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Against Nature

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Chapter One: I Want to See You

"Do I have to start saying no yet?"

"You can start tomorrow"

"Oh, good, I thought that was a test… then yes"

And yet, neither of them had any intention of leaving that bubble of incredible, serene, honest intimacy they'd finally achieved, after all the shitstorm they'd nearly drowned in, multiple times, over the last... how long had it been? Sixteen, eighteen months, more or less?

Now for Jen, the only conceivable movement, is to extend an arm toward the opposite side of the couch, certainly not to get up to get the wine and glasses, and if it were Judy getting up now, she'd stop her.

But the brunette's firm grip isn't enough, and Jennifer Harding slides into the seat until she can hug her, encouraged by her loving, understanding smile. She feels her cling to her arm as she fastens her hands on her shoulder and rests her cheek on her hair.

"I love you", she whispers, and these three simple words seem more and more ridiculous every time she pronounce them, and she does it grossly fucking often.

"I love you, too", and Jen knows she doesn't answer out of reflex, as when she says "sorry", or "It’s okay". Judy's hands tighten their grip on her arm, and she responds by strengthening her own grip.

"Oh my God Jude, did you ever think it would end up like this when you started stalking me?", she asks after a long silence animated by memories.

"I wasn't stalking you", the brunette points out in a calm voice, "How could I? I couldn't even drive, don't you remember?"

"Oh...", Jen is surprised, she never thought about this detail, but it makes perfect sense. She loosens her embrace so she can look into her eyes, intrigued.

Judy is automatically seized with the fear that she has said something wrong, it always happens like this, things are going fine and then her stupidity has to ruin everything! But the look of genuine interest she catches in her friend's eyes instantly reassures her.

"How did you know you'd find me at that meeting, then?", there's no trace of suspicion, either in her tone or in the blue of her eyes. It's as if they're saying -tell me something I don't know about you yet, I want to see you-.

"I didn't know…", she replies with a sincere smile. Encouraged by the other's silence, she continues. "Okay, this is something I never told you... But I didn't want to keep it from you, it's just that…", she hastens to add, caught up in anxiety, an automatic reflex, the need to justify herself, always.

"Judy… it's okay, honey", Jen reassures her, stroking a strand of her hair in an affectionate gesture. She hears her exhale a sigh of relief, and feels her body relaxing in her arms.

Judy returns to rest her head in the crook of Jen's neck, unable to maintain eye contact any longer. She inhales deeply, trying to decide where to start, she knows she wants to tell her everything and to do that she must necessarily go back to that cursed night, indeed, to before that night.

"Did you know that… after the sixteenth weeks, they  have to induce you in labour?", Judy bites the inside of her cheek, feeling uncomfortable the instant the words leave her mouth. She doesn't want Jen to feel sorry for her, doesn't want to justify what happened. She just wants to share with her the moment that changed the course of both of their lives.

It's not what Jen was expecting, but after a second of surprise, she imagines the pain the woman must have felt and her stomach clenches, she can't help but anchor her to herself with a firmer grip. However, she senses that it's not enough, for either of them.

"Come here, baby…", she slides closer to her until she completely zeroes out the personal space between them, loosens her grip around her shoulders just long enough to take her legs and lay them on her lap, in an almost maternal gesture, and as she returns to hold her, she realizes something that had totally escaped her mind until this very moment.

"It was the night of the accident, wasn’t it?", no longer the night YOU ran over Ted, just the night of the accident.

A slight nod, totally unnecessary. "And that son of a bitch made you drive?", she blurts out caught in an excess of her usual anger.

"I had him call from the hospital while they were taking care of me, he told them to let him know when I was ready to leave. I waited there for almost four hours that night. I was still wearing my dress covered in blood. He told I must drive, because he was too upset to. He didn't even want to see her, to say goodbye to her… he was too upset to drive, can you imagine?", Jen's body stiffens in agitation, then an incredible sense of guilt invades her, Steve was an insensitive son of a bitch and a manipulator, - but I forced her to bury him, in the woods, so what kind of shitty person am I, then? -, her eyes fill with tears and she inhales in frustration. She feels Judy's grip on her arm grow firmer.

"No Jen, no…", the woman forces her to look at her. "I know what you're thinking, please don't. I don't want you to feel guilty about what happened next, I'm not telling you with that in mind", but the blonde avoids eye contact, her eyes are filled with tears and her mouth twists in an attempt to master the pain and revulsion towards herself, it's a moment and huge salty drops start rolling down her cheeks.

In an instinctive gesture Judy loosens the embrace and without thinking sits astride her lap so she can cup her face in her hands. She wipes away her tears with her thumbs, lovingly continuing to caress her skin. And it doesn't matter if Jen can't look at her, on the contrary, she has the feeling that it's better that way, the topic is painful, delicate and intimate, the very position of their two bodies is intimate, she realizes right now, and wonders what made her want to sit on her like this, it came naturally, but now she's not so sure she wants to stay this way so long. Still, she feels Jane's hands on her hips, and the woman doesn't seem bothered or uncomfortable, just focused on regaining control.

"I want to tell you how it went, that's all. I want you to know how it started. We wouldn't be here now otherwise. I don't know where I would be if things had gone differently. But I'm here, we're here, in spite of all the pain, the messes, the secrets, and I… there's nowhere else I'd rather be", the rumbling of her heart in her ears and the difficulty in breathing make her voice shake.

"It's our story, after all, right?", the realization of the implications of those words only reaches her only after she hears herself say them. Why is it always so fucking against her nature with Judy? And against her nature, she fastens her arms around her waist and reaches out, resting her head on her shoulder.

"Everything okay, Jen?", Judy asks, surprised by both the woman's statement and the sudden outpouring. She wraps her arms around her neck and sinks her face into the mass of blonde hair, inhaling her scent.

"Let's stay like this for a moment, shall we?", Jen proposes, losing herself in the warmth of their bodies.

It's always been this way, from the fucking very beginning! Inviting a stranger to live in her house! -well technically in the guest house-, -which I managed to get into after three fucking months, just to help her feel comfortable and turn it into a fucking... personal_hut_slash_home_slash_artistic_studio_slash_bedroom_slash_fucking_etcetera, perpetually invaded by the scent of those fucking shitty incenses!- and, moreover, when she had already betrayed her trust! What the fucking fuck was she thinking?

And yet… it's never been home the way it has since Judy's there. Not even when Ted was alive. Maybe in the early years, when Charlie was little? But she doesn't remember. It had gradually morphed into a place where everyone simply had their own space, and the only time the whole family could "share", and not even always, was in the evening at dinner.

Especially since she'd had her mastectomy. They played at being the perfect family, but not only had Ted not touched her since she'd returned from the hospital, he hadn't even slept in the same room, in their bed.

He'd play his part until the kids left for bed and, often without even bothering to wish her a fucking good night, he'd sneak into the guesthouse. The only reason he still kept his clothes and shoes in their room closet was just appearance. -Fuck you Ted!- Yeah...Ted's clothes and shoes, what the fuck was she waiting for to get rid of them?

The first person she shared her bed with, in almost two years, was Judy. And in that year and a half they have shared, -really shared-, that space almost every night, especially recently. It's their refuge now, the place where there's no place for grudges and anger. Maybe the place of tears, yes, but shared ones, in each other's arms. It is the place of reconciliations, -I thought you left it on purpose… as an excuse to see me again-did it work? -, of Facts of Life on TV, of serene hugs, of their fingers intertwined together under the covers, of incredibly long and restful sleeps, by her standards, of waking up snuggled together. It is the place of their ridiculous "I love you"

-Fucking angel on earth!- She loosens her grip and with a light kiss on a shoulder, pulls her away, guiding her to reposition herself on her side, as she did moments before. She rearranges the blanket over the tangle of legs and returns to pressing her into her arms.

"Go ahead", she whispers welcoming her head into the crook of her neck.

"I was sick for several days, from the accident, from the miscarriage, I couldn't stand up more than long enough to get to the bathroom and throw up the little I had managed to… ya know… throw down. I wanted informations about that night, but he kept me away from even my cell phone, telling me I just needed to rest and he would take care of everything and filling my head with bullshit to frighten me. I realized I needed to leave, as soon as possible. He kept calling me all the time when he wasn't home and it took all the effort I could muster to convince him that I wasn't going to do anything. The day I finally physically managed to stand for more than ten minutes, I left and went straight to the Police Station with the idea of turning myself in. But when I got there, while I was waiting for the officer in the lobby to give me an audience, I saw you. You were yelling at Perez, and I knew it was you. And that I was the person you were looking for, that you hated so much. I should have come forward right away, but I was cowardly, I couldn't face you, you were so pissed off… I left."

Jen swallows hard, her lips pressed into Judy's hair. The scent of her coconut shampoo floods her nostrils. She remembers that day, Ted's body was still in the hands of the Police and she was screaming at Perez to know why, instead of looking for the person responsible for her husband's death, they were wasting time holding him, preventing the family from giving him a fucking proper burial. She was broken, hadn't slept in days and was definitely drunk.

"The day of the funeral I came to the cemetery. I wanted to see you, to know how you were, how ludicrous, huh? How were you supposed to be? I saw the kids, God, my heart was shattered. Two days later I went back to the station. When I saw you there, for the second time in a row… well I… I took it as a sign. My spiritual shit, you know... Maybe I could have helped you in better way. I could have made you feel better, I don't know... Pretty cocky, huh? For someone who has always felt out of place everywhere and in everyone's way. To always feel inadequate and at the same time have the presumption to believe to can make some fucking difference to someone!"

"Hey… you've made a huge difference, to me and our boys, Jude! -Our boys- I don't know what I would have done and I don't know where I would be without you now. This is your home too, you're wanted here and anything but in the way", Jen whispers to her with sincerity and sweetness. She wouldn't have wanted to interrupt her, but at the same time, she couldn't stop herself from reassuring her. And now she doesn't know how to stop. Disgusting!

"Fuck, I was miserably drowning in my own shit, shit I'd been carrying around for years! Not since Ted died! With a husband I sucked up to and who was fucking a teenager, and a fucking shitty mother-in-law who enjoyed finding any excuse to express, all but veiled, her displeasure at every bit of shit! In front of Ted! In front of the fucking kids!", she marvels at the calm, quiet, and volume of her own voice, -fucking against her nature-, in spite of her language -absolutely in her nature-, and she knows who to thank for this calmness.

"A zero social life to protect me from any further sources of pressure, or worse, disappointment! To the kids, I was always the tough guy of the family! Ted was the permissive, loving one... I was too pissed off and too busy bringing home some fucking bread! And Ted was fine with that, he never bothered to team up. After all, he posed as a widowed father, didn't he?", this last comment makes her mouth twist, moved by resentment. And although Judy can't see her face, it's as if she senses the change in energy, and tightens her grip on her arm, out of empathy. Jen shifts position so she can look her in the eye, before continuing.

"You put things back together, but you did it in a new form, all your own, and if you look at it and experience it, this new form, it makes so much more sense than it did before! I just would be able to make you feel the way I felt the warmth in my heart the first time I came home and found all three of you at the kitchen counter eating pizza! Suddenly I had a supportive adult person next to me, helping me get our days on track, caring about the kids, and me, always ready to encourage everyone, to find the positive in everything. To find common ground that worked for everyone! A fucking angel on Earth, Judy!"

"And do we want to talk about Lorna? Oh my God it's fucking disgusting just the fact that I'm talking about her in a positive way! But, on Ted's birthday, after you let Perez take you because "that's what friends do" - Jen mimes the air quotes and rolls her eyes and Judy can't help but giggle at the pantomime - "Lorna was speechless when she realized that if she attacked you, she was risking as much with me as if she had attacked our boys -our boys-. But I know that during all this time she studied you, and she studied me too, and, well, she must have seen some good, because as time goes by she is less and less of a fucking rattlesnake with me and if you didn't notice, with you too! Of course... she still doesn't know that I finally appointed you as the kids' legal guardian, but, fuck her, I couldn't tell her that today when she came to pick them up!?", she playfully twists her mouth and the two share an open laugh.

"Sorry, it was a long interruption, but I had to tell you, do you want to continue?", and it's a small victory when she hears her resume speaking by not automatically responding with an "Okay" or a "It's okay" first.

"I was on that beach, thinking about you, looking for a way to get closer to you, but I had no idea you were going to be there, I didn't even know Pastor Wayne's support group was around there. I swear…"

"You don't need to swear, Jude. I believe you", her hand reaches for the brunette's and squeezes them, holding them in her lap.

"I remember watching the waves crash on the shoreline and making a promise. I would find a way to meet you, and I would do everything I could to make you better. Anything, Jen. And when I turned to leave, I saw you.", the memory of that moment is so vivid that she feels her heartbeat quicken instantly. She squeezes Jen's hand, for emphasis.

"It was only a moment before you disappeared below my line of sight, I think you were pouring yourself that horrible coffee. I wasn't sure it was you, but I could feel it. I couldn't help but get closer, and when I was sure you were really there… I knew that was the time", she concludes, lowering her gaze to their fingers intertwined together.

"Thanks for telling me, Jude", Jen whispers to her while absentmindedly playing with one of her rings. It's a habit now almost as old as "their story", playing with her hands. -That's what friends do, right? Uhm...- the thought crossed her mind for a moment and she almost burst out laughing not even knowing why.

Jen has never been the touching person, not only with strangers, but even with the people closest to her, aside from Henry and Charlie -when he lets her-. Yet, with Judy it was always different. This need to feel her close all the time, fucking gross. Codependent-like indeed! She remembers the night they were on the beach smoking a joint. The first time they went out together, after shared evenings talking on the phone for hours -Do you mind waiting until I fall asleep? -, the first time she laughed heartily, after months. Fuck, she'd found herself brushing shoulders with her while they'd been peeing around and it had been so fucking disgustingly pleasant! -so fucking against her nature-, yet so natural and instinctive, that her rationality hadn't even registered it at that very moment! It was only when she'd gotten home that she'd reconsidered it, not caring too much, branding it as a pleasant episode.

Judy looks up at the now dark sky, just as the blonde escapes a long yawn.

"Harding! It's just after nine o'clock and you're already sleepy?", Judy jokes in a jovial tone to lighten the gloomy mood of moments before. "We even forgot the wine! I can't believe it!", she adds with surprise.

"Oh my God this is really gross!", Jen retorts curling her lips playfully, wrenching a laugh from her which is joined by her own. And with a couple of pats on her leg, she invites her to get up.

"Well, you know what?", she adds as together they fold the blanket, "I think I'll go easy with wine and booze from now on", she says thoughtfully as Judy moves a step in her direction joining the corners of the blanket and leaving it for Jen.

"Okay, so this is serious!", she teases grabbing her shoulders, "Who are you? And what have you done with my Jen?", -my Jen-, the brunette exclaims in a theatrical tone shaking her. The other bursts into open laughter and lets go of the blanket on the couch seat, not caring about the folds.

"Well, actually that's exactly your Jen, you fucking angel", Jen mocks her by waving a finger in front of her nose, "Because if I've been reduced to love you more than wine it's only because of your fucking hippie whoo-whoo shit, my dear!", she concludes snickering along with the other. The finger continues to playfully tease the tip of Judy's nose, who tries to push it away from her face while keeping to giggle.

And without either of them being rationally aware of their movements, for a split second their lips touch and the next moment it's all over, leaving them both stunned. Silence falls as the two stare at each other with a half-smile each, amazed. It was just a peck, lightning-fast brush, not quite a kiss. Jen isn't sure if she was the only one who did the action, but she knows for sure that she moved toward Judy, it was instinctual, a reflex, she can't explain it. She blinks a few times, to wake up from the spell.

"What the fuck was that?", she exclaims stifling a laugh to mask an embarrassment she expects to feel, but strangely doesn't.

"Well... it was pretty sudden, so, I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure it was a kiss", Judy reasoned in a light tone, following the blonde's mood.

"Fuck yeah! But where did that come from? Sorry, I...", she runs her fingers through her hair, suddenly fearful.

"Jen…", the other calls out her and waits a long moment before continuing, "It's okay, really", she smiles serenely, confident that the pause served to convey that she really means what she says and that hers was not a Pavlov's dog reflex.

"Okay, come on, let's just go to sleep, I'm exhausted, seriously!", Jen cuts it short by extending a hand and as she does so she forces herself to wonder if that's the case, after what just happened.

"Uhm... No?", Judy teases raising an eyebrow, showing herself not at all upset by the last minute events.

"Didn’t we decided to start tomorrow with this NO shit?!", the blonde protests feigning disappointment. Warm fingers touch hers and intertwine together, as always, they enter through the back door and their passage to the bedroom is marked by the lights that one by one go off, as always.

And the two women wonder to themselves if the unexpected moment they shared really happened.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two: Fuck the Almost

"What a fucking crazy day!", Jen exclaims with a hysterical giggle, dropping onto the bed and letting out a heavy sigh, lacing her hands above her head and staring up at the ceiling with a dumbfounded expression.

"Sorry Jen, you must be a wreck after a sleepless night and this long day, it's all my fault", Judy commented in dismay as she closed the door.

"What?", the blonde lifts herself up to sit on the edge of the bed, "No!", she reaches out to take Judy's hand and pulls her closer. "Hey, more NO and less SORRY, okay?", she points, raising her face so she can look at her, her thumb brushing the back of her hand for a moment. She hoped to have more time to clear her head on how to get back on a certain topic. But maybe now is the right time to address it once and for all.

"Okay… look… about last night, I'm not going to let it slide, how about we get ready for bed and then we'll talk about it?", she offers getting up and heading to the closet to retrieve something for the night.

Judy crosses her arms in front of her, uncomfortable, as she thinks back to the events in question, she too needs to go back over them, she has a feeling it's a necessary step to put all the messes behind them, she's about to respond with her usual Okay, while Jen looks at her with her eyebrows raised in a questioning expression. One shoulder leaning against the bathroom doorframe, her pajamas crumpled in her arms. The sight causes a warm sensation in her chest and brings her back to the sudden outpouring just moments before. She can hardly deny her own involvement to herself. Not anymore. Not after Jen brushes her lips with her own without running away right after.

"Ten minutes! You need sleep, Harding", she concedes, shaking off the worry.

"I'll make do with it", the other agrees with a smile, disappearing into the bathroom.

—————— 

"I got you a pajamas, do you mind?", the brunette is halfway between the bed and the bathroom when she opens the door, moving to the side to let her pass, their movements fluid, as if they were dancing together. -How do we do that? -Since when do we move so fucking harmoniously around each other, as if we're following a fortuitous choreography learned by heart?- She reckons probably in all the time they've spent together since they've known each other. Then she thinks back to her eighteen years with Ted and a snort escapes her, like hell she's ever felt so in tune with him! There is no choreography learned by heart over time, she realizes. With Judy, it's just the way it is, it's just by heart, it always has been, from the beginning, and it's always felt so natural that it's gone completely unnoticed to her. Maybe she even took it for granted.

"No, I like it", Jen tells her with a smile as she watches her gather her hair so she can tie it up.

"Well it fits a little loose, but it's comfortable", she mumbles with the rubber band between her teeth.

"I wasn't talking about the pajamas, I like it when you use my stuff", the other points out.

"Uh, then it's serious!", Judy teases with a mischievous smile.

"Shut up and come to bed, weirdo!", retorts Jen with a snort of a smile.

Jen knows that Judy is a tease by habit, she does it a little bit with everyone, but now this exchange of banter between them takes on a more intimate meaning, in Jen's mind. They just almost fucking kissed. A little more than almost. But more importantly, neither of them are freaking out! -Fuck, after all we've been through, what the fuck do you want to be an almost-kiss, a little more than almost... Okay, fuck the almost!

She turns on the TV on 391, turns off the lights and slips under the covers, it isn't long before Judy joins her and takes place next to her, turning to the side so she can look at her, her face brightened by the glow of the TV with the volume turned completely down, she looks serene and relaxed.

"Are you sure you want to talk about this?", Jen asks slipping a little closer to her.

"More than sure", Judy reassured her by taking her hand and intertwining their fingers together.

"Okay, start counting then", the blonde teases. Encouraged by the other's smile, she loosens their hands and slides her arm behind Judy's lower back.

"Come here", she whispers, showing her need to feel her closer. The arm she has anchored her with is firmly behind her back, her fingers absentmindedly playing with the fabric of her pajamas. She feels Judy's hand settle on her hip and go past it, ending up behind her.

"Okay, first of all… I apologize… for the million times I've been a bitch by treating you badly and saying things that shouldn't have come out of my fucking mouth because I never really meant them. I really need to work on this and I want to because it's time for me to learn how to handle my reactions. I don't want to hurt the most important people in my life anymore just because I'm a fucking dickhead who's angry at the whole world. Ted died because of my words and knowing that they were going to kill you too... I can't think about that, Judy! I can't lose you! The kids can't lose you! You are the best and purest person I have ever known in my life. That's why you're so sensitive to other people's words and actions. I can't afford not to think about what comes out of my fucking mouth anymore! This, is really, fucking disgusting! It's fucking abusive! It's violent and selfish! I don't want to be like this anymore, especially with you, or with Henry, or Charlie! That's not the relationship I want to have with you and our kids! I know it can't be an immediate transformation just because I made it clear in my shitty head, Jude. But, please, please I really need your help here! Before last night, I had no idea the true extent of the impact certain events, certain behaviors of mine, have had on you. I truly believe that we both need professional help here, to overcome our traumas. Seeing you in that state yesterday destroyed me, I felt so worthless. We both need to learn how to communicate in a healthy way, no matter what context we are faced with. We'll still make mistakes, we'll still get hurt, and we'll still have fights and arguments, but I know that I will always want you by my side, always, Judy! Isn't that what it means to really care about someone? Isn't that how we can really build a family?", she felt almost half-drunk after her monologue. She was afraid she didn't know where to start or that she wouldn't be able to express herself. And who knows maybe she didn't even do it coherently, but she tried to get out everything she had intended to say.

"Please say something…", she begs her, suddenly fearful, scanning the brunette's liquid gaze.

Judy inhales deeply and when she exhales, the sound that comes out is shaky and uncertain. The thought of what she is about to express brings tears to her eyes. It is difficult for her to express her disappointment in the behaviors of someone she cares about. She knows that her fears of rejection go back to past traumas and she knows she needs to work through them. So she takes her nerves and decides to start now, striving to anchor herself in the certainty that Jen is not like the other people who have disappointed her in the past. Jen is in front of her, she is with her, after all that has happened. She is in front of her and her gaze is pure, sincere, and full of love.

For a second, the vision of that day in the open house bathroom, the day after her confession, -I love you-I fucking hate you!-, flashes behind her eyes, the look she had seen in her face in that very moment still breaking her heart. She never believed she really hated her, that look said it just the opposite. She imagines the state of cognitive dissonance in which she must have lived those hours, and that particular moment showed very clearly this condition, in which the person you most need to feel close is the very one who betrayed you and you have to come to terms with reality. A second you reject her and the next one your eyes betray your intentions and desperately cling to the past. That expression alone had encouraged her to try to approach her one last time, but then Jen had pushed her away, physically, violently, -you know what you can do? You can disappear of the fucking planet!-I have Ted's gun in my purse -I'll shoot you in the fucking head-. And so she had turned her back on her and walked away. She wasn't going to allow Jen to make something that would completely disintegrate her and the kids. Maybe, after all, the woman would suffer for a while longer from her betrayal, from missing her, but eventually she would do like everyone else before her, slowly forget about Judy, and surely her anger would help her, in that process. Eventually Jen would be okay. The kids would be okay. And hers would no longer feel like a total loss. The check she'd stashed in the wooden bird she'd given to Henry would help her materially get back on her path, she hoped, at some point, maybe not right away, when her anger was still too fresh.

"That night… I never, ever should have tried to do what I tried to do, Jen. But I felt done, I didn't have you anymore, I didn't have the kids, Abe had just died. I drank on it, a lot. I really thought my death might make it easier for you. If I had been lucid, I would have recognized that with that act I would have destroyed you once for all. But I wasn't. I really need to apologize to you, for what I was about to do that night. Forgive me. I also want to tell you how I felt last night. I'm not used to share my negative emotions, you know, but I trust you, with all my heart, and you deserve for me to open up to you, and I deserve to be able to open up to you. I felt defeated, last night. Because you're right. I do get attached to everyone. But after everything we've been through, I thought I'd been able to show you that how I feel about you is different. When you told me those things, I felt like these many months had been completely erased, my feelings, invalidated, pointless. I felt completely empty", she swallows hard, as tears begin to escape her control. Jen reacts by immediately zeroing in on the little space between their embraced bodies, holding onto her as if their very lives depended on it. She feels Judy's hand on her back clinging to her shirt in desperation.

"Come here baby, come here", a choked sob escapes Judy's throat, and she takes to rocking her gently. And fuck, the lump of pain in her stomach leaves her breathless for a moment, as her face sinks into the brown hair that smells like coconut.

"I'm a dumb bitch, Jude, forgive me! I love you so much, please forgive me. It's your love that got me back on my feet, I feel it every time you cook for us, it's one of your many ways of showing us how much you love us, I feel it every time I see you pamper Henry or get embarrassed by Charlie's shitty jokes, I feel it every time you say my name, Judy. And sometimes I wonder what I did to deserve it, and so I fucking spit my guilt and insecurities at you. I'm an idiot", she pulls away just enough so she can look into her eyes, wiping away her tears.

"This is another of those things we need to work on, I think. No more guilt, Jude. No more messes. No more lies and no more omissions. This really can be our second chance. Let's start over, shall we?", her fingers continue tirelessly to wipe away tears, by now it's not even about wiping, so much as shedding them, hers mingling with the brunette's, but it doesn't matter, Jen thinks, it's okay.

"Don't you ever dare play a trick on me like you did this morning, Harding! Never again! I'm not going to spend the rest of my life bringing you oranges in jail!", Judy tries to joke by pointing a finger in front of her face sniffing.

"Never again Jude. I swear. Never again, baby. From now on, whatever comes our way, we'll face it together, okay?", the blonde answers her in an infirm voice. Judy hides her face in the crook of Jen's neck and fastens her arm across her back.

"Hold me Jen. I need to feel you", and immediately she feels the other's grip tighten, insinuates a leg between Jen's and re-establishes the embrace. Their bodies are laced together to seal a pact that has the taste of the unbreakable.

"I'm right here, honey", the aching lump that had been lodging in Jen's stomach until just now is replaced by a new emotion, a warm sensation spreading throughout her body, her heart seems to be throwing a few tantrums, but the feeling is pleasant and she indulges in it, thinking that this is the first time she's held Judy like this, only just becoming aware of the intimacy of their posture.

She closes her eyes, concentrating and surrendering to the contact. She feels their bellies moving together in the act of breathing. Their breasts separated only by two thin layers of cloth, also brushing against each other in the movement. Judy's leg between her, directly touching her core. The dizziness and warm feeling in her lower abdomen wash over her pleasantly. She's sure this is the first time she's experienced these sensations with Judy. Shit, maybe it's the first time, fucking ever!

Was it just that tiny peck given absentmindedly, (or by instinct), that caused all of this? Or perhaps, did that hint of effusion just set the tone for something that was until now too hidden from their awareness? Like a small crack in the wall of a dam that has begun to leak and is bound to cause an inevitable structural failure sooner or later? And why now? She wonders what Judy is feeling, what she thinks about that lightning fast -okay, yes-, kiss.

"Judy?", disgusted the shaky tone in which she spoke her name -get a fucking grip, Harding!-.

"Mhm?", the brunette replied distractedly, enjoying the pleasure of their tight hug.

"I think there's also something else we need to talk about…", she forces herself to breathe normally, trying to ignore the speed at which her heart has started pumping. Fuck, she feels like she's in the middle of a bike spinning session!

"I agree, Jen... But, are you sure you want to talk about this right now?", Judy accompanies the words by stroking her back with her fingertips.

"I don't know, maybe?", Jennifer replies in an uncertain voice.

Judy isn't sure it's a good idea, for her it certainly isn't, and knowing Jen, she doesn't think it's good for her to broach this subject without fully digesting it either. So she struggles with the urge to accommodate her.

"What if we… make the vow to talk about it after taking some time to see what happens?", she almost feels like she can hear the gears rattling in the other's head and realizes that maybe Jen is afraid she wants to avert the thing once for all.

"As far as I'm concerned, Jen, no matter what happens, I want you to be sure that I'm not going anywhere. Okay?", she whispers in a calm, reassuring voice.

"Me neither Judy, I promise. I think you're right. I really have no idea where it came from, -do I have to specify that I'm referring to the kiss?-, but I need to tell you that it was a pleasant surprise, okay? I mean... I could have freaked out and I didn't! But I don't want to pretend like it didn't happen, we'll talk about it, okay?", her tone slightly uncertain, out of an irrational fear that Judy would rather let the incident go into oblivion. -what a fucking nonsense, this is what I would do, or what she would do if she perceived that it was better for me this way-, so she seals her promise with a light kiss on the brunette hair in which her face is immersed.

"It was nice for me too, Jen... Time to sleep now, babe", Judy suggests in a sleepy voice.

"Would you help me empty my closet of Ted's things in the morning?", Jen whispers to her after a while, a silent nod from Judy ends the tumult of thoughts, the blonde squeezes her friend and slowly gives in to exhaustion.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three: Truths, Omissions, Promises

"I'm sorry, babe, I guess it wasn't easy at all", Jen comforts her by laying an arm over her shoulders as she leans next to her on the kitchen counter.

"Very true, it wasn't at all, you know, part of me was still hoping that I could have some sort of relationship with her, start over. But I had to surrender to the evidence that some things and people don't change. It was almost cathartic to start with my mom saying NO", Judy tells her. Jen tightens her grip on her friend to communicate her support.

"Hey, look at this...", Jen pulls a crumpled sheet of paper with a list of names from her jacket pocket and opens it with one hand, depositing it on the counter in front of them.

"Pastor Wayne was really nice to help us, after all, this goes against his own interests", the brunette reasons in a sympathetic tone.

"Well, I mean, he must have figured out that we're too fucking broken for his group and it was better to dump us off to a couple of real shrinks", Jen snickers.

"Hey! We’re not fucking broken!", Judy feigns offense, but a sudden laugh immediately betrays her.

"Mom! Judy!", Henry's squeaky voice reaches them from the doorway. The little boy runs up to them, bouncing his backpack on his shoulders. The two turn around at the same time just as the kid pounces, slipping in between them and hugging them both around the waist.

They exchange a look of loving understanding, their faces inches from each other, and then focuses on the younger Harding, who, looking for their loving contact, closes his eyes and pressed his face to the younger one's side.

"Hi Boop!", Jen greets him by stroking his shoulders affectionately, then turns her gaze widening a smile towards Charlie.

"Hey, Ma! Judy!", the elder greets unceremoniously, opening the fridge absentmindedly.

"Charlie, how did the French test go?", Judy asks with sincere curiosity.

"Ùne mèrde!", the teenager replies in a flat voice pouring himself some orange juice.

"Shit, Charlie!", Jen exclaims spatially.

"Mom, I know! I'll catch up, I promise!", Charlie defends himself as he washes the glass he just used.

Since when does that little shit take the trouble to remove traces of his passage? Her astonished gaze settles on the certain one responsible for that surprising change, -I fucking love you-, she mimes with her lips when the woman crosses her gaze, and lets her heart skip a beat at the sight of the smile widening on Judy's face. The two stare at each other for a few seconds as their hands on Henry's shoulders brush against each other, both unaware of the older's amused look. The boy rolls his eyes and shakes his head, hurrying upstairs.

"Hey Judy! We studied photosynthesis at school today!", Henry exclaims excitedly as he raises his head to the brunette.

"Oh yeah? Then can you give me a good review while we make dinner? I'm not sure I really remember how it works", she offers ruffling his hair.

"What are we cooking?", the child asks excitedly.

"How about a nice Greek salad, with feta, olives and all? Let's cook some meat on the side for you three, too, okay?", Judy energetically proposes.

"I don't want meat!", the little boy protests emphatically.

"Henry, meat is important when you have to grow up, plus I know you like it, so why give it up altogether?", the woman patiently explains to him.

"Henry, love, why don't you go to your room and get this backpack off of you and then come back and help us? Come on baby!", the blonde encouraged him.

"You're cooking with us, Mom?!", the kid asks in amazement.

"I promise I'll try not to make a mess and I'll stay away from the burners!", his mother reassures him by theatrically raising her arms. A myriad of delicate wings tickle the walls of her chest at the sound of Judy laughing at her joke. -fucking butterflies in her fucking stomach?-

"What?", Judy asks her noticing Jen's dreamy expression as she places the ingredients for dinner on the counter.

"He washed his fucking glass, Jude", the woman points out raising her finger to address upstairs as she approaches her with a smile.

"Yeah, he's growing up, Jen. And recent events have maybe shaken him up a bit in a good way. He was really scared yesterday morning when he handed me the pouch he found in Steve's car", the other confirms, separating the vegetables from the rest.

"We need to talk to him, I mean… he's not a kid anymore, he clearly didn't buy the bullshit about the birthday present...", Jen reasons quietly.

"Especially after seeing the emergency binder in my hands", the brunette whispers with a guilty expression.

"Don't make that face, Jude, you did great yesterday morning, seriously", she reassured her by covering one hand with hers.

"Do you want to tell him the whole truth?", the other one asks her fearfully.

"Absolutely not! He's growing up, but he's not an adult. And he did’t went through all of that the way we did. I mean, I'll have to figure out a way to silence his anxiety and curiosity. I don't like having to lie to him. But I have to", she turns to Judy and looks at her with serious eyes. "Let me handle this, okay? Promise me you'll keep your mouth shut with him, at least until I talk to him and tell you what I said", she insists, aware of Judy's weaknesses.

"Quite as a mouse, I promise", Judy mimics the act of zipping her lips shut, her gaze betraying concern.

"I know it's hard for you, babe. But I really believe we can't do otherwise, however, if you have suggestions, i’m open", the blonde lovingly reassures her.

"No, I mean... I hate the thought of you being forced to have to lie to your kids", the other responds with a distressed look.

"Our kids!", Jen hurries to correct her. "I hate it too, but it's for the best", she confirms by gently placing a hand on her lower back. "Come on chef, tell me how I can help you here!"

————— 

"Mom, can I go over to Judy's and show her my drawing?", Henry asks excitedly showing her the work he just finished.

"Oh wow! Boop, it's beautiful! Judy's busy right now, you'll show it to her later when she comes back for the movie, okay?", Jen replies, drying the dinner dishes.

"Then I'll go and finish my homework! So when she comes back I won't keep her waiting!", she squeaks, hopping off to her upstairs room.

At the sound of the doorbell, Jen curses to herself, hoping it's not Karen, and heads to the front door.

"I'll get it!", Charlie says coming down the stairs. He absentmindedly opens the door and whitens at the sight of Detective Perez.

"Good evening, Charlie", the woman greets him with her usual sullen look.

"Mom...", the boy whispers, fearing she's come for him and Steve's mercedes story, or worse yet, the bag he entrusted to Judy the previous morning.

"Detective Perez! It's been a long time!", Jen improvises, crumpling the cloth she was finishing cleaning the kitchen with. The policewoman glares at her, thinking back to their morning jaunt through the Angeles National Forest.

"I'm looking for Miss Hale", she announces hastily, "I have some paintings to return to her", she clarifies to reassure both mother and son.

"Ah, she'll be glad you found them, Judy's in the guesthouse, go ahead and come through the backyard", the blonde replies closing the door, thankful that the woman has left immediately. She focuses on Charlie, still shaken by the unexpected visit.

"I fucking thought she was after me!", the boy exhales taking back some color.

"It's okay honey", the blonde assures him, "Come on, sit with me for a moment and let's talk about it, I owe you some explanations about yesterday morning", she suggests, using the moment to put into action the resolutions discussed before dinner with her friend.

Jen sits her son down on the couch and sits next to him, turning sideways so she can face him.

"Okay, first of all, no one is going to come looking for you because of the car thing, I promise", she tells him directly seeing him nod a little more relaxed.

"Fuck I was about to shit my pants", the young boy exclaims running his hands through his hair.

"Now you listen to me, okay?", his mother orders him in a peremptory tone. "I worked this out, that's why I wasn't home yesterday when you guys woke up", she tells him in a whisper, trying to regroup to choose what to tell him and what not to.

"Judy came to me the other night, she had known for a fact that the police were holding pictures of you and Parker in that car. She told me she was going to take the blame for the burning so they would leave us alone", she observes Charlie's reaction.

"Why would she do such a thing?", he reasons with a shrug, puzzled.

"Because she loves us, honey, and she wanted to protect us. This isn't the first time she's stuck her neck out for us, you know?", she tells him, smiling lovingly.

"Remember the story about the corvette smashed with the golf club?", she whispers to him, raising her eyebrows.

"Oh wait a minute, I had nothing to do with that!", the boy lifts his arms shaking his head.

"It was me, you idiot!", she hastens to point out, amused by her son's dumbfounded expression.

"Fuck, Mom!", he exclaims with a hysterical laugh.

"Look, he was a dumb fucking asshole! He deserved it!", she justifies herself.

"But that doesn't matter now. Look, I couldn't let her do it. I was the one who had custody of Steve's car. It was my fault you found it and thought it was your birthday present. Because you're a dick like me and you act before you think", she jokes awkwardly.

"Is that why you fought about the other night?", the boy asks.

"We didn't fight", she points out.

"Mom, when does Judy ever not cook for us and run straight to your room without touching food or spending the evening with Henry?", Charlie thoughtfully disagrees.

-in your room-, the calmness with which her son spoke those three simple words gives her hope that the rest of the conversation can't go all that badly.

"Judy is a generous person, Charlie. And she loves us all the best, all three of us. But I couldn't let her expose herself so much. It was up to me to expose myself for you. There was no other way. Since what happened to your Dad, my biggest concern has been to make sure you were in good hands, should anything happen to me. When Judy came into our lives… well maybe not right away… she would do anything to protect you both and take care of you, and she knows how to do that, maybe even better than I do. The letter I mentioned when I came back was the one I wrote to Judy the other night. I was sure I was going to be arrested and then in jail, and I entrusted her with your custody and the administration of the family", she takes a breath, watching her son nod thoughtfully, but not contritely.

"What do you think, about this decision of mine, baby?", she asks him openly to engage him as she strokes his hair.

"No, I mean… they're not going to arrest you, are they?", he asks confused.

"No, I'll explain later. I really want to know what you think. I should have talked to you about it first, but it really happened so fast", she insists in a sincere tone.

"Well… I suppose it's the right choice. I mean, Judy's okay, Henry loves her and… I mean… it makes sense, yeah", Charlie responds, straining not to get too out of line.

"Okay…", the mother replies, a little disappointed in Charlie's response. "I was serious when I told you that very dangerous people were behind this Charlie. Perez didn't charge me because of the information in the bag you gave Judy and thank God it's all over and we're safe. So Charlie, now I really need you to understand that you don't need to know all the details, that the less you know the better. I need you to promise me that you'll be settle with these explanations and never come back to the subject. Okay honey?", she looks into his eyes intently, demanding an answer.

"Okay mom, I get it. I promise! Please, though, I'm not a child anymore. Remember that when you decide what to tell me and what not to from now on. Okay?", Charlie insists letting his mother hold him, exhaling a relieved sigh.

"Jeeeen?", mother and son jolt in surprise.

"Here we go, what now?", the blonde exclaims rolling her eyes to wring a laugh out of the boy. She gets up ruffling his hair and walks towards the door leading to the backyard, to join Judy who is waiting for her, electrified, at the door of the guesthouse.

Chapter Text

Chapter Four: Oh Shit!

"For commission on twenty million dollars, I get along with anyone!", Lorna chirps from the opposite side of her opulent desk. Jen and Judy exchange a disgusted look.

"Good", Jen exclaims pulling a packet of papers from a binder. "I've already prepared the paperwork for you to sign, Lorna", she informs handing her the file. "One copy for you, one for us and one to deliver to the appropriate office, I'll take care of it, of course. You're welcome", she concludes, handing her a pen to express her desire for the matter to be concluded at once.

"Golly! You don't even give me time to check what I'm signing?", the mother-in-law exclaims in an offended voice that doesn’t fit at all with the fake smile on her face.

"Lorna, you're looking at a fair amount of cash, you can count it and read all you want, and anyway it's three thousand words at most, Henry would read it in half an hour", her daughter-in-law challenges her. She notices Judy's left leg dancing nervously, the woman sits stiffly with her hands crossed in front of her since she's been sitting down, it's making her fucking anxious. "We've got half an hour, don't we Judy?", she turns to look at her and places a hand on her thigh to reassure her.

"Mhm mhm!", her friend answers hastily, accompanying the sound with an equally frantic nod.

Jen checks to make sure the older woman isn't looking at them and again seeks eye contact with Judy, -Relax-, she mimes with her lips, smiles lovingly at her and strokes her leg with the palm of her hand. She watches her release the tension with a deep breath and abandon her stiffened posture by leaning against the back of the chair, she moves her hands away from the desk and hides them in her lap, taking Jen's hand in hers.

The silence in the room is disturbed only by the rustling of pages that old witch Harding is zealously reading. Jen starts to playing with Judy's rings. At first the gesture is almost instinctive, but soon it becomes intentional. She focuses on the feel of her palm on the back of the brunette's hand. Then her fingertips abandon the coldness of the metal and begin to roam over the skin. Fuck! She’s paying attention only now to how smooth Judy's skin is! The feel of her fingertips brushing across the back of her hand and meeting the veins on the surface, the protruding knuckles, the slight bony bulges of her phalanges, the perfection of her well-maintained short nails. In a moment of cynical lucidity, her brain thinks -fucking gross-, but immediately returns to immerse herself in the experience.

Judy plays along, turning her hand so that her palm is in contact with Jen's. The feel of their hands lying on each other causes a shiver down her spine that has more to do with desire, than with fun. She wonders what Jen is feeling. She searches for her eyes as she intertwines their fingers together, and finds that Jen is already watching her, and as they look at each other and smile, the blonde tightens her grip slightly.

Jen lowers her eyes to their joined hands, her heart pounding in her temples, out of the corner of her eye she notices Judy focusing in turn on the movements of their fingers gently caressing each other. On the tips of their fingertips tracing their respective lines on each other's palms, and she doesn't even have time to think about how disgustingly intimate and fucking erotic this all is that a sudden heat explodes in her lower belly and she clearly feels her own arousal manifesting itself physically even further down. She's never fucking felt anything like this in her life! Imagine those slender fingers caressing her inn-…

The magic is interrupted by the scratching of the pen on the papers Lorna has begun to sign.

Judy squeezes Jen's hand and closes her eyes for a moment, trying to regain control of her body. She thinks that if they had continued with that "game" a little longer, she might have even had an orgasm, right there, right in front of Lorna! And she's not so sure she would have been able to be quiet enough to go unnoticed. She almost laughs when she imagines it! Then she turns to Jen and looks intensely into her eyes, with an expression of pure desire. The light she sees in her blue-green puddles gives her the certainty that the sensations she's been feeling are absolutely, definitely, fucking mutual.

"I assume you've taken over now, cutie", the elder Harding comments, returning two of the three copies of the sale agreement.

"You assume correctly, Lorna", the widow confirms with a tugged smile as she gets up and gathers the paperwork. "Ah, speaking of which, I'll also inform you that I've revised the family binder. I thought it would be much more practical to appoint Judy, as legal guardian of the boys and of course as administrator of the estate and my accounts, but don't worry, as I've assured you before, you will always remain Charlie and Henry's only grandmother, I don't plan on dying anytime soon, and even if I would, I am blindly confident that Judy will make sure they maintain a regular relationship with you, so, don’t worry about it", she concludes as she puts the files back in her purse.

"We'll expect you by 6pm then, now let's run, I want to drop these off at the public office and we still need to pick up Charlie's gift", she adds hurrying towards the door.

"See you later, Lorna. And don't worry about dessert, this morning I made cherry pie and a wagonload of tiramisu...", Judy greets are roughly interrupted by her friend, who takes her hand and drags her away.

The two snicker together as they head for the elevator. As soon as they enter it, Jen hits the hall button and draws Judy into her arms. Her face stops a couple of inches from the brunette's.

"I can't define what the fuck happened in there, Jude… but I really fucking need to kiss you right now", she confesses to her in short breath.

Judy smiles at her with a complice look, the palm of her hand reaches Jen's face and she moves closer, placing her lips on hers. An arm encircles her shoulders to increase the contact. In spite of the earlier boldness of theirs, the kiss is gentle and full of tenderness and after a long moment they find themselves looking into each other's eyes, lovingly smiling together.

"Do you want to know what I think happened in there?", Judy asks her softly and with an unexpected edge of shyness. She watches the blonde nod with a raised eyebrow. "My left hand made love to your right hand", she states snidely.

"You're fucking right!", Jen bursts out laughing. "And it was fucking hot!", she adds not being able to contain her laughter.

The elevator bell announces the doors are about to open, the two of them come back serious, Jen reaches for Judy's hand again and gently squeezes it in hers, she turns to look at her, a dreamy smile mirrored in the other's face.

"I fucking love you, Judy!"

"And I love you, Jen!"

————— 

"Happy birthday, young man!", Christopher greets the oldest of the Harding males as he is intent on inflating a series of colorful balloons.

"Charlie! Happy birthday bro!", Henry runs up to him, forcing him to hastily abandon his Rodney Mullen on the lawn, in order to welcome him in an affectionate embrace. Hew... but how can he not indulge his little brother? He spots the skateboard and breathes a sigh of relief, verifying that it landed on its side and didn't go straight into the pool.

"You already told me this morning, Henry!", the boy replied by ruffling his soft hair.

"I know buddy, but today is your day and until midnight I want to wish you a happy birthday every time it crosses my mind!", the little boy justifies adoringly closing his eyes when the eldest kisses him on top of his head.

"Where are Mom and Judy?", she asks the only adult in sight.

"None of your business, young Harding!", Chris chirps pointing a finger at him. "They went to get your birthday present!", he whispers playfully. "They texted me five minutes ago, they'll be here any minute. Are you excited?", he asks him in a bubbly tone.

"Hi Charlie, happy birthday", Shandy's flat voice and vacant stare save him from having to respond to his family friend.

"Thank you Shandy", the boy answers her miming her own behaviour.

He was hoping for more time, but if Mom and Judy are already coming back, he really needs to hurry the fuck up. He's fucking tired of waiting for Judy's convenience. She promised him she would let him try a joint, but she didn't specify when! What the fuck will a joint ever be, it's even legal! But no, she’s being a fucking enough good parent to told him that if he wants to try it, the first time it's good to do it with someone who "supervises", that was the word she used. What the fuck would there be to supervise....

"Hey Chris, I'm going to take a piss. In the guesthouse’s bathroom, it's quicker"

"Judy?", even though she's not there, he'd rather make sure anyway. He enters the and closes the door behind him, heading confidently for the bed at the far end of the room, bending down on his knees and looking under the mattress net, he spots his target and reaches out to grab it.

"You gotta learn to hide shit better!", he comments aloud weighing the box of cigars in his hands. He opens it by placing it on the ground in front of him, picks up a joint and puts it between his lips. Looking at the contents of the box, he counts a few more joints, a pack of smoking papers, a bag of weed, he touches the bag, considering stealing a couple of inflorescences and in moving the wrapper he spots a white envelope addressed to Judy, the handwriting is her mother’s.

He takes it in his hands, seized with curiosity. He thinks back to the dialogue from the night before. What was the need to write a letter to Judy just to tell her that all she needed to know was in the family binder? Then he thinks back to the looks between Mom and Judy. Judy was their salvation. Mom was a wreck when she arrived. And despite his resistance, he has to admit that that chick has a way with them, and with Mom too. The first few months what a mess though, he's sure it was because of mom's shitty personality though. She always pushed everyone away, but in the end she never managed to break up with her for good. Lately, however, things are going much better, I mean, he is not stupid, he got that there was a mess behind it, but it was as if they were in it together.

By now they even share the bedroom. He can tell just by looking at them that they like each other. But there are more times he doubts that they've spoken to each other than the times when it seems clear to him that they're together. Fucking crazy! If he looks at them, they seem more married to each other than mom was to dad. If they're in the same room, they're always fucking clinging together, gross! Now, not that he has anything against a couple of lesbians, not even if one of them is his mother, knowing that she is happy makes him happy, also because she is automatically less of a bitch to him. But fuck, sometimes you get cavities just fucking looking at them!

He carefully puts the letter back, he is not ready to throw up over the love letter his mom wrote for Judy. Fucking just kiss her and get it over with!

————— 

"Oh my God!"

"Look what you did!"

"Look what I did!"

"That’s your STOP sign!"

"Yeah!"

"You made that happen!"

"Oh"

"You're practically a hero!"

"No!"

"Yes!"

"No..."

"I mean, you're probably gonna save somebody's life!"

"Oh, come on, let's not get carried away. It's just a STOP sign!"

"Well, actually, I will get carried away if I want-"

————— 

"What was that Chris?", Charlie asks looking out from the guesthouse. He spots the man walking toward the driveway, leading to the street.

"I don't know Charlie, watch out for the kids, I'm going to go take a look", Christopher replies by heading in the direction the crash came from, he hears a screech of tires on the asphalt and assumes there has been an accident and someone is running away.

As soon as he turns the corner, he freezes. A dark car with a huge red bow on top stands in the middle of the deserted intersection. He hurls himself at breakneck speed down the street as he taps the back pocket of his pants, cursing himself for leaving his cell phone on the coffee table amidst the balloons.

————— 

"Jen, Jen wake up!", Judy is panicking, cold tears line her face, she clutches the blonde's right hand in hers, the one spot where she is sure she won't do more damage. The woman lies disheveled leaning against her, the cut Judy can glimpse on the left side of her head is bleeding and her friend already has half her face completely red.

"Uhm", how fucking much her left eye burns?

"Oh my God! Are you okay?!", Judy can't hold back a sob when she hears her answer, she squeezes her hand more vigorously and feels Jen, though weakly, react by moving her fingers.

"What happened?", she struggles to ask, -where the fuck are my glasses?-, she wonders annoyed by her blurry vision, before remembering that her glasses are only for reading and that her sight issues must depend on something else.

"We got hit", the brunette sobs frightened kissing the hand she holds between her own.

"Oh shit!", Jen exclaims caught in a sudden nausea. In a moment of clarity she senses Judy's agitation and fear.

"It's going to be okay, honey", she manages to utter just before slipping into darkness and silence.

Chapter Text

Chapter Five: Come With Me

"Judy!", Charlie runs to her and when the woman turns around he is shocked at the sight of her swollen, bruised face. His heart is pumping wildly in his chest and out of fear he throws himself into her arms looking for some comfort.

"Ah… easy, honey", Judy tells him trying to keep a calm tone in her voice.

"Where's Mom?!", the boy asks agitatedly with his eyes wide with terror.

"Judy!", the little Henry breaks away from Christopher's grasp to run towards her.

"Mommy's going to be okay", the brunette quickly reassures them both, welcoming the little one as she straps her arms around his waist.

"You hurt yourself!", the younger boy notes raising his little face upward.

"It's nothing, love, let's sit down, so I can tell you about mom"

After informing her children and Christopher that Jen was taken to the emergency room, she knows little else except that the doctors have expressed positive opinions about her condition.

The three of them are sitting in a small waiting room, Judy has her left arm over Charlie's shoulders, while Henry, on the seat to her right, lies sprawled out with his head in her lap as she runs her hand over his soft hair, trying to reassure him.

The entire right side of her face is burning and throbbing. She has an inner bleeding in her right eye, her shoulder on the same side was dislocated when she arrived at the hospital, and even though they put it back in, it's still terribly sore. Her stomach is in turmoil, she doesn't know exactly how much time has passed since the accident, but the light is fading outside and they still have no words on Jen's condition.

It wasn't long after the moment of impact to the sound of sirens, Jen regained consciousness and lost it again three times before a paramedic made sure Judy was able to step away from the car and they could safely extract her friend behind the wheel. Those blackouts scared the hell out of her. They wouldn't allow her to get close to her, they transported them in two different ambulances.

Thank goodness one of the paramedics who came to the scene had the good heart to promise to let her know something once she got to the hospital and got in the ambulance with Jen and talked to her even though she was unconscious the whole time. -please tell her that her children and Judy love her very much and… tell her that we love her and that she needs to come back to us. Even if she is unconscious, please keep telling her that-, She hears the sound of heels in the distance and turns in that direction, catching sight of Lorna and Christopher. She passively watches them approaching.

"Any news?", the friend asks hopefully. She shakes her head.

"Children! What a nasty bruise you have, dear!", Lorna comments squaring her from top to bottom, quickly forgetting about the grandchildren.

"It's nothing, Lorna", Judy replies automatically.

"I've got a great foundation to cover this disaster, dear, I'll bring it to you tomorrow", the old woman chirps offhandedly.

"Grandma, will you take us to the vending machines and get us some drinks, please?", Charlie gets up stymied from his chair casting a knowing look at Judy. "Come on, brother", he addresses to his youngest and holds out his hand. "I'll get you a soda, okay?", he speaks to Judy and a lump forms in her throat partly from gratitude and partly from her pride in the boy. She watches them walk away with her grandmother and a tear escapes her control.

Christopher sits down next to her, putting his arm on her shoulders and the gesture makes her defenses definitely collapse. She bursts into uncontrolled tears and lets herself go into his friend's embrace.

————— 

Jen is fucking cold, she feels freezing all the way down to her bones, she curls up in the fetal position but that doesn't help at all. She strains to open her eyes and all she sees is an expanse of green. She blinks a few times. What the fuck did she drink the last night? The pain in her head is unbearable and she is so fucking thirsty that her throat is burning like hell. She realizes she is lying on a lawn. A meadow of cold earth and grass. She sits down wearily, turning her head to one side and the other. Not far away, a concrete path winds sinuously and disappears in the distance. Neither the beginning nor the end can be seen. Where the fuck am I? Wonderfuckingland?

"Henry?" Charlie? Judy? Where the fuck have you guys been hiding?", she gets up and suddenly realizes she's completely naked. Goosebumps cover her entire epidermis. She instinctively brings her arms around her breasts and realizes that her mastectomy scars are gone! -This doesn't make sense!-, she looks around with frantic movements. She knows this fucking place. But she can't remember when she's been there before. She starts barefoot and trembling toward the concrete path. The trees around her have the colors of autumn, shortly after she reaches a small bridge under which a stream flows and beyond which stands a building that she recognizes instantly. What the fuck is she doing in Prospect Park? She used to jogging there when she was a girl and studied dance.

"Fuck, all this doesn't make sense", she mutters to herself.

Not a soul in sight. Not a breath of wind is blowing. No birds chirping, no squirrels foraging for food. Nothing at all. Even the water under the bridge seems still.

She approaches the bank and kneels to drink, but before she can reach out her hands to the water, the earth beneath her body gives way and swallows her whole. The cold of right earlier is nothing compared to the chill that runs through her blood right now. She fumbles to get back to the surface, opens her mouth to scream and finds it full of wet earth and when she breathes she reflexively feels it enter her lungs, deeper and deeper, until everything becomes completely black and she finally doesn't feel cold anymore. 

"Mrs. Jennifer Harding's relatives?", the doctor still has his surgical cap and mask down under his chin, a medical record in his hand. Charlie rises from his chair, takes his brother by the hand and holds out the other waiting for Judy to take it, looking at her with an expression half encouraging, half needing support.

"We're her sons. She's our second mom", Charlie declares, pointing to Judy and squeezing her hand as if to ask her to "play along."

The doctor escorts them into his office and sits them down in front of his desk. He looks carefully at all three of them.

"Your mom will be fine", he announces to reassure them. The little one bursts into tears and his mom picks him up and holds him lovingly. The older one relaxes his shoulders and tries to comfort his little brother by stroking his shoulders. The woman relaxes a bit on the seat, waiting for the rest.

"Can we see her?" the boy asks.

"In a few hours, young man", the doctor hurries to reply. Then he turns to the woman."Your wife suffered a head injury with blood spillage and the breaking of two ribs, as well as several more superficial wounds and bruises. Fortunately, we found no other internal bleeding. We took her in surgery to remove the subdural hematoma", he watches her swallow with difficulty.

"What does it mean, Judy?", the little one asks.

"Let the doctor do the talking, Henry, Judy will explain everything later, okay?", the older boy reassures him.

"To facilitate brain recovery, we will keep her in a medically induced coma for a period that may vary from eight days to a few weeks, it will depend on how she reacts. We noticed that the lady had a bilateral mastectomy, is she immunocompromised?", the doctor asks, ready to note any useful information.

"No it was a preventative surgery. She has the BRCA1 gene", Judy informs him. The doctor nods, writing on the chart.

"We will treat her with some medications, usually powerful barbiturates, to reduce her metabolism. This will also facilitate the healing of her ribs and spare her the physical pain from the fractures. When her condition allows, we will proceed to gradual revival, which can take up to several days. In this case, we gradually discontinue the medications, allowing the patient to have longer and longer awakenings. Of course, throughout this period we'll be helping her feed and breathe, so there will be a little bit of machinery and some tubes around, it's completely normal, no worries", the doctor plays with the pen in his hands and looks at them in turn as he informs them about the patient.

"Do you have any questions?", the man asks willingly.

"Can Mom hear us?", Charlie asks.

"We don't know for sure, but many patients report very dream-like experiences, often influenced by their surroundings. For example, it could be that if one of you is talking to her, she dreams of a situation where to make sense of what you're saying, do you follow me?", the three in front of him nod composedly in unison.

————— 

After briefing Lorna and Chris on Jen's condition and planned treatment and explaining to little Henry in simpler words what the doctor said, Judy and Charlie seclude themselves in a corner of the room.

"Judy, I don't want Mom to be alone. I was thinking Henry and I could go stay at Grandma's so you don't have to worry about us too. We'll relieve you a few hours a day so you can get some rest. Chris will help us out. And we'll try to keep Grandma away, I'm not sure her energy -the boy mimics the quotation marks in midair and rolls his eyes- is good for Mom", he proposes tiredly.

"Well, if the doctor said she could hear us, that sounds like a great idea, although I'd like to be the one to take care of you, I'm sure Mom would want that", the brunette reasons conflictedly.

"You'll take care of us when we all get home, Judy. Like you always have since you've been part of our family", Charlie reassured her, looking earnestly into her eyes.

Judy sonorously swallows the lump in her throat.

"Your mom is going to be so proud of you when we tell her how you're coping with this, Charlie", Judy tells him, hugging him and calming herself when she feels him respond to the hug. "I'm sorry about your birthday, honey. I promise we'll make it up to you", she whispers tenderly to him.

————— 

-How the fuck did I get here?- Jen asks herself as she looks up. The sun is warm, the street deserted, tall palm trees rise from the sidewalk. White buildings she doesn't recognize tower on the opposite side of the wide avenue. She turns backwards. Beyond the large parking lot, a low building, the sign of the department store flashes even in broad daylight and tells "Macy's."

The parking lot is deserted, except for an old familiar colored... moldy shit? A rear door wide open. Her legs move in that direction without her realizing it. She drops her gaze to her feet. When the fuck has she ever dressed in a pair of bell-bottoms? She approaches the car, a rhythmic scratching noise comes from inside. She steps over the door that doesn't allow her to see inside and cranes her neck.

"Hey, can you tell me where we are?", she asks the little girl inside the car. She must be about seven or eight years old. She's sitting and drawing something on a crumpled piece of paper with the snot of a pencil. The inside of the car is overflowing with things of the most varied nature, piled up in no apparent order. She is a pretty little girl, with two brown tails on either side of her head and a mane that grazes her long dark eyelashes.

"Newport Beach?", the little girl answers in an uncertain voice without looking up from her drawing. Jen peers at the paper.

"Wow, you're really good! It could start chirping any minute!", she comments at the familiar pencil-drawn image.

"Do you like it?", the child lifts her eyes to look at her, a smile widens on her little face, but the two hazel pools betray a deep sadness and loneliness. A lump takes up residence in the middle of her throat.

"What are you doing here all alone?", the blonde asks curiously.

"I'm waiting for my mommy", the little girl replies with a slightly duller smile.

"Is she inside shopping, your mom?", Jen asks pointing to the mall entrance.

"No she’s... I don't know where she is… she'll be back eventually", the child replies with a shrug.

"Come with me, hon", and without registering her movement, Jen extends a hand toward the little one.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six: Out & In

"Okay, guys, remember what the doctor said? Mom took a pretty good hit, plus there are machines to help her heal, so it's not exactly going to be a pretty sight", Judy warns them in a calm tone.

"We don't have to worry or freak out though, especially in front of her, okay? Let's try to give her positive vibes all the time", she watches little Henry nod with a slightly concerned look and Charlie roll his eyes, before winking at her.

"Do you think you're ready? If you're not sure, we can wait a little longer", she suggests.

"Could you go first, so you can tell us what to expect?", Charlie proposes for the benefit of his younger brother.

"That sounds like a really good idea, Charlie. Is that okay with you, Boop?", the little guy nods in relief.

As Judy enters the room, she hears Charlie's voice encouraging her brother.

————— 

The figure lying on the bed is unrecognizable. Judy's breath catches in her throat and she is forced to cover her mouth with her hand for fear of crying or screaming, not sure which. She silently approaches as her vision blurs from the sudden tears.

The only two sounds that fill the room and seem deafening are the regular beeps of the vital monitoring device and the hiss of the breathing machine. The endotracheal tube coming out of her mouth is connected to the latter. A series of pouches hang from several hooks and as many tubes carry substances to various points on both arms. The blond hair is bandaged around the temples, on the left one stands out a pad wider than the bandage, where the surgeons treated the brain bleeding. Her left cheekbone is swollen and the bruise deep and bright red. A series of pillows behind the head and under her armpits. A pulse oximeter clutched on the left index finger.

Judy steps to the foot of the bed, pushing back the tears and focusing on the rhythm of her own breathing, regaining full control of herself. She walks over to the bed, reaches out a hand and touches Jen's. She gently caresses her forehead, places a light kiss on it.

"Jen…", she whispers brushing the skin of her forehead with his fingertips. "Come on baby, I'm here with you. We're here with you and we're going to help you to be well, okay sweetie?", another gentle kiss.

Her bare feet sink to the cold sand, the lights of the city reflecting off the surface of the calm sea. She approaches the woman sitting on the beach. She lets herself fall heavily to her side and she smoothes the blanket over their legs. The woman hands her a joint. Jen takes it and takes a drag. "Who are you?", she asks her, as if she’s asking her where the sugar is. "I'm your person, remember?", the other replies, smiling fondly at her.

"The kids are right out the door and they can't wait to say hi, Jen. All you have to do is rest and heal. We'll always be here with you, okay?", a third kiss lingers on her forehead for a long moment, "I love you Jen", she tells her under her breath resting her forehead in the spot where she just kissed her. "Yeah, I know, it's disgusting…", she adds trying to joke like they usually would. "I'll be right back babe", she informs her before walking towards the door.

She looks around, taking a moment to embrace the fact that this will be where she will spend most of her time until Jen will be able to come home with her.

The wall at the head of the bed is entirely occupied by machinery and medical instruments, there is a small closet, a couple of chairs leaning against one wall, two more at the opposite wall, a square table under the window, and a second door that probably houses a small bathroom.

She doesn't feel like checking it out right now, she'll have plenty of time to figure it out. Right now she just wants to take the kids, reassure them, encourage them, support them and be with her Jen.

————— 

Judy watches proudly as the two youngsters sit by their mother's bed. Little Henry lightly holds her mother’s hand, little fingers rhythmically caressing it, and the child tells her in a squeaky voice about the new song he is preparing with the Holy Harmonies. Charlie participates in the conversation and even makes a joke about Shandy and how well suited she is just for pedal notes.

It was not easy to explain them the sight they should expect and to reassure them that, despite the appearances, their mother would be fine and her condition is only momentary and induced specifically so that she can recover more quickly.

She gestures silently to Charlie, to inform him that she is leaving the room and assure him that she will be a short distance away anyway, and the boy responds to her with a calming look.

————— 

"Sorry to keep you waiting, you came at a delicate time, the boys hadn't seen their mother yet after the accident and-"

"Don't worry, Miss Hale", Detective Perez cuts in a softer tone than usual. "How is she?", she then asks with a movement of her head toward the door of the room from which the brunette has just exited.

"Oh, well, fortunately she's not life-threatening, I don't know what I would do wi-… but seeing her attached to all those devices, it's scary", Judy openly confesses.

"I can see", the curly-haired woman replies uncomfortably. "Miss Hale, I need to know what you remember about what happened-"

"Detective, I'm sorry. I can't help you", Judy states in a hasty tone. "My attention was totally focused on my friend who had a face full of blood and wasn't responding, okay? I don't know who hit us, I don't know how much time had passed since the moment of impact, I don't know what kind of car it was or which way it went after. All I cared about in that moment was making sure my friend wasn't dead, okay? And I don't give a shit now either, to be honest! All I want right now is for Jen to be okay, okay?", she recounts flustered and with tears in her eyes.

Perez can't help but remain silent and let her vent by blinking, confused by the apparent aggression. She is reminded of another moment when the woman in front of her exploded into a similar outburst.

That evening she had watched her walk away shocked at the sight of Jennifer Harding with Ben Wood in anything but dubious attitudes, and he had taken advantage of her clear moment of weakness to let her know in a veiled way that sooner or later he would set her up for something.

"You know what? Good. Go ahead and watch me, because all you're gonna see is a good fucking person trying to do the right fucking thing all the time! Maybe I shouldn't, maybe that’s where I go wrong, but I can’t help myself because it's in my stupid fucking nature! Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go pick up those paper bags because I don't want a seal to choke!"

And then Harding's words come back to her mind after that absurd morning trekking, a chill runs down her spine at the thought of the chick with the dog who finally found Wood' body. Luckily, she took the call at the station and assigned the dumbest officer to collect her testimony, keeping herself away from her, for fear she would recognize her.

"Okay, I know how it sounds, all right? I wanted to hate Judy. I really did. But it's impossible. It's like hating a baby or something. You just can't. It just… She sees the good in people. Even when it isn’t there"

And even though nothing, nothing can silence the feeling that these two are hiding something, she invites her to sit down, understanding the difficult moment of stress, trying to overcome even the personal resentment towards her because of Michelle.

"Excuse me-" Judy exclaims in a tired voice.

"It's okay, I understand", the policewoman reassured her.

"Really?", the brunette asks in amazement.

"No", the other one replies in a flat voice.

"We'll let you know if we find out anything about the hit and run, all right, Miss Hale?", she watches her nod, whereupon, against her will, she watches herself to place a hand on her shoulder and squeeze it lightly in support, before getting up and heading for the elevators.

-Fucking angel on earth-

————— 

"Henry, what are you doing, honey?", Judy asks looking curiously at little Harding, who is waving his jacket by the open window.

"He's trying to get rid of the smell", Charlie replies amused.

"What smell?", the woman asks with a puzzled look.

"The smell of hospital Judy!", the child specifies in a breathy voice.

"Well, you know what Boop? Now we send Chris out to get us something better to improve the smell, okay?", Judy proposes rummaging through her purse.

"Why me?", the man protests in a joking tone.

"You'll see, you'll like it so much you'll want to get one for yourself too!" the brunette retorts, writing on a piece of paper.

She opens her eyes wide. Shit she didn't even realize she fell asleep! On a chair. Good for her fucking back, yeah! And before she looks up, the smell already tells her where she is. She slides to the edge of the chair, lovingly clasping the hand in front of her and bringing it to her cheek as she looks at the woman lying on the bed.

"Hi Mom", she greets her with a loving smile in a calm voice just before kissing her palm. The woman, about her age, doesn't look much like her anymore. Her face is hollowed out and worn by the disease. The blond hair obliterated by chemo. But she smiles back at her, albeit with a tired expression.

"Are you still mad at me, Jenny?", the woman asks her in a strained voice.

"No mom", Jen still kisses her hand lovingly.

"And with you? Are you still mad?"

"I'm working on it"

————— 

"What is it Judy?", Henry asks with an enthusiastic expression.

"This is a Lampe Berger, guys!", the brunette announces as she pulls the various elements that make up the item and the bottle of scented liquid from the package. "It's for purifying and scenting the air. It's an ancient object, you know? It dates back to before the twentieth century", she says.

"Really?", Christopher asks showing her the one he has chosen for himself.

"How do you use it?", Charlie also seems interested.

The room smells like incense, it's messy, but it smells good. Jen piles everything in the middle of the room. There are floral dresses, various trinkets, a couple of canvases, but they're turned face down and she doesn't feel like checking what they represent. A green blanket. She has a strange feeling. She wants it to be hate. But every time she breathes in and her nostrils fill with that scent, it's love. And loneliness. And melancholy. And an overwhelming sense of abandonment. She recognizes these emotions, but she doesn't really feel them. As if she is detached from them. She still inhales love, she feels that one. She feels it. She looks at her hands, a cigarette in one hand, the lighter in the other. She knows what she’s going to do, she wishes not to, but she knows she has no power over her own actions. Flames burst from the base of the pile, slowly devouring everything. A feeling of urgency overtakes her, she reaches out a hand toward the pyre, grabs the green blanket and brings it to her chest. -Not this. I can't. If I burn this, it's all over - she thinks. And the room smells of incense and love.

————— 

It wasn't all that difficult to adjust to the hospital routine. They provided her with a cot, which she keeps closed during the day and sets up next to Jen's bed at night. The first two nights were tough, with the noise of the machines, but then fatigue won out and now she can get just enough rest. In the morning she prefers to step away and let the doctors and nurses who take care of Jen work without being in their way.

Lorna and Christopher are incredibly helpful in managing the kids, and there isn't an afternoon that Charlie and Henry don't fill the room with hushed chatter as they do their homework or when they tell their mother and Judy something.

They set a rule and everyone strictly adheres to it. No negative emotions in front of mom. No bickering, always calm tones.

"Let's make her feel our presence, but don't overload her up with too much stimulation. Mom needs to focus her energy to heal, and the more we make her quiet, the faster her recovery will be", Judy had explained to them, and the two boys trust what she says.

Most of the time they even manage to eat dinner all together, thanks to Karen, who has shown up more than once and left them something practical to eat.

————— 

"Hey Mom...", Charlie gently takes her hand. "Henry had a big Holy Harmonies rehearsal today, Judy went with him to record the song, so when they come back they can let you hear it. He was so excited, you know?", he goes on, caressing the back of her hand with his thumb.

He peers at her face, absurdly hoping for some sign, though the doctors have ruled out the possibility of any external reaction, at least until they start reducing the medications. The bruise on her left side has gone from the bright red of the first few hours to deep purple, and is now changing to a blue-green hue, just like the one on Judy's face, though on the opposite side.

"Hi, baby", Jen whispers stroking the little head of the newborn she's breastfeeding. "So... there you are... You put me through hell, you know?", she tells him looking at him admiringly. "It's you and me now, Charlie"

"You know Judy is… phenomenal, Mom. She really is. She's always here with you. Day and night. And she worries that we're okay. She’s... a good mother. Without her it would be a real mess, I mean it"

"You're not alone", the brunette smiles at her with her shoulder leaning against the doorframe. "You have me", he tells her as he approaches the bed. "We could be a mothering team", she reassures her petting the newborn.

————— 

It is on day nine that the doctors decide to attempt an initial revival. Judy's consistent and positive efforts gave them hope for her recovery. They were very surprised when the woman clarified that she was neither Mrs. Harding's wife nor a relative. But the documents she provided show her to be the guardian of her children and family administrator, a task she performs with zeal and conscience. Her experience working with dependent persons is certainly another point in her favor, especially since the patient will be able to leave the hospital.

She asked for advice on how to cope with the first awakenings and accepted the professionals' advice to briefly brief the resident during the first awakenings, as her short-term memory could have several gaps and the inability to communicate verbally, as she was still intubated, could make her agitated. The first awakenings will be very short, they informed her, and if she responds well to this first phase, recovery may take only a few days.

————— 

With some reluctance, Judy finally asked Lorna to get her that famous foundation, she doesn't want Jen to freak out and see her with that huge bruise on her. Even though it's now healing, the yellow halos outlining its contours are still evident.

The kids suggested putting the sounds of the ocean in the background while they wait hopefully for mom to start responding to outside stimuli. They take turns holding her hand and talking to her gently for a few minutes, then leaving her quiet for a while.

The breeze blows lightly and tousles her hair, the sun warms her skin pleasantly. She squints her eyes as she smilingly watches her children play on the shoreline. A figure approaches her, she looks up intrigued by the presence.

"Hey", the woman smiles serenely at her, handing her a soda can. Condensation on the surface forms huge droplets that roll down and leave dark marks on the sand.

"Oh, I love you. I'm so fucking thirsty you have no idea!" she comments gratefully. The brunette rests a hand on her shoulder as she sits down next to her.

"Can I say something weird?", Jen asks turning back to look at the boys. She opens the can and swallows half of it in one go.

"Of course!", out of the corner of her eye she notices the woman has turned to look at her.

"I have no idea who the fuck you are, but I know you belong with us. How the fuck is that possible?", she declares somewhere between puzzled and serene. She returns her lips to the drink and finishes it in a couple of big gulps.

"Take your time, Jen. I'm not going anywhere", the woman says in a quiet voice. Then she turns to look at her, "Unless you want to", she clarifies smirking at her.

"No, stay", she retorts with a slight sense of urgency. She lays down resting her head on the brunette's lap, and closes her eyes as she begins to run a hand through her hair.

"Maybe I think I know who you are", she declares after an indefinite amount of time.

"Oh yeah?", the other woman responds in a whisper, running her fingertips over his forehead and temples.

"You're an angel", Jen comments confidently.

"No", the other laughs softly.

"Oh yes", the blonde insists opening her eyes and smiling at her. "You saved my ass", she tells her confidently, though she can't remember the facts. She takes her hand and kisses her palm looking into her eyes.

Judy keeps stroking her forehead with her fingertips as she talks to her in a whisper, taking advantage of the moment of privacy while the boys have gone off to get something to drink.

"Here we go, baby… take your time, okay? I'm not going anywhere, Jen", she may have just imagined it, but she thinks she noticed an imperceptible movement beneath her closed eyelids. She holds her breath, keeping her attention fixed on her eyes as she slides her free hand down to find Jen's. She takes it gently in hers. No further movements.

"Take your time, honey. I'm right here with you"

"Fuck all this light is starting to bother my eyes, isn't it?", she asks the brunette as she watches her hand in hers.

"Do you want to go?", the woman asks her, continuing to draw imaginary lines across her skin. Her complexion is darker than hers, her fingers slimmer, her fingertips reaching for one of the rings and automatically beginning to play with it. The act makes her relax further.

"Not yet, it's so quiet here"

"Guys, come here", Judy whispers as Henry and Charlie enter the room.

"Is she waking up?"; the little one excitedly asks under his breath.

"I think it's still early, Boop. But it's your turn to stay close to Mommy for a while and make her feel your presence", Judy tells him not wanting to get too out of line.

So the two young boys each sit on one side of the bed and both gently slide a hand under Jen's so she can possibly feel them.

"We're here with you mom", Henry whispers in a soft tone. "I'm here, Charlie's here, and Judy's here too, just like home", the child says.

"Come on mom, Judy, come to swim", little Harding takes one of her hands and holds out the other to the woman.

"So that's your name, Judy", Jen convenes as she stands up. She follows the movements of the brunette who responds to her with a smile and stands up in turn. Slowly they make their way to the shoreline, along with their son, all three still holding hands.

She shrugs serenely at the mute response, "You're still my fucking angel on earth to me"

"Mom I repeated the French test this morning at school, and you know, it didn't go so bad. I managed to nibble on a D. I promise I'll keep trying, even though French… hew… gross, let's face it", Charlie jokes.

"Come on moms, get moving! Are you afraid to get your asses wet!", Charlie calls to them, waving the water around with his arms, ready to splash them as soon as he has them in range.

Jen laughs in delight, followed by Judy. Henry joins their hands together and lets them go, running up to his older brother, jumping on his neck and getting thrown into the water. They both watch the show in amusement, advancing toward the water. Their fingers intertwined.

"Shit, it's fucking cold!", Jen exclaims running out of air from the thermal shock.

"Judy, I think Mom just moved a finger!", Charlie exclaims unable to contain his excitement. Little Henry's eyes widen in surprise, holding his breath.

Judy approaches the boy, who has her gaze fixed on her mother's hand. "I'm not sure but I think I felt a fucking movement!", he declares excitedly. "Sorry Judy! Sorry Mom!", he adds blushing. They had determined to be careful with tone and cussing in that room, but he couldn't help himself.

"It's okay Char, I understand the moment, I'm sure mom won't be offended", the brunette reassures him winking.

"Okay, so how about we start doing what the doctors suggested?", she suggests in a trembling voice. The excitement of the moment has caused her adrenaline to rush so much that she feels her legs go limp and her heart throbbing in her throat. The two young boys nod in unison and Charlie steps aside allowing Judy some room, joining his brother on the opposite side of the bed. He places a hand on his mother's forearm to make her feel his presence.

Judy takes Jen's hand in hers and bends toward her ear, her fingers going immediately and automatically to the blonde's forehead.

"Jen, honey, it's Judy, Henry and Charlie are here too", she briefly looks up at them.

"Hi Mom", the little one greets in a soft voice.

"Hey Mom", Charlie echoes him.

"We are in the hospital, days ago you and I had a little accident. I'm fine and so are the boys. You took quite a hit though and need to rest to heal, take your time. We are always here with you. You can open your eyes, or move a hand if you feel like it"

After a long moment, the three of them hold their breath as a slight flicker appears on the woman's eyelids.

"Good girl, we saw you", Judy encourages her, trying to keep her tone of voice steady, despite the tears that quickly filled her eyes.

Charlie encircles his brother's shoulders with one arm and draws him to himself, breathing heavily.

"Yes mom, great!", he adds in a firm voice.

"Come on, Mom", the little one joins in with a smile.

"Now we need to call the doctor, honey, so he can come and take a look at you, okay? We're always here with you, don't worry", she whispers to her as she presses the button to call for assistance.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven: Awakenings

In the short time it took doctors to reach Jen's room, she slipped back into the coma, aside from that brief flicker of a single finger felt by Charlie and the flickering of her eyelids that all three family members witnessed, there were no other manifestations. Reactions to the Glasgow coma scale were null, shortly after that first, very brief awakening. But doctors are optimistic and encourage the three to repeat the procedure they adopted, whenever the patient reacts to any stimulus or shows signs of awakening.

The boys insisted that they would not leave the hospital for the time being, they wanted to be there for the upcoming awakenings. Judy did not protest, in fact, she encouraged them to stay. It's nighttime, she gave up her own bunk to them. Henry fell asleep exhausted in his brother's arms, who’s trying to stay as still as possible so as not to disturb his rest.

He silently watches Judy, who sits beside his mother's bed, her hand never leaving contact with Jen's. Every so often her thumb gently strokes her back, every so often the brunette lifts her other arm, bringing the matching hand to the blonde's hair and forehead.

"Do you like her? Parker"

"I don't know. Whatever. How does anybody know if they like anybody?"

"I don't know. Feel like you… just like to be around them. You want to be with them all the time, And you can be your… best self and your… when you feel vulnerable…"

He shuts his eyes tightly, trying to push back the tears that threaten to escape his control -fucking pussy-, now he knows what it means when you like someone. When you love someone. All he has to do is look at Judy right now. All he has to do is recall his mother and Judy together. He swallows loudly, -fuck-. And then he can't hold back a sob.

Judy reaches for him and holds out her hand, aware of his status, signaling for him to follow her outside. He doesn't take it, but slowly gets up and follows her, furiously trying to wipe away the tears that continue to roll down his cheeks despite his best efforts.

"It's okay, Charlie, let it all out. It's okay to cry sometimes, honey", the woman comforts him as they step out into the deserted hallway.

"No, Judy, it's not okay, okay?", the boy blurts out in a quiet voice pressing his palms over his eyes. Judy puts an arm around his shoulders and guides him to the chairs behind them.

"Do you want to talk about it?" she offers softly.

"When Mom had her surgery, Dad barely showed up. Only because we insisted on coming to see her", he says, trying to keep his voice steady. Judy remains silent, not really knowing what to say. She pats his shoulders, in an attempt to be a little consoling somehow.

"He left her alone, Judy!", he says in a hurt and disgusted voice. "They didn't imagine I knew, but I could see him, when he went off to the outhouse late at night", he goes on sobbing.

"Sometimes things between two people who love each other aren't so simple, Char", Judy states in a gentle voice. "You can't judge from the outside", she adds diplomatically.

"I don't want to judge. But I do have a pair of eyes. I've never seen Dad and Mom as close as you two are, even when I was a kid", he says looking her in the eye. "I thought I had an idea of what love was, but I really didn't know shit about it until you came along"

"Charlie-…", Judy tries to stop him, but he quickly interrupts her.

"It's okay, Judy", he hastens to point out. "I've never fucking seen Mom so happy around anyone other than me and Henry. But that makes me re-evaluate Dad and Mom, and it fucking hurts", the boy continues to sob.

She remains silent, letting him vent. The point now is not to specify Jen's relationship with her. Not least because, given the events just before the crash, she wouldn't even know what to specify.

"I spent months blaming Mom for the one fucking time she lost her temper and kicked him out of the house! But he deserved it! And I never did anything to support her or comfort her, quite the opposite", the young man pushes on in his outburst.

"Honey you're still a kid, you can't blame yourself or feel responsible for-", but Charlie interrupts her again.

"He's always been caught up in his dream of being a fucking musician and left her alone to knock herself out for us", he touches his pinky, counting out a "one".

"He dumped her when she decided to the have surgery so she wouldn't risk leaving us orphans, and he hasn't even looked at her since", the ring finger, marking a "two", "Do you know that when she came back from the hospital she couldn't even lift her arms and had to hire a personal assistant so she could at least have herself a fucking wash?"

Gritting his teeth in anger and touching his middle finger to indicate a "three", he sighs heavily. "He's been cheating on her for over a year and a half, with a chick who's no more than five or six years older than me!", now his face is contorted with pain and resentment and Judy can't hold back any longer and holds him tightly trying to calm him down.

"That's enough, honey… come on, it's okay", she reassures him.

"He told her Mom was dead and he was raising us alone", he admits sobbing. "I fucking knew, and I didn't do a fucking thing. I didn't even tell her anything after the accident. And I heard her crying I don't know how many times-"

"Charlie, that's enough!", Judy grabs him by the shoulders pulling away to look him firmly in the eye. He freezes, displaced by her stance.

"Now listen to me, okay? You cannot blame yourself for something you are not responsible for, first, and second, keeping someone you love in the dark about something is sometimes necessary to protect them. And I'm sure, even if subconsciously, you didn't say anything about Bambi for that very reason", Judy ended by watching him widen his eyes.

"Yes honey, at some point Mom and I found out. It's in the past now", she reassures him by stroking his cheek.

"Come on, hon, let's wipe away those tears, pull ourselves together and go back inside before your brother wakes up all alone", she suggests wiping his face.

"Have you ever kept anything from Mom, or she from you?", the young man asks.

"Oh, you have no idea, honey!", she admits trying to lighten the mood. "But now we've reached a meeting point"

"Well I guess that happened every time you two broke up", Charlie reasons trying to snicker.

"Okay, Charlie, one last thing", Judy adds caught in sudden embarrassment.

"Mom and I... we are not-", Charlie blurts out in laughter.

"Oh, come on Judy! It's been obvious for a long while, and I found Mom's letter, so…", he says scratching his head in embarrassment.

-Shit!-

"Sorry, I was gonna sneak a joint for my birthday, but I ended up not taking it because you guys crashed and fucked it up for me in the process"

"Oh, wait", Judy's blood froze at the thought of the letter, but after a moment's lapse she senses that Charlie is too serene to have read it. "We didn't crash, we got crashed into!", she pauses and stares at the boy, trying to figure out whether or not he peeked at what Jen wrote to her. -It's her fucking stupidity, she should have hidden it better, that letter, or better burned it, but how could she? -I love you more than wine. Thank you for loving me and our boys-, she clears her throat and can't help but ask. "You didn't read it, the letter, did you?"

"Are you nut? It's not like I'm so lame that I want to drool over a disgusting love letter!", the young man replies offended. The brunette breathes a sigh of relief, trying to show indifference.

"Anyway... well... really, we're not... we're not together, Charlie. Really", she points out.

"Well, I'll pretend to believe you, okay?", he retorts, raising an eyebrow. "You should though, Judy. I mean it. It's nice to see you two together. Henry has asked me a couple of times why you haven't told us anything yet, you know? He really adores you", he sketches a grim smile, still stung by the outburst just before.

"Okay enough with the fantasies now. I'm sure if things were to change between me and your mom, she'd want to talk to you about it, too, so, take it easy, yeah?", Judy ends by urging him to head for the door to Jen's room.

"When they will change!", the boy points out, confidently.

"Yeah, yeah, now shut your mouth, smart guy", the brunette snickers a little lighter.

————

Over the next two days Jen awakens at fairly regular intervals, never for more than ten, maximum fifteen minutes each time. The boys are tired but endure sleeping in shifts, even Judy has managed to lie down for a few hours, each of them with a commitment to alert the others when she shows the first signs of an impending awakening. The first time she opened her eyes, she struggled to keep her gaze fixed on any of them, but reacted when they called her. The second time the doctors were already present and prompted her by trying painful stimuli. The third and fourth times she became frantic, finding a tube in her throat, and only Judy's gentle, reassuring words were able to calm her. She cried, huge tears crashing soundly on the pillow beneath her head.

But the fifth time was award-winning, when she rolled her eyes at yet another zealous summary by Judy about fucking-why and fucking-how she was there, expressing to everyone, including the doctors, albeit without uttering a word, that she's sick of being briefed on what happened because she's not a fucking old fart.

At that event Charlie burst out laughing heartily exclaiming "What the fuck Ma, you smashed my car!", Henry ventured a caring hug around her hips and Judy burst into tears in relief.

At that point, the doctors tried to reduce the barbiturates a little more drastically and after not even twenty-four hours they successfully attempted extubation.

The boys resumed school after a few days off and returned to stay with Lorna.

————

On the morning just past, Jen resumed a light liquid diet. Her voice is still hoarse due to the irritation caused by the endotracheal tube. Pushed by Judy several times a day, at the suggestion of the physical therapist who takes care of her for half an hour every morning, the blonde is able to move her arms each time with less effort than the previous one. Although she struggles more with her right arm, being on the side of her broken ribs. Doctors have told her that it will take some time before the pain goes away completely, partly because of her age, dangerously close to menopause. If she could, she would have literally blasted them with a glare. But superheroes don't exist and for sure she's not one of them, and she fell back, looking dejected just long enough for Judy to fondly comfort her.

She has no clue what time it is when she wakes up with a feeling of oppression in her chest. Before she opens her eyes, she is caught in fear. She tries a couple of deep breaths, and apart from the burning in her throat, which is diminishing anyway, there don't seem to be any complications. She dares to lift an eyelid.

A pair of sweet hazel eyes are staring at her no more than six inches away. She stretches the area above her eyebrows in an attempt not to squint. Judy smiles at her, her head resting on her chest. The heavy feeling isn't actually that powerful, and she realizes that the woman is trying to hold most of her weight in order not to burden her.

"Hi", she whispers with an adoring look.

"Shit, Jude. I must have a week-old dead raccoon in my mouth, get out of my face!", she tries to joke by slurring her words and trying to deflect the flow of air from her lips away from the brunette.

"That' s true", the other snickers quietly.

"Hey, fuck you!", she jokingly replies.

"But I don't give a shit", Judy points out keeping smiling.

"Then come closer, I want to kiss you", Jen demands softly.

"Not on your lips, weirdo! I don't want to kill you!", she protests trying to stretch her neck towards the woman's forehead.

Judy caresses her cheek as she reaches out offering her forehead. A soft kiss lingers on her skin. She closes her eyes enjoying the pleasant feeling of butterflies in her stomach.

"You look exhausted, babe", Jen notes in a caring whisper. With some effort, she manages to lift her arm and brush her face with her fingers for a few seconds, after which she abandons it on the woman's, anchoring her hand to her shoulder.

————

"Not now, buddy", Charlie whispers to his little brother, stopping his way to the door.

"Why?", Henry asks puzzled.

The eldest puts a finger in front of his lips to suggest he be quiet, puts a hand on his shoulder and slowly guides him to the ajar door. With his other hand he pushes it just far enough so that they can see inside and waves for them to peek in.

The two siblings watch the tender scene of Mom and Judy, smiling. Neither of them dares to breathe. Neither of them dares move away.

————

"Judy", Jen whispers, "Don't turn around", she playfully orders her. "We have a pair of spectators", she informs her.

"Yeah?", the woman smiles in complicity.

"They're too funny, what do you say, should we keep them on hold for a while?", she winks at her.

"Harding, you sure are a so mean!", Judy comments snickering along with the other.

"Okay, kids, come on in, you don't go unnoticed at all", the mom raises her voice a bit to be heard.

The two brothers look at each other awkwardly, then the little one rushes smiling towards the bed, slowing down only at the last second, for fear of hurting his mother. The older one rubs his head nervously and crosses the threshold with an awkward smile.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight: Same Page

"Char…", Jen mumbles in a slurred voice as she watches her son promptly approach the bed.

"Hey, Mom, how are you feeling?", the boy hands her a glass of water and the woman sucks a couple of sips from the straw, signaling him to raise the back of the bed so she can stand a little more upright.

"Where are your brother and Judy?", the blonde asks, tipping the glass in her hands. A grimace of pain marks her face. Now that the effect of the powerful sedatives is wearing off, her aching ribs and back are starting to fucking hurt, -Mrs Harding, you'll have to be patient with your body, you’re close to menopause and-Shit! Fuck you, Doc!-

"Judy went home to get some shit, Henry wanted to go with her", the young man puts the glass down and walks over to sit next to his mom.

"Ah yes, I remember now", she replies thinking back to how dismayed Judy was that she kept that letter and that Charlie found it. But Jen, relieved that her son didn't open it, reassured her and together they decided it was best to keep it in the safe. This is the most important reason why the brunette ran home.

"I'll finally be able to take off this fucking scrubs open on my ass and get into real pajamas!", the blonde runs a hand over her hair, finally clean after her first real bath in days. She was relieved when they removed the bandage on her head, seeing that the portion of hair they shaved off for the surgery is minimal and, more importantly, stays covered by the rest of her hair.

"Soooo... Judy told me about your little outburst a few days ago", the woman ventures, watching her son rolling his eyes uncomfortable.

"Of course, I should have known, no secrets between you two, huh?", the boy shakes his head disappointedly, returning his focus to his cell phone.

"She didn't go into details. However, yes, she told me. We've gone through too many messes hiding things from each other in the past. We don't want it to work like that anymore", Charlie silently considers her words, and though he's not ready to admit it, he knows full well that they make sense.

"It's just...", the boy surrenders to the evidence that his mother won't let it go, and maybe a part of him even wants to get rid of certain thoughts and guilts he feels. Mom is right, hiding things in the family has nothing positive. If only he would have spoken up when he found out about Dad, maybe he would still be alive right now. Maybe they wouldn't be a family anymore, maybe he and Mom would have broken up. But he would still be alive.

"I'm sorry, Mom", he speaks with tears in his eyes.

The woman reaches out an arm to lovely caress his face and wipe away a single tear slipped out of his control.

"What for, baby?", Jen asks in a soft voice.

"I knew about Bambi, and I never said a word", he admits, unable to better articulate his thoughts and express himself accordingly.

Jen stays silent for a long moment, trying to win a surge of resentment towards him that she never expected to feel.

"Dad was the person who took care of you, who took you to school, who talked to the teachers, who played with you, who looked after the house and fed us all. He was a great father. It's okay that you would want to protec-"

"Yeah, and what about you?", her son interrupts her.

"Charlie, you don't have to feel guilty about the way things went down between Dad and me", Jen reassures him. "It wasn't your responsibility, it was just ours. Okay, honey?"

"Okay, but...", the young man sniffs up a couple of times. "I'm not going to shut up this time. I know it's none of my business, but Judy is different. And I need to tell you that", he hurries on.

"No, Charlie, stop it. I don't want to hear any such comparisons!", the mother stops him firmly, aware that, unfair as it is, she too often lingers on certain thoughts.

"Okay, then! No paragons, I understand, sorry, you're right, but listen to me, okay?", the boy insists undaunted, not at all intimidated by his mother's firm tone.

Jen rolls her eyes and spreads her arms in mid-air, defeated by his insistence.

"Don't screw this up!", he admonishes her dryly.

"What?", the woman widens her eyes, caught totally off guard by those words.

"Mom, come on, Judy denied and I get it, but you might as well tell me, that's fine with us", the boy states calmly.

"Denied what? What am I supposed to tell you?", she asks already suspecting what her son's response will be and a little disappointed by Judy.

"Really, Ma’? Everyone's noticed for a while now, and if no one has the guts to open their mouths it's only because they all know well your shitty temper", Charlie says, now almost amused by the ridiculous turn the conversation is taking.

"Hey!", the woman exclaims offended, glaring at him. Then suddenly she droops, defeated.

"Oh my God, Charlie! I can't fucking believe I'm having this conversation with my son!", she exclaims in disbelief, bringing her hands to her hair in a gesture of amused frustration.

"Well, you want to know something? You all noticed it but us!", she confesses to him feeling stupid.

"I can't believe it!", he snickers back.

"Well it's been a rough… time… we had other things to deal with, okay?", the woman justifies herself with slight embarrassment, more at the thought of how fucking blind they've both been than anything else. She watches her son shake his head, still with a smile on his face.

"Nonsense, Mom! Fuck, let me tell you! You've been co-parenting us for months, you've spent more time with her since she became part of our family than you could have spent with the whole fucking neighborhood for as long as I can remember. You've entrusted her with our custody, our home, everything. You guys are always so fucking clingy! Fucking gross! And how long has it been since she spent the night in the guest house?"

Jen blushes suddenly, aware of the implications of that last question, but before she can intervene, her son bursts into thunderous laughter.

"You barely got out?! And what were you doing, sitting in a car for FIVE hours?", Charlie hadn't been able to help but cross his gaze with Judy, silently asking -Do I really have to explain it?-

"Now, what the fuck are you laughing at?", she asked, confused.

"Sorry, Ma’, I was just thinking back to when… never mind. Well, I hope this bad experience will make you open your fucking eyes once and for all, seriously, you’re both so fucking ridiculous", the boy says coming back serious.

"Yeah, well... I guess you're right", Jen states uncomfortably, focusing her attention on the fabric of the sheet covering her legs.

"Fuck yeah! Maybe the bump on your head helped!", the young man jokes.

"Well we were already starting to get there before, if you really want to know", his mother grants him lifting an eyebrow nonchalantly. It's strange to talk to him about this, but perhaps also liberating. In a way, she owes him.

"Really? Tell me!", he asks, interested.

"Now don't push too much!", his mother admonishes.

"You're right, I'd better not!", the son exclaims faking a disgusted expression. "I’m gonna go catch something to drink", he states finally leaving her at her own thoughts.

Maybe Charlie’s right, maybe it’s just so fucking dumb for them, that they didn’t notice it before, she thinks relaxing her head on the cushions under her neck and staring at the blank wall just in front of her.

She closes her eyes, allowing herself to get lost remembering the past months with Judy. She tries to evocate the very moment where allocate a shift in their dynamics, but it’s fucking impossible! There isn’t a very moment, but a fucking infinitude of instants, also hurting ones, where her relationship with the brunette had been fucking peerless, unique and constantly evolving.

What happened in front of an unawareness Lorna, that was so fucking… she really doesn’t know how to classify it! A hazard, fuck yeah! Maybe partly even a game. But what a fucking complicity! That was the thing that made of it something fucking special and exclusive.

And what about that kiss in the elevator shortly after? She cannot help but thinking at the feeling of Judy’s lips on her own, at her glance so fucking full of love, once she pulled her closer. At the sweetness and delicacy fo that first, (and sole, speaking of truth), true kiss.

And she thinks at the spontaneity of that peck they quickly shared on their porch. As if all these fucking messy months before couldn’t help but bring them at that… inevitable shift.

And she thinks about the moment she woke up finding a pair of loving eyes staring at her, and she realizes that it was as she was watching into a mirror. Because she fucking knows she must have the same gross face when she looks at Judy. Now more than ever!

Fuck, all these spiraling thoughts make her feel dizzy! So we’re fucking really in love! Maybe it’s quite presumptuous thinking it for both of them, she thinks sensibly. But she’s so fucking sure she just can’t help. And then she freezes for a second expecting some kind of negative reaction from her rationality. Nothing.

"Mommy!", as soon as the door swung open, little Henry ran towards the bed, greeting her with a wide smile. Getting out of that hospital for a bit definitely did him some good.

"I'm glad you're awake, Shandy and her mom say hi, and Karen told me to tell you she has a new wine for you to try and she can't wait for you to come home", Jen rolls her eyes at the thought of the neighbors she never consider and only thanks to Judy she had learned to accept as a part, albeit a marginal part, of their everyday lives.

Judy snickers at her expression as she walks over abandoning two bags on the chair. As always she leans down to her forehead placing a gentle kiss on it and smiling at her soon after, -disgusting-, Jen thinks forgetting to breathe for a moment.

"Are you okay?", the brunette asks her smoothing a strand of her hair. Jen answers with a smile and a simple nod.

"Just a little sore", she states hoping for some extra pampering, -Ew, Harding! Yep! You surely are fucking in love!-

"Come on, Jen, just a couple more days and you'll be complaining at home", Judy comments. She is so excited to get Jen home that she can't wait. The thought that they can get back to their daily routines, even if that means she’ll have to resume her work soon, perhaps part-time so she can keep assisting her, fills her with energy, even though the last two weeks have been exhausting, both physically and emotionally.

————

After enjoying her children's company for a while, Jen invites them to leave the room and wait out in the hallway so she can finally slip into her pajamas and take her first steps out of that fucking room.

As soon as she is alone with Judy, a little dilemma pops into her head. Up until that point, the nurses have been taking care of her personal hygiene. And although she can now move her upper limbs fairly easily, she still needs assistance with her stability to stand upright, partly due to weakness in her legs, partly due to pain in her ribs.

There is no question that right now, as for the next few days, when she will come home, she will need help. To wash, to dress, to get up and down the stairs, certainly. For a moment it crosses her mind to call the woman who assisted her after the mastectomy, but she immediately rules out the possibility. She would be pissed as hell if their parts were reversed and it was Judy who needed her help.

She uncovers her legs and sits sideways on the mattress, covering her bottom with the pile of sheets. It's not that she doesn't want her help, quite the opposite. But after what's recently happened between them, you know, she's feeling a tad fucking uncomfortable. I mean, it's not exactly the best kind of romance, right? -Harding, don't put the cart before the horse, you ass!-, to live this new phase in their relationship depending on Judy. She pulls her scrubs down to her knees.

"Jude…", she clears her throat, instinctively bringing her arms around her breasts, waiting for the brunette to turn and look at her.

"Here I am, is everything alright?", the woman asks noticing her worried expression. She walks over laying the pajamas on the bed. She smiles, smoothing a strand of her hair, with her fingertips she brushes the contour of her face looking for her eyes.

"I know… it's a little awkward, isn't it?", the brunette admits as she watches her sighing in relief and looking at her with a vaguely frustrated expression.

"Yyyeeah, sorry!", Jen hisses through gritted teeth.

"Sorry about what? I mean, if I were in your shoes, I'd probably feel the same way... Well... it's awkward this way too. I mean... uhm, like, after…", the woman fumbles scratching an eyebrow.

"So I guess we're on the same page", Jen interrupts her giggling tenderly. The idea that Judy is also experiencing the same emotions soothes her.

"Yeah, we seem to be on the same page on a lot of things lately", the other replies, winking and letting her laughter infect herself.

"Really?", the blonde whispers taking her hand and pulling her to herself, encouraged by her answer. She lifts her face in order to be able to look into her eyes. The feel of her knees touching Judy's hips causes a wave of heat that quickly spreads to her lower abdomen and grows upstairs bothering the butterflies parked in her stomach, making them flutter here and there and fucking everywhere.

The urge to kiss each other is so fucking intense that’s impossible to stop for both of them. They smiles into their lips when they brush together in a soft and chaste kiss.

It's Judy who pulls away shortly after, reading a slight motion of frustration in Jen's look, she lets her forehead rest on the blonde's.

"You know what we do? I'm only going to help you when it's really necessary, and you, good girl, are going to let me help you, no fuss. I won't touch or look unless I have to or you want me to. How's that?"

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine: Jude’s Blood

On day seventeen, Jen gets the green light from the doctors to go home, with the recommendation to move around as much as possible, but avoiding loads, and especially being careful with her still-healing ribs.

"Ah, don't worry, Doctor, it's hard to forget, when every time you try to take a slightly deeper breath you're in pain like Julius Caesar on the Ides of March!", Jen jokes from her chair across the physician's desk.

The doctor is intent on signing her discharge papers, nodding absently at the joke. He closes the chart and hands it to Jen along with an orange colored pill bottle.

"Thanks, but I'd rather not take stuff that's too strong, I think I'll rely on some ibuprofen if the pain really gets unbearable", Jen says declining the medication.

"They're not painkillers, Mrs. Harding, they're calcium and vitamin D supplements", the man specifies filling out another document, "A couple of pills in the morning along with breakfast will be enough"

Judy casts a concerned look at Jen and gently places a hand on her knee, aware that the woman is fuming with anger. The blonde turns toward her feigning nonchalance, but her livid face expresses a murderous desire. Judy grabs the bottle hastily thanking the doctor.

"Here's the insurance check", the man in white coat smiles kindly, unaware that his life is still in serious danger.

The brunette drags Jen out of the office, struggling more and more to maintain a serious demeanor, she can almost see smoke coming out of Jen's nose and ears.

"Let's go guys", Jen waves her sons towards the exit as she places an arm around Judy's shoulders for help. "Give me that fucking bottle", she orders sourly.

"Jen", Judy admonishes her. "Come on Jude", the blonde insists. "No, I'm not giving it to you, okay? I know it would end up in that bucket over there", she explains as they walk, "And I don't feel like having to rummage through it to get it back", she justifies. Jen rolls her eyes, defeated.

"In ten days I'm going to show that quack my fucking menopause! Let's see the look on his face when I wiggle a fucking used tampon in front of his snout!", Judy bursts out laughing imagining the scene, knowing full well that Jen would be fully capable of enacting it. But then she hears her snicker softly with a grimace of pain.

"You're ridiculous Jen", she tells her softly looking into her eyes, "But I fuckin' luv ya", she adds smiling.

The blonde responds with a relaxed smile, she tightens her grip on her shoulders and leans down to rest her forehead on hers. "I fuckin’ luv ya too", she whispers leaving her a light kiss on the tip of her nose.

————

"Judy, why didn't you just drive through the center! It's 11:30 in the morning, not rush hour! This way it will take us twice as long to get home!", Charlie complains from the back seat.

Jen is about to give her son a thumbs up, lowering the back of her seat even further, but just as she's about to open her mouth, the brunette speaks.

"The downtown driveway is full of bumps and dips because of the pine tree roots, Charlie. I don't think your mom's back and ribs would be all that pleased", Jen turns to look at her, touched. This woman keeps fucking surprising her all the time. It would never have occurred to her such a caring thought!

She reaches out and places a hand on her knee, waiting for her to turn around and with an adoring look mimes a smiling "Thank you" to her. Judy responds with a radiant smile and squeezes her hand, intertwining their fingers together.

Little Henry sinks an elbow into his brother's ribs and looks up at him with happy eyes and a wide smile. The eldest rolls his eyes, feigning annoyance, and snorts a laugh.

-Mission accomplished! You're a genius, Char!-, he thinks, imagining giving himself a big pat on the shoulders, proud of himself. He had almost felt it coming, the acid criticism from his dumb mom. Better to anticipate her, he had imagined the reason for that alternative route.

————

The stairs are such a chore, that for the first three days, Jen and Judy decide by mutual agreement, -well almost, let's say Jen gives in to Judy's insistence-, that it's best for the blonde to settle in the guest house and for fear of bumping into her during the night and not leaving the kids alone, Judy will sleep in the main room.

They find themselves chatting on the phone like they used to, late into the night, waiting for sleep to win out over one of them, which is usually Jen.

After the first night, in which the blonde struggled with the pillows to be able to find a position comfortable enough to rest, the woman makes a decision.

"Hey Jude, come here a minute", she calls her one morning from the kitchen counter, after the kids have left for school and the brunette is intent on pouring her second cup of coffee. She approaches Jen, who moves her laptop to allow her to see the site she's browsing.

"Oh, are you going to change the bed?", she asks, offering her the steaming cup of coffee from which she has just sipped its contents.

"Why not? The mattress is already a few years old and is starting to give to my back problems, and with these fucking ribs, resting long stretches is really hell. I was thinking maybe with one of these nets that lifts up and a super tech mattress… what do you say?", she takes a sip of coffee as she watches Judy nod and her glasses fog up. Judy takes them off, wipes the lenses with an edge of her dress, places them back on her nose and leaves a quick kiss on the tip.

"Yeah, why not? Let me contribute though", the other exclaims raising a finger to emphasize the concept.

"Ah no way!", Jen protests shaking her head.

"Oh… okay… got it. Well, I'll just go back to sleeping in the guest house then", Judy teases her pretending to be upset.

"What?", the blonde exclaims holding her by the arm as she tries to pull away. "Hey come here, where are you going?", she chuckles drawing her to herself. She lifts both her arms until having them laced behind her neck and places her own hands on Judy’s hips. Judy raises an eyebrow, expectantly.

"All right, smartass!", she surrenders, rolling her eyes. "Okay, yeah, you're right, our bed, our shopping", she declares looking at her adoringly. Judy thanks her by placing a gentle, soft kiss on her lips.

"And it's not just for my back, you know that, right?", whispers Jen between her lips. Getting rid of the bed she's shared with her husband for years and having a new one all for themselves is kind of like adding value and importance to what they're becoming together.

"Of course I do, baby", Judy answers her still lingering between kisses. "Are you ready to wash up?", she asks her then, returning to the morning's schedule.

"Yes. Let me complete my order and I'll join you!"

————

The idea of putting a stool inside the shower allowed Jen to wash up without the brunette's help. Jen is grateful to her for respecting her time.

Judy knows how hard it is for her to overcome certain traumas. Years of collecting rejections from a husband who couldn't stand his revulsion at her body would have made anyone feel crappy. The idea that Ted would rather risk seeing her dead but with her boobs than alive by his side makes her blood boil in her veins.

Jen knows she has nothing to fear from Judy. But it's hard to move past the trauma, even if it's Judy. But almost more than that, there's the idea of having her see her naked as a matter of need. She doesn't fucking want the first time she shows herself naked to the woman she's in love with just be because she needs help with her own fucking personal hygiene!

But Judy seems to understand and share this thought, and fortunately Jen is agile enough by now to be able to get dressed, undressed and washed without her help, as long as she has a chair and everything she needs on hand. So Judy makes sure she has the guest house bathroom ready with everything she needs.

The one exception, hair care, Jen loves to have her hair dried and combed by Judy, and Judy loves to get involved in this activity. With Jen sitting astride a chair, elbows resting on the back in the front, and her sitting in the back on the edge of the bed, the first half of their mornings always go by way too fast.

The morning the new bed for the main room arrives, Judy receives a call from a number unknown to her.

"Oh, good morning Detective!", she gives Jen a crooked look, mimicking Perez's name.

"No, we've been home for a few days now and Jen's pretty good, she's recovering quickly", as she speaks into the phone, she maintains eye contact with the blonde and smiles at her for reassurance, Perez's tone seems calm.

"Oh, of course, thanks for the information, see you soon Detective", Judy hands the phone to Jen, signaling her that Perez would like to have a word with her. She fearfully takes the device and holds it up to her ear, greeting the detective in the most relaxed tone she is capable of.

"Oh, okay. No, no. Look Detective, we've been through a rough time, my family and I just want to move on. Who the fuck cares, we're alive, thank goodness. We just want to be together and safe", a long silence hovers in the air before Jen finally thanks and says goodbye to the policewoman and ends the call.

Jen instinctively hugs Judy and lets out a resounding, painful sigh of relief. "Days ago they found Steve. They pinned the murder on the Greeks. The case is closed", she whispers in her ear as the two workers in the room exchange a look of understanding. Judy is glad Jen's is turned the other side and didn't see them, otherwise she would have for sure say something rude. For a second she's reminded of that loser's poor figure at the wedding party they had crashed in the Antelope Valley.

"Oh my God, excuse me?! Do you see that we’re in the middle of something here? Does it look like my friend wants to fucking dance? Read the room, fucko!"

"Oh, God, thank goodness!", Judy exhales relieved clutching Jen a little too forcefully. Jen grimaces in pain but doesn't complain, reaching for one of the woman's arms and loosening her grip gently.

"Sorry, I was thoughtless", the other comments realizing only then the oversight.

"She also told me that there is no clue about the person responsible for our accident", the blonde adds uninterestedly.

"Yes, she told me as I answered, you did well to clarify our position. Screw the asshole, fuck him, right?"

"Judy… watch your language, you sound like me!", Jen jokes making her laugh out loud.

————

"Sangue di Giuda?", Jen casts a doubtful look at Judy.

"Yeah, you know, my friend Sergio, he's Italian, he came to visit me a while ago and brought me this amazing wine! They make it in an area in lower Lombardy, south of the Po River. It's a dessert wine, specifically, and so I thought it would be perfect with your cherry tart, Judy! It means Jude’s Blood, how funny, isn't it?", Karen chirps at the threshold of the entrance door.

"Oh, thanks for the thought Karen! We can't wait to taste it!", Judy raises her voice to overpower the "ew" that escapes the blonde's mouth at the Jude’s Blood translation.

"You know what, Karen? Next time Judy makes her famous cherry pie, we'll call you and we'll enjoy it together, how's that?", Jen cuts in while faking a beaming smile.

"Okay! I'm counting on it! Welcome home, girls! See you soon!", the neighbor greets them contentedly walking away before Jen slams the door in her face as her usual.

"Did you mean it?", Judy asks amazed at Jen's suggestion.

"Of course not!", the blonde jokes winking at her.

"Who the fuck could think of calling their wine Jude’s Blood?", she comments exuberantly.

"Come on, let's go make our awesome bed! I'm not going to sleep without you in the guest house anymore!", she urges her taking her hand and facing the stairs, no longer inaccessible to her legs.

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten: Bonds

"Tell me the truth, is this your first time?", Judy asks from her lounger in the moonlight glow.

"Fuck Judy, I already told you!", Charlie replies impatiently and excitedly.

"Okay okay, just so I know how to adjust!", she explains handing him the joint and the lighter. "You do the honors"

The boy lights it up and takes a couple of puffs holding back the smoke for a few seconds.

"Hey, take it easy, tiger!", the brunette admonishes him, refusing when the young man gives her the joint.

"What, you don't smoke?", he asks in amazement.

"Not tonight, hon", she declares confidently.

"Yeah, you're supervising tonight, huh?", the young man jokes.

"Of course I am!", Judy confirms. She watches the boy take a few more puffs and then stops him, taking the joint out of his hand.

"Hey I haven't finished yet!", he protests.

"Stop for now. Let's wait a little while. If in about ten minutes you still don't feel the effect, I'll have you take a few more puffs. By the way, did you choose some good music for the event?", the woman asks shifting the boy's attention to the activity she had suggested to him days before and which he enthusiastically embraced.

"Well actually just one, a classmate of mine recommended it to me, he said it's perfect to listen to while you're high", the boy moves closer to show her the cell phone display while wearing his huge headphones.

"Wow, how uplifting!", Judy comments amused. Then she looks curiously at the cover and title of the chosen song.

"Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy in Eight Parts, by Manowar, duration 28 minutes and 37 seconds. The cover is a little aggressive, don't you think?", she ponders in curiosity.

"Judy, it's '80s epic metal and the cover is awesome!", the boy points out.

"Is it like that deafening stuff Mom listens to when she meditates?", she jokingly asks mimicking the quotes when she says the word "meditates" causing him to burst out laughing.

"Not really. This genre is less... confusing, though powerful!", Charlie replies. "Do you want to listen to it too?", he asks, ready to unplug his headphones to share the music with the woman.

"No, honey, maybe next time. Just listen to it on your headphones, just get comfortable, close your eyes, and let the music and the words wash over you, I bet it's coming, isn't it?", she tells him winking.

"Yeah", the boy confirms with a chuckle. "How do you know that?"

"Because you're starting to talk in slow motion, smartass! I told you to wait, if you took a few more shots you'd probably overdo it and it wouldn't be as much fun anymore", she explains as she gets up from the lounge chair.

"So, you say I can start?", the young man asks trailing off the words.

"I think so. Come on, buddy, maybe lay down, I'll go inside for a minute and get you a glass of water, I bet you're really thirsty!", Judy comments knowingly.

"Fuck yeah! Bring the whole bottle, will you, Ma’?", the boy freezes, stunned by the appellation he just used. He watches her stop suddenly, equally amazed. "Sorry", he scratches his head, confused.

"It's okay, Charlie", the woman smiles, laying a hand on his shoulder. "Maybe it's the effect of the joint, maybe not, but you have nothing to apologize for. I can only be pleased", she reassures him, holding back the emotion.

Judy enters through the back door and walks over to the couch, where Jen and Henry are snuggled close together watching "Finding Dory" for the umpteenth time, the soft voice of Sigourney Weaver is introducing the Wonders of the Pacific Ocean.

"Mommy, who is Sigourney Weaver?", the little one asks.

"Sigourney Weaver is an actress who played lots of movies, honey", Jen replies in a slightly sleepy voice.

"Well defining her as just a movie actress seems pretty reductive, Jen", Judy chimes in in disagreement.

"Hey, Judy!", the little boy greets her enthusiastically, stretching his arms out in search of contact.

She leans over the back of the couch, looping her arms around his neck and planting a resounding kiss on his cheek.

"Sigourney Weaver is an actress, well she defines herself an actor, she had been in lots of movies and a few miniseries, a voice actor, a documentary performer and..."

"Yeah, yeah, we get it", Jen interrupts her in a bored tone.

"Are you jealous, Mom?", the kid asks amused.

Judy bursts out laughing surprised by little Harding's perspicacity and watches Jen roll her eyes, caught in the act.

"Charlie?", Jen changes the subject nonchalantly.

"He's okay, he's listening to an epic song about Achilles, if I get it right. I'm going back outside. Just take it easy, okay? I got him", and after placing a gentle kiss on her forehead, she walks back towards the backyard grabbing the almost full bottle of water from the kitchen counter.

————

"Mom, I'm really so happy that you and Judy aren't breaking up anymore, it's nice to see that you love each other, you know?", Henry whispers making her tuck him in.

"I'm happy too, Boop. And by the way, we never stopped loving each other, even when we broke up", his mother smiles at him. At the thought of how close her sons, especially Henry is to the brunette and how much like her he is, her heart warms.

"Did you dream about us, when you were in the hospital?", the kid asks curiously. "The doctor told us that sometimes people dream when their loved ones talk to them while they're asleep, and Shandy did a search on the dark web and found that some people have weird dreams when they're in the hospital", he specifies.

"I'm not sure, honey, but I have a feeling I dreamed about you, yes", the blonde replies thoughtfully. She's been so caught up in other things since waking up that she hasn't thought or wanted to think about the coma.

The child's question, however, awakens her curiosity. After digging through her memory for a few moments, she thinks she actually remembers something.

"I think I dreamed we were all together on the beach, at least once", she tells him as she lies down next to him, gritting her teeth from the constant fucking twinges in her ribs.

"Was Dad there too?", the son asks in a wistful voice.

Jen's heart clenches and for a moment, she thinks about telling him a little lie, but she's not sure that's a good idea, and decides against it.

"No, honey, Daddy wasn't there", she tells him softly, holding him close to comfort him.

"What about Charlie? And Judy?", the child insists curiously.

"Both of them", the mom confirms with a reassuring smile.

"We've never all been to the beach together", Henry points out with a hint of disappointment in his voice.

"We'll go, honey, okay? As soon as I'm well enough we'll take a day to be together and get to the beach!", she promises with confidence.

"Can I pack a picnic lunch with Judy?", his mom giggles at her son's enthusiasm.

"I'm sure Judy will be delighted to have your valuable help, Boop! Now try to sleep, okay?", she tells him, ending the conversation. She places a long kiss on his forehead and gets up with a grimace in pain.

"I love you, Mom", Henry tells her already curled up on his side and with his eyes closed.

"I love you, too, love", Jen replies in a soft voice.

"Can you tell Judy that I love her?"

"I heard you, baby, I love you too", the woman gently brushes a hand against Jen's back and enters the bedroom to give little Harding a kiss.

Jen smiles as she stretches her neck toward the hallway and catches a glimpse of her oldest son coming up the stairs.

"Hey, how was it?", she asks him feigning indifference.

"Well it was, weird. It felt like time expanded. I listened to music for half an hour and it felt like it was like two hours long! And then I drank so much water that I'd have to get up and pee at least a dozen times tonight!", he tells her.

"Now do you see why it's not safe to drive or doing activities that require some attention when you're high?", his mother asks him seriously.

"Well, I would say yes. Honestly I wouldn't have been able to, but I knew that already, mom, relax okay?", the boy reassures her.

"Are you okay now?", Jen asks him.

"Yeah, Mom, seriously, I'm going to go to sleep, okay? Night", Charlie reaches over to give her a kiss on the cheek.

"Don't wet the bed, huh?", she teases, a little more serene.

"Mom!", Charlie giggles.

"Night Char", the blonde looks up at him smiling as she waits for him to close the door behind him and then heads off to her own room.

————

"Hey", Jen smiles at Judy as she closes the door behind her.

"Hey", the brunette smiles back from under the blankets. "I placed a pajamas in the bathroom for you, do you need anything else?", she asks her looking up from her phone.

"Thanks babe! I guess not, I'm fucking exhausted!", she replies disappearing into the bathroom.

Judy puts her cell phone away and tries to raise the top of the bed slightly, to make it more comfortable for the blonde. After struggling with the controls on her side and Jen's side, she finally finds a setting that seems acceptable.

She lays quietly, thinking back to moments earlier when Charlie slipped to call her "Ma'" and a big smile lights up her face. She knows it was probably some kind of "smoking accident" but it felt good.

"What's that dreamy look, are you thinking about Sigourney Weaver?", Jen teases her snickering.

"Dumb!", the brunette replies infected with laughter.

The other lies down next to her, in her usual spot, resting her back on the raised mattress. As soon as she thinks about turning to Judy, she realizes that this can't work.

"Judy, do you mind if we switch places? I can't turn around on your side, it's the broken ribs side", she complains.

"Right! I didn't think of that!", the other comments moving immediately.

After repositioning themselves and finding the right angle for the mattress, Judy switches off the light and the two lie face to face as usual at the moonlight glow. Jen immediately reaches for Judy's hand, intertwining their fingers together.

"So, did you guys have a good night bonding?", the blonde questions in a joking tone.

"Charlie called me Ma’", Judy confesses no longer able to keep it to herself, her eyes glazing over.

"No way!", Jen is stunned.

"Definitely it was the weed, but it made me happy", the brunette confides to her.

"Of course it fucking made you happy, babe!", she loosens the intertwining of fingers just long enough to lay a gentle caress on her face. "Well we need to get him to fucking smoke more often!", she then remarks giggling.

"Now that's a motherly attitude!", Judy teases her. "And what about Henry?"

"Oh well, after your good wiggle about Sigourney Weaver he wouldn't stop asking questions about her. Now he wants to see her movies because he said he likes her voice so much!", Jen comments boredly. Judy snickers with satisfaction.

"That means we'll show him something then", she replies serenely.

"Well, we can't show him Alien, or Copycat, just saying uh!", the blonde replies trying to remember some other titles not suitable for children.

"Well there are lots of them. Ghostbusters, Wall-e, Avatar or Galaxy Quest, or..."

"Drop it, Judy!", Jen interrupts her, annoyed.

"You really are jealous!", Judy doesn't hold back a giggle and reaches out placing a hand on her thigh.

"Well, just a little bit", Jen admits surrounding her waist with an arm and moving even closer. "She can kiss my ass, Sigourney Weaver. She is not here with you, I am", she defends herself swaggering. "Can we just fucking stop talking about that one?", she proposes blurting.

"You started it, dummy!", Judy comments incredulously.

Jen smiles softly, ending the fake skirmish.

"Henry asked me if I dreamed while I was in a coma, and you know, I didn't think about it, until he asked, but I guess it wasn't always all off in here", she says pointing to her head with a finger.

"What do you remember?", Judy asks her in a quiet voice.

"I don't quite know for sure, but I have a feeling I dreamed about you guys a lot, I remember the smell of your incenses, I remember your blanket, the feel of the sand under my feet, Henry's hand in mine, Charlie's voice, I remember my mother and I remember the feeling of breastfeeding", tears well up in her eyes at that last thought, and she immediately feels Judy's gentle comforting caress on her skin.

"But it's all so fucking confusing", she concludes with a hint of frustration.

"Baby I wish I could hug you tight right now!", the brunette comments, equally frustrated.

"I know, honey, me too. We have to be patient a little longer, I'm afraid", Jen quickly replies. "Fuck when I suggested starting over I didn't really mean everything all over!", she jokes to ward off the discomfort and pleased to hear Judy laugh at her joke.

She reaches over and kisses her softly and long, then rests her forehead on hers.

"Sleep well Jude"

"Sleep well Jen"

Silence falls in the room and the two of them slowly drift off to sleep, both of them brooding over the idea of adding an "I love you" so ridiculous that in the end neither of them is willing to say it.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven: Locked-In

Jen opens her eyes wide with a gasp as the deafening thunder that must have woken her up still rumbles through the ether slowly fading away. Immediately a torrential rain begins to pelting the window. -fucking great!-

Judy's body beside her clings to her. She's lying on her side, Judy, with her back against her right side. Jen smiles at the ceiling, enjoying her warmth, then turns, sinking her nose into the mass of her hair and encircles her waist with one arm.

The brunette presses herself against her even more, reaches behind her, finds Jen's leg, and bends it forward, making it adhere to her own.

"Hey", she mumbles in a sleepy voice, keeping her hand on the crook of the other's knee.

"I fucking missed you!", Jen whispers, with her face still deep in her hair, she stretches her neck to look at the clock, 5:47 am. Before resting her head on the pillow, she drops a gentle kiss on her neck. She smiles against his skin, feeling the chill that shakes the brunette's petite body.

"Well, at least you slept half the time, Harding!", Judy retorts with a smile between her lips and her eyes still closed.

"Are you trying to make me feel guilty for ending up in a coma?", the blonde asks with a giggle. The flashing light of lightning bursts into the room illuminating their profiles.

"That depends. Are you trying to make it up to me for ending up in a coma?", a thunder crash partially covers Jen's laughter.

"Ow, fuck! Don't make me laugh!", Jen protests bringing a hand up to her sore ribs, a grimace of pain on her face.

————

"Charlie?", Henry cautiously enters his brother's room, as soon as the lightning illuminates its interior, the little one quickly slips under the covers, the eldest mumbles something but leaves him some room to lie down beside him.

The child gasps at the thunder that follows, just a little consoled that he heard his older brother jump in turn, caught off guard by the sudden crash.

"It's just a thunderstorm, buddy", Charlie mumbles in his sleep.

"I know but…", the younger isn't quite sure how to respond. The few times a thunderstorm broke out, there was his daddy tucking under the covers with him.

"There is a bright side, Hen. If this keeps up, we'll skip school today", his brother consoles him by turning to face him. The movement prompts an urgency that hasn't allowed him to get much rest during the night. He curses to himself and pulls off the blankets.

"Where are you going?", the younger one asks in alarm.

"Henry, I have to pee!", he pauses for a moment, thoughtful, if it keeps thundering and raining so hard he can fucking kiss sleep goodbye for the time being. In a moment of youthful selfishness, he feels a rush of selfdisgust. Then he pushes the feeling away and indulges in some maturity.

"Hey, I've got an idea. Why don't you go over to Mom and Judy's while I make breakfast and join you guys? Don't say anything, though. Are we going to surprise them?", the boy smiles at him reassuringly.

The little boy's face lights up, enthusiastic about his brother's proposal, then a doubtful expression appears on his face.

"Hey, wait a minute, you don't know how to make pancakes!", the child reminds him.

"Well, you're right, but I think I can put something decent together, come on dude! I'll see you at Mom and Judy's in a bit and make sure you don't slip anything, okay?", Charlie gets up, walks him down the corridor and disappears into the bathroom in a hurry.

————

At the sound of someone knocking on the door, Judy instinctively moves, trying to get away from Jen.

"Hey, where are you going?", the blonde reassures her. "Come on, it's okay", she insists, placing a kiss on her forehead when the other turns to look at her, doubtful.

"Come in, Boop", the mom guesses which of the two sons is on the opposite side of the closed door and greets him with a reassuring smile as he enters.

"Can I stay here with you for a while?", the child asks in a frightened tone.

"Sure honey, come here", Judy encourages him by spreading her arms wide and welcoming him just as a new bolt of lightning announces the next thunder.

Henry snuggles into the brunette's arms, and the mother reaches out an arm beyond her body to touch her son. She rests her forehead on Judy's shoulders and closes her eyes, letting her voice lull her as she launches enthusiastically into a scientific explanation of the origin of lightnings, thunders, and so on. She even finds herself counting the seconds between each phenomenon with them.

All this feels like home, and love. And it’s fucking awesome, and gross.

So. Fucking. Gross.

When Charlie enters without knocking, cautiously carrying a tinkling tray of glasses, his mother does not protest and, like Judy, opens her eyes wide in surprise and little Henry jumps up excited and curious to see what his brother has come up with.

"Wow Char, what happened to you? Did you pissed out of you even your nasty brain tonight?!", his mom jokes to mask her pride.

"Fuck Ma, I just wanted to thank Judy for last night! If I'd known you wouldn't miss a chance to shitting me like this, I'd have made one less sandwich!", the boy reaches over, afraid that he's going to spill everything. He finally manages to set the tray down in the middle of the bed after the three occupants have made room for it. He scratches his head feeling a mixture of pride and embarrassment.

"Charlie! Thank you! That's the sweetest thought!", Judy thanks him with bright eyes.

"Yeah, yeah, okay. Just don't get used to it!", he cuts in blushing. "And anyway it's just some orange juice and some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches", he states as he sits down at one corner of the bed.

"Well that's more than I could have made at this hour, Char, thank you very much", his mother smiles proudly at him.

The rain is still pouring down with power, urged on by the wind, the lightning continues to periodically invade the room. And the thunders, more and more distant, do not disturb at all the chattering and laughters of the family gathered in the four corners of the bed enjoying their breakfast altogether.

"Okay folks, plans for the day? The bulletin says everything is shut down downtown and schools are closed. Apparently another storm is expected in a few hours, so… what's next?", Jen looks at them one by one, waiting for suggestions. She's never been happier about being stuck at home because of bad weather.

"Harry Potter marathon?", little Henry proposes.

"No, please!", Charlie huffs rolling his eyes.

"Okay, one title each, how about that?", Judy proposes, diplomatic as usual.

"Great idea!", Jen approves, smiling lovingly at her.

"I choose Resident Evil!", Charlie exclaims.

"Char... no...", his mother looks at him sternly.

"Um... Pitch Black?", the boy insists chuckling. "Okay, okay, I'll have to think about it..."

"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets!", Henry chirps enthusiastically.

"Night at the museum", Judy suggests.

Jen rolls her eyes, already aware that the title she's about to propose will elicit some kind of amused reaction from the brunette.

"Alright, how about... Galaxy Quest?"

"Harding!", Judy exclaims in wonder with a raised eyebrow.

"What's that?", her youngest asks.

"A movie with Sigourney Weaver, happy?", the mother declares nonchalantly, winking at the child and then at Judy as well.

"Okay okay I got it", Charlie announces thrilled.

"Avatar!", as he speaks her mom rolls her eyes annoyed.

"Really Char?"

"What? C’mon Mom it’s cool! Don’t be lame just it’s another one with that cool chick!"

————

In spite of the weather outside, the atmosphere in the house is relaxed and full of warmth. The first part of the morning flows by quickly as everyone focuses on their own activities. Jen and Judy had to postpone, for the second time in a row, their first appointment with their respective therapists, chosen after meticulous cross-referencing between Pastor Waine's list and reviews on Yelp.

Then they sis altogether on the couch watching Harry Potter for the umpteenth time. Well, actually only Henry watches it, and Judy occasionally makes an effort to participate because she feels bad thinking of leaving him alone. Charlie keeps throughout the movie texting presumably with Natalie. And Jen... well fuck, Jen is totally absorbed in the feeling of having Judy clinging to her, one arm entwined with hers and her hands laced under a warm blanket.

And fuck those hands, those hands! She forced herself to hold on firmly to Judy's hand the whole time, afraid to start playing with it like she did that time in Lorna's presence. -Fuck it's only 11 in the morning! Get your shit together, Jen!-

Just as the Wesley Brothers' flying car saves Ron and Harry from the horde of spiders unleashed by Aragog, the two adults get up to make lunch. Judy suggests a curry with rice, chickpeas and coconut milk, just to warm up the stormy atmosphere of the day, she says. Henry enthusiastically accepts the idea, while Charlie, as usual, plays around being a Party Pooper.

Jen didn't think she could have so much fun in the kitchen chopping vegetables under the brunette's careful guidance. She is enthralled by the recipe as it takes its form under Judy's skilled hands, and when they finally pour the creamy, amber-colored sauce into the bowls already filled with steamed basmati rice, the zesty, spicy scent wafting out is even more intense than the one already invading the room.

Jen thinks that the recipe is one of the best things she has ever tasted, and with her youngest son they propose to try, sooner or later, to replace the chickpeas with fish, while Charlie, who can't contain his enthusiasm since he too loves the dish, also proposes a version with meat.

Judy is so happy that for a moment she wonders why it only occurred to her now, after almost two years, to cook them such a special dish! She would have had them all in her hands the very first night! She thinks, amused.

Jen insists to send the brunette back on the couch and leave the kitchen cleaning to herself, stealing a quick kiss from her, while the boys laugh every time Sigourney Weaver probes her fake boobs on the spaceship that is "Not The Enterprise"

"Night at the Museum" goes by sleepily, the curry, warm in temperature and hot thanks to the spices, has a soporific effect on everyone, and although the couch is big enough for everyone, the fact that Jen is still sore sends the other three clinging to one side of the couch, while the blonde "rests her eyes" by lying long with her head on Judy's lap for the entire duration of the film. She is so engrossed in "resting her eyes", that by the end of the film Judy has to repeat her name three times, before the woman answers her.

Each of them in their own Pajamas, two slices of pizza each (thank goodness Slice's deliveries don't stop even in a storm), and one Avatar later, the family says goodnight, happy for the great day together. Although he has hardly moved from the couch, Henry is so exhausted that he doesn't even ask for the usual company "until he falls all the way asleep", and Charlie gives them a quick goodnight and disappears into his room, happy to finally have some time to himself.

Jen and Judy retreat hand in hand to the refuge that is their room. Exhausted as well, they take turns dragging themselves to the bathroom, and fall asleep in each other's arms shortly after lying down.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve: Fresh Start

The pressure of a cheek on the top of her head. A slow, steady pulse on her temple. A hand on her neck. Another entwined with hers, just beneath her breasts. A leg between her owns. The slow, deep breaths. The warmth of her body. The imperceptible movements of the fingers of her hand in her owns, and the other one on her neck. The pressure of her thigh on her own groin.

Jen inhales slowly, paying attention, as she does every morning, testing her own lung capacity, -much, much better!-. She brings a hand to her healing ribs, ventures another deep breath.

"Babe... Are you okay?", Judy asks in a sleepy voice, before kissing her softly in the hair. The hand on her neck barely tightens its grip and her thumb begins to slowly caress her skin.

In response, Jen wraps an arm around the brunette's waist and gently pulls her to herself.

"Easy, I don't want to hurt you"

"I don't care, come closer", the blonde soothes her by resting her lips on her neck.

"Maybe those fucking supplements are good for something after all", she mutters anchoring her lips on Judy's neck, who giggles, partly at the words and partly at the tickle.

"Um… well, that's good news", she states surrounding her with an arm and getting even closer.

Jen resists the faint discomfort, she's tired of being in pain, she's tired of being careful how she moves. But most of all, she's fucking tired of waiting until she's in perfect shape! She's had enough of all the fucking caution!

"I still haven't given up on the idea of getting some fucking revenge on that neurosurgeon though, just saying! I don't know if I feel like going back to the hospital, though. How about I just mail it to him, you know. The underworld puts bullets in threatening letters, I could put a nice used tampon in there, how about that?"

The two continue to hold each other as tight as possible while giggling together. -Yeah... I'm really tired! I’m fucking done!-

————

"Judy! Are you making pancakes?", Henry asks hugging her around the waist.

"Good morning honey!", the woman kisses him lovingly on the top of his head. "No Boop! Cheese omelets this morning! Sound good?"

"Yummy!", the child exclaims enthusiastically.

"Hey Boop! Good morning kiddo", his mother approaches him hugging him tightly from behind.

"Hi Mom! How are you feeling?", he asks in a squeaky voice.

"Much better love!", she responds cutting the cheddar into slices.

"'Morning Ma', 'Morning Judy!", Charlie, still sleepy, joins the rest of the family.

"'Morning Char!", the two women echo.

"Did you get your things ready? Grandma will be here any minute", Jen asks setting the table for five.

"Wow, Ma', are you going to invite Grandma over for breakfast?", the eldest asks in amazement.

"Why not?", the blonde replies, then turns to Judy, intent on the stove, pan in hand. "Do you mind making an extra one, Jude?", she asks, smiling.

"We're in a cheerful mood this morning!", the other comments playfully, watching her roll her eyes but with a smile on her lips.

"Do we really have to stay at Grandma's tonight anyway?", Henry asks with a hint of disappointment in his voice.

"Come on Boop, we'll have fun, I'll take you with me to the skatepark in the afternoon, huh?", Charlie consoles him.

"I think Mom and Judy need some alone time", the boy adds making the whole family hear him. He watches the two women exchange an amused look, a knowing smile and just a hint of embarrassment in their eyes.

"I think your brother's right, Boop", the mother confirms, gently placing a hand on Judy's shoulders, who deposits the first steaming omelet on the tray.

The ringing of the doorbell half interrupts the little one's enthusiastic smile, as he rushes to open it.

"What's on your mind, Harding?", Judy inquisitively asks in a whisper, turning the pan over to spread the egg and bring it closer to Jen so she can lay a slice of cheese in the center.

"A lot of things, Hale. Do you trust me?", she asks raising an eyebrow. She's actually not quite sure how she wants the day to go, but she wants it to be a special day, especially for Judy. For both of them, to be fair.

"Oh God, why does that sound like a trap?", the brunette teases closing the second omelet. She's not sure what's going on, it's like there's a different energy between them today. An energy that makes her hands shake slightly as she cooks, and makes her legs feel limp, and her head feel muffled. Jen seems full of light today. And she's fucking more adorable than usual!

"I'm serious, Jude", Jen retorts chucking.

"Then of course I trust you", Judy confirms smiling at her.

"Good", Jen slips an arm around her waist and places a kiss on her temple just as she feels her mother-in-law approaching.

"Jennifer, good morning! Good morning, Judy, dear! You have no idea what a mess this is! Yesterday's storm wreaked havoc!", the elder chirps, squaring them head to toe.

"Good morning Lorna! Yes, we took a look at the bulletin. What a day today, though! Do you like omelets? I hope you have a half hour to have breakfast with us", Jen greets her with sincere participation.

The redhead is caught off guard by such a welcome, but with a smile she willingly accepts the polite gesture.

————

"So, when do you plan to resume work?", the elderly woman asks delighted by the omelet in her plate.

Jen lets Judy speak first, looking at her as if it's the first time she's heard the news too.

"I'll be resuming on Monday, I can't wait, I miss my oldies!", she declares excitedly.

"Good, good! But I wonder, why don't you support yourself by selling your paintings, dear?", the woman casts a glance at Jen, aware of the veiled provocation, but Jen, after a couple of deep breaths, falls silent, convinced that Judy is perfectly capable of defending herself.

"Well, I love to paint, my paintings also have a good market, we're talking about between nine thousand and twenty thousand dollars each", the brunette declares, leaving out the small detail that those amounts referred more to what was on the back of her paintings, when Steve was selling them to launder money.

Jen internally exults at the brilliant comment, enjoying Lorna's stunned face with extreme satisfaction.

"But who would I be helpful to by just painting? Older people need goals, they need entertainment. I love my work, I would never leave it even if I sold one canvas a week. Besides, at the moment I'm getting interested in other subjects, for my paintings, I'm not sure how much of a following they would have, and I'm not very interested in finding out", Judy concludes sipping her juice.

After recovering from her shock, the elder Harding turns to Jen.

"I currently hold several properties, I'd like to relinquish a couple of them, Jennifer, to help you get back on track", she says in a modest tone.

"I appreciate that, Lorna, but we've already talked about it, I can't work for you anymore", the blonde replies tactfully.

"Oh, no, Jennifer, that's not what I meant. I'm giving you the sales like you gave me the Wood's property. Consider this a gift. Well, it's not twenty million dollar property, but I'm sure it's enough to start over", the woman retorts by harmoniously raising a hand and gesturing gracefully.

"Mom, we’re going to get our stuff", Charlie declares as he gets up, spurring his little brother to anticipate him up the stairs as he clears the table of his and his brother's plates. Grandma watches in amazement, finally alternating her gaze between Jen and Judy.

She is struck by the ex-mother-in-law's gesture, has no idea how to interpret it, but thinks about What Would Judy Do, and decides to respond in good faith. "In that case, I'll gladly accept, Lorna. Thank you, really, it's a great gesture. I appreciate it",  Jen smiles openly at her.

"Look, Lorna, I know it's really short notice, but I was wondering if you could bring the kids back tomorrow in the early afternoon and join us for a little poolside party. There won't be many of us, but there will be a nice cherry pie, good wine, and if we can work it out with the dealership, Charlie's gift too. It's something that just popped into our heads this morning, how about it, can it be done?"

————

"You really don't mind that I didn't tell you about this earlier?", Jen asks Judy as the brunette pulls into the road from their driveway.

"Of course not! You seem to be full of ideas today, I'm curious, but I can wait!", she replies enthusiastically while exchanging a smile with her.

"Oh, stop by Karen's for a minute!", she hastens to say for fear of forgetting.

"Well... I don't know how much longer I can wait...", Jen says before getting out of the car, a little bit ashamed by her own statement, she glances at Judy, who’s adorably blushing.

As she gets out, she faces the window, "Come on, get out!", she enthusiastically urges her. She waits for Judy to reach her and extends her hand.

When Karen opens the door, she greets them with a smile, which widens further when her gaze falls on their intertwined fingers.

"Girls! What a surprise! How are you Jen? Come on in! Would you two like some coffee? Or maybe, something stronger? How about a-"

"Hi Karen, we're in a hurry, sorry about that. We were wondering if you'd like to join us tomorrow for that thing, you know… Jude's Blood... Cherry Pie...", Jen gesticulates crisply.

"Sure! I'd love to, can I bring anything? Maybe I'll make a lasa-"

"No, no... no... it'll be early afternoon, but hey... if you had another bottle, we could use it, you know, we were thinking of celebrating Charlie's birthday again, there won't be many of us, but I doubt one bottle will be enough", interrupting her is Judy, this time.

————

"You were fucking sassy, Jude, you know that?", Jen exclaims bursting into a loud laugh as they climb back into the car.

"Hey, I saved your face, Harding! Admit it, you were going to ask that!", the other justifies.

"Touché", the blonde declares leaning out of her own seat to kiss her on the neck. "You know me so well!", Judy chuckles in response.  "Um... apparently I found a sensitive spot, here", Jen whispers playfully, brushing her skin with her lips again. "You know me so well!", Judy retorts, continuing to chuckle delightedly.

After almost an hour of bargaining, they finally come to an agreement with the owner of the dealership, who, for a little extra over and above the insurance check, agrees to have the car delivered the next day, even though it is a Sunday.

"Where to now?", Judy asks as they walk back to the car.

"It's a surprise! I'm driving!", Jen replies winking and extending a hand in waiting for the keys. Judy smiles, sits in the passenger seat, and as soon as Jen pulls into the road, she reaches for her hand, as if seeking some reassurance.

The feeling that something important is about to happen is so powerful that it takes her breath away as she thinks about it.  In the previous weeks, both of them have been interacting practically guided by instinct, naturally, and it has been wonderful to discover this new way of being together, surrendering to it without reservation. But today there's something beyond instinct, there's thoughtfulness, in Jen's gestures and consequently in her own. In a remote part of her consciousness, Judy forces herself not to speculate on Jen's intentions, any step forward will be enough. The very course of the day is a step forward.

Jen brings her hand in hers to her lips and kisses it, holding it on her mouth for a long time. "Are you okay, honey?", she asks sensing the brunette's brooding.

"Yeah, yeah... I'm just a little excited", Judy confides to her shamelessly. "Me too, Jude", the smile that widens on the blonde's face immediately conveys serenity to her and slowly her soul calms down.

————

"How did you know I was intrigued to try this place?", Judy asks surprised in front of her plate of cevice.

"You told me about it the first time we went out", Jen reminds her, avoiding mentioning that Judy had complained that she'd never been able to go there with Steve and that going there alone would seem too lame.

"I don't remember", the brunette declares after thinking about it for a moment.

"Fuck, if I had imagined it I could have taken you somewhere cheaper!", Jen jokes making her laugh. She lifts the margarita glass waiting for Judy to join her.

"To our fresh start, Judy", Jennifer Hardin smiles sweetly at her.

"Here's to our fresh start, Jen", Judy Hale happily returns.

The sun is pleasantly warm as hand in hand they leave the restaurant and slowly stroll down the boardwalk.

"Thank you, for this special day, Jen", Judy tells her after a few minutes of comfortable silence.

"I'm not sure I'm the one to thank, here, Jude, but, anyway, it's only the middle of the afternoon", Jen looks at her with a serene smile. "I want this to be a special day, for us", she adds giving her a gentle shove just to find a little more contact.

The brunette smiles, delighted by that vaguely embarrassed gesture, "Every day is special, with you, Jen"

"Well yeah, I can't argue with that, I'm fucking amazing", the blonde jokes, blushing. "Well, I want today to be more special", she points out, loosening their hands and surrounding Judy's shoulders in a hug. When the woman's hand laces around her waist, she pulls her closer kissing one of her temples softly.

"You're the one fucking amazing, here, just so we're clear, and I'm not kidding right now", she whispers in her ear and Judy can't hold back the shiver that the gentle breath of Jen's words caused her.

"So this was always it, our destination? Since we got out of the car before lunch?", Judy asks touched.

"Since we got out of the car, Jude", the blonde confirms her sinking her shoes into the sand still wet from the previous day's storm. "Let's go", she grins stretching out her hand.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen: High

Eighteen months can be a long time, even for a Southern California beach. The natural stoop where they sat is no longer how they left it that day. Maybe it just happened with the storm the day before, or maybe who knows when. Who knows how many fucking tidal waves it took to change the contours of the beach.

It only took Jennifer Harding one of those tidal waves, and her name is Judy Hale.

"Can I say something weird?"

"Please"

"Thank you"

"For what?"

"I don’t know. Just for coming into my life, I guess, like… some weird little pot fairy. And also just for not saying and doing the same stupid shit that everybody says and does that just makes you feel more alone than you already are, you know? And for not being repulsed by my version of grief"

"Thank you, for the same"

A strange vision comes into Judy's mind as they walk on the sand made hard by the storm that has just gone by. She sees herself there, sitting with Jen that night, thinks back to the torment of guilt and for a moment feels it again, as intense as it was then, when the blonde was speaking to her with an open heart. And she imagines her present self, visible and audible only to her herself, approaching and whispering in her ear "you will both suffer, a lot, you will both hurt each others, in an unspeakable way, but don't give up, because in the end it will be all right". She would never have believed her, she pushed back the tears of emotion with a couple of deep breaths, squeezed Jen's hand in hers and looked at her smiling, still in disbelief.

After a few steps hand in hand, they sit close together. They remain silent for a while, breathing in the salty air and smiling at the sight of two cormorants diving below the surface of the water and seeming to play together a few feet from the deserted shore.

Jen isn't agitated, at the thought of what she's about to say, she just doesn't know how the fuck to say it. Yeah, well, agitated no, but emotional yes, she's no longer so detached from her own feelings that she doesn't notice her heart pumping furiously to the point of rumbling in her fucking ears. She leans forward resting her elbows on her knees, watches Judy's hand in hers for a long moment and then turns to look at her. The light sea breeze tousles her hair, she has a look in her eyes that seems to want to tell her "here we go, it's time, come on, it's just me and you know we're on the same page", she's so fucking beautiful!

"Are we really on the same page, Judy? Because I, well, fuck, I'm in love with you and… like, fucking in love… okay? Gross, isn't it?", she doesn't have time to process the stupidity of the last few words out of her mouth, because Judy warms her up with her calm, infectious laugh, places a hand on her cheek, her eyes fixed in hers.

"Jen, you know I'm in love with you too, right? So fucking much. Grossly. In love. With you", and as she speaks, she moves her entire torso closer to her, until she rests her forehead on hers and finally her lips, on hers.

And this kiss is different. It tastes of awareness, of the past, present and future, of the calm after the storm. Of a new beginning. It's a long, soft, chaste kiss that leaves them both breathless. They breathe each other’s air, both still with their eyes closed, before pulling away to get a better look at each other and exchange a relaxed smile.

Jen draws Judy in, sitting her down in front of her and hugging her tightly from behind, placing her lips on her cheek for a moment and then covering it with her own, tenderly cradling their bodies together.

"Can I say something weird?"

"Please"

"I feel high even though we didn't smoke"

The two giggle together serenely.

"You know, I think it's been a while since my feelings for you changed. But we were so fucked up that they got so fucking buried that I never noticed, really. Did that happen to you too?", the blonde asks, eager to share their introspective experiences.

"Yeah, I guess you're absolutely right. Well, I may have had a few warnings about mine, but then the shit must have been hushed up out of necessity", Judy replies, trying to recall episodes in particular.

"Yeah, and then when everything calmed down, it came out on its own before we even realized it, fucking good thing! Knowing me, I think I would have freaked out in the moment. Or maybe not, who knows. I've experienced it so spontaneously since that night on the porch. I don't know… I just accepted it and embraced it as the most natural thing that could happen between the two of us. Fucking beautiful and fucking inevitable"

"Yeah, maybe it really was, inevitable when you think about it. I mean... how many things could have torn us apart, ripped us from each other, forever? And yet... as tremendously wrong as they were, they brought us together. They allowed us to see each other, even at our worst. To keep functioning together even at our worst. And we're still here, at our best"

"And we fucking function well, together Jude!", Jen jokes barely flinching from her cheek to look into her eyes. "So, tell me a little about those warnings, will you?", she proposes still needing to confront her.

"Oh, well, let me think... There were times when... I don't know I felt almost on the verge of crossing a line, with you", she tells her trying to give an order to her memories. "That time when we were waiting for the result of the pregnancy test, for example, remember?", she observes the blonde nodding with a sweet smile.

"Right before the alarm on my phone went off", the other confirms her in an understanding voice.

"Fuck! Did you notice that?", Judy is amazed and a little embarrassed.

"I thought it was the emotion of the moment, you know, when you looked at me like that I thought, fuck, she wants to kiss me, what the fuck am I going to do if she kisses me?", she laughs at the memory. "And then I thought, I'll let her do it, I don't want to push her away in a moment like that"

"Thanks… it's nice to think you wouldn't have rejected me", Judy tells her, expressing her emotion at Jen's protective instinct. "I attributed it to the emotion of the moment too, thank goodness that alarm went off and brought me back down to earth, and consciousness to my guilt, you know", she feels Jen's hug growing tighter around her waist at that statement.

"Oh and then there was the night you found out that Daddy Bird was actually a Mommy! You hooked the nest in front of the guest house door, remember?"

"Of course I remember, Jude. I ran to you that night, I just wanted to share that moment with you, but when I got close, you were inside, I saw you crying and I felt so guilty, for what I'd done to you...", sadness veils her eyes, but it's only a moment, Judy's warm palm on her cheek and her understanding gaze, as always, set things right.

"But I saw you, out there, hooking the nest. One of the things I've always loved about you is your maternal instincts, Jen. Maybe it's because I've always lacked it, all my life, from the people who should have been taking care of me, it's silly?", she asks fearfully.

"That's perfectly understandable, honey. And the same goes for me. How you've always acted towards our boys, that's one of the first things I loved about you", Jen reassures her by shaking her head and tightening her hug. "You know, in hindsight, I might have at least one episode too where, I don't know… under different circumstances", she reasons trying to bring order to what just came to her mind. Judy listens to her quietly, waiting for her to continue.

"The night we spent in the Antelope Valley… I mean… it was all so fucking messed up… I don't know if it's a thought that's coming to me just now or if it really was under different circumstances… however, I feel like I could have crossed the line that time, with you. Because when I asked you if you wanted to be my person, every fucking fiber in my body really meant it, you know? And when we went back in and I pushed you away, I didn't do it because I felt suffocated by you, really. But by my need to feel you close, which was wrestling with my guilt"

"Can I ask you a question, Jen?", Judy asks after a long moment of silence.

"Sure, sweetheart", the blonde looks at her expectantly.

"Are you scared? I mean..."

"That things would go wrong between us, and we might lose each other?", Jen helps her, because she's been thinking about it too, in the days before. She looks at her as she nods, fearful.

"Fuck no! And do you know why? We've made it through the worst of the worst, you and I, and we're still here, closer than ever. I don't think there could be a circumstance that would be able to separate us permanently, transform our relationship, maybe, but split us up, no way. I don't want to be afraid to give in to what's happening to us because it's the best thing that's happened to me, along with the birth of Charlie and Henry. Do you?", she finally asks, more intrigued than fearful of her answer.

"Fuck no!", Judy smiles and kisses her softly, relieved and even a little surprised by her serenity. Who knows, maybe the timing of the blossoming of their feelings was really crucial for this incredible woman in front of her, whom she loves with all her being, to give in so easily.

"Judy…", Jen shifts position so she can get a good look at her face and clasps the hands she holds between hers. "You came into my life at perhaps the darkest time, and even under adverse circumstances, you brought only light. You are and will always be my best friend, but I am in love with you, so much that I never thought it was possible, and friendship is no longer enough for me if you feel the same. I want to share my life with you, in every way. I want this family that we so naturally built together. And when I say 'I want', I say it with the expectation that it will be for life, for better, for wor-"

"Jennifer Harding, you're not asking me to marry you, are you?"

-FUCK!-

She didn't fucking see this one coming! Jen scratches an eyebrow, completely caught off guard by the QUESTION. The sight of the brunette looking at her in amusement with a raised eyebrow causes her to let out a giggle somewhere between nervous and tender.

"Now, that I hadn't thought of yet, that is-"

"Jen-"

"I definitely see us in our future-"

"Jen I was teasing", Judy hastens to point out with a giggle, almost sorry for putting her on the spot.

"Oh… I mean-"

"Not that I wouldn't marry you on the spot, just to be clear", the brunette adds sincerely.

"Well, so would I!", another giggle escapes her, but this time it's more euphoric than anything else. "I'm not kidding!", she exclaims incredulously. "I mean, now that I think about it... fuck yeah, I'd marry you right now too in a second!", she kisses her first enthusiastically and then more tenderly.

"I can see myself marrying you someday", she whispers brushing the tip of her nose with his.

"Yeah, me too honey", Judy replies between her lips as she kisses her again.

"We really are that fucked up, huh?", Jen jokes.

"Always been so fucked up!", Judy replies proudly.

"Okay, Hale, enough talk about wedding shit! We still have to shop for groceries for tomorrow and bake at least two fucking cherry pies. Come on!", she spurs her on by getting up energetically. Too vigorously, so much so that a twinge in her ribs instantly dampens her enthusiasm.

"Ow!", she moans leaning against Judy.

"Hey, take it easy, you're getting old, Harding, make sure you don't forget!", the brunette jokes, hugging her.

"Fuck you", Jen smiles at her in looking for a tender kiss. "I love you Jude", she adds, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear.

"I love you too Jen", the two turn to look at the horizon bathed in the colors of the sunset for a few moments before walking away hand in hand.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen: Gold On Your Scars

Judy closes the refrigerator and pauses for a moment, listening.

At first it's just two mere distant notes, alternating in a simple melody that foreshadows a poetic sequel. She takes one last look, to make sure she hasn't forgotten something on the kitchen counter, just before cluttered with shopping bags, and turning off the lights behind her, she makes her way up the stairs, towards the bedroom.

Other notes are added little by little and the music becomes more refined. She doesn't know much about it, but it seems to her that the only instrument used is a cello, or rather, a chorus of cellos. Maybe a violin, too? The melody comes from the bathroom, which is partially lit.

She doesn't know what kind of music it is, but it's very emotional, a little melancholy, but wonderfully romantic.

"Jen?", she calls knocking on the bathroom door.

"Come in", the blonde slurs with her toothbrush between her teeth and her mouth full of foam.

Judy appears in the reflection of the mirror, next to the woman she loves.

The moments in the evening and those in the morning are and will always be her favorites, and it's not just because she can have her all to herself. But because she can see her in all her natural beauty, completely make-up-free and free to feel at ease even if only in a pair of loose, washed-out pants and a T-shirt with a hole in one sleeve.

Tonight Jen is simply wrapped in her bathrobe, her hair pulled up in a messy bun. And she looks beautiful as she smiles at her, fills her mouth to rinse the foam off her teeth, stows her toothbrush, and makes a funny face at her in the mirror.

"What's this music?", Judy asks as she preps her own toothbrush.

"I wanted to thank you", Jen answers her simply.

"For what?", she asks stopping brushing her teeth for a moment.

"For everything you've done for me, especially lately", Jen hugs her from behind and kisses her cheek and then her neck. She rests her chin on her shoulder and cradles her, looking at her in the mirror, waiting for her to finish.

"And you think you just need some stupid little music, to thank me?", the brunette retorts in a joking tone. "And you didn't answer me anyway", she adds turning around to face her.

"Um, T.J. Peterson, he's the composer, and the album's called…", she's forced to extend a hand toward her cell phone, "Petrichor", she declares. "Nice, isn't it? I was looking for something relaxing for your bath", she adds, moving away from her and guiding her towards the tub.

Judy was so focused on Jen when she entered the bathroom, that she didn't pay the slightest attention to that side of the room. The tub is filled with water made bluish by bath salts and steaming, on the window sill are neatly arranged three scented candles, already lit.

"Oh, Jen!", the brunette exclaims in surprise.

"Come on, go change before it gets cold", she prods her handing her another robe. "What do you prefer, coconut or white musk?", she asks as she watches her disappear past the doors, into the bedroom.

"Coconut, thank you", Jen smiles, she knew she'd choose coconut. She opens the cabinet and grabs a few bottles of the same brand and line and puts them up in a corner on the edge of the tub. She sits in it and tests the temperature of the water, just as the brunette walks back in, wrapped in her bathrobe.

"Come on, dive in and relax", she smiles raising her face to her.

"Hey, wait a minute, aren't you joining me?", Judy protests.

"I took a shower right now", Jen replies, uncomfortable.

Screw her fucking traumas!

"Come on! You can't leave me alone inside that huge tub!", the other insists, sensing the blonde's distress. She wraps her arms around her neck and draws her to herself, she leans down to look at her, exhibiting a pair of needy big eyes, "Come on... I've had a bad day", she ventures, causing her to burst out laughing.

"Hey, you haven't!", Jen retorts amused by the failed attempt to pity her. She closes her eyes, surrendering to Judy's caress.

"Is that what this is about?", Judy asks her softly, slipping a finger just below her neck and continuing no further.

Jen waves avoiding her gaze, afraid of disappointing her and pissed at herself, for the internal battle between her desires and the fucking blocks left by a past she refuses to remember right now.

"It's okay, baby", Judy reassures her gently.

"No, it's not fucking okay", she protests, still with her head down. She wants to get in the fucking tub with Judy, yet something still blocks her! -Fucking frustrating!-

"Come on, come with me for a second", she offers, taking her by the hand and waiting for her to get up from the edge of the tub. She guides her over to the large mirror above the sink and looks at her through the reflective surface.

"What do you see, Jen?"

"A dickhead", the other replies seriously with bright eyes.

Judy doesn't mind the answer, she clasps her hands on her shoulders and, still through the mirror, speaks to her.

"I see a woman in the peak of her beauty. A gorgeous woman with two amazing eyes, today they are blue, but they change depending on the weather. When it's very sunny they almost come to be green, when it rains they look almost gray. One thing never changes. The golden, lovely straws around the pupils", Judy tells her in a soft voice.

"You're making that up, you can't possibly see all these things from three feet away!", Jen protests, caught in a touched embarrassment.

"I don't need to, Jen, I know them by heart, your eyes", the brunette replies confidently, "Just as I know by heart that lovely scar you have at the base of your left eyebrow", she watches her blush, "As well as the myriad of freckles that cover your shoulders", a finger anchors itself to the edge of her robe, just at the level of her right shoulder, and Judy uncovers a bit of skin.

Jen doesn't protest, but surrenders to the touch, it's impossible to resist at this point. Judy always knows how to gently take any of her defenses and break them down like child's play. Her light fingers brushing her flesh cause pleasant surface shivers, and at the same time, an inner heat that finally concentrates in her lower belly.

Emboldened, Judy uncovers the other shoulder as well. Her fingertips lightly brush her, she looks away from the mirror to focus on her own hand movements, notices goose bumps forming under her stroke, and places her lips in a soft kiss. Out of the corner of her eye, she notices Jen close her eyelids and relax under her touch.

"May I?", she asks her softly under her breath, moving her hands to the front of her robe, simultaneously brushing against the skin beneath. They exchange a look full of meaning, and Jen nods almost imperceptibly. Judy gently opens her robe, keeping looking into her eyes with a reassuring expression.

"I love you, Jen", she promises her, before turning back to the mirror.

"I see a well toned body, awesome skin, and yes, scars on your breasts, beautiful scars, Jen. They are the fruits of a huge sacrifice. You gave away such an important part of yourself in order to keep taking care of the people you love. Your renunciation is gold on your scars, never be ashamed of these wounds, even these make you the incredible and gorgeous woman you are, Jen", she turns back to her and waits for her to look back at her.

"Like one of those ceramic artifacts, put back together by highlighting the conjunctions with gold, the Japanese technique of kintsugi, which makes them even more unique and precious", she says, smiling lovingly.

"I love you Jen, with all that you are and with all that you carry", she whispers wiping a tear from her face. Jen smiles at her, touched.

"Come on, before this water gets cold", Jen recovers taking her hand and guiding her to the opposite side of the room.

The gentle, emotional music is partially covered by the splashing sound of moving water, as Jen and Judy plunge into it. To make Jen more comfortable, Judy sits behind her and lets the blonde rest her back on her torso.

The mutual sight of their naked bodies has gone almost unnoticed by them, veiled by looks full of devotion and reverence to each other. But now, the skin-on-skin contact awakens a new level of consciousness in them both. They both can't suppress a moan, as Jen snuggles into Judy's arms.

Jen's first reaction, totally involuntary, is the instantaneous relaxation of every muscle, so much so that Judy has to hold her up so that she doesn't slip with her head underwater. They laugh together as they settle into a more stable position. The warmth of the water lifts a light haze of steam from their wet bodies.

"Fucking beautiful", Jen whispers caught in a quiver.

"Yeah", Judy replies in a soft voice, brushing the blonde's shoulders. Slender fingers slowly slide down her arms, until Jen takes her hands between her own, intertwining their fingers together. The feel of Judy's fingers, free of all her rings, is a delightful anticipation of the immediate future.

"Thank you Jen, for this whole day, for this bath, the candles, the music, but most of all, for being here with me", the brunette tells her, brushing her ear with her lips. Jen tightens her grip on her hands as a chill runs down her spine.

"The music's nice, huh?", the blonde shifts the conversation, to force herself to extend the moment of anticipation. Yes it's true, they've waited long enough, but on second thought, it was fucking worth it. Weeks lingering together around each other, increasingly aware of how it would end. All in all, one good thing about the crash had been that it had forced them to "slow down", -what's the word? It's not the goal, it's the journey-?, And what a fucking journey!

"Much better than 'I'm the ghost, you're the night. I'm the shadow, you're the light'", Judy hums close to her ear.

"Hey! That's our song!", Jen protests, pretending to be offended.

"Our song?", Judy asks her, starting to slowly play with their hands, intentionally.

"Um... too aggressive?", Jen jokes with her gaze fixed on her hands.

"Do you know what petrichor is?", a moment of silence falls between the two, before Jen begins to actively participate, as if to resume what they had interrupted in Lorna's office and which the crash had put a stop to.

"What is this, Latin?", Jen asks resorting to the shred of concentration that manages to save herself from the tumult of sensations triggered by tactile sensations.

"Maybe, I'm not sure. But anyway, it's the scent of the arid ground at the first drops of rain", Judy explains in a soft voice, gently kissing one of her shoulders, and smiling at the sound of a new moan that escaped Jen.

"It's one of the most recognizable scents to human olfactory receptors, something atavistic", the brunette continues, following up by brushing the skin beneath her lips and inhaling sonorously.

The sight and touch of their hands brushing against each other is no longer enough. Jen wants to feel those hands on her flesh, but before she can intervene, Judy has already let them go, placing her palms on her hips. Jen anchors herself with hers at the brunette's knees and searches for her lips by turning to the side.

"I love you, Jude", she manages to whisper just before the other silences her with a kiss. The hands on her hips slowly move to her belly and the desire intensifies. For the first time they let go of a longer, more intense, deeper kiss, savoring each other.

For a moment Jen is afraid she is dreaming, so incredible does it seem to her to be experiencing all this with Judy. To having Judy even like this. The thought invades her whole body, saturating it with a sensation that is a mixture of reverence, love, tenderness, desire, passion. Every cell of her body vibrates and pulses, and in a way, hurts, but in a delicious way.

And Jen knows where she wants Judy’s hands right now, she pulls away from her lips, and looking into her eyes, slides her fingers over Judy's wrists and guides her higher, to her own breasts. The sensation at first contact makes her loose control momentarily, she closes her eyes exhaling a deep moan, bends her head back, resting it on the brunette's shoulder, who's now kissing her fully exposed neck.

Jen's response releases the excitement between her legs. The sensation of her nipples swelling under her palms almost makes her climax. She can't hold back her hips, which instinctively thrust forward, demanding contact with Jen's body, and she feels her move backwards, expressing the same, desperate need.

"Judy", Jen exhales, torn between urgency and the need to stop her.

She always loved the sound her name makes, when it comes out of Jen's mouth. But the way Jen pronounces it right now almost sends her over the edge, and she gently sinks her teeth into her flesh, just before regaining control to look at her.

When the brunette pulls her lips away from her skin, the look in her eyes almost makes her abandon all purpose and she can't resist the urge to kiss her again, to feel her soft tongue, once again on her own.

"Not here love", she murmurs, panting under her lips.

A trail of messy wet footprints highlights the long path through the bedroom.

"This house is too fucking big", Jen mutters between kisses. Judy moans, smiling between their lips, her fists clenched in the fabric around them.

"When the kids will be in college we're moving into a one-room apartment", Jen proposes, frustrated by how fucking long it's taking them to get where they're heading. For a moment, she regrets her decision to get to the bed. But she wants it to be there. They both want it. It has to happen there.

"You want to switch to minimalism?", Judy teases with a giggle, eyeing the soft sheets, now just a few steps away from them.

"Yeah, you know, less is more shit", the blonde mumbles, stopping right in front of their goal. She kisses Judy tenderly, gently releasing her hair from the band that holds it.

"Well, maybe we'll leave the minimalism to the future", she adds, spreading her robe across the front. She closes her eyes as Judy brings her hands to her head, to undo the already disheveled bun.

Judy feels like time slows down suddenly as she watches the spectacle of Jen's blonde hair falling softly over her shoulders, once freed from its restraints. She disposes of her own robe and soon after Jen's, as they lose themselves in another passionate kiss.

She drops onto the bed and carefully guides Jen with her, until she finds herself with her head sunk into the pillows, and the woman she loves astride her, one hand inches from her shoulder, the other clasped on her hip, her hair tickling her shoulders. Their bodies inches from each other, an electric heat in that chink between skin and skin.

She lifts herself up to sit, raising her face so she can look at her. "I can assure you that sometimes less can be more than enough even now", Judy challenges her, cupping her hands on her hips.

Jen caresses her face, feeling her own arousal between her legs, and fighting the urge to sit on Judy and hold her with all her might, to not leave an inch of her own skin exposed from hers. She needs to look into her eyes, needs her to see how much she wants her.

"Prove it"

There is no background music, no more, for them, just the sound of the fabric of the sheets, moved and torn by their bodies in motion, of moans, of sighs, of confused and intense kisses.

"Jen" and "Judy" are the only words they manage to pronounce, they come out choked, at irregular intervals, as if calling out to each other would serve them to make sure that this is really happening.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen: Epilogue

"Are you staring at me, Jen?"

"Yes"

"Why?"

"Just Because. And, you’re beautiful, that's why. And also because I'm fucking in love with you"

"Well... you should look in the mirror when you make love"

"Huh?"

"I said. That you should be looking in the mirror. When you make love. I've never seen anything more beautiful, Jen"

Judy moves her feet under the surface of the water, imprisons one of the blonde's feet between her own and smiles at her, squinting at the intensity of the light.

Jen glares at her, blushing visibly.

"And you're adorable when you're embarrassed"

"Will you shut the fuck up?"

Judy bursts into a thunderous laugh and she can't help but joining her.

"You didn't seem all that embarrassed this morning while the pies were in the oven"

"Judy!"

Just to do something and distract herself from the memory of Judy, sitting on the edge of the kitchen counter, clinging to her, kissing her furiously as she’s coming around her fingers, Jen picks up the wine glass and sips just a drop. She was serious when she said she intends to regulate herself with alcohol, and wants to make the deliciousness in her glass last as longer as she can.

"Fucking delicious, isn't it?"

"Yeah, Karen nailed it this time", the brunette confirms, taking a sip of wine as well.

Jen observes the asian woman sitting sideways on a chaise lounge, chatting animatedly under her breath with Shandy's mom. Judy follows her gaze.

"I wonder what they're telling each other"

"Ah I don't know! Who's the bigger lame of the two? The one with the sociopathic daughter or the one who lost her husband to a man?"

"Jen!"

"You're right, clearly the one with the sociopathic daughter"

"Jen!"

Jen turns to her youngest son, who in swimsuit is running happily chased by Adele. She's still a puppy, but now she's old enough to hold her own with the kid. The big blonde girl, on the other hand, is standing there, fully dressed, with her ever-present non-expression on her face, chasing the other two with her eyes, probably pretending to have fun to look normal.

"Jennifer! Judy, dear!"

"Why the fuck does she always call you 'dear'?", Jen asks her in a whisper through clenched teeth, turning so her mother-in-law can't see her face.

"Lorna! Did you taste the pie?", Judy asks looking up at the woman towering over them.

"Delicious, and that wine! Simply extra-ordi-nary!", the elder Harding chirps from under her huge hat. "What did you say it was called?"

"Judy’s Blood-Jude’s Blood, yup! Jude’s!", Judy chokes on a sip of wine, straining not to laugh.

"And where do I find it?", the redhead asks with a hand on her hip.

"Ah you can't. It's from a small area in Italy", Jen replies in a falsely dismayed tone.

"I'm sure one of my countless contacts will be able to get it for me, I'll get you a box, Jennifer", Lorna quickly chips away with phone in hand, stepping away to find a spot from which to be visible and audible to all and thus be able to perform a theatrical display of her Immense Power.

"Fucking narcissist!", Jen comments amused.

"Come on, you said it yourself, she's been mellowing out lately!"

"Yes, but only because she's afraid that I'd keep her away from her grandchildren", the blonde points out with her index finger raised in front of Judy's face.

"When did you say the new car is coming?", the brunette asks searching Charlie with her eyes.

The boy sits unsteadily on the porch sofa with his girlfriend clinging to him. They are watching something on the computer screen and both are laughing serenely. She likes Natalie, Jen likes her too. She's polite and sunny, and she's not snotty like that Parker girl. She can't wait until she can invite her over for dinner.

"In an hour, that sucks!", Jen informs her as she checks her watch.

"Come on, Jen! It's been a long time since we've had a day like this, all together"

"But I miss you!", she protests, then rolls her eyes. "Oh God, this is so gross!"

"But I'm here, you dummy!", Judy laughs.

"But it's not the same!", Jen complains, then leans a little toward her. "I want to be on the couch snuggled up to you and our boys, watching shit on TV and eating Junk! Look… I'd even be able to get a movie with that one, rather than here and not being able to touch you whenever I want, which is pretty much all the time!"

"Is 'that one' Sigourney Weaver?", the brunette asks giggling.

"Yeah, yeah, that one", Jen confirms rolling her eyes again.

They both laugh together and pause to look at each other slowly returning serious. Feet brushing against each other underwater.

-I love you Judy-

-I love you Jen-

"Hey, girls!", Christopher calls to them in his usual bubbly demeanor, joining them and crouching down between them, poolside. He spreads his arms to include them in a collective hug, returning their sincere smile.

"So what do you think of Alan? Isn't he beautiful?" the man asks proudly.

"Well yeah, he's fucking gorgeous piece of meat!", Jen confirms squaring the tanned young man lying on one of the lounge chairs on the opposite side of the pool from above her sunglasses.

"Hey! He's mine, Harding!", the friend threatens her with his gaze.

"Ah, really I’m not interested! I'm happily in love and fully committed!", Jen declares. She couldn't wait to impress her former partner with the news, she just couldn't help herself. She cast a knowing glance at Judy, while out of the corner of her eye she noticed Chris with his mouth wide open in amazement.

Shortly after, a puzzled expression is painted on his face. The blonde knows him too well, he's doing the math, wondering how it is possible that she found a man when she's always home and with Judy. And then finally, the Realization! The realtor looks at her smiling at him with a raised eyebrow as she sips her wine, then looks at Judy who is looking at the blonde with an adoring expression, and then back at her colleague.

"Oh my gosh! I couldn't get my hopes up! Two years it took you girls! Two years!", he finally exclaims a little too loudly for excitement.

"Well, seventeen months to be exact", Jen points out, not at all annoyed that everyone attending that little party heard her friend's comment.

"You have to tell me how it went!", the man exclaims excitedly rubbing his hands together.

"Fucking forget it Chris!", Jen replies dryly, anticipating Judy, who had already caught her breath ready to tell the whole life and wonders of their fucking story.

"Delivery for Charlie Harding?"

"Fuck they're early! Good thing!", the blonde exclaims leaping awkwardly to her feet and signaling the man to come closer.

"What's up Ma'?", the celebrant approaches pretending not to know what's going on, for Mom and Judy's sake.

Jen forces herself to put on a straight face as she signs the papers under her nose and thanks the man who hands her a set of keys. She senses the pacing of little Henry, intrigued, approaching his brother. When she finally looks up, she notices her oldest son looking at her with excited anticipation.

"What?", she asks with a vague attitude.

Judy smiles at the pantomime, Jen is adorable even when she's pretending to be a bitch. She raises an eyebrow as she crosses her gaze with Charlie, who rolls his eyes, tired of his mother's act.

Jen mimics him and then hands him the keys in an exasperated manner. Henry explodes into an excited little cry.

"Yay!", the major exclaims showing Natalie the keys.

"Thank you Ma! Thank you Judy!", the boy hugs first his mother and then Judy, overcoming the urge to rush to see and try on his gift. "Hey, I don't know if it'll ever slip away from me again, I'm used to calling you by name, but it doesn't change how I look at you, okay?", he tells her in a whisper so as not to be heard by everyone else, now clustered around there. Judy hugs him tightly, touched.

"Make sure you don't smash it now!", her mom playfully admonishes her, pointing a finger at him. The boy rolls his eyes and points a finger at his mother in return.

"And you make sure you don't smash something else!", he retorts before pointing his finger at Judy, "Don't let her do it!"

"Yeah, yeah, okay!", Jen cuts in. "Come on, everyone to see Charlie's present, come on! Get off my backyard!", she exclaims signaling her friends with her arms to get the hell out of the way.

She circles Judy's shoulders with one arm and together they slowly follow the small group as they hurry down the street.

"What did Charlie tell you?", she asks her noticing the brunette with bright eyes. They stop a little further back than the rest of the group.

"Oh, I'll tell you later, otherwise I'll cry my eyes out with emotion, okay?", Judy replies in a trembling voice.

"Oh," Jen pulls her into a hug, placing a kiss on her forehead and cradling her tenderly.

"Our little shit moved you, huh?", she says softly still with her lips on her forehead.

"Mommy, Judy!", little Henry comes running up to her, all excited.

"What's up Boop?", Jen asks still hugging Judy. The child looks at her happily.

"Can we go for a ride in Charlie's car?", the little boy alternates his gaze between the two.

"Sure baby! But just a little ride around here for now, okay? And everyone, fasten your seat belts!"

Little Harding jumps around excitedly and claps happily, turns to walk away, but then turns back to look at them thoughtfully.

"Are you okay honey?", the mother asks, puzzled by her little son's indecipherable expression.

"Another Sigourney Weaver movie later?", he proposes with a mischievous grin, causing Judy to burst out laughing.

"Hey!", Jen protests, surprised by this new aspect of his character.

"Ha, ha! You're jealous!", Henry exclaims contentedly before scurrying away.

Jen shakes her head in disbelief and joins in the amused chuckles of Judy, still clutched in her arms.

"Another little turd in the family! Alright!"

 

END