The CNN newsfeed was chaotically trying to cover a factory fire over at Bedford Park, but the close proximity of Midway airport was hindering the news chopper from getting close to the scene of the drama. Not that Lana was interested in the story anyway; her attention was solely centred on the time displayed at the top left of the screen. It was just after ten-thirty – and there was still no sign of Kalinda.
Maybe her ultimatum this morning had been a mistake, but Cary’s blatant outing of her to her superior, Special Agent Harper, had pissed her off. The man’s life was being threatened, and all he seemed concerned about was the fact that they were both sleeping with the same woman. What was it about the male psyche that presumed ownership over a woman? She didn’t want or require ownership of Kalinda; she wanted an equal and honest partnership. She fervently hoped that she’d made that significant difference clear this morning, but as the minutes of the day painfully dissolved into hours of the night, doubts were dismantling the remembered scene from her mindscape. How had she phrased it earlier?
“If this is just nothing to you, then don’t come by here tonight, okay?”
Were recent events just nothing to Kalinda, though? Were they really something momentous, or just part of the usual never-ending, never-changing charade of her life; a life seemingly dedicated to an eternal game of using sexual wiles to deceive and coerce others into giving her what she wanted, be that information or just a physical release? After the events of the last few days, Lana found that hard to believe. Kalinda had bared herself, not just physically – for that had never been difficult – but in a way that went intimately beyond. Kalinda had an identifiable persona that she wore to hide the real person underneath – the boots, the skirts, the hair, the makeup, were all a part of this protective armour – and, for the first time, Kalinda had divested herself of all of them. Lana had seen her lover with her hair down and with little makeup, had seen the comfortable contentment that the transformation had triggered. She had seen it as a significant step forward in their relationship.
Then Lemond Bishop was heard ordering the murder of Cary Agos. She had been assigned to the operation, obviously so in her eyes due to her familiarity with the man and his dealings. On a visit to the offices of Florrick, Agos and Lockhart, to play the tape, Cary had vehemently rounded on her, stating to Harper that she was sleeping with his girlfriend and suggesting, in no uncertain terms, that she be removed from the case. His girlfriend? She knew, of course, of Kalinda’s bisexuality, had never tried to dissuade her from the practice even if she never fully understood it. After all, Kalinda was Kalinda – a veritable force of nature that defied all attempts at a definition and control. It was that aspect that had initially drawn her into Kalinda’s sphere of influence and, once she had you, you never really escaped again – even if months or years passed between contacts.
Luckily for her, Harper had been contemptuous of Cary’s unexpected vitriol. As bosses go, there were far worse at the Bureau, and she knew that he admired her determination and work ethic, for she’d successfully worked several cases for him over the years.
“I admit to being aware of your sexuality, Lana; I know and appreciate that you’ve attempted to keep it somewhat under wraps at the Bureau, but it’s not really something that can be for long. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. It’s never affected the quality of your work, or the results you’ve obtained. I’d be disappointed if you let me down now.”
“Thank you, sir. Just for the record, I’ve had a relationship with Ms. Sharma that predates my working on cases involving Lemond Bishop. I also had no idea that Mr. Agos was in a similar relationship with her. I knew they were co-workers, of course, but that’s all I knew.”
“I understand. For what it’s worth, I didn’t really care for the way he deliberately outed you, if that’s the correct term for it. There’s a time and a place, and this is neither. Perhaps you could get your mutual friend to remind him that a known criminal has sanctioned his murder and that, maybe, his priorities could use some work.”
She’d had to stifle a laugh at that for it mirrored her own thoughts on the situation. So what if Cary was indignant over the fact that Kalinda was spreading the love around – it had always been her way. He’d known her long enough to know that, surely, for she never tried to hide the fact, often using her wiles to gain information vital to the firm and its cases.
Ten thirty-seven came and went with Lana watching the screen, but not seeing the images. All her senses were focussed on the door to her apartment, hoping for the telltale sound of the spare key she’d given Kalinda turning in the lock. The images of an Eastern seaboard storm-front blurred, and she blinked back the threat of tears, sniffing loudly. It would be all too easy to disintegrate, to fall into pieces, for she was close to the abyss already but she rebuked herself for the show of weakness. She’d asked the question and, even if the answer was a negative, at least she’d know. Surely that was healthier than never knowing from one day to the next. Wasn’t it?
It wasn’t just Cary’s outburst that had led to her ultimatum this morning, though. Kalinda’s questioning of the wiretap’s veracity and amused assumption that she’d made off with J-Serve documents while staying at Kalinda’s apartment last week, rankled more with her than they probably should have done. Was it so difficult for Kalinda to trust her, even now, after all they’d recently shared? She knew that the wiretap was authentic – the Bureau didn’t play games where Lemond Bishop was concerned - and yet Kalinda had insisted on independent verification. It was that combination of frustration and bewilderment that had provoked her to take the bull by the horns in this relationship – if what they had could be called a relationship. The mutual satisfaction of desires just wasn’t enough anymore, she was no longer willing to accept the occasional scraps thrown her way, but was Kalinda capable or willing to give more?
Picking up the remote, she dialled down the volume as the newsfeed went to a break and an insufferable advert for dog food took its place, the corn of its jingle giving her nausea. It was then that she heard it – the unmistakable rasp of a key entering a lock, of Kalinda entering the apartment. Resisting the desperate urge to leap off the bed and make an unseemly dash into the living area, she turned the volume down so that it was barely audible and waited, knowing the fact that Kalinda was here didn’t automatically preclude that everything was fine. Although she’d told her not to come round if the relationship meant nothing to her, Kalinda may have felt compelled to explain why she couldn’t give any more. It would go against the grain of her nature, but the possibility was there nonetheless.
The jangle of keys tossed onto the table by the door was followed by dual clumps as both boots hit the floor; she was more than familiar with Kalinda’s homecoming routine by now, but still she kept quiet. She needed to hear Kalinda articulate, as best she could, something of her innermost thoughts and feelings, whether she felt the same bond between them. She hesitated on thinking about the word ‘love,’ for she knew that Kalinda had never felt the need for either love or intimacy – but feelings change, for hers had. There was also the desire not to be seen as being desperate, for if Kalinda was unable to give her love, then she most assuredly didn’t want her pity.
She had purposely arranged the apartment so that any meaningful conversation had to take place on her bed, the dimmed lighting in the living area pointing the way to the illumination of the bedside lamp in the adjoining bedroom area – for she felt that complete openness and honesty would be most likely if they were both lying down - that most vulnerable of human positions. Propping herself up, chin resting on her left palm, she frowned at a barely audible series of electronic beeps coming from the living area. What was Kalinda doing now? Texting somebody?
The sounds ceased and Lana held her breath as a shadow crossed the threshold and Kalinda, eyes downcast, silently glided across the room and slid onto the bed next to her, facing away but her body conforming to Lana’s own in an instinctive, synchronous union, surprisingly submissive in its tenderness. She was taken aback by how small and fragile Kalinda looked, for usually her personality and strength of character made you forget how petite she actually was. Turning the TV off, she dropped the remote and gently laid her right hand on Kalinda’s hip, waiting for her to speak. When it came, Lana was surprised at the whispered timidity in her voice – it was almost fearful.
“I take you seriously. It’s not easy... but I take you seriously.”
Overwhelming emotion constricted the voice in her throat, and it was all she could do to raise her right hand and brush some stray strands of hair away from Kalinda’s face, and say one small word. “Good.”
Kalinda turned over to lie on her back and Lana could see that, though there was a hint of a timid smile there, the overriding emotion on her face was one of fear. It was something she’d only seen once before, when Kalinda was scared for her life after a threat from Lemond Bishop. “I can see the doubt written across your face. If you’re not sure about this then...”
“No.” Kalinda’s right hand snaked out, covering her mouth before she could finish the question. “I’m sure, Lana, believe me. I have no doubts about that, it’s just...”
Kalinda’s fingers traced a line along her chin, fighting for the right words, and it took all her reserves of self-restraint to keep her own hands under control.
“I’m afraid that I’ll mess things up. My track record is poor when it comes to making any kind of commitment, and I always seem to end up hurting someone. I couldn’t do that to you again. It was only through your patience that we reconciled two years ago.”
She remembered. Kalinda had callously dismissed her from her life, coldly stating that there had never been anything between them. The revelation had nearly destroyed her, and it had taken several months to understand that Kalinda was trying to protect her from an external threat. She’d never asked specifically what the danger had been, or questioned why they couldn’t have fought it off together, but she was sure that the whole story would be disclosed in the fullness of time. She took Kalinda’s wandering hand in hers and gave her a rueful smile. “Some things are worth waiting for.”
Kalinda gulped and glanced away for several seconds before looking back. “Do you remember me saying that I didn’t need love or intimacy in my life?”
She smirked, almost choking on her laughter. “I’m hardly going to forget that night.” Her carefully planned stockinged-feet seduction of Kalinda had been interrupted by a thoughtless call from a colleague, and she’d yet to forgive him for it. “Do you still feel the same way?”
Kalinda slowly shook her head, a shy smile sliding over her face.
“And why is that?”
Disengaging her hand, Kalinda lightly caressed Lana’s cheek with her fingertips. “All livings things have to evolve, otherwise they stagnate and die. I’ve been dying inside for too long and I have to evolve. In order to live, I need to love and to be loved in return.” She audibly gulped, before continuing. “I’m in love with you, Lana, but I’m out of my comfort zone, a fish out of water. It’s not a sensation I’m familiar with.”
She had to look away at that, her tightly-bound emotions threatening to breach their barriers and overwhelm a pivotal moment. She took a long, quavering breath and swallowed, thankful now that she’d taken a chance. Kalinda had bared her soul to a greater extent than she had thought possible, and had given her the words that meant so much. But there was still one difficult topic that had to be broached, and for that she needed the mood to be lighter than it currently was. “I think we’re both on an evolutionary learning curve here, Kalinda.” She looked back and smiled. “But if you ever find yourself struggling to breathe, you can be rest assured that I’ll be here to throw a bucket of water over you.”
Kalinda’s eyes flared but the corners of her mouth twitched in amusement. “Special Agent Delaney, I can assure you that I’d only need that if our throes of passion ignite the bedding.”
She raised an eyebrow. “If?”
Scrambling up from her supine position, almost snorting from the exchange, Kalinda knelt next to her and grinned. “Are you issuing a challenge?”
Again, she moved some errant strands away from Kalinda’s face; she’d always been irresistibly drawn to Kalinda’s hair, like a moth to a flame, running her hands through it, yearning for it to be freed from its confinement. She wondered if anyone else had been so blessed as to see it in its natural state. “No, I’m just wondering how I could be so lucky.”
“You thought I wouldn’t turn up?”
She grimaced. “I didn’t know what to think. For that matter, I don’t know what to think about you and Cary, either.”
Kalinda looked up sharply at that question, a frown darkening her features. “What does Cary have to do with us?”
“I don’t know, a stumbling block, perhaps? After all, he is under the impression that you’re his girlfriend.”
Sighing, Kalinda shook her head, her frustration palpable in both gestures. “You asked me to question my own feelings, Lana, and I have. You’re the person I want to be with – just you. Cary’s a good friend, but he’ll never be anything more than that, no matter what he may think. I’ve already lost Alicia’s friendship because of my actions, so I’d hate to lose his as well. I pray he understands when I tell him about us.”
She hummed a note of doubt, knowing that Kalinda could well be disappointed on that score. “Yeah, good luck with that.”
Kalinda shrugged her shoulders. “I would hope that seeing me happy would be the most important consideration, but you may be right. Although I loathe the term, we’ve become so-called ‘friends with benefits,’ and I can’t help but wonder if that’s been totally healthy, whether it’s an arrangement that can be viable long-term without ruining the friendship.” Laying a hand on Lana’s thigh, she smiled wickedly. “Of course, now that Cary is out of the picture, all the benefits he used to get from our friendship get transferred over to you.” Her fingers began to walk. “As the sole beneficiary, are you ready to receive?”
Although her desire was almost at critical, she pushed herself up and enclosed Kalinda’s hand with one of her own. “I had to know. I’ve loved you for so long, Kalinda, but I can’t be hurt again. Not after the last time. This has to be more than a physical relationship.”
Swaying forward, Kalinda rested her forehead against her own, reminding Lana of the time in her old apartment – a volatile mixture of pleasure and pain and Lemond Bishop, as too many of their encounters had been. There must soon be a day of reckoning with him, of that she had no doubt.
Kalinda’s voice, when it came, was barely more than a whisper. “It was my fault, Lana. I just wasn’t ready. I didn’t have the belief that I could experience real emotional growth with someone I truly loved. That’s all changed, now. I believe in us, even if I don’t yet know the right way to prove it to you.” Swaying back again, she looked down at their entwined hands. “That’s why I’ve ran back to my default setting; I don’t know any other way.”
Lana had seen and heard enough to reassure her that Kalinda was serious in her intentions, even if her words couldn’t fully articulate all of them yet. That wasn’t totally surprising given Kalinda’s taciturn nature but, together with her general demeanour, they assured Lana that they both shared the same hopes and dreams for their future. With time, patience and trust, she knew that all of the emotional barriers between them could be dismantled, and a lasting, fulfilling relationship could be forged. Squeezing Kalinda’s hand, she let it go and resumed her original reclining position, head resting on the left palm. The heat from Kalinda’s hand on her thigh was tipping her across the threshold – the time for talking was almost over. “There’s a very good reason why a default setting is essential; it’s guaranteed to work.”
Catching on, Kalinda’s hand continued its upward journey, working up underneath her F.B.I. standard issue nightshirt (only available in the one size), at the same time leaning forward until they were almost nose to nose. “I turned both of our phones off.”
She frowned and half turned her head in the direction of the living area, remembering the earlier noises. “I did wonder. So, we won’t be disturbed.”
With a wink, Kalinda shook her head and eased her fingers into Lana’s panties. “I don’t have to be in the office until the afternoon, and I’m sure the Bureau could function without you for one morning. When else are we going to get some sleep?”
She raised a questioning eyebrow. “Not tonight?”
Kalinda grinned. “I have too many things planned to allow for that, my Special Agent.”
She almost spluttered at the new endearment – whether it was an improvement over ‘big-time F.B.I. lady,’ she wasn’t sure. She snaked her right arm around Kalinda’s waist. “Such as?”
It wasn’t so much Kalinda’s tongue sliding into her mouth that made her moan, as the fact that Kalinda’s fingers had reached their destination.
It promised to be a long night. Now, if she could only remember where her handcuffs were.