Absolution

Fritz was in a terrible mood. He came through the door to a characteristically empty house and dropped his briefcase and gym bag on the floor, not caring that he was being messy. Kitty came trotting up and rubbed against his leg, clearly looking for some ear scritches. "Not now, Kitty," Fritz grumbled. "If you want to get petted, wait until your mother comes home, if she ever does." Kitty looked at him reproachfully, as if she understood every word, and slunk away.

It had been one of those days. He was called in to his superior's office as soon as he got in to work, along with his partner Jerry, and the two of them were yelled at for an hour for supposedly "botching" a big case. Both Fritz and Jerry knew they had done nothing of the kind, but the case had fallen apart when a confidential informant disappeared, and since shit always rolls downhill, he and Jerry were blamed. After that, everything else that went wrong was just amplified by his already irate mood: he spilled coffee on his new white shirt, there were tomatoes on his sandwich at lunch when clearly asked for them to be left off, and he got caught in the rain when he was taking a short walk to try and cool down. It never rains in LA, but it rained today, right when he was far enough away from his office to maximize how soaked he got. Once back in his office, trying to wring some of the water out of his jacket, he looked outside and the sun was shining again. A dark cloud is following me, he thought sourly, peeling off his still damp clothes on the way to the bedroom.

In the middle of all this, he desperately wanted some attention and kind words from Brenda. He called her at a time when he thought she might be able to talk, but she whispered that she was in the middle of something and practically hung up the phone on him. To her credit, she did call back a few hours later, but Fritz was on another call and she ended up leaving a voice mail message. He immediately called her back and, of course, got her voice mail, and he just gave up. Pathetic as it was, he listened to her message a few times just to hear her voice. When he felt blue, her Southern accent sounded like a lullaby to him. Ahh, sweet Brenda, he thought, changing into sweats and a T shirt. He didn't care how late she got in tonight, he was going to try and seduce her. He needed her warm body wrapped around his for some comfort, and he wasn't ashamed to admit it to her.

Brenda had been commuting back and forth from LA to San Diego for the past several days. One of her cases was moved to a special venue due to the high profile nature of the trial. The drive, normally about 90 minutes, was closer to two hours or longer with traffic added in. Brenda got up around 5:30am and was out the door at 6:00 in order to beat the traffic and to be available to meet with the prosecutor before court started. She and other members of the LAPD frequently had to stay late after court let out to go over new developments and prepare for the following day. The earliest Brenda had gotten home since the trial started was 10pm, and she looked utterly exhausted. The trial was going well, she told him, so there was an end in sight. He certainly hoped so. He missed her terribly, and was tired of coming home to an empty house. After the day he had today, he could really use some affection and a sympathetic ear. No one understands as well as Brenda the power plays of the law enforcement hierarchy, and how being on the receiving end of "cover you're ass" tactics was demoralizing and unfair as hell. She had gotten bitten on the ass more than once in her career, and she knows what it's like to be a victim of politics.

The phone rang, and Fritz picked it up, glad to see it was Brenda. "Hi honey," he said, feeling better already. "Please tell me you are calling me from your car, on your way home to your beloved fiancé."

She sighed, the fatigue almost palpable over the phone. "Oh, I wish, Fritzy. How're you? You sounded a little down earlier. You have a bad day?"

Fritz sat down on the side of the bed. "Oh, you have no idea. I really need to talk to you about it, but I don't want to do it over the phone. When do you think you are coming home tonight?"

She was silent for a second. "Well, that's the thing. That's why I called."

Fritz sat up straighter. Brenda was using her "how should I tell him this" voice, and it made him worried. I guess it's gonna be another late night, he thought to himself, feeling his bad mood swell.

"You didn't call just to talk to me?" he sounded defensive, even to his own ears. "So what's up, Brenda?"

"I'm sorry Fritz, I know this is bad timin,' since you had a bad day and all, but the back and forth is killin' us, and we have to spend a lot of time with the prosecutors goin' over some testimony from today that might have hurt us before they cross-examine tomorrow. So Will decided we should all just stay up here in San Diego and get a hotel for the night, order a pizza or somethin' and eat while we work, so we won't be gettin' home at two a.m. just to turn around and come back tomorrow mornin'." Brenda stopped talking. Fritz said nothing, anger rising in his throat.

In the absence of a response, Brenda just kept on talking. "I know, we're all gonna look stupid wearing the same clothes again tomorrow in court, well I guess I'm just the only one, since Will and Taylor are in their dress blues and no one will be able to tell. There's a Wal-Mart down the way, I'm gonna run out and at least get some clean underwear and maybe a new top to wear under my suit. I got stuff in my bag, like makeup, deodorant, and—" Fritz cut her off.

"Will is up there with you?" he asked brusquely.

"Well, yeah, I thought you knew that," Brenda answered. "It's Will, Taylor and me who have been comin' up here every day, sometimes Flynn. We're the ones who worked this case, remember when the murders happened and—" he cut her off again.

"And it was Will's idea that you should stay in a hotel tonight?" His voice was tight with restrained anger.

"Well, yea. But that's just because—"

"That's just friggin perfect," Fritz snarled. "I'm sure Will is thrilled this opportunity has presented itself. Tell me, Brenda, did he insist on getting adjoining rooms?" He was losing control, and he knew it. He had a horrible day and he needed Brenda, and instead she was going to be spending the night away from him because of Will Pope. And there was no doubt in his mind that Will had ulterior motives for suggesting this arrangement, and it had nothing to do with fatigue.

"Fritz, what in the world are you getting at? For Heaven's sake, were all stayin' the night so we can get work done on an important trial, and maybe even get some rest. You know how tired I've been with this drivin' back and forth." She sounded wounded, but he didn't care. He was on a rampage.

"Oh, I don't think Will cares about you getting any sleep, Brenda," he retorted, his voice getting louder. "He'd like you in bed, yes. Asleep, no."

"Fritz, if you got somethin' to say to me, why don't you just say it."

"I thought I just did, Brenda, but let me make it a little clearer for you. I have no doubt Will made this proposition for tonight's sleeping arrangements so he can come on to you. It's perfect; I'm not around, you're tired and your defenses are down. He has probably been waiting for this opportunity for a long time." There was a voice in Fritz's head telling him to shut up, but he ignored it. "That is, assuming that persuasion will be needed, of course."

Brenda gasped. "Are you insinuatin' that I'm stayin' up here to cheat on you?" She spat out the word "cheat" like it was poison. "Fritz Howard, you seriously can't be sayin' this to me, you just can't be." He heard her voice choke up with tears. "You don't trust me? You think…me… and Will…" he could hear her throat close up and a small sob.

"I trust you, Brenda, I just don't trust Pope, and like I said, he will take advantage of the situation." Fritz realized he had said too much, gone too far, but he was too angry to try and backpedal.

"You don't trust me," Brenda repeated, cold and angry now, barely suppressed tears still audible. "You just said that you didn't know if I needed any persuadin' to sleep with Will. You don't trust me Fritz, do you? How could you not trust me?"

The anger and pain in her voice got to him, penetrating his anger and jealousy. "I didn't mean that, Brenda, I'm sorry, it's just that Pope…" He heard a click. She had hung up on him.

He tried to call her back right away, but she didn't answer. Of course she didn't, he thought. She's screening because she's furious at me. He didn't want to leave a message until he had calmed down a bit, and then he intended to grovel to her voice mail. Goddamn Will Pope, he thought angrily. That jackass has a way of making trouble in our relationship without barely trying. He lay back on the bed and closed his eyes, visions of Will luring Brenda into his hotel room in his head. He felt sick to his stomach, angry at Will for being a perpetual rat, angry at himself for upsetting Brenda, and angry at Brenda for not being here tonight when he needed her.

He fell asleep and woke up two hours later, groggy and confused. It took him a minute to remember why he was lying fully clothed on top of the covers, Kitty curled next to him. Then his disastrous conversation with Brenda came back to him and he groaned, sitting up. He looked at the clock, and it was only 9:30. As tempted as he was just to crawl into bed and call it a day, his stomach grumbled loudly, demanding to be fed. He first tried to call Brenda again, hoping she would answer, but he got her voice mail. "Hi, it's me," he said after the beep. His head with thick with sleep, and he couldn't think of anything eloquent to say. "I'm sorry Brenda, please call me," was all he managed to get out. He hung up the phone and stumbled off the bed and into the small kitchen, turning on a few lights as he went. He found the leftover pizza from last night and grabbed a few slices, not bothering to heat them up. He poured himself a large Diet Coke and carried his dinner out to the living room. He picked up the remote and flipped around until he found a baseball game on ESPN and settled in. He was hoping that the Red Sox versus the Yankees would take his mind off of how bad he felt about what he said to Brenda, which, on top of a horrible day, make him want to curl up and suck his thumb. Since he was too old to do that, baseball and pizza would have to do.

It was the bottom of the ninth when he heard a car pull up in the driveway. Who the hell is that, he thought, at 11:30 at night? He had just stood up to go and investigate when the door swung open and Brenda stormed into the living room.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, shocked. "I thought you were—"

"You thought I was screwin' Will," she finished, breathing heavily. "So, I drove back here goin' 80 miles an hour after I was done with the trial prep so that you wouldn't think I was cheatin' on you." She looked furious. Her face was bright red, her breath rapid, her neck veins bulging. Every muscle in her small body was taut, as if she might pounce any minute. She pointed a shaking finger at him. "You don't trust me, huh? Well here I am, home where I belong, so you can keep an eye on me so I don't go fallin' into the arms of Will Pope." She glared at him and he noticed her eyes were red-rimmed. She had been crying.

"Brenda, honey, I'm so sorry…"

"Don't you DARE call me honey," she yelled so loudly he jumped. "And don't you dare think for one second you can say you're sorry and make this all go away. That's not how it's gonna work, Fritz Howard."

"I'm sor—I mean, I regret you had to drive back when you're so tired, Brenda, you should have just ignored me, I was being a jerk, I had a bad day."

"Ignore you?" she said incredulously. "Ignore you?" I've been waitin' for you to tell me you don't trust me around Will since we started datin.' Because I never believed you when you said you weren't jealous of Will. I never believed you when you said you trusted me implicitly. I knew this day was gonna come, when you'd accuse me of foolin' around with Will. I learned the hard way that men never really trust the women they say they love around other men." She glared at him, her face now a hard mask.

He groaned. Oh, how could he be so stupid? Him accusing her of cheating with Pope was like her ex-husband accusing her of cheating with a subordinate officer—an accusation which ended her marriage and almost ended her career. I am an ass, he thought, and I have no idea how to get out of this one. Brenda has many sore spots, tender emotional areas that had to be approached gently, but her inquisition in Atlanta and resulting divorce was one of the most sensitive parts of her psyche, and Fritz unknowingly just trampled on it.

"I didn't mean…" he started, desperate to keep talking to her, although he wasn't sure he knew what to say. Was he going to tell her that he didn't mean to say he didn't trust Will Pope? That would be a lie, because he had no doubt Will would do anything to get Brenda into his bed. Was he going to tell her he didn't mean to imply he didn't trust her? He clearly suggested on the phone that she might be happy to sleep with Will, and now he needed to assure her that he did, indeed, trust her. And he did; as neglectful as Brenda could be some times, she had never done anything intentionally cruel to him. And Fritz knew that a part of her will never forgive Will for what he did to her. Yes, he trusted her, but how could he convince her of that now?

He was saved from even having to try by Brenda interrupting him. "Stop," she said, holding her hand out. "Just stop. I really don't want to get into a big fight about your insecurities tonight, Fritz. This is what's gonna happen. I'm gonna take a long hot shower, and then crawl into bed, alone. I have to get some rest, and I really don't want you to be the last thing I see before I pass out. Got it?" Her lips were pressed in a thin white line and her barely controlled fury made him more than a little afraid of her. He just nodded mutely.

"Glad we got that settled," she said, as she headed into the bathroom and slammed the door with all her strength. Fritz watched her go, unsure of what to do. He sat down on the couch and put his head in his hands. He can tolerate getting his ass unjustly kicked at work. He could handle life's little annoyances, like spilling coffee, unwanted tomatoes and getting caught in the rain. But he couldn't handle when Brenda was angry at him. Even when she flew off the handle at something small and got pissed off, that was enough to ruin his day. But when she was this furious, and justifiably so, he was paralyzed. He hadn't seen her this angry since she confronted him about his drinking, and his response to that was to make it all about her, to blame her for saying things she really didn't say and pulling out a laundry list of her faults. Brenda looked so broken during that fight that he couldn't even meet her eyes towards the end, when her tears started. But Brenda forgave him, pulled him back into her arms and loved him, even though he had lied, even though he was an alcoholic. He knew he was lucky; she had every reason to pack his bag and send him on his way.

He realized, when he talked to his sponsor at AA, Jonas, about their argument, that he had never really dealt with being an alcoholic. Sure, he had stopped drinking, but he didn't like the label, and he certainly didn't like telling people about his past. Jonas reamed him for not having told Brenda about being in AA, the woman he was marrying, because he was so frightened that she would use that as an excuse to bolt. "You don't give her much credit, do you," Jonas had asked him. "Why are you marrying this woman when you are so insecure about her commitment to you?" And Jonas was right, had hit the nail on the head: him telling Brenda about his drinking made him worried that she wouldn't want him any more. He used to drink away his insecurities, using dose after dose of alcohol to chase them away. Now that he was sober, these ungrounded fears had a way of popping up in his life, and he didn't have a plan for dealing with them.

He easily admitted to himself that Will Pope was his biggest insecurity. Will was a snake, and Fritz didn't trust him when it came to Brenda. And Fritz knew, because the way Brenda tended to edit things, that he had probably only heard about a fraction of Will's bad behavior. It bothered him to distraction that she protected Will this way. Or maybe she's just trying to protect me, he thought wearily.

Fritz fell in love with Brenda 10 years ago, when they met in DC. His partner at the time, Mike, used to make fun of Fritz for his crush on Brenda. Fritz made up excuses for dropping by Brenda's office, positioned himself by the coffee maker every day at the same time when he knew she liked to hit the vending machine, and volunteered for any case that involved collaborating with the CIA. His persistence worked; he and Brenda got to know each other and became friends. She confessed to him one night after drinking an entire bottle of Merlot that she was having an affair with Will Pope, and Fritz felt his stomach turn. He never thought much of Commander Pope, and this really made him despise the guy. When Fritz told Mike about Brenda and Will the next day, Mike was nonplussed. "Might I remind you, Detective Howard, that you have a girlfriend and aren't on the market?" Cindy, the on again, off again girlfriend that Fritz kept going out with because she was good in bed and drank as much as he did. But Mike was right, they were "on again" at the moment, and Brenda was wasting her life on a married man. Well, at least they could be friends; anything to be close to her.

After her initial confession, Brenda felt comfortable talking about her relationship with Pope to Fritz. Fritz had to sit through dinners with Brenda as she detailed Pope's latest betrayals; a forgotten dinner, unreturned phone calls, only wanting to see her when it was convenient for him. Fritz's stomach would twist in rage as he would see the hurt in Brenda's eyes, and he wanted to slug Pope for hurting two women so casually: his wife and Brenda. He would talk to Brenda gently, try to convince her that Pope treated her poorly and she should move on. After one such conversation over many drinks, Brenda stood up to leave, depressed by another cancelled date by Pope and tired of Fritz's prodding to end the relationship. Fritz grabbed her arm and pulled her close, feeling her soft breasts press into his chest. "Brenda, you deserve better than this," he said, looking into her beautiful face.

She shook her head, eyes full of tears. "I'm not sure I do, Fritz," she said sadly, and walked away. Fritz drank so much that night he was sick for two days, trying to flush his hatred toward Will Pope out of his system with alcohol, seeing how his treatment of Brenda was destroying her. But he couldn't get rid of it, he still hated Will, and Fritz hated him even more when Will dumped Brenda two months later. A broken and bitter Brenda left for Atlanta as soon as possible, far away from Fritz, and Fritz lost contact with her. Until LA.

Fritz remembered how much fun it was to call up his old partner and friend Mike from the DCPD, and say, "hey Mike, guess who I'm dating?"

"Uh, let's see, you live in LA…Pamela Anderson?"

Fritz laughed. "Oh, much, much, better."

"Better?" Mike said. "I can't imagine who would be better. I give."

Fritz savored his next words. "You remember Brenda Leigh Johnson from the DCPD?"

Mike paused. "Yea, of course I remember Brenda. You followed her around like a lovesick teenager. What about her?"

"Well, she works for the LAPD now, and…"

Mike cut him off. "No way, no friggin' way. You're dating Brenda Leigh Johnson? How long did it take you to get her into bed, like ten years?"

"Good things come to those who wait, Mike. And it's good, really good. She's as beautiful as she was in DC, and as crazy too. We've been together for four months now."

"Good for you Fritz, good for you. And the great thing is, that rat Will Pope is out of the way this time."

Fritz was silent on the other end of the line. "Well, not quite."

Mike sounded concerned. "What do you mean, Fritz, 'not quite?'"

"Well, see, Pope is Brenda's boss at the LAPD. She's a Deputy Chief, and he's Assistant Chief, so she reports to him."

"You have got to be kidding me. There is no way that's a coincidence, Fritz. What's the deal?"

"The LAPD opened up a new Priority Homicide division, and Pope recommended Brenda for the Deputy Chief position. She's highly qualified, with her work at the CIA, and then after DC, she spent four years running Homicide for the Atlanta PD."

Mike laughed. "I'm sorry, buddy, but I don't think Pope dragged her to the West Coast because of her 'qualifications.' You can't be that naïve."

Fritz felt his stomach twist in a familiar knot of anger. "It's not like that, Mike. DC was a long time ago. She's realized what a jerk he is and she isn't interested in him any more, OK?"

"OK," Mike answered, hearing Fritz's defensiveness. "Brenda's a great woman, I didn't mean to imply otherwise." He paused. "But if I were you, Fritz, I would watch out for Pope."

Fritz was pulled out of his revelry by the sound of the shower being turned off. If he wanted to try and talk to Brenda again, now would be the time. He was torn between begging for forgiveness at this moment and just letting her go to sleep and talking to her tomorrow, after she had calmed down. He couldn't stand how terrible he felt, and he had to let her know she was right: this was about his insecurities and not about her. He decided to split the difference.

He sat on the couch and listened to the familiar movements of Brenda's bedtime routine: she hung the towel back where it belonged, brushed her teeth, rubbed lotion on her legs and face, walked into the bedroom naked, grabbed a nightgown, and crawled into bed. Fritz heard the sound of her setting her alarm immediately followed by the click of her bedside light, and looked at his watch. He gave her five minutes, which he hoped would be enough time for her to start to relax but not enough time for her to fall asleep. When five minutes had passed he got off the couch and, turning out lights as he went, made his way to the bedroom. He slowly opened the door. He couldn't see her in the darkness, which is what he wanted, but he heard the bed shift.

"Brenda, don't say anything, please," he whispered in the dark. "I'm not here to fight, or to get you so upset you can't fall asleep. Please just lie back and let me say just a few things, then I will leave you alone. Just lie back down, and I will be gone in a minute." He heard the note of desperation in his own voice.

There was another shift of bedsprings, and Fritz interpreted that as Brenda lying back down.

"I will tell you what happened, in a nutshell, and then I will apologize. Please don't talk or get angry with me, Brenda, I just need to say my piece and leave." Still silent. "I had a bad day," he said, surprised to hear his voice choke up with tears. "And I wanted more than anything to talk to you about it, and get some comfort from you. I was in a horrible mood and feeling incredibly needy." He was ashamed about how he sounded, but he had to be open with her. "I think I came home tonight with the emotional age of a twelve-year-old. All I really wanted was to be held by you and told that everything was going to be all right. I know that sounds incredibly pathetic, but it's the truth, and I want to be honest. And then you called and said you weren't coming home, which meant my needs weren't going to get met, which made me angry. And then when you said it was Will who suggested staying overnight, my adolescent state of mind went into overdrive, and all my insecurities came out, and I lashed out at you, and I said cruel things." He paused to collect himself. "I took my bad day out on you, and gave you an even worse day, and I am so very sorry for that, Brenda. I can't tell you how bad I feel. You have every right to be furious with me, and to question the motives behind what I said. And yes, I am suspicious of Will. But Brenda, I trust you with my whole heart. No matter how angry we may get at each other sometimes, you have never done anything to intentionally hurt me, and I don't think you ever will. It's not in you to break my heart, I know that. So I just want to say that I love you so much, and I'm glad you are going to marry me, my insecurities and all. You are the most incredible woman in the world, and I am so sorry about how badly I acted today."

No noise came from the bed, but he could tell by Brenda's breathing that she wasn't asleep. "Goodnight, Brenda, sweet dreams," Fritz said, as he turned and walked out of the bedroom and shut the door. He walked back to the couch and checked his glow-in-the- dark watch. He would give her 30 minutes to fall asleep, then he would undress and slide in next to her. He knew that she was getting up insanely early in the morning, long before him, and for some reason it felt important to him that she see that he had braved her wrath to sleep with her, to be next to her soft body for the night. He knows this won't be enough, and that another discussion or fight loomed in the future, but maybe it would buy him something, a bonus point or two. He looked at his watch again. Twenty-eight minutes to go.

He heard a floorboard creak, and, assuming it was kitty, gave a cursory glance up. It wasn't kitty, it was Brenda, visible only by her white filmy nightgown. She stood there in the dark, looking at him, just has he had done to her a few minutes before. "Come to bed, Fritz," she said softly, and turned around without waiting for him to respond, and went back into the bedroom. He stood up quickly and followed her, not hesitating a second. He knew absolution when he saw it.

Author's note: I love feedback!