A/N: This story takes place right after "Out of Focus" and it references my story "The Obsession". But please don't read this story until you have read Labyrinth01's marvelous new chapter of "Welcome Her Home With Red Roses".
Brenda was ready to go home. She had closed her case and she was finished for the day. The paparazzo's wife had confessed to murdering her husband. Gabriel and Daniels were taking care of the booking so there was nothing left for her to do. Normally she would be anticipating a quiet meal and a relaxing evening with Fritz, complete with one of his divine foot rubs, if all the stars were in alignment.
If I could get a foot rub tonight, I'd feel like I got lucky, but I know Fritzi wouldn't. She smiled to herself as she thought of her handsome, multi-talented boyfriend. But the smile faded as her thoughts shifted to the fact that he wasn't going to be home that evening. No, he was going out with work friends for dinner. Work friends and flirtatious Michelle.
As she waited for the elevator she remembered when she had first heard Michelle Madison's message. She remembered how her stomach had lurched when Michelle had ever so playfully and flirtatiously called him "Fritzi". Her stomach flipped again when she thought of Michelle's message because, as far as Brenda was concerned, "Fritzi" was her name for him. To her it was an intimate name and she had the exclusive right to its use. But Fritz had reassured her that he and Michelle were not close and she had made a conscious decision to believe him. After all, he hadn't given Michelle his new number and she must not have even had his cell phone number. Besides, if she was making a play for Fritz, how dumb would Michelle have to be to call and leave a message on his answering machine? Wouldn't she have figured that Brenda might hear it? The more she thought about it the harder she worked to convince herself that her jealousy was completely irrational. But it lingered, just the same.
If Brenda had been more self-aware she would have realized that her jealousy was rooted in a growing love for Fritz. But, even though she was not yet sure why Michelle was a threat, and in spite of the evidence, it had taken a Herculean effort on her part to accept Fritz's explanation. Despite all her reason and logic, she still sparred with the smirking doubt hiding in the catacombs of her mind.
Brenda's thoughts snapped back to the present when the elevator bell dinged and the doors opened, revealing Will Pope, the only other person in the elevator.
On the ride down to the parking garage, Will kept thinking he wanted to break the awkward silence, to say something to let Brenda know he was interested in her, but he didn't know what to say. He knew that Fritz had moved in with her but he couldn't help but hope that he could lure her into reviving their old intimate relationship. After all, it was something he had wanted for a long time. He had taken her away from a boyfriend once before in DC and he hoped he could do it again. So, why was it so difficult for him now? Why was he acting like a schoolboy? He was usually much more self-assured with women.
Maybe it was because he had broken off their relationship once. Although she had seemed to harbor no ill will toward him, he was concerned that she had hooked up with Fritz Howard so quickly after arriving in Los Angeles. But Fritz wasn't going to be at home tonight. This was his big chance.
The elevator arrived at their floor and Will knew that he had to say something before she slipped away. He hesitated at first and then asked her if she wanted to join him for dinner.
When he had asked her if she and Fritz had big plans for the evening, Brenda should have realized something was coming, but she was still surprised when, after telling him that Fritz was going to a work dinner, Will asked her to have dinner with him. After all, he certainly knew that she and Fritz were now an established couple. Will's hesitant invitation reminded her of a teenager asking a girl out on a date for the first time. Initially, she started to decline his offer but then changed her mind and accepted.
Fritz put the last of his paperwork for the day into the clerk's basket for filing. He was always satisfied when he could leave an empty In Basket. He turned off the lights and headed down the hall but stopped when he saw Dave Martin's light on. Sure enough, Dave was still at his desk.
"Hey, Dave, why aren't you going out to dinner with the gang?"
"Bad timing. We already had plans to take Ginny's parents out to dinner this evening for their anniversary. What about you? Aren't you going?
"I was, but I changed my mind," Fritz answered as he shook his head no.
"Don't tell me that Brenda refuses to let you off your leash."
Fritz knew that Dave's humor wasn't really humor but since Dave was his boss he decided to ignore his not-so-subtle barb. "Brenda is working late tonight."
"Then you should go. Show Tom and Tony that you're not always at her beck and call." Just then Dave saw Tom in the hallway and waved him into his office. As Tom stopped in the doorway, he continued, "Tom, Fritz has changed his mind. He's going with you to dinner tonight."
Fritz just glared at Dave. Since Tom wasn't sure why Fritz was out of sorts, he simply replied, "Great. According to Michelle, the great god Zeus himself brings the food down from Mt. Olympus."
This coaxed a smile to Fritz's face so Tom asked, "Do you want to ride with me?"
"Thanks, Tom, but I think I'd better take my own car. That way you don't have to bring me all the way back here later on."
Driving to the restaurant, Fritz remembered Brenda's jealous outburst with mixed feelings. He didn't want her to be unsure of him, but he had to admit that he loved the fact that her jealousy was evidence of her growing feelings for him. Not to mention that her jealousy flattered his ego and Brenda didn't usually give his ego much attention.
Since they were both in their work clothes, Will chose The Green Arbor Inn. While the atmosphere was more casual than a lot of LA hotels, the food was good and they had an excellent wine list. Will had instantly calculated that an extensive wine selection was going to be a key element of this dinner and he couldn't help but hope that a hotel room would also become a key element.
After they had placed their orders and Will had seen to it that Brenda's wine glass was full, she briefed him on the outcome of her case. Normally he would be hanging on every word about a case which was garnering so much media attention, but he was only half listening as he was trying to figure out how he would work his magic on Brenda. Memories of her gorgeous body and their love making were filling his mind.
Across town, Fritz, along with Special Agents Tony Abruzzi, Tom Benedict, and U.S. Attorneys Karen Slater, and Michelle Madison, were seated in a back dining room of the Ulysses restaurant enjoying what Michelle proclaimed to be the best Greek cuisine in Los Angeles. Fritz preferred The Parthenon's food but he kept his opinion to himself. And his silence wasn't hard to maintain since he was savoring the cool yogurt, cucumber, and garlicky delight that was tzatziki, mounded on wedges of pita bread. But as he ate he missed the touch of fresh mint that The Parthenon added.
Even though he had changed his mind because Brenda had refused to come with him, and then had been pressured to come by his boss, Fritz was still enjoying himself. Until he had seen Brenda's outburst of jealousy he hadn't considered dinner with his ex-girlfriend and three other people as a potential problem. But the others would provide a buffer between him and Michelle so he was confident that he could keep interaction with her to a light, impersonal minimum.
When the group was first seated, Fritz deliberately had chosen a seat across the round table from Michelle, as she always seemed to want to sit beside him and then crowd him. Maybe because of the company, and maybe because Michelle was part of the group, Fritz fervently wished that Brenda had come with him. But she had surprised him by showing herself to be jealous of Michelle and she knew she was persona non grata with his fellow FBI agents. He understood that and Fritz knew that Brenda's jealousy eventually would abate. He couldn't help but think that his co-workers' antipathy toward her could also be fixed. They never saw any side other than the relentless Deputy Chief who worked to trump anyone she felt might get in her way, he had reasoned.
If only she would come to some of these dinners and let the others see the intelligent, charming and delightful woman that I know. But he had to admit that his co-workers were correct in one aspect of their assessment of Brenda: she was a juggernaut when it came to her job. And that meant that she had little time for socializing. When he had moved in with her, Fritz had resolved to work on that but he had yet to figure out how.
As they dined, the friends settled into an easy conversation about the current office gossip and then moved on to everything from the Santa Ana winds to the local political scene with entertainment and sports news thrown in for good measure.
After everyone except Fritz had consumed a sufficient quantity of ouzo and the discussion had turned to significant others, Karen asked, "What about you, Fritz? Is there anyone new and exciting in your life?"
Tony's and Tom's forks stopped in mid-air. They were pretty sure that everyone at the table knew that Fritz had moved in with the LAPD's Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson and that a clerk in their own HR office had recently stalked her and tried to kill her. After all, that news had sped through their Wilshire Boulevard headquarters like a tornado. It had blown away every other topic of conversation in the break room and at all the office water coolers for days.
And Tony and Tom weren't the only ones. Fritz also was sure that Karen, at least, had to know every gory detail. Michelle must have put her up to this, he thought. But he didn't want to play their games so he simply replied, "Not much new with me, Karen."
As if on cue, Michelle, once again animated, leaned in toward Fritz and chimed in, "Aww, Fritzi, that's too bad. You deserve some excitement in your life."
"Oh, don't worry, Michelle. My life is good and being a 'fibbie' is excitement enough for me," he replied.
Tony, who was now well-fortified with ouzo and had recognized what Michelle was doing, decided to jump in with both feet and asked, "Didn't you recently move in with your girlfriend, Fritz?"
Fritz nodded and swallowed his club soda. "I did. We've been living together a little over a month now."
"Isn't your girlfriend the LAPD's Deputy Chief, Brenda Leigh Johnson?" Tony continued, with the smallest touch of glee seeping into his voice.
"That's right, Tony."
"And how's that working out?" Tony was pushing now and playing to Tom's subdued snickering.
"Great." Fritz kept his cool even though he was sorely tempted to throttle Tony.
"Well, just be careful. I hear that woman has a mean kick," Tony cautioned with an unsuppressed chuckle.
Fritz literally had to clench his fists in order to keep from shoving Tony's wise-ass remark about Brenda down his smirking throat.
Although Michelle had heard the story about an insane woman attacking the person she had thought was her competition, Michelle hadn't realized that Fritz's girlfriend actually was the notorious and much detested Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson. And she certainly hadn't considered that his new phone number meant that he had moved in with that insane clerk's nemesis. Her disappointment was palpable. "Fritzi! Why didn't you tell me that you've found someone? And here I've been worried about you for nothing."
Now that he had stirred the pot, Tony decided he could have a little more fun at Fritz's expense. "You don't need to worry about him, Michelle. His girlfriend provides all the excitement that Fritz can handle, doesn't she, Fritz?" Tony teased.
"I don't know about excitement, Tony. Just lots of happiness," Fritz replied, all the while resolving to dump salt in Tony's coffee Monday morning. "As a matter of fact, there's not enough excitement in my personal life to support any more of this line of conversation." Fritz's voice had developed an uncharacteristically hard edge and his expression let everyone know that discussion of his private life was finished.
Everyone took the hint and conversation drifted off to other, less personal topics. And, for that, Fritz was relieved and grateful that he'd no longer have to kill Tony before the evening was over.
As Brenda sipped her wine and enjoyed her lump crabmeat cocktail she was trying to decide how to tell Will to back off. He knew that Fritz had moved in with her and, evidently, that didn't matter to him because his overtures were increasing in frequency. She had to put a stop to it, not only for herself and Fritz, but for Will as well. Brenda knew he was lonely since Estelle had left him, and that his male ego had been put through the shredder in the process.
But the irony of Will's situation had escaped her. She had never realized that Estelle was doing to Will exactly what he had done to her. But she had realized that it wasn't fair to allow him to continue to harbor thoughts that there was any hope for a renewed romantic relationship with her. She didn't want to hurt him, though. He had been hurt enough already. Estelle had cheated on him, filed for divorce, and was holding custody of his children for ransom. Not only did Brenda need to be clear, she also had to choose her words very carefully.
But the opening actually came from Will. As they were finishing dessert, he pressed his lips together and cleared his throat. Brenda recognized the gestures and dreaded what she knew was coming.
"I want to thank you for having dinner with me tonight. I'm glad I didn't have to eat alone," he said, looking for a sign from Brenda that he was building sympathy.
"No. I should be the one thankin you, Will. This was a wonderful dinner." Wait a minute, she thought, This is all wrong. I can't leave it like this. This isn't helpin.
"It's just like old times, isn't it? Just you and me?" Will continued.
Brenda just smiled, stalling while she tried to think of just the right words to say. Will, however, interpreted her smile as the encouragement he'd been hoping for. "I've missed you, Brenda. I've missed the times we used to spend together."
Brenda shifted position, "Will…"
But he interrupted her, "I made a terrible mistake and I know that I hurt you. I've regretted it for years. I'm so sorry, Brenda." Will's voice was smooth and his tone was low.
"You don't need to apologize. I forgave you a long time ago so…" Brenda began but was interrupted again.
"I'd like… Please let me try to make it up to you. We meant so much to each other once. Let me try to recapture that for both of us. I've never stopped caring…"
This time it was Brenda who interrupted him. "Will, please listen to me." The firmness and urgency in her tone was not what Will wanted to hear. He stopped and focused on her so she continued, "I don't want to hurt you. But I don't want to mislead you, either. I have someone else in my life now, as you well know."
"But Fritz can't mean as much to you as I once did," Will pleaded.
Brenda ignored the bait to make a comparison and replied, "Look, I'm the first to admit that I've made a lot of mistakes in the past when it comes to men. But Fritz is a wonderful man. He treats me really well and he understands the demands that my job places on my time so we're actually doin great. My relationship with him doesn't feel like another mistake and I really want it to work. So I am gonna try my best not to screw it up."
Will had no intention of taking no for an answer. "But I wouldn't make a mistake again and I know that we could be so good for each other if you would just give us a second chance."
Brenda shook her head no. "It's too late for that. You made your decision and now I've made mine. And I intend to see my decision through. You told me earlier that Chief Thompson is pleased with the success of Priority Homicide. I'm really glad about that. We've both worked hard to develop a new partnership that is workin. But the only way it can continue to work is if we keep everythin professional."
"But we were able to work well together back in DC. I don't see why we couldn't recapture that. Please give me a second chance. Surely I deserve that much."
"No, that can't happen, Will," Brenda said softly but firmly. "The only relationship I can have with you now is a workin one." Because she needed to emphasize her position she continued, "We're not the same people we were then and we can't be lovers again. I need our relationship to be strictly a professional friendship."
"So there isn't anything I can say or do to change your mind?"
"No. My mind is made up. I can't go back. We're both gonna have to live with the choices we've made."
Brenda was channel surfing when Fritz came through the door. She switched the TV off and greeted him with a kiss as he sat beside her. "How was your dinner?" she asked.
"Good, good. Listen, I did some thinking on the way home and I want to explain something to you. About Michelle and me."
"No. You don't need to say anythin, Fritzi. I shouldn't have made…" Brenda replied shaking her head, but Fritz interrupted her.
"But I want to. I know these things can stick in the corner of your mind. Lord knows that Pope sticks in mine, and I don't want that for you."
Brenda just looked at him but didn't know what to say. She felt that Fritz's feelings about her and Will were unreasonable, but she didn't want a confrontation with him. She decided to just listen to what he wanted to say and avoid walking through that particular minefield.
"Michelle is attractive, intelligent, and has a great sense of humor. I dated her for a little while after I transferred out here. It lasted maybe seven or eight months at the most, and I broke it off long before you arrived."
Although Brenda said nothing her expression asked why,so he continued.
"She had started pressuring me to meet her parents. That's a huge step and I was nowhere near ready for that. Then one night I saw that she had a stack of wedding magazines and that was it."
Brenda nodded like she understood so Fritz, feeling encouraged, continued. "My divorce was still fresh and I was feeling overwhelmed. To be honest, I was a little scared of another failure if I was rushed into something I was not prepared for. So I broke it off the next night."
She nodded again, "I get the scared part. I've broken up with guys for the same reason. Oh, they hadn't proposed or anythin, but it felt like they were movin way too fast and were tryin to take over my life. And I didn't like that feelin."
"I didn't like it, either. And if you ever feel like I'm overwhelming you, you have to promise to let me know, because I don't want to do that to you."
"Oh, don't worry, I will," Brenda stated emphatically. And now she felt it was her turn, so when she saw Fritz smile she continued, "Listen, about Will, I just want to tell you…"
Fritz took her hand in his and said, "You don't have to explain anything to me."
"The only thang I want to say is that you already know that Will and I had an affair, and that affair ended in DC. It was a mistake, one of the worst mistakes I've ever made. When he dumped me I was terribly hurt, but I got over it. I have no intention of gettin back together with him." She looked into his eyes and spoke earnestly, "You're here and Will is not because that's the way I want it. You don't have to worry about me and Will. I'll never cheat on you."
"I know you won't. And I believe you when you promise that if I do something that causes problems for you, that you'll tell me about it, and I promise that I'll do the same for you."
Brenda smiled, "You already know that I will." She spoke with a mixture of conviction and relief that she had been able to reassure him.
"And I promise that I will never cheat on you, either," he said and kissed her.
"Why are we wastin time talkin about cheatin when we both know neither one of us is gonna cheat?" Brenda asked.
He grinned and said, "I agree. And I think we can find a better use of our time. But let's look for it in bed. Come on."
As they started moving toward the bedroom Brenda asked, "On a scale of one to ten, just how attractive is she?"
And now, please leave your review. It means a lot. Thank you.