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Endear You To Me

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Sharon took Friday off after resolving Officer Dunleavy’s OIS late Thursday afternoon.  She had recommended that the officer be fired and that criminal charges be brought.  Something that she had done only three times in ten years, despite what the rest of the LAPD thought.  The Inspector General had agreed with her recommendation. And though it was up to Will Pope to follow through with the firing, the criminal proceedings were underway - Dunleavy had been arraigned on charges of unlawful discharge of a firearm, four counts of reckless endangerment, assault with a deadly weapon, and attempted murder.  ‘Aiming at that bitch’, indeed.  Justice was, in Sharon’s mind, served.  And in the department’s mind, Sharon had reaffirmed her status as that bitch who was forever crossing the thin blue line.

She spent most of Monday morning hiding in her office, deleting anonymous hate mail from untrackable free email accounts (patrol officers were worse than fraternity boys), and reviewing paperwork for a case that she was testifying in and a case that was pending against the department and a few officers from Hollywood division. 

Come lunch, Sharon snuck down the stairs and out a door that led directly into the garage.  When Sharon returned to her office nearly two hours later - depositions could be very comfortably read in that nice little bistro five blocks away where no self-respecting boots on the ground cop would ever set foot, thank you very much - there was a riotous bouquet of flowers on her desk.  She closed the door behind her and leaned against it for a few long moments, eyeing the flowers with a bit of suspicion.

Would a bunch of gun toting, immature frat boy police officers send her tainted flowers?  Probably not.  And probably not a bouquet of honeysuckle, daffodil, forsythia cuttings and something faded orange and slightly tropical looking.  She leaned in and let the sweet scent of the honeysuckle fill her nostrils.  Her fingers itched to pop one of the orange blossoms off its stem and drip the nectar onto her tongue, just as she had during the long California summers of her childhood, but she removed the card from its holder instead.

The card was handwritten - vaguely familiar, loopy feminine script.  It said:

Sharon,

I am endlessly thankful for the loyalty and integrity you bring to the job every day.  You ARE the best of us.  And I am honored and privileged to know a little of the kind and funny woman that is Sharon Raydor.  I hope that these flowers can do a little to brighten your day.

BLJ

Oh.  Oh wow.  Sharon set the card down and leaned on her desk, supporting herself on shaking arms.  What did this mean?  She dropped into one of the chairs that sat in front of her desk.  Was this friendship with a southern woman?  Flowers and obscenely delicious breakfasts on horrible mornings when a kind gesture made all the difference in the world, and flirtatious conversations over meals and on the phone, and implicit understanding when your day went absolutely pear shaped and you desperately needed to cry on someone’s shoulder, even if it was only over the phone.

If this was friendship with Brenda Leigh Johnson, Sharon Raydor didn’t think she would survive, because each gesture from her Chief hammered another dent in the armor that Sharon Raydor had built around her heart; many more dents, and her heart would begin to bruise.  And she was furious that life was throwing her another curveball when even her status quo, with Brenda Leigh and in general, was rather solitary and hard to bear.  Her mask of distance and reserve along with sheer willpower allowed her to do her job in FID.  What would happen if Brenda Leigh breached those walls and she had no one to help her pick herself up when their friendship (inevitably, Sharon thought) self destructed?  She picked up her Blackberry and pounded frustratedly on the keyboard.

TO: BLJ

Why are you doing this?

Her phone rang almost the very second the message registered as sent.  Fuck.  This was a conversation she really wanted to have by text message.  She was feeling much too brittle for a phone conversation.  She answered anyway; sending her Chief to voicemail was never really an option.

“Why am I doing what, Sharon?  What have I done?”  What have I done this time, was the question Sharon heard.  Brenda sounded weary and a little terse, like Sharon was fulfilling every one of the unfavorable expectations she’d had for this conversation.

“You sent me flowers,” her voice breaking with emotion.

“I did.  I sent you flowers.”  Brenda confirmed warily.

“You sent me beautiful flowers and you’ve been sweet and thoughtful and understanding when it feels like the whole fucking world is lined up against me and I don’t know what it means,” Sharon choked out through the lump of tears and fear in her throat.

“Sharon, I can’t help you professionally like you’ve helped me, I’ve burned too many bridges to do that for you, but I can be supportive, can’t I?  When you need it?”  And for the second time in less than a week, Sharon found herself sobbing into the phone while Brenda Leigh Johnson breathed quietly on the other end of the line.

“Oh Shari, I’m sorry I made your day worse.  I didn’t mean to.  I always seem to do the wrong thing.”  Brenda sighed.  “Listen, I’m about to walk into an interview.  If it wasn’t time sensitive, I would…”  She trailed off and Sharon heard David Gabriel’s voice in the background.  She said something to Gabriel then came back on the line. 

“The flowers will tell you what I mean, ok?  Not the card; but the flowers themselves will tell you what you need to know.  Do you understand?”  Brenda’s voice was soft.

“Yes.  At least I think so.”  Sharon wanted to stomp her foot and demand that the blonde explain herself immediately, to demand directness, to resolve this at this very instant.  But they were at work, and even if Sharon was hiding from her more onerous duties, Brenda still had a job to do.

“I can’t promise you’ll like what they mean, Sharon.”  Brenda sighed, her tone still endlessly weary and very much apprehensive.  “I’ll call you later and we can talk.”  Sharon mumbled an acknowledgement and Brenda hung up.

Sharon stabbed the end call button after Brenda disconnected and clunked her head onto the desk.  The lovely cut crystal vase that held her bouquet rattled.  The flowers, then.  Brenda had to be referring to the meanings Victorian and other cultures had assigned to flowers of different species and colors, but Sharon couldn’t even identify one of the flowers. 

Sharon sat in the dim quiet for a while, staring at the flowers, the tang of honeysuckle permeating the air of her office.  Finally, she sighed and woke her computer from sleep; time to do some googling if she wanted to solve the mystery message in the flowers Brenda had sent her. 

She opened a browser window and considered the cursor blinking in the search bar for a moment.  ‘Flower meanings’ she typed and then hit enter.  The fourth hit was a wikipedia page, she clicked the link and scrolled down the table to the entry for ‘daffodil’ - it read ‘uncertainty, chivalry, respect or unrequited love’.  Sharon bit her lip and shifted in her chair.  She scrolled down a little more.  Forsythia wasn’t present among the f’s, so she moved on to the h’s.  ‘Devoted affection, bonds of love’ said the honeysuckle entry.  Oh.  Sharon brought her fingers to her lips, like she was trying to physically contain her gasp.  A familiar, pleasant ache arose in the pit of her stomach; a feeling of yearning that had long been absent from her life.  She allowed herself a small smile and returned her cursor to the search box, typed ‘forsythia meaning’, and pressed enter.  She chose the first hit this time, scanning the pdf she had found for the f’s.  ‘Forsythia - anticipation’ it said.  Sharon smiled broadly for what felt like the first time in days.

Brenda Leigh’s feelings for her writ large in heady blossoms and redolent with the perfume of honeysuckle; even if she couldn’t identify one of flowers, the intent was clear.  What a risk her Chief was taking!  Despite her preference for directness, Sharon thought she could develop an appreciation for the layers of meaning in the language of flowers.  Especially if Brenda wanted to continue giving her lessons.

The question now wasn’t how she felt about her Chief’s declaration, or how she was going to respond, but how to put Brenda’s mind at ease.  Brenda Leigh had to be nervous, putting something like this out there for Sharon’s consideration, not truly knowing how she would react.  She came to a decision quickly, pushing back a little to pull a mirror and makeup removal wipes out of her desk drawer.  With her fingers, she blended in the tear tracks on her cheeks, and used a wipe to remove her mascara.  Checking her hair and tucking her glasses and a pen into her blazer pocket and a folder of depositions under her arm, she left her office and headed for the stairs.

The murder room was empty when Sharon walked into Major Crimes, though she could hear voices filtering out from the media room.  Sharon stepped into the Chief’s office, thankful that the blinds were already drawn and she wouldn’t have to endure being in a fishbowl while she was waiting.  She sat down at the Chief’s table, opened her folder and began to read.

Sharon looked up from her work when the murder room sprang to life - she could hear the click of the Chief’s heels across the tile and the nervousness trickled down the back of her throat and into her belly.  Brenda stepped into her door and froze, cringing.  Flynn and Provenza plowed into the Chief’s back, nearly bowling her over.  The Chief kept her feet, but just barely.  Sharon stood and quirked a small smile, trying to catch the blonde’s gaze, but Brenda’s eyes were darting around nervously, focusing on anything but Sharon herself.  The Chief collected herself and dismissed her lieutenants with twitch of her head.  They turned to leave, but not without narrowing their eyes at Sharon.

Brenda closed the door behind them and leaned on it, finally looking at Sharon directly.  Everything about her face and body language screamed wariness, like she was about to bolt.  Sharon took a step towards her, a hand extended, like she was approaching a skittish horse.  “Brenda Leigh,” she intoned, and smiled.  Brenda smiled back tentatively, relaxing a little.

“You really surprised me today, Brenda Leigh.”  Sharon said softly.

“Was it really that much of a surprise?  I’ve been worried that you would catch me out, you know, moonin’ over you.”  Brenda cast her eyes down, shy.

“You were hiding it better than you thought, I guess.”  They were both blushing, nervous as a pair of school girls realizing a mutual crush.

“Oh for heaven’s sake,” Brenda whispered frustratedly and then she stepped into Sharon’s body, lifting a hand to brush a lock of silky hair back behind Sharon’s ear.  Sharon brought shaking hands to rest on the blonde’s slender waist and Brenda slipped her hands under Sharon’s arms and pulled them into a hug - an awkward clinch of their upper bodies until Sharon shifted her hips and brought their lower bodies into contact.  Brenda made a happy little noise in her throat.  They held each other for a few heartbeats, then pulled away, hands still clasped.

“Why today?” Sharon wanted to know.

“Pure selfishness.” Brenda quipped and Sharon made a face at her.  Then Brenda quirked her lips up and cocked a shoulder.  “I was tryin’ hard to be your friend, to be supportive, but I wanted more and I’m well known for my patience.”  She squeezed Sharon’s hand.  “Told you - pure selfishness.”

“I was a little scared when I read that card, because I knew there was something I was missing, and after the week I had…”  Sharon whispered, trailing off.  “And now, god, I’m so happy.  Stunned, but happy.”  Brenda let out a gusty breath and smiled brightly, brown eyes glittering, and Sharon couldn’t help the reflexive smile that grew on her face.

“Sharon,” Brenda breathed, like a prayer.  “I’m sorry I caused you such stress earlier.  My mama taught me about flowers when I was little - I guess I thought it would be a subtle way for me to let you know my intentions.” 

“And I’m sorry I didn’t understand the gesture, Brenda Leigh, but this California girl didn’t learn about flowers from her mama.  You were off limits for so long, and you have to understand I couldn’t ever let myself think or hope or imagine that this could happen.  I had to let protecting you professionally and being around you be enough.  Letting myself think too much about you, about why I needed to protect you, it was never safe for me.”

“Oh, Shari, I do.  I do understand.” Brenda murmured and they were both silent for a few moments, reveling in their new understanding.

“Can I…can I take you out tonight, Sharon?”  Brenda stuttered charmingly, unsure of herself again.  Sharon tilted her head and furrowed her brow at the nervous blonde.

“Tonight?  Didn’t you just catch a case?”

“Yea, yea I did.  But my suspect,” she broke off and made a frustrated noise.  “My suspect walked into HQ before I was ready for him and now he’s lawyered up.  And I don’t have anything I can use to convince him to revoke counsel.  I have a post mortem in a little while and by the time that’s through, I’ll have preliminary SID and canvass reports.  But I can’t…none of that will matter if I can’t see you tonight, Shari, because I won’t be able to concentrate.”

“I see.”

“Is that a yes?”  Brenda wanted to know, shy.

“Of course it is.  I want to have dinner with you.  We can do something close, if you want.  So you can get back to work.” 

“No, I’m gonna make reservations somewhere nice.  I’ll text you later, with the details.”  Hands still clasped, they shared a silent moment, heavy with emotion.

“Okay.  I’ll see you tonight, then, Brenda Leigh.”  Sharon squeezed her Chief’s hand, and left.

Twenty five minutes later, Sharon was back in her office, back at work and a little distracted, though happily so.  Her phone dinged.

FROM: BLJ

Let me pick you up?  Between 8 and 8:15?

TO: BLJ

That’s fine.  What do I wear?

FROM: BLJ

It’s not a jeans sort of place.  Work attire would be fine, if you don’t want an extra outfit for the dry cleaners.  I’m going to change, though.  Cuz of the morgue smell.

TO: BLJ

I think I can do a little better than business wear, Brenda Leigh.

FROM: BLJ

You always take my breath away, but I can’t wait to see what you pick for our date.  I have to put on my gloves now - Morales is giving me his cranky face.   Five hours is an eternity, but I’ll see you when I pick you up.

Brenda was positive that if her mind wasn’t occupied by a fresh investigation and autopsy and all the details that this stage of a case entailed, she would be pacing or running stairs or demolishing the entire contents of her candy drawer, so intensely was she anticipating spending her evening with Sharon.  She had a date!  With Sharon Raydor!  Who was beautiful and funny (and thought Brenda was funny) and had preternaturally fantastic hair.  Sharon Raydor who never let her get away with anything and knew all her dirty little professional secrets and that her personal life could be a train wreck and still wanted to date her.  Sharon Raydor, who brought out a tenderness and protectiveness in Brenda that Brenda had thought gone, dismantled and discarded by her CIA training and years of wariness and mistrust of almost everyone, personally and professionally.   

As it was, she was grinning like a madwoman at nothing and jogging her crossed leg so hard that it would occasionally bang into the media room desk and make the monitors bounce.  Her team was looking at her like they might need a stun gun at any moment because surely, the Chief was losing it.  Andy was giving her the sidelong eye and inching his chair away slowly as if her crazy was catching.  Brenda curled her lip at him in a half snarl and he gave her a startled look, but stopped inching.

Brenda whipped out her phone and hunched over it, ignoring the footage from some fast food drive-thru for a moment.

TO: S. Raydor

I can’t stop smiling like a crazy person.  I think my team is ready to taser me and throw me in a straitjacket.

Brenda dragged her eyes back to the screens.

“OH!  There he is!” Andy hooted, jamming his fingers down on the pause button.  The video stopped on a frame that showed their suspect’s alibi witness ordering two double cheeseburgers, a large fry and a large Coke six minutes before their quite specific time of death.

“Send copies of that to my printer please, Buzz.”  Brenda was almost where she needed to be for her interview tomorrow.  Her phone dinged.

FROM: S. Raydor

Well, if they did that, you would get to see me sooner.  But I don’t think we’d make dinner.  And then I’d have to kill your entire squad for making us miss our date.  Even Buzz.

Brenda giggled.

TO: S. Raydor

Poor Buzz.  Always guilty by association.  That would be an awful lot of paperwork just to see you two hours sooner.  I guess I’ll also have to scrap my plans to get sued again to have you around more often.

FROM: S. Raydor

You’re terrible.  Though I think I prefer jokes about multi-million dollar Federal lawsuits to  jokes about Pope and his lechery.  I’ll see you soon.

Brenda smiled stupidly again.  Oh, that woman.  She tripped happily back into the murder room, only to stop dead in her tracks when she saw Provenza working diligently at the white board - a much more elaborate, multi-colored version of the legendary wicked witch artwork was taking shape there.  Flynn and Sanchez were providing color commentary and critique.  Brenda clenched her jaw and flared her nostrils.

“LIEUTENANT PROVENZA PUT THAT MARKER DOWN AND ERASE THAT IMMEDIATELY!” She barked in a tone that she thought put her daddy’s best military bark to shame .  Provenza startled and fumbled the marker, but had enough good sense not to protest.  Flynn and Sanchez hung their heads; little boys - like puppies caught out doing something naughty.

Brenda lowered her voice, but kept her tone dangerous.  “Everyone in my conference room, this instant.  Buzz too.”  Brenda stopped off in her office to deposit her purse and folders before slamming furiously into the conference room where her squad had assembled with remarkable rapidity.  There were no protests or excuses or whispering.

Again Brenda kept her voice low.  “I will tolerate no more disrespect of Captain Raydor or FID in my hearing or in my murder room.  If you have a problem with the difficult decisions that Captain Raydor has to make in regards to officer involved shootings, I suggest you grow up and find yourself a clue.  I had to, and now I’m dragging the rest of ya’ll along with me.  I also suggest you take a moment to think on exactly where you would be had Cap’n Raydor not plugged the leak in this department and helped make the Goldman go away, because it probably wouldn’t be here.”  Provenza opened his mouth to speak.  Brenda cut him off.

“No.  This is not a situation where you get to justify what you were doing and try to sound reasonable.  There is no justification.  WIthout even considering the dozens of helpful little things she did for us while the lawsuits were hangin’ over our collective heads, Captain Raydor is responsible for the continued existence of Major Crimes.  Period.  The next step the brass were considering to combat the leak was to break up the unit and distribute all of us throughout the department.  No more Major Crimes meant no more leak, gentlemen, and Pope was ready to move on to drastic solutions.”  She pinched the bridge of her nose and rubbed a little to alleviate the tension that was forming there.

“And as for Officer Dunleavy and the OIS that FID closed last week; how far does one of our brother officers have to go before you think he should lose his badge?”  Provenza opened his mouth again.  She cut him off again. 

“No Provenza, that was a rhetorical question.  The fact of the matter is that someone has to police the police.  And as bothersome as an FID investigation can be, 80% of the time, and that is the actual number for the past five years, those investigated for an OIS are back on duty with nothing more than a note in their file and a few mandatory counseling sessions, usually before FID’s 72 hour reporting period has even ended.”  She paused and met each man’s eyes.

“This unit will no longer be involved with or participate in any obstruction of FID investigations.  Any attempt to do so, or any disrespect of Captain Raydor and her people will result in an immediate two day suspension without pay and a citation in your permanent records.  And I am the final arbiter of what constitutes disrespect.  Dismissed.”

Looking a little shell-shocked, they all filed out of the conference room.  Flynn murmured an apology as he passed, a thoughtful look on his face.  She didn’t acknowledge him, or any of them, beyond her unblinking stare.  When they had all exited, she returned to her office and packed her bag.  Without a word to anyone, she left the murder room and then the building, already mentally going through her closet, trying to decide what she was going to wear.