Author's Notes: I'm so sorry for the long interval between updates. I had a death in the family, with the usual preceding life chaos. 'Nuff said.

Thanks to all the people who have reviewed. Your kind words are gifts, they truly are. To you wonderful Guests who review-please consider registering so I can send you a PM and thank you in person. It's really nice to get to chat with fellow fanfic/Closer fans.

I would like to thank my illustrious editors. Kate Rosen once again slogged through this and whipped it into shape. And because I am a spaz when I write (indefinite antecedents? Drifting tenses? Absent words? My specialties) I need two editors. A bouquet of roses goes to Editor #2, LadyFey, who is endlessly generous with her time, talent, and friendship. Many thanks to you both.

I owe ManateeMama a big Thank Yew for allowing me to borrow her character Trudy Desmond. Trudy was a minor character who turned out to be a major hit in MM's story "Insanity." I suggest reading that, and I command that you read "The Pool Boy." It's a hysterical Brenda-Fritz fic that's as refreshing and fun as a poolside pina colada. So stop reading my solipsistic Author's Notes and go read some ManateeMama, for Heaven's sake!

Soo where were Brenda and Fritz when we last saw them? They finally moved into their new house. Brenda had a spectacular wiggie the night before, but seemed okay once the move was complete. Fritz decided that taking a more active role in Rusty's life is good for both him and Brenda, and will allow Sharon to spend more energy with Major Crimes. Rusty started helping Brenda and Fritz with the arduous task of fixing up their new house. And really hot pool sex ensued.

"Ugh! What a bitch!"

Fritz nearly dropped his paint brush when Brenda slammed the front door to punctuate her expletive. He heard her stomp to the kitchen, most likely for a glass of wine. Despite indications that his evening was going to be less than peaceful, he smiled.

"Honey, come back here, to the bedroom," he called, wiping his paint-splattered hands on a rag. "I have a surprise for you." The stomping changed direction and grew louder, and in a few seconds the bedroom door flew open. He opened the bathroom door wider and posed, bracing himself for her excitement.

He was standing in her newly renovated bathroom, which had a fresh coat of pink paint drying on its walls. He had left work early to paint in order to surprise her, and he could hardly wait to see her reaction. The retiling had been a slow, arduous task, even with Rusty helping out after school and on the weekends. It took Fritz only about 30 minutes on his knees to realize he was past the age where he could spend hours retiling a bathroom floor and not ache all over. Reluctantly, he taught the methodical Rusty how to lay tile, and Fritz assumed the role of supervisor. Since Rusty had started Chess Club his free time was limited, so Fritz gave him a key to spend a few hours after school working on Brenda's bathroom and the countless other projects. Brenda complained vociferously every morning as she gathered her things and walked down the hall to the "boy's bathroom," as she called it, mumbling under her breath about false promises and pink bathrooms. When Fritz had come home last night and had seen that Rusty had finally finished the last of the tiling, he knew he wanted to surprise his girl and by getting a coat of paint up on the wall for her to come home to Friday evening.

"Where in the world are you…oh there you are." Brenda stuck her head in the bathroom. Her hair was falling out of its bun as if she had had been running her fingers through it, and her blouse was untucked. She had a glass of wine in her hand and turned to toss her big black purse on the bed. "What are you doin' hidin' in the bathroom, Fritz? Come out and let me tell you about my crappy day."

Fritz looked around him. I'm standing in her dream bathroom and she doesn't even notice. "Ah, I'm good, Brenda," he said. "Just working on a few things in here."

"Yea, okay." She plopped herself on the floor right outside the bathroom. "Fritz, you will not believe how bad my day was! You know who waltzed into my office, wearin' the shortest skirt in the DA's office, I might add?" Before Fritz could answer, she forged ahead. "Emma Rios that's who, and oh my god, she was a bigger bitch than even you described. Uhh, that woman!"

Pink surprises forgotten, Fritz felt his stomach drop. He had been dreading the collision of Rios and Brenda, and he doubted that Rios just dropped by to welcome Brenda on board. "What did she want?" he asked.

Brenda was mid gulp and nearly snorted her wine. "Well what did you think she wanted, Fritz? You warned me, yes you did. She barely introduced herself before she started goin' on about…" Fritz noticed she paused and swallowed…"Philip Stroh. And she doesn't start with 'how are you doin'' or 'how are you survivin'' or anythin' like that. She just jumped right in with 'we need to come up with a strategy to make the jury not hate you.' I mean, how rude!"

Fritz shook his head. Rios really was a piece of work. "What did you say to her?" he asked.

"Oh, lots of things. First of all, I told her I don't let DDA's barge into my office and monopolize my time without schedulin' it with my secretary. And second, when we sit down to discuss the Stroh case, I will not be toleratin' any disrespect like the type she heaped on poor Rusty. Well, let me tell you, that got her all sassy and up in my face, and…oh! It makes me so mad to think of the rude things she said to me!" Brenda chugged the rest of her wine and slammed the glass down on the wood floor.

Look up and notice the pink, Fritz secretly begged, feeling like a needy child. He wanted desperately to distract her from the pain of thinking of Philip Stroh. "Hey, Brenda, notice anything—" She interrupted him.

"You know what that evil Rios said to me? She basically told me that the jury is gonna hate me because of the stalkin' stuff I did. And I told her that it was a good thing I did surveillance cuz that info came in handy when it came time to gather evidence against Stroh, but she just went on and on 'bout me bein' an unsympathetic witness. And I'm like, 'witness, how about victim, Rios,' and oh, I'm gettin' mad all over again." Brenda's face was bright red and her breath was rapid.

Distraction is critical now, Fritz thought. "Brenda Leigh Johnson!" he said loudly. She looked at him, snapped out of her escalating lather. "Will you look around at your new pink bathroom that I left work early to paint?" He held his arms open like a showman.

Brenda's eyes grew wide and she stood up, her gaze flitting around the bathroom. "Ohh Fritzy, what is wrong with me, all rantin' and ravin' about Emma Rios and not noticin'…honey, it's just beautiful!" She walked gingerly into the bathroom, her high heels sliding slightly on the slick dropcloth. "I have been dreamin' of this since the day you showed me the house." She took his face in her hands and kissed him hard, all traces of her earlier anger replaced by delight. "Thank you, honey, thank you."

He smiled. All his, and Rusty's hard work to get the room ready for her, and this was the only payment he had hoped for.

Fritz gathered the Chinese food in its various bags and made his way into his house. My house, he thought happily. They had been living in their new place for six weeks, and the novelty hadn't even begun to wear off. It was about ten minutes longer a commute for him, but it was a small price to pay to have the perfect house and a huge pool. Slowly, room by room, it was shaping up nicely, and unlike their move to the duplex, they were pretty much completely unpacked. Now that Brenda's bathroom was done, he was going to get busy painting the study a manly dark green while Rusty worked on retiling his bathroom. Fritz's goal was to have every room but the kitchen done by Christmas, and at the rate they were going, they were right on schedule.

"Brenda, sorry I'm late. I hope you weren't starving!" he called as he walked through the door. He heard her answer "kitchen!" in a clipped manner, and he wondered if she was angry that he was later than expected. The lines at both the paint store and the Chinese takeout place were longer than he had planned for.

Brenda was leaning against the counter with the phone in her hand, wearing her patent angry face, glaring at him.

"Sorry Brenda, long lines and all, but I remembered the hot mustard," he said, swooping in for a kiss. She jerked away and brandished the phone at him.

"You have some explainin' to do, mister," she said, tapping her index finger on his chest.

Besides being late, he had no idea what he did wrong. "What? I texted you and said…"

She shook her head. "It's not that. There's a message on our voice mail from Dr. Armadore's office remindin' you of your appointment tomorrow. Mr. 'we have to be honest,' would you like to tell me what that's about?" She raised her eyebrow and tapped her foot.

Oh, shit.

"Your last annual exam was the week after I got back from Atlanta after Daddy's surgery last January," she said. "And that was ten months ago. And yes Fritz, I do pay attention to those things, so don't look so shocked."

He was shocked. He didn't think Brenda had the foggiest idea of when he saw his doctor. The only reason she knew when she was due for her annual visit was because he booked the appointment for her, wrote it on her calendar, and reminded her repeatedly to show up.

"So why are you seein' Dr. Armadore now? Or more precisely, the Nurse Practitioner who works with him, Katherine McCleary? What's wrong with you, Fritz, that you haven't told me about?" Little worry lines had formed in her brow as she stared at him intently.

Fritz walked to the fridge and poured himself a Diet Coke, trying to buy himself some time. He really, really hadn't wanted to bother Brenda with any of this. She had enough to worry about. But he should have known that keeping anything from her was nearly impossible.

"Grab a couple of plates, honey, and we can talk about it over dinner," he said. "And I swear, it's no big deal."

Brenda narrowed her eyes at him but pulled two plates from the cabinets. "I'm not convinced," she said.

Fritz pulled out some silverware, poured her a glass of water, and steered her to her seat. "Happy Family," he said, dishing a generous helping onto her plate.

"Not so happy. More like 'worried wife.'" She ignored her food and looked at him.

He got his own plate prepared, and without any more distractions, took a quick drink and then took her hand. "Brenda, it's nothing to be worried about. About six months back there was a blood drive at the Bureau, and when they took my blood pressure, it was a little high."

"How high?"

"I don't remember, Brenda. Not 'stroke is imminent' high, but above normal. This got reported to the nurse at the Bureau, and I had to go back for a recheck a couple of weeks later, thinking that it was a fluke. Well, guess what, still high."

"Fritz, really?" Brenda bit her lip nervously.

"Brenda, really, it's okay. I had to go see my own doctor, and they took it, and yes, it was still high, and I was given one more chance to get a normal reading. I explained I was under a tremendous amount of stress during these different readings. What with the lawsuits, your mother's death, then Stroh's attack, whose blood pressure wouldn't be sky high? So they postponed starting medication for another visit."

Brenda's eyes filled with tears. "So it's all my fault! Your blood pressure is through the roof cuz of me! I'm so sorry, Fritzy!"

His heart melted and he kissed her hand. "No, no, no, stop that. Yes, you drive me crazy sometimes, but everything I just listed wasn't your fault. Things have been a lot calmer lately, especially since the move is over, so I bet anything my BP will be fine tomorrow."

Brenda nodded. "I wanna come with you. To your appointment."

He was touched. He was desperate to get her involved in his life, but a minor medical appointment like this wasn't the place.

"You are a wonderful wife, Brenda, but you're going to court tomorrow morning, aren't you?" he asked. She nodded. "My appointment is at 8:30 and it's no big deal." Wanting to lighten the mood, he joked, "I promise if I am ever booked to receive a devastating diagnosis, I'll definitely bring you along."

Brenda burst into tears.

"I'm starting you on 2.5mg of Hydrochlorothiazide," Katherine McCleary said. "It's a weak diuretic but it works well on mild hypertension."

Fritz groaned. "Does that mean I'll be peeing all the time?" he asked. He was very displeased to find his blood pressures was 144/108, high enough to buy him treatment. Brenda was going to flip.

"No, 'mild' is the operative word. Although I do recommend taking it in the morning. And other things that are necessary for blood pressure control, Fritz. Lower your sodium intake. Cut down on the fast food and takeout." Katherine raised an eyebrow when Fritz squirmed. "Clearly you are in excellent physical shape and don't need to exercise or lose weight, so that's covered."

"Do I have to take this stuff forever?"

"Nope. I'm going to have you come back in a few weeks for a blood pressure recheck, and then, when you see Dr. Armadore for your annual exam, he can re-evaluate. If at any point your BP is too low, you go off the meds and we'll see how you do."

Fritz sighed. He felt old.

"Pills?" Brenda's voice quivered. "They put you on medication? Oh Fritz, this is serious!" Brenda chewed her lower lip.

He didn't understand her reaction. He had been sick before, and he was lucky if she bothered to hand him a box of Kleenex on the way out the door. Why was she taking this so hard?

"The NP said it's possible I can go off of them at some point, Brenda," he shrugged, hoping his nonchalance would be contagious. "It's no big deal."

"No big deal? Is that right?" She pulled her black purse onto the couch and began rummaging. "I did some research on WebMD this afternoon and, oh here they are—" she pulled out a stack of folded and crumpled papers—" on hypertension, that's the medical term, and found out all kinds of terrible things. Do you know it's called 'the silent killer'?" Before Fritz could answer, she shoved a paper in his face with the heading, "Top 10 outcomes of untreated high blood pressure." She tapped her finger at it, as if the proximity to his face she had placed it wasn't emphasis enough. "Do you know untreated hypertension can cause stroke? And brain bleeds? Remember Tommy Delk?" Fritz grimaced at the memory of Delk collapsing in front of him. "Oh, and you know what else it causes?" She paused for dramatic effect. "Impotence!"

Fritz took the papers out of her hands and away from his face. "I'd like to think I showed you the other night that I am having no problems with impotence whatsoever." He slid his hand around her neck and caressed it. She slapped it away and stood.

"I am serious, Fritz! This is serious!" He didn't like the taint of hysteria in her voice. "You're almost 50 years old, and now you've got somethin' wrong with you, somethin' that could cause a lot of problems. We have to do somethin', Fritz." Her voice rose a few notes.

He slid off the couch and knelt next to her. Speaking slowly, he said, "honey, I appreciate your concern, I really do. But I'm doing everything I can. I already work out a lot, so that's not a concern. The medication is a gentle diuretic and somehow that helps the blood pressure without creating a lot of side effects. Besides watching my salt intake, there's nothing else I can…" he had to move to the side quickly to avoid getting stepped on as Brenda jumped up.

"Of course!" she said in such a loud voice that Joel, who was sitting on a chair across the room, got up and scurried away. "That's one thing we can work on. No more salt in the house."

He followed her into the kitchen and watched her throw open the cabinets, bemused. "You've been waiting for this day ever since I tossed all your sweets when you were diagnosed with PCOS, haven't you?" he said, leaning against the doorframe.

She grabbed several bags of chips, pretzels, and cheese puffs and one by one, looked at the nutritional content. "Oh my, I had no idea—Fritz, did you know a servin' of these things a have 20% of your daily recommended amount of sodium? That's disgraceful!"

"Brenda, all that crap is yours. I don't eat Cool Ranch Doritos." He did, actually, on occasion, but not as a main meal like Brenda.

"And you won't be startin' now." She gathered all the bags in her arms, and he assumed she was going to toss them in the garbage can, which was fine with him. If his blood pressure problem would get her to eat better, he would consider that a silver lining. Instead, she dumped them all on the table and went back to get a large black Sharpie from the kitchen junk drawer.

"What are you…"

She waved him off, and he watched her write his name in big block letters on a bag of potato chips, then draw a circle around it with a slash through the middle. She looked very pleased with herself.

He couldn't help but chuckle. "Brenda, you think a warning label is an effective deterrent, do you? I don't think that's going to stop me if I have the late night munchies. Maybe if you did it in red…hey, Brenda those are my pretzels. Put those down. There is absolutely nothing wrong with pretzels."

He stayed away from most junk food, but he did like pretzels as a snack, with a little cheese and fruit. It hit the spot right before he went to bed.

"Nothin' except for a boatload of sodium," she sniffed. "We can get you some saltless ones. I'll eat these."

"But saltless pretzels taste like cardboard!" He watched her draw one of her "Fritz keep out" signs with growing despair. It will blow over, he told himself. Brenda always has a hard time keeping the focus off herself for very long. He mentally rebuked himself for thinking like this. She's dedicating herself to the living. Be grateful she cares. And he was. He just wanted his pretzels.

That night, Brenda had her first nightmare in two months. The low, rhythmic whimpering was already birthing a scream by the time he woke up. He had grown quite complacent since Brenda started taking Lily Powers' teas and the bad dreams all but stopped. After a couple of weeks of uninterrupted nights, his hypervigilance slowly petered out, and he allowed himself to truly relax and sleep soundly. So when the predawn quiet was broken by the sound of Brenda's distress, he was as unprepared for it as he had been when she had her fist explosive nightmare the night after Stroh's attack.

It wasn't until Brenda hit his nose did Fritz jerk awake in a spasm of confusion. As he pried his eyes opened he saw Brenda's terrified expression, and it all became clear to him. "Easyeasyeasy," he murmured, trying to wrap his arms around her. Slowly her yells turned to sobs, and her sobs melted into crying, her body stilling as her mind pulled away from the dark world within.

"I'm sorry," she said, her voice muffled, as she burrowed into Fritz's shoulder, much like Joel did when he wanted to be petted. "I'm so sorry, Fritz." She hiccupped and shivered. "So sorry."

He rocked her back and forth, stroking her hair. "It's okay honey, it's okay, there's nothing for you to feel sorry about." He stroked her back, worry pulsing through him. What if this was the return of a fresh wave of nightmares? He wasn't sure he could go through that again.

Brenda slowly pushed herself upright and extricated herself from him. "No, you don't understand, Fritzy," she said, her voice thick and heavy. "It was my fault. It was different this time." A look of horror crossed her face, and she covered her mouth with her hand.

He reached out and touched her shoulder. "Nothing's your fault, Brenda. But what do you mean, 'it was different this time?'"

Brenda let out a deep, choking sob and shook her head violently. "No no no no," she said under her breath. She finally whispered, "It ended different this time. Stroh didn't kill me, Fritz."

This seemed like progress to Fritz. Instead of the usual plot—Stroh strangling the life out of her sexually abused body—it was something new. That's good, isn't it? That had to be some sort of progress.

Her iron grip on his forearm stopped him from saying anything. Brenda looked at him with red-rimmed, unfocused eyes that were mostly pupils. "Stroh killed you this time instead of me. And I couldn't do anythin' to stop it. I failed you again." A gasp tore from her, and she plowed her face into his chest so quickly and with such force he wondered if he would have a bruise tomorrow.

Ahh, this is more like it. It had been a crappy day, a sprint from one fire to another, leaving smoldering messes behind and problems unresolved. He was sure tomorrow would be a repeat, since he left work today with nothing but confusion and loose ends to show for his efforts. The LAPD needs more than an FBI liaison, he thought bitterly. It needs a diplomatic corps.

His muscular body cut through the pool, and with each stroke, a little of his stress and anxiety floated away. The grill was heating up, and two steaks and a pile of vegetables were in the fridge waiting to get cooked as soon as Brenda walked through the door. This is what he had dreamed of the moment he saw the back yard to the house. He came up for a breath, then dived down deep again, feeling like a kid in summer camp. I forgot how much fun swimming can be.

When he surfaced again he heard Brenda calling to him. He lazily breast stroked over to the side of the pool. "Hey honey, put on your suit and come join me," he said. "Or better yet, skip the suit all together." Brenda looked lovely in a pink blazer and tan skirt that hugged her curves perfectly.

She shook her head and sat down at the glass table. "No swimmin' tonight, although I must say you look mighty fine in those swim trunks."

Fritz reluctantly climbed out of the pool and sat down opposite from her, a towel wrapped around his middle "Glad you think so." He noticed a bag at her feet. "Show me what you got there, and I'll throw dinner on the grill."

Brenda's brow furrowed. "You cookin' anything salty, Fritz?"

Fritz was torn between being amused and annoyed. "Well, I thought I'd try some grilled beef jerky…"

Brenda reached over and pulled out the contents of her shopping bag and plopped several books down on the table. "I stopped by a bookstore on the way home and found some cookbooks for us." She tapped on one of them. "From now on, we should focus on cookin' from one of these, to be safe."

Fritz looked at the stack of books Brenda placed on the tabled. "The American Heart Association Low Sodium Cookbook…The DASH Diet Beginner's Cookbook…" Fritz rolled his eyes. "Jeez, Brenda, I don't think you needed to go and do all this. I'll be fine on the meds and I'll say away from your Cheese-Puffs."

"I'm just sayin,' Fritz, no more takeout. We gotta start cookin' at home. And these will give us a good place to start." She patted the books confidently.

"Let's hope there's a recipe for low-salt linguini," Fritz sighed.

Brenda sat up in her chair. "What was that?"

"I'm just saying, Brenda, I'm not sure you can even read a recipe, and here you go and buy all these cookbooks. It seems like a waste." It irritated him that Brenda was making such a fuss over something he'd rather not think about.

"Well that's not nice," Brenda said, looking offended. "I can so read a recipe. I'm just not very good at puttin' it all together, I'll admit. But for some reason that never stopped you from expectin' me to serve you a five course dinner."


She crossed her arms over her chest. "You're always wantin' me to cook for you, even though it's not my strong suit and I always got home later than you. And then you would look all disappointed that it wouldn't be somethin' else besides linguini or meatloaf. Made me mad."

"Hey, that's not fair," he said. How did this morph into an argument? "I cook plenty. He gestured to the grill. "Like tonight, I'm going to make a great steak dinner for us."

"Grillin' doesn't count!" Brenda snapped. "Men love to grill. It's some strange manly primitive caveman thing."

"Caveman thing? Really?"

She ignored him. "But you used to get huffy if I got home before you and didn't cook. And yea, Fritz, you cooked too. But why did you expect me to do any of the cookin' when it was clear I was terrible at it? It seems really sexist if you ask me."

"Oh please," he said, his bad day and low blood sugar egging him on. "I do most of the laundry and cleaning. We grocery shop together now but I did almost all of it when you were at the LAPD. Is it really too much to ask for you to make dinner every once in a great while?"

"I just want to know where I was when you were assignin' household tasks," Brenda said, her voice rising. "Cuz I didn't seem to have a vote. I would have traded cookin' for laundry hands down. But I didn't get a chance, now did I? You moved into my house and started orderin' me around all those years ago, and things haven't changed a bit." Her face was growing red.

My house. Oh, those were fighting words. When he moved into Brenda's little bungalow on Edgemere Place, she had a hard time making room for him, literally and metaphorically, and the words "we" and "our" always stuck in her throat. Fritz felt he was constantly battling to be a couple. "If by 'ordering you around' you mean organizing your life, making sure you had clean clothes and a neat house and food in the fridge, well gee, I'm so very sorry, Brenda." He could hear the blood rushing in his ears. "I guess asking you to contribute to our household was especially stupid, considering since it's nearly impossible for you to think about anyone but yourself." Oh, that was low. He was breathing fast, angry because his nice evening was ruined, angry for revisiting an old argument once again, and angry at himself for not watching his mouth.

"So you've told me," Brenda said, and he could hear the frost in her voice. "Selfish bitch. That's why I went out and bought all these cookbooks. Cuz I can only think about myself." She stood up. "Usually you're the one who storms off in the middle of a fight. I'd like to do the honors this time." She stood up and grabbed her purse and keys violently and disappeared into the house. He heard the click click click of her high heels on the wood floor as she walked across the living room to the front door, which she slammed behind her.

What the hell was that? The heaviness of the day returned to rest on his shoulders. Fritz turned off the grill and headed to the shower, the cookout called off. His temple began throbbing, and the cool water of the shower felt good as it poured down his skull. It didn't stop the headache from blossoming, though, so he swallowed three Tylenol and lay down on the couch with an ice pack to await Brenda's return.

He hadn't told her about the frequent headaches, which, when he was diagnosed with hypertension, now had a context. If Brenda were able to see anything but her own misery during the terrible lawsuit phase, she might have noticed Fritz rubbing his temples and taking liberal doses of Tylenol and Motrin and grimacing whenever she raised her voice. They started right around the time Tommy Delk dropped dead of a massive stroke, because Fritz worried that his newly acquired headaches might be a symptom of a similar problem. The NP assured him that they would resolve as his blood pressure normalized, and for that, he was grateful. Dealing with Brenda was hard enough, but dealing with her when it felt like there was an ice pic protruding from your head…well, that was a totally different story.

He must have drifted off, because the next thing he was aware of was Brenda gently shaking his shoulders. He opened his eyes and saw she was wearing her worried face.

"Hey, she said softly, all traces of indignation gone. "What's with the ice pack?"

"Headache," he mumbled, his thoughts thick with sleep. He sat up and put the now warm gelatinous pack on the coffee table. "It's better."

Brenda sat down next to him. "You get those often? I know you've been havin' them now and again. I figured they were stress."

She noticed some of the time. That's pretty good. "Yea, I guess I do. But the NP said they are probably from my blood pressure, so they'll go away with the medication. You don't need to worry." She hadn't said the words yet, but everything about her demeanor said, "I'm sorry."

Brenda snapped her fingers and jumped up. "I bought somethin' else today besides cookbooks," she called behind her as she dashed to the deck, returning with the large bag she brought the cookbooks in. "I read you should monitor your blood pressure at home." She handed him a home blood pressure kit. A nice one at that.

He was touched. She was genuinely concerned about him, and he responded by calling her selfish. "Thank you, honey." He reached up and took her hand, guiding her to sit down next to him. "And I'm sorry for what I said to you. I really am."

Brenda absently waived a hand in the air. "S'okay. Let's figure out how this thing works and we can make up later, okay?"

Fifteen frustrating minutes later, the cuff was finally on Fritz's arm. "I swear, goin' to nursin' school would have been faster than figurin' this thing out," Brenda said. "You ready?"

He really, really didn't want to take a reading now. He had a steak and cheese sub for lunch and a huge pickle. "You sure we can't try it out on you?"

Brenda gave him The Look and hit the button. The cuff squeezed tighter than any nurse taking his blood pressure ever did.

"Ow! Brenda, did you get the Marquis de Sade model? That seriously pinched. Oh, it's done already. Pulse is 60. All that running. Blood pressure…oh."


"Shoot, Fritz!" Brenda exclaimed. "Did I do that to you? With the fightin' and all? I'm so sorry!" She had a mixture of horror and fear on her face.

"I'm not going to have a stroke, Brenda, and nothing is your fault. Calm down or your blood pressure is going to be as high as mine." He tried to laugh it off, but he really didn't like the looks of that reading.

"You have to call the NP tomorrow and tell her the medication isn't working!" Brenda said loudly. "It isn't workin'! But for tonight, can you take a little more? It's a diuretic, right? Pee some more fluid out and get that number down?" She stood up and started walking in the direction of his bathroom.

Oh shit. "Uh, Brenda? The medication isn't in there."

"Well where is it?"

She's gonna flip. "I haven't dropped the prescription off yet."

A moment of silence before the storm. Brenda put her hands on her hips and took a deep breath. "YOU. WHAT? You saw the NP three days ago and you haven't gone to the pharmacy yet? What is wrong with you?"

"I've been busy," he said, knowing how lame he sounded. "And Brenda, you shouldn't yell. It's going to make me more stressed."

She pressed her lips together so hard he was afraid they would disappear. "Where is it?" she hissed.

"The prescription?" he asked, surprised. "My wallet. I'll drop it off at the pharmacy tomorrow…" Brenda turned and stomped into the bedroom, returning a minute later holding a slip of white paper, which she shook at him.

"For shame," she said. "You lecturin' me about how you got my life all fixed up, and here you are, about ready to have a stroke cuz you couldn't be bothered to pick up your medication." He opened his mouth to respond. "Hush!" she said, pointing at him. "I don't want to hear it. I'm takin' this to Walgreen's and I'll be back as soon as it's filled. And you'll start takin' this tonight, mister." She whirled around and headed toward the door, but stopped suddenly and turned back to him. "Now you just lie there and…relax!"

Fritz shook his head. Living with Brenda was like living with a bipolar hurricane.

She came back an hour later, a scowl still on her face. She tossed a small white bag on Fritz's lap and sat down opposite him. He studied her, choosing his words carefully, wary of her mercurial mood.

"Thanks for getting my medication for me, Brenda, and you're right, I should have gotten this filled sooner. I honestly appreciate that you care about me so much that this worries you, but I don't understand why you're so upset about this. It's going to be under control, honey, I promise."

His words had the desired effect on her, and her face softened. "I'm sorry we fought, Fritz. I hate fightin' with you. It's just that the thought of anythin' at all being wrong with you 'bout sends me around the bend. Dealin' with Daddy's cancer is horrible enough, but the idea of somethin' happenin' to you…" Her voice caught. "I can't stand the thought, Fritz. If anythin' happened to you, I don't know what I'd do."

He walked over to the chair she was in and sat down on the arm, embracing her as best he could. "I guess that was what your dream was about last night."

She nodded and wiped a tear from her cheek. "Stroh got you this time. It was just horrible." She looked up at him, her brown eyes pleading. "Promise you won't leave me, Fritz. Promise me." She looked so young, displaying a vulnerability revealed when layers upon layers of her defense were worn away through recent loss and tragedy. At times like this I feel like I can see into her soul.

He stood up and pulled her close, and she hugged him back with equal ferocity. "I'm not going anywhere, Brenda," he said softy. "My girl needs me, and I'm staying right here."

Fritz heard the door slam from the kitchen. "Uh, that bitch!" came a muffled voice, followed by mumbled obscenities.

He looked at Brenda, who was helping him make a salad, and raised an eyebrow. "Well, I'm really glad Rusty is joining us tonight."

Brenda crossed her arms over her chest and pursed her lips. "In here!" she yelled. A moment later, a tousle-haired teen loped in, a scowl on his face.

"What am I doing over here?" he whined, dramatically covering his face with his hands and collapsing against the wall, as if burdened with all the problems of the world. "I spent the night twice last week! Sharon is treating me like I'm ten and I'm sick of it. I am perfectly capable of staying at the condo by myself. I kept telling her this and she nearly bit my head off, the b—" Brenda cut him off.

"Rusty Beck, you do not use that word in this house, especially to describe your foster mother, you hear me?" she said sternly. "And did it ever cross your mind that actin' like stayin' with us is torture might hurt Fritz and my feelins' just a tiny bit? Huh?"

Rusty groaned. "You know I didn't mean it that way, you guys. I like hanging out and all, but I want it to be my own decision, because I'm doing some work over here or whatever. Not because Sharon doesn't trust me."

Ever since Fritz had offered to have Rusty spend more time at their house so Sharon could be freed to show up to after-hours crime scenes and work long hours on a demanding case, he had become a fixture in their house. They had fallen into a comfortable pattern of having him to dinner on nights Sharon worked late, and they helped him with homework and drove him to school the next morning after he crashed in their guest room when Sharon had to work very, very late. His presence made Brenda happy, and Fritz had grown very fond of the kid. Overall, the three adults in Rusty life were slowly piecing together a patchwork quilt of parenting that seemed to be working well. Although Rusty didn't seem to agree.

"Rusty, it's nothing to do with trust, and you know it," Fritz said. "She just doesn't want you to be alone in the evenings, and neither do we."

Rusty pushed himself away from the wall, glowering, and walked out of the kitchen. "Whatever," he threw over his shoulder.

"Oh, that boy," Brenda said, frowning. "He drives me nuts."

"We should go talk to him. I want to make sure he knows we like having him here."

Brenda nodded. "Good plan."

Rusty was in the spare bedroom, one of the rooms in the house yet to be fixed up. Several unopened boxes were pushed against the wall below the curtainless window, and the walls were a lifeless gray. The Wedgewood-blue paint they picked out for the room sat in the garage, in queue behind Fritz's bathroom to become a painting project. Rusty was lying on his stomach on the bed, reading a comic. He didn't look happy to see them.

"Brenda, are you ever going to unpack the rest of your crap?" He gestured at the cardboard boxes. "I want to get this place painted for you guys, but I can't do that with your shit everywhere."

Fritz was angry and opened his mouth to retort that it wasn't up to Rusty to decide how his and Brenda's house was run, nor was it his place to tell two adults what to do with their stuff. Brenda must have sensed this and lay a hand gently on his shoulder and nodded slightly in Rusty's direction, silently saying, "let me handle this." He frowned but remained silent.

Brenda sat down next to Rusty on the bed, creating a valley in the mattress and causing him to roll toward her a bit, interrupting his comic book reading. He angrily flopped on his back and slammed the book down. "What?" he said in a huff.

Fritz expected Brenda to verbally slice and dice Rusty, and was surprised to hear how soft her tone was. "Look, Rusty, I get that you feel a little smothered right now, I do," she said.

He snorted. "A little?"

She ignored him. "I had the queen of all smother mothers, and girls in the South are treated like delicate powder puffs to begin with. 'Bout drove me nuts."

"So you get it. Well, I used to live on my own, Brenda. I decided what I ate and when I went to sleep. I didn't need anyone's permission for anything. And I took care of myself just fine." Rusty's voice took on the quality of hostility and petulance it always did when he talked about his street days.

"Sure, I know you did," Brenda said, her tone still mild. "It was amazin'. But you had to sleep in garbage and turn tricks just to eat. Keepin' yourself alive took all your energy."

"You do what you gotta do."

"But that's not how it's supposed to work, Rusty. We humans need a certain amount of parentin', so we can live good lives and be the best we can to the people around us. My Momma drove me stark ravin' crazy with always bein' up in my business about everythin', but I'm realizin' now that I needed every minute of her attention to be a real grown-up. Truth is, everyone does."

"Maybe something's wrong with you." The corner of his mouth went up in a half-sneer and Fritz had a hard time restraining himself from verbally slapping Rusty for his insolence.

"Nope, I'm perfectly normal. When people don't have enough love and comfortin' growin' up, they spend the rest of their lives lookin' for it somewhere else. Isn't that right, Fritz?"

She actually listens to me when I talk about addiction. "Absolutely. AA is filled with people who were abused or neglected, and turned to alcohol to fill that void."

"We don't want that for you, Rusty, we really don't. Like it or not, Sharon, Fritz and I really care about you. And the way I figure, you haven't had your momma in your life for five years, and that means you are five years behind in parentin', so some serious catchin' up needs to be done. That's a pretty serious hole to be in, so the three of us are doin' our best to fill it in with gettin' involved in your daily life, naggin', tellin' you to eat your vegetables and do your homework, remindin' you to floss, and most important, lettin' you know you are a real great kid. So I'm real sorry you have to suffer the indignities of havin' three adults care about you, but we aren't gonna stop anytime soon and we aren't goin' anywhere. So you might as well make the best of it and knock off the complainin'." Brenda reached out and lightly stroked Rusty's hair in what struck Fritz as an incredibly maternal gesture.

Everyone was silent for a moment, then Rusty heaved himself off the bed, a lopsided smile on his face. "Okay, okay, my bout of teen drama has passed. I'll help you guys with dinner." He stood and walked out of the room behind Brenda and Fritz. Brenda turned in the doorway suddenly, pointing his finger at him.

"By the way, mister, you don' tell me what to do with my boxes in my house. I'll unpack them when I'm damn well ready." Brenda missed the impressive eyeroll that followed, which stopped in mid-rotation when Rusty caught Fritz giving him a stern look.

"What's with all the low-salt cookbooks?" Rusty said fifteen minutes later, after he finished setting the table and was hanging out the in the kitchen while Brenda attempted to tenderize the chicken and Fritz checked the baked potatoes.

"Fritz has high blood pressure," Brenda answered. "We gotta start eatin' better." She nodded to the cookbook she had propped open. "So we're tryin' to cook more at home." Bam went the metal tenderizer on the hapless breast.

"Whoa, Brenda, do you even know what you're doing?" Rusty reached out and grabbed the mallet out of her hand. "You are supposed to tenderize the meat, not turn it into Swiss cheese." He gently pushed her out of the way.

"Oh please, like you have a clue," Brenda said.

Rusty looked at the recipe Brenda was following. "It's a simple sautéed chicken breast with a reduction sauce, no biggie," he shrugged. "I'll finish it."

Brenda's mouth hung open. "How do you know that?"

Rusty shrugged. "When I was around nine, our landlady was Mrs. Avakian, an Armenian lady. She really liked my mom and me for some reason, gave my mom discounted rent and stuff like that. She also babysat me a lot while my mom worked as a waitress. And Mrs. Avakian loved to cook. And just not Armenian food, but any type of food. She put me to work as soon as I walked through the door. She always had kids and grandkids coming over, so she was like, 'Rusty, I need your help. I have to make lasagna for 30. Help me make red sauce from scratch." Fritz thought he did a fairly impressive Armenian accent. "I was helping her make pretty complicated filo dough recipes when most the kids I went to school with weren't allowed to touch the microwave."

"Did you like cooking, or did you want to be watching TV?" Fritz asked.

Rusty shrugged. "Yea, I guess I did. My mom never cooked anything more complicated than macaroni and cheese, so it was cool to see how all the ingredients worked together. And the food, damn, I never ate great food like that in my life." He gently whacked four chicken breasts until they were a uniform level of thickness. "Brenda, get me an egg and flour will you? So yea, I started cooking for my mom, not that we had the groceries to work with like Mrs. Avakian, but still, I did pretty good for a little kid. I could read recipes and everything."

"That's incredible, Rusty. How long did you live with Mrs. Avakian?"

"Two years. Then one day I went to her place after school as usual. She was going to teach me how to make baklava, I remember. Her daughter answered the door and said Mrs. Avakian had died the night before from a heart attack."

"Oh, that's awful."

Rusty deftly dipped each chicken breast into egg followed by flour and placed them on a clean plate. "Yea, it was. We got kicked out of the apartment, and a few months later, my mom left me at the zoo." Rusty washed his flour-encrusted hands in the sink while Brenda and Fritz looked at each other over his head at how matter-of-fact he was about the endless sadness that made up his childhood.

"Oh, will you two snap out of it," Rusty said, the usual impatience infused in his voice. "Cuz this chicken is never gonna be dinner unless one of you two 'substitute parents' moves your asses and gets me a frying pan."

Later on, over dinner, Rusty and Brenda talked about Emma Rios. "So that bi-, er, jerk, got to you, huh? I'm surprised it took her so long. Thought she'd be slobbering over the chance to tear apart a former Deputy Chief." He took a bite of the chicken. "Yea, that turned out good. Told you I was Chef Rusty! Anyways, I bet somewhere on her body, which is hot, I have to admit, that woman has '666' burned into her skin."

"Huh?" Brenda looked confused. Cultural references were frequently lost on her.

"666 is the mark of the beast," Fritz explained.

"What beast?"

Fritz rolled his eyes. "Satan. Weren't you brought up Baptist?"

"I was," Brenda sniffed. "But I don't remember any of this 'tattoo of the devil' thing."

"Mark of the beast," Fritz corrected.

"Is this turning into one of those old married couple bickering things, because it's kinda funny, and yet annoying at the same time," Rusty said, grabbing a second potato.

"I just like to torture Fritz to keep him on his toes," Brenda said, sipping her wine with a glint in her eye. "Of course I know that the sign of the beast is. Good old Reverend Lightcap used to beat us over the head with warnin's about the devil. Although I don't remember him tellin' us kids in Sunday School that The Horned One took the form of a lawyer dressed like a streetwalker. I heard the horrible things she said to you, Rusty. Downright nasty!"

Rusty dropped his fork, his mood suddenly dark again. "Why did Sharon tell you that? It was awful enough the way that bitch—deal with it, Brenda—talked to me, I don't need Sharon shooting her mouth out to everybody…"

"Get off Sharon's case, Rusty," Fritz said, his voice stern. He knew Rusty was a teenager and therefore was naturally disrespectful, but it bothered him to hear Sharon Raydor spoken about so poorly. The woman was barely handling her job in Major Crimes, and she took on a troublesome foster child on top of that. In Fritz's eyes, she deserved a metal. "Sharon told me about Rio's approach so I could warn Brenda."

"Yea, Sharon suggested that we not let her know I'm married to Fritz, cuz she gets all cranky when people have ties with each other and with Major Crimes. She was just tryin' to help."

Rusty looked down at his plate, the stormclouds still evident but the tropical storm blew out to sea. He picked up his fork and stabbed his potato a few times with gusto. "Oh, tell me about it," Rusty said. "She keeps threatening to put me in foster care somewhere else. Drives her insane that Sharon is my guardian." More sour cream smothered on his beleaguered spud.

"I heard all about it when she paid me a visit, and how your 'livin' arrangements' as she called them better not mess with her case. She's ruthless, that one."

"Maybe she just needs to get some," suggested Rusty with a smirk.

Brenda snorted. "If she wears skirts as short as the one she had on when she came into my office, I don't think she has a shortage of men around her willin' to, well, you know." Brenda's cheeks burned pink.

"I think Sanchez is pretty much up for giving Rios some 'you know.'"

"Is he now? I'm so disappointed in that boy," Brenda said.

"Well, you know us men," Rusty said, "always thinking with the smaller of our two heads."

"Speak for yourself," Fritz said. "You'll find as you get older, it's easier to use both heads to make decisions."

Rusty stood and picked up his empty plate, gesturing for Brenda and Fritz to hand theirs to him also. "Tell you what, Brenda, I'll make you a deal."

"If it has to do with who does the dishes, don't bother. Fritz is doin' them."

"I am?" he asked in surprise.

"Yup. You just made the salad for dinner. Rusty and I did the rest of the work."

There was no point in arguing with her.

"No, nothing to do with dishes," Rusty said. "How about this, though: I'll help you figure out some recipes in your 'salt be gone' cookbooks, if you promise to give Emma Rios a really hard time when she needs an investigation, or whatever it is that you do. Pull rank, lose her paperwork, whatever. Just bust her balls whenever you possibly can."

"Oh, you got yourself a deal, young man," Brenda said. She carried the leftovers into the kitchen and put them in Tupperware containers. "A bargain for me, cuz I was plannin' on doin' all those things anyway." She looked down at the chicken she was scraping off a platter. "Since you are the expert, Rusty, maybe while we're eatin' our ice cream and watchin' Fritz slave over the dishes, you can explain to me exactly what you did to make the chicken taste so good. What exactly is reduction sauce? I didn't see you add anythin' out of a bottle labeled 'reduction.'"

Brenda just stared at the two males in complete confusion as they doubled over laughing.

"130/96. Gettin' better, Fritz, but still not normal." Brenda removed the sphygmomanometer from Fritz's forearm and he rubbed the area to remove the body memory of the necessary pinch. He wrapped his unmarred arm around her waist and pulled her toward him.

"I've got a way to get my blood flowing, Brenda," he said in his best bedroom baritone. He kissed the area between her breasts and her stomach and slid his hand down to cup her ass.

"No, Fritzy, we've got company," Brenda whispered, and disentangled herself from his embrace. "You know I don't like to make love with someone else around. I'm too noisy."

Fritz exhaled in frustration. He had to carefully choose his words lest Brenda get upset. "Noise was an issue with a duplex, honey. Now we have a house, and the guest room is far…" he picked up her hand and kissed the top…"far"…he opened up her hand and kissed the palm…"away"…and took the tip of her index finger into his mouth.

"Fritzyyyy." Brenda whined, turning his name into a four syllable word as only she could do. She moved out of his reach and walked toward her bathroom, pulling her robe tight. "Raincheck, okay? I just don't think I could relax with Rusty around." Before Fritz could argue that she needed to get used to it if they wanted a sex life, because he was around a lot nowadays, she disappeared into the pink bathroom. Fritz groaned in frustration.

She dodged him like this for two weeks. He joined her in her shower, only to be shooed out because she was shaving her legs. At night she seemed too tired, no matter what the hour. When Brenda groggily slapped his hand away as caressed her breast while initiating "sleepy sex" one morning, Fritz knew something was wrong. Brenda rarely said no to his advances and never refused morning sex, even if she appeared to sleep through it.

"What is up with you?" he hissed, sitting upright in bed, pulling the covers off of Brenda. She rolled over, her eyes barely open but wary.

"Hmmm? You okay Fritzy?" she mumbled.

She was playing dumb. "No, I am not okay," he snapped. "You have been shutting me down for weeks, coming up with one excuse after another. And now you're pushing me away again! You love 'sleepy sex!' You say you liked getting fucked when you're half asleep and don't have to lift a finger. But now you're pushing me away. Again. What's going on?" Fritz felt anger building. He was not a man who could handle sex deprivation easily.

Brenda rubbed her face. "Nothing, Fritz, it's just that I…" she paused and her eyes drift shut, and Fritz could tell she was feigning sleep.

"Just what, Brenda?" he said loudly. "And stop pretending you aren't awake." He could tell his own temperature was rising, and not in the way he had hoped.

Her eyes flew open and fixed on him. "I'm not pretendin' anythin'. It's just that I thought it would be smart for us to make sure your blood pressure is normal before we have sex again is all."

He just stared at her for a moment, incredulous. "Really, you won't have sex because my blood pressure is a little high? Brenda, that is the stupidest thing I've ever heard! What, are you afraid I'm going to keel over from a stroke? Come on!" Her behavior was utterly irrational and totally unacceptable.

"Well, forgive me for carin', Fritz, but yea, that's what I'm worried about. I know I may be overreactin', but with your age and…" Fritz didn't hear the rest. He violently rolled out of bed and charged down the hall to his bathroom, swathed in a cloak of frustration and indignation.

Fritz didn't take her calls at work and managed to avoid her in the evening by attending an AA meeting and going out with a group of friends afterwards. By the time he came home she was already in bed. He knew he was throwing a temper tantrum, but having to sleep next to her night after night, spooning her and getting hard, fitting his erection against her tight ass, and then have nothing come of it…it was killing him. At least when she was in Atlanta for a month, he didn't have to encounter her perfect breasts and milky skin with every toss and turn. But now…whacking off in the shower just weren't doing the trick.

He waited until he was sure she was asleep before he joined her in bed. He looked down at her lovely face with its slightly anxious expression and sighed. Married almost five years and I still burn for her. I'm not giving that kind of passion up without a fight. After much tossing and turning where he tried to replace the erotic images that floated unbidden through his mind with scenes from the greatest baseball games of all times, he fell into a dreamless sleep.

It was the absence of the body he longed for that woke him up. He rolled over and felt nothing but the expanse of cool sheets and he was immediately on alert. He opened his eyes and listened for the low, gut-twisting keening that marked her nightmares, but the house was silent, and no light shown beneath the door of her bathroom. Fritz rose and padded out to the living room, where he saw Brenda reflected in the pale light shining through the window as she sat on the couch, Joel on her lap. She was crying softly.

He didn't want to disturb her. She had nights like this, times when the tide of grief rose and welled within her and she needed release. He remembered what it was like when he mourned his parents' deaths. It wasn't at the actual time of their passing, but rather years later, when he had stopped drinking and all the grief he numbed himself against came rushing back, demanding to be filtered through his very fragile, newbuilt soul. He found grief to be an odd, odd thing. At times he felt at peace with his loss, ready to engulf it as a life experience and move on. Then an unexpected tidal wave of sadness would hit him, and trapped within it like starfish were memories and emotions that had to be picked through like in a child's seashell pail. He warned Brenda of this phenomenon, and she confessed that there were times during her drive to and from work where she had to pull the car over to cry about her mother. Fritz encouraged her to do so: the closer Brenda got to her emotions, the better. This seemed to be another such moment, and he hated to interrupt. A floorboard squeaked when he shifted his weight and the decision was made for him. Brenda looked up with a sharp intake of breath, her hand raising to her chest.

"Fritz, you scared me half to death," she said, wiping her eyes but not trying to hide the fact that she was crying. "Why are you skulking in the shadows spyin' on me in the middle of the night?"

He sat down on the couch next to her but didn't touch her. He hadn't fully gauged her mood, and wasn't sure what he had interrupted.

"I was only there for a minute, honey," he said. "I was trying to decide whether or not to interrupt you. You know me, my instinct when I see you crying is to go charging in and comfort you."

Brenda sniffed and turned to look at him. Her eyes were red and the remnants of the day's mascara were smudged across her cheekbone. "Why didn't you? Come runnin' over, I mean."

He chose his words carefully. "I guessed that you were feeling bad about your mother." Brenda just shrugged. "And sometimes grief is a private thing, and other times it helps a lot to talk. But you also need your private moments of sadness too. I wasn't sure I wanted to interrupt."

Brenda wiped her eyes and leaned against him in a burrowing manner that told him she wanted connection. He wrapped his arms around her and she lay her head against his chest. Both of them were silent for a few minutes. Fritz was so intimacy deprived that he closed his eyes and appreciated the warmth of her coming through his tee-shirt and the slight breeze from her breaths rustling the small hairs at the base of his neck. Joel seemed to realize that his quality time with Brenda was over, and he leapt off her lap, scurrying off into the night to points unknown.

Never one to be still for long, Brenda sat up and looked at him. "I've had about an hour of 'private time,' as hookers like to call it. Out here just feelin' sad about Mama, and thinkin' about Philip Stroh and the mess he's made of things, and about how difficult Emma Rios is goin' to make my life. Bitch."

"You don't have to, but if you want to share what's on your mind, I'm here." Brenda smiled at him, a sad but heartfelt lopsided smile, and reached out to caress his cheek. "My sweet Fritzy," she mumbled. "My love. What would I do without you?" Her eyes welled up again and she dove for a Kleenex.

"Brenda, what's bothering you?" He rubbed her back as she loudly blew her nose, fighting to control the tears.

After a few deep breaths, she said, "actually, I was only thinkin' about Mama a little. Mostly I was thinkin' about you. 'Bout how I've made things so hard for you the past several years. And now you've got somethin' wrong with you and it's because of the stress from my crazy life. And that makes me feel so bad, Fritz, so bad."

He shook his head. "I really wish you would stop blaming yourself. Every marriage goes through tough times, Brenda. Every person goes through tough times. In a marriage, it's a partnership, you help each other out. I personally think we weathered a very difficult storm beautifully."

"But before that," she said, her voice deep and weighed down with regret. "Before the Baylor incident. I wasn't very good to you in our marriage, Fritz. You've done most of the work, most of the givin'. All I did was not do the very little you asked of me. Over and over again." Her shoulder sagged under his hand.

"Hey, come on," he pulled her against his chest again. She was stiff at first, but then relented. "We've been through this before, and that's in the past. We're moving forward now, okay? And you aren't responsible for my high blood pressure. I'm sure if you weren't in my life, I'd find some other way to get stressed out." He kissed the top of her head.

"Still, I wish there was somthin' I could do to make it up to you," she sighed.

The buzz of slight arousal that hummed throughout his entire body made him dizzy, and he almost missed a perfect "in." Almost.

He slid his hands under the soft cotton of her tank top. "Oh, I know exactly what you can do to start to make it up to me," he whispered in her ear, reaching out with his tongue to trace its delicate seashell edge.

"Fritzy…" Brenda once again pulled away. "Honey, your blood pressure…"

Fritz felt a flash of anger blaze through him. He was tired of the cycle of arousal and frustration they had fallen into. "You are being insane, Brenda. My blood pressure is just a little bit elevated. I am really tired of not making love to my wife. Or is something else going on? Are you just using that as an excuse to not have sex with me?"

Brenda looked horrified. "No, Fritzy, no! I was just overreactin'…I don't want you to think…" she shook her head, her words tied up in each other. "You're right, I'm bein' stupid, I was just worried. I want you, you have to know I want you."

Fritz looked at her, all flustered, tears gone, and decided to push her. He was a dog, he knew, but a desperate one. "Show me. Show me you want me, Brenda."

Brenda looked at him for a second and tilted her chin in that sexy way he loved. She shimmied off the couch and stood before him in her light blue cami and matching underwear. He loved staring at her breasts without a bra: the soft, gentle, natural curves like ripe fruit ready to fall off the tree. He could hardly wait to get his hands all over her.

Brenda slowly gripped the bottom of her cami and pulled it over her head, revealing her beautiful white skin inch by inch. By the time her breasts were freed the nipples were rigid peaks, almost as hard as Fritz's cock. "Damn you're beautiful," he murmured. She smiled and hooked her thumbs in her panties and slid them down her perfectly shaped legs, kicking them off into the darkness. He feasted on the sight of her flawless body, wondering for the millionth time how he got to be so lucky.

"Come here, he growled.

She smiled and crawled on top of him, her hands slowly trailing down his chest. His breath caught at the sensation of her cool, smooth palms against his heated skin. She circled his nipples with her thumbs and her groaned low in his throat, closing his eyes and leaning back on the couch. Brenda leaned down and grabbed a lobe of his ear and nipped it. "How's your blood pressure doin' now?" She pressed her bare chest against his.

"Mmmmm," he murmured, running his hand up her back and entangling it in her hair. "Just don't whip the cuff out now."

"Oh no," she whispered, planting a wet, open-mouthed kiss on his neck. "My hands are a little busy squeezin' somethin' else right now." Her nails traced down Fritz's tight abdomen and his stiff cock contracted in anticipation. Her hot mouth pressed against his jugular just as her small hands snaked in his boxer shorts and wrapped around him. "Oh yea," Brenda murmured, "nice and hard, the way I like it." She arched her back and put her tongue between his lips, sliding her free hand up to the back of his head and pressing it against hers.

Fritz's world was reduced to the feeling of Brenda's small hand on his cock, stroking him just the way he likes it-her thumb dragging over the tip with each upstroke, firm downstroke, a little twist, back up nice and slow-and the tsunami of arousal that clouded any other thought he had in his brain. Ache and want tumbled over each other as their tongues tumbled for dominance. He pulled back slightly so he could reach her perfect breasts, caressing one, than the other, then pinching the nipples to hardened sensitivity. She moaned when his lips released hers and suckled her nipples, grazing them with her teeth as she undulated on his lap in pleasure. "More, baby, more," she panted.

"More what?" he managed to get out from around a delicious breast.

"More everythin." He snaked his hand over her ass and then slowly between her thighs, her moans increasing in pleasure as she urged him on. "Touch me, Fritzy, touch me," she begged, spreading her legs wider over his lap for access. She jumped at first contact but then ground down on his finger and oh, was she hot and wet. Between her insistent strokes and feeling her so ready, he didn't know how much more he could take.

Brenda read his mind and let go of his cock to slide her thumbs under the elastic of his boxer shorts. "I want you now, Fritzy," and he lifted his hips slightly to aid her. She pulled his shorts down just far enough to fully free his cock, which she took in her hand as she crawled over him. She steadied herself by putting her hand on his shoulder and slid down as he thrust up. They both yelped in pleasure at the same him. Sweet Jesus, how did I live without this for two weeks? he thought, as he begun to thrust into her. He was so aroused from her hand job he doubted he was going to last long.

Brenda was adjusting herself in such a way that told him he was making sure her clit hit his publis each time she came down. Sure enough, after each thrust in she ground herself down on him a few times, alternating the angle. From her breathing he knew she was getting close, so quickly. He didn't quite have the control he wanted, so he was fine if she…

Oh shit. His orgasm his him as Brenda ground down on him particularly hard. "Fuck!" he yelled, and grabbed her by the hips and slammed her down on him as he came. Brenda realized he came a bit before he wanted to, which was always after she did, reached down and rubbed her clit furiously. The sight of this made Fritz's orgasm go from a standard length movie to a double feature, which he was grateful for, because he wanted to make sure Brenda had plenty of stimulation to come. Like most women, Brenda came mostly with clitoral stimulation, but she really, really liked to have something in her to help her along. Even after he was done, he continued thrusting, until Brenda's breathless "oh baby, I'm comin'" was followed by a scream as her hands tightened their grip on his shoulders. Her hips slowed down and her moans melted away, and she collapsed into Fritz's chest.

The stayed like that, on top of each other, on the couch for a few minutes. He finally found his words again and said, "sorry I didn't wait for you, honey. I guess I was just so turned on and it had been so long…"

Brenda kissed him and smirked. "I get it, I apologize. Not havin' sex because of fussin' over your blood pressure was stupid. We'll just fuck like crazy and give each other strokes and die with big smiles on our faces."

"Speaking of strokes," Fritz said, hoping to take advantage of her conciliatory mood and the afterglow, "there are a couple of things I'd like to do to you that I didn't get a chance to do. Shall we move this party into the bedroom?"

Brenda disengaged herself and stood up, her legs a little wobbly. "Only if you promise to do as I say, mister. Go lie down on the bed and close your eyes. I'll be in in a jiffy."

This is promising. "Brenda, what are you going to do?"

She looked exasperated. "For once, will you do as I ask? I want you to lie down and close your eyes, and don't open them, you hear? I promise, it will be very, very worth it." She reached down and helped him up, caressing his ass playfully as he pulled up his boxer shorts. "And I want those off, mister."

Fritz did as told. He stretched out on the cooling sheets, in that transition zone where his body was loose and satisfied from his orgasm, but was capable of becoming further aroused. He heard Brenda come in and felt her weight next to him, and reached out blindly to caress any part of her he could. Luckily for him, his hand landed on a breast.

"Now you keep those eyes closed," she said, laying on top of him and kissing his neck with slow, open-mouthed kisses. She caressed his chest and flicked his nipples, and one rogue hand slowly dragged downward over his abdomen and to his cock, which was beginning to come back to life. "Damn Fritzy, you're gonna keep me all night, aren't you?" she said, pumping him a few times and making him harder. She put her hot eager mouth on his chest and to his disappointment, took her hand off his cock and wedged her thigh between his legs for friction, which he gladly took advantage of. Brenda continued her ministrations on his chest and arms, and he was losing himself in the heady cocktail of sensation and anticipation.

The sound of Velcro and the feel of rough cloth enveloping his upper arm interrupted his bliss, and his eye flew open. No fucking way, he thought, stunned. Is she seriously going to take my blood pressure during foreplay?

"What are you doin, are you crazy?" his righteous indignation was blossoming into anger and he reached over to tear off the cuff, but Brenda grabbed his hand.

"You promised to keep your eyes closed," she said, still using her sultry voice. "Now I don't want any hollerin'. I mean it, Fritz. Lay there all nice and still now, and I promise you, I'm gonna do things with my mouth that are gonna make you completely forget about this cuff." She managed to close it around his upper arm despite his protests, and she placed both of his hands on her breasts. "For me, Fritzy. You want to make me happy, don't you?" She was wearing her patent little girl look, which usually melted his heart. This time it didn't.

"Not now I don't. Medical tests aren't foreplay." He closed his eyes, but had a pronounced scowl on his face. Damn my crazy wife.

"Oh, but this is." She scooted lower on his legs and ran her tongue over his cock, and the scowl morphed into a mask of pleasure. She took his tip on and sucked, running her tongue over and over the tip, pumping the shaft. Before long, she was deep-throating him with amazing skill, and he no longer cared about the cuff around his arm. He barely felt it inflate when Brenda hit the "on" button on the digital machine, nor did he hear the beep when it completed. He was too busy coming hot and hard in his beautiful wife's mouth.

On the way into his office the next morning, Fritz stopped by the conference room to grab a cup of coffee. As he waited for the K cup to finish its cycle, he stretched, trying to wake himself up. He and Brenda skipped their morning run out of sheer exhaustion, and he felt tired and out of sorts. Middle-of-the-night lovemaking was fun, but the consequences the next day could be brutal. At least my blood pressure was normal, he thought, which made Brenda happy. Although how it remained normal during that blow job is beyond me. Salacious images and sensations flooded Fritz's brain, and in his distraction he poured the cream about two inches to the left of his mug.

"Easy dere," came a voice from behind him. "You makin' a mess, Mr. Howard, and I juss cleaned dat counter." Trudy Desmond, from Housekeeping, pulled out a rag to clean up the spill.

"So sorry, Trudy, I don't know what's wrong with me this morning."

Trudy smiled a knowing smile. "Oh sir, I do. Dat hot woman of yours keepin' you up too late again, huh?"

Fritz had absolutely no idea what to say to that. He's known Trudy for years, and more than once she'd made some oblique reference to his active sex life with a knowing look on her face. Is it that obvious? Am I walking around with the "just got laid" look?

"Now doan you worry, Mr. Howard," Trudy said, and Fritz fleetingly wondered if the woman could read his mind. "Doan nobody know nothin' round here." She chuckled to herself. "Yet you all be big detectives." She walked over to her cleaning cart and pushed it toward the door, turning back toward Fritz right before leaving the room. "I be a better detective dan all of you. And I tell you one thing, sir. You get lucky more dan all dose other men put together. You sure got youself one sexy lady." She winked and was gone. Fritz could hear the clang of the mop handle against the bucket keeping time with Trudy's humming as she wheeled down the hall.

He stood there for a moment, coffee mug in hand, his tired brain trying to process the odd interaction.

Forty-eight hours. How can things go to complete shit in just 48 hours? He huffed and shifted awkwardly in the overstuffed waiting room chair, ignoring the disapproving look from the secretary. Two days ago, he was walking around enveloped in afterglow, celebrating that his blood pressure was finally within the normal range. And now he was caught up in a major shitstorm of trouble at work.

The day before yesterday he got a call from Provenza about a murdered man engaged to an Indian diplomat's daughter. His superiors caught wind of it and filled him in on the part of the story the LAPD didn't know: the young woman had been reported missing by her father two days prior. As the case unfolded, Fritz quickly learned that "diplomatic immunity" meant more than the ability to be rude to federal law enforcement, it also imbued an entitlement to beat one's child without repercussions. When the diplomat attacked his already battered child in the Murder Room, Fritz lost it. While subduing the man, he punched him. Twice. Now Fritz was in the middle of a week-long suspension with pay for excessive use of force, and was seated in the waiting room of an FBI's psychologist for a behavioral evaluation.

Fritz groaned and put his head in his hands. He knew he shouldn't have punched the guy. He was younger and stronger and would have gotten cuffs on him before long. But he started to lose control when he saw the fear in the daughter's face, and when he caught the look in the asshole's eyes, that look

It reminded him of his father.

Fritz had been on the receiving end of that kind of rage until he was 11 and his father decided to include five-year-old Claire as a victim of his drunken violence. This was the catalyst for his mother to finally leave; years of Fritz's own abuse was apparently not motivation enough. He spent a lot of his adult life trying to drink away the bitterness of that knowledge, and a lot of his sober years forgiving his mother for her mistakes. He learned yesterday, though, that he wasn't successful at killing the brain cells that held the memory of the look in his father's eye right before the inevitable blow came.

Fritz got up and paced the small room, looking over at the secretary and silently daring her to say something. It wasn't that he minded seeing a psychologist per se. He had been through rehab, and was in therapy for a couple of years after that. He had considered going back to his old therapist when the second Turell Baylor lawsuit hit, but decided that there just wasn't time, since every spare moment was needed to support Brenda. It's just that he didn't want to mix work and mental health any more than he had to. It was bad enough that he was drug-tested randomly every three to six months because of the DUI's, but this? He didn't think he wanted to spill his dirty emotional laundry in the same building where he was expected to be tough and on the ball. The image of his boss from the day before came to him, red faced from yelling. "You can kiss a promotion and a move back east goodbye, Howard," he said. "No one is gonna want to hire an alcoholic hothead." Fritz winced. He was a lot of things, but he wasn't a hothead. At least he didn't think he was.

"Agent Howard?" The secretary tentatively called his name. Apparently his pacing had turned into the intensity of a caged stallion. "Uh, Dr. Hennigar is ready for you." She gestured down the hall. Fritz nodded curtly and walked slowly in the direction he was summoned, feeling like a perp going to the gas chamber.

Fritz finished the last of his sub when he spotted the juicy parking spot by the LAPD headquarters. He slid in effortlessly, his years of living in big cities giving him good parallel parking practice. He turned off the car and sat for a moment, gathering his thoughts before walking into another potential hornet's nest.

The session with Dr. Hennigar had gone well, really well. She was in her early 60's and had the same sort of relaxed gentleness that his friend Lily Powers had. Dr. Hennigar assured him that he wasn't going to lose his job over what happened, he wasn't the first to lose control when faced with a collar requiring force, and she imagined all the cops watching him wanted to do the same thing. As his hopes begin to rise, she took off her glasses and looked at him, and said, "be that as it may, though, Agent Howard, you've dealt with druglords who have been responsible for the deaths of dozens of people, and they escaped unscathed. It makes me wonder what buttons an abusive father pushed in you. In light of your history of alcoholism, I think we might have a lot to talk about."

When Fritz began to recite what had happened in the Murder Room two days ago, Dr. Hennigar interrupted him. "We'll get to that, Fritz," she said. "I think you and I are going to meet for several sessions, so we have plenty of time to go over what happened in that moment. But I don't want to start with your childhood either. I want you to tell me about yourself and what's been going on in your life lately. Have there been any particular things over the past year that have made you worried or stressed?"

When he left Dr. Hennigar's office, she was having a hard time masking the stunned look on her face.

He had a message waiting for him from Sharon Raydor, who asked him to stop by and sign a few things that afternoon. He called and explained that he was suspended, and after offering her sympathy, she explained that FID had left paperwork on her desk that he needed to sign it, and could he please swing by so she could get them off her back? Since Fritz didn't really have anything else to do the rest of the day, he agreed.

After going through the front desk like a civilian, he made it up to the Murder room. There was a commotion at the far end near the white board, with Sharon Raydor in her office looking out with her arms crossed over her chest. As Fritz entered in response to Sharon's wave, he followed Sharon's gaze and realized Brenda was at the center of the scrum. That's right, Tao invited her out to lunch, he thought. The detectives were hugging her and all of them were talking at once, except Flynn, whose head was bent over his desk. He looked at the thin line Sharon Raydor's lips had become and realized Brenda was right in her hesitation to accept the lunch invite. She was reluctant to invade her old space lest it make Sharon feel territorial, and from the looks of things, Brenda's instinct was once again correct. He was struggling to think of something to say when Sharon snapped out of her fog and said, "oh crap, the file you need to look over is on Provenza's desk. Let's go get it." Her posture was ramrod straight.

Right as they exited her office, a beautiful woman in a short red skirt came off the elevator and marched right past Fritz and Sharon, her long hair flowing behind her. "Hey!" she yelled, pointing at Brenda. "Chief Johnson! Hey!" Emma Rios stomped her high heeled foot and glared across the room.

"Subtle," Raydor mumbled.

The crowd around Brenda parted, and she looked across the desks at her nemesis like two gunslingers in a Western poised for a fight. "DDA Rios. How may I help you today?" Her voice dripped deadly icicles.

Rios huffed. "I told you not to have any more contact with Major Crimes. I made that very clear when we met. Any crossover with this division is going to make my case against Philip Stroh that much harder. And here you are, defying my orders."

"'Defyin' your orders?' Did you really just say that to me?" Brenda's fists balled up and her cheeks grew red, signs Fritz knew from experience meant she was getting very, very angry.

Rios crossed her arms over her chest, pushing her breasts up into her deeply veed blouse. Fritz tried not to notice how hot Rios looked out of loyalty to Brenda. A true fan doesn't ogle the opponent's hot body, he thought. Provenza, Sanchez, Tao, and Sykes turned their heads back and forth between the two women as if they were watching a tennis match, but stayed close to Brenda's side.

"Yes, I did. You may be the Chief of Investigations at the DA's office, but I am the chief of this case, and whatever I say, goes. So listen to me very carefully: I don't want you to have any contact with anyone associated with Major Crimes that is not one hundred percent strictly job-related. Do I make myself clear?"

Brenda's angry face melted and she smiled a wicked smile, as sweet as poisoned Halloween candy. She rested her eyes on Fritz and walked over to him with deliberate and determined strides and wrapped her arms around his neck. She pulled his head down and gave him a long, deep kiss. Knowing full what she was up to, Fritz held her tightly against him and dipped her slightly for effect.

When he righted her, Brenda wrapped an arm around his waist and turned to a stunned Emma Rios next to her, who was sputtering. "You-I can't believe-why-" Rios took a deep breath. "You're sleeping with the FBI liaison? You have got to be kidding me! This stops immediately." She pointed accusingly at Fritz.

She knows who I am, Fritz thought. Amazing.

"No, no, I don't think so," Sharon Raydor said from the back wall. "Unless you're going to try to force them to get a divorce. I think you'll find you'll have less luck at that than getting Rusty out of my care."

"Brenda is my wife, Ms. Rios, I just assumed you knew that. Everyone does," Fritz said, raising his eyebrows at a sputtering Rios.

"And Fritz isn't goin' anywhere," Brenda said, her breezy tone a contrast to the tight muscles he felt under the arm he had draped over her shoulder. "And he's not quittin' his job. You are just gonna have to deal with the fact that you can't control everythin'. Believe me, I understand, it isn't easy." She gave Fritz a one-armed hug. "Fritz, why don't you sign what you need to sign and I'll grab a cup of coffee with you before I head on back to work? I'm awfully sleepy today for some reason." She winked at him.

Two women have winked at me today, both times over my nocturnal romantic life. The thought made him smile, and for the first time in two days, he had hope that things were going to turn out okay.


A/N: I'd like to point out that I (clearly) wrote the hypertension story line weeks ago, and my simpatico with the Major Crimes writers is astounding (per last night's ep). James Duff, give me a job already!

A/N 2: Whether you are a registered user, a Guest, an illegal immigrant, an ex-pat, on FFnet on a Green Card, a spy from another fanfic site, or one of those freakishly small aliens from Men in Black...please find a way to leave me a review. OK? Big thanks!