"You know, maybe taking off a few days was a bad idea," Jane said as she opened a drawer to pull a pair of pajama bottoms out. She held the pants in her hand, looking down at them as she chewed on the inside of her lip, again lost in her own thoughts. "Maura," she started, her voice quiet, "Why is it my hands always hurt worse just after I wake up or just before I go to bed? I mean, why is it they never hurt when I'm working out or tying to, you know, use them a lot?" She tossed the pants back into the drawer and walked to her bed, not bothering to stop her thoughts to let the other woman answer. "I always wonder, and I never ask Dr. Stone when I see him. I always mean to, but I forget. There's always something else wrong, and I get distracted." She sat on the edge of the mattress, scooting back until her feet dangled slightly. "Ma says it's because of the weather changes, but I think they hurt all the time, but I only notice it just after I wake up or just before I go to sleep because that's when I'm not distracted by anything else. Know what I mean?" She finally glanced at the doctor. "Constant pain is funny like that. Sometimes, you can pretend it's not there if you've got something better to distract you." She shrugged, looking down at her hands as they squeezed opened and closed.

Maura waited, leaning in the doorway and just listening, until distractions were mentioned. She pushed off the door frame and walked over to Jane's side. "Give," she beckoned, but didn't wait for compliance, simply reaching down to take Jane's left hand and thumb massage the palm. "You're partly right about distraction accounting for some of the cessation of pain. The rest likely comes from the constant movement, which does help in the same way that both exercise and massage help any other muscles and tendons to remain loose and flexible. However, I think that you're trying to answer my question, but you're speaking in metaphor, and I'm not entirely certain that I understand your meaning."

Jane forcefully pulled her hand away. "Then I guess you'll never get your answer then, will you?" She drew her legs up, pushing herself toward the middle of the bed and away from Maura. "Maybe you should go."

Maura nodded acceptance of the situation. "Maybe I should," she agreed, "but I won't unless you tell me directly to go. Don't say maybe I should, say you want me to go. Say you don't need me here, or want me here. Look at me and tell me that you don't want me to understand you."

"I don't," the brunette shook her head, "I can't, Maura. Okay? I just can't." She pulled her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around her legs. "I can't," she repeated, resting her forehead on her knees. "Why can't you just be like everyone else? Even Ma stops pushing eventually. But, not you." Her voice was muffled, strained. "I can't tell you to go, but I don't want you here with me... like this." A tensed sob escaped.

Maura sat on the bed and scooted up beside Jane, enfolding that tightened fist of a body within her arms. "I know, Jane," she murmured into that dark hair. "I know you don't want anyone when you're like this, but you need someone, and right now, I'm it." She edged around until both her legs could wrap around Jane's rear and ankles in a full-body hug. "Since we're on the subject of wants and needs, let's talk about mine, too. I want to be here, with you. I need to see you like this. I want to be here for you. I need you to let me."

Jane's body tightened, pulling closer in on herself. "Why? God, Maura, why?"

"Because you don't scare me," Maura replied as she moved one of her hands to stroke Jane's hair back from her face. "You've been hurt a lot, and your pain hurts me, Jane. But it doesn't scare me. What would scare me would be if you became impervious to it. An impervious substance doesn't need to be strong. You aren't impervious. You still have soft, tender places in you that deserve to be handled with care. Those places are what keep you from being impervious, and make you strong instead. They're what I... what I admire in you."

"Soft spots are weaknesses, Maura. They're what make you break." Jane turned her head to face away from the prying eyes of her friend. "Weakness are what get you killed or the people around you hurt. I'm tired of being weak... I'm tired of the people I care about getting hurt because of me." She sighed heavily. "I'm just... tired of a lot of things."

Maura's finger very gently requested, not demanded, that Jane's face turn back to her. "Soft spots are weaknesses," she repeated, "and my hardened places don't hurt. Only my vulnerable places, my soft places, can be hurt. Am I weak? And if I am, then how could you possibly respect me, or like me, or even put up with me? Why don't you ever just turn around and walk away from me when those places are bleeding and tender, until I can... man up or shut up? Do you hate those things about me? Do you feel disdainful about those places in me? Am I weak, Jane?"

Jane resisted Maura's gentle request, keeping her head turned. "No, of course not." She pulled her chin away from the other woman's touch. "I care about you, why would I walk away if you were hurt?"

Maybe the other woman was right, maybe it was better that way. Maura gave up on trying to get Jane to look at her. "So you do understand."

Slowly, the brunette turned to look at her friend, unclenching her body as she did so. Frowning, she regarded the woman beside her. "I don't really deserve it, that kind of care." She looked away again. "Not really."

Gradually, the hand around Jane's shoulders began to rub against her back, a soothing touch rather than massage. Questions that could be asked in the dark of night simmered just below the surface in the late morning, sunlight through the bedroom curtains illuminating much that either might have preferred to keep hidden away. Maura didn't really know how to proceed in a way that was safe, that would allow her to remain simply a wise advisor. Then she realized that that was the point. She couldn't remain safe and outside. She had to dive all the way under, even if it meant freezing or scalding. It was with no little surprise that she decided that she wanted to do it, to freeze or scald, as long as she could be immersed in whatever this was. "I think you do. And I've got a healthy enough self-esteem to think that I might even deserve to be... here for you when you need me. Is it really this hard," she asked with quiet, but growing, amazement, "to imagine that I might be strong enough to love you?"

"I don't want you hurt, Maura. I've hurt you enough already." The words left Jane's mouth before her brain processed what, exactly, her friend had said with her last question. Her head shot around, eyes searching the blonde's face for answers to a dozen questions suddenly floating through the detective's mind. "To love me?" Her voice held shock and surprise. Her face held skepticism. "What?"

Maura lifted a shoulder with European nonchalance and pointed out, "You started it." Sometimes schoolyard retorts were all a person had. "You said you cared about me, and why would you walk away if I was hurt. Now I'm asking you the same thing. Why, or for that matter how, could I walk away, knowing that you were hurt? Your pain doesn't scare me. It makes me sad, it makes me hurt, but it doesn't make me frightened. What frightens me is the thought that you might think that I don't deserve to be here for you when you need me. That I'm too weak to handle it when you're hurt. That I don't care enough to run to you, ever."

"It's not really about you, Maura," Jane answered impassively, rearranging herself until she was leaning against her headboard, legs stretched out in front of her, body away from Maura's. "It's not about you being weak. It's about me being weak and having anyone see it. I don't like it." Jane's voice was quiet, tired. "It's about not wanting to deal with the pressure anymore, not wanting to continually disappoint everyone all the time. It's about not wanting to continue to hurt the people around me. It's about me. For once, I'm actually going to say that it's about me, and, right now, I don't really like me very much." She ran her hands over her face. "Why would I want anyone else to be close to someone I don't even like?" Pinching the bridge of her nose and scrunching her face up, she let out a long sigh. "It really would be easier if I just wasn't around. Sometimes, I really believe that."

Maura relinquished her hold on the taller brunette and swiveled so that she could still face Jane. "You're right, and I know I'm being selfish, putting myself into the equation that way. I apologize. I don't want to pressure you into anything, or make you think that I could ever be disappointed in you for any reason. I just... want you to realize that when you say you're not good enough, that's an attempt to remove my ability to think for myself and form my own thoughts about you. Believe me," she chuckled without humor, "it's hard enough to form coherent thoughts, without being told that I'm not allowed to have them in the first place. I guess that's the one thing you've ever done, or probably ever will do, that would hurt or disappoint me at all. This... this... ridiculous belief that I couldn't possibly really like you, respect you, care about you, or want to be close to you. I do, Jane. And it would be so, so much harder without you around, so I hope that you always will be."

"You'd find someone else... another best friend, if I were gone." Jane gave a hint of a smile. "They'd be lucky to have you." Her frown returned, deepened. "I know you're here, and I know you want to be here. I believe you when you say it, but, Maura, I feel so alone. You can't possibly understand how isolated I feel most of the time. You're my friend, and I value our relationship, probably more than you know. But, I need... something. I need... I don't know what. Maybe Ma's right. Maybe I do need to quit my job and find a man. Maybe I would be happier if I were married and had someone to come home to everyday. Someone who loved me for me, who wasn't disappointed in the things I did or didn't judge me for the things I didn't do. Someone who was okay taking care of me when I needed it. You know? But, then again, if I did that... if I became what Ma really wants, I wouldn't really be me anymore." She shrugged. "I'm not me now. I was me, but, then, something happened, and it wasn't the shooting." She gazed into her friend's eyes, looking for an answer. "Am I crazy to think my mother's constant nagging has finally gotten to me? Maybe... maybe she's right, and I'll never find anyone who loves me like that if I stay a cop? Maura, what if I die alone? I could have died alone." She closed her eyes, trying to shut the thought out, but not succeeding.

Maura sat back on her heels, stunned to the marrow, unable to speak or move for what seemed a very long time. Dismay grew in her, clutched at her heart, cold as yesterday's dish water. When she found words and articulated them, her voice was distant. "I thought I was getting so good at communicating with... people. With you. Apparently I'm still not much better than a... something that isn't very good at communicating."

"Jane, my..." She sighed and abandoned the search for an appropriate noun, words hanging useless all around her. "All I've desired is to be those things for you. All I've tried to do is be those things for you. I've been trying so hard. Haven't I been any good at it?"

"You've been an incredible friend, Maura. I'm not saying you haven't been." The brunette pulled her legs up, crossing them before dropping her hands in her lap. "What I'm saying is that I think I need more than just a friend. I mean, I need you. Don't get me wrong. But, you're my friend; you're not my boyfriend… girlfriend… whatever." She made a dismissive gesture with her hand missing entirely the wry sadness that began to show through Maura's concern. "Friends can only do so much for each other, you know what I mean? I'm lonely, and, this time, it was as close to dying as I've ever gotten. I think the fact that Ma is right, that I don't have anyone in my life like that, it hit home while I was recovering. I could have died without ever having had the chance to share my life with someone the way Ma and Pop have done. I don't want to die alone." She sighed. "But, I'm not sure I'll ever find someone, either. I think maybe Ma's right about that, too. As long as I have this job, no one will ever want to be with me. But, I love this job. My life," she shook her head in frustration, "I'm self-destructing."

Maura looked down at her hands, giving herself a moment to swallow the doubt that would have surely been audible in her voice. "What if," she began, then hesitated like an acrophobic child at the tip-end of the high dive at a swimming pool as her head shook. She hated sentences that began that way, unless they were the beginning of science. What if we could make a flying machine, what if we could map a caffeine molecule, what if we could replace a failing human heart with the heart of a pig? Those were acceptable what-ifs. Not this. In normal conversations, what-ifs were just ways to hedge one's bets. They were cowardly.

Use "I" statements, a child therapist had once told her, because they put you in the seat of your own strength. Maura shifted her posture so that she was just close enough to reach for Jane's hands, the physical evidence of one of those raw, tender emotional places that she so wanted to cradle and protect in her. "I don't want you to quit your job and try to be anyone that you're not. I don't want to sit in judgment over you. I'm never going to be disappointed in you for doing anything that you feel is right or necessary, or for not doing something that would make you feel bad. I want to take care of you when you need care. When you're lonely, I want to be the person you look to for companionship. I want to be your friend forever. I don't ever want to not be your best friend. We already have all of those things together, don't we?" She paused to once again swallow, because she'd done it, she'd leapt off the diving board, only to catch hold of it with her fingertips before going any farther down. Friends? She could retreat to that safety zone still. It wasn't too late to go back there.

Then it occurred to Maura that if she didn't speak now, it might be too late to ever let go and fall. She might never feel the terror of falling, that splash of surprise and chill as she hit, and all of a sudden she wanted that more than she wanted to feel safe. "Jane, tell me this, please. Is there anything else that I could be for you, that you want me to be, that I'm not already? Anything that you need, that you want me to give you? Because... I will. Anything."

Again, she pulled her hand away from the doctor's touch. "I don't… I don't understand what you're asking me." Jane's expressive face filled with confusion and hurt.

Maura sat back, swiftly hiding that reaching hand back beneath its mate as she looked down again. It was so tempting to feel rejection, to back away and run somewhere small, dark, and safe to lick her wounds. So tempting, but she couldn't do it. This wasn't about her, it was about Jane, who hurt first and worse. No time to chicken down. If it would help Jane, she could not just show her tender places, but could grate at them, deepen the gashes and pry them apart. Bring on the humiliation, if for an instant it might show Jane that she had a third choice other than loneliness or entrapment. "I love you." No, she would not add any delicate window dressing to soften the statement. Jane already knew she was her friend; a disclaimer would only be another curtain to hide behind. If she was going to give anything, she had to give everything. Even if Jane didn't want her, Maura thought through the pounding of her pulse in her reddening ears, she'd at least know that she was wanted.

Chewing at her bottom lip, Jane watched the blonde trying to decipher what her friend meant by those words, "I love you". "You, love me?" She whispered, almost to herself. Her eyes narrowed. "You love me… as a friend? As a sister? As a colleague?" The brunette slowly licked her lips as she continued to watch the woman sitting in front of her. "There are a lot of different kinds of love, Maura." Her voice was flat, slowly turning unemotional as her face fell into the familiar mask of detective. "I would think that, as my best friend, you would love me in some way. If you didn't, why would you be my friend at all?" Tilting her head to the side, eyes falling into that hardened stated she often referred to as 'cop mode', she pressed the smaller woman. "What, exactly, do you mean when you say you love me?"

"You already know I respect you as a colleague and that I have strong affection for you as a friend," Maura parried, albeit gently. "I don't actually know what a sister would feel like to me, since I've never had a sister or been a sister, though since you ask, I rather think I can say with a high degree of confidence that I... I don't want to be your sister, Jane." She finally raised her eyes again to see the tank top clad woman's easy slide into interrogation style of 'conversation'. "I also don't want to be your perp. I'm trying very hard to avoid hiding behind encyclopedia mouth, so could you try not to hide, too? Just for a few minutes?"

"Okay," Jane gave a faint nod, "I guess that's fair." Closing her eyes, she tried to shake herself out of the state she had so easily fallen into. "But, I'd like a straight answer from you. My nerves are fried. I'm emotionally exhausted, physically tired, and frustrated in every sense of the word that I can think of. Just this once," her eyes pleading as much as her voice, "could you tell me what you mean instead of me having to pry it out of you with a crowbar? I'm too tired to fight with it anymore, Maura."

"I love you," Maura said simply, then repeated it several times with different inflections. Caring, concern, worry, protectiveness, gentleness, quiet humor, fervent request, intimacy. It was like an actor doing 'repetitions' exercises, but without the sense of effort or putting on something foreign or different. Over and over, "I love you," and sometimes, "I love you, Jane." She did not otherwise move, not to lean, not to turn away, not to touch those hands for which she had so often reached, not even to brush away a tear that fell down one cheek followed by several more of its kind. Gradually her voice became quieter, less a voice than a whisper, hoarse and almost choked from the explanations she somehow couldn't articulate in any other way.

Mouth slightly agape, eyes full of comprehension, Jane watched the scene unfold. Closing her mouth and clamping her jaw shut, she shook her head in the negative. Firmly, resolutely, eyes sparkling with determination, she shook her slowly no. Through clenched teeth, she took in a slow breath before quietly responding. "No." She stood, backing away from the bed. "No, Maura," her voice became more forceful with each word, fear seeping into her words. She backed to her chest, taking out her pants and putting them on as she spoke. "No. You can't. You can't love me like that." She wrapped her arms around herself as she leaned against the wall furthest from the end of her bed.

Cut off, Maura permitted herself to be silenced by Jane's refusal. Her lips pressed together, but she did not look away, needing the visual cues. Not that they helped; she still had to ask, "Does that mean you don't think it's possible, or that you don't want it to be?"

"It means… it means that… that it's dangerous." Jane's eyes fell to the floor. "Besides, why would you want to love someone as shattered as me? You could have anyone you wanted; you could do whatever you wanted. You've got everything, Maura. You're smart. You're beautiful. You've got money to burn. There's not a person out there that wouldn't kill to have a shot with you. Why would you want to pick the one person that could hurt you as badly as I can hurt you?" Her eyes found Maura's face again. "I don't want to hurt you anymore. I don't want to hurt anyone anymore."

Maura allowed herself to nod in acknowledgement all along. "Yes, I am. I'm a catch. Not only can I do what I want, but I am doing it. I'm serving justice every day, like you, and it makes me feel good. I have money, and it's a useful tool for making certain things easier, like your gun does for you. I wouldn't suggest using either one to assist in the area of romance, but I'll agree that either can be a nice thing to have, in certain circumstances." She shifted back to sit in the middle of the bed, leaning back onto her hands as her feet swung over the edge just above the level of the floor. "I'm smart and beautiful, which are also useful on occasion. So are you, so you already know how handy those traits can be. Now, put all that aside and think about what else is left. Without my money, looks, and brains..."

She sighed. "I give away money to faceless strangers through my charitable endowments. Anyone in my vicinity gets to look at me all they want, so any physical beauty I may possess is free for all. My brains are on loan to the city, where I hope they continue to do some good in the world. The only thing I keep for myself, the only thing I have that I can choose not to give to just anyone are my feelings. I choose who gets to see those. I choose where to give those. I choose who gets to take those and hold them and keep them."

"I choose you, Jane. I know you'll hurt me sometimes, like right now, while you're telling me I'm not allowed to love you. I know I'll hurt you, too, like when I back away because I think you need me to give you space, when really you're just telling me you can't trust me to love you enough." Maura had stopped crying, but couldn't keep from sniffling. "There are times you've hurt me without meaning to do so, and I'm sure it will happen again. But I hope, believe, and above all trust that you will never hurt me on purpose. The closest I think you'll ever come to that will be when you need something that I can give you, but refuse to take it from me."

Jane moved to the bed, sitting on the edge beside Maura. For a long time, she stared ahead of her. When she spoke, her eyes were distant, still looking at the wall ahead of her. Her voice was quiet and huskier than normal from the amount of internal turmoil she was feeling. "When you called yesterday and I ignored you, just before you came over? I had decided two things." She gazed down at her hands, spreading her fingers, palms down as if to inspect them. "I had decided not to swallow the end of my barrel, and I had decided I didn't want to do that because I'd promised you that I'd have dinner with you today. That's why the gun was unloaded when you came in. I wanted it to be harder for me to pull the trigger if I suddenly changed my mind, wanted to give myself a little time, a couple of seconds, to load the gun and think about it before I did it." Her hands slowly closed into fists. "I didn't stop myself because I was afraid Ma would find me, even though she would. I knew she'd be over sooner or later. It wasn't because it would hurt the family or upset my friends. It wasn't because I didn't want to do it. I wanted to do it." She closed her eyes, her hands falling to rest on her knees. "There's a part of me that still does. But, I don't want to hurt you more, and I had made you a promise. I didn't want to break that promise and upset you." She swallowed, her eyes still closed. "God help me, Maura, you kept me alive, and it's not fair to put that kind of responsibility on anyone. That's a weight no one should have to carry… to be the sole reason someone decides they want to live another day. That's just too much pressure."

The blonde looked suddenly smaller as her face crumpled and her shoulders slumped as her hands flew up to cover her face. "I know," she sobbed, "and it's killing me that I can't do anything about it. I've never felt so impotent in all my life! I don't want to be the only thing that keeps you from doing that. I want you to be happy, and feel purpose and meaning in your life, and be with me only because you actually want to be with me." She removed her hands from her face, clenching her arms around her torso, clinging to herself alone. "But if the ability to keep you from harming yourself is the only thing I can give you, the only thing you're able to take from me, then I want the pressure. I'll take any amount of responsibility for your life. I'll take it all, and more, if you just please, please lay it on my shoulders. I'll even try not to love you, if you just promise not to leave me here."

"You don't have to make that bargain." Jane was quiet, reserved. "I don't want you to stop loving me. I don't think I'd ever want that." She opened her eyes, still blankly staring ahead. "I don't want to leave you, either, not really." She turned to face the woman crying beside her. Slowly extending her left hand, the one furthest from the other woman, she quietly offered it, palm up. "I realized last night before you came that I need help, Maura. I was okay for a little while, but I'm not anymore. I want to work it out. If I didn't want to work it out, we wouldn't be talking right now." She frowned deeply. "There was a time when I would have leaped at the chance to tell you how madly in love with you I am, but this is not the right time and not the right place to start listing all the times I've almost told you how I feel about you because it would just seem like I was using it to use you. I don't want to use you, either. I want to be the person that you deserve to have." She swallowed, not bothering to fight the tears. "Can we start there? Can we start with getting me there because I'd really like to find the right time and the right place."

Maura sniffled, or rather, snorted. It was an unattractive sound for an unattractive situation, tears and mucus buildup, red face, grated raw emotions lying like broken corpses all around and on her. But she took Jane's hand and tugged just a little, making it a request. She needed their closeness. "Yes. Please. And until you're wherever you need to be, to be able to... not be in danger?... will you stay with me, you and Joe? I don't mean you have to be in my room. I mean, unless you want to be there. I just, I need to be selfish for a little while, and I think I'll feel less scared if I know that you're not going home to an empty apartment."

Jane allowed herself to be moved to where Maura needed her to be. "Okay." She was relenting. "I think… It's going to take a while." She wiped at her face with her free hand. "I don't like that I'm not strong enough to deal with this on my own, but," she leaned forward, resting her forehead on Maura's shoulder, "I trust you. I scared myself last night. I don't want to do that again."

Unsteady hands snuck around Jane's waist with the faint air of a request for permission as Maura sought the warmth that their physical contact always brought. "Thank you for that. Will you... will you lie with me? I mean, for rest? I'm feeling so drained right now, but I don't want to go to sleep in case you need me, but if you're right here, then I'll know if you need me. Or if I need you."

"Yeah, I think I'd like that," pulling back to look the blonde in the eyes, Jane gave a very weak smile, her eyes still full of anguish. "But, you'll have to take your pants off first."

"Your pants," Maura reminded her, reluctantly breaking their contact long enough to stand, shuck the garment, and fold them nicely to set aside. "Do you want your shirt back, too?" As loaded as the question could have been, it was practical rather than seductive, and didn't even seem like an effort on her part. It really was all about fatigue and comfort. Though, she did put the cap on it by adding, "I actually did bring my own pajamas. I just like yours better."

"Right, my pants," with a shake of her head, Jane slid from the bed to pull her own pajama bottoms off. "No, keep it. You look better in it anyway." She sighed heavily as she settled into her place. "Do you want me to wear yours? Trade off?" This time, a smirk did form, though it quickly disappeared as she settled, waiting for the doctor to join her.

The smaller woman lay down beside her... friend with a sigh of relief and pulled the blankets over herself. "I don't need you to wear anything. In particular. Anything in particular."

"Mmmhmm," Jane responded as she moved Maura's arm so she could settle against the doctor's side, her left arm and leg falling across the smaller woman's body. "That's what she said," the brunette quipped, her head settling once again in the crook of Maura's neck. "You know you're always trying to get me naked. I see what you're doing here." It wasn't Jane's normal, light hearted banter, but it was close. The fatigue was taking a toll, her body going limp, too tired to continue to be tense. "Maura, when we wake up again, make sure I call the shrink, okay?'

Maura nodded acceptance of the reminder even before registering the rest of Jane's words. "Okay... Wait, what? Who said that?" Her hands, which had run up that tense back and into the base of Jane's hair, stilled in their comforting strokes. "And by the way, no, I am not trying to get you naked. You being clothed doesn't make me uncomfortable. Though, I do hope that sooner than later, it'll be okay for me to sleep normally."

Jane stiffened, "And how would that be?" Her voice was guarded.

Wincing, Maura attempted to edit, or at least soften, her statement. "Um, well, it's, it's just that when I'm alone, I'm not really, I, I just, not so much in the way of... um... fabric. But I'm okay," she hastened to add, arms hurrying to encircle Jane's shoulders and waist. "I don't mind, Jane, I really don't. Don't go anywhere."

"Not moving, comfy," Jane mumbled, her breathing starting to regulate. "But, if you want to sleep in the buff, who am I stop you?" She chuckled ever so lightly.

An inappropriate physical response initiated, but Maura clamped it down resolutely before replying, "The person that I always want to make comfortable. The person that I'm not going to put any pressure on, not even temptation, until after you're... safe. Now, hush." Soothing hands fingercombed through Jane's dark locks and drew down her back, quieting and calming. "Sleep."

Clinging to Maura as the lifeline she had become, Jane nodded in reply.

Later, when they awoke, she would keep to her word and call the doctor.

She would find a way to put herself back together.

She would figure out how to function again.

She would make it right so she could do right by the woman she was currently wrapped around.

Later…

But, for this moment, sleep was best, and Jane drifted effortlessly into sleep.


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