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Confessions of a Perfectionist

Chapter Text

7 weeks before breakdown

 

"So, in other news Frost thinks he has a secret admirer. Someone left him flowers in the reception. He asked me to pass them on to you."

The woman seated next to the hospital bed smiled and gave a small wiggle with her shoulders.

"Whether he thereby qualifies as a true gentleman or merely someone too lazy to buy fresh flowers, I am not entirely sure… However, I'm fairly certain the 'admirer' is someone from narcotics pulling his foot. I mean, honestly – pink lilies? You would have welcomed a gift like that with one of your Rizzoli eye rolls."

The woman chuckled a little. The soft and rich sound seemed oddly misplaced among the glaring digital displays and sharp angles of the ICU. She was leaning against the bed, her left arm draped across the metal rack, its fingers gently brushing against the unresponsive hand beneath it.

The contrast between the owners of the respective hands would seem striking to any nurse passing through:

The woman in the chair was light, freckled, and impeccably dressed in an outfit that presupposed money without flaunting it. The woman in the bed was dark-haired with an olive tan and presently clad in a hospital gown.

The woman in the chair was petite with soft, sensual features and form, and her skin was unmarked by life. The woman in the bed had visible scars on her hands, and more scars could be found on the tall, lanky body currently obscured by a white blanket.

The woman in the chair was full of life; her lips were curved in a smile, her fingers fidgeting, and her voice raising and falling in a complicated pattern. The woman in the bed was dead still; even her breath had been stolen by a machine, and her immobile body was penetrated by tubes of all colours.

The contrast would seem striking to anyone passing through indeed – unless they took the time to stop and watch the pair for a moment, perhaps while adjusting the IV or the cooling fluids or the blood bag or the catheter or any of the many monitors. In that case they might pay closer attention and realise that the lively lightness of the seated woman was contradicted by the look in her eyes.

Dr. Maura Isles was, in spite of her title, not visiting in any professional capacity. She was here as the colleague and best friend of Detective Jane Rizzoli, who had been badly injured in the line of duty and was currently kept in a coma to prevent brain damage. For once her flair for science was useless; her job was merely to keep her friend company, to believe in a positive outcome and the chance that her presence somehow made a difference.

She owed that to her friend; her friend, who had been nothing but selfless taking a bullet to save her own brother. Now Jane needed Maura to be selfless, as her inner monologue kept reminding her. Jane had been shot, not Maura. Jane had lost part of her intestine and more blood than should be humanly possible, not Maura. Jane's heart had momentarily stopped, not Maura's.

And so, logically, Maura had no reason nor right to be exhausted, to be hurting, to be desperately clinging on to life's edge. And yet anyone bothering to really look into the doctor's hazel eyes could tell she was, even as she casually relayed the events of the day.

She did such a good job of keeping her tone cheerful and her words optimistic that few would have guessed she found the task much harder than any emergency surgery she'd ever taken part in, including the one she'd performed on Jane's brother a few days earlier.

He'd pulled through thanks to her and to his sister's bravery. Jane, on the other hand, had been touch and go for a while. Prospects were looking better now, her blood pressure was going up and her vitals getting more stable, and the initial fear of her never waking up again was slowly subsiding.

Maura had explained that to the Rizzoli family just a few hours earlier, and now she was repeating the good news to her silent friend.

Since the shooting, she had taken it upon herself to act as the link between Jane's parents and the hospital staff, translating medical lingo into regular English and offering as much emotional support as she possibly could. Of course Angela and Frank were devastated to find two of their children in the ICU, and the hospital staff was often too busy to deal with their anxiety in a proper way.

Also, Maura felt she kind of owed it to them… They had practically accepted her as part of the family and not once questioned her right to be at Jane's bedside, even though she was merely their daughter's friend.

Maura shook her head at the thought and its accompanying burst of melancholy – it was taking her down a track she had repeatedly found herself on during these late night monologues in Jane's company. A wrong track, a dangerous one, and she quickly re-focused on more constructive matters.

"So all things considered you should be out of your coma by the end of the week, at the very latest. In fact you could be out of here in less than three weeks, barring all complications. And I see no reasons why any complications should occur. You're young, you're healthy, and you're the most stubborn fighter I've ever come across."

She laughed lightly again.

"I know you think I'm the bossy one, but I beg to differ. Although I suppose labeling you when you are, for once, unable to verbally object would count as being somewhat bossy…"

The ability to simply shut down one thought and pick another was something Maura had disciplined her mind to at an early age. A necessary survival strategy for someone who repeatedly found herself frowned upon by peers in middle through medical school, at work, and in many social settings. With so many eyes and lips deeming her a nerd, an outsider, or even a freak, the most sensible thing had been to shut them out and spend all her energy on science. Her filter came in handy in situations like these, drowning out noisy surroundings and thoughts.

However, lately the filter was failing.

Even now, as she smiled at her friend and finally fully grasped her hand, fingertips in palm and thumb gently stroking its back. She was smiling and chatting pleasantly, but it took a constant conscious effort to keep darker words at bay.

It was probably the lack of sleep – she'd spent most of the past nights by Jane's side, after Angela and Frank senior had gone home – and the crazy hours she'd been running as the Chief Medical Examiner at the Boston Police Department. The station was a mess after the shooting. Normally, Maura enjoyed going to work, felt revitalized by it even, which was probably one of the reasons she'd earned the title Queen of the Dead. But these days the air was heavy and draining, and everyone tip-toed around the cops who had lost or nearly lost a colleague close to them.

"Everyone really misses you at the station. Frost and Korsak in particular, as you can probably imagine. I think Korsak thinks of you more or less as a daughter. And Frost, well… He admires you as much as Frankie does. They ask about you all the time."

It was true. Even her morgue was no longer a sanctum. Frost and Korsak, Jane's current and former partner, kept coming up with excuses to stop by in spite of Frost's weak stomach for dead bodies. They'd ask about cases or bring paperwork, but she knew they were really looking for updates on Jane's well-being, assurances backed up by medical science, and she did her best to offer it and not let any of her own gnawing worries show. After all, they were good men who had her best friend's back and even accepted Maura as 'one of the guys'. This was a privilege the doctor had rarely had in life, and she would of course offer any support she could in return.

"Actually, they're a mess without you. We all are, Jane."

There it was again. The filter slipping just a little, allowing a hint of undisguised despair to slip out before Maura could manage to bite her own tongue. Jane didn't need this guilt-tripping; she had enough on her plate already.

Maura squeezed her eyes shut for a moment and pressed her free hand against her forehead, trying to will the filter back in place, but failing. She tried to focus on Jane-on-the-way-to-recovery, Jane-being-just-fine, Jane-needing-someone-to-believe-she-would-be-just-fine, but the sound of the heart monitor, the much too regular breathing, and the rushed footsteps in the hallway sneaked past Maura's mental barriers. And when she opened her eyes she saw the tubes, the white sheets, the paleness of her friend's cheeks.

This was not the Jane she knew, and even though she'd probably wake up again, no one could say for sure if she'd still be quite the same. The MRI showed no visible brain damage, but her heart had stopped for more than a minute, and she looked so small and frail in the hospital bed.

As she had done so often, Maura gave her friend's hand a squeeze, and although the lack of response should come as no surprise, the doctor felt it like a fist pounding the air out of her lungs and pushing tears to her eyes. She tried staring hard at the ceiling, willing them to dry up there and then, before she let her now burning eyes graze her friend's features, her curly hair and elegant angular cheekbones.

She's so beautiful. Even now, even like this. A Sleeping Beauty right out of Grimm's, just waiting to be awakened.
Only that tube would obstruct any magical kiss.

This alarmed the doctor for half a second, before she came back to her regular sensible self, who was fully aware that fairytales are exactly that. In the real world, kisses don't heal.

Yet, they don't hurt either, and suddenly, without thinking, Maura found herself pressing her lips against the back of Jane's hand in an almost chivalrous fashion, if only she hadn't lingered a moment too long.

The hand was warm and still smelled like Jane, and Maura found a strange consolation in the intimate connection. Jane was still here. She was still with her. And the taste of her skin remained on Maura's lips after she put it down, keeping it between both of hers.

And just like that, the glimpse of relief was replaced with an almost overwhelming sadness, as Maura realised what she'd just done.

She had kissed Jane for the very first time, and Jane didn't even know. Might not ever know. All Maura was feeling for her friend, everything she'd never told her, never showed her, might never reach her now. And these past days had forced Maura to realise just how much had been left unsaid.

The doctor was tearing up again, but this time didn't realise until it was too late to do anything about it. Her filter was giving in completely now, and she could either leave Jane or let it happen.

She probably doesn't even hear me. And if she does, it's unlikely she'll remember any of my words.
Maybe I should let go, just this once. When she wakes up I promise to be there for her and never burden her with any of my ridiculous concerns. But just this once, just for a moment…

And so, for practically the first time in her adult life, Maura Isles let her mask fall. However, she still did it as gracefully and composed as she possibly could.

"What you did, Janie…"

Maura paused as she heard the term of endearment simply fall out of her mouth, then shook her head lightly at her own hesitation. For once it didn't matter.

"It was deeply courageous and incredibly reckless. I've often been concerned about your safety… I've never told you, because I'd never want you to feel guilty about a job you love and excel at."

Even now it felt like such a selfish admission that, although they were closed, Maura couldn't look her friend in the eyes. So instead she focused solely on the hand between hers.

"But I have worried about you. About Hoyt targeting you again, about his apprentices, even the ordinary thugs you deal with every day. And I've done my best to assist you, to protect you against all of them. But I couldn't protect you against yourself."

Her voice cracked at the last sentence, and the otherwise eloquent doctor clenched her teeth in frustration of her own lack of verbal control.

"Dammit!" she nearly spat out, then leaned her forehead against the cool metal bed railing.

"You shot yourself," she whispered, eyes closed. "Right in front of me. I watched you fall and bleed and die right in front of me, and there was nothing I could do to prevent any of it. You just left me, and if you don't come back…"

She squeezed her friend's hand, clung to it fiercely as if she were clinging on to Jane's very existence.

"You just have to. You hear me? There are so many things I never told you…"

She sighed, trying to put her thoughts in something resembling order.

"My feelings for you – I've had them for a while, I think, possibly all along. Only I didn't know their full extent until I watched you fall. I swear, I never purposely deceived you. And I would never hurt you. That's why I won't ever burden you with this, because I know it's not an option for you..."

Maura beat her head against the railing, annoyed with her own vagueness. Even now, even with her friend in a coma, she couldn't just come out and say it. Why couldn't she just say it? She took a few deep breaths and sat up straight and properly posed, trying to instill a bit of yoga calmness in herself. Her voice, however, was thick and shaky when she finally spoke.

"I love you, Jane. As my best friend and as so much more. But it doesn't matter, I know you could never feel the same, and I promise I'll handle that. I'll never even tell you this to your conscious face. But I can't handle not having you in my life at all. I just… can't."

Tears were falling freely now, and Maura no longer tried to stop them.

"Please come back, Janie. I'll do anything."

A small melancholic smile formed on her lips. "Anything you want, I'll get it," she stated gently, quoting Jane's own words back to her.

No more words seemed to come, and after a while her tears began to dry up as well. Maura had said what needed to be said, and there was nothing left for her to do other than wait. As she had done for days that already felt like months. She blinked slowly a few times, while caressing her friend's long, slender fingers.

Somewhere in the distance a call button was pressed. Doors opened and closed. The heart monitor beeped continuously, the ventilator pump raised and fell. A car or several cars hummed outside the window.

But Jane remained quiet, immobile; an Italian Snow White in a sea of grey. Slowly, but determinedly, Maura got up from her chair, lowered the bed railing, and – without ever letting go of her friend's hand – carefully lay down beside her.

Chapter Text

6 weeks before breakdown

 

"Maur, thank God you're here!"

The doctor couldn't suppress her bright almost goofy smile as she closed the hospital door behind her, and the remains of another long and trying day at work seemed to fade instantly.

Even though Jane had been awake and alert for more than a week now, the sound of her husky and currently annoyed voice still made Maura's chest tense and flood with relief at the same time.

Jane was back, in her old, impatient self; but Maura had so very nearly lost her for good.

They still hadn't discussed it, and probably shouldn't anytime soon, if ever. Jane needed to rest in order to heal. And right now she needed a break from her loving, if somewhat trying mother.

As Maura neatly folded and disposed of her jacket, replaced the dry tulips with fresh ones and put a large paper bag down on the small table next to Jane's bed, her friend was going into one of her typical rambles.

"I swear to God, Ma is going to be the death of me… Even in here she won't lay off with her matchmaking attempts!"

Angela Rizzoli was so used to her daughter's temper she didn't even blink at the outburst. "Oh no, honey – you'll be the death of yourself, I think you've made that clear to everyone by now. That's why I'm trying to help you find someone nice to look after you."

"Ma, I don't need to be looked after! Tell her, Maura."

Maura, burdened by her ability to see things from more than one perspective and also reluctant to get caught in the Rizzoli crossfire, nervously shifted her weight from one stiletto-clad foot to the other.

"Well, at the moment you do need someone to take care of you, but they could merely do so in a professional capacity…"

"Exactly!" Jane pointed accusingly at her mother. "Dr. Hanson is just that; a professional. I can't believe you were trying to set me up with him! It's so inappropriate not to mention embarrassing."

"But Janie, I always wanted you to date a doctor," Angela insisted.

A doctor.

Before a blush could find its way to Maura's pale cheeks she quickly turned away and busied herself with the paper bag. One by one she brought out neatly organised plastic containers with healthy, nutritious foods which she had carefully prepared in her own kitchen.

With all the hearings and legal repercussions following the shooting at the station Maura was hard pressed for time. She was doing her best to personally fend off Cavanaugh, a bunch of legal reps and a whole army of reporters to make sure Jane got the peace she needed right now.

But she had still taken the time to prepare a proper meal for Jane, so her friend wouldn't have to depend on the mass-produced hospital food, which – according to many studies – did not exactly speed up recovery. She hoped Jane would prefer her homemade food, too.

Even with her back turned, she could sense how Jane was rolling her eyes.

"I know you have, Ma. You've mentioned it a trazillion times. Anyway that's not the point. The point is you should get your nose out of my love life or lack of or whatever!"

Before Angela could reply, Maura chose to take some fruit to the bathroom to wash it properly. When she returned, Angela was gone, but Jane was still visibly frustrated. Bed-bound and unable to pace, all her built-up energy seemed to end in her hands. They fidgeted constantly; clasping metal railings, pulling at strands of hair, poking linen and teeth.

Maura wanted to grasp them, to still them and soak the uneasiness out of her friend. But given the sensitive topic of the conversation which had set Jane off, she decided not to. Laughing off stories about dating would be so much harder if she held her friend's hands in hers.

Instead she pulled a chair up to Jane and arranged the food on plates. Proper plates, not the sterile hospital equipment; Jane had plenty of that around her already.

"No cheese fries?" Jane pouted. Then the pout became a wince. "Please tell me that isn't liver..?"

"I'm sorry, Jane, but since you hate being hospitalized, I took the liberty of choosing a diet that would speed up your recovery. The liver provides plenty of iron, which is essential given your blood loss. Also, the liver – and the carrots and spinach – contains A-vitamins, which along with zinc…" Maura indicated some prawns and oysters, "…improve the healing of wounds."

She tried to keep her tone cheerful, but couldn't keep her shoulders from sinking a little. She had really tried to make the food as appealing as possible. She'd even prepared a small dessert: An aesthetically pleasing fruit salad made from fresh strawberries, oranges and kiwis – all full of C-vitamins – and topped with chopped nuts for protein and blackstrap molasses for iron.

Apparently Jane noticed, because she quickly said: "I know, Maur. And thank you. It does look delicious."

Maura was grateful for the assurance, but felt a tinge of guilt due to the fact that Jane had found it necessary. Jane shouldn't have to comfort her; she should focus on getting well. And surely she was in her full right to complain a little. She had been shot, after all. Maura, on the other hand, ought to pull herself together.

And so she did, sending her friend a dazzling smile that almost reached her eyes, as she handed Jane a napkin. While Jane pushed a corner of it into her neckline, choosing to wear the napkin as a bib, Maura placed her own napkin neatly in her lap and straightened out all wrinkles with her palm.

"So, what have you been up to today?" she tried cheerfully.

She had made the mistake of talking too much about Jane's condition early on and wouldn't make it again. Jane had thrown a minor tantrum, pointing out that she had plenty of people treating her like 'a thing' all day; that she wasn't one of Maura's dead bodies, but a living, sociable person; that she didn't need another doctor, but a friend.

The outburst might have seemed somewhat out of proportion to an outside observer, but Maura knew she'd deserved it. After all, her medical approach had selfish reasons. It was simply easier for her to deal with a gunshot wound professionally than to deal with Jane. Not just the fact that she had almost died. Also the fact that she hadn't. There were things Maura hadn't told her, things she'd only realised when her friend was dying. And because Jane had lived, Maura now had to guard herself constantly to make sure nothing unintentionally slipped from her.

The topic of discussion Jane chose for the evening did not make things any easier.

"The usual. Blood transfusions, tests, physical therapy. Four episodes of Days of Our Lives. Oh, and then Ma chose to pull another one of her set-up stunts on me. Can you believe that woman!"

Jane spoke around a mouthful of spinach and gestured to herself with the fork in her left hand. "I mean, just look at me! Not exactly dressed to kill, am I."

"I admit white isn't the best colour on you, but even a hospital gown can't hide the fact that you're gorgeous," Maura said as casually as she could.

She had called Jane gorgeous to her face before; there was nothing new or sensational about it. Only this time, with her new awareness of how she actually felt about her friend, the compliment felt less serene. In fact, she felt almost deceitful and carefully avoided Jane's gaze.

"Hardly, but thanks for trying to cheer me up." Jane sighed, then after a slight pause added: "Anyway, I know he'd disappoint."

Recognizing the growing smirk on her friend's face as an invitation Maura asked: "How do you know?"

"Been there, done that," Jane said with a shrug. Then, prompted by Maura's widened eyes, she quickly added: "Not this particular guy, but someone his spitting image."

She scraped the remaining spinach salad off her plate and licked the fork clean. Apparently she did like the food, after all. "He looks just like the first guy I was ever 'with' with, except he's about twenty-five years older."

"He's not that old," Maura protested. "He has almost no wrinkles on his forehead or in the suborbicularis area, so unless he had a rhytidectomy, which I find highly unlikely, I would say he is no more than thirty-nine."

"Like I said, twenty-five years older."

A piece of strawberry never reached Maura's mouth, as her hand froze mid-air. "The first person you had sexual intercourse with was fourteen years old?"

"We both were." Jane shrugged. "Don't ever tell Ma, though, I'm pretty sure she thinks I saved it until after high school, at the very least. She'd kill me if she knew what went on at those Sunday school camps!"

"Well, fourteen is quite young," Maura said. "According to the Guttmacher Institute's research, on average contemporary American teens have sex for the first time at the age of 17."

"Yeah, well, I kind of just wanted it over with. Wanted to know what the big deal was about." She laughed lightly. "Of course, that particular experience sure didn't shed much light on the mystery! Guess first times are rarely what they're made up to be."

Maura didn't say anything, nor did she look up from her fruit salad, but she could feel Jane's curious gaze caress the side of her face. She feared the question even before it was uttered aloud.

You don't want to know, Jane. And I don't want you to, either.

"Why, how old were you?" Jane asked.

"How old was I when what?" Maura tried lightly, before she stuffed her mouth with salad in a highly un-classy and un-Maura-like way. The chewing would buy her some time, and if she stalled enough, perhaps Jane would let it go.

Wishful thinking, Maura, she never does…

"The first time you had sex," Jane pressed on.

Maura pointed to her still full mouth while she desperately thought of ways to throw Jane off track. She had always omitted certain details about her sexual history. Bringing them to light now would surely make it much harder to hide how she really felt about her friend.

Yet she couldn't lie – if she did, she would hyperventilate, and Jane would see right through her. But perhaps she could answer a slightly different question than the one Jane thought she was asking.

"Define sex," Maura finally said, once she was able to speak again.

Jane arched an eyebrow. "Come on, Maur, you don't want me to go all graphic, do you? You know what I mean."

Maura shrugged in what she hoped seemed a casual way. "I don't see how I could. The definitions of first time sex depend largely on historical and cultural context. In the Middle East, for instance, where an unripped hymen is of the utmost importance upon the entering of a marriage, many young people experiment with anal intercourse first and do not consider it actual sex. Similarly, many Americans do not feel oral sex counts, except when exchanged between women."

During Maura's ramble, Jane's other eyebrow had joined the first. "Geez, Maura, you saying you started out that adventurous?"

"Not at all. I'm merely saying definitions of first time experiences vary. You need to clarify."

Maura gathered their plates and took them to the adjoining bathroom to rinse them. She left the door standing ajar, even though she was momentarily tempted to efficiently cut the conversation short.

"Okay…" Jane let out a breath, presumably trying not to let Maura's need for accuracy get to her. "Well, then use whatever definition seems right to you. When did you feel you weren't a virgin anymore?"

Maura winced. The emphasis on 'you' and 'feel' was slight, but enough to get the point across. Maura had hoped Jane would simply stick with seventh grade biology book definitions of vaginal intercourse. But instead, she was asking for a subjective, personal response. It couldn't possibly get any worse.

"Um, okay. I was twenty," she said from the bathroom.

"Garret?" Jane wondered aloud. At least she wasn't commenting on Maura's somewhat late debut, perhaps intuitively sensing that it had, at one point, been a sore spot.

"No, I was nearly twenty-one when I started seeing Garret."

There were only a few plates and little cutlery, but Maura took her time and remained shielded from Jane's gaze by the bathroom wall. From the other room Maura could hear a crunching noise that sounded suspiciously like potato chips being chewed. When she returned, however, Jane's hands were both empty and fully visible on top of the blanket.

I'll have to check her drawers later…

"Well, who was he, then?" Jane asked impatiently.

"My roommate at university." Maura kept her eyes on the plates in her hands as she put them away.

"Really? I thought men and women weren't allowed to…" Jane's voice suddenly trailed off. "Oh."

Maura didn't look up. She didn't need to analyse her friend's facial muscles to recognize the surprise; it was evident in Jane's voice. The question was – what would it lead to? Disgust, once the implications had fully sunk in? A sense of betrayal, because Maura had kept a vital piece of information about herself from her best friend? Shock, because Jane's closest confidant suddenly seemed like a stranger?

As it turned out, neither.

"Was it good?" Jane simply asked, and this time Maura was the one caught by surprise.

She had not expected that particular reaction; it represented a chink in what Maura considered a regular pattern, and she needed visual cues to interpret it. And in order to do so she had to meet her friend's gaze.

Jane didn't appear tense in any way. Her breathing was normal, her pupils not dilated. Her surprise at Maura's revelation had vaporised remarkably quickly – if it had been there at all. Rather, her slight head tilt and the ghost of a smile indicated that she was genuinely curious, but completely at ease.

"Well, statistically speaking same-sex couples have more satisfying sex lives than their heterosexual counterparts. Alfred Kinsey noted this as early as 1953. In his studies on Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female he found that 78% of women had orgasms in 60%-100% of sexual encounters with other women, compared to only 55% for heterosexual sex. Similar studies published in Journal of Sex Research in 2006 found that 76% of women who slept with women reached orgasm, compared to only 69% of those who slept with men."

Maura shook her hair lightly and smiled as she once again took a seat next to Jane's bed. She always felt a little proud when her eidetic memory proved useful, and this time the implicit deflection of Jane's question was an added bonus.

Unfortunately, Jane was too familiar with Maura's technique and broke into a full-on Rizzoli grin. "Your vast knowledge on the topic is impressive, but I asked if you had a good first time experience."

Maura shifted nervously. "I don't see how I could possibly answer that without any objectively defined evaluation criteria…"

"Well, did it last more than five minutes, and did she not only care about getting herself off?"

Maura swallowed. "As Master & Johnson's studies have documented, same-sex couples are more likely to lavish attention on the entire body, not just genitals, and to pay closer attention to their partner's pleasure and in fact get their own arousal from it..."

In spite of her scientific approach Maura could feel a blush crawling up her neck and rapidly spreading across her cheeks. "Also, encounters between women tend to last longer, since women – unlike men, who enter a refractory period after an orgasm – may be able to repeat the cycle almost immediately."

Jane shook her head, but chuckled lightly. "I won't get a straight answer from you, will I? But I'll take that as a yes."

At the word 'straight' Maura's head and shoulders sunk half an inch, and although the unintended pun seemed to fly right past her friend, Maura's unease didn't.

A gentle hand on her elbow balanced out the teasing tone in Jane's voice, as she said: "I'd heard about the term 'Gay Until Graduation', but never figured it'd apply to you."

Slender fingers gave Maura a small squeeze, and she released a breath she hadn't been aware of holding back.

Thank God, she's still willing to touch me. Then perhaps nothing has to change.

"Well, I'm not sure it did."

The moment the words left her mouth, Maura realised her mistake. She'd let herself relax for a moment, and they'd slipped. Her eyes automatically searched for something to do, some distraction, an escape – but all boxes and dishes were neatly put away, and Angela had tidied up the room earlier. Besides, Jane still held on to her arm. She was trapped and suddenly felt claustrophobic in spite of the white walls and bright lamps.

Jane, ever the skilled interrogator, cut right to the chase. "Which part didn't apply, Maur? The 'gay' or the 'until graduation'?"

"I… You know, that's…" Maura's eyes still couldn't find anything to rest on, and for a second she wondered if perhaps the room was actually moving, although this was of course impossible. She squeezed her eyes closed as a wave of dizziness suddenly washed over her.

In that moment, her phone rang. The interruption gave her a welcome excuse to withdraw her arm and get up from her chair to reach into her purse on the floor.

"Dr. Maura Isles," she answered automatically in a voice that suddenly seemed unfamiliar to her. Not just as if it belonged to someone else, but as if the name was spoken from far away.

"Maura, I'm glad I caught you." Ever the arrogant leader, Cavanaugh apparently didn't find it necessary to introduce himself. "Are you with Jane at the moment?"

"Why, how may I help you, sir?" Maura countered, not wanting Jane to get involved.

"There's still a couple of unresolved questions regarding the shooting, and if Jane could come to the phone-"

"I'll come by in the morning and resolve the matter personally. I'll talk to any reporter, any legal or management representative," she replied with authoritative finality in her voice.

Fortunately her boss couldn't see the way she was rubbing her hand against her eyes and temple. The room really was spinning. "I'll write a second, more detailed report, if the first one isn't satisfactory."

"The thing is, I've been asked to go on the news in the morning," Cavanaugh said.

"Well, then I'll have the report on your desk before then. I'll write it tonight."

Tonight… Because of all her extra tasks she already had three days of ordinary paperwork to catch up on, and she didn't want to leave Jane to herself all evening. Then there was Jo and Bass. And the medical insurance papers she'd promised to help translate to the Rizzoli family.

"That's great, Dr. Isles. See you then, and send my regards to Jane. Bye."

Maura lowered her phone and stared at it as if it were some extraterrestrial object she'd just picked up. She blinked, suddenly unable to decide or remember whether she was about to put it down or pick it up. All she could really think of was the nausea, which was now accompanied by a racing pulse. It almost echoed in her head.

"Maura? Maur? Hey, are you okay?"

Jane's nearest hand found hers and she was pulled out of her near-catatonic state.

"Is Cavanaugh giving you a hard time? If he is, then tell me, and I'll kick his ass."

There was no doubt Jane meant it, even if she was currently hooked up to an IV. Her concerned yet steel-hard expression indicated she'd find a way.

"I'm… No, it's okay, I'm just a little dizzy…" Maura let herself be guided back down on the chair. She even let Jane keep her hand in hers. She was too shaken to think to let go.

"Perhaps you're dehydrated? Have you had enough to drink?" Jane caressed the back of her hand with her thumb.

Maura shook her head slowly as she tried to calm her body down. "No, I think… I think I'm probably just tired. My sleep pattern has been somewhat disrupted lately." She immediately felt guilty for admitting it. Jane might worry unnecessary, or worse: blame herself for Maura's lack of sleep and feel like a burden.

For a while, Jane said nothing. She merely studied Maura with an unreadable expression, as she continued stroking her hand gently. Then she let go and patted the railing, then patted the spot next to her on the mattress as Maura understood the implied request and removed the metal barrier between them.

"You should lie down for a bit," Jane said.

Maura hesitated, but not for more than a heartbeat. It was still so loud she couldn't really think of anything else. So she obeyed and joined Jane on the bed, but did make sure to stay on top of the covers and not on any part of Jane.

Once they were both settled, Jane quickly found her hand again. And after a few minutes – as the dizziness had faded – Maura also felt soft, unruly curls resting against her temple. Even if Maura wouldn't fall asleep until late, if at all, at least Jane had. Her feather-light breath tickled Maura's neck and left goosebumps in its track, and the heat from the sleep-limp arm draped across Maura's thigh was spreading like rippled water. There was no way Maura's pulse would return to normal anytime soon.

Chapter Text

25 days before breakdown

 

"Perhaps he didn't mean it quite as literally, Angela." Maura had to hold her cell phone between shoulder and cheek while balancing the shopping bag on her left thigh in order to get the trunk of her car opened. Fortunately years of ballet training had paid off. "Since the shooting you've both been under tremendous stress, which can easily affect the ability to think clearly."

"But the thing is, he…" The woman at the other end of the phone sighed. "It sounded like it was something he'd considered for a while."

"Are you certain?" Maura managed to get herself seated behind the wheel and strapped in, but she didn't turn the keys. Too many traffic accidents could be traced back to cell phone conversations.

"I am. Maura, he wants a divorce."

Maura could tell by Angela's hitched breathing that she was on the verge of tears. Unable to physically reach out to the older woman she tried her best to soothe her with her voice instead. "I'm really sorry, Angela, I cannot imagine how hard that must be on you. If there is anything I can do to help, don't hesitate to ask. I can stop by later, if you'd like me to."

At the other end, Angela sniffed. "Thank you, sweetie, but I know tonight's about getting Jane settled in. Maybe we could talk tomorrow."

"Absolutely." Maura didn't nod. She was one of the few people who never gestured when on the phone. It seemed too irrational. "I can take you out to lunch, if you'd like."

"Thank you, that's very kind of you." Angela became silent, indicating the conversation was coming to an end. Then, just as Maura was about to say goodbye, she hurriedly pleaded: "Maura, promise not to mention this to Jane."

An almost invisible smile grazed Maura's lips. Jane might think her mother was the most inconsiderate and intruding woman on earth, but over the course of the past few weeks Maura had gotten to know a very caring side of Angela. One which Maura's own parents lacked. "Of course I won't. You should be the one to tell her – when and if the time comes," Maura assured her.

She remained frozen in her seat for a beat after having put her phone away. The steering wheel felt cool in her hands; the chill seeped through her expensive gloves, and she felt tempted to lean her head against it.

So Jane's father was leaving her mother.

This was not what Jane needed right now. The hospital had only agreed to release her early because Maura had promised to take care of her. She would stay with a Harvard-educated M.D., not in an empty apartment or crammed up with her parents and a recovering Frankie. However, Jane was by no means well. If she heard of her parents' problems it would certainly set off her protective side. She would step in and take care of her mother, whether she had the physical strength for it or not. Maura couldn't let that happen, but she couldn't live with leaving Jane in the dark about her mother needing help either.

There was only one solution: Maura would have to provide the support and assistance, which Jane was temporarily unfit to give and unaware of the need for. Taking on the role of the diplomat should be simpler for Maura anyway, because she was less emotionally involved. Or at least less biologically involved. It was all perfectly logical, and so Maura had immediately offered to take Angela out for lunch.

Yet, for a second, she really dreaded having made the suggestion. Now, somewhere in between the crazy hours she was running at the station and the paper work that constantly piled up now that Jane and her family took so much of her time, she would have to find extra time and energy and presence for Angela. Wouldn't someone as outgoing as Angela have other people to turn to, friends her own age? Surely Maura, who had never even managed to get married, wouldn't be anyone’s preferred emergency contact when in a divorce crisis. Rather, Maura was probably the one least likely to say no. And why was that? Because of some crazy megalomaniac idea that she was indispensable; that she could solve the world's problems better than anyone else?

She shook her head at herself. At first because she had once again said yes to something when perhaps 'no' would have been better; then because she realised just how selfish that very thought was: Angela needed help. And if Maura could provide any of it, then of course she would, no questions asked.

The Rizzolis felt more like family than her own did, even if she would always remain the odd one out to some extent. They welcomed her with open arms in spite of the fact that she didn't share their history, and they forgave her when her lack of experience with blue-collar socialization shone through. Hopefully, by being there for Jane and Angela now, she could make up for just a little bit of that kindness. Maura sighed, then straightened up, shook her hair in place and started the car.

Traffic turned out to be heavy, and Angela had already delayed her. What was supposed to be a quick trip to the grocery store – somehow she had forgotten to restock the fridge before taking Jane home – would end up taking much longer. Jane would be alright on her own; she would have to be alone most of the day while Maura worked anyway. But this was her first evening spent outside of a hospital in weeks, and Maura wanted to share it with her.

She seriously considered taking an illegal shortcut by going against a one-way street, but it wouldn't gain her more than a few minutes and the risk of having her license revoked won out. Instead she felt the frustration physically build up within, and she impatiently drummed her fingers against the wheel.

When she finally parked her car she chose to run the remaining metres up to her house. She unlocked the front door, opened and closed it, threw off her jacket, jumped over Jo Friday and into the living room in one continuous movement. "Jane!" she called out, "I'm so sorry I took so long. The traffic wouldn't let up, and… Jane?" Maura suddenly stopped herself.

Jane was exactly where she'd left her: In a chair by the dining table with the newest issue of National Geographic in front of her, but she most certainly wasn't reading it at that proximity. She was lying on top of it, her cheek resting against a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean, now framed by a halo of dark brown hair.

For a horrible moment all sorts of medical imagery of broken stitches and ruptured intestines passed before Maura's eyes as she inched closer. One outstretched hand, completely still in spite of the terror she felt, found Jane's neck looking for a pulse, and Maura breathed a sigh of relief so deep it almost made her giddy.

Jane had simply fallen asleep.

The final check ups and procedures at the hospital had taken their toll on her, and on top of that came the excitement of finally getting out. Of course she was exhausted. Maura automatically nuzzled her neck, enjoying the sensation of the tiny and incredibly soft hair beneath her fingertips. "Jane," she called gently. "Jane, my love-" She winced as she realised how her filter, once again, was slipping. She really had to be more careful.

Fortunately, Jane hadn't heard her. She was completely gone to the world, like a child or a kitten after hours of play. Maura smiled to herself, picturing how Jane would react if she knew Maura had just compared her to a furry animal. But really – she felt so soft, and she seemed so small in her loose clothes; she'd clearly lost weight over the past few weeks.

Maura glanced at the grocery bag. It was important that Jane ate, but she needed rest just as badly. And the idea of waking her friend from her peaceful state seemed too brutal. However, she couldn't sleep on the dining table. She'd wake up with a rigid neck at the very least. So Maura made a quick decision. She left her friend alone for a moment while quietly and efficiently putting the groceries in the fridge, then kicked off her pumps for better footing and carefully gathered Jane in her arms.

Jane was supposed to stay with Maura until she could return to light deskwork in four weeks. She would of course have Maura's guest bedroom to herself; her things had already been brought over and unpacked. However, although Jane was certainly lighter than normal, carrying her down a flight of stairs seemed hazardous. So Maura changed their plan and headed for the master bedroom instead. Jane stirred a little, but quickly relaxed against Maura. She uttered a faint, humming-like sound as she buried her face against the crook of Maura's neck. Maura felt slightly parted lips brushing against sensitive skin there, and it took all her will-power to not grow literally weak in the knees.

It's not a kiss. It's not a kiss. It's not a kiss.

She managed pull the door open, but had to give up on the blanket and simply laid Jane down on top of it. Then she gently removed her friend's shoes, brushed the hair out of her face and found a fresh blanket to cover her with. Hesitating for a moment, she weighed her options. She could eat. She could do paperwork. She could go through her meticulous night time rituals. In the end she rejected all of them, for once foregoing all routines aside from brushing her teeth and changing into a satin pyjama, before she slipped in beside her friend.

She didn't fall asleep immediately, however, even though her own body was very much in need of rest as well. Her late night visits to the hospital had messed with her internal clock, and she had so many tasks to deal with that she found little time for contemplation. Her solitary time in the darkness of her own bedroom provided one of few quiet moments where all the thoughts she pushed in front of her during the day demanded to be heard. Being used to an ever over-active brain she normally wouldn't mind, except the thoughts were getting increasingly hard to shut off. They would repeat themselves and drag on past any constructive point.

They were thoughts of paperwork or lab issues that were clearly better dealt with during day time, or alert-like pop-up reminders of things needing to be done. She had actually resorted to leaving pen and paper by the bed so that she could jot down memos at any point during the night – otherwise they would keep her awake for hours. The most persistent thoughts, however, were those of the Rizzolis and her relationship with them. Well, one Rizzoli in particular, whose current proximity would most definitely keep Maura's mind abuzz for a while before sleep finally granted her a break. Maura allowed herself to roll over so she faced her friend.

Jane's slightly angular bone structure was even more striking because of the recent weight-loss, but she still had a girly softness to her that literally made Maura's heart skip a beat sometimes. Jane hid it well; always big-mouthed and quick to use sarcasm to dissolve potentially cheesy moments. She carried herself and her gun with more self-assurance than many of her male colleagues, and she actively fought any attempt at conforming her to a stereotypical, delicate female. Yet she had another side as well. It shone through when Jane intuitively knew how to comfort other people through words or touch. She was a very tactile person, and being around her had forever changed Maura's sense of physical boundaries. Aside from European style cheek kisses there had not been much physical display of affection in the Isles family, nor among Maura's friends.

Of course, that could be because Maura had never had any really close friends until she met Jane.

No, that was not the reason, Maura admitted to herself as she fought the urge to trace her friend's high cheekbones and gently rounded brows with a finger. Jane had touched her long before they became friends. In fact, Maura vividly remembered feeling Jane's hand on her shoulder for just an instant the very first time they met.

Maura had been working one of her first cases as the new Chief Medical Examiner at Boston Homicide, and her uniformed colleagues frowned at her annoyingly detailed explanations and refusal to make guesses. Add to that the fact that she was the first female doctor to roam the precinct's morgue, her obvious upper-class background and tendency to be a little socially off, and Maura was the perfect harassment victim. On that particular day she had felt herself transported back to middle school when a bunch of cops had exchanged eye-rolls and snickers behind her back, as she refused to estimate the cause of death at the crime scene itself. Her otherwise flawless composure had crumbled a little, her head fallen forward just an inch. Not to better see the victim on the floor, but in a gesture of resignation. Behind her, Jane was telling her snickering colleagues to shut the fuck up and, unless some of them had a secret medical diploma up their ass, let the Chief Medical Examiner do her job. Once again, Maura was the odd one out, the one requiring special treatment because she couldn't just fit in, couldn't ever just be one of the guys.

That's when she'd felt Jane's hand on her shoulder. It had been a gently assuring, and most brief touch, but the connection had sent a jolt through Maura's body. Not because she was sexually attracted to Jane; that came later, even if the chemistry had clearly been there from the very beginning. No, Maura was simply completely unaccustomed to this form of physical communication. To her, touch was ritualised greetings, complex rehearsed ballroom dances or the necessary means to achieve sexual release. Jane's touch was different. It was unforced and without ulterior motives, a sort of intuitive language. A language which Maura had never been taught, but soon found – much to her own surprise – she was fluent in and very much enjoyed when around Jane.

Of course, once she'd become aware of her attraction to Jane, Maura had been forced to re-evaluate her own motives. However, she'd always considered desire a fluid and often fleeting thing and not read much into it, especially because, in spite of the rumours, she found it unlikely that Jane could ever respond to her in a similar way. The attraction was simply not worth entertaining, and Maura's mental filter had enabled her to push it aside in order to treasure their deep friendship instead. It had worked perfectly – until Jane had nearly died right in front of her. In one terrifying moment all filters had given in and allowed the realisation to hit her like a tsunami leaving everything forever changed in its track: She loved Jane. Heart, mind and body, and unlike anything she had ever experienced with anyone before, male or female.

Maura's attempts at rationally distinguishing primitive physical responses from friendly affection or the connection enabling them to work and communicate without words seemed ridiculous. Because in that moment, as she stared the fear of losing Jane right in the eye, she knew she felt all of it and more simultaneously. And once she'd taken a bite of that particular apple of knowledge, Maura could never again wash the realisation away. Now she could no longer merely look at her sleeping friend; she was simultaneously looking at her partner, her soul-mate, her lover – even if the labels would never amount to more than wistful alternative realities in Maura's mind.

These realities coloured everything Maura did and said to her friend. She could no longer tease her, compliment or hug her without being painfully aware of how much weight her actions carried, even if that weight flew past Jane. Or perhaps because of it. It made her feel dishonest and unworthy and rejected at the same time.

A few inches away, Jane shifted in her sleep. Her arm fell forward, hand open and seemingly reaching for something. Maura wanted to grasp it, but was afraid to violate some friendly boundary as she no longer had any boundaries of her own to judge by. So she left the choice up to Jane by moving her own hand even closer; so close their heat mingled and Jane might sense her proximity even if they didn't touch. Perhaps, then, Jane would close the distance in her sleep.

Maura stared intently at their hands in the dark, willing a connection on so many levels, yet nothing happened.

And at one point, even the hands gave way to a different kind of darkness as Maura finally dosed off.

 

* * * * *

 

Maura didn't find peace, though. As was happening increasingly often these days, she simply slipped into another, equally trying reality.

She was back at the station, getting ready for work. Her dress was floating in the air behind her, and she was awkwardly attempting to button it in the back while rushing through the hallways heading for the morgue. Her morgue, except it had somehow fused with the detective’s ever noisy open office area. All around her shiny operating table were scattered desks, their owners eyeing her with disdain as she tried to catch up on her day.

"I'm so sorry I'm late," she mumbled around the hairpins between her lips, and once they had secured her curls she added in her usual voice: "I'll get to work right away!"

She tried sending each and every one of the impatient people one of her dazzling smiles, which caused her to twirl like a ballerina in slow motion. The detectives were surrounding her and her operating table, all of them awaiting her reaction, her initiative.

She hesitated. There was no body on the table and so she cheerfully asked the spectators: "What do you need me to do for you?"

And just as everyone started speaking at once, making it impossible to tell words or voices apart – but she could swear Angela's and Jane's were among them – in that very moment Maura was hit by a wave of exhaustion. The sudden urge to sleep was as overwhelming and unyielding as had she been suffering from narcolepsy. In spite of all the eyes on her, in spite of the bright, spotlight-like fluorescent lights on her, she could do nothing but lay down on the one thing available.

Her operating table.

"What do you need me to do?" her voice repeated, as her body curled up on the blank metal surface. It was hard and cold against her cheek, but all she could think about were the eyes around her. The people depending on her, the people who expected more from her, the people she was letting down.

 

* * * * *

 

A shrill, familiar sound yanked Maura from the operating table of her imagination and back to her own bed. Her cell phone. As she felt Jane stir beside her, she nearly cursed out loud and mentally kicked herself. For once, Maura wasn't on call. How could she forget to mute her phone? She was becoming more and more forgetful these days. Without checking the caller ID she answered the call, wincing as she noticed Jane was by now wide-awake and watching her expectantly.

"Dr. Isles," she said. There was clearly no point in whispering.

"Maura! Thought you'd never pick up."

Maura immediately wished she hadn't as she recognized the voice on the other end. Something halfway between a mumble and a sigh slipped past her lips before she could stop herself.

"Just woken up, have we?" the voice rhetorically enquired, loud enough for Jane to hear it and for Maura to wince again.

'Slucky?' Jane mouthed with an added eye-roll to indicate just how little she thought of the surgeon.

Maura couldn't really blame her. The man spoke of himself in the plural, as if he were royalty, and his ego was higher than the John Hancock Tower. However, he had saved Jane's life and for that Maura was forever grateful. That gratitude was the only reason she hadn't yet responded to his incessant advances by directly telling him to sod off.

Jane, however, seemed to suspect the interest was mutual and wasted no opportunity to let Maura know exactly how bad a choice she considered Slucky.

As said surgeon babbled on about some restaurant – Maura couldn't make herself focus on his actual words – she let her eyes drift back to her friend who was still watching her. Realising she had an audience, Jane made a silent finger-in-throat like motion, then tried to strangle herself with her bare hands as Maura continued to say yes, indeed, of course into her phone without having the faintest idea what she was agreeing on.

Jane's reactions were actually remarkably strong. When Slucky was around the two of them she became openly hostile towards him in a way that could be interpreted as downright territorial. It was almost as if… as if she were jealous. The moment the thought popped into her head, Maura quickly dismissed it again.

Watch it, you're projecting! Dangerous, dangerous, dangerous path… Step off of it!

If Maura's wishful thinking began to cloud her grasp on reality – the one in which Jane was her very straight, very platonic best friend – then she'd most certainly violate Jane's boundaries at some point or other. And Jane, with her detective skills, would catch on to Maura's inappropriate longings. Better to spread out a smoke screen to protect the both of them. And so Maura likened her voice to something that could be mistaken for enthusiasm as she told the surgeon: "Why, I'd love to! No, you don't need to pick me up. I can meet you there at seven. I'll look very much forward to it. Bye."

"You have got to be kidding." Jane's voice was even more hoarse than normal, practically like a growl, but it could be because she had just woken up.

Maura, who was temporarily facing away from Jane in order to put her phone back on the chest of drawers, pinched her nose hard.

Kidding, yes. Who am I kidding? Yet another appointment to squeeze in between all the others. And one that will undoubtedly lead to more unwanted invitations.

"I know you can list all the healthy benefits of sex, and you probably will in a moment, but seriously, Maur… You can do better than Mr. Royal We." Jane's voice had softened considerably, and as Maura turned back to her she found her friend looking almost contemplative. "I mean… Just look at you. You could have anyone."

No, Jane. Not anyone.

Maura blinked a few times trying to clear her mind of the hint of bitterness that had snuck into it. Jane didn't deserve to feel it. This was all her own doing, not Jane's. "I, well… I haven't had much opportunity to go out and survey the dating market lately," Maura finally stated. It was nothing but truth, even if it wasn't the whole truth.

Jane ruffled her own dark brown curls, and her hand hid her eyes as she quietly said: "I'm sorry, Maura. I know I take up so much of your time and I'm not even very good at showing my gratitude, am I? Of course you should see Slucky, if that's what you want."

The resignation in Jane's voice was too much for Maura to bear. She couldn't help herself, but reached out and pulled her friend's fidgeting hands from her hair. Somehow it slipped into her own, as Maura lay back down, settling her head in her free hand. "Oh Jane, don't apologize. I'm here with you because I choose to be. You mean so much more to me than some date with Slucky or any man." She gave her friend's hand a small squeeze that was immediately returned.

It brought about an immediate flashback to a situation not long ago where it wasn't returned and possibly wouldn't ever be again. The accompanying realisation of how very, very close Maura had been to losing her friend made her heart rate double. This was happening to her more and more often. A gunshot-like sound from the television, a lifeless patient on her table resembling Jane ever so slightly, and now a simple hand squeeze – they instantly set Maura's internal cinema in motion where the same unbearable movie was always on reprise. Though lately, the sudden bursts of tachycardia had also occurred completely disconnected from anything related to Jane's injury. During a job interview with a new lab assistant, in the station's canteen as Angela emerged from the kitchen and even once as she was standing in line at the mall. It could probably be traced back to irregular sleep patterns and too much coffee, but she should get an ECG just in case. When she had the time, which clearly wasn't right now.

"Speaking of dating men…" Jane began, "You know, you were saved by your cell phone before you answered my question about the whole gay before or after graduation thing. Do you still consider women an option?"

Maura carefully studied her friend's face and body language as she mentally weighed her words. Jane seemed relaxed, and although her hand was merely resting within Maura's, she hadn't withdrawn it. Even if Maura could lie, it would seem like an unforgivable betrayal when facing such an open and accepting expression. So she settled for a minor deflection. "Given the legal progress in Boston, new reproduction technologies, not to mention the positive attitude changes towards same-sex couples, it would make sense to keep one's mind open. In this day and age it seems irrational to consider gender the most important factor when determining whether someone is a suitable life partner."

This ramble earned her a slight, but clearly amused eye-roll from Jane. Her friend finally withdrew her hand in order to scratch her forehead.

Maura felt the loss as a tingling in her fingertips, but didn't dare reaching for her Jane's hand again without a proper excuse.

"It's just that I've never heard you talk about dating women. If you're bisexual, then why is that?" Jane, ever the direct one, countered. "Your big brain's too evolved for pre-historical prejudice, and I know you're not a prude. You carry a shaving set in your purse, for Christ's sake!"

"Language, Jane," Maura automatically said as a way of stalling, "and I never said I consider myself a bisexual. In fact, on the Kinsey scale I would probably score a 1 or 2 at the most."

"Kidney scale? You lost me there, Google Mouth," Jane grinned.

"The Kinsey scale." Maura breathed a sigh of relief as she switched into her didactic, scientific mode, which was so much easier for her to handle. "The scale was invented by Alfred Kinsey, famous founder of the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University. Based on rigorous empirical studies he concluded that nature rarely deals with discrete categories, and that strictly heterosexual or homosexual behaviour is much rarer than commonly assumed. Most people fall somewhere on a continuum. Hence the Kinsey scale, which goes from 0 – meaning completely straight – to 6 – completely gay. Only people scoring a 3 are considered perfect bisexuals."

Jane frowned, trying to translate Maura's small lecture on sexology into something resembling American English. "So you're saying you're somewhat attracted to women, but more attracted to men. Or would that be equally attracted, but more often to men than to women?"

"The scale is based on frequency, not depth of attraction. Kinsey was progressive for his time and nuanced the perception of sexuality tremendously. However, as you rightly point out, the scale does simplify things." The arm holding Maura's head upright was beginning to give in and she finally put her head back on her pillow and was now eye-level with Jane. "For one, Kinsey assumes sexual orientation and affectional or romantic orientation are one and the same thing. More and more people, particular among the asexual community, recognize that this is not necessarily the case."

Jane shook her head as much as the pillow allowed. "Please, Maur, in English," she whined.

"What you're physically attracted to and who you fall in love with might not be the same thing," Maura clarified.

This statement made Jane uncharacteristically quiet for a while. She twirled a lock of hair between her fingers and stared off into the distance. When her eyes returned to Maura and she finally spoke, her voice was soft, almost hesitant. "So… do you think it's possible to be deeply in love with someone, even if you're not sexually attracted to them?"

"In theory, yes. And the asexuals claim they experience it all the time."

"Is that what it's like for you with women?" Jane pressed on, a strangely insistent expression on her face that Maura couldn't quite read, and it felt unsettling.

So she chose to focus on her own fingernails instead. They were kept short, but hadn't been properly manicured lately – another thing to add to her to do list. "I… I generally tend to…" she stuttered, before taking a deep breath and pulling herself together. "My immediate, biochemical response to men is generally greater, yes, whereas I form strong emotional bonds with women. However, in my experience, when one truly loves another person the need to express that love in all ways possible eventually follows."

She regretted the words the moment they'd left her mouth. It was the truth, but it was a truth that left her naked and jeopardized the friendship she valued above everything else, even if cherishing it meant forever withholding certain emotions. If Jane ever figured out how much she meant to Maura, then, because of what she'd just told her, Maura would never be able to pretend her feelings weren't also of a sexual nature. Jane would realise that Maura not only occasionally dated women, slept with them even, but that she specifically wanted to sleep with Jane.

Before Maura could come up with a proper deflection or an excuse to leave or anything to break the tension she was feeling, Jane interrupted her train of thoughts. She didn't completely change the topic, but she certainly changed the mood: "So, speaking of bedding women," Jane said with her usual smirk and eyes glinting with amusement, "how did you get this particular woman into your bed? I can't remember finding my way to your bedroom." She looked around. "Actually, I don't think I've ever been in here before."

"No one has." Again, the words simply fell out of Maura's mouth.

No filter at all, what is wrong with you? Time to leave before you ruin everything by being you.

"Really?" Jane's smirk vanished as quickly as it had appeared and was replaced by an expression of wonder. "Then I'm truly honoured."

"It was closer," Maura said almost shyly. "Also, I found attempting to carry you down the stairs too risky."

"You carried me to bed?" Jane sat up abruptly and immediately winced at the pain it caused in her slowly healing abdomen. "Maura, that is… I know you're much stronger than I usually give you credit for – I mean, I could never run in those heels! – but still… That's just… Wow."

Maura couldn't help but smile at Jane's rambling and very honest display of admiration, but remained modest herself: "Well, you had fallen asleep across the dining table, and I didn't have the heart to wake you. I knew you needed the rest."

"Yes, but…" Jane made a face at what she was about to say, "if I didn't loathe the expression I'd say that's incredibly sweet. No one has ever done that for me, not since Pop when I was a little girl. Only you." She looked at Maura for a while; intensely, almost as if seeing her for the first time or at least in a new light.

An odd, almost palpable silence had settled around them. Not an awkward one, more like a stillness rendering a few otherwise inaudible things crisp clear.

There was the sound of sheets shifting ever so slightly beneath slender, scarred hands. The sound of Jane's light breath and her own somewhat heavier one. And above all the still rapid pulse echoing through Maura's chest sending a brook-like rushing of blood through ever living part of her.

It was too much yet not enough, and eventually Maura reluctantly broke the gaze, afraid her own look would give too much away. Would betray not only the affectional, but also the increasingly sexual response their quiet connection was stirring within her. "I should take Jo Friday for a walk. I didn't do it after I returned from the mall, so she must really need it by now."

Maura had barely mentioned the dog's name, before the ever happy ball of fur galloped into her bedroom and onto the bed. Unsure of where to direct its attention, it zigzagged between the two women.

The spell from before was completely broken, as Jane automatically humoured the little dog. "Who's my big girl? Who is it? Yeah, it's you, isn't it? It is!" Jane reached out and scratched Jo behind the ear. The dog settled onto her lap still covered by the blanket and readily rolled onto her back, encouraging Jane to rub the softer fur on her stomach. The dog seemed the very definition of content.

Maura had to run a thousand miles an hour, make up for her lack of social skills, her over-sized brain, and in spite of all her efforts she always fell short. She would forever be the one harbouring the wrong feelings, the one unable to understand the jokes, the one tolerated by, but not truly belonging to the police squad or Rizzoli family. The one ruining everything by over-thinking everything, yet still managing to say too much or simply the wrong things.

This dog, however, held Jane's heart and pretty much everybody else's too, and all it had to do was eat, sleep, pee, roll over and be loved. Jo would never have to wonder what any of it meant, would never question people's motives or whether she was worthy of their affection. She could spend the entire day lazily soaking up the sun from Jane's window or chasing a particularly noisy fly without even catching it – yet she wouldn't feel like an ineffective failure.

A feeling was welling up within Maura; one she rarely had and therefore didn't immediately recognise.

A completely self-satisfied, obliviously happy creature. What an easy life.

Was it envy? Jealousy? No, it was stronger than that. Like a flattened palm pressing against her chest, making her entire body tense, her vision cloud.

You make no effort, yet get everything you need. You never stutter, never have to hold back, never have to keep going when all you want to do is drop. You fall into Jane's lap as if it's the most natural thing in the world and don't even realise how lucky you are. It's so fucking unfair.

Maura never swore, not even in her mind. The moment the word slipped into her consciousness, along with it came recognition of the feeling she was harbouring, and the palm on her chest became a fist beating the air out of her lungs.

It was hate.

For a moment Maura actually hated this tiny, innocent, furry creature. How could someone hate a small dog? How could anyone – well aware of how dog versus human brains and consciousness work – blame a loving pet for not reflecting on its own existence? For simply being what it was genetically programmed to be?

"I'll get dressed, then take her to the park," Maura said as she rose from the bed without looking at either Jane or her dog.

No decent person would hate a dog for being a dog. And yet, Maura had just done exactly that. The guilt felt like a physical weight on her scalp, making it hard to keep her head upright.

Chapter Text

43 minutes before breakdown

 

"Hey, I can carry that on my own just fine!" Jane tried to steal her bag out of Maura's grip, but didn't succeed. Even if Jane's arms were longer, Maura was faster and able to duck in completely unexpected ways due to years of yoga training.

"I know you can," Maura assured her in return as she jumped out of Jane's reach. "But you're still healing, and there's no point in you straining anything as long as I'm here."

Jane grumbled something unintelligible, but didn't put up a fight. Her first week back at the station had taken a lot of energy, even if it had mostly been spent at her desk. She even automatically handed Maura the car keys so she could put her bag in the trunk.

"There," Maura said as she closed it and handed the keys back to her friend. Then she sent her a small smile. "You sure you don't want to go to the Dirty Robber to celebrate your first well-earned weekend in weeks?"

Jane chuckled. "Shouldn't that be my line? Seriously, though. I think I should just go home… Jo has gotten used to having company, and I am actually kind of beat." She grimaced at the admission.

It made sense. It was the most sensible thing to do. As a doctor, hell, even as a friend Maura should have insisted on the very same thing. Yet she had just been about to talk Jane into drinking. For whose sake exactly? Certainly not Jane's. So she suppressed her initial impulse and simply nodded in understanding. "It's a good idea."

"Yeah." Jane shifted her weight from one foot to the other in a gesture that seemed a little reluctant, a little awkward. "Well, we'll see each other again on Monday," she then said.

"Yes, we will." Maura had to force her voice into her cheerful, soprano pitch and consciously smile. It wasn't that she felt sad. Logically, parting with Jane after having lived with her for weeks would seem strange, but the occasion - Jane being in such good health - was a joyous one. Maura accepted both truths with her mind, but didn't really feel either of them. In fact, she didn't feel anything much standing across from her friend in the parking lot. At least not anything she could readily identify.

Jane, on the other hand, was clearly feeling something. She continued to shift, but remained where she was, all the while looking at Maura with a rather intense, if somewhat indecisive expression on her face. Unable to conclude anything based on that look, Maura was unsure of what to do with herself. Her eyes fell to the ground as she automatically corrected her already perfect hairdo with one hand while straightening her skirt with the other.

Around them the parking lot was thinning out. Those of Boston's finest who weren't forced to stay overnight had either left early for the weekend or were headed to the Dirty Robber. The sounds of the front door opening and closing, of footsteps echoing across the open yard and engines coming alive marked a transition in many ways. Between the hectic demands of work and the calm of weekend, between noisy daylight and quiet dusk, public and private, team spirit and solitude.

Jane cleared her throat, indicating yet another transition. "You take care," she said before stepping forward and pulling a completely unprepared Maura into a hug.

Maura's arms flailed for a bit before hesitantly reaching around Jane. Thanks to her heels they were almost the same height, and she stiffened when Jane's cheek brushed against hers. Jane must have felt it, because she instantly stepped back leaving her friend wanting and a little flushed.

Maura wasn't sure which made her more ashamed: The fact that this simple bit of contact had been enough to flip on a switch within her, its effect on her literally written on her face. Or the fact that she hadn't dared to properly return the friendly gesture so that Jane might feel rejected, when everything Maura felt for her was the exact opposite of rejection. In either case Maura saw only one way out of the awkward moment: To leave. So she did, with a half smile and a finger wave, and soon found herself in the quiet seclusion of her own car.

She didn't breathe a sigh of relief, didn't stretch or put on music. She simply started the engine, rolled out of the station's parking lot and headed home.

One of the perks of leaving work late on a Friday night was the light traffic. Rush hour was long gone, and it didn't take much concentration to navigate the Boston streets. After a few turns Maura's cheeks had paled to their regular hue, and in the quiet of the night other thoughts announced themselves.

They were thoughts of the past many weeks, of a rather hectic chapter that was now drawing to a close. Since Jane's release from the hospital Maura had juggled shopping, cooking and cleaning at home, her regular work at the station, while also democratically dividing her presence between a recovering Jane, a heartbroken Angela, an obnoxious suitor, and a traumatized police unit. And in the past week she had overseen Jane's return to work. Being forced to stay out of fieldwork for a while was hard for Jane to swallow. As a consequence Maura had made sure to cheer her up as much as possible and cross her as little as possible.

Now Jane was doing much better, her mother had a place to stay in spite of the divorce, her colleagues were in good spirits, and all autopsies and paperwork had been finished. Amazingly, everything had seemingly panned out. Maura thought this to herself as she parked her car and stepped out onto pavement. The evening dew made it glisten ever so slightly in the light from neighbour’s windows lit by lamps and flickering television screens. Maura's own windows were black. For the first time in weeks she was going home, unaccompanied, to an empty house. Well, Bass would be there, but he wasn't exactly talkative.

As Maura put the key in her door she cast an unnecessary glance at her wristwatch. It was out of pure habit. Over the past weeks she had been constantly late for everything, and constantly thinking ahead to the next appointments. She had never been able to simply focus on the here and now. Consequently, she had been slightly less focused than she normally would be, and the sense of never quite managing to give what she needed to give, what people knew she should be capable of giving, always lingered.

Like the time she had forgotten to take a routine test during an autopsy because Angela called her in tears, Maura thought as she closed the door behind her and turned on the lights. The hallway was almost eerily quiet.

Or like the time she hadn't heard a word of what Angela had said about her impending divorce because Maura was trying to finish up a report in her head while also remembering the three movie titles she had promised to rent for Jane on the way home. Maura shook her head at the memory as she hung up her Jacket and quietly entered her kitchen. There were no sounds but hers and they seemed grotesquely magnified in the stillness; as if she were an intruder in her own home.

And then there was the time she caught herself biting at Jane because she took so long deciding on what to eat, when Maura really needed to get dinner quickly over with because she had to go back to work. She still vividly remembered the hurt look on Jane's face and she now echoed it with a wince, which no one else would witness.

She looked at her own dim reflection in the spotless surface of the steel fridge as the realisation sunk in.

I am alone.

She touched her own cheek and her blurry twin did the same.

I am alone and for once I have no tasks or people to tend to.

Then she smiled, and this time her twin didn't appear to follow along. Of course this was impossible and merely an optic illusion caused by the imperfect mirror at hand. But Maura smiled wider just in case. Not because she felt particularly giddy, but because this evening should call for smiling.

Everything has panned out. Everyone is okay. So smile and be happy.

Tonight was all Maura's. And so she should enjoy it. Ruining it with all kinds of negative thoughts would be counterproductive.

Once that was settled, Maura put on an old Ella Fitzgerald record and hummed along as she lit a few candles and placed them on the low glass table in front of her sofa. She also decided to bring out a good bottle of red wine from her cellar. The antioxidants would do her body well, as long as she only had one glass or two.

She was going to bring the wine into the living room, but opened it in the kitchen and decided to have a taste immediately. As her upbringing required, she expertly considered the deep colour of the liquid in her glass, then swirled it around to let it breathe, before she took a small sip which she kept in her mouth for a beat. The taste was strong, but she was trained to appreciate it and swallowed the wine elegantly without moving a muscle.

Ever the classy one, even when no one is watching. Jane would most definitely roll her eyes at you.

Thinking of Jane made Maura think of her absence and, possibly to fill it out, she decided to finish her glass in an efficient, Jane-like fashion. "Cheers!" she said out loud. Perhaps to Bass, who was quietly eating his strawberry salad in a corner, perhaps to no one in particular. Then she simply downed the rest of her wine, throwing her head back in a jolt-like movement, before she slammed the now empty glass back on her kitchen counter for emphasis.

Except she missed with about half an inch.

The glass might have balanced on the table's edge, had it not been for the force with which it hit. Now it flew out of Maura's grip and drew an almost perfect semicircle in the air before it hit the hard kitchen floor. The shrill sound of glass shattering did not make Maura jump. Rather, she stood glued to the floor, her gaze on her empty hand. It was still clutching a non-existing stem as if it hadn't yet caught up to the fact that the glass was now in a hundred pieces and would never hold any wine again.

After a few seconds Maura recovered enough to go into her practical action mode. She found a paper towel and kneeled down to pick up and safely wrap the largest pieces of glass. As she reached for the third piece she felt a sudden, sharp pain in her hand. She turned it over and was surprised to find blood trickling from a small cut across her palm. It was odd – she was usually never clumsy, yet her fine motor functions had just failed her twice in a row. She pressed a corner of the paper towel against the cut. It was soaked immediately, the red stain dramatically dark against the white background.

Oh yes, this stain is indeed blood. No testing required. Jane would be proud of me.

Maura almost snickered at the thought, except the moment Jane entered her consciousness she had another. Both of Jane's hands had been cut in almost the same place Maura's just had. Clearly it would have hurt more, but had it bled like this? In this almost theatrical way? It was oddly compelling to look at, and at the same time the very idea was sickening. Especially because Maura knew someone had indeed taken pleasure in Jane's hurt.

Perhaps this knowledge was what caused a sudden wave of nausea to roll over Maura in that very moment? Surely it couldn't be the blood. She had cut up bodies, dead and alive, she had cut herself numerous times, and it had never gotten to her the way blood did to some people, like Frost. Yet right now the bloodstain seemed to grow and grow before her eyes. She threw the dramatic paper towel away and put her wounded hand directly to her lips, out of immediate sight. The salty, metallic taste sent a shiver through her. It was just a small cut, yet she felt as if the blood was being squeezed out of her with every beat of her heart.

And her heart was, as so often lately, picking up its pace.

She had had it checked out. There was nothing physically wrong with her, and this time she recognized the racing pulse for what it was: A purely psychosomatic symptom. She was doing this to herself with her mind, and so all she had to do was stop. She got to her feet – a bit too quickly, perhaps, because a second wave of nausea hit her immediately and she stumbled against the kitchen counter. This wave was stronger than the first. The metal counter seemed to pulsate elastically; in fact her eyes couldn't find any steady point in the room to anchor themselves to. Black spots began to dance before them and she knew they were caused by hyperventilation – again something she was doing to herself, and if she didn't stop soon, she would faint.

Faint. I can't faint in here. Hard surfaces everywhere.

The fear of dropping there and then, with no one around to find her if she hit her head, quickly took on the form of sheer panic. The panic fed the nausea and the nausea fed the fear of falling.

Can't fall. Can't fall. Simply can't.

Her hand swept across her forehead. It was damp – her hand or her forehead, she wasn't sure. Cold sweat. Or was it the blood? She wasn't even sure which hand she had used, the injured one or the other. All she could think of was her roaring heart, the pressing feeling against her temples and chest, and the tingling in her limbs that might foreshadow a collapse.

Think, Maura, think. You're doing this to yourself, dammit! Just stop.

If she was going to faint, then it was better to be already lying down. It was the last rational thought Maura could muster, and it took all her concentration to slowly and carefully lie down on the kitchen floor while avoiding the shattered glass. The tiles were cold against her cheek, and the counter and cupboards and fridge towered threateningly above her. Never before had she felt so small and claustrophobic in her own home. The urge to escape, to get out was almost as overwhelming as the fear of fainting. But to get out of this she'd have to escape her own head, and that was physically impossible. She was trapped. The one thing that had never failed her – her mind – was losing it.

"Bluuuebirds singing the song…" Ella Fitzgerald purred from expensive B&O loudspeakers.

The voice barely cut through Maura's own sounds. Her shallow breath, which sounded foreign to her. Her heart pounding so hard in her chest it physically hurt. The cloth of her dress rustling against the tile floor.

"…nothing but bluebirds all day long."

It was an utterly ridiculous song, but it was all Maura had to distract her from the kitchen furniture closing in around her and the sense of losing her way in her own mind. So she began singing along.

"I never saw the sun shining so bright, never saw things going so right," Maura and Ella duetted.

In spite of years of classical music lessons Maura's pitch wasn't perfect, especially not curled up on the floor and out of breath like this. But for once she didn't care. Couldn't care. She sang anyway. Even when the record ran out and Ella went quiet, Maura continued.

"Bluebirds singing the song, nothing but bluebirds all day long."

As she lay on the floor the ordered rhymes and rhythms of the song constituted the only order in the world, the only proof that she hadn't gone completely mad. Her shrill soprano voice was the one thing she could still somewhat control, the one thing anchoring her to the tangible world. If she stopped singing there would be nothing, nothing left.

So she didn't. She just kept repeating the short song over and over and over again until she grew hoarse, until the windows of nearby buildings darkened, until time itself lost its meaning.

Chapter Text

Day 1 and counting

 

Beep beep beep beep…

The angry monotonous sound from Maura's phone made her jump and instantly set her heart racing again. It seemed so loud; as if the alarm went off inside her head, and for a moment she wondered if maybe it really did. It was an irrational, completely un-Maura-like thought, but it lingered as she searched for the phone beneath and between the pillows and covers of her bed. Her mind seemed to have switched gear during the night. Even the simplest cerebral process was a slow, conscious effort. It was as if she were watching her own thoughts through rippled waters, unable to make out much more than fuzzy outlines that never amounted to anything resembling clarity. She eventually managed to locate and silence the nuisance and sunk back into the sheets.

At some point Friday had become Saturday and pale sunlight now drowned out the yellow glow from designer lamps, but to Maura the transition had been gradual, seamless. She still wore the dress from the day before, had not brushed her teeth, had never fallen asleep; merely moved herself from kitchen floor to master bedroom. Otherwise the only change brought about by the dawn was a new date in the corner of her iPhone screen.

When Maura finally did rise it was more of a physical reflex than based on an actual decision of getting on with her day. She went to the bathroom, because her bladder needed to be emptied. And then she brushed her teeth and washed her face and everything else because that's what her body normally did in the bathroom. It all happened in a haze and only when she found herself standing fully clothed in the hallway, her hand on the front door handle, did she finally stop to consider what she was doing and where she was going. The clock read 9:43, by many people considered breakfast time, and Maura had skipped dinner yesterday and been too busy to eat more than an apple for lunch. And so logically, she should eat something even if she didn't feel hungry.

To the French bakery. That's where I'm going. It's perfectly normal, and then everything will return to normal.

She pushed the handle down and stepped out into the daylight. It felt bright, almost unreal, and she averted her eyes as she continued down the road without any skip in her steps.

Her posh neighbourhood was generally quiet, and on this particular Saturday morning everyone seemed to have collectively decided to leave the car at home. A cyclist passed Maura. He wasn't even close, but she jumped at the shrill, hissing sound of the whirring wheels. When she passed a playground the laughter of two little girls in surreally red dresses echoed in her head. The sharp, regular beat of their skipping ropes against the ground made her wince as if she were being whipped with it. And when their soles reached the pavement, they might as well have been stomping directly onto her skull.

Okay, something is definitely not normal.

She felt a kind of relief, as she stepped into the small, familiar bakery and was able to shut the bright outside world out. Maura had been a regular for a while and was on a first name basis with the baker, a small Frenchman with kind grey eyes who greeted her with a sincere smile. He opened his mouth to ask what she needed, but his words were drowned out by the doorbell as two other customers entered. "The usual," Maura tried, and fortunately it sufficed.

Behind her the newly arrived customers – two elderly women – cheerfully discussed the weather and the expected visit of a grandchild. In front of her, the gentle baker politely asked about her work and weekend plans, but she found it almost impossible to distinguish his words from the chatter in the back.

"I… I am having a quiet weekend for a change, how about you?" Maura managed to say.

He said something in reply and she felt tempted to fold her hands behind her ears to shield them from the women's conversation. And then, when he began stuffing bread and croissants into a bag, to completely cover them. The rustling of paper was grotesquely, almost painfully loud, and she strained to hear the price named by the baker.

"Excuse me?" she said. Her voice melted into the cacophony of words and noises. They surrounded her like a suffocating blanket making it impossible to get through to anyone or even to breathe. And as she tried to focus all her attention on the baker's lips, to pick his words out of the chaos, the familiar tachycardia and dizziness returned.

Not again. I can't faint in here. Not again.

This time she couldn't lie down on the floor. There would be eyes watching her, deeming her insane or worrying unnecessarily. It would pass; she just had to pull herself together, to calm herself down, but everything in her screamed to leave before she lost it in front of all these people. So Maura slammed a bill on the counter, mumbled "keep the change", rushed outside bag in hand and didn't stop before she slammed her own front door behind her.

She leaned against it and slid to a sitting position on the floor, as she tried to get her much too shallow breath back under control.

My filter is gone, the filter I've counted on for years. It's like a fuse has blown, and now everything is coming in at once; multiplied, magnified, all mixed up.

She felt the panic take over again. Clearly last night's incident had affected her severely, and right now she was simply unable to get a grip on herself. The rational, sensible, competent medical doctor refused to be summoned.

Medical doctor. Oh no, work.

She couldn't work like this. And she certainly couldn't let her colleagues see her like this. It would take away her authority forever. What wouldn't they think of her if they knew she broke this easily? Too overwhelmed to think twice Maura dug her iPhone out of the jacket still draped across her shoulders and opened the mail client. She had always taken pride in her ability to hold a scalpel perfectly steady, even when sleep-deprived or hung-over, but her hands visibly shook as she typed and sent two messages: One to the medical examiner who usually covered for her, and one to Cavanaugh informing him that she would spend some saved-up holidays on a trip to Europe and be back next Monday. She gave the name of a random Greek island and emphasised its lack of internet or mobile reception. The message was CC'ed to Jane and her colleagues so they, too, would assume she had spontaneously left the country.

Maura had always been able to lie in writing, but still felt a pang of guilt as she put her phone away, then sat on her hands to stop them from trembling. However, this lie was necessary, she told herself. She couldn't show at work, but couldn't call in sick either. Jane would worry, when she should focus on getting well herself. Or worse: She would show up at Maura's doorstep, and everyone would discover the truth about how messed up Maura really was. This one lie meant everyone would merely write off Maura's absence as luxurious upper-class eccentricity, and she would win precious time to rebuild her filter in private.

Oh God, please let my filter return. Please.

Maura wasn't religious, but for a moment she sent a heartfelt prayer to whichever deity might listen, simply because she didn't know what else to do.

What can I do? I can't even go to the baker. I can't go out at all.

The nausea was building up again; it pushed her back into the hard oak door, and the claustrophobic feeling returned. It was as if an imaginary pillow was being forced against her face, cutting off her airways. But this time, before the familiar dark spots began to cloud Maura's vision, an unexpected sob ripped through the invisible barrier before her. This wasn't the discreet, feminine outlet of her lachrymal glands; it was much more primal. The sound came all the way from her abdomen, made her entire body shudder, and broke her face in a million pieces on its way out. She wasn't crying. She was howling. In a most unclassy way, her nose running and her teeth grinding, as she held herself, rocked herself back and forth because there was no one else around who would.

 

* * * * *

 

Riiiiiiiing...

The doorbell pulled Maura abruptly out of her trance-like reverie. She had been stirring a mug of herbal tea for God knows how; it had been scalding, but probably reached and passed the pleasantly drinkable temperature long ago. Now, the tea spoon slipped from her hand and clattered against the ceramics much too loudly for such a small piece of cutlery, but Maura had more or less gotten used to the mismatch between sounds and reality. She slid down from the high chair next to her kitchen counter without her usual grace and headed out of the room wallet in hand.

Two things occurred to Maura when she opened the front door. Firstly; it was the same, very young pizza delivery guy as the last few times, but if he found her eating habits peculiar, he didn't let on. And secondly; the sun was up. Judging by its height it would have to be around noon. Not that it mattered. Without work to dictate a pattern, a distinction between duty and rest, weekday and weekend, Maura slipped into her own rhythm.

Or rather: lack thereof. She had to keep the curtains drawn to avoid Angela's snoopy eyes, and didn't go out because she was supposed to be abroad and because she was afraid of repeating the incident at the bakery. She did watch television, but with more than a hundred channels it was possible to find reruns of Law & Order at pretty much any time, day or night. At some point she had simply left her wristwatch behind next to the bathroom sink.

"Your favourites?" the young man asked somewhat shyly as he handed Maura a bag containing the exact same things she ordered last time and the time before that: a pizza with artichokes and anchovies and a salad for Bass.

So he had indeed noticed her eating habits. She watched him for a moment wondering what he might be thinking of her, but gave up on analysing him. It was possible that he was merely trying to make conversation. "You could say that," she finally replied with a small, forced smile, as she paid the deliverer a generous tip and quickly sent him off, before anyone noticed the interactions at the front door. It faced away from the guesthouse currently occupied by Jane's mother, and so Maura had decided to risk having all her meals dropped off there. Being temporarily trapped in her house she couldn't really think of any other options.

This wasn't as limiting as it might sound. Living in a huge city such as Boston one can order almost anything online, but in spite of her flair for fine cuisine Maura ended up choosing the same pizza from the same pizzeria every time. At first because the Italian spices reminded her of Jane; later on because the idea of choosing seemed overwhelming, and because the outcome didn't matter anyway. Whereas all sounds seemed magnified by a thousand, flavours were a different matter. Maura didn't taste much and she didn't eat out of hunger, but merely because she knew she needed to. And with day and night blending into each other – the artificial indoor lightning never changed, and Maura was awake most of the time – there didn't seem to be much of a point in distinguishing between the meals of the day.

In the kitchen she fed Bass, then arranged a few slices of pizza onto a plate. She took a sip from the abandoned tea mug and sighed inaudibly. It had indeed gone cold. She had waited too long, and now the tea was undrinkable. It felt symptomatic somehow, and as she brought the pizza in to the living room and sat on the sofa Maura made a mental list of the many things she had postponed during her life to a point were they were so long over-due they never amounted to anything.

Surely, no one who knew Dr. Isles, chief medical examiner and Harvard prodigy, would consider her anything but punctual, accurate, efficient. But these past days had hinted at a different truth hidden behind all that, hadn't they? Maura had begun noticing the bursts of tachycardia weeks ago, and as a doctor she was aware of the consequences of skipped meals and disrupted sleep patterns. Yet she had done nothing to correct her harmful habits; she had continued juggling work, suitor, Angela, Jane and never looked back, even though she should know better.

Just like I know better than to eat all these empty carbohydrates.

Maura wiped a bit of flour from her chin after she had taken a particularly luxurious bite of her pizza; there was an entire anchovy on it, yet its strong, salty flavour hardly even registered. She might as well have been eating dry rice biscuits.

True, Maura had acted mostly out of concern for the people around her, but she had also acted carelessly. And right now, in this state she had brought herself in, she was unable to help the people who depended on her. She was in fact utterly useless.

Is this my way of bailing out?

The thought arrived uninvited, as if it had been thinking itself. But once it had emerged, the small shimmering question mark following it grew and was soon transformed into a glaring exclamation mark.

I did curse under my breath when Angela called me late one evening, and I have occasionally wanted to have the house to myself just for one night.

The more she thought about it, the more it seemed like a plausible explanation. There was nothing physically wrong with her; she knew that for a fact. Everything she experienced, every physical and sensory symptom was psychological of nature and in a way self-inflicted. She had done this to herself because she was too weak to be the caring confidante Angela or Jane or Korsak needed her to be, and so this was her easy way out. Her way of shrugging off the responsibility for the people closest to her.

Some friend I am. No wonder I never really made that many of my own.

She might have the IQ of a genius, she might have won scientific awards at the age of fourteen, and she might have graduated top of her class from an Ivy League University. But all of that was just unimportant icing. Once someone chiselled away the paper-thin surface of Dr. Maura Isles they would find nothing but a big brain wired the wrong way; the core of someone who failed to connect with most people and eventually let down the few that did put up with her.

Maybe that's why people shivered in the morgue and came up with morbid nicknames. Because they saw me for what I was all along – an unreliable person, a psychosomatic catastrophe waiting to happen.

Maura stared off into space, and out of the corner of her eye a small blinking light caught her attention. Her iPhone. Apparently she had only managed to switch off the sound, and the battery had not yet run out. The small light indicated a new message. She automatically reached for the item and put it on loudspeaker before she pressed play.

"Hi Maur,"

The primitive recording made the voice seem even huskier than normally, but Maura recognised it instantly.

"I don't expect you to call me back, you being far away from civilization and all. Anyway, I just watched Inception on one of the movie channels, and it was a whole new experience without you interrupting every other minute to point out scientific flaws and plot inconsistencies."

The detective laughed, and the speakers crackled a little, as if she were indeed calling Maura from thousands of miles away. Then the laughter died out and the voice seemed to hesitate.

"I don't really know why I called you – I knew you wouldn't pick up. I guess…"

Maura could picture Jane wetting her lips, her eyes seeking out something to focus on as she searched for the right words.

"I guess I miss you a little, is all."

A pause. Then Jane picked up her pace again.

"But, hey you should enjoy your vacation! You deserve it more than anyone, and we're all okay, so please don't worry or anything… Just, take care, Maur. And I'll see you on Monday."

A beep indicated the message had ended, but Maura kept her eyes fixed on the phone in her hand nonetheless.

Jane was thinking about her. She was alright, and she was thinking about her, missing her even. A message like that ought to make Maura feel relieved and happy, but for some reason she didn't. There was no smile sneaking onto her face, no lightness in her chest, only the sour taste of ingratitude on her tongue. She was supposed to be appreciative of Jane's attention, yet she just felt numb.

Some friend I am. Unreliable and ungrateful.

On the plate in front of her and in the cardboard box in the kitchen the pizza was getting cold. In a while, the bread would dry out and the cheese turn rubber-like until the food was finally inedible, neglected, wasted. And then at some point Maura would throw it away.

 

* * * * *

 

"… … … …"

On the television screen a conversation between a man and a woman was being carried out wordlessly. Maura had muted the sound hours ago, possibly days, and when she occasionally looked at the screen, she didn't really pay much attention to the actions on it. Whatever the couple on the screen discussed seemed heated. Perhaps they were having a fight. The woman, at least, was in tears and clearly upset.

Upset. Am I upset?

Maura, too, had been crying a lot lately. Mostly in the mornings – at least what she thought of as mornings; her daily rhythms had almost vanished completely – but apart from this she was unable to recognize the pattern. There seemed to be little connection between her sudden outbursts and the world around her. Nothing in particular triggered the tears. No one was harming her, breaking up with her, shouting at her. And so she couldn't, shouldn't be upset.

If I am indeed upset, then the one causing it is me. I should stop. And I should stop reacting so childishly. No wonder I spend my days all alone like this.

Of course, Maura was well aware that she was the one who had made sure no visitors would intrude by pretending to be abroad. Yet somehow, deep down, she couldn't help but feel that real friends would sense that something was off. They would come to her rescue and drag her back up on her feet, or they would come by because they missed her presence, needed her. Jane did call to say she missed me. What more do I want? But she also said they were all doing fine. They are doing well without me, probably better than ever because they won't have to deal with my ingratitude or emotional neediness.

Maura sighed and shifted on the sofa, which had become her primary location lately, because it fit the halfway-state of not being asleep in bed, yet not fully a part of the waking world either. She ate on the sofa, paced around it, looked at the television from it. Occasionally she dosed off, and whenever she woke, she was always so cold no amount of blankets seemed to be enough. Most of the time she just stared off into space, or rather: into the maze of her own thoughts.

Neediness. Wasn't that my true reason for helping Jane and the others to begin with? My need for their approval, their affection, their gratitude… As if I could bribe them into caring. I should know better. It's selfish and could never amount to real friendships.

On the screen, the couple suddenly began to kiss passionately. Apparently the woman's tears cut through to the man, or perhaps they had been tears of joy. Maura felt very different tears begin to well up, but tried to hold them back. What would the point be? She knew well enough that it takes actions, not pathetic and apathetic howling to change a situation. Yet she didn't act, and so clearly she hadn't earned to cry. Even if she did, who would be around to hear her? No one. She had pushed every single person that might care away.

It's my own fault. I don't reach out, don't even go out. If only I wasn't so tired right now…

Who was she kidding? Her solitude had nothing to do with the current situation. She had, in a sense, always been alone. As a child, she had been considered odd and proven everyone right by withdrawing to books in a quiet corner. As an adult, she was equally odd, only now she tried to compensate by being constantly helpful and kind to everyone around her.

Like a lost puppy, and no one wants a lost puppy. Of course no one wants someone who's trying so hard. And no one would have to try so hard if they were actually worth befriending.

She sniffled involuntarily and the motion sent a small cascade of tears down her cheeks. For a moment she pictured herself from above; a small blanket-wrapped figure curled up on a huge sofa, her moist eyes the only thing catching the light from the television screen. The idea of this pitiful sight made the tears come quicker, more forcefully.

If only I had been better at ignoring my solitude from the very beginning, at acting like a normal person, then maybe I would have found someone. Maybe Jane would have stayed. Instead, I just lie here feeling sorry for myself. How pathetic. I dig my own grave by allowing myself to mind the fact that no one wants me.

She rubbed hard at her eyes and cheeks with a sleeve that had been wet with tears and dried more than once during that same day. That same day, which would soon turn into another, and the mere thought was almost unbearable. Maura didn't want another day of feeling like this. She just wanted time to go by and leave her alone.

How messed up is that? I didn't use to feel like this at night or in the morning. I didn't always lie awake feeling as if the world had ripped at the seams and I was unable to hold its pieces together. I didn't wake up thinking about what DVD to put on in order to finish the day quicker. Or did I?

Suddenly she wasn't sure. She seemed to remember waking up and embracing the day, eager to get as much out of it as possible, but her memory could be playing tricks on her. When she tried to think of a specific time of being happy, she failed. There were all the hours she had spent with Jane, but during many of them Maura had been deceiving her friend by keeping her non-platonic feelings under wrap, and the fact that she had been able to proved that the two women had never truly connected. Then there were the times she had been praised for scientific papers in school, but she would have traded all of her awards for a social life; the prizes were a sad substitute. As were her running, her yoga, her shopping. None of it made up for the gaping hole in her life, which no one could fill, because no one could fill a needy vacuum.

Clearly I always felt this way, and the world was always like this. I just didn't realise it until a few days ago.

The insight sent a jolt-like sob through her body and made her curl up even more.

If I was always like this, then there's no point in hoping to become myself again, no point in waiting for this to pass. 'This' won't pass until everything passes. It's not simply my lot in life; it is my life.

Her thoughts seemed so real, like tangible truths floating around her in the empty living room, and she couldn't bear to look at them for much longer. They doomed her, or at least pointed out the fact that she had been doomed all along and that there was no way out. And so she pulled the blanket over her head, pressed it against her eyes and ears, until her body seemed to sink into the wool and cushions around her, until there was no telling where one thing stopped and the other began. The only thing giving away the fact that the bundle on the sofa contained an actual person was the deep, mournful sobs escaping it.

The same sobs prevented Maura from hearing the sound of someone unlocking her front door and entering the house without knocking.

Chapter Text

Day 11

 

"You're here? Goddamn it, Maura, you had us worried sick!"

The sobs stopped instantly as a slightly muffled, yet familiar husky voice seeped through woolen layers that Maura was reluctant to peel back. Unsure of whether she wanted to meet the accompanying eyes that would undoubtedly demand answers and possibly be ablaze with fury.

"When you didn't show at work yesterday, I figured your plane was delayed and you were stuck in some faraway family castle." Jane's voice continued, this time much closer. Maura could hear the thumping sound of boots being dropped followed by soft socks against carpet. "But today… Christ, you never even gave us an address!"

Didn't show at work yesterday… Was I supposed to? I did take a whole week off, didn't I? Surely that week hasn't passed yet. Or has it?

"What- what day is it today?" Maura's voice sounded small and unsure, even to her own ears, and so it wasn't merely the blankets doing.

"Tuesday. Today is Tuesday," Jane repeated for emphasis, clearly getting herself worked up. "That's right! After living with me for a month you just up and leave without a trace for more than ten days. How come you never even-" Suddenly the voice trailed off and the pacing stopped. When Jane resumed her rambling, it had been reduced to a hesitant question. "Wait, you don't know what day it is?"

Apparently I don't. Apparently I can't even trust my mind with something that simple anymore.

Maura felt herself sink further into the sofa. If she sunk deep enough, perhaps she would somehow merge with the furniture and disappear.

"Maur…?" This time the voice was laced with concern, and it was merely inches away.

Maura quickly dried her eyes under the cover of the blankets. If she didn't brace herself and pull them down, Jane would surely beat her to it and take what little control she had left over the situation away from her.

Pull yourself together. This is pathetic. Once again, you're being pathetic.

And so two pair of hands tugged simultaneously at the thick woollen cloth. Jane's long, slender fingers from the outside, and Maura's smaller ones from within. The moment each uncovered the other woman's form they both winced, but whereas Maura's wince was internal, Jane's was accompanied by a loud gasp.

"Maura, what's happened to you? Is everything alright?" Jane automatically reached for her cheek, but Maura quickly pulled away and rose from the couch, managing to keep a blanket wrapped around her like a toga.

I can't let her touch me. If she touches me, I'll crack, and she'll know… she'll know exactly how messed up and useless I really am.

"I'm fine, Jane, I was just resting." Maura actually managed to keep her voice even, but the evenness sounded mechanical. It would be alright, though, as long as she didn't meet her friend's gaze and stayed out of her physical reach.

The latter proved difficult, as Jane quickly closed the distance between them and managed to put a gentle hand on Maura's shoulder before she could back away. Instantly, as if the hand had flipped on a switch, a powerful flashback took Maura back to the very first time they had met. To the comforting hand Jane had placed on the new, strange doctor's shoulder; a tiny touch that had led to so much more than either of them could ever have imagined. To Jane breaking her codes by letting Maura's mob father deal with a criminal. To Jane shooting herself because she knew Maura was helping her brother hold on by a thread. To this; this newest low and final disclosure of what a horrible choice Jane had made that one morning at a crime scene.

She should have kept her hand to herself back then. Very soon she'll realise it, too.

"Resting? For how long exactly?"

Jane's mild confusion turned to less subtle disbelief as Maura headed for the kitchen and coffee machine as a pretext to shrug her friend's hand away. Jane was at her heels and gestured to the for once less than spotless kitchen.

"Judging by the pizza box stash you keep around you've been here for quite some time!"

Maura's hands busied themselves with preparing coffee for Jane the way she'd done it every single morning for several weeks, before Jane moved out. Their living arrangements were always supposed to be temporary, but Maura felt a tinge of abandonment at the thought nonetheless. Surely the fact that Jane had left meant something. It was yet another one of those pieces of evidence that she had overlooked until recently; proof that their deep, mutual friendship had mostly existed in Maura's head.

"Maura? Please answer me! Have you even been abroad or did you make that up?" Jane was heading for exasperated now.

"I don't understand why you would ask me that, being well-acquainted with my physical responses to lying," Maura tried. She kept her gaze fixed on the coffee filter and pot between her hands.

"I know you can't lie to someone's face, not if you can lie in writing," Jane, ever the detail-oriented detective, countered. "And I know you are a master at deflection, so doing what you're doing right now won't work."

Jane was right behind her. Maura could feel her friend's body heat against the left side of her back as the she half begged, half commanded:

"Just be straight with me for once, Maur. It might make everyone's lives a lot easier."

Will it? I doubt it.

Maura took a deep breath trying not to let her friend's words sink in. Indeed, the red thread running through Maura's life seemed to be concealing and trying to compensate for the fact that she wasn't who people needed her to be. It was not only tiresome, it was dishonest. So in a way Jane was right.

But she doesn't realise how little of value will be left if I let the masks fall. I know I am unfit to lead this life. If everyone else knows as well, then surely no one will want to be a part of it.

And so Maura continued down the path of deflection. "I'm afraid I've run out of milk, but would you like some sugar in your coffee?" She tried to smile as she leaned away from Jane and reached for the cupboard. Her hand never made it all the way; Jane angrily pushed it away.

"Damn it, Maura, I meant it! I don't want coffee. I want you to tell me what the hell is going on!" She kept Maura's hand in both of hers and it prevented Maura from fidgeting.

"Language, Jane," Maura automatically said, as she watched her fingers between Jane's as if they belonged to someone else. In a way they did. They belonged to the idea of a Maura, whom Jane wanted to touch; one that had very little to do with the wreck of a woman standing in the kitchen. Jane's best friend never existed outside of her imagination.

I'm not her and I never was.

The realisation was heartbreaking and tears welled up in Maura's eyes again. She did her best to hold them in check for just a bit longer, kept her eyes wide open until they stung and burned. Her body was betraying her, clearly as out of control as her mind, and eventually all she could do was turn and step away to hide her face, retracting her hand as she did so.

"Oh no, Maura." The sudden change in Jane's posture and voice indicated that Maura had turned too late. Any trace of impatient assertiveness was immediately replaced by a concern so deep it drew furrows across the detective's otherwise wrinkle-free forehead as she once again tried to close in on her friend. "Sweetheart, what's wrong?"

Normally the term of endearment, which might be deemed out of character by the many who never saw this side of Jane, would melt Maura’s defence walls. But not today. By now Maura understood it wasn't really meant for her.

If she truly knew what I contain she'd call me something entirely different and flee as fast as she could. She ought to.

The coffee had run through the machine and the kitchen was unbearably quiet. There was only the sound of Jane shifting behind Maura. Of her wetting her lips and fumbling with her wristwatch.

"Did something happen with your family in Europe? Did Doyle try to contact you again?" Jane was guessing wildly, fumbling in all directions for anything resembling a lead. The contrast to her usual interrogation strategies was striking. She was definitely not being the focused detective right now. "Or was it something I said or did… or didn't say or do? Then I'm sorry, and I'm sorry if I was pushy before. Just please, Maur, won't you talk to me?" Jane never begged, but the current pleading tone in her voice was unmistakable.

This is so wrong. She's apologizing. I should be the one apologizing for making her feel guilty and worried. For once again failing at being her friend.

Maura opened her mouth to say this to Jane, but the right words never came. Instead all she could say was: "Really, Jane, I told you I'm fine."

There was a beat. Then suddenly long fingers hooked themselves in woolen fabric and Maura's blanket was yanked swiftly away to reveal a pair of sweatpants and a washed-out t-shirt which Jane had forgotten to take with her. Their colours didn't match and they clearly hadn't been changed in a while.

"Fine? Maura, look at yourself! You'd rather die than be dressed like this at four in the afternoon."

"You're hyperbolizing, Jane," Maura protested, and for a moment it was almost as if they were having one of their usual, good-natured quarrels. Except that Maura was staring at the floor instead of her friend's face.

"I don't think so. Maura, you're the queen of neat," Jane insisted. "You fix your hair when it's already perfect. You wear shoes worth a month of my salary to muddy crime scenes. And you dress like a model, when you're just spending your day in the morgue."

Even with the blanket Maura felt cold – she felt cold all the time – but without it she was freezing. She could sense the tiny hairs rising on her naked arms. "Maybe I realised how pointless it is," Maura said, jaw tense as she resisted the urge to hug herself. "Damaged goods remain damaged regardless of the wrappings."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Jane shook her head, clearly not understanding.

"Why should I dress up, Jane?" Maura, too, shook her head. "My life is mediocre. Not even that. I might as well look the part. At least it's honest. "

"What are you talking about? Maura, you're a documented genius, you're beautiful, you're anything but mediocre." Jane pulled over a chair – not one of the stools by the kitchen counter, but a lower one hidden away in a corner – and sat on it, thereby reducing her height enough to allow Maura to look down at her for a change. "And, I think I've told you this before, but you could have anyone."

No, Jane. I can't.

Maura, feeling dizzy and tired all at once, supported herself against the fridge. "Then why do I spend all my evenings alone? With Bass and television reporters as my only company?" Her voice sounded tired as well.

"We all thought you were abroad," Jane reminded her.

"I'm not just talking about this past-" Maura frowned, unsure of how long it had been. "These past nine… ten days." Suddenly the words that previously failed her came in abundance. "I'm talking about my life as it is. I might join you all at the Dirty Robber, but I'll never truly be one the guys. You can't deny that. And I might join the Rizzoli Sunday dinners, but always as the intruding stranger. I'll forever remain the odd one out, the one invited but not really belonging."

"No, Maur!" Jane instantly objected, her hands automatically flying up to underline the point in a very Italian fashion. "You're like a second daughter to Ma. One she can finally discuss all the girly stuff with like she's always dreamed of."

"But you're her real daughter, Jane. I'm just passing through. Your family would still be intact and wonderful without me. As would my adoptive family, for that matter."

"But my life wouldn't." The statement came in one rushed breath and couldn't possibly have been thought through. And sure enough, Maura detected mild shock at the words in Jane's features. Clearly she hadn't intended to say them.

Just an automated attempt at consolation. And now she's realising how untrue it rings. I was right all along; she doesn't really need me.

"It would, Jane. You said it yourself the other day on my answering machine – that you were all doing fine without me."

"That's not at all what I-" Jane blinked several times. "Maura, you got that plain wrong. I think you're getting a lot of things wrong right now."

Maura looked at her empty hands. They were trembling slightly, probably from the chill she was feeling, and she put them under her armpits in an attempt to warm herself up a little.

Impossible to concentrate like this.

"Actually, I think I'm finally getting it right. Deep down I probably always knew it; that certainly would explain my odd choice of career path. I can't connect with the living, so I work with the dead. They don't want me either, but they've ceased to want anyone at all, so it feels less like a rejection. And I help their families move on, so at least my life enables others to live theirs. Though I'm not sure I can even do that anymore."

Jane's eyes were growing wider by the minute and her hair wilder with every headshake. "Maura, you're talking about your job as if it's some second-rate plan B. You're the Chief Medical Examiner, for crying out loud! The first female one in the precinct. You only made it that far because you worked hard for it, handled all kinds of sexist bullshit, and because you're brilliant and love what you do."

"I don't work hard enough." Maura tightened her hold on herself, her cheek dropping to her chest. "I forgot to do a simple blood test last week. Yesterday I even forgot to go to work. I manage to ruin everything eventually," she added the last part with a small, sad smile.

"Nothing is ruined, Maura. Cavanaugh and all the others will understand once they know how you're feeling right now."

The hand reaching for Maura froze midway as Maura suddenly raised her voice.

"But this is not about right now! That's what I'm telling you over and over! I have always been an outsider, always tried so hard to fit in but never succeeded. The only difference is I now realise the futility of it all. I can be kind, put on tailored designer clothes, but it's not going to change what's underneath it!" Hot stinging tears leaked from Maura's hard eyes, otherwise her face was expressionless, a blank slate. "I was sent into this world before my time, unfinished, scarce half made up, it's as simple as that, Jane!* And so it's quite understandable that everybody else has more important people in their lives. I'm the expendable character."

Jane's wildly gesticulating hands had finally stilled. They were covering her cheeks and part of her lips, as she shook her head into them and gently stated: "I'm so, so sorry you're feeling like this, but believe me when I tell you you're anything but expendable. You've been working like crazy holding everything and everybody together since the shooting, and I think perhaps we've taken you for granted. But that all ends right now. I promise you, I'll get you the help you need."

"Help? Jane, no vacation or psychiatrist can change me into the friend you thought you had. She never existed. This-." She nodded slightly, indicating herself with the tiniest possible movement, "is what's on offer, and I don't blame you for declining it."

"I'm accepting, not declining." Jane got up from her chair very slowly, as if Maura were a wild animal she might startle. "And this is you being human. A particularly awesome member of the race, but one who has her limits just like everyone else." She inched closer, carefully keeping her hands by her side. "You've had so, so much on your plate lately, Maur. Much more than I could ever handle, and you finally reached the end of your rope. That's not surprising and it's sure as hell not a sign that something is wrong with you. The only 'wrong' is the fact that all those who care about you… we had our heads up our own asses and failed to notice." Jane's voice was as gentle as her tiptoeing steps across the kitchen floor. She was within easy arm's reach of Maura by now, and her fingers were twitching in the air, but she still kept her hands by her sides.

She doesn't want to touch me. She might be saying all these things to me, but on a more intuitive level her body knows better. Might as well make her realise it now instead of dragging this out.

"I know you don't truly care about me, Jane."

Jane froze instantly, one sock-clad foot in the air. Even her hands stilled.

"It's alright. You don't have to pretend. I was alone as a child, and I'm going to spend my adulthood alone. It's bearable once you stop fighting it." Maura forced a smile onto her face, but was well aware that it didn't make it to her eyes.

I can't even cheer her up properly. The sooner she's rid of me, the better. And afterwards I will never have to smile again; I will finally be able to just be myself.

"My biological parents gave me up, and my adoptive ones spend as much time abroad as possible. I've been the awkward outsider at countless social events, and I've literally made dates run for the door. The hard part is to keep trying and failing. So in a way it's a relief to accept the fact that no one will want me no matter what I do."

"Oh, Maur." Jane was still completely motionless, but she swallowed audibly. "People want you. You're very wantable…" The self-made word lingered on Jane's tongue for a moment, dragged out, as she seemed to search for more adequate terms. "Lovable. Desirable."

"To whom?" Maura didn't shake her head, didn't swallow, didn't blink. "Your words are exactly that; words. What good does being desirable do me if no actual person desires me? I remain alone with this tenderness inside me that no one could ever accept because it comes in a fundamentally flawed package. It's just a fact."

"No, it's not." Both of Jane's feet had finally found the floor, and she stood straight as her hands began moving again. Not twitching, but reaching purposefully until they'd managed to sneak Maura's hands out from under the shorter woman's arms and securely clasp them. "People love you, Maur. Actual people want you… desire you." Jane had been looking at their bundle of fingers, but now she met her friend's light brown eyes with determination in her own. There was finality in her voice when she stated: "And I know that because I'm one of them."

It took a moment for Maura to fully realise what had just been said. It was exactly what she had wanted Jane to say for weeks, possibly even from the beginning of their friendship. The ultimate declaration, one she had never dared to hope for. In a few, pitiful moments she had allowed herself to imagine it taking place, however, and in those daydreams her own response was always an unrestrained outburst of joy.

Yet now that the words were finally, truly out there, she didn't move a muscle. Didn't so much as squeeze the fingers intertwined with hers. Because by now she knew how little the words actually meant. Jane was only saying them because she still hadn't accepted the fact that her friend was an illusion, and because the situation required it.

I'm blackmailing her emotionally by behaving like this, and everyone knows a coerced confession is useless in court.

"You're not, Jane. You're just trying to make me feel better, because that's your nature, but in the long run it will be easier if we both honestly admit that it was never meant to be." She gave a small shoulder shrug as she carefully withdrew her hands. Jane's remained suspended in mid-air, her fingers clasping at nothing. "I'm not what you need or want, as a friend or as anything else."

Tears began falling freely now, but from Jane's, not Maura's eyes. Jane, who hardly ever cried and never in public, did nothing to conceal what was happening to her.

Once again I'm causing her pain. It just proves that my assessment of this friendship is right.

"I think it would be best if you leave now."

You'll leave eventually anyway, and I can't keep this up. I'm so, so tired. Beat. Broken.

Jane remained where she was. She looked intensely into her former friend's eyes as if searching for something, waiting for something. Apparently she didn't find it and eventually her gaze and head sunk in defeat, her face almost contorted. She sniffled loudly and wiped hard at her eyes and cheeks with the back of her hands several times, clearly not caring that her mascara smeared. "Alright, I'll leave," she said in a particularly hoarse voice, even for her, then headed for her boots in the hallway.

Maura didn't follow. She shut her eyes tightly and tried to fight a fresh wave of nausea by focusing on the sound of each of Jane's steps towards the door.

Five steps through the kitchen. Eight steps across the carpet. Rustling, then the thump of one booted foot against the floor. Then another. Three heavy steps leading to the door, and she's out of my life.

"I'll leave," Jane called out in a more steady voice, before opening and closing the front door behind her. "But I will be back."

Chapter Text

Day 13

 

Two days had passed since the confrontation in the kitchen according to the iPhone calendar, which Maura no longer used. For her it might as well have been a whole week. Jane's departure had enabled Maura to go back to her vegetative state on the sofa instead of having to deal with another human being, and initially she had felt relief. She knew she wasn't the friend Jane deserved, had sensed that their relationship was flawed at best. This she had tried to explain to Jane in order to protect her, to relieve her of the burden of Maura's miserable company; and she had succeeded.

Yet the relief had quickly given in to despair as the consequences of their confrontation began to sink in. Jane was gone. And to Maura her deliberate absence was final, indisputable proof that Maura had been right all along: Jane had never, could never love her. As if to make sure she never forgot this again she repeated the realisation to herself over and over again on the sofa:

I showed her my true face, and it drove her away. I drive everyone away.

The solitude of her house was beginning to feel like equal parts silent sanctum and claustrophobic crypt dictating an in-between existence that could hardly qualify as lived life. Actual life was happening outside, but it would take so much more than an open front door for Maura to reach it. It would have to come to her, and eventually rustling keys did indeed announce someone's arrival.

"I said I'd be back, and here I am." Jane's voice reached Maura's ears from the hallway, so much steadier than the last time they'd spoken. She heard the front door being gently but firmly shut, caught glimpses off Jane's coat being flung off with efficient motions, before all of Jane finally appeared in the door frame, a huge bag over her shoulder.

She really did come back. But why did she come back? What's the point?

Maura knew she ought to either feel frustrated with Jane's insistence on dragging out what was already doomed or feel tremendous relief and gratitude because she was no longer alone. Fragments of both mindsets whirred about within her, yet seemed incompatible and left Maura too confused to say anything much less get up from her spot on the sofa.

Jane did not wait for a response, however, and headed directly for Maura's more or less permanent location. "I would have come sooner, but I needed to pick up a few things." She nodded towards the bag as she put it on the floor as carefully as possible.

Maura eyes followed Jane's hands out of reflex more than curiosity as they retrieved a pen and a pad with handwritten notes on it, some unmarked Tupperware containers, a laptop and a digital camera. Only when Jane fastened the camera to a stand, aimed it directly at Maura and pressed the recording button did Maura finally speak up. "What are you doing?" She tried to cover as much of herself as possible with the blanket.

Not that it matters. Doesn't change what's underneath it.

"I'm filming you while I ask you a few questions." The view of Jane's face was obscured by the camera as she spoke. A small electronic sound gave away the fact that she was zooming in and out, trying to find the best possible framing.

"I'm not in the mood for playing detective games. I assume I'm not under suspicion for anything." Jane didn't respond, and Maura sighed: "Turn it off, Jane."

"I will, but I need to do this one thing first." Jane stood back up straight and smiled at Maura for the first time since she'd arrived. Maura could name each of the implicated muscles, but not interpret the expression.

Condescending smugness? A misguided attempt at cheering me up? An automated reaction? Or is she mocking me?

"Jane, I mean it. Turn it off."

"And I told you, I will. But first, tell me: Have you had problems remembering things lately?" Jane once again leaned over the camera, adjusting focus and frame.

Maura turned her head towards the window, refusing to reply to or even ponder Jane's question.

Why is she asking me this? Why is she filming me? I don't want to be filmed. I don't want to be caught on tape, immortalised; I just want time to pass.

"Maura?" Jane called out. "Please humour me for a bit. Then I'll leave you alone, I promise."

Maura still didn't utter as much as a single syllable.

I have the right to remain silent. In fact, it might be the very last thing I have.

"Right, okay," Jane said, surprisingly without any trace of annoyance in her voice. "I'll answer that one for you, then. You forgot to do a blood test last week, you even forgot to go to work on Monday and Tuesday and still haven't called in sick." Jane straightened and gently added, "I did that for you, by the way, so don't worry about that. But bottom line is: The answer is yes, you have been less focused than normally."

Jane picked up the pad and made a note. Maura watched her do it out of the corner of her eye, still refusing to look directly at Jane, much less participate in her absurd interrogation.

She thinks even less of me than I thought – she's treating me like a criminal. Not that I can blame her; I just wish she wouldn't insist on dragging this out.

"Okay, next question." Jane gazed up from her notepad. "Would you like something to eat?" She removed the lids from each of the Tupperware containers and placed them neatly in line in front of Maura. Two of them gave off a faint steam, indicating that their contents were still hot. "I brought some things I know you like. Ma's homemade gnocchi," she indicated one of the steaming containers, then continued pointing out the rest "some sushi picked up at that favourite place of yours, Indian lamb stew – all organic of course, fresh-baked croissants from the French bakery, and finally fudge clusters." Jane sat on the edge of the sofa table, tilting her head expectantly. "I'm afraid they don't go too well together, so you'll have to choose. What would you prefer, Maur?"

Maura could feel her friend's – or former friend's – demanding gaze upon her and instinctively knew Jane wouldn't give up until she got her answer. Normally Maura wouldn't cave easily, but she was too tired to fight today. She did, however, keep her own gaze fixed at the wall as she simply replied: "I'm not hungry."

"Really? Because I brought all this just for you and I really think you should eat something." Jane reached out, then hesitated and finally settled on placing a hand on the blanket wrapped around Maura. She couldn't feel the touch – the wool was too thick – but she could see it and the effect was almost the same.

She's too close, much too close. She made the mistake of touching me before.

"I'm not hungry," Maura repeated. She shut her eyes tightly, but it was too late. She knew the hand was there and could still see it with her eyes closed.

"Choose one thing, Maur. Just one," Jane pleaded.

One thing? But there were four on the table. Or five. Can't even remember what they contained.

"I can't," Maura finally admitted.

"Can't because you're not hungry, because you can't make up your mind, or both," Jane asked for clarification, clearly back in detective mode.

All attempts at shutting out Jane's questions were quickly proving hopeless; Maura's filter had been gone for weeks, and now the words sneaked their way into her conscious mind leaving chaos in their tracks.

Am I in fact hungry, should I eat something? Then what would I like to eat? Would I like to eat?

This time Maura did not remain silent out of spite, but simply because she truly didn't know the answer to Jane's question. Trying to figure it out made her feel lightheaded, almost dizzy, a reaction so irrational she would never be able to explain it to anyone, not even Jane.

Jane, in the meantime, withdrew her hand and got up from the table. Maura could hear rustling of the bag, steps across the carpet and noises from the kitchen, before Jane returned accompanied by a sour smell. "Let's take a look at the physical evidence," Jane voice suggested, "your garbage bin. Which really needs to be emptied, by the way."

At those words Maura finally turned to look at the odd scenario unfolding in her tastefully furnished living room: Jane, latex glove-covered hands deep in an almost bursting garbage bag, retrieving boxful after boxful of pizza leftovers. She arranged them in a semi-circle around her on the floor, then flipped the lids open to disclose their content.

Bent over a particular box she wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Judging by the smell and, for lack of scientific term, eww-factor I'd say these sad remains formerly known as pizza are at least a week old." She pushed herself up, pealed off her gloves and wiped her hands on her pants, indifferent to the chalk-like traces of talcum smeared on the black cloth. "Which means you have bought a total of five, six…" she counted the boxes around her, "seven pizzas in as many days and not finished half of them. Pretty clear indication of lack of appetite, I'd say, and the fact that they're all exactly the same is telling." She turned to Maura, a soft expression on her face, as she voiced her conclusion: "You had no idea what to order, so you ordered the same thing every time. Am I close?"

Maura averted her eyes and assumed Jane took that as a yes since she scribbled something on her notepad and took out the trash. When she came back she switched off the camera and then, no longer worried about obscuring its view, went to sit on the sofa table directly in front of Maura. Maura sensed all this through the lashes of lowered eyelids without looking directly at Jane. She couldn't, wouldn't.

Why does she keep this up? Must be out of some warped sense of obligation. I'm not worth it, and I know she knows it.

"I don't actually have to ask the next couple of questions," Jane stated quietly. "I already know the answers. I can tell you still haven't changed your clothes and you're not wearing make-up, which is so out of character for you, Maur. I know you tend to cry more often than me, but not in the way you did when I was last here… And even without runny mascara to give it away I can tell you've cried since then." Jane's otherwise steady, melodic voice cracked for half a second, but she quickly coughed the chink away and continued as gently as before. "I know you feel worthless, inadequate, guilty of all sorts of things you could never be held responsible for – you made that much clear to me the other day. And you really believe it's the truth, don't you?"

Some underlying emotion tinted Jane's voice. Wonder or sadness, Maura wasn't sure which.

"You believe that things were always as bleak as they seem right now, and that they're never going to change." Jane punctuated her sentence with a sharp intake of air, then a sigh.

Sadness. It's definitely sadness. Caused simply by my very being here.

"I only have one question left."

Warm fingers against chin forced Maura out of her frozen posture, tilting her heads upwards until she could only avoid Jane's face by literally shutting it out. She did, bracing herself for another question that would undoubtedly make her broken mind spin even further out of control.

"How do you sleep?" Jane finally asked, and Maura opened her eyes in surprise.

It was not what she had expected. On the contrary, this question she could easily answer, and it couldn't possibly scare Jane away, could it? Because Jane would know exactly what she meant. This was something they did in fact have in common in spite of everything.

None the less she shifted her gaze from Jane's left eye to her right and back, hesitating before she finally spoke: "I don't. And when I do, I dream."

She didn't have to elaborate on what kind of dreams she was referring to. Jane nodded slowly in understanding, caressing Maura's cheek with her thumb, before she started shaking her head instead and finally withdrew her hand in order to reach for the bag on the floor. A thick medical textbook with yellow notes sticking out in several places emerged from it. Jane put it on the table next to her, then laid her own notes on top of it so they could be read by the both of them. It was a list of sorts, but Jane's hurried handwriting was practically undecipherable.

"Maura…" Jane began, as she patted the notes next to her with one hand. Then she placed both hands on Maura's shoulders as if to make sure that she was indeed with her. "Maura, you have every single symptom of depression there is." Maura felt fingers squeeze her gently as Jane repeated: "Every. Single. One. Loss of appetite, inability to make even minor decisions or overcome daily routines," Jane continued, clearly quoting the textbook next to her. "Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy. Nightmares, insomnia. An overwhelming sense of worthlessness, guilt and utter despair because there seems to be no escape, no way out of this hole you've fallen into. That's how you feel, isn't it?"

Maura didn't reply. She felt the confusion settling in again.

I'm not depressed, am I? I'm a doctor. Surely I would recognize the symptoms. This is not depression, this is just plain me. Jane simply refuses to accept it.

As if reading her mind Jane sighed and shook her head slowly. "You don't believe me. That's alright, you don't have to." She pushed her notes further towards Maura as she got up from the table and headed for her laptop. She switched it on, and, while waiting for the computer to boot, removed the camera from its stand and connected it to the laptop. Cool, blue light from the screen accented her angular cheekbones as she clicked a few buttons, kneeling on the carpet.

"There," she said after a few minutes. "If you don't believe me, perhaps you'll believe this." She turned the screen towards Maura and sat down next to her on the couch as if they were preparing for one of their movie nights. But when she pushed the play button no other than Maura appeared on the screen. "This is you last year. Someone recorded your speech at the Forensic Pathology Conference in Memphis. It wasn't hard to track down – you have many admirers, you know."

Jane cast a ghost of a smirk over her shoulder. Maura saw it, but didn't react, and Jane quickly returned her attention to the screen.

"See how your hands make eager little gestures when you speak?" Jane indicated the area on the screen. Maura, impeccably dressed and groomed, was standing on a podium facing a large auditorium – three full front rows were visible at the bottom of the frame – and she was doing her best to make eye-contact with everybody.

I remember that speech. But I don't remember people being this… captivated.

"I used to wonder if you had Italian blood in you until we bumped into Doyle. Then I thought perhaps you picked some of those gestures up from me, and it made me kind of happy," Jane admitted shyly. Then she shrugged slightly and quickly reached for the keyboard. "Oh, and I had your fancy software installed. I know I teased you about it, but I have to admit it's kind of cool."

She zoomed in on Maura as much as possible, then launched the facial recognition programme. A green grid attached itself to Maura's face, measuring the finest movements of the muscles there, and a rapid succession of conclusions were spelled out in a box on the screen. Jane read them aloud. "Happy. Neutral. Reminiscing. Happy. Serious. Happy… So many different expressions in just a few minutes." She turned up the volume, and Maura's voice flowed loud and clear towards them in spite of the poor recording quality. A few more key presses made a graphic representation of the speech pop up. "Looks like a sea during a storm, doesn't it? Up and down, emphasis here, then a small pause for effect," she indicated the spot on the graph, "but you still manage between 200 and 250 words per minute on average. Wouldn't wanna face you in a political debate… Unless we were on the same side!"

What is she talking about? Why is she doing this?

"This is you now," Jane announced quietly, as she flipped a switch on the camera attached to the laptop and a new image took over the screen. An image recorded less than half an hour ago, and the contrast was striking.

"I'm not in the mood for playing detective games. I assume I'm not under suspicion for anything."

The voice sounded flat and thin. There was no melodic lull to it, no change in dynamic, and the words were spoken slowly, almost separately, as if they only barely held together.

"Little more than one hundred words per minute." Jane tapped the screen. "And the sea has calmed." She followed the almost horizontal speech graph with her fingertips. "Or frozen." Jane activated the facial grid, and the software spelled out a new set of facial expressions: Sad. Neutral. Sad. The last word remained as Jane sat back, leaning into the sofa, her head turned towards Maura.

Sad.

"You don't have to believe me, but you always believed in science. It's all right there. Lack of mimic and gestures, slowed, monotonous speech…" Jane's gaze felt too intense; Maura couldn't hold it and looked back at the screen instead, but felt a hand sneak its way past the blanket barrier and curl around her wrist.

Sad.

"…lack of eye-contact," Jane added giving Maura's wrist a small squeeze. "The evidence is indisputable, Maur."

Is it? Depression… is that what this is? Or is she trying to explain my personality away?

Maura kept her eyes fixed on her own representation on the screen, taking in every detail that distinguished it from the representation recorded a year ago. Present day Maura looked so much smaller, and whereas the old Maura stood straight and flashed her audience wide smiles, this one was literally curled around herself and practically melting into the blanket and furniture surrounding her. Her hair was uncombed and slightly greasy, and there was no trace of make-up to highlight her features. As a consequence her face looked pale and flat and unreadable. There was, in fact, not much to read. It was as still and set as a marble carving, eternalising one single pained expression of…

Depression. It really is all there. How could I have missed it? How could I be so blind?

The hand hidden by the woollen folds had found her fingers now, interlaced itself with hers.

Depression. I know a large part of the population experiences it during their life, but I never expected it to affect me.

"You see it, don't you?"

Depression. Where does it leave me? If I allowed myself to fall this deep, this hard… then how will I ever get up again?

It was a medical diagnosis, a rational explanation to all the chaos she was experiencing, and Maura ought to feel relief. But it was overshadowed by new questions, new uncertainties.

I didn't see this coming, didn't do anything to stop it, but I should have. How can I trust myself to find a way out? If I am this oblivious and this frail?

The familiar nausea began to wash over her and she shifted uneasily on the sofa, trying to shake it off, but it didn't help. She could feel her heart rate increase, her breath becoming shallower, and she was already trying to blink the dancing white dots away.

"Maur…?"

Jane's concerned voice was much closer than Maura had expected. She looked up and found Jane's face right in front of her; she was kneeling on the floor now, but had never relinquished her hold on Maura's hand.

Frail and oblivious and broken.

Maura swallowed. The dots where blurring her vision, foreshadowing the ultimate loss of sight that would follow if Maura fainted. But the threat of a different kind of breakdown was burning right behind her eyes.

"Maura, what's happening right now?" Jane's free hand found Maura's cheek, caressed it gently.

Faint or howl like a little girl. I can't do either. Not in front of Jane. I have to stop this.

"What can I do?" Jane asked earnestly. The words were a renewal of an offer Jane had made months ago in a different kind of crisis, a different life even, and the juxtaposition of those two confrontations did something to Maura. The contrast and similarities were equally striking; at once indicating how much had changed and what remained intact in spite of everything. In spite of her.

A strangled, croak-like sob slipped past Maura's lips and left a gate open for all the confusing words previously piling up inside her. "I don't want to, I can't do this, I think I'm going to faint, to fall," Maura was babbling. She knew it, heard it, hated it, but was completely unable to stop herself.

"I'm right here, and I'll catch you if you do." Both of Jane's hands were now on Maura's shoulders, upper arms, elbows, rubbing warmth into her tense and trembling muscles. It was such a caring gesture, and Maura couldn't help but lean into it, even though she knew the connection was temporary, illusionary and certainly not one rooted in a relationship between equals.

I'm using her, and I could easily use her up. She shouldn't have to see me like this, shouldn't have to watch me fall apart. It's too much to ask and so much more than I deserve.

"I can't-" she began, but her voice broke. She tried to force her breathing under control, but it only made the nausea increase. The only alternative was the tears that threatened to spill over. "You shouldn't have to be here, it's too much," she finally said, and it was so vague and poorly put, but Jane seemed to understand her none the less.

"Hey! Look at me. Listen to me." Strong hands shook her gently. "This is not too much, Maura! Not for me. This is you being depressed, not me. And although I wish you didn't have to go through feeling like this, it's nothing I can't handle. Being here with you does not hurt me, and it's sure as hell not going to change how I feel about you." There was rock-like certainty in Jane's eyes, and her voice was firm, almost demanding; it was the voice of someone in charge, and it did something to Maura. Somehow she felt just a little bit safer, a little less worried that she would lose everything if she gave in to the pressure behind her eyes.

She's probably doing this out of a sense of duty.

Her vision blurred again, but this time for a different reason.

She probably feels responsible somehow. But does it really matter?

Saltwater washed the white dots away, bulged out, seemingly ignoring gravity. A physical impossibility.

I can't care anymore. Not now. Not like this. I can't.

Then the bubble-like water surface finally burst in a cascade of tears falling down cheekbones, as Maura herself finally fell.And then she was caught. She felt arms tugging her, lifting her, shifting her; then warmth and physical closeness and a voice mumbling nonsense words in her ear, as she was rocked back and forth.

"I'm utterly lost; I don't know what to do, and I don't think I'm strong enough; how can I get back up, how can I do the things I'm supposed to do if I break this easily?" Maura recognized her own voice, but it was as if someone else spoke on her behalf. The words were aimed at no one in particular, they just tumbled out of her mouth against Jane's neck. "I hate being like this. I want to curl up on the floor and wait for someone to pick me up, but then who would want to be with someone that pathetic? I just don't know how to get out of this; I need to get out of this. But how would I get out of my own skin."

Jane had pulled Maura onto her lap and held her with all of her limbs, as if trying to cover as much of Maura's body with her own as possible. Their legs were tangled, one arm around Maura's waist held her firmly in place, another stroked hair, shoulder, arms.

"I don't know how to go on. I don't know how to be what people need me to be or even how to just be happy. I don't know anything, and all these words… they don't solve anything; and what if there's nothing to solve. What if this is just me, my life, what's left of it…"

"It's not." Jane, interrupting her for the first time, spoke into her hair. "It's a depression, not your lot in life. It will pass, Maura, you just need some help. And then things will get better. Everything."

The lips moving against her scalp punctuated the promise with several small kisses, and the tenderness made Maura sob again.

She's so sweet. So, so sweet and so much more than I could ever deserve.

"I'm so sorry, Jane," she hiccupped.

"You have nothing to be sorry about. Baby, this could happen to anyone, and it is not your fault."

"I should have been stronger. More alert. I should have seen this coming and prevented it somehow. I'm a doctor, I'm supposed to recognize the symptoms."

"But you didn't know they were symptoms. To you it all feels real; that's what depression does, even to doctors. It makes you stop seeing things clearly."

"Still, I should have-"

"Hush," Jane mumbled, and at one point it would have made Maura furious. But right now it felt like a gift; the gift of not having to speak, not having to explain oneself. Right now Maura could just be. Soak Jane's warmth, her strength, lean completely into the taller woman. Slowly, slowly, Maura's breath and heart rate seemed to synchronise with Jane's calm and steady rhythms. Until finally all that held her body upright was Jane; Maura was merely a physical extension of her.

The timeout didn't last forever. Eventually Maura had to pull back, had to regain something resembling composure and deal with her own individual existence. She did so reluctantly, and Jane, perhaps sensing this, made sure to never to lose the physical contact completely. Her hand was still on Maura's arm as Maura spoke in a voice that sounded more like her own than it had for days. "Dear me, here we are talking about nothing but me and my silly issues. I haven't even asked how you're doing at work! All I've done is whine in the most pathetic and apathetic not to mention narcissistically self-obsessed way."

"They're not silly issues, and you're not pathetic or self-obsessed, Maur. That's the depression talking. In everybody else's eyes you're anything but. You're a generous, caring and wonderful woman, and we're all damn lucky to have you in our lives."

Maura picked at the blanket, which they had somehow ended up sitting on top of. She didn't say anything. How could she? She didn't even know if she could trust her own mind anymore.

"Maura, everything you're feeling and thinking right now… I understand it all feels real to you, but you have to believe me when I tell you it isn't. Every negative thing you think of yourself, or believe that we think of you…" Jane leaned closer and added emphatically: "…it's not real. And whatever you fear, it won't happen. I'm sticking around to assure it won't. And I'm getting you help." Her hand drifted along Maura's naked arm until it found small fingers to squeeze. "It gets better from now on, Maur. I promise you that."

Maura remained quiet. But for the first time that day, that week, she returned the squeeze.

Chapter Text

Day 19

 

"Maura Isles? You can go in now."

After Jane's scientific intervention Maura had agreed to let her set up an appointment with a therapist. She had been too tired, too overwhelmed to argue, and at the time Jane seemed to have a point. Right now, however, as an elderly secretary called out her name in the waiting room, she was having serious second thoughts. Aside from mandatory routine checkups at the Boston Police Department Maura had never actually seen a therapist in her life. Not because she couldn't afford it or didn't know where to find one, and certainly not because her life so far had been a dance on roses. Rather, Maura had simply always preferred to deal with things on her own. This was partially due to the fact that she considered psychology a soft and somewhat unreliable science, but mostly because she felt like she of all people should be able to pull herself together. She was equipped with the IQ of a genius after all; there were other people in more need of professional help than her, and yet here she was.

Weak. That's what I am. Weak and spoiled, paying other people to solve my petty problems.

Maura's lack of experience with real, live therapists did not prevent plentiful images from passing before her eyes during the approximately 12 seconds it took her to react to the secretary's message, rise from her chair and fully open the door labelled 'Dr. Gordon'. She didn't normally make assumptions; it made her uncomfortable. However, not nearly as uncomfortable as being unprepared did. In this case the latter had won out and she had drawn up numerous scenarios in her mind, all of them dominated by bearded, spectacle-bearing men squeezed in between bookcases in sepia toned surroundings. And she had spent her past sleepless nights trying to figure out what would be expected from her.

Once the door was open it became clear that at least part of her preparations had failed. The office she entered was light, the floor and furniture all wooden, Scandinavian designs. And the therapist greeting Maura from behind her desk with an outstretched hand and a soft smile was a woman, possibly younger and definitely smaller than Maura. Of course the fact that she remained seated made it impossible to accurately assess her height, but the hand that squeezed Maura's was almost child-like.

She's barely over thirty. How could she possibly give me any answers.

"I'm Dr. Katherine Gordon." The woman's voice was surprisingly deep and didn't seem to go with her petite frame.

"Dr. Maura Isles."

"Ah, a colleague?"

"Not quite." Maura's hand, having released Dr. Gordon's, began to fidget. "I'm a forensic pathologist."

"So you deal with quiet patients." Dr. Gordon's smile widened a little. "I've sometimes wondered what that would be like…" Not until she left her spot behind the desk and came around to Maura's side did Maura realise why Dr. Gordon had not gotten up to properly greet her: She was in an electric wheelchair. This also explained why there were two coffee cups, but only one chair next to the low table in the centre of the room. "Well, have a seat, Dr. Isles. There's freshly brewed coffee on the pot. I can also arrange for some tea."

"Coffee is fine," Maura replied as she sank into the deep, slightly egg-shaped armchair that had replaced the almost mythical couch. It was surprisingly comfortable, and Maura breathed an inaudible sigh of relief when she realised she would remain eye-levelled with Dr. Gordon.

Thank god. If I had to lie on my back, offering up myself like that… It would be humiliating. Although I suppose that would have been suitable considering how I'm letting someone else deal with my life as opposed to dealing with it myself.

"You'll have to pour it yourself, I'm afraid – I can lift the cup, but not the pot." Dr. Gordon held up both of her empty hands as if that explained everything, then picked up a small digital dictaphone from her lap. "By the way, would you mind if I recorded our session? I'd rather give you my full attention than hide behind a notepad. No one except me will ever gain access to the files."

"Go ahead," Maura replied into her coffee. It could have been reheated in the microwave for all she cared; the flavour didn't mean anything to her anymore. But the cup gave her hands something to do.

"Right. So, Dr. Isles, I understand you wanted to see me about depression. But before we go into that perhaps you could simply tell me a little about yourself?"

Maura took a deep breath. This was what she had prepared herself for during the past nights. She knew where a therapist would dig; she might as well lay it all out there right away. It would save them time, and if she could string her rehearsed words seamlessly together perhaps she wouldn't burst into tears and run out of breath the way she had so often lately: "I'm the Chief Medical Examiner at the Boston Police Department. I chose quiet patients over live ones because I lack social skills and am unable to connect with other people, which can probably be traced back to me growing up as an only child with absentee parents. I was adopted as an infant, so I was never breast-fed. And I recently discovered that my biological father is a criminal, so I presumably have some form of father issues. I score between 165 and 170 in a standardised IQ test, I spent my youth at an all-girls boarding school in France, and according to common definitions I qualify as a bisexual." Maura brought the cup back up to her lips the moment she finished rattling off her mental script and ran out of things to say.

Dr. Gordon's watched her quietly for a moment, then laughed heartily. "That's an impressively detailed presentation, Dr. Isles, and all duty noted. But I was thinking more along the lines of where you are in your life today. I don't expect us to dwell much on your childhood."

"You don't?" Maura felt the paper-thin layer of composure beginning to crumble.

What am I here for exactly? What is expected of me?

"Not unless there's something in particular you'd like to discuss. Mind you, the good old Freudian, psychoanalytical approach to finding the repressed root of a problem is great – if you have 20 years on your hands to be analysed three times a week." Dr. Gordon adjusted her seat via the joystick on her armrest. The chair hummed slightly as the backrest pushed her into a more upright position. "But you're a young woman with places to be, things to do. A life not just to be analysed, but to be lived here and now."

A life to live? I'm not so sure about that. But I wish, I wish… I wish it were true.

Dr. Gordon tilted her head and the soft smile was back in place as she watched Maura intently. Maura remained quiet, clung to her cup, and eventually Dr. Gordon spoke up again. "Perhaps you could describe the past few weeks of your life for me? How long have you been feeling depressed, and what led up to it?"

"I…" Maura tried to wet her lips, but her mouth was dry. Also, her heart rate was quickening ominously.

Perhaps this coffee wasn't such a good idea after all.

She put the cup down and instantly began fidgeting, wringing her hands as she tried to will her thoughts into something resembling actual sentences.

"Here." Dr. Gordon slid a pink, palm-sized, unshapely ball across the table. "Try this." She picked a bright blue one up herself that looked much bigger between her diminutive hands and began moulding it. "It's full of some undoubtedly highly poisonous rubber material, but I just love the feel of it. Good for improving dexterity, too."

Maura mirrored the therapist's movements, moved the ball from one hand to the other and back.

"So, what made you suspect you had a depression?" Dr. Gordon asked without looking up from the blue matter between her hands.

"My friend Jane pointed out that all my symptoms fit. Slowed speech, loss of appetite…" Maura kept her focus on the ball as she relayed all the signs. She squeezed it pancake-flat, then pressed it back into shape. "And so she had me convinced… Convinced I should seek your opinion, that is."

"But not convinced about you having a depression?"

Maura froze.

Yet another simple question I cannot answer. It's so much easier to not talk at all.

"Yes and no." She sighed. "How do I know for certain 'depression' isn't merely something Jane came up with because it makes it easier for her to deal with me? A label I readily accept because it lifts the responsibility off my shoulders, allowing me to take an easy way out instead of properly handling my life?"

"Most people would think admitting to a depression and seeking professional help is anything but easy. In fact, seeing me today could be perceived as you taking an important step towards handling your life."

Could it? I hadn't thought of it that way. But then again I didn't actually set up this appointment; Jane did. I didn't really do, or handle, anything.

A slight clatter made Maura look up. Dr. Gordon was reaching for her own coffee cup; she was using her fingers to transport her hand across the table like a crawling spider and had finally gotten a hold of the saucer. "Would you mind pouring me a cup as well?"

Maura did as requested and watched as the therapist carefully inched the now full cup towards her lap and used both hands to lift it to her face, both elbows planted firmly on the wheelchair's armrests.

"Thank you. I'm trying to cut back, but I enjoy the taste far too much." Dr. Gordon smiled, then asked between sips: "These symptoms of yours – was their onset sudden or did they progress over a period of time?"

Maura thought hard about it for a moment. Lately her sense of time had been dwindling, and before Jane came by she had arrived at the conclusion that the symptoms had been there all along; that they were simply an integral part of her life. However, the video Jane had shown her from last year told another story.

"How long have you had troubles sleeping?" the therapist specified.

"For several weeks. Since my friend Jane was shot, actually. She was hanging on by a thread for a while and I spent all my free time by her bedside, often staying late into the night. This of course disrupted my sleeping pattern, and after her release it never returned to normal."

"Do you know what kept you awake?"

"Thoughts. There were a lot of repercussions of the shooting to deal with at work on top of my usual busy schedule." Maura had picked up the ball again. She rolled it between her hands until it grew long and thin, while she tried to describe the hectic weeks following the shooting. Surprisingly she found herself relaying pretty much everything, including her constant inadequacy and her newly discovered feelings for Jane. Her soft and slightly monotonous voice seemed to speak on its own.

I'm ranting. I really should filter myself more. My mind is all over the place.

"Anyway." She shook her head, trying to get back on track. "I spent my nights handling unfinished business in my head or thinking conversations over that I never had time to consider during the day. And when I did sleep I had very vivid dreams and woke up more tired than I was before going to bed."

"Sounds like a stressful period of your life. Did you have anyone to talk to about it, anyone who could take some of the load?"

No.

"Not really." Maura had caught the ball in the pocket of her rounded hands. "Normally I would talk to Jane, but she needed to focus on recovering, and on top of that her parents were splitting up. I'm still not sure she knows; I promised her mother not to get Jane involved."

Whining. You're whining. Over nothing.

"But regardless, I should be able to handle a few extra tasks, now shouldn't I?" She tried to squeeze the ball out between thumb and index finger like toothpaste out of a tube. "After all I wasn't the one getting a divorce. I wasn't the one who got pierced by a bullet and nearly bled to death." The ball finally shot through, slipped out of her hand and tumbled to the floor.

As Maura dug under the table to retrieve the ball, Dr. Gordon commented: "I can't help but notice you seem to have a hard time keeping your hands still. Is that just today, here with me?"

"No," Maura admitted. "Ever since the shooting I've felt kind of... unsettled. Unable to find rest. It comes and goes." She hesitated, unsure of how many details she should go into.

I'm going to sound like a crazy person. But then again, that's why I'm here, isn't it? Because I've lost it. Because I can't even trust my own thoughts.

She took a deep breath and decided to go all in. "Sometimes, when it's particularly bad, my hands tremble, my temperature drops, and my pulse increases dramatically. A few, recent times I've also experienced nausea and lightheadedness as if I'm on the verge of passing out. My vision and hearing have been affected as well."

"How?"

"Everything comes in at once – conversations, sounds, my own heartbeat – and I can't distinguish one thing from the other. There are too many details, and they turn into this overwhelming noise that I can't filter. It's claustrophobic, suffocating even."

Crazy indeed. If I had been born a century ago I would have been a prime example of the hysterical woman.

Dr. Gordon didn't so much as flinch. "Does this happen in particular situations or at random?"

"I'm not sure. Sometimes it seems to come out of nowhere. My most severe experience occurred when I was alone in my own home. Jane was doing better and had just moved out, and for the first time in weeks I had nothing to worry about, until…"

Until you did it to yourself. Out of the blue is but a poor excuse.

"…until I managed to somehow provoke the… panic." Maura paused and swallowed. Then she apologetically added: "I understand it's entirely my own fault. It's obviously psychosomatic, but I just can't seem to control my reactions even though I should know better." She sighed. "Anyway, since then it seems to happen especially when I am around many people at the same time. Once at the local bakery, and I think it was about to happen in the waiting room earlier."

"That sounds very unpleasant," Dr. Gordon said earnestly. "I'll make sure you won't have to wait out there in the future."

"Thank you, but you shouldn't have to…" Maura once again shook her head. Not so much as a gesture declining the therapist's offer; mostly she was shaking her head at her own ridiculousness. "I must sound like such a spoiled patient. I've led an easy life; I come from a privileged background, I haven't been abused, I've never been affected by disability or illness. So many people deal with so much more than me, yet you have to listen to my banalities."

"If they prevent you from sleeping or going out they're certainly not banalities for you." Dr. Gordon tilted her head in a thoughtful posture. "And to be honest they don't sound like banalities to me either. On the contrary. What you describe are all common symptoms of a moderate to major depression, including the anxiety attacks you're experiencing."

Maura averted her eyes and resumed fidgeting with the pink ball.

Anxiety. Another mental illness. God, I really am broken goods.

She could feel her breath becoming heavier, and she swallowed before quietly admitting: "I know. I just don't understand how I could have missed it, how I could bring myself into this situation..."

Dr. Gordon leaned forward to put her cup down on the table, then used both arms to push herself back upright. "I don't know how familiar you are with psychiatric research, but the fact is we still don't know exactly what causes depression. However, it's widely acknowledged that exposure to stress plays a causal role. Neurotransmitters and neuropeptides are likely links – I can find an article for you on the topic if you're interested in the science – but the bottom line is this: What you're experiencing right now is not your fault." She paused for a moment as if making sure her point had come across. Maura felt the therapist's eyes on her as Dr. Gordon added: "You do, however, have a say in where you go from here."

Where to go from here. I don't even know where 'here' is, much less how I got here.

"You won't have to do it alone, of course," Dr. Gordon clarified as if she had read Maura's mind. There surely couldn't be much body language to go on – Maura knew that from Jane's video. "I would suggest this: We meet up twice a week to begin with and then see how things go. I would also like to prescribe you an antidepressant…"

Antidepressant?

"…and suggest you take it for at least three months. Would you feel up for that?"

Antidepressant. Psychopharmaca intended for the truly crazy mind. My mind.

Maura wet her lips, then dried them off against the back of her hand. "I trust your professional opinion, but medication… is that really necessary?"

Please say no. Please say no. Please say no.

"There's always a choice, but from what you've told me, I think you would benefit greatly from it. Especially regarding the anxiety you're feeling."

Maura felt her pulse rise again, but most of all she felt the growing pressure behind her eyes.

I'm not going to break down again, not in front of this total stranger. Not over this.

Her cheeks were growing hotter from the effort of keeping every facial muscle in check.

Pull yourself together, Maura! Have you no dignity left at all?

"The idea of taking medication – does it disturb you?" Dr. Gordon asked gently.

"No, no. No, of course not. I'm a doctor. I understand the basic concepts of brain chemistry, and how antidepressants work. It's just…" Maura's hand was back against her lips; she raked her teeth against the soft skin on the back of it, trying to make the sharp, concrete pain distract her from the tightening in her throat. When she spoke again her voice was just as tight and small. "I just feel like I'd be cutting corners when I should be properly working through my own problems."

"I'm not painting you a pretty picture; depressions are tough, and we have a lot of work ahead of us. Antidepressants won't change that – they're not magic pills that make all problems go away," the therapist said emphatically. "However, they might make it just a little less hard for you to get out of bed, a little less terrifying to go to the baker, and a little easier for you to think clearly so you can get more out of your sessions with me."

Get out of bed. I can't even properly get myself out of bed anymore.

In spite of all her efforts Maura's eyes were glazing over.

I really am damaged goods.

She kept her eyes downcast, but the therapist backed out from her place at the coffee table nonetheless.

The chair hummed as she came around to Maura's side. "The pills are not an easy way out, Dr. Isles," she said gently. "They're a tool to help you handle the hard way." Maura felt soft fingertips on her arm and in that moment her eyes finally spilled over.

Large, soundless tears traced the curves of her cheekbones.

Nope. No dignity left.

"I'm sorry," she shook her head for the third time in a row; "this is so silly. I'm a doctor. I'm not prejudiced about medication. It's just… I think I ought to fight harder. Work through this the proper way. But then again, how could I? I can't even go to the baker." Her voice cracked at the last sentence.

Dr. Gordon gently rubbed Maura's arm with one hand as she handed her a handkerchief with the other. Apparently she had a stash hidden in her chair. "Depressions are tough, but they're treatable. Eventually you will feel better, and your energy will return, but where you're at now it's perfectly alright to accept all the help you can get." The therapist gave her arm a soft squeeze, and the warm hand lingered. It was a strangely intimate gesture considering they'd just met, but curiously enough Maura found she didn't mind. The touch grounded her somehow, drained some of the tension from her, and her sobs slowly began to subside. "Let me ask you my standard question," Dr. Gordon said once Maura had calmed down enough to meet her gaze and listen intently. "Tell me: Would you ask a man with a broken leg to run a marathon?"

Maura blinked. It was an odd question, but true to her literal nature she answered it anyway, not picking up on its implicit rhetorical quality. "Of course I wouldn't. Such a task would be almost impossible and most certainly hinder the healing process."

"Exactly!" Dr. Gordon said enthusiastically, "It would be counterproductive."

Maura frowned, trying to understand exactly how Dr. Gordon's riddle related to their current situation.

Running does release endorphins. But surely she isn't referring to some new form of therapy.

Dr. Gordon's smile widened, and there was an almost teasing glint in her eye, as she watched Maura for a second. Then she finally offered up an explanation. "You deserve exactly the same consideration as that runner. Don't ask yourself to handle every single issue in your life on your own right now. You need to heal! So take the help you can get, and I promise you; we'll make it to the finish line."

Chapter Text

Day 35

 

"So you've been taking the medication for two full weeks now. Are you feeling any effects?"

"I'm not sure. I seem to doze off quicker at night, though I continue to wake after only a few hours of sleep. And I haven't broken into tears today. Well, not yet," she quickly added. "It's only 2 o'clock so I suppose it's too early to proclaim any victory." Normally Maura would never be blunt. She would consider it her duty to at least give optimism a try so as to not make other people uncomfortable. But it had taken few sessions with Dr. Katherine Gordon to realise that ordinary etiquette rules did not apply in this room.

Dr. Gordon's optimism, on the other hand, was unrestrained. "Sounds like progress to me!" Her eyebrows lifted impressively as she added. "And I notice you're wearing lipstick today. It looks great on you, by the way."

"Thank you. Actually, it has been a little out of character for me to not wear make-up; I used to feel naked without it. But this morning… I don't know, I just sort of fell into the old routine."

"So progress." Dr. Gordon repeated insistently, eyebrows still raised.

"I suppose. But not necessarily caused by the medicine, though. It could be related to my sessions with you or simply time passing. I don't know." Maura leaned back into the egg-shaped chair. She was growing increasingly fond of its organic curves and the natural materials that matched the rest of the room's interior. It was anything but clinical. In fact, everything about Dr. Gordon's room seemed opposite to the one Jane had been bedridden in at the hospital.

I wonder if people heal faster in surroundings like these. I hope so.

"Either way." Dr. Gordon shrugged and smiled. "It's a good sign, don't you think?"

"Perhaps." Maura frowned. Progress did seem like a big word, but she even found it difficult to acknowledge something as whimsical as a good sign. She sighed, well aware that her therapist would require a more detailed answer, something akin to an explanation. "I suppose I still feel I should do without chemicals; like I'm not working hard enough for this," she finally admitted. "You pointed out the lipstick – and I had not considered that before – but you only see me when I'm here in your chair, appearing somewhat composed."

"What happens when you're not here?" Dr. Gordon took a sip of her coffee. She was already halfway through her second cup since Maura's arrival. But then again, she seemed to prefer not to fill them completely; probably to avoid making them too heavy for her to lift.

Maura herself had switched to tea. She didn't want to drink anything that might increase her heart rate and possibly remind her of and eventually lead to a panic attack. "It's not so much what happens as what doesn't happen. Now that I'm not working I have so much time on my hands, but I waste all of it. I haven't read or written any work-related articles for weeks; I haven't even properly cleaned up my home. If it weren't for Jane and Angela I would probably forget to eat." She put down her cup and twisted it slowly between her hands. "There are so many sensible things I ought to do, but I end up taking hours just getting dressed and then I collapse on the sofa. Never mention this to anyone, but…" She bit her lip before she weakly added: "…yesterday I actually watched an entire season of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman."

Dr. Gordon's smile widened as she winked at her. "Don't worry, it's these particular things the doctor-patient confidentiality was invented for…"

Because of the gesture Maura recognized the statement as a joke and she attempted to applaud it with a small smile of her own. But it felt like too much of a grimace, and so she continued in earnest: "It's clearly not a constructive way to spend one's time. I should be fully committed to recovering from this… state. Not wasting away on my sofa."

"Wasting away, you say... Is that all you're doing?" The therapist's lively brows shot up again. "Sorry, let me rephrase that: Could there be any positive gains from vegging out on the sofa?"

"I'm not sure I understand what you mean." For once she understood the slang, but she had no idea what Dr. Gordon was hinting at.

Positive gains? How could there be anything at all to gain from doing absolutely nothing of importance what so ever?

"Well, have you considered the possibility that your body and mind may need the rest in order to recharge?"

The fact that Dr. Gordon's suggestion took Maura by surprise reminded her of a pattern she had discussed with the therapist more than once. She sighed as the realisation struck. "It's the marathon runner again, isn't it."

"I think so, yes." Dr. Gordon gestured towards Maura's purse. "But let's take a look at your activity schedule sheet. If you brought it, that is?"

"I did." She pulled out the neatly folded paper and handed it to her therapist, who opened it and placed it next to an identical sheet with different things scribbled on it.

As Dr. Gordon studied them closely, her gaze shifting between the sheets, her smile grew even wider. "You'll like this, I think." There was a teasing glint in the therapist's eye as she pushed the sheets to Maura's side of the table and added: "Steel hard empirical data. Very scientific…" She traced the date-marked boxes with a slender finger. "Look: Television marathons or not, compared to last week you've actually done nearly twice as much during the days of this one. If that's not progress, then I don't know what is!"

Maura looked at the entries written neatly in her own hand. And indeed, the new list was much more comprehensive than the old one. She blinked several times, as the implications sank in and slowly, slowly began to push some of her own doubts aside.

Progress. Really?

"So you see, Isles, your energy is returning – this sheet, your lipstick, even your voice attest to that!" Dr. Gordon brushed her arm with fingertips that had surely never scrubbed a floor or soaked in dishwashing water. They bent backwards slightly at the impact, their hypermobile joints further softening the touch. It made Maura look up from the papers none the less, and the therapist held her gaze. "But you can't force these things," she stated firmly. "If a shower and Dr. Quinn is what you can handle in one morning, then that's perfectly fine! And very, very normal for people in your situation."

Because of the wheelchair Dr. Gordon remained eye-levelled with Maura as she picked up both activity sheets, stacked them, and put them away in a thin folder on her desk. "You should celebrate all the little victories, Isles. Like 'today I managed to go to the baker without fainting' or 'I had the energy to do my hair.'" She was able to maintain conversation and eye contact, even when moving about in the room, and in spite of all the glaringly obvious differences Maura was momentarily reminded of Angela when Dr. Gordon concluded: "But first and foremost you've got to relax about needing to relax. Otherwise you'll always be haunted by bad conscience." The therapist returned to the coffee table and her gaze was suddenly very close.

Maura covered hers with both hands. "I am aware of that," she said. "However, I seem to vacillate between accepting that keeping my programme to a minimum is sensible right now and feeling I ought to do more, move forward faster. You know, if I can handle a television marathon, then I should also be able to read up new forensic research."

"Well, in order to declare that argument valid, you would have to accept the premise that watching Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman and reading heavy, scientific articles require exactly the same amounts and types of dedication."

"Seems silly when you put it that way, doesn't it?" Maura let her hands drop into her lap. "I guess it's just… I know deep down that I caused this myself – or maybe not caused it, but I certainly missed the signs. Which makes me either an oblivious doctor, alarmingly self-destructive or really crazy."

"We've been over this before," the therapist reminded her. "Stress sneaks up on you, and depression distorts your outlook on the world and yourself. So recognizing these things in yourself is entirely different from recognizing it in a patient."

"Regardless, I can't shake off the feeling that I could have handled this better."

"That, too, seems to be a recurring theme." Dr. Gordon went quiet for a moment and tilted her head in a way which, Maura had learnt, was indicative of her being in deep thought. "Tell me," the therapist finally said, one eyebrow dancing completely independent from the other, "can you name something you think you've handled well lately?"

"My past weeks have not exactly been full of achievements," Maura pointed out.

What kind of a question is that? I thought she was supposed to make me feel better.

Dr. Gordon didn't give that easily. "You saved Jane's brother's life, didn't you?"

Maura shook her head automatically, brushing off the implied compliment. "I did a crude job on Frankie. His scars are more obtrusive than they ought to have been, and I couldn't hide how nervous I was. It was unprofessional."

"Well, then think about the weeks following the shooting. You managed to simultaneously take care of work, Jane, her family, her colleagues."

"Actually, I didn't, did I? That's the very reason I'm here with you." Maura frowned. "Because I failed to handle those things."

"As I understand, because of you Frankie and Jane are alive and well; their mother has a place to live; their family and colleagues got emotional support when they most needed it; the police department came out of the incident with their image intact-"

"But I broke in the process," Maura cut in. Her voice had dipped from her usual soprano to an airy alto.

"You got worn out," the therapist corrected her. "Which, frankly, most people would if exposed to the pressure you were under. But let's leave depression out of this for a second. Bottom line is you did handle all those things, didn't you?"

"They could have been handled better," Maura mumbled.

"Of course they could! In theory. But that goes for everything we do in life…" Dr. Gordon indicated the whole room and everything beyond with a semicircular gesture. A somewhat diminutive one, as she only ever lifted her forearms; her elbows remained on the armrests. "So as a success criteria perfection is pretty useless. What's interesting is do you, considering the circumstances and the outcome, think you handled things well enough?"

In spite of her preference for linguistic precision Maura felt this particular fight over adjectives sent a sudden jolt of irritation through her.

Really well, better than well, well enough. Pointless game of words.

"I've already answered that, and no, I don't think I did." She sounded a little brusquer than intended, but it seemed to make no impression on Dr. Gordon.

"Imagine for a moment Jane in your shoes," the therapist suggested.

The odd request momentarily threw Maura completely off track. "Jane loathes wearing heels, and we don't use the same size…" She glanced at her own feet, picturing Jane's in their place. "She did wear a pair of my shoes once, but I had to cut them up to make room for her toes."

Dr. Gordon laughed lightly. "Must have been quite a sight, but I meant that metaphorically."

"Oh." Maura instantly felt foolish, but the therapist cut in before the feeling rooted.

"What I meant was: imagine the roles reversed. Marino never took Jane as a hostage. He took you."

At that Maura looked up, but she didn't really see the light-skinned face with its dark blue eyes before her. She saw an entirely different face.

"He took you," the therapist reiterated, "and Jane watched you, her very best friend, almost bleed to death. Afterwards she spent every night by your bedside wondering if you'd wake up again. How would she have felt, do you think?"

"Is this a rhetorical question? I can rarely tell when Jane poses them…" Maura tried to blink the phantom face away. Dr. Gordon's face returned in its place, a patiently awaiting expression on her face.

"No, it isn't."

"Alright. She would be very worried," Maura replied simply.

'Anything you want – I can get it.'

Out of nowhere, the sound of a promise made over the phone in what seemed like another life. It now echoed in Maura's ears. The tone of Jane's voice when she thought she was talking to Maura's kidnapper, fearing for her friend's life, still made her shiver. Maura winced, then sighed with resignation. "In despair," she corrected herself, before she quietly clarified: "She would be in despair."

Dr. Gordon nodded slowly. "Then imagine she managed to hold all of that back. That she kept her own grief and fear of losing you in check in order to be there for you, for your family, your colleagues. That she let none of it taint her work, even though it meant cutting back on sleep and breaks."

The phantom face once again appeared before Maura. It was Jane's, and then it wasn't. There was no teasing grin, no twinkle in the eyes, no wild Italian gestures to frame it. Just a rigidly set jaw, a frozen surface covering up any trace of emotions, and Maura involuntarily sniffled at the idea.

"Imagine she let you stay with her during your recovery, served you dinner, helped you wash, put up with your grumpiness and even protected you from family turmoil until you were well enough to handle it." Dr. Gordon let the last sentence linger for a bit before delivering her punch line: "How would you feel about Jane if she had done those things? Would you be satisfied with her?"

The eyes of the phantom face were so dark, so intensely deep, and they never seemed to break eye-contact with Maura even when she closed her own.

"More than that," she whispered. "I would feel forever indebted to her."

"Does that mean you think Jane is now forever indebted to you?"

"No!" The word flew out of Maura's mouth so loudly and quickly it even startled herself. She blinked a few times, then pinched the bridge of her nose, trying to regain something resembling focus. "Of course I don't. I would never expect anything in return for what I did."

"So in your opinion Jane doesn't owe you anything, and you did not handle things well. Yet, if the roles were reversed you'd feel Jane had done very well and you owed her everything. Is that correctly understood?" The asymmetry was glaringly obvious and could not be explained away rationally. Maura thrived on logic, yet hearing her own reasoning from the therapist's lips made her realise how flawed it was, and she nodded slowly, feeling oddly defeated. "You measure yourself and Jane against very different standards. Why is that?" Dr. Gordon gently prodded.

My logic is flawed. In fact it has nothing to do with logic whatsoever.

Maura's gaze flickered, failing to find anything to cling on to, and her mind was doing the very same thing. They were venturing into a field unbound by rational logic, a field in which Maura was much less well versed, and so she simply didn't know what to answer. She didn't know the answer.

"Do you feel Jane is less capable than you?" the therapist suggested.

"No!" Once again the reply took Maura by surprise. It was a sudden outburst that had somehow managed to jump around Maura's conscious, intellectualizing filter. It came from a different place, and it took a while for her mind to grasp its meaning. "It- it has nothing to do to with Jane," she hesitantly began. "It's all about my own twisted level of ambitions. It takes a lot before I'm satisfied with something I've done. I don't know that I ever really am, actually." She spoke slowly, as if every word was a step onto an iced surface that had to be carefully tested. "And even if, from time to time, I manage to do acceptably in other people's eyes, it just means there's so much more for me to live up to the next time." She sighed as her mind finally caught up completely and she realised how ridiculously whiny she sounded. "But I did go to the best possible schools, and I have the IQ of a genius, so obviously my standards should be high." She said it in one, measured rush, like the fluid movement of a hand evening out the wrinkle of a skirt.

"Yet you just called your level of ambitions 'twisted'," Dr. Gordon pointed out. "What did you mean by that?"

Maura shrugged. "If nothing short of perfect is good enough in my case, and my case only, then I'm clearly some sort of megalomaniac considering myself more capable than everyone else."

"Megalomania entails a delusional sense of omnipotence backed-up by an inflated self-esteem." Dr. Gordon sounded like she was quoting a textbook, but she shook her head loosely from side to side in a decidedly unstilted manner. "And that's not quite what I'm hearing when you describe your achievements."

"Then what are you hearing?"

"Perhaps…" Dr. Gordon looked upwards for a moment. Then a smile formed on her lips as the answer apparently dawned on her and she turned her gaze back to Maura. "Perhaps the confessions of a perfectionist?" she suggested.

Perfectionist? That's not exactly an established diagnosis. It's not even an illness.

Maura pursed her lips as she pondered the therapist's words. Then she huffed lightly. "It's always been like that. You know, my first utterance was a full sentence. Not 'mommy' or 'banana', like most American babies, but 'can I have a banana'. My speech was a little delayed – my parents blamed the adoption and my first tumultuous months, but personally I think I deliberately held my peace until I was sure I could speak properly." She grabbed the teacup in front of her. The few remaining drops were of course cold, but she drank them anyway.

"So you think you were born a perfectionist?" Dr. Gordon mirrored Maura's movement – it wasn't a perfect mirror; she needed both hands to lift her cup, and she winced at its lukewarm content.

"Not necessarily. Nurture plays a vital role, and I always knew I was adopted. My parents insisted this meant I was a truly wanted child, one they'd not merely bred, but consciously chosen. It was supposed to put me at ease, but in many ways it had the opposite effect…" Maura's voice trailed off, and she wet her lips, stalling, as she searched for the right words. "In my case being a daughter did not simply mean sharing my parents DNA, it took constant, conscious effort. And I didn't want them to ever regret their choice. I wanted to be the child they'd wanted."

Dr. Gordon was reaching for the coffee pot, her fingers crawling across the table's surface, and Maura automatically lifted it for her, making sure not to pour more coffee than the therapist could lift. Dr. Gordon smiled widely and nodded her thanks without interrupting Maura's speech.

"I kept coming short, of course," Maura admitted. "I was the scrawny, freckled child of tall parents with flawless skin. And I was very, very socially awkward."

What's with the past tense? You still are. Just listen to yourself talking right now.

"Sorry, here I am lingering on the past when I should be concentrating on the future," Maura said with a headshake, but a light touch on her wrist silenced her.

"Hey, don't apologize." Dr. Gordon's voice was gently, but she was holding Maura's gaze firmly with her serious, dark blue eyes. "I know I said we wouldn't dwell on your childhood, but that doesn't mean we can't discuss it at all. Please go on."

"You already know the rest of the story..." Maura began hesitantly, but her story soon picked up its pace again. "I went to boarding school, then college – away from my adoptive family, but ever the odd one out. Being younger than almost everyone else and lacking the necessary social skills I focused solely on my studies, which in turn made me even more of a social outcast." She sighed. "A pattern which I continuously repeat. Nowadays my high-brow background and the fact that I'm a woman make me quite the curiosity at the Boston Police Department, and instead of winning people over with charm I scare them off with my Google mouth, as Jane calls it, because it's all I am capable of."

"It clearly hasn't scared off Jane," Dr. Gordon pointed out. "Nor her family, nor most of your close colleagues."

"No, and I am most grateful for their patience with me." Maura said quietly. Her gaze fell along with the volume of her voice until she was focusing on the coffee cup between her therapist's fingers.

"You make it sound as if they merely put up with your presence. But Isles, they're not tied to you through parental obligation, nor are you crammed into the same boarding school," Dr. Gordon objected. "Jane, Korsak, Angela… They choose to spend time with you outside of work of their own, free will. What does that tell you?"

"I don't know…" There were the imperfect remains of purple polish on the therapist's nails. Her nails were as short as Maura's, even though the therapist presumably never had to wear gloves in her line of duty.

"Couldn't it be as simple as them liking you?" Dr. Gordon suggested.

"I… I suppose." Maura's gaze shifted to her own nails. They were naked, but had returned to their usual, short-filed shape. "Jane has referred to me as her best friend, even if my overly literal nature and obsession with facts do exasperate her. It took me by surprise – I'm not really best friend material, but I do my best to earn her friendship."

"By being there for her when she's ill, by helping her deal with her family… Is that what you mean?"

"Yes." Maura traced the edge of the nails on her right hand with the fingertips of her left.

"And is it the same with Jane's family and your close colleagues? You feel you have to earn the friendships they've extended to you?"

Maura let her fingers slide in between each other as if in prayer. Or as if intimately holding hands. "I never had a best friend before," she stated thoughtfully as she studied her interwoven fingers. "Nor any other form of real friends, for that matter. And before I met the Rizzolis I never knew being part of a family could feel… warm. Unconditional, somehow. I was used to being alone, but now that I've experienced… Those people changed my life and I'll do everything to keep them in it."

"You mean, you'll do whatever you can to be the perfect friend, the perfect colleague, the perfect daughter – even if it leads to a stress breakdown? How do you think they'd react if you told them that?"

How would they react? How could I possibly answer that?

For the second time in a few minutes Maura felt irritation rise within her. She tightened her hold on her own hands and watched her knuckles grow white. "I don't like to guess."

"No guessing is required if you already know the answer," the therapist said in her obnoxiously obvious logic.

When did logic begin to get on my nerves? When I lost mine?

"Think about it," Dr. Gordon insisted. "Would Jane want you to work for her friendship to an extent that costs you this much?"

"She'd do the same if she had to," Maura said curtly, "she shot herself to get Frankie and me out of the station alive. Jane is more selfless than me."

"But Isles, no one is bleeding out in the back right now, no one is pointing a gun at you or any of your loved ones." Dr. Gordon's eyebrows shot up, and her otherwise young forehead instantly gained a hundred wrinkles. "The only life at stake is yours. Do you really have to risk it? Would Jane want you to?"

"I… I don't think…" Maura found herself automatically mirroring the therapist's frown.

Like some toddler.

She shut her eyes tightly and breathed out the answer. "That's what friends do."

"But you can't really be the friend Jane needs if you've worn yourself down completely, can you?" Closed eyelids couldn't keep out the therapist's endless reasoning.

"No… No," Maura shook her head, feeling slightly dizzy in the self-imposed darkness, "and that just goes to show that she needs someone better. She deserves better."

"For heaven's sake, forget about what you think she needs or deserves!"

Maura opened her eyes at the unexpected, unprofessional outburst, but found the therapist appearing completely unrepentant and very serious.

"She calls you her best friend. All these people in your life – they've chosen you," Dr. Gordon said earnestly. "Not the perfect ideal friend residing only in your mind – because they've never met her! – but the real, actual Maura Isles. Google mouth and flaws and all." Her eyes bore into Maura's in an almost painfully intense manner when she quietly added: "So don't rob them of her. Don't sacrifice her when there's clearly no need to."

Sacrifice… Is that what I'm doing? Am I playing the martyr, or am I once again getting the social protocol all wrong?

"But if I didn't..." Maura fumbled for words, back on the paper-thin ice, and this time it didn't hold. Her voice cracked along with it when she dejectedly admitted: "I don't know what I'm supposed to do then. How to be who I'm supposed to be."

"See, I don't think you have to worry so much about that." Dr. Gordon's childlike hand once again sought out Maura's wrist on the table, giving it a small squeeze. Even if it was part of a professional technique her touches seemed genuine, unplanned and without ulterior motive.

Just like… Just like Jane's.

Maura closed her eyes, wishing for a moment that she was feeling a different hand, a larger and coarser but equally gentle one on her arm.

"Try to imagine this," the actual hand's owner suggested. "Imagine you had referred Angela to a couple's counsellor so that she could have just a few of the conversations she's had with you with someone else. Do you think, knowing how busy you were tending to her daughter, that she would have considered you a failure as a friend?"

Would she? Angela, who forgives her youngest every time he repeats the same mistakes. Angela, who feeds Jane bunny pancakes whenever she shows up pale at work after another nightmare. Would she really?

"Or imagine you'd shared some of your worries with Frost and Korsak instead of focusing all your energy on protecting them. Would they have begrudged you that, knowing how much Jane means to you?"

Korsak, who would adopt every stray animal in Boston if he could. And Frost, whose boundless empathy makes him throw up at practically every crime scene. Would they really? Exactly how little do I think of these people?

"Or imagine you'd spent just a little less time with Jane."

The mention of her best friend's name sent a shiver through Maura.

"Imagine you had occasionally left the hospital early enough to get a proper night's sleep or, once she stayed with you, occasionally gone for a walk on your own just to clear your head."

She tensed her muscles, attempting to will the sudden chill away, but it only increased as the therapist brought back memories of the worst days of Maura's life in a slightly altered perspective.

"Imagine that you had allowed Jane to see a little of the pain nearly losing her caused you. Imagine, even, that you – being preoccupied with so many things – had made a mistake at work; mislaid some paperwork, mislaid a dead body even. Would any of that have made you less of a best friend in Jane's eyes?"

Maura swallowed, finding it harder to remain still as the chill transformed into a physical restlessness and her heart rate began to increase in the familiarly ominous manner.

"If you allowed Jane to see that you – just like her and everybody else – are fragile and imperfect. Would she love you any less?"

She moved her arm on the table, but Dr. Gordon did not relinquish her soft hold on it.

"Does she?" Dr. Gordon asked pointedly, shaking Maura's wrists ever so slightly, urging her to look up at her, to deal with this concrete reality, not the internal one threatening to take over her body.

"I just don't know." For the third time that day the words tumbled out of her mouth before her brain had a chance to weigh them properly, but this time they were carried by a thin voice sounding almost like a sigh.

At that Dr. Gordon finally let go of her wrist and gestured towards the door with her now free hand. "Then open it," she said simply. "I believe the answer is out there in the waiting room. She's right out there. What does that tell you?"

Maura looked at the therapist's small hand, followed its direction towards the door, then looked back at the therapist feeling confused and hopeful and lost at the same time.

It can't possibly be that simple, can it? Is it?

"You're at your most vulnerable these weeks, and she's still choosing you." Dr. Gordon, perhaps sensing Maura's bewilderment, smiled as she spelled it out: "She doesn't care that you're not perfect – so you don't have to work any more on that." With a faint electric humming she backed out from the table, turning slightly towards the still closed door. "On the contrary, I think you should work on being a little more imperfect, on screwing up a little even and still feel good about it. Perhaps next time we can figure out some strategies for that? But right now I think you should go out and find your answer." Dr. Gordon held out her arm in an almost gentlemanly gesture towards the door, then contradicted the formalness of the posture with a cocky, sideways nod in the same direction emphasized by one arched eyebrow.

Maura's body picked up on the clues, even if her mind felt opaque and unstructured in a way that would normally scare her to death. Her legs moved of their own accord, and she didn't really register any of the steps around the table, past the therapist and across the light beech planks. She didn't think when she automatically picked up her purse while simultaneously pushing down the door handle. Nor when she stepped out into the large, but mostly empty waiting area and sought out a familiar face. It looked up, grinning, from a woman's magazine at the sound of heels against wood.

"Perfect timing! If I had spent two more minutes reading about hardcore diets, flawless make-up or the essentials of perfect dating I swear I would've had to make an appointment here." Jane tossed the glossy magazine onto the bench in a decidedly inelegant manner as she got to her feet and stretched. "Seriously, anyone trying to meet those insane ideals would wind up complet-"

She was startled into momentary silence as Maura's body, still acting of its own volition, decided to fling its arms around the taller woman. Startled or not, Jane didn't miss a physical beat; in one continuous movement her stretch was transformed into something else as she lowered her arm and instantly returned the hug. Maura sunk into it, burying her head at the crook of her friend's neck, and for a few more seconds her thoughts were still too incoherent to steal attention away from the immediate sensory inputs. The heat radiating from Jane's torso, the warm palms gently rubbing, then stilling against Maura's back.

"Is everything alright?" Jane asked tentatively, but when Maura nodded automatically, she, too, relaxed into the embrace. Hands and arms slid lower and found rest in the dip of Maura's waist, and Maura felt the tickle against her scalp, as Jane shifted slightly in order to rest her cheek against it. An appreciative hum brushed feather-light across Maura's temple, and Jane's non-verbal utterance perfectly matched the hazy state of Maura's mind.

They stood in synch like that until a few free-floating words eventually came together and formed something, which Maura's intellectual filter recognized as an actual meaningful sentence. She let it out into the collar of Jane's shirt: "What would you do if I accidently mislaid a dead body?"

"If you mislaid…" Jane repeated slowly, almost drowsily. Then she suddenly tensed and pulled back just far enough to seek out Maura's gaze. "Wait. Maura," her eyes flickered, seemingly unable to decide whether to focus on Maura's left or right. "Exactly whose body are we talking about here?"

"No one's, Jane," Maura assured her, noticing that Jane's arms, tense or not, had never relinquished their hold on her. "It's a purely hypothetical question."

"Oh, okay…" Jane frowned, pondering Maura's question for a moment. Then she shrugged. Maura was too close to Jane to see the gesture, but she felt it against her sides. "Well, I guess I'd help you find it."

Chapter Text

Day 53

 

"Honestly, Jane, I don't understand why you're upset about this. They're much nicer than your average choice of footwear." Maura watched and was almost a little impressed by how Jane managed to even lock her car in a slightly aggressive way – quite an accomplishment given the fact that it merely required pushing a tiny button on a key chain. But at this point she was on a roll. She had been pouting, throwing eye-rolls and hands in her most dramatically Italian fashion since they left Maura's house where she'd been unable to locate her worn everyday boots. After a frantic search – as frantic as Maura's stern look (translation: 'no, you may not empty my drawers and cupboards all over the floor') would allow – circumstances had forced Jane to pull on a hand-sown and far more expensive pair which Maura had bought for her recently.

However, Jane's almost theatrical exaggerations actually put Maura at ease. If Jane had been truly upset she would've responded in a far more subdued way. This was more about Jane enjoying their banter far too much not to mention being childishly stubborn, and so Maura didn't shrink the least under her glare, when Jane pointed out: "I'm a cop, Maur. My shoes aren't supposed to be nice; they're supposed to be practical."

"Why, those boots are perfectly practical!" Maura manages to sound completely serious as she gestured to Jane's legs, even if she was smiling on the inside.

This is typical Jane. Never giving up without a fight.

"There are no heels, and given their tight fit they help stabilise the ankles. I'd say you could easily run in them, even in rough terrain," she pointed out, as they turned into the street where Dr. Gordon's office was located. "The aesthetic advantages are just an added bonus."

Jane, who was walking next to Maura, merely grunted at that. Clearly an elaboration was required, and Maura couldn't pass up the opportunity to tease her friend a little.

"Most of your boots, at least when coupled with the right pair of pants, show off your quadriceps and biceps femoris nicely. However, this cut draws additional attention to your remarkably well-developed gastrocnemius."

This finally got a proper reaction from her friend. Jane frowned for a moment, pondering the words, then abruptly stopped in her tracks. "Are you saying I'm getting fat?"

This time Maura couldn't prevent the corners of her lips from curling upwards as she turned around to face Jane, who had fallen a few steps behind. "Gastrocnemius," she clarified with a small smirk, "which has nothing to do with the digestive system. It's your calf muscle."

Jane shook her head in mock annoyance and stormed past Maura on the sidewalk. "My calves…" she muttered under her breath as she reached the correct door and pushed down the handle. Nothing happened. She pushed it down again, using more force this time, then with a shrug turned towards Maura. "Door's locked. Sure you had an appointment today?"

"Yes." A few weeks ago she wouldn't have been so certain, but lately Maura's memory was back to its usual eidetic standards. Of course the fact that she had far less on her plate these days, fewer appointments to keep track of, probably helped. And so when she activated her iPhone screen it was not in order to double check her calendar, merely to cast a glance at the digital clock as she caught up with Jane. "We're a few minutes early. It is possible that she hasn't come in yet."

"At this hour? Man, I wanna be a shrink!" Maura watched with growing amusement as Jane kicked the door with her heel, hands in her pockets. Her lack of patience was physically manifesting itself in all her long limbs. Eventually Jane looked up and caught Maura gazing at her. "What?" She asked brusquely, but again; her demeanour was so exaggerated it begged not to be taken literally. Maura suspected it was one of the reasons she could have banters with Jane in a way she'd never been able to with anyone else – Jane was easy to read, at least when she wanted to be.

Right now Maura felt her own smile widening. "I'm just picturing you using your aggressive interrogation techniques on a patient on a couch…"

"You don't think I can be subtle?" Jane's eyebrows flew up, and her hands did the same, leaving their pockets. Then she narrowed her eyes slightly at Maura. "I can be subtle."

"Of course you can." Maura tried to deliberately inflect her voice with a hint of the theatricality that Jane handled so expertly.

"Wait, was that sarcasm?" Jane straightened up for a second, feigning shock, then relaxed and leaned back against the locked door. Her face relaxed as well, her eyes softening and a gentle smile tugging at her lips when she added: "You've been hanging around me far too much…"

Maura smiled back. This time there was nothing deliberate or theatrical about it. Her facial muscles were doing it all on their own.

They've actually been doing that more often lately...

After a prolonged moment Maura felt she had to say something, do something, before it became impossibly hard to let go of her friend's gaze. She used the boots as a pretext, nodding towards them as she stepped closer to Jane and leaned against the wall next to her. "They're nice, Jane. Really."

"Yeah, yeah, make my gastro-whatever look swell." Maura could actually hear the eye-roll in her friend's voice. "I get it, Maur, I'm just not sure I like it." Jane sighed deeply, as if she was about to explain something that should be perfectly obvious. "You know the people I work with. I'm not particularly keen on being objectified by creepy criminals or sexually frustrated middle-aged male detectives."

The fact that Jane felt the need to specify 'male' detectives was not lost on Maura. It wasn't the first time in the past few weeks she'd had to wonder at her friend's choice of words, and for a moment this particular one lingered between them, too disconnected from any real context to mean much, and yet… Logically, if one feels compelled to specify gender it must, at the very least, indicate awareness of there being more than one valid option.

No assumptions, Maura. You never make assumptions; don't make the mistake of jumping to any now.

"Anyway, I could swear I put my regular boots by your front door." Jane interrupted her train of thoughts. "Like someone's been training me to..." she added with an arched eyebrow.

"Memory can be deceptive," Maura said with a shrug. The concrete wall felt cool against her back, through the thin cloth of her dress, but she didn't feel like moving.

"Mine usually isn't." Jane became thoughtful for a moment. Her head fell forward, and she scratched her chin. Then she suddenly looked back at Maura through narrowed eyes. "Maura, are you sure someone didn't move my boots?"

"They're a bit heavy for Jo, but I suppose she could drag them across the floor," Maura said lightly.

Jane turned to face Maura fully. Her shoulder was still leaning against the door, her fingers playing with its handle when she pointed out: "Someone does not necessarily mean Jo."

"But no one aside from you, Jo and I were in last night." Maura frowned, indicating she didn't know where Jane was headed, but in fact she knew very well.

"Case and point." Jane pushed herself up from the door and took a step towards Maura. "You definitely prefer these boots to my regular ones, right?"

"Yes, I already told you as much," Maura said as lightly as possible, "But I don't see what that has to do wi-"

"Did you hide my boots?" Jane cut in. An additional step and she was now standing directly in front of Maura, pinning her to the wall with a piercing gaze.

"Did I…" Maura's eyes widened. This time there was nothing automatic about the reaction whatsoever. The theatricality was back; every facial muscle under her conscious control, and she purposely widened her eyes a little more than what would be considered natural. "Jane! How can you even think that?"

Jane seemed to take in her shocked expression and had her verdict ready within two seconds: "Tell me where they are."

"You really believe I hid them? But Jane, you know I can't lie," Maura insisted, trying to sound as overly innocent as she possibly could.

"And technically, you haven't. Because you skilfully deflected my direct question. Both of them, actually." Jane stepped even closer to Maura, placed her hand on the wall above Maura's shoulder as she leaned in slightly and whispered in her ear: "But never mind; I'll get it out of you..."

The sound of Jane's voice so close she could actually feel it made Maura's crack slightly. "Really, I don't know what you're talking about."

It was the truth. She had in fact no idea where Jane's boots were. She might not miss them, but would never deliberately throw them away. Yet Jane seemed convinced of her guilt and of course her teasing display of exaggerated innocence only added to the detective's suspicion. Maura knew this, but for some reason couldn't make herself stop. Not with Jane standing like this, leaning in with an almost dangerous twinkle in her eyes.

"I'll get it out of you," she repeated, "with my – what was it you called it? Oh yeah, my aggressive interrogation techniques."

"Jane, seriously, I'm most appalled by the fact that you'd think I-" Maura's sentence was abruptly punctuated by a high-pitched gasp as Jane's free hand found her side and made her muscles jerk beneath the silk of her dress.

Jane grinned devilishly, instantly aware that Maura was more ticklish than most. "You see, there's no need for subtlety when you have information at your fingertips."

"Jane…! Please, I-" was all Maura could muster as her friend's feather-light fingers skilfully map out all her sensitive spots. She clenched her teeth, trying to regain some composure. But then a thumb strayed, grazing her hip and lower abdomen, and in that moment Maura nearly buckled over – for an entirely different reason. The touch had summoned a reaction above and beyond the automated twitching; one Maura instantly recognized as a most physical surge of raw desire. It left her flushed and tingling and completely overwhelmed.

I want this. God, I want this and so, so much more.

It was far from the first time Maura responded to Jane's proximity in a chemical way, but she couldn't remember any of her previous reactions having been this powerful. And lately she could in fact not remember having had any reactions whatsoever. She closed her eyes, trying to hold that one thought in spite of the diligent fingers currently switching on her nerves one by one.

I haven't felt desire for weeks, and now this... Oh my. It's like my body is awakening. For better and for worse.

She was about to jump onto a train of thoughts that would undoubtedly lead to worries about how to keep herself in check, how to not overstep friendly boundaries, when a familiar alto voice cheerfully cut in. "Good morning, Maura."

Jane immediately jumped backwards, away from Maura. Clearly she hadn't heard the gentle humming of Dr. Gordon's wheelchair either.

"Detective," Dr. Gordon said with a polite, if slightly amused smile. Her dark blonde hair, which grew past her waist, had been tangled in the wind and she tried to shake and blow a few stray locks away from her lips.

Jane coughed and threw fingers through her own wild hair, while Maura straightened her dress, both of them mumbling unintelligible greetings in reply.

"Sorry if I've kept you waiting." Dr. Gordon pushed a remote attached to her chair and as if by magic the locked door sprang open. "Bit of a morning crisis." She nodded towards two take-away cups balanced on her lap. "The coffee machine in my office broke down, so I made a quick trip to Starbucks." She handed one to Maura. "I brought a decaf one for you."

"Thank you, that's perfect!" Maura accepted the cup with a smile once she'd pushed the elevator button in the hallway. Its doors opened immediately.

Jane rolled her eyes, her voice almost as hoarse as Brando's as she dramatically recited: "The horror…"

"Decaf isn't too bad, actually," Dr. Gordon commented across her shoulder. The elevator was too small for her to turn her chair around. "I'm a caffeine junkie myself, but the taste is just the same and placebo goes a long way." Perhaps catching Jane's look of disbelief in the mirror she explanatorily added: "My partner forced me to suffer along with her when she was pregnant with our daughter."

Wait, my therapist is gay? How could I not have picked up on that?

Maura's eyes flickered for a moment, but her surprise was immediately forgotten when Jane picked up the conversation.

"Very chivalrous," Jane acknowledged with pursed lips and a small nod, before poking Maura's still tingling side. "But don't get any ideas, Maur… There isn't much I wouldn't do for you, but I draw the line at drinking decaf."

The elevator doors opened with a loud ping in that moment and Jane exited leaving a stunned Maura behind. For the second time that morning she was left wondering at Jane's wording, unsure of what exactly she had just heard.

Did she just compare our friendship to my therapist's romantic relationship? Did she actually hear what my therapist said? Did I hear what any of them said?

"Watch your toes, Maura." Dr. Gordon's voice pulled Maura out of her reveries and made her realise that she was blocking the way; that she had frozen in the most indiscrete way. She felt her cheeks burning a little as she mumbled an apology and hurried forward.

Thank heaven for concealer.

Something akin to a snort indicated that Dr. Gordon was stifling a snicker behind her, but the therapist managed to keep a straight face when she went ahead of Maura into her office.

Jane, on the other hand, remained by the door. She indicated her wristwatch with a wince. "Gotta head back to work. Cavanaugh will chop me up and leave me in your dead people's fridge if I'm late for our appointment." The characteristic attempt at humorous hyperbole was contradicted by Jane's face which, for the first time that day, had taken on a quite serious expression. "You're sure you're fine taking the bus home?"

"Yes," Maura stated quickly. "It's my task for today."

She had tried to sound as certain as possible, but Jane searched her face none the less, all detective antennas obviously active. The soft look in her eyes, however, was one she rarely used in the line of duty.

Maura lowered her eyes almost shyly under the scrutiny. "Really, Jane, I'll be fine. Worst case I'll call a cab." She reached out and corrected Jane's collar. Not because it needed correction, but because it was the next best thing to actual physical contact.

"Or you can call me."

Maura smiled without meeting her friend's eyes. "I'm not going to call you, Jane. I can do this," she insisted.

Jane accepted the reply with a nod, but caught Maura's wrist and gave it a small squeeze before heading back towards the elevator. She turned at the last moment to flash Maura a smile just before the doors slid shut.

Maura remained where she was for a beat, her right hand still raised to Jane's collar height. She touched its wrist with her left, coffee still in hand, marvelling at the difference between feeling Jane's fingertips and her own against her skin there.

Oh yes, my body is definitely awakening. What am I to do about that…

Some time later, seated across from Dr. Gordon in the egg-shaped chair, Maura was still caressing her own wrist absentmindedly.

"How do you feel about returning to work?"

Maura looked up from her hands trying to focus on the current question. "I'm not really returning…" she corrected. "I'm starting out with merely half my usual schedule." At that Dr. Gordon's lively eyebrows shot up, and Maura quickly added: "I am fully aware that it's for the best. As of right now I promise not to run a marathon. Well, not a metaphorical one anyway."

Dr. Gordon put down her cardboard cup in surprise. "A literal one? Really? You plan on signing up for the Boston Marathon?"

"Lots of studies indicate that exercise is one of the best ways to fend of depressions. But most of all I simply like to run." Maura shrugged. "I've run marathons before."

Dr. Gordon broke into a teasing smile. Their sessions were becoming more and more informal. "So when you run it's never about breaking records or becoming number one…?"

"I admit I used to keep track of some of my running statistics," Maura began, then rolled her eyes in a manner that she had most definitely picked up from Jane.

Maybe Jane's right – I am spending too much time around her…

"Alright, I used to keep a traceable chip in my shoes, record and process all data in order to perfect my style," she admitted. "But if I join this year, I promise I'm just going to enjoy running. If I reach the finish line without having to tend to any shootings this time, then I'll consider it a success."

The last comment brought a frown to Dr. Gordon's face, but it was quickly wiped off as the therapist laughed heartily "That sounds like a very reasonable goal! Speaking of which, how will you make sure to stick to your light working schedule and not get sucked right back into it all?"

Maura sighed. This was something she had given a lot of thought, and she hadn't come up with any easy solutions. "Mostly I plan on keeping careful track of my working hours, but I know I can't expect my colleagues to automatically adjust to them. They are used to being able to call me around the clock. So I will have to guard my own boundaries and say no if they are overstepped."

"And how do you feel about that?" Dr. Gordon manages to infuse the question with the right combination of seriousness and nonchalance by posing it in between sips of coffee. She was very good at that and Maura suspected she did it on purpose. It definitely made her feel less awkward about having to bare her soul during their sessions.

"In all honesty, Katherine, I'm a little scared," she admitted without any attempts at diversion. "I was never good at asking for things, including space for myself. I tend to say yes because I want to be able to do it all, because I want to please or simply not fall short." Maura's eyes dropped and settled on what appeared to be a scratch in the table. She traced it with a fingertip. It turned out to be a line, probably left by a pen.

"Perhaps," Dr. Gordon said, "but being aware of that tendency gives you an advantage. You can take it into consideration beforehand. Say, is there any way you can prepare yourself, make it less difficult for you to say no to extra work?"

Maura bit her lip, contemplating the question, while scrubbing at the line with her thumb. "I think I will initially have to implement strict rules about the use of my work phone and e-mail. Define off-limit hours where everyone will simply have to leave a message." She noted with satisfaction how the line faded under her ministrations. It was almost completely gone by now. "Of course, given my particular line of work, there has to be a way to reach me in case of extreme emergencies."

There. As good as new.

She looked up from the table as an idea formed in her head. "But I could set up a separate line for that and make sure only a few, trustworthy people have the number. That way all such calls would be filtered through them."

"That sounds really constructive." Dr. Gordon smiled gently. "But you said you feared your colleagues would have problems adjusting. Have you considered addressing those adjustments directly?" Dr. Gordon pressed on.

"I have," Maura admitted. "Obviously, it would be easier for everyone to respect my new hours if they understood the reasons for them. However, I consider my break-down a rather private matter and wouldn't feel comfortable sharing it with the whole department." She could hear the childlike stubbornness in her voice the moment she said the last part out loud and it lent a silly ring to the statement that Dr. Gordon of course picked up on immediately.

"And those are the options – tell everyone or tell no one?" This time only one eyebrow shot up. "That's pretty black and white thinking, Maura. Isn't there a golden middle way to be found somewhere?"

"Of course. Of course there is." Maura nodded slowly, almost in suspended motion. "As for the lab technicians and other people I deal with on an everyday basis I could simply let them know that I, for private reasons, have to take certain precautions for a while. As for my closest colleagues… Jane already knows everything and I think I would be okay with Korsak, Frost and Frankie knowing as well. They've probably deduced the highlights on their own anyway." Maura found the now invisible line on the table again. It was a wooden table and she could just make out the faint trace of oars through the polish. "But depression is one thing," she added quietly, "most people, particularly those working with violent crime on an everyday basis, will probably understand to some extent. The anxiety is another matter. It feels… more embarrassing somehow." She added the last part almost under her breath. Dr. Gordon's seemingly superhuman hearing picked it up nonetheless.

"But the anxiety is part of what stress and depression does," the therapist pointed out. "It's just as chemical, just as typical, and nothing you should feel ashamed of."

The oars under Maura's fingertips felt like tiny wrinkles, the kind that makes an eye smile. Jane had cursed her – albeit very few – ones loudly in front of the bathroom mirror one evening, and although Maura could easily relate to the horror of finding any sign of decay in your face she felt completely different about Jane's. How could any wrinkle brought about by her smiling be anything but attractive? It seemed just another kind of dimple.

Wrinkles, dimples, where are you going with that? Try to stay on track, for heaven's sake.

She relinquished the tactile wooden surface, folding her fingertips into her palm. "I know, but it's so irrational, and the fact that its onset can be so sudden, so overwhelming and physical…" Her voice trailed off, and her curled hand became a fist. She clenched it as if that could squeeze the words out. "It's what makes me question my sanity the most and I'm sure any outside observer would do the same," she finally said.

"Have you had any anxiety attacks since we last spoke?"

The question made Maura look up. Dr. Gordon spoke so casually, as if they were making everyday conversation, as if there was nothing unusual or odd whatsoever about having panic attacks and going to pieces. Perhaps there wasn't. She thought back for a moment before she answered: "Not really. I've felt a little uneasy from time to time, a little lightheaded, but no more than..." She pursed her lips for a second before coming up with a properly accurate comparison. "You know, like the way you feel if you rise too quickly from a chair."

Dr. Gordon tilted her head. "Well, not really, but I get the general idea…"

Not really… Oh. Oh!

"I'm sorry, I completely forgot!" Maura instantly felt her cheeks burn. Of course Dr. Gordon didn't know what that felt like. "I didn't mean any offense," she hastily added.

Good job, Maura. Socially inept does not even begin to describe you.

Much to her surprise Dr. Gordon merely laughed. "None taken, Maura!" The therapist seemed genuinely amused and not the least offended, but Maura had been known to make mistakes before. She narrowed her eyes, unsure whether she was reading the other woman's facial muscles correctly. "Really, it's completely alright. My friends and even my wife do it all the time!" One of Dr. Gordon's hands found Maura's fist on the table, patting it for a second. "I consider it a compliment, actually. It means people see me as opposed to only seeing my chair."

Maura's hand automatically relaxed under the touch, uncurled and finally just rested on the table. "Yes, it does," she agreed, blinking slowly as she realised the truth to that statement.

At their first meeting it had taken Maura a moment to notice the wheelchair, but once the therapist left her desk her disability did not leave Maura's attention. Perhaps partially due to her medical background she had automatically registered Dr. Gordon's unique way of moving about, of lifting a cup or sitting up. Then, as her depression lifted a bit and her professional interest returned, she had secretly tried to diagnose the therapist. She had narrowed the options down to some form of congenital neuromuscular disease, possibly but not necessarily Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and the puzzle had intrigued her for a while until – well, until she had just plain forgotten about it. At some point she had simply stopped caring. Not even that; she had stopped taking notice entirely. And now it was hard to remember why a diagnosis ever mattered to begin with. After all, they were there for a completely different reason. Maura decided to return to it. "Anyway, to answer your question: No, I haven't had a full-blown attack for weeks. It's just..." Her hands found each other in her lap, then slid past each other and around her sides until Maura was hugging herself. "I can't find any pattern to the anxiety and that frightens me. If it's not directly related to specific situations or places, then I'm never really safe." Maura's chin fell to her chest. "I might panic anywhere, in front of anyone. And the fear of that happening could very well be what sets off an attack."

"I really don't think you need to worry much about it, Maura. Nothing whatsoever indicates that your anxiety is an underlying condition. It was brought about by stress, just like your depression, and so it should fade along with it."

Her voice sounded so authoritative, so certain, but she could be simply trying to calm Maura's fear. Needing visual cues Maura gazed up at her therapist, through her lashes, without lifting her head. Dr. Gordon did seem serious and in the most unstilted way; her composure was relaxed, her head had fallen back against the chair, and both hands were resting palm down on the table. Maura once again noted how short the therapist's fingernails were, but this time she realised that it might serve a purpose beyond the purely aesthetical.

I completely missed that clue. I've been dating men for too long.

"Never the less," Dr. Gordon began without straightening up, "let's imagine you do feel the onset of a panic attack at an inconvenient time, say at work. Would it really be so terrible?"

Maura took a deep breath, trying to not think about fingers and what they might do.

My goodness, my mind is all over the place today.

"It would be terribly embarrassing and I'd feel terribly out of control..." She pictured it happening not in the morgue, but somewhere crowded. The bullpen, perhaps, or even the canteen. Would people stare? The generally noisy atmosphere there was pretty distracting and would definitely prevent anyone from hearing her panting. And the wide doors provided an easy exit route. Yet another worst case scenario was ready to be discarded. "I could probably escape to a private washroom and pass visible symptoms off as caused by low blood sugar if necessary," she admitted, shaking her head at her own unnecessary worries, "so it wouldn't be the end of my career."

A strand of hair fell into her eye and she pushed it away noticing how the woman across from her did the same. Dr. Gordon's hair was still pretty unruly from the wind, even more so because it was several inches longer than Maura's could ever be without appearing the least bit worn. In a way the hair was the perfect contrast to the therapist's diminutive limbs. It was thick, almost luscious.

Long hair. Is that why I didn't pick up on her sexuality? Am I that prejudiced?

"As I said, I really don't think you need to worry," the therapist repeated. She leaned forward until her elbows were rested on the table, never taking her eyes off Maura. "But there are a few coping tricks for keeping an attack at bay. One strategy entails distracting yourself, keeping your brain too busy to feed the anxiety with catastrophic thinking. Some of my clients find it very helpful to count backwards from one thousand with an interval of seven."

The therapist paused, as something apparently hit her causing her to break into a wide, toothy smile. "Of course, in your case you'll probably need something a little more mathematically challenging in order for that to work..."

The smile automatically rubbed off on Maura. She hadn't given it much thought before, but Dr. Gordon's lips were in fact as luscious as her hair. Her lower lip was unusually full and her upper lip boasted a most distinct Cupid's bow, even when stretched into a sincere smile. Seeing her like this, Maura could easily understand why someone had fallen in love with her. The thought was immediately followed by a pang of guilt as Maura realised that she could probably never have been that someone. She would have spotted Dr. Gordon's physical flaws and dismissed her within a heartbeat, missing everything else that comprised the lively, intelligent woman.

Jane was right to tell me to stop diagnosing people. It's not just rude, it's shallow.

Besides, this woman's condition might not even be hereditary. Maura almost snorted at the utter ridiculousness of that one thought. In the case of lesbian reproduction genetic heritance might not even play a part.

Correction: Not just shallow. Stupid.

Dr. Gordon's smile shrank to ordinary dimensions as she continued handing out advice, unaware of Maura's train of thoughts. "Another strategy entails body awareness. When anxiety takes over it's usually because you're being only in your mind, an irrational mind at that," she added explanatorily. "So try wiggling your toes and really feel the weight on your feet, how they connect to the ground. Or you can rub the knuckles of your one hand hard and slowly across the back of your other. It doesn't hurt exactly, but it's something you definitely feel and it can help you jump off the panicky train of thoughts." She demonstrated the latter trick to Maura, holding her hand out in front of her, and Maura watched but she saw something completely different. Something she had not noticed before.

Scars. She has the scars. One on both hands, right in the middle.

"Maura? Is something wrong?"

Apparently Maura had frozen up, and Dr. Gordon called out her name gently, trying to pull her back to the living world. But for a moment Maura merely gaped dumbly, no words leaving her mouth.

This is ridiculous Maura. It can't be. So get it out of the way, now.

"Your scars." She swallowed, wetted her lips. "How did you get them? If you don't mind me asking."

"Not at all." Dr. Gordon assured her. "IV needles. I tend to scar easily."

"Oh, of course," Maura said quickly, feeling silly already.

Dr. Gordon turned her hands a few times in front of Maura. The scar was superficial; there was no corresponding mark on her palms. Of course there weren't. Behind spread fingers Maura could see a frown taking over the therapist's face. "That's not the answer you were expecting, was it?"

Maura's first impulse was to change the topic, but she was in therapy; she was paying Dr. Gordon to pry. Besides the therapist would call her on her attempts at diversion anyway, and so Maura squeezed her eyes shut and confessed. "Your scars just seem so similar to Jane's and for a second I wondered if… But that's utterly ridiculous and clearly my imagination running wild. Sorry, I seem to be a little distracted today."

"Really?"

Maura could hear the smile in the therapist's voice even before she looked at her and had her suspicions confirmed. "Judging by your wide grin and contracted occipitofrontalis muscle I'd say you're feigning surprise right now," Maura remarked.

The smile just widened. "Always the astute observer, doctor. Ever considered becoming a shrink?"

Maura rewarded the doctor with a Rizzoli eye-roll. "Oh please. I'm terrible at reading other people and you know it. So whatever is on your mind, you might as well spell it out."

"Alright," Dr. Gordon gave in. "I'm thinking that I agree with your assessment. You do seem a little distracted today, and you certainly were when I first arrived this morning... And somehow all the lapses in your concentration seem to revolve around the same thing."

"You mean person," Maura clarified sinking as far back into the egg chair as possible. "Apparently it's painfully obvious."

"Well, you told me, so I know what to look for," Dr. Gordon reasoned. "But things did seem a little different today. A little more overt. Has something happened between you since we last spoke?"

"No, but Jane couldn't find her boots this morning and was ranting all the way here. I teased her a little, and I suppose it put her in a playful mood."

"I wasn't referring to Jane's behaviour. To me she seemed pretty much the way she always does when you two interact."

Maura's could almost feel her ears poking up – though of course that was a physical impossibility.

The way she always... Wait, what way would that be?

Unfortunately Dr. Gordon quickly moved on to another topic. "I was thinking about you. You seemed… freer somehow."

Maura swallowed, sensing the direction the conversation was taking, and she wasn't entirely comfortable with it. "I suppose it's a logical result of my sessions with you and the medication... I've been smiling more often lately without making any conscious efforts. I realised that this morning. It's as if my body is reawakening." She swallowed, then hesitantly added: "In other areas, too."

"Other areas?"

"Yes, I..." Maura covered her eyes half-heartedly with her hands, fingers spread. She peeked out through them as she continued. "As you know I've had feelings for Jane that go beyond friendship for ages, but since around the time I broke down they've been less intense." She removed one hand and held it up to emphasise an important correction. "Not that she ever ceased to be the most important person in my life. I just haven't responded to her physically for a while. But this morning when she had me pinned against the wall…" As Maura's mind recalled the scenario, her body seemed to do so as well. Every inch of skin Jane's hands had so much as hovered over immediately felt flushed under her dress, and she shifted uneasily in the chair, trying to keep the contact and friction to a minimum.

This is not the time, not the place, so stop it right now.

She swallowed. "Anyway, I had a very unambiguous physical reaction to that."

Had? Have.

"So your sex drive is returning. Congratulations!"

Dr. Gordon sounded positively triumphant, but Maura found it difficult to share her enthusiasm. She finally let herself fall gracelessly back into the chair. "I'm not sure that calls for celebration. It's been a relief not having to deal with that component of my friendship with Jane for a while."

"For you, perhaps. But Jane hasn't been equally numbed out." Dr. Gordon twirled her empty take-away cup between her fingers. "Frankly, I'm impressed with her amount of self-restraint."

"Jane doesn't have to restrain anything," Maura objected.

She knows Jane doesn't feel that way about me. I've told her as much.

Dr. Gordon watched her for several seconds until Maura practically shrunk under her intense gaze. "Are you completely sure of that?" the therapist asked. "I realise that I am venturing outside the area of therapy, but I've got to tell you – that's not what it looks like."

You're not the first one to say that. You're not the first one to be wrong.

"People have always made assumptions about the nature of our relationship. They tend to typecast Jane as a lesbian because of her line of work. But Jane is as straight as they come." Maura tried to switch into her slightly didactic, slightly detached modus, but her voice ended up sounding dull and tired instead.

Dr. Gordon, on the other hand, sounded almost cheerfully optimistic. "Well, most people are straight until they're not. And female sexuality tends to be particularly fluid."

"Not Jane's." Dr. Gordon opened her lips to say something, but Maura held up both hands demonstratively as if trying to stop a car in the middle of a street. "Believe me, it's not like I haven't been fishing. We went undercover at a gay bar once and I witnessed Jane faking her way through a dozen set-up dates with actual lesbians." She sighed and felt her hands, her face and her eyes fall until she was slouching in a most un-Maura-like way. "If she had been uncomfortable about it I could have clung to the hope that she was repressing homosexual tendencies, but she was completely disinterested and completely at ease."

Dr. Gordon remained unfazed by Maura's gloom. "If I didn't know you any better, I'd say you were guessing wildly just now... the only thing that scenario proves is that Jane's not a homophobe. Couldn't her disinterest be put down to something as simple as the fact that she was there in a professional capacity?"

"Yes. It could, except I reached the same conclusion after addressing the topic directly." Maura put her entire right forearm over her eyes this time. Unfortunately the arm did not feel the least bit cool against her face.

"Directly?"

"Well, I said, 'I wonder what kind of women we would like if we liked women'."

"Now, calling that a direct approach is a bit of a stretch, Maura," Dr. Gordon said with a light laugh. "But she downright denied the possibility?"

"She- well, no." The tiny hairs on Maura's arm tickled her forehead as she frowned into it. "She didn't. But my point is she never took the conversation to a level beyond the hypothetical."

"Did you?" Dr. Gordon pressed on.

"No." Maura sighed.

I see where she's going with this. This woman is beginning to make me despise logic.

"So you've never directly told her how you feel about her, just like she's never said anything to you indicating an interest in you beyond the strictly platonic," Dr. Gordon summarized.

"No, she hasn…" Maura was about to raise her voice when she suddenly stopped herself. Her arm fell into her lap, and when she spoke again she weighed her words carefully, keeping her eyes trained on her hands. "Actually, that's not true. She did say this one thing… But I'm not sure I can trust my memory on that one. I was not exactly my self at the time."

"What happened?" Dr. Gordon prodded gently.

"When I forgot to go to work Jane showed up and tried to talk me into seeking help. In vain at first, because I didn't think anything could help. It all felt so real and so permanent. You already know all this." Maura threw a quick glance across the table making sure her therapist was still following, then once again averted her eyes. "I truly believed I was meant to be on my own; that people didn't care about, much less loved or desired me. She refuted that, pointing out that she did."

"Love you and desire you?"

Did she actually say that? Those are big words. Yet they didn't feel like that at the time.

Dr. Gordon took Maura's silence as a yes and pressed on: "How did you respond to that?"

Maura shrugged. "I didn't believe her. She was clearly trying to make me feel better..." Her voice trailed off and her gaze flickered for a moment.

She was, wasn't she? That's what Jane does. Isn't it?

"I didn't want her to feel like she had to. So I asked her to leave."

"But she came back," Dr. Gordon pointed out. "Doesn't that call for a re-evaluation of your initial interpretation of the declaration?"

'Open the door. The answer is right out there in the waiting room.'

Maura swallowed, at once feeling her hopes go up while simultaneously dreading the hurt and disappointment that would inevitably follow if she made the wrong assumption. "I'm not sure. I was so out of touch with the world at the time that I might not even remember our conversation correctly. In any case I would merely be guessing."

"Yes, you would. Until you actually put yourself out there and ask her directly."

Maura's eyes darted to the therapist and she sat up so quickly in the chair she almost lost her balance.

Is she suggesting what I think she's suggesting? I signed up for therapy, not a matchmaking service.

"You look like I'm suggesting a lobotomy." A twitch at the corner of the therapist's mouth indicated that she was just barely managing to keep a straight face. "Would talking to Jane about your feelings really be so horrible? What's the worst thing that could happen?"

"If she doesn't reciprocate them, then she might..." Maura had thought that sentence through to the end many times, but never actually said it out loud. And now that she was about to she recognized it for what it was: another worst case scenario, the result of sleepless nights of catastrophic thinking that had little to do with reality. She discarded it. "No, Jane would never actually end our friendship on that account. She's far too loyal for that. However, things could become awkward between us. I would have to be self-conscious and careful all the time, constantly worrying that she might read the wrong thing into a casual touch."

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that pretty much the way things are for you already?"

Maura opened her mouth to object, but closed it again.

Up against the wall, in the elevator, just outside the therapist's office. That's three times I've frozen up, blushed, felt too much and nearly given it away. Three times in just one morning.

"Yes. It is," she admitted dejectedly. "At least it's the way things will be if my libido is indeed returning."

"So you really don't have much to lose by talking to her – but plenty to gain if it turns out she does indeed return your feelings," Dr. Gordon concluded in her irritatingly flawless logic.

Maura felt an uncharacteristic stubbornness rise within her.

It can't be that simple. She doesn't understand.

"Regardless, this is not the time to pursue a romantic relationship. I'm just coming out of a depression," she countered, trying to sound equally no-nonsense-like.

Dr. Gordon merely shrugged. "If you were jumping head-first into a relationship to avoid dealing with your own issues, then I would strongly advise against it." Her eyebrows rose and lent a sincerity and insistence to her words. "But your feelings for Jane are far from new; they have nothing to do with your depression. And you are absolutely aware of the fact that only you, not Jane, can solve your problems, and you are dealing actively with them. So I'm not the least bit concerned." She shrugged again, this time with a smile.

Maura couldn't return it. "I'm not just thinking about my recovery. It's also – I have so little to offer. I'm already this leech-like friend constantly talking about my depression, my boundaries, my schedules…"

"Except you actually avoid talking to Jane about these things." Dr. Gordon pointed out. Then she tilted her head, looking thoughtful for a prolonged moment, before she earnestly asked: "Maura, do you really, deep down, feel that you have nothing to offer in a relationship? Because if that's the case then it's definitely the depression talking. It is not true and the feeling will pass."

"Even if it passes, I'll still be me." The words, quiet and melancholically sounding, fell out of her mouth before she really had the time to censure herself, and once they were out there was no way back. She suddenly felt tired, worn to the bones, and her head felt forward as she hesitantly continued. "I'll still be geeky, awkward, socially incompetent me who has managed to screw up every romantic relationship I've ever been in, most of them before they amounted to more than a single date. And I really don't want to do that with Jane." The last sentence came out as a whisper, but it didn't quite cover up the slight tremble in her voice. She squeezed her eyes shut and had to breathe in and out a few times before she was able to continue, for the first time truly putting in to words how much this really meant to her. "Being with Jane. As her best friend and her lover... I've been wanting it, aching for it for so long that I hardly dare consider it an actual option. Because if I did, and if it actually came to happen, then I would want it to last. And so it would have to be done just right."

"It would have to be done perfectly? Is that what you mean?"

"Yes, exactly!" Maura looked up at her therapist, pleasantly surprised that she had been understood so well. But when she met Dr. Gordon's blue eyes there was a teasing glint there indicating that something else was going on.

It would have to be done... Perfectly. Oh.

She blinked a few times as realisation struck. "Am I doing it again? Being the lost perfectionist," she added with a wince.

"Possibly." Dr. Gordon answered quizzically, and the lack of a clear answer bothered Maura more than any of the therapist's obnoxious logic.

"Then what am I to do?" Maura straightened up so fast she resembled a spring and shook her open hands at the therapist. "You're the shrink! So please do tell me!" Even to her own ears Maura sounded childishly unreasonable. But she was just so fed up with having to dig for all the answers herself, fed up with the fact that her recovery, her future, her love life were in her own hands all the time.

Can't some one else take over and take charge just for one second? Give me a break?

Dr. Gordon looked at her calmly, silently, until the silliness of her outburst got to Maura and she visibly deflated in front of the therapist. "Sorry," she mumbled into both hands as she covered her face with them.

"Honestly, Maura, I don't think you need a therapist's advice. You might be recovering from a depression and learning to readjust your level of ambitions, but your fear regarding Jane has nothing to do with either."

Maura spread her fingers enough to be able to peek through them. Across from her Dr. Gordon was smiling genuinely.

"It's what everybody goes through. Maybe not when asking some random guy out, but certainly when it really matters. It's how you know it matters." Dr. Gordon leaned towards Maura and lowered her voice a little when she continued. "You know, I was so nervous before my first date with my wife that I took beta blockers to stop my hands from shaking," the therapist admitted sheepishly.

Even to an outside observer unable to overhear the actual conversation the shift from professional to personal mode would have been obvious. The therapist's tone and body language clearly indicated that this was a secret being shared with an equal, a friend even, not a therapist counselling her patient. Maura's hands gradually slid down her face, uncovering her eyes.

"Of course," Dr. Gordon continued, "beta blockers didn't prevent me from speaking so fast I completely confused the waiter nor from knocking over a glass of water. And when, much to my surprise, Sarah still wanted to kiss me at the end of that ghastly experience..." the therapist bit her lip, a completely uncharacteristic hint of embarrassment flashing across her face when she added: "That's when I accidently ran over her toes."

Maura's hand were on her jaw but didn't move fast enough to completely cover and contain the sputter of laughter that spontaneously erupted from somewhere deep in her chest in that moment. Dr. Gordon's cheeks reddened a little, but then she, too, began giggling, and eventually they were both laughing heartedly, unrestrained. In fact Maura couldn't remember having felt this free, this light for months.

"I was ready to die there and then of embarrassment," Dr. Gordon gasped as she wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. "Good thing I didn't, though." She shook her head at herself, and Maura's sympathy for the woman grew immediately.

Apparently I'm not the only one doing that over and over again.

"Because later on – much later – my wife told me that my ridiculously obvious nerves on that day was part of what she fell for." Dr. Gordon looked distant for a second, reminiscent, her eyes seemingly focused on something no one else could actually see. Then she was once again fully present, alert, and the rest of the story was clearly more than an anecdote. It was directed at Maura, who had finally forgotten to care about her face or her hands. "She'd gone out with so many people who said all the right things, followed the script perfectly and with ease. Yet she preferred me because I was easy to read. Because it wasn't smooth, it wasn't a script; it was imperfect and real. And I think that what's made it last." She kept her eyes trained on Maura until she seemed certain the message had sunk in. "So to hell with perfect," Dr. Gordon finally clarified, slamming her palm against the table in a sailor-like way that seemed completely at odds with her feminine physique. "What you have to offer, Maura, is a hundred times more interesting.”

Chapter Text

Day 65

 

There was no doubt she'd made the right call. She felt it the moment the door fell shut behind her, and yet she kept her gaze trained on the ground in front of her for fear of meeting other gazes and having to explain herself. All she could think of right now was increasing the distance to anyone affiliated with the Boston Police Department as much and as quickly as possible. And so Maura didn't pause or even slow down until the concrete under her feet gave way to green grass that soaked up the sharp clatter of stiletto heels; until Boston Common had closed itself around her and only the faint humming of morning traffic gave away the fact that she was still in the middle of Massachusetts' capital. Even then, as her body finally halted, her mind continued to race.

It was the right and responsible thing to do. Dr. Gordon will be proud of me. So why don't I feel relieved?

Her first week back at the job had been fine. She had kept her schedule light, switched off her work phone as soon as she left the police station's premises, and she had made sure to spend her afternoons and evenings on non-demanding leisure activities. The results: No dizziness, no panic attacks, no sleepless nights. In short, Maura felt very well on her way towards full recovery. Or, she did until that morning. She had barely entered the morgue, decaf soy latte in hand, when her phone rang and she was sent to the Boston Opera House to assess a possibly suspicious death. Jane had snorted at that expression; the deceased had been found in one of the dressing rooms with a sabre borrowed from a Madame Butterfly production sticking out of his back. Not much 'possibly suspicious' about that. However, science as well as protocol still required Maura to perform a thorough on-scene examination with an open, unbiased mind. And she would have been happy to do so, if not for the extremely loud Republican rally taking place in the theatre hall and the age-old, paper thin walls separating the crime scene from it.

Normally Maura wouldn't have cared. She had in early childhood acquired the ability to let herself be consumed by a task, rendered deaf and blind to outside disturbances. During her career as a medical examiner this had often come in handy when working in the field. Maura could ignore everything from the sarcastic comments of impatient detectives to club music accompanied by stroboscopic light. It never affected the quality of her work. However, today her concentration had dwindled almost immediately. Her own thoughts got interspersed with the thoughts of others, as the mumbling of colleagues and the less discrete claptraps of political speakers snuck their way into her mind. She had tried to focus on the corpse at hand, tried to hone her attention and will her old filter in place, but the only thing yielded by all the efforts was a dizzying headache.

Within less than fifteen minutes it became clear that she had to hand the task over to somebody else for the sake of the investigation as well as her own sanity. Not only was she unfit to do her job under the given circumstances; she worried that her growing nausea might turn into something far more serious if she stayed. And so Maura had left.

Run off more like it.

She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, annoyed with her own shortcomings as well as her harsh judgment of them.

Correction: You arranged for another medical examiner to take over, informed the lead investigator of the replacement, and then you left. It was the responsible thing to do, so stop beating yourself up over it.

Wishing Dr. Gordon was there to give her the speech, Maura sighed. Somehow her inner monologue wasn't as convincing. Dialogue worked better. She was pulled momentarily out of her reverie by her phone. Recognising the ring tone she knew it was Jane even before fishing the phone out of her coat pocket.

She must have noticed my swift departure and is probably worried. It's not fair to her – having to babysit me even when she's at work.

Maura's thumb hovered over the answer button.

But it would actually be kind of nice to have her around right now. Not to talk, not necessarily, just to distract me before my self-deprecation gets out of hand.

While she hesitated the decision was made for her – she had waited too long, and the call was directed to voice mail. The phone beeped only seconds later indicating that Jane could not have left a very long message. Maura frowned, but didn't play it. She merely slid the phone back into her pocket, gathered her thin coat more closely around her and walked the remaining distance to the park's pond.

The popular outing area was almost deserted, probably because it was still relatively early in the day. Only a handful of people were seated outside the café on the other side of the pond: An elderly couple, the woman clearly suffering from osteoporosis; an elderly man and his dog; and a group of young women, probably on maternity leave as each had a baby with her. They were just out of earshot, but Maura could see them chatting cheerfully among themselves. Her own quiet solace suited her fine, or so she thought – until Jane's ring tone began again.

Maura pinched the bridge of her nose, still unable to decide whether to pick up or not.

She shouldn't have to deal with my issues. On the other hand, she might be truly worried. If the situation were reversed, and Jane had walked out, what would I want her to do?

Maura sighed as she reached her conclusion in the exact same moment the phone grew silent.

I would want her to talk to me. And I would want to find her.

She took out her phone, once again ignoring the incoming voice mail – she knew what it would be about anyway – and typed in a message for Jane: 'Jane, I'm sorry for leaving abruptly – I was feeling a little overwhelmed and needed fresh air. Am by the Frog Pond, Boston Common. Maura.'

Jane's reply came promptly: 'No prob. On lunch break, can b w/u shortly. If u want company? xxJ'

Maura smiled to herself as she typed in her reply, for once openly admitting what she needed from another human being, and not just any human being. Her reply was short:'Yours, always.' She had already pressed the send button when she became aware of the unintended double-pun of her brief message: Maura had been referring to her persistent delight in Jane's company, but the words could be interpreted on a much deeper level. However, the statement would still hold truth, regardless of the interpretation – Maura realised this with a small shudder and a more visible headshake.

Freudian slip, clearly. Oh well. She'll read what she wants to read.

Maura stayed on the side of the pond away from the café. It was a relatively open area and Jane would be able to spot her easily. As she paced the length of the pond her mind once again drifted back to the crime scene she had left and the manner in which she had left it.

I wonder if I will ever be my old self again. Or if this is how it will be, how I will be from now on.

Her shoulders sagged slightly at the thought and she pulled her collar up against a chill that clearly had nothing to do with the sunny day and its lack of wind. In that moment, however, someone called out her name. Instantly recognizing the voice Maura straightened up and saw Jane waving and grinning from the other end of the pond. "That was remarkably fast! Did you run all the way here?" Maura remarked as they met halfway. She glanced at her iPhone clock, then back at Jane whose grin only widened.

"I'm gonna kick your ass at the next Boston Marathon. Just you wait!" Jane smirked. She wasn't the least bit out of breath and soon caved under Maura's skeptical gaze. "Alright, I was already headed here," she admitted.

Maura frowned. "But I only told you my location a few minutes ago."

Jane shrugged and checked the ground beneath her before sitting in the grass. "I figured this is where you'd go."

Maura remained standing for a beat, watching her best friend who was looking back at her expectantly.

She knows me so well. And here I was reluctant to talk to her. As if she hasn't already read me like an open book.

Jane patted the ground next to her. "It's dry. But you can sit on my jacket if you're worried about your skirt."

"No, it's fine," Maura said as she finally joined her friend on the ground. Jane was sitting cross-legged, and Maura's thigh accidentally brushed against her friend's knee. The touch was fleeting, but enough to activate a longing for more contact that had been an almost constant undercurrent to her interactions with Jane since that morning outside Dr. Gordon's office. Even now – weighed down by her current sense of professional failure – Maura needed the kind of comforting closeness that could only be conveyed through touch.

I just want to lean into her. Nothing inappropriate. Just to soak up her warmth, her scent.

She cleared her throat realising Jane's uncharacteristic quiet probably meant she expected Maura to speak her mind. "Jane, I…" she began without looking up from her own fidgeting hands. "About this morning…"

Warm, slightly calloused fingertips snuck gently along her wrist and across the back of her hand until one of Jane's more or less enveloped both of hers. Stilling them, but not in any forceful way; Jane was gently, rhythmically squeezing Maura's fingers and stroking her thumb with her own, offering a hint of what Maura had longed for.

Once again she seems to know exactly what's going on in my mind. How long has it been like this?

Somehow the physical connection grounded her. Maura felt her tension slowly subside and suddenly words flowed much more freely. "All I could think of was to get out of there as quickly as possible, but mostly I didn't want to once again cause you unnecessary worry." Maura huffed and shook her head. "I realise now that's probably exactly what I did by leaving without offering you any kind of explanation. I'm sorry."

"Hey, don't apologize. It's not like you're making me worry – you can't make someone worry without their consent," Jane stated firmly. "Also, you don't have to explain anything unless you want to."

Maura blinked a few times, as if physically clearing her vision would also make it easier to figure out what she wanted.

Do I want to explain? Dr. Gordon thinks I hold too much back and perhaps she's right. I should give Jane a chance to understand my behaviour this morning.

"I'd like to try to explain…" Maura said slowly, and she could sense Jane nodding out of the corner of her eye. "This past week, being back at work – it's been alright. I've enjoyed it, actually, and I haven't felt uneasy at any point until this morning. The rally next door… I used to be able to block out things like that, but ever since my-"

Breakdown.

She bit her lower lip, feeling her unwillingness to say the word out loud like a lump in her throat. She swallowed around it as Jane's hand squeezed hers more firmly and for once she decided to not censure herself. "Ever since my breakdown and subsequent depression it's like I'm missing a filter. Like a fuse has blown. Noise, words, visual impressions all come in at once and make it impossible for me to focus. I get dizzy and disoriented from trying." She sighed, then quickly added: "Things have improved over the past few weeks – I am able to go to the baker again, for one – but the crime scene this morning was apparently more than I could handle."

"Well, political baloney that early in the morning would drive most normal people up the wall," Jane said, a hint of a smile in her voice.

Maura turned her right hand within Jane's in order to squeeze it back in response. "I know, I'm just used to being more in control when placed in such situations." She felt her voice thickening as she quietly, honestly added: "And I can't help wondering if I'll ever have that control back."

"You will, Maur," Jane said with conviction. "You said it yourself. Things have improved already! It just takes time."

Maura nodded slowly, automatically, as she pulled her left hand free of Jane's grasp in order to pick at the dry grass they were sitting on. "I know. Dr. Gordon has been telling me to take note of the little victories instead of comparing my current lack of abilities to my situation a year ago. It's just… so circular. Sometimes I feel I am taking one step forward followed by two steps back. I continue to repeat certain mistakes. Even if I'm not relapsing exactly, it's certainly not the Western narrative of steady, linear progress either."

"Would that be Maura-speak for 'I'm getting impatient'?"

Maura looked up for the first time since she sat on the ground and found her friend grinning widely. She opened her mouth to protest, then closed it again and felt her lips betray her as they curved into the tiniest smile. "I suppose it would," she admitted.

"I understand. I know you know I do – you were the one putting up with my notorious lack of patience when I was recovering from the gunshot. I still can't comprehend how you managed to not strangle me with a pillow at some point. It would have been so easy, and unlike most people you'd know how to get rid of the forensic evidence." Jane mostly took care to let Maura know when she was joking. This time she bumped her shoulder lightly against Maura's.

"Oh, I never considered any such thing!" Maura bumped back. "Sedation, however…" She smiled at Jane, and their eyes locked in a way that spoke of earnestness beneath the jest.

"Anyway, I totally get the impatience thing. But Maur, you gotta take care of the particularly fine machinery you've got." Jane turned halfway, reached over with her free hand and let it rest lightly on top of Maura's scalp to indicate the machinery in question. She kept her tone light, but still held Maura's gaze. "You know, the kind of stress you've been exposed to physically alters the hardware. Not just the brain chemistry, but the actual tissue." Her thumb slipped down to gently stroke across Maura's forehead as she spoke. Maura had to fight the urge to let her eyes drift shut. "Hippocampus, the hub for learning and memory, shrinks and forms fewer connections, while that place that regulates fear and emotions…" The thumb paused along with Jane as she thought for a moment, looking upwards. "Jeez, I know what it's called… The amygdale!" The thumb resumed its ministrations and Jane found Maura's eyes again. "The amygdale grows and becomes hyperactive. So you end up with all sorts of anxieties and anger and fear, but no hippocampus to help you with context and perspective."

Despite the sombre topic Maura felt a smile taking over her face as Jane spoke. "Would I be using your term correctly if I said you were Google mouthing just now?"

"Uhm…" Jane withdrew the hand on Maura's head in order to run it through her own dark curls. "I suppose… Yes?" She averted her eyes, suddenly shy-seeming, and there was an odd, tense silence until Jane literally shrugged it off. "I needed science to convince you, remember? Also I kind of wanted to know what you were going through." She said the last part lightly, casually, but Maura felt the implication of the words deeply.

She wanted to understand, and she still does. She was never scared off by any of this. By any of me.

"Anyway, what I'm trying to say is this." Jane straightened up, embodying authority as she drove her point home: "It may be less visible than my gunshot, but you've injured yourself just the same. So it will take time, and in the meantime you gotta not spend all your energy straight away the moment you regain some. You have to save some so that big brain of yours can heal."

Maura bit her lip as she admitted: "I know, but navigating the difference between wanting to do something and actually being able to do it is very difficult for me."

"Of course it is, cause you're like me in that respect. You wanna do it all!" Jane gestured energetically with her free hand; the left remained in Maura's. "But this is your brain we're talking about, Maur. Your million dollar education, your geek speak, it's all in there! In my case it probably wouldn't make that much of a difference, since I act without thinking and have my head up my ass half the time anyway-"

"That's not true, Jane," Maura interjected with a small laugh.

"-but without your Rain Man memory and annoying logic you wouldn't be you, Maur. And we'd all be fucking lost."

"Language, Jane," Maura scolded, but she was smiling just the same. Jane's sincere compliment wasn't lost on her.

"Right, sorry." Jane smiled too, but quickly became serious. Under the pretext of studying her nails she avoided Maura's gaze as she added: "Anyway, you made the right call this morning by choosing to protect yourself. I just wish I could do something to make you feel less bad about it."

"You already have, Jane," Maura said quietly.

"I wish I could do more." Jane peeked at Maura sideways, through the corner of her eye, as she awaited Maura's answer.

"Well, it's hard to talk these things away…" Maura bit her lip again, her gaze flickering from Jane's face to their still linked hands and back as she considered her reply.

Do I dare, or is it too much to ask for? She does want to help.

"…but I find tactile sensory input has a very calming effect on me."

The words came out of her mouth rushed, and Jane frowned for a second, clearly having a hard time making sense of them. But then her forehead flattened and dimples and a wide grin overtook her face. "You want a hug? Great! I'm good at those."

"That you are," Maura agreed as her friend's hand finally let go of hers and slipped around her waist instead, pulling her into a sideways embrace. A short one. Maura felt her heart skip a beat as Jane pulled away.

"This won't do," she said. "Come sit in front of me instead." Jane uncrossed her long legs, stretched and parted them, then indicated the space between them with her free right hand while tugging at Maura with her left. Although Maura did not dare to meet Jane's eyes, she obeyed and moved over tentatively, making sure to leave half an inch of space between their bodies so as to not push any friendly boundaries. Jane, however, made short work of that plan. Her arms slipped around Maura's waist and pulled her so close there was hardly any part of Maura's back not touching Jane.

Maura had requested tactile sensory input, but this was more like a sensory explosion. Jane's knees were brushing against the outside of her thighs; her arms were enveloping her completely and her breath close to Maura's ear. She shut her eyes and tried to not focus on the feel of Jane's breasts against her shoulder blades, pressing gently into her with every breath, but her efforts had the opposite effect of the intended. An effect which would most certainly leave a mark in Maura's underwear.

So maybe this request was not solely about needing calming comfort. Oh well. At least from behind she can't tell I'm blushing.

"Mmm," Jane hummed with appreciation. "If this is the kind of help you have in mind, never hesitate to ask."

Is her voice even raspier than normally? No, it's probably just me.

Jane's voice was so close Maura felt it tickle her temple and the sensation quickly spread downwards, leaving her cheek and neck tingling. She forced a chuckle past her lips and tried to sound as casual as possible when she delivered her uncharacteristically brief reply: "Okay."

For heaven's sake, pull yourself together!

"You said you didn't want to once again cause me unnecessary worry," Jane began after a beat. "Even if I did agree to the whole causing-people-worry-thing… Which I don't. I mean, come on; look at my Ma!" Maura felt the light shudder of her friend's ribcage against her back as Jane snorted. "She's a prime example of how someone takes worrying upon themselves."

"She worries because she loves you," Maura clarified.

She felt Jane tightening her hold on her momentarily as she thoughtfully agreed: "Yeah. Love does that to people."

People? Who exactly is she talking about?

Maura closed her eyes and tried to will her thoughts back under control.

Just enjoy this embrace. This, right now.

"Anyway, my point is: Never feel guilty about sharing or asking me for something that you think might cause me to worry, because it's not like that with you," Jane said, then quickly added: "Not that I don't worry about you. Of course I do."

What is she implying now? She just said love makes people worry.

Maura's right eye automatically flew open as if she could figure out her friend's intentions through peeking. But Jane's face was out of her field of vision anyway.

Stop it, Maura. 'Love makes people worry' does not equal 'all worried people love'. You're creating a false syllogism.

"What I mean is; you're in no way using me, if that's what you're afraid of, because with you it's never one-sided."

"It isn't?" The words fell out of Maura's mouth before she realised it. She was too taken aback by the fact that Jane was once again finding her way directly to the core of the matter; to the thing that had been nagging at Maura for weeks.

No wonder she became a detective so fast.

"No, Maur!" Jane laughed. She actually laughed. "Remember how our friendship began? Like, really began? Hoyt had escaped, I was a nervous wreck and showed up at your doorstep in the middle of the night. And you just took me in, no questions asked. Like you've done so many times." Jane said the last part slowly, emphasising each word. "I could never thank you enough for that."

"Well…" Maura squirmed a little, feeling slightly self-conscious in the face of Jane's honest praise. "It's not like I took you in for solely altruistic reasons."

"Likewise," Jane said simply, quietly. And in that moment Maura felt she could melt into the body behind her; if only she dared to truly let go.

Dr. Gordon is right, we need to talk about us. But not like this. I can't think like this.

"Would you like to stroll for a bit?" Maura suggested, wriggling out of Jane's grasp and standing before Jane could reply. Fortunately her friend did not seem to realise that Maura was using the walk as a pretext for re-establishing some physical space between them. She simply nodded and followed.

Boston Common is large and criss-crossed by numerous paths, but they weren't headed anywhere in particular and opted for the grass instead, never straying too far from the Frog Pond. It was new to Maura – this walking slowly, leisurely without any higher purpose. The park was excellent for running, and since exercise helps fight off depression Maura had come here quite often in the past weeks. However, her visits had soon become less about exercising and more about appreciating the relative calm of the green and wide open space. She would avoid the more crowded hours and just trod around, taking in the different trees and listening to the birds. Being an eager shopper and fond of all the modern comforts of a large city it had taken Maura by surprise that she would feel so… at home with nature.

She cast a glance at her friend. The fresh air seemed to visibly relax her as well. Her left hand was hanging loosely by the thumb stuck inside the waistline of her pants, and she occasionally brushed her right hand through her increasingly wild mane. This gesture often indicated nervousness on Jane's part, but right now the opposite seemed to be the case. She was relaxed enough to not be the least self-conscious, and somehow that made her even more stunning than normally. Maura swallowed involuntarily as she allowed her gaze to glide along her friend's incredibly long legs then dwell on her relatively narrow hips and the defined stomach muscles directly under the thin shirt. The shirt which was partially unbuttoned…

As if she had felt Maura's eyes upon her, Jane looked back at Maura in that instance and grinned. Maura felt heat rise in her cheeks and immediately regretted having given up their former position on the ground. The current distance did nothing to quench the very physical reactions she was having to her friend, and unlike earlier Jane would now be able to read her face.

If Jane had indeed caught Maura looking she didn't let on. She simply looked back. "I can really see your freckles today," she remarked. "Is it because of the sun?"

Maura averted her eyes and bit her lip as she admitted: "Not really… It's because I didn't put on foundation this morning. Well, only a hint of it anyway. Dr. Gordon made me," she added explanatorily.

"Your shrink is telling you to wear less foundation?"

No one but Jane could have sounded as incredulous, and Maura couldn't help but chuckle. "No, no she isn't. Not directly."

Jane stopped in her tracks and eyed Maura, one hand placed on her hip. She was clearly waiting for a more elaborate explanation.

Maura took a deep breath. "I have a bit of an issue with perfectionism."

"Really? I never would have guessed…"

"Well, I do in f-" Maura began, then caught the smirk on Jane's face. "Oh, you're being sarcastic."

"Me?" Jane pointed at herself with a most exaggerated motion. "No! Never."

"Stop teasing. I was being serious here!" Maura swatted at Jane's pointing hand and somehow it got tangled up in hers.

"I know. Sorry," Jane said with a warm smile. "Please go on."

"Perfectionism," she repeated. "It's part of the reason I ended up the way I did. I overachieve, overcompensate… It's the perfectly hideous combination of megalomania and insecurity."

Jane was wrinkling her forehead, clearly trying, but failing to fully comprehend was Maura was saying.

Maura frowned too, trying to think of the perfect image or metaphor to clarify things. And then it came to her. "Like Vasa," she said, feeling instantly proud of her own communication skills.

"Vasa? I'm sorry, Maur, you lost me completely there."

"Vasa was a Swedish warship launched in 1628. Nothing had been spared; it was equipped with bronze cannons and its size was most impressive. But those features made the ship top-heavy and it barely made it out of the harbour before it sank."

"So…" Jane narrowed her eyes as if trying to read a sign far away. "You're saying you're a shipwrecked perfectionist?"

"As a manner of speaking, yes." Maura averted her eyes and realised Jane's and her hand were still linked.

She doesn't seem to mind. And I certainly don't mind. Maybe this could work. Whatever 'this' is.

"Since childhood I've set insane standards for myself regarding how much and how well I should perform in every aspect of life. It's not sustainable living, because if nothing short of perfect is acceptable then one will always fall short and eventually burn out. Or sink, like the over-equipped Vasa." Hearing her own words Maura smiled overbearingly at herself. "It sounds so obvious, doesn't it? Yet I've had to learn the hard way. I'm still trying to learn."

Jane's relaxed demeanour was suddenly completely gone. She had averted her eyes and was now shifting nervously from foot to foot, fidgeting at shirt buttons with her free hand. "So what happened to you…" she hesitantly began. "It wasn't all due to me shooting myself?" She glanced questioningly up at Maura through dark lashes.

"No," Maura said simply. Only when she saw Jane's shoulders sink with relief did she realise the full implication of what Jane had just asked her.

Oh no, she's been blaming herself. She's as bad as I am.

"No, Jane. No!" Maura shook her head rigorously and tore Jane's fidgeting hand away from her shirt. Both of their hands were now linked, and Maura faced her friend fully as she clarified once and for all: "What happened to me was not your fault. Just like what you went through wasn't mine. We both have to stop taking responsibility for things that are out of our hands." Maura studied Jane's dark brown eyes until she felt certain the message had come across. And at that point she found it difficult to break the gaze. The fact that their hands were intimately joined – Jane's fingers had somehow interwoven themselves with hers, or perhaps it was the other way around – had dawned on her, making her oddly self-conscious.

Yes, I definitely need to talk to Jane. I just need a few more minutes to gather my thoughts.

Feeling slightly cowardly Maura straightened her skirt as a pretext for dropping Jane's hands. "Anyway, Dr. Gordon has been giving me little assignments to help me conquer my perfectionism. I have to deliberately give only ninety percent in certain situations. For instance, she's been forcing me to cut back on my elaborate morning routine and sleep a little later." Maura shrugged. "Yesterday it meant giving up on ironing my blouse-"

"I didn't even notice," Jane interjected.

"-and this morning I had to cut my make-up session a bit short."

Jane nodded thoughtfully for a second. Both of her hands were in her hair, pulling it back into a ponytail that, without any form of hair band, immediately assumed its natural, untamed state the moment she let go. Then an almost cocky smile overtook her face. "Well, you'll get no argument from me, Dr. Isles," she said before turning and strolling on with a swagger in her steps, "I've always had a thing for freckles."

Did she just wink at me?

For a full minute Maura stood frozen and she eventually had to break into a run to catch up with Jane. Her friend had found a vacant bench and had once again become the perfect picture of relaxation. She was leaning back, her eyes closed against the sun. Toned arms were draped along the backrest and her knees slightly parted. Her lips were slightly parted, too. Maura swallowed and turned away from her friend.

I can't look at her. I need to think before I speak and I can't think at all right now.

She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to figure out how to begin the conversation that was so clearly needed. Her heart rate was slightly elevated, she noted, and the fear that a panic attack might inconveniently short-circuit all communication overtook her momentarily.

I have to stop it. I can stop it. I can focus and remain with Jane.

Remembering the techniques Dr. Gordon had taught her Maura stepped out of her heels and felt the grass against her bare feet, wriggled her toes into it.

I'm right here. My feet are solidly planted on the ground.

Taking deliberately slow and deep breaths she moved her focus from her feet to her hands, clenching and unclenching them. Felt short nails dip into her palms.

I'm just fine. I'll be just fine.

Eventually she felt composed enough to turn her attention towards the space around her. A light breeze was making her hair tickle her left cheek. Somewhere in the distance there was the humming of traffic. Behind her, a light rustling as Jane shifted on the bench. And then, above it all, the crisp clear, perfectly pitched song of a bird. A smile grew on her face at the familiarity.

"Listen," she said quietly without opening her eyes.

"Hm, what?" came the drowsy reply from behind.

"The song sparrow," Maura clarified.

The sound of a yawn and something that was probably Jane stretching. "You know about birds?"

"Well, not really. I have recently found myself surprisingly drawn to ornithology, particularly the study of bird vocalization, but not so much for scientific reasons…" Maura nodded her head from side to side. "…although it is interesting to note that bird song sheds light on the evolution; it is a pre-zygotic isolation mechanism involved in the process of speciation, and many allopatric sub-species show differences in calls. However, I mostly just appreciate its beauty."

"You like listening to birds? Since when?"

Maura had expected irony, but Jane sounded genuinely interested. She cast a glance at her friend across her shoulder to confirm this, and sure enough, Jane was looking back with an open, gentle expression. "Since… Since I first ventured out again after my breakdown," Maura said thoughtfully. "Probably because they represent the exact opposite of everything that came crashing down on me. The simple joys in life." She shrugged, feeling shy at her own banal admission, but Jane's warm eyes and the light smile tugging at her lips encouraged her to go on, to bare herself a little more. "Also, just like my patients, they don't judge me. And they don't require anything from me. In fact, they don't care whatsoever what I achieve, how I present myself, whether I'm here or not. They go on singing their beautiful songs regardless." She sat carefully next to Jane, feeling her friend's eyes on her as she did so, and made sure to keep a little space between them on the bench. "And the song sparrow happens to be one of my favourites."

"Why is that?" Jane asked.

"Just listen to it," Maura said pointing in the direction of the song. "It comes from over there. First a combination of quickly passing isolated notes and then trills. All very crisp, clear and precise. Can you hear it?"

Jane frowned as she followed Maura's directions. "I think so… It is quite beautiful," she admitted. "But doesn't it get a little monotonous in the long run?"

"Oh no," Maura shook her head eagerly, "Each song sparrow – or Melospiza melodia – knows approximately twenty different tunes, and although they repeat the same song many times before switching they employ as many as one thousand improvised variations on the basic theme. In fact, its song is so unique that other birds, such as mockingbirds, are unable to effectively imitate it." Maura held up her thumb and index finger in front of Jane's face to indicate the bird's size. "And all that sound comes from such a small, anonymous bird." She had been so caught up in her lecture that she, without realising it, had inched closer and closer to Jane. "Brown upperparts with dark streaks and a brown cap. It's nothing like, say, the American cardinal or even the American robin with their bright red colour, but they don't sing half as well. Although the American robin does have a rather complex song, too, and its style varies by the time of day. Also, they have an array of additional calls used for communication purposes-" Maura caught a look at Jane's face where the light smile had been replaced by a full-on Rizzoli grin accompanied by teasingly twinkling eyes. It threw Maura off track. "What is it?" she asked confusedly.

"No scientific interest whatsoever, you just think bird song's pretty... Right." Jane chuckled. "Maur, is there anything in this world you can take a liking to without becoming a full-blown geek about it?"

"Um…" Maura tried to give the question serious consideration, but Jane's unexpected reaction stung a little.

Google mouth again. And I'm so socially incompetent I didn't even realise I was doing it.

"No, I don't think so," she said miserably, unable to stop her head from sinking.

However, gentle fingers caught her chin as Jane forced her to meet her gaze. "Hey, I didn't mean I wanted you to stop. I don't want you to ever stop."

"No?" Jane's words were probably meant as an assurance, but left Maura even more unsure of her own ability to understand social codes.

"No, because if you did, you wouldn't be you." Jane explained simply, letting go of Maura's face, but still looking her sincerely in the eye. "I know I tease you about it all the time, but that's just because I'm an ass. The fact is, during the weeks you were, well, less talkative than usually, I really missed… it."

You.

The tiny, almost unnoticeable pause indicated a hesitation, a possible self-censorship on Jane's part.

Really missed… you. That's what you were about to say, isn't it?

Determined not to overlook any cues or clues this time Maura tried to take in every visible part of her friend all at once. Her slightly leaning composure, the nervous tapping of her left foot, the clenching and unclenching of her scarred hands. Her dark brown eyes further darkened by dilated pupils that could be due to shadows cast by long lashes or to something else entirely. Her slightly parted lips and the tip of a tongue that wetted them.

So many little things all pointing to the same… The very same thing that I am experiencing. And yet I can't know for sure, would merely be guessing, and I never, ever guess.

Maura's awareness of her own social shortcomings made her mistrust her own judgement of even this intimate exchange. The current uncertainty added to days and weeks and months of not quite knowing, suspecting, wishing and being plain confused until – in that one, particular moment – Maura finally, finally reached a tipping point. She felt it physically, as if something shifted within her, fell into place, as she realised that the burden of uncertainty by far outweighed her fear of what might happen if she asked Jane outright. And once that realisation was made it would not be quenched or quieted. It had to be followed up by action.

"Jane." Her lips formed the name before her precious brain had time to come up with anything resembling a strategy regarding what she was about to do, to admit to, and maybe that was actually for the best. "Jane, when you came to my place because I hadn't shown at work. What you said to me in the kitchen that day, before I told you to leave…" Jane's eyes were so dark, so deep, so alert and Maura felt completely dismantled before them. She had to avert her own before finally finishing the sentence that might forever change the most important friendship she ever had. "…did you mean it?"

In spite of Maura's uncharacteristically vague question Jane seemed to instantly know what Maura was referring to. Her lack of hesitation and the weight behind her words all pointed to that when she replied: "Every word."

Maura kept her eyes trained on her hands fiddling at the hem of her skirt as she gathered up her courage to banish vagueness once and for all. She needed the clarification, needed to rid this moment of all ambiguity so that she would never, should dark days return, look back at it and read it wrong. And so she finally asked outright. "You love me?"

"Yes," Jane replied, just as promptly.

Maura released a breath she hadn't been aware of holding back and with that, it seemed, at least half her weight. She had never felt this light before; her limbs were so light they seemed like somebody else's, and all sounds – the rustling of her skirt, Jane's breath, the song of the bird – were instantly drowned out by blood rushing in her ears so hard and fast she feared she might pass out. But not because of a panic attack. Not this time.

And so she managed to lift her voice above all the noise and go all in. "And you… desire me?"

Fortunately Jane's voice, though hoarser than ever, came through loud and clear. "Very much."

Silence. And then the full implication of the words sank in making Maura feel even lighter. Though not as in light-headed and on the verge of fainting. No, Maura felt giddy, afloat with relief.

She loves me. She wants me.

She was too relieved to keep her ever impeccable poise. Her ballet trained body would no longer be defined by straight lines, and her spine curved, her head fell forward into her own open hands. She felt her own goofy, toothy smile against her palms and it felt ridiculously good.

She wants me.
Me.

Maura was so lost in the moment that she didn't realise it dragged on and that Jane was still awaiting a response from her. Although Maura had openly admitted to a general interest in women she had never explicitly stated a romantic interest in Jane. And now Jane was beginning to stir. She shifted uncomfortably on the bench, fidgeted with the cuffs of her shirtsleeves, scraped her boots back and forth in the grass and generally looked like someone ready to bolt and run far away. Only when Jane coughed lightly did Maura come to it enough to actually look at the woman that had just transformed her. Jane was looking away, clearly afraid to meet her gaze, the uncertainty she had just lifted from Maura's shoulders visible in her every motion.

I haven't said it back.

Maura blinked. It was so obvious, and yet she'd somehow missed it, been too lost in her own worries to ever consider the fact that Jane might be sharing some of them.

I should say it back. I would mean every word.

And so she opened her mouth with every intention of giving Jane the same gift she had just received, but then she stopped herself, realising where they were: on a public park bench, during a lunch break, dressed in casual work clothes.

It's not right. And this, more than anything, has to be done just right.

Jane was still fidgeting, running her hand through her hair for at least the fifth time, and the grass beneath her soles was turning to a green mush. Maura couldn't leave her hanging like this for another second and had to get this conversation back on track immediately. The proper track.

"I wonder if-"

Jane visibly jumped at the words causing Maura to pause, which only made her friend grow even tenser.

"Would you have dinner with me on Friday?" Maura blurted out. "Perhaps go to a movie."

Stunned, Jane looked up, then narrowed her eyes clearly doing her utmost to read Maura in much the same way that Maura had previously tried to read Jane. "Are you asking me on a date?" she asked carefully.

Maura nodded. "I am."

Jane's facial muscles visibly relaxed and it spread like a wave through the rest of her body until fingers and feet finally stilled. But she didn't respond immediately.

Maura, used to being the one asked out, not the one doing the asking, began to lose her nerve. "I'm sorry if dinner and a movie is a bit cliché," she said quickly, "I merely thought that, given our history of blurred boundaries, it might be good to stick to generic for a while. Just to avoid any ambiguities, but I promise I'll be more imaginative in the future if-"

"I'd love to," Jane interrupted. She looked down to Maura's hands and dared to grasp one of them lightly in both of hers before she once again caught Maura's gaze. "And Maura, don't worry. With you nothing ever gets cliché," she said with a small, almost shy smile.

It was apparently contagious. Maura knew she was practically glowing as she launched into another ramble, this one born not so much out of nerves as out of sheer enthusiasm. "Great! There's this little Cypriot restaurant that I've been dying to check out. They're supposed to serve the best halloumi cheese available on the East coast. Halloumi is made from a mixture of goats' and sheep milk and has a very high melting point, which makes it excellent for grilling purposes." Jane was gently caressing Maura's hand with her thumb, and her smile was widening as Maura spoke. It encouraged Maura to go on.

She is actually enjoying this. She really meant it when she told me not to stop.

If she had to be honest with herself Maura couldn't have stopped even if she wanted to. It was too intoxicating; this feeling of being accepted and wanted on your own awkward, nerdy terms. "You might have tried the commercial halloumi available from American stores, but that type is mixed with pasteurized cow's milk, which affects its taste and makes the cheese melt quicker. This restaurant, however, imports the original Cypriot halloumi, which dates back to the Medieval Byzantine period. It's much harder and has an intensely salty flavour." Maura's mouth was beginning to water and she had to swallow before continuing. "It becomes elastic and squeaky and acquires and even stronger taste when heated and-"

My mouth is watering.

Maura stopped in the middle of a sentence as the realisation struck.

My mouth is watering because I'm thinking about food.

"What is it?" Jane enquired.

Frowning, Maura ran her tongue over her teeth just to double check.

I really want halloumi. Cheese. Food.

"I… I just realised something."

"What?" Jane prodded gently, nudging Maura's side with her elbow.

"I'm hungry," Maura replied, still frowning.

Jane tilted her head – a gesture she had most likely picked up from Maura – and confusion was written all over her face. The sight of her friend combined with the implication of what she was currently experiencing made Maura burst into laughter.

Apparently more than one kind of hunger has returned to me…

Both of Jane's eyebrows went up. "I'm lost here. What's so funny?"

"Nothing," Maura hiccupped as she shook her head, "it's just that I haven't felt this for weeks." She slipped out of Jane's grasp to throw both of her hands into the air. "I've eaten because I had to, but I haven't really tasted or enjoyed anything much less craved any food in particular. And now I do!" she declared happily, as she got up from the bench and turned to face Jane. "I guess things really are returning to normal," she concluded.

Some things are returning to normal… Others, well.

"Told you so," Jane said as she pushed herself up and watched Maura stepping back into her heels. "It does, however, leave us with a pressing problem."

"What would that be?" Maura tilted her head.

"We have to feed you!" Jane smirked and nodded towards the Frog Pond. "Come on, let's see what the café offers. It is my lunch break after all." She glanced at her watch. "Or was… Screw it. Frost owes me anyway. I'll send him a text and tell him to cover for me."

The group of young mothers was still seated around two of the small tables outside the café when Maura and Jane got there. Everyone else had left, and so there was no waiting line. The café's selection of food was limited to say the least, and Jane choice – Belgian waffles, the café's specialty – would normally have earned her a lecture from Maura on healthy eating habits. But not today. For once Maura ordered something as lowbrow as a burger and dug into it before she ever made it to a table. A small moan of pleasure escaped her as she sunk her teeth into the mixture of beef and ketchup and melted cheese.

Hot, creamy, sticky… Amazing.

Jane chuckled as she sat on the edge of a table. "That good, huh?"

"It's not exactly halloumi," Maura, still standing, admitted between bites, "but it has cheese in it. Lots of it."

"Told you empty calories are the best." Jane's grin transformed into a frown. "You really couldn't taste anything?"

"No." Maura looked towards the sky. "Well, yes, in the mechanical sense my papillae and taste buds functioned normally, but flavour didn't really register with my brain." She took another few bites of the burger, finishing it in record time, before she elaborated. "It's a paradox. On the one hand my emotions were clearly enlarged. I didn't merely feel sad; I felt devastated. I didn't feel nervous; I was gripped by panic. Yet at the same time I was numb. Nothing really registered. Flavours and scents I usually like, people I care for…" She looked up at Jane to make sure she was still following. She seemed to be. "It was as if there was this impenetrable membrane between me and the world and nothing got past it."

Jane was pushing the remaining bit of waffle around on the plate in her hand, clearly distracted by some inner monologue. She opened and closed her mouth a few times, as if arguing with herself as to whether she should share her thoughts or not. Only when Maura turned to throw her napkin away did Jane make up her mind: "That day in the kitchen… Is that why you didn't react? Because you couldn't feel anything?"

Maura let the lid to the garbage bin fall shut and turned to see her friend still poking disinterestedly at the remaining waffle.

Like a child playing with her food.

She looked so casual, but Maura wasn't fooled by the display of nonchalance. She walked up to Jane, took the fork and plate from her and placed them on the otherwise empty table. Then she carefully sat next to Jane on the edge of it. "Of course it was." She studied Jane's profile for a moment while considering how to properly communicate everything that needed to be said, how to put Jane's obvious insecurity to rest once and for all.

Long lashes, high cheekbones, a classical Roman nose. She's why faces were carved into coins.

And then the illusion of a perfect profile was broken as Jane returned her gaze with uncertain eyes framed by a lively mess of hair that was anything but symmetrical.

I take that back; I choose this over her profile anytime.

"Jane, what you told me that day… I registered your words intellectually, but I was unable to feel their impact or even believe them until much later. And yes, my depression is entirely to blame for that. Under any other circumstances your declaration would have made me jump up and down with joy. I know that for a fact as I've imagined that particular scenario more times than I can count."

Jane looked almost cocky as one of her eyebrows shot up. "Really?"

"Really," Maura confirmed, daring to hold Jane's gaze, hoping it would convey what she could not yet verbalise.

Jane was the first one to look away and Maura, much to her horror, realised why as Jane wiped at her face with her sleeve. Whenever Maura cried Jane's intuitive reaction would be to physically reach out for her, but Maura was still less versed into the art of comforting through touch. Her hand froze midair. "I'm bawling like a school girl."

"You're not," Maura protested. It was all she could think of.

"I am, and I hate it," Jane hissed through clenched teeth. "It's just that… I knew that day had nothing to do with me- with us. I realised straight away that you couldn't hear me, I just didn't know if you would ever…" Jane wiped so roughly at her eyes that Maura finally did reach out, automatically grabbing her wrist to prevent her from hurting herself. Jane stared at the hand that held her captive. "I had been postponing that conversation for ages, Maura, because I was too chicken shit to deal with the fact that I love you in a way that I've probably never loved anyone before, and when I finally did pull myself together it was too late." A tear landed on the back of Maura's hand. It lingered for a bit, as if indecisive, before finally rolling down the curve of her thumb and disappearing. "I realised that even if did pull my shit together and-" Underneath Maura's fingers Jane's muscles tensed, but she didn't fight the grasp. "-and finally just kissed you," Jane practically spat the words out, clearly disgusted with her own cowardice, "then you might not even feel it. And I didn't know if you would ever again be able to." She sounded defeated, almost crushed when she quietly admitted: "I've never been so scared in my life."

The fact that Jane had uttered that sentence once before wasn't lost on Maura. Back then the terror had been brought on by Hoyt, a serial killer and clinical psychopath. The fact that Maura – intentionally or not – could cause Jane a comparable amount of pain made her heart skip a beat. She never wanted that kind of power over another human being; she was unsure if she could handle it.

"I would feel it," was all Maura could come up with. "I would feel it," she repeated as she gently rubbed Jane's arm, eventually letting her fingers find Jane's. Holding Jane's larger hand gently in hers another déjà-vu came crashing down on her.

I've been holding her hand like this before. And then I kissed it.

The blinding white terror of that vigilant night by Jane's hospital bed came to her in a flash. She had confessed her feelings to Jane, held her hand and finally, finally kissed it, and Jane hadn't even been aware of it.

I didn't know if she would ever feel me again. It was the most terrifying moment of my life.

She squeezed Jane's hand, and the perfect mirror of the past was shattered into a thousand pieces, forever releasing Maura from the memory of that night as present-time Jane squeezed her hand back.

She feels me. It's not too late.

She blinked back a few tears of her own as she felt the full implication of what they had so nearly missed, not just once, but twice. There was an odd symmetry to their respective journeys. Maura fully understood the fear Jane had felt in her kitchen, because she had felt the same fear that night at the hospital – but it had been quenched, eliminated, obliterated. And the thought of what remained, what was finally in plain sight, was nothing short of exhilarating.

On Friday we'll go on a proper date. We'll finally do everything right, the way we should have all along. At the end of that date she'll kiss me – or I her – just like it's supposed to happen. And then there'll be no more uncertainty because we'll both feel it.

The images running through Maura's head brought a smile to her face, but it faltered when she looked back up at Jane's. Her eyes were slightly puffy and her forehead creased. She seemed beside herself. Not just that; she seemed worn and fragile and anything but unafraid.

I'm causing this. I never wanted that power over her. I don't know what to do with it.

Maura looked around, desperately seeking something, some input, anything that might help.

I'm causing this. Therefore I can also undo it. I just need to think.

Her eyes found nothing of interest and once again settled on Jane. She was biting her lower lip.

Even like this she looks adorable. And most kissable. If only I hadn't had that burger. Cheese and ketchup don't mix well with Belgian waffles.

From the open café door came the sound of a trite 90s pop song. And behind Jane the young mothers were still eagerly discussing their newborns, though one of them, a redhead, seemed to be occasionally glancing in the direction of Jane and Maura.

Great, we now have an audience. And not just any audience, but the pride and joy of everything heterosexual.

She looked back at Jane. At her lips, her closed eyes.

After all we've been through we deserve a completely different, much better setting for our first kiss. It's supposed to be romantic and private, the culmination of a perfect night of-

Maura's eyes widened as the wording of her inner monologue made her realise what was happening.

I'm doing it again. All these sessions with Dr. Gordon, and here I am, once again being the perfectionist. The lost perfectionist. The boring perfectionist.

She shook her head at herself, then stopped because that, too, was a repetition of an old pattern. And Maura was sick and tired of old patterns. Only to break this one would mean giving up on-

Perfection.

"Oh, to hell with it!" Maura exclaimed, echoing her therapist's words, and that seemed to finally get through to Jane. Having never, ever heard Maura curse before she looked up at her in shock.

"Mau-", Jane began, but she was immediately cut off by Maura's lips on hers. Her lips were slightly parted, and Maura took that as an invitation; kissing her fully, deeply, as her fingers tangled in dark curls, pulling Jane impossibly close.

And in the end the corny radio song didn't matter, nor did the chattering women or their babies, because Maura didn't hear them. Filter or no filter, all she heard was the soft moan that seemed to erupt from somewhere deep within Jane's chest and made every inch of Maura come more alive than it had been for weeks. No, much longer than that; she couldn't remember when, if ever, she had last felt this intensely physical, and anyway it didn't matter. All that mattered was this, right now; and the fact that Jane had finally recovered enough to be kissing her back. The flavour of ketchup mixed with that of raspberry marmalade, and it was an odd combination indeed, but beneath it was another taste, an entirely new one that made Maura's head spin and every part of her body receptive. The taste of Jane.

When Maura finally pulled back she was out of breath and her heart was pounding ferociously. Behind Jane, one of the mothers – the nosy redhead – was grinning widely at her, and Maura now noticed that the redhead's free hand was intertwined with that of the woman next to her.

First Dr. Gordon, now this. I really need to stop being so prejudiced.

Maura smiled at the couple as she stroked up and down Jane's upper arm. "Well, I most certainly felt that kiss," she stated. "Did you?" She looked up at Jane and found her friend with eyes still closed and lips slightly pursed.

Jane was touching them lightly with her fingertips and completely gone to the world. At least fifteen seconds passed before she realised Maura had spoken to her. She looked at her with a dazed, almost drunken expression in her eyes as she uttered her brilliant response: "Huh?"

Maura chuckled, but gave Jane's arm a tender squeeze. "I'll assume that's a yes."

Probably realising Maura had been watching her and read her like an open book Jane blushed deeply and swallowed visibly a few times, which in turn made Maura chuckle harder.

Dr. Gordon is right. Imperfect is rather enchanting.

In spite of her embarrassment Jane managed to smirk a little as she pointed out. "You assume? I thought you never made assumptions, Dr. Isles."

Maura tilted her head from side to side without breaking eye contact with Jane. "I'm not guessing blindly. I'm making a hypothesis based on an observation, which is entirely different," she corrected, then coyly added: "Of course, I'll need further observations and rigorous testing to fully prove it." Maura's eyes flickered to Jane's still moist and slightly kiss-swollen lips and back.

"Well," Jane said as her hands found Maura's waist and pulled her to stand between her legs. "You can't argue with science, can you?"

"Nope," Maura agreed as she dove in for their second kiss and was met halfway.

Chapter Text

"I still can't believe you actually carried me all that way."

Jane was sitting on Maura's couch, and Maura had initially been sitting next to her. But somehow, little by unnoticeably little, she had scooted over and eventually ended up in Jane's lap. She was now leaning against the taller woman's chest, enjoying her scent, her warmth and above all the fact that she no longer had to hide how much she craved the intimacy. But Jane's comment made her perk her head up. "You know I can't lie, Jane."

"You still managed to keep certain essential things from me for much too long," Jane pointed out as her hand teased one of Maura's naked arms.

Maura didn't have to look to know the fingers left goosebumps in their track. "Fortunately you're a detective and figured it out," she managed to smirk back in spite of the accompanying and not entirely unpleasant shiver.

"Yeah, and as a detective I like solid evidence. Eye witnesses. And no one actually saw you carrying me to bed that night." The fingers drew tiny patterns in the hollow of Maura's elbow, then moved to the sensitive skin on the inside of her wrist.

Maura's eyes fluttered as the shiver from before was replaced by a warm rush that didn't restrict itself to her arm. She was having an increasingly hard time focusing on the topic at hand, but too stubborn to let it drop. "Because you were fast asleep," she shot back.

"So you claim."

After weeks of being numb feeling this much was overwhelming. Jane's teasing, raspy voice was so close to Maura's ear she might as well have been inside her, and Maura swallowed involuntarily. Soon her body would do other things involuntarily unless she broke the current tension. Not that she wanted to – in fact, quite the contrary; she wanted to lose herself in it. And that's why she probably shouldn't. The seeds might have been sown months ago, but the explicit changes to their relationship status were new and Maura, above all, wanted to make sure the two were on the same page every step of the way.

I'm behaving like a lustful teenager. I need to cool down.

If Maura were to be able to think clearly she had to change the mood right now and first and foremost get off of Jane's lap and away from her diligent fingers. So she wiggled out of Jane's light grasp and got to her feet, making sure to tilt her head and smile at her friend so that she wouldn't interpret the sudden movement as a rejection.

Jane clearly didn't. On the contrary, she looked more self assured and smug than ever. "You're leaving? Typical avoidance tactic. And highly suspicious."

"Are you sure you want to question my abilities, Jane? Because if that's the case we might have to resort to drastic measures."

"Really?" Jane raised an interested eyebrow. "You're not intimidated by my aggressive interrogation techniques…?"

Maura felt the promise she made to herself a minute ago slip away like sand between fingers as her body helped her recall the feeling of being pinned to the wall in front of Dr. Gordon's office.

Physical distance… Oh well.

Never the less, she managed to keep her voice even, as she innocently asked: "Who said anything about an interrogation? Surely you've heard of 'show, don't tell'." And with that she kicked off her heels and squatted, making sure to not twist her spine and to mainly depend on her thigh muscles as she picked a completely unprepared Jane up from the couch. Any physiotherapist would have been proud of her textbook lift, and the technique had worked perfectly once before. However, unlike last time Jane was now very much awake and instantly squirming in Maura's arms.

"Maura, no!" Jane whined, "Put me down!"

Nearly losing her balance, Maura took a few quick steps to the left, but was determined not to give up so easily.

"Don't drop me!" Jane begged.

"Put you down, don't drop you – can you make up your mind?" Maura tried to sound playfully teasing, but much to her own irritation the effort it took to keep Jane above the ground was evident in her voice.

"Just- God, don't trip over Bass or something." Jane was still whining, but her arm settled around Maura's neck.

At the same time Maura managed to move her left arm a bit lower on Jane's back thereby pulling her closer. It helped a little, but her steps across the carpet were still less than graceful. And when she reached the door to the master bedroom she nearly fell over trying to push the handle down. Fortunately Jane managed to grab on to the doorframe until Maura regained her balance.

"Christ, you really pulled this stunt when I was just out of hospital and barely patched together?"

"You were lighter then," Maura gasped.

"You saying I'm fat?" Jane's deep voice instantly rose half an octave.

"Of course not." Maura managed to switch on the bedroom lights with her elbow. "I'm saying you're heavier." Four more steps and she could finally drop her load onto the bed. However, conscious Jane was a lot less cooperative than sleeping Jane and did not relinquish her secure hold on Maura. Consequently, Maura was roughly pulled along with her and a surprised yelp escaped her as she landed awkwardly and partially on top of Jane on the bed.

Jane, on the other hand, exploded with laughter. "I must have been comatose if I managed to sleep through this the last time," she hiccupped.

Even before managing to push herself up into something resembling a sitting position Maura swatted at the most conveniently close part of Jane. She was slightly offended by her friend's outburst and fully intended to voice her discontent, however the words vaporised on her tongue the moment she saw Jane's face. Her hair was an unruly pillow; the skin of her high cheekbones was glowing from laughter; and a full on Rizzoli-grin made every part of her face come alive with dimples and smiling wrinkles at the corner of eyes twinkling with mischief. "You're b-", Maura began as she hovered above her friend. The words sounded like a gasp and were uttered just as spontaneously, and she had to blink a few times and gather air before she could finish the sentence that had come to her: "You're breathtakingly beautiful."

Jane's grin instantly shrank and the lines of her face faded until solemn brown eyes were all Maura saw before her. For a moment the air between them seemed almost electrical, and Maura was afraid to make even the slightest movement, unsure of what it might lead to given the fact that she was still more or less pinning Jane to the bed. Fortunately Jane took it upon herself to break their current stalemate as one of her eyebrows flew up and she smirked: "Nah, you're just saying that to get into my pants…"

"No, Jane, I would never do that!" Maura didn't swat at her friend this time, but her shocked tone had a similar effect. Jane was smiling widely now, and the tension from a moment ago had lifted.

"Too bad," Jane said with as much of a shrug as her current position allowed. "It would've worked."

And just like that, the tension was back.

"It would?" Maura carefully repeated the words as a question.

"Yeah," Jane said quietly, steadily holding her gaze.

Maura's focus switched from Jane's left eye to her right and back as she deeply wished for a better grasp on social and emotional cues than the one she had been equipped with. She needed to be absolutely sure she was getting this right, because there would be no going back. Jane's eyes were indeed dark, her pupils dilated, and two glasses of wine could not be enough to cloud her friend's judgment. However, Maura was still hesitant. The way Jane was watching her expectantly made the rush of heat from earlier return full force; Maura's pulse was already accelerating and her breath quickening. Clearly, she was in no state to objectively evaluate the situation at hand.

Fortunately, she didn't have to. Jane lifted her head enough to brush against Maura's lips. They had been slightly parted and the gentle caress and taste of Jane immediately quenched all protests in Maura's mind. Left was one simple fact; the fact that she'd wanted Jane like this, in her bed, for months. And so within seconds Maura's tongue was in Jane's mouth, her fingers in her hair, then brushing along her arms before raking across taut stomach muscles through Jane's cotton shirt.

Jane was letting her. Not just that; she was arching into Maura's touch, clearly craving contact as much as Maura did, and the obvious mutuality added to Maura's growing arousal. She wanted, needed to be even closer than this and her fingertips sought out the hem of Jane's shirt, slipping under it and sliding upwards. Jane gasped into Maura's mouth when Maura reached the swell of her breasts, and Maura took that as further encouragement, gently tracing the outline of Jane's bra. Jane gasped again, this time more audibly as she forced her head back into the pillow and turned her face away from Maura, breaking their kiss for the first time in several minutes. The sudden rejection stopped Maura cold. With Jane's face turned away Maura was completely unable to read her. And even if she had been able to properly make out the movements of each facial muscle she wouldn't have trusted her own judgment in this moment.

Did I misunderstand? Did I once again get the signals wrong? Did I project my own need onto her? Oh, please don't let this be a misunderstanding.

"I'm sorry," Maura whispered miserably as she rapidly withdrew her exploring hands, afraid she had overstepped.

But Jane caught her wrists before Maura could sit back and withdraw completely. "No. No, Maur, you've done nothing wrong."

"No?" The word just fell out of Maura's mouth. She was too worried to censure herself, and she felt her gaze flickering instead of properly meeting Jane's.

"No, sweetheart." Jane chuckled. From amusement, Maura thought, until Jane, too, averted her eyes and Maura realised that she was in fact embarrassed, shy even, and trying to laugh it off.

Maura turned her wrists within Jane's grasp until she was able to reciprocate the gesture, squeezing gently. "Then what is it, Jane?"

"It's just… I thought I should tell you, I'm not… that I haven't…" Jane's squeezed her eyes shut and let out a long, slow breath trying to calm her nerves, but shook her head at the same time, clearly annoyed with her own verbal shortcomings.

Maura encouragingly caressed Jane's wrists with her thumbs, feeling surprisingly patient considering how she had been about to lose herself completely in this woman only a minute ago. Jane's sudden reaction had put a brake on things, and in spite of her very physical reaction to their closeness Maura found she welcomed it. She wanted to ravish Jane, certainly; but hopefully there would be plenty of occasions for that. And so given a moment to reconsider, she much preferred to go slow enough to properly treasure each step along this new path they were taking. Now that she could feel again, now that she was finally allowed to, she wanted to make the most of it. Wanted to map out every part of Jane; every swell, every hollow, every sensitive patch of skin. Wanted to memorize her smell, her taste, her sounds.

"Maura," Jane finally said, her tense jaw and tone of voice indicating that she was determined to speak in full sentences this time. "I should warn you that I'm going to need guidance."

The admittance simultaneously filled Maura with intense relief and equally intense adoration. Relief, because she had not missed or misread any signals after all, and because this was an issue she could easily help her friend with. Adoration because of the fact that Jane – tough-acting, bad-ass Jane – was being this openly insecure with her. Not wanting to accentuate Jane's vulnerability Maura suppressed the urge to pull her into a hug and opted for humour, the way Jane would have done. "Let me get this right. You are in fact encouraging me to go into my beloved didactic mode…?"

Her teasing comment elicited exactly the response she had hoped for: An eye-roll. "Yeah, well, as long as you remember that I'm a little shier than you when it comes to anatomy lessons." Jane's eyes were still flickering, but her face had visibly relaxed and a small, genuine smile found its way to it.

Maura, hands sliding down Jane's wrists until she could intertwine their fingers, watched her friend for a while, internally debating whether this was one of those situations that called for more words or not. She knew she had a hard time telling them apart and often eagerly let her verbal avalanches lose before even considering the context. This intimate moment certainly didn't call for a mini lecture; that much was readily apparent. But a bit of open communication might be another matter. "Jane." She squeezed her friend's larger hands in her own until she got the eye-contact she needed in order to get her point fully across and to try to transfer some of her own confidence onto Jane. Maura might stumble and bruise her way through a lifetime of social interactions, but she had always been comfortable in her own skin when it came to sex. "I understand you're trying to tell me that you have no sexual experience with women, but I had already gathered as much."

At the word 'sexual' Jane gave a wince and Maura, even if she didn't quite understand her friend's embarrassment over something she herself considered a natural part of life, tried to weigh her next words even more carefully.

"And I want you to know it's not important to me." Hearing her sentence out loud she frowned and tilted her head. "That came out wrong. It is important to me, but only in the sense that I feel honoured not to mention incredible lucky that you're willing to take this step with me."

"Oh, I'm a little more than willing…" Jane sounded coy, but her eyes were soft and made Maura certain that speaking had been the right choice. Jane needed this assurance, and Maura was happy to be able to provide it. After weeks of being half-broken and needy it felt good to be able to be strong and certain for her friend.

"Good." Maura tilted her head again, eyebrow arched, and let her fingers crawl along Jane's arms until they settled on her shoulders, thumbs stroking along collarbones. "Because I want to give you the perfect second debut."

Both of Jane's eyebrows flew up. "Perfect...?"

Drat! I'm doing it again. When am I going to learn?

Slightly embarrassed with herself Maura squeezed her eyes shut, but opened them again when she felt her fingers being covered by Jane's. Jane was smiling warmly up at her, a hint of amusement in her eyes. "Alright, so maybe not perfect exactly…" Maura bit her lip and looked at their joined hands on top of Jane. Her friend's hands were larger and darker compared to her own freckled skin, but both pair of hands were decidedly femininely slender. Contrasting, yet similar. The image in a way summed up what made the dynamic between the hands' owners work so well, Maura thought with a growing smile.

This is going to work. I actually think it's going to work.

"Not perfect, no, but how about…" She met Jane's gaze and, recalling the conversation they'd had months ago about first-time experiences, delivered her offer with a smirk: "How about I make sure it lasts more than five minutes and promise it won't just be about getting me off…?"

Jane, clearly catching on to the reference, chuckled. Maura felt her friend's chest vibrate against her palms. "Deal. But if you really wish to compare us to that pathetic experience, then rest assured you've already beaten him by, I don't know, a marathon."

"We are not even undressed yet," Maura pointed out.

"Even so." Jane gave Maura's fingers a squeeze before letting go in order to stroke her hair.

Curiosity got the better part of Maura when she realised her friend wasn't going to elaborate. "How so?"

"Well, two things." Jane's gaze followed her fingers as they sifted carefully through Maura's curls. "First of all, because you and I are actually able to talk about this. And second of all…" Her hands settled on the edges of Maura's face, effectively holding her in place, and Maura saw a glimpse of something in her friend's eyes she'd never seen before, something she couldn't quite identify. "Second of all, because I'm in love with you."

At the words a rush of warmth ran through Maura, but of a different kind than the raw lust she had battled the entire evening. Instead of pushing aggressively downwards this sensation spread from somewhere in her chest and outwards, and when she reached for Jane with lips and fingertips she tried to physically transfer as much of it to her friend as possible. The kiss she initiated was deep, but careful and unhurried, and instead of thinking ahead to the next step Maura focused every ounce of her concentration, of her being, on that one kiss. There was no ahead; she was perfectly content with just lips, teeth, tongues and willing to let Jane set the pace completely.

Eventually Jane did raise the stakes a little. Her lips wandered from Maura's in order to plant a trail of kisses along her jaw line and the outer shell of her ear in a feather light, ticklish fashion. Maura had to fight the urge to squirm and giggle until Jane's lips closed around her earlobe, first teasing then sucking and adding teeth in an unmistakably sexual manner. When a small moan escaped Maura, Jane apparently took it as a cue and moved her mouth to Maura's neck. Maura automatically leaned her head back to give Jane better access. Even though Jane was only lavishing attention on a few square inches of Maura's skin her entire body was already humming in response.

"Feels… so good," Maura managed to breathe out. In her momentary haze she had almost forgotten that Jane had asked for guidance and deserved at least some attempt at actual verbal encouragement.

Jane chuckled against Maura's now slick and undoubtedly flushed neck and the vibrations made Maura shiver. It had been so long since anyone had made her feel like this. Intensely physical, but also more than that; so much more. This wasn't simply Maura's body being played like the marvellous instrument bodies can be. It was a form of communication, a continuous confirmation of the feelings they had only much too recently admitted to each other. With every gasp from Maura's lips she was exposing herself further, trusting Jane with a little bit more of herself. And with every hum against Maura's neck Jane was doing the same.

Paradoxically, this intangible… more, the sincerity of it, was part of the reason Maura caught Jane's jaw a minute later and forced her face away. Something was gnawing at the edge of Maura's mind, something she needed to get off her chest so it wouldn't jeopardize their current connection or cast a shadow on Jane's new experience.

Jane's focus was unwavering, however; her gaze remained stuck to Maura's neck. With a small smile Maura spoke her name to catch her attention. "Jane," she said, "I'm sorry, but I need to say this one, extremely unromantic thing before we…" Her voice trailed off, unsure of which words to use in order to not upset Jane.

Jane caught on to the hint of worry and immediately shifted her attention to Maura's words. "What's wrong, Maur? You know you can tell me anything," she quickly added, managing to sound perfectly calm and assuring. The tone of her voice, however, was contradicted by the way her dark brown eyes were flickering as they shifted between Maura's.

"Nothing is wrong." Maura leaned over and planted a quick kiss on Jane's lips, then lay back on her own pillow leaving a bit of space between them. But she continued to stroke Jane's cheek as she searched for the right words. "It's just…" She took a deep breath and decided to be brief and to the point, wanting to get this ridiculous thing out of the way as quickly as possible even if it meant being direct in a way that might embarrass Jane. "A common side effect of the antidepressants I'm taking is a diminished ability to achieve orgasm."

There. I said it.

In spite of the very unambiguous statement Jane blinked a few times, seemingly confused. "So… You mean you won't be able to…" She stopped herself predictably mid-sentence, clearly hoping it wouldn't be necessary to go into details.

"I don't know, Jane," Maura said honestly. She held her friend's gaze, but let her thumb stray from Jane's jaw in order to trace her full bottom lip. "But if I can't, then I need to be sure you understand that it is by no means a reflection on you. Or on how much I want you."

She felt as much as saw Jane's diminutive, hesitant nod. "Okay," Jane said breaking their eye contact.

Maura frowned and pushed her own head deeper into the pillow, trying to remain in her friend's line of sight. She failed to, and resignation rapidly took the place of the liveliness she had felt moments ago.

Who was I kidding thinking this would work? I've ruined the mood by being me. Depression is not exactly a turn on.

"I've made you uncomfortable," Maura said with a sigh. "I'm sorry. I understand if you don't wish to-"

At that Jane's head shot up. "No! God, Maur, no, that's not…" Jane was shaking her head so frantically the doctor in Maura worried for her neck. "You have not made me uncomfortable, and your medication does not make me uncomfortable. You hear me?" Without seeing where her hand was going she reached for and successfully found Maura's. "Nothing about you makes me anything but painfully aware of how ridiculously hard I've fallen for you."

Maura felt a breath she hadn't been aware of holding back escape her as she let Jane's words sink in.

Only then, while firmly squeezing her hand, did Jane explain: "It's just that I really wanted this to be good for you, too."

What did I do to deserve this amazingly generous woman?

Maura almost spoke the thought out loud. Jane's admission was making her feel giddy and feather-light while simultaneously aching for her friend. "Oh, Jane," she said in a near-whisper. "Believe me, it will be. It already is." She nodded towards their intertwined legs and fingers, giving Jane a moment to take in the implication, before continuing in a slightly more steady voice. "Orgasms are wonderful and healthy, but there can be more to sex than that."

Jane immediately scrunched up her nose and Maura couldn't help but chuckle at her predictability.

"Don't worry, I won't go into anatomical details," she said squeezing Jane's hand. "What I'm trying to say is that just being this close to you… it's more than enough. More than I dared to hope for." She scooted closer until her forehead could rest against Jane's. "To have you trust me like this," she said, their proximity paired with the admission making her feel almost solemn. A sharp intake of air indicated Jane felt it, too.

Or perhaps their proximity was affecting Jane in a different way. Maura smiled at the thought, feeling some of the playfulness from earlier return. "To be allowed to touch you…" She freed her hand from Jane's and let her fingers spider-walk along Jane's sleeve-clad arm, across a ticklish neck. Jane squirmed and repressed a giggle. "To kiss you…" Maura illustrated her words with a peck on her friend's nose which elicited a wide grin from her. "…without worrying about overstepping or giving too much away." She flattened her palm and let it gently glide down Jane's front. "To finally get rid of all barriers…" Then, grabbing a fistful of Jane's shirt and the tank-top beneath it, she drew her point home: "Of these ridiculously many layers of clothes."

"So that's the real reason you're always complaining about what I'm wearing," Jane said smugly, simultaneously raising her head from the pillow and her right eyebrow.

"No, that's because you lack taste," Maura said automatically.

"Really?" Jane sat up further until she was towering ominously over Maura on the bed. "You think there's something wrong with my taste…?" With a crooked grin, she took in every inch of Maura's body as indiscreetly as possible, making sure the double pun came fully across.

Picking up on it – and finally realising Jane's question had been posed as a joke – Maura grinned back. "In clothes, Jane."

Jane snorted. "Roll over."

"Pardon me?" Maura frowned, unsure if she was missing another pun.

"You heard me. Roll over."

Maura hesitantly obeyed, but kept her eyes trained on Jane until the twisting of her neck became too uncomfortable. "Why?" she asked on her stomach.

"Because…" Jane, now sitting on her own legs, shifted closer to Maura. "Because before all that nonsense about my wardrobe you said one really sensible thing."

"I did?"

Maura involuntarily shivered when Jane's voice returned, this time much closer to her ear. She was clearly getting braver. "Yes, you did. And I'm going to take you up on your suggestion because it means I get to do something I've wanted to do for ages."

Maura was about to ask for clarification when she felt as much as heard her dress being carefully opened in the back and splitting in halves.

"Oh," Maura chuckled lightly into her pillow as she realised which suggestion Jane had been referring to. "But Jane, you've…" Her voice was muffled and she turned her head to ease the communication. "You've unzipped me before," she pointed out.

"I have, yes," Jane admitted. "But at the time I didn't have the guts to do this…"

Maura shivered once again as slightly calloused fingertips caressed skin that had been hidden by silk mere moments ago.

"Or this," Jane said and replaced fingers with lips. Slow, hot, open-mouthed kisses that Maura arched into. She could feel her dress being pulled further apart. Cold air met increasingly heated skin of waist and hips that were soon treated to the same tender caresses her back and shoulder blades had just received.

It wasn't enough. There were still too many layers between them, too many damn clothes. And for once Maura didn't give a toss about the brand or the price or the material of her designer dress. It simply had to go. And so she slid sideways out from under Jane and onto her feet on the floor in one fluid movement and so quickly Jane nearly kissed the sheet that now held only, presumably, Maura's scent. Jane looked up, a stunned expression on her face which quickly faded when her eyes locked with Maura's. Maura was holding up the straps of her dress and made sure to keep holding Jane's gaze as she deliberately let the silk slip from between her fingers. Jane blinked as the dress dropped with a soft woosh and pooled around Maura's bare feet, but didn't let her eyes stray from Maura's. Maura smiled internally, knowing this was a game she played well.

So chivalrous. I wonder how long that great willpower will last.

As she reached around herself to undo her bra and let it slide down her shoulders Maura could see Jane's already large pupils dilate further, and when the garment was entirely discarded she visibly gulped. But she kept her gaze eyelevel. Only when Maura removed her last and most intimate item of clothing did Jane's eyes falter for a fraction of a moment, but they quickly whipped back to Maura's.

Okay… Her chivalry will definitely outlast my patience.

"Look at me, Jane." Maura made sure to use a soft tone that transformed the request into another assurance. "All of me. For as long as you want."

Maura could see as much as hear Jane's deep intake of air as Maura's offer sank in and her friend seemingly steeled herself against – and won – some inner battle. And so this time Jane's eyes did not falter; they descended deliberately. Jane might as well have been examining Maura with her tongue. Although it was of course physically impossible Maura felt her friend's gaze graze her skin inch by inch leaving change in its course. A hardened nipple. A quivering thigh muscle. Wet, wanting heat.

"It's alright," she said as much to calm her own arousal as to calm her friend's nerves. "It's alright," she repeated as she grabbed and led Jane's hands to her own naked hips and Jane audibly gasped. "Just do whatever comes to you, Jane."

And Jane did. Hesitantly at first, then with more determination. Maura felt her already flushed skin warm even further to Jane's strokes along her lower back, hips, buttocks, across stomach and the underside of her breasts. Jane was being very gentle. Too gentle for Maura, whose body was rapidly readying itself for caresses of another, deeper kind – but this, right now, was first and foremost about Jane, Maura reminded herself. And, apart from the obvious signs of arousal, Jane was hard to read at the moment. There was a single, vertical crease on her friend's forehead; her eyes were slightly widened; her lips forming a slightly flattened o. The overall look seemed to indicate equal measures of awe and confusion.

"What are you thinking?" Maura asked as she grasped Jane's wrists, unable to resist herself from assisting the touches to her breasts, increasing the pressure and encouraging Jane's fingers to cup her more fully.

Jane gasped and, consciously or not, fought Maura's directions. She did reach further with her fingers but remained unbearably gentle. "I- I'm thinking that…" Jane's thumbs felt like feathers against Maura's nipples. "You're so soft, Maur," Jane finally admitted. She was almost whispering. "So unbelievably soft. It's…" She blinked several times and the crease in her forehead deepened. "I- I just never knew it would feel like this."

The words made a piece of the puzzle fall in place.

She's overwhelmed and unsure of what to do.

Maura made a swift decision. She removed Jane's hands and gave them a squeeze before kneeling in front of her friend, never relinquishing the hold. The thick carpet tickled her knees. "You're soft, too, Jane," she said simply, attempting to normalise Jane's new experience, to make it seem less unfamiliar.

But Jane chuckled and looked away. "Not really."

"Of course you are. You're a woman, just like me." Maura frowned, not quite sure why Jane would refute what was readily apparent. Then again… Jane did hold her own in what was traditionally a man's profession and had to make sure her physique, her image, and even her clothes fit accordingly. This put Jane at odds with ideas of femininity in many people's eyes, including her own mother's. But never Maura's. If Jane, even for a second, was thinking any different, then Maura was going to prove her wrong right away. And so she lifted Jane's right hand to her lips and kissed part of her palm; the pillow by the root of her thumb. She moved her mouth to the inside of Jane's wrist, then the inside of her lower arm, the hollow of her elbow, pushing up the sleeve as she went along. Then she repeated the ritual on Jane's left arm.

"What are you doing?" Jane asked, a giggle forming on her lips.

"I'm appreciating all your soft spots." Maura grinned against Jane's left wrist and glanced up at her friend with a coyly arched eyebrow. Without breaking eye contact she managed to undo Jane's trousers and with her friend’s cooperation pull them off. Socks, too.

"Mmm," Maura hummed against the inside of Jane's left calf. She had coaxed Jane back on the bed and was slowly making her way up her friend's body. "So wonderfully soft."

"You sayin' I'm not fit?" Jane's mock-complaint was undermined by the gasp that escaped when Maura let her tongue flick briefly against the inside of Jane's left knee before positing the leg on her own shoulder.

"It has nothing to do with being fit or not," Maura whispered against Jane's thigh, for a moment unable to keep her Google mouth in check. "Hormones, particularly oestrogen, combined with the absence of androgens let the body place more fat deposits under the skin, thin the blood vessels, and soften the skin in all females." She nuzzled her nose against the top of Jane's inner thigh, just where her short hot pants gave way to naked skin. "And you, Jane, are a particularly marvellous specimen." Maura felt her own hips echo the involuntary jerk of Jane's against her cheek, a clear indication that Jane, too, was ready for more contact. Her strong scent gave this away as well. The honesty of it, the unambiguity of it, released a rush of wetness along Maura's own soft thighs. Another echo. Desire meeting desire.

And yet Maura was not quite done with her current exploration. She had decided to take things slowly tonight; to memorise every part of and lead her new lover every step of the way, and she was sticking to that plan. Also, Jane was still much too over dressed for the occasion. And so Maura reluctantly released Jane's leg and moved up further until they were face to face. She caught the frustrated groan from Jane's lips with her own. "This," she whispered, indicating Jane's full lower lip with another kiss. "This is one of your soft spots I have a particular fondness for." She sucked the lip in between her own, nibbled it gently and only released it when Jane whimpered into her mouth. Determined to push Jane to her limits she continued, in much the same fashion, to indicate the softness of Jane's respective earlobes, her hairline, and several parts of her neck.

Jane was not solely sort, Maura thought as she dipped her tongue in the hollow where Jane's clavicles met. The sharp angles of finely shaped bones were easily palpable underneath the skin. As were the tightened tendons of Jane's neck as she automatically pressed her head back into the pillow. This remarkable fusion of resistant and yielding, hard yet silky, was part of what had initially drawn Maura to Jane physically speaking. In her mind's eye she saw another hard, soft part of Jane which Maura had always longed to press her lips against: Her impressive abs that would undoubtedly have come in the shape of a six pack had they not been encased in an unmistakably female form. True, Jane did not have Maura's wide hips and generous breast measurements, but to Maura the more delicate slopes of her friend's body were tantalizingly feminine.

She wanted access to all of it. And so Jane's shirt was becoming an obstacle. Maura wanted to unbutton it from above and kiss her way along her friend's gradually deepening neckline, but her hands were eager on the verge of clumsy. "Jane," she mumbled against Jane's throat when the third shirt button slipped from her grasp for the third time, "I want this off." The tiny plastic slice finally gave in, and Maura kissed the upper-swell of a newly exposed, bra-clad breast. Jane arched against her, but did not exactly cooperate with the undressing.

Probably too busy enjoying herself…

Feeling a little proud of the effect she was having on the other woman Maura smiled against Jane’s skin as she voiced her request: "Let me see all of you. I'm not done with your soft spots yet," she added, simultaneously sliding her hands under the lower and nuzzling her nose under the upper hem of Jane's shirt. The indication of what spot she was seeking access to was clear.

An equally unambiguous permission to proceed, however, was not granted. "Wait, Maur…" Jane gasped, her words protest somewhat contradicted by the thrusts of her body against Maura. "You're not going to find… I'm not soft like that. Not anymore, not since… since the shooting."

At the last three words Maura froze, but only for a second. Then she remembered that right now she was the more confident one, the one in control, and she was not about to relinquish it. She was able to and going to give Jane whatever she needed. And so she sat back slightly, her knees on either side of Jane's, just enough to be able to look at and hopefully read Jane's face without breaking the intimacy between them.

"It's really ugly." Jane still hadn't directly confronted the issue at hand, but she didn't have to. She was talking about a scar. This one fresher and more gruesome in appearance than any of her previous ones, and it brought a pained and slightly embarrassed look upon Jane's face.

The pain Maura could understand; the scar had traumatic memories attached to it. Had the roles been reversed, Maura would probably also have been shy about the aesthetic loss accompanying it. But this was Jane's body, not Maura's, and from a lover's perspective there was nothing, nothing Maura wanted to change about it. It wasn't simply that Maura was able to accept the scars because they were a part of the woman she loved. No, they were a part of Jane she actively appreciated. The thought struck her, not as a sharp and sudden revelation, but as a knowledge she already had; one she would be able to share with Jane without ruining the mood. She had to be the strong one tonight, and she could make this work. She stroked Jane's skin underneath the shirt with her thumbs before slowly retracting her hands. "There's nothing about you I could ever find ugly, Jane. Certainly not your scars."

Slowly, slowly so as to not startle Jane, but also in at attempt to not stray from the seductive course she had set, she let her palms slide up Jane's sides on the outside of her shirt, then down her arms until she held both of her wrists. She lifted one of Jane's hands to her face and kissed the back of it, right on top of the small, white jarred line permanently left there by Hoyt.

"Did you know that in many West African tribes scarring is part of a coming of age ritual? They symbolise strength and courage." She held the hand against her cheek, nuzzling into it. "So did facial, duelling scars among upper-class Austrians and Germans in the 20th century." She turned the hand over and planted a lingering kiss in its palm. The intimacy of the gesture – Maura knew Jane never let anyone else touch much less kiss her hands – was probably what stopped Jane from rolling her eyes and pointing out that Maura was Google mouthing in bed. Instead she seemed to hold her breath as Maura kissed and nuzzled her other hand as well.

Good. Still on course. I can control this.

"I hate what you had to go through when you acquired your scars." Maura lay back down on top of Jane, her hands sliding up Jane's arms and shoulders until they were cupping her face, thumbs stroking cheeks and chin. "But now… Now your scars are more of my favourite parts of you." She kissed her friend's lips once, twice, thrice, each time for a little while longer until Jane's breathing had not merely resumed but picked up a great deal and she was kissing back. When Maura undid the remaining shirt buttons, this time less frantically, Jane did not object.

"Don't say they're beautiful… I won't believe you," Jane mumbled in between kisses.

"You know I don't lie," Maura countered as she kissed her way down Jane's throat, across her clavicles. "But it's more complex than me simply liking the look of them.” With the shirt finally parted Maura's lips continued along the insides of Jane's breasts and further down. "Your scars are inseparable from their statement. They're a testament to how remarkable you are, Jane." Her lips reached a patch of skin with a slightly different texture and she raised her head enough to see the angry red mark inflicted by Jane herself. It would pale in time, but even now Maura couldn't think of it as in any way repulsive. On the contrary; Frankie and possibly she herself would not be alive if not for that scar. Actually, Jane would not be alive if not for that scar. The scar meant something horrible had come to a somewhat happy ending. She caressed it with her fingertips, traced its outline. Under her touch Jane's stomach muscles were jerking, and clearly not simply because she was ticklish. Maura smiled at that and let one arm slide behind Jane's back in a half embrace. "Your scars… Each of them tells a story of your courage. Reminds me how lucky I am to be able to hold you like this." A burst of unexpected emotions was sneaking into Maura's voice and she stalled, planting kisses around the small scar until she was sure she could go on without stuttering. "Your scars lay it out there for the world to see that you are a living, fragile human being who can break." She laid her cheek on Jane's abdomen for a moment and felt the muscles flexing beneath her.

Just like I thought she would be. Strength beneath the softest skin possible.

"But they also prove the exact opposite: That you are able to heal, to overcome the incredible." She kissed the scar again. She couldn't help it. "You see, it's not about being either strong or vulnerable," she whispered against Jane's stomach which was by now flushed, hot and heaving. "It's about being strong enough to survive being vulnerable."

In that moment a pair of warm hands grasped for Maura's waist, pulled and tugged her up towards the headboard until she was eye-level with Jane and they both lay on their sides. "Maur." Jane squeezed her shoulder and caught her eyes. Gone was any trace of embarrassment or insecurity; all Maura saw was affection that took her breath away. "I could say the exact same thing to you."

It was as if something broke inside Maura as the words sank in and she understood the totality of their implication, of what Jane was referring to. Some kind of wall had prevented Maura from truly putting herself in Jane's place, from not only feeling what Jane felt, but also seeing what she saw. Up until that moment, that is. Now the wall was tumbling down.

Being strong and being vulnerable… they do not contradict each other. It was true when I told Jane, and it's just as true now.

Maura did not consider Jane broken goods, even though her run-ins with Hoyt and Marino had left permanent marks on her. She did not consider her friend less dependable or worthy after having seen her scared, bleeding, dying. Of course she didn't; quite the contrary. However, until this very moment Maura had not fully realised that the same applied to the way Jane saw her: She herself was not broken or weak either just because she could break and Jane had seen it happen.

We're not broken. We're imperfect and enduring and alive. We're alive and right here.

Another rush of emotion overcame Maura, but this time she didn't try to quench it. Nor did she worry that it might ruin their mood. She let herself drift with it and kept looking into Jane's warm eyes through her now slightly blurry vision. And when Jane drew nearer and nearer, Maura received her, let herself be turned over, be straddled and caressed with lips, hands and tongue. It wasn't part of a plan. Maura no longer had one.

And for the first time in months, possibly a lifetime, the lack of a plan didn't scare her. She didn't know what the next step would be until Jane unhooked and discarded her own bra. She didn't know what she herself would do next until Jane's breasts where in her hands, then in her mouth, then mashed against her own; the flesh on flesh the epitome of softness, yet at the same time scorching. It was at once overwhelming and not enough. She was closer to Jane than she'd ever hoped to be, but she wanted more, needed more. It was not what she'd originally had in mind – this was supposed to be about Jane's needs, not hers; she was supposed to be the strong, giving part, not the one getting off. However, Jane's words a few minutes ago paired with the way she was moaning against Maura's neck, around her nipple, into her navel made it obvious that such a distinction was meaningless. Right now Maura’s gift to Jane lay in receiving, in overtly desiring. And so she gently grasped Jane's left wrist and let her desire be unambiguously known as she guided her friend's hand to the one place Jane had not yet dared to touch. They both gasped at the contact.

"Are you sure?" Jane's breath felt hot against Maura's dampened chest. She did not move the hand between Maura's legs. From its trembling Maura gathered that Jane's hesitation had less to do with Maura's certainty than with Jane’s own possible shortcomings.

I promised her guidance. I'll give her everything I've got.

"I'm sure." Maura let her own hand glide lower until it covered Jane's – or covered as much of the slightly larger hand as possible. "I'm sure," she repeated as she began stroking herself with Jane's hand. Even if Maura could have spoken a lie, Jane would be able to read the truth like Braille on Maura's body. Jane's fingertips were instantly coated in wetness; Maura could tell from the ease with which they slid along her swollen folds. They were a fit, and Maura's hips rose off the bed to encase Jane further. It wasn't how she'd expected the evening to unfold, but it was where it had led them. And this, right now, felt right. "Come inside me, Jane," Maura half commanded, half begged. She guided her friend's hand in place, but didn’t push any further. She wanted to be taken. She wanted Jane to take her.

Jane released a nipple which she seemed to have grown quickly fond of and lifted her head enough to look into Maura's eyes. Maura had a hard time keeping them open but made an effort, sensing Jane needed her to. So she panted and heaved but held her friend's gaze, trying to convey the permission implicit to her request.

It worked. Jane's hand moved underneath her own. And when she felt a finger slide into her she knew Jane was acting of her own volition. Maura finally allowed her eyes to close and hummed in appreciation as Jane, as gentle as ever, caressed her inside. She put her arms around Jane's back, clawing at it with short fingernails for encouragement. "Like this?" Jane's voice was hoarser than Maura had ever heard it before and so sexy it contrasted greatly with the insecurity inherent in the question.

"Mmm… Yes," Maura said softly. "You feel wonderful. I'd like to feel more of you." She slid her hands lower, squeezed Jane's buttocks.

"More?"

"More fingers."

She could feel Jane momentarily tense; she was clearly still worried about her lack of experience, but an eagerness to please seemingly won out and Jane pulled out in order to add a second digit. This time Maura cried out at the intrusion. The pressure was just right, but she still needed more. And so she once again pushed herself off the bed and onto Jane's fingers. She moaned as she felt herself being expanded, at this point so drenched she met Jane's fingers with a minimum of resistance. They slid in all the way.

"Maura!" Jane gasped, sounding shocked and aroused at the same time. "You're… I'm…"

"Taking me the way I want you to," Maura finished for her. "Don't hold back." She pushed herself against Jane's hand again to underline her point and Jane seemed to gather herself together enough to take the hint and begin pumping in and out. It was much better, much less gentle, and Maura made sure Jane knew this by letting herself grow louder. Sweat was gathering on Jane's forehead; a testament to her own, growing need as well as her concentration. She was clearly doing her utmost to please Maura, but her lack of experience was apparent. Maura tried to guide the rhythm, meeting each of Jane's thrusts, and Jane was going as deep as she could, but she was not hitting anything that could push Maura over the edge. Of course, medicine might prevent Maura from that regardless, and as she captured Jane's parted lips with her own she reiterated to herself that it really wasn’t important.

This. My tongue around Jane's, our breasts against each other, Jane deep inside of me. Just this.

It was all that mattered. Not because of what it might or might not achieve physiologically, but because of what it communicated. Beginner or not, Jane was more tender than anyone else Maura had ever taken to bed. Her touches were not just a means to an end. No, each of them was meaningful on its own. Each was a non-verbal declaration.

"God, Maura."

Then there were the more audible declarations. The way Jane was gasping for air. The subdued moans that sounded like subtle clicks at the back of her throat. The way her voice had changed, coarsened.

"I think I could disappear in you."

And then there were her words. They seemed to fall from Jane without a filter, to drip from her lips directly into Maura's open mouth.

"You’re so wet. And deep. My entire hand... Like velvet, I didn’t know it’d feel that soft... I've never..."

Maura drank the words eagerly, shamelessly.

"I’ve never before... only with you."

And then Maura realised what Jane was in fact saying, and her words became too precious, too big to simply swallow.

Only me… She's never done this to anyone before. Probably not even herself.

She knew Jane was inexperienced, but the full extent of what Jane was giving her right now – Jane, who would normally duck and cover at the word "intercourse" – that was the biggest testament of all to the faith her friend was putting in the two of them. The realisation rippled violently through Maura's body and she couldn't possibly contain all of the electricity herself. She needed to give Jane as much as she was taking. Or to take as much as she was giving; it was no longer clear to her what was what exactly. Just like she wasn't sure whether to blame what she did next on weakness or strength or both. She only knew there was no stopping the hand that was currently untangling itself from Jane's long locks. It pushed between their heaving bodies, slid along glistening skin, then felt its way past the hem of Jane's hot pants and pubic hair.

Maura was not as chivalrous as Jane. A hiss like the sound of water coming off flames escaped Jane's mouth as Maura buried three fingers in her. Jane spread her legs as much as her pants would allow, opening herself up. The amount of trust implicit in this explicit consent made Maura hiss in turn.

She's letting me touch her like this. She's letting me know how much she needs me to.

They soon settled into a shared rhythm. Whenever Maura thrust, Jane would thrust. When she withdrew, Jane would withdraw.

No more barriers. None at all.

Maura curled her fingers, massaging Jane's abdomen from within through an even silkier softness than the olive skin she had kissed and tasted. Jane mirrored the gesture.

Just us. Me. Her.

Everything was mixing. Their scent, their heat, their breaths, the sounds of hands reaching. Jane in Maura, Maura in Jane.

It’s really her. Jane. I'm making love to Jane.

As she reached with her thumb for Jane's clit, knowing it would push her friend physically over the edge, Maura already felt herself falling. In her mind and heart the orgasm had exploded in one word, one name, one song.

Jane.

She didn't expect her body to follow suit. But her friend, her lover, her Jane froze along with everything for a heartbeat – then suddenly contracted around Maura, releasing a whimper and a rush of wetness along Maura's outstretched fingers and palm. The motion returned full force and seemed to transfer to Maura. She returned each squeeze from Jane with one of her own; into Jane as well as around Jane's fingers until her own body, unexpectedly, went where her heart had already gone and everything flashed blinding white.

Jane came to it first. She rolled off of Maura, then curled into and around her side and began stroking her cheek. Maura opened her eyes and all she saw were Jane's dark brown ones.

"Hey," Maura whispered drowsily.

"Hey yourself." There was a glint in those eyes. Curiosity? Amusement?

Maura raised an eyebrow. It was all she could raise at the moment. "What is it?"

"Did you also just…?" Even after this Jane still couldn't make herself say the word. At least she wasn't blushing anymore.

"Yeah," Maura breathed out, "I really did."

At that the glint in Jane's eyes became a sun and unmistakable.

Nope, not amusement. It's sheer, undisguised happiness.

A toothy and somewhat cocky smile accompanied Jane's response: "Awesome!"

It was so typical of her, so completely familiar, and Maura couldn't help laughing. Everything had just changed. And yet it really hadn't. Only, now she had a new way to wipe that self-satisfied grin off Jane's face. She turned her head slightly, lazily leaning her cheek into the continuous caress. Then, without giving any kind of warning, she grabbed Jane's wrist and brought two of her fingers to her mouth.

"Maur, what are you doing?"

"Mmm…" was all the response Jane got as Maura licked Jane's fingers clean. She could taste herself, taste the evidence of what had just transpired between them and felt her arousal build again.

Seems I am not suffering from that particular side effect of antidepressants. Or perhaps Jane simply overrides it.

"Maur…"

Judging from the tone of Jane's voice and the way her pupils were expanding she was not completely spent yet either.

"Seriously, Maur, I… This is…"

"Working?" Maura suggested with a wide grin before silencing Jane with a kiss that rapidly grew in intensity. That in itself was enough of a green light for Maura. "Good," she said, as she turned Jane over and straddled her. "That means you're ready for round two."

"There are more rounds?" Jane wondered wide-eyed as Maura's lips began travelling down her body.

"Mm-mmm…" Maura hummed in affirmation against a pert nipple. "One of the perks of being with another woman."

Jane arched into her. "You say-" she gasped, "You sayin' I could get this with any other woman?"

"Possibly." Resting her chin on Jane's abdomen in order to look up and meet her lover's gaze Maura added thoughtfully: "You'll have to live with never finding out, though." At Jane's raised, inquiring eyebrow she explained: "I was raised an only child, Jane. I don't share well." Then her lips reattached themselves to the inviting skin below; a curved hip, a strong thigh.

Jane raised her backside to allow Maura to pull off her hot pants that would probably never be wearable again. "Don't worry, Maur," she assured her, half chuckling, half panting; "I am completely yours." And that was the last full sentence either of them uttered for a long while.

Later, much later, Maura was spooning Jane lightly from behind. Once or twice her fingers traced the scar on Jane's back, another lingering echo of the shooting that nearly tore them apart in more ways than one. Mostly she just enjoyed nuzzling her nose into Jane's hair, inhaling her scent, soaking her warmth.

"You're still awake?" The question came out as a partial grunt. Jane buried her face into the pillow and added in a mumble: "God, woman, your libido is like that of a 21 year old boy."

Maura chuckled into her neck. "I certainly hope my technique is better."

Before her hand wandered dangerously low Jane caught it and brought it to her own lips, kissing it in a knightly fashion. "That doesn't even deserve an answer. But please… I need to rest!"

Several possible teasing replies lined up at the tip of Maura's tongue, but she decided to let Jane off the hook and snuggled closer into her. "Alright." She planted an innocent goodnight kiss on Jane's jaw, restraining herself from letting it linger.

Jane gave an approving sigh, then relaxed deeper into the mattress. Soon her breath deepened. Maura, however, was still wide awake. Her always overactive brain would not be quieted, but now she remained still, doing her best not to disturb Jane. She looked at the scar on Jane's back, but she didn't touch it.

In a way everything began with that scar. Jane's near-death experience, my depression, my subsequent healing… our healing. Us.

Her eyes drifted to Jane's face, to that perfectly carved cheekbone currently cast in the shadows from long lashes. She didn't reach out, didn't stir, but she felt something stirring within just from looking at her friend like this. Her lover.

Who am I kidding. This began a very long time ago. And this tonight…

She wet her lips trying to sum up in words the sensation that swept through her when she looked at her hand in Jane's and thought of what those hands had done, what they had conveyed only an hour ago.

Love. But I already felt that for her. Then there's lust. Definitely. But I've felt that with other people. This is different. It's… more, somehow.

It was the only word she could come up with, and it didn't do her feelings justice. 'More' was somehow unsatisfying; vague and grammatically wrong. She ought to be looking into superlatives.

Not 'more'. 'Most'.

Than still made little sense. Most compared to what? She smiled at that thought and the cheesy yet completely truthful answer that immediately followed: To every other intimate experience she'd had.

"You're still awake." Jane's sleepy voice rose from the pillow and pulled Maura back to the present.

"How did you know? I was being really quiet!"

"You're thinking. I can hear that big brain of yours spinning." There was an edge of amusement in Jane's voice, and Maura was about to object, to point out the physical impossibility of Jane's claim, but Jane spoke first. "So what's on your mind." Jane nudged her encouragingly with her elbow. "Spill. Then sleep."

"I…" Maura didn't really want to repeat her thoughts over the past minutes out loud. Didn't think she'd be able to. But lying like this, wrapped around Jane, both of them completely naked and physically vulnerable, called for honesty. Any attempt at deflection would belittle the precious intimacy of this night. And so Maura had to come up with some way of explaining her thoughts and feelings to Jane, even if she didn't fully understand them herself. It felt like venturing into a fog when she picked a strategy without really knowing whether it would lead anywhere or not. "Remember that conversation we had when you were in the hospital?" she asked. "About our sexual debuts?"

"Mmm… Yes. I do. What about it?"

"I told you the definition of first times are subject to cultural and personal variations and asked you to be more specific." She paused until a grunt from Jane indicated she was still following. "Remember the criterion you chose for me?"

"Mmm..." Jane, her face still turned away and partially buried in the pillow, thought for a moment. "The first time you didn't feel like a virgin anymore. Your roommate in college. Yeah, I remember. Why?"

Maura bit her lip, hoping this would eventually make sense. "Well, I was thinking of another one."

"Another roommate?" Jane sounded more and more confused.

"No, another criterion," Maura clarified. "I was thinking of choosing another one for myself."

"Ooo-kay." Jane breathed it out, sounding slightly exasperated, but she humoured Maura none the less. "What would you choose then?"

"I would choose the first time it felt…" The sentence had started out just fine; voice steady, loud and clear, but it lost its course midways and three invisible dots where poking out into the air like a hand begging to be grasped.

Not perfect. No, not that at all. What, then?

She squeezed her eyes shut. It wasn't that no words where coming to her. Quite the contrary. They were all tumbling down in one overwhelming pile, hard to distinguish, impossible to choose between.

Taking a breath she tried anew: "The first time it felt…"

Fumbling, intense, tender, meaningful, overwhelming, loving, desperate, hesitant, certain…

She smiled as the conclusion finally came to her and she semi-quoted Jane's own words back to her: "Like I finally understood what all the fuss is really about."

That got Jane's attention. She turned in Maura's arm to face her as she wondered: "When was that?" Jane's dark eyes were intently looking for the answer, genuinely interested in it, and Maura met them with a just as genuine, just as intense gaze of her own.

And then, as if looking in a mirror, the smile Maura felt spreading on her own face could be seen growing on Jane's.

Only there was no mirror. It was no reflection; it was all Jane.