Things always seem to change in the afternoon.
Kalinda hears a key in the door and for a moment her heart skips; she thinks no and Nick by rote, that ingrained reflex convincing her he’s back from—no, not back. She settles, though the piece tucked in under her waistband feels like a weight again.
The key, in fact, is Lana’s, and it’s the first key that Kalinda Sharma has given anyone. She’s been given keys by others, of course: Donna and Cary were sweetly misguided and gave them up like she was doing them a favour, while Will’s has outlived the keys to every other lock she’s ever used (when he slid it across the table she said what’s this and he grinned and then he said move in with me and don’t steal my TV and I’m trying to give being a regular person a go and she kind of wishes now that she’d said something more than let me know how that works out).
But that’s not important. What’s important is that Lana’s key scrapes in the lock and when she walks inside her anger seems to swallow everything.
Kalinda looks up from her computer. “What’s wrong?”
“We should go away for the weekend,” Lana says, and it’s abrupt and hard and Kalinda doesn’t get it (or, she does: it’s something bad, something that Lana’s clenched hard between her teeth. Kalinda wants to say: stop biting down. She wants to say: we can talk about it, but Lana is burning like a forest fire she's not sure platitudes can put out).
“Okay,” she says instead, and tries to make it curious rather than calculated.
It doesn’t work, because Lana has figured out when Kalinda’s trying to bury her intentions, but she doesn’t do anything more than run her tongue over her bottom lip and reply with “Great, do you need to call the firm? I have a bag in the car.”
“I can do it on the way.”
Lana nods, and Kalinda sees her jaw harden with an edge of steel.
1. The State’s Attorney’s office is a beehive. Kalinda likes that; somewhat faceless drones who don’t particularly care who she is as long as she gets the information they need. It's a place that carries a certain kind of anonymity that makes her feel a little more secure.
While she’s idly listening to Peter’s baritone charming yet another consultant in a skirt that doesn’t cover her knees, a woman turns up in front of her and leans an elbow on the lip of her cubicle. “Hi.”
Kalinda doesn’t reply, just waits.
“I was told you’re the investigator. Kalinda Sharma, right?”
The name still feels a little like someone else’s, but she’s learning to shake it off. She smiles.
“And why do the feds want to know that?” she asks.
The woman raises a delicate eyebrow.
“Federal agents always waltz in here like they just got given keys to the building,” Kalinda says.
Honestly, they’d also told her that someone from the FBI was probably going to drop by to ask her about the Pierce homicide, but this woman doesn’t need to know that.
“So, what do you want?”
The woman smiles quickly, sliding a hand down the open flap of her suit jacket like she’s settling herself. Then she looks Kalinda right in the eye and something about her tone of voice is sharp and warm in a way it wasn’t before, and it makes Kalinda’s eyes drop to her mouth. “The Pierce homicide. We’re looking to link it to a drug ring operating out of Morgan Park, and I was told you would be able to help me do that.”
“Mmm,” Kalinda says, and changes the cross of her legs under the table. The agent, eyes focused as a hawk’s, looks down. Kalinda bites her lip to stop a grin and leans back in her chair. “Well. I’m sure you’re… aware that I wouldn’t be helping you for free.”
The fed rolls her eyes. “Ah, the age-old inter-agency back scratch.”
“That’s the one.”
Kalinda makes no effort to say anything else, just brings up a file on her computer and waits for the agent to get uncomfortable. Then she clicks print and stands, striding off through the labyrinth of cubicles and wondering if the woman will take it as an invitation to follow her.
After a moment, she does. Kalinda smiles at the sound of her footsteps: heels, she should have guessed.
In the copy room, the piece of paper waits in the printer tray and she swipes it up as the agent comes in the door.
Kalinda shuts it behind her.
“So,” Kalinda says, and the woman crosses her arms over her chest – subtly protective, and it makes her smile.
“Ray Pierce. Twenty-five year old African-American male, found floating in the Columbia Basin three weeks ago. Cops didn’t connect it to Morgan Park because he wasn’t found in the area and it didn’t look like one of their executions. But Pierce was a cab driver, and…” she holds out the paper, and the agent takes it.
“How did you get this?”
“I’m good at making friends,” Kalinda says, and the fed gets the hint. She pulls out a card and a pen and rests it in her free hand to scribble down a number.
“Lana,” she says, sweet and prickly. “Delaney.”
Kalinda takes the card from her outstretched fingers and slides it into her bra. The corner of it will nettle at her for the rest of the day. “Thanks.”
Lana seems to watch the place where Kalinda’s jacket meets her skin in a total stupor before she realizes what she’s doing.
“Right. Well. Give me a call if you need something.”
Kalinda brushes past her, deliberately too close on her way to the door. “I will.”
Lana drives with her knuckles white around the wheel and the hood of the convertible up. The stereo hums but doesn’t sing, metallic and fuzzy at the edges, and everything is so stifled that it feels like even breathing is a bad idea.
Rain sets in. The atmosphere is thick like leavened bread.
They drive for four hours without stopping.
Finally, after potholed roads and blood on the inside of Kalinda’s cheek where she bites to keep from asking where they’re going, they pull up outside a cottage off one of Lake Michigan’s secluded bays, and Lana kills the engine.
It’s rustic and plain and doesn’t suit Lana at all, who is still wearing the same button-down from this morning and who also just parked a Jaguar in the driveway.
“It’s my sister’s summer house,” Lana says by way of explanation.
“Too bad it’s not summer,” Kalinda replies, and she thinks she sees half a smile twitch in the corner of Lana’s mouth.
6. She gets fired. Peter looks at her with a carefully-conjured mask of disappointment (it’s hiding his relief; he has looked at Kalinda since day one like a bomb he’s not sure he’s defused) and tells her he doesn’t want to do this, but he has to value loyalty.
“Over what?” Kalinda asks.
He doesn’t answer, and she feels like laughing.
Inside, Lana stands with her hands on the counter in the gathering dark and Kalinda wonders how much longer they can go without having a proper conversation.
“So what does your sister do?” she tries, looking around the house with its mismatched furniture and strange abundance of fringed lamps – the level indifference to pattern and cohesion. Lana stares at her.
“She’s a massage therapist. I got fired today.”
It takes Kalinda a second to catch up, and the smirk that started on her face quickly dies when she realizes what Lana just said.
Straightening, Lana walks toward Kalinda until they’re only a few steps apart. Kalinda feels a wall near her back.
“I got called into my boss’s office today and he told me that someone leaked the Bishop wiretap.” Lana says. “And since I was the last person who accessed the tape, I got the blame.”
She steps closer, and for once Kalinda feels every inch of their height difference.
“I did that for you, Kalinda.”
“So is that why you brought me out here?”
Lana watches her for a moment, and Kalinda can see the muscles working in her jaw. “I brought you out here because I didn’t want you to… tell me you were going to handle this and then disappear on me.”
Kalinda’s shoulder blades find the wall behind her in a weird kind of defeat. “Lana. I told you I was taking this seriously.”
For a moment, she can’t read Lana at all. Then her eyebrow rises by a fraction. “Kalinda. I know you.”
She’s right, as much as Kalinda doesn’t want her to be. Lana is the same kind of creature: part shadow, all teeth, and she knows Kalinda’s moves because they’re no different than her own.
“So… you think that my loyalties are… elsewhere.”
“Precedent,” Lana says, then looks at her feet.
“Do you want me to prove that they’re not?”
Lana pulls her bottom lip between her teeth and Kalinda’s close enough to see it’s wet when she releases it. Then she steps impossibly forward, and her hands find Kalinda’s hips and she’s kissing Kalinda with the kind of haste that makes it seem like she’s running from something.
When Kalinda kisses back with a stroke of tongue across Lana’s open mouth, she hears the noise she makes at the back of her throat, some half-growl that surges out of her fingers and turns them to claws against her skin.
She slides her hands under Lana’s shirt, but Lana grabs one of Kalinda’s wrists and guides it lower, hitching her skirt up around her hips. Kalinda feels her thighs shudder as her fingers brush them, and it makes her smile against Lana’s mouth. She likes to play the lion; Lana likes being the instigator and crowding in, prodding until there’s something to push back against. But she still shakes like a lamb, her kisses always lack teeth. Her thighs still shudder against Kalinda’s hand and she gasps sweetly when her fingers press in and stroke.
Leaning back so Lana’s weight is settled slightly over her – all height; all long limbs and ribs and fluttering heart – Kalinda listens to the growing urgency she can feel in Lana’s body, the way it sings against her and shifts in sighs; the threaded, bailed-up breaths across the angle of her cheekbones. Lana moans when Kalinda sinks her fingers to the knuckle.
Her hand cups Kalinda’s jaw, and she brings their mouths back together to suck marks into the skin of her bottom lip, and Kalinda can feel the crease of a frown between her brows. She thrusts hard, and wonders how long ago it was that Lana decided she needed this.
“Kalinda,” is all she says in a gasp of breath, her hips erratic against Kalinda’s hand, and then she breaks like surf, like war; finger-claws hard around the bones in her shoulders.
For a moment, neither of them move. Lana’s thumb rides up her neck and strokes across her cheek, and the world reduces. Lana’s thumb strokes and nothing else exists, and it pulls on something deep in Kalinda’s chest. The end of her nose presses into the curve of Kalinda’s own, gentle and nudging. Kalinda tilts her head and meets Lana’s mouth in fractions, a kind of not-kiss that draws Lana’s fingers down the line of her jaw, draws her fingers around this tiny universe. The moment feels as spindling and delicate as spider webs.
Kalinda thinks: run. She thinks: stop. She thinks: rule me.
Then Lana steps back and they seem to turn back into themselves - humans again, not those quietly breathing animals with a world between their mouths. Kalinda wipes her hand on her skirt.
Lana shakes her head. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” she says, because something about Lana’s apology makes her feel guilty. “You’re right.”
She looks confused.
“I would have disappeared.”
Running a hand through her hair, Lana looks out one of the wide windows into the twilight that’s fallen. “It was always going to come to this, wasn’t it? With Bishop. It was always going to end up going to hell.”
Lana doesn’t look encouraged by that thought. But then, it’s different for her. Lana is used to security, she’s used to the weight of the FBI behind everything she does; Kalinda already knows what it’s like to be hunted. She’s used to hiding from people who are out for blood.
“It’s late,” Lana says. “I need to shower.”
3. “We should have dinner,” she says, and it’s about the least collected thing Kalinda’s ever heard out of Lana’s mouth in the short time they’ve known each other.
“You mean like a date?”
“No,” she says, and it’s a second too quick, “I mean, you asked me for something and I think we should have dinner.”
“So you just wanna use me, then.”
Lana snorts – really, that’s the noise she makes, though Kalinda imagines it’s because she’s caught herself off-guard on the dinner question.
“Okay,” she says in answer, and Lana narrows her eyes. “I’m serious. We’ll have dinner.”
“You don’t mind being used?”
Not by you, she thinks.
The shower runs for fifteen minutes and Kalinda sits on the edge of a quilt-heavy bed and doesn’t entirely know what to do.
She thinks about calling Cary.
She thinks about calling Alicia.
She thinks about taking Lana’s car and driving to Bishop’s house and breaking down his door with a sharpened axe to ask: how much longer is this going to go on?
Instead, she turns off her phone and buries it in the bottom of her bag, then lies down on the bed and wonders when Lana turned into the person she would muster an army for.
She supposes it happened the way they seemed to happen: in fits then all at once. She was eddying around Lana, and then she wasn’t. Lana stayed on the peripheral, and then she was everything.
It had felt different, seeing her again. Lana had felt different – she hadn’t wanted the game, she’d wanted to say my mother was disappointed, then she died and ask how she grew up.
Of course, it hasn’t occurred to Lana that Kalinda never grew she was built – from hardened scales and ashy smoke and running as fast as she could. (At one point Alicia said: god, it’s so hard to imagine you as young as my kids. Baby Kalinda—they’d laughed around the mouths of their beer bottles and Kalinda said honestly I don’t remember either. One of those ironic moments of truth. She wonders if Alicia ever thinks about that moment, and then doesn’t want to know the answer.)
She still feels guilty about that night, though. Lana’s mother died – she didn’t say when – and Kalinda didn’t know how to reply. She wonders if anyone ever told Lana's mother how proud she should be of the clever wolf her daughter has become. Probably not.
It makes her want a drink.
It also makes her walk into the bathroom and get in the shower and when she kisses Lana she feels something on the inside of her chest open like a wound.
7. Lana’s eyes shine with something shrewd and for a minute Kalinda thinks that she’s taking this dinner thing too seriously. Her thigh muscles tighten with oddly feral instinct until Lana laughs and asks her about her coup.
“Your little rebellion from the SA’s office – joining Stern Lockhart and Gardner? Didn’t think defence attorneys were your style, Kalinda.”
Kalinda shrugs. “I wanted to try something new.”
“Well, trying to keep killers out of jail is definitely that.”
Kalinda looks at her a moment. Lana smiles over the lip of her wine glass.
“Everyone keeps doing that,” Kalinda says.
“Implying that all I’m doing is helping people who are guilty.”
“Most of them are guilty.”
Lana is enjoying this, she realizes, Lana thinks this really is a rebellion and it has something to do with her. Lana would think that, because she’d like it if she’d gotten underneath Kalinda’s skin. Kalinda doesn’t particularly want to give her that satisfaction.
“You know, you are kind of the reason I got fired.”
The wine glass lands back on the table with barely a tremor, but Kalinda can immediately tell that Lana’s been rehearsing for this moment.
“Kalinda, if you’re looking for an apology…”
“I’m not,” she says, stopping it in its tracks. “I like this job.”
And she does, really. Kalinda has felt a little less on the right side of the law since she stepped into this skin, and while beehives are nice kindred spirits are nicer. (Will Gardner will get a drink with her in three weeks and she’ll smile the way Leela used to, wide and laughing. She will feel, for once, like she has a friend.)
Lana looks at her strangely, in a way Kalinda can’t quite place.
“They’re lucky to have you,” she says, and something in Kalinda falters.
At three in the morning she watches Lana’s breaths gather between her shoulder blades as she sleeps, shadows darkening in the hollows around her spine, and she wants to press her mouth to the back of her neck.
It’s strange: Lana, for a while, was the outline of bite marks and the ugly mottled brown of bruises. Kalinda, mired in someone else, watched from far away as Lana kissed the inside of her thigh and felt nothing.
Nick lurked in the corners of her eyes. He coated the inside of her mouth like dirt and made her feel like spitting.
She remembers that swelling feeling in her chest after leaving Lana standing in the courthouse hallway, the feeling that couldn’t quite reach her eyes or the deadened fog in her head.
Kalinda Sharma has never been very good at apologies – not the kind that mean something, that are more than something thrown over her shoulder on her way out the door – but she thinks about this: Lana has come back. Lana has demanded and relented and smiled at her with sharp white grins and turned up to worship with mouth and hands and heartbeats. Lana has stayed.
She thinks, probably, that Lana deserves the kind of apology she’s not very good at giving.
4. Lana calls her on Valentine’s Day and Kalinda can hear her smirk over the phone.
“Not interrupting a hot date, am I?”
“Was there something about me that made you think I don’t celebrate holidays, Special Agent Delaney?”
There’s a laugh. “I was hoping to see you.”
“Can’t find a hot date of your own?” she asks, enjoying the way her questions feel as they ruck up against the static breathing she can hear on the other end of the line.
“No one who knows enough about the Addison bribery case from last month to satisfy me,” Lana replies in a voice that travels right down the back of Kalinda’s neck. “Can we meet at eight?”
5. It’s not a restaurant, like Kalinda expects. In fact when she turns up outside the address Lana gives, she thinks maybe she made a mistake until she sees Lana get out of her car across the street.
On the badly lit pavement, in a coat that billows around her knees, Lana fits the term Special Agent like a glove, one weaponized femme fatale waiting for another. Leela used to like those movies, once upon a time. Kalinda Sharma would rather live them.
“I lied to get you here,” is the first thing Lana says, and the second is: “I need your help with something.”
“You’re cutting right to the chase tonight.”
“This is important. We’ll pay you.”
Kalinda’s gotten used to mornings. It used to make her uncomfortable to wake up with someone else, but Lana has always walked a gentle line between domestic and oddly professional that makes Kalinda want to laugh, and she drinks her coffee bitter and dark in deep mugs that stay warm for hours. Lana has never wanted them to share a newspaper or wonder about the price of curtains, Lana has just wanted them to be those long gasping shapes in the dark and to not come home every day to a house that feels empty. (Again, she thinks: similar creatures.)
Is that what love is? People put so much stock in compatibility – being morning people, finding the same brand of French press on the counter, spartan refrigerators – and it’s something that has always tasted vanilla to her, seemed so far away and kitsch that she never associated it with herself.
Will talked about it once, in a dark bar with his hand around a beer, and she had thought: neither of us can do that. But now she’s sitting in a house that is every embodiment of the word quaint, and Lana is in the kitchen with the smell of black coffee and toast, and the thought of it doesn’t scare her the way it used to. She’s not certain the way she was three years ago, glass sweating on the wood and her knees bumping Will’s under the bar. His voice says: you’re getting soft, K.
She stretches to shake it off – he’s still gripping hard around her heart sometimes, fingers sticky with blood, and she wonders when he'll let go. (It’s too bad he still gives good advice.)
(6. Fired. It still makes her laugh.)
Lana chews absently on her toast while thumbing through a magazine, bent leisurely over the counter, and looks up when Kalinda walks in.
“Did you know that switching to LED lights can really impact your business and resonate with your client base?” she asks, voice thick with peanut butter.
“Really. And what client base is that?”
Lana holds up the magazine and Kalinda sees the word massage in loopy cursive. She grins, then sits down at the counter opposite Lana, slyly pilfering her half-full coffee cup and drinking from it herself.
Lana does nothing but smile and get a new cup before continuing, Kalinda presumes, to read up on the effects of LED lighting on massage client bases.
For a moment she’s quiet, soaking up the moment – rhythmic insect noises and the chill of the air coming through the open kitchen window, the ceramic plunk of Lana’s cup on the counter, her own comfortable and settled skin. Then she frowns.
She says it with a mouthful of thorns, chokes them down. She supposes apologies like this should taste like blood, really.
Lana looks up, her eyes flicking to the coffee cup in confusion, but Kalinda shakes her head, licks her teeth.
“I didn’t… mean to make it hard for you to trust me; it’s just not in my nature to let people in.” She can feel her heartbeat loudly in the hollow beneath her ear. “But it wasn’t fair to you. So, I’m sorry.”
Unnerved, Lana makes her way around the counter to stand in front of her. “I just don’t want to lose you.”
The words bite the way fire does, and Kalinda looks at Lana’s mouth. “Then you won’t.”
“Is that a promise you can make?”
It shouldn’t be. She shouldn’t want to. There’s nothing safe about agreeing to something like that, there’s no way to back out without getting hurt; there’s no ambiguity left for her to hide in. “Yes.”
Lana looks surprised, then guardedly delighted. “Then… okay.”
8. “So I hear you’re heading a taskforce now.”
Lana nods, and can’t quite keep the pride out of her voice. “Counterterrorism surveillance.”
“Sounds important,” Kalinda says, already knowing the answer – not to mention the exact nature of the surveillance itself.
“It is, and I’m guessing that’s why you’re here?”
“Hey big-leagues I think I’m owed one or two favours at this point,” she replies, and jabs a finger into the soft spot above Lana’s elbow.
“You’re going to hold that over me for as long as you can, aren’t you?”
Kalinda nods, amused, and hands over a file. Lana lingers at least three seconds too long, gaze on Kalinda’s mouth, then she opens the folder with an exaggerated sigh.
Kalinda smiles, leaning in a fraction too far. “You could always ask me to dinner.”
They stand on the edge of the lake and she watches Lana take her hair out of its bun with some kind of private reverence, one of her feet resting only on her toes. Then she takes off her shirt and struggles out of her jeans and smiles at Kalinda over her shoulder.
She breaks the surface of the water like a warship, and disappears under the surface. When she comes back up she turns to face Kalinda and raises an eyebrow.
“Are you coming in?”
It’s far too late in the year for swimming, really, the wind is bitter and the water is breathlessly cold, hinting at snow up in the mountains. But Lana, with her FBI training and irritating penchant for taking things in stride, hasn’t seemed to notice. Her skin is stark against the murky colour of the lake, and she floats like she was born there.
“Are you trying to prove something?” Kalinda asks, thigh-deep. Lana swims up to her, tugging on her hand until they’re out to where the water licks around her shoulders.
When she reaches out and feels for Lana’s hip it’s cold and slippery, seal-skin, and Lana smiles at her with a hint of teeth. She wraps herself – all goosebumps and soft limbs – around Kalinda and puts her mouth to her ear.
“What’s wrong, Kalinda? Feeling a little out of your depth?”
Kalinda rolls her eyes and plants her feet in the silt and sand and rock, the hand on Lana’s back slipping well below the line of her underwear. “You’re funny.”
“Yeah,” Lana says, a little flustered, her grin tilting into Kalinda’s cheek. Her hand slides lower and Lana rocks into her stomach, breath harsh in her throat. “Isn’t that why you like me?”
Kalinda lets her teeth graze against Lana’s jaw, and hums. “Mmm.”
2. She sees Lana again, but it’s only quickly, like a shower of rain. The straight lines of her blazer, backseam stockings, and then the slide of a folder into someone’s hand. And that’s it. She smiles, though, when she sees Kalinda, like they’re friends. Kalinda pretends not to smile back.
At the end of the day they lie next to each other in bed and Kalinda watches a spider make its careful, rangy way up the wall and listens to the sound of her own breathing.
Lana, tracing the edge of a fingernail with the pad of her thumb, picks up a conversation to dust away the silence.
“I had a roommate in college who was an artist – or, she wanted to be, at some point. She did portraits in her spare time and I remember when she drew me into one of them it was with a beak and wings and I was... drinking the ocean.”
There’s a long pause in which Kalinda wonders if she’s supposed to have a response to this odd memory.
“I used to think that’s how you saw me. Like some surrealist painting you liked looking at but didn’t understand. That's why you kept pushing me away."
Lana shifts, stretches out on her stomach and clusters a pillow up under her head. She waits, entirely aware that Kalinda has nowhere to go, and Kalinda swallows. It feels like it takes years, and the spit sticks at the back of her throat.
"It wasn't about you."
Lana huffs out an entirely mirthless laugh. "Yeah, I know."
There's a crack in the ceiling. Kalinda wonders if she watches it for long enough, it’ll grow.
"I don't have parents,” she says after a moment.
Kalinda takes a breath, knowing it’s a little late to take back that confession.
"Kalinda Sharma is not… my real name. She didn't exist before 2004, so she... doesn't have parents, technically."
Lana props herself up on her elbows and frowns.
"What?" Kalinda asks.
"Sorry, it's just – things make a lot more sense now."
"Well, we... I looked into your background when your IRS… issue surfaced and there was something about it that felt weird. Now I know why."
Kalinda wonders if she should be offended by that. But Lana’s still got a faint frown between her eyes that’s stupidly endearing, and she can hear all the golden clockwork ticking in her head, and it makes her want to smile instead.
“So how do you feel now, having learned all my secrets?”
Lana looks at her, then leans over and kisses the knot of bone in her shoulder before resting her chin on the feeling her lips have left. Their hands find each other against the sheets.
They end up staying quiet for so long the sky turns from grey to ink-blacks.
"Maybe we should just leave, Kalinda."
For a moment the idea hangs in the air, absurd, but then Kalinda starts to wonder if Lana might be right. Chicago has dragged her down for years. Chicago is a place of death and cracks that can’t seem to be patched up. She shrugs her free shoulder. “We could.”
Lana shifts her cheek against Kalinda’s collarbone. “How do you feel about Germany?”
Kalinda laughs. The where of it is an afterthought, just like it was last time. And just like last time, she’s going to leave in fire, but this time it’s Bishop who needs to burn.
She wants his kingdom in ashes.
Strangely comforted by the thought, Kalinda presses her lips to the bridge of Lana’s nose and feels it scrunch.
Lana leans up and in and kisses her with a hand cradled around her jaw, and she doesn’t think stop, she doesn’t think run, she just thinks—
(A note on afterthoughts: the where is unimportant for the simple reason that it’s Lana, now, who feels like home.)