A/N: The usual, don't own the characters, don't make money off them. This piece does touch on the issue of sexual violence, but it isn't about that and doesn't stay in that place. Ultimately, it's centered on the power of friendship, family and love. UPDATE: Out of respect for not dropping spoilers, I haven't been very specific here - if you have any concerns at all about what is meant by "touch on the issue of sexual violence", please PM me and I'd be happy to explain, without spoiling.

I'm sorry to say that the names and details of the Rwandan genocide and the war criminals still being sought for justice are correct and true, at least in so far as my research goes. I apologize for any inaccuracies.

There is an innate human desire to find that one person who will always have your back without question and would be utterly willing to kill for you if it comes to that. We all need to know we have that place of safety and connection. This is Maura's journey to understanding that Jane is that person and that place.

Rizzles is in the eye of the beholder…but if you try to play the drinking game with this story, you'll have alcohol poisoning by the end of Chapter 3 and I really don't want that on my conscience. :-)

Chapter 1

Jane Rizzoli spun the steering wheel and slid the Subaru at an angle into the only space left on the narrow street. Even with a generous driveway, she couldn't hope to squeeze in behind the four cars already jammed in ahead of her. Her mother's car she expected, but somehow both brothers had beat her here, as well as Sgt. Korsak. She had put one tire partially up on the curb, giving the car a half-drunk look which perfectly matched her mood.

"What, not a one of you can carpool?" she groused. She climbed across the passenger side, shoving the door open with one boot and scooping out the grocery bag of drinks that was her promised contribution. Making her way to the door, she carefully angled to press the bell with one elbow and stood back at the sound of footsteps approaching at a rush.

"Janie, what the hell?" Frankie Rizzoli threw back the door, letting out a wave of cold air. "Didja stop to brew your own? Get in here, Ma's goin' nuts."

Jane raised the bag of two liters and six packs, pinning her brother to the foyer wall. Reflexively, he raised his arms to take the bag as the air rushed out of his lungs.

"Well, she can call Cavanaugh and he can explain to her that murderers today in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts don't care when she's scheduled dinner, and they certainly don't care when I'm supposed to go pick up Maura from the airport. Was she able to get a cab?" Jane peered into the living room but didn't see any sign of her best friend, who was, at least on paper, still the homeowner despite the steadily rising number of Rizzolis who had taken up residence.

"Yeah, Ma's got her cornered in the kitchen."

Jane breathed a sigh of relief. "Did you pay for the cab? She wasn't supposed to have to do that. We were going to take care of everything."

"I dunno, I was out back, but I think she has the dough for it. Easy," Frankie coughed as Jane caught him around the waist. "I'm not one of your suspects."

"Really? Cause you look kinda shifty." But before she could make good on the threat to tickle his ribs, she was half-tackled from behind, the force carrying her out into the living room. The couch caught her behind the legs and she flipped over onto the cushions, pinned beneath her older brother, Tommy.

"Get…off…" she gritted. Squirming, she managed to avoid Tommy's patented headlock and planted one foot in her brother's chest to hold him out of range at the other end of the couch. Just as she braced her back against the arm of the couch for leverage, Jane felt a strong, familiar hand twine itself in the collar of her shirt and pull her upright.

"What did I tell you kids about playing on the furniture?"

Jane and Tommy continued to glower at each other until their mother shook them again, jostling their heads until they nearly collided.

"This is why we could never have nice things," she complained. "Your father's La-Z-Boy didn't even last a month, and this is the thanks you give Dr. Isles?"

"Sorry, Ma." Tommy turned his 1000 watt smile up at his mother and she melted. As usual, Jane thought with disgust.

"Yeah, sorry, Ma," she echoed.

Satisfied, Angela released her grip and patted her daughter on the head before returning to the kitchen. "It's not me you need to apologize to," she called back over her shoulder.

Jane heard Tommy mutter something that sounded a lot like "apologize for being born" and she kicked him squarely in the shin. Tommy yelped and twisted her foot until they both tumbled off onto the floor between the couch and coffee table. As Jane clambered onto her knees, she froze as she found herself staring down at a pair of taupe brown leather sandals that, by process of elimination, must belong to Dr. Maura Isles. What she couldn't understand was why anything belonging to Maura would be covered in mud.

"Your shoes are dirty," she blurted, then cringed at how stupid it sounded. Quickly she clambered up, a grin splitting her face as she hugged her friend. For a moment she forgot about the difference in their height, lifting the shorter woman off her feet. "Whoa, sorry," Jane laughed. "Either you lost weight or Ma's been putting steroids in the spaghetti."

A look of consternation flitted across Maura's face and she opened her mouth as if to provide an analysis of the statistical likelihood of Angela Rizzoli's role in an anabolic steroid doping operation but caught herself. "Oh, that was a joke."

"Yes. But not this." Jane hugged her again, more carefully this time. "I'm so glad you're back. You have no idea what these idiots are like when you're not here. And next time you get the urge to go volunteer your time to help the poor, try Southie, OK? At least not some place like Burwandi where you can't even get Internet."

"Burundi," Maura corrected her. "Rwanda is next door."

"Yeah, well, too far away for me." Jane pulled back to take a better look and realized that the mud was not confined to Maura's shoes. "Oh geez, did they give you time to change?"

Maura broke into a smile, unexpectedly shy, as she glanced down at herself. Her long-sleeved blue shirt was cuffed to her forearms and unacceptably wrinkled by the medical examiner's exacting standards.

"I look terrible, I know." Nervously, she smoothed the shirt down over the front of her khaki field pants. When first purchased—one of dozens of UPS boxes that had steadily arrived on the doorstep in anticipation of her medical trip to the northern provinces of the tiny African nation—they had made her look like a modern day Dr. Livingstone, Jane had said. Now, after two weeks volunteering with a medical relief mission in a remote African village, she looked more like the Little Matchstick Girl on a bad day. "I was going to get cleaned up, but I had to switch flights, everything was delayed, and then everyone was here already."

"No, you look fantastic," Jane lied. "Especially for someone who just flew 30 hours and had a layover in Detroit. I mean, Detroit—really?" She quickly checked over Maura's shoulder and found that her mother had the kitchen well in hand. "They wouldn't notice if you snuck off and grabbed a quick nap."

"I'm a little jet-lagged," Maura confessed, "but I need to stay awake as long as possible to help my circadian rhythms align."

"Well, no one ever accused the Rizzolis having rhythm, but we can certainly keep you up. You'll be lucky to get to bed before midnight if Ma has her way. She was so proud of you going to volunteer, but she really missed you. We all did."

Maura's eyes, half-glazed, still managed to smile. "She's been very kind." She had kept her arm looped through Jane's and seemed to sway slightly for balance but caught herself quickly. "Sorry," she apologized with an embarrassed laugh. "I guess my inner ear hasn't caught up yet either."

"I'm sorry I couldn't pick you up at the airport like we planned. I was walking out of the station and we got a call," Jane explained. "I tried your phone but I guess you didn't have it back on yet?"

Maura's eyes slid in and out of focus and she made a vague patting motion at her hip pocket. "I actually…I lost it somewhere between Bujumbura and Dar Es Salaam."

"Gesundheit. Well, if you get a bunch of calls on your bill from some giraffe trying to phone home, I guess you know what happened." Jane tried to flag down Korsak as he moved out of the kitchen to begin setting places at the long dining table. "Have you heard from Frost?"

"Right before you got here." Korsak didn't look up, delicately setting out the silverware—forks to the left, knives to the right with the blade turned in. "He's going to be at the scene a while, but he said to go ahead without him. And you owe him lunch at Morella's for taking the call for you."

Two lunches, at least, Jane thought. It had been two very long weeks since Maura had flown out of Logan International to take part in a medical mission, a chance to work with the living for once. Even though she had encouraged her friend to take the opportunity, the time had gone by far more slowly than she had anticipated. To begin with, the replacement Maura had selected had to cancel at the last minute and they had been subjected to Dr. Pike for the entire two weeks. Even two minutes was too much of the man in Jane's opinion, and enduring his ineptitude made each day feel like a year.

Other than that, work was fine, she had told herself. It was calm, a little boring, and just routine—nothing like what happened when she went down the stairs to the medical examiner's office to complain about a case, or her mother, or the latest disaster in what was left of her love life.

She felt Maura's hand come to rest on her shoulder, a gentle bid for attention. "You know, if you think it's OK, could you keep everyone occupied? The more I think about a shower, the more it seems like a good idea."

Jane looked down at Maura and tried to see past how happy she was just to have her friend back home. Frankly, Maura didn't look that great—at least not by Maura standards—and she seemed almost…nervous? No, she needed to stop bringing work home in her head, Jane chastised herself. This was perfectly normal for anyone with this much jet lag, not that anyone had ever accused Maura of being normal.

"Yes, ma'am." Jane snapped a salute with one arm as she deftly guided Maura around the obstacle course her family had created of the furniture. "You know what they called me in flag football? The Punisher. A little interference, coming up."

Maura flashed her a grateful look as she slipped into the master bedroom. Jane waited a moment before discreetly testing the handle to make sure that Maura hadn't completely lost her senses and left a door unlocked with the Rizzoli brothers in the house.

Maura slipped out of the mud-stained pants and tried to take off her shirt but her hands were trembling too much to work the buttons at first. She didn't think Jane had noticed and that was the first hurdle. She had held it together this far and if she could just make it through dinner, then everything would be fine.

Fine? What did that even mean anymore?

Maura managed to loosen the top few buttons, just far enough to slip the shirt over her head and the long-sleeved undershirt as well. She wondered if she should even try washing them or just toss them in the trash. Even if the stains came out, she would be reminded each time she looked at them.

Slipping into the shower, she stood under the hot water until her skin scalded pink, letting the shower glass steam over completely. Maura kept both hands braced against the tile wall, allowing her own weight to create a bridge to hold her steady under the spray. As the temperature rose, her pulse rose with it, pounding irregularly in her ears. She was so tired, so incredibly exhausted, but she couldn't trust herself to close her eyes.

She knew she had to get out eventually. Everyone was waiting, all her friends—her family of choice—who were so happy to have her home, and she couldn't disappoint them, especially Jane. She could only dimly remember when they had planned the dinner, nearly a month ago before she had left, a chance to work away from the morgue, to see the world.

She had seen far more than she had ever bargained on.

Maura kept her eyes closed against the water as it streamed over her face, unable to tell the hot spray from the tears. She let it rain down on her and carry away the filth, exhaustion, and every trace of Africa. And the blood…

She didn't open her eyes until she was certain the water had stopped running red.