Raining in Baltimore
Title: Raining in Baltimore
Disclaimer: Cherry belongs to Laurell K Hamilton and Willow belongs to Joss Whedon.
Summary: To quote Billy Joel, “They’re sharing a drink that’s called loneliness, but it’s better than drinking alone.” Cherry and Willow share a hot cocoa.
Notes: This is an answer to Challenge #416, the non-song songfic. The song Raining in Baltimore is by Counting Crows. I’d include the lyrics here, but the challenge says not to; still its worth looking them up, especially if you’re feeling homesick.
Cherry ordered the largest hot chocolate they offered at the little cafe by the hospital gift shop. As she waited for the barista to steam the milk she scanned the little shop. Most of the chairs were filled with med students cramming for finals or families killing time in quiet anxiety. It was nothing like the Lunatic Café, where even close to the full moon she never got the sense that anyone would snap at her if she made too much noise or invaded their space. This was a mistake.
Sure, on paper it sounded nice. Everyone was so proud of her for suggesting it. Dr. Lilian and Dr. Louis were so excited that someone from their shifter hospital would attend the two week conference on preternatural medicine. Anita was so proud that one of her pard was finally venturing off on her own, even if it was for a very short time in a very controlled situation. The Baltimore shifter community had specified that she wasn’t supposed to leave the hotel or hospital conference center unless supervised, but it was still a bigger adventure than most of her pard was willing to face. Even the Ulfric of the werewolves had wished her luck, assuring her that Johns Hopkins had the best reputation in the nation. She was honored to be invited to the conference.
But halfway through the conference, she was feeling horribly alone and homesick. Most of the other people in attendance were doctors who were quite content to spend the free time in their hotel rooms on their cell phones and laptops. After showing up to the first day of seminars in fishnet hose, she found most of the conference participants left her a wide berth. Even the weather was against her; it had been gray since she arrived. She had been caught in downpours more than once during the short shuttle ride between hotel and hospital.
She couldn’t help but wonder how things were in St. Louis. Did anyone in the pard remember to water her plants? Had someone else started planning Anita’s birthday party, or would they wait for her to come back? Did Zane finally pitch his idea to Jean-Claude for the new act in the circus? Had Micah decided what kind of car he was going to buy to replace his Chevy that was blown up last time Anita was hunted? Was Anita in trouble again? It was no fair being so helpless and so far away.
“Tall hot chocolate!” The barista shouted over the sound of a blender as someone’s frappacino was being mixed. Still lost in thought, Cherry reached for the paper cup and found her fingers touching someone else’s hand.
“Sorry!” They both said at the same time. Cherry looked up to see that girl. She knew that girl had a name, but she had never gotten close enough to read the preprinted nametag. Now that she was, she could see the name was “Willow Rosenberg, TWC”. The girl was dressed professionally in a pantsuit reminiscent of Agent Scully, but had looked as though she was more used to shorts and sneakers.
“You ordered a hot chocolate, too?” Cherry blurted out, not quite sure what to say, uncomfortably aware that neither had moved their hands.
“Yeah.” The redhead blushed slightly. “Mochas are just a bit too high octane for me.”
“Me too.” Cherry blushed.
“You look familiar. Are you part of the conference?” The redhead tilted her head in question.
“Yup.” Cherry looked down to make sure her name tag was still on. Sure enough, there was “Cherry Zane, RN, JCMS Hospital” on the ‘Hi My Name is’ sticker.
“Oh right, name tag.” Willow Rosenberg, TWC, muttered catching Cherry’s glance down.
“Tall hot chocolate!” The barista put another cup on the counter.
“Well I guess that’s mine.” Willow moved her hand over to the other cup and turned to walk out of the café.
Wait! Cherry wanted to call after the red head. She wished she could come up with something witty to say, something so that the woman wouldn’t walk away. Here was the first person to say more than a sentence to her in almost a week, and she was just letting her leave.
She watched the woman walk all the way to the door, before pausing and looking around. She took one more step forward then turned around and came back to the counter. “Did you forget something?” Cherry took a sip of her hot cocoa.
“Um,” The girl glanced nervously to either side of Cherry before finally meeting the bleach-blonde-for-this-week’s eyes. “Actually, I was wondering, do you want to sit with me? I mean, the next session starts in five minutes, and well, I’ve been sitting by myself for the past few sessions, and you’re the only person I’ve seen that looks anything close to my age. I completely understand if you don’t since you know, maybe you’re here with other people from…” the redhead squinted at the nametag “JCMS Hospital, but I just figured I asked because, well, I’m…”
“I’d love to sit by you. I’m lonely too.” Cherry offered a sheepish smile at the babbling woman in front of her. “I’m the only one here from St. Louis, as far as I can tell.”
“Great, that’s great.” The woman smiled warmly. “I’m Willow Rosenberg.”
“Cherry Zane.” Cherry winced a bit at the last name. She had taken her boyfriend’s name just in case anybody recognized her real last name and outed her as a shifter. It was one thing to have the name on her registration packet, but introducing herself to someone just felt weird.
“Pleased to meet you, Cherry.” Willow offered her hand. “So why are you here? Are you interested in troll genes, or something?”
“Something.” Cherry smiled. “I’m more interested in lycanthropy. I work at the Jean-Claude Memorial Shifter Hospital.” She said before she could stop herself. What if this woman was afraid of lycanthropes. Just admitting the name of the recently endowed building was enough of a label to get her snubbed by some people.
“Oh, cool.” Willow nodded, taking a sip of her cocoa as they headed towards the door. “I once dated a werewolf, but I don’t know anything about the other forms of lycanthropy. I think most of that session went over my head.”
“What about you? What does TWC stand for?” Cherry found herself asking.
“Tender Wubbing Care?” Willow offered an apologetic grin before adding. “The Watcher’s Council; we’re sort of a group that does a lot of research on history and culture of different preternatural groups, I guess you could say.”
“Oh.” Cherry nodded. “How’d you get into that?” The two of them chatted idly as they walked past the gift shop, down the hall, past the outpatient clinics, and entered the area where the conference was being held. Just before entering the conference room, Cherry glanced out the window, where a thin ray of sun was breaking through the heavy clouds. Maybe things weren’t as bad as they seemed.