A Masked Ball

Disclaimer: Rizzoli & Isles and all of its parts belong to Tess Gerritsen, Janet Tamaro and TNT television network.

Chapter One

Detective Jane Rizzoli fumbled two plastic sandwich containers as she pushed open the door with her foot, her precarious grip on her lunch made more complicated by the bottles of water that she held tucked under her arm. Upon entering the forensics lab, she saw the routine sight of a corpse lying on one of the two metal slabs that occupied the middle of the room, but did not see the familiar figure of Dr. Maura Isles crouching over it. She shrugged, and debated leaving one of the sandwiches in the morgue refrigerator, but thought better of it and turned back towards the door. A loud clink startled her, and she nearly lost both of the sandwiches as she jumped, startled.

"Is that lunch?" Maura's head popped up from behind one of the metal tables, her inquisitive eyes on the containers Jane held. "I'm starving."

Jane sighed, her heart still pounding. "Anyone ever tell you it's not polite to jump out from behind dead bodies?"

"No," Maura answered earnestly.

"Really? You never took an autopsy etiquette class or anything?" As usual, her sarcasm was lost on the medical examiner.

"It wasn't a core requirement."

"I see," Jane answered, holding up one of the sandwich containers. "Mustard, no mayo, lean turkey on multi-wheat-cardboard-grain. I even had them sprinkle a dash of birdseed over it."

"Speaking of lean meat," Maura murmured, as she pressed a gloved finger along an incision she had made in the corpse's leg. "This guy had to be a marathon runner. I've never seen such lean tissue."

Jane cringed, suddenly regretting her choice of pastrami and swiss. "Yeah, maybe we can eat upstairs?" she said, eyeing the corpse. Over the course of her time in homicide, stiffs had come to bother her less, but that didn't mean she wanted to eat lunch with them.

Maura looked up at her. "Sure," she replied. "I'm almost done here. Just let me finish aerating the synovial tissue."

"Right, can't forget to do that," Jane said with official nod, not bothering to ask Maura for an explanation. Sometimes it was quicker just to nod.

A buzz sounded nearby, and the blonde's head shot up quickly towards her phone, which lay next to her computer on the opposite side of the room. "Oh," she said, disappointed as she stared down at her soiled gloves. "Jane, do you mind checking that text for me?"

The brunette glanced around her, looking for a safe place to deposit the sandwiches, and finally settled on the sterile surface of the computer desk. "Waiting for a determination of solubility of a spleen or something?" she asked.

"Yes, actually. But that's probably Derek."

Jane pursed her lips at the name of Maura's newest suitor, who she had heard about approximately a million times since her friend first slept with him a week earlier. "Derek, the gerontologist?"

Maura laughed, correcting her. "Genealogist."

"Whatever. Old people, old genes, same thing." Jane shrugged, picking up the phone and quickly bypassing its security code, having handled the device quite frequently on behalf of the doctor, who was regularly elbow-deep in body tissue. "Let's see," she said, letting her voice morph into a dramatic whisper as she read the message aloud. "So sorry, babe" - she rolled her eyes – "but I can't make it tonight. Stuck at work." She furrowed a brow. "How is a genealogist 'stuck at work'?" She chuckled, shaking her head, but her laughter faded when she caught sight of the disappointment chiseling itself across Maura's face.

"Shoot," came the blonde's terse, but civil, reply.

"I'm sure he's telling the truth," Jane offered. "Genealogists don't strike me as the douchy type. Plus, anyone would have to have a good reason to cancel on you." She smiled, hoping her words would alleviate at least some of the wrinkles that lined her friend's forehead.

Maura's frown deepened. "I have tickets to A Masked Balltonight. I managed to get them at the last minute from an old friend who pulled a couple of strings." She peeled off her gloves and tossed them in the trash with more force than usual.

"Why were you taking him to a masked ball? It's not Halloween. Or Mardi Gras."

Maura shook her head, washing her hands in the deep red sink against the wall. "No, A Masked Ball.Un ballo in maschera." She paused, but seeing no comprehension in the brown eyes that stared vacantly back at her, quickly continued. "The opera by Giuseppe Verdi, based on the life and assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden."

Jane gave her a blank look. "Did you tell Derek that's where you were taking him?"

"Of course."

"Well, I'm sure that had nothing to do with him canceling," she replied, a hint of sarcasm in her voice, which earned her an indignant eyebrow from Maura.

"It's a wonderful opera. And it's based in Boston." She caught herself. "Well, technically it's based in Sweden, but upon its first performance in 1859 the Italian government censored Verdi's original version, so he moved the opera's setting to seventeenth century Boston. Although most companies now switch the location back to Sweden, tonight's performance will stage the censored version, in honor of Boston's foremost patriarch of the arts, Charles Landon." She smiled and cocked her head.

Jane didn't try to absorb this new onslaught of unsolicited information, and instead held her lunch container out to the shorter woman. "Eat your sandwich," she commanded.

Maura accepted the food, but fixed an appraising eye on Jane, lingering longer than necessary. "What?" the brunette asked wearily, all too familiar with the gleam that brightened her friend's eyes when processing a new thought, especially one that she knew wouldn't go over well with the detective.

"What are you doing tonight?" Maura asked.

Jane stood quickly, gathering her own sandwich back in her arms. "I'm not going to the opera, that's for sure," she said as she headed for the door, but Maura stepped in her path, looking up at her with a pair of innocently hopeful eyes. Jane wasn't fooled; she knew those eyes could harden in the blink of an eye.

"Jane, it's a beautiful composition, full of texture and substance. It has intrigue, romance, violence."

"So does the baseball game I'll be watching."

"Baseball isn't a violent sport."

"It can be when Frankie and I watch it together."

Maura looked as if she were about to offer another counterargument, but pursed her lips, lifting her chin and crossing her arms over her chest. "Fine. I'll go by myself," she said simply.

Jane looked down at her, skeptical of the sudden change of heart. "You will?"

"Of course. I'll dress up, have a glass of wine, treat myself to one of opera's most enigmatic and well-known composers, and celebrate this wonderful city at the same time." Her eyes flashed and she smiled again, now happy with her decision. Jane felt a pang of disappointment at how easy she had given up on wrangling her into attending the show with her. Maybe this Derek character was putting her in too good a disposition.

Rather than sour the mood, Jane smiled at the smaller woman's enthusiasm. "Good. I think it's perfectly reasonable for you to go by yourself." She reached out and patted the crown of the doctor's head with an exaggerated hand. "You're such a big girl, Maur."

Maura let out a smile, reaching up and grabbing the detective's fingers. "Don't patronize me, Jane."

"How else would I talk to you?" Her laugh was cut short as Maura playfully twisted her hand. "Ow, jeez, save the manhandling for a corpse," she said, jerking her hand out of the doctor's grip. The two women cocked their heads at each other as they paused. "That came out a little questionable," Jane clarified. "Manhandling a corpse would surely not be an okay thing to do."

"Just eat your sandwich, Jane."

"I'm not eating lunch in the death lab. Come upstairs with me. You can regale me with tales of your superhero genealogist."

Maura's face brightened. "He does this thing with his tongue – "

Jane held up a halting hand. "If I wanted to prolong my nausea, I'd just eat down here."

Maura rolled her eyes. "I think he has a dentalized lisp, but I'm not sure. I was going to confirm tonight."

Jane stared down at her, relief and amusement drifting through her chest. "You have a problem, you know that right?"

Maura raised an eyebrow. "Are you going to diagnose menow?"

"Yes… with compulsive diagnostic disorder." Jane broke out into a grin. "Now let's go before my stomach eats itself."

Maura nodded, heading through the door that Jane held open for her. "You know that actually can happen. It's called – "

"Mauraaaa," Jane complained, letting the door shut behind them as they made their way out of the deserted morgue to join the living. At least for the lunch hour.

Maura stood behind her couch, breathing in the glass of wine she had just poured, eliciting a pleasured sigh as the earthy scent of berries and plums wafted towards her. Her blank television stared down at her, and she had a sudden burst of curiosity. She reached down and picked up the remote, flipping through channels until she came upon the baseball game that she was certain Jane was already watching from the comfort of her own couch. She pictured the tall detective tossing a few rough punches to Frankie's shoulder as he called out playful comments about the opposing team, with Angela hovering somewhere in the background. The scene made her smile.

The game, however, did not, and she tilted her head to the side as she stared up at the grass diamond on the screen. "The same, torturously slow pattern over and over again," she said to herself. "How does this stimulate her temporal lobe?" She shook her head. "I just don't get it, Bass," she said down to the tortoise that slowly loped towards her from the kitchen. "People are weird."

The doorbell sounded from the front hallway, and she raised an eyebrow. She wasn't expecting a visitor, or a package, or even a date, unfortunately. She set her wine glass down on the kitchen counter and made her way towards the front door, curiosity piquing her eyebrows. One look out of her peephole and her breath caught in her throat as she saw Jane on her stoop. But this wasn't normal Jane Rizzoli, replete with a v-neck, straight-legged trousers, and a belt buckle the size of a saucer; rather, this was a Jane that Maura rarely glimpsed, but when she did, she always felt her pulse quicken.

"Jane," she said as she opened the door, clearly surprised by her best friend's appearance. She let her eyes run approvingly over the purple dress the detective wore, one that Maura didn't recognize from the many disapproving glances she'd given the brunette's closet over the course of their friendship. "What are you doing here? And since when do you watch baseball in that? Are you going on a date?"

"You could call it that," Jane replied, and gave a dramatic flourish of her hand as she continued. "No one should have to experience Verdi alone. And I figured you paid enough for the ticket, I'd hate to see that kind of money go down the drain." She grinned, taking more than a casual glance at the emerald green fabric that draped Maura's chest, cinching at the waist before flowing freely down her legs. Her honey-blonde hair was swept back, exposing her lithe neck and a pair of matching green earrings. Her regal appearance was only broken by a wide, ecstatic smile as she pulled Jane inside, and the detective couldn't help but feel some sort of pride at knowing that she had been somewhat to thank for the sudden gush of delight.

"This is very exciting, Jane. You won't regret it," Maura promised as she nearly skipped into the kitchen, stepping lightly over Bass.

"Regret, no. Lament, maybe."

"Wine?" Maura asked over her shoulder, ignoring the sarcasm.

Jane didn't answer, her attention focused on the screen in the living room. "Is that baseball I see on your television, Maura?" she asked in disbelief as she stood behind the couch, crossing her arms over her chest.

"What? No. Yes. Well – I was curious to see if I was missing anything."

Jane kept her attention on the game as Maura poured a glass of wine and handed it over to her. The detective glanced down at it and scrunched her nose. "Don't you have a beer?"

Maura squinted a discerning eye, darting a glance up at the television, then back at her friend, who was becoming increasingly absorbed in the action (or lack thereof) on the screen. "Okay," she said, reaching for the remote and flicking it off. "We can have a drink at the theatre. I don't want you changing your mind on me."

Jane reached forward. "Let me just check the score," she said, but Maura pulled the remote out of reach.

"Let's go," she said firmly, unperturbed by the pout her friend gave her as she gathered her purse and pulled the taller woman towards the door.

"God, what do these people do for a living?" Jane asked, glancing around at the men and women milling near them, their shoulders held as rigidly as their pursed lips. "Besides kill and strip animals of their fur," she said, as another woman in a fur coat brushed past her.

Maura let out a slight chuckle as she dodged a woman in a mink stole. "Fake," she whispered, pointing discreetly at it.

"I feel like I'm judging her less, then," Jane replied. "At least she didn't contribute to the end of a poor animal's life."

"Actually, the labor conditions where that mink was manufactured are probably tortuous. I think we can still judge her."

"Well, I wish you would have told me the fashion requirements. I would have pulled out the old alpaca coat from my parents' closet."

"Your mom had an alpaca coat?" Maura asked with a chuckle.

Jane looked down at her. "Actually, I think it was my dad's."

The chuckle grew louder, and the detective couldn't help but smile. She gave herself a mental pat on the back each time Maura's warm laugh tickled her spine. The laughter died down and Maura cocked her head slightly as she scrutinized Jane with the same concentration she normally reserved for a specimen under her microscope.

"What?" Jane asked. "You have some knowledge of alpacas that you'd like to share?"

The question seemed to catch Maura off guard, and her eyes met Jane's. "No. I'm more familiar with lamas, actually." Her gaze was distracted, though, and the hazel eyes ran back over the detective's torso, causing Jane to shift her stance uncomfortably in her heels. "Where did you get this dress?" Maura asked, reaching a hand out to caress the silk fabric. "I haven't seen it before tonight."

Jane shrugged, ignoring the blaze that Maura's touch sent down her arm. "I bought it a few months ago."

"With who?"

Jane pursed her lips and crossed her arms over her chest. "You know, I can pick out clothes on my own, Maura. I don't always need you with me." She hesitated, her voice a pitch quieter as she continued. "Sometimes Ma helps, too."

Maura smiled easily. "I'll say. You look gorgeous."

Jane ignored the rush of blood to her head, and instead took a long sip of her wine. "Well, thank you. Maybe I can attract some wealthy old man who's looking for a woman who isn't covered in fur." She was fully aware that she was blushing, and turned her head to look upwards at the ornate décor that covered the ceiling of the theater. "This opera house is a bit overdone," she said by way of distraction.

"Well, you can thank the Landon family for that. They're responsible for this building. The family's one of the mainstays in the Boston arts community. If a cause has to do with music, art, or literature, chances are they've contributed to it. The Governor is presenting Charles Landon with a key to the city before tonight's show."

Jane looked around her. "They paid for this entire building? The gold etchings, the paintings? Those little spiral thingies up there on the ceiling?"

"No, I'm sure Boston taxpayers helped a little. An investment in the arts is an investment in the city."

"Well, no offense to the arts, but I think the city could use a little more investment in its police force."

"A classic argument, and one that has informed history for centuries. The same disagreement about use of public funds on cultural expenditures plagued Gustav III's entire reign as King of political adversaries used that as a main point in arguing against him."

"Is that why they killed him?"

"A military rival killed him, and cloaked his opposition in political arguments, but it was mostly a personal issue."

"What, did Gustav cheat with the guy's wife or something?"

"Actually, many historical accounts show that Gustav was gay."

Jane looked down at Maura. "I'll never cease to be amazed at how much information you squeeze into that brain of yours."

Maura looked as if she wasn't sure whether it was a compliment or not, but she smiled nonetheless, and made her way towards the threshold that led from the lobby into the theater. Jane followed close behind her as they wove their way through the crowd, the lights dimming to signal the beginning of the show. As Maura eagerly fished for their tickets, double checking the location of their seats, an overly fond usher graciously offered her his arm. Jane stepped in quickly, steering the blonde forward by the small of her back. "I got it, pal," she said to him sternly as Maura offered him an apologetic smile.

As the two settled into their seats, Jane stretching her long legs in front of her as much as the tight rows would allow, Maura looked over at her. "Is this your first opera?"

Jane gave an exaggerated flip of her hair. "Why, no, Dr. Isles, the Rizzoli's are actually season ticket holders to the Boston Fine Arts Plaza. Every Friday night is two-for-one pizza and an opera."

"Your sarcasm can be quite loathsome."

"At least you've learned to tell when it's sarcasm." She smiled, and looked out towards the stage, which was already set for the show, a thin, sheer curtain masking the set. "Thank you for the ticket, Maura," she said sincerely. "I am indeed an opera virgin."

"Ooo," Maura cooed. "I look forward to breaking you in." She giggled, and Jane couldn't help but to sneak a glance over at her friend as she leaned back in her seat, automatically draping her long arm over the back of the the blonde's seat. She caught an older man smirking at her from a nearby row, and quickly removed her hand, placing it safely in her lap.

"So, how long would you say this production runs?" she asked.

Maura looked over at her. "How long would you say the average baseball game runs?"

Jane shrugged. "I don't know, about three hours?"

Maura nodded, turning her attention back to the stage. "That sounds about right."

Jane leaned forward, placing a hand on Maura's forearm. "Wait, this opera lasts three hours? I just read the synopsis in the brochure and it only took ten seconds."

Maura turned fully towards the detective, her eyes suddenly serious. "It's three hours of something spectacularly new, that you've never experienced. Just lean back and listen with me, okay?"

Jane could only nod, as the feel of Maura's hand brushing her bicep rendered her speechless for the moment. She felt Maura give her a small squeeze as she settled back into her seat, and the lights dimmed lower, a burst of music pulsing through the theatre. Even when Maura's hand dropped back into her own lap, the detective's smile didn't fade.

Jane mostly kept herself awake by reading the subtitles, which she was sure were wrong, as it took approximately three minutes of singing for a single word to change on the prompter. The singers were talented, she had to admit, and she found herself riveted by the gusto with which they belted out such raw, expressible emotion, but she was more than ready to straighten her legs when the house lights came on for intermission. She hadn't sat with her legs crossed for that long since her high school graduation. She glanced over at Maura, who leaned forward in her seat, still seemingly enthralled by the stage, and she couldn't help but smile.

"Enraptured, much?" she asked, pressing a hand on Maura's knee to get her attention.

The blonde turned to look at her, a dreamy expression glazing over her hazel eyes. "Aren't you?" she asked, eagerly. "Aren't you just on the edge of your seat to see what happens?"

"No, because you already told me it's an opera about an assassination. I think I know how it's gonna end."

"There are still some twists and turns to be seen, Jane. It's not over yet."

"Huh. And the fat lady has already sung. Ruins that expression for me." Jane shrugged. "I kind of feel for this Amelia woman. Someone needs to tell her that this will only end badly for her."

Maura looked over at her with a lingering smile, and once again Jane felt that familiar mix of exhilaration and anxiousness flutter through her stomach.

"What?" she asked.

"I think I'm having more fun with you than with Derek."

Jane snorted. "That's not the compliment you think it is, Maur. Of courseyou're having more fun with me. He's a genealogist, for crying out loud. You could be sitting next to a corpse and have more fun."

Maura shrugged. "That's actually true, but only because of my occupation." She glanced over at the brunette. "Nevertheless, Derek is very smart."

"He dresses like a librarian."

Maura chuckled, shaking her head. "You've never met him, Jane."

"I have to pee," Jane said, tapping Maura's leg, all too ready to halt their conversation about Derek as soon as possible. "Can't wait to see how long the line to the ladies room is at this place." She leveraged herself out of her seat by pressing onto Maura knee. "Need another glass of wine?"

"I would love one, but I'll come with you. No need for you to face such a long bathroom line alone," she said with a pump of her first.

Jane chuckled. "What are friends for?" She reached down and offered Maura her hand. "Shall we, my fair lady?" Her face reddened immediately at the formality of her gesture, but before she could pull away her hand, the medical examiner accepted it, and stood with a bright smile.

"You certainly know how to make a girl feel special," Maura quipped, brushing past her as she made her way toward the aisle. As they made her way to the lobby, Maura willed her the tingle in her hand to go away. She had felt such a sensation increasingly over the past few weeks, every time Jane touched her, and she was worried at the effect it was having. She recognized her attraction to her friend as a simple expression of objective sexuality. After all, Jane was a beautiful woman, and it was perfectly normal for Maura to recognize that. But lately, she had trouble compartmentalizing her feelings, and the realization of that would pop out in embarrassing ways, much like her presently flushed cheeks.

"Whoa, Maur, where's the fire," Jane called, catching up to her with a harried stride.

"You can't say that in a crowded building," Maura replied automatically, appreciating the way her brain switched over to the side with which she was most comfortable. She belonged in a world of facts and clear distinctions, no matter how difficult Jane made that for her. She turned back to her friend, watching with a smile as she made her way precariously forward on her teetering heels.

"Actually, unless my comments cited unneeded chaos, I am fully protected by the First Amendment." Jane smiled at the blonde's raised eyebrows. "I know my shit, too, sometimes," she said. "Comes with being a cop."

The two wound their way towards the lobby, artfully dodging the rest of the opera's patrons. In her heels, Jane could easily see over the crowd. She caught a glimpse of a small throng of people in one corner, surrounding what looked to be the governor and the man she suspected was the infamous arts supporter, Charles Landon. "Oh look," she said, pointing. "It's the Governor, hobnobbing with his biggest campaign supporter."

Maura craned her neck, unsuccessfully. "Where?" she asked. "I would love to thank Mr. Landon for his support of the Boston Scientific Literature Society. It's the largest literature club in the nation that's devoted specifically to scientific narrative."

She was cut off by a groan from Jane. Who had just caught a glimpse of the line to the restroom. "My god, would you look at this?" she complained. "I'll be waiting all the way until the third act."

Maura thought for a moment. "That won't do. You'll miss Amelia's declaration of love."

Jane sighed. "These are the moments when I wish I was a man."

"Actually, men urinate longer than women, it just takes them less time to complete the whole restroom process. But if you base it on strictly on volume, then – "

"Maura, please stop talking." Jane squeezed her legs together. "This is verging on an emergency for me."

Maura raised her eyebrows, and the gleam in her eye was as bright as a lightbulb. "We can't have that." She grabbed Jane's wrist. "Come on."

"Maura, what are you doing?"

"Excuse me," the medical examiner called, stepping out of the line and dragging Jane with her towards the front. "Excuse me," she repeated, flashing her medical examiner badge. "I need to get this woman inside quickly. It's an emergency."

"Maura," Jane whispered under her breath. "What the hell are you doing?"

The women moved easily to the side, most wearing a concerned expression on their wrinkled faces as they let Maura and Jane pass through the door to the restroom. "Ah," Maura said as they made their way through the plush, carpeted powder room that lead into the restroom, complete with marble floors and countertops. She pushed Jane inside the last stall, locking it behind her and giving the detective a wide smile.

"What the hell was that?" the brunette hissed.

"Well, we can't wait, we might miss something." She gestured toward the toilet. "Pee. You can thank me later."

"You lied to get in front of the line."

"No, I didn't. You said it was an emergency."

Jane rolled her eyes and looked expectantly up at Maura. "Turn around," she insisted.

Maura rolled her eyes and faced the door, waiting patiently. "I believe these doors are mica," she said, running her fingertips over the shiny surface. Jane rolled her eyes, finishing her part of the process as quickly as possible before quickly shoving Maura back out to the sinks.

"Feel better?" Maura asked with a bright smile as they exited.

"Fortunately for you, yes," Jane replied, her head down as she passed by the same line of women that she had surpassed a few minutes earlier. She gave them a beleaguered half-smile as they stared back at her, one woman actually reaching out and touching her forearm.

"Are you okay, dear?" she asked, concerned.

Jane pulled her arm away, nodding with a polite smile. "Just got a little overheated," she replied, pushing Maura away from the curious women. Before the doctor could register firm grip on her arm, a lone scream sounded from the far side of the room, stopping both women in their tracks.

"He's shot!"

The scream quickly escalated into a collective gasp as the people in the room seemed to move as one throng towards the nearest exits. Jane's grip tightened around Maura's arm as the crowd attempted to pummel past them, jostling them within a pool of panic as the two women fought in the opposite direction, attempting to make their way to the site of the commotion.

A confused cluster of men hovered over the fallen body of a large man, who seemed to be peacefully at rest, aside from the pool of blood that leaked from his back. Jane quickly fished her badge out of her purse, raising it towards them. "Rizzoli, BPD," she said, looking around her.

A man looked up at her from where he knelt on the ground, attempting to hedge the blood flow. She immediately recognized him as the mayor. "I don't know what the hell happened," he said. "Everything was fine, and he just collapsed."

Jane looked over at Maura, whose mouth dropped open in shock. "It's Charles Landon," she whispered.

Jane looked down at him, the man's identity sending her reeling mind even further. "Can you help him?" she asked, her own attention focused on trying to make some sense out of the chaos around her.

Maura nodded as she knelt beside the mayor, edging him gently out of the way as she took over, already calling out directions. "Call 911 now," she commanded, placing her fingers along the injured man's torso. "Don't move him."

Jane quickly grabbed a man in a security guard who was coming towards her, a walkie talkie in his hand. "I want every man you got at the doors," she said. "Block this area, but no one leaves, you got me?" He nodded, his eyes as wide as saucers as he stared back at her, seemingly grateful for some direction. Jane kept moving, her eyes on a nearby side exit. She ran towards it, bursting through the doors and staring down a deserted alley. "Damn it," she said, straining her ears, but hearing nothing but the sounds of commotion still coming from inside the theatre. She yanked the door back open, hating the helplessness that encompassed her. She pushed it back with a scowl, and focused instead on heaping orders at the lone security guard coming towards her.

"You. Stay on this door. No one leaves," she commanded, walking quickly back towards the injured man, where Maura was leaning over him.

"How is he?" Jane asked as she knelt down, suddenly aware of how short her dress was, yanking it quickly over her knees. She looked over at the doctor's face, which was still angled towards the man, a confused glint in her eye.

"He's dead."