With a beep from the keypad, the large sheet of paper whooshes back, coming to an abrupt halt three yards away.
"That's not very far," Maura comments to Jane, peering through her safety goggles. They're both wearing the same ones, but somehow on her they look stylish, while Jane looks like a dork.
"It's far enough to start," she responds loudly to compensate for their earplugs. "Okay, we won't worry about accuracy or anything - this is just to get the feel of firing," she demonstrates the proper stance, and Maura copies it. "Good, okay. Try it when you're ready... remember, just exhale and squeeze straight back...constant gradual pressure. Easy does it."
There's a pause of several seconds.
Maura flinches with a small gasp. Even though Jane warned her that it would kick, she still wasn't prepared for it. The casing pops out and hits Jane, and she reflexively catches it against her stomach.
Maura turns to her with a toothy smile, surprised and exhilarated.
"Nice," Jane smiles, playing with the still-hot brass shell in her hand.
Half an hour ago, Jane had completed a mandatory firearm re-qualification with flying colors. Her invitation for Maura to come along for 'good luck' was not even remotely needed; her actual motive was to invite Maura to fire off a few rounds herself, if she felt like it. She's glad Maura accepted - she needs a little fun, and learning something new will get her mind off her troubles for a little while. Plus, shooting is empowering, and a skill she's extremely glad for Maura to practice, even if she never has to use it for anything more.
There's an even longer pause before the gun discharges again - despite what Jane said, Maura clearly is trying to work on her accuracy already.
Instead of dead center, the second little round hole appears barely within the outermost shape of the target sheet - even farther off-center than the first. Maura's frown is adorable, like she's genuinely shocked that the results are less than perfection. And at three yards.
"What am I doing wrong?" she examines the gun in her hands, like maybe it's defective.
"Nothing," Jane laughs. "Those were the first two rounds you ever fired in your life, you just need some practice if you wanna improve your accuracy."
She notices her girlfriend's habit of just barely sticking out the tip of her tongue when she concentrates on lining up her sights.
"Y'know, not that that's not cute, but I'd hate to have you bite your tongue off."
"That much could regrow," Maura murmurs, still in concentration, then spares Jane a moment's sly glance. "I suppose you have a strictly selfless interest in the welfare of my tongue."
Jane snorts, checking to make sure the guy in the next lane hadn't heard, even though the comment was barely loud enough even for her to catch.
"I do, as a matter of fact."
Maura fires off some more shots, all ranging from so-so to awful.
"This is much more difficult than it looks when you do it," she concludes, pink and chuckling a little. Jane knows that laugh - Maura's having fun, but there's a twinge of nervousness as well. It's the same way she laughed when they went bowling - she enjoyed it, but was frustrated and embarrassed at being the only one with an awful score.
"You'll get it," Jane pats her shoulders encouragingly. "I had to practice a whole lot. Actually, my first time, it took me four shots to even hit the target at all. So really, you're already doing better than I did. Don't go around tellin' people that, though, I do have a reputation to uphold."
Jane's target had actually been her father's beer bottle on a fence twice as far away, but the story works better without that much information.
Maura's next and final shot is the only one that just barely qualifies as a bullseye. Already accustomed to her own mediocre performance, it seems to take her a second to realize it; Jane is the first to react.
"Oh!" Maura bounces with excitement. "I got one! Jane!"
"Annie Oakley, look out." Jane holds out a palm for her to slap.
Before they leave, Maura asks to see Jane do one, so she reloads, sends a new target out to 10 yards, and empties a clip into it without hesitation, riddling the target's center mass with a tight cluster of bullet holes, and ending with a few head shots just for variety.
"I knew you were good, but I never understood how good," Maura says, shaking her head with a new-found respect.
Jane smiles proudly, then busies herself with bringing in the target, partly to hide the fact that her grin won't fade. It's not that she meant to show off. Well... yes, she did. There are just so few things she feels better at than Maura, and seeing that woman stand in awe of something she herself can't do is a feeling Jane doesn't get to enjoy very often.
"That's fun," Maura says as they step out from the soundproofed door. "Challenging." She's got the biggest smile Jane's seen in weeks, looking like a kid who's just stepped off a roller coaster, carrying their used targets like carnival prizes.
"Yeah. People think it's real easy, cause in movies, everybody hits everybody every time, but it's not like that," Jane explains, removing her ear plugs. "Outside point blank range, even cops have crap accuracy a lot of the time."
"You have excellent accuracy."
"Yeah, but that's me. I'm legendary," Jane jokes smugly. "Nah, you can be as perfect as you want at paper targets, but out in the field, y'know, totally different story. The real targets don't hold still and wait for..." she trails off, realizing that turning the topic toward thoughts of danger and men with guns isn't the best idea. "Anyway. I'm really glad you came."
Jane steps over to the counter to check out and return their supplies.
"So what do you say after w-.. Maur?" she turns around, finding her girlfriend several feet away, showing one of their targets to a couple of strangers.
"Very nice," the woman is nodding politely at Jane's marksmanship, clearly not very interested.
"She's a detective," Maura beams.
"Okaay, thank you," Jane grins a little uncomfortably, taking Maura by the elbow and easing her away, releasing the people from their obligation to think of something to say. "I leave you alone for four seconds, c'mon, what are you, my mother?"
"I think it's very impressive," Maura defends, unfazed. "I'm keeping this target."
Jane snorts happily, pulling open the door for her.
As they walk through the parking lot, there's a mutual lull in the conversation as both women devote a little extra alertness to their surroundings. Even though there are people around, many of whom are off-duty officers, there's no such thing as too safe.
"Jane," Maura begins after they both get into the car. "I, uh.. want to thank you for last night. Not just for all the things you said, but for what you did. Or.. didn't. And I'm sorry for the way I treated you."
"It's alright," Jane smiles honestly.
"No, it.. it really isn't," she sighs. "I can justifiably blame some of my foolishness on estrogen and progesterone fluctuations, but there's no excuse for treating you without respect."
"Seriously, Maur, it's fine," Jane insists. "Yeah, that wasn't my favorite moment ever, but I understand. Don't worry about it."
"You forgive me, then?"
"I was never mad. Just worried. But if that's what you're waitin' to hear, then yeah, I forgave you about two seconds after it happened."
Before she starts the car, Jane takes one of the targets and partially unrolls it, spreading it flat on the steering wheel.
"Not too shabby..." she reaches for a pen in the cup holder.
"What are you doing?
Jane circles one of the bullet holes.
"Your very first shot," she explains, rolling the paper back up and bopping Maura lightly on the head with it before handing it back to her. "I'm keeping that one."
Jane gets home from work shortly after Maura, and notes that Hope's car is parked out front.
The two are sitting in the kitchen together, and though they both greet Jane pleasantly, she gets the feeling that she has interrupted something.
"How was work?" Maura asks.
"Eh. The usual cakewalk," she answers flatly. There's just a beat too long of silence. Maura is clearly too sweet to tell her to get lost. "Anyway, I... gotta make a phonecall, 'scuse me," Jane invents before anyone can add anything else, and heads upstairs.
As she goes, she catches a few words of Hope saying something about numbers and music. It's not until she reaches the top of the stairs that she realizes Hope is having to explain to her daughter what a cakewalk is. She chuckles out loud.
After changing out of her work clothes, Jane can't think of anything in particular to do, at least nothing upstairs. She doesn't really want to go back down again. Flopping down on the bed, she uses her laptop for a while, killing time by paying a couple bills and answering some emails.
Half an hour passes before Maura comes looking for her.
"Jane, are you up here?"
Maura pokes her head in the doorway.
"Hope and I were thinking of going out to eat, would you like to come?"
"Uh, do you want me to?" Jane asks, not sure how much Maura is just inviting her in order to be nice. "I mean, I would, but it looked like you two were kinda having a moment."
"Well.. we were, but I don't want to just abandon you for dinner."
"Nah, don't worry. I got a mother around here somewhere I can probably have dinner with, too."
"Alright. Hope's still downstairs, I'm going to change as quickly as I can," Maura disappears into her closet.
Knowing her girlfriend couldn't change in less than 10 minutes if the house were burning down, Jane decides to go down and shoot the breeze with Hope while she waits.
"Oh, Jane, will you be joining us?" Hope asks as soon as she spots her, politely masking slight disappointment. Jane notes with amusement that this woman has one of the worst poker faces she's ever seen.
"No.. no, love to, but I have some... work stuff I need to finish up. Just thought I'd come say hello, 'cause if I know Maura, you're in for a bit of a wait here." Jane feels a little bad for lying, and then decides it wasn't really even necessary. "Actually, to tell you the truth, it's just that I'm really glad to see you and Maura spending some one-on-one time together. She's really wanted to know you for a long time. Well- all her life, obviously."
"I've wanted that all her life, too," Hope smiles. "If only in fantasy, for most of it."
Jane smiles too, because she can see in Hope's face that she means it. And she sees little hints of Maura in that face. It's funny - they share no individual feature that could really be called identical, but sometimes out the corner of Jane's eye she catches Hope making some fleeting expression that is so startlingly Maura that it makes her do a double-take.
Even though she's known the story of Maura's birth for ages now, Jane's always been focused on just Maura's side - but right now, she's hit a little harder than ever before with the thought of what pain Hope actually must have gone through in losing her baby.
"Uh... I realize this is a really personal question," she finds herself already talking without first deciding it's a good idea, "and if you don't wanna talk about it it's fine, but I've always wondered.."
Hope blinks curiously, openly.
"Well.. clearly, you were devastated after you thought Maura died.."
"But before she was born... did you, uh.. want a baby?"
Hope stares back for an uncertain moment before a small smile spreads on her face.
"I believe that's the question Maura has been trying to get up the nerve to ask me."
"Oh, I'm not asking for her," she says quickly. "I was just curious, between you and- you know what, never mind, that's not even remotely my business, that's between you and Maura," Jane backpedals, realizing the question was overstepping. "That's the butting-in gene I got from my mother, sorry."
"That's alright," Hope chuckles. "Maura may be my daughter, but I have known you for just as long. Longer, really."
"You.. have?" Jane blinks. We all met on the same day, didn't we?
"Well, only a moment longer. Weren't you the one who called to invite me to collaborate on your and Maura's case?"
"Oh, yeah, that's right," Jane smirks. That awkward phonecall was one she hoped would have been forgotten.
"But to answer your question, yes," Hope returns fondly to the point. "I did want her."
Jane smiles appreciatively, wishing there was more to her response, but not allowing herself to ask for it.
After a pause, Hope continues of her own accord. It can't be that short of a story in her head.
"When I first found out I was pregnant.. some people immediately suggested terminating. And the honest truth is that I did consider it. Very briefly. I was terrified enough of being pregnant at eighteen, let alone with the threat against me from Paddy's family. But I loved him - who he was at the time. That was our baby. My baby." She shakes her head. "I couldn't have spent so many years mourning someone I didn't want."
Jane smiles weakly, fighting a sudden rush of emotions.
"I'm sorry," she responds sincerely. "I'm really sorry you missed out on knowing her all along."
"So am I," Hope agrees gently. Though it can't have stopped hurting, she has long ago accepted her loss.
Jane can barely comprehend the feelings she must carry. Even if Hope becomes close with Maura for as long as they live, she can never get back that childhood. Seeing all her firsts, teaching her things, tucking her in at night. It must drive her crazy.
It would be a bitter blow for Jane to learn she'd somehow been cheated out of any little time knowing Maura - what would she do if she found out she'd missed out on half a lifetime with her? Or missed out on knowing her altogether?
What if she never had her at all?
In a move that neither really sees coming, Jane steps closer and hugs her. And she wonders if Hope notices that her voice wavers slightly when she says quietly, "Thank you so much for having that baby."
The hug lasts just a second too long - not because Jane is lost in Hope's embrace, but because she's trying to blink away the tears that have unexpectedly welled up. When they pull back and look at each other again, both see evidence of the same thing in each others' eyes.
"I'm glad to know Maura has been loved, even if it couldn't be by me. And I am.. very glad to know that she has you."
Jane's smile widens.
"I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't repeat all that to Maura," she adds. "Not because I don't want her to know, but because I would like for her to hear it from me. It isn't all pretty, but I'll tell her the whole truth if she asks me. She deserves that."
"Course," Jane nods quickly. "I.. hope it does come up sometime. It would be huge for her to hear that."
"I know it would."
For the first time, it dawns on Jane that that huge question goes both ways, and Hope has probably been secretly wondering about it just as much: did Maura want her as a mother?
Footsteps on the stairs precede a rushed apology:
"I'm sorry to have kept you waiting! The dress I had in mind must be at the cleaners, and then none of my shoes seemed.. anyway," Maura waves it away as she arrives at the bottom of the steps.
"Quite alright. You look beautiful," Hope compliments.
Jane agrees with a wiggle of her eyebrows that only Maura can see.
"You kids have fun," Jane sees them off with a wave. Be careful, she adds too quietly for them to hear, not loving the idea of Maura going out at night.
Maybe I should go with them. Just for safety... if something happens..
I was with her when something did happen, and I did her no good, she reminds herself for the millionth time. For a minute she just stands in the entryway, grinding her teeth.
Don't hover. She's a big girl.
With a sigh, she heads out to the guest house to see if her mother wants to come over and eat. Together they raid the fridge and scrounge up a smorgasbord of leftovers.
Sixteen minutes later, Maura texts her a thumbs-up, meaning she has arrived safely.
She knows me well, Jane smiles. The ravioli in her mouth suddenly has flavor.
Maura doesn't stay out very late, and reports having had a nice evening with Hope when she returns, but she's quiet, and spends the rest of the night mostly inside her own head. Jane hopes this means they had a big talk.
It's not until 20 minutes after they get in bed and say goodnight that Maura volunteers anything.
"She wanted me." The words are submitted into the darkness of the bedroom with no introduction or clarification. "She told me so."
Jane rolls closer to her girlfriend, wrapping an arm loosely around her middle.
"You really surprised?" she smiles.
"I suppose not," Maura swallows. "It's not as if she's never alluded to it before. But it was very nice to actually hear, after all these years."
Jane can hear the gears turning for a moment.
"She said Paddy.. it wasn't that he didn't like the idea of me.. I mean, if he'd had a different sort of life. He warned her right away that they couldn't have a child, but she wanted to have and raise me anyway, though, no matter how many times he warned her it was too dangerous. She said ironically.. maybe if she'd been willing to give me up, she could have known me all along. Well, maybe not known me, but kept an eye on me, the way he did. Or... she could've had contact with me all along... maybe I'd just know her as a friend of the family or something, but then when I got older, she could have told me the truth... that's why Paddy had to make her think I was dead. He knew she wouldn't have been able to stay away from me."
"Huh. Would you have taken that real well, though? To know some woman all your life and then on your eighteenth birthday or whatever, have her say, 'Oh, by the way, I'm your real mom'?"
"Yeah, I don't know about that. But... I feel badly for thinking so much about those scenarios... as if I.. if I wished I'd been raised by Hope instead..."
Maura exhales, almost silently.
Honestly, it seems to Jane that Hope definitely would have made the better mom for Maura. Not that she thinks poorly of Maura's parents; they're both fine people, but it's no secret that they left their daughter wanting in many areas, and that knowledge doesn't exactly endear them to Jane. Hope would have been warmer, more involved, like-minded, and even a single parent like that probably would have made Maura happier than two lukewarm ones.
"I don't know. But I wasn't, so.. that's that." Jane knows that means 'yes', but she feels too guilty to say so. "I love my parents."
"Well, sure. Wanting a relationship with Hope doesn't mean you love your parents any less. You can love all of 'em. I think it'd be weird for an adopted kid not to want a relationship with their birth parents, or at least not be curious. I mean, it's a big deal. It's no diss to your adoptive parents."
Another minute of silence passes.
"If Hope had kept me, she may not have gotten where she is today. She still could've had a medical career, but I'm sure raising a child would have thrown the timing off.. she's helped thousands of people, but she had to be exactly when and where she was in order to do it. I suppose it's.. it's better that she didn't keep me."
"Y'know, if she had," Jane adds, "who knows what you'd be like. Still amazing, I'm sure, but I dunno if you'd be the same you. The way you were raised.. all that stuff, added up to makin' you who you are today. I'm sorry so much of it made you sad, but I sure think you're perfect exactly the way you turned out."
She sees the window's faint light curve around Maura's cheek as she smiles.
"It did all lead me to you," she murmurs. "If growing up with Hope might've led me anywhere else... I'm glad I didn't."
Jane deposits a kiss somewhere above her ear.
Before long, she's happy to recognize the steady breathing that means Maura has fallen asleep, undoubtedly contented with Hope's words filling a very important space in her heart.
Tonight it looks like Jane will be the one chasing sleep, even though she's tired enough from work. She hates those nights - with nothing to do but lie there and think, it's not unusual for her to cry silently.
But tonight, it's just her thoughts that are overflowing, not tears.
What if it had all gone differently? What if Hope ran away and raised Maura someplace else and I never even had a chance to meet her?
What if when Maura was just a little pea, Hope listened to the advice not to have her at all?
Hey, she's only a month older than me. We were peas at the same time. Sorta. Two peas in a pod.
She smiles. It fades just as quickly as she thinks of the little pea somewhere under her left hand that's rising and falling along with Maura's stomach.
Maybe if it grew up, someday this little pea would be somebody's entire world. Somebody's Maura. Maybe there's another little pea around somewhere right now who's gonna grow up to have an awful, crappy, lonely life without its Maura.
That thought puts a certain unpleasant weight on Jane's chest.
Stupid. It would have no way to know. I wouldn't be sad if Maura had never been born. If I never knew her, I'd have no way to know I miss her.
But she's my... I don't know if I believe in soulmates or whatever, but if I do, she's mine. So without her, where would I have ended up? Would I just kinda float around like a loose end and die alone?
Well, I'd still be a cop, I got that far without her. My life wouldn't be pointless. But I won't be a cop forever. And there's still the dying alone part. That's not too great.
Lots of people don't ever find someone. Maybe it's because their soulmates died before they met.
Or maybe soulmates are just some bullshit they made up to sell Hallmark cards. Yeah. Cause, God knows that stuff in advance, so he's not gonna leave a zillion dead peoples' soulmates just waiting around forever to get stood up. Right? I don't remember anybody explaining how that's supposed to work.
She rolls over, hoping to leave her thoughts on the other side of the pillow. They follow her.
What about Ma and Pop? They did love each other. For sure. But were they soulmates? Unless somebody forgot to read me that fairy tale as a kid, I don't think your soulmate's supposed to leave you for some bimbo.
What if neither of them ever met their real soulmates and they were just mutually the next best thing they ended up with, and that's why it didn't last?
Would I have ended up with my 'next best thing' if Maura wasn't around? Could I ever really have been happy with anybody else, even without knowing any better? Would I still be with Casey?
Her lip curls faintly. She rolls over again, checking Maura's face to make sure the movement hasn't disrupted her sleep. She smiles at Maura's beauty even in silhouette.
Well, I didn't. I've got her. So that's that.
She watches her girlfriend's stomach rise and fall as she sleeps calmly.
Yeah, well, that's great for me. But what about this?
One of the spots of moonlight creeping across the room is now shining over the covers at Maura's stomach, making it seem like an unignorable presence in the room.
Jane looks at it uncomfortably, as if it's waiting for an explanation.
Okay, look, you.
You couldn't have done anything wrong. Obviously. I know none of this was your fault, so I don't actually hate you. But it's sure as hell not Maura's fault, either. I wouldn't be surprised if she hates you. I mean, can you blame her?
Okay, she might not. She doesn't really hate anybody. And I'm sure she knows you didn't ask to be there any more than she did. That's not why you're going, but you gotta go. That's all there is to it.
It just went down wrong for you, that's all. Wrong place at the wrong time. Sorry, but that's the way it is. Stuff's gonna work out the way it's supposed to. I don't make the rules.
Jane rolls away from Maura once more, closing her eyes.
Now shut up and go to sleep.
A/N - I apologize for the long wait - I've got writers block something awful. Thanks for your patience.
The shooting range scene is a remnant from a different story arc where I was going to have Jane buy Maura a gun and she would end up shooting someone. Although I still think Jane would suggest getting her a gun, I don't think I'll include that since there's kinda no point, but I thought this scene was a little fun.