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Dying in L.A. (The Only Difference Between Suicide and Martyrdom Is Press Coverage)

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Brenda had tried not to wake him when she got out of bed, but it's three in the morning and she can feel Fritz watching while she does her hair, studying her in the mirror as she smooths back her hair.

"You know," he says casually, propping himself up on an elbow, "I think I see you on TV more than I see you at home these days."

Brenda sets her brush on the dresser and starts twisting the length of her hair. "It'll be over in a few more weeks," she says. "I'm just new and exciting right now."

"Do you even want to do these interviews? You hate talking to the press."

"It's part of the job." She grabs a handful of bobby pins and starts pinning her ponytail into a bun.

"You're telling me Will Pope would be getting up before dawn to talk about feminism on The Today Show? Please. This has Sharon Raydor written all over it."

Brenda makes a face, knowing full well Fritz can see. "Of course it was Sharon. She's my media liaison."

"Not to mention your soon-to-be chief of staff."

"Who happens to be waiting for me outside." Brenda shoves one last pin into her hair and gives Fritz a quick kiss goodbye before rushing out the door. The car the network sent has been idling out front for nearly ten minutes, but the driver only nods politely as he opens the door for her to slide into the back seat.

"Good morning, Chief," Sharon says, taking a silver travel mug from between her knees. She twists the top open and hands it to Brenda as the car pulls away from the curb.

"Ooh, Sharon, thank you." She hadn't had time to make any, and she takes a grateful sip. She tastes honey, not sugar, but she thinks it might be wildflower instead of clover. "Keep it up and I might have to make you a deputy chief."

Sharon tries to hide her smile with a sip from her own mug, but the metallic green just draws attention to the twinkle in her eyes. "Did you have a chance to read over the talking points I prepared?" she asks when she lowers the cup.

"I did." She fell asleep studying them, glasses still on her face. There were little indentations on her nose when she woke up. "The sergeant who kept wearing her ring after her divorce, who was it?"

"I can't say. The important thing is--"

Brenda takes a breath and slips into the serious but upbeat tone she plans to use for the interview. "The LAPD has come a long way since then, but women in the department still face a number of institutional challenges, and when we exclude women from command positions, it's to the detriment of the city and the department. Over fifty percent of Los Angeles's population is female, but women account for less than twenty percent of the city's police officers." Brenda drops her cheerful, rehearsed tone. "I told you, I read it."

"Say leadership, not command," Sharon says. "It'll sound better to civilians."

"Civilians," Brenda repeats. "You mean certain members of the police commission."

"You said it, I didn't."

Brenda takes another sip of her coffee. "I don't know how you've dealt with them all these years. It's been six weeks and I'm already grateful for term limits."

Sharon shakes her head. "Rookie mistake, Chief. The newer commissioners are always the worst -- they come in with strong opinions and a weak grasp of the realities of law enforcement. Oh, sure, some of them will go out of their way to prove they're friends of the law enforcement community, but never in a way that's useful or convenient. Just politically expedient."

Brenda groans. "You couldn't've told me this sooner?"

"And get stuck with Chief Tommy Delk? Not a chance." Sharon leans her head against the seat and turns to Brenda with a slow, Sunday morning smile that warms her as much as the coffee.

"You wanna get breakfast after this?"

"I was going to go to the gym, then home to shower and do some laundry before work."

Brenda wrinkles her nose. No one needs to do all that before nine a.m. "Lunch?"

"Let me check." Sharon scrolls through something on her phone only to look up with an apologetic smile. "I could do dinner."

It's Brenda's turn to shake her head. "I promised Fritz we'd have some alone time tonight. He's been complaining that he never sees me."

Sharon hums. "Well, I wouldn't want to stand between you and a hot date." She smiles briefly, just enough to show she's teasing, and then looks back at her phone. After a moment, she says, "The laundry can wait. Breakfast would be nice."

"Who needs clean underwear when you can have pancakes?"

"A philosophy the parents of Los Angeles will thank you not to share on your grade school visits."

"Me? I got plenty of clean underwear." She hesitates, tries to picture what the drawer looked like as she dug through it in the dark, but she can't remember. "Least I think I do."

Sharon doesn't look up, but she laughs, a warm, rich chuckle. Brenda never thought she'd laugh like that, that she was capable of more than a throaty, sarcastic ha, or a derisive and insubordinate snort. Brenda still hears those plenty, but this one is catching up, and she doesn't mind this strange twist of fate that has her cataloguing Sharon's laughter. It's been a long time since she had someone to talk to like this, someone who counted as a friend.

They make the rest of the ride to Burbank in silence, and the car lets them out in front of an unremarkable stucco building with the network logo hanging over the doors -- one of which Sharon opens for her.

"After you, Chief," she says with a sweep of her arm and a teasing smirk on her face.

Sharon handles the receptionist, too, getting them directions to the fourth-floor studio where Brenda will do her interview. The windowless room isn't as big as her old office, or half as cluttered. There's a desk and chair positioned between the camera and a backdrop of downtown Los Angeles, and Brenda starts to feel just the slightest bit nervous as she sets her purse on the floor and takes a seat.

She can see herself in one of the monitors and she sits up a little straighter, squaring her shoulders and raising her chin. She feels ridiculous and settles back into her normal posture. "How do I look?"

Sharon is leaning against the door, and she takes a few long, nerve-wracking seconds to look Brenda up and down. "You look great, Chief."

There's something about the way the r rolls off her tongue that makes Brenda blush, makes her smile just as self-consciously as the first time Sharon said those words. Still, she can't accept the compliment, not after asking for it, and she says, "You only ever say that when I'm not wearing my regular clothes."

Sharon doesn't smirk -- she grins. "You noticed."

Brenda's phone rings then, the sound muffled but unmistakable. "Shoot," she says, grabbing her purse. She digs through it until she finds her phone. "Chief Johnson."

"Brenda Leigh," her daddy says, "what's this your mother and I hear about you being on the TV?"

She can hear Matt Lauer's voice in the background, competing with the sounds of her mama cooking breakfast. "Well, Daddy, I'm going to be on The Today Show in about two minutes, and--"

"When were you planning on mentioning this?"

"Daddy, I really can't talk just now, but you know what? Sharon's here. Why don't you talk to her?" She thrusts her purse and phone at Sharon without waiting for an answer. Her parents have been asking after Sharon ever since Brenda brought a positively morose Sharon home for Christmas dinner after making her miss her flight. Brenda's not above taking advantage of that.

Sharon looks slightly panicked for a second but recovers quickly, crossing the tiny room to take Brenda's things. "Mr. Johnson, hi," she says cheerfully, sliding Brenda's purse onto her shoulder. She slips out the door, leaving Brenda to face Matt Lauer alone.

-

Sharon closes the blinds to her office, takes off her glasses, and lies down on her little green couch. It's barely lunchtime, but she is already nine hours into her day after a late-night raid in Olympic Division resulted in multiple use of force complaints. She hasn't gotten a full night's sleep since two nights before the mayor announced the new chief, and it's chosen this moment to catch up to her.

She yawns and turns onto her side, and her eyes aren't even closed before her phone rings. If she hadn't taken off her glasses, she'd be able to read the name on the screen, but instead she answers blind. "Raydor."

"You busy?" It's the chief.

"Aside from coordinating half a dozen use of force investigations? Not at all. I was just about to do my nails."

"Well, come up here and we can do each other's."

Sharon sighs. "Be right there, Chief."

She puts on her shoes and glasses and heads out of the office. Elliot raises his eyebrows when he sees her walking through the bullpen, and she just shrugs and points upward to let him know where she'll be.

The elevator ride is quick and Brenda's civilian aide doesn't even look up as Sharon walks past his desk. There's a short list of people who can walk into Brenda's office at any time, and Sharon had been surprised to find herself on it. Taylor had been apoplectic to find himself not on it.

"You wanted to see me, Chief?"

"I did, Commander. I have a sensitive matter concerning carbohydrates that'll take us both to resolve." She points her plastic fork at the black takeout container on Sharon's side of the desk. "I got the alfredo and you got the vodka sauce. Eat half and we'll swap."

Sharon raises her eyebrows as she settles into the guest chair and reaches for the box. "Is that an order?"

"Does it need to be?" Brenda asks, pasta halfway to her mouth.

"God, no." Sharon stabs a piece of penne with her fork. It's a little firmer than she likes, but the sauce is good, creamy with a little tang. She can't remember the last time she had pasta that wasn't frozen and microwaved.

"How's your investigation going?" Brenda asks.

The messy way she's shoving long strands of fettuccini into her mouth is enough assurance she's making conversation, not asking as the chief, but Sharon still hedges. "I'll be glad to finally get out of IA."

Before Brenda can respond, the door opens and Agent Howard steps in. His mouth presses into a thin line when he sees Sharon.

"Captain." He shakes his head. "Commander, sorry. Still not used to that." He turns to Brenda. "I was in the building and figured I'd surprise you for lunch. Thought maybe we could talk."

Sharon hears the pointed way he says talk, but Brenda -- well, Brenda's entire career relies on her ability to hear things like that. She just ignores it. "If I'd known--"

"You would've told me you were planning to have lunch with Commander Raydor."

"Fritzi--"

Sharon can't take it. She shuts the lid on her pasta and gets to her feet. "If you'll both excuse me..."

She ducks out of the office, making sure to quietly close the door behind her before she heads toward the tenth-floor break room. There's always a pot of lukewarm coffee there, and Sharon's not sure how it will taste with vodka sauce, but the caffeine might do her good.

She makes a cup with cream and sugar, hoping to compensate for the bottom-of-the-pot taste. It doesn't work -- by the time she adds the milk, it ends up cold in addition to burnt -- and she dumps it down the drain, but at least she killed some time. She throws the cup in the trash and heads back down the hall.

Brenda's aide is gone from his desk, and Sharon hesitates outside the door, listening for signs of an argument.

Silence.

She's relieved, but she tries not to let it show as she pushes open the door. "Will Agent Howard being joining us?" She sits down and scoots her chair closer to the desk.

"What?" Brenda's entire demeanor has changed; she looks distant, pensive. Uninterested in her food. "No."

"I could leave, if you'd like to call and ask him to return. I'm sure he hasn't gotten far." At Brenda's frown, she explains, "He hasn't liked me since... well, since the day I interviewed him as part of your application. So ever, really."

"It ain't you." Brenda pushes her pasta around in the container. "Did your husband ever imply you were the reason he drank?"

Sharon's shoulders slump, and she tilts her head sympathetically. "Honey," she says, "he did more than imply it. I don't know how many times he said he wouldn't need to drink if he weren't married to a bitch like me." She presses her lips together, hesitant to ask the next question. "Is Agent Howard..."

Brenda shrugs. "I don't know. Maybe. He said he'd be home late tonight because he was going to a meeting."

Sharon bites her lip. "It's better than a bar," she offers, but if he's using it to manipulate his wife, she's not sure it's true. "It means he's trying."

Brenda makes a skeptical sound and twirls her fork half-heartedly in her pasta before scraping the noodles back off.

"Trade?" Sharon offers, gesturing at the food.

Brenda shoves the box across the desk but doesn't reach for Sharon's. "Take it." She sucks the sauce off her plastic fork and drops it into the trash.

It puts a weight in Sharon's stomach that finishes off her appetite. Still, she twists some pasta around her fork and tries to change the subject. "I noticed you haven't RSVP'd to the LAPD women's banquet."

"That was four months ago," Brenda says, crossing her arms. "I know because I made sure to avoid it." There's a twitch of a smile.

"That was the annual banquet," Sharon explains patiently. "This is our traditional banquet honoring the new chief."

Brenda scoffs. "Now that doesn't seem very feminist of y'all. Buncha women putting together a big dinner for a man."

Sharon rolls her eyes. "This time is a little different. In fact, it's very important to us because -- and I don't know if you're aware of this or not -- our new chief is a woman."

"I think I read something about that, yes." She opens her drawer and pulls out an individually-wrapped piece of red licorice that she tears open with her teeth. Sharon has to suppress the urge to point out there's still actual food in front of her. "I don't suppose there's any way to get out of this one."

"Short of resigning? No."

"I didn't want this job in the first place, you know."

"We're having a triple chocolate cake for dessert."

Brenda groans. "You did that on purpose."

"Of course I did. And, since I know how busy you are, I've also taken the liberty of drafting your speech. All you need to do is give it a few personal touches." She smiles. "It's a party, Chief, and you're the guest of honor. It's going to be fun."

-

Brenda feels ridiculous pacing her office in cocktail dress, waiting for her husband to appear. They were supposed to leave for Sharon's banquet ten minutes ago, but Fritz isn't answering his phone. Impatiently, she dials again, muttering, "Pick up, pick up, pick up," as she holds the phone to her ear.

He does this time, on the last ring before it would go to voicemail. "Hello?"

"Fritzi, where are you?"

"At work. We picked up a case and... your thing is tonight, isn't it?" He doesn't wait for her to answer. "Honey, I'm sorry, I'm just not going to be out of here in time, but I'll see you at home, all right? Talk to you later, bye."

"Fritzi!" But the line is dead. She growls and snaps her phone closed.

There's not much to do except plaster a neutral expression on her face and try not to stomp all the way to the elevator, although she does allow herself the childish pleasure of pressing the call button too hard.

Her driver gets her to the hotel at a time that could almost pass for fashionably late.

She's not sure what to do when she makes it to the banquet room, but Sharon saves her, waving and calling, "Chief!" before she crosses the room.

Everyone notices her then and a wave of applause quickly builds, leaving Brenda to stand uncomfortably in the doorway, blushing as she mouths and nods her thanks.

She's not sure what happens first, the applause fading or Sharon pressing a drink into her hand and taking her by the arm. There's still enough noise that Sharon has to lean in close and speak into her ear. "You looked like a woman who could use a drink."

They navigate a maze of round tables, complicated by pushed-back chairs and people -- mostly women -- standing around to talk. Sharon stops every few tables to introduce her to people, but Brenda won't remember their names. It's a whirlwind, and it's still sinking in that this is all for her.

"This is fancier than my wedding," Brenda says as Sharon pulls out her chair, the second one in from a lectern that separates two long tables at the front of the room.

"Mine, too," Sharon says with a grin, and Brenda wants to know -- she wants to sit there all night, heads leaned in close, and swap stories about life outside of work. "Speaking of weddings, when will Agent Howard be arriving?"

"He's not."

Sharon's smile falters for the first time since Brenda walked into the room, but she hides it quickly. "No problem," she says. "I'm sure we can find someone to fill his seat."

Brenda looks down the length of the table, which except for her and Sharon is all empty chairs. "Who all is sitting up here, anyway?"

"The female department heads; the secretary, treasurer, and vice president of the Women's Alliance; the heads of the women's groups at the fire and sheriff's departments... and of course Councilwoman Santiago and Commissioners Jones and Monroe-Carter." She pauses. "I'm going to find Beth Rizzo. She's been on the force longer than any other woman -- she was Provenza's classmate at the academy, if I'm not mistaken."

Brenda takes a sip of her wine. "Well, at least we'll have something to talk about."

Sharon laughs. "You have no idea," she says, and then she's up and heading into the crowd, leaving Brenda alone at the head table.

She's never been good at this, and she's not sure what to do. Get up and talk to people, sure, but she doesn't know who to approach or what to say. It would be easier if everyone were in uniform; she could start with the commanding officers, ask them about their divisions, tell them to get in touch if there's anything they need. But she's never been social at work outside Major Crimes; she doesn't know the lieutenants from the patrol officers.

A familiar face saves her. "Chief."

A genuine smile spreads across Brenda's face. "Detective Daniels! How have you been?"

"I'm good," Daniels says. "Congratulations on the promotion. How is life as the chief of police? I was surprised to hear you'd put in for it."

"I was surprised to be applying," Brenda says. "It wasn't something I thought about until Sharon -- until Commander Raydor put the application in my hands."

"I know what you mean," Daniels agrees. "I'm still not sure how she got me to be treasurer of the Women's Alliance, but here I am."

"I didn't even know you were involved."

"That's because you never came."

Daniels's words are gentle, but Brenda still feels a pang of guilt. She wants to think she would have gone to a meeting or two, maybe even one of the yearly banquets, if she had known, but she'd be kidding herself.

"How did Major Crimes take the news?" Daniels asks.

"They were amazingly supportive," Brenda says, and this part is easy. She's never had trouble singing the praises of her team. "I think they were even more excited than me."

"Does this mean Provenza's in charge?"

"Louie Provenza?" comes a third, incredulous voice, and Brenda looks over to see Sharon standing behind a woman who looks about Provenza's age. She's a couple inches shorter than Sharon, and her hair is dyed rusty red.

Found her, Sharon mouths and takes a sip of her newly-acquired drink. "Chief Johnson, Detective Daniels, this is Sergeant Beth Rizzo from Central Division."

Things go like that until dinner is served: small talk interrupted by more introductions, most of them made by Sharon. She seems in her element, and Brenda can't help but nudge her once everyone has sat down to eat. "I didn't know you were like this."

Sharon frowns. "Like what?"

Her mama would call Sharon a social butterfly, but Sharon is already looking at her funny. "You said being in IA made you disliked and mistrusted."

"But now I know the chief." She flashes a dazzling smile before turning to her plate, but Brenda's not satisfied.

"That doesn't explain how you got this gig."

Sharon shrugs. "It's a lot like IA. No one else wanted it." She takes a bite, and Brenda finds it strangely charming she talks with her mouth full. "Everyone wants the Women's Alliance to exist, but no one wants to do the extra work. However, I find there are certain advantages to taking it on."

"Like getting to pick the new chief?"

"Exactly." Sharon looks out over the room and then glances at the silver watch on her wrist. "On that note, I think it's time to get these speeches over with." She wipes her mouth with the pink napkin, then smiles a little strangely at Brenda. "Do I have anything in my teeth?"

Brenda shakes her head and then does the same. "Do I?" She could keep eating through Sharon's introduction, but the food's not that good, and she's a little nervous. Plus she was promised chocolate for dessert.

"All set," Sharon assures her, and she drops her wrinkled napkin onto the table and gets to her feet. "Wish me luck."

Sharon's introduction is good, a brief history of women's involvement in the LAPD mixed with acknowledgements of everyone at the head table, right down to Sergeant Rizzo. The way she lays it all out, Brenda can almost understand her excitement -- her appointment sounds like the culmination of decades of work, like a goal generations of women specifically worked toward. By the time Sharon calls her up, Brenda is feeling humbled and empowered, honored to be chosen, and she's startled by the hug Sharon gives her, the little congratulatory kiss on the cheek.

When Brenda first read the speech Sharon gave her, she knew it was good, but she found it too sentimental for her own taste. Still, she hadn't had time to change it, had figured she'd just pretend as she recited it. But she feels every word now, standing behind a podium in front of a crowd of female officers who care enough about the department and their role in it to join this organization and come to these events. It's almost enough to make her tear up, and when the applause dies down and she returns to her seat, she whispers to Sharon, "I didn't know it would feel like that."

Sharon just smiles and hands her a fork. "Eat your dessert, Chief," she says. "You deserve it."

Brenda won't argue with that, and she presses her fork down against her cake, breaking off a bite. It's the richest cake she's ever tasted, fudgy as a brownie with chocolate buttercream slathered on thick and curls of dark chocolate coating the side. Even the syrupy cherry on top is half covered in chocolate, and Brenda eats it all up.

"You not eating yours?" she asks Sharon, whose cake is mostly untouched, and Sharon just shakes her head.

"Have it if you want," she says. "Death by chocolate is not really how I plan to go."

Brenda pulls the plate over and spears the cherry with her fork. "What is?" She pulls the cherry off the tines with her teeth.

"In bed," Sharon says. "You were expecting skydiving?"

Brenda shrugs. "I didn't think your vice would be sleep."

Sharon laughs. "Chief, I raised two kids by myself while working FID. There is nothing in the world as good as eight hours of uninterrupted sleep."

Brenda hums around her fork. "I've been known to go for ten or twelve."

Sharon moans the way Brenda does at the taste of pecan pie. "With a bubble bath before and someone to make breakfast after. Or at least a coffeemaker with a reliable timer."

"Mr. Coffee doesn't snore," Brenda agrees. She sets her fork on her plate. "I'm going to give Fritz a call. Excuse me."

She picks up her purse -- a little blue clutch she thought Sharon would like -- and begins a slow walk toward the door, glad she isn't headed for the restroom. At least one person at every table she passes has to say congratulations or compliment her speech, and by the time she makes it out of the banquet room, she decides she might as well get in line for the ladies' room after all.

It's fancy as bathrooms go, with a big upholstered bench by the door and lighted mirrors over the sinks that remind her of black and white movies where women with finger waves primped in front of elegant vanities.

There's a fair amount of primping going on in here, too, not to mention gossiping, but Brenda never understood the appeal. She just gets herself in and out as quickly as possible before stepping back into the lobby and dialing Fritz.

It rings and rings before going to voicemail, and Brenda huffs before shoving her phone back into her purse. She's trying to prove she's thinking about him, but he can't even pick up the phone -- a sin he's complained about her committing countless times.

"What's wrong?" Sharon asks when Brenda returns to the table.

"Nothing." It's the truth, really. Plenty of people don't drop everything to answer their phones.

"If you have to leave, I don't think--"

"I said nothing's wrong, Commander." She sees Sharon flinch and looks for a quick change of subject. "This music wasn't playing before."

It's something vaguely familiar and not quite new, like maybe she heard it on the radio a few years ago.

"Dance with me," Sharon says and she pushes back her chair, grabs Brenda's hand once she gets to her feet.

Brenda could pull her hand away, feels like she should at least question the appropriateness of dancing with her female subordinate, but if Sharon is comfortable, it must be fine.

When Sharon's hand rests on her waist, Brenda asks, "Do you dance with every new chief?"

Sharon laughs. "I usually go to great lengths to avoid it."

"How come I'm different?"

There's a little twinkle in Sharon's eye and a smirk on her lips. "Can't imagine, Chief."

Sharon spins her then, catches her by the hip at the end of that quick little twirl. It's strange to feel so light, celebrating her new responsibilities, but Brenda laughs just the same, throws her arms around Sharon's neck and shimmies up close.

"It occurs to me I haven't said thank you," Brenda says, and she's grateful when Sharon just nods, accepting that as enough.

"I haven't danced like this in years. Not since the academy."

Brenda knows she's supposed to say something about college, or Washington, or even Atlanta. Something about the last time she went dancing with friends. "I never danced like this," she admits. "It was always more of a dating thing." She looks around the dance floor, which isn't crowded and is filled with more women than men. "You ever run into anyone from then?"

"Sometimes. More these last few weeks than the last twenty years." She moves in and lowers her voice. "I think they know I have the chief's ear."

They're close now, hips and breasts brushing if they move a certain way. Brenda thinks she should take a step back, but it feels nice, and Sharon doesn't seem to mind.

"Chief," someone says, and Brenda looks up, sees Detective Mendoza coming their way. That's what convinces her to take her arms off Sharon's shoulders and step away, but she doesn't miss the way Sharon keeps a hand on her back, their bodies angled slightly toward each other.

"Detective Mendoza," Brenda says. "Do you know Commander Raydor from FID?"

"We've spoken a few times," Sharon says.

"Good to see you, ma'am," Mendoza says with a nod. "Would it be all right if I cut in?"

Brenda looks at Sharon, who is no help at all. "Of course," she says. "I wouldn't want to monopolize the chief's time, and there are a few people I should really talk to before the night is over. Excuse me."

She has barely stepped away before Mendoza takes Brenda by the hand, and Brenda can tell she's uncomfortable. Her arms are a little stiff and her other hand rests too lightly on Brenda's back. Still, Mendoza forges ahead.

"I just want to say what an honor it is to serve under the department's first female chief," she says, but before Brenda can so much as smile in thanks, Mendoza is running through a list of reasons people might not like having a woman as chief. By the time she starts talking about potential threats, Brenda realizes Mendoza is angling for command of her security detail.

Brenda looks around for Sharon and finds her standing off to the side, listening to a young black woman who is speaking animatedly and bouncing on the balls of her feet. When Brenda is sure she has Sharon's attention, she widens her eyes and mouths save me.

Sharon quickly interrupts the other woman with a hand on her arm. She says something, smiles, and makes her way back to Brenda.

"Excuse me, Detective Mendoza," she says, "but there's someone Chief Johnson needs to say hello to."

Mendoza lets Brenda go easily. "Sure thing," she says. "Thanks for the dance, ma'am."

"Thank you," Brenda replies before Sharon ushers her away. As soon as they're out of earshot, Brenda says, "So, who am I meeting?"

"I haven't gotten the far," Sharon says through clenched teeth that almost look like a smile. "Pick someone and--"

"Chief Johnson."

Brenda feels Sharon stiffen as soon as she hears the voice, but Brenda knows an opportunity when she sees one. She turns toward the voice with her most charming smile already on. "Yes?"

"Commander Winnie Davis, Office of Operations," the woman says, hand extended. When Brenda takes it, Davis's grip is overly firm. "It's good to finally meet you. I've heard a lot about Major Crimes." It's hard to miss that she doesn't say whether the things she's heard are good or bad, but Brenda just keeps smiling. "I was hoping we'd be able to discuss resource allocation within the department as relates to--"

"I'd be more than happy to, Commander, but I promised Commander Raydor here a dance." Brenda smiles at Sharon, who looks as uncomfortable as Brenda has ever seen her. "Isn't that right, Commander?"

It takes her a second to answer. "Yes, Chief."

Davis looks back and forth between them. "I see," she says. "Some other time, then."

Brenda leads Sharon back to the dance floor and the song that's playing is a little slower than the one they danced to before, but she's going to see this through. She puts her hands on the curve of Sharon's waist and pulls her in.

"You know her," Brenda says, tilting her head back toward Davis.

Sharon nods. "The commissioners wanted her to be the female candidate for chief. I fought them on it."

"And why's that?"

"She's a bully, Chief, plain and simple. She just knows exactly what line to walk to keep it from becoming a professional standards issue. I'll grant you she's an effective leader on paper, but chief material she is not." Sharon shrugs. "The commissioners got sick of arguing with me and told me to find someone better."

"So you found me."

Sharon smiles softly, and it's a peculiar, wistful thing that doesn't quite reach her eyes. "So I found you." The warm weight of her arm leaves Brenda's shoulder as she lifts her arm to check her watch. "People are going to start saying their goodbyes soon. You should probably make yourself available."

"So what you're saying is I won't need to gladhand anybody if we keep dancing."

"That is one interpretation," Sharon allows. A smirk tugs lightly at the corner of her mouth. "However, it's unlikely to be the most... politically advantageous strategy."

"I thought you found my disinterest in politics to be one of my most enticing qualities."

Sharon hums. "To say nothing of your unfriendliness."

"So you'll dance with me some more."

"How could I resist?"

They don't make it through the next song before Daniels interrupts to say goodnight and congratulate Brenda again. It's like some sort of signal, and after Daniels comes a steady stream; somewhere in it, Brenda loses track of Sharon, but by the time the crowd has thinned, she finds her near the bar, sipping something ruby red through a narrow straw.

"You owe me the rest of a dance," Brenda says, hands clasped behind her back.

"All right," Sharon says, "but let me lead."

They dance to something upbeat, and Sharon surprises her with a lot of quick turns and spins, leaving both of them laughing and out of breath as they return to Sharon's abandoned drink. She tilts the glass toward Brenda after taking a sip.

"Vodka and cranberry," she says by way of an offer.

Brenda gratefully accepts, and when she hands the glass back, her fingers are damp. "Guess I'd better be going, too," she says, looking toward the exit as she wipes her fingers against her dress. "Make sure Fritz made it home."

"All right." Sharon gives her a little twitch of a smile. She hesitates for a second before leaning in for a hug, drink still in her hand. "Congratulations again, Chief."

This time, Brenda manages to return the hug.

When she gets to the car, Brenda makes a few minutes of smalltalk with her driver before her mind starts to wander. It reminds her of when she first got to L.A. and David drove her everywhere. Nice in some ways, but uncomfortable, too.

"Home, ma'am," the officer announces, and Brenda realizes they are in fact stopped in front of the duplex.

"Thank you," Brenda says and slips out of the car. "Have a good weekend."

When she lets herself into the dark apartment, something isn't right. The sounds are off; there's an echo that isn't usually there, like the apartment is empty. She can see the headlines now -- she doesn't need Sharon to tell her how much the Times would love to print Police Chief's Residence Robbed.

She feels along the wall until she finds the lightswitch and flicks it on, and just like she thought, things are gone. The plasma screen, the Blu-ray player her parents got Fritz for Christmas. But it's too neat for a robbery, and there's an envelope on the coffee table where Fritz's autographed baseballs should be.

Inside is something closer to a missive than a note. It starts off with plain Brenda -- she doesn't even rate a dear. That stings more than the laundry list of reasons her husband has up and left, taking his things to the apartment he found while pretending to go to AA.

The letter doesn't say anything she hasn't heard before, except maybe the part that says he was wrong. He should have known better than to think he could live with her being chief, with the appearances and the events, with the illusion of time spent together.

She wants to ask him how he knows. He's been to exactly one party with her, a small dinner at the mayor's house a few days after he appointed her chief. The night she was actually sworn in, Fritz had been stuck at work. She'd gone to her reception with Sharon on her arm.

Sharon. Brenda thinks about calling her, but only for a second. She might still be at the party, and Brenda's not even sure this is something they've worked up to. Instead, she goes into the kitchen and pours herself a glass of wine. She takes it with her to the bedroom, and when she sees that Fritz took his pillow, but left her floral pillowcase, she bursts into tears.

Chapter Text

Every Monday for the past month, Sharon has stopped by Bill Martinez's office to get a summary of the morning's staff meeting and copies of any relevant reports. Martinez had wanted to make sure she didn't get blindsided when she took over the chief of staff position, but the more Sharon learns, the less she believes anything could prepare her for the job. Everything is a crisis mired in decades of politics, and each meeting is longer than the one before.

This week, it's almost eleven by the time Sharon leaves Martinez's office with an armload of files, so she's surprised to see Brenda stepping off the elevator, her pink trench coat hanging open and her sunglasses still on. She looks like she's just getting in, and Sharon realizes Martinez didn't mention her once when talking about the meeting.

"Good morning, Chief," she says cautiously. "Is everything all right?"

Brenda takes off her sunglasses, and in the corridor's harsh fluorescent light, it's hard not to notice the redness around her eyes. "Fine, Commander. Something I can do for you?"

She bites her lip as she looks at the rest of Brenda's outfit: brown skirt, orange sweater, and a pair of pink kitten heels as bright as her shirt. It's been a long time since she's dressed quite like this. "Forgive my blunt question, Chief, but is that really what you're wearing?"

Brenda's expression darkens. "Commander, I am really not in the mood for fashion advice this morning. Now, if you'll excuse me..." She steps around Sharon, but Sharon quickly follows.

"It's not fashion advice," she says. "It's protocol. You have that community meeting at noon, and--"

"Ooh--" Brenda stops dead and stomps her foot -- "shoot." Then she breezes past her aide's desk and into her office, snatching her uniform off the coat rack just inside the door. She throws it over her desk and drops her coat on the floor.

Sharon watches her wrestle with the dry cleaner's plastic before she steps inside and closes the door.

"All right," she says, setting her files on Brenda's inbox. "What's wrong?"

Brenda tears the plastic straight down the front. "Fritz left."

Sharon blinks. She thinks maybe she misheard. "What?"

"Fritz left," she repeats. "Friday night, while we were at your banquet. He wasn't working -- he was packing up." She yanks her sweater down her arms and tosses it over the back of her chair.

"Are you all right?"

"I'm fine."

"You should have called me."

"I said I'm fine." Her voice is muffled as she pulls off her shirt.

Sharon looks away, fixes her eyes on the diploma hanging behind Brenda's head. "I know." She licks her lips, which have suddenly gone dry. "But, Chief, there is also a possibility that this will have... certain professional challenges."

Brenda laughs, a high, nervous sound. "You think I don't know that? Sharon, my last ex-husband tried to get me fired."

Sharon can't stop herself from looking back at Brenda, who's buttoning up her shirt. She thought she knew Brenda's professional history as well as her own, but it still takes a second to connect the dots. "The sexual misconduct allegations?"

"One of the his old army buddies was in IA."

"God." Sharon wants nothing more than to go downstairs and call Atlanta's head of IA, ask what the hell kind of division he's running. She's seen corruption, abuse, and plain bad behavior in every part of the department, but nothing bothers her like seeing it in IA. Part of it is personal -- these are her people -- but it goes beyond that. Internal Affairs is supposed to enforce the rules, and they look incompetent and hypocritical when they can't even enforce them within their own division. "And you think he knew your husband was lying?"

"He wasn't lying," Brenda pulls her pants up under her skirt. "He was just wrong." She pushes her skirt down and starts tucking in her shirt. "Fritz had me thinking this job was going to save our marriage. Instead I spent all weekend scared I'm going to lose both."

"You are not going to lose this job." She doesn't mean to say it, especially not like that, but the thought terrifies her, too. She takes a breath and tries to talk them both down. "The press may beat you up a bit, but divorce... that's hardly a scandal in and of itself. Even with your colorful past." She hesitates. "Unless there's something I should know."

Brenda gives her a look she can't read before dropping heavily into her chair and bending  to put on her shoes. "You coming with me?"

Sharon considers it for a second before shaking her head. "No, not today."

"Lucky you." Brenda pulls on her shoelace so hard, Sharon can hear it. A second later, she stands and tugs on her pant leg to settle it over her shoe. "All right, guess I'm going."

"Look at it this way," Sharon says as they walk toward the door. "The fact that you're going to be on time already puts you head and shoulders above our last chief. He always kept people waiting -- it's part of why his events were such disasters. People would be hot and angry and feel disrespected before he even walked through the door, and everything would just snowball from there."

"If this is your idea of reassuring me, it's not working."

"You'll be fine." When Brenda presses the elevator call button, Sharon says, "I left my files on your desk. I have to run back and get them. Good luck."

Sharon heads back through the glass doors and into Brenda's office, where she not only picks up her files, but straightens up the mess of clothes Brenda has left behind. When she's sure Brenda will be on the elevator, she steps out of the office and walks up to her aide, who is sitting at his desk. "Good morning, Nate. Could you call over to the FBI and find out if Agent Howard is at his desk?"

"Sure thing, Commander." Nate picks up the handset, but hesitates. "Do you want to speak with him, or..."

"I'd like to speak with him in person."

"You got it." Nate presses one of the speed dial options and speaks briefly with someone before asking them to hold. "Agent Howard is downstairs, wrapping up a meeting with SOB. I could set up a meeting, or call down and--"

"No need," Sharon says with a smile. "I'll catch up with him before he leaves. But thank you."

It's a long, hot walk from the building to the parking garage, but it's worth it just to see Agent Howard's face when he finds her leaning against his Bureau sedan. Sharon hasn't liked or trusted him since the night she watched him shake Brenda by the shoulders and scream in her face. It might not have been fair of her given the context, but she's never had any tolerance for that kind of behavior, and her feelings had been left raw by Detective Moore's manipulation of them months prior.

"Commander," he says, slowing his approach.

"Agent Howard," Sharon says. "I hear you're leaving your wife."

"And you'd like me to reconsider."

Sharon laughs. "I'm not Chief Johnson's marriage counselor. My only interest is in making sure she's not embarrassed by the divorce proceedings."

Fritz crosses his arms. "Meaning?"

The way he says it sets Sharon's teeth on edge. "Meaning she's not to be served divorce papers at work or anywhere but the privacy of her home. Meaning no intimate details of your marriage or unflattering remarks should make their way to the press or the public record. Meaning that I guarantee a divorce that looks bad for Chief Johnson will also look bad for you."

Fritz looks incredulous. "Are you blackmailing a federal agent?"

"Not at all. I'm merely pointing out that divorce is a two-way street."

Fritz shakes his head. "You sound exactly like her, you know that? Exactly."

Sharon smirks and pushes herself away from the car. "Must be all the time we're spending together."

-

By the time Brenda leaves her meeting, she's hot and her head is throbbing. The ride back to PAB doesn't help, and she rolls her shoulders and stretches her neck as she takes the elevator to her office. She has Tylenol in her desk drawer and cooler civilian clothes to change back into, so if she can just get half an hour of peace, she'll be able to get herself situated for what's left of the day.

"Anything that can't wait?" she asks Nate on her way into her office. She can tell from the sticky notes on his desk there's one important item; it's scribbled on a color he likes to call priority purple. He says it's more discreet than red.

Nate doesn't need to check the notes. "Just a message from Agent Howard.

Her tense shoulder muscles stiffen that much more at the thought of what Fritz might have to say. She's going to have to ask Nate to take Fritz off the priority list eventually, but the thought makes her stomach churn. She'll save it for another day, one when her head isn't about to explode and his Dear Jane letter isn't fresh in her mind.

"What's it say?" she asks, rubbing the back of her neck.

"Just that Commander Raydor made sure he got your message."

Brenda's hand goes from her neck to the bridge of her nose. "All right," she says. "Get Commander Raydor up here. Right now."

"Yes, ma'am."

Brenda's headache has gone from Tylenol-sized to Excedrin, and she heads into her office while Nate calls down to FID. There's a bottle of room-temperature water on her desk, left there since Friday, and she uses it to wash down two pills and the image of her chief of staff sitting down with her husband to dispassionately discuss how the end of her marriage should play out in the press.

She yanks the elastic out of her hair. Getting the tension off her scalp is a step in the right direction, and once she sheds the weight of her badge and equipment belt, she feels even better. She untucks her shirt and is reaching for her candy drawer when the door to her office opens.

"I take it your meeting didn't go well," Sharon says.

"Not as well as yours, anyhow." Brenda slams the drawer shut and leans on her desk with both hands. "Two things, Commander. First is, if I'm giving someone a message, it had better come from me. And second, my private life is off limits. Got that?"

Sharon doesn't flinch. "You're the chief of police. You may have a personal life, but it is not private, and as your chief of staff, I will involve myself to whatever extent is necessary to keep it from becoming a distraction."

Brenda can feel her blood pressure climbing. "Unless something changed while I was gone, you're still the head of FID. Bill Martinez is my chief of staff."

"And I have no interest in taking the job if I'm going to walk in here on day one and find you in the middle of a self-inflicted crisis."

"Self-inflicted?" Her voice climbs. "You're the one who brought my personal life into this. You told the police commission my marriage would be an asset. You stuck me in front of every news camera in the Valley to talk about feminism and havin' it all."

"Then let me fix it."

The muffled sound of Sharon's ringtone interrupts. She pulls her phone from her jacket pocket and answers. "Raydor."

It's a short conversation, less than a minute all told, but it's long enough for every change in Sharon's body language to make Brenda anxious. She shifts her weight impatiently, and she's grateful that Sharon doesn't make her ask.

"Officer-involved shooting," Sharon says.

"Any of our people hurt?"

"No," Sharon says, and Brenda feels a rush of relief. She dreads the day the answer is yes, but she knows it's going to come. "But I have a dead civilian at the scene."

Brenda already has a long list of questions, but all of the answers depend on Sharon doing her job. "Go."

Sharon nods and takes a step toward the door. "Chief, if you have any questions... I'm going to be extremely busy for the next seventy-two hours, but Martinez--"

"I know. Go."

Sharon mouths a quick thank you before heading out the door, and Brenda finally sinks into her chair. There's a new, slow throb in her head, and she eases open her desk drawer and feels around for the familiar square package of peanut butter cup.

-

Thursday afternoon, exactly seventy-two hours after her phone rang, Sharon sends FID's findings and recommendations to the inspector general and the chief.

She could have sent it hours before the deadline, but she had kept on editing, looking for the phrasing that would make the report feel right. The officer had been scared and inexperienced, and there is little doubt in Sharon's mind that the situation would have unfolded differently if someone with more experience had been involved. Still, the officer's actions were exactly by the book, and Sharon can't help feeling thankful the first OIS of Chief Johnson's tenure -- and, God willing, her last as the head of FID -- won't be an issue.

She wakes up in a good mood on Tuesday, which rarely happens when she needs to address the commission. She pins up her hair, puts on her uniform, and heads to work, where she has just enough time to triage her email before she has to head downstairs for the meeting.

She only has to wait a second for the elevator, and when the doors open, standing inside is the chief, flanked by two young officers. Sharon hasn't seen her since last Monday, and she tries to remember if the chief's uniform flattered her like this then. Sharon is proud of her uniform, but whenever she sees herself in it, she has to remind herself it was designed for men. Somehow, though, Brenda wears it three times better than the young men standing behind her.

"Going down, Commander?"

Sharon straightens up slightly, puts her shoulders back and answers with a crisp, "Yes, ma'am." It's important to set a good example for their subordinates, and it doesn't hurt that Brenda hates when she does it. She throws in a, "Thank you, ma'am," when Brenda presses the door close button after she gets on.

If it weren't for the sideways glare Brenda gives her, Sharon would almost believe the bump of Brenda's elbow against her arm is an accident. She bites her lip to hold down a smirk and gives it one more shot when the doors open on the first floor: "After you, ma'am."

Brenda's smile is as fake as Sharon's ever seen. "Why, thank you, Commander. Thank you so very much."

Once they're off the elevator and away from the patrol officers, Brenda says, "You're in a good mood for someone about to waste their entire morning in a commission meeting."

"I have no idea to what you might be referring, Chief."

"I'll bet."

Sharon smiles and opens the door to the boardroom for her chief. The meeting is public, but the rows of black chairs are relatively empty, occupied only by reporters and a handful of civilians, most of whom Sharon recognizes as frequent attendees. A few uniformed personnel linger near the doors to provide security, and the commissioners are already in their seats.

Sharon sits in the end seat of the third row while Brenda takes her place on the far left of the dais. The room is glaringly bright to improve the video recordings, but the chief's seat has always been in the only shadow, far from the cameras.

It always struck Sharon as insulting.

The open session drags on for an eternity, and not for the first time, Sharon wishes the meetings were predictable enough for her to sneak in just before the start of the closed session. She knows that the day she tries that will be the day the commissioners get straight to the point and the good citizens of Los Angeles don't use every moment of the public comment periods.

When Commissioner Meyers declares the public portion of the meeting over, Sharon picks up her files and moves to the table at the front while the officers herd the civilians and press out of the room. Once the doors are closed, Commissioner Jones smiles warmly and says, "Commander Raydor, it's been a while."

Shelley Jones is a civil rights activist with a doctorate in public policy, and possibly the only person in PAB who has accused Sharon of being too lenient on her fellow officers. Still, Sharon has always liked her, and Sharon returns the smile as she adjusts her microphone. "Sixty-five days, Commissioner."

The day before Mayor Quintero had been set to announce his selection for chief of police, Andy Flynn had shot and killed a suspect in a parking garage. The mayor had delayed his announcement and the commission had held an emergency session to vote on Flynn's OIS.

"If memory serves, that's the longest the department has gone without an officer-involved shooting in quite some time."

"I'd have to check my records."

Jones shakes her head. "That won't be necessary, Commander -- just an observation." She taps a few keys on her laptop, probably checking the dates herself. "Before we get down to business, however, the commission would like to congratulate you on your promotion and wish you luck in your new position."

"Thank you," Sharon says with a slight nod. She glances at Brenda, who winks. "I look forward to continuing our work together."

"Which brings us to today's matter," says Commissioner Meyers. He has never been one for smalltalk, but somehow his meetings last just as long as those under every other commission president. "Categorical use of force incident number zero zero four dash twelve, an officer-involved shooting that took place last Monday in Rampart Division. Would the commission care to hear the summary of FID's report and recommendations, or shall we proceed with questions?" When no one asks for the summary, Meyers prompts for questions.

After a few moments of silence, Brenda leans toward her microphone. "Commissioner Meyers, if you don't mind, I have a question."

"Of course not. Go ahead, Chief Johnson."

"Commander Raydor," she says, "maybe it's because this is my first time reading one of your OIS reports, but I found some of the language surrounding your conclusions a bit... reluctant."

Sharon narrows her eyes. Her report never would have made it to the commissioners if Brenda hadn't signed off on it. "I'm sorry, Chief, I'm not sure I follow."

Brenda puts on her dark-rimmed glasses and picks up the report. "You wrote that Officer Cruz's use of force 'could not reasonably be found to violate current department policies.' That's not exactly a full-throated defense of her actions." She pulls her glasses off and drops them on the desk in front of her. "Commander, does FID believe the department's use of force policies are insufficient?"

Now Sharon understands. Brenda isn't taking issue with her report -- she's giving her an opening. A chance to tell the commissioners some of the same things she had told Brenda as they'd sat in her office those first few nights, mapping out their vision for her term as chief. They had been barefoot on the couch, two ill-advised coffees into their fourth late night, when Brenda had offered to make her chief of staff, had told her she'd be a commander whether she took the position or not.

Sharon had jumped at it; she hadn't even needed to think. But here in the boardroom, with this new opportunity Brenda has given her, Sharon takes her time, choosing her words before she decides to speak.

"First, I want to be very clear. FID's role is to investigate whether an officer's use of force is in compliance with current department policy. We stand by the recommendations in our report, and any discussion regarding the shortcomings of current policy should not be used to punish Officer Cruz for her actions last Monday." She looks at each commissioner, studying their faces for signs of disagreement before going on. "That being said, LAPD policy does not currently require or permit us to consider whether an officer made every feasible de-escalation attempt before resorting to force. As a result, we have little choice but to find in policy some incidents that never should have escalated to the point of requiring force."

Meyers crosses his arms. "In other words, you'd like FID to have greater latitude when it comes to recommending we rule use of force incidents out of policy."

Sharon shakes her head. "No, sir. What I'm asking for is a policy change that will ultimately decrease the number of use of force incidents."

"You do realize this would require considerable changes to recruit training, not to mention a major effort to bring current personnel up to date."

"Again, sir, I disagree. FID undergoes the same training as other divisions. De-escalation techniques are well-covered. What's missing is the requirement that officers exhaust them before resorting to force."

"While Commander Raydor's concerns merit consideration, we're straying from the agenda here," Commissioner Santos says before Meyers can respond. He's one of the newest commissioners, the most even-keeled of the five. Sharon doubts he'll make it through his term. "Commander, since this is your last week in FID, would you be able to submit a brief and informal proposal to us and the inspector general by Friday end of day? From there, we'll discuss whether to convene a working group on the matter."

Sharon has a long, detailed proposal she has been working on during lulls for the better part of a year. "I can absolutely do that."

"Very good," Meyers says. "Now that that's settled, are there any questions pertinent to the Cruz OIS?" He looks up and down the table, but the other commissioners are shaking their heads. Then he looks at Brenda. "Any more questions, Chief Johnson?" he asks pointedly.

Brenda just smiles brightly. "No, I'd say FID's report was quite thorough and speaks for itself."

"Indeed," Meyers says. "Commander, thank you for your time. You're free to go while we wrap this up."

"Thank you," Sharon says, but as she tucks her report back into its folder, Brenda gestures for her to wait outside. Sharon doesn't sigh, but she wants to. Her good mood is gone, along with her entire morning, and if she'd had the foresight to bring any money with her, she'd take an early lunch in the hopes it would reset her day. Instead, she knows she'll go back to her office, start revising her proposal for the commissioners, and forget to eat until mid-afternoon.

Resigned, she stands outside the boardroom until Brenda comes out.

"You might be a politician after all, Chief."

Brenda wrinkles her nose. "Now that's a terrible thing to say to someone who just did you a favor."

The door swings open again, and this time, Commissioner Meyers steps out. "Chief Johnson," he says, making a beeline for them. "Excuse me for interrupting, Brenda, but I promised my wife I'd relay her invitation. She's hosting a cocktail party at our home Thursday night and was hoping you could attend."

Gail Meyers' midweek cocktail parties come with alarming frequency, whenever the mood or a tenuous excuse presents itself to her. Sharon has been to her fair share over the course of Meyers' term -- it's hard to say no to a commissioner's wife, especially when the invitation typically comes from the commissioner's mouth.

Brenda handles it deftly, giving Meyers a smile and tilting her head. "We'd love to. What time?"

"Wonderful. We'll see you and Fritz around six-thirty, then. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to run upstairs and extend the same invitation to Chief Pope."

When Meyers is out of earshot, Sharon -- knowing she's on shaky ground --  puts on her most neutral, disinterested tone. "Have you and Agent Howard reconciled?"

"Let's not go there, Commander," she says a little harshly, but her next words are both friendlier and answer enough. "How would you like to have drinks with me, Thursday night around half past six? I know a nice little commissioner's house we could go to."

She knows she should be glad Brenda isn't madder, but she can feel her shoulders slump involuntarily. "Couldn't you just demote me?"

"Now, Commander," Brenda says, "where would be the fun in that?"

-

The first few days after Fritz left, it had been all Brenda could do to get out of bed, but now that there's no reason to stay at home and no husband to slow down her routine, she's been getting to work earlier and earlier. She's starting to like it, in fact: no Nate to greet her with messages, no noise from Martinez's office, nothing but her, a cup of coffee, and silence while she sorts through all the emails she received overnight.

She's down to the sweet, syrupy bottom of her mocha when the door opens, and Sharon jumps when she finds Brenda inside. "Chief!" Startled, she presses a hand to her chest. "I didn't think you'd be here."

"It's my office," Brenda says, grumbling less at Sharon's intrusion than the fact that her arrival means Brenda's quiet time is just about over.

Sharon holds up a garment bag. "I was just coming to leave this here. My office is so full of boxes, I might never find it again."

The Meyers' cocktail party is tonight, and they're going straight there from work. Brenda's own dress is on the coat rack next to her uniform. "Put it with mine," she says, gesturing with her pen.

And so she finds herself with Sharon's dress hanging in her office, zipped up in a dark bag. Taunting her like a wrapped present beneath the tree.

She's always peeked at her presents, but stealing a glance at Sharon's dress wouldn't be the same. There isn't anything particularly interesting about Sharon's clothes. They're simple, classic -- the kind of thing Brenda walks right by in department stores. But when Sharon puts them on, it's like they're transformed. Even the uniform is different on Sharon, projecting authority in a way Brenda can't manage even with a collar full of stars.

If only that knowledge could keep her focused.

Administrative Services sends over a stack of donation approval requests, and when she comes across one regarding sports equipment, her mind wanders to a Saturday morning in September. She and Fritz had still been in bed when Sharon had shown up at their door, told her they were going to South Central to do some politicking and watch the LAPD's new youth football team play. She'd been in jeans and a t-shirt, a blue Dodgers cap on her head, but she'd still looked stunning in the picture the Times had run the next day.

Brenda signs the request, sticks it in her outbox, and moves on to the next. Before taking this job, she'd had no idea how many people wanted to give things to the LAPD, but every week, she gets at least a dozen requests to review. This week's pile takes longer than usual to work through, and when she signs off on the last one, she decides to go down to the ninth floor and see how Major Crimes is doing under Provenza's leadership.

When she'd been appointed chief, Brenda had considered offering Sharon command of Major Crimes. She had been nervous about leaving Provenza in charge of the division, and she's still not sure how permanent it will be -- he's great with the team, but his investigations have a way of going off the rails -- but she had decided, selfishly, that she would rather have Sharon by her side.

There's a murder board in progress when she walks into the bullpen, and a video is playing silently on the big projection screen beside the board. It's lunchtime, and she can smell the greasy pizza they've ordered even before she sees the open boxes on Tao's desk.

"Chief!" Flynn is the first one to see her, and they all call out greetings when they notice her.

"Gentlemen," she acknowledges fondly. David grabs a desk chair and wheels it right up to her so she can take a seat; Tao hands her a paper napkin with a slice of pizza. "Oh, thank you, Lieutenant. Now, what are y'all working on today?"

They catch her up on the case -- dead rapper, dead strippers -- while she eats and scans the board, but not even murder can keep her focused today. She finishes her pizza, offers her perspective on the case, and makes an excuse to go back upstairs, where she can be distracted in private.

She has never been so relieved to see Nate come in at the end of the day.

"Anything you need before I leave, Chief?"

She's been trying to her hardest to get the civilian staff home on time, so out of habit, she starts to say no. But there is something she needs, and it's not going to get any easier the longer she waits. "One teensy thing," she says, because it is. It's not going to keep Nate there any longer than it takes to say, and saying it will just take a second if she can get rid of the lump in her throat. It's probably just her pride, still trying to keep her from admitting that Fritz was right.

She takes a deep breath. "I'd appreciate it if you could remove Fritz from my priority list."

She braces herself for questions, but they don't come. He just gives her a sympathetic smile and says, "Anything else?"

Brenda shakes her head. "You have yourself a good evening."

Nate nods. "You too, Chief," he says, and he ducks out of her office, closing the door gently behind him.

Brenda doesn't want to cry, but her body does. Her face is hot and her eyes sting, and she fans herself with both hands, trying to chase it all away. The last thing she wants is to go to this party red-eyed and puffy.

Unlike that morning, Sharon knocks -- just not until she's halfway in the door. She stops dead and stares for a moment. "Hot flash?"

"Bite your tongue," Brenda says, but it's just what she needs. Concern or sympathy would have pushed her right over to tears, but now she can brush them away while Sharon gets their dresses from the coat rack.

Sharon hands Brenda her dress and then turns toward the door.

"Where're you going?"

Sharon frowns. "I thought I'd change in the restroom."

"You really want to stand on that floor in your bare feet? Change here." When Sharon hesitates, Brenda rolls her eyes. "I won't peek."

Sharon laughs, but that's what it takes to convince her, and she carefully lays her bag out on Brenda's desk. Brenda turns away before she can take out her dress. She's not going to look, but she can see Sharon reflected in the glass, a blurry form stepping out of her shoes.

Brenda does the same and tries not to think about how good it feels to be out of her shoes, knowing she's only going to have to put them back on. She wiggles her toes while she fights with the stubborn zipper on her old, cheap bag. It gives in after a few tries, and she quickly changes her clothes.

She's twisting and stretching to reach the back zipper on her dress when Sharon swats her hand away. "I've got it." She sweeps Brenda's hair over her shoulder and pulls the zipper up.

"I would've got it," Brenda grumbles. She has managed to dress herself for her entire unmarried adult life; she's just out of practice.

"In that case, I'll just unzip it and--"

Brenda ducks away with a quick twist, but all the verbal backtracking she was about to do goes right out the window when she sees Sharon.

Sharon looks incredible, and from the smirk on her face, she knows it, too. Her dress is a deep, dark blue, and it could almost be called modest with its long sleeves and knee-length hem. Almost, if it weren't for the way the wrap silhouette accentuates her curves, from the flare of her hips to the dip of her narrow waist to the fullness of her breasts.

She doesn't realize she's staring until Sharon clears her throat.

Heat rushing back into her face, she looks Sharon straight in her twinkling green eyes. "Nice dress, Commander."

Sharon's smirk turns into a grin.

-

The party isn't terrible. There's an awkward moment when the mayor asks about Fritz, and later, a young prosecutor hits on Sharon as some sort of karmic retribution for her leaving Brenda alone with Pope, but Sharon has been through worse at the Meyers' house. It helps that this time, she has a ride home and can have more than her usual one drink.

Still, she's grateful when the cater waiters start walking around with coffee instead of shrimp puffs, hinting that it's time to go.

Once they're settled into the back of the big black SUV, Brenda says, "Paul Finney cornered me to complain about your de-escalation proposal."

"And about me in general, I suppose." Complaints from the union president are nothing new. Sometimes he has the courtesy to complain to her face. More often, he does it to the press.

"He thinks your promotion was quid pro getting-me-appointed-chief."

"Mmm." Sharon leans her head back against the seat and closes her eyes. "He's not entirely wrong, you know."

"I know," Brenda says quietly, and it hangs in the air. Then she says, "Fuck him anyway."

Sharon's eyes snap open in disbelief, and as soon as she meets Brenda's eyes, they both start to laugh. Alcohol and exhaustion combined make it the hardest she's laughed in weeks, and she finishes wiping a stray tear from her eye just before the car hits a pothole that makes her shift in her seat. "Your place isn't far from here, is it?"

"No, why?"

"Because I assume your bathroom is cleaner than that of the nearest gas station."

"Ah." Brenda presses the button to lower the privacy screen, and she tells her driver to take a detour. A few minutes later, they're driving down her street, which is full of stucco duplexes just like hers. As they pull into the carport of one, Brenda hands her the keys.

"You remember where everything is," Brenda says, but by the time Sharon steps out of the mint green hell that is the oversized bathroom, Brenda is standing in the living room, looking lost inside her own home.

"What's wrong?" Sharon asks.

"I was thinking," Brenda says. "Why don't you just stay?"

Sharon doesn't want to. She outgrew sleepovers forty years ago and didn't like them even then. But she saw Brenda in her office earlier, teetering on the brink of tears, and she knows what it's like to not want to be alone.

"Are you sure?" she asks, like Brenda is doing her a favor by extending the offer.

Brenda makes a face like Sharon is being ridiculous. "Of course. Lemme grab you a toothbrush and some jammies."

She doesn't invite Sharon to follow, so Sharon stays in the living room. The last time she was here, there was a Christmas tree blocking the picture window and a line of stockings over the fireplace, but not much else has changed despite Fritz's departure. The only sign that anything was ever missing is a box from a new TV leaning against a wall.

When Brenda comes back, she's wearing pink pants with kittens on them and a camisole with lace trim, her bra sticking out from beneath it. She hands Sharon something dark blue and cotton; when she unfolds it in the spare bedroom, she sees it's an LAPD t-shirt and a pair of plaid boxer-style shorts. The shirt is oversized and unflattering, just like many she has acquired over the years, and she rolls up the sleeves and knots the extra material at her hip before going back out to the living room.

Brenda is sitting on the couch with the cat beside her, watching something Sharon doesn't recognize. She listens, hoping to place it or make a guess at the plot, but she soon realizes she can't understand a word.

"Russian?" she guesses, but truth be told, she doesn't think she could tell Russian from Czech.

Brenda doesn't look up, but Joel gets up, stretches, and moves to the back of the couch. "This chief thing's not going to last forever. Maybe when I'm done, I'll go back to State."

Sharon laughs and sits beside her, runs her fingers over the little holes Joel's claws have left in the leather cushion. "You mean the CIA."

Brenda still doesn't look at her, and Sharon is sure it's deliberate. An attempt to seem unruffled now that she's caught. "You know?"

"I'm a very good detective," Sharon says gently, because it's true. She'd been on the short list for heading Priority Homicide when Chief Thompson had first conceived of the division, but Pope had vetoed it and chosen Taylor instead.

When it's clear Brenda is waiting for her to make a move, Sharon nods at the TV. "So what are they saying?"

Brenda looks at her then. "You're not gonna ask about the CIA?"

"Can you talk about it?"

Brenda hesitates, then shakes her head. "No."

It's what she assumed, but it's still disappointing. She wants to know about that part of Brenda's life. Wants Brenda to trust her with things she isn't supposed to know. "All right, then teach me some Russian."

"Dosvedanya," Brenda says flatly, her Southern accent still strong.

Sharon rolls her eyes. "Something I don't know. Like... hello."

Brenda says something then, something that certainly sounds Russian, and Sharon just blinks.

"I don't think my tongue can do that," she says.

"Sure it will." Brenda pulls her legs up onto the couch and turns her full body toward Sharon. "Just repeat after me."

They laugh their way through basic Russian phrases, and by the time they say goodnight, Sharon is glad she stayed.

The guest bed is comfortable and she falls asleep easily, only waking up once when Brenda's cat jumps up beside her. His whiskers tickle her face as he stretches his neck forward to sniff her mouth, and Sharon laughs as she squirms and pushes him away. She's asleep again before he leaves the room.

When she wakes up for good, half an hour before her alarm, the morning light is filtering through the gauzy curtains, and she thinks the vintage wallpaper has gotten even uglier overnight. Putting her glasses on only makes it worse.

The doors to the Jack and Jill bathroom are wide open, and she can see Brenda is still just a lump in the middle of her bed, the cat snoozing at her feet. She shuts the doors gently and tries to be quiet as she goes through an abbreviated version of her morning routine. It's a challenge with the cluttered vanity, and she manages to knock over a pill bottle, a stack of eyeshadow palettes, and several containers of lotion while returning Brenda's makeup remover to its place, but when she opens the doors back up, Brenda still hasn't moved.

Joel's head picks up and he follows Sharon into the kitchen, where he repeatedly tries to trip her while she looks for the coffee. She starts with the cupboard over the coffeemaker, which doesn't have coffee, but does have a box of instant oatmeal and the last few slices of a loaf of bread. She takes the bread and two packets of oatmeal and keeps looking.

What she finds is that Brenda needs to go grocery shopping -- but then, so does she.

She resigns herself to toast, oatmeal, and a glass of water, but when she checks the fridge for butter or jam, she finds the coffee on the second shelf. Joel makes a loud, demanding noise and shoves his head against her shin.

Sharon's never had a cat, but she can guess he's looking for breakfast, too. She hasn't come across any cat food, so she pours him some milk and spends the next few minutes stepping over and around him while she works.

He tears out of the room when the toast pops up.

"Poor kitty," Sharon coos, even though he's no longer around to hear. She spreads strawberry jam on the toast while the coffeemaker hisses out the last of the coffee, and she only gets to take two small bites before the kettle starts to whistle. She turns the stove off quickly, and as she's pouring water into the bowls of dry oatmeal, she notices the sugary little eggs dissolving into tiny dinosaurs.

It doesn't surprise her at all.

She gets everything loaded up on a sturdy wooden tray and makes it most of the way to the bedroom before she realizes what she's doing. She just made breakfast in bed for her chief.

The lump of blankets in Brenda's bed moves and Brenda sits up. "Sharon?" she asks, rubbing her eyes. Her hair is sleep-mussed, fuller but not quite wild, and yesterday's eyeliner is smudged just enough to look intentionally smokey.

Sharon swallows hard. "I made... food." If she doesn't call it breakfast, then it's just eating in bed. The two of them. Because of course her breakfast is on the tray, too.

Brenda yawns without covering her mouth. "I have food?"

"Not anymore." Sharon walks over to the bed like she's not hoping a sinkhole will open and swallow her whole. "I think there's a box of crackers and some shriveled grapes."

"I hear they turn into wine." Brenda folds back the blanket before taking the tray. With it safely balanced on her lap, she picks up a piece of toast, dips a finger in the jam, and sticks that finger in her mouth. "You going to join me or stand there and watch?"

Heart racing, Sharon climbs into the bed next to her chief.