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Little Blue Boxes

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Alesha sat carefully behind Natalie's desk, her eyes roaming the surface and around the office. What, she wondered, could she do to make this incredible woman want to continue after their first date, scheduled for tonight, into a second? Her eyes had spotted the white orchid that always graced Natalie's desk from the first time she had been in this room until now. While it left the obvious answer that Alesha should present her date with an orchid tonight, she wasn't so sure. Perhaps she should change the colour? There was a flower shop on her way home and she would definitely have to stop there and discuss it with the shop keeper.

She continued her investigation and smiled at Natalie's "swear box" that wasn't actually a box. Their flirtation had begun when Alesha had picked it up.

"If you're going to have a swear box," she had asked, "shouldn't it actually be a box?" Alesha had swirled the jar around, demonstrating the lack of boxiness.

Natalie had been pulling a file from the cabinet and turned at the sound, a bright smile lighting her face and Alesha had known then that she wanted to get to know this woman better. "It was a gift from my predecessor," Natalie explained. "You can blame DI Gorman for that mistake."

"Why don't you fix it?"

Natalie took the few steps to bring them closer and closed a hand around Alesha's and the swear box. Her palms were slightly callused and Alesha wondered what had done that. She knew the calluses from penmanship and these were different. Was Natalie a gardener? "I'm waiting to see if any of my highly trained detectives ever notices. It seems you have a better eye than any of them. No one else has ever noticed."

"Does that mean I get a prize?" Her voice had been breathier than she meant, but Natalie had leaned closer to Alesha as she spoke and the proximity was sending waves of heat through her body.

"What did you have in mind?"

Before Alesha could think of anything, there had been a knock and Natalie had moved away, the swear box back in place. Ronnie had appeared with more evidence in their case and it had been back to business as usual. She couldn't help but think about the encounter as time passed and wonder if Natalie had been flirting with her. The wedding ring on her hand said that she was attached and interested in men, but the comments she made about her mysterious husband tended to be in the past tense.

They were at a pub when Alesha found a way to ask. They had all been celebrating their latest guilty verdict—one which put a murderer behind bars from a long time—when the topic of families was brought up. She supposed it was only natural since the man in question had killed his entire family. Ronnie was bemoaning divorce and marriage with George and James while Matt bought the next round.
They had gotten a good laugh out of one of the comments. When she looked to Natalie she noticed that her mirth was tinged with a bit of sadness and she was twirling her ring.

"So where is Mr. Chandler?" she asked, her voice pitched to carry only to Natalie.

Natalie looked up and smiled. "No longer with us." Alesha felt horrible for asking and immediately began to apologize but Natalie waved it off without her saying a word. "It was a long time ago. He had cancer."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be insensitive."

Natalie reached over and patted her arm. "You weren't. He was a good man, the father of my children, and I loved him. I just get a bit sentimental from time to time." She squeezed her hand firmly, smiling wider and stood. "I'll be back in a mo." As she watched Natalie walk to the loo, Alesha mentally berated herself for being so forward.

Surprisingly, Natalie had told her a little more about her late husband in later conversations. There had been funny stories from holiday and everyday life as well as the admission that she mostly wore her ring now because she was afraid to venture back out into the dating world again.

"You've nothing to be afraid of," Alesha assured as they walked toward a nearby cafe for lunch.

"It's just been so long since I thought about dating. I'm almost 60. That's not exactly an ideal time to start looking for a partner."

"Why not? I'd date you," she said, completely forgetting to censor her words.

Natalie stopped, allowing Alesha a few extra paces to wonder when she had lost touch with her senses. What was it about this woman that stole all of her wits and left her a bumbling idiot on the pavement, wondering how badly she would be scolded for her unprofessional remarks? When Natalie didn't say anything, Alesha slowly turned, expecting the worst. Instead of censure, Alesha saw a smirk on Natalie's face, her eyes twinkling.

"I always thought Matt was more to your tastes."

Instead of learning from her gaffe, Alesha automatically replied, "I don't actually go for men."

Natalie nodded to herself, like she was confirming something and began walking again, still not chastising Alesha. "Interesting." As she overtook Alesha, leaving Alesha as the one staring in bewilderment, she turned and raised a questioning eyebrow. "Aren't you coming? I thought you said you were hungry."

Alesha shook herself and hurried to catch up, muttering an affirmative. She fretted about the comment while they ate and tried to contain any further outbursts. She succeeded, mostly by not speaking. It was terribly unsocial and impolite, but Alesha figured that would be better than sticking her foot in her mouth again.

After a particularly long silence during which Alesha has mostly been pushing her food across her plate rather than eating it, Natalie brought it up. "I'm not upset, Alesha. Far from it. I'm flattered at what you said."

Alesha looked up warily, trying to decide if Natalie was being polite and wanting to put it behind them. Natalie reached across and took her hand, her smile genuine. Alesha smiled back and, just like that, they were okay.

Still sitting in Natalie's office, Alesha looked to the old photograph of Natalie and the late Peter Chandler. "Have any thoughts?" she asked, sighing. She opened the drawer to her left, expecting to find it full of case files and other documents. It had those, but there was also hidden treasure—tucked in front of the various files were three Doctor Who books. When Alesha pulled them out, one by one, she found the spines cracked from reading and a couple of pages dog-eared from where Natalie had been reading them.

Smiling, Alesha slowly replaced the books where she had found them. She had what she needed. As she left and made her way between detectives' desks, Matt and Ronnie came in, nattering about some sort of mishap. Matt saw her first and his face split into a wide grin. Alesha reminded herself yet again that she needed to talk to Matt about this. Even if she couldn't get anything to work with Natalie, there would never be anything more than friendship with Matt.

"Looking for us?" he asked and glanced at where she had just come from. "Or were you looking for the gov?"

She shrugged, trying for casual. "I thought I left a file on her desk. Just thought I'd pop in and see if I could find it."

"You didn't have to come all this way," said Ronnie. "All you had to do is give us a ring and we'd have looked."

She shook her head and smiled. "No worries. I was in the building to get some papers from DS Simmons and I thought about it."

"Did you find it?" asked Matt, obviously wanting to be helpful and willing to tear apart Natalie's office to do so.

"Nope. It must have gotten mixed in with some other papers. I'll find it." She asked them about a couple of their ongoing cases to distract them and managed to get away before Natalie returned from whatever errand she had run.

She and James were in hearings for the rest of the afternoon and the time passed quickly with little time for thought of her upcoming date. As she rode the tube back to her flat, though, the rocking of the car gave her a chance to reminisce.

When she saw Natalie a few weeks after outing herself and admitting that she may have feelings for the Detective Inspector, the first thing she noticed was that Natalie was no long wearing her wedding ring. Discrete inquiries revealed that it had been off for nearly a week and that it was unlikely she had forgotten to put it on that morning.

It took some time, but she finally managed to be alone with Natalie. "Is everything okay?" she asked. Natalie's face scrunched as she asked Alesha what she meant. "You're not wearing your ring. I just wondered if you were alright."

Natalie looked down at her bare hand and unconsciously rubbed at it a bit. "Fine. I decided you were right—I should get back out there. I decided I may as well make the leap and see if anyone is interested."

"Yeah? Did you have anyone in mind?"

"I think someone might be interested. I'm hoping they ask me soon." Natalie was looking directly at her, almost as if she was willing Alesha to say something.

"Is he anyone I know?"

"I never said they were male."

Alesha's breath caught in her throat as her mind whirled in an attempt to decode the hidden message in this conversation. Was Natalie really suggesting that Alesha should ask her out? "I didn't think you were attracted to women," she said.

Natalie shrugged one shoulder, her gaze never leaving Alesha. "I think that's why I held on to Peter for so long. If I was still mourning him, then it was okay that I couldn't see myself with another man."

"Are you sure you're not just rushing back into things?"

Natalie chuckled deep in her throat and Alesha's mind conjured images of that sound in a very different setting with just the two of them and far fewer clothes. "I've been thinking about it for a long time, actually. I just finally had a reason to make a decision."

Alesha opened her mouth to question Natalie further, but the words that came out were something else entirely. "Maybe we should talk about it more over dinner?" The words were out now and she didn't want to take them back.

Judging by the triumphant smirk that edged across Natalie's face, they were the right words. "I'd love to."

The tube ground to a halt at Alesha's stop and she made her way out of the car and toward her flat. They had agreed to dinner at a mutually favourite Italian place with plans left open after that. Checking her watch, Alesha calculated she had just enough time to pick up the flowers and present and change before she was supposed to be at Natalie's to make the journey to the restaurant.

An hour and a half later, she was changed into a silky emerald dress that hugged her curves with her hair down and curled around her face. She carried three pink orchids and a small box. Blowing out a nervous breath, she smoothed her dress a final time and knocked on Natalie's door.

It opened almost immediately to a smiling Natalie. She was wearing a black skirt and a loose fitting dark blue top that shimmered as she moved. Her makeup was darker than she normally wore it and her hair had been styled slightly to bring out some of the natural waves. She was beautiful and Alesha wanted to push her against the wall and kiss her until she was breathless. Natalie smiled knowingly and stood back for her to enter.

"I brought you something," she said, sounding a bumbling fool to her own ear.

Natalie touched the orchids with reverence and immediately got a vase to put them in. "What's this?" she asked as Alesha presented her with the other gift.

"Just something I saw."

Natalie looked at her in confusion but opened the box. Her hand covered her mouth in delight when she pulled out the miniature TARDIS that Alesha had found in one of the tourist shops on the way home. "How did you know?" she asked, laughing.

Alesha smiled back a bit shyly. "I may have snooped a bit."

"Looking for a file?" Alesha blushed. It had been a terrible story, really. "I love it," assured Natalie before pulling Alesha closer and placing a chaste kiss on her lips. "Shall we go?" Natalie placed the present on the bar separating her kitchen and dining room and held out her hand for Alesha's.

"Of course. I'm famished." They laughed together and left, hand in hand.

FIN