Reed walks into the mortuary from changing into street clothes to find Stella standing next to the body of this morning’s Jane Doe, staring at her, seeming almost contemplative. She stops short and asks, with some obvious irritation, “What on Earth are you doing?”
After a pause, Stella makes eye contact and answers, “Wondering where Rose is.”
Reed gestures with wide eyes to the open refrigerated chamber.
“Oh, sorry,” Stella says, moving to slide the table back in. “We got an ID. Probable suicide. Anderson was reading me a letter left for her mother, and—” she swings the door closed and turns back to Reed, “I guess I wanted to bear witness. I shouldn’t have done that.”
“No, you shouldn’t have,” Reed agrees, though she finds her annoyance has melted away.
When Stella’s eyes dart to her torso, she remembers her unbuttoned shirt. She’s not indecent; she’s wearing a camisole. But there’s the suggestion of indecency, and it makes a slight blush rise to her cheeks.
The truth is she wants to be indecent with Stella. Badly. It’s just complicated, and the timing couldn’t be worse. She begins buttoning her shirt and asks, “Still interested in that nightcap?”
“You need to ask?”
“Well, you were falling asleep in my office not twenty minutes ago. Thought you might rather get some rest.”
There’s a bit of maternal care in Reed’s voice, and Stella can’t help but like it.
“No,” Stella replies breathily. “Not when Rose is still out there.”
Reed nods slightly in understanding, pauses, then says, “I have a better idea.”
“Let’s go for a ride.” One of Stella’s brows shoots up. “On my bike.”
“Oh.” Stella hesitates. She wonders if Reed is trying to avoid a scene that looks too much like the previous night, or if maybe she, Stella, is trying to avoid not being in control. “I don’t know.”
“It’ll help take your mind off things.”
Reed’s face wears a small smile, but Stella can see the worry in her eyes and exhaustion all over. This guilt in her stomach is becoming too familiar.
“There’s someplace I want to take you.”
Curiosity trumps control. Stella nods. “Okay,” she says, thinking maybe she didn’t ruin their friendship last night after all.
She’s riding pillion, her arms wrapped firmly around Reed’s waist. They’ve been winding through forested roads for fifteen minutes, way out past the Goodall property, and Reed was right. Stella’s mind has become increasingly unfocused on work, the case, Rose—everything—the longer they ride. The night air is chilly, but Reed’s body is warm. The effect is almost like sex. Maybe not as pleasurable, but as much full-body experience, as all-encompassing. Bursts of scent and sound. The powerful rush of slicing through the wind. Sensory overwhelming cerebral. Nothing more pressing than the feeling of being alive.
After another five minutes or so, Reed slows and turns off the main road. They take a long narrow access road up to the top of a steep hill, where they park and dismount.
Reed opens one of the saddle bags and pulls out two blankets and a flashlight.
“So where are we exactly?” Stella asks.
“A reservoir?” she repeats with some skepticism.
“Come on, this way,” Reed gestures for Stella to follow.
They walk up an incline to the top of the reservoir. Reed shines the flashlight out over the water to show her it’s there. But that’s not what they’re here to see.
Reed turns away from the dark expanse of water. She hands Stella the flashlight, opens one of the blankets, and spreads it out on the grass. “Sit,” she instructs. Stella complies, and Reed follows suit. “Now, switch that off and look up.”
Stella turns off the torch, tilts her head back, and understands. The night sky. As she hasn’t seen it in a very, very long time. (When was the last real vacation she took?) With the city behind them and far enough away, this panorama is almost untouched by manmade light. So many stars set against the darkness of the universe. Paintbrush strokes of the Milky Way. She exhales.
“I come out here sometimes,” Reed speaks beside her. “On clear nights. And just stare at… all of this.” She gestures to the cosmos. “I find it oddly soothing.”
“‘Oddly’?” Stella asks. “It’s beautiful.”
“Contemplating the universe should make us despair in our utter insignificance, don’t you think?”
“It does put things into perspective.” Stella settles back onto her elbows and stretches her legs out in front of her.
“Some people find it depressing, I guess,” Reed says, also leaning back and stretching out. “I, however, find it comforting to be reminded of how small I am compared to an ever-expanding vastness.”
Reed chuckles, and Stella looks at her profile.
“Because it means I can’t really do so much damage in the grand scheme.” Stella’s brow furrows a little. Reed’s eyes are directed upward. “It means I should just make the decisions I believe are right, do what feels right, and not worry so much about what everyone else thinks.”
“I see,” Stella whispers.
Reed’s neck turns. She meets Stella’s eyes and says, “I’m sorry about last night.”
“Don’t be,” Stella replies. She looks back up toward the sky, but she can feel Reed’s eyes on her. She adds, “You were right to walk away no matter how badly I didn’t want you to.”
“I shouldn’t’ve asked you up; I was out of line.”
“I wanted to come up.” Reed needs her to know.
But Stella keeps looking up and intones, “It would’ve been a mistake."
It feels like a boulder drops into Reed's stomach. “How can you say that?”
Stella takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. She lies flat on her back and shifts her gaze to Reed’s questioning eyes. She says, meaningfully, “There are things I can’t tell you.”
“Did something did happen? With the investigation?” Stella’s silence and steady eye contact confirm what her voice cannot. “Are there things you can tell me?”
“Jim showed up a few minutes after I got back to my room.”
“Jim Burns?” Stella nods. “What did he want?”
Reed sees an unfamiliar fear in her blue eyes. She lies out flat on her back, too, and softens her voice. “Just tell me.”
“This cannot go anywhere.” Stella is serious.
“Nowhere. I promise.”
Stella nods her thanks, takes a deep breath, and looks back up at the stars. It’ll be easier if she doesn’t have to see Reed’s reactions. Then she narrates: “Burns was drunk. He seemed to need to talk, so I let him in. He was upset about something to do with work. Deep in self-pity. And then he was trying to kiss me, begging me for ‘just one night.’”
Reed turns sharp eyes on Stella.
But Stella’s tone doesn’t change. She's merely reporting facts. “I told him no, repeatedly. He went ahead and tried anyway. I had to hit him, and hard, to get him to stop.”
“He attacked you?” When Stella doesn’t reply, Reed mutters, “I’ll fucking kill him.”
Stella keeps her eyes on the sky and smiles a little on the inside. At some point in the future, maybe, she’ll tell Reed how endearing she is in this moment. Instead, she holds up a finger.
After finding and focusing on Ursa Major, she rasps, “The killer was there.”
“What?” Reed must have misheard. Her heart drops in her chest.
“The killer was in my hotel room. In the closet, to be precise.” The irony still stings. “I don’t think he meant to be there when I returned; he left when I was helping Jim with his bloody nose in the bathroom.”
Stella finally looks at Reed, and she sees a mess of emotions battling for priority: anger, confusion, fear. “He broke in while I was downstairs, with you, at the bar.”
There’s a lengthy pause, and both women turn their eyes back up to the cosmos. Reed tries to process what she’s just learned. Stella weighs the pros and cons of telling her about the journal. She’s already said too much, and Reed will just have more questions. Part of her doesn’t want to break protocol; part of her thinks she needs to. A need that only becomes more acute when Reed places her hand atop Stella’s. She spreads her fingers apart to let Reed’s fill the gaps.
Stella doubts Spector realizes this is just another thing he has stolen from her: the freedom to speak as a person he’s victimized rather than just as DSI Gibson. She meant what she said to Jim, that this isn’t procedural; it’s personal. Yet because of procedure, she has to sublimate her person. It’s unfair, and she hates it.
“Can I ask,” Reed begins slowly, “how you knew he’d been there? If you didn’t see him, I mean.”
“He changed the wallpaper on my laptop. He left a note in my journal.” Stella’s tone tries to be flat, matter-of-fact, but Reed can hear the hurt and anger simmering just beneath the surface. “CCTV footage confirmed the timing.”
Stella tries to steer the conversation back to the two of them: “So that’s why it’s good you didn’t come up.”
But everything is still sinking in for Reed; she barely acknowledges the comment and asks, “Are you okay?”
“I honestly don’t know how to answer that right now,” she replies with a sigh.
“Of course you’re not okay. They both violated you.” Reed is surprised to find her blood boiling more over Burns's assault than Spector's. “Are you going to report Burns?”
Stella sighs again. “I don’t know.” Reed raises her eyebrows. “I’ve known him for years. We have history. He’s apologized. I believe that he is sorry.”
“None of that makes what he did okay.”
“I know," she admits, feeling weary. Then the corners of her mouth quirk up. "Making him bleed from his face did mitigate some of my rage.”
Reed sighs. “Obviously, it’s up to you. But for the record, if he ever puts his hands on you ag—”
“He won’t,” Stella cuts her off. “But your anger is appreciated.” Her eyes dart to Reed’s mouth and back to her eyes. “And sexy.”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“I’m not." Stella widens her eyes, affecting innocence. "It’s an observation.”
How can this woman be so hard and so soft at the same time? So seemingly unapproachable yet so warm and welcoming? Reed wants to hate her for it. How dare Stella let her see beneath her façade? How dare she show up out of nowhere and confront her with this unmistakable desire?
When Stella goes to pull out her mobile and check the time, Reed reflexively catches her wrist to stop her. They hold eye contact for a long moment, then Reed rolls toward Stella and finds her lips with her own.
Stella inhales sharply and brings one hand up to brush against Reed’s cheek. She can’t help but think there’s some meaning behind this. Reed’s kiss is soft yet insistent. It’s brief but charged. Stella’s lips part slightly as she returns it with equal intent.
Reed pulls back ever-so slightly. Her eyes look to Stella’s parted lips. Stella slides her hand to the back of Reed’s neck and leads her gently into another kiss. They both emit small sounds of pleasure as one tongue slips against the other. When Reed goes to pull away, Stella catches her lower lip between her teeth, which makes Reed go back in, deeper this time, letting herself moan into Stella’s mouth.
When they part, Reed rolls back onto her back, and their necks swivel to look at one another. It’s dark, but Reed thinks Stella is blushing. There’s more in her eyes than lust. They inch closer to each other on the blanket, their hands coming together. Then they both turn their gazes back up to the night sky. Reed points out Cassiopeia. Stella finds Lyra. Together, they can identify a grand total of four constellations.
After a while, Stella tilts her head to look at Reed and says, “Thanks for bringing me here.”
“You’re welcome,” she replies and smiles. Then her smile fades a little, but only because she's about to be brave. “I was just thinking…”
“...I should take you home with me instead of back to your car.”
Stella doesn't even try to hide her surprise.
“Well, you’ve barely slept in two days," Reed explains. "I don’t like the idea of you driving.”
"Ah," Stella exhales and nods a little.
“And I like the idea of you staying at a hotel that let a serial killer break into your room even less.”
“I was planning to go back to the station anyway,” Stella remarks.
“No.” Reed's tone brooks no argument.
“You are not sleeping on that cot in your office.” Stella begins to protest, but Reed speaks over her. “You have two options. Either I follow you back to the hotel and make sure you arrive safely, or you come stay at my place.” Reed can’t tell if Stella is annoyed, impressed, or possibly even a little touched. She adds, maybe against her better judgment, “My bed is ridiculously comfortable.”
After a lengthy silence, much of which is spent with her mouth slightly open in shock, Stella asks, “Your girls?”
“At their father’s.”
Back at Reed’s, Stella borrows a t-shirt to sleep in. Reed shows her to the bathroom and leaves to go take care of a couple small chores downstairs. After changing, washing her face, and using her finger to pseudo-brush her teeth, Stella pads back into the bedroom and climbs into bed. She tries not to think about her absent journal or let her throbbing investigative brain drag her into wakefulness. She focuses instead on how calming she finds it to be surrounded by Reed’s things, wrapped in linens that carry her scent.
Reed comes in a few minutes later, and Stella watches her change into sleep shorts and a tank top. She turns away when she takes off her shirt and unhooks her bra, but she doesn’t leave the room. Stella feels a familiar warmth rush through her as she appreciates the smooth expanse of Reed’s bare back. She wishes she could touch.
Is she signaling that she likes Stella’s eyes on her? That she wants Stella to see more of her? Am I looking at Reed the way Jim looked at that bottle of scotch? The way he looks at me? The slim possibility that she’s still misreading this situation makes her more anxious than she’d ever let anyone see.
When Reed comes back from the washroom and slips into bed, Stella rolls onto her side to look at her. She rasps, “Can I ask you something?”
“Of course,” she replies.
“Do you see me the way I see Jim?”
“What? No.” Reed almost laughs it out. “Why would I?”
“Because I kissed you without your consent. I propositioned you." Reed's forehead wrinkles in disbelief. "Because I could tell you were unsure but pushed ahead anyway." Now Reed's mouth is dropping open as if to argue. "Because I felt somewhat desperate to not be alone.” Stella locks into Reed’s eyes and confesses, “Because I didn’t want to let you go.”
“First of all," Reed begins gently, moving closer. "I might not have made it all the way to your bed.” She runs a finger over her clavicle and down her arm. “But please don’t erase all the ways I was saying 'yes'.”
Stella breathes out her name.
“And secondly,” Reed continues. “How badly you didn’t want to let me go is irrelevant; you let me go. You didn’t even say anything to try to get me to stay.”
Stella’s eyes dart away and back. “Why? So I could wonder the whole time if you really wanted to be there?”
“Let me tell you something, Stella.” Reed’s voice has taken on a touch of impatience. “I’ve been trying to talk myself out of my attraction to you since the day we met. I wanted to be with you last night. The imaginary complications I made up in my head are what I didn’t want.”
Stella’s brow furrows.
“But, you know, I’m not really so sure anymore that it’s worth it—working so hard to deny myself something I want so badly.” Her voice drops lower, and she says, “Something that feels so good,” drawing out the last three words slowly.
Tears rise in Stella’s eyes, but she blinks them back. She’s too tired for feelings, even though she’s the one who brought it up. “Does it?” she asks. “Feel good?”
“Yes,” Reed whispers. “So good.” Stella's expression relaxes, and she smiles. Reed shifts closer, and the bare skin of their legs touch. She runs a gentle hand over Stella’s hair. “Now sleep.”
“Mmhmm,” Stella mumbles, letting her eyes flutter closed.
And the last thing she remembers before falling into a dreamless sleep is the press of Reed’s lips against her forehead.