No good deed goes unpunished.
This is the first thought that runs through Maura's mind as she pulls the vehicle over to the side of the road. The dust plume that her wheels have kicked up in their wake overtakes her, and for a long moment she just sits in the car, gathering herself.
She is going to have to get out and see about the wheel. Whatever she hit has definitely damaged the tire, and she takes a final second to hope that it is just that and not the axel or the rims.
But the night is pitch dark beyond her headlights, and who knows what the rural dirt roads hold in terms of danger.
She steps out of the car, flashlight tight in her hands, and the world is illuminated for a split second by the flash of thunder.
"No," Maura says, looking up at the sky.
The thunder rolls in answer.
"Okay," Maura says, hefting the tool bag from the floor of the backseat. "Here we go."
She is soaked to the skin almost immediately. The rain follows the thunder within minutes, and though she deduces that the tire of her vehicle is the only thing that has sustained any damage, she realizes very quickly that she just isn't strong enough to change it by herself.
"This is why they warn us never to take the vehicles out alone," Maura tells her non-existent companion. "And never after dark."
That's not the only reason.
The part of her that is scared, the part of her that she has been shoving down and out of consciousness since she arrived in this new country, it rears its ugly head. She stands back from her vehicle and crosses her arms over her chest.
Would it be better to walk?
She contemplates the repercussions of leaving a military grade vehicle on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Granted it is not armed or even full of gas. She is closer to the base than to the settlement, and she doubts that anyone with ill intentions would be able to do more than drive it around for an hour or so. On the other hand-
Her musing is cut short by a second pair of headlights on the road, coming from the same way she had been, which is not reassuring. Sure enough, the car that grinds to a halt in the pouring rain is a civilian jeep, four men, rain hoods obscuring their faces…but not their shotguns.
"Get in," the driver calls to her over the rumble of more thunder.
"No, thank you," Maura says, stepping back. She realizes that she is shivering. It is not just from the cold.
"Get in," the man in the passenger seat says, more forcefully.
"Like fucking shit," A rough voice says from behind Maura, and she turns to see the end of an Assault rifle, balanced across the window of the passenger's side of her car. The person who owns the voice is hidden behind the steel of the car's body. "Why don't you assholes continue on your way?"
The occupants of the jeep say a couple words in their language, which Maura recognizes as profanity.
The man hidden behind her vehicle throws the words right back, and as a flash of lightening pitches everything into daylight for a moment, Maura realizes that he is wearing a US issued vest, and that the gun is military issued.
She feels relief wash over her, as real as the rain.
The men in the jeep seem to think that she is no longer worth their time, and with a couple more swear words, they speed off into the darkness.
The soldier stands and trains his gun on the taillights until they are only specks in the distance, and then he stands straight and presses a hand to his vest. "Yo, Frost. We're clear, over."
At this, there is the gun of an engine and the flash of two more headlights, perpendicular to Maura's vehicle. She blinks against the new light, and as her eyes adjust, she sees that her rescuer is not a man, but a woman. She pulls her helmet off and shakes out her hair, and the ATV that was hiding in the scrub brush, pulls up alongside them.
"It's a flat," the woman soldiers says, her voice still deep and rough. "You owe me sixty."
The driver of the ATV hops out, carrying his own bag of supplies. "Damn," he says. "The way it bucked I was sure it was an axel."
The woman soldier rolls her eyes, reaching out for the carjack Frost holds up. "Axel goes on this puppy? It's gonna throw the doctor clear out."
Maura watches as they move to the tire and crouch down simultaneously to inspect it. Frost whistles low between his teeth.
"Fuckin' knew it," the woman says darkly.
Maura can't be quiet any longer. "Ah, excuse me," she says slowly. "Who-"
The woman looks up at her over her shoulder. "I'm Rizzoli," she says, "This is Frost." She turns back to inspect the wheel, and Maura gets her first good look at the identifying insignias on the soldiers arms.
Frost's indicates that he is a Corporal.
Rizzoli's…indicates Master Sargent.
The doctor's gasp makes the other two jump up, alert. They both pull their weapons and train them in opposite directions, so graceful that it seems choreographed.
"What?" Frost asks her, tight-lipped. "more headlights?"
"Oh," Maura is glad that the darkness might hide some of her blush. "No…I…" she looks at the woman lowering her weapon.
"Jesus," Rizzoli says. "You can't make noises like that when we're out here alone, okay?"
Maura opens her mouth, but an answer doesn't come to her.
"Lay off her, Jay," Frost says softly. It strikes Maura as too familiar a reprimand for their ranks. They must be something else to each other besides comrades.
"She nearly got herself abducted. You want me to lay off her?"
They turn back to the wheel, and with their combined effort, manage to loosen the bolts enough to remove and replace the tires. Maura watches without saying anything else, until Rizzoli climbs behind the wheel of her vehicle and Frost heads back towards their ATV.
"I'm perfectly capable of getting it back to it's-" she begins, but Rizzoli glares at her, and she can see that even Frost raises his eyes to the heavens.
"Get. In the car," the woman says between gritted teeth, and although this is the same exact sentence her would-be abductors had used, Maura obeys. And she knows better than to point this out.
She is expecting to be reprimanded by the Chief of Staff the next day. She expects to be told to review the safety protocol, perhaps even restricted to the base for a period of time. She expects that Rizzoli or Frost will come to scold her as well.
None of that happens.
Business continues as usual. No one seems to be any the wiser in regards to her nighttime jaunts. There is not even an inquiry about the vehicle, and how it managed to blow a tire while sitting in a garage.
It is almost two weeks until she sees Rizzoli and Frost again. They are in a settlement forty miles from base, have been called there to see to the victims of the latest firefight, and when they'd arrived, Maura had seen that the victims were civilians and soldiers alike. Marines sitting on the same worn cots as women and children.
The sight makes her want to cry. It fills her with a kind of molten determination.
Frost is her fifth patient. She turns to greet whoever is next, and feels her eyes go wide in recognition. Frost only chuckles, holding out his hand.
"Corporal Barry Frost, Dr. Isles," He says easily. "Good to officially meet you."
Maura takes his hand, reassured by how kind his face is, and gestures he should sit on her makeshift examination table. "What happened?" she asks. "You're my first soldier of the day."
"Worst off civilians first," Frost says. "Last Guard came from nowhere, fully armed to the teeth. They would have wiped everyone off the map if we hadn't been heading through. Right place, right time."
Maura presses lightly on his ribcage, raising an eyebrow when he hisses. "Not the right place for that particular rib, I'm afraid," she says, looking up when he chuckles.
"Sorry," he says, sobering at her expression. "That was funny."
"You won't think so in a moment," she says, and she uses the split second in which he is distracted to press the break firmly back into place.
"Corporal," she calls, when he is getting ready to leave a few moments later. He turns back to her. "I…wanted to thank you for…coming to my rescue the other night. I'm not sure what I would have done if you and – ah – Sargent Rizzoli hadn't arrived."
Frost grins at her. She wonders how a man in the middle of this war can have such a kind face.
"You know, Jane –that's the Sergeant? – she is in charge of the whole lot of you," Frost glances at her and recognizes her confusion. "I mean the doctors," he clarifies. "She oversees your boss. She's keeps track of all your supplies, makes sure you're all safe and accounted for, that sort of thing." He raises his eyebrows. "There's not a whole lot that goes on with the Medical Crew that she doesn't know about."
He pulls on a white undershirt over her bindings as Maura digests this.
It isn't possible. She'd been so careful. She'd made sure that she never took the same vehicle. She never went on the same day. No one had ever know…had they? Could the Master Sargeant know that she has been stealing vehicles to make house calls to scared, sick refugees since the third week of her arrival?
"Why wouldn't she tell anyone?" Maura blurts out, Just as Frost is pulling up the flap of the tent to take his leave.
He looks back at her. "You'll have to ask her," he says with a smirk. "She's next."
Master Sergeant Jane Rizzoli has a fractured nose and a mildly concerning laceration on the outside of her bicep that requires cleaning and stitches. She comes into the tent in just her fatigue bottoms and tank top, and where Frost's face had been open and kind, Maura thinks that this woman looks hardened and sharpened under the weight of the war.
"Local anesthesia," Maura says, holding up the syringe. Jane gives her a curt nod. She hasn't truly spoken since she entered the tent, and Maura feels unaccountably awkward, just as she had during the silent ride back to base the night of her flat tire.
When Jane's gruff voice finally breaks the silence, Maura almost misses with her needle.
"You need to take a JLTV."
"I'm…sorry?" Maura pauses her work as Jane glances up at her.
"When you go out. You need to take a JLTV, one of the bigger model vehicles. And switch up your routes. You take the same one to each settlement. People can follow your routine."
Maura stares at her. "You know I've been sneaking out?"
For a brief moment, the other woman smirks. "Yes," she says. "It's my business to know."
"JLTVs are harder to navigate alone," Maura says, deciding not to ask why she isn't in trouble.
"I'm going to accompany you," Jane says matter-of-factly, and although there are several pros to this idea, Maura fires up at once without pausing to consider them.
"You can't order me the way you order your privates around," she says. "I don't report to you."
Jane frowns. "Technically you do," she says. "But it's not an order. I'll accompany you. Or you just won't go. Your choice."
Maura sputters. "You'd deny sink and frightened people the chance to have access to medical supplies and antibiotics."
Jane blinks at her, impassive. "No, doctor," she says tightly. "You would, by not accepting my offer."
"If the government cared about more than protecting the exports our country depends on, then there would not be a war to injur these people at all. You do not allow me the time to make a full diagnosis, or to do a follow- up visit, and then when I find a way to work around-"
"Your LTV ran over road spikes," the soldier stands, cutting her off. She no longer looks uncaring. "You hit road spikes specifically designed to disable your vehicle. Do you know what that car of men had planned for you?"
Maura has stepped back, startled at the passion in the other woman's voice.
"They tracked you. They laid a trap. If I didn't figure out where you were going, and follow you every night, you would right now be screaming for help from some underground torture shack with no one to hear you."
Jane presses her hands together, and Maura notices that she has scars on the palms and the backs of them. She looks back up into the woman's face.
"I…didn't realize," she says.
Jane's face softens. Just barely. "You're not in America, Dr. Isles," she says quietly. "And there is no good guy or bad guy here. I'm not so deluded that I believe that. But I have a directive to protect my company, and to make sure the Medical Crew is safe. I take it seriously."
Maura steps back up to Jane, who sits slowly, and the stitching begins again.
"I'm sorry," Maura says. Jane doesn't answer for a long time.
"You know that…kid you saw on your seventh trip?"
Maura raises an eyebrow. "Boy or girl?"
"Little boy. Really little. His appendix burst?"
Maura smiles. "Yes." She taps Jane's arm to let her know she's all done, and watches as her work is inspected.
"Is he okay? Did his stitches get infected? I shooed him back inside from play field every time I could."
Maura feels both awe and shame. She has been too quick to judge. "He's doing well. I received word from his mother last week when we were in the refugee settlement."
Jane stands, nodding. Some of her hair has come loose from her bun. She swipes at it.
"Good," she says brusquely. "Well…thanks, doctor. And if you'd rather travel with Frost, I'm sure he'll do it. Hell, it doesn't matter. I out rank him." She grins, a cheeky, rather sexy thing.
"I wouldn't rather," Maura says. "Thank you."
"Thank you for helping back there, Sergeant. I find working with toddlers always requires an extra couple of hands."
"No problem. I have two kid brothers. I've seen worse."
"Yeah. Once I dared Frankie to climb this old tree in the park? He must'a been twenty feet up when a branch broke. I carried him on my back screaming, all the way home. Ankle bone sticking through his skin."
"What was unfortunate was how bad my Pop tanned my hide for letting him do that."
"He hit you?"
"Yeah. When he was pissed or drunk. Or both."
"…Well, no one's perfect. And God gave him Cancer for it…so…"
"I'm sorry, Sergeant. I didn't mean to sound judgmental. I…just don't believe a child could ever do something that would justify violence."
"…Your hands hurt more today?"
"You've been rubbing them. And it was foggy this morning. I assume they hurt more during the foggy weather."
"Jesus, yeah! They do. More than rain even. How did you know that?"
"There's more moisture in the air. That exacerbates the problem I would assume. I can show you some pressure points that might relieve the pain."
"…yeah. Thanks, Doctor."
"You can call me Maura…Well, I suppose you can't, not in public, but…Here. You can. If you wish."
"Okay…And you can call me Jane. Here. And maybe in civilian life. If I get there."
"You'll get there, Jane. Don't say morbid things like that. What are you smiling at."
"Nothin…I just…I like the way you say my name. Can you say it again?"
"It's been a while since anyone called me that, but I like it from you, especially, I guess. Sorry. I made you uncomfortable."
"Not at all. But it's polite to return the favor. Under the circumstances."
"What? Oh! Maura…I'm sorry, Maura."
"I will like it very, very much when we are just Maura & Jane. And you will get there. I have faith."
"Me too... Keep your eyes on the road."
Maura looks up to see Susie Chang standing in her door. The look on her face says she's been standing there for a while.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Chang, I lost myself. What can I do for you?"
"There's someone up in the bullpen to see you. I said I'd come and see if you were available."
Maura stands, feeling in the stiffness of her back the long hours she's spent in the chair. "Something to do with this case?"
"No, Doctor, I don't think so. Do you want me to say that you're-"
"No," Maura summons a smile as she exits her office, Susie on her heels. "I'm fine."
She is not fine. Not really.
She has been home, in Boston, for almost a year, the Chief Medical Examiner at the precinct for half of that, but her time in Doctors Without Borders still clings to her like mist.
In her downtime, in the moments when she is not actively occupying her brain, the warzones drift back to her in cloudy hazes. Children and women and soldiers. Blood and tears and sweat that never fully washes away.
Master Sergeant Jane Rizzoli drifts back to her. The months they spent alone together, making clandestine trips to and from settlements so that Maura could be the kind of doctor she wanted to be.
She rounds the corner into the bullpen, and is able to locate the visitor at once. She stands straight, hands behind her back, looking formal even in a pair of slacks and a v-neck t-shirt. Her long hair is pulled tightly back into a bun, and her sharp features are focused with their usual impassive attention on Police Chief Sean Cavenaugh as he speaks to her.
Maura hears herself make a noise that would embarrass her in any other situation. Jane looks around at the sound and her neutral expression falls away into the cheeky, dimpled grin that Maura had only seen on a few occasions.
She nods an apology to Cavenaugh, and steps around him, towards Maura, whose feet feel rooted to the spot.
"Hello, Doctor," Jane says when she is close enough.
Maura wants to cry. She shakes her head. "You disappeared."
Jane's smile fades. "I got reassigned," she says. "And then extended."
"You never wrote."
"I thought you'd hate me," Jane says quietly. She is not smiling at all now. She looks concerned, possibly disappointed. "I couldn't, but you didn't know that, and then I thought…it'd been too long to really-"
"You called me doctor just now," Maura interrupts.
Jane blinks at her. "What?"
"You called me doctor, just now, Jane." It is hard to keep looking so solemn when now all she wants to do is laugh.
Jane's mouth twitches. She raises her eyebrows. "It's good to see you, Maura," she says, voice dropping low the way it does when she's particularly emotional.
Maura laughs. There are tears in her eyes.
"Welcome home, Jane."