My Greatest Gift, Part 1 of 1

Pairing: Jane/Maura

Spoilers: This is a post-ep for 203 ("Sailor Man") and, as such, has spoilers for that episode. There's also some slight unintentional foreshadowing for the following episode ("Brown Eyed Girl"), though I based Jane's point of view regarding children on book-Jane rather than that episode.

Disclaimer: The only thing that's mine is the plot, such as it is.

Warnings: I should note that, given the subject matter of the episode this is a continuation of, there is some discussion of sexual assault in this one, though it's by far not the focus of the story.

Note: Here's the thing. As soon as I got past the first few lines of what was supposed to be a light-hearted sequel to "The Perils of Interior Decorating," (a.k.a. the goat story) I knew where this story was going. Particularly when I'm writing post-ep stories, I try to tread the same line the show does between subtext and maintext, because I want the story to fit seamlessly within the show itself. But instead I ended up exploring a little of Maura's insecurities – she's often depicted as the confident one who is more comfortable with her own sexuality, but I wanted to look at the deeper issues of trust, emotional intimacy, and so on – and Maura's got issues with those.

The title, by the way, is from Jann Arden's song "Ode to a Friend," which is just about the most perfect Jane/Maura song ever. Go ahead. Look up the lyrics (it's apparently the only thing on the planet not on YouTube). I'll wait.


They didn't speak until they were several blocks away from the garage and Maura finally breathed a long sigh of mixed relief and frustration. "Thank you," she said. "For…thinking so quickly and picking up on my ruse."

Jane shrugged. "Made sense. Guys go there all the time. It's how their brains work." She glanced at Maura, who was biting her lower lip. "Worked for Jorge, right…babe?"

"Yes," she finally admitted, though not without a drawn-out sigh. "Though…it seemed slightly less effective with Giovanni. He was implying what I think he was, wasn't he?"

Jane snorted. "I doubt Jorge even knows what a threesome is, let alone whether or not he would want to have one."

They drove in silence for a few more minutes. Occasionally, Jane would have to shoot a glare – or, in two instances, her badge – at passersby leering at her mother's car. Finally, she glanced to her right, tilting her head speculatively. "So, is that…like…your go-to thing?"

Maura jumped as though startled out of a reverie. "What?"

"The gay thing? Is that, like, your standard dump-a-guy thing?"

"No. Well…I just…." She shrugged. "Usually I'm the one being 'dumped,' as you're well aware. Unless I've diagnosed my date with something, though it's rare I'll accept a date in the first place with someone who has an easily-diagnosable medical condition, and – "

"Maura."

She sighed. "The situation hasn't come up often. But it is effective." She saw Jane's skeptically raised eyebrow and let out a disgruntled 'hmph' that made her friend grin. "When I've needed to…dissuade someone," she finally said, "and let them down gently, it's – well, it's…." Her hands waved vaguely in the air. "I don't have to lie. It's an easy thing to…imply."

"That wasn't lying?"

"No. Neither of us lied, really, except when you answered his assumption about 'batting for the other team.' And you do 'bat' for a different team than he does, so that was the literal truth despite what he was actually asking." Maura gave a disgruntled frown. "Most men don't come right out and ask like that."

"You were expecting Giovanni to be subtle?"

"And I didn't lie at all," Maura said, ignoring the interruption. "The rest was all innuendo. Which makes my point, actually."

Jane shrugged. "Whatever. At least it worked."

Maura observed her out of the corner of her eye. She was nibbling on her lower lip and drumming her fingers against the steering wheel. "I'm sorry if it made you uncomfortable."

Again, Jane shrugged.

"Jane?"

She glanced at Maura, then quickly swung her eyes back to the road, chewing her thumbnail. When she had to stop for a red light, she grunted and ran a hand through her hair. "What the hell am I gonna do with this mess?"

Maura had opened her mouth to answer before her brain put together that look with that particularly mournful whine, and she snapped her mouth closed.

Jane deflecting could be difficult enough; when she began deflecting with something she was genuinely upset about, there was little anyone could do but go along for the ride.

"I mean, she trades in her car, right?" Maura nodded silently; she wasn't quite sure whether she was supposed to reply with something vaguely sympathetic or simply allow the rant to continue. Before she could debate the subject for long, Jane continued, "She trades in her car and buys a damn pimpmobile, right? And it's a lemon because she's my mother and it's my life and things just work like that. I get her car back, and now she has another pimpmobile."

Maura wasn't at all sure what she could do to help, though she offered uncertainly, "I'll pay to have it repaired."

"No."

"I don't mind, Jane. All it needs is…." She trailed off, looking around the interior of the car with renewed dismay. "Well, it needs new seat covers. A new steering wheel. New hubcaps. A new paint job."

"New accessories," Jane added, yanking down the peppers hanging from the rearview mirror and tossing them behind her with a roll of her eyes. "It'd be cheaper just to buy a new used car."

"Well…." Maura looked around again, though this time with a mischievous twinkle in her eye. "You know, your mother can be unpredictable. She might like it this way."

"What?" Jane's face contorted in disgust. "You did not just say that! Ew." She stopped at another light and turned in her seat with a scowl. "Seriously. Did not say that. Ew."

Maura playfully raised an eyebrow. "Hm." She made a show of tapping her fingers against her lip. "I seem to remember having said it."

"Oh, ha ha."

She smiled, relieved that she seemed to have snapped Jane out of her funk. "Really, Jane. I'll have it fixed."

"Don't have to do that."

"Please? If I'd just – "

Jane glanced at her and said pointedly, "If you'd listened to me."

"Fine. If I'd listened to you, none of…this…" She gestured vaguely around the inside of the car. "…would have happened."

Jane was silent for a few minutes as she exited the turnpike, paid the toll, and continued towards Brookline before glancing again to her side. "Yeah, and about…all of…this? If you ever make a stuffed animal kiss me in public ever again, I'll…I'll go in your closet, wrinkle all your clothes, and mismatch all your shoes."

Maura was unable to completely suppress her gasp of horror, but she managed to ask, "What about in private?"

With a groan, Jane rolled her eyes. "Funny. You're hysterically funny."

"That's sarcasm…isn't it?"

"Yes, Einstein, that was sarcasm." Jane exhaled, forcing herself to be patient with her sometimes overly literal friend. "Look, go donate it. I'm sure the kangaroos would like it."

"The kanga – oh, you mean the volunteers at the hospital! That's a wonderful idea. I think I'll do it." Jane had to bite her tongue to keep from asking Maura whether she'd thought she'd meant actual kangaroos. "You know, I tried to get your mother a job in the NICU. There weren't any openings."

"You did?"

Maura shrugged. "She loved being with those babies. I'm trying to convince her to continue volunteering there."

Jane winced, not at all sure she liked the idea of her mother and her best friend having conversations that didn't involve her. As far as she was concerned, her mother already took an inordinate interest in the minutiae of her everyday life; mix that with Maura's blunt honesty, and she was done for.

"Speaking of which – I'll carpool with your mother for now, all right? It's my responsibility, after all."

She felt relief for all of five seconds before the implications sunk in. "Right," she drawled, "because what I really wanted to think about right now was the fact that my mother now works at the same place I work. That's fantastic, really. Jumping for joy here."

"But – "

"And now she's gonna carpool with my best friend. This is great. You two can plan my love life, talk about how pathetic my wardrobe is, and gripe about what a bitch I can be when my hands hurt."

"Jane, I…don't really know how to respond to that, except to remind you that you can always ask me to help with your hands."

"Yeah, I know," she said wearily. "Never mind. It's not you. It's just…Ma's gonna work with me, Maura."

"Well…maybe she can improve the quality of the food? She is a wonderful cook."

"Least she doesn't sneeze on the donuts," Jane muttered. "Still need to arrest Stanley for that." She turned down Maura's street, praying that no one was out taking any children or pets for a walk; explaining the car away would be hell. "By the way – you should park this thing in your garage. You'll be tossed out of the neighborhood if your neighbors see this."

Maura looked around the interior of the car one last time, before her eyes settled on the racing stripe running down the Buick's hood. "Ordinarily I'd argue with your perception of my neighbors, but…this time, I think you might have a point."

She hopped out of the car and went inside to open the garage door, then waited until Jane parked the car to follow her inside.

She wasn't entirely surprised when Jane jerked to a sudden halt in front of her, nor when she said flatly, "Maura."

A sigh. "Lisa's gone to Iceland to redecorate the American embassy in Reykjavik. She'll be out of the country for at least a month."

"What's she gonna put in there? Tarantulas? Or is it always farm animals? Maybe a nice cow in the ambassador's office?"

"Jane."

"They're still there, Maura."

"I believe that's what I said."

Jane let out a mournful sigh and rubbed her temples. "They're still there."

"Would you like something to drink?" Jane ignored the attempt at distraction; Maura exhaled slowly. "Jane?"

"Huh?"

She inhaled, held it, and exhaled again; it was enough to allow her to ask calmly, "Are you thirsty?"

Jane visibly collected herself, deliberately turning her back on the entryway. "Yeah, actually. Can I have a beer?"

Maura's face fell. "Oh, Jane, I'm so sorry. I gave the last one to – "

"Giovanni," she sighed. "You gave my last beer to that creep."

"I'll buy more when I go to the store tomorrow."

"Not the point, Maura."

"I'm sorry."

"For not getting it or for giving away my last beer?"

"Um…" Maura bit her lower lip. "Yes?"

Jane stalked over to the refrigerator and retrieved a bottle of sparkling water. "What's up with you, anyway?" she demanded, eyeing the water with distaste. "I mean, I know you think…differently…about sex than I do. You keep a shaving kit in you purse just in case, and you're always telling me how awesome sex is. That it makes you healthy and less stressed and probably cures the common cold."

"Indirectly, it does. It causes – "

"And, I mean, it's so not my place. You can sleep with whoever you want. But…Maura, Slucky's a jerk and…for God's sake, Giovanni? What the hell? You used to have taste." As soon as the words left her mouth, she winced. "Christ, Maura, I'm sorry. I know you have taste. I know something else must be – damn it, I'm sorry."

The silence dragged on just long enough to make her uncomfortable, to make her wonder whether she'd truly offended Maura, who finally admitted, very quietly, "I was…lonely."

Jane felt the weight of that one sentence slam onto her shoulders like the freaking Rock of Gibraltar; she knew better than anyone how alone Maura really was and she'd all but abandoned her after she came home from the hospital. She sat on the couch and put her head in her hands before looking back up when Maura began speaking again.

"My psychotherapist would have said that I've been chasing physical intimacy to…deal with a sudden…lack of emotional…."

"You have a therapist?"

"I used to, though I only saw him when I was home from school for holidays, and during summers. My parents were trying to help me develop better social skills."

"Well, that was money well spent."

Maura laughed; there was no malice in the comment and, in fact, there was a great deal of affectionate amusement. "Touché."

"So…you're saying that since you couldn't hang out with me and talk about your feelings, you slept with Slucky 'cause it felt good?"

Maura gave that some consideration, then finally nodded. "Essentially, yes."

Jane sighed. "Okay, look. I can buy…kinda…if I close my eyes really tight and try to make my brain think like your brain – which, by the way, isn't easy…"

"Jane," Maura said around a laugh, though it wasn't clear whether it was agreement or rebuke.

"…I can kinda buy that you hooked up with Slucky 'cause I was being a bitch and hiding in my apartment and you needed something to do on Friday nights, even though he was a pompous jerk. Kinda. But…Giovanni, Maura?"

Maura looked away, but just before she did, Jane saw something in her eyes shift and break. She got up and went to the kitchen, pouring herself a glass of water, then brought it back to sit with Jane on the couch.

Jane watched her sip the water pensively, noting that her free hand was fidgeting with the hemline of her dress.

It was her cop instinct, slamming puzzle pieces together into a cohesive whole before her conscious mind even realized she was doing it; it was out of her mouth before she even really thought about what she was saying. "Y'know…if a suspect said 'no' like that…I wouldn't buy it."

"What?"

"In the car. Before. You lied to me. Didn't you?"

Maura swallowed, put her glass of water down, and then put her hands neatly in her lap, slightly angling her body away from Jane as she did so. "I'd rather not talk about this now."

It took all of her experience from years in interrogation rooms to keep the surprise from showing on her face; that deflection was as good as a 'yes.'

Those years experience also told her when to back off, and she said amiably, "Okay." She sighed, staring at the bottle in her hands, though she kept Maura in her peripheral vision as she said, "This case messed with my head enough anyway."

"That was a wonderful gift you gave Kim, you know."

"What?"

"You were there for her, Jane, with sympathy and support in the last conscious moments of her life." She sniffed. "That was – it was a beautiful thing."

Jane whispered, more or less to herself, "That poor thing."

"Remember what I said about being a hero?" Jane rolled her eyes. "You're a hero, Jane. In big ways, yes, but in little ways too. That moment…with Kim? That was heroic."

"Boy," she said, attempting sarcasm that didn't mesh with the shininess of her eyes and the hoarse strain to her voice, "this just keeps getting better. Now I'm a non-girly crabby social deviant little hero. Thanks?"

"I never said you were non-girly," Maura protested. "Casey said you were non-girly. Though," she added, tilting her head speculatively, "maybe if he'd seen you in that little black dress your mother bought you, he'd have seen you as girly. Or even the outfit you wore to brunch on Sunday."

Jane rolled her eyes. "Couldn't walk in those damn shoes."

"You did just fi – "

"I almost fell, Maura. I tripped over a grate in front of Frost in the middle of a crime scene."

"Oh. I'm sorry." Jane scowled. "I am, Jane. I'm sorry if you felt pressured to dress up just because I suggested a more…sophisticated…venue for brunch with your mother." She shrugged. "It's just…I really enjoy that restaurant, and I thought it would be nice to share it with you and your mother. We can go back to our usual spot next week if you like."

"S'okay. It was my fault. I knew I was on call. I shoulda brought real shoes to change into." A beat. "Before you say it, I mean real like real work shoes, not real like not pretend."

Maura pondered that for nearly two full minutes; Jane had to force herself not to interrupt whatever thought process was going on in her head, but she'd learned over the years that interrupting the computer that lived in Maura's head just started the whole process over again. "Jane?" she finally asked. "Do you want to be girly?"

"Wore a pink shirt the other day, didn't I?"

She tilted her head, considering it. "Mmm…it was more salmon-colored. Maybe strawberry. Or rhubarb."

"Are all colors food now? You called that purple shirt 'eggplant.'"

Maura opened her mouth to explain, then shut it when Jane held a hand up and rolled her eyes.

"I thought you hated pink," she finally ventured quietly.

Jane sighed deeply. "I do."

"So why do you have a pink shirt?"

"'Cause I bought one in every color the shopping channel had. And whatever they called it, they didn't call it 'pink.'" Maura belatedly covered her mouth after a very un-ladylike snort erupted. "Look, for a long time, it hurt to pull on tees. Button-downs were easier. Now that I bought 'em, I gotta wear 'em, you know?"

Maura flinched from the memories that brought up, then sighed. "Well, for the record, I was wrong."

"About what? Colors named after foods?"

"No. About you." Jane raised her eyebrows in confusion. "When I said I'd never thought of you as the maternal type. I was wrong. I have. I did – once. I just don't like thinking about that day."

"What…?"

"I saw you with Frankie, the way you cared for him when he was frightened and sure he was about to die. You made him feel safe, even in the middle of everything."

She waved her off. "He's my brother. Of course I – "

"And then you did the same thing for Kim – her last moments could have been so lonely, so frightening, but you gave her comfort."

At that, Jane could only shake her head.

"You'd be a wonderful mother, Jane." Maura saw the objections begin and raised a hand to stop them. "Just because you're maternal doesn't mean you have to have children. I'm just saying that if you chose to, you'd be good at it."

"I'll be a good aunt, okay?"

"Jane – "

She frowned, firmly shaking her head. "How can you be around all the crap we are everyday and think this is a world you'd want to raise a kid in? Kim was twenty-four, Maura, and she was raped and beaten and stuffed in a goddamn suitcase." She shook her head again. "I am never, ever having kids."

Maura simply sat there and allowed Jane the time she needed to calm herself down. A few minutes later, she sniffed and glanced at Maura. "You've been thinking about kids a lot lately."

"I've been thinking a lot about a lot of things lately."

"Anything I can help with?" She, frowning, watched as Maura got up, poured herself another glass of water, and then came back. "Maura?"

"I'm still…thinking."

"Okay?"

She allowed the silence to linger for a few minutes as she sipped her sparkling water, watching Maura fidget uncomfortably on the couch. Then: "So how is it that you can lie without fainting now? And don't tell me you were teasing. That only counts for so much."

Maura sighed deeply and closed her eyes. "Exposure therapy. And only for…certain…things."

"Uh?"

She put her glass down and knotted her hands together so tightly that her knuckles went white. Jane had no idea why she felt responsible for that, but she did, and she found she couldn't tear her eyes away from Maura's slightly trembling hands.

"I spent…the better part of a week, Jane, telling your mother you'd be fine. I had no way to know that." Maura shook her head. "Statistically speaking, you were more likely to die than survive, especially since you'd injured your bowel and peritoneum."

Tentatively, Jane reached out and covered Maura's clenched hands with one of her own.

"And then…you developed that infection, like we'd all feared, and began running that fever. You came so close to…it looked as though the infection was going to take you after all."

"I didn't – "

Maura nodded. "Your mother never told you." Jane shook her head. "She called in a priest to give you Last Rites. It was that close."

Jane belatedly noticed that her thumb was running back and forth over Maura's hands.

"Your mother was so scared. So I did the only thing I could do – I told her, any time she asked me, any time she seemed to need to hear it, that you'd be all right." Maura sniffed. "Not even that. Just that you'd survive. Even if that looked less and less likely by the hour."

Jane scooted closer and used her other hand to rub soothing patterns up and down Maura's back.

"I lied to her, Jane. So many times." She sniffed again and reached up to rub her eyes. "To make her feel better. To help her survive your injuries, and Frankie's. Tommy's release being postponed. The arguments she was having with your father. The only thing I could do for her, to help her, was lie to her. She was so kind to me; I wanted to do something for her. So I did."

Jane bowed her head, overcome with guilt.

"I told her, over and over and over again, that you were more likely to live than die. It was a lie. It's still a lie. You were more likely to die."

It took a few long moments after Maura subsided into silence before Jane could think of anything to say.

When it came right down to it, she wasn't even surprised.

She'd known for months that – under the right circumstances, for the right reasons – Maura could lie, would lie.

One very late night, when she'd asked her if she ever meant to tell her parents that she'd met her birth father, Maura had responded with an immediate, firm and final 'no.' She had instinctively understood that that 'no' didn't mean just omission: if needed, Maura would lie to prevent her parents from knowing about Doyle.

Finally, she murmured, "I always figured that if you were gonna lie, it'd be something like that. Taking care of someone…protecting them from something. But…why are you lying now?"

"For just that reason."

A dozen thoughts slammed through Jane's brain, but she managed to keep her query simple: "Who…are you protecting?"

"Myself."

Jane's heart rate skyrocketed, but she pressed her lips together and kept herself from demanding more information.

"There…are some things," Maura said after a pause, "well…one thing in my life that, I've found, is more important to me than telling the truth. It's the first thing I was ever able to lie about."

Jane was convinced there wasn't enough room in her heart for all the emotions she was feeling.

Years of dancing on either side of the line.

Years of pushing, but not hard enough; years of pulling back at just the last moment as her own fears and insecurities sabotaged her.

And, of course, the memory of the moment she'd decided she was over all of it – a gun to her head, Marino's arm around her neck, and Maura's hand reaching helplessly towards her as she was dragged away.

Dear God, please let me be right about this. She bit her lip and said slowly, "Y'know, if you wanted to stop…lying about whatever it is…."

Maura shook her head almost frantically. "I can't, Jane. I can't stop. I would lose something…precious…to me if I did."

There was something in her eyes.

I'm right. I have to be.

"How do you know that?" she probed gently.

Maura again shook her head. "I can't answer that without losing it anyway. Or lying to you about it." In a near-whisper, she added, "Please don't ask me to do that."

Jane bit her lip, eyes drifting down to their hands. "Can I say one thing?" Maura opened her mouth to protest; Jane cut her off: "And then, if you wanna drop it, I'll drop it. Forever. No more bad jokes. No more teasing. You can date all the sleazeball guys you want and I won't say a word. Okay?"

"Jane. Please."

That whisper.

I am right. Dear God, I'm right.

Aching fear began to shift oh so tentatively into hope.

Jane shook her head, moving her left hand from her friend's back and wrapping both hands around Maura's.

"Please don't be scared." Jane forced her voice to stay calm and soothing despite everything she was feeling. "I swear to you…none of this has to mean anything tomorrow, okay?"

"But it will."

"Why?"

"Because you'll never look at me in the same way again," Maura muttered, flushing as she looked away.

I'm right.

It was the strangest mixture of elation and terror.

Jane leaned forward, resting her forehead on Maura's shoulder for just a split second before she sat back up and drew in a deep breath. "What if I want to look at you differently?"

Maura pulled her hands out of Jane's grasp with a quiet, pained squeak, then knotted them back together in her lap.

"What if…" Jane said, just barely louder than a whisper, "what if I hate that you were gonna date a slimeball greasy guy me when I'm right here." She moved from the couch to the coffee table, knee to knee with her. "I'm right here, Maura."

"But – " Maura shook her head. "But you're not. You're my best friend, Jane. My best friend. I've never had one before." She sighed. "I don't want to not have one again."

Jane winced. For all the internal battles she'd fought just to get to this moment, it had never occurred to her how much more Maura had to lose. Sure, she hadn't had a best friend for years, but she had her family, as infuriating as they could be – collectively and individually. She had colleagues she got along with, neighbors who liked her, and a dog who adored her.

What did Maura have?

A big, fancy, empty house, parents that she never saw, and a gigantic turtle, who was at his most active and entertaining at three in the morning.

And Jane.

So there wasn't even a trace of self-interest in her voice when she insisted, "That would never happen. Ever."

Maura's eyes began to glimmer with tears. "If I stop lying about this one thing…it would. You don't understand. It would. It would have to."

"Maura, it doesn't."

"You don't even know what I'm lying about."

"I can make a damn good guess."

Maura made the familiar retort without even thinking about it, but it was clear her heart wasn't in it. "I don't like guesses."

Jane squeezed her knee. "I know." She waited for some kind of response, but she remained silent. "But even you have to admit, I'm good at guessing. And I think – I think this one's a good guess because I've been lying about the same thing." Maura stiffened. "Only…to myself."

"Jane…don't make me say it. Don't make me lose this. Please." She looked at Jane's abdomen, then shook her head sadly. "I came so close already." Jane took a breath, but before she could say anything, Maura continued quietly, "I never knew I was lonely before. It's easy to become accustomed to being alone if you always have been." She swallowed. "Now I'll know, Jane. I'll know what I had, and what I lost." She sighed. "I can't say it."

"I'll say it."

"Jane…."

"If we're in the same place, it won't mess us up."

Maura was already shaking her head. "Statistically – "

"Screw statistics. You just told me that statistically I should have died."

Maura's voice was quiet, defeated. "You can only beat the odds so many times."

"So we'll beat 'em one more time."

"It doesn't work that way."

"It can. It will. Maura…let me say it."

"If we say it," Maura whispered, "everything changes."

We.

'If we say it.'

It was progress, and Jane clutched it to her flagging courage.

"Do you trust me?"

"Yes," Maura said immediately, causing Jane to smile slightly. "Yes. Yes, of course I do. But…Jane – "

"Maura, listen to me. I swear to you, it'll be okay, because we're both not saying the same thing." Maura shook her head helplessly as their eyes locked. "Okay, look. Let me…. Please, let me…I won't say the thing…but please, let me say this?"

Maura shook her head again. "I – it's – Jane, I can't."

"If you just…listen to me…I…I…." Jane cast around for something that might make Maura smile, even a little. "I'll never complain about the goats again. I swear. You can leave 'em where they are. Put 'em on the couch. Have dinner with them, if you wanna. Okay?"

Maura's head dropped; she nodded slightly. Her voice was choked, though, as she whispered, "Jane…."

"It'll be okay," she said, squeezing Maura's hand. "I promise."

"I…want to believe you. I do. I – "

"When I first met you – remember, at that crime scene? I'd been back like a day, after Hoyt. Remember?" Maura nodded with a slight smile. "For like a minute, all I could think was wow."

Jane's eyes drifted downwards to where her thumbs had resumed making absentminded patterns across Maura's knuckles. "At first, I told myself it was a girl-crush." She shrugged. "That you were…cool. And different. And interesting." She chewed her lower lip for a moment, then decided to take a chance. "Plus, you know, the dimples."

That made Maura glance up with a startled smile, but she soon broke eye contact.

"And then, we started to get to know each other. And you're this amazing and…completely…goofy person, and I told myself my girl-crush was just…" She shrugged again. "…being impressed by you." She tilted her head with a grin. "And the dimples."

Little by little, the tension was beginning to seep from Maura's muscles.

"And before I knew it, we were best friends. And I told myself, 'Self, you don't have a crush on her. You don't even have a girl-crush on her. You just knew you'd be really close someday.'" Jane let the silence hang for just a moment before she added with a grin, "And…you know…dimples."

Maura's smile began to morph from surprised to hopeful. It was subtle, and there was still fear in her eyes, but Jane began to feel just a little more confident.

"And then…." She shook her head. "You protected me. You stood between me and my worst nightmare, even though you'd never held a gun before. And I let you do that, even though I kicked a trained FBI agent out when he offered to do the same thing." She sighed. "So I told myself what I was feeling then was…hero worship, you know? It's a big deal to know someone's got your back like that."

Jane squeezed the hands that were enveloped in hers. "And then…Doyle took you, and I about went insane." She swallowed thickly. "But I told myself…that you were like – that I loved you like a sister, and that's why I went crazy."

Maura ducked her head again, allowing her hair to fall in front of her face.

"And then I was in that stairwell, and there were bad guys shooting the hell out of everyone and everything and my first thought – my first thought – was that I had to get you out of there. Get you safe."

Maura's shoulders slumped.

"And I realized…" Jane murmured as she gently pushed some of Maura's hair back behind her ear in order to regain eye contact. "…I've told myself lots of things, Maura, and they were all lies."

Maura stifled a gasp.

"And when I realized that, I figured out that all the times I told myself it was a girl-crush, or hero worship, or being best friends, or – hell, all the stupid things I told myself – it was because my brain wasn't ready to go there yet."

She let that 'yet' hang in the air between them.

Finally, Maura looked up tentatively and whispered, "Go where?"

In lieu of an answer, Jane squeezed her hand. "And then I woke up in the hospital, and you were there holding my hand, and I wanted to tell you. I did. I was just…done…lying about it. I got over that the second I had that freak's gun to my head. You know, you almost die…you evaluate things."

"How do you evaluate anything in a medically induced coma?"

Jane giggled reflexively, but quickly sobered. "But I had a ventilator in my mouth so I couldn't, and the next thing I knew Slucky was taking the damn thing out and you were gone and by the time you came back…." She sighed. "You had Ma with you. It was too late to say it."

Maura's eyes widened, but she still remained silent.

Whether she was absorbing anything she was hearing was difficult to say, but Jane focused on the fact that she'd not outright denied anything yet.

"And the next day," she said with a scowl, "you came in by yourself, and I…I chickened out." She shook her head. "I spent three months yelling at myself for that. And then you ditched Slucky, and what did I do? I chickened out again, and I've been yelling at myself ever since."

She chafed Maura's hands, which were trembling slightly. "Maura, that girl died on a business trip. You could get hit by a car tomorrow. Ma could make me stroke out, you know? I don't wanna chicken out anymore. I don't wanna lie to myself anymore. I don't wanna do that protest too much thing anymore. I wanna say it, Maura."

She leaned forward, again brushing Maura's hair back out of her eyes so that she could make eye contact. There were tears glimmering there, but there was a also slight smile beginning to curve her lips.

"Please let me say it?"

Despite the faint smile, Maura shook her head. "If you say it, everything will be different."

"No. Everything will be right. Please…please trust me."

"I…do," Maura said slowly.

Jane bit her lip, forced herself to breathe evenly, and whispered, "Can I say it?"

Maura closed her eyes for a few seconds, then took a deep breath and opened them, though she stared at her hands, which were still in her lap. "Do you promise I won't lose you?"

"Yes," Jane said, immediately and firmly. "No matter what. Growin' old and gray together, you and me. No matter what you say. I swear."

Neither moved; neither spoke. Jane was even pretty certain she stopped breathing. She kept her eyes trained firmly on Maura's face, watching her struggle with painful indecision.

Finally, Maura looked up and made hesitant eye contact. She pressed her lips together and nodded slightly.

For a moment, Jane had no idea what to do. Her brain seized up in shock and relief and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't get it started again.

Then the clouds broke and she began to smile.

Thank you.

Jane pulled one of her hands free and pressed it against Maura's cheek before brushing her hair back behind her ear one last time.

During the three months she'd spent holed up in her apartment in self-imposed isolation, she'd imagined this moment hundreds of times, but now that it had come, she couldn't remember a single one of the clever lines she'd come up with.

She cleared her throat.

"Maura…" she said, "I wanna kiss you." Maura's eyes closed again, but this time Jane swore it was in relief. "Can I kiss you? Please?"

She sniffled, but the awful tension was gone from her shoulders, and she smiled slightly as she nodded.

"I-I know I can't…buy you expensive stuff or take you to fancy places, or – well, I could, but then I couldn't afford to eat, and – "

Maura's laugh was bright as her fear evaporated. Her eyes sparkled as she swatted Jane's shoulder. "I already said 'yes,'" she said quietly, and, before Jane could think to do anything, she leaned forward and brushed her own lips against Jane's.

Jane smiled into the kiss, tangling one hand into Maura's hair and the other in the fabric of her shirt. They both kept it light, sweet, undemanding – an acknowledgment, and perhaps a promise, but no more than that.

When they separated, Jane couldn't keep the smug grin off her face. "Happy birthday to me," she whispered.

"Your birthday's not for months."

Jane chuckled, leaned in for one more brief kiss, and then sat back to look at Maura properly. "Thank you," she breathed, attempting to fix the mess she'd made of Maura's hair. "Are you okay?"

Maura paused, and Jane could see that she was giving it serious consideration. Not that she wouldn't; there wasn't much that she didn't give serious consideration to. Finally, she said, "I'm…scared."

"I know. But when has there been anything you and I couldn't do, huh?"

Maura raised an eyebrow. "Escaping Marino."

"Doesn't count. We all survived."

Maura frowned and glanced down at Jane's abdomen, then back up. "But – "

"But we all survived. I'm telling you…we can do anything."

"Getting your mother to respect personal boundaries," Maura said, the smile on her face warring with the slight challenge in her voice.

Jane snorted. "That'd take a personal letter from the Pope, cosigned by Mother Theresa and Saint Paul. That doesn't count."

"Jane – "

Jane cut her off. "See? It's not so different, is it? We can joke." She gestured between them vaguely. "We can be us. We just…get to kiss too. How can that be bad?"

"Jane – "

"Maura, it – it'll be fine, okay?"

"Jane – "

"I'll just go grab Jo, pick up some dinner, and come back, and we can – "

"Jane!"

"What?"

Maura smiled. "I believe you."

"You do?"

"I do."

Jane smiled. "What changed?"

"Nothing." Maura's smile widened. "Well, everything, but nothing." She sighed. "What made you change your mind?"

"I didn't," Jane said. "I stopped trying to."

Maura nodded. "Well, thank you…for having the courage to do that."

"That wasn't courage."

"It wasn't?"

"No. It was…God, Maura, it was being tired. It was me being tired of fighting it. I mean, maybe I didn't know I was fightin' it for the longest time, but I was, and I just…couldn't, anymore."

"You know that argument we keep having about you being a hero? Do you really want to start another one about whether you're courageous or not?"

Jane rolled her eyes. "Fine. Whatever. Can we – "

Maura cut her off with another kiss. After a few long moments, she pulled back to look Jane in the eye. "You promise you won't comment on the goats again?"

"Nope. Not a word. Scout's honor."

"You weren't a Girl Scout. You were a Blue Bird."

"How do you – I am going to kill my mother."

Maura chuckled. "Don't do that. I had fun looking at the pictures."

"The…pictures…?"

Maura grinned mischievously, but after a moment, her eyebrows furrowed. "Jane?"

"Hmm?"

"You were lying to yourself about my dimples? Because I'm rather fond of yours."

Jane laughed. "Oh, God no. That…that I was telling myself the God's honest truth about."