"I had this plant once," Jane began, voice fragmented. The words fell like gravel from her throat. "A hydrangea, I think. My Ma bought it for me, to spruce up my apartment. I had a hell of a time with it. I was constantly forgetting to water it, or watering it too much, or leaving it in the sun too long, or not giving it enough sun…"
"Hydrangea's are notoriously difficult to keep in an indoor environment," Maura started to offer helpfully. She looked at Jane's face, down to where the other woman was idly rubbing her scarred palms, and back up. Stopped talking.
Maura looked unbearably distressed. She wanted so badly to understand, but she just couldn't.
Jane licked her lips to try and make speaking easier.
Maura, looking freshly fucked and smelling heaven-sent, was not making it easy.
"I'm sorry," Maura said. "I didn't mean to interrupt."
"It's ok," Jane smiled in an attempt to alleviate some of Maura's discomfort. Usually it worked, but this time it fell painfully flat.
"You had a hydrangea," Maura prompted, suddenly desperate to hear what Jane had been planning to say.
"Never mind," Jane shrugged. "It was silly. How was your date?"
Maura pursed her lips, her brow furrowing.
Jane wanted to kiss that little divot in her forehead, to slide her mouth down the slope of Maura's nose, graze her delightful dimples, end at her perfect lips.
"Jane," those same lips prompted. "Tell me."
"That's why I wanted you to go out with Tom tonight," Jane rasped. It hurt to say. It hurt more to think about why it pained her so much.
"Because you were ill-attentive to a hydrangea you used to own?" Maura asked, her confusion clear.
Jane looked away, inhaled deeply. Exhaled.
"I planted it outside finally," she breathed. "After years and years of letting it languish, never dying but never thriving, I finally planted it in my parent's yard. I didn't want to- it was the only living thing in my apartment besides me. It helped to have it there, more than my Ma probably ever imagined it would. So I held on, even though it was bad for that poor little plant."
Maura's lower lip trembled, and while the confusion in her eyes made it clear she wasn't entirely following, she knew something burgeoning, damaging, was curling between them like their breath in the frigid air.
"That bush is still there," Maura realized aloud, putting a soft hand on the arm of Jane's coat.
"Yeah," Jane nodded, her lips tilting up ever-so-slightly in the corner. "It's doing pretty well. I just… had to let go."
Jane looked down at Maura's hand where it still rested against her jacket.
Maura's fingers tightened incrementally against the cloth.
"Let go?" she echoed with trepidation.
"I don't want to do that to you," Jane whispered. "I don't want to keep you from really flourishing just because it's good for me to have you around. You deserve to be… watered and kept in the sun."
"Jane," Maura's voice was filled with disbelief. With something else Jane couldn't identify. "That's not…"
"Isn't it?" Jane prompted softly. "We're friends, best friends, but now that we spend all our time together how often do you go out on dates? And you deserve that, Maura. You should be wined and dined and fall in love."
"Why can't I have both?" Maura breathed, her eyes dark, her voice tremulous.
Jane froze, her eyes flying to Maura's face. Maura allowed the scrutiny, tried not to flinch or shy away from it.
"Maybe you can," Jane replied, and Maura wasn't sure if the other woman truly didn't understand or was being deliberately obtuse. "But you have to go out and find it, and you won't be able to do that with my hanging around all the time."
"Stop," Maura's voice trembled. "You're being ridiculous. I love you. You're my best friend. Any… person who can't accept that, can't accept you in my life, isn't worth being with. I'm not going to abandon you to run off in search of some absurd, fairytale romance."
Jane's lips turned up in a wry grin but there was no joy in her eyes.
"I know you won't," she smiled, and it was the saddest thing Maura had ever seen. Resignation dripped from every word. "That's why I'm trying to help you, Maura. That's why…"
"You really want me to go on dates?" Maura asked, her eyes piercing. "To… sleep with people and fall in love with them?"
"Yes," Jane's gravelly voice was too quick, too sharp. "That's what I want."
Maura nodded, eyes closing briefly. As if she were summoning strength from her deepest reserves.
"My date was fine," she answered perfunctorily. "Tom was very nice."
"Good," Jane croaked.
Maura looked like she had been slapped, her face a curious mixture of sorrow, pain, and confusion.
"I'll just let myself out," she whispered.
Jane let her go in silence.
It wasn't easy, so many years later. She'd struggled with that hydrangea, and she would drown trying to live with this.
But she was learning.