Title: Changing Lanes
Author: Suleikha Snyder
Fandom: Third Shift
Rating/CWs: PG-13, brief mention of PTSD and therapy.
Summary: Set somewhere after Big Bad Wolf and during Pretty Little Lion. Neha contemplates the future of her and Joe's relationship.
It hadn’t even been two months since she’d met Joe Peluso. Now he was living in her apartment. Manspreading on her couch. Sprawled out with a tablet of mission schematics. A surly wolf of a man who needed a shave—he always needed a shave, and it was almost a relief to have someone else’s hair clogging the shower drain and shedding all over the hardwood floors. Trust her to end up with someone even more hirsute than a South Asian woman. To end up with him. A confessed killer. A shape shifter. A guy who’d crammed thrift store copies of the Twilight books onto her shelves next to her legal tomes and psychology texts.
Things were…different now that they were no longer in crisis mode, hiding from mobsters and cops alike. They were learning each other in a whole new way, not all of it easy. He rarely remembered to put the toilet seat down. Her very precise ordering of things in her kitchen cabinets drove him bananas. Joe was nominally a Democrat like her, but they still argued about the military and America’s role overseas. A perpetual sore spot. And she hadn’t exactly gotten around to introducing “JP,” as he was now officially known, to her family. Another sore spot.
They couldn’t possibly work. They’d be divorced before they were even married. They had absolutely nothing in common. Their relationship was really just lust. They were a happy-for-now and not a happy-ever-after. And oh, he was a werewolf. She’d run all the arguments through her mind. Every single reason that she and Joe Peluso—make that JP Castelli—were doomed to fail. Everything about them that didn’t make sense. God, it was a long list. A credible list. Compelling evidence. Enough to damn them both.
None of which mattered when she glanced up from the case file she was pretending to read and caught him looking at her. This man she’d once thought ugly. He was gorgeous in his love for her. Or maybe in her love for him. Soft and kind and staring at her with his heart right there in his dark brown eyes. He leaned forward, palm cradling his neck as he flashed her a sheepish smile. “Hey. Doc. I love you. You know that, right?”
His voice sent lightning down her spine. Gruff and fond at the same time. And his words…? She was still getting used to the concept, but they always rang true. She did know he loved her. Even if he left the seat up more often than not. Even if her alphabetized spice rack made him grumpy. Because he always came home from an op and hugged her like he’d been waiting for nothing else. Because he went to a therapist once a week so he could work on his anger and process what was probably PTSD. Because he’d tried to leave her for her own good but then he’d stayed for it. “I love you too,” she said.
But was that enough? This wasn’t the movies, where you could pretend it was all going to work out after the credits rolled. She wasn’t Sandra Bullock after two hours of high-octane action, flippantly telling Keanu Reeves that they could base their relationship on sex. Though she and Joe certainly had enough of it. More than enough. The chafing struggle was real.
His brows rose as she suppressed a giggle. “What are you laughin’ at?” he asked, patting the couch beside him. “Come here.”
“I was remembering that thing from Speed,” she confessed as she joined him, leaving her work from the halfway house on her chair. “About how relationships formed in intense circumstances don’t last.”
“And you think that’s us? Nah.” Joe’s laugh was more like a rueful scoff. “Babe, nothing lasts,” he pointed out, tugging her into his lap. Getting good and comfortable. Tucking her head beneath his chin. “Ain’t none of us living forever,” he said, pressing a kiss to her hair. “But I’m with you for as long as we’ve got.”
That could be anywhere from a week to decades. There was no telling, with the state of the world as it was. They’d had variations on the argument before. He might die on a mission for Third Shift. She could get hit by a car crossing Church Avenue. A meteor could strike 3S HQ when the whole team was on premises. Now it wasn’t an argument so much as a foregone conclusion: They were in it all together. And Neha didn’t want to waste a single moment. Including this one. So she curled into her sweet softie in tough guy’s clothing. Feeling his heartbeat strong under her palm. Poking him with her cold toes. Joe retaliated by sliding his hand under her sweater and finding the ticklish spot just beneath her ribs.
It didn’t matter if he was a bad fit for her world or she for his. This was happening. Hurtling ahead. More than sixty-five miles an hour and potentially going to explode. And she was buckled in for the wild ride.
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