The last few stories I've posted I have written by myself. If I co-write a story, I always make a note of that fact up here in my little notations. This story is one I've cowritten with Googlemouth, and, as always, it was a wonderful experience.
The characters do not belong to me or Googlemouth. They belong to the ever wonderful Tess Gerritsen, the folks at TNT, and other important type people. We get nothing out of this but the joy of writing the story... and reviews (hint ;-) )
Jane closed the front door to her apartment with a light click, released Jo from her leash, and flung said pink leash somewhere in the area of the coffee table. With a groan, she staggered over to her small kitchen to find something to eat for both her and her pup.
Her first week back on the job hadn't been what she expected. First of all, not being fully on duty was torture. She felt naked without her gun or shield. Second of all, having her mother walk in on her while Casey was getting dressed was still eating at her.
Maura hadn't helped at all. She'd just laughed it off. Jane's only consolation on the matter was that her best friend had finally stopped seeing the surgeon that had repaired the damage from the gunshot wound to her abdomen.
Jane absentmindedly ran her hand across her side and over the fresh scar tissue. It had finally stopped hurting, and it had only taken three months, her mother and father getting divorced, her mother moving into her best friend's guest house, and...
Her best friend had a guest house.
Jane shook her head and stopped pouring milk into her bowl of Lucky Charms. How strange had her life gotten that her best friend, one, had a guest house, and, two, was letting her mother stay there because she was Jane's mother.
"Jo, you ever get the feeling your life is someone else's bad TV sitcom?" She tossed a milk bone to the little dog, who happily snapped it out of the air. "I wonder what Maura's doing. She said she had some errands to run when we left work tonight. I bet she's out buying more random crap for her new office. You should see it, girl. The stuff in there probably costs more than everything we own, and the chairs are the most uncomfortable pieces of..."
A knock at the door interrupted her thoughts. With a roll of her eyes, she grabbed her bowl of cereal and went to answer the persistent knocking.
"Beware of geeks bearing gifts," came the misquoted greeting from behind a grocery bag that Maura held close to herself like a chubby toddler, bulging at odd points and looking about two seconds from squirming out of her grasp. "I suspected you'd be eating cereal or some kind of unhealthy take-out, so I brought something else. Also, your mother has terrible taste in men."
Only then did it become apparent that the diminutive woman was dressed rather more spiffily than she normally would be just for hanging out at home or at Jane's. That was definitely date attire, that stunning ice-lavender dress with the little shimmer in the fabric, the strappy sandal, the bouncy loose curls framing a face with a little more makeup and jewelry than Maura had worn to work that morning.
"I warned you about letting her set you up, but do you listen to me?" Jane rolled her eyes and stepped aside, continuing to eat her cereal as she watched Maura make her way to the kitchen. "And you can't take my Lucky Charms... or my Cap'n Crunch. I need those. They go with my coffee." She closed and locked the door. "Oh, speaking of, I just brewed a pot. After we unpack all that healthy crap I'm sure you just brought over, you want some? You can tell me about Mr. Wrong." She slurped the milk from the bowl as she walked to the sink.
Maura chuckled as she set the bag down on the counter. "Eat your cereal," she agreed. "Go ahead and fill up on that, and there'll be more fish tacos for me." Already her efficient hands were unpacking and starting to create order, a mis en place for late dinner preparations. Some kind of fish, lots of vegetables, flour tortillas, and a little selection of spices. She washed her hands and got to work, washing and chopping vegetables. "So, your mother said that Nathan's job was similar to mine. I was thinking he was a doctor, a coroner, maybe even an undertaker or funeral director. She also said he was a very gentle, respectful person, and she'd met him through your Nonna's friend Gladys. Oh, could you hand me that red pepper?" Jane tossed the paper at Maura, who caught it but gave the cereal eating detective a hard look. "Thank you. We met at Mario'sfor early dinner, since he said he had work later tonight."
"Well," she continued as all the vegetables were diced finely and she could turn to the fish, "I couldn't eat anything. I saw what other people were eating, and it was... food, for lack of a more accurate word that isn't obscene, that I wouldn't feed to an enemy. I got some water and said it was a little early for me to be eating dinner."
"He took you to Mario's?" Jane let out a snort. "What a cheapskate. I wouldn't even take you there. Ma should have known better. Nathan's a freaking miser. See? This is why you should call me and ask before agreeing to anything Ma asks you to do. She's tricky. I keep trying to tell you." She started setting the table. "Mario's," she grumbled to herself. "If I were taking you out, it'd be someplace better than that, and I make half what he does. I'd take you to," she stopped moving and stood up, really contemplating where she might take the finicky doctor. "Oh! That really nice seafood restaurant out by the docks. You know the one? The Inn by the Sea? That's the kind of place someone taking you out should go. Mario's is more my kind of place, not yours." She shook her head and resumed setting the table.
As she finished slicing up the fish and washing the cutting board, Maura sent her friend a thoroughly sunny smile, distracted momentarily from Nathan's poor choice. "I know you would, Jane. But no, Mario's is not your kind of place. You know good Italian food. You'd never put up with something like Mario's."
"But that wasn't the worst of it." She grabbed a pan to heat oil, and in moments was frying up the vegetables, hot and crisp. "As he ate, with very poor table manners I'll add, Nathan told me what he actually does for a living. He claims to speak with the dead! That's what your mother meant when she said his job was similar to mine. He says he's bringing people answers and closure. Do you believe that? He's a charlatan, preying on the bereaved in their time of emotional vulnerability."
"Like I said, Ma's tricky." Jane pulled out a bottle of wine and popped the cork to let it breathe. "You know, maybe we should go to that place down by the docks? I mean you're already dressed up, and this'll keep, and I'm kind of tired of being at home. I mean, I've been here for three months. It's getting kind of old. If you're okay with me wearing what I was wearing to work… I know it's not a dress, but a suit with a button down isn't too bad, is it?" She raised an eyebrow. "Wait, don't answer that," she chuckled. "On second thought, scratch that. It is late, and this smells good." She strolled over to her cabinet to grab two wine glasses. "I know Ma's heard people say you say you speak with the dead, and that's probably what she was thinking. But, if she'd just listen to me when I'm talking, she'd know that, when you speak to the dead, it's not because you think you're talking to ghosts. Ma's thick sometimes." Jane reached up for the glasses, and suddenly bent over, "Ow, dammit." She made a grab for her side, holding one hand up to ward off Maura's inevitable attempt to check her side for injury.
Maura stood frozen and stricken: her hands were busy stirring fish into the frying pan. "Jane!" she exclaimed, then realized that, yet again, the pain was almost certainly psychosomatic. The knowledge relaxed her only marginally, just enough to keep cooking, not enough to keep her attention truly on the frying pan. "Jane, let me just..." She could let the fish cook with its own internal heat in the pan, rather than having to actually deal with it…
Decision made, Maura turned off the heat and abandoned it all, not rushing to the detective's side, but getting there fairly quickly anyway, placing the flat of her hand over the spot. "What happened? What were you feeling?"
"I don't know! I reached up for the glasses, and I got this pain in my side," Jane batted at Maura's hand. "Maura, how many times do I have to tell you to feel up your own scars?" She pulled away, leaning against the counter behind her with one hand pressed down on her side. "Man, I thought I was over this. I don't know how, but I'm sure this is all Ma's fault. Your fish are burning." Sentences all ran together as Jane talked through the pain, wincing as she did so.
"No, they're not," Maura replied easily, not allowing herself to be dissuaded from her examination. "Move your hand, Jane. Stand up straight, and let me do this." She waited patiently until access was granted, then placed her hand flat against the scar tissue. No poking, no prodding, barely any pressure, just a flat, warm palm. She didn't even look at the spot. Some examination; nothing was being examined. "I know what you were doing, Jane. That isn't what I asked. I asked what you were feeling. Breathe slowly and talk to me. What's wrong?"
"Well, gee, Maura, I don't know," Jane's tone was dripping with sarcasm, "my parents are getting divorced, my doctor won't see me to grant me an active duty status even though he knows I'm fit to go back, my best friend is being set up by Ma with guys I'd rather shoot thank talk to, and," she made an exaggerated thoughtful face, "Oh yeah! I have a gunshot wound to my side. There's nothing wrong with me in my head," she made her point by pointing at said head. "The scar tissue is tight because I'm cold. You know how this goes, and you know I know how this goes." She held up a hand for them both to see. "It's just going to hurt sometimes. Now, will you please unpin me so I can grab the glasses? And, for real, your fish are burning."
Wisely, Maura let it go for the nonce, turned the pan of fish and vegetables into small fish tacos with the assistance of a quartet of tortillas, two for each of them. The fish were fine, as it turned out. They had a nice crisp brownness along one side of each little piece, but they were by no means burnt.
However, as Maura cleared the dishes and started slicing peaches and strawberries, sprinkling them with sugar and cinnamon for a light dessert, she returned to the issue of Jane's phantom pain. Not directly, of course. She approached it like a crab, scuttling sideways this way and that, getting nearer without seeming to do so. "Byron did say he intended to give you your physical go-ahead if your checkup on Monday looks good."
Jane grunted, her hand going to her side. "You're still talking to him? I thought you said you called it off? Maura, why do you keep talking to him? He's greasy." She absentmindedly rubbed at her side. "He's bad for you, woman. Man, it's like I told Casey when he was here," she winced, not seeming to notice the pain as she ranted, "it's like everyone thinks they have to have someone to sleep with to be happy. Why can't everyone just be happy how they are? I mean, it's fine when it's just you and," she gave another grunt, louder this time. "Okay, whatever it is you're doing, stop it. My side feels like someone is stabbing it... repeatedly. Crap, it hurts." She stood up from her place at the counter and, wincing, walked over to the sofa to lie down.
From where she lay on her back, she called out over the back of the sofa, "I thought you didn't believe in psychology anyway."
Maura simply washed the dishes and let Jane rant until she wound down, pausing in such a way as to let Maura know that she could respond at last. "It's a soft science, but that doesn't mean it's without merit. The mistakes and misconceptions of alchemy eventually led to the real science of chemistry. The study of humors eventually led to a more complete understanding of biology and medicine. The mind is the hardest thing to understand because it straddles the boundaries between the physical and the non-physical, and therefore those who claim to understand it are overstating their case. However, in yourcase," she added as she dried the last dish, "since there is nothing physically wrong with you other than cicatrices, we can eliminate physical causes and focus on mental and emotional ones."
The woman could notbe brief.
As she hung up the dish towel and fetched the dessert bowls to bring to Jane on the sofa, the smaller woman finally answered the first question. "I was talking to Byron because we met for lunch. We had to exchange... certain belongings that each of us wanted to get back. Here, eat your peaches."
"I don't want your peaches," one sinewy hand waved off the bowl while the other clutched at her side. "I'm glad you got rid of him. He's a jerk, Maura." The detective winced in pain. "You can do better." With a little grunt, she tried to sit up, only managing to push herself up half way and fold her legs back to allow a spot for the doctor to sit. "You never did tell me why you finally dropped him, and now I want your peaches." She held a hand out.
Maura sat, handed Jane her bowl and spoon, settled, and then used her now empty hand to pat her lap, welcoming the taller woman's feet back onto it. "I dumped Byron because of multiple factors. Mostly for the same reasons I'd been seeing him, actually, though he did precipitate an earlier breakup than I had anticipated."
"Wait," Jane said through a mouthful of peaches as she settled her feet on Maura's lap, "you were dating him for the same reasons you dumped him. Maura, that doesn't make any sense. What does that even mean?"
"Well, you know, I'd had Frankie nearly die on my table, under my hands, and then I watched you shoot Bobby Marino through yourself and you nearly died, too. It was a stressful time for me." She looked guilty – no, ashamed. That look was rare on Maura. In fact, it was possible Jane had never seen it. "I just... I needed to do something that released endorphins, expended energy, took my mind off all the stressors, and made me feel good physically and less lonely, just for a little while. And then I needed to know that it would end whenever I needed, without my feeling bad about it."
"Okay, so you needed a toy that didn't require batteries." Jane rolled her eyes, using one toe to give Maura a little poke in the stomach, "But whydid you dump him? I mean, if all he really was was a toy..."
"Because I couldn't stand the son of a bitch."
The spoon in Jane's hand clattered to the floor, and her face took on a fish-out-of-water expression. "Excuse me?" Her jaw dropped, eyes wide and unblinking. "Did Maura Isles just us blue collar language?"
Looking vaguely unsettled herself, Maura admitted, "That didn't feel as cathartic as I'd imagined it would be. But yes, I pushed him from the curb for the same reason I took up with Byron in the first place. Because I didn't need him."
"That's 'kicked him to the curb'," Jane autocorrected as she reached down to pick up her spoon, blow on it as if to get rid of unseen dust from the floor, and stick it back in her bowl of fruit. "What made you decide you didn't need him anymore?" She took another bite of her dessert as she waited for an answer.
Maura smiled without remarking as Jane leaned all the way over to pick up her spoon, evidencing no discomfort in what should have been a painful maneuver if her bullet wound was still the source of her hurt. Her answer to Jane's question came only after a full bite of peaches, then scooping a strawberry onto her own spoon, which she used for minor gesturing as she spoke. "Byron was only intended to fill a temporary void. That's why I chose him. The fact that he was marginally pleasant in bed was entirely unexpected, as well as beside the point. I just needed a warm body beside me, someone who would touch me. I don't have that need anymore." She finally ate the strawberry, put the spoon in the bowl, and lay her hand atop the calf which rested comfortably upon her thigh.
"Yeah?" Jane scooped her bowl for any last drops of juice and then licked her spoon. "You find another guy or something?" She asked between licks, an eyebrow rising in mock suspicion. "If it's Frankie, I'm going to kill him," she deadpanned as she dropped her spoon into her bowl with a clatter. "I mean, there are rules about hooking up with your sister's people."
"It's not a romantic relationship," Maura said with a smile into her last bite of fruit. Moments later, her bowl and spoon joined Jane's on the coffee table. "I simply found that one day, my skin was no longer hungry."
"That makes it sound like you're some kind of succubus that needs skin-to-skin contact in order to feed." Jane rolled her eyes at Maura's hard look. "What? Bad analogy?" She gave a wave of her hand, dismissing whatever the doctor was about to say. "Maura, come on, you're doing that thing. You know, that thing where you answer but don't because you can't lie but you don't want to tell me. I'm tired. It's been a long week. Could we just call it even and you tell me instead of making me use my 'great detective skills' to figure out what you actually mean?"
The apologetic expression on Maura's face was somewhat gratifying; at least, better than the slightly superior, amused smirk she often wore when engaged in verbal playtime with her best friend. "I'm sorry, Jane, I thought I hadtold you."
Jane gave a pleading look, holding her hands out, palms up. "Cut me a break here, would you? I mean, what kind of platonicrelationship is better than a toy that doesn't require batteries anyway?"