to what I was saying. Every time I talk to you, our conversation invariably falls onto this Spike character, you tell me something funny he said or did, how he sent you some ridiculous text and honestly, sometimes, it's not even that funny but you always find it hilarious. And now he's asking you out and your response is really going to be no?"
"It's a rule," Winnie says weakly.
"You sound like a broken record. Fine fine, have your rules. Then, when you end up dying at 70 ALONE, you can tell me how all those rules worked out for you."
Winnie rolls her eyes, firmly tells her sister that it's not like that, they talk about how Mel's going to Japan for a long weekend, about this cat she's thinking of buying and when they're about to hang up, Mel mentions it again. "Just think about throwing your rule out the window, okay? Just for a second. What if he's like the perfect guy?"
Winnie bites her tongue.
"Hello! What if he's the perfect guy?"
She still doesn't say anything. Her mouth's open though, like if she can just find the words, they'll come right out, no effort at all.
"...You think he's the perfect guy?" Mel falls silent and then just sighs. "Okay, Win. Well. I gotta go. Work time. Just think about what I said ok? I love you. A lot." She sounds sad.
"Love you too. Miss you."
Winnie stares around at her apartment, wonders what Spike would think if he actually saw the inside. She brushes her teeth, gets into bed and wonders what this feeling is. Just before she falls asleep, it occurs to her that maybe she's lonely, like maybe her apartment would be better filled with noise and laughter, silly stories and exaggerations. Maybe with someone reading passages to her out of books about bombs. Or something. She doesn't know.