A/N: Make yourself a cup of tea, find a nice chair, and get yourself comfortable, because this is a long story. Among other things, it attempts to answer the question all of us Closer fans have: why in the world did Brenda ever sleep with Pope in the first place? I filled in a lot of backstoy about Brenda's life before we knew her, including her friendship with Fritz back in her DC days.
It is helpful, but not necessary, to read "The Ghosts That Haunt Me," because I reference material in that story in later chapters, and I think of "Penance" as almost a sequal to "Ghosts." But you can be the judge of that.
Brenda was bored. She had spent the entire weekend being bored, looking forward to Monday at work, thinking someone famous was bound to get murdered, but here she was, taking over a case from Robbery-Homicide because celebrities in LA had the audacity to keep on living. She ran her hand through her thick curly hair and picked up the phone to call the Records Department again about the Cold Case files she had requested. Their Robbery-Homicide case was so straightforward that Flynn and Provenza could handle it, so she was dredging up information from a list of cold cases that Taylor had reluctantly made for her. He didn't look happy that she was going to start digging through some of his unsolved cases, but she made sure to ask for the list in front of Pope, so Taylor wouldn't say no. She wasn't trying to bust his chops over anything, she was just…bored.
She readily admitted to herself that she was bored because Fritz was gone. He had flown to Virginia three days ago to attend a conference at Quantico, and as luck would have it, they had to move out of Brenda's house and into their temporary apartment right before Fritz left. He apologized profusely as he ran off to the airport, but she just kissed him and told him not to worry about it, that setting up the new place would give her something to do when he was gone. As soon as he was in his Audi heading off to the airport, she shut the door to their apartment and burst into tears. The place was a mess of boxes, but that wasn't what upset her. She missed her little house, with its garish paint and overdone window treatments, and it wasn't hers anymore. It belonged to someone else now, and it was as if she had never lived there. And leaving her home would have been a lot easier if they moved into another house, where she could focus her energy on fixing it up and making it hers. But to leave her lovely bungalow for an apartment, only to have to move again when they finally found a house they could afford, well, it just seemed too much to take for a person who hates change.
Brenda spent all day Saturday and Sunday trying to feel less miserable about her living situation by eating a large quantity of forbidden sweets and clearing a path so she could at least walk around their "new" place without tripping over a box. She unpacked the kitchen stuff, found the towels and sheets and put them in the small closets in each of the two full baths (his and hers) and moved all of Fritz's boxes that used to be in her garage into his new study. She did not, however, unpack anything of her own except for clothes, and moved her other boxes into the spare bedroom and shut the door. I don't live here, she said to herself, I'm only staying here, and I am not going to make myself too comfortable. She cried every few hours or so, thinking about her perfect house she left behind for this mediocre duplex, and then tried to comfort herself by eating a few more chocolate chip cookies. She longed for Monday to come, so she could go back to the familiarity of her job and her office. She hated feeling so unsettled.
But Monday came without any new cases, and Brenda told her squad to go home at 5pm and appreciate the normal schedule while it lasted. She, however, threw such a fit with the Records department that they brought her the boxes she needed by 5pm, so she had decided to spend her evening at work instead of going "home." It wasn't home to her, and there wasn't any Fritz, so she rather just stay at the office. Brenda thought about Fritz and sighed. He had only been gone three days and she really missed him, and she knew the feeling was mutual. She had gotten four very suggestive e-mails from his Blackberry to her work account that day; when she opened the last one and blushed furiously, she prayed once again that the IT staff at the LAPD didn't read her personal e-mail.
Brenda ran out to get some dinner at her favorite Thai place across the street, and sat eating Massaman Curry and going over case files when Will Pope stopped by to say goodnight. He saw all the boxes in her office and raised an eyebrow. "Are these the Cold Case files you asked for?" he said.
She nodded, swallowing. "Yea, but don't worry Will, I'm off the clock. I signed out at five." She wasn't in the mood for a budget lecture.
"What, no plans with Fritz tonight?" he asked casually, leaning against her doorframe.
"No, he's at Quantico for trainin.' I spent the whole weekend unpackin' in the new place, and I can't bear to look at one more cardboard box. I rather just stay here and do somethin' productive that doesn't involve bubble wrap."
Will nodded. "Yea, moving can be a bitch, I hear ya."
"Where are you off to?" she asked, feigning interest and grabbing another case file and flipping through it, hoping Will would take the hint and leave her alone.
"Oh, I'm having dinner with a couple of friends down the street at Delfino's. Estelle has the kids tonight." He looked at his watch. "Probably time for me to head over there. Don't stay too late, Brenda."
She smiled absently and waved goodbye, glad to get him out of her hair. She had just started to read through the evidence on an eight year old triple homicide, and she was already finding inconsistencies with the investigation. Brenda was far more interested in wrapping her mind around that than hearing about Will Pope's social life.
A few hours later, Brenda had taken the evidence boxes related to the homicide and put them in the murder room so she could use the white board. She was so engrossed in writing a list of possible suspects that needed to be questioned that she didn't hear anyone approach. When Will said her name, she was so startled she tossed the dry erase marker in the air, which then proceeded to hit a few places on her pink shirt on its way down. "Dammit!" she said, bending over to pick up the marker and angrily recapping it. "Will, you scared me half to death, sneakin' up on me like that. Look at my blouse, ohhh, this is never gonna come out in the wash. What in the world are you doin' back here anyways, for heaven's sake!" When she stood up and looked at him, she knew right away something was wrong. His eyes were red, and she could smell alcohol surrounding him like an aura. "What's up, Will," she asked cautiously.
He took a couple of unsteady steps towards her, before he said softly, "Don't marry Fritz."
For a second Brenda thought she was hearing things. Will was drunk, she had no doubt about that, maybe he wasn't making sense. Or she just heard him wrong. "What in the world did you just say," she asked, turning to get a better look at him.
"I said, Brenda, I don't want you to marry Fritz. Please." Will looked at her imploringly.
Brenda was stunned. He doesn't know what he's saying, she told herself, and tried to calm down. "You're drunk, Will, and talkin' crazy, why don't you just go home and…"
He stepped closer. "I love you Brenda, as much as I don't want to I still love you. And I think you still love me too. We have to stop marrying other people, because we both know we are meant to be together." He stared at her, his eyes naked and his gaze raw.
Brenda could no longer deny what he had said to her, as much as she wanted to. Her pulse quickened as her temper began to rise. "What the hell are you goin' on about, Will. 'We keep marryin' the wrong people?' Is that what you just said?" She faced him, fury boiling in her blood. "Are you for real? You want me to break up with Fritz so we can resume our affair?" Her voice was getting louder with each word, but she didn't care. She felt her face grow hot. "Is that what you think I want, to be your mistress again?" This can't be happening, she thought, it just can't be.
"No," Will said, shaking his head. "Not my mistress, Brenda. I want more than that with you, and I had to get drunk to get up the courage to tell you. You deserve better than I gave you last time, and I'm so sorry about that. But it will be different now, I promise, and we're both single."
Brenda's throat constricted and she felt the bitter sting of curry on the back of her tongue. "We're both single? Did you really just say that you and I are both single? What the hell do you think this ring is on my hand, Will? I'm engaged, I am not available, and I am certainly not available to you. And even if I was, I have no interest in returnin' to your bed."
"I'll replace the ring with another one, I promise," Will said, looking down at her left hand.
"You son of a bitch," she hissed, anger flowing out of every pore, her face crimson. It was a testament to how drunk Will was that he didn't step back from her. "I've heard that story before, that bull about how much you love me and want to marry me. Do you really think I'm still that naïve? Are you really so egotistical that you think I have anything but anger and pity left for you?" She paused to take a few deep breaths to steady herself. "I should thank you, really, for breakin' up with me, because if you had followed through and married me, not like you ever intended to but let's say for once you kept your word, you would have ruined my life. I'm sure I would just be another ex-Mrs. Pope you dumped when somethin' better came along." She pointed at him. "And don't you speak about my relationship with Fritz like it's some small obstacle, you bastard. Fritz loves me for who I am, he accepts me for who I am, and he makes me a priority in his life, something you weren't capable of doin'. I figured out, Will, a long time ago, that you didn't have the balls to marry me. You want women who are gonna stay home and have your babies, and I intimidate you, I'm too smart and too tough for you to push around. Fritz respects me, he's a real man. You never could, and you never will. And how dare you come in here drunk and dump this crap on me." She put her hands on her hips and tried to stare him down. He didn't flinch. "The hell I am goin' to let you mess up my life again, Will Pope."
Brenda didn't see it coming. Will closed the distance between them and grabbed her by the upper arms. He pulled her close to him and kissed her, hard and unforgiving, his desperate tongue trying to force entry into her unyielding mouth. Without thinking, Brenda wrenched her right arm out of his iron grasp and punched him across the face with all of her strength. Will let go of her and stepped back, muttering several epithets while his hand went to his busted lip to quell the bleeding.
Before she knew what she was doing, she had her gun out and pointed it at him. Will, blood running down his chin, forgot his wounds for a minute and stared at her. She felt sick and numb, but in the numbness she found a patch of clarity, and that is what she clung to. "Now you listen to me, Will," she said in a low voice saturated in rage, "you are gonna call yourself a cab and go home. And you're gonna make up some story about how you got beat up that has nothin' to do with me. I'm comin' in to work tomorrow and pretendin' that you never violated me like that, and you are gonna forget you ever came in here tonight, do you understand?" When he didn't answer, she raised her gun level with his head and shouted, "I asked you, do you understand?" He nodded mutely. "Good," she said brusquely. "Because if you ever, and I mean ever, bring up what you said here tonight to me or anyone else, you will be very, very sorry. And don't doubt for a second that I mean what I say, Will. You no longer have carte blanch to walk all over me."
"Now," Brenda said, lowering her gun a bit. "I'm leavin'. And don't even think about doin' anything stupid, like followin' me, you got it?" He made no indication that she had asked him anything. "I said, Will, do… you…understand?" She punctuated each word with a second of silence, through gritted teeth.
Will looked at Brenda, and turned and sat down in Provenza's chair, laying his head down on the desk. "I hear you Brenda," he answered, muffled. "I get it." She realized he was crying, and she was glad. He deserved to hurt.
Brenda backed away from him, her gun still drawn. She quickly grabbed her purse out of her office without ever letting him leave her line of sight. As she lowered her gun and started to walk out of the murder room, she said, "hey Will?"
He listed his head up, face streaked with tears, looking hopeful. "Yes Brenda?"
She glared at him. "Don't bleed on Provenza's desk."
Brenda couldn't get to her car fast enough. She practically ran to her Crown Vic, looked around to make sure Will had heeded her warning and didn't come after her, threw her purse in, and started the car. When she placed her trembling hands on the steering wheel, she noticed she had split open the skin over her knuckles of her right hand where she had made contact with Will's jaw, but the pain didn't penetrate the adrenaline. When she reached the street, she started to drive toward her old house. She cursed when she realized what she was doing, and then was almost paralyzed with sadness at the realization that she didn't even have the comfort of her home to embrace her. She had no place to go to feel safe, and loss washed over her anger like a rising tide.
She walked through the door of the duplex and threw her purse and keys to the floor and ran to her new bathroom, undressing as she went. The smell of cardboard and fresh paint made Brenda's head light. She grabbed her toothbrush and put about half a tube of toothpaste on and scrubbed her teeth, trying to rid herself of the memory of Will's alcohol-saturated breath on her face and dry tongue insistently pushing against her lips. She took several swigs of Listerine, repeatedly gargling until she could no longer feel her mouth. Brenda turned the shower on as hot as she could take it and stood under the spray, lathering, rinsing, and relathering until the water ran cold. She couldn't stand the thought that he had violated her like this, demanding something that she hadn't been willing to give in a long time. She wanted to scrub herself raw, getting every last bit of Will Pope off of her. Reluctantly, when the water became too cold to tolerate, she stepped out of the shower and toweled herself off. She put antibacterial cream on her hand and covered the cut with a couple of band aids. She grabbed her favorite pair of pajamas, peach flannel with a cat pattern, and covered it with her brown comfort sweater. Brenda felt the tears coming, but she wanted a drink in her hand before they started. Luckily she had restocked her Merlot selection on Saturday, and she found where Fritz had put the wine glasses. She poured a glass and chugged it, hoping it would calm her nerves. It didn't. She poured a second glass and took it to the living room with her and sat down in her non-home, tightening her sweater around her. She wished desperately that Fritz was there to take her in his arms.
Fritz. The tears she tried to hold back slowly started leaking down her face when she thought of him. They weren't the tears generated by a broken heart, the ones Will Pope was so good at instigating. Instead, they were cold tears, tears of fury and injustice. She realized that as much as she wanted Fritz to soothe her and tell her everything was going to be alright, she knew she couldn't have this luxury. If Fritz found out about what Pope had done tonight, she wasn't sure how he would react, but it wouldn't be good. Fritz hated Pope and didn't trust him around Brenda. More fights than she cared to remember were related to Will Pope, and this—the knowledge that he had forced himself on her—might send Fritz over the edge. She had to store this secret away, even though she and Fritz had promised to be honest with each other after she found out about his alcohol problem. No more secrets, they pledged. But some things are too ugly to see the light of day, and what happened with Will is one of them. This came too close, way too close, to Brenda overturning a rock and letting a dark, slimy secret out for Fritz to see, one that she had never shown anyone. He wasn't upset with her, but it served to fuel his anger toward Will, for reasons Brenda knew she couldn't comprehend. She had promised him it was the last secret. Not anymore, she thought, wiping tears off her chin and pulling her knees to her chest. Now there's one to take its place.
She jumped when she heard her cell phone ring. If it was Will, she was going to go ballistic. She grabbed her purse and quickly pulled out her phone, and was relieved to see "Fritz cell" in the caller ID window. She cleared her throat before answering, so he wouldn't be able to tell she had been crying. "Hey Fritzy!" she said, trying to sound as light as possible. "What are you doin'?"
Fritz was silent at the other end. "Brenda," he said cautiously. "What's up? You sound funny. Are you okay?"
Brenda closed her eyes. Damn him for knowing her so well. "Nothin's wrong, Fritz, I just got home, and the apartment's empty, and you're gone, and I miss you is all." Which was all true.
"Brenda," he said again, sounding ominous. "Did I just catch you eating chocolate?"
She sighed in relief. "Yes, Fritzy," she said, glad to be pleading guilty to a lesser offense. "You caught me eatin' chocolate. And I'm real sorry 'bout that."