Epilogue

Maura Isles was accustomed to early rising, but there was something about the slant of light that told her it was later than she thought. And also, she considered, that she was in her own bed for the first time in nearly a week.

"Hey, sleepyhead."

Maura rolled over, blinking into the light. "What time is it?"

"Breakfast time," Jane said unhelpfully. "Don't worry, I called you in sick."

"I'm not sick," Maura murmured. She pushed herself upright in the bed, propping against pillows and tried to shake the sleep from her head. It felt like several days had been crushed into one and all poured inside her skull. "I don't want you to lie for me, Jane."

"What, you've never called in sick?"

Maura shook her head. "Well, except for that time when I was interning at the CDC and the Ebola sample got left out in the staff fridge, but everyone was quarantined then so I don't think that counts."

"Why can't it be just yes or...oh right, because it's you," Jane said. "Hey, I got you breakfast." She pointed at the plate on the nightstand and the mug of coffee resting next to it.

"Is that an apricot croissant?"

"From Valerie herself," Jane said proudly.

Maura was torn between being amazed and puzzled. "But they don't deliver."

"They do if you threaten them with a health inspection."

Maura gasped, one hand going to her mouth. "You wouldn't!"

"Yeah, well, Pierre on the phone got a little snippy. But then," she said, hands splayed out towards the croissants like a magician pulling the climactic prestige, "I told him who it was for and suddenly he couldn't fill the order fast enough. You make quite an impression on the people you meet. I don't think you realize that."

Maura gave her a small, demure shrug and became intently focused on taking a bite without shattering pastry crumbs everywhere in the bed.

Jane sat on the edge of the bed, one leg pulled up beneath her. "We need to talk about last night." Maura didn't look up, her shoulders beginning to hunch slightly. Last night was starting to come back to her, what little of it there was to remember. She didn't know how long she had cried or how her body could possibly have contained the grief she had released, but she did know that Jane had remained with her the entire time. She had to admit that she felt better after the first few bites and wondered why crying always made her feel like she was waking up with a hangover.

Jane got a firm hold on one end of the croissant and took it out of her hand. "You can have it back when you listen." Maura subsided but with a wounded look, or as much of one as she could summon while her head was dully throbbing. "How do you feel?"

"Like I threw up on myself in public."

Jane looked impressed. "Wow, have you ever done that?"

"No, but I worry about it. It's very undignified."

Jane smiled and patted her leg as it lay bundled under the duvet. "OK, well, I have, and trust me, you weren't even close. You went straight to the pass out stage. Do you even remember me carrying you in here?"

Maura had a hazy recollection of that, or at least of falling towards her bed, as if watching through a faded lens. "Not really," she admitted. "I do feel better though, headache aside. It's like everything that happened since Burundi hit me all at once. Have you been here all night again?" It was difficult to tell with Jane's clothes sometimes.

Jane nodded, glancing over to the overstuffed armchair in the corner. "Yeah, so whenever your brain tries to feed you some line like I don't want us to work together anymore, I want you to think about the hell my back is going through right now after what your chair did to it, OK?" She was grinning now and Maura couldn't help but smile herself, feeling the last piece of the fear that had been clinging to her drop away. The worst had already happened, everything she had feared, and they were still here.

"Jane—how did…what did you do?" she asked quietly.

Her friend fell uncharacteristically silent, fiddling with the seam of her pants leg. "There are a lot of people who care about you very much," she said at last "Each one of them had a piece of the solution. I'm just the one who put the pieces together. Maybe we can leave it at that for now."

Surprisingly, Maura found that she was perfectly all right with that. "May I have my croissant back, please?"

Jane pretended to think about it before handing it over. "I also went over and talked to Ma and explained to her about how I'm having some work done at my apartment on the kitchen, so I'm moving in here for a while. You never know with contractors."

"But you don't use your kitchen," Maura said. "You don't know how to cook." Jane was making absolutely no sense today.

Jane grinned. "No, but you and Ma do, so good for me. I'll stay as long as you need and we'll work up to you staying overnight on your own. Next, we're setting up a schedule."

"I hear the words coming out of your mouth," Maura said with narrowed eyes, "but they don't match the face. Sch-ed-ule?"

Jane pointed at the half-finished pastry. "Eat or I tell Chef Valerie."

Maura covered the croissant protectively with one hand as she took an antagonizingly tiny bite. "Schedule for what?"

Jane pulled her phone out and tapped through several screens, then placed it on the bed between them. As she read the words, Maura found herself chewing more and more slowly.

"I wouldn't fit in. Those groups are for soldiers, for men and women who fought in combat." She picked up the coffee mug to punctuate that this was her final decision.

"Riiggght," Jane drawled. "Whereas you just stood up single-handedly to the most wanted war criminal of the last 20 years, got stabbed, escaped alive, and got him captured after thousands of soldiers from dozens of countries have been running around the continent and couldn't even catch his shadow."

An unexpected surge of something she thought might be pride welled up in Maura's stomach. "Well, I wouldn't say I exactly captured him."

"I would." There was nothing joking in Jane's voice now and Maura found that she couldn't look away. "You're a hero even if no one but me is ever going to know it. You belong in those meetings, Maura. They even have some just for women. I'll go with you, I'll drive you, and if your damn feet don't come back online, then I'm carrying you."

"You can't…"

"Yeah, actually, I can. I mean, not very easily if you keep living on pastries, but I can. I'll sit outside and wait as long as it takes and catch up on paperwork. Frost and Korsak are making me do all the reports for the cat case."

Maura knew the look on her best friend's face and that there was no other possible outcome than to agree. She wasn't convinced, not yet, but Jane was and that would have to be enough.

"Hey." Jane covered her hand with her own, squeezing gently. "What are you worried about? Is it Susie, did she say something? You know, I can have her arrested."

"No," Maura said thoughtfully. "She's actually been more helpful than ever, not that I'm complaining. What did you tell her? I'm assuming she's the one who tested the jersey."

"Oh, that thing I threw in the morgue crematorium? Yeah, I told her you explained everything, that you were doing emergency surgery and you got cut, so your blood got on it and then it got used as a rag after that, so it picked up God knows what."

Jane was leaning over now, searching for something on the floor by the bedside. Maura tried to remember where Bass had been last spotted and if it was likely he could have made it to this side of the house since yesterday. Jane emerged from the bag with a red and white softball jersey, its sleeves still creased and the familiar Boston Homicide logo on the front.

"I don't think it meets dress code for the office, but when season starts back up, you'll be ready. Just try not to bleed on this one, OK?"

Maura was speechless as she reached out to take the jersey, pristine and white as if nothing had happened—a clean slate.

"Crap, you're not going to cry again, are you?" Jane hunched over to stare her in the face as she held the jersey to her chest. "Geez, I didn't think you had anything left in you after last night."

"No," Maura sniffled. "It's perfect, thank you. I'll only wear it on game day, I promise."

"Why did you take it with you on the trip anyway?"

Maura had been asking herself that, but hadn't quite been able to pin the reason down. "I made a list of everything I needed, made sure that I picked one main color to coordinate around, and somehow I kept putting the jersey back in the suitcase. I think it reminded me of home and of having friends and…I never told you this, but I've never been on a team before."

"No, really?" Jane said, eyebrows raised. Maura couldn't tell if she were being made fun of or not, which usually meant the answer was yes. "I mean, you didn't do science team or quiz bowl or anything?"

Maura shook her head. "Boarding school tends to attract loners. It's like tossing a lot of north-polarized magnets in a shoebox together."

"Not that I know what that means, but I would've picked you."

"Thank you. You're a very nice person, Jane."

"No, I like to win and you're the smartest person I know."

Am I really? "Except when I convince myself that you're going to stop being my friend if I tell you the truth. Pretty stupid."

Jane smiled in a way that Maura had never seen before—relieved, grateful and gloating all at once. "It's just because you're a logical person, Dr. Isles. You took the evidence you had and you applied it to the situation at hand. You just forgot about that little principle that there's nothing you can ever do to make me stop being your friend."

"Really?"

Jane sat back, looking worried. "I don't like that face, Maura. Spit it out."

"I was talking to your mother and…"

"Oh God," she whispered.

"…after Frankie took her out to the play and she had such a nice time, she said that she felt so left out and like you two were drifting apart."

Jane gave a frustrated groan and punched the bed. "I'm already like Australia," she complained. "How are we supposed to drift any further?"

Maura cleared her throat and shifted upright against the pillows, gathering her hands in her lap. "Well, I had an idea about that."

"Please God, anything but an idea."

"She always said how much fun it sounded like to go the spa, like that time we went and had mud baths?"

"And a stabbed pregnant woman bled out on us and you had to deliver the baby. Yeah, it's coming back to me now."

"So I said I'd take her."

Jane's eyes, already squinting shut, shot open in hope. "You'd take her? Like you're the daughter she never had, step up and take one for the team?"

Maura waited, letting Jane relax just enough to absorb her good fortune, before adding, "And I said I could get you in half-price too. We're going on Saturday."

"We?" Jane bleated. "Plural, all of us…we?"

Maura nodded, trying her best contrite smile. "Obviously no mud baths with my stitches." She raised the hem of her pajama shirt, counting on the sight of the dressing to help Jane's protective instincts kick in.

Jane gave a dismissive shrug. "I've seen bigger."

"You're just jealous because your entry wound is so small."

"Oh God, you're right…do you have something sharp I can stab myself with?"

Maura felt tiny sparks of something she thought was happiness begin to ricochet within her. She couldn't remember the last time she had felt truly happy, but sitting here in the morning light, laughing with her friend, it was starting to come back to her now.

"So about Saturday…" Jane said.

"It's already paid for."

"Damn," she muttered. "But seriously, there's not a lot of privacy at those things—massages, tiny bathrobes. Are you OK with Ma noticing that you're still a little banged up? She doesn't know how to not ask. Do you want to wait a few weeks?"

Maura fell silent, considering the bedroom, her house, and this life she had been so afraid she would never see again. It had taken everything in her to simply survive and make the journey back, and somewhere along that way, the rigid control had that had helped her survive had somehow taken on a life of its own…but now it was time to let go.

"Well, maybe she will," Maura said. "And I think if she's anything like you, then she would care enough to ask and she'll be a very good listener."

Jane nodded slowly. "Yeah. I think she would be."

"Which one of us do you think is her favorite?"

Jane's eyebrows shot up. "Excuse me?"

"Well, it's only natural for parents to have preferences, even if they love all their children equally. You are her only biological daughter of course, which carries weight, but as she thinks of me as the daughter she never had, the daughter of her heart, that would be significant in an entirely different way. The tribesmen of…"

Silently, Jane lifted the lid of the pastry box and extended it to Maura. "Please," she whispered. "Shut up."

The End

A/N: Thanks very much for reading along and all the kind notes. I greatly appreciate the encouragement and I hope that you've enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing. Full Disclosure: Yes, I love French pastries, once owned a cat exactly like Rocky, feel that men's basketball uniforms from the early 80s are a fashion disaster, think that the best sleep occurs on the couch, have traveled everywhere except central Africa, once narrowly avoided attending Legally Blonde: the Musical, have run a marathon (not barefoot!), and would probably murder anyone who tried to hurt my dear, goofy, brilliant best friend whose birthday it is this week.