After three days on full alert hunting down a family of four that had fallen off the face of the earth, Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson had found her quarry. They were dead; father, mother, twin boys. The prime suspect, a former employee of the family’s pool installation and service company, had fled for parts unknown. Now she was trying to track the perp’s movements waiting on the autopsies of the victims and the forensics from the construction site where they had been found, at the bottom of one of their own company’s partially completed pools.
Her squad was out canvassing a neighborhood where only about a third of the houses were occupied, and Brenda was nibbling on a square of milk chocolate, alternating between staring dumbly at the bank records of their suspect and watching through her blinds as Captain Raydor paced her murder room, gripping a print out of text messages and emails sent between the father and their suspect. Raydor had asked Brenda for something to do, something to keep her busy in between trying to talk print journalists out of making this story salacious and talking to the cameras.
Pope had impressed Raydor into service as media liaison a couple of times since Taylor’s involuntary retirement, but this was the first time she had done the job on case with so much media attention. Brenda didn’t think she was handling it well; though Sharon’s voice had been its usual, silky alto, during the last press conference, her hands had been trembling as she informed the cameras that the missing persons were now murder victims.
Brenda knew that Sharon adopted a reserved facade to protect a heart that was easily affected by the plight of their victims. She had known that since she had sat next to the woman in Pope’s office and watched her fight back tears because one of her subordinates had come to work covered in bruises. She had seen it every time Sharon observed an autopsy, or encountered a rape victim or a child that the system had failed. She had seen it writ especially large across Sharon’s face after incidents where Brenda had put herself in danger.
That softness, that tightly concealed concern in the limpid eyes, magnified by the black framed glasses, made it very hard for Brenda to maintain her own facade of dislike and mistrust; a facade that Brenda had erected to protect her rocky marriage and vulnerable heart; a facade that would have cracked, shattered even, had Brenda given in to her desires to reach out and make a friend that understood the burdens in Brenda’s life (even if Sharon was a little more by the book than Brenda had ever been).
But friendship hadn’t been what Brenda wanted from Sharon, not really, not if she was being truthful with herself. When she had first encountered the slender, impeccably clad brunette, the moment was electric, and not only because the woman was beautiful: Brenda had been unable to stop her eyes from tracing the smooth silhouette of the Captain’s body, had let her gaze linger on the Captain’s bare legs. When the Captain had stood toe to toe with her, that ignited the real spark in Brenda. Sharon Raydor was a worthy opponent and Brenda Leigh Johnson was just as infatuated with the Captain’s stubbornness as she was with the curve of the woman’s lips and the cadence of her voice and the shape of a breast against the tailored silk of her blouse.
Of course, her infatuation had been tempered into respect and a deep, genuine affection in the comfortably warm, but intriguing (intoxicating, Brenda thought sometimes), fires of Sharon Raydor’s humanity. A humanity that her Captain tried very hard to hide in the workplace.
And Sharon Raydor had turned out to be one of the most trustworthy and principled individuals Brenda had ever encountered. She had supported Brenda, warts and all, to the very end of a lawsuit that saw her boss and lawyer and even her husband (her EX-husband, she reminded herself) practically throw her under the bus, and Brenda could no longer bring herself to be anything but kind to the other woman. Even her squad had started treating the Captain with a grudging respect, for the most part.
And now kind-hearted Sharon looked as if she was in dire need of an opportunity to blow off some steam, or at least in need of someone with a sympathetic ear, and Brenda really wanted to indulge a long suppressed desire and take the opportunity to draw the brunette into her personal life. It wasn’t even mildly distressing to Brenda that she wanted to do romantic things with the brunette - only a little thrilling. She had hazy fantasies of dimly lit meals with heavenly bottles of wine and rich desserts, of drives up the coast to picnic on scenic overlooks and a myriad other things that she was sure covered every cliche in the book. She was even anticipating taking the step that turned their tentative friendship into something more, if the lingering, heated glances that Sharon sometimes shot her way (only when she thought Brenda wasn’t looking) could be proven substantial, even if it was a risk.
Thinking about Sharon at all, letting her mind expound on the subject of the pretty, brunette Captain - thinking about Sharon led to thinking about doing things to Sharon, doing things with Sharon. Against the wall in her office, on her desk, in a very large bed. These were fantasies she had fewer and fewer reasons not to attempt to turn into reality.
The whole mess was complicated, though. Brenda chuckled to herself. Wasn’t it always? But Brenda was once again single, and she was through with men who were good to her until they weren’t, usually because they thought their love and attention should have changed her and then it didn’t. Any further misgivings were subsumed by the fact that she was positive that even if her romantic notions bore no fruit, and if she could prove to Sharon that she was trustworthy - that she had no ulterior motive beyond Sharon herself - any time spent with Sharon Raydor would be a worthy reward.
Brenda Leigh sighed. Trolling through these records was proving fruitless, her attention divided as it was, so Brenda was staging an intervention for herself and for Sharon. She tossed the chocolate back into her drawer and marched into the murder room. Sharon was still pacing, flipping the top page of her packet of papers incessantly; she couldn’t be reading - her glasses were currently holding her hair back from her face. Brenda choked back her initial, bossy impulse. There was no one else here - she didn’t need to be the boss or the superior officer right now.
“Cap’n Raydor.” Sharon kept pacing. “Sharon.” The woman gave no indication she heard. Brenda stepped into her personal space and laid a hand on the brunette’s shoulder. Sharon jumped.
“Oh, Chief! Is there something I can do for you?”
“No, no, I just…I’m not getting anywhere with the bank records, and you look like you’re having about the same amount of luck with those emails.” She dropped her eyes down to Sharon’s hands on the printouts. “Would you care for some dinner? My treat.”
“Yes. You know, the evening meal.” She plucked the papers from Sharon’s grasp. “It’s been a rough day. I need a break and I’m starving. I’m going to get out of here for an hour or two, and I would appreciate your company.”
“My company, Chief Johnson?” Sharon said a little snottily, though there was a smile playing on her lips.
“Yes, Cap’n Raydor. Your company.”
“Mmmm. If that’s what you want, Chief.”
“I’m not asking as your superior officer, Captain. If you want to say no, you’ll only hurt my feelings, not make your life harder at work.” Brenda pushed her lips into a pout, ready to break out the eyelashes if Sharon looked like she was going to decline her offer.
“Dinner sounds nice, then.” Brenda allowed the pleasure she felt at Sharon’s acquiescence to momentarily show on her face, smiling affectionately. Sharon smiled back, looking perhaps a little dazed at the strength of the Chief’s reaction.
“How do you feel about Irish food, Captain?”
“Well, Chief, I can’t say that I’ve ever had it in LA. I’ll give it a try, though, if that’s what you’re in the mood for.”
“There’s this little pub that I know that serves a mean cottage pie, and I have a hankering for mashed potatoes.”
“You have a hankering?” Sharon asked. A bit of wry disbelief in her expression.
Brenda shrugged a shoulder and merely grinned at Sharon’s jab at her choice of words. “Comfort food, I guess,” she admitted.
“Mashed potatoes certainly fit that bill for me too. I’ve liked cottage pie when I’ve had it in the past.”
“Excellent. Come on, I’ll drive.”
Brenda drove them to a little corner bar that had a facade of dark wood over the L.A. standard of brick or cinderblock. Inside, it was clean and well lit. A highly polished bar ran along one long side of the room and a row of deep booths along the other. Maybe not a place Sharon thought a very southern blonde would favor, but it certainly had a lot of character. A bit of a surprise. Sharon decided she liked it. Brenda slid into the corner booth and Sharon took the bench opposite. As it was only 3:30, the place was empty. A server was at the table before Brenda had even found a place for her purse.
“Hi, welcome to Lonegan’s.” The cheerful redhead actually had a faint Irish lilt to her voice. She placed a menu in front of each of them. “Our special today is steak and kidney pie, and our vegetable of the day is green beans. Can I get you something to drink to start?”
“Iced tea with lemon, please.” Sharon said.
“The same for me.” The server nodded.
“Alright ladies, I’ll be right back with those drinks.” She spun and left.
“This is nice. Surprisingly understated for L.A..” Sharon smiled encouragingly at Brenda.
“It’s a good little place. Friday nights they cram a band over in the far corner. They have whiskey tastings once a month, too.” Brenda grinned, wicked.
“Though that can be a little dangerous.”
“Now that sounds interesting, Chief.” Sharon’s voiced was pitched with something Brenda couldn’t identify, a little huskier than usual, and her green eyes gleamed. Brenda’s mouth got dry at the thought of Sharon Raydor, drunk on whiskey, sharing this very booth with her while a band jammed away in the corner. They would have to sit on the same bench so they could lean close enough to hear one another. Brenda wished her drink would come so she could alleviate the desert in her mouth.
“I think, Captain, if I’m buying us dinner, you can call me Brenda. Actually, I would really like it if you would call me Brenda unless we’re doing official things with colleagues around.” The look Sharon gave her then was considering - as though Sharon couldn’t figure out whether the request was genuine, or what Brenda’s motives were in relaxing their strict use of titles.
“Ok, Brenda, as long as you call me Sharon.” A long silence stretched between them as each smiled shyly at the other. They were startled out of their reverie by the arrival of their drinks.
Sharon surprised herself by allowing Brenda to order for both of them: a family sized cottage pie and mixed green salads, dressing on the side.
“Family sized?” Sharon asked when the waitress had walked away.
Brenda shrugged and smiled again. “It makes really good leftovers.”
Sharon thought that maybe she was caught in some weird dream of an alternate universe brought on by that Star Trek: Voyager marathon she had indulged in last weekend. This surreal situation had all the hallmarks of her best dreams, and some of her worst nightmares. She was sharing an intimate booth, fighting for the last bites of a rather large cottage pie (had they eaten all of that?), with her broadly smiling, highly charming superior officer. She made a vow that if she survived this, she would lay off the crazy science fiction television shows just before bedtime; although she wasn’t entirely sure she would survive this because she was pretty sure she’d idly dreamed up a situation just like this one that ended with some delicious kissing against her parked car.
For someone who was notoriously single minded when she was working an investigation, the Chief (Brenda, she corrected herself mentally, again), hadn’t mentioned the case that they had been embroiled in for the past three days and change. In fact, the only direct mention she made of work was to ask Sharon how she was dealing with the notoriously insensitive, nosey, pushy press on a case that was so heartbreaking. Brenda’s concern was genuine - Sharon knew the woman’s ‘Chief’ face well enough to know that - and it was dreadfully, dangerously appealing to Sharon.
Brenda Leigh Johnson was a person for whom Sharon had always had strong feelings. Not always positive feelings, but always intense, and always underwritten by a current of desire that Sharon had to clamp down on, lest it consume her. When her relationship with the Chief had been more…combative, Sharon’s desire would threaten her control at inopportune moments, and then the affection had begun to creep in.
Affection for a woman whose rather cavalier attitude towards the health and safety of criminals never affected her empathy for their victims. Affection for a woman who remained loyal to Will Pope even after Pope had shown a willingness to throw Brenda to the wolves of the department and the public on more than one occasion. Affection for a woman who wouldn’t let herself believe that one of her squad had sold her out to that creep Goldman (Sharon had been so relieved that Taylor had been the leak; had it been anyone else, it might have broken Brenda). This affection was roaring through her at this very moment, chased by that subtle but ever present frisson of desire. Sharon was sure it was showing on her face, but Brenda didn’t seem alarmed by what she was seeing, because she only continued to smile at her, the corners of her eyes crinkling, and snaked her fork under Sharon’s to snag the last bite of mashed potato crust from the dish.
“That was so good.” Brenda sighed, replete. “Thanks for coming with me, Sharon.” She quirked the corners of her generous lips up. “Though I’m sorry we won’t have any leftovers to snack on later.”
“You were looking at that pie like it was a ding-dong, Brenda. Who was I to stand in your way?” Brenda laughed, then sobered a little.
“You did get enough didn’t you? I’m afraid that sometimes my manners fly out the window when I’m hungry.” The blonde looked a little embarrassed. “I don’t think I’ve had anything substantial to eat since lunch yesterday.”
Sharon shot her a scandalized look. “I’ll have to keep a better eye on you, Brenda Leigh. Raiding your candy drawer does not count as a meal.” Not to mention the fact that the woman was already whipcord and bone. With the stress and energy requirements of her job, she couldn’t afford to miss many meals.
“I know, I know. I went to heat up some leftovers in the break room last night, but someone had eaten them.” She scowled. “Despite the fact that I had scrawled my name all over the container in red sharpie.”
“Wouldn’t happen to have been Chinese leftovers? Happy Family?”
“Yes. It was. It wasn’t you that ate my leftovers, was it? Because I really don’t want to be angry at you for stealing my Happy Family.” Sharon pulled a face at the idea of stealing food from the department fridge.
“Yuck. No reheated shrimp for me, thanks. It was Provenza. I saw him shoveling it into his face a few hours before our victims turned up.” Brenda scowled mightily.
“That man is lucky I don’t have oral herpes or something, as much food as he steals from me.” Sharon barked a laugh and Brenda rolled her eyes a little, grinning.
“And I’ll have you know I always eat all the shrimp out of the container the first go-round. They get all chewy in the microwave.” The blonde pulled out her wallet and removed some bills, which she tucked under the edge of her empty glass.
“Thanks for getting me out of the office, Brenda. I would still be there pacing if you hadn’t suggested it.” Sharon smiled and tried to catch Brenda’s eye, who was fiddling shyly with the snap of her oversized wallet.
“Thanks for humoring me, Sharon.” Brenda was still avoiding eye contact, transfixed by her own hands.
“I wasn’t humoring you. I hope we can do this again. I had a good time.” Now Brenda practically beamed at her.
“Me too. Now, let’s go put a few more hours into trying to track down our nasty Mr. Mitchell, then I’m ordering all of us off duty for the night.”