It was a sharp ache, something that pulled deep in Maura's gut.
Watching Korsak restrain Jane with firm hands on her shoulders made every muscle in Maura's body hurt. She knew it was a physical impossibility for emotions to be actively felt by her nerves and muscles and bones but it made her doubt science, if only for a moment.
It was like watching someone try to calm a wild stallion by pulling too tightly on the reins.
The anger in Jane's eyes made it worse, made it clear that her reaction was more than just brazen defensiveness, more than just cocky bravado.
The hulking man sneering at her would easily break her nose, maybe blacken her eye, but Maura had no doubt that Jane would inflict just as much damage on him.
Maura was deaf to the words spouting from Korsak and Frost, both men busy simultaneously trying to calm Jane and insult her would-be assailant. Everything seemed to be unfolding in front of her in slow motion.
One minute she and Jane were getting another round of drinks at the bar and the next, Jane was squared off against the vile, drunken man two seats down.
Jane tried again to lunge as the man insulted her Italian heritage and Korsak held fast, mumbling things in her ear as Frost told the other man to get lost.
Maura stood by helplessly.
"I'm fine," Jane gritted through her teeth eventually, pushing Korsak to the side. Her whole body was shaking with rage and adrenaline and Maura wanted to reach out but she wasn't quite sure of her place in the situation. She was not Jane's partner, nor would she be any help in a physical altercation, so she hovered awkwardly in the periphery.
When Korsak released Jane the man smiled, showing a row of perfectly straight, yellowing teeth. Maura imagined she could smell the alcohol on his breath from feet away.
"Better take these bitches home where they belong," he jeered. "Dykes always get territorial about their women,0 but I bet she," he inclined his head sloppily towards Maura, "would beg me-"
Before any more filth could spew forth, Jane had punched him in the nose. He swung back, his meaty fist cracking her across the face. Frost caught Jane and steadied her slightly before joining Korsak in attacking the filthy man.
"Son of a bitch!" Jane yelled, bent over with her hands covering her face.
Maura rushed the few steps to Jane's side, panic making her breaths come in short, shallow pants. The doctor in her warred with the rest of her- scanning for injury and assessing damage while trying desperately not to panic and clutch at Jane like some sort of damsel in distress.
"Jane!" she exclaimed. "Are you alright?" She put her hand on Jane's shoulder, rubbing gently.
Jane stood upright and shook Maura off but didn't uncover one eye.
"Shit!" she swore loudly. She turned to the stunned bartender who had only recently noticed the disturbance in the packed bar. "Mark, get me some ice, will ya?"
The bartender nodded and slipped away.
Korsak and Frost subdued the offender and took him outside. Mark returned and proffered a bag of ice. Jane pressed it to her cheek, immediately hissing at the cold.
"You should let me take a look," Maura intoned, feeling strangely helpless.
"What are you gonna do about it?" Jane barked. "I've been punched before. Just needs some ice."
Maura felt it again, that thing where emotions make your physical body react in ways that defy logic. It felt like a tightness in her chest and she couldn't rationalize it with knowledge of anatomy or medicine or science.
Frost popped back into the bar. He looked ruefully at the ice on Jane's face, then to Maura's visibly hurt expression.
"We're gonna drop him off at the station to cool off for a night- you guys good?" he asked.
"Yeah Frost," Jane nodded. "I'm fine. Thanks."
The singular pronoun stung Maura, for reasons she tried not to dwell on. After all, it wasn't as if anything had happened to her.
"Call if you need backup again," Frost teased, but there was a seriousness that undermined the jest.
"I coulda handled it," Jane growled, her own tone woven with gratitude and understanding.
Frost met her gaze, all joking gone. "We know," he replied. "But you don't have to."
Their eyes held and he nodded almost imperceptibly, silent conversation happening between them. Maura couldn't help but feel excluded. Eventually Jane's lips turned up ever so slightly.
"Thanks," she drawled. "See you Monday."
Frost disappeared and Maura fidgeted nervously.
"Shall I call us a cab?" she asked.
Jane peered at her with the eye not covered in ice, the look on her face too mired for Maura to interpret. Jane was upset, obviously, and Maura couldn't help feel like the anger was directed at her.
"I'm gonna walk it off," Jane shrugged. "I'll call you tomorrow."
Jane reached for her wallet but Mark shook his head. "This one's on me, Rizzoli," he smiled. "Hope your face feels better soon."
"Thanks," Jane smiled back, though her face protested. "See ya' later."
Without waiting for Maura, she exited the bar. The night air was cool but not cold and she tossed the ice bag in a trashcan outside, inhaling deeply.
Maura approached her hesitantly, hating her own trepidation.
"Is everything ok?" she asked, wincing when Jane whirled on her, wide-eyed and flushed with anger. Her cheek was an angry red that was already coloring with a deep purple bruise.
"Is everything ok?" Jane echoed incredulously. "A two-hundred pound human sack of crap just insulted everything about me and then hit me in the face! Are you seriously asking me if everything is ok?"
"That's not what I meant," Maura stammered. It wasn't often that she found herself on the sharp end of Jane's rage and her instinct was to curl up in the fetal position until it passed.
"Well what did you mean then?" Jane demanded, hands on her hips.
"Are you upset with me?" Maura tried different phrasing. Clarity was often the key to communication. She didn't share that bit of wisdom with Jane, sensing now was not the time.
"I'm," Jane's voice was raised and she seemed to realize that she was practically shouting. Her next words were quieter, more gentle. "I'm not mad at you, Maura. You didn't do anything wrong."
"Oh," Maura exhaled in relief, a small smile turning up her lips. "You seemed to be upset with me. I'm sorry if I did something to offend you."
Jane turned to face Maura fully. "I'm not mad at you," she repeated. "I'm just mad. That guy was a prick and it pissed me off. Didn't what he was saying make you angry?"
Maura wanted to admit that his words sickened and infuriated her but she didn't want to be called upon to explain why. His insults to Jane made Maura wish she herself were the type of person to punch someone in the face. She shouldn't feel quite so protective of a friend, and it made it difficult to keep the little boxes in her mind all lined up and orderly.
"I suppose," she hedged. "He was rather insulting."
"Rather insulting?" Jane scoffed, incredulous. "He was a complete asshole! There isn't one thing about me that he didn't criticize in less than two minutes."
"Well," Maura hesitated. "Would it make you feel better if I were to tell you all the things he was wrong about?"
Confusion skittered across Jane's face but was quickly replaced by exasperation. "What?" she asked.
"I was asking if it might help you feel better," Maura clarified, "if I were to tell you all the ways in which he was incorrect."
Maura tried to keep the eagerness off her face but she felt so helpless in the bar that she wanted nothing more than to play some role in making the situation better.
Jane's acquiescence was visible on her face before she put voice to it.
"Sure," she responded dryly, "go ahead."
Jane began walking and Maura had to take a few hurried steps to catch up. As they walked, Maura thought back to all the things the man insulted about Jane.
"To begin with," Maura started. "You are obviously not a whore. Prostitution, although debatably one of the oldest professions, is not your employment. Also, I can attest to the fact that you do not engage in numerous, primal sexual relationships..."
"Maura," Jane interjected. "You're not really helping."
"Oh," Maura paused. "Should I stop?"
Jane sighed. "No, it's fine." The look on her face said she was clearly indulging Maura, and it made Maura feel warm for some reason.
"Also," Maura continued, noting Jane's odd demeanor. "Your Italian heritage is something to be quite proud of. Italy is renowned for being the birthplace and home of many great artists, musicians, chefs, architects, fashion designers, and religious leaders. Your olive skin, dark eyes, and fiery temperament are a testament to the wonderful kinship you have with your ancestry."
Maura hoped that Jane couldn't see her blushing in the dim lighting of the moon and the street lamps. It wasn't often she was given the opportunity to outline the many wonderful things she loved about Jane, to wax poetic about the love of her life, and the chance felt like something dark, something intimate.
"And lastly," Maura paused. She felt like she was about to tread out onto thin ice, like she was stretching one leg out to test it before taking the next step. "You are not a lesbian."
Jane's breathing shifted, hitched, just the tiniest bit, but Maura noticed. Maura didn't know whether or not she should continue.
"You are not territorial," Maura trailed off.
"Stop," Jane growled.
Maura couldn't help feel like she just made the entire situation worse.
"I'm sorry," she apologized.
"Stop apologizing," Jane snapped.
Maura stopped walking and Jane went another few steps before she stopped. When Jane turned towards Maura, her face was a jumble of emotions that made Maura feel intoxicated and terrified.
"We both know I'm protective of you," Jane sighed. "So there's no need to lie."
"I wasn't lying," Maura retorted, a little angered at the accusation. "I said you aren't territorial, and that's the truth. You aren't. You may be protective but that's a part of who you are- you protect people for a living. That is something to be proud of."
Jane's eyes were glued to the sidewalk.
"Jane," Maura's voice was soft but stern. "Why did what that disgusting man said bother you so much?"
"Because there was some truth in it," Jane whispered.
"I just told you all the fallacies in his logic," Maura's confusion was clear in her voice. "He doesn't know you. I do."
"Well he saw something you don't," Jane interrupted, her voice sharp.
"What don't I see?" Maura asked.
Jane was looking at her pleadingly now, begging her to understand or to drop it or to be someone more adept at understanding social interactions. Maura wasn't sure what the plea in Jane's eyes meant. It made her feel just as helpless as she did in the bar.
"I don't know what you want from me," Maura explained, apology in her voice.
"I want you to see it too," Jane nearly begged, her voice a choked mix of anguish and frustration.
"I'm sor-" Maura started to apologize again but Jane's gaze hardened so she cut herself off. "See what?"
"What he saw," Jane repeated. "What everyone else sees. Why I got so upset."
Maura remained silent, her brain trying furiously to rewind and process everything from the past hour, looking desperately for a clue. He made a horrible sexual innuendo, one that Jane repelled with tact and grace. Then he said she probably just needed to have sexual intercourse to loosen up. He insulted her Italian heritage. He called her a homosexual and said she was being territorial about her woman. He said he thought Maura would…
The scientist in Maura landed on a number of hypotheses but she had no way of testing them. Either Jane was upset because of what the man said about Maura, or because of his insinuation that Jane was a lesbian, or because he indicated he thought Jane and Maura were a couple.
Maura wasn't sure how to test each hypothesis so she began a process of elimination as best she could.
"Are you upset because he said," she shrank away from repeating his filth. "Because he said what he did about me?"
"Well yeah," Jane shrugged. "Of course. But that's not it."
They were playing a painful guessing game now, and that thin ice Maura thought she was stepping out onto earlier was everywhere now. One wrong step and she'd fall through and drown.
"Are you upset because he insinuated we might be a couple?" Maura couldn't help the hurt that seeped into her voice.
"No!" Jane's response was instant and vehement.
Maura closed the gap between them. Jane didn't shy away. Maura was confused about what was happening between them, about where it was headed, but Jane's proximity and the realizations dawning on Maura emboldened her.
"Are you upset because he called you a homosexual?" she asked.
Jane shifted uncomfortably. Maura read the lines on her face, the darkening of her eyes. Social interaction may not have been her forte but anatomy, body language, facial creasing- those were things she could understand.
"Oh Jane," Maura admonished. "Don't listen to him. Your sexuality is not your defining characteristic. Even if you were a homosexual, it wouldn't matter. You are an amazing woman- it doesn't matter who you love."
Jane found Maura's eyes and the look there made Maura's breath catch. She knew it was unlikely, absent arrhythmia, for the heart to skip a beat but she understood the saying now.
Maura's instinct was to look away out of self-preservation. She had been hiding her feelings from Jane for so long that it was almost second nature. She knew, however, that she was not good at keeping the emotions out of her eyes. Her love for Jane radiated out of her gaze like an electrical current. More than one person had noticed, commented.
How it had escaped Jane was one of the only mysteries Maura had yet to figure out.
Maura fought her instinct to turn away, viscerally aware that they were balancing on the edge of something dangerous and enticing. They were standing on a razor's edge- on one side was bliss beyond her wildest dreams, and on the other side was heartbreak deeper than any despair she had ever been able to fathom.
"It doesn't matter who I love?" Jane whispered. "Even if I love you?"
Maura staggered backwards slightly. She couldn't help it; she wanted nothing more than to step forward and press her lips against Jane's but she was so shocked to hear the words she never thought she would.
Jane reached out a steadying hand but kept her distance otherwise, her face shuttering.
"I'm sorry," Jane apologized. "I think I've had too much to drink."
They both knew she hadn't. Maura struggled to process the abrupt shift.
"Do you love me?" Maura asked. She had to know. She had to be certain. Her own love for Jane was unquestionable, undoubtable, it was fact in the most concrete way. It defied logic and understanding and was beyond Maura's comprehension.
"Of course," Jane deflected, and Maura's heart sank. "You're my best friend."
"You're my best friend too," Maura responded. Jane looked unhappy with her reply. "But that's not what I meant."
Jane's eyes flew to Maura's. It was clear that Jane expected Maura to back away from the precipice, to pull them both into the relative safety of their friendship. The challenge threw Jane off balance.
"I wanted to know if you're," Maura swallowed harshly. "In love with me."
Riotous green eyes met tumultuous brown ones.
Maura thought she could read the truth in those eyes, eyes she wished she were allowed to get lost in, but she needed words.
Fear built in her chest as the look stretched the space between them. Jane was putting her armor on, Maura could feel it between them, and she wanted to stop it.
She wanted the bare truth. She'd settle for a yes or no response at this point.
Desperate to hear Jane's voice, she reached up and put a soft hand on Jane's uninjured cheek. Jane's eyes fluttered closed and her breath left her in a rush.
"How could I not be?" Jane breathed, eyes still closed.
Maura's chest constricted and her body felt illuminated from the inside out.
Without opening her eyes, Jane turned her face and kissed Maura's palm. Maura had never before in her life felt touched so deeply.
"I love you," Maura said. It sounded foreign but felt completely natural.
Jane's eyes flew open and searched her face as if something there would prove Jane had misheard.
"I do," Maura shrugged. "I love you so much."
Before she could add anything else, before she could elaborate on the depth of her feelings, she was crushed against Jane's lanky frame.
Pulling her body in, Jane held Maura with a desperate grip that was nearly painful. The brush of her lips was in total contrast- slow, controlled, gentle. Maura could barely feel the pressure of Jane's lips against hers but their bodies seemed fused almost into one being.
"Maura," Jane breathed. She kissed Maura's cheeks, nose, eyelids, chin, before softly meeting her lips again. "I love you too."
Maura sighed, burying her face in Jane's neck, holding her tightly.
"I'm sorry I didn't see it," she whispered.
"It's ok," Jane replied. "I'm sorry I didn't say it."
"Maybe we could call it even," Maura smiled.
Jane nodded. "Deal," she agreed. "Now if you don't mind, there's something I've been dying to do since I met you."
Before Maura could ask, Jane bent Maura backwards, dipping her like a classic movie-star. Maura shrieked a little in surprise, but it was quickly muffled by Jane's lips.
When Jane righted them, she was grinning brilliantly.
"I like that," she laughed.
"Hmm," Maura purred. "Me too."
"I'd like to do it again," Jane pulled Maura close, kissing her swiftly.
"If you insist," Maura mumbled against Jane's kiss.
"I do," Jane nodded. "And I intend to keep insisting for a long time."
"I am fine with that," Maura grinned. Jane's lips found hers again, hands roaming her soft skin.
And this time the fluttering in Maura's stomach was an entirely different kind of ache.