The Major Crimes Christmas party was always the kind of occasion that made people smile. Food, the cheesiest Christmas songs, ugly Christmas sweaters and fruit punch were things that were guaranteed to bring a smile to the faces of those who spent their days surrounded by death and destruction. This year Amy and Buzz had gone all out decorating the Murder Room and Sharon didn't think she'd ever seen that much glitter or tinsel in one place before. But the space felt warm and cosy and Sharon loved every second of Christmas. She cherished this time of year and always tried to make it as special as possible for those she cared about.
Hollywood Division was on call during the holiday weekend, meaning Major Crimes had the weekend off. An uninterrupted Christmas was a luxury and although it came at the cost of having to work over New Years, it added to the already elated mood at the party. Sharon watched with a smile as Provenza poured some more punch for himself before offering Andy another bottle of water. An oversized Santa hat balanced lopsided on the older man's head and he had finished the look off with the most hideous Christmas tie Sharon had ever seen. It was so ugly she couldn't help but stare at it whenever her eyes fell on Provenza.
An hour into the party and with Rusty now in charge of the music selection and playing Wham's "Last Christmas" for the third time, Sharon detected a significant shift in mood. People were laughing and talking and the fact that only yesterday they had wrapped up a gruesome double murder seemed to have been temporarily forgotten. She hadn't been sure at first if adding an alcoholic punch instead of a fruit based one was a good idea but the longer she looked at the relaxed features on the faces of her friends, she appreciated the addition just a little more.
Sharon reached into the pocket of her blazer to find her phone so she could take some pictures but found it wasn't there. After a moment of panic she remembered leaving it on her desk earlier that day and after leaving her drink in the care of Amy, she walked across the Murder Room and into her office. The phone lay on top a small stash of files and Sharon grabbed it off the desk before turning around. The figure standing in the doorway startled her.
"Hey," Brenda smiled.
Sharon blinked. She still had not gotten used to Brenda being back in Los Angeles even if it had been four months. To occasionally see the former Chief appear in the Murder Room, courtesy of the job at the DA's office she had returned to after her stint in Washington, still felt odd. The first couple of times it had felt like some kind of twisted time warp and, after meeting Brenda for coffee one afternoon, Sharon had learnt the feeling was mutual. It seemed coming back and finding her footing in Los Angeles after Washington was harder than Brenda had anticipated. In her mind Los Angeles and the people she knew hadn't changed but in reality she found hardly anything was still the same.
"Sneakin' out?" Brenda teased.
"Looking for my phone," Sharon smiled and held up the iPhone. The screen briefly lit up showing a selfie of her and Rusty. She walked back to the door and Brenda went to step aside so Sharon could file past her. Their gazes locked. "I didn't think you'd be coming today."
"Are you kiddin' me? Fritzy has been tellin' me about your parties for years. I wouldn't miss it for the world!" Brenda exclaimed. She smiled, her hand briefly touching Sharon's forearm. "Thank you for invitin' me."
"Oh come on, like I was going to ignore the fact Chief Johnson is back in town," Sharon grinned. She and Brenda had tentatively picked up where their friendship had left off years earlier since their first coffee date after Brenda's return. They were by no means best friends but they had found common ground and it seemed that being away from LA and closing the book on Stroh, as best as she could anyway, had done Brenda some good. Sharon had barely recognised her when she first walked into the Murder Room four months ago. She seemed like a new woman.
"Are you all set for Christmas?" Sharon wanted to know. Green eyes briefly found brown. "Is your Father coming over from Atlanta?"
Brenda shook her head. "He is going to New York to visit my brother." She looked over her shoulder to see Fritz standing next to Mike and Julio. "It's just Fritzy and I this year." She then looked back at Sharon. "What about you?"
"We're having Christmas with Andy's daughter this year," Sharon answered. "I think Andy said she's cooking." She smiled a little. "I hope she didn't inherit his cooking skills."
"Hey Rusty, did you do that thing I told you to do?" Julio yelled across the Murder Room and several sets of eyes darted in their direction.
Rusty, having just put on another Christmas song, spun around and even from where she stood Sharon could see the mischievous glint in his eyes. He nodded. "Yes," he answered and he pointed in Sharon's direction, or at least in the direction of her office. "I hung it right…" His mouth fell open when he realised what had happened. "…There."
Feeling some dread, Sharon raised her eyes up to the doorframe of her office and saw the little green twigs tied together with bright red ribbon hanging over her head. Her eyes then snapped back to Rusty who had now covered his mouth with his hand and was trying not to laugh. She could hear a low key whistle but couldn't identify the culprit.
Brenda studied the twig too. "What's that?"
"I believe that's mistletoe," Sharon said through gritted teeth.
Brenda's brown eyes fixed on Sharon's face. "Oh."
"I'm going to kill that boy," Sharon sighed. She glanced back up at the mistletoe. How had she not seen it when she walked into her office?!
"Come on, Sharon," Andy said as he walked over. "Now is your chance to kiss and make-up for all those differences of opinion you and the Chief have had for years."
Sharon stared at him, aghast. "What? Are you serious?!"
"You're friends now. What's a kiss amongst friends?" Fritz nudged Andy with his elbow and Sharon for a moment wondered if the men had some kind of twisted fantasy in their heads. If they did, she didn't want to know about it.
"Oh my God," Rusty giggled from his spot by the radio. "I cannot believe this is happening!"
"Neither can your mother," Amy grinned.
Sharon looked at Brenda. The blonde former Chief looked about as helpless as Sharon did and was staring at the floor, her fingers fumbling with a button on her jacket. Through her eyelashes she eventually peered up at Sharon and smiled almost shyly before tucking a curl behind her ear. Her cheeks had flushed a light shade of scarlet and she shrugged.
"How bad can it be, right?" she asked. She took a little step closer to Sharon, entering her personal space. "They're not going to let this go, Sharon. It is like the ultimate party trick. Might as well get it over with. A kiss on the cheek is fine."
Sharon hesitated. She was going to have words with Rusty later. What was he thinking, leaving mistletoe all over the place? What if it had been Taylor standing under here with her? Would they have encouraged her to kiss him too? As much as she loved her son, she didn't always appreciate his jokes and this was one of those occasions. What she found even more shocking was that Fritz and Andy didn't seem to care. Was this really just some big joke to everyone?
"Gees, Sharon, if you can't make your mind up…" Brenda looked a little crestfallen as she stepped back but looked up in surprise when she felt Sharon's fingers close around her wrist and the brunette pulled her closer.
Their lips came together in an unexpected kiss and for a second, neither of them fully realised what was happening. But then Sharon tasted the faint hint of chocolate and the sweetness of Brenda's lipstick, felt how soft and warm her lips really were.
Brenda's eyes closed when Sharon didn't pull away immediately. She leaned in a little deeper into the kiss, softly capturing Sharon's lower lip between her own, feeling the way the older woman slightly shivered when she did.
One….two…..She had to move back…. Three…. It would have to be over soon…. Four…. Brenda knew she had to pull away…. Five….
Brenda pulled away and slowly opened her eyes. Across from her, Sharon's eyes opened too and emerald green met chocolate brown. Neither spoke; they just stared at each other. It was Sharon who recovered first and she smoothed over her dress, accepted the cup filled with punch Andy offered her and took a large gulp before seeking out the comfort of his embrace. He kissed the top of her head and Brenda turned away.
Her lips still tingled and she resisted touching them. Of all the things she had ever imagined, kissing Sharon Raydor under the mistletoe during a Christmas party with the whole Division watching was not how she had imagined things to go. A quiet, hesitant kiss in an abandoned corridor or a rough, fast one against the wall of an office were the thoughts that replayed themselves in her head over and over in recent months but never had she imagined it to be like this. And she had never wanted it to be like this either.
She walked over to the table with the punch, poured herself a cup and downed it in one go. She then poured another but drank it more slowly this time. She didn't actually like it but it gave her something to do and with her hands and mind somewhat occupied, Brenda didn't have to think about what had just happened. The fact she had kissed Sharon, something she had wanted to do for a long time. She had kissed Sharon and all she wanted now was to forget it.
The party carried on and outside darkness fell, highlighting the thousands of lights across the city. Having stood by the window for a little while, Brenda pushed herself away from the wall and crossed the room towards the ladies room. Just before entering, she became aware of someone following her and she turned around to find Sharon closely behind her. The brunette seemed a little startled that Brenda had noticed her but then she came closer.
"Hey," she said softly.
Brenda couldn't help it. Her eyes darted down to Sharon's lips. "Hi."
"Is everything alright?" Sharon inquired. "You seem very quiet."
Brenda nodded. "I'm fine. I didn't eat much before coming here and I think the punch is going to my head. Wouldn't be surprised if Provenza spiked it."
Sharon looked at Brenda. She was not used to seeing her in jeans. She wore a black cardigan over a simple light pink shirt. It was a big step up from the hideous floral skirts. But something else had changed too, something other than Brenda's choice in clothing. It wasn't just the way she carried herself… it was something else but Sharon couldn't identify what it was.
"The punch is alcoholic, Brenda. But that's not why I came to find you. I was wondering… Can we talk?" she asked. "About what happened earlier?"
A sense of dread settled in Brenda's chest and she bit her lip. "Sure."
"I'm sorry if I surprised you," Sharon said apologetically. "I know you said to kiss you on the cheek and I don't know what came over me to ignore that but…. I had a feeling the guys weren't going to let it go." Green eyes searched Brenda's face. "I guess what I'm saying is, I hope you're alright and I didn't offend you."
"You didn't," Brenda replied softly and averted her eyes. She wished she didn't ache inside the way she did when Sharon spoke those words. She twisted the wedding band around her finger. "You really didn't."
Sharon's eyes narrowed a little as she sensed the change in Brenda's demeanour and she hesitantly took another step closer before reaching out and putting a hand on Brenda's arm. The blonde's head snapped up and she stepped backwards as if burnt, pulling her arm towards her chest. She realised too late that by doing so she had given herself away and she watched with fear as some of the pieces began to fall into place inside Sharon's mind and Brenda saw the recognition dawn in those beautiful eyes.
"Oh Brenda..," Sharon whispered. She felt mortified and suddenly wished she had never followed the blonde down the corridor in the first place. This wasn't happening. This couldn't be real…
"I… I didn't' know…"
"You weren't supposed to," Brenda muttered, her voice unsteady. "You were never supposed to know."
"I…. I don't know what to say…"
Sharon felt terrible. She felt guilty. Had she known the way Brenda really felt, she would never have kissed her under the mistletoe like that. She would have chosen to kiss her on the cheek, or not at all. She wanted to undo it, all of it, take it back somehow. But she couldn't. It was out there now and Brenda looked devastated. Sharon hurt inside just at the thought of what she had done.
"Then please don't try," Brenda whispered and she went to turn around so Sharon could no longer see her face. The humiliation and the pain wasn't something she wanted anyone to see. Her shoulders had dropped and she suddenly looked so small to Sharon.
"Believe me, I don't think I want to hear it anyway." Brenda's voice was soft, it sounded almost broken.
Sharon moved closer despite Brenda turning away and touched her shoulder. Brenda didn't turn around but Sharon did not give up. She circled around Brenda so that she stood in front of her again and slowly Brenda lifted up her head and their eyes connected. For the longest of moments they looked at each other and then Brenda leaned in. Closing the distanced between her and Sharon seemed to take ages but then their lips met and Brenda softly gasped.
Sharon froze and the duration of a heartbeat she didn't know what to do or how to react but then she relaxed a little into Brenda and parted her lips when she felt Brenda's tongue trying to seek entrance. Her hands slowly found their way up to Brenda's shoulders and she held on to her, feeling Brenda's arms close around her back, gently pulling her closer.
Time didn't seem to matter anymore. Everything around them had come to a complete stop.
But then Sharon suddenly broke free and took two steps back. She looked at Brenda, bewildered, and covered her mouth in shock. She shook her head and her green eyes widened. Panic engulfed her and the urge to turn around and run was overwhelming. But she couldn't. She had to say…. something.
"I'm sorry… I shouldn't have…."
"Sharon…," Brenda tried but the brunette shook her head.
"I'm so sorry. Brenda. I should have respected your feelings and I didn't. I…. I can't do this." Green eyes shimmered with tears as she looked at Brenda. She looked desperately lost and sad and the look she saw reflected in Brenda's eyes was one of pure hurt. Sharon had never seen her look more broken and she hated herself for it. She averted her eyes, couldn't bring herself to see even more hurt in Brenda's face when she uttered the words, "I don't feel the way you do."
"Sharon…. Sharon, wait!" Brenda pleaded when Sharon turned around and quickly walked down the corridor, her hand wiping at her eyes to hide the onslaught of tears. Brenda didn't try to follow her and found herself instead standing in an abandoned corridor, the one secret she had wanted to keep for all her life having disappeared around the corner.
Sharon rounded the corner and reached the elevators. Safe in the knowledge Brenda was not following her, she leaned against the wall and let out a sob followed by a ragged breath. Her mind was spinning. The guilt was overwhelming. What had she done? Not only had she kissed Brenda, fuelling the other woman's feelings, but she had actually kissed someone other than Andy…. The combination of those two things was already suffocating her.
Sharon jumped when she heard Rusty behind her and she spun around, startled. He looked at her with big wide eyes, clearly having seen her attempt to hide her tears, and took a step towards her.
"What happened?" he wanted to know.
"Nothing," Sharon lied. She ran her fingers through her hair to try and appear casual. "I just…. I needed a moment. You know how I get during Christmas…"
Rusty's eyes narrowed a little. "I saw you kiss Brenda."
"We really need to talk about you hanging up mistletoe in my office…."
"I don't mean in your office. I mean just now, in the hallway."
Sharon felt the blood drain from her face as she stared at her son in horror. "Rusty…"
"You kissed her," Rusty said in an almost accusing tone. "Jesus, Mom. What were you thinking?" He looked at her as if he was seeing her for the first time. She caught a glimpse of the boy he had once been; the angry, judgmental and frightened little kid. Things had changed but when scared or confused, that side of Rusty always re-emerged.
"Are you gay?" Rusty deadpanned, his eyes piercing into Sharon's. "Is that why this whole thing with Andy is like slower than watching paint dry?"
"Rusty, no! I'm not gay. I don't even know why you'd think that!" Sharon exclaimed and Rusty arched an eyebrow. "I am not gay. And I don't want you…"
"So being gay is such a horrible thing now?" Rusty cut her off. He looked almost devastated and the pain that flashed through his eyes was more than what Sharon could take in this moment.
"Rusty, look around the Murder Room. Look at the people we work with every day and then think about what you've just said," Sharon sighed. She didn't want him thinking for one second that his sexuality or the sexuality of any of their friends mattered to her. It didn't. It never had. . "Look at you…. Look at the way I love you. All of you." She held his gaze and watched the guilt spread across his face when he realised what he had said.
Rusty slowly nodded. "I know. And I'm sorry." He looked down at his feet. "But why did you kiss her?"
"Brenda kissed me, Rusty," Sharon answered and shook her head. "And that is all I'm going to say. Brenda deserves her privacy and I am not about to betray her trust." She swallowed hard against the lump in her throat and straightened her spine. She had to get things back to normal somehow, even if she wasn't sure how. "Now, Fritz and Brenda will be coming over for dinner on Christmas Eve, remember? I do not want you mentioning this to anyone, under any circumstance, do you understand? I know I am asking a lot of you and it is probably not fair. But this is not just about me. This is about Brenda too."
Rusty looked at his mother and seemed to consider her words carefully before nodding. "Okay. I understand."
Sharon sighed in relief. "Good. Let's go back to the party."
Rusty's hand was on the small of Sharon's back as they made their way back to the Murder Room. He could feel the tension in her spine. The sound of laughter and voices greeted them halfway down the hall and Rusty shot his mother a sideways glance just before entering. She looked tense and a little unsure but when she felt Rusty's eyes on her, she effortlessly slipped her Captain Raydor mask back in place and whilst smiling, entered the Murder Room.
Sharon needed less than five seconds to realise Brenda was gone.
Fritz spotted Sharon when she came in and waved her over. "Brenda wanted me to tell you she went home. Headache, apparently. Must be the punch. She said to tell you she'll see you Christmas Eve."
Sharon nodded and absentmindedly glanced in the direction of her office. The mistletoe had been removed from the doorway and a heavy feeling settled in her chest.
Christmas had just become a whole lot more complicated.