A/N: I had a lot of trouble with this chapter and wrapping up this story. I just couldn't get it quite right and don't know if it still is. But I did feel like it was time to wrap up this particular tale. Anyway, hope you enjoy my ending.
It turned out that the reprimand the city attorneys insisted on would not go away, which finalized Brenda's decision. She would resign from the LAPD and accept the offer from the DA's office, taking some time for her father in Atlanta in the interim. She started trying to draft her resignation letter that afternoon, and Fritz came home from work to find her at the dining table with empty ding dong wrappers and a nearly empty bottle of merlot.
"It's done," she said when he sat next to her. "Raydor tried, but the attorneys won't budge. And Pope? Well, I don't think he even tried at all."
"I'm sorry, honey."
"It's for the best anyways." she said, as bravely a she could. "I, it's,…" Fritz saw her chin and lower lip tremble and he gathered her into his arms as she broke down.
"Do you think I'm doin' the right thing?" she asked later, after the tears had slowed.
"I'm not sure I can answer that for you. What does your heart tell you?"
"That I need to focus on the living for a change."
"There you go, then.
She nodded and hugged him tighter as a fresh wave of tears started. Sometimes, doing the right thing hurt.
Fritz was watching TV in the living room the next evening when Brenda wandered in from their bedroom, where she'd spent the last hour on the phone with her father. Fritz held out his hand and she sat down on the couch next to him. He put his arm around her and she nestled into his side, sighing a little as she melted into him.
"How's your dad?"
"Oh, you know Daddy. He'll act like he's fine whether he is or not."
"I'll bet he was happy when you told him you'd be coming out to Atlanta for awhile."
"I don't think he really believes it. But yes, he sounded really happy."
"What did he say when you told him you were going to quit your job?"
Brenda hesitated a moment. "Well, I didn't tell him."
"YET. I didn't tell him yet. We'll talk when I get out there. I didn't really want to get into it over the phone, and I'm just not ready to answer some of the questions I know he'll have yet."
He leaned over to kiss her head. There were questions she hadn't yet been able to answer for him either. But he decided to leave it alone for now. Instead, he asked, "Did you get your flight booked?"
"Yeah. I just got a one-way ticket for now."
"How long were you thinking of being gone?"
"I don't know. It kind of depends on Daddy. How he's doing with the cancer and without Mama. And at some point, we'll drive each other completely nuts and he'll probably send me packin'. But the DA's office has been really great, tellin' me to take whatever time I need to get things settled before I start with them. And I talked to Raydor. Stroh will be hospitalized for awhile, so it's gonna be a few weeks before I'd have to testify."
She shuddered a bit at the mention of Stroh, and Fritz pulled her closer to him and kissed her again. He didn't like thinking about that bastard either.
"You will come out to Atlanta sometime while I'm there, won't you?"
"Of course I will. Someone will need to referee you and your father."
She smiled, but only a little, then took his hand and traced his wedding ring with her finger. "We've never really been apart before. Not like this."
She looked as sad about that as he felt. "I know." It was his turn to trace her rings.
"I'm going to miss you."
"I'm going to miss you, too." He wrapped both arms around her and kissed her deeply. "I'll miss you so much." He kissed her again, as deeply as before, and she tumbled into his lap.
"I guess I'll just have to give you plenty to remember me by." She began unbuttoning his shirt.
"Is this part of your new focus on the living?"
"It's a start."
The next morning dawned bright and sunny. Today was the day. Her last with the LAPD.
She was jittery, her stomach fluttering. She felt nervous and sad, but also strangely relieved. She was all too aware of the toll her job had taken on her and those she loved. But nerves were at the forefront. She declined the breakfast Fritz had offered and sifted through her closet, uncharacteristically unsure of what to wear. She decided to forego her usual flowery skirts and feminine vintage suits in favor of a more conservative dark suit with a bold blouse. A "power suit", so to speak. She hoped it would give her a little extra confidence to get through the day.
Fritz watched her as she got ready. She'd had another nightmare last night, and she was very quiet this morning. He was concerned but he knew she had so much on her mind and left her to her thoughts. He continued to watch the emotions play across her face while he got ready himself.
A little later, he brought her a cup of coffee while she brushed her hair and left it along with a kiss on her cheek. She grabbed his hand before he could walk away and pulled him to her and kissed him. "You're the best, you know that? What would I ever do without you?"
"You'd have to get your own coffee, for one thing."
She smiled, and wrapped her arms around his waist.
"Fritz, I-I want to thank you, for everything."
"You don't have to thank me."
"No, no I do. I don't think I could do this without you." She looked at him with tears in her eyes. "Sometimes, you're all that holds me together. You're the only one, besides Mama and Daddy, who's ever been there for me 100%. And I appreciate it so, so much."
Tears pricked at his eyes, too. "And I appreciate that you do count on me and will make sure that you always can." He hugged her to him and held her for long minutes until he noticed the clock.
"Are you ready to go?"
"No. But we better leave if we're gonna get there on time."
Brenda stared out the car window in silence while Fritz drove them downtown, nerves eating at her. Fritz noticed her chewing her lower lip, and he reached over and took her hand.
"I'm glad you're with me," she said as they parked.
"I wouldn't be anywhere else."
He continued to hold her hand while they entered the building and rode up in the elevator to Pope's office.
"I'll pack up your office for you, honey, if you want," he offered as they stepped into the hall. He knew it would be difficult for her.
"Thank you. I really don't think I'd be able to do it."
"For what it's worth, I really do think you're making the right decision," Fritz said. "I'm worried that staying here, with the direction things are going, might break you."
Brenda nodded. "Will as much as told me to put my resume out there a few weeks ago, right before Mama died. He said he was afraid I'd "burn myself up" if I stayed."
"For once, I agree with him. I think, maybe, you already have a little."
"I think so, too."
Fritz pulled her into his arms and gave her a supportive hug and kissed her. "You can do this," he said as she looked toward Pope's office with trepidation on her face.
Yes, she could do this. She smoothed her suit jacket, took a deep breath, and knocked on the door to Pope's office for the last time.
It went as well as it could have. Pope knew the moment she walked in what her final decision was, but it didn't make hearing it any easier. But before things could get emotional or he could try to talk her out of leaving, she turned the subject to transferring Gabriel to the DA's office with her and asked Pope to call him in. Gabriel was stunned that Brenda was really leaving the LAPD, but still more stunned that she wanted to take him with her to her new job. He couldn't believe that even after the leak she still trusted him that much.
Brenda stepped out of Pope's office and leaned against the wall for a moment as the finality hit her. But as hard as resigning was, her next stop was even harder. Her tears started on her way to the murder room, and she had to duck into the ladies room to pull herself together before facing her squad. It was going to be so hard to say goodbye to them.
And it was hard. But they seemed to understand why she needed to go, no matter how much they wanted her to stay. And then came the wonderful gift. As if working with them for seven years hadn't been a treasure. But the gift was perfect, in the way it can only be when people really know and care about each other. It did indeed look like love.
She went to hug each of her boys tightly, one after another.
"I hated you when you came. Now I hate that you're leaving," Flynn told her as he blinked back a few tears.
Neither Tao nor Buzz made any effort to hide their tears as they told her how much they would miss her and Sanchez, too choked up to speak at all, simply gathered her into a hug that threatened to cut off her air supply.
Provenza placed a hand on Sanchez's shoulder as he let her go. "We'll all miss you, Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh," he said in as sincere a tone as she'd ever heard him use. He hugged her as he felt his own eyes sting with tears.
"That's 'Chief', now, Provenza," Gabriel interjected. "She'll be running the show over there."
"Heaven help them."
"And us, without you," added Tao as he grasped her hand.
Her tears were starting to spill over again, and she knew she would break down completely if she didn't make her exit.
"I, I've been blessed to work with y'all. Just so blessed." Her voice choked, and she fought valiantly to recover. "Well, Fritz is waitin'…"
"Try not to get into too much trouble in Atlanta, Chief," said Flynn.
"Y'all come back now, ya hear?" added Provenza in a completely awful southern accent.
She laughed through her tears. "You can count on it, Lieutenant."
With that, she turned and made her way to the elevators, digging into her present for a taste of sweet comforting chocolate.
When she got to the parking lot, Fritz was leaning against the car waiting for her. He opened his arms slightly, and she walked right into them, relishing the feeling as he held her.
He hugged her tightly. "You ok?"
"I feel about a million different things right now. Part of me just wants to run right back up there and say I'm stayin'."
"What about the rest of you?"
She thought for a moment. Something had changed when she had walked out of the building. "I feel… free."
He smiled and kissed her, laughing to himself when he tasted chocolate. "Let's get out of here."
He opened the car door for her and kissed her again as he helped her in and again after he got in and started the car.
She looked out the window at headquarters as they pulled away. "I can't believe this is the end."
"It all depends how you look at it, honey. This is just one big chapter. As for what's next - "
She took his hand and smiled. "It's the beginning."
A/N: Thank you all so much for reading. And it's not the end of my writing either. I've got a couple ideas for other stories to continue things. For one thing, Brenda has to go to Atlanta. I just need to find the time to get her there and back. I'm working on chapter 1, but work has gone crazy so I can't promise to do anything but try!