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Laws of Simplicity

Chapter Text

 

Prologue:

Not Goodbye, Just 'So Long'

 

Sharon glanced at her watch as the elevator stopped again and opened its doors. She was going to be late, and she was never late, especially not when the new Chief of Police had summoned her.

Even though it was only Will Pope.

Whoever had pressed the call button for the elevator, she couldn't see for all the boxes, stepped in. "Sorry," he said as he nearly bumped into her. "Seven, please?"

"I'm headed that way," she said, recognizing Gabriel's voice.

"Oh, Captain Raydor?"

"Yes, Detective. Are you alright? Do you need help?"

"Nah, I'm good," he said, huffing and puffing. "And it's Lieutenant now."

Smiling gently at the pride in his voice, Sharon pulled off the box on the very top and clutched it firmly against her body. She could see his face after that, beads of sweat on his forehead.

"I'm sorry, Lieutenant."

"Thanks, Captain."

"How is Robbery/Homicide treating you?"

"It's great!" He grinned. "Kinda strange, got lots to learn still."

"You're the Incident Commander now, is that right?"

Gabriel nodded. "Yeah. Better paycheck but it comes with a ton of paperwork I really had no idea Lieutenant Provenza filled out every week."

"Hmm," Sharon hummed. "Well. Congratulations, Lieutenant."

"Thank you, Captain."

The elevator dinged, this time on their floor. As they stepped out, Gabriel nodded at the box. "If you can just..."

"Of course." Sharon lifted the cardboard box up and balanced it carefully on the very top.

"Thanks!" He threw over his shoulder as he left down the hall.

Sharon went the other way, to the right, using her key card to gain entry to the reception area. A maintenance man was scraping Will Pope's name off a glass panel, Margaret still sat behind her desk, with her usual look of polite indifference.

"Chief Johnson? I have Captain Raydor for you," she said into the phone then nodded and hung up. "She's expecting you."

Chief Johnson was expecting her? Sharon swallowed. She had been summoned by Pope, not Brenda, and the unexpected change of plans gave her pause. Reluctantly she opened the door and stepped in.

Pope was there, standing next to Brenda who was barely visible amongst the boxes on the desk. She sat in the big leather chair, it nearly swallowed her, and the blonde looked comically small in it.

On the desk, centered perfectly, sat a glass name plaque - 'Assistant Chief Brenda Johnson'

It was almost as if this was permanent, as if Brenda was here to stay, making herself at home.

But they both knew that wasn't true.

"Chiefs," she said.

"Captain, have a seat," Will said.

Sharon's eyes wandered to Brenda as she lowered herself into one of the chairs. The blonde looked as if she was about ready to throw up her breakfast.

Oh, god. Visions of 'Traffic Division', of demotion...or worse, early retirement, shot through her mind.

"As you know, the Department will be undergoing some serious reorganization over the next few weeks."

"Yes, Chief," she said dutifully and looked at Brenda again who had plastered a smile onto her face.

He cleared his throat. "Chief Johnson?"

"Oh, yes...um," Brenda said, scratching the surface of the desk. "Cap'n Raydor, Will and I have--I mean, Chief Pope and I have, after careful consideration, decided on my replacement. Which will be you, if-if you would want--"

Me?

"What Chief Johnson is trying and failing to say, is that even she can't do two jobs at once and, after much deliberation on her part, as she insisted she make this decision herself, she has appointed you as her most suitable candidate to whom she may give up control of her squad...very, very reluctantly."

Sharon thought she was hearing things. "Me?"

"Yes." Brenda nodded. "I've thought about this long and hard, and I realize I should've involved you in my decision makin' process, maybe, but, Sharon, you're it."

Sharon blinked; how often had she heard the word unpromotable? Spoilt goods. How often had she been told that if she was looking for a change in scenery, she might as well quit?

And what about Dolan, who was supposed to be getting this job?

She looked at Brenda who smiled at her and then Sharon realized that she had earned this, that Brenda knew that and also...that Brenda had picked her.

"Okay," Sharon said and smiled back. "Well, we better find a replacement for myself then."

Chief Pope seemed pleased with it all, mostly himself, and nodded...satisfied. "Captain, I suggest you vigorously shadow Chief Johnson over the next two weeks to gain insight into how Major Crimes works and to, hopefully, make this transitioning period as smooth sailing as possible."

"Of course."

"Well, congratulations. Um. Brenda? I'll see you at three."

"At three, Will, I promise."

He grabbed a box and then left.

As the door closed behind him, Sharon whipped her head back around and stared at Brenda, wide eyed. "You are kidding me."

"I am not! Congratulations, Sharon, you deserve this."

"Oh, I know I do," she said, unable to keep the smile out of her voice. "I just never thought that..." She trailed off and let her eyes roam around the room. "So...I see you're moving in."

"Oh, no," Brenda said, groaning, "this is all Will's stuff. And he gave me this stupid name plaque that'll only be good for about a month."

"I think it's nice," Sharon said, eyeing it up. "So. Actually, I do have a few people in mind that would be suitable replacements for FID. Of course, Commander Parker might have an idea or two as well."

"Alright," Brenda said and got up, so Sharon did the same. "Why don't we talk about it on our way to my--I mean, your office."

"Sounds great."

"But don't get too excited, I haven't even emptied my drawers yet."

"Don't worry," Sharon said, "I didn't think I was going anywhere. Oh, god...do you think I can bring my filing cabinet? I'd rather not tackle that."

Brenda snorted as she stepped around the desk, then her face changed, her whole demeanor, and her eyes looked as if she was saying goodbye, as if she was packing up and going on a far-away voyage.

"Hey," Sharon said gently and opened her arms.

The blonde leaned into them, her own arms winding around Sharon's shoulders, holding her tightly. "Just...take care of 'em, okay?"

"Of course," Sharon vowed. Of course she would. After a moment, she drew back, her hands resting on the swell of Brenda's hips. The blonde's eyes had glazed over with tears and her bottom lip wobbled.

"Honey," Sharon said then, "This is not goodbye. It's just...so long."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Organize

- Organization makes a system of many appear fewer -

 

Today was her first official day at her new job.

So far, the anticipation hadn't killed her but her nerves surely would.

Brenda smoothed her hands down her skirt again, a black thing with a black blazer. 'They wear suits at the FBI', Fritz had said, so there she was, complete with a white blouse. Brenda felt ridiculous, as if wearing a costume. She had felt that way when she had still worked in Washington - people there dressed very well.

Blowing out a deep breath, Brenda watched the numbers on the elevator as they ascended to her floor. The thirteenth - wohoo!

As it dinged, Brenda stepped out and was immediately blind-sided. "Chief Johnson!"

The blonde whirled around, forcing a hopefully natural smile onto her face. "Director Faulkner."

"Just the woman I wanted to see." He smiled back at her, his blue eyes shining with mirth at having caught her sneaking in late. "Your office, if you don't mind?"

Brenda nodded dutifully, hoisting her purse up higher and followed him along the marble floored hallway. Her heels clicked and clacked as they passed mostly glass walled offices to, what Fritz had called, 'The Inner Sanctum'.

At first Brenda had puzzled over the peculiar moniker but then, when she had seen it, everything had made perfect sense.

The upper tier was half moon shaped.

Her office was smack in the middle of it, overlooking the round bullpen below on the twelfth floor. On her door it said 'B. Johnson' and underneath 'Section Chief'.

Everyone was always hard at work - if it was her presence, Brenda wasn't sure. First the movers, who had taken all of Counter Terrorism's stuff and had moved it to a bigger, better place, then the cleanup crew who had polished all the windows and every inch of glass.

Then the movers in. One night she had come in and there were new desks in the bottom circle - 'The Sanctum' - neatly arranged for her future Agents. How many people was she to supervise?! Brenda had guffawed and counted, three times.

42. Exactly 42.

Then the techs had arrived with new computers, screens, boards - Brenda wasn't even sure what it all did, let alone how it worked. Hopefully one of these 42 people could tell her or, better yet, do it all for her.

As they arrived in the reception area, her secretary giving them both a wane smile, Brenda could feel eyes on her, staring up from the bullpen, as she still liked to call it. She had yet to introduce herself, mostly ducking in and out discreetly.

The thing was, she was terrible at first impressions. She just, try as she might, never left a good one. Even her secretary, who had one day appeared as if out of nowhere, had given her a bland look before Brenda had had the chance to say anything.

Later, and Brenda had to suppress a smile every time she saw the girl, it transpired that Suzanne's quiet seething was actually directed at Faulkner.

"Morning, Suzi," he said just like he did every time he showed up at Brenda's office. It was the third time around, last week, when he had left after a short progress meeting. Brenda had seen him out, stack of files under her arm for Suzanne to copy and Faulkner, as he had left, had said, "Bye, Suzi," and had waltzed down the corridor.

The Asian girl had huffed and puffed, pushing her glasses up and Brenda had looked down at her, baffled and had asked, "Somethin' the matter?"

"It's Suzanne," she had said immediately, glowering. "My name is Suzanne."

Brenda had smiled widely, her cheeks coloring with amusement and had dropped the files onto the neatly organized desk before her. "Well, Suzanne," she had said slowly because, as much as Faulkner annoyed the feisty girl, Brenda had taken to calling her 'Miss Chen', which had seemed to be equally as undesirable. "Mind copyin' that?"

So, Suzanne did not want to like her but, and Brenda considered it a small consolation, they shared the occasional secretive smirk behind Director Faulkner's back who seemed hell-bent on holding onto old-fashioned ideas.

Brenda also had to admit that she may have given Suzanne the same bland look when she had first appeared because the idea of having a secretary, a watch dog almost, who sat in front of her office from 9 to 5, just did not appeal to her. However, and Brenda felt a little guilty about that, they had come to the understanding that if Fritz called on her extension - or anyone, for that matter - and Brenda failed to pick up on the 5th ring, Suzanne would dutifully inform whoever that the Chief was in a meeting.

Most of the time though, wherever she had started a new job, she had been met with animosity. A great example was Flynn's initial hatred of her.

Things had changed though, and she didn't hold grudges - a waste of time, really - and she had earned his trust, as did he her's. It wasn't as if Brenda had expected instant admiration or instant trust but professionalism - was that too much to ask for?

So she had avoided her new subordinates. Had avoided office politics because, maybe, one of them was supposed to have this job after Will had turned it down.

In her office, which was still littered with boxes, Faulkner pointed at the print she had hung up behind her desk - Los Angeles, engulfed in the bright orange evening sun.

"Nice touch," he said and looked for somewhere to sit.

"Oh, I'm sorry, sir. Let me just...move all that." Brenda shifted a large, white cardboard box from the chair to the table in the corner.

There was a knock on the door, hollow and loud, thanks to the frosted glass pane.

"Ah, there she is," Faulkner said and smoothed his tie down - he was married, Brenda could tell by the tie that matched his ice blue eyes perfectly, as well as his silver mustache and what was left of his hair.

A woman entered, strawberry blonde, pretty in a way and very close in age to Brenda herself. The blonde immediately recognized her, having seen her a few times downstairs. She had an office right opposite, one floor down, and some nights she sat at her desk, typing away on her computer. She had reading glasses and always carried a tote of some description. Leather, big and roomy, sort of vintage looking. And she always chewed the ends of her pens.

She always looked well put together, always wearing suits - skirts, mostly - yet her messy curls, pulled back into an unruly bun, gave her an aura of familiarity, of friendliness...of being 'other', somehow.

"Good morning," she said and smiled, cups of coffee in her hands. "I didn't know how you take yours, Chief, but I heard you had a penchant for sugar."

Oh, she was nice. Brenda could just tell. One of those nice people who got you coffee for no reason, someone who had granola bars and orange juice for breakfast and worked out three times a week. All in all, she thought, she looked like somebody who excelled at first impressions.

"Thank you. Thank you very much," Brenda honeyed and took the cup.

"Thanks, Bridget."

Bridget. Right.

"It's nice to finally meet you in person, Doctor Beaudoin," Brenda said and she realized she actually, kind of meant it. As Bridget was so nice. They shook hands. The woman's grip was firm, confident and lasted for just the right amount of time.

"Likewise, Chief," she said and smirked. "We seem to have missed each other the past couple weeks."

Perhaps not so nice after all, Brenda thought as she dwelled on the girlish smirk on Beaudoin's face. She could just tell, even from that tiny little crack in the otherwise cool visage, that Bridget knew exactly why Brenda had failed (not neglected) to come on down there and introduce herself.

The blonde felt immediately intimidated for reasons she couldn't quite grasp, and then just resorted to a honey-dripping smile that, more than likely, gave her away. Brenda realized she had miscalculated yet didn't know how to rectify it.

There went her first impression.

"As you know, Chief Johnson, Bridget here is your team leader. Most of the personnel has been carefully chosen by her. That reminds me, I've got a young kid coming in. I think he'd make a great asset."

"Oh?" Beaudoin said, even though Faulkner hadn't been talking to her. "I thought we were up to capacity."

Faulkner chuckled. "Trust me, I couldn't keep him away if I'd tried."

"Oh, boy."

"He should be here in twenty." He glanced at his watch, a vintage piece and maybe a family heirloom. "Well, I thought maybe you could show Chief Johnson around, hmm? Introduce her, show her the ropes and such."

"Of course, sir," she said, glancing sideways at Brenda.

"Great," he said, "And thanks for the coffee." With that he left and Brenda took a moment to study the woman carefully, calculating.

She was hard to read, Brenda had to give her that.

"Right," Beaudoin said, a sort of get-up-and-go-attitude to her voice, and smiled. "Why don't we start with my field agents?"

"Sounds great." Brenda got up, grabbed her purse and coffee, and followed the blonde out of the office. Beaudoin led the way, while Brenda contemplated the tight skirt she was wearing. Underneath, the blonde was pretty sure, she probably hid a whole lot of spandex.

They reached the long flight of stairs winding itself along the window panes. Brenda made sure to be careful on their descend into the Sanctum, much like Bridget who, the blonde noted, wore heels higher than was healthy.

Bridget was short, and Bridget knew that.

Brenda bit her lip on their way down, sidling up to the other woman with her returned air of confidence. "So...you know most of 'em? I mean, you hand picked 'em..."

"Oh, yes," Beaudoin said, her voice smooth and smoky. "I don't know the new kid, oh, and--there she is," Beaudoin pointed at a young woman sitting at a desk in the central bullpen. "That's Amy Sykes. She transferred here from San Francisco. I hadn't met her before but her jacket looks promising. You've read the personnel files, I hope?"

"The first thing I did," Brenda said, hoping that her open and honest answer would somehow build a bridge. "BA in administration from Berkeley, two years as an Army MP, a stint in Counter Terrorism."

"That's right..." The Doctor stopped as they reached the bottom, eyes narrowed, and leaned closer. "She tries really hard to fit in but I think she could use a newbie to bond with."

Brenda nibbled her lip - she wasn't one to meddle in the personal relationships or the inner dynamics of her colleagues; perhaps that could be Bridget's job. "Maybe have the new kid sit opposite."

"Good idea," Beaudoin said, even though they had both had the same thought. "C'mon, I'll introduce you."

In a way, Brenda was grateful. Perhaps, with a person such as Bridget Beaudoin introducing her, the first impression she'd leave wouldn't be all bad.

"Agent Sykes?"

Amy Sykes shot out of her chair as soon as she heard her name, hands clasped behind her back. "Yes, ma'am?" Her eyes widened as they settled onto Brenda and her posture perfected itself just a little bit more - she was nervous and very anxious to please yet her put together demeanor suggested a hard earned confidence.

"I'd like you to meet Chief Johnson, our new Division Chief," Beaudoin said, not at all fazed as the younger woman towered over her.

"Ma'am," Sykes said and offered her hand. Brenda took it and gave the woman a pleasant smile. "It's an honor to meet you. I've heard so much about you."

An honor? It made Brenda wonder what exactly she had heard. "Thank you, Agent Sykes. I hope you've settled in?"

"Yes, ma'am. Just familiarizing myself with the new objectives Doctor Beaudoin has drawn up for us."

Her desk was indeed littered with paperwork, a picture frame sat in the corner - her parents, maybe? - and the laptop the FBI had issued her was fired up and ready to go.

"Well, it was nice meetin' you, Agent Sykes and I'm sure we'll see lots more of each other in the future."

"Likewise, ma'am." She gave a small smile.

They moved along, past the empty desk which had been used as a dumping ground for everyone's overflow.

"Javier?" A man swiveled around in his chair. He was in his late forties with dark brown and silver hair. And he wasn't wearing a suit.

Brenda bit down on her lip as she took stock of his casual outfit, right down to his leather boots. As she studied him, wondering about the rebelliously undone top button of his crisp white shirt, Brenda found nothing but his outside appearance giving anything away.

"Mind shifting all of that?" Beaudoin meant the mess on the supposedly unoccupied desk.

"And do what with it?"

"How about you enter it all into the database, hmm? This is the 21st century."

The man grinned, good-natured, and scratched his graying beard that was very neatly trimmed. He cared a great deal about what he looked like, Brenda could tell but, and that seemed to be even more important to him, he cared about his first impression which, in his case, was his appearance. "Chief Johnson," he said, getting up. "Javier Navarro."

"Nice to meet you."

He was a Special Agent, she remembered, from San Diego, with an impressive track record. As they shook hands, his grip surprisingly warm, Brenda wondered what in the world had happened to him. She recognized the look in his brown eyes, the tendency to use his appearance as a mere means to lower peoples' expectations.

Brenda, suddenly, felt overcome with this dark, heavy, almost paralyzing feeling; he had seen things, like Brenda had seen things, done things that would always stay with him. She realized in that small instance, that they were alike.

"Get this done," Beaudoin said, flicking her hand at the paperwork as they parted, effectively startling the blonde back to reality.

Brenda followed her and contemplated whether to address what she had observed or not. "You known each other long?"

"We used to work together," the other woman said with a tight smile.

"You were friends?" Were, Brenda chose that term deliberately.

Beaudoin stopped and turned to her, her eyes cast down, her hands behind her back, then she leaned closer again, almost stiffly, and said, "He put in for Team Leader, too."

"And now he don't like you no more?" Kindergarten, really.

Bridget's eyes crinkled at the corners, her cool features transforming and allowing a glimpse of something youthful, of mirth and affection. "Let's just say, his ego will need some time to swell back to its usual size."

Brenda bit her lip, swallowing a chuckle. "Oh."

"Mmh hm." The blonde nodded then continued in her more measured tone, "He's a great agent though. Spent most of his career in Human Trafficking. Did some highly successful undercover ops but can't type on a keyboard to save his life."

Brenda nodded - she had read about that. Not the computer part, although, she could sympathize with that.

"Okay. How about we have a look at the magical world of computers?"

"Magical?" Brenda grumped. "More like mystical."

"Tell me about it."

They stepped through a glass door off to the side that Brenda had marveled at countless times from the thirteenth floor. There was always a light on which meant the place was never really dark, not even at night.

Inside, the air felt dry and electric, and Brenda then understood why it was all contained behind glass walls - the hum of the computers and equipment would drive anyone crazy.

"Hello?" Beaudoin called into the room. "Sam?"

A head popped up from behind massive machinery. "Oh!" Samuel Berkowitz, the unit's analyst, shimmied out from between whatever he had been working on. His expression was one of shock, as if he hadn't expected visitors and had been caught in the middle of something he wasn't supposed to be doing.

Brenda thought he looked almost comical wearing a burgundy bow-tie and a short sleeved shirt - his appearance reminded her of her 6th grade chemistry teacher.

"Hi!" He said, shimmying out from between his equipment and pushed his glasses up his nose. "Oh! Chief Johnson!"

It seemed everyone knew her here, or at least what she looked like. "Mister Berkowitz."

"Oh," he said, stuffing his hands into his lab coat. "Just Sam. Everyone calls me Sam...ma'am."

Brenda smiled winningly, mainly because she could see his obvious discomfort but also because she was intrigued as to what he would say next, leaving the silence to stretch until he couldn't bear it any longer.

"It's just that, you know, Berkowitz."

"Berkowitz?" Brenda repeated innocently.

"Yeah," Samuel said, face blank. "Like the serial killer."

Now, she was confused. "You mean, the Son of Sam?"

He stared at her and then at Beaudoin and said, huffy, "I'm never going to forgive Mother for that."

"Your Mama?" Brenda intoned, trying to keep the bemusement out of her voice - he was nearly her age, after all.

"It's just...y'know. Just call me Sam. And uh," he pulled his round glasses off, polishing the lenses vigorously. "I am totally oversharing here, aren't I?"

For heaven's sakes, Brenda thought and looked around, that man was operating all this? "My..."

"I know, right?" Sam smiled widely, almost greedily, his hand caressing what looked like a time machine.

The blonde tried her best not to laugh at him - he had obviously been chosen for a reason, or at least she hoped so. All that had made sense in his file had been the word 'MIT'.

"What are you working on?" Beaudoin asked, bemused and desperate to change the subject.

"Oh. Well. I was just cross-referencing known offenders with unsolved child abductions. I'm using the NGI database to compare their facial structures to composite sketches."

"That's a bit of a long shot," Brenda commented as the faces whizzed past her on a big screen. "Any luck?"

"Maybe." Sam said and turned one of his screens around. "Look at this! Uncanny, huh?"

There was a definite resemblance, the blonde had to admit.

"I'm going over the evidence logs, see if any of the stuff found in his car and trailer match anything in the Stolen Property Database and the open case this sketch is from."

"If you need any help, let me know, okay?" Bridget gave him an indulgent smile - she seemed to have a soft spot for the guy - and made for the door again.

Brenda followed. "Nice meetin' you, Sam."

"Thanks, ma'am. Likewise."

As they stepped out, the door closing with an odd suction sound, Brenda bit down hard on her lip.

"He's very...adept," Beaudoin said almost defensively.

"Oh, I'd been wonderin' why he wasn't in the field," the blonde shrugged. "Now I know why he failed the psych eval...twice."

Bridget frowned, "He's scared of guns, too."

They ascended a short flight of stairs where Beaudoin pointed at a door. "That's my office. But you already knew that."

Because Brenda had been watching her, that's what the woman really wanted to say. Perhaps she was just teasing, friendly banter, or perhaps she was hinting at the fact that Brenda had avoided her, and that Beaudoin knew exactly why.

"Oh," the other woman said and Brenda craned her neck to see what had gotten her attention.

Somebody was in her office.

Bridget opened the door and leaned in. "Can I help you?"

"Hi. Good morning, I mean."

Brenda instantly recognized the voice. An entirely involuntary smile broke out on her face and she brushed past Beaudoin just to confirm what she already knew.

There he stood in a dapper blue suit, his hair in perfect place, his beard neatly trimmed. He looked stylish and smart, completely different to the young man she had met before.

"Ricky! I thought that was you! What a surprise!" For the very first time that morning, Brenda felt as if she had gotten a hold of the reigns.

Ricky didn't seem surprised at all to see her, his features bright and sharp yet with that genuine and gentle demeanor that Brenda had so appreciated.

"Hi, Brenda," he used her name, not her rank, keeping up their tentative familiarity. "I went to your office but your secretary said you were out..." He trailed off and picked up his briefcase. "It's great to see you. Mom says 'hi'."

Oh. Sharon. Brenda felt something inside herself immediately soften, she couldn't help that, not anymore, and she was afraid other people might notice.

"How's she gettin' on? She like the new job?"

"I think so. I hardly get to see her now."

Brenda nodded. "Major Crimes will do that," she said, the regret nearly palpable. "Tell her I said 'hi', too."

"I will," Ricky said gently, something in his eyes changing, clouding over with something he didn't say.

Brenda nodded again then remembered the third person in the room. "Oh, I'm sorry. Doctor Beaudoin, meet Ricky--I mean, Richard Dwyer."

"Pleasure," Bridget said coolly, face unreadable, and shook his hand.

"Um. So. Where do you want me?"

Before Bridget could say anything, Brenda stepped in. "Just over there," she said. "Opposite Agent Sykes. Right behind the grumpy guy."

"Thanks. I'll see you later...Chief."

He walked off, confidence in his step. He would get along perfectly, the blonde just knew it.

"He has some sort of computer science degree," Brenda said to Bridget. "And he speaks Spanish."

"Ah."

"I used to work with his mother." The minute Brenda said it, she realized she shouldn't have, not in that way, because it was a gross understatement and, from the look on Beaudoin's face, it begged the question why she felt the need to downplay their relationship.

She was smart, Brenda really had to give her that. Beaudoin could read people, just like Brenda could - open books.

"Um. Okay. How about we finish off down here and then I can take you to the lab?"

"Sounds great."

They stopped in front of another door. Bridget knocked and then entered. "Lou?"

Lewis Palmer. Brenda remembered his file. Nearly 20 years in Missing Persons in various field offices across the country. Bridget knew him very well it seemed, referring to him as 'Lou'.

The African American man had a portly stature, his eyes a deep brown - kind looking, in a way. He reminded Brenda of her Daddy and the blonde couldn't help but like him immediately.

His lips formed a smile, the graying mustache stretching as his face transformed. He rolled his chair back and stood. "Chief Johnson. What a pleasure to finally meet you."

They shook hands and then Brenda's phone rang. "Oh," she said and deposited her coffee cup on his desk, right on top of a stack of files. "Sorry." As she found her phone in her big purse and glanced at the screen, Brenda deflated instantly.

"Chief Pope," she mumbled and bit her lip.

"You're getting a call from the Chief of Police?" Bridget asked.

"Oooh! What does he want?" The blonde answered. "Good morning, Will, this is a surprise!"

She kept her voice cheerful, and she used his first name deliberately. She didn't need to throw it in anybody's face but Brenda figured she could use the extra edge, with Bridget at least.

"Morning, Brenda." He sounded serious.

"I'm guessin' you're not callin' to ask how the new office is."

"I'm afraid not. Although...did you get the flowers?"

"I did. Thank you." The blonde eyed the two occupants of the room and decided to turn around, just to give the illusion of privacy. "So. What's happened?"

"The LAPD just issued an Amber Alert. I wanted to give you a heads up."

"Okay." And?

"Raydor called in assistance from the FBI--"

"And you called to make sure I can play nice."

Will sighed on the other end. "I wanted to make sure you'll be okay, what with, you know."

Brenda rolled her eyes - even now he wanted to micro manage her? She did realize why he would be nervous: working with her old squad and the woman who had taken her place. And the new job he had personally recommended her for.

If anything, what Brenda said and did should reflect on herself. Not on him. He didn't own her.

"It's fine, Will. When can we expect the call?"

"Any minute."

"Okay. Thank you, Will."

"No problem," he said. "Hey, uh, maybe we can get coffee sometime?"

"Of course." As she said it, Bridget's phone started ringing. That was it then. "I gotta go, Will. The call's comin' in."

So that's how they wanted it to be from now on - Beaudoin got the call, not Brenda. Because she was supposed to fill out reports, manage personnel and keep an eye on budget. No. No, no. The blonde nibbled on her lower lip as the doctor pressed the phone against her ear and walked out into the bullpen.

Brenda followed her, and so did Palmer. "Okay. Thank you, sir."

Probably Taylor, Brenda grumped internally then her mind focused on the task at hand.

"We've got an Amber Alert," Beaudoin announced. "The LAPD's sent us a summary, can someone get that up on the screen, please?"

"I got it," Ricky said from behind his new desk opposite Sykes. "One sec!"

The big screen lit up and a picture of a little boy appeared.

"Jason Duke. 11 years old. Last seen leaving for the school bus this morning one hour and fifteen minutes ago. Okay, let's do this."

"I'm comin' with you," Brenda said before the woman could issue any more orders. Her eyes swept over all the faces for just a moment in which she made herself not choose Ricky. "Agent Sykes, know your way around here yet?"

"I have GPS, ma'am," the young woman quipped.

"Good, you're with me." She smirked. "And if you're lucky, I might even give you directions."

Navarro chuckled as he gathered his stuff while Amy did the same, a faint smile dancing across her features.

"Agent Palmer."

The man hummed, eyebrows lifted.

"Can you hold the fort? Push through whatever we may need to assist the LAPD as quickly as possible and coordinate with other law enforcement? Please."

He nodded and then his eyes drifted to Beaudoin who stood beside her, hands on her hips.

"Ma'am. With all due respect," he said slowly, "Isn't that your job?"

Brenda looked at him, then at Beaudoin, who had clearly something to say, and lifted her eyebrows at the woman.

"It's just that...you're here in a supervisory function. We're your field agents, Chief."

"I know that," Brenda said, "Just happens that my supervisory style is much more up close and personal. Now. Shall we get goin' or just stand here and talk about the ins and outs of bein' a Section Chief? 'Cause that's what I made damn sure it says on my office door. Section Chief. Head of the Critical Missings Division."

She could tell Beaudoin was biting her tongue then the blonde woman nodded, momentarily letting go of her anger.

"Okay. Let's go."

 

 

Chapter Text

Time

- Savings in Time feel like Simplicity -

The FBI had much nicer cars than the LAPD. Although, Brenda didn't care much for SUVs and, if she lived at home, she'd have a hard time picking the right one in the morning.

But she didn't live at home, she stayed at the hotel still so there wouldn't be any car confusion any time soon.

Sykes was a confident driver; at least that was how Brenda chose to call it as she clutched at the car door and wondered whether to squeeze her eyes shut or not when they sped across an intersection, sirens blaring.

Outwardly, she tried to project a calmness she didn't feel. She tried to look confident and at ease, mind focused on their target - that's how they called missing people, a term most likely coined amidst Beaudoin's new objectives...whatever they were.

Brenda didn't mind. She didn't care for semantics, as ironic as that sounded even to herself because a lot of the time semantics played a huge part in how she dealt with interviews.

Beaudoin was good, Brenda had read as much but yet had to see her in action.

'She can talk you into anything,' Fritz had said forgetting perhaps for a moment that Brenda used to make a living with just that.

As they arrived, the press was already there. She saw Taylor running interference and, as he spotted her in the car, he gave her a nod.

The perimeter was big, half the road had been cordoned off. In the distance, Brenda spotted a command post. Apparently, or so Brenda had heard, Sharon had campaigned for one, highlighting its advantages for FID.

Will had given it to her after he had informed Raydor that she was too expensive to promote.

At least, that's what David had said.

"Chief Johnson, FBI," she said, having practiced it a hundred times in her head. Say FBI, say FBI, say FBI.

She saw Sharon then. The woman descended the steps to the house they were headed for. She stood out wearing a cream blouse amongst the mostly dark colors around her.

It was hot but not humid, the air dry on her skin. Brenda had left her jacket in the car wishing now that she didn't look so severe. It had helped, the blonde thought, when she had spoken to devastated mothers before, just to seem a bit more approachable.

"One minute, please," she said to the group trailing her and walked towards Sharon.

The brunette had spotted her and had stopped, just looking at her as if Brenda was a mirage of some sort.

"Cap'n Raydor."

Sharon smiled as they met on the sidewalk, despite the horrible circumstances and then said, almost drawled, "Chief Johnson."

"I understand you have requested assistance from the FBI?"

"Yes, I have," she said carefully. "We could do with the additional resources and the Chief of Police has impressed upon me that this new unit that you're overseeing is well equipped to deal with situations such as this one."

"It is," Brenda said evenly. "It's called the Critical Missings Unit."

"Ha," Sharon barked. "Okay. Well. Before we start, let me just reiterate that point."

"What point?"

"I'd just like to clarify that 'assistance' is the operative word here, even though kidnapping is technically a federal crime and therefore-"

"Sharon?" Brenda interrupted. "My resources are your resources and we don't even know yet if it's a kidnappin' or if he's just playin' hooky."

"Right," Sharon nodded then breathed out slowly, gathering her thoughts. "Thank you, Brenda. Now. How about we get you up to speed?"

The blonde brushed that almost happy feeling aside - she was glad to see Sharon but there was a boy missing, they had a target, and that was what mattered now.

Brenda gave Beaudoin a nod and then her team approached.

"Did you bring the whole FBI?" Sharon said under her breath.

"No. Just Doctor Beaudoin, Agent Sykes, Special Agent Navarro and..."

"Agent Dwyer."

"Agent Dwyer," Brenda repeated. "Why didn't you say anything?"

Sharon glanced at her sideways then crossed her arms. "I was under the impression that we weren't speaking."

The blonde wanted to disagree because she wanted them to be speaking but Sharon had called once, a week after Brenda had left, and Brenda hadn't picked up because she had sat in a nice restaurant with Fritz.

It was her fault, really, and yes, they weren't speaking.

As she mulled that over in her head, her team falling into step behind herself and Sharon, she saw the brunette smile at Ricky, trying to keep a straight face but not entirely succeeding and Ricky fared just as badly.

"As much as I would like to exchange pleasantries," Sharon said, "Time is of the essence here. Lieutenant Flynn! Where are we on the bus driver?"

"Patrol picked him up five minutes ago." His eyes widened. "Chief!" Andy looked exactly as she had left him - not that she enjoyed the brief yet unexpected bout of jealousy.

"Lieutenant," Brenda kept it short. "You're still determinin' if the boy actually got on the bus?"

"Yes. Detective Sanchez is about to go to his school, he could use another pair of hands-"

"Agent Sykes."

Amy Sykes nodded, wide eyed but, without a doubt, an absolute 100% ready.

"Go with Detective Sanchez over there, find out if anyone saw the boy before school."

"Yes, ma'am."

Sykes set off and, as Julio spotted Brenda, he waved from a distance.

As good as it felt to be working with them all again, Brenda, upon reminding herself that it was only temporary, felt overcome with melancholy. It would get better, she vowed as if she had control over her emotional wherewithal.

"The parents?"

"Mother," Sharon said. "Provenza's with her but we're not having much luck getting through to her. She went from hysterical to completely catatonic."

"Maybe I can try," Beaudoin said then looked at Brenda, awaiting permission that she clearly didn't want to wait for, let alone have to ask to obtain. "I'm a psychiatrist."

"Go ahead."

Bridget marched off, her blonde wavy hair fluttering in the barely detectable breeze. Brenda, as much as it pained her to admit it, liked how she dealt with people - nice and polite yet with a directness that left little room for argument.

Much like Sharon.

She blinked; perhaps that was why Bridget rubbed her entirely the wrong way.

"The father?"

"We haven't found him yet. The address we got from the DMV is old, he hasn't lived there for six months. Maybe," Sharon looked up at Ricky. "Maybe Agent Dwyer can help Lieutenant Tao track him down?"

Ricky, unlike Beaudoin, didn't wait for permission. He merely nodded and made for the command post. Obviously his mother outranked everyone.

"Okay," Brenda rubbed her forehead. "Are you gettin' the K-9s down here?"

Sharon glanced at her watch like she had done countless times before, the gesture throwing Brenda back to a time when Sharon hadn't been more than a nuisance to her. "We pulled them off a scene up in Hollywood. They said they'd be half an hour, at least."

"For heaven's sakes," Brenda breathed and looked at Navarro who had taken his jacket off and had draped it over a shoulder. She could tell he was looking at her with more scrutiny than she felt comfortable with, the only barrier between them his large sunglasses.

"I can get the FBI's down here in ten minutes if I drop your name."

"Do that," Brenda ordered.

He nodded, almost casually, then whipped out his cell phone with an ease and a casual indifference that was almost inappropriate considering the situation at hand.

She could see the same thought cross Sharon's mind, the brunette's features betraying her disbelieve.

"Any chance I can have a look at the boy's room?" Brenda asked.

Sharon shrugged. "Be my guest."

Literally, the blonde thought to herself and followed Sharon into the small house. The decor was old, that was the first thing she noticed. Cream colored walls that had yellowed, old wood flooring that hadn't been treated for at least a decade.

The living room was small. A rug laid across the floor boards where she imagined Jason sitting on a bean bag, playing video games. His toys - impressive Lego structures - were cramped into the corner - that's what his mother spent any extra money she had on: her son.

The woman sat still on the old beige couch, staring into space. Her black hair was tousled and her clothes wrinkled. Her feet were bare. Beaudoin sat beside her, fingers pressed against the woman's wrist and eyes trained onto her watch, counting. Provenza stood in the doorway, turning as he heard them approach.

"Chief." He seemed relieved somehow that she was here. "She's completely out of it."

"I see you've met Doctor Beaudoin?"

"Bossy lady-"

"Lieutenant!" Sharon hissed but Provenza just shrugged, indifferent to her scathing tone. Beside her, the brunette sighed, resigned; so this was a regular occurrence. A game they played. Brenda bit her lip - it wasn't her place to reprimand him, Sharon would find it rude and patronizing.

"The bedroom's just through here," the Captain said, hand on Brenda's elbow.

The blonde nodded. "Thank you, Sharon," she said quite deliberately and walked down the dingy hallway.

His room was fairly tidy for an 11 year old, Brenda thought. His bed was made. "Don't you think that's odd?"

"The bed?" Sharon replied quietly, her tone hushed as if speaking out loud in this room could shatter Jason's fragile life.

"Captain Raydor?"

A young SID officer drew their attention to the boy's desk. "I found a phone charger right there."

The charger was still plugged in and had been hidden behind a stack of neatly arranged books. The rest of the desk wasn't particularly chaotic but reflective of an 11 year old's attempt at tidiness.

"He has a phone, we've been calling it but it's been going straight to voicemail," Sharon said.

"Is it on?"

"No."

"Maybe the FBI can help with that?"

"Okay," Sharon nodded. "That would be great."

"Um, Captain?" The SID officer held up the charger cable. "This is an Apple product. We found another charger, an older Samsung model next to his bed. So..."

So, Brenda mused, her eyes darting around the room. "There's not even a computer here. Most things in the house are old. The car's a rust bucket and the TV isn't even flat screen."

Sharon nodded slowly. "Then who bought him the iPhone?"

"Chief Johnson," Navarro appeared in the doorway. "K-9s are here."

"Okay, uh, officer? Bag us somethin' for the K-9s."

The SID officer abandoned the desk and went for the laundry basket. He opened a plastic bag and reached in, producing Batman printed pyjama bottoms. He then placed them carefully into the bag and sealed it.

"Here," he handed the bag straight to Navarro. "This should do."

"D'you want anyone to go with him?" Brenda asked, finding it easier than she thought she would to collaborate. Perhaps because it was Sharon.

"I'm still a Detective short," the brunette said with underlying anger. "You go, Agent."

Navarro nodded - if he were any more laid back, Brenda worried, he might fall asleep. She would have to address this even though, as much as she appreciated an even temper and controlled demeanor, this wasn't what she had had in mind.

"Okay," Brenda wiped sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand; the house wasn't air-conditioned. "Okay. We need to turn this room upside down and find that phone, if it's here."

Sharon sighed beside her. "I'll get you another pair of hands in here," she said to the SID officer.

"Thanks, Captain."

The two women exited the bedroom and, in the back of her mind, Brenda was very aware that they were losing precious time. Her stomach knotted unpleasantly with dread as they walked down the hallway, past picture frames filled with Jason's smiling face throughout different stages of his life.

Beaudoin met them halfway to the living room with a hardened face, shaking her head.

"Anything?"

"Barely," she replied as quietly as Sharon had spoken earlier. "I gave her a mild sedative."

"Why in the world would you do that? If she gets any more sedate we'll be talkin' to her in two years time."

"I gave her the sedative because I have a medical degree from Columbia University."

Here we go, Brenda thought and made the mighty effort of not rolling her eyes. "Listen," the blonde said and stepped into Beaudoin's personal space, forcing the woman to turn her back on Sharon who, wisely, opted to turn away herself.

"Doctor. You've been incredibly helpful so far-"

"I'm beginning to realize that," she said, her eyes roaming across the floor boards which was when Brenda noticed, for the very first time, that her eyes were two different colors.

The blonde swallowed, her gaze lingering on Beaudoin's face - the woman was mulling her own statement over, sorting through her innermost thoughts with an introspective precision that Brenda almost envied.

"You weren't what I expected..."

Maybe, Brenda admitted, her avoidance had given this woman the impression that she had complete autonomy over the CMU yet, when she had stomped on her toes that morning in front of everyone, no less, she had inadvertently lived up to her own reputation.

"But then I turned out to be exactly what everyone told you to expect," Brenda concluded.

Bridget looked away, the specks of brown in her left eye sparkling as the sunlight hit them. "Most people think you're a...bitch," she said with a frown, as if the word itself tasted vile.

"Funny that," Brenda said, unimpressed. "That's exactly what they say about you." The blonde didn't know that for sure as she had avoided speaking with anybody which had, in hindsight, been a mistake but from what Fritz had said, Brenda had gathered that he, while respectful, wasn't Beaudoin's biggest fan.

"I didn't wanna say it but I outrank you. I was hired to run this unit whichever way I see fit and I suggest you get on the same page as quick as two shakes because I need you to do your job."

The woman looked her square in the eye, breathing evenly, the seconds ticking by. She seemed to study Brenda, reconciling expectation with the reality that stood before her. Then she nodded and breathed out slowly, as if letting go of whatever resentment she felt. "Yes, Chief. Of course."

"Okay." That Brenda could work with.

Beaudoin nodded again, a tentative, almost regretful smile directed at Brenda. Sharon was leaning against the wall, arms crossed over her chest, her gaze averted. "The sister should be here any minute," the doctor said. "She babysits Jason Monday to Wednesday night. The mother should hopefully be responsive shortly, as soon as the sedative kicks in."

The brunette nodded. "Okay. Good. I'll get another SID officer in here. We found a charger but no phone to go with it."

"Doctor, you stay with the mother, hopefully we'll know more soon."

"Yes, Chief."

Brenda left it at that and hurried down the hall followed by Sharon and past Provenza who shot them both curious looks.

Outside, the chaos kept spreading. More reporters had turned up, a news helicopter was circling the house and a sweaty Navarro trudged towards them.

"We got nothin'," he said immediately. "Looks like the kid walked down the road towards where the bus picks up then the dogs got confused."

"Confused how?"

"Ran back up the other side of the road. Maybe he was walkin' down there, stopped for some reason-hell, I don't know. Maybe a car pulled up and took him that way," he pointed in the opposite direction and shrugged.

Brenda turned to Sharon. "Do we know how many other kids get picked up there?"

"Five. I gave Julio their names."

"Good. Now. Agent Navarro, I want you to help Lieutenant Flynn canvas the neighborhood. He's workin' his way down the road, why don't you start knocking on doors from the bus stop up and meet him halfway."

"Yes, Chief." He jogged down the road, gathering several patrol officers on his way.

Meanwhile, Sharon had brushed past her and was marching towards the command post with a purpose. She spoke to an SID officer who rushed past Brenda as the blonde made to climb the three steps into the trailer.

Inside, Tao sat behind a computer, Ricky had a laptop out, typing away furiously. A big white board, attached to the wall of the trailer showed their progress so far.

8:15 - Jason leaves the house for bus.

9:10 - School notices Jason's absence.

And that was it. Meager. Next to nothing.

"Any luck with the father?"

"Jackson Duke," Tao said, pointing at a DMV picture on the board. He was a rugged looking guy, Brenda thought. "His rap sheet includes breaking and entering, possession of stolen goods, burglary, you name it." Tao cleared his throat. "Oh, hello, Chief."

"Lieutenant, good to see you," Brenda, despite trying not to, smiled widely. "So," she said, clearing her throat, "Any closer to findin' this guy?"

"Not yet," Ricky said. "It's like he dropped off the face of the earth except...uh, two months ago, I've got a Jack Duke arrested for drunk and disorderly up in San Francisco."

"That him?"

"Let me pull up the mug shot," Ricky said then nodded. "Looks like it. I'll alert the SFPD that we're looking for a Jack or Jackson Duke."

"Good idea, Ricky," Brenda sighed and realized in the same instance that Sharon had referred to him as Agent Dwyer yet here she was, throwing 'Ricky' around. The young man himself didn't seem to mind, at least Brenda hadn't seen any indication thereof.

"This guy is seriously difficult to track down," Tao interjected. "It begs the question whether he disappeared for a reason."

"Maybe he was planning this," Sharon said quietly. "Although, a guy like this, is he capable of sitting on that for six months?"

"He don't seem the type for long term commitment," Brenda mumbled then glanced at her watch.

Missing for over two hours. The blonde breathed out deliberately. "Any registered sex offenders in the area?"

"Several."

"Any stand out?"

"One guy. The victimology matches Jason's description. Boys between 10 and 12 years old, dark hair..."

Sharon nodded and pulled the piece of paper containing his rap sheet and personal information off the board.

"His parole officer is on his way."

"Good, let's pay him a visit..."

The door burst open once more and all eyes automatically shot to the young uniform in the doorway. She seemed momentarily startled by all the undivided attention then sought out Sharon.

"Captain. I have the bus driver here but he's pretty sure Jason wasn't on the bus this morning."

"How sure?"

"Well, we showed him a picture of Jason and gave him a description of what he was wearing. He knows the kid, ma'am, he's been driving this route for three years. He didn't see Jason at all and he never observed anything suspicious in the past."

"Anything on his background?" Brenda asked Tao, knowing he would have been thorough.

"The guy checks out."

"Okay," Sharon said as everyone visibly deflated. "Ask him to stay. We might have more questions later."

The patrol officer nodded. "Yes, ma'am."

***

Brenda had known that they were probably grasping at straws.

Their 'visit' to the friendly neighborhood pervert hadn't produced anything pertaining to Jason's disappearance and while rehabilitation was definitely a thing, it had not worked for him.

As much as it had disgusted her, discovering stacks of photos taped to the underside of a drawer, Brenda wished she was still in the shabby apartment, turning the place upside down to find even more things that kept her thoroughly disgusted. It didn't make sense, even in the privacy of her own thoughts, that she wanted to abandon everything, abandon Jason, and instead subject herself to the depravity of a child molester.

Beside her, Navarro's knuckles had turned white as he steered the big SUV back to Jason's house. She wanted to wonder about him, wanted to ask if he was okay but said nothing and stared straight ahead.

An officer was handing out bottled water to everyone, Taylor gave a statement to the press which Brenda hoped was very, very brief. As she stepped out of the car, closing the door with a loud thud, the blonde's vision blurred alarmingly, as if she had been hit over the head and then it righted itself.

In her chest she felt that all too familiar burn of dread, of desperation and she wondered then, whether this job was even right for her. It didn't fit, Brenda thought, she didn't fit. And searching for people that hadn't done anything wrong, that could die if she dragged her feet for even a minute, filled her with a sudden anxiety that Brenda had yet to quantify.

"Here."

The blonde startled and looked down at the bottle of water, at Sharon's hand, at the small watch fastened around her wrist.

"Thanks," Brenda said and then contemplated saying 'I wish things were different' but, before she even could, her phone rang. "Johnson," she barked, pressing the phone against her ear and took the bottle of water, indulging for a moment in the feel of Sharon's fingertips against her own.

"Chief Johnson, it's Sam. Berkowitz. Sam Berkowitz."

"Yes, Mister Berkowitz."

"Uh. You know, uh, that guy, Lieutenant Tao, he said you needed me to find this phone. The whole thing was tricky, really, 'cause the phone's off or maybe it's damaged, I mean, it keeps dropping the signal and then it keeps coming back and-"

"Sam!" She interrupted. "Did you find it?"

After a pause he said, "Well, yes."

Chapter Text

Learn

- Knowledge Makes Everything Simpler -

 

"You should be standing right on top of it, Ricky," Tao said into the mic.

Brenda squinted at the computer screen, her reading glasses perched low on her nose as she watched the little green dot - Ricky - nearly fully overlap the red dot - the phone. "Can you see it, Agent Dwyer?"

"No."

Sharon leaned in right beside her, her bare arm brushing against Brenda's. "It looks like it's in the middle of the road."

"Hey, Dwyer! Over here!" Julio called, his voice distorted by the sound of cars rushing by. "Buzz, you getting that?"

"Yes, Detective."

"Did y'all find it?" The blonde prodded, impatient. "Ricky?"

"Yes, Chief," he said after a long pause. "It's damaged. But I think, if we're lucky, the cyber guy--"

"Sam."

"Maybe he can recover the memory."

Her first instinct, in the spirit of conserving time, was to tell him to take the phone there straight away, yet, when she found herself looking at Sharon, eyebrows raised questioningly, Brenda couldn't help but feel surprised at her own compliance.

Perhaps she was getting better at this? Or maybe that Will wasn't there anymore, buffering the blow, and that she was indeed the FBI's Will, had something to do with her improved collaborating skills.

Or maybe the cold, hard facts that Director Faulkner had impressed upon her had changed her outlook - 'we rely on other law enforcement agencies to run this division successfully, so play nice', and, which he had repeated more than once, 'we don't have the money'.

"Get the phone to him," Sharon said, her features unreadable which was when Brenda realized she had been staring. "Detective Sanchez?"

"Yes, ma'am?"

"Can you and Agent Sykes canvass the area, please, and have Buzz take shots of all the traffic cameras in and around the intersection."

"There's a lot of shops here and a gas station down the road--"

"Get all the footage you can."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Mike?" Sharon's hand came to rest on his shoulder, the gesture so casual when the actual contact was anything but. "Why don't you concentrate your efforts on compiling all the footage from our traffic cameras and see if you can't find out who tossed the phone?"

Tao smiled and nodded. "I'm on it, Captain."

"Hmm," Sharon hummed, straightening up, her hand slipping from his shoulder.

Brenda glared at the spot without actually meaning to then rubbed her temples, blushing at her inane jealously.

"What is it?" Sharon asked, scrutinizing her.

"Oh, I'm just not sure this phone will tell us anythin' we don't already know."

"Which is nothing."

Brenda shrugged, wiping at her eyebrow. "Why else give the boy another phone?" She could tell the thought had crossed the brunette's mind but, as always with Sharon, hope prevailed.

The blonde felt an affectionate smile tug at her lips but before she could embarrass herself the door to the command post burst open, revealing Navarro, his boots clinking noisily on the metal steps as he ascended.

"Did you find it?"

"Nah," he held up three plastic bags. "These though."

"Baseball cards?" Sharon questioned.

"Yeah. They were hidden inside a copy of 1980s baseball stats." He held up the book in question, also bagged and tagged. "He's got some albums, nothin' fancy like these though, they're worth some money. I mean, this Micky Mantle? Gets you about 3-400 at a pawn shop."

Brenda squinted at the cards; she didn't know much about the sport, just what Fritz had occasionally mentioned. Her daddy had always preferred football, but her brother, Clay Junior, he used to collect the cards, pouring over them at weekends, arranging and rearranging them in their folders.

With a sigh, she handed the cards to Sharon.

"I just thought somebody might've given them to him..." Navarro shrugged. "And why did he hide them?"

"Let's hold onto 'em then," Brenda said. "No phone?"

"It's not in that room, that's for sure. We turned it upside down, Chief."

"Can I borrow this for a minute?" Brenda nodded toward the baseball card Sharon was still holding.

"Of course."

The blonde took the card and made for the house, walking quickly. She hoped Beaudoin had the mother talking. Intellectually she knew that the Doctor was good, she had read her whole personnel file, but Brenda had always had the tendency to micromanage every detail, figuring that, if she missed something, she wouldn't have to be mad at anyone else.

People were unpredictable and unnerved her more often than not. She wasn't patient enough, Will had always said so, but having worked for the CIA, surrounded by people who just weren't patient enough, Brenda had had a hard time adjusting still.

It wasn't as if she thought that no one could do what she did, there were a few, but was Beaudoin that person?

A file didn't tell you anything - it merely highlighted a person's accomplishments and failures.

She would have to get to know these people somehow; one thing she had learned when she had accepted Will's job offer was that, even though her first impressions of people were usually right, there was always room in the margins.

In the living room, Beaudoin sat in the only armchair available. Provenza stood next to her as the blonde scribbled notes while the mother talked, holding onto the hand of her sister.

Progress, then.

"Susan? This is Brenda, she works for the FBI, too."

"Oh," Susan said, her voice faint. Her brown eyes seemed to be constantly filled with tears, red and puffy from all the crying. "Did you find out anything?"

"I might have," Brenda said, keeping her voice light and positive. "It's about Jason's phone. Can you tell me what make it is?"

"A Samsung."

"My husband's old phone," the sister supplied.

"All the kids have them now," Susan said, drawing in a shaky breath.

"Okay," Brenda nodded and stood right next to Doctor Beaudoin, hand resting on the back of the chair. "So he doesn't have another phone?"

"Oh, no." She shook her head. "I didn't want Jason to feel left out but...I just couldn't afford anything better than that."

"Another thing. Um. I see Jason likes baseball?"

"He plays in an after-school program, yes."

"And he collects cards?"

"Oh, well, his dad gave him those. They were Jack's..."

Brenda nibbled on her lip and lifted the plastic bag. "This one, too?"

Susan took the card carefully, her eyes scanning it. Brenda immediately saw the brief look of confusion crossing her features.

"It could be."

"Could be?"

"It's just that I thought Jack had taken it."

"Why's that?"

"Well, I remember him saying it's worth a bit of money. Jack gambles. And I could've sworn he took it just before Jason's eighth birthday and pawned it."

Brenda nodded. "D'you think he maybe got it back for him?"

"I wouldn't know how. I mean, Jack's broke. He's not paid a cent of child support...this doesn't make any sense..."

Brenda glanced at Beaudoin whose face was blank then back at Susan. "When was the last time you've seen Jack?"

"Maybe two or three months ago," Susan said. "He wanted to see Jason but Jason was at school."

"Is he allowed to see his son?"

"Of course," the woman wiped at the tears falling anew. "He just never does. You don't think Jack had anything to do with this?"

"We just wanna talk to him," Brenda said gently, "but we're havin' a hard time locatin' him."

"I don't know where he is," Susan gripped her sister's hand tighter. "Last time he was here he said he was going back to San Francisco to stay with his brother."

"What's his brother's name?"

"Dennis." Susan shrugged and blew her nose. "He's a dead-beat, too."

Sighing, Brenda rubbed her eyebrow, organizing her thoughts. "Okay, Lieutenant Provenza, could you stay here, please? Go over everything again."

Provenza nodded but Brenda could tell he didn't like it. "Doctor? With me, please."

Beaudoin got out of the chair, smiling reassuringly at Susan and her sister then followed Brenda down the hallway.

"What's going on with the Lieutenant?" She asked as they stepped outside.

"Lots of things, I'm sure," Brenda said evenly, "None of which matter right now."

Before Bridget could ask any further questions, Taylor stepped into the house. He wore his uniform, his rank insignia adorning his collar. Brenda didn't know whether to rejoice or to mourn the loss of his suits, especially since he had always been the only one, beside herself, to wear bright colors.

"Chief Johnson," he said in greeting. Behind him a man emerged, wide eyed, wearing oil-stained jeans and a plaid shirt.

"And you are?"

"Martin...Tinsdale. I-I'm Steph's husband. I came as quick as I could."

Brenda, somewhat irked by having him sprung on her like this, lifted an eyebrow at Taylor who gave a nonchalant shrug.

"Is there anything I can do?"

"You can tell us where you were this morning," Beaudoin asked immediately.

The blonde refrained from shooting the Doctor a glare; the offense wasn't the worst tactic in the book and although Brenda was aware that Beaudoin supposedly knew what she was doing, she couldn't help but feel as if she was being railroaded.

"At work? I've got a shop about five miles from here. Uh, listen, isn't there anything--"

"Your wife and your sister are in there," Bridget interrupted, a placating smile gracing her features. "I think Susan needs all the support she can get right now."

Martin nodded, his hands stuffed into his jean pockets. "Okay..." He tried a half smile that turned into more of a grimace and brushed past them into the living room.

"I'll get Lou to check him out. And the baseball coach," Bridget said as soon as he was out of earshot. "Chief Taylor, is it?"

"Yes," he said, glancing at Brenda.

"Doctor Beaudoin. We spoke on the phone this morning."

"Right, uh, it's good to put a face to the name."

Beaudoin nodded, smirking, and shook his hand. "Right," she repeated. "Thank you, Chief, for the cooperation."

"Likewise." As Beaudoing left, phone going up to her ear, Taylor smoothed his tie down awkwardly, eyes avoiding Brenda as he composed himself. "Well," he chuckled as if he didn't know what to say to her. "I better call Chief Pope," he declared. "He's waiting for an update."

"Ah," Brenda said, biting her lip. "You do that."

"Good to see you, Chief."

"Good to see you...Chief."

***

"Okay," Sharon said. "8.15. Jason leaves for the school bus. The neighbor, two doors down, sees him as her daughter leaves the house. Then, some time between 8:15 and 8:30, another neighbor spots a blue or black SUV driving down the road and then back up again in quick succession--"

"That could be our car," Tao said. "We're going over all CCTV footage, Captain. Maybe we can find it."

"Good."

"Captain?" Ricky held up his cell phone. "They found the father. He has an alibi, what with being in San Francisco. He wants to come here and they can't hold him--"

"Let him come," Brenda interrupted.

"But what if he doesn't show?"

"Then we know where to start lookin'. Just make sure the SFPD is takin' him personally to the airport--"

"Can't we just fly the guy here ourselves?"

Brenda turned around and looked at Navarro who leaned, arms crossed, against a desk, nonchalant expression on his face.

"We can do that?"

"Of course," he said, "You just have to approve it, Chief."

Before she could say any more, and not that she was even entirely sure what her first response would have been, Beaudoin's voice, closer than expected, startled her.

"You have a budget meeting next week, remember?" The curly haired blonde said. "You'll be expected to justify all of the CMUs expenses which also happen to include air miles."

Brenda's jaw slacked at the audacity of it. Beaudoin looked neither smug nor pleased when Brenda glared at her with a mixture of incredulity and annoyance, on the contrary - she looked embarrassed.

The blonde admitted, albeit reluctantly, that the good Doctor may have a point and nodded, plastering a wide smile onto her face. It seemed like an opportunity missed, especially since Beaudoin had just made it so easy for Brenda to put her in her place but, and the blonde calculated the odds, it seemed wise to just be agreeable.

"Agent Navarro," she drawled because he could take a joke. "Where would we end up if we flew people here, there and everywhere?"

Navarro shrugged. "The Bahamas, Chief?"

"I'm more of an Italy kinda gal," she retorted and grinned.

Across the room, all eyes trained on them and their exchange, Sharon cleared her throat. "Chief Johnson?"

"Right. Doctor, have SSA Palmer wait for Jackson at the airport and escort him straight to um...Major Crimes as soon as he sets foot into Los Angeles."

"Of course, Chief," Beaudoin nodded and pulled out her phone, looking grateful for the reprieve.

"So, Sharon, where were we?"

Sharon just glared at her, disbelieve clouding her eyes. "I was just about to suggest that we pay the baseball coach a visit."

"Sam ran a background," Ricky said. "He didn't show up for work today and he cancelled practice."

***

"I take the back, you take the front," Julio said to Amy Sykes who rolled her eyes and looked as if she couldn't believe she was being bossed around like that.

"I'll take the window down the side," Navarro said, walking off and around the small, single story house.

Brenda sighed internally as she walked up the path with Agent Sykes. The sun was beating down on them mercilessly and Brenda had rolled up the sleeves of her blouse even further in a desperate attempt to cool herself down somewhat.

It made her think that, if Jason was out there somewhere, hurt, alone, and without water then...

The blonde discarded the thought and nodded at Sykes who then proceeded to knock on the faded brown door. There wasn't a sound inside, no movement as far as Brenda could tell yet the car was parked in the drive; a black SUV.

The blonde sighed and hammered on the door with her fist. "Yohoo! Mister Andrews! Are you home?!"

Beside her, Amy cleared her throat. She looked uncertain; not about the possible danger, the chance that Mister Andrews might make a mad dash for freedom but rather that she couldn't quite figure out how to be or what to do around Brenda.

The blonde bit her lip and pushed her sunglasses further up on her nose, annoyed. She had had all this years ago when she had first started at the LAPD; everyone had always tried to figure her out, pointlessly, really.

"Mister Andrews!" Brenda was about to knock again when the door flew open.

In the doorway stood a middle aged, balding, slightly overweight man, his face red, contrasting heavily with the white t-shirt he was wearing and the light blue boxers. "What?" He grumped.

"You called in sick today and we were just wonderin' how you were doin'?"

"Are you the job police? Listen, lady, I've got the flu--"

"You look fine to me."

He sighed, glared and then promptly attempted to slam the door in her face. Sykes caught it, her hand sprawled centrally against the wooden door. "Sir, can you please step outside?"

"Who the fuck are you?"

"The FBI," Brenda said and presented her badge. "We wanna talk to you about Jason."

"Jason who?"

"Jason Duke."

"What about him?"

"He's missin'."

"What do you mean? Missing?" Andrews narrowed his eyes, stepping out onto the small porch. "He's missing? Since when?"

"When did you last see him?"

"Last week. At practice."

"Can you tell us where you were earlier this mornin'--"

"Wait a minute," he grumped. "Do you think that I had something to do with this?"

"Sir," Amy, hand on the gun holstered at her hip, stepped closer. "I need you to calm down right now."

"Look," he went on, "I was right here. Okay? I went on a bender last night...I was hung over, so I called Carl to take over practice tonight and called in sick at work. That's all."

"Then you won't mind if we have a look 'round your house."

"Of course I do mind--"

"What about your car?" Sykes pointed at it over her shoulder. "There's a boy missing here, remember that."

Andrews glared at her and then looked at Brenda. "Fine. Look in the car. But do not touch the stereo, okay?"

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Failure
- Some things can never be made simple –

 

Brenda had been staring at a computer screen for entirely too long. Her eyes were burning and her reading glasses were sitting uncomfortably on the bridge of her nose.

But she had decided earlier, when the latest tip hadn't panned out, that looking for this car was the obvious next step. Tao sat beside her, squinting much like herself, while focusing intently on the footage Julio and Ricky had brought back.

Ricky, to her left, his youthful eyes trained on yet another screen, massaged his neck. Brenda wondered briefly how he felt about working with his very own mother and his mother's supposed 'friend'. She wondered if he had heard their argument that night up in his old room.

She wondered whether he had found their familiarity odd.

And she wondered how he had felt when Sharon had told him she would be dating women. That also begged the question whether Sharon actually had - dated women, that is. The thought made Brenda's tummy churn unpleasantly. She realized the mere notion made her jealous and asked herself if Sharon felt that way about Fritz.

Worse, probably, as Fritz was a reality whereas potential suitors were not...as far as Brenda knew.

If anyone asked her how things were going with Fritz, Brenda wouldn't know what to say. They had gone out to dinner twice, he waved at her when he spotted her in the mornings, sometimes they shared an elevator, Fritz brought her coffee sometimes, and occasionally they shared lunch.

She had mentioned moving back in once.

Brenda wondered, vision swimming and then focusing on Sharon in the reflection of the bright screen before her, whether she would mention it again.

The door to the command post opened quietly, Beaudoin's heels clicking up the steps slowly and then, after a moment's hesitation, her smooth, even voice rang out. "Captain Raydor?"

"Yes?"

"Our cyber department hasn't found anything unusual on the phone."

"Nothing?" Sharon's voice had taken on a desperate tone.

"I'm sorry," Beaudoin said. "Jackson Duke is on the plane though and we have an agent waiting to pick him up."

"Okay, that's good news. The bad news is that the baseball coach's alibi holds up; apparently he performed, in a drunken stupor, numerous renditions of 'I Will Always Love you' at the bar last night...which several patrons had to, sadly, bear witness to."

"Oh," Beaudoin said breathily, "I bet no one would've taken a bullet for him."

Brenda rolled her eyes when she heard Sharon snort, and turned around. Her mouth opened to say whatever unflattering thing came to her mind only to be interrupted, perhaps conveniently so, by Tao.

"Oh!" The Lieutenant exclaimed. "I've got it!"

"The car?" Brenda immediately asked, peering at his screen. "Oh, my lord, look at that," she said, pushing her glasses up. "There goes the cell phone."

"Yep," Tao said, rewinding the recording. "Ricky? Do we have a different angle for this time code?"

Beside her, Ricky nodded. "Let me fast forward."

They all watched with baited breath. Brenda chanced at glance at Sharon, whose hand was resting on Ricky's shoulder, caressing the material of his shirt with small strokes of her thumb, an almost unconscious gesture.

"Here," Ricky said, "I've got plates." He enlarged the picture, cleaned it up and hit print, as if he did it every day.

"I'm running it now," Tao said, typing and adjusting his glasses - a nervous tick. "Pearson, Ellis. I've got an address!"

"I know where that is," Brenda said as soon as she saw it. "I'll drive."

"I'm coming with you." Sharon stepped back, grabbing a vest and her gun.

"I'll stay," Beaudoin said. "And expedite the warrant." Her eyes looked bright and wide, the specks of brown adding a severity to her usually cool appearance. Then her eyes found Brenda's and for that small moment, Brenda saw hope and, dare she say, trust.

"Okay," Brenda gave the woman a tight smile. "Thank you, Doctor."

***

The vest had felt stuffy even in the car with the aircon blasting and the constricting feeling and subsequent profuse sweating wasn't helped by the unrelenting sunshine beating down through the smoggy haze that bathed Los Angeles on any given day.

She also regretted the skirt and heels; perhaps not as much as Sharon regretted the white flowy blouse and pencil skirt, but still, not the best clothes to roll out in.

They had passed Brenda's old house, the one she had bought by herself, the one Fritz had deemed too small. She had never been attached to things per se, or places, more the comfort they provided, but Brenda had really loved that house. Perhaps Fritz hadn't liked the murder or the fact that most things in it were actually somebody else's.

On their way to what they had hoped were Jason's whereabouts, with Sharon sitting beside her in the car, keeping stumm, Brenda had contemplated, once more, whether Sharon had always been such a tactile person.

In short: yes. She had always been liberally demonstrative physically with the people she felt affectionate towards.

Yet she hadn't deliberately touched Brenda once. In hindsight, Brenda realized, Sharon's gestures had always been rather calculated with her and the thought that physical intimacy had to be calculated, while she was somebody Sharon supposedly loved or, at least, was in love with, began to grate on Brenda.

Was she that awful that Sharon had to consider very carefully whether the potential burn was worth it or not?

In short: yes. She was that awful. She was awful enough to string along not only her husband but also the woman with whom she had had...or still had an affair with. In Brenda's mind nothing had changed even after not speaking and even after not seeing her because she hadn't actually stopped thinking about Sharon at all.

Sharon hated when Brenda told her she missed her, she hated hearing of any sort of emotion, good or bad, the blonde felt inclined to share.

It hurt too much, Brenda knew that now.

With a huff, the blonde pulled at the velcro that seemed to stick like super glue, trying to allow herself more breathing space in her stuffy vest while SID went over every inch of the car.

She was hot, she was sweating, her hair was sticking to her forehead and her chest felt as if it was about to collapse in on itself.

"Brenda?"

Her eyes shot up to meet Sharon's, her hands not stilling as they frantically ripped at the velcro. "How does anyone breathe in these thangs?!" She muttered.

Sharon didn't say anything, at first, she merely tugged at the black strip of fabric, hands intermingling with Brenda's, until it loosened and Brenda could finally breathe.

"Are you okay?"

"Yes," Brenda said immediately, wiping sweat off her eyebrow with the back of her hand. "Fine." She felt the tears brim and sucked in a mighty breath, shaking her head while wondering how she could have been so idiotic in the first place - of course she was a terrible person and, of course, she was hurting Sharon and, of course, she had feelings for this woman because, if she hadn't, she would have walked away long ago and perhaps she wouldn't even care that much about any of it.

"Okay, well," Sharon said slowly, "SID are towing the car."

"Great."

"And Mister Pearson is apparently telling the truth; the car was in the shop or so the receipt says--"

"The shop?"

Sharon gave her a long, almost incredulous look, hands on her hips. "The car was in the shop all day yesterday and he only picked it up an hour ago."

"Oh, for heaven's sakes," Brenda mumbled. "He's been sittin' right there all mornin'."

"We can't jump to conclusions," Sharon said. "We don't actually have any evidence to arrest him yet and absolutely no leverage to make him talk--"

"I know, I know," Brenda interrupted. "We need to get to the shop and keep an eye on him in case someone tries to contact him."

"Provenza is looking at mugshots with him as we speak."

"Perfect," Brenda said. "Let's go."

***

Brenda threw her vest onto the back seat of the SUV, on top of Sharon's, and slammed the door shut. She glanced at her wrist watch, a newly developed compulsion, and sidled up to Navarro at the front of the car.

He was leaning against the hood, his shades masking undoubtedly intense eyes.

The shop wasn't a large one. At the top of the big metal garage doors it read 'Tinsdale Auto Repair'. He had three employees, one of which was Martin Tinsdale's nephew, Eric, whom Sharon made a good attempt at intimidating.

Brenda watched despite just itching to get involved but, amongst all the police uniforms and FBI vests she felt as if the whole circus could do with a whole lot less interference.

But she knew what she knew.

And somewhere in her gut, Brenda had discovered an empty hole where her drive used to sit. What it boiled down to was the simple fact that she feared nothing more than being depended upon and, while she did have a more than capable team of agents behind her, she felt just sick with worry that Jason, and all the others following him, depended on her to always do the best she could.

Depend on Brenda Leigh Johnson, who couldn't even hold a marriage together.

Dead people were easier.

She looked at Sharon again, pushing her own sunglasses higher, and decided that she needed to leave the woman alone. She was supposed to be working on her relationship with Fritz, trying to prevent a complete collapse yet there she was, contemplating her feelings for Sharon.

And Sharon deserved better. So, Brenda decided, after all this, they wouldn't speak and they wouldn't see each other.

"We've got him," Flynn announced, coming towards them, Sharon following closely behind. "Eric here came in first this morning. He says his uncle wasn't there, the shop was locked up but he noticed the SUV missing. He figured Uncle Marty took it for a test drive. Then, at around 10 this morning, he turns up with the car, had it detailed and Pearson, not five minutes later, comes to pick it up."

"Sounds like he couldn't wait to get rid of the car," Navarro says.

"Exactly." Flynn nods, arms crossed over his chest. "I say, we pick him up right now and squeeze it out of the bastard."

"We have to be very careful what we ask him, Lieutenant." Sharon delicately cleared her throat, squinting against the sun and looked at Brenda. "I think we should let Chief Johnson ask the questions."

Brenda's eyes widened in surprise but then her earlier scheming came to mind and she said, "Thank you, Cap'n Raydor but I don't think I need to ask Mister Tinsdale anything."

***

The house was as they had left it - eerily quiet, dingy and dark, as if the absence of Jason's youthful joy had left it barren.

"Andy?" Sharon said softly, her hand gently resting on his arm. "Could you get Doctor Beaudoin up to speed, please?"

Flynn nodded. "Of course."

Brenda, meanwhile, shot Beaudoin a long look, an almost smile to hide her true intent and the Doctor smiled back with a curt nod as she got out of her chair.

Navarro, sunglasses off and finally revealing his eyes, cleared his throat impatiently - the first time, really, Brenda saw him exhibiting anything but calculated emotion. "Nice 'n easy, Agent, okay?"

She touched his shoulder; it felt hard and bulky beneath her hand. Perhaps it was too soon for such a gesture, and he didn't strike her as the physically demonstrative type, but he seemed to endure it, his chest deflating suddenly as he let out a breath he must have been holding all day.

"Yes, Chief," he said, nodding.

Then they all walked down the hall to the kitchen. Brenda plastered a smile onto her face as the wiry and worn Tinsdale came into view hunched over photos at the kitchen table. He didn't notice them at first despite his focus being anything but genuine.

It must take a lot, Brenda thought to herself, to sit there and pretend.

"Lieutenant Provenza," Sharon said beside her, stepping through the doorway. "We would like to ask Mister Tinsdale a few more questions if this is a good time."

"Of course!" Provenza shot out of his chair. He wasn't a tall guy but even he seemed to tower over the slight frame of their suspect. "Martin, you remember Chief Johnson?"

"Sure," he said, his brown eyes looking straight at her and then, narrowing, wandering past her to Navarro.

In her mind's eye, Brenda saw it happening before anybody even moved. It was as if time itself slowed down and laid it all before her with startling clarity. She imagined that Martin felt exactly the same as realization dawned, as he saw his life, as he knew it, disintegrate and the horrible truth reveal itself.

He felt naked, his innermost thoughts and feelings painting the room for all the world to see.

He got up, he smiled and then he ran.

Tinsdale's chair clattered to the floor as the room exploded into motion. Martin shoved his way past Sharon, knocking her back and straight into Brenda while Navarro brushed past them, after Martin who had made it to the backdoor.

When Brenda had steadied herself, prying her fingers off the doorjamb that she had held onto, she saw, out of the back window, Amy Sykes practically kneeling on their suspect, one hand restraining Martin's arm behind his back, the other stretched out to Julio for a pair of cuffs.

Sharon broke away from her, her heels clacking over the lino and out the door. Still standing beside the table, Provenza picked up the fallen chair, looking at anything but her.

"Well," he said with a wry chuckle, fisting his lucky hat.

Outside the commotion continued with a loud shriek. "What did you do?! What did you do?!"

Stephanie Tinsdale, restrained by not only Flynn but also Julio, screamed and flailed all at once.

Sharon held Susan as she cried.

Brenda released a mighty breath, scratching her eyebrow and turned away from what she knew was about to unfold. Her gaze fell onto Beaudoin down the hall. The woman was sitting almost primly on the floor, her legs tucked neatly beneath her, back against the doorframe to the living room while she rubbed the back of her head.

Of course, Brenda reminded herself, Bridget was short and somewhat slight and no one could possibly apprehend anybody in heels like that.

"Oh, for heaven's sakes," she mumbled and strode down the hall. Beaudoin glared up at her, although it lacked the venom Brenda had expected. "Are you hurt?"

"No," Beaudoin said, rubbing her head again and then, as if it were an afterthought, checked her fingers for blood. Thankfully there wasn't any. She then took the hand Brenda offered without hesitation and clambered to her feet. "Thank you," Bridget said, her eyes bright and glossy as she righted her blouse.

"You're welcome," Brenda said, face turned towards the glaring sunlight shining in through the open front door.

Chapter Text

 

Context

- What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral -

 

Brenda had just gotten out of the shower. The hotel had a whole bunch of stars but, and Brenda remembered that from when she had first stayed, the shower was abysmal. Her hair had taken serious offence to the rough treatment and the sheets, well, they weren't all that.

The blonde had wrapped herself up in the white, fluffy robe. The laundry people didn't use fabric softener, and the towel in her hair could have been a bit more luxurious considering the cash she had to lay down for every single night she stayed there.

The shower, even though it felt more like a drizzle, had helped. It always did when Brenda felt grimy and just plain disgusted. There was something therapeutic about washing the sorrows away and letting them swirl down the drain.

She had wondered briefly, when rinsing her hair, what would happen next. She had spoken to Director Faulkner just minutes after they had found Jason. In his voice she had immediately detected his irritation; irritation at the fact that he had to call her after Bridget (of course) had called him.

She had heard in his voice the carefully concealed disappointment at her inability to bring this case, their first case, to a successful conclusion.

After all, it wouldn’t do to make it sound as if a boy’s death stood in the way of his own personal as well as his professional proliferation.

That was beside the point, though, because Jason was still dead.

The point was that Brenda felt the price of her own failure deeper and more devastating than anyone could possibly imagine.

Excluding Bridget, as Brenda had come to realize. And Sharon.

Hair still damp, Brenda donned her pyjamas. She needed to get some laundry done and get to the dry cleaner’s soon as she was running out of clothes fast. She had contemplated going home and getting more of her things but, on second thought, that would just make it look as if she had no intention of fighting for her return and had just resigned herself to the situation.

Brenda sighed, sat on the bed and looked up at the all too familiar ceiling. She wondered if she had done enough; in her life, her marriage...today, for Jason.

She looked around at her sparsely furnished yet cluttered room. Brenda had lived here for over a month.

“Livin’...” Brenda said to herself and then chuckled, throwing her towel on the floor.

It was in moments like this when this near panic welled up in her chest, when she couldn’t stand to be in this small, cluttered room, in the company of her own evermore depressing, sinister growing thoughts and threw on whatever she could get her hands on – sometimes a pair of jeans, sometimes a mismatched work outfit, her pyjamas and a trench coat that one time – and took the elevator downstairs to sit at the bar with a glass of wine until the bar keeper wiped down the bar top and the cleaner was vacuuming under the tables.

Today she grabbed a wrinkled, frumpy looking skirt that she hadn’t worn in a year but, just as she was pulling her tank top over her head, there was a loud knock on her door.

"Who is it?" She asked even though she could clearly see Sharon through the peephole.

"It's me."

The blonde glanced at her watch - it was 1 o'clock in the morning - then picked up her clothes that she had so carelessly discarded earlier and stuffed them into her suitcase which she then shoved under the bed.

"Oh, for heaven's sakes," she mumbled and picked up the sweets wrappers littering the right side of the bed. "One second!"

Brenda straightened out the bed then grabbed the take out containers she had smuggled upstairs two days ago and dumped them in the trash in the bathroom.

There was another knock.

It wouldn't get any better, she decided, and opened the door. "Sharon," she said and looked the woman up and down.

They weren’t supposed to be speaking, they weren’t supposed to see each other.

Why was she here?

"Have you been home yet?"

"Yes, actually," Sharon said tiredly, hand on the doorframe, blouse askew and mottled with specks of golden brown dusty sand, skirt nearly as wrinkled as the one Brenda had just shoved under the bed. "I'm living one floor up."

The blonde's face fell and then she stepped aside because Sharon was coming in whether Brenda liked it or not. "Wait. What?"

"My house sold," the brunette said as she entered the room. "Gosh, looks just like mine." She pointed at the bed then her eyes scanned her surroundings and her face contorted. "Except for the...uh, mess."

Brenda pouted and swung the door shut with a huff. "Thanks."

"I'm closing on a condo in two weeks."

"That’s...great.”

Sharon then plopped down onto the foot of the bed, took off her glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose, eyes closed tightly. "I thought we weren't talking yet here I am."

"We are talkin'." Brenda insisted even though her inner voice had insisted that they shouldn’t. "How long have you been here?"

"Three days. All my stuff is in storage," Sharon sighed and looked up at her with tired eyes. "How do you do it?"

"Do what?"

"Live like this?" Sharon moaned and fell back onto the bed her feet dangling off the edge.

Brenda looked at the brunette for a moment, realized she was standing in the middle of the room, her hair dripping and her nipples visible through the thin material of her tank top (it was chilly) and crossed her arms in front of her chest. "It's not as if I've got a choice," she settled on saying. "And I guess I'm just not attached to...things."

"As opposed to me?"

"Yes!" Brenda threw her hands up in the air. "You've got ballerina pictures...and-and that designer couch."

"It's a chaise."

"It's a couch."

Sharon glanced at her then back at the ceiling. "Oh, god, you're right. I'm all about my stuff."

"Nice stuff," Brenda said and sat on the bed as well, adjusting her pyjama top, and thought that talking about a chaise, even though it was mundane and a terrible excuse to not have to talk about Jason or the fact that Sharon lived one floor up, was preferable.

"Is your shower as bad as mine?"

"If by bad you mean a gentle drizzle then yes, it's as bad."

Sharon chuckled throatily beside her; it sounded dark and sad. "Can I stay?" The brunette blinked up at her. "Since we are on speaking terms."

Brenda laid down beside her, staring at the same tiles she had stared at for over a month and that Sharon had started counting, too. "It's still cheatin'."

"I know." Sharon swallowed and then exhaled slowly. “And I stupidly have feelings for you.”

"That's beside the point, Sharon, and you know it."

The brunette rolled over and, leaning onto her elbows, looked down at Brenda. "Just say yes."

The blonde sighed, searching the green eyes for longer than was truly necessary, her own eyes softening then reached out and tucked an errand curl behind Sharon's ear. "Yes."

Sharon smiled, it was that warm smile that Brenda had only realized a short while ago meant affection. For a moment it looked as if the brunette was basking in the simple physical gesture, savouring it, then the smile vanished from her features.

"Mind if I use your shower?"

Brenda bit her lip.

"What are you hiding in there?" Sharon asked immediately.

"Chinese take out."

The brunette chuckled again. "I promise I won't look."

"You might have a hard time overlookin' it."

"That bad?"

Brenda shrugged, still looking up at Sharon. "Just how things get when I'm left to my own devices."

"You're a slob."

"I just get busy, is all."

The brunette snorted, smiling indulgently, and then scooted off the bed. "It's called being a grown up." She took off her trench coat, looked around for somewhere to dump it and decided to just pile it on top of Brenda's ever growing heap of clothes on the armchair.

Sharon didn't lock the door as she went into the bathroom, instead she left it slightly ajar. The shower came on after only a minute. Brenda stared at the door, the faint light spilling onto the carpet then averted her gaze and switched on the TV.

The news was reporting on Jason's death. She could make out herself and Sharon in the background, talking in front of the house.

She switched channels, flipping through them at break-neck speed.

As Sharon returned, wrapped in Brenda's robe, hair damp, Brenda turned the TV off.

"I guess it's too late for room service," the brunette grumped and sat on the bed next to Brenda, back against the headboard.

The blonde dug into her tote and pulled out two Ding Dongs. Wordlessly she handed Sharon one of the foil wrapped cakes. The brunette glared at it then unwrapped it slowly. Apparently she was too hungry to care.

As she took a bite and chewed, Brenda decided to do the same.

"I don't think I could have kept anything down earlier."

Me neither, Brenda thought to herself, the Ding Dong severely lacking in its usual enjoyment.

"How's the new job going?"

"Fine," Brenda said even though it didn't seem much like it at that point. "Yours?"

"Fine." Sharon lowered the half eaten Ding Dong, no longer interested in eating it. "I've put in three requests for another Detective."

"And apparently my supervisory style is impeding Doctor Beaudoin's own."

"Supervising? You?" Sharon snorted. "I've never seen anyone less capable of not interfering."

Brenda had to admit that Sharon might be onto something. Instead of commenting however, she asked, "Can you sleep?"

Sharon stared at the black TV screen, Ding Dong definitely abandoned then shook her head. She let out a long breath, a moment went by in silence, and then she drew her legs up, resigned.

Brenda had seen her like this before, once, and she hated having to witness it. Sharon was strong, she could handle a great many things - more than most, really - she had the emotional wherewithal to confront her own self, to just deal without compartments, and Brenda had always envied that.

But compartments had their uses.

Brenda bridged the gap between them, reaching out her hand which Sharon took, seemingly without hesitation. Her hand was warm and it fit into Brenda’s just so.

The experience, as a whole, was comforting.

No, Brenda corrected herself. Comfortable.

She let that realization sink in just as Sharon leaned closer, leaned into her, rested her head on Brenda’s shoulder and sighed a sigh of relief.


***

"Brenda."

The blonde stirred. She was in bed, under the covers. She was warm and comfortable but she also knew it was the morning of yet another day.

She would have to go to work and so did Sharon.

"Brenda?"

She sighed into the cushion and turned over, the warm hand slipping down her shoulder, along her arm and then onto her tummy. "Mornin'," she said but refused to open her eyes just yet.

"Hey," Sharon said gently and then the hand moved to her face, brushing her hair from her forehead. "As much as I'd like to stay...I have a meeting."

Brenda nodded and reached blindly for the woman beneath the covers. Sharon was still in the fluffy bathrobe that she had fallen asleep in last night.

Brenda's fingertips encountered bare skin; the sash had come undone and for a small, selfish moment she revelled in the feel of Sharon's warm body.

"Brenda..." Sharon sighed but didn't stop her.

"Just five more minutes."

"I don't have five more minutes," the brunette urged and, with great difficulty, wriggled out of bed.

Brenda did open her eyes then and watched as Sharon let the robe drop to the floor. She was completely naked beneath it.

"I have to go," Sharon said and gathered her clothes from the pile on the chair. Brenda decided to stay in bed when the brunette pulled on her skirt, stuffing her underwear into her purse and then fixed the clasp of her bra.

Her skin was pale, even in the dim light. Brenda let her eyes linger on the freckles littering Sharon's shoulders and breasts, her hair spilling everywhere. She buttoned up her blouse but not all the way, leaving the swell of her breasts exposed.

Brenda smiled and rolled onto her stomach, watching. She felt the pleasant throb of arousal between her thighs and a flutter in her tummy even though she knew nothing would (or could) happen. Sharon had a meeting and Sharon still pretended they were friends who, technically, weren’t even supposed to see each other.

The blonde sighed, a small smile creeping onto her lips, and hugged the pillow instead.

"What?" Sharon asked.

"Just watchin'." Brenda bit her lip and said, blushing, "You're beautiful."

"Ha!" The brunette laughed and picked up her cell phone. "You're full of it."

Sharon came closer and knelt on the bed on one knee.

It was then that a memory flashed before Brenda’s eyes, intangible yet familiar, fleeting and gone too soon.

"But thank you," said Sharon and leaned down, kissing Brenda's eyebrow. "Bye."

The blonde snorted. "Bye, Sharon."

***

This whole therapy thing just didn't sit right with Brenda.

In her mind, and she had mulled this over and over and over, any sane, reasonable person, psychology degree or not, would judge her immediately once they found out what she had done.

She was a cheater, she had broken her marriage vows, she had broken her promise and she had betrayed her husband.

The therapist, whoever they were, would take one look at her and Fritz and think: what the hell does he want with her?

Brenda would end up the bad guy, she just knew it.

Because she was the bad guy in all this.

Fritz had more than emphasized that being late wasn't an option and Brenda had vowed she'd be on time. It was in her calendar, and she had only had to sign the evaluations Bridget had written up.

What did she really know about these people anyhow?

She was sure that whatever the blonde had decided to say was sufficient. Brenda skimmed the reports, lips pursed into a pout, and initialled and signed her name. At 4:30 she kept glancing at her watch and at 5, she tried to find something that would make her late.

"Are you okay?"

"Hmm?" Brenda looked up and into the green and brown eyes of Bridget Beaudoin. "Oh. Yes. Sorry."

Bridget narrowed her eyes and tilted her head to the side. "Are you sure?"

"Oh, it's just...I'm gonna be late for this appointment that I have--"

"Do you want to be late?"

Brenda chomped down on her lip and shot out of her chair. "I better go."

She didn't get stuck in traffic but the blonde had decided on the elevator ride up to the 19th floor that it would be her excuse - and besides, she was only three minutes late.

"There you are," Fritz said with more exasperation than was necessary as she practically fell into the waiting room. "We should've car-pooled like I suggested."

"You know how Downtown gets in rush hour--"

"Yet here I am, on time."

"--and I had to sign evaluations." Brenda took a deep breath and decided not to argue her case any further. Sometimes she wondered whether Fritz set these high expectations on purpose just so she could fail.

But then, showing up on time wasn't too much to ask, at least when you were someone other than Brenda.

Another door opened and Brenda found she could barely contain her shock. "Doctor Leonard," she said, it just slipped out.

"Chief Johnson."

"Wait," Fritz said. "She's that Doctor Leonard?"

She wondered if he had known and the suspicion alone made Brenda feel bad. She was the one who couldn't be trusted, not Fritz.

"Oh," Leonard said, "is this going to be a problem for you, Brenda? Or you, Fritz?”

The blonde looked at Fritz - they had waited an eternity for this appointment - and then looked at Doctor Leonard, plastering a smile onto her face.

"Of course not!"

It would have been the perfect excuse not to do this today, or ever, but somewhere in her gut Brenda knew that she had no other option.

As they entered the room, she realized that Leonard had kept exactly zilch of her old furniture. Instead she had a big leather couch, a coffee table and a very comfortable looking armchair. Her desk had a glass top which looked immaculate, behind it stood a bookcase lined with books and a filing cabinet.

There were orchids dotted about the room and a painting hung on the wall - it was an original, not a print.

"So." Brenda clutched the handles of her purse. "You're not workin' for the Department anymore?"

"No," the woman said and smiled. "I decided to focus on a more positive line of work."

"Positive," Brenda repeated and wished she could stuff the word back into her mouth because Leonard gave her a look, the raised eyebrows. She had just given herself away, the blonde realized and reminded herself to be more careful with her choice of words.

"Why don't you have a seat," Leonard gestured to the sofa. Fritz lowered himself first, sitting in one corner, Brenda took the other. "Can I get you anything to drink? I have tea, coffee, soda..."

"I'm good, thanks," Fritz said, adjusting his tie with little care, as if he felt right at home here.

"No," Brenda drawled. "But thanks." She situated her purse right beside her feet and smoothed down her skirt. It had flowers on it because she wasn't wearing Raydor-suits to work anymore.

Funny that, the blonde thought, Sharon would fit right in at the FBI - she had the wardrobe for it.

"Okay," Doctor Leonard said, sounding almost cheerful as she sat in the armchair, legs crossed and balancing a notepad on her knee. "Fritz. You made the appointment. Why don't you tell me why you're here today?"

Out of the corner of her eye, Brenda saw Fritz glance her way. He wouldn't sugar coat it, she knew that, and that's why she steeled herself and stared at Leonard's open and friendly face.

"Brenda decided to cheat."

"I did not decide that," the blonde argued immediately and, yet again, wished she had just kept her mouth shut.

"Brenda? Why are you here today?"

"Because," the blonde swallowed, all the possible answers running through her head. She decided then, in that split second, to be better at this than Fritz even though the mere thought of somebody picking through her private matters just made her skin itch. "Because I want to fix this."

Leonard blinked; her face betraying nothing, annoyingly, then she looked at Fritz. "What about you? Do you want to fix this?"

Fritz sighed and Brenda refused to look at him, instead she picked at her skirt. "I want to try."

"That's great," Leonard said and scribbled something. "Why don't one of you tell me how you met? Would you like to start, Brenda?"

Her resistance waning, the blonde left her skirt alone and nodded. "Um. Well. Where do you want me to start?"

"At the beginning..."

Brenda bit her lip and glanced at Fritz. He looked calm, his eyebrows slightly drawn together. "We met in DC," she said and looked at Leonard again. "When I was workin' for the MPD."

"How long ago was that?"

"Um..."

"Ten and a half years ago," Fritz said and Leonard scribbled again.

"And you were working for the police, too?"

"No, I was an FBI agent there. We met working a case together."

"But you didn't date then?"

Brenda shook her head. "Fritz was with, um—“

“Cindy.”

“--and I was datin'...somebody else."

"Will Pope, who was married at the time." Fritz supplied and Brenda had to chomp down on her lip to keep from saying something.

Was he intentionally painting a negative picture of her? Was he trying to showcase her supposedly questionable morals? Or was he just that angry that he couldn't help but drag her through the mud?

It wasn't a pleasant feeling.

"In my defence, I didn't know that when we first started datin' and then he promised he'd leave his wife--"

"Which he did. For Estelle."

Brenda huffed and crossed her arms. "If you wanna discuss my past mistakes then we might as well do it at home where we don't have to pay a $150 an hour."

"Okay..." Leonard said slowly, looking at Brenda. "Is that something you do often? Discuss your past mistakes?"

The blonde twirled her wedding ring around her finger and shrugged. "Just seems that way 'cause Fritz likes to point them out to me whenever the opportunity presents itself."

"That's not true!"

"Every time I had an issue at work, it was automatically Will's fault--"

"Because it was! I don't know how you can't see that!"

"--and it was always 'Will's gonna screw you over, Will's gonna stab you in the back' but you know what? For all of Will's short comins, he never screwed me over. In fact, he's part of the reason why I have this new job--"

"That I put in for," Fritz hissed.

"That's probably another thing you should add to your list, Doctor Leonard," Brenda said. "I took Fritz's job that I had no idea he wanted after he made me quit mine. If he'd maybe mentioned it, he wouldn't resent the fact that they chose me over him."

"You always say that, but that's not what I'm saying, Brenda. If I'd known you were trying for it, I wouldn't have even bothered."

"You mean you would’ve spared yourself the embarrassment!" Brenda snorted then mumbled, just to twist the knife, “I can’t help that I have credentials.”

Doctor Leonard cleared her throat. "May I just stop you guys right there?"

Brenda had known this whole thing would end up in a giant pile of disappointments.

"Let me explain to you how this works, okay?" Leonard put the pad away and smiled at them both. "In this first session I would like to learn about your history. Positive moments throughout your relationship. We'll work our way, from the beginning, to how we got here, to this point, session after session. That sound good?"

Brenda gave a reluctant nod and saw Fritz do the same. She would have to get comfortable with the idea of having this stranger examine her private matters. This was what it took, she knew that, and she also knew that it could, potentially, save what was left of their marriage if she just tried to be honest.

It wasn't as if she didn't spend a big part of her life on introspection however, most of the time, she just chose not to share her findings with anyone.

"Brenda? Last time we spoke, you had gotten married. How about you tell me about your first date with Fritz?"

Brenda bit down on her lip, remembering their 'non-dating'. It had taken her weeks to admit to herself that they weren't just two friends going to restaurants. Then she realized what she had said to Doctor Leonard in their last session.

Her eyes shot up but the ones looking back at her were nothing but warm.

Chapter Text

Emotion
- more emotions are better than less -


It was the middle of the night when Brenda's eyes shot open to relative darkness - LA was never pitch black - and swept her hand across her bedside cabinet in search of her phone.

Squinting at the bright screen, she groaned and flopped onto her back.

"Yes? Doctor?"

"Good morning, Chief."

It was morning? Brenda squinted at the closed curtains, detecting a faint yellow glow. "What time's it?"

"It's five thirty."

The blonde huffed and sat up. "Okay. What's goin' on?" She threw the covers aside and sat, hunched over, on the edge of the bed.

"We've got a case up in Eureka."

"Who's gone missin'?"

"Congresswoman Stephens."

"And what was she doin' in Eureka?" Brenda asked on her way to the bathroom.

"She was speaking on possible government subsidies to promote tourism in the area. She was supposed to fly out this morning at four to make it to a speech in, hold on, uh, Jacksonville, Florida but she never showed. She wasn't in her hotel room, all her things are still there but no one's seen her since last night at eleven."

"Okay," Brenda said, looking at herself in the mirror. "When are we leavin'?"

"30 minutes. I'm downstairs, by the way."

The blonde grimaced - Beaudoin knew where she lived?

"Just give me a minute, I'll be there in two shakes." Brenda hung up and tied her hair back. Next, she got dressed in a pair of dark brown slacks, a cream blouse she had found at her favorite shop just two weeks ago - a vintage piece - and the brown blazer that went with the slacks.

She applied lipstick and just the tiniest touch of make-up, grabbed her purse and the small bag she had always packed and ready containing her passport, two changes of clothes, a coat, the boots she had bought a few years back in case she had to trudge around dirty desert, beaches or woodland.

She searched for her wool cardigan again but couldn't see it anywhere - it would've come in handy on the plane, she always got cold when flying.

Downstairs, she spotted Beaudoin immediately. She looked like an FBI agent, if there was such a thing, wearing a dark blue suit and a light blue blouse. Her hair was tied back loosely but her curls spilled out of the bun everywhere. She was on the phone, her big, roomy purse slung over her shoulder.

Brenda nodded her greeting then the two of them set off.

***

The private jet was small - less glamorous than people always made it out to be.

Brenda hated it. In her time with the Company she had spent countless hours gripping the armrests of the tiniest planes imaginable while the little aircrafts jostled through every single bit of turbulence.

She preferred bigger planes. They had substance, which was what her daddy had always said.

Brenda released a slow breath as they finally reached cruising altitude and looked around the small plane. Both Bridget and Navarro unbuckled their belts and passed in the narrow aisle as they swapped seats.

Bridget smiled at him; it looked like an indulgent smile, a familiar one, almost intimate. Her hand rested on his chest as they squeezed past one another and Brenda could immediately tell that Bridget had touched him like that countless times before.

Navarro plopped into his new seat opposite Ricky and Sykes, while Bridget sat next to Lou Palmer in the next row.

“Listen up, folks,” he then said. “We have some preliminary findings coming in from Eureka. They should all be ready on your spanking new tablets that Chief Johnson here managed to wrangle out of the budget last week.”

He smiled at her, it was somewhat friendly, and Brenda hoped he had very nearly gotten over the fact that she had decided to stick her nose where he thought it didn’t belong.

“Here we go: Congresswoman Stephens arrived in Eureka late Tuesday night with her PA, a Mister Thomas Lake, checking into two separate rooms at the Best Western at 2100 hours. She had breakfast at the hotel and then went on a scheduled hike with the mayor and the press. She returned to the hotel late that afternoon to get ready for dinner with the mayor which lasted until approximately ten thirty. Her PA reports that she spoke to him briefly about work related matters shortly thereafter in his hotel room which was the last time anyone has seen her.”

“How did they figure she was missin’?” Brenda interjected and realized in that same instance that Beaudoin had meant to ask the same.

“She was scheduled for a conference call with DC at 8, which woulda been, uh—“

“0500 hours,” Brenda supplied.

“Right.” Lou nodded. “When she didn’t show they contacted her PA. He found her room empty, her bed wasn’t slept in et cetera.”

“He had a key?” Bridget asked, this time beating Brenda to it.

“Apparently he has a key to everything.”

Brenda stared down at her iPad then at Beaudoin who had turned around in her seat to look straight at her. “Chief?”

“Uh. Okay. Doctor, Agent Dwyer, why don’t y’all see what the mayor has to say? SSA Palmer, meet with local law enforcement, please. Take Agent Navarro with you. Agent Sykes, you’re with me. We’ll be havin’ a look at the congresswoman’s hotel room.”

Brenda looked at all the expectant faces, lastly Beaudoin’s. The doctor’s features were relaxed, neutral, as always. It was unnerving, especially since it seemed that Bridget knew exactly why Brenda did the things she did.

Fritz had never had the ability, through no fault of his own. He loved her, or had loved her, and that had always blinded him.

Sharon had started out hating her and perhaps that had given the woman such insight. After all, she must have spent the better part of their working relationship trying to figure out what conniving thing Brenda would do next.

Fritz though, he had always tried to see the best in her.

But looking at Beaudoin and her wide, sparkling eyes, Brenda just resented the fact that somebody who barely knew her, had figured out that she sent Ricky, who liked her just fine, with someone who needed a little swaying, and that she had her claws in Sykes because she was new and had no agenda.

Or perhaps it just irked Brenda that she wasn’t the only smart person in the room anymore.

“Okay,” Bridget said after a long moment. “Let’s all meet at 12 at the local police station.”

They landed on a small airstrip just three miles outside of Eureka. The cars waiting for them happened to be Crown Vics that Eureka PD had very kindly offered them the use of.

“I don’t think they had a lotta choice,” Lou said as he got into the driver’s seat. “Apparently the incentive to get us on board came straight from Washington.”

Brenda nodded, buckling her seat belt. “Washington does what Washington wants,” she said in a rare moment of long simmering resentment.

“You used to work there, right?”

“Straight outta Georgetown.”

“With the CIA.”

“A long time ago...” Brenda turned and looked out the passenger window.

“But you’re from Georgia?”

“I sure am. Where are you from?” In his file it had said he was born in San Jose, on the Travis Air Force Base.

“Here, there and everywhere,” he said with a smile.

“Army brat?”

“Air Force.”

“Ah.”

Lou glanced at her, his graying moustache stretching with a wider smile. “You’re an Army brat?”

“I am,” Brenda said with a nod. “But home was always Atlanta.”

“My folks were from Georgia, too. But why do I get the feeling that you knew that already?”

“It’s the twang,” Brenda said, eyes drifting to the passenger window, to the unfamiliar landscape.

“I heard they call you The Closer. That true?”

Her interest in the conversation waning as her thoughts drifted to Claire Stephens, Brenda nodded slowly. “They did,” she said, mind exploding with scenarios and time scales and wide open spaces. “But that ain’t my job anymore.”

***

It had been a long, gruelling day.

First Sharon had overslept and then she had been stuck in traffic on her way to work. When she had gotten in, finally, Chief Taylor had been waiting in her office.

One crisis had followed another and culminated, quite spectacularly, in Provenza walking out of an interview.

Tomorrow morning, Sharon would be moving into her new condo and she was praying desperately that she could actually pick up a box herself and oversee the movers but, deep down, she knew she wouldn't make it and she'd find kitchen utensils in the bathroom and her towels in the office.

She was glad it was her last night at the hotel though. As Brenda had said, she liked her things, especially being surrounded by them; a creature of habit. Taking off her jacket and putting it on a hanger, Sharon sighed and plopped onto the bed.

She needed a shower, she needed food and, most of all, sleep but her tired body wouldn't cooperate. She switched the TV on instead, having decided to watch the news and startled when the first thing she saw was Brenda.

"...the FBI have arrested local Eureka Deputy Sheriff Mark Trenton for the abduction of Congresswoman Stephens earlier today after discovering the Congresswoman in an abandoned hut in the National Forest. The FBI has yet to comment on motive but here is a brief statement that was released earlier today shortly after the arrest."

Sharon squinted, Beaudoin's voice floating around the room. She had seen her, Brenda, wearing boots, her giant purse slung over her shoulder as she trailed after Ricky and Sykes who escorted their arrest into a police station.

Her phone rang and Sharon jumped a little. Looking at the screen, at the number, she realized immediately that the call came from Eureka.

Before she could help it, it brought a small smile to her face.

"Hello?"

"It's me," Brenda said.

"I know."

"How did you--I'm callin' from the hotel phone."

Sharon sighed and leaned back against the headboard, relaxing gradually. "I saw you on TV."

"You did?"

"Mmhm, just now. How did you find her?"

"Her iPad," the blonde replied. "We hacked into the GPS."

"You almost sound like you know what you're talking about."

"Well, I do," Brenda said evenly. "How was your day?" She asked.

Sharon blinked, thrown off by the question. "I don't think you've ever asked me that."

"Course I have," Brenda protested. "Not in so many words--"

"Not in any words. But to answer your question, my day was awful."

"Oh..."

Sharon nodded to herself, realizing that this mere phone call somehow made her feel better. Not good or great, just better in a way that scared her. "How was your day?"

She expected 'fine', that's what Brenda always said. Never an honest answer before she then launched into a ten minute rant about something or other.

"Terrible."

"Oh?"

"I...I miss my old job," Brenda said slowly, her voice sounding wobbly and sad. "And I miss everyone from work. And I...I miss you."

"Brenda," Sharon groaned. It was almost an automatic response - the blonde threw her a morsel but Sharon truly didn't want to have it. She knew Brenda said these things because she meant them but that certainly didn't help the situation. Once, it had occurred to Sharon that maybe, when Brenda said all this, there was something else she really wanted to say.

But thinking like that was entirely counterproductive.

"I'm not bein' maudlin," Brenda argued after a moment of silence. "I just want you to know that."

"And then what?"

"What do you mean?"

"I'm hanging up." Sharon pulled her phone away from her ear and pressed the end call button. For an incredibly short moment, the brunette felt relief, then regret and then the phone rang again. "For god's sake!" She swore and picked up again. "Brenda, you have to stop doing this."

"Doing what?" The blonde screeched which Sharon knew was the precursor of a spectacular hissy fit. "You're the worst, Sharon!"

"Me? How am I the worst?"

"You say things all the time and then you practically throw yourself at me--"

"Oh, my god!"

"It's true. You get to make all the bad choices but then tell me I'm not even allowed to miss you. 'Cause I do, Sharon, I really, really do.”

Then she heard it; a hiccup, a shuddering breath and then, unmistakably, a sob.

“I miss you so much,” Brenda said with a teary voice. “And it’s been drivin’ me crazy to a point where I barely know who I am anymore.”

The brunette closed her eyes, tears brimming as she heard Brenda's voice break. "I'm sorry...I don't know what to say."

"Then just say, ‘I miss you, too, Brenda’."

Sharon took a deep, shaky breath and wiped away an errand tear. "I miss you, too." It felt good to say it, wrong but good.

"Didn't you ever think that I just don't know what to do...about all this?"

"About what?"

"I just..." Brenda didn't finish her sentence, she left it hanging there for Sharon to puzzle over. Instead the blonde changed the subject. "I found this tiny little bakery. It's all French things, and the woman in it has a French accent. Just made me think of you, is all."

"Oh? How so?"

"That time we went for brunch, when we were on forced vacation..."

Sharon smiled as she remembered that day, remembered sitting in the patisserie with Brenda like two regular people, sipping champagne and eating a croissant with so much butter on it that it barely tasted of anything but.

"We're flying back in an hour."

"Wouldn't you rather stay the night and get some decent sleep?" Sharon sunk back into the cushions, thankful that their conversation had veered away from Brenda's emotional dumpster to the more mundane.

"The Palmiers would be stale tomorrow. And all those little éclairs I picked up for you, they'd be better fresh."

The brunette snorted and then, to her utter horror, she giggled. "Really? That's your priority?"

"I'm the boss. I say when the plane leaves."

"Not the Captain, obviously."

"Course not," Brenda quipped. "I'm the Chief. And French pastry is of the utmost importance."

Sharon closed her eyes, smiling, and turned onto her side, phone wedged between her cheek and the pillow. "Room 584."

"I'll see you there," Brenda exclaimed perhaps a bit too enthusiastically but Sharon couldn't be bothered to mind.

Instead, as the line clicked, she wondered what she had just agreed to. She turned onto her back and stared at her phone then at the ceiling. Brenda wasn't one to dwell on her decisions, she just made them and lived with the consequences, but Sharon dwelled, perhaps more so than others.

She dwelled on their friendship, if you could call it that. They were friends, were they not? Sharon found it a difficult question to answer and looked at the whole clusterfuck as a terribly dysfunctional and somewhat unhealthy relationship.

They were friends. And sometimes they weren't.

She also dwelled on the fact that Brenda never mentioned Fritz anymore. Since that night, where she had declared her undying love...

Sharon snorted; in hindsight she wished she hadn't mentioned it. On the other hand, she felt secretly relieved. Sometimes she was so furious with Brenda for disregarding her feelings. Perhaps that was part of the reason she had confessed, just so she could have something to seethe over.

She dwelled on her choice of hotel, too. She didn't pick it to be closer to Brenda, obviously. Sharon had picked it because it was nice and close to work and somewhere deep down she had hoped to find that Brenda had moved back home which then would have given Sharon at least some sort of closure.

Yet Brenda hadn't moved home and she hadn't mentioned Fritz in a long while. Shame, really, because whenever the blonde threw in the occasional 'Fritzi', it provided the cold shower that Sharon so desperately needed.

Lastly, she dwelled on Brenda. The woman she couldn't help but be in love with. When Sharon had discovered that they could sit down, eat dinner and talk to each other, well, that had been it. She hadn't had anyone she could do that with, and then sleep with, in a very, very long time.

Friends were sparse in their line of work. Lovers even more so. And to find both in a single person? Nearly unheard of.

Yet they had wined and dined, had had amazing sex, and then, one night, when she had come home from work, Sharon had wondered what it would feel like if Brenda had left her dirty plate on the counter, next to the sink, and was sitting in the living room on her chaise with her reading glasses perched low on her nose.

The thought had made her nearly sick with longing.

So she had refused to revisit that thought.

But laying there on her bed, and after the day she had had, Sharon couldn't care less. If Brenda wanted to keep up the pretence then so would she. It was comfortable and it was easy. So easy to be together and not think about anything.

It made her feel good, happy almost, until it ended but Sharon refused to rob herself of that little shred of calm.

Perhaps she should be more like Brenda? Make a decision and live with the consequences.

***

It took nearly three hours until there was a knock on her hotel room door.

Brenda stood outside in the hallway, still wearing the clothes from earlier when Sharon had seen her on TV minus the boots. Her jacket was severely wrinkled, her purse slung over her shoulder. In one hand she held a bag and in the other a white box.

She looked tired and Sharon wondered if flying didn't agree with the blonde.

"Hi," Brenda said, her features pinking with a shyness that was always so unlike her.

Sharon had to smile and then opened the door fully. "Hi. Rough day?"

"You could say that," the blonde grumped. "Woodland just don't agree with me. Here," she held out the box of pastries. "Your surprise."

"Not really a surprise though, is it?"

Brenda just shrugged and dumped her black gym bag onto the floor. "I'm just bad at surprises. I can never keep 'em to myself." She then proceeded to rid herself of her purse and jacket. "Good lord, I need to get out of these shoes!" She cooed to herself and stepped right out of them.

"Make yourself at home," Sharon quipped but the comment went straight over Brenda's head. "Are you hungry? We can order room service. I was thinking steak, I haven't had one in...I can't even remember."

"Sounds good, I'm starvin'."

"How do you like it, the steak?"

Brenda shrugged once more and plopped onto the bed. "Mooin's fine."

"Okay," Sharon said and picked up the phone. "Mooing." As Brenda collapsed onto her back, the brunette couldn't tear her eyes away. In her chest, she felt that painful sensation yet in her tummy the butterflies fluttered.

Sharon took a deep breath and turned away to order their food.

Some days it was easier to bear. She merely revelled in the comfort, their comfortable closeness, on other days she felt as if she was burning up from the inside out.

"Sharon?"

She spun around at the gentle touch on her arm and met Brenda's brown, curious eyes. "Oh, I'm sorry...I just..."

The blonde gave her a small, warm smile. "That bad a day?"

It was an easy out, Sharon knew that, but instead she said, "I really wish we were still sleeping together."

Brenda's brown eyes widened yet her face betrayed nothing. Her hand rested loosely on Sharon's arm and then withdrew and then Brenda swallowed and said, "Let me shower first."

"What?"

"I smell of pine cones and mud."

Sharon blinked. "Um. Okay. Do you, uh, do you still want to eat?"

"Course," Brenda said lightly, "Have you ever known me not to wanna eat?"

"Ha," Sharon let out an awkward laugh, "Of course. What was I thinking?!" As Brenda disappeared into the bathroom, the brunette realized she was still clutching the phone receiver and that her hand was shaking slightly.

What the hell was she doing? Sharon couldn't fathom why she had opened her big mouth.

"Oh, god," she mumbled and took her glasses off. She wasn't entirely sure whether it was fear or excitement she felt, maybe a mixture of both and then the instant guilt. That was why going out to dinner or drinks had never worked out before.

While she had sat at that nice, quaint Italian restaurant waiting for Brenda, Sharon had to have a bottle of wine to herself just so she could shake that rotten feeling in her tummy.

That was why she had been so horrible and irritable; sitting opposite Brenda, pretending she wasn't married, pretending Fritz didn't exist while the guilt gnawed away at her, had always had Sharon about an inch away from just getting up and walking out.

It had been easier meeting in hotel rooms.

Sometimes Sharon still wondered what had possessed her.

It was different now. She felt closer to Brenda than to her most dear friends, as few as she had, but that was beside the point.

She would just have to order the food and then not sleep with Brenda.

The blonde emerged minutes later wrapped in the white bathrobe that Sharon hadn't bothered to use - she preferred her silken robe even though it was a tad short.

"I hope you don't mind if I eat my steak in my pyjamas," Brenda said as she breezed past. "We were only in Eureka the one day."

"I don't mind," Sharon said, hoping Brenda's pyjamas entailed flannel and lots of it to cover, well, everything. "The food should be here any minute."

"Great," the blonde said absent-mindedly as she dug into her gym bag and pulled wrinkled clothes out.

Flannel pants, Sharon breathed a sigh of relief and then a spaghetti strapped top.

"D'you want me to use the--"

"Yes," Sharon said immediately, "please."

She saw Brenda bite down on her lip and then dash back into the bathroom. While she was in there the food arrived on a silver cart. Sharon had ordered a bottle of wine as well, which she begun to regret but the guy proceeded to uncork it and then it was too late to stuff the bottle under the bed.

"Thank you," Sharon said with as much politeness as she could muster and tipped him.

"Smells good," Brenda said from right behind her, hair still wet and loosely plaited. "And why is it that whenever we get together we end up polishing off a bottle of wine?"

The brunette drew a blank. "Maybe we just drink too much?"

"I think it's b'cause I can't drink with--" The blonde cut herself off and picked up the bottle instead. "You didn't have to get Merlot, Sharon."

She swallowed. Because Brenda couldn't drink with Fritz. "It goes better with the steak," she replied gently.

"Here," the blonde held out a glass filled with wine and tried a smile that didn't quite seem genuine.

They used the small desk that came with the room. Not ideal since they ended up sitting nearly on top of one another but Sharon willed herself to enjoy this as much as she could - have a quiet, comfortable and serene night, as opposed to fretting about what she had said earlier.

"Wanna tell me what was so awful 'bout your day?"

Sharon glanced at Brenda's honest and open face, calculating her words then said, "Provenza hates my guts."

"Really?"

"No, he just enjoys grating on people."

"He does that, too," Brenda quipped. "Provenza can be stubborn and set in his ways but, and never ever repeat it, he's been a real asset to me."

Sharon glared. "He resents me because I'm not you, because I do things differently, because I wasn't trained by the CIA in interrogation." She sighed. "I'm good at what I do and I get people to sign plea agreements. They're in prison in half the time it would take to go to trial--"

"Sharon," Brenda interrupted, the tips of her fingers resting on Sharon's hand. "I know all that and Provenza knows all that. You don't have to prove anything."

"Oh, I'm aware of that. I just wish he'd suck it up."

Brenda snorted. "He'll get used to the idea. It took him only about six months to like me."

"Six months?" Sharon slumped. "I might have to make him disappear first."

"Flynn givin' you any trouble?"

"Surprisingly, Andy has been very helpful."

"Andy?" Brenda repeated and Sharon just nodded, smirking.

"Andy."

The blonde poked her steak, her eyes fluttering down and then glancing back up through her eyelashes. "Interestin'," she said and then stabbed into the meat.

"You're not seriously trying to tell me that you're jealous of Andy Flynn."

"Course not," Brenda grumped. "He hated me for a whole darned year, is all."

Sharon chuckled and stuffed a fry into her mouth. "You do realize that I've known Andy, and Provenza for that matter, for over twenty years."

"I do," Brenda said, contrite. "I just didn't know you were friendly."

"We weren't. So. How's it going with Doctor Beaudoin? Still pedantic?"

"No," Brenda said lazily. "I think she actually likes me...in some strange way. Sometimes I feel like she's just indulgin' me...like a petulant kid throwin' a tantrum." The blonde looked up, eyes twinkling. "Why don't you ask me what you really wanna ask me?"

The brunette blushed - she had meant to ask. "How is Ricky? Is he...does he enjoy his new job?"

Brenda nodded and then she grinned. "He fit right in." The blonde looked down at her plate again, turning inwards for a moment, as if to compose an honest and open answer. "He's a great Agent, Sharon. He suggested the iPad trace, actually."

"I hate that he's an FBI Agent. When he first mentioned it, after college, I had a really hard time keeping my opinion to myself."

"Musta nearly killed you," Brenda quipped.

"At least I have more restraint than you."

"Maybe more patience," the blonde argued then shook her head. "It used to drive me crazy."

"What's that?"

"Your opinions," Brenda said evenly. "And that you thought they were always right."

"I am often right." Sharon smirked to herself, remembering their many arguments. "It used to drive me crazy that you'd never even consider my point of view. In hindsight, perhaps my delivery left something to be desired but your petulant approach to every single suggestion of mine inspired a less than professional attitude."

Brenda guffawed. "So your temper is my fault, too?"

The blonde laughed and Sharon couldn't help but laugh with her. "I'm just saying, you inspire the worst in people."

"And you're like a missile locked onto a target."

"Single minded," Sharon murmured. "That's what you called me."

"To your face, maybe."

"Your resistance to my investigative procedures just took some getting used to. I usually get my way."

Brenda nodded. "Me too."

"That's why we never got along." Sharon reminisced for a moment, remembered her outburst in Chief Pope's office and her frustration at this woman who thought everything had to go her own way while disregarding every regulation in the rule book.

"That and the fact that bein' in a room with you nearly makes me lose my mind."

Sharon dropped her steak knife, it clattered onto her plate noisily. As she looked up, Brenda had her eyes averted, her cheeks were rosy pink and she had caught her bottom lip between her teeth. She looked beautiful like that, coy and young and lovely.

Then she snorted, a throaty chuckle breaking the silence. "I'll...I'll get dessert," Brenda announced suddenly and practically leapt out of her chair to retrieve the white cardboard box. "So. Ricky said you're movin' tomorrow?"

"I am," Sharon said slowly.

"And that the condo's real nice."

"It is."

"A-and it's closer to work."

"Much closer."

"That's good."

Sharon glanced around the room - a tick she couldn't help - then looked at the blonde who was staring at the pastries as if she had never seen one before. "Brenda?"

"Yes?"

"Be honest with me?"

The blonde almost pouted, her fingertips tracing the surface of the wooden desk nervously. "I promise, I'll try."

Sharon reached out, crossing the small gap between them and offered her hand. Brenda took it wordlessly, entwining their fingers. The blonde stared at them for a long time and Sharon felt content to just observe the emotions flicker across her features.

"Brenda..."

Brown wide eyes stared back at her, soft and vulnerable, filled with warmth and shining with a smile that merely tugged at full lips. And even though the question teetered on the very tip of her tongue, Sharon didn't need to ask. She smiled back and squeezed the hand holding her own. "Okay," she said and nodded. "How about we eat some of this? Looks like you wanted to feed an army."

"I just got a bit of everythin'," Brenda said, defending her many choices and, albeit confused, seemed to just let go of the moment, despite her usually inquisitive nature. "Try this one!"

Sharon tried her way through creams, chocolates, pastries and oh! That cinnamon! She ended up thoroughly enjoying Brenda's non-surprise. It felt fun to indulge - something Brenda did on a daily basis - and Sharon vowed to take a page out of the blonde's book and indulge more often.

Perhaps that was what she was doing whenever she allowed herself to look at Brenda and see more than just a woman. When she allowed herself to look past the blonde's many idiosyncrasies, her penchant for chocolate, her selfish nature.

Brenda was, all in all, frustrating. Her needs, private and professional, stood always in the foreground. But when Sharon, once in a while, allowed herself to look past all that then perhaps that was her indulgence. Unhealthier than chocolate but twice as rewarding because what she saw left her, more often than not, breathless.

They weren't the big things like Brenda's beauty. Sharon assumed she had always been a pretty girl - never the belle of the ball, but pretty in a downplayed sort of way. It wasn't that. It was her accent, as much as it grated on her ordinarily, sometimes Brenda just said the most outlandish things.

It was how she squinted her eyes when she couldn't find her reading glasses and how her nose wrinkled. It was the way she giggled girlishly, how she couldn't take a compliment without doing herself injury, how Brenda was never wrong unless proven so, her tendency to keep everything to herself, and how fearful she was of being a disappointment.

It was that big heart of hers. It was that endless, overwhelming compassion.

"What? Do I have chocolate on my face?"

Sharon chuckled and shook her head. "Your face is just fine." She patted Brenda's knee. "Wanna watch a movie?"

They settled on the bed, closer together than was really necessary but Sharon enjoyed the subtle feel of Brenda's skin against her own, the warmth seeping into her clothes and the faint smell of shampoo.

She flicked through channels until Brenda grabbed her wrist. "Leave that one on," she said, eyes fixed onto the screen.

Sharon blinked. "Citizen Kane?"

"It's my daddy's favorite," Brenda said then bit her lip. "'N mine."

"For some reason, I pegged your father for a Western type."

Brenda lifted her eyebrows at her, glaring. "Why? 'Cause he wears those ridiculous animal motif sweaters my mama keeps buyin’?"

The brunette snorted and settled against the headboard. She watched the movie, genuinely yet somewhat tiredly, but after ten minutes of feeling Brenda's eyes on her, Sharon turned sideways.

"You're not watching," she said gently because the look on the blonde's face was something else.

"Just let me kiss you," Brenda said, her voice low and her eyes hooded. "Just kissin'."

Sharon blinked; first she wanted to laugh at the odd request but then Brenda's hand settled onto her knee, her warmth seeping through the fabric of her pants and then her body was absorbing it as if she had spent three days somewhere in the Arctic circle.

And then Sharon heard herself say, her voice quite monotone, "Just once."

Yet when Brenda leaned closer and caressed her cheek with the pad of her thumb, Sharon couldn't come up with a single thing to say or do to stop her. She didn't want to, quite frankly.

Her chest filled with warmth and a feeling so great, Sharon nearly burst with it and then Brenda kissed her. Dimly, Sharon wondered how long they could keep kissing because it would count as just once if they didn't come up for air and then she thought that this sort of bargaining was what had gotten her into this mess in the first place when she had mentally created a scoring system of how far they could go until it was indeed cheating.

Not far, as Sharon had learned afterwards.

And then she had bartered with herself - just this once and then just that once more and then absolutely the last time.

Before Sharon could quite help herself, she had allowed Brenda to lower them both onto the sheets. The blonde laid halfway on top of her, her breasts pressed against Sharon's and her hand hovering, and then caressing, her hip.

It felt good and Sharon wished it didn't. It had always felt good because it had never been just about sex. Sharon knew that now and perhaps it had been the reason why, in the beginning, she had had such a hard time saying even a single nice thing to Brenda.

Brenda though, had said plenty - usually what came to her mind and then straight out of her mouth and Sharon found she envied that a little.

Their lips separated and Sharon opened her eyes, her fingers unfurling from the soft cotton material of Brenda's top. She looked up into brown eyes, heavy and laden with...Sharon didn't know what.

The blonde's lips were pink and glistening, puffs of air escaping in rapid succession and then she heard Jedediah Leland say, 'You just want to persuade people that you love 'em so much that they oughta love you back. Only you want love on your own terms. Something to be played your way, according to your rules.'

And, to her own surprise, Sharon didn't think of Brenda, then. She thought of herself. She thought of how in love she was with this woman and she thought of how she wanted Brenda to leave her husband, for her, and be with her - an almost Shakespearean notion of romance unbecoming a woman of her age.

And really, she had ended things and then she had slept with Brenda, again, because she had needed her at that very moment and then she had regretted it until, well, they had slept together again.

And Sharon thought of her hope, her selfish hope and how she only ever took when it suited her, when she had an excuse to take, yet she was always reluctant to give because that meant, in her mind, that Brenda was taking advantage of her when she was the one with 'feelings'.

Brenda always took, that was the thing, whenever Sharon offered.

And then she thought that, until she could somehow stop loving Brenda, she might as well have her because life was short and Sharon couldn't love anybody else, not yet anyway, and Brenda really was transparent if Sharon had just bothered to look closely enough.

If she had bothered, or dared, to look closer, despite her fear of hope, she would have had to admit that Brenda perhaps did feel more for her but sadly not enough.

And that, that something which wasn’t quite enough, was what hurt the most.

Sharon reached out and brushed a fallen lock of hair out of Brenda's face and the blonde closed her eyes for just that tiny moment, and sighed breathily.

And then Sharon said, "Take it all off." She pulled the top up a little, her fingertips caressing the soft skin underneath. "Everything."

"Everthin'?" Brenda repeated and then nodded. She sat up, kneeling, one knee between Sharon's thighs, and pulled the top over her head. Her chest was bare beneath it, her breasts, full and heavy, gently swaying as she reached for her pyjama pants. She shimmied them over her hips, down her legs and then, leaning over Sharon, Brenda kicked them off the rest of the way.

Sharon touched her breast while she rid herself of her underwear, caressing it, cupping it, until she was breathless. Then Brenda was naked and beautiful. The blonde reached for the knot on the loose yoga pants Sharon had elected to wear while she had waited for Brenda, and undid it. She pulled them down, slowly and with much more patience than Sharon was ever used to, until they were off and on the floor.

When her underwear was gone, Sharon sat up and took off the cashmere sweater she was wearing. Her bra was matching, unintentionally even though it maybe didn't seem that way to Brenda. She hadn't planned this but, perhaps, had thought about it.

Sharon undid the clasp and Brenda pulled the bra down her arms.

Then they were both naked and beautiful because Brenda always made her feel that way without even trying to. First it had been the hungry, desire-laden stares, her desperate touch and now it was the soft glow in her eyes, the lip caught between her teeth, the tentative hand reaching for her waist.

"Oh," Brenda sighed almost inaudibly, a sound so gentle and reverend.

Sharon reached for her but Brenda went willingly, her hips cradled between Sharon's thighs. And then the blonde kissed her again, slow and almost languid, her soft and smooth body warming her from the inside out. Sharon reached for her waist, she let her fingertips dance over the ticklish skin, little caresses and then long strokes to the swell of her hips.

Brenda abandoned her lips, her own trailing along Sharon's jaw and to her neck and this time, Sharon was certain, the blonde would leave a mark. She sucked skin into her mouth, bit it, kissed it and started over, nosing behind Sharon's ear, where she always applied perfume on the rare occasion she wasn't working.

It felt nice to just do this, to actually take the time to feel. They had always rushed but for some reason that Sharon couldn't quite figure out, this time was different.

Brenda kissed her freckled shoulder and then along her collar bone, teeth sliding along the skin and then she kissed a breast quite sloppily until she reached a nipple.

Sharon sighed, savouring, and closed her eyes, humming at the warm, almost liquid sensation that shot deep into her belly. She was contend to just be and let Brenda do everything she had in mind. The blonde trailed her hand along Sharon's thigh, right down to her knee, where she was ticklish and hoisted her leg over hip.

The brunette sighed as her center pressed against Brenda's lower belly. It felt good, a slow ascend to wherever they were going and pushed back as Brenda's hips moved against her.

Then the blonde ducked back to her breasts, moist lips everywhere.

"Kiss me, Brenda," she said, feeling faint, and closed her eyes again when the blonde's generous lips, hot and sticky, sucked on her lower one. Sharon hummed into the kiss, her arousal slowly building in her belly. She felt herself growing wet, she wanted Brenda to know, and draped her other leg over the blonde's hip until she felt her own wetness against the taught stomach.

Brenda groaned into her mouth, her fingers pulling on a nipple and then her whole palm squeezed and tugged greedily. Sharon ended the kiss, her eyes open and looking up into Brenda's deep, dark depths, and she inhaled as the blonde exhaled. She caressed a blushing cheek, smoothing wisps of errand hair back behind Brenda's ear, locks that had escaped the loose plait.

Then she touched full, kiss-bruised lips with the mere tips of her fingers.

Brenda just stared at her, wide eyed, her gaze darting across Sharon's face, searching. She was beautiful like this and for a moment, if Sharon didn't blink, the blonde looked utterly innocent.

"Brenda," Sharon whispered, caressing the blonde's naked back. "Touch me now."

Brenda searched her face again and then the hand, that had squeezed her breast, disappeared between them. Brenda's fingertips felt warm and soft as she caressed her way to Sharon's clit.

She could feel the blonde's blunt nails scraping, tickling, along her outer lips - she held her breath - and then Brenda was gliding through the wetness, a look of intense concentration on her face.

Sharon sighed and let her eyes slip shut as Brenda's touch grew firmer, drawing circles around her clit and then, Sharon gasped, hit that spot that always made her eyes roll back in her head.

"Oh, Sharon," the blonde whispered. Her eyes were closed when Sharon looked up, her lips were parted and her brows drawn together in concentration. The brunette couldn't tear her eyes away.

"Sharon," Brenda said again, "You feel so...you're so--" Then they both gasped as the blonde's fingers slipped into her.

Sharon screwed her eyes shut, her hands clutching at Brenda's back and her legs tightening around the slender waist. She felt the blonde's palm cup her sex, gently at first, decadently, and then Brenda firmly pressed the heel of it against her clit.

"Yes," Sharon gasped and held Brenda closer, clutching at her until the blonde's hips were against her own, the hand trapped between them and her fingers still inside. Sharon took a shuddering breath as they paused and looked up at Brenda who looked down at her. It wasn't the most adventurous sex they had ever had but this was different.

Brenda felt it, too, Sharon could see it in her eyes, in the stormy look the blonde gave her and then, as if agreed upon, they both moved.

It was meant to be a slow build-up, at least Sharon assumed that was the intention, yet she had never felt so aroused in her life. She tried to remember what their first time had felt like but found it difficult to compare it to this, let alone reconcile this slow act of intimacy with their first frenzied coupling.

She realized then what had her so aroused and on the brink of orgasm; it was the intimacy of it all, it was the being with Brenda, the familiarity but also the excitement of this brand new togetherness.

She felt the emotional impact of permitting somebody inside of her, of the simple fact that Brenda was inside of her. She felt a tingle of pleasure listening to Brenda moan, feeling her pant hotly against the skin of her neck.

It was the knowledge that Brenda derived pleasure from being with her, that she was aroused by her, that she had deliberately created this new, emotional, heart-throbbing intimacy that let something bright and warm explode within Sharon’s chest.

Against the pain of impossibility, against the devastation of their many wrong-doings, something finally righted itself.

As Sharon came, she suddenly knew that all of it was really rather simple. She bit down on Brenda’s shoulder (who cared if she left marks?) and clenched hard around two of Brenda’s fingers.

Then she said, “I love you.”

Immediately, they both went very still, wordless, silent.

Brenda shuddered above her as Sharon awaited the inevitable disappointment. She felt Brenda’s hand squeeze her sex hard, she heard Brenda gasp loudly against her ear and then Sharon knew she didn’t require words as Brenda came inside of her.

They both panted yet Sharon regained her bearings first. She soothed away at the damp sweat on Brenda’s back, soothed the orgasm with gentle caresses until the blonde sighed into her neck.

Still throbbing, with Brenda still inside of her, Sharon stared with wide, tear-brimmed eyes at her own fingertips soothing the bright red bruise, the perfect imprint that she had left behind.

 

 

Chapter Text

Reduce
- The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction -

"There's my Mama, Willie Rae Johnson. And my Daddy, Clay."

Doctor Leonard smiled at her attempt to subdue her pride somewhat. The last time she had spoken about her Daddy, this woman had made assumptions and she wasn't going to let that happen again.

"But you knew that already..." Brenda said and trailed off.

"You're close to your father?"

"I guess so." The blonde pouted. "I think I'm closer to my Mama."

"That's 'cause you're scared of your father," Fritz interjected.

Doctor Leonard just looked at him pointedly - they had had that conversation before, about him interrupting.

"I'm sorry," Fritz said, and he meant it. "It's just very frustrating sometimes."

"What is?" Brenda asked before Leonard beat her to it.

Fritz looked away with a sigh and out the big windows at the city. Then he shrugged as if he had decided to just go for it. "Your dad, you'd curl up and die if he disapproved of anything you did. In fact, you nearly did curl up and die when he found out about my living with you."

"That's not true," Brenda argued. "I just value his opinion a lot."

"I think he's part of the reason why you always tell people what they wanna hear."

"I don't!"

"You were doing it just now!"

"Then I obviously can't help that." Brenda chomped down on her lip.

Fritz sighed again but Brenda refused to look at him. "I just think you don't take criticism very well and telling people what they wanna hear is a good way of avoiding it."

"You have seen me at work, right?" Brenda dead-panned then turned and looked at Leonard. "Everyone used to hate me."

"I find it interesting," the doctor said slowly, "that you used the term 'work'. Do you feel like there's, perhaps, a difference between how you deal with people there as opposed to people in your private life?"

"Course there is!" Brenda screeched. "At work I deal with criminals."

"And at home?"

"At home...I do sometimes tell people what they wanna hear, okay? But it ain't about criticism."

"Then what is it?"

Brenda looked away and out the window. "Disappointment." The outside world blurred as her eyes filled with tears. She wasn't about to cry but still her heart felt about ready to overflow with it all. "I hate disappointin' the people I love 'cause I know how bad I am."

"How bad you are?"

"I get distracted. And I have a hard time keepin' my promises...and I never remember to put the dishes in the dishwasher or to take the trash out or to be on time for dinner. I know relationships are all about compromises but I've always had a real hard time with those."

Brenda wiped away the tears then looked back at Doctor Leonard who gave her a warm smile.

"Fritz? How about you give us an example of a compromise Brenda has made for you. Big or small, whatever comes to mind."

Fritz looked at Brenda, she could feel his eyes on her for a long time, and she half expected him to say nothing, to not come up with a single thing but when he spoke, his voice was even, measured.

"When we moved in together," he said slowly, "I rented an apartment, the lease ran out and I moved into Brenda's house...albeit slowly...very, very slowly."

Brenda snorted, she couldn't help it, remembering the U-Haul, Fritz's things crammed into her house, the first morning after he had officially moved in.

Beside her, Fritz chuckled as well.

"So Brenda has made compromises?"

"Yes," he said, without hesitation. “I just sometimes felt like I was asking too much.”


***


Brenda read yet again over the transfer request then stared at the picture attached.

Agent Celina Dunsten - Junior Analyst.

She had no idea who that person was.

The request was signed by Bridget. Fine, Brenda grumped to herself, and initialled and signed. Deep down she was grateful for the anonymity of it all and Bridget's more than widespread influence. Celina Dunsten was officially transferred to Counter Terrorism who, Brenda thought sullenly, seemed to have a never-ending budget.

A request for yet another, larger server accompanied by Sam's eloquent, yet highly complicated technical mumbo-jumbo.

Denied.

Brenda was about ready to pry her window open and haul herself out of it.

Thankfully, and the blonde actually sighed in relief, her assistant Suzanne interrupted that train of thought.

“Chief Johnson, I have Captain Raydor for you.”

“Put her through, Suzanne.” Brenda pressed her lips together and answered the call.

"Johnson," she said, almost out of pure habit.

"How did you cope?" Sharon groaned.

"You keep askin' me that but I can honestly say, I don't have the singlest clue how to answer that." Brenda leaned back in her big leather chair and turned towards the large window pane, looking out at the bright orange sun disappearing behind a tall skyscraper. "What happened?"

Sharon sighed and said, resigned, "Flynn and Provenza."

Laughter bubbling in her belly, Brenda bit her lip. "Stewardesses?"

"No. And they're called Flight Attendants, for PC's sake."

"Dick Tracy?"

"What?"

"A dead body in the garage?"

"Whose garage?"

Brenda shrugged to herself and grinned. "I'm afraid I can't answer that."

"Maybe it's better that I don't know," Sharon surmized. "But no, none of the above."

"Do tell."

"Two words: Bachelorette party. Actually, two more: bar brawl."

Brenda gasped and chuckled. "Oh, heaven's no!"

"Complete and utter disaster," the brunette grumped. "And the whole thing is on Youtube." Sharon groaned again then said, "I need a drink."

"Oh?"

"And something nice to eat, something that's never seen the inside of a microwave, something nice from a nice restaurant."

"So you weren't just callin' to complain 'bout Flynn and Provenza then?"

"No," Sharon said pathetically, "I have ulterior motives. I'll treat you."

Brenda wanted to play hard to get but, truth be told, she was sick herself of the office, had avoided most of her paperwork for the better part of the day, and was in need of a glass of wine and food that wasn't on the Hotel's menu. "Okay...if I get to pick the restaurant."

"Fine," Sharon conceded. "You better make it good."

"It's a bit short notice," Brenda said and glanced at her watch. "But I'll do my best."

"Okay," Sharon said, "I should be out of here, if everything goes according to plan, in about an hour. Eight o'clock sound good?"

"Perfect. I'll make reservations."

***

Brenda managed to get reservations at Nobu. It wasn’t what she’d usually choose, despite sushi having grown on her since she had moved to Los Angeles, but she knew Sharon would love it.

All in all it was a rather selfless act on her part.

For once Brenda managed her time with acuity, she had ulterior motives herself as she stopped in front of Sharon’s new apartment building with five minutes to spare. She hadn’t yet seen the new place and she hoped Sharon was running at least a little late so she could ride the elevator up and see it for herself.

As Brenda was still marvelling at the tall building, was just about to switch the engine of her giant SUV off, the passenger door opened.

“You’re early!” Sharon proclaimed as she slid into her seat.

For a moment Brenda saw the faint glint in Sharon’s eyes, the victory, because Sharon had managed to anticipate that Brenda could be on time, when it suited her, or when she wanted to intrude upon a space she hadn’t yet been invited into.

Brenda pursed her lips, deciding to let it slide, and pulled out of the parking space and onto the road.

“Thank you for driving. You didn’t have to.”

“I figured you needed that drink more than me.”

Sharon smirked at her – she seemed in a much better mood than earlier. “So, where are we going?”

“Nobu’s.”

“Nobu? How in the world did you manage that?”

“I dunno,” Brenda shrugged. “I called ‘em up and booked a table.”

“Are you sure it’s for tonight and not tonight next year?”

“Very funny,” she grumped yet felt gleefully happy as this happened to be the exact reaction she had hoped for. “And don’t worry, I know what a Captain makes, so I’m takin’ you out for dinner and drinks.”

“Dinner and drinks? My, oh, my, Chief Johnson, you sure know how to make a girl feel special!”

“Stick with me, Cap’n, and I’ll take you to all the best places.”

Sharon laughed throatily beside her, slightly angled towards her in her seat and patted Brenda’s thigh which was where her hand remained for the relatively short journey.

At the restaurant Brenda handed the valet her keys – she felt strange handing those over, seeing as the big SUV was government issue and came with flashing lights, sirens, the whole caboodle, but it was less awkward than her old Crown Vic that had come with a radio in the center console.

As the SUV crawled away, Brenda got her first real look at Sharon, especially the dark red, strapless dress...especially Sharon in it.

And her legs!

Something in her belly warmed and then, when Sharon turned her way after admiring the big sign above the door, as if she couldn’t believe she was actually there, and beamed a smile at her, something warmed in Brenda’s chest, too.

“Are you coming?”

The blonde nodded, she couldn’t speak, worried she’d get her words all jumbled up, and caught up with Sharon just short of the door.

There – Brenda didn’t know what possessed her – she took Sharon’s hand in her own, entwining their fingers.

“What are you doing?” The brunette whispered, tugging but not letting go.

Brenda shrugged, looked into Sharon’s glassless eyes and tried a small, shy smile. “Just holdin’ your hand.”

With nothing further to add she made for the door, Sharon right beside her. The door swung open before them and revealed a bustling cacophony of sounds and smells and sights.

“What if someone—“

“Good evening.” Sharon was interrupted by the sharply dressed maître d’. “Welcome to Nobu. Do you have reservations?”

“Yes,” Brenda said, her smile so wide it made her face hurt. “Brenda Johnson.”

“Ah, yes. Your table is ready for you. If you follow me, please?”

They walked all the way through the restaurant, holding hands.

Some people looked up at them, most didn’t, a few eyes lingered. Brenda took this new sensation in – they had never really done this before. The blonde had pretended to be married to a grumpy Sharon once or twice, just to get a rise out of the brunette, but never had she taken her hand just because she had wanted to.

All these people, the ones that did look, thought they were a couple out on a date. Just two regular people.

Brenda felt her heart squeeze painfully in her chest, unable to let go of Sharon, let go of this illusion.

She wasn’t meant to lead Sharon on anymore, she was meant to fix things with her husband and pray that he would forgive her for the infidelity that she was still committing.

The juxtaposition startled Brenda and she realized that she was doing exactly what her Mama had always accused her of.

She wanted both, nothing was ever enough, the choice too difficult to make. Brenda always chose not to choose and her Mama had often told her that she couldn’t have it both ways, that she had to pick one or the other – be it the ice cream or the cake, be it her uncle’s birthday or her best friend’s, be it Sharon or Fritz.

If you don’t pick one or the other, Brenda Leigh, you’ll end up with neither.

She squeezed Sharon’s hand hard as they arrived at their table then she let go.

***

As it turned out there wasn’t just sushi. Dinner was great even though they didn’t get the best table in the place. It was secluded, tucked away in a corner which was just as well since Sharon was telling stories and Brenda was guffawing and laughing outrageously.

“It was all very catholic,” Sharon said of her boyfriend from bible group.

“Except for the sneakin’ out.”

“But my sister hasn’t ratted me out to our parents to this day!”

“I ratted my brother out,” Brenda said, “When he was sneakin’ out to see his boyfriend.”

“Your brother is gay?”

“Yes,” she nodded, gulping down her glass of water. “His name’s Jimmy.”

“How did your parents react?”

The blonde blinked at Sharon’s very serious tone. “My Mama’s fine but she pretends along with my Daddy that Jimmy’s been livin’ with his roommate for a real long time.”

“Ah,” Sharon said and that was that.

Brenda paid when they left. It didn’t quite break the bank but, what with affording a hotel room, she came pretty darned close. Afterwards, Brenda drove them to a cocktail place on Santa Monica. Bridget had mentioned the bar last week when she had invited Brenda for a drink after work. Brenda had declined but only because she had had an appointment with Fritz and Doctor Leonard.

She managed to park less than half a block away from the place but no sooner had she cut the engine, Sharon kissed her. With her hands buried in Brenda’s hair she mumbled, “Why don’t we skip drinks?”

“That’s not very catholic,” she said and ended the kiss. “’Sides, I promised you drinks and I’ve been tryin’ real hard lately to keep all my promises.”

“Mmh,” Sharon hummed, her lips quirked into a lopsided smirk. “Wouldn’t want to throw rocks into your path to self-enlightenment.”

“You’re hilarious,” Brenda said evenly and got out of the car.

They walked slowly up the street – the night had gotten cooler and Brenda worried Sharon was cold but she had had two glasses of wine and maybe she just didn’t feel it.

At the doors to the bar, Sharon took her hand, entwined their fingers like before and asked shyly, “Is this ok?”

Brenda nodded, a blush creeping up her neck. “Of course.”

They entered the tall blue building side by side. The atmosphere was warm and classy and chic. Brenda rarely went to places like this, her recent memory was filled with scruffy cop bars smelling of peanuts and beer.

This smelled of aftershave, fruit and spicy tapas.

Sharon spotted a row of empty seats at the bar and pulled Brenda in the direction of those – if this was where she wanted to be, in the middle of things and not tucked away, hiding, in a corner, then Brenda wasn’t one to object.

The opposite, really. The illusion was complete, satisfyingly so, and somewhere in the back of Brenda’s mind it registered that this glove that she had decided to try on tonight, fit just right.

“If I’m having drinks, you are, too.”

“Only the one!”

“What would you like?”

“You order,” the blonde insisted, too preoccupied with Sharon’s hand in her own. Her gaze swept over all these unfamiliar, unsuspecting faces, ordinary people just having fun and unaware of the monumental realization Brenda was facing.

Somewhere in the distance she heard Sharon’s voice, dull and far, far away. Her eyes flickered, zeroed in on one person, one face.

Brenda startled almost visibly. There, amongst the crowd, stood Agent Navarro.

Then, beside him, Bridget Beaudoin appeared. Her hand came up to his chest in that familiar, intimate gestured. He smiled, his expression one of happiness as he leaned down and kissed her cheek.

Was this their secret? Were they doing what Brenda and Sharon themselves were doing? Breaking the rules, seeing each other in bars and hotel rooms?

No, Brenda decided, that wasn’t it.

A man appeared. The blonde held her breath. The man, tall and younger than either of them, kissed Bridget’s cheek, and then he pressed his lips to Navarro’s, arm coming around his shoulders.

Brenda blinked at the scene, satisfied that she finally knew, had it finally figured out.

Navarro was simply gay. And that was the familiar, hidden pain she had seen in his eyes and that he had seen in hers.

As if Bridget felt the stare directed at them, her gaze narrowed in on Brenda. They looked at one another, Bridget smiled a little.

“I’m getting the drinks and I don’t want you to even try to argue with me,” Sharon said, her voice so close that her breath was hitting Brenda’s face. “What?”

The blonde knew the exact moment Sharon saw them; she gasped, yanked her hand right out of Brenda’s and said, “Oh, god.”

Brenda, unable to look away, felt her face drain of all color, she felt suddenly, unimaginably heavy, cold, suffocating in her own skin. The illusion shattered.

Bridget saw it all, her smile fell, recognition dawned on her features as if she herself had just uncovered a secret, one that she had been after for the longest time.

Then she waved, she waved at them both.

And Sharon, as if she had no idea where she was or what she was doing, waved back.

Brenda looked at Navarro and his boyfriend, his face was frozen in shock, in embarrassment, in shame – Brenda imagined her own face looked just like it.

“Oh,” Sharon breathed beside her as if she too had realized what, exactly, she was looking at.

Brenda plastered a smile onto her features, she grabbed Sharon’s hand trying to alleviate that heavy, burdensome feeling in her chest and, for god’s sake, it worked!

So she held on tight, waved back as well, smiled like she meant it and witnessed with some degree of wonder as Navarro’s face transformed, as his own burden fell away.

“It’s okay,” Brenda said and turned to Sharon. “It’s okay, no one else knows.”

“Okay,” the brunette whispered, her eyes filled with unshed tears.

“It’s fine,” Brenda squeezed her hand, leaned over in a brief moment of bravery and kissed Sharon’s cheek, whispering, “Trust me.”

“Maybe we should go.”

“Maybe we should stay,” Brenda said and looked straight into Sharon’s wide eyes. She seemed so surprised, so hopeful. There was this glimmer of happiness but also of disappointment, the two emotions so clearly raging through Sharon’s entire being.

“Let’s just stay. Please.”

Sharon smiled at her with affection and warmth. “Oh, honey...are you sure?”

“I am,” Brenda nodded and at that precise moment she felt the lightest she had ever felt. “I’m sure.”

***

They stepped into the elevator and Brenda pressed the button for her floor. She tapped her foot on the marble floor, impatiently staring at the digital numbers flashing above the door.

Sharon cleared her throat beside her, came just that little bit closer. Their arms touched and in this barest of touch Brenda felt Sharon’s matching impatience.

The warm, sharp tingle of excitement in her belly grew with each passing moment and, once more, she reached for Sharon’s hand. Sharon’s palm was warm and just a little bit clammy. She squeezed, grounding herself against the throbbing wetness occupying the space between her thighs.

The elevator dinged, the doors opened and they both stepped out into the carpeted hallway.

“Hurry,” Brenda said, pulling Sharon along a little before diving into the little clutch she was wearing for her key card. She stuffed the card into the slot, the door remained locked, “for heaven’s sakes,” she swore under her breath and tried again.

It was then that Sharon took the card from her, turned it over and unlocked the door.

Brenda breathed out slowly, blushing, as they stepped into the air-conditioned room. The door clicked shut softly.

Brenda leaned against it with a thud and dropped her purse right where she stood. She looked at Sharon in her beautiful red dress, her beautiful locks falling onto her bare shoulders.

Sharon was looking right back, eyebrows raised, eyes bright and glassy, and her cheeks were aflush with wine and pleasure.

“You’re so pretty,” Brenda said and watched Sharon’s lips quirk.

Her face was beautiful, Brenda decided then and there.

“’N if you don’t come here ‘n do somethin’ ‘bout this real soon—“ Brenda trailed off, blushed again and finished with a chuckle.

Sharon did come closer, she leaned in, flush against Brenda and Brenda flush against the door. “Do something about what?” She asked and her breath smelled of the appletini she’d had, sweet and fruity and crisp.

Brenda wanted to cry with arousal, heat creeping up her tummy. “Sharon—“

“Bren-da?” Sharon chuckled as she came even closer, and for a moment Brenda thought she’d kiss her but then Sharon turned into her neck, nosed behind her ear and kissed her there.

The blonde sighed, leaned into the sensation, her fingers clenching and unclenching and then, finally, fisted the soft, pliant dress material at Sharon’s waist.

Her skirt was hiked up, Brenda gasped, then she felt Sharon’s warm fingers sneak into her underwear. For a moment she was embarrassed by how ready she was then she couldn’t breathe, felt Sharon’s fingertips seek out her clit, and groaned.

Sharon sucked on her neck, pressed her against the door and thrust her fingers in.

Brenda came before she was even all the way in, came so suddenly, so hard, she couldn’t make a sound.

It was over too soon yet Brenda felt the stretch and the burn between her legs, it was exactly what she had needed. Sharon pulled away and it left her bereft with loss, she pulled her fingers out – it was more than one, more than two – and brushed stray hair out of Brenda’s face.

“Jesus,” Sharon said.

Brenda let her head thud against the door, eyes screwed shut, mouth dry, and realized that this wouldn’t be enough, that she would have to have Sharon. “I’m sorry,” she said and managed to look Sharon in the eye. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me lately.”

“Oh, honey,” Sharon said, her voice deep and sexy. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with you.”

Brenda smiled a little, looked down and smoothed her skirt down.

“Oh, no,” Sharon said and grabbed the skirt. “I want to fuck you in bed next.”

Brenda gasped.

“You can be on top. Would you like that?”

The blonde blinked at the odd question yet couldn’t stop her mouth from answering. “Yes.”

Sharon’s eyes twinkled, she looked pleased, then she reached for the thin belt around Brenda’s waist, undid the buckle slowly. She looked as if she had all the time in the world which only served to fuel the fire in Brenda’s belly.

The belt came away, with it all breath left Brenda’s lungs. She looked up into Sharon’s eyes but Sharon wasn’t looking back. Her face was the picture of innocence and nonchalance, her lips had curled up in one corner and Brenda found herself so preoccupied with the desire to kiss her that, when Sharon began to unbutton her cream, sleeveless blouse, she didn’t notice what was being done to her until Sharon brushed the material away from her breasts.

“Let’s take this off,” Sharon murmured and pulled the blouse out of the skirt and down Brenda’s arms. The blonde swallowed as she shifted back to the present, she looked down at her own breasts encased in a cream bra. She felt a sudden helplessness, sudden inevitability, yet the sensation wasn’t entirely unpleasant.

Sharon touched her breast, just where the lace of her bra ended and skin began. The touch was subtle, barely a caress, and it ended in the blink of an eye.

“As pretty as it is, this has got to go,” Sharon said and pulled the zipper down on the skirt.

As it fluttered to the ground and pooled around Brenda’s heels, the blonde couldn’t help but wonder how the energy had shifted so suddenly, how she had expected to fall into bed with Sharon, clothes still on, for a hurried fuck on top of the sheets.

“We’ll do all that,” Sharon said as if she had read Brenda’s mind. “You can undress me now.”

And so she did. She pulled the zipper down at Sharon’s back, carefully slid the dress down Sharon’s body. Her bra was black and rose colored lace, beautiful and elegant and sexy.

She wasn’t wearing matching panties. In fact, she wasn’t wearing any at all. Brenda bit down on her lip, standing behind Sharon as she stepped out of her pumps, and decided to do the same.

Standing amongst the pile of clothes, Brenda unclasped the bra, her hands lingering on the small of Sharon’s back, the little dimples there, and then trailed her fingertips up to the wavy mane. She came closer, Sharon’s beautiful skin and smell compelling her to do so, cupped Sharon’s hips and kissed the skin of her neck.

She bit right behind her ear where Brenda knew she liked it and heard the unmistakable gasp. The sound, as little as it was, filled Brenda with immense pleasure. Between her legs heat exploded, she was ready again.

“Honey?”

“Hmm?”

“I want you to finish undressing.”

Sharon left her standing there and went to the bed. Brenda watched her first sit and then scoot up to the head board, feet tucked neatly beneath her.

The whole thing felt surreal. Brenda swallowed against the dryness in her mouth, wetting her parched lips, and took off her bra. She realized that this dynamic wasn’t new and not entirely unwelcome – Sharon had always enjoyed telling her what to do, just that she now also enjoyed telling Brenda what she wanted to have done to her.

The blonde pulled down her underwear, wondering what it was going to be tonight.

“You’re beautiful.”

Brenda’s eyes shot up, the compliment warming her unexpectedly as she stood there, naked.

“Come here and let me see you.”

The blonde shuffled the few steps towards the bed and crawled onto the mattress. Sharon pulled her closer, onto her lap for Brenda to straddle then looked up at her with a bemused smirk.

“You can speak, you know?”

Brenda opened her mouth but all that came out was a loud, frustrated groan. With her face buried in Sharon’s hair, she managed to say, “Sharon, I swear, if you don’t do somethin’ about this, I’ll have to.”

She heard the brunette inhale sharply while her body went still, and Brenda was left wondering if she had said the wrong thing until Sharon turned into her and whispered, “Then why don’t you?”

Her first instinct was to laugh, which she managed not to do, then, after a moment’s contemplation, and realizing that Sharon was dead-serious, Brenda felt somewhat intrigued by the idea.

In the back of her mind she worried about doing that in front of somebody else – not in the heat of the moment but quite deliberately – but Sharon’s hesitance to ask, and the fact that she did ask, led Brenda to the conclusion that Sharon really wanted this.

Which happened to be the deciding factor.

Brenda leaned back slowly and encountered Sharon’s wide, worried eyes but before the apology could fall from her lips, Brenda kissed her. It was slow and very gentle, and the blonde knew Sharon had closed her eyes – she always did when they kissed.

She reached down between them, the thought of doing that in front of Sharon suddenly a huge turn on, and touched herself. Sharon gasped into her mouth, the sound travelling down Brenda’s spine and between her legs.

She was wet, not too sensitive though as Sharon had barely touched her there earlier. Her body shook a little as they kissed – Brenda could kiss her for hours! Her mouth was always soft and warm, a perfect fit, and she always took such care, such special attention which always left Brenda wondering whether it was deliberate or just in her nature.

Brenda moved her fingers lower, tried to touch herself the way Sharon touched her, softly at first, just to see how far gone Brenda was.

The blonde reached for the headboard, their lips broke apart, and Sharon said, “I wanted to see this since that time we did this over the phone.”

“All you had to do was ask.”

“I wasn’t sure...if...” Sharon trailed off, her gaze drawn lower and lower, down Brenda’s arm to her hand and fingers.

“If I’d do it?” The blonde sighed as the tips of her fingers hit the spot Sharon always seemed to favor. “I’d do anythin’,” she said, “Anythin’ for you.” Brenda only then realized what she had said but as soon as she did, she decided to finally (finally!) put the ball in Sharon’s court. “You just have to ask.”

She wasn’t sure what, exactly, she wanted to hear. She knew the answer, had seen it in Sharon’s face, felt it in the way they had made love: Leave your husband and be with me.

But Sharon said nothing. Her eyes were hooded and dark, cloudy and inexpressive. The disappointment was palpable but not unexpected.

“I want to feel this,” Sharon said instead and touched her. First her breasts then her stomach, her thighs, the hand between her legs. The brunette slid along her fingers then further down.

Brenda squeezed her eyes shut again, jaw locked and fingers very, very still against her clit to keep herself from coming as Sharon thrust into her. She teetered on the edge for a moment, breathless and very nearly crashed into the first wave of orgasm but Sharon was gentle and, once fully inside, remained motionless.

“Oh, god,” Brenda said and took one staggered breath after another, just to calm her raging arousal.

“You’re so wet.”

“I know.”

“Are you close?”

“Yes! Sharon I—“

“Then wait.”

Brenda bit down on her lip, fingers impossibly still and breathed through the painfully pleasurable experience of not coming.

“Oh, honey, you feel good.”

The blonde groaned, the mere sound of Sharon’s voice pushing her back onto that cliff, and breathed in and out until she felt some semblance of control return to her.

Once, when the slightest movement wouldn’t set her off again, Brenda moved the tips of her fingers away from Sharon’s favorite spot and caressed the very top of her clit – there she felt in control, at least until her nipple was engulfed by Sharon’s warm mouth.

“Oh, god! I’ll come if you don’t stop that!”

There was no reply, just the sounds of Sharon’s lips and tongue devouring her nipple.

Brenda paused again, held her breath in anticipation, not sure whether she would or wouldn’t come until the feeling dissipated, only then did she move. She stroked downwards, she was wet beyond believe, circled her clit once, twice and went further down until she encountered Sharon’s hand.

Wetness had begun to run into Sharon’s palm, sticky and hot, and embarrassingly abundant. Brenda gasped, clenching around the woman inside of her.

“I’m so close!”

The brunette finally looked up at her and although Brenda had her eyes tightly shut, she could feel the brunette’s penetrating gaze all over her.

“Can you open your eyes?”

A moment went by in which the blonde tried to muster up the courage and ready herself for the impending sight before her. Sharon swam into focus, her head leaned back, resting against the headboard next to Brenda’s hand.

Her chest was rising and falling rapidly as she panted away, her nipples were tight and hard and there was just the littlest shining sheen of perspiration above her upper lip. Her cheeks were rosy, glowing warmly, her eyes were bright and glossy, lips parted and moist, and her biceps swelling against the urge to move, to thrust into Brenda with all the desire she tried to hold back.

“Look at me.”

Brenda did so, albeit with a little defiance.

“I wanna see if it’s true.”

“If what’s true?” Brenda asked breathlessly, drawing her fingers back up and stroking herself slowly, just to put on a show.

“They say your pupils dilate when you orgasm.”

Brenda’s walls tightened painfully at the mere suggestion and despite wanting to wait, her fingers wouldn’t stop stroking and circling all over her clit – to hell with it. “Ah! Stop, Sharon, please, stop! I’ll come!”

“I’ll let you,” Sharon said, “But only if you keep your eyes open.”

Brenda nodded feverishly, “Yes! Yes, just, please—“

Sharon reached up, cupped her cheek tenderly and pulled her closer until they were a mere breath apart. “I won’t help,” she murmured, fingertips swiping over Brenda’s parted lips.

Brenda nodded again, sobbed and returned her fingers to where Sharon liked to touch her, tried to mimic her caresses, her pace, the force behind it. For the tiniest of moment’s green eyes darted downwards to Brenda’s moving hand and back, Sharon exhaled, her breath ghosting over her face, then whispered, “Would you like to come now?”

Brenda nodded, quivering and shaking, stroked faster even though it felt like she had been coming and coming and coming for the past thirty seconds.

“Okay. I want you to do it. Right. Now.”

Her body obeyed before Sharon could even take her next breath. Brenda came, her lips parted in a silent, voiceless scream, eyes wide, wide open as she rode Sharon’s fingers like a woman possessed.

Sharon! Sharon! Sharon! “Sharon! Oh, Sharon!” Her walls clutched one painfully long, last time. “Ah!”

Then Sharon said with the most feeble, breathless and thin voice Brenda had ever heard, “Oh, god. You did it.”

“Of course,” the blonde whimpered as she sank forward, hand still between her legs and Sharon still inside her, and buried her face in soft waves of hair.

“That was the single most erotic thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Oh, Sharon...” She didn’t know what to say or if she should say anything at all, just one thing but that she did not dare speak aloud.

Brenda’s lips moved around the words, mouthed them silently, and then finally let her eyes slip shut.

***

Sharon awoke to the innate fear that there was somebody else in the room. She realized soon thereafter that it wasn’t another presence that had woken her but a foreign, unfamiliar string of words.

It was German as far as she could tell and it had happened before. The first time, the very first time they had spent the night together, she had woken up to Brenda’s incoherent mumblings in the middle of the night. She hadn’t said anything then, had wondered whether she did that a lot.

Sharon wondered now why it wasn’t Russian? Somehow the simple fact that it wasn’t Russian, that Brenda had mentioned Russia on and off but never had spoken of anything German, made Sharon reluctant to find out why, when Brenda spoke in her sleep, she always spoke German.

The blonde quieted down, slept soundly again.

Sharon sighed and clambered out of the bed completely naked.

“Don’t leave,” Brenda said, her voice croaky and heavy with sleep.

“I’ll be right back...”

She went to the bathroom and switched the light on – her eyes immediately started to throb. She had fallen asleep wearing her contact lenses.

She took them out one by one and washed them down the sink, splashing water onto her face. She brushed her teeth with Brenda’s toothbrush – Sharon no longer cared.

When she came back into the bedroom, her eyes adjusting to the darkness, she saw Brenda was awake yet held perfectly still, as if anticipating Sharon’s immediate departure.

Sharon felt somewhat taken aback by the panic-stricken expression on Brenda’s face.

In fact, she had felt taken aback by most of the night. Try as she might, she couldn’t make sense of anything; all she did know was that Brenda had held her hand, had kissed her in front of people that they knew, had taken her back to her hotel room and, after the first excitement had been taken care of, had made love to her in this very bed.

Yes. Had made love.

And now Brenda looked stricken with fear that she would just up and leave.

“You brushed your teeth,” the blonde said.

“I did,” Sharon responded then went back to the bed and got in. When she was under the covers, Brenda hovered above her, kissed the toothpaste right out of her mouth, kissed her neck, her chin, her collar bone.

“Brenda...we need to sleep.”

“I’m sorry,” Brenda said, mouthing her way to Sharon’s breasts all hot and heavy and wanton. “I can’t help it.”

“Ah!” She gasped as the blonde kissed her breasts, mouthed at her nipples.

“I can’t stop.”

“Stop what?”

Brenda said nothing, she just disappeared beneath the sheets.

***

"Brenda?"

The blonde's head shot up; she had stared at the pattern of her skirt for the most part of this session, deep in thought and distracted.

Her gut was churning and that morning, when she had gotten to work, had waved at Fritz in the large marble entrance hall while they were both queuing for the metal detectors, Brenda had felt the tears prick at the very corners of her eyes and it hadn't stopped, all day and that was how she sat there, drained.

"I know this is very difficult."

Brenda nibbled on her lip, not looking at Leonard, not looking at Fritz.

"But I would like you to try to be open and honest, okay?"

She nodded and took a deep breath.

"I think it's important, in order to move forward in this relationship, to get it all out there so we can work through this."

"I understand," Brenda said, "But I don't know what more you want me to say? I explained everythin', more than once, and I don't see how goin' over and over it is gonna help anybody."

Doctor Leonard tilted her head and gave her a small, reassuring smile. "What if I told you that, for Fritz, it is essential to hear all this, as often as he feels necessary?"

"But why?" Brenda glanced at him but Fritz was staring at the painting on the wall. "I thought we were tryin' to leave this behind and not keep on rehashin' it, what good does that do?"

Doctor Leonard sighed and crossed her legs. "Don't you think it's important that Fritz can feel safe, that he can see that there's no more secrets between you?"

"There aren't!" She screeched even though she knew it wasn't true.

"Your honesty may be the first step in rebuilding trust between the two of you."

Brenda huffed and stared out of the window then said, "Fine."

She could feel Leonard's eyes on her, studying her but Brenda refused to make eye contact. This was humiliating, the most humiliating experience of her entire life. It felt as if somebody had asked her to strip naked in front of complete strangers, just that Fritz wasn't a stranger.

Yet, her relationship with Sharon, felt private, something Fritz shouldn't intrude upon, a part of herself that only Brenda owned and no one else.

"Can you answer Fritz's question?"

The blonde's cheeks colored.

"Brenda?"

She looked at Doctor Leonard, not at Fritz, she couldn't bear that, and picked on the hem of her skirt. "I'm not...I'm not...gay."

"You seem to find this topic difficult to discuss?"

"I just--" Brenda cut herself off. "I...I don't think I'm any one way."

"Why don't you tell Fritz?"

The blonde stared at the pink and yellow flower pattern of her skirt, Fritz's gaze nearly penetrating the side of her head and then looked up, deliberately, and fixed him with a hard stare, almost feeling resentful for being put through this, for being forced to expose her innermost feelings.

"I never thought I liked...women," she said slowly. "But I do."

"More than men," Fritz said, and it wasn't a question.

"There's no more or less than." Brenda sighed. "I like both. And it's not even that I like any woman or any man, I just liked Sharon."

"Brenda?" Doctor Leonard interrupted what Brenda knew was about to become a petty speech. "Let's talk about Sharon, then."

"Yes," Fritz said evenly. "Let's talk about Sharon."

And, just as her name fell from his lips, the tears that had pricked all day and had threatened to fall, blurred Brenda's vision and then spilled onto her cheeks, rolled down her face and dropped onto her skirt.

She couldn't breathe. Try as she might, Brenda damn near suffocated and no matter the amount of air she sucked into her lungs, gulped desperately, she just couldn't breathe.

Brenda cried and the fact that she didn't have a single shred of control over it, that she couldn't stop no matter how hard she tried, scared Brenda in a way she hadn't been scared in a long time.

Was this what a breakdown felt like? Brenda shook her head and then buried her face in her hands, sobbing uncontrollably.

"Sharon's in love with me," she said through her tears. She wanted to reach for Fritz's hand but curled into herself instead.

"Brenda?" It was Doctor Leonard's hand that settled onto her knee, warm and reassuring, squeezing to ground her. "Sharon told you that?"

"Yes," the blonde gasped. "And I can't believe I've done this to two people."

"Done what?"

Brenda wiped at her eyes. "Ruined everything. I'm a horrible person 'n I'm selfish."

"Brenda? Fritz has asked you 'why' before and you said you found it difficult to answer that question, so, how about you tell us what Sharon gave you that you felt you needed?"

"I don't know," the blonde said through her tears.

"Perhaps this will uncover the 'why', don't you think?"

Brenda mulled it over - the 'why' still eluded her. But was there really something that had been lacking in their relationship, something that they should have worked on to avoid all this?

It sounded horrible to think like that, to place blame somewhere else because Brenda had known what she was doing, had known it was wrong yet had done it anyway. It was her fault that she had cheated.

The blonde blew her nose on a tissue that Doctor Leonard had held out to her after her unexpected outburst and contemplated whether to give what the woman had said any merit.

"What were you doing with her?" Fritz asked. "Where did you go? How did you end up sleeping with her?" He sounded helpless and desperate for answers but, Brenda knew, telling him all that would, more than likely, hurt him even more.

She just didn't see how going over every single detail would benefit anyone. But fine, she thought with a nod, she would have to put it all out there even though it felt embarrassing and humiliating. After all, she had done this and it was her job to fix it.

"We met at a hotel."

"I know that," Fritz said.

"How did you arrive at that point? What happened that led you to even entertain the idea?" Doctor Leonard asked gently.

Brenda just snorted; this was all for Fritz's benefit and as much as she wanted to fix things, she could certainly do without all this. "I don't really know," she admitted.

"Were you friendly?"

"Nooo," Brenda drawled. "I couldn't stand to be in the same room as her most of the time." The blonde chewed on her lip and mulled that thought over. "Maybe," she said slowly, "that's because I knew she was attracted to me."

"And you were attracted to her?"

Brenda nodded, without hesitation. "I didn't wanna be and I think that's why we couldn't stand each other.”

"So, how did you deal with this attraction?"

"I didn't." Brenda sniffed and said truthfully, regretfully, “I don’t deal with things. I just avoid ‘em and hope they fix ‘emself.”

"How did you feel during that period?"

"How did I feel?" She asked, incredulous, and then chuckled at her own inability to pinpoint any particular feeling. That time was a blur that she would rather not delve back into.

"Can you remember any significant changes in your marriage?"

Brenda shook her head. "No." She looked at Fritz.

"Brenda applied for Chief of Police...and uh, she sold the house."

"The market was bad," Brenda said even though she had barely any idea what that even meant.

"I thought, maybe, in the bigger place, we'd have the chance to think about having kids."

The blonde whipped her head around and stared at him.

"We'd talked about it before but Brenda wanted to focus on her career."

"I still wasn't done," Brenda said, seething. "I told you I didn't want kids."

"You said we had to get married first, and we got married---"

"I did not want children and you knew that!"

"Then maybe you should have made that clearer."

Brenda huffed, the anger swelling in her tummy leaving her with a bad taste in her mouth. "We never ended up buyin' the place," she said. "What? Were you waitin' for me to change my mind?"

"I was hoping," Fritz said. "And I realize I might have been angry at you for not changing your mind. I also realize it might have seemed like I was distant...I had a hard time with this but I didn't--I never--"

"What? Went and had an affair?"

"Exactly."

"It had nothing to do with you," Brenda argued. "I didn't go and sleep with Sharon to get back at you. I didn't do it because I was unhappy and I didn't do it because Sharon gave me something that you didn't. Sharon--"

"Can you stop saying her name!"

"But that is her name." Brenda wiped at her brow; suddenly, she felt hot all over. "I just couldn't help it, Fritz. She was so...she was everything that I wasn't. And then you stopped wantin' what I wanted!"

"What?!"

"I didn't wanna be Chief. I didn't want Will's job. And I did not want children." Brenda took a mighty breath, her body shaking with the earthquake ripping through her belly. "Sharon only wanted me."

Doctor Leonard leaned forward in her seat, the tips of her fingers resting on Brenda's twitching knee. "And what is it that you want, Brenda?”

The blonde stared at Fritz, tunnel vision and white dots swimming in front of her eyes. The cloud that had followed her all day, for weeks, maybe months even, raining down on her, "I don't even know what that means anymore.”

She tore her eyes away, her heart constricting within her chest, as her body flooded with a weighty, suffocating feeling, a feeling she had only experienced last night when Sharon had pulled her hand right out of Brenda’s.

It was terror, suddenly Brenda knew that. She knew it with just as much certainty as she knew where it was coming from.

She looked at Doctor Leonard and she saw it then, the words she had not yet spoken reflected back at her in the woman's gaze, as if she had known all along that they would arrive at this inevitable conclusion.

Brenda sobbed, squeezed Doctor Leonard’s hand and said:

"I want a divorce."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The Better Way
- Until then, you’ve got me -

Brenda drove home that evening after Fritz had stormed out of the session, and after she had sat rooted to the spot for endless minutes until the adrenalin had worn off and her entire being had stopped shaking.

Only when she arrived at her hotel room did Brenda realize, that she had thought of it as home.

She sat on the bed for a while.

It occurred to her that she hadn’t been to the dry cleaners in weeks. Hadn’t been shopping for anything but chocolate and wine in almost two months. She hadn’t bought cat food or litter for Joel, hadn’t cleaned out the litter box for that matter, she hadn’t paid any bills and hadn’t taken out the trash or cleaned the bathroom.

She realized she had whiled away in this room while Fritz had taken care of everything, while hotel staff had cleaned her bathroom, took out her trash and changed the sheets when she had slept in it with Sharon.

While Fritz had slept all alone.

Brenda swallowed hard and dove into her suitcases. She had done this before, several times in fact, searching for her wool cardigan but came up empty again. She wondered once more where it was – had she left it at Major Crimes? Surely Sharon would have returned it.

Was it in Will’s old office? Surely, Taylor would have mentioned that.

Or had Fritz, when he had packed her bags, withheld it from her purposefully?

Brenda sat on the floor, amongst her clothes, and started to make piles – one for the dry cleaners, one to take to the laundromat.

Twenty minutes later she piled two large bags into her SUV and drove to her new dry cleaners, stuffed the rest of her clothes into a giant washing machine, added detergent then walked half a block to the next convenience store.

She bought cat treats and a whole new bag of litter, chips, chocolate and, after very little debate, three bottles of wine. They weren’t the best but drinkable. She walked back to her car with two bags and the cat litter, put her clothes in the dryer.

While Brenda sat and waited, she googled PO boxes, contemplated briefly whether to have her mail redirected to the hotel or work, even.

She went back to the hotel, ate her chocolate, drank Merlot and folded all her underwear, her bras, her pyjamas and her t-shirts and jeans. She packed all her casual clothes back into her suitcase which she shoved back under the bed.

Brenda hung up the one work outfit she had left until she picked up the dry cleaning tomorrow and frowned at the very straight-laced dark blue velvet blazer, paired with a white dress.

What shoes to wear?

The next morning Brenda woke up with a headache. She looked down her own body on top of the white sheets, spied her breasts still encased in a black bra, and white panties. Next to her in the bed, laying on its side, was a wine bottle.

At least it was empty, lest she leave a wine stain.

Brenda brushed her teeth and swallowed two Tylenols, showered, dressed and blow dried her hair. She pulled it back into a ponytail, applied her makeup carefully and left.

When she got into the car she realized it was 6 o’clock in the morning.

“Ooooh! Shoot!” She sat for a moment, contemplating her options then started the ignition. She drove in nearly the opposite direction of her office, past Sharon’s old house – someone else lived there now, a mother with a teenager – then turned onto her own street.

She crept slowly along until she spied her and Fritz’s duplex. She had been there only a handful of times in the last two months, just picking up clothes and old case files and once for dinner with Fritz.

Fritz wasn’t there though.

Brenda pulled into the empty drive and sat in the car just looking at the house. Now that she was there and Fritz was not she actually contemplated going inside.

She trudged up the little path, cat litter in one hand, treats under her arm, and her purse slung over her left shoulder. She unlocked the front door and stepped inside.

Immediately she felt strange. The house smelled different and even though everything looked the same, all of it felt unfamiliar.

Joel ran up to her, he remembered her and purred when she shook the bag of treats. Brenda swept him up in her arms, kissed him and kissed him and dropped him back to the floor.

She dashed into the bedroom and went through her closet. She piled a few of her dresses onto the bed and shoes, dove into the furthest corner of her closet but could not find her cardigan.

Brenda decided to look everywhere, under the bed, in the laundry room, Fritz’s suitcases, the little closet by the backdoor.

She came up empty.

In the guest room she pulled all the boxes out from under the bed, where they kept spare clothes and shoes, memorabilia, Fritz’s baseball gear.

Her cardigan wasn’t there.

When she sat amongst the mess, her phone rang somewhere far away in the house. She traced the sound back into the kitchen and the chair she always used to fling her purse onto.

“Yes? I mean...Johnson—“


"Are you okay?" Beaudoin asked.

"Yes," Brenda said and glanced at her watch. "I know I'm late." Over an hour late, to be more precise.

"How about you take a personal day, hm?"

"You say that as if you thought I should."

"Well," Bridget said slowly, "I think it would be a good idea. What with Agent Howard..."

"What?"

"He's taken a personal day, too. And now you’re late.”

Brenda looked down at herself, at the white dress and the blue blazer. "I'll be there in an hour."

She went to work and managed to avoid thinking about her cardigan for all of an hour. It was a small accomplishment, at least in her book. Bridget kept stumm for most of the day, she brought Brenda a coffee instead and placed it on her desk without a word and when Brenda picked the cup up, her wedding and engagement rings clinking against it, she kind of lost it.

Bridget lowered the blinds because everything was glass here, everything was transparent. Brenda also realized she hadn't yet cried, in fact, she hadn't done any mourning at all.

As she cried in her chair, and Bridget was holding her hand, Brenda felt as if it had finally become real. She had said the words out loud and a part of her wished it had all been a bad dream that she had yet to wake up from.

Denial was out of the question but somehow Brenda wished she had done nothing, hadn’t said anything and instead had thought about this long and hard.

"I'm sorry," Brenda said, embarrassed. "I just..."

Bridget squeezed her hand and then let go, deeming her composed enough. "You're getting divorced," the blonde concluded, her naturally open face clouding over. "I'm so sorry."

"It's my fault," Brenda sighed and wiped away the remaining tears. “I mean, I—it’s what I...want.”

Was it?

Beaudoin sighed as well, her eyes darting over the room then they settled back onto Brenda. “Captain Raydor?”

The blonde nodded, another sob forcing its way past her lips. She looked up, felt agony, felt despair, and nodded again. “A little. Mostly, yes.” Brenda chuckled. “I think I love her.”

Brenda stared, her gaze drawn to the brownish specks in one eye, and watched as Bridget's features returned to her usual calm, almost neutral expression.

“Do you need to talk about it?”

After a moment Brenda said, “I’d rather not.”

“But, do you need to?”

The blonde looked down at her hands, the tissue all crumpled up in them, and shook her head. “I don’t think that’s appropriate...” Not that the situation was in any way salvageable.

But Beaudoin just smiled at her, patted her hand, an entirely too familiar gesture between a boss and a subordinate, between co-workers, and said, “I slept with my ex-husband’s best friend when we were getting divorced to get back at him for the affair he was having with his best friend’s wife.”

Brenda’s eyes nearly fell out of their sockets.

“Not my finest hour,” Bridget said. “The sex was good, which was probably the only upside. I just hope my son never finds out about this.” The blonde sighed, her eyes sparkling with mirth. “Did that help any?”

Brenda worried her bottom lip, fighting the blush creeping over her features. “A little,” she said, contrite. “But mine’s worse.”

"I know a good divorce lawyer," Bridget said, "I'll drop his card by later."

"I was kinda hopin' I wouldn't need a lawyer," Brenda grumped and honestly, she hadn't even really thought that far ahead.

Bridget patted her knee, another step across the line of professionalism, but then again, Brenda had just spent the better part of half an hour crying a wet spot onto the woman's blouse.

"Just in case."

Brenda nodded and felt somehow grateful for Beaudoin's pragmatic and almost practical approach. It gave her a sense of control to take a step back and look at this mess the way Bridget did. "Thank you." She meant that.

She left work very late because her first instinct at ten to five had been to drive the short distance to Sharon's new place and tell her what had happened.

At five o'clock Brenda had talked herself out of the idea. As much as she wanted to seek the comfort of Sharon's ever understanding disposition, she knew it was the wrong thing to do.

The cruel option. Because telling Sharon she was getting divorced - probably, perhaps, more than likely getting divorced – was like saying: I am free now to have a relationship with you.

What she wouldn’t be saying was: A relationship I’m not even sure we should be havin’ considerin’ I can’t even stomach yet, or ever, tellin’ you that I love you.

That's when Brenda decided that she wouldn't tell Sharon a thing.

At around six she realized she hadn't eaten since yesterday and that meal had only consisted of nearly melted chocolate and a bottle of wine. She drank too much lately, Brenda thought as she stood in front of the white wine selection at the liquor store she frequented.

She picked a Sauvignon that cost her all of thirty dollars. The guy behind the counter lifted his eyebrows at her and at her choice that deviated from her usual but said nothing.

Sharon's new place was on the 7th floor. Brenda had pried that information out of Ricky last week. He had swooned about the place, about the view and how practical it was because it was just around the corner from work.

On her way there, she bought flowers but not just any old bouquet – Brenda picked the flowers herself. The bunch ended up bigger than expected and the blonde worried she looked utterly ridiculous taking up a sizeable space in the elevator on her way to Sharon’s floor.

Brenda wished she had a place. It had taken her forever to find a house when she had first moved to Los Angeles. Perhaps it had been lack of trying, and the house had just fallen into her lap, and it had been cheap because of the murder but she couldn't fathom having to do it all again.

Her things were all at the duplex that they rented and she couldn't very well ask Fritz to leave when it was her who wanted a divorce. The thought brought tears to her eyes. Everything was about to change and Brenda just did not cope well with that.

She missed her life, as it had been before Fritz had found out, before she had met Sharon.

Brenda knocked on the wooden door and waited. She hoped she wasn't intruding on anything, maybe Sharon had friends over to help with the unpacking or maybe she had done all that because if Sharon was anything it was efficient.

Maybe she was enjoying a quiet evening on the sofa, by herself, and getting used to her new place.

Brenda knocked again and, again, there was no answer.

Wine cradled in her arms, flowers in the other, and staring at the closed door, the blonde began to feel more anxious and ridiculous the longer she stood there.

Of course, Brenda reasoned with herself, Sharon's job entailed long hours, she should know better than anybody how demanding Major Crimes was. Of course she was at work.

Brenda sighed mightily and flopped back against the door, eyes darting around the swanky hallway. Would it look odd if she waited? Naturally, she could wait 'til hell froze over, what with the hours she used to work.

The blonde closed her eyes. She was tired. In fact, she felt downright exhausted.

Well and truly.

Deep down she had hoped that she could somehow talk her way into staying the night, just to be out of that room and with somebody but her lonesome self. Brenda didn't do pity well, it didn't suit her, her Mama always said so, yet she hadn't done anything but pity herself, and it was starting to grate even on her own nerves.

"Brenda?"

The blonde stood up straight, her eyes flying open.

"Honey, what are you doing here?"

Brenda stared at Sharon, dumbfounded and then lifted the bottle and the flowers almost mechanically and plastered a smile onto her face. "Movin' in present."

"Oh," Sharon stopped in front of her, her expression going from confusion to amusement then her eyebrows lifted and she jingled the keys pointedly.

Brenda stepped aside, her cheeks warming with a blush. "Sorry," she said and waited for Sharon to unlock the door. "Nice buildin'."

"Wait 'til you see the apartment," the brunette said evenly and switched the lights on. "I still have a few boxes to unpack, I hope you don't mind the mess."

"You do know who you're talkin' to, right?" There wasn't any mess at all, just some neatly stacked boxes in the kitchen and the living room. "I can help, if you like?"

"Don't you want the tour first?"

Brenda nodded and held out the wine somewhat awkwardly. "It's not Merlot. Surprise!"

"Thanks," Sharon said and trailed into the kitchen. "Look at my shiny, new built-in wine rack!" She presented it with a sweeping gesture, as if they were on The Price Is Right and Brenda had just won a car.

"Nice kitchen," she said, slightly awed. "Not that I'd know what to do in it."

"Hey," Sharon wagged her finger, "Your clams are great."

"My mash's better."

"Oh the culinary exploits of one Brenda Johnson," the brunette quipped. "I bought a new fridge. Maybe a bit big just for me but I thought I'd treat myself."

The blonde just looked at the fridge and then at Sharon's beaming smile and shrugged. "I've been livin' out of a mini bar, anything looks big in comparison."

"You better perk up," Sharon grumped, "You turn up unannounced and then you're not even suitably impressed by my new appliances."

"I did bring the wine. And the flowers," Brenda drawled drolly.

“Let me put them in water then you’ll get the tour.”

Sharon relieved her of the bouquet, her eyes bright and joyous as she laid it down on the counter. “I see you chose them yourself.”

“How can you tell?” Brenda asked as Sharon snipped away at the ends. The brunette said nothing yet she wore a barely-there, mysterious smirk.

When Sharon had put them in a vase and put them on her glass-topped dining table, she said, “They’re very beautiful. Thank you.”

Brenda’s cheeks pinked – she had done something right - and looked out into the living room. "Where's the chaise?"

"So now it is a chaise," the brunette said evenly and rounded the table. "It's in storage, there wasn't room. The layout's different."

"I hate when all your furniture don't fit into your new place. I've gone through five couches in the past ten years."

"It's a travesty."

Brenda smiled and touched the delicate fabric of a throw Sharon had draped over the back of her sofa. "You seem happy here. I'm glad."

"I'm just trying not to let work overshadow this, not yet, anyway."

"Bad case?"

"We just closed it, actually. And I've spent half the day in the morgue." Sharon grimaced. "I'm surprised you can't smell it on me."

Brenda bit her lip, hiding a smile. "I guess I'm just too polite to mention it."

"You're terrible," Sharon said and nodded down the hall. "Guest room. Bathroom. Office! I have an office!"

Brenda smiled and looked into the room. "And a desk."

"And this is the bedroom, it has an ensuite and a great view."

The blonde looked around and then out of the big picture windows. The view was of Downtown Los Angeles, when she squinted, she could see City Hall from here. Most pictures were back on the walls - ballerinas, Emily, Ricky, art. The walls had been painted, Brenda could still smell it in the air.

"It's lovely, Sharon," she said. "It really is."

"Thank you." The brunette smiled and then glanced in the direction of her ensuite. "I need to shower."

"Course." They stood there for a moment, awkwardly looking at one another then Brenda glanced away, hands behind her back. "I was gonna buy you dinner. If--if that's okay?"

"Dinner? That would be...nice."

"Okay, well...anything in particular you'd like?"

"Thai," Sharon said immediately. "If you don't mind. There's a place on 7th--"

"SOI.7."

"That’s the one." Sharon smiled at her, her hands stuffed into the pockets of her purple blazer then she leaned in, kissed Brenda on the mouth and said, “Hi.”

The blonde smiled back. “Hi.”

As Sharon went to shower, taking her good mood with her, Brenda reminded herself, albeit sullenly, to not ruin it with her rotten one.

She wondered briefly why Sharon hadn't questioned why she had shown up, unannounced, but decided that perhaps it was better if she didn't know. Brenda poured over the menu instead, squinting at her cell phone screen and then she spotted Sharon's reading glasses on the coffee table next to a book.

She was pretty sure she had left her own at work, as she often did, but Sharon wouldn't mind. She swayed between the fish and the duck - she knew Sharon liked the former yet somehow Brenda refused to make the safe choice and went with duck instead.

The ribs sounded good. A whole baby back rack to herself. Brenda bit into her plump bottom lip; she was starving and suddenly she had an appetite. So she ordered and perused Sharon's new living room.

It was all open plan and modern. It practically oozed sophistication, a concept Brenda had never quite mastered, not that she had ever wanted to. Everything was just so, even though Sharon hadn't yet unpacked all her boxes yet.

It wasn't much later when the brunette emerged. Brenda had decided to wait on the sofa, she had glanced at the book on the coffee table, flicking through the pages until the letters began to swim right in front of her.

She had taken the reading glasses off after that and had rubbed her temples. And then she thought, that maybe she should have ordered the fish.

"Brenda?"

The blonde's eyes shot open tiredly as Sharon shook her shoulder. The brunette stood right before her, bent over her, eyes soft and sparkling with mirth. She wore yoga pants and another utterly comfortable looking sweater that draped over her frame loosely and left her shoulder exposed.

Brenda sighed. "Oh," she cooed and then cleared her throat. "I was just restin' my eyes," she quipped and sat up.

"Of course," Sharon snorted, bemused. "Did you at least order the food?"

"I did, Darth Raydor. They said an hour."

"Very funny," Sharon said and sat down beside her. "Wanna watch Citizen Kane? We didn't get to finish it the other week.”

Brenda's mind immediately flashed back to Sharon's naked body then to the words falling from her lips so easily, so meaningfully and then to the first tear spilling onto Brenda's cheek.

"Are you okay?"

It depended how one looked at it, Brenda thought.

"I keep getting the feeling," Sharon said gently, "that something's wrong."

The blonde sighed and looked down at the hand that rested on her thigh. "I can't talk about it, Sharon," Brenda admitted. "If I talk about it I'll just..."

"You'll what?"

"I'll just...die."

Sharon looked at her with wide, worried eyes but Brenda couldn’t say any more. Tears pricked at the corners of her eyes, stinging with guilt and sorrow and a finality she just couldn't yet accept.

"Okay," Sharon said after a moment. "Let's not talk about it, then."

Brenda nodded and wiped at her eyes, her breath coming in short gasps as she tried to compose herself. "Can I--d'you think I can--"

"You can stay, Brenda." Sharon looked away for a moment and then patted her knee. "You don't have to ask anymore. I think we're past that."

The blonde breathed a sigh of relief, even though she wanted to ask what exactly they were past and how Sharon had arrived at that conclusion - despite what people said, Brenda wasn't a mind reader.

They didn't watch the movie; instead, Sharon put music on and read her book, legs curled under on the couch. Brenda watched for a while, her bare toes digging into the cream colored rug under the coffee table. She closed her eyes and listened to the music and the turning of pages.

Brenda managed to feel okay. She liked to think it was being here and not in her hotel room but that wasn't entirely true.

She would have to get a lawyer, she decided, and at least pay for a retainer. She would have to find a new place, maybe a condo like this. It was spacious enough but not too big just for herself. She would have to tell her parents - her Mama first - that she was filing for divorce.

Maybe she should go out there for Thanksgiving next month. They would know once she turned up without Fritz and, even though she just hated the idea of ruining Thanksgiving for them, she would have to tell them immediately. It wouldn't be fair to do this over the phone. This was something she had done, so she had to bear the consequences.

"You look exhausted," Sharon said suddenly, pulling her from her thoughts. "You should rest your eyes again. Until the food arrives."

The blonde chuckled helplessly in the face of Sharon’s sparkling, mirthful eyes and nodded. Surprising herself, and maybe Sharon too, Brenda lay down, her feet propped onto the brunette's thigh, sighing as some of the tension she felt seemed to drop from her shoulders.

Brenda didn't want to think of anything while she was laying there because it felt as if nothing even mattered, it felt carefree just while she was encapsulated in this apartment and all the things that Sharon owned, and Sharon herself whose eyes were running along the lines of her book again, that thinking of a single thing could just about ruin that serenity.

So, she said, lazily, "Read to me."

"What? This?" Sharon lifted the book off the armrest, blinking owlishly behind her reading glasses.

"Anything," Brenda replied and closed her eyes when Sharon's hand came to rest on her knee.

The brunette was quiet and then she took a deep breath, the pages rustling. "It's only a cake, she tells herself. But still. There are cakes and then there are cakes. At this moment, holding a bowl full of sifted flour in an orderly house under the California sky, she hopes to be as satisfied and as filled with anticipation as a writer putting down the first sentence, a builder beginning to draw the plans..."

And so Brenda listened to the story of a boy and his mother baking a cake while her own mind rested for a little while and her eyes drifted from Sharon's arm, upwards, to her exposed shoulder that looked as soft as silk itself, speckled with freckles and she started counting them until her gaze was drawn to the woman's mouth.

She wasn't wearing lipstick anymore and her lips looked thin without it, misshapen somehow, as if lips like that couldn't possibly kiss as they did. And then Brenda thought, to her own dismay, she thought about kissing those lips, she thought about kissing Sharon, tomorrow morning and maybe tonight, before they went to bed.

She thought about kissing her tomorrow night, too, after work, thought about a cake - chocolate cake! - and about making love to this woman, there, on this very couch, half naked because she couldn't wait to be inside Sharon. Brenda was greedy, after all, and patience she had never really had a grasp on, and that was why, when she thought about making love (not having sex), she imagined herself with her hand up Sharon's skirt and her face buried in the brunette's breasts because her ridiculous desire had overtaken her like a hapless little duck swallowed up by a wave.

Then Brenda listened again because Sharon's voice had dropped - she had been reading for quite a while but the blonde knew that wasn't it because the brunette swallowed, a breathy sigh escaping her as her eyes found Brenda's for just a moment.

But she continued.

"It isn't failure, she tells herself. It isn't failure to be in these rooms, in your skin, cutting the stems of flowers. It isn't failure but it requires more of you, the whole effort does; just being present and grateful; being happy (terrible word). People don't look at you on the street anymore, or if they do it is not with sexual notions of any sort. You are not invited to lunch--"

Sharon did stop then, looking down at Brenda with raised eyebrows as if she wanted to ask, but didn't quite dare to, why the blonde had been staring at her for the past 15 minutes. But Brenda knew that neither asking nor answering were necessary because her pulse pounded and she knew she had blushed and that she was breathing as if Sharon herself had her hand up Brenda's dress.

The blonde bit down on her lip and closed her eyes; she waited and waited, until Sharon wasn't looking back at her anymore and resumed listening to every single word in an effort to dispose of her arousal.

Sharon read of happiness. Which Brenda couldn't help but ponder, her mind lingering on that one single, defining word. "It seemed like the beginning of happiness, and Clarissa is still sometimes shocked, more than thirty years later, to realize that it was happiness; that the entire experience lay in a kiss and a walk, the anticipation of dinner and a book."

She had never really given it much thought. She had always been aware of her own unhappiness rather than the opposite. It was difficult to quantify, to grasp or take hold of. Happiness, she thought, came in little, unexpected bursts.

She had been happy with Fritz - 'happy' as in generally content. Being unhappy was easier to pinpoint even though it had taken her a considerable amount of time to realize that, while she did love Fritz, she did not love him enough to be happy, much less 'generally content' anymore.

"What lives undimmed in Clarissa's mind more than three decades later is a kiss at dusk on a patch of dead grass, and a walk around a pond as mosquitoes droned in the darkening air. There is still that singular perfection, and it's perfect in part because it seemed, at the time, so clearly to promise more. Now she knows: That was the moment, right then. There has been no other..."

Sharon trailed off and when Brenda looked up at her again, the brunette's eyes were shut, her face averted towards the big windows, as if she had been looking out but couldn't bear what she saw.

"You okay?"

Sharon nodded and smiled down at her, sorrowful somehow as she patted Brenda’s foot. "It saddens me every time."

"What does?"

"It's just..." Sharon sighed. "I don't think there's anything I'm more afraid of."

"Being unhappy?"

"No," Sharon said gently and shook her head. "Not realizing the moment I am happy, being unconscious of it and letting it pass me by.”

“Are you happy now?” Brenda asked before she could stop herself.

“Are you?”

Brenda didn't know what to say as she turned into herself, searching. She remembered baking a cake with her Mama, much like the boy earlier, and being happy as only a child could be. Her only worry in the world was the outcome of this cake, which had been for her Daddy who was finally coming home.

And even that, she thought, had only been marginal - her Mama was a great cook and an even better baker and little Brenda hadn't much to worry about because with Mama helping, the cake could only be a success.

She tried to pinpoint that feeling, that one moment Clarissa had remembered so vividly but she couldn't grasp a single memory, not even the day she had gotten married because, in her gut, she had worried herself sick that maybe Fritz did love her more than she loved him and that he would, eventually, grow tired of her.

Brenda looked up and searched, desperately hoping she was happy, once, and realized with startling clarity that, while she had been laying there, feet in Sharon's lap, the brunette's voice floating around her, embalmed by her familiar, opulent and ever-present warmth, that she hadn't had a single worry, that she had felt content.

And as she looked at Sharon, who had resumed her reading, Brenda realized that, despite all of it, she was happy. Here, there was no hotel; here, there was no collapse of a marriage but in its place a hopeful, relieving, final decision that, quite miraculously, despite its grave implications, felt nothing but freeing.

Brenda had been happy just there, in that moment, when she had thought of kissing Sharon, of kissing her tonight and tomorrow.

And there it was, as if Brenda had wished it to appear, but there it was, Fritz's 'why', the question he had demanded an answer to since the day Brenda had told him she had kissed Sharon Raydor.

“Brenda.”

The blonde blinked against the tears that had gathered in her eyes. She wiped an errand one off her cheek and sat up, feet curled beneath her and took what she hoped to be a sobering breath.

Her heart exploded within her chest.

“I know you said you don’t wanna talk about it but maybe we should—“

Brenda shook her head. “No...” She reached out, Sharon’s arm felt warm, her cheeks felt warm and her lips, against her own, felt warm.

For the first time Brenda allowed herself to just kiss and for the first time she felt content to just kiss.

“The food’s here,” Sharon said against her mouth.

The blonde glanced up at the door, eyes wide – she hadn’t even heard the knock – and nodded. She looked at Sharon again, at her beautiful face, and said, “Sharon, I—“

“I know,” the brunette said, patting her thigh, and gave her a reassuring smile. “Later.”

Another knock at the door.

Brenda got up, yelled, “I’m comin’!” and made for the door.

As she signed the credit card slip, took the food, she heard Sharon move around in the kitchen. Plates, glasses, a bottle being uncorked, drawers opening and closing, silverware on the glass table.

Brenda closed the door with her bare foot, stood there with bags of food in her arms, watched Sharon pour a glass of red. As she got to the table, all laid out, Brenda kissed Sharon.

With little conscious effort, she realized that this wasn’t the beginning of happiness, but that she was just, merely, happy.

And, although the thought terrified her, she became conscious of the simple fact that, if she proceeded, if she didn’t wait for anything to solve itself, if she faced this terrifying happiness, then there soon wouldn’t be anything standing in her way of it.

***

She kissed Sharon the next morning; or rather, Sharon kissed her with an unflinching confidence that Brenda attributed to the new apartment and the beautiful view, and the fact that they were not in Brenda's hotel room.

"Mornin'," the blonde drawled, eyes still sleepy.

"Morning," Sharon said and rolled off her. "I have to get ready for work."

"Already?"

"Chief Taylor wants to see me first thing and, thanks to your not entirely unwelcome distraction, I haven't had a single minute to figure out what he could possibly want." Sharon got out of bed and went into the ensuite.

Brenda was left to wonder how she managed to be awake and functioning within the span of five minutes, not that she envied it, of course.

She heard Sharon brush her teeth - she brushed for longer than most people would. Brenda had no idea why that would be anything she'd notice in the first place.

"You can shower," Sharon said as she came back out in her silk slip. "I have to leave in...40 minutes," she glanced at her watch.

"In other words," Brenda grumped into the pillow, "you want me to get ready and get gone."

Sharon just stood there in front of her open closet then made for the door. "I'll get coffee."

As the brunette disappeared, much to Brenda's relief, as she had yet to fully wake up, the blonde rolled onto her back and squinted at the window. There was no use in denying it: she could have spent her day, quite happily, just right there. With Sharon.

Brenda showered with her hair pulled up and her work outfit dangling from a hook in the hopes that the steam would somehow smooth out the crinkles in it. For a moment she felt maudlin because all she did these days was delve into suitcases and go-bags...she needed a new place. An apartment, like this.

She brushed her teeth for a much shorter time than Sharon did. She looked at herself in the mirror, wrapped in a big, fluffy burgundy towel, not bothering with make-up just yet; instead she decided to put her hair in a severe bun because facing a hair dryer this early in the morning was out of the question.

She was just about to ask for hairpins when she exited the bathroom when she found Sharon applying lipstick in the bedroom. She was dressed in a cream blouse that draped itself languidly over her breasts and was then tucked into a black pencil skirt. Her feet were bare and her hair was made.

Brenda swallowed. Hairpins?

"I just need to get my mascara. If you're done in there--"

"Sharon?" Brenda looked at the skirt as the brunette brushed past her and then at her ass in it, as if yesterday's musings whacked her over the head with a crowbar. "Sharon," she said breathily, a lazy smile dancing around her lips.

Sharon stopped in front of her, just in the doorway, eyebrows raised and a tube of mascara in her hand. She wasn't wearing her glasses yet and her eyes looked small without the make-up and then they narrowed even more, her lips pursed, "Oh, no," she said, voice firm and held the mascara up as if it was some lethal weapon. "I just put lipstick on."

Brenda smirked, taking one small step towards the woman who took one small step back. "And I, try as I might, can't find it in myself to care about that even the tiniest little bit." It was easy, then, to wrap her arms around Sharon's slender waist and walk her backwards into the counter, next to the sink.

And so she kissed Sharon on her misshapen lips. She tasted lipstick and then coffee and then toothpaste. "Oh, Sharon," Brenda cooed - what else could she possibly say? She was so lovely and so real, they were both so real, as if by having made her decision, Brenda had catapulted them forwards, out of their fairy tale and into the world.

"I have Taylor--"

"He can wait."

"But--"

"I wish I was still sittin' in that office," Brenda said, "Because then you'd have an appointment with me..."

Sharon chuckled against her lips.

"We'd have so many meetins..." Brenda groaned at the mere thought, as inappropriate as it was, and grabbed the hem of Sharon's tight skirt. She pulled it up, inch by inch and Sharon let her, which she had expected. "I'd have you on that giant desk," she said into the brunette's ear and dragged her underwear down. "Just like this."

With her hand between Sharon's legs and her mouth smudging the lipstick, Brenda thought about yesterday and the couch and then about today and Taylor's office. "I'd have you in the chair, too," she said, her fingertips drawing lazy circles around Sharon's clit and then stopped at her epiphany. "Just like this," she whispered and slid to the floor.

Sharon said nothing but her hands were gripping the counter and she was breathing through her parted lips.

"You have to stop wearin' this skirt," Brenda declared. "This isn't my fault at all."

"That I'll be late?" Sharon let out a bark of a laugh.

"Nooo," the blonde cooed and looked at the trimmed patch of reddish brown hair. "You'll come just in time."

"You're ridiculous."

Brenda glanced up, hands palming and squeezing both cheeks, and then mashed her lips against Sharon's clit.

"Fuck," Sharon whispered under a shuddering breath, canting her hips without another word of protest.

Brenda, meanwhile, despite having wanted to exert patience, pulled the underwear down all the way, until it dangled off of one bare foot - they didn't have time, did they? - and pressed her face between the thighs so forcefully that Sharon bent backwards.

That was better, Brenda decided as she lapped at the wetness, hoping to curb her rediscovered hot, white desire, at least for today. It felt so new, yet she recognized the feeling as the exact same one she had had when she had first laid eyes on Sharon.

Her very first impression had been an intimidating one, which Brenda had tried since not to acknowledge; her second impression, following almost immediately thereafter, had been one borne in rationalization:

The reason she had felt intimidated was because Sharon Raydor was smart, decisive and domineering.

Then, and Brenda still remembered the precise moment, she had realized why she felt as if Captain Raydor was towering over her, why she felt as if the woman was endlessly powerful.

Sharon Raydor was also incredibly hot.

Brenda wanted to say as much but she couldn’t bear to stop; instead she sucked Sharon into her mouth.

“Oh, my god, Brenda...” Sharon groaned from above. “That’s so good.”

The blonde groaned right back, mustering up as much restraint as she could find in herself not to stop and tell Sharon how good she tasted, how good she felt, how Brenda could eat her out for hours.

“Don’t stop!”

She wouldn’t, Brenda decided, sucked harder and flicked her tongue over Sharon’s hardened nub.

Above her, Sharon panted. Her thighs quivered a little against Brenda’s cheeks and there was more wetness, more heat. A hand landed on her head, fingers weaving into her hair, neither pulling nor pushing, just holding her still.

“Yes! Right there!”

Brenda didn’t move an inch, did everything the way Sharon would want her to. She flicked her tongue faster and let Sharon’s hand press her harder against her clit, met the force of her hips equally, listened to Sharon pant faster and faster, hands running up and down smooth thighs, until Sharon choked on her own breath.

Brenda didn’t stop, she knew it was what Sharon needed; she licked and flicked and sucked until Sharon came in her mouth, against her lips, with a loud, satisfied moan.

It was only when Brenda finally managed to tear herself away and clamber to her feet, that she felt the stickiness between her legs. She hoped desperately that Sharon wouldn’t leave her like this – she’d probably die!

Licking away the last remnants of wetness off her lips, Brenda caressed Sharon’s cheek, nosed behind her ear. Soft, soothing kisses, little nips along the brunette’s jaw, to her lips.

Sharon kissed her back, wedged between Brenda herself and the counter. The lipstick had been kissed away and for some reason, it pleased Brenda immensely.

"Mmmh," the brunette hummed, eyes still closed, basking. "I'm going to be late," she sing-songed with a sort of finality and giggled, then she nosed around Brenda's throat and neck, breathing in deeply, as if she wanted to suck every last molecule of the blonde's scent into her lungs.

"It'll be quick," Brenda whispered, eyes drooping. "I promise."

"Oh, I know," Sharon breathed into her ear, her hands undoing the towel until it fell open. She looked down, smirking at Brenda's nipples, humming. She stepped away, no longer wedged and then the towel fell to the floor.

Brenda swallowed as she stood there, naked, while Sharon smoothed her skirt back down.

"You have thirty seconds," the brunette said with a glance at her watch and then pushed Brenda back until her butt collided with the cold marble counter top.

Brenda didn't have a single thing to say, she just grabbed Sharon's face, pulled her close and kissed her while she spread her legs, ready, waiting. Thirty seconds, she thought, ordinarily impossible yet, judging from past experience, entirely in the realm of possible with Sharon Raydor.

She waited for the next second to tick by, eyes hooded as she watched Sharon then the brunette reached down and pushed her fingers inside as if she had sat pouring over a map of Brenda's body, studying for an A and a gold star.

The blonde canted her hips, there was no sense in waiting any longer, and thrust against Sharon's hand.

Brenda didn’t care how desperate she looked, buried her face in brunette locks and reached down between her own legs. She cupped Sharon’s hand and pressed it harder against herself then Brenda thrust her hips, once, twice, and came.

"My, oh, my," Sharon drawled, her voice vibrating on Brenda's skin, and wrapped her arms around the blonde's waist.

Brenda just nodded dumbly, seeking out the brunette's lips for a kiss. It was languid and slow, indulgent. She wished in that moment, that she could say it, just speak the words out loud like Sharon had done so many times.

But the words didn't come, Brenda wouldn't let them because, only last night, Sharon had stopped her.

"I really have to go," Sharon husked, kissing her chin. "And fix my makeup."

Brenda smiled, suddenly deflated.

"I'll leave you a key," the brunette said and stepped back. She picked up the towel, dangling it from one finger and smirked. "Put that in the hamper when you're done or I'm going to murder you."

"Promise," Brenda snorted and wrapped herself back in the towel. "You won't even know I was here..."

Sharon tilted her head at that, picking up the mascara she had dropped, eyes dancing around the bathroom then she said, "Keep the key."

 

 

Chapter Text

Away
-More appears like Less, by simply moving it far, far Away-

 

“Please, hand over your firearm and all clips, and place them into this evidence bag.”

The Beretta slid into the clear plastic bag. One clip was in, empty, the other, still full, slid in next to the gun.

“Please, seal the bag and sign the seal and this form confirming that this is indeed your issued firearm.”

“May I use your pen, Sergeant?”

“Of course, Ma’am.”

“Thank you.”

“We will need your clothing as well, Captain.” Sergeant Elliott frowned down at her, his features betraying his discomfort, and lowered his voice. “Would you like to call somebody? We can take your statement right here and collect your clothes afterwards.”

Sharon gave her former colleague a tight, albeit genuine smile and nodded. “Thank you, Sergeant, I’d appreciate that.”

“You’re welcome, Captain.” The dark-haired Sergeant smiled back. “Um. I’ll wait for you in the Command Post, when you’re ready.”

As he left, Sharon carefully reached into her jacket pocket – her hands were stained but the blood had long since dried and was flaking off her hands. She pinched her phone between two fingers to avoid soiling it and unlocked the screen.

Her eyes drifted over the scene, blurry as it was, her first instinct was to send Andy to her condo but Andy sat, indisposed, on the back of an ambulance while a pretty EMT tended to the cut on his brow.

Andy was talking her ear off.

Sharon rolled her eyes and glanced at her watch. Ten to five. With a sigh she dialled and lifted her phone to her ear. It rang all but once before a familiar voice greeted her.

“Chief Johnson’s office, Suzanne Chen speaking, how can I help?”

“Suzanne, this is Captain Raydor—”

“Please hold, Captain.”

Sharon frowned at the interruption but didn’t have time to get herself worked up over Brenda’s rude secretary as the line clicked.

“Cap’n Raydor, what can I do for you today?”

“Brenda,” Sharon said because this was a personal call – she perhaps should have called the cell. “Listen, I need a big, big favor.”

“What’s the favor?”

“Do you still have my key?”

“Course,” Brenda huffed, “Even I can’t lose it in the span of a week. Why?”

“Could you go to my apartment, please, and pick up an outfit for me? And glasses? I have a spare set in my office—”

“W-wait. Sharon, wait, what’s—”

“There was an incident. My glasses broke and uh, I have blood on my clothes, unfortunately—”

“Blood?!” Brenda screeched.

“It’s not mine! I was trying to save the suspect but I—”

“But...but you’re okay, right? You’re not hurt? Right?”

Sharon blinked, taken aback by the edge of panic in Brenda’s voice and realized that, perhaps, she should have opened this whole conversation a little differently.

“I’m fine. I-I grazed my knee so it’d probably be better if you didn’t bring a skirt or dress—”

“Sharon, for heaven’s sakes...” Brenda went quiet for a moment, breathing heavily on the other end of the line, then she said, “Everybody else okay?”

“Everyone’s fine.”

“Okay. Okay, I’ll get your things. Text me the address.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m leavin’ right now.”

Sharon took a deep breath, released it slowly and nodded. “Thank you,” she said, her eyes welling up with tears of relief. “Um, could you maybe not mention anything to Ricky?”

“Of course.” Brenda’s breath hitched. “I’ll be there as soon as I can, I promise. Sharon, I—”

“Okay,” she interrupted. “Thank you, Brenda.” Sharon hung up before the blonde could say any more and breathed out slowly again, composing herself. She knew what Brenda had been about to say, again, and as much as she yearned to hear those words, Sharon couldn’t stomach hearing them – it would break her heart.

***

“What about my car?”

“We’ll tow it to the lot when we’re through here and providing everything checks out, you can pick it up tomorrow morning.” Elliott followed her down the steps of the command post. “I think the lot opens at 9. Do you need a ride to work in the morning?”

“No,” Sharon said slowly, her eyes tracking the blurry image of a black SUV. “Thank you, Sergeant, but I’ll be fine.”

The SUV came to a halt, screeching tyres and all, and Brenda got out. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, she wore dark sunglasses, new ones, a dark gray blazer and skirt, a black blouse, black heels.

In her left hand she carried a small bag, in her right she held up her credentials.

“Is that..?”

Sharon looked up at Elliott who was also tracking the blonde’s path – Brenda couldn’t have made a bigger entrance.

“My ride. Thank you, Sergeant.” She stepped away, avoiding further questions, and met Brenda halfway.

“My lord, Sharon—”

“Can we not do this right now?” Sharon took the proffered bag. “I’d just really like to get out of these clothes if you don’t mind.”

“Course,” Brenda nodded empathetically. “Here,” she reached into her blazer pocket. “Your glasses.”

“Thank god!” Sharon put them on immediately – they were her old prescription but still better than nothing. Brenda’s worried face swam into focus and even though she still wore sunglasses, Sharon could tell her eyes were roaming all over her body, checking her over.

“I’m fine,” Sharon vowed, squeezed Brenda’s hand, eyes darting here, there and everywhere. She realized with horror that everyone was looking at them – Andy, Provenza, Tao, even Elliott. Sanchez, who was standing next to her car, waved slowly.

“Maybe calling you was a bad idea.”

“Who else were you gonna call?” Brenda took her glasses off, her expression was open and bright, serene. “I’ll be right here when you’re done.”

Sharon nodded. “Hold my purse?”

“Sure,” Brenda said, nonchalant.

God, Sharon thought as she walked away, the woman had nerves of steel. Sometimes she wondered how Brenda did it.

The strange part was that, while Brenda had been completely composed at the bar last week, when Beaudoin had caught them, and then, just now in front of everyone, it just seemed completely out of character.

In fact, Sharon thought, buttoning her blouse, a dark green silk number she had bought before Christmas last year, in fact, all this was completely unlike Brenda.

For the past month Sharon had had the distinct feeling that something had changed but as she stepped outside, saw Brenda speaking quietly to Andy Flynn, a hand on his shoulder and a smile on her face, it began to dawn on Sharon that this something that had changed was Brenda.


***


“Would you mind stopping at Whole Foods? I forgot to order the shopping.”

“Whole Foods?” Brenda intoned beside her, already signalling left.

“One of the very few pleasures in my life,” Sharon said. “You can wait in the car.”

“No, no,” Brenda sing-songed, “I’m comin’.”

Sharon, meanwhile, looked down at her hands, inspecting them for any traces of blood, checked herself in the mirror.

In the store, she pushed the cart while Brenda went off on a tangent and then just disappeared completely.

Bread, milk, coffee...eggs. Sharon looked down into her cart – a cart of a woman who worked too much, was never home, rarely cooked and slept with her married co-worker because she couldn’t find the time to actually date anybody.

Dating. Sharon snorted. She knew that, even if she had the time to date, she probably wouldn’t. Relationships were hard work and besides, she just wasn’t yet ready to invite somebody into her space.

That obviously excluded Brenda which was another sore subject considering that what they were doing could barely be construed as dating, that a relationship was firmly out of the question and that they were both the most despicable cheaters in all of Los Angeles County which clearly said a lot about the moral high ground Sharon liked to think she walked upon.

Perhaps it was time to drop the charade.

“There you are!”

Sharon heard Brenda before she even saw her, arms full of shopping, her black heels clicking ever closer, ponytail swishing left and right.

“D’you have glasses? If I don’t stop squintin’ like this, I worry my face will stay like it.” Brenda dropped the shopping into the cart, bar a bottle of white and pushed the reading glasses Sharon had fished out of her pocket straight up onto her nose.

While Brenda read the label, Sharon realized her mouth had dropped open. “What’s all this?”

The blonde looked up at her, eyes large behind the glasses, owlish, and said, “Clam linguine. Whoever told you mine was good was obviously right but I figured you might as well see for yourself.”

“See for myself?”

Brenda blinked, perplexed. “Look, I know you said to drop you home and then go on my merry way but I’ve been tryin’ real hard not to just tell people what they wanna hear and, clearly, what you don’t wanna hear right now is that I’m cookin’ dinner.”

The blonde’s eyes dropped back to the bottle and Sharon’s eyes stayed glued to the girlishly young looking features of one Brenda Leigh Johnson.

Brenda didn’t want to tell people what they wanted hear?

So, when she had nearly said that—so, when Brenda had tried to tell her that she—

“Is this wine dry?”

“Um,” Sharon looked at the bottle, nodded, she had no idea, she had lost the ability to read, said, “Sure,” and stared at Brenda again.

Brenda’s face was transformed right before Sharon’s own eyes.

My, god!

“They have Ben and Jerry’s, two for $6. I’ll sacrifice the Peanut Butter Cup for pistachio but I’m not budgin’ on the Half Baked.”

“Okay,” Sharon said, “I mean...thank you.”

Brenda nodded, smiled, and went in the direction of the freezer section. Sharon watched her go and couldn’t help the nearly overwhelming fluttering in her chest at the mere sight of her.

But, wait. Sharon took a deep breath; she had decided some time ago that, while she did love Brenda, she could go on living like this.

She could live with sex, with Fritz looming somewhere in the dark recesses of her mind, with Brenda’s lies.

But now Brenda was telling the truth.

Suddenly her heart yearned to hear those words and she regretted having stopped Brenda from saying them out loud.

What good would it do, Sharon reasoned, yet she couldn’t shake that tiny little glimmer of hope.


***


“Debilitating?!” Sharon followed Brenda, who had insisted that she carry all the bags herself, out of the elevator. “It’s a grazed knee!”

“You need to learn to accept help, Sharon.”

“Oh, my god,” Sharon hissed under her breath, throwing her hands in the air at the blatant irony.

Once inside, Brenda unloaded the groceries and Sharon put them away – she had a system. “So, why clam linguine? I mean, and don’t take this the wrong way, but that just doesn’t seem like—” Sharon stopped mid-sentence once she realized that Brenda clearly wasn’t listening, instead she was staring a hole into the lone bottle of white wine sitting on the counter. “Brenda? I told you, it’s as dry as they come.”

“Maybe next time you call me to tell me you’re covered in blood, you could start the conversation with ‘I’m fine’ first.”

“Oh,” Sharon said quietly in the face of Brenda’s big, frightened eyes. “Oh, honey, I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking.”

The blonde nodded, smoothing a non-existent wisp of hair back. “I’m sorry,” Brenda said, her voice a little rough, a little thick, as was the singular laugh that followed. “You get shot at and nearly die ‘n I—”

“That’s not what happened.”

“It is.”

“Andy,” Sharon concluded with a roll of her eyes.

“Flynn didn’t say anythin’.”

“Provenza then.” She hit the nail on the head.

“Be that as it may,” Brenda said, enunciating every single letter, “All I can think of sayin’ is, what were you thinkin’ or that I wish you were more careful or that—” The blonde shook her head. “But...what I really mean to say is that I’m glad...you’re okay. That’s it. That’s all.”

“Oh,” Sharon breathed, speechless as it were, and reached for the cold, clammy hands hugging Brenda’s own body. “But I’m not.”

“Not what?”

“Okay.” The brunette took a deep, sobering breath. “I got shot at and I could’ve been seriously hurt. I can’t talk about it just yet but I am glad that you’re here. Okay?”

Brenda nodded, smiled a little and blinked away the tears in her eyes then she leaned forward, hands squeezing Sharon’s and kissed her. “What can I do?”

Sharon smiled back, freed one hand to caress the little dimple in Brenda’s cheek, said, “Make clam linguine?”

***

Sharon woke up early the next morning. She realized what had woken her was the chill crawling across her skin. Carefully and quietly, she pulled the sheet up over her naked chest.

Beside her, Brenda slept with her mouth open. Sharon blinked and watched, eyes dancing across Brenda’s features. She managed to stifle a laugh as a soft snore escaped Brenda’s lips which she then proceeded to smack in her sleep.

Sharon reached out and touched a loose strand of Brenda’s blonde hair, the wisp gliding through her fingers like silk. Perhaps they could have sex again this morning if she woke Brenda up now? Sharon felt in the mood for it, more so than usual.

Then the cell phone Brenda had put on charge last night and had left on the bedside table started to ring.

Sharon slammed her eyes shut as the blonde turned over, away from her, and reached for the phone.

"Johnson," Brenda half-whispered in the dark bedroom, flinging the covers aside and getting out of bed.

Sharon groaned, rubbing her eyes as Brenda made a beeline for the bathroom, and turned onto her back.

Fantastic.

The light in the bathroom came on, illuminating the bedroom, then she heard Brenda say, "I'll get myself there, Doctor...I'm at Sharon's."

The blonde said it so casually, Sharon wondered whether she had just stopped caring about appearances.

Then Sharon felt the butterflies explode in her stomach, her chest, everywhere, tingles spreading all the way to her toes, to the tips of her hair and fingers; she felt alight with possibilities.

Somebody knew about them, really knew, they were real, they were a reality.

The thought alone took Sharon’s breath away, made her heart beat madly within her chest.

And suddenly, Brenda’s nonchalance felt less disconcerting.

But instead of asking herself the most important question or recognizing what she had known for some time, somewhere deep down, Sharon flung the covers aside and got out of bed.

In the bathroom Brenda’s blurry silhouette leaned against the counter next to the sink, phone still pressed against her ear.

Naked.

“Thank you, Bridget.”

Brenda ended the call, the phone clattering onto the counter, and braced herself against the sink, head bent.

Even without her glasses, Sharon could see how beautiful Brenda was.

Her heart pounded as she watched then Brenda lifted her head, eyes in the mirror then she jumped.

“Sharon!” She turned, all breasts, tousled hair and big, brown eyes.

“Sorry,” Sharon said.

“I’m...” Brenda blinked, “Naked.”

“So I see.” Equally as naked, the brunette pushed away from the door frame.

The blonde chuckled, eyes averted; Sharon could see a blush spreading across her cheeks.

“For heaven’s sakes, Sharon, I really have’ta—I mean, I have’ta get ready.”

She didn’t mean it, Sharon could tell, and besides, the other day, when she had had to leave, Brenda hadn’t minded making her late.

With that thought in mind, and still a little happy? – excited, maybe – that Beaudoin now knew that Section Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson of the FBI had just gotten out of her bed, Sharon took Brenda’s hand, brought it against herself, and said, “How’s that for ready, Chief?”

Brenda’s mouth dropped open, eyebrows high then her lips curled into a grin, “That was terrible.”

“Did it work?” Sharon asked, inching closer to the blonde who couldn’t seem to help herself and looked down through hooded eyes as soon as their breasts touched.

“A little,” Brenda said, then, “A lot.”

Between her legs, amongst the abundance of wet arousal, Sharon felt each and every stroke of Brenda’s fingertips, slow at first then with purpose.

“Ah,” the little sound escaped then Brenda kissed her, an arm around her waist, fingers hard and fast. “Bed,” Sharon mumbled and pushed a little just to get away from those lips. “I wanna do it in bed, Chief.”

Brenda liked when Sharon told her what she wanted, she knew that, and Sharon liked getting it, so it was simple and there was no protest when she pulled Brenda along into the bedroom. The blonde kissed her - they kissed more often lately, and not just during sex.

A kiss goodnight, a kiss goodbye, a kiss just because.

Sharon felt her heart beat faster and faster, Brenda literally took her breath away – what was happening to her? She had always liked sex, had enjoyed it, but this sex, one detail she would never share with Brenda ever, at least not in so much detail, this was quite possibly the best sex she had ever had.

Sharon wondered whether it was this good with other women but since she had started seeing Brenda, she hadn’t slept with anyone else and she felt a little embarrassed by the fact that the blonde was the only woman she had ever slept with.

Obviously, Sharon refused to count her friend from way back when – they had been teenagers, they hadn’t kissed, barely touched; in Sharon’s memory there was only a firm thigh between her legs and an unexpected, sudden orgasm.

“On the bed,” she rasped while Brenda nosed behind her ear, kissed sloppy kisses along her neck as if she herself couldn’t get enough. “Chief Johnson.”

Brenda obliged, sat on the bed, and pulled Sharon along as if she couldn’t bear to let her go. Sharon bit down onto her kiss bruised lip as she straddled Brenda’s lap. Brenda immediately held her close, an arm around Sharon’s waist, steady and safe, and kissed her.

Sharon languished in the kiss, sought out the velvety depths of Brenda’s mouth, gasped when her breast was touched, her nipple squeezed and rolled.

“Ah! Honey, don’t tease!”

“I won’t,” Brenda murmured against her neck. “I promise.”

Brenda’s fingertips squeezed Sharon’s nipple one long, last time – Sharon could have come right then and there but, alas, she didn’t – and trailed south.

Sharon lifted up a little to accommodate Brenda better and gasped as the blonde’s fingertips sought out her clit. She only realized then how wet she truly was, how ready, and instantly hid her face and the spreading blush in Brenda’s soft, blond hair.

“Fuck, Brenda,” Sharon hissed, spread her legs a little more and moved her hips, rubbing herself against the quick, insistent fingertips. “Inside!”

Brenda moaned against her neck, fingertips rubbing faster, needier, while she panted hot and moist against Sharon’s skin.

“I need you inside me, Chief, please!”

Fingers, all warm, slippery and wet, moved towards her entrance – Sharon held very still – and then slipped inside. Against her neck, Brenda groaned and Sharon clenched at the sound.

“Fuck,” she rasped, weaving her fingers through soft, tangled blond hair. “Brenda, honey, please!”

“Oh, Sharon,” the blonde groaned again, as if it was all too much, too good to put into any other words.

“Harder,” she ordered.

Brenda did as she was told, she was good like that, at least in bed, and sometimes, mostly when she missed Brenda or when she craved sex, Sharon wondered about all the things she could possibly get Brenda to do to her.

“I need—I need it to hurt,” she said before she could waste another thought on the matter. Brenda gasped and Sharon held her close; she worried about the look that she’d see on Brenda’s face, the shock, but then—

Brenda pulled out of her and then she was inside of her again, more of her. There was a burn, right there between her legs, a pleasant stretch, a little sting, followed by a sharp stab of pain as Brenda bit down on her collar bone.

Sharon knew then, that Brenda understood but still she said, “I wanna-ah! I wanna feel you inside me, all over me, all day—“

She wanted to say: I need you, I love you, I could have died yesterday.

Instead she said, “Again!”

Brenda bit her neck, sucked and sucked, teeth scraping, and Sharon couldn’t have cared less about the bruise or about yesterday when Flynn had shoved her to the ground or Fritz Howard whom she had started to hate with all her guts.

Because Brenda may very well love her.

Brenda, who made the best clam linguine, picked her up from crime scenes, kissed her in public, bought wine that she liked, ordered duck and not fish, called her, and never said ‘no’ to her.

That Brenda was possibly, very nearly certainly in love with her.

Sharon came with a cry. It hurt a little to come around all those fingers but it was good.

So good, she felt her body go limp.

But Brenda held her close until Sharon felt the mattress beneath her.

Brenda’s touch was gentle, and her kisses less intense, but still sloppy, perhaps even sloppier. Sharon just lay there, taking it, basking in it.

Then she felt a whoosh of cold air and Brenda said, “Oh, heavens! I’m gonna be so late!”

Before Sharon even had the chance to say her piece, Brenda was up and out of bed, dashing into the bathroom.

Thirty seconds later, the shower came on.

Turning onto her side and curling into a pillow, Sharon groaned.

When she finally did manage to get up and into her silk robe, Sharon could feel every single one of Brenda’s fingers inside her. She groaned at her own reflection in the second, much smaller bathroom, touched the bruises on her neck and collar bone, wondering what scarf to wear to work.

They were huge.

But then, she had asked for it.

In the kitchen, she poured coffee. She sacrificed one of her travel mugs with little regret.

When Brenda came into the kitchen, carrying her go-bag, unruly hair tied back into a ponytail and wearing—

“Oh, no!”

--her vintage Bill Blass plaid suit with the offset button.

“I’m only goin’ to Ohio,” Brenda said, dropping her bag and her purse. “What could possibly happen to it there?”

“It’s wool blend.”

“I’m sorry,” Brenda said and smoothed the fabric down. “It’s just that I haven’t picked up the dry cleanin’ and—”

“It’s fine,” Sharon waved her off. “It looks much better on you than it does on me.”

The blonde looked down at herself. “Really?”

“Yeah...and don’t even for a moment think that I couldn’t just claw your eyes out for that.”

“Sorry,” Brenda said, not at all remorseful, then, “And I really didn’t mean to wake you up.”

“It’s fine.”

The blonde grinned at her, all smitten and gloating, then she kissed her, arms around Sharon’s waist. “I can’t say I feel all that bad.”

Sharon chuckled, partly because of Brenda’s teasing tone, and partly because Brenda was nosing behind her ear.

“Did it work?”

“Did what work?” Sharon asked.

“Can you feel me,” Brenda gasped, the sound so distracting, so feeble as she touched Sharon beneath her robe. “Down there?”

“Yes,” Sharon rasped. “I feel you all over.”

“Oh, heavens, Sharon. I’m about ready to explode.”

“You sure you don’t have five more minutes?”

Brenda groaned, kissed Sharon’s neck, all sloppy and hot and heavy, then shook her head. “If I don’t leave in ten seconds they might take off without me.”

“Then go!” Sharon patted Brenda’s back and pushed her away. “Shoo!”

“Okay, I’m leavin’!” The blonde picked up her bag and purse. “How can I be this late?!”

“Here. Coffee.” Sharon pressed the travel mug into a free hand and kissed Brenda’s soft cheek.

“Thanks,” Brenda said. “I’ll call you when I get there.”

It was only much later that Sharon realized what it actually meant.

***

She readjusted her scarf again – in hindsight she should have worn a high-collared blouse, anything, but that scarf.

Julio was looking at her again, smirking.

Andy, steristrips still glued to his forehead, cleared his throat.

She hadn’t been listening. Neither had Julio.

Her cell phone rang.

“Thank god!” Sharon blinked. “I mean, I’m sorry but I have to take this.”

Hell, she was behaving like a lunatic.

Or like somebody who had gotten laid.

Sharon smirked at Sanchez and lifted her phone to her ear, clicking and clacking back to her office.

“Raydor?”

“It’s me.”

Sharon toed the door shut, leaned against the desk and glanced at her wrist watch. “Everything okay?”

“Course,” Brenda said. “It’s just—it’s a circus! Four missin’ women, for heaven’s sakes. I feel like all this unit’s shapin’ up to be is a dumpin’ ground for BAU and Counter Terrorism. They just seem to think they can use my resources to push their own agenda and—”

“Brenda? Are you calling me to complain about your job or is there an actual, pressing matter that requires my input?”

“That was the pressin’ matter.”

Sharon rolled her eyes yet couldn’t help the smile. “Okay.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t call just to complain,” Brenda said, contrite. “How’s your knee? A-and Flynn?”

“Nice try.”

The blonde groaned on the other end. “Fine,” she said, “I did call to complain.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Mhmm,” Sharon nodded. “Now, listen. I know you really wanna hate this job but there is no doubt in my mind that you are exceptional at it.”

“Exceptional? I don’t know ‘bout that...” Brenda mumbled.

“Why don’t you just do what you always do?”

“And what’s that?”

“Use them back.”

Sharon blinked as there was no response forthcoming. “Sorry, did that come—”

“You know what?” Brenda said, interrupting. “That may just be the best advice anyone’s ever given me.”

“What?”

“I gotta go. I’ll call you tonight!”

The line went dead.

Five days later, Sharon woke up to a faint light spilling into her bedroom. She startled but, squinting at the door, she recognized Brenda’s dark silhouette in the doorway.

It was three in the morning.

Sharon slumped back onto the bed while Brenda undressed. The mattress dipped, the covers moved and rustled, and then she had a slightly cold, naked Brenda pressed against her side.

She should have realized it then but as Brenda’s body warmed up, Sharon became aware of kisses, touches, of thighs, breasts and lips pressed against her, fingers on the buttons of her teal-colored silk pyjamas.

When Brenda kissed her, she tasted mint and salt, as if Brenda had gone home, to her hotel room, had brushed her teeth and gone to bed to cry.

“Not like this,” Sharon said, because she didn’t know what this was.

Brenda stopped, still above her but for the rapid heaving of her chest, her head cradled between Sharon’s breasts. Sharon rubbed her silk clad legs against naked hips, comforting, running her hand through silky hair.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes,” Brenda said very quietly and sat up between Sharon’s thighs. “I am now.”

She didn’t know how to take that. Was it one of Brenda’s many traps, one of her many deflections or was it, as Brenda had said, something Sharon didn’t really want to hear yet the simple truth.

“Do you...”

“Do I what?” She looked up at Brenda but her face was cast in darkness yet Sharon felt the eerie intensity of Brenda’s brown-eyed gaze upon her. “What is it?”

“Do you still feel the same? Love, I mean? Do you still love me?”

“I do,” Sharon said after a moment’s hesitation. “I love you. Very much.”

She waited after that, hoping Brenda didn’t catch her eyes welling up. Sharon wanted to hear it then, wanted Brenda to say it but the silence stretched on for a very long time, so long, until it felt stifling.

Brenda wouldn’t say it back, that became clear, but Sharon refused to spill a single tear over it.

The silence was broken by a sharp, desperate exhale, by rapid breaths and, though Sharon couldn’t see her face, she knew that Brenda was crying.

Over what, or why, Sharon didn’t know.

After a few more deep breaths, Brenda’s dark silhouette moved, pulled at her pyjama pants and underwear with hot, hot hands, and Sharon let her take them off even though she wasn’t sure whether she was in the mood for sex.

Brenda stilled again, looking down at her, hands splayed across Sharon’s thighs.

“Brenda? What—”

“You’re so beautiful.”

Sharon blinked. “Oh.”

The silhouette moved again, slowly, and Sharon caught a glimpse of blonde hair, of dark eyes and lips, but in a flash they were gone, had disappeared between her thighs.

And then Brenda proceeded to eat her way through two orgasms, fast approaching a third.

“Oh, god!” She said, and came again.

Afterwards, Brenda lay on top of her, face buried in Sharon’s hair, naked, cradled between her thighs.

Sharon tried to catch her breath, touched Brenda’s warm, damp back. “Brenda?” She pushed a little. “Honey?”

The blonde slid off of her, onto her back, sheets tucked to her waist. Sharon looked down at her, and Brenda looked up at her, questioning.

“What happened out there?” Sharon asked tentatively.

“Nothin’,” Brenda said. “Nothin’ happened.” The blonde sniffed, her eyes cloudy and teary. “Everythin’ went perfectly fine in the end..once I took your advice. And stopped interferin’.”

Sharon snorted, she couldn’t help it, but sobered quickly. “I’m sorry,” she said as Brenda wiped away her tears, then, “Tell me,” because she was sick and tired of not asking, of not knowing, of sharing yet not receiving.

Brenda wasn’t startled or scared, just still, collecting her thoughts, as if she had been waiting to be asked.

Sharon felt a little sick with the realization.

“I’m just havin’ a hard time changin’, is all.”

“Oh?” She enquired dumbly.

“Yes,” Brenda said, sighing. “This job, it’s not what I thought it was gonna be...or maybe it’s just not what I want it to be, I guess...”

Sharon blinked, shifted so she didn’t quite loom so much over the blonde and gently stroked her naked tummy. “But?”

“If I could give this supposed promotion back, I would.” Fresh tears sprang forth, quickly wiped away.

“Oh, honey...”

“Bridget’s good, she’s chosen all these people, she’s built this thing, and I just keep seein’ myself, seven years back, but I’m not that person anymore. I’m not even who I was three months ago...”

Sharon swallowed, at a loss; there were no words of comfort to be said. Instead she asked, “Who are you now?”

At that, the blonde shrugged childishly. “I don’t know.” Brenda sighed again, the tears had stopped, and she looked up, past Sharon, at the ceiling. “I’ve realized I’m not the Chief anymore, she’s gone. ‘N I don’t know what else to be.”

“Because you were the Chief for so long.” Sharon brushed a wisp of blonde hair aside. “What about Brenda?”

The blonde blinked slowly, eyes refocusing up at Sharon. “I don’t know where she’s gone.”

“Well,” Sharon quipped, “I’m looking right at her.”

Brenda smiled a little, her hand finding Sharon’s under the sheets, intertwining their fingers. “What do you see?”

What did she see?

“Just somebody brilliant.”

“I take brilliant but is that the best you can do?”

No, Sharon thought, no, it wasn’t. She looked down into Brenda’s big, nearly black eyes, red-rimmed and beautiful, a face full of nearly given-up hope. “I see a heart too heavy to carry.”

Brenda stared up at her with a deep frown, sad, weary, as she toyed with Sharon’s hand. “Maybe it’s just too heavy to carry all on my own...”

Sharon blinked, confused, questions bubbling up inside. “Brenda—”

“Hold me?” The blonde interrupted before anything else could be said, and turned away.

“Of course,” Sharon said and lay down behind her. “Night...”

“Night.”

***

Finally, the next day, when the blonde mumbled sleepily, “I’m goin’ to Atlanta for Thanksgivin’,” and Sharon felt a pang of sadness and thought, ‘maybe after Christmas,’ she realized what was happening.

From the doorway of her bedroom, Sharon watched Brenda sleep off the past gruelling days. Her own mind went back to that morning, to: “I’m at Sharon’s.”

To: “I’ll call you when I get there.”

To Brenda’s silhouette in the doorway.

After Christmas, just in case the answer was ‘no’.

Sharon allowed herself to finish the thought.

After Christmas, I will ask Brenda to leave her husband.