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Make a Wish, Baby

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Make a Wish, Baby
(and love will make it come true)

 

*************************

Soft chimes sounded from the chapel across the street, and Maura woke up. She lay still for a moment with her eyes closed, listening to the bells toll the quarter hour, half hour, three quarters, and then the time. Three A.M. It wasn’t a loud carillon, and the Paris condominium she had rented for the month-long vacation was reasonably soundproofed. She would not have heard the bells at all if she had been deeply asleep.

There was too much to process, externally and internally, and so she continued to lie there in silence, absorbing all the sensations around her. Soft, Egyptian cotton sheets covered the bed, and slightly humid, filtered air cooled the darkened room. Through the open bedroom door, she heard ice cubes drop from the freezer’s icemaker into a bin, a nearly imperceptible rattling sound from the kitchen on the far side of the condo. At her back was low, even breathing, and Jane’s lanky body spooned against her, with one long arm draped around Maura’s waist.

Maura had been beyond delighted at Jane joining her literally at the last minute for the month in Paris, but there hadn’t been time to change the booking for the one-bedroom, one-bath apartment that was the perfect size for one person, but a bit on the cozy side for two. There was one queen-sized bed in the bedroom, and a couch in the living area that was shorter than Jane when she stretched out on it. That was it: one bed, one short couch, and no sleeper sofa.

Not that they hadn’t shared a bed before. There was frequent after hours girl talk in one or the other of their bedrooms back in Boston, ending with both of them falling asleep somewhere in mid-conversation, after a second or third glass of wine, fully-clothed. On the occasions this had happened, whoever was not in her own home sometimes shuffled home in the middle of the night to sleep, made extra convenient by them living within walking distance of one another.

There were also those nights when whoever wasn’t in her own home simply got up, used the guest toothbrush they each kept for one another, and then borrowed a t-shirt to change into and continue sleeping in the bed where they had fallen asleep together. It was easy enough to return home early the next morning to get ready for work. But during all their impromptu slumber parties, cuddling had never been in the picture.

Not until Paris.

In Paris it happened every night. Sometime after they fell asleep, Jane inevitably snuggled up against her and Maura woke up in the position they were in now. Sometimes, if it was nearly time to get up, she pretended to be asleep, allowing Jane the dignity of thinking she had woken up first and giving her time to move a more polite distance across the mattress, leaving a cold space at Maura’s back. Other times Maura allowed herself the guilty pleasure of enjoying the comforting contact and fell back asleep in the warmth of Jane’s embrace. And sometimes if she wanted to get up, she carefully dislodged herself without waking Jane up.

She wondered if Jane was aware at all that she was doing this. Of course she knew after the fact, but did she have any conscious knowledge of it when she initiated it? Not that Maura minded. She craved it.

Two weeks of their trip had already flown past, and she was beginning to wonder how she was going to cope with sleeping solo again after the next two weeks ended. Jane would no longer be in walking distance, she would be 343 nautical miles away, living in her new townhouse in Alexandria, Virginia, and working as an instructor at FBI headquarters in Quantico. Girl talk would take place via Skype and there would be no more clandestine snuggling.

The ache inside became too much, and Maura carefully slid away from Jane, replacing herself with a pillow that Jane promptly hugged tightly. She slipped out of bed and shrugged into the robe she’d tossed onto a nearby chair. For just a moment she stood next to the bed, watching Jane sleep. It was too dark to see her clearly, but the longing Maura felt as she listened to Jane’s faint breathing rose up from her heavy heart, constricting her throat and then moved higher, stinging the backs of her eyelids.

She turned and went across the room to the French doors that opened onto the balcony. Stepping outside, she quietly closed the doors and then leaned on the railing, drinking in Paris. This was why she had chosen the rental in the quaint neighborhood on the northwest side of the Seine River. The area was quiet, away from the madness of the primary tourist areas, but just across the way from their twelfth-story location, she could see the Eiffel Tower and the lights of the city reflecting off the river below, as it flowed silently by. There were grocers and bakeries in walking distance, and they could live like the locals while they were there.

Maura took a deep breath and closed her eyes, in an effort to will away the sadness that threatened to choke her. A crisp breeze ruffled her hair and she pulled the robe more tightly around herself. They were having so much fun, and she had discovered that despite their very different natures, they were turning out to be fabulous long-term travel companions.

Maura knew Paris, and was charmed at watching Jane fall in love with the city as she discovered new things each day. Seeing Paris through Jane’s eyes was in some ways like seeing it again for the first time. Maura was even working away on her novel, and Jane managed to stay busy on her own during Maura’s carefully blocked out writing time.

They had always gotten along well, first as co-workers and then as friends outside of work. Somewhere along the way they had become best friends, family even, and if Maura were honest with herself, Jane had been a lot more than her best friend for a very long time. Learning that they still got along famously after being around each other nearly twenty-four/seven for two weeks didn’t make the thought of the empty months ahead any easier. Jane might not be her lover, but she was still Maura’s heart, her best friend for life.

The balcony doors opened and Maura smiled to herself, not turning around. This was another new Paris habit that Jane had developed. If Maura was gone too long from the bed, Jane always, always, woke up and came to find her.

“Hey.” Jane came over to join her. “Couldn’t sleep?”

“I never did master the art of swift jetlag recovery.” Maura laughed lightly and crossed her arms over her chest, as another chilly gust caused goose bumps to rise up on her skin.

“Brrrr.” Jane moved closer and opened up the blanket she had pulled around herself, wrapping Maura up in it with her. “It’s cold out here.”

“Yes, but it was refreshing when I first came out here.” Maura kept her gaze steadily ahead, toward the glittering city lights. “It was growing rather warm in there.”

“Really?” Jane sounded genuinely confused, and Maura looked down for a moment, hiding her smile as Jane talked. “The temp in there seems fine to me, but we can turn it down a little if you want. I can trade the shorts for sweats.”

“I don’t think adjusting the thermostat will make a difference,” Maura murmured.

“What? Why not?” Jane tilted her head and frowned.

“Never mind.” Maura finally looked over at her and became lost for a moment in Jane’s dark, questioning eyes. She reached across and pushed away an errant lock of hair that was obscuring one side of Jane’s face. Jane’s features softened and Maura leaned in closer. “Jane, we need to –”

“Go back to sleep,” Jane cut her off. “Mauraaaaaa.” Her voice, always a little on the hoarse side, was even more adorably so at the very early hour. “Come on. It’s cold out here. Let’s go back inside. I’ll even make you some of that chamomile tea you like. Maybe it’ll help you sleep?”

Maura smiled and shook her head. “That’s a very nice offer, but after three glasses of wine last night, I don’t think more liquid is going to help me or my bladder sleep.”

“Can we at least go back in? Please?” Jane pleaded. “I’m freezing.”

“Is it my fault you came out here in bare feet, boxer shorts, and a tank top?” Maura teased.

“My lucky Red Sox boxers. And a blanket,” Jane corrected her, bumping her hip against Maura’s.

“True. And a blanket. Which I’m very grateful for at the moment.” Maura gave a tug to the boxers’ waistband. “Why are these lucky?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Jane grinned from ear to ear.

“Yes, that’s why I asked.” Maura released the elastic with a pop against Jane’s skin. She didn’t actually expect an answer, and wasn’t disappointed when none was forthcoming. “Okay.” She nodded toward the doors. “Back inside.”

“Yayyyy.” Jane hastily shuffled after her, careful to keep the blanket around both of them until the doors were closed and they were inside once more.

“I’ll be just a minute.” Maura made a beeline for the bathroom. When she returned to the bed, Jane was not there. “Jane?”

“Right here.” Jane entered the bedroom, carrying two glasses of water. “I was thirsty. I know you said no more liquids, but I brought you one too, just in case.” She offered over a glass.

“Thank you.” Maura took a sip and placed it on the nightstand on her side of the bed. She pondered the fact that she and Jane were actually sharing a bed for an entire month, and the melancholy thoughts of future lonely nights started up all over again, as she crawled back under the covers.

Jane joined her, fidgeting around until the pillows and blankets were adjusted to her liking.

“Are you comfortable enough?” Maura nudged her. “You have your water and your lucky jammies. Do you need a bedtime story and your teddy bear as well?”

“No-o,” Jane answered in a tone of feigned indignation. Maura knew better. Jane loved her teasing. Jane huffed and Maura laughed.

“Good night, Jane.” She lay back and closed her eyes.

“Good morning,” Jane retorted, and Maura elbowed her in the ribs.

“Hey!” Jane elbowed her back, starting a poking, wrestling, giggling war that ended with Jane on top of Maura, pinning her legs and holding down both arms. “Ready to say ‘Uncle’?”

“Did you know that crying ‘Uncle’ in order to gain freedom after defeat in a fight dates back to the Roman Empire?” Maura answered.

“Maura, really.” Jane rolled her eyes.

“Yes, really. They would say, ‘Patrue, mi Patruissimo.’ It means ‘Uncle, my best Uncle’.”

“Oh, my God.” Jane tumbled off her and fell back onto her own pillow. “Patrick my Prosciutto. I give up.”

Maura’s laughter shook the bed. “No, no, Patrue, mi Patruissimo.”

“I grew up in Irish-Italian Boston. Patrick my Prosciutto is as good as it’s going to get.” Jane threw both hands up, before clasping them across her stomach.

“But the Romans are Italian.”

“What-ever.”

“Good morning, Jane.” Maura relented. “Sweet dreams.”

They lay together quietly, their heartbeats gradually slowing to normal rates after their romp. As she began to relax, Maura rolled to a more comfortable position on her side, facing away from Jane.

Sooner than expected, she felt Jane curl up against her and her arm settled comfortably around Maura. Maura frowned and reached down, lightly grasping Jane’s wrist to check her pulse. She turned her head slightly toward Jane and listened to the cadence of her breathing. “I know you’re not asleep,” Maura whispered so quietly, she wasn’t certain if Jane heard her.

She felt Jane go completely still for a second, and then Jane shifted, tightening her grip and nuzzling her face against the back of Maura’s neck. Maura felt a pleasant shiver and hoped Jane didn’t also feel it. She sighed and gave in to the moment, allowing herself to enjoy it, finally understanding that Jane wanted the closeness, too. Boldly, she covered Jane’s hand against her belly with her own and twined their fingers. “What am I going to do without you?” Maura whispered, even more quietly.

Jane continued to play possum.

Slowly, sleep claimed Maura and as she drifted off, she felt Jane’s lips brush against her shoulder.

“This is why they’re lucky,” Jane whispered.

*************************

Jane looked in the bathroom mirror and dabbed lotion onto her face, then rubbed it into her skin in a circular motion. She paused to clear a bigger spot in the steam-covered glass, then smoothed on a touch of base. She might wear boxers to bed, but Jane wasn’t beyond the trappings of femininity.

Maura tapped at the door and then opened it just a crack. “Are you almost finished?”

“Not quite.” Jane pushed the door open wider. “Still need to blow dry my hair. That’s why I went ahead and showered when I woke up. My hair needed washing, and drying can take twenty minutes.”

“Oh.” Maura stepped inside and leaned against the wall next to the vanity. “I have that private gallery preview later this morning for Hope’s artist friend. I promised her I’d put in an appearance on her behalf. I was hoping we’d have time to eat breakfast together first.”

“Well, you can go ahead and shower.” Jane gestured toward the walk-in Tafco block enclosure. Not like I can see you.”

“That’s true.” Maura looked over at the shower uncertainly. “Okay, if it’s no imposition, I will.”

“Don’t mind at all.”

As Maura squeezed behind her in the confined space, she placed her hand at the small of Jane’s back, giving it a little pat. Jane glanced southward and was sorely tempted to smack Maura on the behind. Instead, she grabbed the hand towel from the rack, twirled it, and flicked that against Maura’s terry-covered backside.

“Ouch.” Maura turned and frowned, rubbing her stinging butt cheek. “What was that for?”

“Throwback to childhood?” Jane shrugged and smiled charmingly.

“Okaaayyy.” A blush rose up Maura’s cheeks and a smile tugged at her lips. “You’re awfully vivacious for the early hour.”

“I can do morning,” Jane argued. “Besides, I already had one cup of coffee.”

“Ah.” Maura paused at the shower entrance. “I, um.” She glanced down at herself, then disappeared behind the thick glass blocks and in a moment her arm appeared, holding her robe. “Jane, hang this up for me, please?”

“Sure thing.” Jane took it from her and making sure Maura wasn’t looking, she briefly pressed the soft material up against her face, inhaling Maura’s perfume before she hung the robe on a hook on the wall.

She was in trouble.

It had started the first morning she woke up in Paris, wrapped around Maura, who was still sound asleep. Okay, she admitted to herself, it had started long before Paris, but Paris had brought it to life. It had felt so good, holding Maura like that, and Jane, who didn’t like to think about her feelings at all, acknowledged that she was feeling some things for Maura she wasn’t sure she was ready to define.

After that first morning, the other nights had been deliberate, lying in the darkness, waiting for Maura to fall asleep. She had begun to feel guilty about it, until a few nights before when Maura had gently removed Jane’s arm, gotten up to use the facilities, and then crawled back into bed and pulled Jane’s arm back around her.

When had her heart crossed that line? Maura was her very best friend, and of course Jane loved her, but this was something more. She tried to think when things had changed. Their work situation had forced them to become close early on, but gradually, their lives had become completely entwined.

At some point they had begun meeting at one or the other’s home for coffee before work. That eventually led to sometimes driving to work together. Then Jane’s mother had moved into Maura’s guesthouse and visits became even more frequent. And then Jane’s townhouse burned down, which led to her subletting a townhouse very near Maura’s, only a block away.

But it had become complicated long before then. Maura was part of her family. There were holidays, birthday celebrations, and other family gatherings where it was just assumed Maura would be included. Jane’s mother considered Maura to be her other daughter, and automatically set a place for her at the weekly Rizzoli family dinner.

And then there were all the late night heart to heart talks, propped up in bed together. Jane plugged in the blow dryer and thought about that as she began to dry her hair. When had it become habit for them to both begin and end the day together? Didn’t all best friends do these things? No, she realized, probably not.

Whatever was going on between them, there were a few unwavering certainties: Jane would die for Maura, and she would ruthlessly hunt down anyone who dared try to hurt her. If Maura needed her, she was going to drop whatever she was doing and come running, every time. There wasn’t going to be a replacement for Maura in Washington. Maura was irreplaceable.

She knew Maura wanted to talk about something, and she was fairly sure it was about this: this thing happening between them. Jane just didn’t know if it was going to be a good talk or a bad one. Why did they have to talk about it? Paris had been nice so far, hadn’t it? More than nice. They were having a blast. Why couldn’t they just go on this way forever, without discussion?

Because, Jane, she berated herself, in two weeks, you’re going to Washington and leaving her behind. This isn’t forever. Maybe Maura didn’t have forever in mind. Maybe Maura wasn’t feeling things as deeply as Jane was, and how embarrassing would that conversation be, if that were the case?

Jane glanced over at the shower wall, where she could see the pale blur beyond the glass that was Maura’s body, moving as she showered. The sweet scent of Maura’s shampoo filled the air, and the mirror was steaming up again. The dryer began to overheat and Jane turned it off to let it cool for a few minutes. “Wonder how old this thing is?” She studied the appliance, which was provided with the condo, and peered down into the barrel at a white substance coating it inside. “Is that asbestos?”

The shower water continued to patter against the tiled floor, and Jane realized Maura was humming as she bathed. Maura couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but it was completely endearing, and Jane smiled. What did a woman feel like when she loved another woman?

Very much in trouble.

Maura turned off the water and held out her arm again. “Jane, hand me a towel please?”

“You got it.” Jane grabbed a clean one from a shelf and unfolded it, then draped it over Maura’s arm.

“Thank you.”

“No problem.” Jane leaned toward the mirror and ran her fingers through her still-damp locks, arranging them and gaging how much longer she needed to dry.

“Are you finished drying your hair?”

“No, just giving the carcinogenic dryer a breather.”

“What?”

“Nothing.” Jane looked up, as Maura stepped out of the shower wrapped in the towel that was just barely decent. Her skin was glowing pink from the hot water, and her long, wet hair fell in a sexy mess across her bare shoulders. As she looked at Jane, there was no mistaking the desire in her hazel eyes. Jane wasn’t sure if Maura was aware of her expression. It was just there.

“I think I’ll let my hair finish drying on its own.” She hastily unplugged the dryer and stowed it back under the sink. “Bathroom’s all yours.”

“You don’t have to leave,” Maura protested. “We can share.”

“Are you kidding? I see that giant monstrosity you call a cosmetic case. It needs its own room.” Jane was grateful for the opportunity to revert to their usual banter.

“Oh now, it’s not that large.” Maura heaved the bag onto the counter from its spot on the floor, and the mirror rattled in response.

“You keep telling yourself that.” Jane winked at her. “I’m going to go put on another pot of coffee.” Then Jane Rizzoli ran toward the kitchen and away from her truth.

*************************

Jane was sitting at the kitchen table scrolling around her iPad, when Maura entered the room and joined her. Jane looked up and smiled in appreciation. “You look nice.” Maura was wearing a quarter-length sleeved burgundy knit dress, with a hemline that came to just above the knee and a slit up one side. On her feet were taupe stiletto lace-up ankle boots, and her hair was pulled up loosely at the back of her head, in appealing disarray. “You’ll do your mother proud when her friend sees you.”

“Thank you.” Maura’s face lit up at the compliment. “Hope met Geneva, the artist, when they attended finishing school here. Hope returned home and entered her freshman year at Boston Cambridge University. Geneva eloped at the end of the summer with a local French boy, became an artist, and never came back to the States. This is a private preview of her latest sculpture series before tomorrow night’s public exhibit opening. You’re still welcome to join me if you’d like.”

“Thanks, but no. I’m galleried out.” Jane got up and poured Maura a cup of coffee, doctoring it with the appropriate amounts of cream and sugar. She sat back down and slid the cup across the table.

“Thank you.” Maura lifted the cup and inhaled the fragrant steam before taking a drink. “What are you going to do this morning?”

“Go shopping.”

“Shopping. You, Jane ‘I hate shopping’ Rizzoli, are voluntarily going shopping?” Maura’s eyebrows rose in surprise.

“I need to get souvenirs for Ma and everyone. And maybe an engagement gift for Frankie and Nina.”

“Ah. Now shopping makes perfect sense.” Maura laughed lightly. “Do you still want to meet me for a late lunch?”

“Sure.”

“Good, because maybe after that we can go tour the catacombs?”

“Oooo. Yes!” Jane did a happy little butt dance, still seated in her chair. “That would be so great!”

“I thought you would enjoy it. Actually, I enjoy it, too.”

“Of course you do.” Jane smirked. “You always say you get along better with the dead than the living.”

“Hmm.” Maura looked down and stirred her coffee thoughtfully. “I don’t know if that’s true any longer. After volunteering at the MEND clinic, I’ve discovered I enjoy helping the living continue to live.”

“Are you thinking about leaving the medial examiner’s office when we get back to the States?” It suddenly dawned on Jane that everyone back home had something or more precisely, someone to look forward to, except for Maura. Her mother had her rekindled romance with Ron Hanson, and also Tommy and T.J. to look after. Nina and Frankie were making wedding plans, and Korsak and Kiki were going to enjoy his retirement and have more time to be together.

“I have considered it.” Maura shrugged. “I’m taking two more weeks off after we return. I’m going to meet with my agent to discuss the book, and take some time to decompress and think about what I want to do next.”

“Well, I know Frankie and Nina and Kent would miss having you around, but I think – no, I know – you would make a great full time doctor of the living.”

“Thank you.” Maura smiled, but her eyes were sad. “There’s a lot to think about, you know?”

Jane took the opportunity to take a big bite out of a croissant, and nodded without comment, pointing in apology at her breakfast.

Maura sighed. “We need to –”

Jane swallowed, and her phone’s messaging application chimed. She picked it up. “Oh, look.” She grinned excitedly. “I got a message from one of those girls we met in the park the other day. The soccer players. Remember?”

“Yes.” Maura crossed her arms, listening.

“It says ‘futbol 18:00 le parc.’ Soccer in the park at 6:00 P.M., right?”

“That’s correct.”

“The French girls want to play soccer with me again! Isn’t that exciting?” They had come upon the soccer players two days earlier, while walking in a park in the neighborhood, and stopped to watch them play. A few of them came over to talk to Jane and Maura during a break, and Jane ended up playing with them for a little while.

“Very exciting.” Maura touched her arm. “Jane, please, we really need to –”

“I don’t want to.” It slipped out before Jane could censor herself, and she closed her eyes and lifted both hands up in front of herself in frustration. “Can’t we just enjoy being in Paris? Please?”

Maura looked as if she might cry, and then her expression morphed into anger. “Fine.”

It was never good when a woman answered with that one little word, and Jane knew it. She’d done it often enough herself. “I’m sorry. I just – I can’t.”

“You can’t.” Maura’s ire rose and she stood up, moving briskly to the sink to rinse her coffee cup. “So, that’s it. You snuggle up against me every night, and I know now that you’re doing it on purpose, and you know now that I don’t mind. I – I like it. And last night you kissed my shoulder.”

Damn. Jane had thought Maura was already asleep when she’d done that.

Maura turned around from the sink to face her. “You do so many nice things for me. Even before Paris, it’s become habit for us to spend time together every morning and almost every evening, outside of work. When you look at me, I feel things I can no longer deny, and in your eyes I see – maybe you have no idea. Maybe I was foolish to think otherwise. What am I supposed to do? Cuddle with you every night and share some very intense and confusing emotions with you for the next two weeks, and then we fly home and go our separate ways, and never talk about what it means?”

“I can live with that.” Jane winced as soon as the words were out of her mouth. Wrong answer, not to mention untrue. “Maura, I’m sorry. I –”

“No, you’re not.” Maura cut her off and retrieved her purse from the kitchen counter. “I know you, Jane. It’s easier for you to fly off to Washington to your one-night stand, Agent Creepy Stalker, than it is for you to talk with your best friend about something truly important. God forbid you actually explore your emotions. Fine. I’m going to the gallery. Meet me for lunch later or not, I don’t care.” She stormed out of the condominium and slammed the door.

“Maura!” Jane jumped up and ran after her. “Maura!” As she reached the elevator, Maura was already on it, and she leaned over and deliberately pushed the button to close the door before Jane could follow.

“Maura, where’s the gallery? Where’s lunch? I’ll be there, okay?”

Maura looked at Jane as the doors were closing, and her anger had turned to tears.

“Dammit.” Jane stomped her foot. “I didn’t have a one-night stand.”

It was too late. Maura was gone. Jane looked down at her bare feet and bathrobe, and walked dejectedly back down the hallway to the condo. She’d locked herself out. Suddenly, gay Paris wasn’t quite so gay.

**************************

Two hours later, after a humiliating walk of shame to the condo supervisor’s office to retrieve a spare key, Jane was busy shopping, doing her best to try not to think about the fight with her best friend. She had sent one text message to Maura, apologizing again and asking for the meeting location for lunch. Maura hadn’t responded, and Jane assumed lunch was off. Maybe they needed a day apart.

When was the last time they had been separated for an entire day? Completely separated, no phone calls, no texts, no Skype. Hard as she tried, Jane couldn’t remember. Even this day, as awful as it was turning out, didn’t count. A day that began with spooning in the wee hours of the morning did not count as a day of separation.

At least shopping was going well. In her backpack were bottles of French perfume for her brother’s fiancé, Nina and for Angela, Jane’s mother; some French children’s picture books for her nephew T.J.; and French national rugby team jerseys for her brothers Frankie and Tommy, as well as herself. She had shipped a framed print of an artist’s watercolor rendering of the Jardin des Champs-Élysées back to Boston, to give to Frankie and Nina as an engagement gift to hang in their future home together.

Now she wandered aimlessly and eventually came upon the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. There were a few people milling around on the sidewalk and the narrow street outside, and the door opened from time to time, as patrons entered and exited the shop. Next door was a busy café. Jane entered the coffee shop and went up to the counter. “Je voudrais un café au lait, s'il vous plaît.”

She was more than a little pleased with herself when the correct drink was delivered. Maura had taught her a few essential basic French phrases during the flight over, and ordering coffee was near the top of the list of essentials. She paid for her beverage and went back outside, taking a seat at a table on the sidewalk. It was a nice day, with a bright blue sky overhead and a gentle breeze. The coffee was warm and just right, not too mellow, but not bitter, and the ‘au lait’ was thick, rich cream.

For a while she watched people coming and going. There were some obvious tourists in their bright white running shoes, fanny packs fervently clutched in front of their bodies, and many with cameras hanging around their necks. Some teenage boys rode by on bicycles, and a group of young women came out of the coffee shop, laughing excitedly and pointing across the way, where the Cathédrale Notre-Dame could be seen on the Ile de la Cité, midstream in the Seine River.

An elderly couple came walking past, arm-in-arm, with eyes only for each other, obviously very much in love. They paused at a flower cart, where the man purchased a single pink rose and handed it to his lady love, both of them smiling and blushing a little. She stood on her toes and kissed him on the cheek, then took his arm again as they continued on their way.

The sight of them made Jane smile, her heart aching at the same time. How long had they been together? A year? Fifty years? Did it matter? She thought about Frankie and Nina, and Korsak and Kiki, and her mother and Ron. Almost everyone in her life was willing to gamble on love. Jane herself wasn’t sure if she had any chips left. Maybe it was time to buy some more.

The bookstore beckoned, and she hastily finished her coffee, then entered the shop. A young woman sat behind the register, her nose in a book. Of course. “Excusez moi. Parlez-vous anglais?”

The girl looked up, pushing a pair of thick glasses up the bridge of her nose. “Yes.”

“Oh, thank God,” Jane replied with relief. She had a translation application on her phone that Maura had insisted on downloading, but Jane felt like she had a giant T for “touriste” tattooed on her forehead whenever she was forced to use it. “Do you have any antique books? Maybe French poetry?”

“Yes. Is there a specific poet you are looking for?”

“No. I’m looking for something nice for my girlfriend.”

“Oh.” The girl smiled knowingly. “Love poems, perhaps?”

“No, I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant. She’s not my –” Jane trailed off. It was all so absurd. Here she was in this historical, romantic shop, in the city of love, intending to buy an antique book of French poetry to give to Maura as an apology for the morning’s fight over the status of their relationship. “Sure. Love poems would be great.”

“I thought as much.” The girl got up and led Jane through the store to a glass case. “Your face lights up when you talk about her.”

“I – what? Never mind.” Jane peered into the case at the book the girl was pointing to. “Viens Dans Mon Jardin?”

“Come into my garden. Here, let me show you.” The girl produced a key and unlocked the case. The book cover was slightly faded, pale green with a border of pink and blue flowers and the title in gold scrolled font.

Jane took it and opened it. It wasn’t particularly thick, around seventy-five pages. The paper inside was yellowed but not torn, and the edges were gilded. Although she couldn’t read the words, it appeared to contain poems by a variety of writers, and so she scrolled the table of contents. One name caught her eye. “Gertrude Stein. How appropriate.”

“You want it? Thirty-eight euro. I can gift wrap it for you.”

“Perfect. I’ll take it.” Jane followed her back to the register and paid for the book, which the girl quickly wrapped in pale blue tissue paper, tied up with a lavender ribbon.

“Your girlfriend will love it,” the girl gushed as she handed it to her. “You should buy some wine and chocolates, and read to her.”

“Thank you, I’ll take that under advisement.” Jane placed the book in her bag with the other gifts she’d purchased, and quickly left the shop. “She hasn’t heard me read French,” Jane muttered.

She collected a second café au lait from the coffee shop, smiling a little, picturing Maura chastising her for overindulgence in caffeine. “But I’m on vacation,” Jane argued with her absent companion, then checked her phone, hoping Maura had had a change of heart and texted her directions to lunch. There was nothing. “Fine. If you’re going to force me to eat lunch alone, then I’m going to go eat something really bad for me.”

She could almost hear Maura’s reply: And that would be different from any other day, how, exactly?

“Now I’m talking to her when she’s not here. I am losing it,” Jane scolded herself. She walked through a small park across the street from the bookstore, observing couples picnicking on the grass, including one obviously lesbian couple that exchanged kisses in between feeding each other bites of food. What was it like to be that out in the open, unafraid of what anyone else on the planet thought of them? For that matter, what was it like to be completely comfortable in a relationship? Jane wasn’t sure she’d ever been comfortable in a relationship with anyone. Anyone except Maura, she realized.

She pondered that as she reached the far side of the park, and then turned down Rue Lagrange, searching for a café to eat lunch, and think about serious conversations to come, and what she needed to say to someone she wanted to neither hurt nor lose. Someone she loved.

As she reached the busier Boulevard Saint-Germain, she heard sirens, and several police cars and tactical vans sped past, lights flashing and horns blowing as they crossed the crowded intersection. Jane waited for the light to change, but when it did, several more police cars came blazing past. “Wonder what that’s all about?”

Finally the light changed again, and she spied a comic shop on the corner across the street. “Now that’s my kind of shopping.” Just as she got to the shop, more police cars came by, followed by two ambulances.

Frowning, she stepped inside the shop and a bell over the door announced her entry. She pulled her phone from her pocket to see if she could find out what had the Paris police out in force, but before she had time to open Google, two men burst out of the back room, arms waving wildly as they spoke rapidly in French, both pointing toward the street. “Excusez moi. Parlez-vous anglais?” Jane raised her voice to be heard over them.

The men stopped and looked at her, the once-over each of them gave her not lost on Jane. “Do you speak English?” she asked again.

“Excusez moi. Yes.” The younger of the two, a thin dark-haired man with striking blue eyes, replied. “How can I help you? Are you looking for anything specific? We have new Marvel comics in, in French and English.” He smiled hopefully.

“No. I was wondering if you knew what’s going on with all the police cars?”

“Oh, yes.” The other man replied, his voice rising, and the two began chattering excitedly again in French, gesturing at Jane, emphasizing words she didn’t understand. The older man had a long graying goatee on his double chin, which flapped like a flag as they talked.

“Hey!” Jane interrupted. “Sorry. Can you please tell me, in English?”

“Oh, yes. There has been an explosion at the Mosque. It just happened. We saw it on the breaking news on the TV in back.”

“Can you show me?” Jane nodded toward the door from which they’d entered the front room.

“Yes, yes. Follow me.” The younger man motioned and Jane and the other man went with him back into a very cluttered office. A small television was on a desk covered with stacks of comic books. On screen, a reporter stood outside a large white building topped by a pointed green-tiled dome. She was of course speaking in French, and Jane could only make out the words ‘Grande Mosque de Paris.’ She was relieved to see that there was no obvious damage, at least from the reporter’s vantage point across the street from the structure.

Jane lifted her phone again and hit a number on speed dial. It rang three times and went to Maura’s voice mail. “Hey, it’s me.” Jane cleared her throat. “Look, I know you’re very angry with me, and I’m very, very sorry. I promise we will talk about anything you want to talk about. Just, please, call me. There’s been some kind of explosion at a Mosque here, and I’m worried about you. I just want to make sure you’re okay, so call me, please?” She made sure the phone’s ring volume was set as high as it would go, and reluctantly placed the phone back in her pocket.

“Do they know what caused it?” Jane stood behind the two men, looking over their shoulders at the television, as more police cars and what looked like a canine unit arrived in front of the building. Bomb-sniffing dogs, perhaps?

“No, nothing yet. Happened less than an hour ago. Part of the backside of the Mosque collapsed. That’s all they’ve said so far, but no pictures except from the front.” The older man shrugged.

“Okay, thanks.” Jane watched and checked her phone again. “Dammit, Maura, just call me.” After five more minutes, and nothing new of significance coming from the reporter, Jane got up. “I’m going to look around the shop for a few minutes while I wait for my friend to call.”

“Sure, sure.” The younger man absently waved at her. “Take your time. Come back in here if you find anything you wish to buy.” Both men were too engrossed in the television to pay her much more attention.

Jane wandered up and down the aisles, idly lifting a comic book here and there and thumbing through them. “Oh, Strangers in Paradise! I love this one!” She flipped through the comic’s pages and then put it back on the rack. “Maura, where are you? This is no time to be stubborn.”

After pacing up and down the aisles a few more times, Jane retrieved her phone and hit another speed dial number. It rang a few times and then went to voice mail, which she had expected. “Hey Nina. It’s Jane. I know it’s early there and you’re probably still asleep. When you get this message, will you please call me? I want to see if you can trace a cell phone location in Paris all the way from Boston. Thanks. Hug Frankie for me.”

She disconnected the call and wandered back outside the shop to continue her search for lunch, and try to take her mind off Maura until either she or Nina called her back. Across the street was an open-air café with a long line of people waiting to order. “Must be a good place.” Jane crossed the street and got in line, squinting at the French menu hanging on the wall behind a large deli-style case. “They need pictures of the food,” she groused. “Okay, jambon, fromage, baguette. I think that’s a ham and cheese sandwich. Let’s go with that.”

As she waited to place her order, her phone rang. “That was quick.” She retrieved it from her pocket and glanced at the caller ID. It wasn’t Nina, it was Maura. “Thank God.” She hit the button to take the call.

*************************

Maura’s head hurt and she coughed violently, as she slowly opened her eyes. She was lying on the ground, surrounded by dust and debris, and as she glanced down, she realized a large collapsed wall covered her from the chest down. Experimenting, she found that she was able to move a little bit. She wasn’t crushed. In fact, there was approximately eight inches of space between her body and the heavy metal and fabric structure. However, for some reason, she couldn’t slide out from under it. Her left boot seemed to be caught on something, though she could wiggle her toes without difficulty. A few attempts to reach down and dislodge her foot proved unsuccessful.

She lay there for a few moments, trying to remember what happened. She had gone to the gallery exhibit and spent some time afterward talking with Hope’s friend, Geneva. Then she’d left to get coffee and decide whether or not to text Jane back, and whether or not she was in the mood to invite Jane to join her for lunch after all. Then she’d gotten to thinking about a few of the sculptures in the exhibit that she thought Hope might like, and another that might look nice in Jane’s new townhouse. All the pieces were for sale, provided the purchaser could wait until after the public exhibit ended for delivery.

After finishing her coffee, she’d gone back to the gallery. The door was still unlocked, but Geneva was already gone. Only the gallery manager remained. He’d been preparing to lock up, but remembered her from earlier as Geneva’s friend, and let her stay. He had work to do in his office in the gallery basement, but told her to take her time looking at the pieces and come find him if she did indeed decide to buy anything. She’d been looking at one of the sculptures when a very loud noise shook the building, similar to sonic booms she’d heard near the airport when she was a child. That was the last thing she remembered.

“An earthquake? No.” She shook her head a little. “Ow.” The motion made her temples throb. “An explosion?” She carefully looked around as much as she was able. The lights were all off, but natural light streamed in from large windows at the front of the gallery near the street, quite a long way from where she was. All of the temporary partition walls that had been erected to set off the exhibit pieces appeared to have collapsed, including the one she was trapped under.

“Monsieur Laurent?!” She called out for the gallery manager, but realized it was likely in vain if he was in the office on the floor below her. She also realized that whatever had happened, people would probably think no one was inside the gallery, since it was supposed to be closed. It could be a very long time before she was found, and regretfully, she remembered that Jane had no idea where she was.

Maura looked around again. Her purse was on the ground nearby. She carefully reached for it. If she stretched her arm out as far as she could, she was able grasp a seam on the bottom of the bag between two fingers, but as she gratefully dragged the bag toward herself, her phone slipped out of the purse and remained out of reach. “Of, course,” she muttered.

She drew in a deep breath and then yelled, “Siri, call Jane!” At first she wasn’t sure if the phone was working but then she heard a voice talking loudly from the speaker. She couldn’t understand the words from where she was, but recognized Jane’s tone. With relief, she drew in another deep breath. “Jane! I can’t understand you but I hope you can hear me!” She paused and heard another little yell, followed by an expectant silence. “I’m at the gallery. It’s behind the Grand Mosque of Paris. I’m trapped under a wall that fell on me. I think there was an explosion. I’m not hurt, but I can’t extract myself. You may need a jack to raise the wall off me. Jane, can you hear me at all?”

There was a brief moment of silence and then Maura heard Jane bellow, “I’m on my way!”

Maura swallowed and yelled again, “Jane, I’m not sure what happened here. Please be careful when you arrive!”

She heard some static and what she hoped was Jane’s voice. Then she closed her eyes, tears leaking out of their corners due to all the dust in the air. At that moment she could have forgiven Jane almost anything. Maybe even the one-night stand with Agent Creepy Stalker. Okay, maybe not anything. She sighed. “I wish we had talked this morning. So much that needs to be said.”

*************************

In one hand, Jane held onto the phone that was still connected to Maura, while she secured her backpack straps with the other, as she ran back to the comic shop, dashing across the street against the light, dodging cars and scooters that honked at her amid cries of “Touriste stupide!”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever.” She ran through the shop door, breathing hard. “I need a car! Do either of you have a car I can borrow?”

The men looked at her as if she were insane. “No. But I have a scooter,” the younger man replied.

“Can I borrow it?” Jane pleaded. “My girlfriend was trapped in that explosion. I have to go find her.” Then she paused. “I have no idea where the Mosque is.”

“I’ll take you there,” the younger man offered. “Come on!” He ran out of the shop, and Jane trotted after him. He led her around the corner and jumped onto a red scooter parked in the alley behind the building. “Hop on!”

“Maura,” Jane spoke into her phone. “If you can hear me, I’m sorry but I need both hands. Hold on, I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Jane reluctantly ended the call and pocketed her phone, then climbed onto the back of the scooter, taking hold of her new friend’s waist. “I’m Jane, by the way. Thank you!”

“I’m Alexis,” the man replied. “Hold on, here we go!”

They sped off down the street, weaving in and out of cars. Jane’s hair flew back behind her and occasionally whipped across her face. It was one of the busiest areas of the city. With the Sorbonne nearby, as well as the Pantheon and the Notre Dame Cathedral, among other tourist attractions, there were a large number of people out on the sidewalks and crossing the streets, and Jane closed her eyes more than once, certain they were about to plow over a pedestrian. They breezed on for several blocks, before reaching a police barricade.

“I can’t take you any closer.” Alexis stopped the scooter. “It’s that way.” He pointed past the barricades and the Parisian police guarding them, toward the green dome that Jane could see a few blocks in the distance.

“No worries!” Jane hopped off the bike. “I can’t thank you enough!” With a wave, she ran toward the police, flashing her new badge. “United States. FBI.”

A policeman held up a hand and one of them took the badge and examined it. “How did the American FBI become involved in this? And so quickly?”

“Oh good, English.” Jane took her badge back. “I’m here on vacation. My friend is trapped in a gallery behind the Mosque. I’m not sure exactly where it is.”

“There is only one gallery in this area, over there.” The man pointed toward a two-story building a block away.

“I need to go find her!” Jane braced one arm on the barricade and vaulted over it. “I think she said we would need a jack to lift something off of her. Do you have one?”

“The firemen might have one. I’ll have to radio for help. Everyone is further down by the Mosque where the boiler exploded.”

“Boiler? Not a bomb?” Jane half-walked, half-ran, with a policeman on either side of her.

“Not a bomb as far as we can tell. An old boiler in the Mosque basement blew up. I’ll get some men down here with that jack.”

“Okay, I’m going to go find her!” Jane ran toward the gallery, bolted up the steps two at a time and burst through the doors, then dropped her backpack just inside the doorway.

“Maura!” She heard something overhead shift, and immediately regretted raising her voice. She retrieved her phone again and turned on the flashlight app, but before she could shine it anywhere, she heard a groan on the far side of the room. “Maura, I’m here,” she called out in a low voice. “Hold on.”

Jane began picking and high-stepping her way through a mess of broken sculptures, toppled pedestals, and collapsed walls. Finally, she saw Maura and her heart dropped into her stomach. A thick wall appeared to be on top of her. “Maura, are you hurt?” Jane reached her and dropped to her knees, reaching out and touching Maura’s head.

“Jane?” Maura looked up at her. “I don’t think I’m injured badly, but my head hurts.”

“Probably hit it on the floor when the wall knocked you over.” Jane peered under the wall, but it was too dark under there to see past Maura’s hips. “Any idea what’s holding this up? Or pinning you down?”

“I think my boot is caught on something. I’m not sure how long I lost consciousness. I might have a concussion. I have a headache, and I’m experiencing vertigo and mild nausea. Can you use your flashlight app to see if my pupils are equal and reactive?”

Jane had to smile, despite the circumstances. “We’ll save the examination for later, Dr. Isles. First we need to get you out of here. I need to go find the cops outside and tell them where you are so they can get a jack in here and lift this wall off of you.”

“Jane.” Maura grabbed Jane’s arm and squeezed. “About this morning. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have pressured you to talk.”

“It’s okay,” Jane patted her hand. “I promise we’ll talk about it later, for as long as you need to. But right now, I need to go get those guys, okay?”

“Jane.” Maura closed her eyes. “Don’t leave me.”

“I have to, just for a minute.” Jane’s throat ached, and she reached over to wipe a smear of dust from Maura’s cheek. “I’ll be right back, I promise.”

“Monsieur Laurent.” Maura’s eyes flew open. “The gallery manager. He’s in the basement. You need to go find him. He might be hurt.”

“I’ll send someone for him,” Jane assured her, “but my first priority is you.”

“That’s not protocol,” Maura argued. “Victims first, then police.”

“Right now we’re tourists, not police, and I’m getting you out of here.”

“But Jane—”

Without thinking about it, Jane leaned over and brushed her lips against Maura’s. “Hush. You’re my number one. Nothing you say can change that.”

Maura’s eyes grew wide and then softened, and she smiled. At that moment, a loud creaking noise came from beneath the wall. “What was that?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t like it.” Jane turned on her flashlight app again. “I’m going to find out what’s going on with your foot before I get those guys.”

“Jane!” Maura grabbed at Jane’s pants leg as she slithered head first beneath the wall. “Jane, don’t. It’s too dangerous.” Jane slapped her hand away and wriggled further under the wall.

Shining the light forward, she saw a heavy pedestal that was both holding up the wall and pinning down the stiletto heel of Maura’s left boot. It appeared to be made of thick plaster, and it was covered in ominous cracks like a broken car window. As she arced the light around to better assess the situation, she heard another loud creak and watched as a new crack snaked down the side of the pedestal. The wall was slowly crushing it.

Jane gingerly slid back out from under the wall. “I need my pocket knife but it’s in my backpack all the way up front. Do you have one in your purse?”

“No, but I have a sharp nail file.”

Jane nodded and retrieved the file from Maura’s purse. “Okay, I’m going back under there and getting you out of here.” She smiled reassuringly.

“What about the police and the jack?” Maura grasped her arm again.

“No time.” Jane frowned and reached down to touch Maura’s shoulder. “Maura, I need you to be absolutely still, okay? Especially your foot – don’t move it, even an inch.”

“The wall is slowly collapsing on me, isn’t it?” Maura swallowed. “The space between it and my torso is narrower than it was earlier. “Jane, get the police, it’s too dangerous.”

“Like I said, no time.” Jane dropped back down to her belly.

“Jane, no. Please don’t.” Maura’s eyes were full of worry, and she pulled at Jane’s pants leg again.

“I have to.” Jane smiled back at her. “I want to make sure we get to have that talk.” And with that, she disappeared back under the wall, until only her backside and long legs were still visible.

Maura felt a tugging sensation at her foot, and realized Jane was cutting open the laces of her ankle boot. Then she felt Jane’s hands around her ankle, carefully dislodging her foot from the boot. After that, Jane quickly backed out from beneath the wall and jumped to her feet, then grabbed Maura under the armpits and jerked her out from beneath the wall, just as the pedestal supporting it creaked and groaned again, and then shattered.

Jane pulled Maura into her arms and fell backward onto her bottom, landing hard and holding Maura against her as the wall crashed all the way down to the floor. “You okay?” Jane stroked Maura’s hair and looked down, relieved to see all four of their feet well clear of the wall.

“I’m good.” Maura was shaking. “I need to remove my other boot so I can walk.”

“On bare feet through this mess?” Jane shook her head. “I don’t think so. I’ll go see if the police or firemen have a spare pair of rubber boots you can wear.”

“Okay.” Maura looked around. “Can you get my purse and phone, please?”

“Of course.” Jane retrieved the items, draping the purse crosswise over her own body for safekeeping. “This is a really pink bag,” she observed, wrinkling her nose.

“Hey, that’s my nicest Marc Jacobs. I paid $497 for that bag. Besides, it compliments my dress. And my favorite pair of Blahniks, ruined.”

Jane smiled affectionately. “I think your head’s just fine.”

The rafters above them groaned, and Jane looked up and grimaced. She’d been so busy worrying about Maura, she hadn’t noticed the crisscrossed cracks in the ceiling over their heads. As she appraised their circumstances, a large chunk of plaster fell and tumbled into the corner of the room nearest them.

“Okay, we’re out of here.” Jane got up and hoisted a startled Maura across her shoulders in a fireman’s carry, and began running across the room, hurdling debris, as more ceiling plaster started to fall from behind them.

“Jane!” Maura pounded on her back. “Jane, you’re going to injure yourself. You can’t—”

Jane ignored her, shoved her knee against the front door of the gallery to open it, kicked her backpack out the door, and leaped down the steps. She collapsed into a patch of grass near the street, taking Maura down with her, cradling her against herself. “You still okay? We need to get you to the hospital and get you checked out.”

“I’m fine.” Maura clung to her in a daze. “I don’t think a hospital visit will be necessary.”

“Maura.” Jane gently stroked the surgical scar they both knew was beneath Maura’s hair at the back of her head. “Don’t argue with me about this. All intact fashion sense aside, you know I’m right.”

“I’d prefer to go back to the apartment and rest.” Maura closed her eyes and grew quite limp in Jane’s arms. “Then we can go to the park and I’ll watch you play soccer with the French women, and then we can order dinner to be delivered from that little café on the corner.”

Jane wiped another smudge from Maura’s cheek with her thumb. “First we’re going to the hospital. Then I’m skipping soccer. And after a bubble bath and nap, we’ll order dinner in. And when you’re feeling better, tonight or tomorrow or whenever, we’ll have that talk.”

Maura opened her eyes and looked up. “Promises, promises,” she teased.

“We will,” Jane answered softly, hugging Maura close to her, her chin resting on top of Maura’s head.

*************************

“Yeah, Ma, we’re both okay. Quit worrying.” Jane sat on the balcony of the condo in the gathering dusk, watching as a few stars appeared overhead, twinkling down at her. “Not right now, she’s still asleep. We’ll call you later, when she’s up and around.” Jane listened intently, absorbing her mother’s words, and closed her eyes. “I don’t know. All of that may be true, but all I can tell you right now is that I can’t imagine my life without her in it, one way or the other. Ma—” Jane hesitated. “How did you know?”

The answer made her smile: Because, I’m you’re mother. “Love you, Ma.” She ended the call and drew one knee up against her chest, wrapping her arms around her leg. “ ‘Jane’,” she mimicked her mother’s voice. “ ‘Can’t you see that Maura is in love with you? It’s as plain as the nose on your face.’ Hilarious, Ma. Am I the only one without gaydar?”

She stood and moved to the railing, leaning on it and watching a few boats float past her on the river. Then she gasped, as the Eiffel Tower’s lights flashed on, and its spotlights began fanning out, back and forth across the sky. It really was the city of lights. And of love, she mused. Thousands of artists and writers had come to this city to find their inspiration, including Maura.

But why had Jane come to Paris? She had a new, exciting job waiting for her, and was more than ready for the career change, and the fresh start in a new city. But as the time wound down, the reality that leaving Boston meant leaving Maura had begun to sink in.

So, she asked herself again, why had she come to Paris? It certainly wasn’t for the art galleries, or even the stinky cheese. The truth was, it was delaying the inevitable. This new turn of events between them made the thought of leaving even more complex and painful than it already was. “I don’t just like her, I like like her. How did I let that happen?” Jane groused.

A restlessness rose inside her, and Jane went back inside to check on Maura. She was asleep, and Jane sat down on the edge of the bed and adjusted the covers, then placed her hand on Maura’s hip. “You scared me to death,” she whispered. “When I saw you lying under that wall, I thought –” She shook her head. “Don’t ever do that again.” She sighed. “Who am I kidding? You know I’m going to check on you every day after I get to D.C.”

Satisfied that Maura was sleeping comfortably, Jane wandered into the kitchen where she poured herself a glass of wine. As she put the freshly opened bottle of pinot noir in the refrigerator, she felt a light touch to her arm, and turned to see Maura. “Hey. Did I wake you when I checked on you a minute ago?”

“No, I woke up just as you left the room, but I had already woken up twice before that.” Maura smiled and took a seat at the kitchen table. She’d heard every word. “Pour me a glass?”

“You sure that’s a good idea?” Jane was already complying, retrieving another goblet from the cabinet.

“I don’t have a concussion,” Maura replied. “The temporary headache was from the impact of my head against the tile floor, but there’s no internal or external swelling, and no damage other than some surface bruising to my scalp. The dizziness and nausea were from inhaling a large amount of dust.”

“Your headache is gone?”

Maura nodded affirmatively. “Yes.”

“Anything else?” Jane frowned. “Did you tell them about your surgery?”

Maura smiled. “Yes. And so did you, five times I’m told.” She looked at Jane accusingly, and Jane guiltily flinched. “They performed an MRI. The surgical site is completely intact.”

“And they said it was okay to drink alcohol?” Jane pressed.

“They didn’t say not to,” Maura replied with wide-eyed innocence.

“I don’t know. Do the French ever advise against drinking wine? Oh, well.” Jane shrugged. “You’re the doctor.” She sat down to join Maura, handing over the glass.

Maura swirled the wine around and sniffed it, then took a sip. “Jane, I –”

“I didn’t sleep with Cameron,” Jane cut her off.

“Cameron?” Maura’s brows furrowed.

“Agent Creepy Stalker.” Jane rolled her eyes.

“Ah, yes. Sorry.” Maura laughed lightly and then tilted her head to one side, peering at Jane. “But that morning, in your living room, and later at the coffee shop, our conversation? And he was getting dressed, indicating he had at some point been undressed. Why would he be undressed, with you, in your townhouse, if –”

“It’s complicated.” Jane sighed. “When I went to Quantico to teach that week, he kind of cornered me into going to dinner after the last class. But I told you about that, about him checking my flight status. I think that’s when you started calling him –”

“Agent Creepy Stalker.” Maura touched Jane’s hand. “I apologize. I think obviously now, you probably know I was suffering from jealousy.”

“No, no.” Jane smiled. “It is a little stalkerish to check my flight. But one thing led to another, and they offered me the job, and I accepted, and then he came to visit.”

“Unannounced,” Maura reminded her.

“True.” Jane drank deeply from her wine glass. “There was so much going on inside my head, and you know I don’t deal well with introspection.”

Maura silently nodded her agreement.

“So when he showed up in Boston and we went to dinner, my way of dealing with all that stuff in my head was to not deal with it. But when we got back to my place, I couldn’t do it. Got all the way up to my bedroom and halfway undressed, and I just couldn’t. I knew I was using him as an escape. I certainly don’t have any romantic feelings toward him. It wasn’t right. So he slept on my couch. What you saw was Cameron dressing to go back to D.C. as my friend and co-worker, not my lover.”

“Oh.” A tiny smile played at Maura’s lips. “I’m glad you didn’t have sexual relations with him. It really hurt, seeing him there.”

“And I’m so sorry.” Jane peered over the rim of her glass with big puppy dog eyes.

“No, you didn’t owe me anything, although I’m not sure why you felt the need to embellish the story with that conversation at the coffee shop.”

“I was very confused and embarrassed,” Jane replied. “Especially you catching him there that morning, and what it looked like. I felt like I needed to protect his dignity, and mine. And I wasn’t ready to talk about what really happened, or why. Besides,” her voice suddenly rose in memory. “You encouraged me to pursue him when he came by the office later to say goodbye.”

“Jane,” Maura’s tone was exasperated. “I was protecting my own emotions, and going along with what I thought you wanted. As I said, it hurt but I knew I didn’t have a right to feel that way. You and I, we had no commitment between us to logically justify my hurt feelings, no matter how much I wished we did.”

“Sometimes love isn’t logical,” Jane replied quietly. “Oh, Maura, I – what I almost did with Cameron, that was me running away from all these feelings I have for you. There were so many times I wanted to act on them, but I was terrified. I wasn’t sure if you shared them, and I wasn’t sure what it all meant for me or for you, even if you did.”

“Oh.” Maura’s expression was truly shocked and saddened. “I wish you’d said something. I wish – now I wish I had found the courage to speak up. I rehearsed it so many times in my head. When did you first realize that you felt something more than friendship for me?”

“I’m not sure.” Jane truthfully acknowledged. “There wasn’t any one moment, it was gradual. And it scared me when it dawned on me what I was feeling. You have to understand something. The way I grew up, competing with two brothers, I became a tomboy as a defense mechanism. And once I grew out of my ‘roly poly Rizzoli’ phase and got into sports, it only got worse. Being athletic and independent, and on top of that becoming a cop, people constantly speculated about me. I spent so much time having to prove I wasn’t a lesbian, I never considered that maybe I could in fact be gay.”

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.” Maura reached across and touched her hand again.

“Even now, I’m not sure,” Jane lamented. “I find some men to be attractive. I don’t think that’s going to change just because my eyes are open to other possibilities. But I – I love you, Maura. And I know it isn’t just sisterly love, or at least I don’t think it is. I don’t think some of the thoughts I’ve had about you qualify as sisterly by a long shot.” She smiled sheepishly. “So what does that make me? Bisexual? Or am I just a straight chick who fell in love with an incredible woman?”

A dazzling smile spread across Maura’s face. “You’ve thought about this in much more depth than I realized.” She reached across and took Jane’s hand again, rubbing her thumb back and forth against her palm. “I love you, too, Jane. We’ve been friends for a very long time, and we’ve survived countless disagreements and dozens of life-altering events, some of them truly terrifying and tragic. You and I, our friendship is solid, more solid than many marriages.”

“Marriage?” Jane’s entire body shifted backward, as her eyes grew wide and her brows rose into her hairline.

Maura laughed. “That wasn’t a proposal, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“No.” Jane gulped her wine. “Wasn’t thinking that at all.”

Maura gave her a knowing look. “My point is, we are very good friends with a complicated history. Maybe right now we don’t need to define ourselves beyond that. Whatever is happening between us, if it grows into something more, or if it doesn’t, what we share is based in friendship.”

“That’s just it,” Jane wailed. “I love you. I love us. I don’t want to mess that up. I mean, what if we – you know, and it turns out I don’t like it with a woman? What happens then? I don’t want to lose what we have now.”

“Oh, Jane.” Maura put down her glass and clasped Jane’s hand between both of her own. “You’re my best friend. My family. No matter what happens between us as we explore this – if we explore this – you will never lose me. Why do you think I insisted on helping you decorate your new townhouse after we return to the States? Did it not occur to you that I plan on making myself at home there? I’ll be knocking on your door so often, you’ll probably wish you hadn’t given me your address.”

“Never.” Jane smiled and lifted their joined hands, kissing Maura’s knuckles. “Besides, you found the place for me. You already had the address.”

Maura laughed, then peered earnestly into Jane’s eyes. “We don’t need to rush into anything. Let’s just take it slowly and continue to discuss our feelings, and see where it leads us.”

“No plans to have your way with me, Dr. Isles?” Jane teased.

“I didn’t say that,” Maura replied coyly, then she gentled her tone. “I’ve thought about it, about what it would be like to make love with you, but from everything you’ve said I’m given to understand that you’ve never had sexual relations with a woman, and I don’t want to do anything that –”

“Wait, what!?” Jane’s voice cracked. “And you have? When?”

“Boarding school. And at BCU.” Maura looked up at the ceiling in thought. “Oh, and there was this woman I knew in medical school. And one that I worked with during my residency who-”

“Okay, okay!” Jane held up a hand. “I get it. No need to share all the gory details. Geez. Secret husband. Lesbian flings. Naked protests. It’s like you’ve had this whole other private life no one knew anything about.”

“I was always different,” Maura mused. “And infinitely curious about human nature. You know that. Finding love and companionship has never been easy for me. I tried really hard to not place any parameters around it whenever I was fortunate enough to find someone I got along with in that way. I’ve been alone most of my life.” Maura looked down, picking up her wine glass and studying it, avoiding eye contact. “The way I was raised, and then finding out Paddy Doyle was my biological father — and even though I met and grew closer to Hope – you, and your family are the only real family I’ve ever known. You think you’re afraid? Do you understand how much I have to lose if anything were to ever tear us apart?”

“Come here.” Jane stood up, drawing Maura up with her, and gathered her into a comforting hug. “No matter what, you will always be a part of my family.” She kissed the top of Maura’s head. “I promise. Hey.” She pulled back, and lightly touched Maura’s face. “Why don’t we order in dinner, take a breather? Maybe talk some more later tonight?”

Maura answered with another rib-crushing hug.

*************************

Jane emerged from the bathroom wearing her tank top and lucky boxers, which had been returned from the building’s laundry service earlier in the day. Maura looked up from her book and smiled. “Feel better?”

“Yes!” Jane declared, and plopped down on the bed next to her. “After your took a bath and we got you settled in for a nap, I had to call Nina. Then I had to call Ma. Then Frankie and Tommy. Then Korsak and Kent. Because of course once I told one of them what happened to you, it was the same as telling all of them. Then I called the Paris police to check on the gallery manager. He’s okay, by the way. He got trapped in his office in the basement because the walls shifted and jammed his office door closed, but they got him out, unharmed.”

“Oh, good. Oh. I probably need to call Hope tomorrow.”

“I also talked to her while you were napping. I didn’t want her to hear about it from her friend first. She had a very busy schedule at the clinic today, but she’s going to call you tomorrow. Sorry, I forgot to tell you earlier.”

“No worries.” Maura smiled. “I’m glad you thought to call her. Poor Geneva. I hope her sculptures were insured.”

“Yeah, tough to lose all that work,” Jane agreed. “Anyway, then the hospital called to sort out some details in your paperwork, and ended up having to hunt down a translator for me, and then the police called back to double check on you. Then Ma called again. Twice. I never did get around to taking a shower this afternoon. It feels good to get clean.” Jane shifted toward Maura. “Ma knew about us.”

“Really?” Maura set her book on the nightstand. “Interesting.”

“She said we act like an old married couple, and that we’re way too comfortable in each other’s personal space. She – she said I’m always touching you. Is that true?”

“Well.” Maura smiled. “You did kiss me at the gallery.”

“What? I did no such thing!”

“Yes, you did,” Maura insisted. “I got the impression you were trying to get me to quit arguing with you, but you did, in fact, kiss me on the lips.”

“That?” Jane waved a hand in dismissal. “Just a peck on the lips. That wasn’t a real kiss.”

“Oh.” Maura sounded disappointed.

Jane eased closer. “I can show you a real kiss, if you’d like.” She rolled her head toward Maura and raised an eyebrow in question.

Maura swallowed hard. “Only if you want to. I – I’d like that.”

Jane smiled and turned onto her side, cradling Maura’s head with one hand, and wrapping her other arm around her. She looked into Maura’s eyes and smiled nervously. “I’ve thought about this so many times. Which one of us would initiate it. Where we’d be.”

“Did any of those scenarios include a bed in a condominium in Paris?”

“No.” Jane’s tone was mirthful, a pleasant bubbly sound to Maura’s ear.

“When you thought about it –” Maura pushed a lock of hair behind Jane’s ear, then trailed her fingertips along her jawline, as she returned Jane’s intense gaze. “Were they good thoughts?”

“Oh, yes.” Jane pulled Maura against her. “The best.” She kissed her on the forehead, and then on one cheek. Then she took a deep breath and dipped her head lower, brushing her lips against Maura’s once, and then again in a lingering contact. She felt Maura’s body grow tense, only for a moment, and then she relaxed in Jane’s arms, eagerly kissing her in return.

The softness and warmth of it surprised Jane, and she felt her own body melting into their embrace, as they gently explored each other, tongues swirling together, tasting and teasing. She smiled against Maura’s lips and reluctantly broke the contact.

Maura randomly lifted locks of Jane’s hair, slowly releasing them to fall back down around her face. “I like your real kisses.” She smiled. “Was that comfortable for you?”

“Way, way comfortable.” Jane ran her fingertips along Maura’s cheek and stroked her thumb along her lower lip. “Wanna do it again?”

Maura grinned and dove in, pulling Jane even closer. As they explored further, her hands began to wander, and she drew one down Jane’s side and along her thigh, dragging one of Jane’s long legs across her own legs, bringing Jane into intimate contact with Maura’s hip. Jane pressed herself against Maura, as she firmly grasped Maura’s backside with one hand. She paused and her breath hitched as she felt Maura’s hand wander back up, settling just below one of Jane’s breasts.

Slowly, Maura slid her hand up until Jane’s breast filled it. She pecked Jane’s lips and broke off from the kiss to look down, as she brushed her thumb across Jane’s hardened nipple, separated from her skin by the thin cotton barrier of the tank top. Jane gasped again and also looked down, covering Maura’s hand with her own.

“I –” Maura was breathing almost as hard as Jane was. “Did not intend for this to happen tonight. It isn’t taking things slowly, as we discussed.”

“Do you want to stop?” Jane asked, even as she continued to encourage Maura’s touch, pressing Maura’s hand more firmly against her breast.

“Do you?”

“No!” Jane kissed Maura passionately. She felt Maura’s hands trail downward, and then back up and under her tank top, Maura’s warm skin against her own, her fingertips delicately circling her breasts and teasing her aching nipples, sending a flood between Jane’s legs. Maura trailed kisses along Jane’s jaw and down her neck, then slowly kissed her way along Jane’s collarbone to the pulse point at her throat, nipping it, as Jane’s hands meandered up and down Maura’s back and under Maura’s satin pajama top, caressing the soft skin of her lower back. She slid one hand lower, tucking it into the back of Maura’s pajama bottoms and exploring the curves she found there.

“Keep going?” Maura tugged anxiously at the hem of Jane’s tank top, Jane’s hand against her backside pushing her desire into overdrive.

“Yeah.” Jane could barely get the word out, and held her arms up, as Maura pulled the tank top over her head and discarded it at the foot of the bed.

Suddenly shy at her half-nakedness, Jane blushed and looked down, her thick hair falling forward and obscuring her face. Maura reached over and gently pushed her hair back over her shoulders, drinking in the loveliness of Jane’s bare breasts. “You are so beautiful,” Maura murmured. She smiled and never broke eye contact, as she reached down, slowly unbuttoning her own pajama top while Jane watched, enchanted.

“That is the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen,” Jane whispered, as Maura opened the top a bit, exposing her own breasts. As Maura lifted her hands higher to push the top further open, Jane stopped her. “Let me.” Slowly, she ran her hands up the front of the smooth satin, then grasped the collar on each side, slipping the top back and off Maura’s shoulders, watching it slide down and pool on the bed behind her.

“Can I –?” Hesitantly, she trailed her hands lightly up Maura’s sides and then covered both full breasts. “Maura.” Jane sighed helplessly. “You take my breath away.” With wonder in her eyes, she buried her face into Maura’s cleavage for a moment, inhaling deeply of her scent, then explored her skin with lips and fingertips, tracing and teasing, watching Maura’s eyes close in pleasure. Finally Jane drew her close, their bodies pressed against each other, the sensation of skin against skin overwhelmingly intense. Jane’s insides danced with butterflies, wanting Maura with every fiber of her body.

They had seen each other nude before. Had taken care of each other during recovery from illness and work-related injuries. Had on more than one occasion shared a hotel room and changed together in the precinct locker room. This, though, was something completely new and different, their growing desire for each other unhindered by any pretense of modesty. There was permission now to admire and touch and discover, their naked vulnerability protected by the safety of the deep love, respect, and friendship they shared.

Maura released a trembling breath, and then reached up, drawing Jane’s lips down to her own, kissing her fiercely, while their hands freely explored soft, inviting skin that covered smooth, firm muscle. Carefully, she eased Jane up until they were both on their knees. She paused and looked into Jane’s dark eyes, which were soft at the edges, her passion very evident. Then she grasped the waistband of Jane’s boxers, sliding them down and helping Jane slip completely out of them. “Lucky boxers, indeed.” Maura laughed lightly. She twirled them around on one finger and flung them into the corner of the room.

Jane joined in the laughter and then yelped, as Maura sat back against the headboard and pulled Jane down to straddle her lap, facing her, Jane’s bare behind resting on Maura’s thighs, just below the hem of her short satin pajama bottoms. Maura pulled Jane close and pressed her lips against Jane’s ear. “Do you want to keep going? We don’t have to. I’ll understand if you’re not ready.”

Jane nodded against her. “Yeah. Just—” She drew in a deep, shaking breath.

“What is it?” Maura looked up and into her eyes, touching Jane’s forehead and then cupping her jaw in one hand.

“It’s kind of embarrassing.” Jane tried to look away, but Maura gently held her face in place. She stroked Jane’s cheek with her thumb.

“It’s okay. Tell me.”

“I’m really, really wet.” Jane blushed from the roots of her hair all the way down to her chest. “Like more than I’ve ever been.”

“I know.” Maura ran one hand along the top of Jane’s thigh. “You’re sitting on me.”

“Oh, God.” Mortified, Jane covered her eyes with her hands.

“You have nothing to be ashamed of.” Maura soothed her, pulling Jane’s hands away from her face. “Copious vaginal lubrication in the female when sexually stimulated is the equivalent of a firm penile erection in the male. It indicates your body is prepared for intercourse. It’s perfectly natural.”

Jane burst out laughing, and impulsively hugged Maura. “Thank you for that,” she spoke softly into Maura’s ear. They held each other, suspended in silence, just feeling each other breathe, and soaking in the warmth of one another. Slowly, Jane pulled back and looked down, absorbing Maura’s beauty, taking in the light shining from the depths of her hazel eyes. She ducked her head and engaged Maura in a spine-tingling kiss, as their passion flared anew.

She felt Maura’s hands rubbing her back, and then felt them drop down, kneading Jane’s backside, and then Maura pushed her own thighs outward, forcing Jane’s legs further apart. Maura trailed a hand along Jane’s hip and down the top of her leg, then began caressing her way up an inner thigh. Jane broke away from their kiss and reached down, grabbing her wrist and stopping her.

Maura gave a gentle pat to a firm ass cheek. “Do we need to stop?”

“No.” Jane closed her eyes and smiled. “Just. I’m so turned on, I’m afraid the moment you touch me, it will be all over.”

“Oh.” Maura managed to free her hand from Jane’s, then grazed her fingernails lightly up and down the top of Jane’s leg, before resuming her trip up her inner thigh. “I can go slowly, touch you in other ways first, if you want it to last longer.”

“Yeah.” Jane nodded. “I’d like that.” With a shy smile, she opened her legs wider and looked down, and watched, feeling Maura begin to explore, teasing and stroking, familiarizing herself with Jane’s most private places, yet never quite touching her in that one little spot that was aching for relief.

Jane moaned, a low sexy rumble, and her eyes slammed shut as she threw her head back. She braced her hands on Maura’s shoulders, and began to rock her hips, desperately seeking the contact withheld. It was exquisite pleasure and pain, and Jane panted in frustration.

“My beautiful Jane.” Maura reached up with her free hand, touching Jane’s face, trailing a fingertip along full, open lips. Jane took the finger into her mouth and swirled her tongue around it, then released it slowly, feeling Maura shudder in response. “Can you look at me?” Maura begged. “Please?” She guided Jane’s head forward until they were close enough to feel each other’s breath. With half-closed lids, Jane made eye contact. “Thank you,” Maura caressed her face.

Jane released a heavy sigh of relief, as Maura finally, fully touched her, bringing on wave after wave of intense pleasure. “Oh, God. Maura.” Jane collapsed against her, whimpering as her body continued to shake, the final waves washing through her. Their lips met in a long, affirming kiss, then Maura held her close, rubbing her cheek against Jane’s.

“Maura?” Jane finally found her voice. Still holding on, she pressed her forehead against Maura’s. They were both breathing erratically.

“What is it?” Maura gasped.

“I still don’t know if I’m a lesbian, but I really, really like it with you.” Jane laughed.

“Judging by your reaction, I gathered as much.” Maura also laughed and pecked Jane’s lips. “I really liked it with you, too.”

“Did you now?” Jane reached down and stretched out the ribbons at the waistband of Maura’s pajama bottoms and started to untie them. “And tell me, Dr. Isles.” She finished loosening the ribbons, then began easing the bottoms down Maura’s hips. “Is your vaginal lubrication copious, or do you require further sexual stimulation? Hmmm?”

Maura giggled, then shrieked with laughter, as Jane wrestled her down until she was lying on her back. Slowly, her eyes twinkling with mischief, Jane tugged the bottoms down Maura’s legs and tossed them over her own shoulder.

She crawled back up, bracing herself on both arms, hovering over Maura. “When I thought about us together like this, I thought I wouldn’t know what to do.” She smiled and leaned down, kissing Maura, then she eased onto her side, the length of her body pressed against Maura. “But now I realize you have a woman’s body –”

“Thank you for noticing,” Maura teased.

“I’ve noticed more than you think.” Jane smiled and stroked Maura’s hair. “You’re gorgeous – the most beautiful person I’ve ever known. And you’re a woman and I’m a woman. I know how I like to be touched. Maybe I won’t be a complete novice at this, huh?”

“This is a dream to me,” Maura reassured her. “You cannot possibly disappoint me, unless you decide to go sleep on the couch.”

“Not a chance of that happening.” Jane kissed her again. “You made this so beautiful and special for me, Maura. I just want it to be the same for you, that’s all.”

“Do you want to touch me?” Maura reached over and took Jane’s hand, dragging her arm around Maura’s waist. She pressed herself against Jane, rubbing bellies with her. “The way I touched you?”

“Oh, yeah. Very much.” Jane sighed and gathered Maura against her, exploring her shoulder with her lips, while she trailed her hand up and down Maura’s hip and along her leg. She teased two enticing breasts, enjoying their weight and fullness in her hands, and the sensation as Maura’s body trembled against her. “I love you, Maura.” Jane nuzzled her ear and nipped at the sensitive skin behind it, as she eased her hand between Maura’s legs, stroking upward and exploring the wet, inviting warmth of her.

Maura whimpered, a little kitten-like sound, clutching at Jane as Jane’s touches quickly took her up and over the edge, her body shaking against Jane as her climax claimed her. She felt Jane’s long arms around her, holding her close and rocking her, as Jane planted kisses on her face and the top of her head. “Good?” Jane’s voice was full of hope.

“Amazing,” Maura replied, feeling tears stinging her eyes. She blinked, as a few of them escaped, trickling down her cheeks. She sniffled, then smiled as Jane reached over and brushed them away. “Sorry.” Maura sniffled again. “They’re good tears. This happens when I’m very emotional.”

“No, really?” Jane teased. “Maura, Maura, Maura.” Jane hugged her tightly. “This was only the beginning, I promise you.” There were still many things to discuss, but Jane’s heart was near to bursting with happiness, and she felt a sense of peace and completeness wash over her. Suddenly, she was physically exhausted, her body sated from the lovemaking, and slowly she settled down into the thick, comfortable mattress, holding Maura against her.

Maura nuzzled her collarbone and then rested her head on Jane’s shoulder, and Jane tilted her head to kiss Maura’s cheek. She reached down and pulled the covers over them, then across to turn off the bedside lamp. She blinked, as her eyes adjusted to the darkness, and then she sighed in utter contentment and closed them.

“Goodnight, Jane.” Maura’s breath tickled Jane’s skin, warming it.

“Night, Maura.” Jane idly stroked Maura’s hair and felt Maura press her lips against her shoulder, and she smiled into the darkness.

*************************

Birds were singing, and light filtered through the thin curtains covering the bedroom windows. Maura opened her eyes and got a close-up view of Jane’s exposed breast. She smiled and raised her head to observe its twin. Jane’s chest rose and fell with her nearly silent breathing, and her hair fanned out across the pillow beneath her head. With the lightest of touches, Maura circled the healed bullet wound just below Jane’s ribcage, shaking inside at the memory of the events that caused it. “You frighten me too, sometimes,” she whispered.

She leaned over and reverently kissed the spot, then started to ease from beneath Jane’s arm, when Jane’s grip suddenly tightened around her. “Sneaking away before I wake up?” Jane’s deep voice chastised. “Story of my life.”

“No.” Maura laughed. “I thought I’d make coffee and –”

“Bring me breakfast in bed?” Jane asked hopefully.

“Ha ha.” Maura patted her hip. “No. I was thinking it might be nice to walk down to the café on the corner for breakfast.”

“That works.” Jane rose up and turned toward Maura, stroking her face with the backs of her fingers. “You okay?”

“Very much so.” Maura’s smile lit up her entire face. “And you?”

“Best morning of my life.” Jane leaned over and pecked Maura’s lips, then drew her into a hug.

“Really?” Maura inhaled deeply, drawing in Jane’s warm scent.

“Really.” Jane nuzzled her nose against Maura’s. “Just a lot to process, you know?”

“Completely understandable.” Maura kissed her. “Why don’t we get dressed and get coffee at the café instead of making it here? I think we need to talk some more.”

“Yeah, we do.” Jane slipped out of bed. “I’ll shower quickly. Or –” She paused in the bathroom doorway and flashed a sexy smile, crooking a finger at Maura. “We could shower together.”

Maura’s eyes swept up and down Jane’s naked body and she grinned. “Ooh, la la.” She got up and followed Jane into the bathroom. “That’s not a common French term, by the way. Its more common usage is as an English expression of surprise or approval, usually in association with something French, often with sexual connotations.”

“Does that mean you plan to ooh la la me in the shower?” Jane stepped into said shower and turned on the spigot, then spun around and opened her arms in invitation.

“Mais oui.” Maura joined her under the warm water and their lips met. Breakfast and coffee would be delayed.

*************************

Jane sat back in her chair and patted her full belly. “First thing I’m doing when I get to D.C. is joining the gym at Quantico. At this rate I’m going to need to buy some suits a size larger.”

“You look fine to me.” Maura assured her. “You have for a long while,” she added quietly.

“Hey.” Jane leaned closer, resting her forearms on the table. She reached across and touched Maura’s hand. “You know, we talked so much about my feelings yesterday, I never asked you when you realized you were – you know –”

“In love with you?” Maura smiled warmly and held onto Jane’s hand.

“Yeah.” Jane’s eyes grew soft, shining with affection that washed over Maura in gentle waves, reassuring her that despite a bit of first morning after shyness between them, they were going to be fine.

“Remember the road trip where you dropped me off at the sweat lodge?”

“Sure.” Jane’s voice rose in surprise. “Maura, that was two years ago. That’s a long time to –”

“It doesn’t matter now.” Maura looked down for a moment, collecting her thoughts. “Remember I said I had a revelation about you?”

“Yeah, and you said it was that I was strong enough to handle whatever life threw at me.”

“And you knew I was lying. And I was glad I was wearing a blouse that covered my chest and lower neck, because I could feel the hives breaking out.” Maura rubbed the side of her neck in memory. “I realized there was a reason I had never been able to commit myself to Jack, or any other man I’d dated. It was because there was someone else who came first in my life. You. You had my heart, Jane. I can’t say exactly when I gave it to you, but I realized as long as our lives were as interwoven as they were, it was unlikely my feelings were going to change.”

“So you decided to suffer in silence and hope I came to my senses?” Jane squeezed her hand. “Maura, I’m so sorry. I wish –”

“Don’t be sorry.” Maura lifted her hand and kissed it. “I have no regrets. I wouldn’t trade these last several years for anything. You, Jane. Almost everything good in my life these past years, I owe to you. You pushed me to develop a relationship with Hope. You encouraged me to pursue my writing. You gave me a family. You were by my side through all my activities to shore up my neural pathways. You’re my safe harbor. Remember my poem?”

Jane nodded earnestly, and she pressed Maura’s hand against her own face, holding it there and looking deeply into her eyes, conveying a love she had no adequate words for. “How could I ever forget it?” She cleared her throat and leaned closer:

“She is fierce, and the first to defend me in my moment of trouble or need.
Her wit and laughter sustain me, and never come at my expense.
And when we part there is no sadness, for our bond is always there.
She is not just my friend, she is a gift, both precious and rare.”

“You have it memorized?” Maura asked, deeply touched.

“I made Kent copy it for me. I sleep with it under my pillow,” Jane confessed.

“Jane, I don’t know what to say.” Maura smiled. “I know you have a new life and career waiting for you. And I know what’s happening between us complicates things. I wrote that poem at a time when I had no reason to believe you would ever not be in my life. I know now there is great sadness at our parting. It’s breaking my heart. Paris was my version of running away.”

“And then I ran with you.” Jane smiled, but her eyes were full of sorrow. “I wish I had known how much pain I was causing you. There’s something I really want to ask you, but I don’t think I have the right to ask it.”

“Ask me anything,” Maura replied, a bit breathlessly.

“It’s just, you have a right to your life. You have your book, and a prestigious job as chief medical examiner, assuming you decide to keep it when we go home. Even if you decide to do something else, your future is so bright. I believe so much in you –”

“Just say it, please,” Maura begged.

“I want to ask you to come to D.C. I want so much to be with you, but I don’t feel I have the right to ask you to give up everything for me. I’ve already resigned from the force and committed to the job at Quantico. I don’t think I can undo that, at least not right now.”

“What if I had something else in D.C. besides you to move for?” Maura’s eyes shone with happiness.

“That would be great!” Jane’s voice cracked a little as it rose in excitement. “But how? What –?”

“Right before you told me about the offer at Quantico, Hope told me MEND had obtained grant funding to open a sister clinic to the one I’ve been volunteering with in Boston. They offered me the directorship. In many ways it would be a dream job. I was thinking about it, but after you told me you’d accepted the position with the FBI, I turned them down.”

“Why?” Jane’s brows knitted in confusion. “What did me joining the FBI have to do with it?”

“Because they’re opening the clinic in D.C. I felt like if I accepted, it would be as if I were following you when perhaps you didn’t want to be followed. I thought maybe it was time for me to set you free to live your life, even if it meant living it without me.”

“Oh, Maura.” Jane reached across and took her other hand. “You gave up a dream job because of me, and now we – what a mess.”

“Maybe not. They haven’t filled that directorship yet. It’s still open, or at least it was when we left for Paris.”

“What!?” And you really want it?”

“Yes,” Maura replied emphatically.

Jane grabbed her phone from her pocket and hit a speed dial number, then handed it to Maura.

“What are you doing?” Maura took the phone.

“Tell Hope you’ll take the job!” Jane bounced up and down in her seat in utter excitement.

“Jane!” Maura laughed helplessly. “Oh. Hope.” She laughed again. “I’m sorry. Yes, I know it’s Jane’s phone. No, no, I’m fine. No remaining injuries at all from the explosion, other than a few minor bruises. I apologize for calling at the early hour.”

“Oops.” Jane grimaced. “I was so excited, I forgot about the time difference. Tell her I’m sorry.”

Maura held up a hand to silence her, and Jane made a show of zipping her lips. “Listen, while we’re on the phone, is the directorship for the clinic in Washington still open?” She paused, listening, ignoring Jane’s anxious fidgeting across the table. “It is?” She smiled as Jane began bouncing up and down again. “Because I’m interested after all. Do you think they can hold it for another two weeks until I get back and we can work out the details?” She listened for so long, she feared Jane might explode. Finally, she smiled. “You have amazing intuition. Yes, consider this my official acceptance. We apologize again for the early call. I’ll talk to you later this week at a more reasonable hour. Go back to sleep.” She disconnected the call and handed the phone back to Jane.

“Yes!” Jane put the phone in her pocket.

“Hope knew about us, too.” Maura laughed.

“Wow.” Jane pondered that. “Are we the two most clueless people on the planet?”

“Maybe.” Maura patted her hand. “She said when she first met us, she assumed we were a couple. Then when she realized we weren’t, she couldn’t understand why not. Then she said when you came to Paris with me, she just knew it was going to be our turning point. She’s brilliant.”

“Just like her daughter.” Jane smiled.

The waiter brought the bill and Jane placed some money on the table to pay for their meal. As she put her wallet back into her backpack, she felt something else and pulled it out. “Oh. I got you something yesterday. I forgot about it in all the chaos.” She slid the gift across the table.

“For me?” Maura unwrapped the book and studied the cover, then opened it, slowly flipping pages. “Jane.” She looked up, her expression incredibly happy. “You bought me a book of romantic French poetry?”

“It was when I thought you were angry with me. I knew why. And I knew how I felt. It just seemed appropriate.” Jane shrugged, her earnest expression betraying the casual gesture. A bone-deep love shone from her eyes, all for Maura.

“You know I am going to have to read this to you.” Maura smiled and placed the book into her own bag.

“Only if you read to me in bed while drinking wine and feeding me French chocolate,” Jane teased, remembering the advice of the books store clerk.

“Come on, then.” Maura stood and held out her hand.

Jane stood and took it. “Where are we going?”

“To the magasin de chocolat.” Maura led her toward the café exit. “And then the wine shop. And then back to the condo to celebrate.”

“We’re going to Washington together!” Jane squealed.

As they stepped out onto the sidewalk, a familiar song came over the café’s patio speakers, and they both burst out laughing. “It’s true you know.” Jane nodded toward the overhead music. “I just had to come all the way to Paris to finally figure it out.”

Maura stood on her toes, wrapping an arm around Jane’s neck and drawing her head down until their lips met, sealing their future with a kiss.

Wordlessly, they turned and walked hand in hand down the sidewalk, the warmth of the Paris morning sun shinning down on them, the song their own personal serenade:

(Sunlight) There's a new sun arisin'
(In your eyes) I can see a new horizon
(Realize) That will keep me realizin'
You're the biggest part of me

(Stay the night) Need your lovin' here beside me
(Shine the light) Need it close enough to guide me
(All my life) I've been hoppin' you would find me
You're the biggest part of me

Well, make a wish, baby
And love will make it come true
Make a list baby, of the things I'll do for you
Ain't no risk now in lettin' my love rain down on you
So we can wash away the past so that we may start anew

(Rainbow) Risin' over my shoulder
(Love flows) Gettin' better as we're older
(All I know) All I wanna do is hold her
She's the life that breathes in me

(Forever) Got a feelin' that forever
(Together) We are gonna stay together
(Forever) For me there's nothing better
You're the biggest part of me

Well, make a wish, baby
And love will make it come true
Make a list baby, of the things I'll do for you
Ain't no risk now in lettin' my love rain down on you
So we can wash away the past so that we may start anew

More than an easy feelin'
She brings joy to me
How can I tell you what it means to me
Flow like a lazy river
For an eternity
I finally found someone who believes in me
And I'll never leave
(Now I've found all I need) Ooh, la do dah now
Mmm, ain’t life grand

(Beside me) Need your lovin' here beside me
(To guide me) Keep it close enough to guide me
(Inside of me) From the fears that are inside of me
You're the biggest part of me

(Forever) Got a feelin' that forever
(Together) We are gonna stay together
(Forever) From now until forever
You're the biggest part or me
You're the life that breathes in me
You're the biggest part of me

You changed my life
You made it bright
And I'll be a savior to you
For the rest of my life
Oh, the biggest part of me*

*************************

La fin n'est que le début.