Been Out There Searching

This fic follows on Lifeline, which follows Breaking the Surface, which in turn follows Falling Into Place, and therefore contains spoilers for and will not make sense without those previous three works. You should read all previous works first.

Thursday August 26, 2021


Cass turns at the sound of Adam's voice, smiling as he walks toward her even though she knows he can't tell thanks to her mask. She tries to ignore the way her heart briefly flutters at the sight of him.

You don't have a crush, Cass, she tells herself. This isn't a date. He's just a friend, and you're just meeting him today because Carlos was working and you wanted to make sure he had something to do. It almost works.

"Hey. Thanks for agreeing to grab coffee with me, today," she says in return.

Adam's standing next to her now, approximately six feet, although she's never been very good at judging that distance and she knows it's mostly a meaningless number anyway, especially outside. "No, thank you for hanging out. I hope I'm not keeping you from work or anything important." She realizes suddenly, or maybe again even though it was harder to notice when they weren't next to each other, how much taller he is that her. It shouldn't surprise her -- at under 5 feet, most people towered over her -- but it feels significant, in this case, for some reason.

She shakes her head. "No. I'm a little ahead on my work items this sprint, and hours are super flexible anyway given everyone's working from home. Even if I had things I needed to do, I can always catch up later tonight or over the weekend."

Adam nods. "That sounds nice," he says, and she thinks about how different his work life is from hers, and starts to feel bad for him again for the current situation of the world.

"So do you have a favorite coffeeshop? I have a few I tend to like, but I'm always happy to try a new place."

Adam shrugs. "Not really. Even when the world and work isn't... this, I tend to just either be at work or hanging out at home or with Carlos and Nick. I'm happy to go wherever you want, although I'd request that it's somewhere that has tea. I've never been a fan of coffee, and have somehow managed to avoid it throughout med school and afterward, so I wouldn't really like to develop an addiction to it now."

"That's fair. Tea is nice, too." She stops and thinks about the two cups of coffee she's already had today. "I probably drink too much coffee, actually. I wasn't so bad when I was in the office, because I didn't really like the stuff they had there, but now that Em and I are both home together, and Em brews some a few times a day, I usually can't say no. Em's a bit of a coffee snob, so she has some really nice beans, and I keep saying that I should get her one of those brewers that can just brew one cup so I'm not so tempted all the time and then not doing it. Maybe I should get tea now, too. Chamomile is always nice and soothing." She stops, realizing that she's been rambling on about coffee at someone who doesn't even drink the stuff, and feels herself blush.

"No, I totally get that. Nick developed a bit of a coffee addiction when we were in med school together. I guess it was less snob and more just needing the energy boost, but he managed to cut down to a reasonable amount afterward. I guess no one knows better than we do what caffeine does to your body, and it helped that Carlos doesn't touch the stuff, either. He prefers hot chocolate."

"Ah." Cass files the information away in her brain for later use before immediately wondering why it matters so much to her.

Friends know friends' drink preferences, she tells herself. There doesn't have to be a hidden agenda for every thing you and Adam discuss today. You just want to get to know your friends.

"Hopefully he's managing to get through the current mess without being tempted back to the dark side." She picks a direction to start walking, assuming they'll run across somewhere that has tea eventually.

"Yeah. After the scare last year, he's been good about avoiding caffeine, and Carlos has been militant about helping him do it. Not that it probably has any impact on the long-term effects anyway, but better safe than sorry, right now. So he's a lot more tired than usual. Well, for many reasons. But he's getting by without it."

"Ah. That's good." She frowns, trying to remember what Carlos had mentioned about the scare and only remembering that Adam had started on something about Nick's recovery and Carlos had quickly changed the subject. She decides not to press. "They seem like a really good couple."

Why that, of all topics, Cass? Stupid.

Adam looks at her, and she imagines he's smiling, since his eyes are full of affection. "Yeah, they really are. I think we told you how they met, right?"

"You did. At least, you told Carlos that he owed you forever for introducing the two of them, and that you regretted it because now you had to watch them be sickly cute together all the time."

Adam laughs. "That's right. Nick and I hit it off pretty much on the first day, and just started spending a lot of time together, studying. Then I figured it would be nicer to study at home than on campus, so I started bringing him home with me, and that's how they met." Adam's staring off into the distance, lost in the memory, now. "Nick thought Carlos and I were together, at first. I don't really blame him... I always talked about Carlos as my roommate instead of my best friend, I think just so Nick wouldn't be surprised if we went home together one day and I had to introduce them. I probably should have clarified sooner."

Cass tries to imagine Nick's reaction when he found out the truth. "You seem really close. All three of you, really."

"Yeah. Carlos and I are... well, I think we're closer than siblings, and I think I love him more than I love my sister, although please don't ever tell her I said that."

"My lips are sealed." Cass thinks about her feelings for her older brother and younger sister, and how protective she feels of her, and wonders if it's the same way for Adam with Carlos.

"I care about him I think about as much as I can without there being anything there but friendship, if that makes sense," Adam continues. "Like I've never had any interest in anything more with him, and he's been incredibly respectful of that."

Cass wonders if that means Carlos, at one point, had wanted something more, and Adam had turned him down.

"And I guess I love Nick too, in a similar way. I mostly love the way that we work well together, and I love how he makes Carlos happier than I think I'd ever expected he could be."

He really does look happy as he thinks about the two of them, and she really likes that look on him. "I'm glad you found so much joy in your life, Adam." She tries not to think about the fact that he's currently here with her instead of working in the hospital because the world has been sucking that joy away from him for over a year.

"Yeah. I'm really lucky. What about you and Emma?"

She tells him about Emma, and how they'd been partnered up in their first programming class and really hit it off. She tells him how Emma had literally saved her life one day by always being the cautious and observant one, and pulling her back from crossing the street on a green light only inches from where a car ran the red. She tells him about their dream vacation of visiting a coffee plantation somewhere, and how they were finally going to do it this year until the pandemic hit. She talks about Emma in the way that always comes naturally to her, because she knows Emma probably better than she knows anyone else in the world, and worries she's annoying or overwhelming Adam, but he only nods and smiles and seems genuinely happy for her.

She tells him too about how Emma has always seemed to disapprove of the people Cass has dated in the past, and how she wonders if she's jealous or worried of losing Cass. And then immediately kicks herself for starting on the topic. Adam, for his part, doesn't seem to mind or notice, telling her about how he's always wanted to approve of Carlos' boyfriends too, and how much he approves of Nick, and that makes her feel a little better.

And even as the conversation moves on for hours and hours after that, and even as she tells herself she isn't interested in Adam like that, the voice at the back of her head wonders if Emma would approve of Adam.

"Welcome home!"

Emma is awake now, typing on her computer, and smell of fresh-brewed coffee hits her as soon as she opens the door, and neither surprises her.

"Hey. Work time?"

"Yeah." Emma sounds frustrated. "My stupid product manager changed this spec out from under us. Something about new market research. Shouldn't they have done that weeks ago before we started building it?"

Cass pulls off her mask, appreciating how much stronger the coffee scent was without it, but telling herself she shouldn't have another cup tonight if she actually wanted to sleep. "Sounds frustrating."

Emma hits a few keys with more force than necessary then turns to Cass, smiling. "How was Adam?"

"He's doing well. I feel bad for keeping him out so late, but we just kept walking and talking and lost track of time, and then had to get back."

"Well, it's not like he has anywhere to be tomorrow, at least."

"But still. I feel like Carlos would be worried about him." She isn't sure why she's concerned about Carlos. Adam's an adult and can be responsible for himself.

Emma laughs. "Those two are really close."

Cass nods. "They are."

"So you've got some competition."

"Em!" She feels herself blushing. "It was just coffee and a walk! I just want to be friends. And besides, Carlos is married and Adam is straight."

Emma smiles and turns back to her computer. "I didn't say anything about anything other than friendship, and the fact that you jumped to conclusions I think says a lot about how you see him."

Cass huffs. "I don't have to stand for this, you know," she says, but it's teasing.

"No. You could be sitting down for it, instead. You probably should be, anyway, if you were just out walking for eight hours."

"We didn't walk the whole time. We found places to sit, too. And had dinner." She's blushing again, despite herself.

"Sounds like a really nice time."

"It was. But um..." The voice is back. "Can I ask you something?"

"Since when you did you ask me if you could ask me something? This isn't, 'I'm going to propose to Adam tomorrow', is it? Because I think it's way too soon for that."

Cass didn't think she could blush harder. "No. But it's, um... why did you always dislike my exes, Em?"

Emma turns back to her, smiling but somehow looking deadly serious. "You really don't know?"

"What, you're going to confess your long-lost love for me or something?" She tries to inject some humor, even as part of her wonders if it's the truth.

Emma laughs, and it's a full laugh that tells her there isn't anything there. "You wish! Well, I mean I do love you, but as a friend."

"I love you too, Em." She thinks even if Emma were interested, and she weren't about as straight as she thinks someone could get, she wouldn't want to risk ruining their friendship, and she wonders if Adam feels the same way about Carlos.

Emma grows serious again. "But really. You've always been such a go-getter, and been attracted to guys who were too. And, uh... in college, that meant a lot of honestly very sleazy people. You remember how I always wanted you to text me every 5 minutes when you were heading to Victor's house, and then when you were coming back?"

Cass nods, also remembering that she'd insisted she ensure her hand was on her phone and wanting, but not quite asking, Cass to check in with her sporadically from the house, too. It had honestly been really annoying. "I do."

"Well, I was always worried something bad was going to happen to you. I always got this vibe from him that was just... I don't know. Not quite axe murderer, but not someone I would want my best friend to be alone with. I always sat up, phone in my hand, the entire time you were over there, waiting for a call or for you to walk back through the door."

"Oh." Cass feels simultaneously insulted and cherished. "I'm... sorry you worried about me like that. I don't think I ever realized how much."

Emma's smiling again. "Yeah, well. Then you stopped dating when we moved here and I didn't have to worry anymore."

"I stopped dating here because I didn't know how to meet people, and the apps are full of tech bros. And don't get me wrong, because god knows we're both that kind of person too, but I don't really want someone who's so... disconnected from reality? Valuing computers over people? Does that even make sense?"

Emma nods. "It does. We're both so buried in tech that you want someone who's more about that human connection." Then she grins, and Cass knows she understands what she's trying to ask. "You like him, don't you?"

Cass blushes. "I... don't not like him. I just don't know if I want to date, right now. I mean, we're in the middle of a pandemic."

"Well, if it means anything, I like him for you. The entire time you were out today, I didn't pick up my phone once. It's been here next to me, of course, in case you needed anything, but I trust him, and I trust him to take care of you."

"Oh." Cass thinks back to her other boyfriends and how almost overzealous Emma could be sometimes with her. "That... means a lot to me, Em."

She waves her hand dismissively. "Yeah, well. Good talk and all of that. There's some coffee left for you, if you want. I don't think I need the entire pot right now."

"I see. I get the dregs, huh?"

Emma grins and turns back to her computer. "You're not worth fresh beans, Cass."

"Ouch. Maybe I'll go move in with Carlos and you'll have to find a new roommate. I bet he'd grind fresh beans for me every morning, evening, and night."

"Is that innuendo? Because I don't think Carlos is going to want to 'grind your beans' when he's got Nick."

Cass laughs, and sits at her computer, checking a couple of things before bed, and thinking about Emma's words.

And she finally lets herself admit that she does want something more, and maybe that's okay.

Monday August 30, 2021

This still isn't a date, Cass, she tells herself. It's just more coffee. If you were actually going to date him, you'd need to talk to Carlos first.

She isn't sure why, exactly, she'd asked Adam to walk with her again today. It wasn't like she didn't have work she needed to be doing, and despite the fact that she really could do it at any point, she still wasn't normally a fan of working into the evenings like Emma was.

Still, she figures any excuse to get out into the world, especially these days, was a good one, and she really did enjoy Adam's company. And if it helped Carlos out a bit, and maybe put her a bit on his good side, that was a victory.


She turns toward Adam as he walks up to her. "Hey."

"So I'm 35," he says, and it takes her a second to realize what he's saying. Age isn't exactly one of those things you normally open a conversation with. "Also I'm 6'2"."

"Okay? Is this some sort of doctor thing? Sharing vitals with friends?" She means it as a joke, but Adam shakes his head and blushes, and she feels bad it didn't land. "Well, I'm 26, almost. And I'm 4'11", so pretty much everyone is taller than me anyway. And at that height, it really stops mattering how much taller, exactly."

He nods. "Sorry. That wasn't exactly the smoothest conversation opener ever."

She thinks she understands why he'd brought it up, and doesn't think she'd realized either how far apart in age they were. But the more she thinks about it, the more it doesn't feel like they're that different, and the less it bothers her.

"You were in school until you were probably like 27, right? And then residency after that?" She doesn't know much about med school, but he nods, and she feels a sense of pride that she at least understood that much. "So in some way we're both just starting to get hang of our careers." She immediately wonders if that was a mistake. "Not that I think you'd need time for that. I'm sure you're very skilled at what you do and took to it instantly. I just mean that we're both... at the start of our careers. It just takes a bit longer if you're doing things that matter." She thinks she remembers Adam telling her he's a surgeon, and that he normally works in the ER.

"Your work matters too, Cass."

She laughs at that. "I build a website so Donald Trump can upend politics and diplomacy and insult his rivals."

She can tell Adam smirks at that, even with his mask in the way. "Not anymore, he can't."

"Mmm. Well. I'm just saying... what you do is actually important, so they just needed more time to make sure you were doing it right." She's not sure who she's referring to by 'they', but Adam seems to get it anyway.

"Well, I just thought it was relevant. In case you thought I was too out of touch to be your friend or something." It takes her a second to realize he's talking about age, again.

She doesn't like how they're both dancing around it, but she tells herself she can't make a move until she knows Carlos is okay with everything. "Yeah, well. It's nice to have friends who are a bit more settled in their lives. Em has always been really mature for her age... I always joke to her that she's 26 going on 50."

Adam laughs at that. "She does seem really responsible. Both of you do."

She ignores the obvious correct response and requisite 'thank you' for that. "Does it matter to you? Our ages?" She's suddenly holding her breath, and wishing she could see his mouth as he thinks, and hoping he understands the unspoken question.

Adam shakes his head, and by the way he looks at her, she's pretty sure he does. "No. You're right. We're both really just a few years into our proper careers. I guess you could think of residency as a paid internship... that's a thing for you, right?"

Cass nods. "Yeah. I actually interned at Twitter the summer before I graduated, and they liked me and made me a full-time offer for afterward, so I thought it was easier."

Adam nods. "We get along, so why shouldn't we be friends? We're at similar parts of our lives, in a lot of ways, as you point out. Even if I'm older." Then he shifts, and she thinks he looks guilty. "Sorry. I didn't mean to just keep us standing here. Where do you want to walk today?"

"I liked our walk through Golden Gate Park last time. Want to head that way again?"


He starts walking in the direction of the park, and she follows, trying to find a discussion topic that will get her mind off of him.

"It's okay if you don't want to talk about it, but what was work like before... all of this?"

He doesn't seem offended, so she supposed that's a good sign. "Busy, but I like that, you know? Nick normally works in pathology, and I don't know how he does it. There's too much structure, and it's missing a lot of that human touch. I like that normally work keeps me guessing, and I have to think on my feet a lot." He stares off into space. "Actually, I think that would've surprised me if you told me that in undergrad. Normally I'm not a big fan of surprises, but I guess I just enjoy that it keeps the work interesting." Adam shakes his head. "At least... it's interesting until it all becomes the same fucking disease."

Cass should have known this was a bad topic. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to... set you off, again."

Adam shakes his head and seems to be smiling at her, if his eyes are any indication. "No. This probably sounds strange, but I kind of... want to talk about it with you? Carlos has been walking on eggshells with me for the past month or more because he's worried that he'll set me off by bringing it up. And maybe at first, it would have. But I think now I just need to vent."

"Okay. Um... then what's the worst part?"

"The worst part is not being able to do anything. Sure, there's a lot of times that's probably the case normally, like you get an aortic dissection that's breached the outer wall. And I guess we have better tools for treating it now, but it's still just about every patient, so just feels so... hopeless. Like, um... I'll probably get this wrong, but imagine you're getting a problem you have to write code for every day, and you do, but they're all the same problem, and every time you... publish your code, the website explodes." He shrugs. "I guess that wasn't a good metaphor after all."

"No, I think that gets the point across. I, um... I would hate my job if I was fixing the same problem every day, and especially if it felt like there was no end to it, and sometimes what I was doing was making things worse. I think that's what you're saying?"

"Yeah, something like that. It's just unrelentless, which is maybe why it's so bad."

She resists the urge to reach out and pat his shoulder or hold his hand, not just because she's supposed to be maintaining a physical distance. "I'm sorry."

"But uh, you asked about things normally. They're normally really busy, and my hours can be strange and unpredictable. Nick proposed to Carlos when we got our residencies, and they moved in together that summer, so I'd been on my own for most of my non-academic experience, but it's... really nice to have someone to come home to, you know? Not that I can ever tell him that, because he'd insist I move in with them permanently, and it wouldn't be right for me to impose on them like that, more than I already am. But it's still nice." He shakes his head. "Sorry. I don't know why I went off on this tangent."

Cass is pretty sure she does know, and considers her response. "I think that makes sense. It would get lonely working strange hours and going home by yourself afterward. And, um..." She considers whether the next part would be appropriate before going for it. "I have a lot of experience with people with strange hours. Em has always had a habit of working late or adjusting her hours based on her meetings, or lack thereof. Like sometimes I would come home from work and she'd just be waking up on days when she didn't have to be in the office for anything. It's gotten worse over the pandemic when all of her calls are virtual anyway."

Adam doesn't say anything to that, staring off into space in front of them as they walk.

"So what was the Adam of undergrad like if not a fan of surprises?"

He laughs at this, and surprises her by starting about a tale about a frat party.

Wednesday September 1, 2021

"Then you have it. My approval, I mean."

Cass wishes she could see most of Carlos' face at the moment, but by the way his eyes are staring at her, she thinks he's actually relieved.

Not half as relieved as I am, she thinks. From the way she thinks she gets along with Carlos, and Nick, she hadn't been expecting too much pushback. Still, maybe Carlos was actually the jealous type.

"Okay. Thank you, Carlos." She stops, feeling a bit mischevious now. "I mean Eddy."

His eyes seem to light up at it, and she wonders if the nickname is starting to grow on him. "I see. Now you got what you came here for, so the gloves are off."

She feels comfortable enough to punch his arm, and he doesn't seem to mind. Still, she feels a need to be reassuring. "And, um... I promise I'll do right by him."

He chuckles. "If you're going to call me Eddy, you already are."

That makes her laugh. "Can I give you a hug? I know it's not exactly..."

He cuts her off, already holding out his arms. "Yes. I would love a hug."

She moves in, and they hug, and she can't but feel like it's the start of something important.

Friday September 3, 2021


She turns as Adam walks up, allowing herself to feel okay with the way her heart seems to skip a beat at his voice, this time. "Hey, yourself."

"Thanks for hanging out again, today. We really could have done this tomorrow." He seems a little guilty about taking up more of her time.

She wonders if it would have been more prudent to not skip out on another afternoon of work, but she tells herself that she wanted to make sure to leave the weekends for Carlos, at least for now. It wouldn't be a great first step if she took away his time with Adam and used it to ask him out.

"It's always nice to get out for a bit. Thanks for coming."

He nods, looking around. "So. We could walk and not get coffee again."

She blushes, remembering that the past two times they'd met for 'coffee' had involved exactly none of it. "Sorry. I always just got so deep into conversation with you that I..."

"Hey, don't apologize. Caffeine is a diuretic anyway, and the last thing we'd need while we were walking is an increased urge to pee. Although I did bring a water bottle this time, because not drinking any liquid is also bad for you."

She notices the water bottle in his hand, and suddenly feels naked without her own. "Right. Um..." She clasps her hands together, trying to work up the courage. "So I didn't ask to meet you today just so we could walk again, as much as I like walking with you. I, um... wanted to properly ask you out, like in a romantic sense. Because if I'm not misreading things horribly, I think that's something you might be interested in, too."

He stares at her for a bit, and her chest feels tight.

"Um," he starts, and it's not the start she'd expected.

"Sorry. I... didn't mean to push anything. I really like you as a friend, too. And we can just walk. And talk. And, um... not drink coffee." She immediately regrets coming today.

He shakes his head. "No. Sorry, I, um... I like you too. I'm just..." He sighs. "Sorry. Don't take this the wrong way, but I think I need to ask Carlos first. I know I'm my own person and I have my own life and this is my decision to make, but it... matters to me, that he's okay with this, just like I wanted it to matter to him that I was okay with Nick. I'm sorry if that's... not the answer you wanted."

"Oh." She can feel her heart leap at that. "I, um... I already did."

"What?" He's looking at her with what she thinks is pleasant disbelief.

"Yeah. I, um... it didn't feel right to me either to... spring us on him, because I know how important your friendship is to both of you. So I met up with him a couple days ago, and he... gave me his blessing."

"Oh." Adam is definitely smiling now. "Um... in that case... should we make this a proper date? We could find a restaurant with an ourdoor table and get, uh... I guess it would be a very early dinner... and talk."

She smiles at him, hoping he can tell, and holds her hand out. After a bit of hesitation, he takes it. His hand is soft, and warm, and she likes the way it feels in hers.

"That sounds good to me," she says.

Title from 'So Small' by Carrie Underwood.

What you got if you ain't got love / The kind that you just want to give away / It's okay to open up / Go ahead and let the light shine through / I know it's hard on a rainy day / You wanna shut the world out and just be left alone / But don't run out on your faith / 'Cause sometimes that mountain you've been climbing / Is just a grain of sand / And what you've been out there searching for forever / Is in your hands / And when you figure out love is all that matters after all / It sure makes everything else / Seem so small