Please read Ch 1 for disclaimers…

Maura washed out her glass and put it away while she tried to decide if she was happy the conversation abruptly ended or if she was disappointed it hadn't continued. By the time she had put the clean glass back in the cabinet she hadn't made up her mind.

She managed to push it aside while getting ready for bed but once she was surrounded by the quiet comfort of her room and bed, the thoughts pushed back in.

Maura didn't believe that people intentionally pushed friends or family aside when something changed in their life, but experience had shown her it certainly seemed to happen.

It wasn't a deliberate choice as much as a natural necessity. There were only so many hours in a day and after accomplishing one's obligations, any discretionary time was all that remained to maintain personal relationships, romantic or otherwise.

Romantic relationships were confusing and vexing at times to navigate. You needed to dedicate time to deepening the emotional bond with a romantic partner but also had to keep a strong awareness of self and personal needs. Over time she had made that mistake more than once. She would never sacrifice who she was or what she needed again.

Friendship was one of those needs.

How to strike a balance was an equation Maura dearly wished she knew the solution to. Deep in thought she ran her fingers along the satin edge to her pillow case.

There was certainly sacrifice for both people in the relationship but if one had to change too much to remain in the relationship then the pairing was doomed to fail.

The same could be said if you were unwilling to adjust at all to accommodate a romantic partner. If including your partner's needs along with your own was a burden, then this was another indicator for future failure.

At least this was what her own attempts at romantic relationships and careful observation of others had taught her.

Because romantic relationships often first developed outside one's immediate social circle, they required added time and attention to adequately determine if the relationship was one that continued to hold potential as a long term commitment. And before you impacted your immediate friends and family it was better to ascertain that the relationship held the potential for permanency.

It was inevitable then that you would have less time to spend with the other primary relationships in your life.

Maura shifted, trying to find a comfortable position before sitting up to straighten out the duvet. She wanted to relax but her mind continued to consider the various nuances of friendships, family and romantic bonds. Slowly she forced herself to lie back down, staring at her ceiling.

Romantic partnerships were also physically intimate providing a source of connection that was unique and private. It wasn't a simple sexual union for mutual gratification. It was reaffirmation of the special place you held in each other's lives in the most primal of ways.

By intention, a monogamous romantic relationship indicated a distinct offering of part of one's physical self reserved only for that special person.

An intimacy belonging to no other.

Beyond the sexual there was the careful evaluation of how the individual fit into the complexities of one's day to day existence. More importantly there must be the ability to have a shared vision of what the future could become for the two of you.

You should agree about how the two of you would go forward together in life. By design the relationship would ultimately be the primary consideration in how your life moved forward. Once you were together, if life changed, you changed together. The people around you, your address, so much might alter, but the two of you would be in it together.

Maura rubbed her hand lightly over her forehead and took a deep breath, willing herself to stop thinking even as her thoughts continued to churn.

Frustrated she rolled to her side and stared at her closed bedroom door. Perhaps matching that person to both your current life and future vision was the most important. It was certainly why Garrett had not been the correct choice for her younger self and the driving reason Ian would never be a viable option.

She had loved both men.

Had been deeply attracted to both men.

With Garrett, they had shared a youthful adoration of each other, a mutual infatuation with haute couture and highly compatible social circles.

Ian had shared her choice in education and like her, his vocation was helping others. He brought passion into both her bed and her life through his dedication to his own vision of making the world a better place.

It was interesting that their expression of how they decided to help others was ultimately what pulled them apart.

In the end, neither relationship had been able to strike a balance or a compromise that would have allowed both parties to accomplish their dreams.

Maura sighed softly.

Even in her youth she had known it was entirely illogical for either relationship to offer her long term happiness if she had to sacrifice her own vision for her future or change herself entirely to meet either man's needs.

Which was why it was becoming extremely difficult to continue to remain quietly supportive of Jane while she developed her relationship with Casey.

Maura pulled the duvet up around her shoulders and drew her knees up. With her ever evolving understanding of Jane and having reached a point in her life that her own experiences had shown that love was not the only deciding factor in a successful long term commitment, Jane's relationship with Casey was decidedly disturbing.

It was becoming increasingly difficult to remain impartial and step aside so Jane would have the ability to grow her relationship with Casey independent of external pressure.

Harder still was carefully monitoring her responses or interactions so she would not influence Jane while she developed her own interpretation of her future at Casey's side.

Maura pressed a fist against her abdomen as the now familiar tightening made her draw her knees up higher.

It was unusual. There was something about Jane's relationship that made her uneasy at a deep, visceral, level.

She pressed down harder before opening her hand to gently rub under her sternum.

Gut instinct. She could almost hear Jane's voice in her head.

Maura closed her eyes tightly.

Her problem was how to discern how much of the disquiet was truly over the suitability of Casey as a life partner for Jane, or how much was apprehension over how her friendship with Jane would unavoidably alter.

She had already felt it with the situation with her biological Grandfather. That anxiety of needing Jane and having to ask for her attention when Maura knew she needed that private time with Casey.

It had been an unavoidable glimpse into a future she was not certain she was ready to cope with.

Maura stopped rubbing her stomach and wrapped her arm against her torso, feeling foolish. It was ridiculous to worry about an imagined scenario until it became fact. Her friendship with Jane would adjust and while the time available for her would be reduced, there was no need to waste time feeling anxious or troubled.

Maura closed her eyes and attempted to center herself. To find that internal awareness that would force the rapid influences of her thoughts to settle. She tried to ignore the familiar sounds of her home at night. The muted sound of the heating system forcing hot water through the pipes. The rattle of her window as a gust of wind blew against the sill.

Against her will her eyes flew open and stared into the dark. It didn't help that Jane had been somewhat self-contained lately. It was understandable as she adjusted to the loss of Frost. They all missed him. In the weeks following the memorial service, something would come to her attention that would make her remember conversations and moments of laughter.

Each time she had to stop and compose herself.

Barry was one of the few people Maura could always rely on to try to understand her. And if he couldn't, he certainly appreciated and accepted her. He was also one of the few that understood Jane.

Barry and Jane suited each other immensely as working partners. For all of Jane's natural brashness he was a quiet power. Determined and dedicated. Not many people had the inner fortitude to overcome a strong, personal, aversion to something in order to reach a goal.

The homicide detective revolted by death. Most men would have walked away. Changed career paths.

But not Barry Frost.

Instead he not only faced his own demons, but he willingly took on Jane's along the way. In time the appreciation, but most importantly the trust, had built between the two detectives. Trust that had been challenged in life threatening situations.

Frost had Jane's back.

And Maura understood what that meant.

Losing that kind of force in your life left a vast void behind it.

Words and research would mean little right now. Jane did not take comfort in either like she did. But lately Maura found herself with little opportunity to offer either. It wasn't overt but Maura had slowly come to realize they were spending less time together.

And that time together was missing certain elements. There was a little less sarcasm. Very little teasing. A lot less laughter.

It worried her.

Unawareness made her feel dim-witted and Maura despised feeling less than adequate. Tonight's conversation had barely scratched the surface, yet all the conflicting emotion in her pushed right to the forefront. What combination of emotion it was exactly, remained elusive, but it was there like a weight on her chest and it was keeping her awake.

That worry, along with her own anxiety over the future of their friendship, was a vortex of emotion she couldn't sort through. She found herself unable to assimilate it in any kind of organized fashion.

Maura Isles didn't know what to do.

And that bothered her.

All the books and all the research she had done on grief and grief process felt woefully deficient on a night like tonight when she was alone in the dark.

Perhaps it was time to reach out and see if anybody else had noticed a change in Jane. Angela? Korsak? Both were possible. Both loved Jane dearly. Angela was acutely aware of any change in any of her children. But she also had a way of pushing that made Jane pull away. At least at first.

Frankie jumped into Maura's thoughts. She could try speaking with Frankie. Frankie had also been rather close to Frost. He loved his sister dearly. He may even provide insight on how to handle the change Casey's involvement in their lives would bring. She wouldn't ask outright, but a brother would also be protective of who his sister would end up with.

Maura tried to regulate her breathing. She needed to relax. She needed more rest, and internally debating this was not going to help.

Nothing could be done about any of it tonight.

With a soft sigh she reached over and tipped her bedside clock toward her until she could hit the top button. White noise filled the room and Maura closed her eyes, desperate to let the audio repetition override her consciousness and carry her away.

It would work out. It had to.

A/N – CharlietheCAG again played beta. She also hasn't run in terror as we chat away during said "clean up." Brave, brave little Tribute. Thank you.

For the reviewer who poked me asking for the update – it was a gift to know people are looking for the next installment. Already have the next one getting spit polished by Charlie.

I'm also going to start calling the followers of this story Benders. It may be a huddled few at the moment but thank you for having my back! I hope when we reach the end you'll be proud you were a part of it from the start.