december 20, 2020 — december bingo scene — reed van allen & stella sawyer

While Stella usually kept her shit together well enough not to wake up with a hangover, barring special occasions where open bars were present and taken advantage of, she could feel the hard, dull ache pulsing in her head as soon as she started to wake up. She didn't remember the night before, but not in that remembering up to a certain point then alcohol fuzziness taking over and rendering her memories less than reliable. It wasn't that at all, she simply couldn't remember. She was in her own bed, she knew that without opening her eyes. There was no mistaking the familiar soft, crisp sheets, perfect pillow, plush comforter, all of it. At least she was home, safe, not far from aspirin and electrolytes to help her kick that headache to the curb.

She stretched slowly, stiffness in her limbs protesting, stopping when her arm brushed something next to her. No, not something, someone. Stella held her breath a moment, trying to think back and remember anyone from the night before. Nothing, no one, unhelpful brain. She let out a slow breath, opening one of her eyes to peek at the person in her bed.

Reed. Van. Allen.

Stella was so startled to see Reed's face inches from hers, peaceful with sleep, Reed in her goddamn bed, that she shrieked, flailing almost involuntarily and falling over the edge of the bed onto the floor with a thud.

Reed didn't often get to experience this, laying in bed and drifting comfortably between awake and asleep, dream and reality. Most mornings he was up like a gunshot as soon as his alarm went off, dashing to the office, assuming he hadn't slept there. So today was a rare indulgence, catching up on much needed sleep, feeling relaxed, safe, almost cared for by the soft pillows, comfortable blanket, the body heat radiating at his side, so close it was almost a shared breath.

Before he could even register the strangeness of the sensation, let alone wonder why on earth his alarm hadn't gone off yet, a shriek, a jolt, and a crash happened so close together they were almost instantaneous. Right along with them, his eyes flew open and Reed was scrambling on instinct until he found himself standing next to the bed he was just so at home in, blinking dumbly at a familiar face, with the echoes of an embarrassing shout of his own echoing in his ears and a pillow in his hands like it would protect him.

"Stella," he choked out, more reaction than coherent thought. And a split second later when the surprise of seeing her had a chance to sink in, "Stella?” He sounded like an idiot, he wished the earth would swallow him up. “What are you doing here?” Wait a second. "What am I doing here?”

Stella scrambled to her feet, overly aware that she was in a chemise nightgown that was far less than Reed had ever seen her in. Because professionalism and friendship and all those other things that kept people from seeing each other when they weren't put together. Her first instinct, and she had no idea why, was to throw a pillow at him. So she did, right at his head, before snatching her robe off the nearby chair and wrapping herself up in it.

"What are you doing here?" It was his question first, but it was her house so she thought it was more fair she get to ask. She brushed her sleep tousled hair back from her face and ignored the headache still poking at her. "Why are you — how — what?" It was too much to try and process so quickly. She pressed her hand to her forehead, color creeping up into her cheeks as she tried to pull a coherent sentence together. It was far more difficult than she wanted to admit. "Oh my god..."

Proving that no good deed went unpunished, the way Reed had quickly averted his gaze when he realized Stella was in a nightgown (God was that what she just wore to bed? Or was it a special occasion? And would he ever really get the image from his mind?) meant he took a pillow to the face completely unguarded. Sure it didn’t hurt, but his dignity was already fragile as he realized how she had screamed in horror at the sight of him just a moment ago, plus now he was left standing holding two pillows. Like an idiot. Although the upshot was that at least they covered some of his body, clad only in his boxers, it was far from enough to make him feel any better.

“Look, let’s just calm down,” he said, perhaps a little too insistent to be truly soothing, but Stella’s panic had an inverse relationship to his self confidence and was quickly sending it through the floor. Reed had never really been one to wake up in someone else’s bed unexpectedly after a night of drinking, at least not in the last decade, but he couldn’t deny that Stella had always made him worry about his self control. He’d thought the days of instant infatuation were behind him, that nobody his age had a crush that made him feel like an embarrassing teenager again, until there she was. It was like he knew something like this was going to happen, that’s why he practically took two big steps back from her whenever he saw her. Reed hadn’t even had anything to drink last night — at the end of a work session in the lab he had popped a sleeping pill and called it a night. Jesus, maybe he called her. He could die. He had to handle this like an adult. At least if they were clothed it couldn’t have been too inappropriate but somehow that made sleeping together even more intimate. “I’m serious, I have no idea how I got here. I’m sorry?” A less than convincing apology if he wasn’t sure what it was for, but it seemed necessary.

The embarrassment Stella felt wasn't because of Reed. Well, not in the way he probably thought. In hindsight she would feel awful about her reaction, but it truly had been involuntary. How else was someone expected to react when they woke up with someone unexpectedly in their bed? Especially when it was Reed, who she already thought was unfairly handsome for someone so smart. That was a double whammy of attractiveness, right there in her bed, now standing there in her bedroom in just his underwear.

"Okay, okay, calm down," she repeated, hand running back through her hair as her gaze flickered around the room as if looking for clues that would help them figure out how they got to that point. She drew in a breath, forcing herself to exhale slowly. "You're here. You're here." Her brow furrowed as she tried so hard to piece together what could have happened. All she'd had to drink the night before was her normal nightcap of wine, that was all. "No, I — I'm sorry, I threw... I'm sorry, I'm just very confused. I don't remember, and you don't remember, but we... something."

"We something," Reed agreed, trying to muster as much certainty about the uncertainty as possible. Like if he could find the comfort in knowing that they didn't know, it would cancel out. He was still clutching a pair of pillows and instinctively moving backwards like he was going to make a break through the door, so maybe the confidence in his voice wasn't quite as real as he would have liked, but it was a start. Okay, make a plan, get some data, solve the problem, he told himself. It felt like all he did lately was put out fires, but hey, at least this one was in his personal life and not his business.

"Have you seen my phone? Or, uh, my clothes?" he asked, hoping that the device would contain at least a few clues, even if they were embarrassing calls or messages from the night before. "I've been taking these sleeping pills lately, work has just been..." Reed's description trailed off into a grimace that he tried to bury — Stella was kind enough that she'd probably understand if he confessed to the stress of impatient investors and the constant anxiety of having to think about supply chains now, but saying it all out loud would have been too vulnerable. "You know I would never have come here if I was in my right mind. I mean, that's not because of you, you're... great." He really could die, right now. "I'm just saying, there's an explanation."

Stella managed to squash the slightly hysteric laughter threatening to bubble up out of her, because oh my god. What a jump, from waking up in bed together straight to 'never in my right mind' and, even if she had no idea what was going on, that was a punch right to the ol' self esteem. Neither of them seemed to be doing the other any favors, scrambling to try and make sense of the situation in what could only be described as extreme clumsiness.

"Phone, right." There may be clues, or something to dig into to find clues, on their phones. And clothes, because Reed was still just standing there in his boxers. Her own phone was on her nightstand, a phone that wasn't hers plugged into the charger beside it, so she unplugged it and tossed it onto the bed by him as she went on a search for his clothes. Because having something to do was saving her sanity, giving her a purpose beyond standing there completely mortified. There were no clothes on the floor, not in her room or the bathroom, which only added to the confusion. If they'd done something, surely there would be clothes strewn about somewhere. Maybe downstairs? She hoped not, that would only cause more questions, and Liam might have seen.

She checked one last place before she gave up on not having to leave the room, but that saved her - and still caused more questions. Because why would she have put Reed's clothes in with her own to be done with the laundry? Why would Reed have put his clothes there? That didn't matter as much as him being able to get dressed, and when she pulled them out they looked fine, not dirty or anything, so she didn't feel bad giving them back to him. "Your clothes were in the hamper?"

If he could just find the inner strength to be an adult about this, Reed knew it would all go easier, but here he was, still clinging to one pillow to cover himself while Stella searched for his clothes, a safer option than digging around through her things. Before unlocking the phone and starting to piece together the night before, Reed tried to find some kind of maturity and peace, closing his eyes to give himself a little pep talk. It didn't have to be weird. It could be funny, even. He could laugh, joke about throwing out those sleeping pills immediately, confess that he'd probably called Stella last night because he's wanted to find a way to get to know her better for ages but kept second-guessing her interest, take the L on that one and get out of here. It could be that easy.

And then when he opened the phone and checked the call logs, two small details totally threw that plan for a loop. One, it wasn't tomorrow, at least not the tomorrow that Reed was expecting — how on earth had he lost a week of time? And two, it was Stella who had called him. The first one was too disorienting to even dwell on just yet, but at the very least Reed had been sure it was the lowered inhibitions of a half-asleep state that would have cracked the dam on wanting to call her. He was just as lost as before, although at least Stella was handing his clothes back to him, the sweater and jeans he remembered putting on just yesterday.

After a brief hesitation on putting down the pillow that had rapidly become his comfort object in this situation, he was at least clothed again which contributed some calm to his demeanor. "Turns out, you called me," he said, volunteering the detail, "But it doesn't make a whole lot of sense."

"What?" Stella backtracked to her nightstand to get her own phone, unlocking the screen and immediately getting stuck on the date. She stared at it a moment before remembering what she'd been intending to look into in the first place. She'd called Reed? The confirmation was there, but it was even more confusing since she'd called him a week prior. On the day she thought it was currently, but it wasn't because somehow a week had gone by and she'd missed it?

"Wait." She looked over at him, like she'd be able to see with a glance if he realized the date, how it was wrong, or if it was right to him and she was the only one about to spiral into deeper confusion. A whole week? There was so much she did in the span of a week, between work and life and even worse with the holiday party she and Liam had been planning last minute already, and what was happening with her patients? "Wait, this is wrong. The date isn't right."

Perching on the edge of the bed, Stella started looking through other apps that might help her figure out what had happened in the meantime. Her messages were pretty much barren, emails unanswered but piled up over a week. "Reed..."

The date isn't right. For half a second, Reed had assumed he lost a week on his own on some kind of sleeping pill bender, but Stella's sharp look destroyed that theory. Whatever feelings of confusion or fear that Reed had been expecting to feel as the reality of that missing week sunk in, he never would have guessed that first among them was care. The information was no easier for Reed to take in than it was for Stella, but watching her reaction, hearing the tone of her voice, it was pulling at him with a desire to be able to figure it out for her, clear it up and make it go away, or barring that since he didn't exactly control time and space, he wanted at least to comfort her, almost more than he wanted answers himself.

"I know," he said quickly, trying to make her see that he was there with her, living in the same fog that she was currently, and when he feared he sounded too snappish, Reed sank onto the bed next to her, dragging a hand through his hair and trying again, softer, "I know. I don't have any answers. I really wish I did."

A whole week gone, but it wasn't like she'd been asleep the whole time, she'd made phone calls, changed her clothes, who knows what else. The unknown possibilities were what really made her worry. Had she gone to work in whatever state she'd been in? Met with patients? God forbid she'd had anyone go into labor. And Reed... Reed was there at the end of it, sleeping in her bed like he belonged there. Sitting beside her now, saying those words she knew he had to hate: I don't have any answers.

She was struck by how much she wanted to lean into him, rest her head on his shoulder even if it was just for a second. Take a moment to ignore all the questions and instead allow a glimmer of comfort. It wasn't hers for the taking, though. Whatever caused them to end up there together, neither of them seemed to know and that left them back at square one.

"Okay." Stella paused, tucking her hair behind her ears as she took a fortifying breath. "Okay, well we'll find the answers. We're both smart and capable. We can figure it out. Whatever happened, there has to be evidence, traces left, clues to parse things together, right? We can figure it out."

It wasn't the moment for it, but Reed almost smiled at Stella's resolute attitude, the way she, like him, seemed to be the type to throw herself at a problem with full belief that it would be solvable in the end. He'd admired that part of her in the brief moments he'd seen it before, and now it made him feel a little safer, thankful to be on a team instead of trying to figure it all out alone. "We can figure it out," he agreed, leaving off the unbidden together that had jumped to the tip of his tongue.

"Okay, time to be smart and capable, easy," he said on an exhale, like he could breathe out all the panicked energy from his body and clear his mind to focus on the problem. Stella was about to get an up-close view to Reed's methodical, scientific thinking, a state where he felt most capable and most himself. It just required him to shut out the distractions. "Did you turn off the location tracking on your phone? If we can figure out where we've been, we can start tracking things down from there." Already he was tapping away at his own, pulling up the right settings to start.

That Reed was methodical and scientific was definitely something Stella was grateful for. She didn't know how well she'd be handling this situation if she was going through it with someone who wasn't rational, intelligent. It also helped flip the switch from the awkward, embarrassed confusion that had been teetering near chaos earlier to a resolved, no nonsense neutral ground. It was much closer to normal for them, minus the part where they were sitting on her bed and perhaps she should have found pants or something but it was too late for that since she was engrossed in looking through her phone.

"I didn't have my location on but based on my recent searches in my maps it looks like I went back and forth between here and your lab a bunch of times." Her brow furrowed as she looked over at him. "Which is good to know but I know how to get there, I don't need directions?"

Her observation took him off guard — Reed almost hadn't noticed the significance of it. Stella was no stranger at the lab, especially when her brother was there, but the directions was an outlier for sure. "That's a great catch, why would you need directions," he said, impressed with her quick work. "And actually that clarifies something, because according to my phone's location history here, I've been at your house almost every day this week." He showed her his own screen, the geo-data that recorded a movement from his lab to her house at least once or twice daily. "Looks like we were commuting together." To say the least — suddenly it looked like the sleepover was more than just a one-off.

"Were you checking in at work at all?" A glance at his email inbox showed that he'd apparently completely abdicated running his business in the last seven days, but if he was spending time at the lab, Reed wasn't sure what he was doing instead. "I'm going to see if I can access the security cameras at work, because I have no idea what I was doing there." For all he knew, it was just a dropoff location and he was heading elsewhere after getting downtown.

There had to be logical, rational reasons to explain. Maybe's Reed's apartment - did he have an apartment or a house? - was damaged and he'd needed a place to stay. Though even with that potential explanation there were far too many flaws to be considered a possibility. Why would her house be where he ended up? If it was, why wasn't he staying in a spare room? More questions weren't what they needed. Answers, not questions.

"Do you need a computer? My laptop is over there." The security tape was a great resource and she hoped it shed some light. Parsing through clues from their phones was fine, but actual visual evidence was better. She frowned as she checked through her email. "No, it looks like I canceled my appointments all week. And also had a lot of takeout delivered to your lab."

"Well thanks for buying lunch," Reed deadpanned, despite the situation they found themselves in, “Just put it on my room tab l guess. " Had he been sick or something? This all seemed more how you treated someone with a broken leg, not an allergic reaction to a bad sleeping pill, but physically Reed felt fine. Well rested even, not an experience he'd had a lot of lately. If he'd been getting all that rest at Stella's house as the evidence suggested, well that explained one thing and called so many others into question.

"Okay, " he said as the security site loaded, “Let’s go to the tape." Maybe if he just kept joking about it, everything would have a silly but reasonable explanation. Reed clicked through starting from yesterday, watching himself working at the computer in his office and, inexplicably, peering into a microscope at regular intervals like he was documenting results. “Look, it's you,” he called to Stella as she appeared at the entrance, takeout indeed in her hand.

Stella huffed out a breath in response, rolling her eyes, but there was nothing behind it. She kept scrolling through her phone as Reed worked on tapping into the security feeds, figuring even little clues might lead somewhere bigger. So they knew where they'd been, but not why. Still no answer as to what had gone on to make her completely cancel going in to work, something she'd never done before. That was probably one of the more annoying parts, because she happened to love her job.

She moved over to watch the screen when Reed said she was on it, brow furrowed. It was her, no question, but it seemed like it wasn't? And that was just from seeing the Stella on screen walk over to where Reed was. Then the Stella on the feed was standing very, very close to him, one of her hands rubbing over his back and up into the back of his hair as she leaned up and kissed his cheek.

"Um." Stella blinked a few times, taking a step back as color rose up into her cheeks. It was her, it was definitely her, but there was no way. Casual, intimate touches and kisses, like it was something that happened every day and was completely normal? "What."

Once again, Reed was struck by the foreign intimacy that they seemed to have fallen into during their lost week. Sleeping together in the bed, and now watching the easy way the Stella on screen, the Stella of last week, kissed his cheek — it felt almost more obscene than if they would have just drunkenly tumbled into bed together. These were private moments, and even though it was himself he was watching on the security cameras link hands briefly with Stella as they started to unpack the food she'd brought, Reed felt like an intruder on the scene.

The closeness he saw from the cameras only drew to his attention how close Stella was here and now, and he felt an uncomfortable mix of gratitude and loss as she took a step away. Reed barely caught the flush in her cheeks before he looked away, training his eyes on the ceiling because it was all just too much. All just too loving in a way that embarrassed him with the sudden realization that there was little of that affection, from anyone, in his day to day life. Delusional and very single, a fantastic realization to have about himself this morning.

"So," he began, unable to handle an awkward silence just as much as he couldn't abide an unexplained phenomena, "There's something called a shared delusional disorder, kind of like a contagious hallucination. I'm not a psychologist or anything, but..." But here he was, grasping at straws.

That silence felt like it dragged on forever, but Stella couldn't find anything to fill it with. It felt like watching strangers on the screen, but strangers that looked just like them somehow. Her mind was racing trying to find an explanation, both for the actions and also why neither of them remembered any of it. And there wasn't one, or she gladly would have voiced it. She was left speechless, while Reed stared at the ceiling. Their moment of pushing aside the awkwardness of the situation in the name of research seemed to have passed.

"It can't be folie à deux," she said, not wanting to squash his attempt at an explanation but also knowing that wasn't the answer. "I'm not a psychologist either but I don't see how that would explain - it doesn't make sense, none of this makes sense. It's like we were body snatched?"

"You're right, I know you're right," Reed sighed, collapsing briefly to cover his face with his hands out of frustration before he felt like he could try to be a reasonable person again. Stella's good sense was grounding, not because Reed was so irrational, but because he had a tendency to fall down rabbit holes of obscure phenomena or scientific fringe cases in pursuit of the logical world he loved so much. He could be rational to the point of navel-gazing rather than accept an unexplainable situation, had difficulty accepting when he was beat. "Body snatching, like we're in a bad 80s horror movie, Jesus." He wanted to dismiss it out of hand, roll his eyes at some movie director's bad science, but it made about as much sense as anything else. "What, then, we just popped back all of a sudden? The body snatchers got tired of us?"

He waved the question away with a gesture before it actually merited an answer, knowing he was just going to keep torturing himself with the what ifs. There was the guilt again, as if he was the one somehow who dragged Stella into this, but selfishly he was a little glad to not be alone. "You probably have a million fires to put out," he guessed, thinking about what a week of incommunication would do to his own life. "But is it crazy to say I'm glad at least I was body snatched with you? I mean, I wouldn't wish it on anybody, but at least I didn't wake up with a stranger or in an alley." As the tape showed, they had at least been taking care of each other, even if the reasons were unknown.

The body snatchers growing tired of them made as much sense as them getting body snatched in the first place, so Stella wasn't going to rule it out. Easier to believe some crazy science fiction explanation than linger on the lack of any rational, logical reason. There was little chance they were going to stumble across the actual answers based on phone data and security tapes, especially in the short time they'd been trying. Especially when coffee hadn't entered the picture.

Reed's sentiment brought a soft smile to the corners of her mouth. "No, I know what you mean." If she'd woken up with a legitimate stranger in her bed, she didn't know what she would have done. Not to mention, if she was looking for someone she could count on to be a problem solver, willing to do a deep dive into things to try and find answers, Reed was high on that list. "And we'll figure this out, I know we will." Stella sighed, pushing her hair back from her face and offering him a smile. "Putting out fires can wait until after breakfast. Come on, I'll order something and we can keep brainstorming downstairs."

Stella's smile echoed on Reed's face as well, a mix of the relief it brought him to know she felt the same about their maddening situation and a little good humor that, unwittingly or otherwise, ordering breakfast and solving a problem together was what their body snatchers had been doing all week. "I would kill for a cup of coffee right now," he confessed, only now giving in to the dull headache somewhere between his temples. Had that been there all morning? He'd been too stressed to even notice it.

And before he could dwell on it sooner, a new thought entered Reed's mind, another kind of post-wakeup fear he hadn't considered until now. "But, and I don't want to seem like I'm bailing on you now," not after all the insanity of this morning already, "Your brother?" He'd forgotten Liam lived here as well among all the other more important things to deal with, and now the idea of getting spotted in a situation that Reed himself didn't even know what to do with seemed unlivable. He could guess what it would look like to Liam, because he'd had all those same assumptions himself in the split second he'd opened his eyes.

Right, Liam. Because wasn't this exactly the reason she kept a safe distance from Reed in the first place? Not that she expected him to feel any type of way about her but she wasn't blind, he was intelligent and handsome, she'd thought about it before. But he was also Liam's boss, and Stella wasn't about to go and mess with a job that her brother had gone out and gotten for himself. She'd been a bit too focused on the details and not the bigger picture when suggesting they continue on downstairs, but Reed was right.

"Oh, right. No, that makes sense." She crossed the room to get to the door, opening it quietly and sticking her head out a moment, both to look for her brother and listen for signs he was awake. "Okay, you find your shoes and I'll get coffee going, at least get you a cup for the road. Should be clear to get out before he sees. Deal?"

There were so many more important things at the fore right now, not least among them trying to find out exactly where to begin on getting his life back on track after missing a full week of work, but Reed still had to force out of his mind the disappointment of slipping out of the house quickly. It had been a nice thought to sit and have breakfast, have a moment to calm down and adjust to all the information they had just covered so abruptly, even have the chance to learn more about Stella, the person he’d just apparently spent a body snatched week with. She was attractive and interesting and even beyond those things, Reed felt a draw towards her he couldn’t explain, but if he was going to act on that, he would have done it already. Reed was used to choosing the things he should do over the things he wanted to do, it was the secret to his success.

“Okay,” he said, and then to cover up a note of resignation in his voice, he added, “Good plan.” The promise of a cup of coffee at least was enough to soothe some of those nerves, and Stella’s good sense again was leading him to the right answer. Take the coffee. Thank her again. Walk out the door. Let them both get back to their normal lives. Keep taking two big steps back when she walked into the lab. “Let’s call it a rain check,” Reed said, surprising himself, “Since I probably owe you a couple meals.”

Reed's offer surprised Stella too, and made her smile. She didn't care about all the food she'd bought in the week they couldn't remember, she could afford it, and while it was automatic to brush off such offers that were most often made out of social obligation, she didn't with that one. Because why not? And if nothing else, though could poke around at more theories and explanations as to what happened.

"Okay, rain check." She nodded, smile growing the slightest as she wrapped her robe around herself more securely, preparing to leave the strange bubble that was her room that morning. Walking backward toward the door, she gave a soft laugh. "I'd say this is like sneaking a boy out of the house when I was in high school but I never had to do that. Hope I can pull it off."

"I don't think there's much you're not good at when you set your mind to it." Were they really laughing, even if the emotions were muted? The whiplash was too much, but clearly there was something to be said for the bond formed from an extraordinary and unexplainable situation. Things would feel more normal soon, he told himself. Shoes. Coffee. Get to the lab. Solve all new problems. Not the day he'd imagined, but with any luck it would be one he would be able to remember this time.