A/N: This short story takes place right after Estelle Pope made her devastating visit to the Murder Room.

Brenda had been through hell. First, during depositions in the Pope divorce case, Estelle Pope's lawyer had blindsided her by bringing up her affair with Will back in Washington, DC. And, even though promises were made that the transcript was being sealed, she had a sick feeling rippling through her that the lid was off Pandora's Box. Then Estelle had proven it by storming into the Murder Room and, in front of Brenda's entire squad, had accused her of wanting to sleep with her husband again and insinuated that Brenda wanted to not only sleep with him again but actually wanted to move in with him and mother their children. Brenda, who prided herself on her ability to wield a great deal of power, was suddenly defenseless. Actually she felt stripped naked in front of her whole squad. This was, to her, the worst possible thing she could feel.

And Will had been no help. As a matter of fact his version of damage control had just made matters worse. She debated telling her squad that, yes, she had dated Pope for awhile when they were both in Washington, DC and that it had ended before Estelle was on the scene. But even though she was an accomplished liar she knew that was not completely true and was afraid that her squad, especially Flynn, would keep digging to get more information. And she didn't want to take that chance.

Then when she got home Fritz was waiting for her and angrily accused her of being somehow responsible for Estelle's outburst by not doing more to discourage Will's feelings. She felt totally crushed and demoralized when Fritz grabbed her and told her that he loved her before stomping out of the house. As a result of his angry reaction she felt like a bird which had been netted and confined to a cage of his making. Brenda was still awake when he came home hours later but pretended to be asleep. She was glad when he decided to sleep on the sofa because she was not ready to deal with his macho, possessive actions. Her brain was completely scrambled so she felt totally unprepared to deal with her life and her relationships. Better she just concentrate on solving her case.

At least Fritz was still there in the morning. He hadn't left. So there was time for her to straighten out her brain and think clearly about how to deal with this problem, how to get out of Fritz's damned cage. She picked up a small box from her top dresser drawer and put it in her jacket pocket. Before leaving she penned a note for him, a note she later wished she hadn't written. And then she grabbed the black trash bag containing all the momentos from her affair with Will and tiptoed out of the house so as not to wake Fritz.

"Why did I tell him that I love him in that damned note?" Brenda was angry with herself and pounded the steering wheel to emphasize her frustration. She did love him. Of course she did. But she certainly didn't want that note to be the response to his treatment of her. "So why did I do that?"

Driving into work, Brenda occupied her mind thinking of how to deal with Fritz and how to avoid Will. But, since she didn't really want to deal with either one, she tried to bury her feelings by working on her case. Try as she might though, memories of Fritz's anger crept into her thoughts so she found herself trying to come up with a suitable plan to deal with him during every spare moment she could wring out of the day.

Will's issues were secondary. But at the end of the day, when Will appeared at her office, she realized that she needed to take care of one of her twin problems immediately. However, when she told Will she wanted to say something to him, he cut her off by saying that he got it. She recognized a diversion when she saw one. After all, she used enough of them herself to avoid dealing with unpleasant things and people.

So as she pushed the elevator button to go up to his office and retrieve her purse, she knew she had to finish what she had started. "Will, I'm sorry that your marriage to Estelle didn't work out," she rehearsed in the elevator. "But neither one of us can go back to what things were in DC. Neither one of us is the same person we were then. Life moves on. I'm movin' on and you need to move on too." She liked the sounds of that one and hoped she could remember to say it exactly like that.

Brenda knocked on Will's door and when she heard "Come in," she opened the door and entered his office. Will was waiting for her. He picked up her purse from behind his desk and came around to the side to stand next to her. When he handed it to her his hand brushed hers.

Brenda stepped back, her anger rising. How dare he tell her "I get it" and then ten minutes later touch her like that? "Will, you said that you get it but apparently you don't. What do I have to do to make you understand that I only want a workin' relationship with you?"

"Brenda, I'm sorry. I just can't stop thinking about what a big mistake I made."

"But you did make it, Will," Brenda continued. "One thing I've learned is that Dr. Phil is right: when you choose the action, you choose the consequence. You made your choice and one consequence is that I've moved on to another relationship. I don't have a crystal ball. I don't know how far it'll go. But I intend to give it every chance."

Will nodded. "I know. And a part of me hopes that you'll be happy. But most of me still wants you back."

"No," Brenda shook her head, "I'm not coming back, Will. You want things to go back to the way they were. And that can't happen because I'm not the same person I was. You need to move on with your life too and stop tryin' to draw me back into it. So I'll say it one more time. I only want a professional relationship with you. We still have to work together and that's they only way we can do it."

"Ok," Will let out a deep sigh. "We'll just keep it professional."

"Thank you." And with that Brenda took the small box with an attached note from her jacket pocket and placed it on his desk and left.

Will knew instantly what was in the box. It was the pair of earrings he had given her in a move which he had hoped would rekindle their affair. So he picked up the note instead and read it.

"Will, I'm sorry if my accepting these earrings sent you a mixed message. I should not have accepted them. I hope you'll find someone else who is deserving of them. Sincerely, Brenda."

As she headed toward home to deal with her other male problem she considered stopping to pick up something for dinner but since her stomach was churning she didn't want to eat and she wasn't particularly interested in meeting Fritz's needs at the moment, either. She was relieved to see that his car was not in the driveway. She changed into jeans, a plain white T-shirt and her beige comfort sweater and set about feeding Kitty.

The ringing phone interrupted her. It was her daddy and he was hinting that he wanted to visit her next week and see her house. She put him off saying that things at work were really busy right now and that she wouldn't have much time to spend with him. When he hung up disappointed, Brenda thought "That's all I need right now. Why is it that every man I know seems determined to turn my life upside down?" But she knew that she wouldn't be able to keep her father from finding out about Fritz much longer. "I need to call Mama. Maybe she can help me figure out how to deal with Daddy," she resolved. Then she poured herself a glass of Merlot, got out a couple of Ding Dongs and sat in the living room steeling herself for the confrontation which would soon begin.

She didn't move when Fritz came through the door with cartons from Ming's. Fritz saw Brenda sitting stone-faced in the living room with a glass of wine and the Ding Dong wrappers. Although he felt his actions last night had been justified, he realized he needed to proceed carefully. So as he set the food down on the kitchen counter and thought "Let the games begin." And he went into the living room to join whatever battle lay ahead.

"Hey," Fritz said, "I brought Chinese. Do you want to eat while it's still warm?"

"I'm not hungry so you'd better go ahead without me," Brenda replied without looking at him and downing the last of her wine in one gulp.

Fritz moved to sit next to her on the sofa but she got up, picked up her empty glass and moved to the kitchen so he followed her. "Ok. What's the matter?" he asked in a resigned tone.

Brenda turned, looked at him for a moment, and then demanded, "What did you mean?"

"What did I mean when?" Fritz was confused.

"What did you mean last night when you said that you love me?"

Fritz furrowed his brow. This was not what he'd expected. "I meant that I love you."

"No. What did you mean?" She asked again, sharply this time.

"I don't understand what you're asking." Fritz was confused by her anger. "I might not be the best communicator at times but I meant that I love you."

Brenda shook her head. "No, Fritz. You know as well as I do that context, body language, and tone of voice are as important as the words." Brenda realized she sounded like she was talking to a child but she continued anyway. "When a man tells a woman that he loves her for the first time, it's done in a romantic, intimate moment. And it's said softly and warmly. You chose to say those words durin' an argument. You grabbed me by the shoulders, and your tone was harsh and bruisin'."

Fritz knew the wise thing would be to apologize and beg for forgiveness but he didn't do either one. There was a toxic air which needed to be cleared first. "I was angry. I was angry that Estelle did that to you. I felt she did it because you haven't been clear with Pope about your feelings. I'm in love with you and you're not being clear with your former lover about your feelings for him, or for me."

"You're so sure that I haven't been clear with him. Well, Mr. Fritz Howard, I was clear with him. I had dinner with him about a month ago. It was the night you went out with your work friends. I told him that I needed his and my relationship to be strictly professional. But you accused me right away without givin' me a chance to tell you what had happened."

"You told him that a month ago?" When Brenda nodded he asked, "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I thought if I told you I had dinner with Will you'd think it was some kind of payback because you went out with your friends. And my relationship with Will just drives you nuts. I didn't want a fight."

"I still think Estelle attacked you in your office because she knows how Will feels about you."

"Fritz, don't you think I know that? Do you honestly think I'm deliberately stringin' him along?"

"I know you're not deliberately encouraging him, Brenda, but he obviously hasn't been getting clear messages from you."

"I'm not sayin' I've handled everythin' the right way. I don't know what the right way is sometimes. But it's complicated. Yes, Will and I have a past. And that past ended in Washington when he dumped me. But he's my boss. I still have to work with him and I'm tryin' my best not to antagonize him and to keep my distance from him."

"I just wish you didn't have to work with him," Fritz admitted.

"You wish I didn't have to work with him? Who would I be workin' for? Taylor? Or maybe you wish I hadn't accepted the job? The job that jumped me from Captain to Deputy Chief? The job that practically doubled my salary? That put me at the head of one of the best homicide units in the country? Or maybe you wished I hadn't come to Los Angeles so we wouldn't ever have gotten together?" Brenda was on a roll now.

"No, of course not. But I just hate that you spend more time with him than with me."

"That's the nature of my job, Fritz. You knew who I was workin' with and the hours I have to work right from the beginnin'."

"I know," Fritz sighed. "I know I must sound jealous to you."

"Ya think?"

Her response made him smile weakly, "Ok, I admit it. I'm jealous of Will Pope. I know he wants you back and that he's going to continue to try to get you back."

"Don't you trust me at all, Fritz? Don't you think I'm capable of decidin' what I want and stickin' to it? Give me some credit."

"I just don't understand why Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, who is so brilliant in dealing with people, can't make it crystal clear to Pope about where the limits are in your relationship."

That hit home. She knew he was right. She hadn't intended to tell him this but she now felt she had to continue, "Well, Fritz, as a matter of fact I did make it crystal clear to him again after work tonight. I told him that I am happy with my relationship with you and I made it perfectly clear that I will not be startin' back up with him."

"You did?" Fritz's expression of surprise and relief told Brenda that her unplanned disclosure had been the right thing to do.

"Yes, I did. You seem to want to believe that I was tryin' to juggle two romances. I wasn't tryin' to do that at all. I've just had a hard time sortin' out how to work with him. That's all." Brenda knew that wasn't 100% true in the past. But it was true now so she felt she wasn't really lying to him.

Fritz let out a huge sigh of relief, moved to her, and embraced her tenderly. "I do love you," Fritz spoke softly in her ear. "I love you more than I could ever put into words." He paused for a moment and then continued, "And I'm so sorry that I hurt you with those words. I never, ever want to hurt you. Especially with those words. I love you, Brenda. Deeply and completely." And he kissed her tenderly.

"Now, that's the way to tell a woman that you love her," Brenda melted into his chest.

"I'm a fast learner." After holding her close for a minute Fritz asked, "Don't you have something you want to say to me, too?"

"Umm. The Chinese food will spoil if it's not either eaten or put into the refrigerator?" Brenda was being coy now.

"No. I'm talking about a certain note. There was no tone, body language or context to that note." Fritz tried to sound irritated but he knew she wasn't convinced.

Brenda smiled, "I hope you didn't cancel my credit cards?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact I did. But I'm talking about the other part of the note. I kept it just in case you need to refresh your memory."

Brenda smiled again and patted his arm as she moved out of his embrace. Standing next to the cartons of food still on the counter she asked "Do you want to talk about heatin' these up?" She was really enjoying playing with him.

"Chinese food is not what I want to discuss right now."

"Well, since context is so important, this is not the place for that discussion." She moved toward the bedroom and stopped in the doorway, giving Fritz a sultry, come hither look. "I think the proper context will be found in here."

And Fritz returned her sultry smile and followed her into the bedroom where they thoroughly explored context, tone, and especially body language, until they were both completely satisfied.

The End