There is one day that Maura does not take her routine, nightly trip into the settlements. She is waiting by the main camp for Sergeant Rizzoli, as usual, but it is Corporal Frost who appears.
"Evening, Doctor," He says with a smile. "I'm going to be your escort tonight. I hope that agrees with you."
"No!" Maura says before she can stop herself. "I mean, yes…I'm sorry, I was just thrown."
Frost grins. "No worries," He says. "Are you ready?"
Maura hesitates. "Is Sergeant Rizzoli injured?" The thought makes her feel ill, and the thought that none of her staff reported it to her makes her feel angry.
"No, ma'am," Frost says quickly, seeing the look on her face. "I mean, nothing that required serious medical attention. She was involved in a pretty nasty firefight today…" he looks at her, and then away. "She lost two in her company."
The news knocks the wind out of the doctor. "Oh," She says, crossing her arms over her chest. "But I'm sure it wasn't a result of her leadership?" It comes out as a question, not as a firm statement the way she wants.
The Corporal scoffs. "Course not. Casualties were pretty big. She lost the least. Chango is gonna pull through because she all but carried him back." Frost shakes his head. "But she doesn't see it like that."
"She's taking it hard," Maura murmurs, more to herself than to the young man, but he answers anyway.
"She takes it all hard. It's what makes her a great leader."
Maura looks up at his tone, and realizes that he's interpreted her comment as an insult. It is this misunderstanding that makes up her mind.
"May I see her?"
Frost's eyebrows shoot up. "Jay-Sergeant Rizzoli?" he asks, "You want to see her?"
Maura nods. "I do. Is that possible?"
Frost looks at her for a long time before answering. "Yes," he says. "I think so."
"If she doesn't want to be disturbed," Maura begins, not quite knowing how the sentence will end.
If she doesn't want to be disturbed, I don't care.
If she doesn't want to be disturbed, I'll go in anyway.
"I think she'll see you," Frost says, gesturing at her to follow. "Come with me."
Sergeant Jane Rizzoli wants to kiss Maura. She hadn't been sure about the nature of the tension, when they were working abroad, but now the desire is visible quite clearly, especially when they are alone.
Maura wonders why she doesn't act, but the definite restraint that Jane exhibits holds Maura back too.
They meet for their fifth dinner in almost two weeks, for all intents and purposes a date, though Maura would never suggest such a thing. She opens the door on Jane, feeling the familiar swoop of her stomach as the other woman steps into the hall.
"Hello, Jane!" she says warmly.
Jane smiles at her feet. "Hey, Maura. It's good to see you." She glances up and then away again. "I'm sorry I didn't have time to change. Headquarters kept me late, and I barely got a shower."
Maura shakes her head, more to dispel the idea of Jane's body on display than to disagree. "It's no problem," she says. "It's good to see you, too."
It's the first time that Jane has been to her house on her own, and Maura can tell that the other woman feels nervous. She follows the doctor into the kitchen, and when told to sit, she chooses the stool at the breakfast bar that does not have a direct view of Maura at the stove. She presses her hands together, and then massages her palms gently with her index and thumb.
"You're nervous," Maura says, making sure that her tone stays gentle.
"No!" Jane says, but when her eyes jump to meet Maura's they soften. "I mean...yeah. A little, I guess."
She shrugs. "Sorry."
"It's perfectly alright," Maura says easily. "I'm a bit nervous myself."
Jane raises an eyebrow. "You? No way. Nothing flusters you."
"I didn't say I was flustered," Maura answers with a laugh. "I said I was a bit nervous. There is a difference."
"Do I make you nervous?" Jane asks her. The question has slipped past whatever barrier she's put between them. It falls squarely into the category of flirting, but Jane doesn't seem to notice. She waits for Maura to answer, a small smirk on her lips.
Maura swallows. "Yes," she says. "If I'm honest."
Jane's smirk intensifies. It turns a little smug.
Maura thinks it's possibly one of the most attractive things she's ever witnessed. "But it's also a very nice feeling," she continues, when Jane doesn't reply. "It's an anticipatory type of nervousness."
She has gone too far. She watches as Jane shuts down whatever response she had to Maura's barely covert invitation. She looks down at her hands, worrying them again.
"I'm - uh - glad I don't make you uncomfortable," Jane says to the counter.
Maura decides not to let the retreat bother or deter her. "We spent hours, and hours together in a car, just the two of us," she says lightly. "I don't see why you and me alone in the house should be very different."
Jane looks up at her, suddenly serious. "But it is," she says, "different. Isn't it, Maura?"
Maura gets a little shiver at the very deliberate use of her name. She steps up to the counter across from Jane without dropping eye contact.
"Yes," she answers. "It is."
Because she is the only woman of her rank on base, Jane has the luxury of a barrack all to herself. Frost makes Maura wait outside while he knocks, and then slowly pushes the door open despite the absence of verbal permission.
He is back less than a minute later, and he gestures that she can enter.
"Do you want me to wait?" He asks. "if you're not long, we could still make your run."
Maura only hesitates for a short moment. "No," she replies. "Another night will be okay."
Frost nods, and as she steps into the little room, Frost descends.
"Don't be nervous," he says as he passes, and when she looks up at him, surprised, he grins.
"She wouldn't agree to see just anyone like this." He continues, "you're special." And then he is gone.
Maura turns back to the room. She takes a deep breath, and enters.
Jane is sitting on the end of the bottom bunk with her back to the door. She is still wearing her field uniform, though her boot laces are untied, as though she started to change, and then didn't have the ability to sustain the action.
Maura's heart goes out to her. She'd seen the Medi-van return to base with the bodies, and she'd seen the other doctors attending the wounded. She knows what it is like to lose a patient on the operating table, but she is sure it does not compare to watching a bullet tear through that same body.
She tries to keep her voice soft, but the other woman still jumps.
Jane turns to look at her, and the combination of pain and surprise in her eyes is enough to pull Maura further into the room.
"Please don't ask if I'm okay," Jane cuts her off. Her voice is exhausted. Hopeless.
She shrugs her shoulders and Maura can see that the movement causes another flicker of pain. "I'm not okay."
Maura feels helpless. For a moment, she just stands there in the silence, her brain stalling.
And then, she does the only thing she knows how to do. The thing that she is best at.
Kneeling down in front of Jane, she takes a breath to steady her hands and then reaches up to the top of the woman's coat.
"Can I help you?" she asks softly.
Jane doesn't seem to have registered Maura's movement, and it takes her a moment to find and focus on her. She stares at the doctor in confusion.
Maura offers a small smile. "You started to change," Maura points out. "You're in pain. Can I help you, please?"
Jane nods slowly, and Maura nods and unbuttons the top six buttons on her uniform before Jane's hands shoot out to cover hers.
"Doctor," she says hoarsely. Her voice is strained.
"You're okay," Maura says softly. "It's okay."
"It's okay," Jane parrots her weakly. Her hands loosen on Maura's, finally dropping away.
Maura continues until she can reach up and ease the uniform down off of Jane's shoulders.
The Sergeant's left shoulder is bruised black and blue into where it disappears under her tank top. Lower, there is a bloodstain holding the thin cotton fabric to her stomach.
Maura- Dr. Isles- is practiced in keeping her face neutral.
"Sergeant?" Maura looks up into brown eyes, clearer at the sound of her formal rank.
"Doctor," she says, looking down at herself when she sees Maura's gaze. "It's nothing. It doesn't hurt"
Maura nods. "Will you let me look, just the same? Infection risks are different out here."
Jane nods, still not fully in the present. Maura pushes her backwards gently, until she is lying flat on the bottom bunk, and then reaches for the hem of her tank top.
"Firefight," Jane murmurs up at her as Maura inspects the wound on her abdomen. It's shallow, not worrying, but Maura still sets to work cleaning it.
"Corporal Frost says you behaved extremely heroically," she says softly.
"Lost Oakley and Freeman," she says vaguely. "There was nothing I could do."
"Everyone knows that," Maura assures her. "You did everything possible."
Some of Maura's hair falls over her face as she works, and Jane reaches up to catch some of it in her hand.
"Maura," she says, as though just realizing that she's there.
"Yes," Maura answers. She realizes she feels tenderly for this woman, that she has come to care for her, in just the short time they've spent together.
"I didn't anticipate the right flank breech. I didn't-"
"Jane," Maura says firmly. "This was not your fault."
Jane doesn't say anything, but she keeps twisting a lock of the doctor's hair gently around her finger. It takes Maura a long moment to realize the intimacy of the situation. She puts her hand up to Jane's gently, stilling her movement.
"I'm sorry," Jane says quietly. "I'm sorry."
"You have nothing to be sorry for."
"This isn't what I wanted, you know?" She looks up into Maura's eyes. "I wanted to prove I was strong, and live my own life...Get away from my Pop, and I..."
She trails off, eyes shining. Maura reaches out and puts her hand against Jane's forehead.
"I know how horrible things are out there," Jane says, fiercely. "Just because I fight, just because I follow orders doesn't mean I'm stupid."
"No one thinks you are-"
"They're dying!" Jane says, sitting up so that she and Maura are face to face. "They're dying and we're dying, and nothing is getting fixed. Do you know how many civilians died in the firefight today, Doctor Isles?"
"You don't have to-"
"Seventeen. And I didn't save any of them. I didn't even try. I was so focused on getting the kid out of there that I didn't even blink at the sounds of their screaming. I didn't even flinch."
Maura shakes her head. "You saved the life of one of your-"
"I let seventeen innocent people die. And for what? You don't think Last Guard is evil. You've told me as much. You don't even think they're rebels. We're the enemy. We're the ones who just arrived, trying to tell them how to live their lives and who they should be loyal to. And then we kill seventeen of their loved ones."
"You didn't kill them," Maura says, leaning forward so that she can look directly into Jane's eyes. "You didn't kill them. They...were killed, yes. And it's horrible, yes. But it is not your doing, Jane. Please tell me you understand that."
But Jane has started to cry. She presses her hands to her face, and she cries right there, half in uniform.
Maura puts her hand on the back of Jane's head, but she doesn't say anything.
She has no idea what to say.
They do this often; this game of advance and retreat that often leaves them in the gray area where they began. Maura has never met someone who is so simultaneously charming and open, and guarded and aloof as Jane is.
Dinner is by turns easy, and terribly uncomfortable.
"The food is amazing, Maura," Jane says between bites.
"You're welcome anytime," Maura says without thinking.
"Don't tempt me," the brunette shoots back, clearly playing, possibly unaware that she has stepped over the neutral line, and into Maura's territory.
"Why not?" Maura challenges, aware that this will cause a retreat, but too caught up in those sparkling brown eyes to stop herself.
And Jane pulls back, physically and emotionally for the rest of the dinner, though when Maura looks away, she can see Jane search her profile, as though looking for the apology she can't quite make herself say.
Maura is content to let it rest. She doesn't want to push. She has no desire to force the other woman into something she may not be ready for. Whether it's her military training, her religious upbringing, or the abusive nature of her father that keeps Jane from acting, Maura can't say.
It doesn't matter.
As long as Jane shows up at her door, Maura will simply be happy that she is there.
But Jane brings it up as they clear the plates. They reach for the same one, and their hands brush, a completely cliche scenario, Maura thinks.
But there is no denying the spark of attraction that jumps between them.
Jane swallows hard, pulling away. "You have the softest hands," she says apologetically.
Maura smiles. "You can feel them whenever you like," she replies.
"Jesus, Maura," Jane says in a puff of air. She runs a hand through her hair. "Do you know how you sound when you say stuff like that?"
Maura bites her lip to hold in a smile. "I hope I sound as though I'm interested in you," she says.
Jane doesn't confirm this. She glances in Maura's direction.
"Do I sound like I'm interested in you?" she asks hesitantly. "Sometimes?"
Maura feels a quick bolt of panic at the thought that she could be misreading the situation.
"Yes," she answers. "Sometimes."
"Okay," Jane says. She rubs the back of her neck. "Okay."
"Is that an incorrect interpretation on my part?" Maura asks, stepping towards her.
"No," Jane says, countering Maura's advance with a retreat of her own. The same amount of space.
"But something keeps you from acting," Maura says. She doesn't like that they haven't come at this issue head on, but she reminds herself that this is further than they've ever gotten without Jane pulling away.
"Yeah," Jane mumbles. "But...not…" she gestures at Maura. "Not you. You're…" her cheeks turn pink.
Maura couldn't stop her smile if she had to. "Thank you," she says. "Though I'm sorry it causes you such worry."
"So...What should we do?" Jane asks the floor. "Just...not see each other anymore?"
Maura shakes her head quickly. "That isn't what I want," she says.
Jane glances at her, and then away like the action is too hard to sustain. "Me either," she murmurs.
For a long moment, neither woman says anything. Jane has begun playing with the scars on her palms again, rubbing her hands together in a circular motion.
Maura has an idea.
"Come here," she says, moving to the dining room table and pulling out their chairs.
Jane looks at her curiously as she sets them side by side, facing the refrigerator.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm fixing the tension," Maura says, sitting down on the left side. She turns to look at Jane. "Come on, Sergeant," she says, wondering if Jane knows how the name makes her straighten. "Get into the car."
A slow smile spreads over Jane's face. "You're pretending these chairs are our JLTV?" she asks, taking a step forward.
"Yes," Maura says, folding her hands in her lap, the way she usually would.
"You don't see the merit in pretending," Jane says. She takes another step closer.
"I have not seen the merit in pretending until this moment," Maura concedes. "But if this might take your nerves away, then I am more than willing to try."
Jane stares at her for a moment longer, and then turns from her to the door. Maura is afraid that she's pushed too hard, until she sees that Jane is just flicking the overhead light off.
"Okay," she says turning back. "Okay."
She sits down in the chair next to Maura, and her hands come to rest on her knees. For a while she just stares straight ahead, focusing on the refrigerator as though she can turn it into one of the hazy, desert shadows from one of their nighttime journeys.
"Do you miss it?" She asks finally.
Maura doesn't turn to look at her. "In some ways," she answers. "Of course. I miss the immediacy of the need. Sometimes I'll miss something specific...the way a child smiled at me after I'd seen to her injury. The way the coffee there smelled better than any I've yet to find here."
"They have services," Jane mumbles. "Like, for vets who are trying to get back into civilian life. Like...transition services. Do they have that for - um - DWB?"
"I'm not sure," Maura says, smiling a little. "I'm not sure I would take advantage of them if they existed."
"Oh," Maura sighs, and when she breathes in she could swear that the air smells heavy, like it used to. "It's so personal," she says finally. "The experience. The...feelings. They are personal."
Jane doesn't answer, but Maura sees her nod out of the corner of her eye.
The silence this time is more comfortable. Maura pretends not to see how Jane tries to start several sentences, but is unable to go through with any of them.
"Are you so afraid of me, Sergeant?" she asks, still looking ahead, her tone still as casual as ever.
Jane's jaw tightens, but she does not look angry. She looks as though she is fighting with herself to stay silent.
"Alright," Maura says gently. "Something easier then, yes?"
A minute nod.
"How many times have you wanted to kiss me?"
Jane pulls in a sharp breath, but her hesitation is miniscule. "Over there? A dozen."
"A dozen more."
Jane is shot during a reconnaissance mission, four months after she and Maura begin their outings. She is working on base, in the smaller tent meant for non-urgent issues, when the Medi-Van roars through the entrance.
She looks up, heart pounding, but she tries not to let the nerves show in her expression. How many times has she watched them unload soldiers from this van, praying each time that she would not see the telltale mane of black hair on the end of a stretcher.
It is not Jane.
It has never been Jane.
The Medi-Van door bursts open, and it is Corporal Frost. He's screaming, looking in the direction of her tent, and waving his hands, screaming her name.
And if Maura could hear anything properly over the panic that douses her body in ice water, she would hear that he is not saying Dr. Isles.
And he is not saying Sergeant Rizzoli.
He is saying Maura. Maura. It's Jane.
Later, a nurse will tell her that she knocked a doctor to the ground in order to see to the Sergeant. The nurse will tell her that she was crying, huge tears rolling down her cheeks, but that her voice was completely calm, and her hands weren't shaking.
"Jane, look at me. Open your eyes and look at me, darling. There you are. That's it."
Brown eyes blinking up at her. Lethargic. "Did I get him?"
She had no idea what the question meant, but behind her she heard Frost speak up, his voice thick with emotion.
"Yes, ma'am," he says. "You saved him."
A little boy, the nurse will tell her. A little boy with an appendix scar, who saw Jane get out of her Humvee and ran into the street to see her, waving excitedly and calling her name. Oblivious to the sound of gunshots, because they were nothing more than the background to his life.
"Jane. You have to stay awake," Maura says urgently. "Look at me. You've lost a lot of blood, so don't speak. Just keep looking at me."
Jane laughs, and then coughs, and her lips are suddenly ruby red with blood.
"Best way to die ever," she says, with that smirk that makes her dimple pop. "looking at you."
That is when she cries, the nurse says. She cries the entire way through the impromptu surgery, though her hands never shake and her voice never wavers.
"Clear!" She says, and five pairs of hands lift up, away from Jane's body.
The paddles come down, and the Sergeant's body arches, and then jerks back into life.
And Maura cries.
They move to the living room without turning on the lights, and when they sit on the couch, Maura sits as close to Jane as she can.
"Do you remember when I got shot?" Jane asks into the darkness.
Maura shivers. "I will never forget that day," she says quietly. "It was one of the most frightening days of my life. Aside from the day you disappeared."
"Did you sit next to my cot all night?"
Maura flushes at the question, but answers with the truth. "Yes. I thought if you stopped breathing in the night, no one would notice. There were only two on rounds."
"And the next night?"
"We got word that they could get a Helicopter in for you. I wanted to tell you, and then...I couldn't leave." Maura feels her cheeks get hotter.
"You saved my life."
"Ah," Maura shrugs. "Then we're even, I suppose. You saved mine, that night I was almost abducted."
"Oh," Jane sounds disappointed. "Yeah."
Maura reaches over and takes her hand. It is almost fully dark in the living room now, the only light comes from the hall, where she's left the closet open just little.
"What are you afraid of, Jane?" she asks. She brings the hand to her lips.
Jane lets out a breath that is just this side of a whimper.
"When I enlisted, Don't Ask, Don't Tell was a thing."
Maura kisses Jane's hand again. "Well I'm not asking that particular question," she says with a chuckle. "And I don't particularly care about the technical answer. I'm a doctor. It is clear that you want me."
Jane laughs. A short, embarrassed burst, but Maura feels her sober again, all at once.
"What if I can't do it?" she whispers.
Maura leans forward, intending to kiss the first piece of skin she comes in contact with. It is Jane's bicep, the same one she stitched almost three years ago.
"Can't do what?" she asks against Jane's arm, feeling goosebumps rise beneath her lips.
"Civilian life," Jane says heavily. "What if I'm not good at it? What if I...can't stay grounded? It happens to lots of guys."
"You're not lots of guys," Maura says. She has found Jane's neck, and when she kisses there, the other woman moans.
"But no, wait. Fuck-" Jane puts her hands firmly on Maura's waist and holds her back. "Wait," she says again. "Listen."
This close to Jane's face, she can see the way her pupils have dilated, a sign of her arousal. She can see the way those eyes keep flicking down to her lips.
"No," Jane interrupts her. "That's what I'm saying. You made it home to yourself. You are Maura now. What if I never get to be...What if I never make it back to Jane. What if the things I did over there mean I don't get to be?"
This quiet confession is enough to pull Maura from the haze of desire she'd been in. She puts her hands on Jane's face, cupping her chin so that her thumbs can stroke at her ears.
"Oh," she says softly. "Jane."
"I don't have to go back," Jane says, leaning forward. Their noses graze each other. "I don't want to go back. But I don't want...to just be Jane."
Her hands tighten around Maura's waist.
"What do you want, darling?" Maura asks. "What do you want to be?"
Jane takes a huge breath.
She leans forward and touches her lips to Maura's.
Maura manages to pull three orgasms from her Sergeant that night. She leaves temporary scars next to the permanent ones on Jane's bicep and chest.
She gives herself over to the moment, and she does not think once of death, or blood, or the oppressive weight of worry.
And Jane pushes Maura's sweaty hair out of her face so that they can look at each other, and she grins.
"Best way to fall asleep ever," she murmurs.
"Just looking at you."