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Expected Returns

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The white pitbull was stretched in front of the fire, and she took no note of Maura and Jane, as if their presence two nights before had established them as familiar guests. There was actually very little about the room that seemed familiar to Maura. Their past meeting in it had been a whirlwind of sorts, and her focus had not been on the things surrounding them. Alex and Patrice had a warm home that was not quite pristine but orderly to an almost obsessive degree. It was easy to see whose touches were where. But Maura felt welcome. Jane...she wasn't sure.

The brunette shifted on the sofa beside her as if she couldn't get comfortable, and Maura put a reassuring hand on her thigh.

”I don't know, Maura, it's just not normal...”

“Not relative to your experience or mine, I suppose, but culturally...”

The words hung in Maura's mind still. It had been the beginning of a long and halting conversation after the silent walk to the hotel. The silence, Maura remembered, had been contemplative rather than unpleasant. She could imagine Jane trying to sort out why she had enjoyed the parts she had very much enjoyed. And now, at Alex's invitation, they were back. And in the moments where Alex had gone to open a bottle of wine and Patrice had excused herself after a short look that Maura could not read half as well as the two blondes.

”...and they want us to come over tomorrow night.”

“We'll be back in Boston tomorrow night.” Jane's response had been automatic. Maura hadn't needed to be looking at her to know that she wasn't letting herself consider the possibilities. Even now Jane was not fully opening up, not yet.

”We don't have to be...”

There must have been something her tone, in the look in her eyes that made Jane hesitate. Maura had seen it playing across her face. But they were there now, and Jane had finally become still.

Jane was about to speak--maybe just to impulsively break the silence--when she saw Patrice step back into the room.  She hadn't changed but seemed softer somehow than when she'd greeted them and took their coats at the door.  Jane's eyes followed her easy movements, and she found her presence almost calming--though her stomach was fluttering, churning.  She couldn't pretend they were there just for a few friendly drinks, couldn't even convince herself of that much, and her own decision to come that night nearly startled her.  

After a polite nod to Maura, Patrice moved to stand in front of Jane, smiling warmly.  She held out her hand, "Alex suggested we take a moment while she pours the wine."  Her hand hung there a long moment before Jane could stop herself from gaping long enough to take it.

A soft smile came to Maura's face.  For a tense moment, she thought Jane would refuse, thought she would balk and retrace her steps if the memories of their first night together threatened to overwhelm her.  For her wild hair and careless dress, for her temper and sometimes her indifference, Jane was the most complicated woman Maura had ever come to know, had ever become close to.  And sometimes she found herself holding her breath because she could not always anticipate what Jane would decide.  

She realized that she had been right to count on Jane's fascination with Patrice, but Maura did not realize that her curiosity was also a pull.  She admired the two women together as Alex entered the room, and she stood when she was offered a glass. "Thank you.  I'm so glad you caught us before we left the City."

There was a glint in Alex’s eyes, something cold, perhaps amused.  She and Patrice were both women who knew power and wore it well, but Alex always seemed to make a point to subtly show it. “I’m glad you could change your plans.” She looked pointedly at Jane as Patrice led her out, Maura following the gaze.  Their receding backs made a pretty picture even if they could have been any two women.  It was so simple--light and dark, sure and strong but hesitating.  Maura felt herself already warming to the situation as she turned back to Alex.  She touched the blonde’s arm with a fondness that spoke of a thread of newly found kinship. “I’m looking forward to tonight, Alex.”

*****
The bedroom was quiet and warm, and Jane stood awkwardly as Patrice released her to close the door.  As much as she tried to ignore it, she was sweating, mind thinking of the many things Patrice might be intending.  As alluring as the other woman was, as good as she had felt against her two nights ago, she hoped Patrice didn’t expect too much just then--Jane wasn’t sure she wanted that without Maura.  

Jane was lost in her thoughts, so much so that she barely noticed Patrice looking her over as if assessing what to do next.  She jumped when the blond began to work open the buttons of her wrinkled shirt, and moved to still her hands.

“Wait, I don’t know.”

Immediately, Patrice stopped but slipped a finger under Jane’s chin, forcing her to meet her eyes, head tilted quietly,

“About what Jane?”  Though Patrice was still smiling, the playful edge of their last night together was softened, replaced with a more practiced air.

“I just...I want Maura to be here for...this..”  Jane tried to ignore how her low voice trailed up at the end of the plea.

Patrice chuckled quietly then, and freed her hands enough to continue with her pursuit,  “Jane, I don’t plan on doing much than making you a little more...appropriate...for the evening.”  The shirt fell away, and Jane didn’t stop it.  “And if I’d wanted to do more, I doubt either Alex or Maura would approve.”  

Jane let out a breath, and half-heartedly tried to cover herself when the rest of her clothes followed her shirt.  Patrice was methodical and kissed Jane’s blushing cheek before stepping away to the large closet, already tugging at her own clothes.  When she returned, she was wearing one of her favorite lace and satin pieces, and Jane returned to gaping- enough that she barely noticed that Patrice also held a simple black slip, one of Alex’s.  “Arms up.”  Patrice said simply, as if preparing to dress a recalcitrant child.

“What?  Oh I don’t...”  But Jane didn’t finish the protest before Patrice was able to slide the fabric over he head.  It swished softly as it settled on Jane’s angular frame.  

“Yes, that’s better,” Patrice smiled to herself.  Jane looked transformed, surprisingly captivating in something so feminine.  “Sit down,”  Patrice nodded to the chair in front of the vanity.  

Jane sat dumbly, and only when Patrice set them on the polished surface next to her, did she realize what else Patrice had brought back with her--soft black leather collars--two of them.  The sight made Jane shiver, and she was more than a little surprised not to be able to look away before Patrice caught her,

“You’ve never, have you?”

“No, I not like this, no.”  Jane answered maybe a bit too quickly.  She was blushing again.  “Except for the other night I guess.”  

“It’s alright.”  While Jane stared, Patrice reached for a small bottle of cream that smelled like lavender and mint, and something else Jane couldn’t quite make out.  The blond began to work her fingers through Jane’s wild hair.  Jane watched Patrice’s calm expression in the mirror,

“Can I ask you something?”  

“Yes of course,” Patrice met her eyes in the reflection.  Jane’s hair was smoother now--tamed by the attention, and Patrice began to comb out the tangles gently.  

Jane took a breath. “Why do you wear...?  I mean why do you let her...?”  It was clear it was a choice, Patrice was a strong woman, but Jane had been asking herself so many questions since the last time they’d met that she needed a basic answer.  It wasn’t as if Jane didn’t understand such ideas in theory- she’d just never met anyone with these interests, let alone thought of herself as interested in them as well.

Patrice’s smile returned, though she resisted the urge to laugh quietly.  Jane deserved the most truthful of answers for her curiosity.  For a moment, Patrice searched for where to start,

“Its more a matter of ‘why does she let me’ really.  Alex and I...well, we both take on a lot--something I’m sure you know as well or better than we do.”  Finished with Jane’s hair, Patrice’s fingers worked down her neck, quietly soothing what she could tell were aching muscles, smiling when she saw Jane start to relax, “It’s about trust, yes, and about pleasure of course, but it’s also something more.  It’s the luxury to not think further than the moment, if that makes sense.”  In the mirror, Jane nodded slightly, still considering.

Against the silence Patrice continued, “I love her, and I know at the end of the night we’ll be together, and that’s what matters.  What she asks might be difficult, frustrating, and yes painful sometimes.  But for however long it lasts, nothing else matters.  There’s no chance to worry about the office, a bad case, or when the mortgage is due.”  Patrice did laugh then, and saw Jane smile for the first time since they’d been alone.  “And of course, if it’s all too much, or I need something else, it can all end with a simple word.”  

“But, with other people?  I mean, like with us.  Doesn’t that get...complicated?”  Jane supposed she could ask herself the same thing, but as far as she had gotten she and Maura were just visitors.

Patrice thoughtfully rubbed her thumb across the back of Jane’s neck while she spoke.  “Oh, well, it makes us closer I think.”  She could tell Jane wasn’t sold, “See, its not about wishing we had something else--really its confidence that we already have everything we really need.”  

Jane paused, working through the statement, nodding then, Patrice’s easy speech illuminating a few things, even as it left her with many more questions.  But the hands running over her skin were soothing.  “I just...”  Jane’s eyes darkened, “I’m not sure I really understand, but...I enjoyed last time, even if I don’t really know how I feel about that yet.”  Her blush was back, realizing how it sounded, “er...no offense.”

“None taken.” Patrice stilled and smiled at the admission, fingers wrapping around Jane’s slender shoulders, squeezing them before stepping back,

“And I know.”  Patrice reached over and picked up the collars from the dresser, offering her hand again to Jane, “And you don’t have to know what to do for the rest of the night- it’s no longer your concern.”

*****

“You and Jane haven’t done this before.”  Alex took Maura’s hand and led her to the sofa, where they both sat casually, as if neither knew what might be happening in the other room.  Maura could made an educated guess, but Alex probably knew better.  She found herself wondering how Jane was conducting herself, and she felt both concern and a sense of longing.

“Not before the night before last,” Maura replied after taking a long sip of the wine. “Not this way, this formally, for us.”  She was well aware that there were layers of formality beyond that, layers she knew she and Jane probably would not ever reach.  But that didn’t bother her. “I suppose the dynamics of the relationship lend themselves to such exploration.

Alex merely nodded thoughtfully, and Maura knew that both she and Patrice had to have seen that. “I wasn’t sure you would come back, but Patrice was.”  There was a wistful on Alex’s face for a moment as she crossed her legs and leaned back.  The elegant white dog stirred to look up at them, but it seemed that she sensed she wasn’t needed. Maura watched as the animal lowered her head to close her eyes in sleep again.

“The two of you are very practiced.  You know each other well.”  It was a remark that was neither pointed nor casual, and Alex seemed amused that Maura made observation without compliment.

“The first time Patrice and I met it was for work, and it was...”  She shook her head as a soundless laugh escaped her lips. “It was a disaster.  We could have been a disaster.  But we found that we needed similar ways to deal with our problems.”

Maura cocked her head. “The dominant and submissive dynamics with sadomasochistic elements.  Many professional people find respite in the Scene or less formally in scenes themselves.”

“You’re very blunt, aren’t you?” Before Maura could respond Alex waved her off. “We go to a club...somewhere I had been going since long before Patrice.  We had this, but I didn’t realize we would have a life together...not like this.”

“Jane doesn’t like to lose control,” Maura said after a thoughtful silence.  Neither did she, until the moment was right.

“Sometimes those who don’t are the ones who need it most.”  Alex spoke quietly, and Maura knew there was so much more history than what she had been told.  The blonde spoke as one who knew that much and more all too well.

Maura took her words and let them fill the silence as she thought of her own history with Jane.  Nothing worth having was easy, she had been told.  She had been slowly coming to understand that with Jane, and now, she saw Patrice and Jane returning to the room.  Her breath caught.  Patrice was beautiful, her curves perfect for showcasing the lingerie she was wearing.  But Jane…Maura's eyes fell on Jane, and her throat felt tight.  The transformation was so simple but so complete that even though Jane looked unsure, she looked perfect. Beside her, Maura realized Alex was smiling as she crooked her finger for the two women to approach.

What small bit of ease Patrice had been able to instill in Jane all but vanished when she felt the the other women's attentions shift to her.  She glanced at Maura, trying to read her approval.  She wasn't unaware that she was attractive- but had never felt the need to display it so openly, preferring instead simple attire, or simply nothing at all.  Beside her, Patrice was sinking to the floor in front of Alex, tugging her down as well.

The grace with which Patrice moved was almost mesmerizing, but Maura's eyes fell on Jane.  She moved with utility, Maura realized.  Even in her barely concealed agitation, she chose to move simply and with efficiency.  Maura appreciated that.  She could see Alex watching too, comparing, noting the differences.  Alex would see it too, but she might not take it into account the way Maura had.  She watched as the blonde reached out and stroked Patrice's hair gently. "Good.  Thank you, Patrice."

Alex’s fingertips fell on the collar, stroking the leather for a mere moment, and that was when Maura saw the leather in Patrice’s hand.  She leaned forward thoughtfully, cocking her head at Jane but addressing both women.

“What’s this?”

Patrice reached across Jane to offer the collar to Maura--it wasn't one that they had used in a long time, an extra from the club.  Beside her, Patrice felt Jane stiffen, but she was almost sure she wouldn't shy away.  "I believe the choice is yours."