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where i'm going now, i don't know

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I don't wanna look at anything else now that I saw you
I don't wanna think of anything else now that I thought of you
I've been sleepin' so long in a twenty-year dark night
And now I see daylight, I only see daylight

Daylight - Taylor Swift

*

Brenda drives Charlie to the airport and they’re both silent. It’s late, Brenda is tired after a long week, both at work and at home. Work was just busy, home was emotionally exhausting.

The letter had not gone over well. Brenda had tried to warn her. It’s not good to send them, it’s even worse to get them. Charlie had begged Brenda to come with her to Atlanta for Christmas and Brenda had flatly refused. She has no interest in flying cross country to be a buffer for Charlie and her parents, she has no interest in spending time with Bobby or Clay Jr. who really has no interest in her. She’d called Clay Jr. not long ago, left a message about catching up and he’d never even called her back.

The only brother she’d have any interest in seeing is Jimmy and there’s no way he’d schlep down to Atlanta for Christmas. He spends Christmas with Frank’s family and he’s right to do it.

She’d mentioned to Charlie that she didn’t have to go to Atlanta either, if she didn’t want to. No one was forcing her, she was more than welcome to spend the holiday with her and Sharon but Charlie feels like she does have to go home, for some reason. Even though she’s dreading it.

Maybe it’ll be good. Maybe they’ll mend some fences, somehow.

Charlie is sullen when they arrive. She closes the door to the SUV too hard, basically throws her suitcase onto the sidewalk.

“See you later,” she says and starts to walk away.

“Hey!” Brenda says. “Stop. Come here!”

Charlie does pause, turns around. Brenda has to be the bigger person, even though part of her wants to let Charlie go if she’s going to take this out on Brenda.

“I love you,” Brenda says, hugging Charlie. “Fly safe.”

“Love you,” Charlie mutters.

Brenda knows that she does.

The house seems quiet without her. Charlie had put up a Christmas tree practically the day after Thanksgiving and had started filming videos in front of it, banning Brenda from the house for long stretches because she needed to bank videos, have something to post that was ready when she was home and couldn’t film.

“Go stay with Sharon,” Charlie had said. “I’ll tell you when you can come home.”

At some point it has started to feel like Brenda lives in Charlie’s house and not the other way around. Charlie pays the lion’s share of the bills, citing that any downtown apartment that she might rent would still be double what she pays to live in this little house. But Charlie’s youtube channel has become their third roommate, taking up so much space that Brenda is starting to wonder if this arrangement isn’t sustainable.

She’d voiced this concern to Sharon who’d shrugged and said, “So move in here. Let her have it.”

She tosses her keys into the bowl by the door, sets her purse down. The only lights on are the lights on the tree and the night light glowing dimly from the plug in the bathroom. It gives everything a cozy feeling that she doesn’t dislike. She’s lived in Los Angeles long enough that she finally has stopped thinking of Christmas as cold. This December has hovered in the low seventies and high sixties during the day and while that’s cold enough for a jacket, she knows it isn’t cold.

She likes to go out onto Sharon’s balcony at night, though, wrapped up in a blanket. She likes to look at the lights of the city with the cold wind whipping around her. Sharon thinks she’s crazy.

She turns on the kitchen light and the glow of the string lights fades into the background.

If she did move in with Sharon, Charlie could turn one of the bedrooms into a filming room. She’d moved all her powder products into storage in the garage after a trip to Ikea, but she won’t put the liquid stuff out there, or the lipsticks because the garage isn’t insulated.

As much as she loves having the newest makeup and best skincare at her disposal, there’s just always so much product in this house.

Moving in with Sharon seems… honestly, like a good solution.

She worries about moving in because it’s easier and not because she wants to. She’d moved in with Fritz because he’d wanted to move in together, had worn her down about how much money they’d save and how he never saw her and at least if they shared a room, he’d get some attention every now and again. And then they’d sold the house to move to the duplex because he thought a two bedroom, one bath wasn’t big enough for them and it was the right time to sell.

But then it hadn’t been the right time to buy so they’d moved to a two bedroom, one bath that they didn’t even own.

She doesn’t want to make choices based on her partner’s wearing her down about things anymore. Her whole relationship with Fritz had been him slowly trying to make her be the wife he needed and she just was always falling short and then neither of them were happy.

That’s not what Sharon is doing. She’d merely suggested it, but Brenda knows she’s twitchy about stuff like that. She has to tell herself that Sharon isn’t Fritz every now and again. She doesn’t want to think the worst of Sharon, ever, just because Fritz had spent their eight years together thinking the worst of Brenda.

Brenda hasn’t been spending much time at home so it’s nice to have the place to herself, quiet or not. She turns on the television and then lugs her laundry out into the living room to sort. She has a whole wardrobe that just lives at Sharon’s condo now, things that Sharon washes and puts away in the half of dresser she’d cleared out for Brenda, but the majority of her wardrobe is still here and it’s almost all dirty.

She sorts her clothes to the evening news and then starts a load.

Bored with television, she shuts it off and stares into the refrigerator to the tune of the washing machine chugging.

There’s leftover chinese food that’s probably on its last leg, there’s some raw chicken that she needs to cook or toss, there’s milk and butter so she could always make a box of cheap mac and cheese. She decides to toss the chinese food, make the mac and cheese, and cook the chicken for later so it doesn’t turn.

Charlie had signed Brenda’s phone into her Spotify account not long ago and had showed her a playlist she’d named Aunt Brenda.

“This is every song I’ve ever played that you mentioned liking,” Charlie had said. “Plus some old people songs that my mama and daddy like. Anytime you want music, this is your playlist, okay?”

She turns on her special playlist now and she does like just about every song. It takes her through the mac and cheese, eating it alone at the table while looking at her phone, the chicken baking and her putting it into a tupperware and sticking it back into the refrigerator. She even takes out the kitchen trash, knowing that the whole house will smell like rotten chinese food in the morning if she doesn’t.

And then it’s not even ten o’clock and she’s bored with the TV, bored with the music, bored with herself. She changes her laundry, starts another load.

Gives up and calls Sharon.

“You wanna come over?” Brenda asks, holding her cell phone between her shoulder and her ear while she folds clothes. “You wanna sleep here?”

Sharon doesn’t make her beg, which is kind. December is always unpredictable for Major Crimes. Either they’re slammed or it’s quiet but this year they seem to have gotten lucky. She’d even approved Andy vacation time to spend with his daughter, given Lieutenant Tao some extra days off as well, on call. It helps her morale and her budget.

“I was wrapping presents,” Sharon says when she arrives in jeans and a button down, her standard off the clock winter outfit. This time it’s a green plaid flannel that makes all her features crank up to eleven. Her eyes greener, her hair more luxuriously auburn. It’s ridiculous. “But that can wait, I suppose.”

Brenda had mailed Charlie’s presents ahead of her so she’d have them to open Christmas morning. It’s mostly clothes and a lot of little cute things. Mugs and inexpensive jewelry, hair accessories, a pair of shoes. She’d gotten Rusty gift cards because he had everything he wanted, really, but she had to get him something.

And for Sharon, she’d gone to a jewelry store and picked out a necklace. An emerald on a delicate chain, something that would sit prettily at the base of her throat and sparkle. Maybe it’s too much. She’ll find out soon enough; Christmas is only a handful of days away. One of Brenda’s least favorite holidays, something she hasn’t looked forward to in years and years. But now she finds herself excited.

Brenda makes them cocoa on the stove and they sit at the table with their hands wrapped around their mugs, little marshmallows floating on top.

“Well,” Sharon says. “Ricky and Sabrina broke up.”

“Good,” Brenda says.

Sharon snorts a little giggle, rolls her eyes. “I was very sympathetic on the phone.”

“You’re a good mother,” Brenda says. “Does that mean he’s coming for Christmas?”

“It does!” Sharon says. He’d been planning on spending it with her family. Things had been a little strained between Sharon and her son after that awkward Thanksgiving dinner, but Sharon seems happy that her son will make an appearance, so they must have smoothed that out. “All three of my children together is not something I get very often.”

“Who did the dumping?” Brenda asks.

“She did but he said all he felt was relieved,” Sharon says.

“You don’t think… I mean, they won’t feel like… like I’m intrudin’ by joining y’all, right?” Brenda asks.

Sharon gives this haltingly voiced fear a moment of consideration instead of jumping down Brenda’s throat, which is what she’d expected. But Dr. Barrett had said not to swallow her fears, that not voicing things gave them more power. That she should express to Sharon how she’s feeling, even if she’s not sure Sharon will understand where she’s coming from. That the best way for Brenda to condition herself to remember that Sharon won’t respond to things like Fritz is to prove that to herself over and over again by seeing it happen.

“I don’t think so, no,” Sharon says after a moment of thought. “But either way, they’d better get used to it.”

Brenda soothes herself with a mouthful of cocoa, lets the sweetness sit on her tongue for a moment before swallowing.

“Sharon?”

“Mmm?”

“Were you serious about movin’ in together?” she asks, looking down into her mug.

“I think we should talk about it seriously,” Sharon says. “But yes, I meant it.”

“Because I was just thinking that… Charlie could use the space here and then we wouldn’t have to schlep back and forth all the time,” Brenda says.

“I see,” Sharon says. “You want what’s best for Charlie.”

“No!” Brenda says. “I didn’t… mean it like that. I want to! I just want to make sure I don’t leave her behind.”

“Rusty said it was a lesbian stereotype to start dating and move in together right away,” Sharon says. “He’ll make fun of us.”

“I think women are different. You really gotta talk yourself into livin’ with a man,” Brenda says. “Do I really want to take on all that ugly stuff, the smell, the mess, the hair in the sink. That’s a real commitment. I think you and I can already know we’d exist pretty well together, don’t you?”

Sharon grins. “We have so far, right?”

“We might have to negotiate closet space,” Brenda says.

“I worry, though, about Charlie living alone,” Sharon admits.

“Oh so now you want what’s best for Charlie!” Brenda says. “J’accuse!”

“Shut up,” Sharon says. “I worry that she’ll just work all the time and never have any fun and she won’t even have you to pull her up to the surface.”

“Yeah,” Brenda says. “We can have… have regular dinner nights where we come here or she comes over.”

“What’s the point of having this whole beautiful online life if it’s all for show and no one is living it with you?” Sharon asks.

“She said she’s going to go on that brand trip in January,” Brenda says. “That’s all people like her. Maybe she’ll make a friend or two. It’s a big deal she agreed to go at all, I think.”

“Okay,” Sharon nods. “Now, I know it was important for you to get back into this neighborhood. That you like it. Are you sure you’re ready to leave it?”

“I do like it,” Brenda concedes. “But I think it was more about… trying to get back to my life before Fritz, before I left the LAPD. Like maybe I could just… undo those years. Which now, is silly, but right after Fritz died that seemed really important for some reason.”

Sharon nods sympathetically.

“Anyway,” Brenda says. “I’m not sellin’ the house. And if Charlie decides to move, we can rent it out or sell it later on.”

“Maybe we buy that dream house we always talk about,” Sharon says.

“Maybe we do,” Brenda agrees.

oooo

It’s weird to have an office again. Their lease starts at the beginning of the year, but she and Mallory don’t actually move into it until halfway through January. Then they go back and forth about hiring a receptionist. It’s easy enough to forward calls to their phones, but if they’re serious about actually using the office space to host clients, it’s better to have someone greet them at the door.

Then Brenda spends considerable energy trying to weasel out of helping Mallory with the hire, but Sharon finally points out that Mallory could hire someone that Brenda finds annoying and she’ll have no ground to complain about it because she refused to help with the hiring.

So she helps. Mallory narrows down the pool of candidates on her own, Brenda blocks off two days for interviews.

“I hate interviews,” she mutters when the first day arrives.

“Didn’t you used to interview people for a living?” Mallory asks, amused.

“This is not the same,” Brenda says emphatically. “It’s too hard to know how someone is really gonna be! They’re all on their best behavior, lyin’ through their teeth and so everythin’ seems like a red flag. Maybe they’ll be fine, maybe they’re a sociopath! I can’t know and the few questions I could ask to sort them out are probably illegal!”

“It’s a part time receptionist job,” Mallory says soothingly. “It’s probably going to be college students, mostly.”

And mostly it is. A few single mothers. Two men both of which spend most of the interview trying to negotiate the position to 40 hours even though the listing had clearly stated it was 20.

Brenda takes great pleasure in tossing their files into the trash.

They end up hiring a single mother in her forties. She’d been very upfront about her life - this would be a second job for her, that sometimes her schedule would get a little crazy because of her two kids and her other job. But she also seemed the most put together, had a lot of experience to pull from, and just seemed smart. Brenda doesn’t mind working with someone’s schedule.

It’s weird to have somewhere to go every day. This office move has sort of pushed aside her personal move. They’ve agreed that Brenda will move into the condo, but there’s no hard and fast date and she hasn’t really started seriously packing and it’s just a lot all at once.

But once they hire Angie and get the office actually set up and running, Brenda finds that her work life becomes a lot easier. More streamlined. Angie sorts out prospective clients and assignments, keeps their calendars, takes messages, even makes coffee in the morning.

When Brenda comes home after work one day to find her living room full of girls, laughing and hanging out, she knows it’s probably time to move.

oooo

“Don’t take off your shoes,” Sharon says the moment Brenda walks in the door one evening. This is peculiar because Sharon has absolutely trained her to remove her shoes first thing. She freezes, doesn’t even put down her keys or purse or anything.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, but I want to show you something,” Sharon says. “Put your purse down, bring your keys.”

When they get to the elevator, Sharon presses the up button.

“I don’t want to go to the roof, Sharon, it’s cold up there,” Brenda warns.

“We’re not,” Sharon promises. When they get inside, she hits the button for 14, the last floor before the roof level.

“Can you just-”

“We’re just going to go up and look at a unit,” Sharon says, knowing Brenda isn’t going to let it drop. “But they have to go somewhere, so we need to just make it quick. You were later than I thought you were going to be.”

“There was an accident, I think, the traffic was awful,” Brenda says. “Why are we looking at a unit in a building we already live in?”

“Because,” Sharon says, ushering her out of the elevator. “There’s half the number of units on the top two floors and they’re much bigger and they don’t come up for sale very often.”

“You want to move up three floors?” Brenda asks.

“I want to look at the unit,” Sharon says. “That’s all.”

She knocks on the door and a woman opens it. “Sorry, thank you for waiting.”

“Not a problem,” she says. “Larry and I have to run, just shut the door behind you when you leave.”

“Thank you, Amy,” Sharon says. “Really, thanks for letting us sneak in.”

Brenda stands awkwardly to the side, says hello to the couple as they leave the apartment and then shuffles inside.

“How do you know them?” Brenda asks. She’s not surprised, Sharon seems to know everybody worth knowing. She’s really good at networking, something Brenda has never excelled at. And because she’s bad at it, she has never thought it important. Sharon is slowly convincing her otherwise.

“Well, we’re neighbors,” Sharon deadpans. Brenda glares. “Larry used to work with Jack at the same law firm, oh, about fifteen years ago. Now Jack is only God knows where and Larry is a partner.”

The condo is bigger and nicer, though not wildly different. There’s a lot of the same finishes - the same faucet, the same hardware on the cabinets, the same wood floor. Things that had come with the build and have not yet been renovated out. There’s a third bedroom that’s roughly the size of a large closet. There’s a guest bathroom that shares a wall with the master bath which is an ensuite here.

The main difference is that the kitchen is much larger, boasts an island as well as a breakfast nook.

They walk around in silence and it’s not until they find themselves back near the door that Brenda says, “Can we even afford this?”

Sharon tilts her head. “Maybe. I think so. The condo is worth more now than when I bought it, you have some money saved. We could do it.”

They close the door firmly behind them. Sharon makes sure its locked and then they head back downstairs.

“Is that bit of extra space even worth the hassle of moving and the money?” Brenda asks.

“Four kids between us,” Sharon says. “It would certainly make holidays easier.”

“We’ve always talked about… I mean, I know we were jokin’ but we talked about an actual house,” Brenda says.

“That’s true,” Sharon agreed. “I’m not saying pack your things again, I just wanted to show you an option.”

“I think we should think about it,” Brenda says.

Sharon nods. “I agree. Let’s sleep on it.”

And they do - but then other things start popping up in her inbox. Other listings for things that Sharon sends her. A four bedroom with a pool in Sherman Oaks. A three bedroom townhouse in Culver City. A house in Brenda’s own neighborhood with an extra bedroom and an inlaw unit in the back.

Every listing she gets sent makes her feel more anxious. She’s not sure when the idea of their dream house stopped being something comforting and started being something that loomed.

She doesn’t see Dr. Barrett every two weeks anymore, but they parted on good terms and Dr. Barrett had told Brenda that she could make an appointment anytime if she was going through something she wanted to talk about or just feels like she needs a tune up. She makes an appointment and gets in the same week.

Catches up Dr. Barrett on her life - Charlie living on her own in the house, Brenda fully moved in with Sharon.

“I’m happy,” Brenda says. “I don’t feel like I’m in danger of going back to a dark place, but just the idea of moving makes me… I just can’t figure out what I’m scared of, exactly.”

“It’s a lot of change for anyone,” Dr. Barrett says.

Talking about it makes it better. Dr. Barrett’s advice is almost always the same. To communicate with Sharon about her feelings. To let Sharon know that she feels afraid.

So, that’s what she does.

“I just thought… besides having more space, I just thought maybe you’d feel better if we started fresh in a new place together instead of the condo belonging to me and you just live here now.”

“Maybe someday,” Brenda says. They’re in bed, facing each other. “But I don’t think I’m ready yet.”

“Okay,” Sharon says. “Maybe we give it a year, see how things are going.”

Brenda nods.

“After all,” Sharon says, reaching out to stroke Brenda’s face. “A lot can change in a year. Don’t you think?”

Her little smile nearly undoes Brenda. She wants to laugh and cry at the same time. She settles for crawling on top of Sharon.

oooo

Brenda sits down with Angie and Mallory to plan for the week, which is fine, they do that fairly often. Mostly it’s so everyone can be on the same page, so Angie doesn’t miss anything and can always know where they are to get a hold of them. Brenda is starting to feel overwhelmed with court appearances and even though they make the bulk of the money now, she’s always happy to spend some time in a classroom talking to students or just take a meeting with a new client.

“The LAPD reached out,” Angie says. “They asked for Brenda specifically.”

“They did?” Brenda asks, genuinely surprised. “For what?”

“Uh,” Angie says, flipping through her notes. “Oh, here. Chief Pope’s reappointment campaign. He’s nearing the end of his five year term and wants an easy transition into his second. He asked for Brenda to consult.”

Brenda can’t help but laugh. And laugh. And laugh until she’s got tears in her eyes and both Angie and Mallory are staring at her like she’s lost her marbles.

But Sharon had been right. Here Will was, crawling back. Brenda has really started to repair her reputation in this city. The tragic nature of Fritz’s death had given her quite the boost of goodwill among local law enforcement and her success with Mallory has seemed to rewrite her own history somewhat. People remember her as LAPD bigwig, not as a mess who threw her own career away when she slammed Stroh’s face into an elevator. Anyway, consulting suits Brenda. She’s not as constrained by policy and procedure, but she knows it well enough to help others. It’s a good fit.

“I’m sorry,” Brenda gasps. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. But no.” She wipes her eyes. “I will not be helpin’ Will Pope transition into anything other than kissin’ my ass.”

“Well,” Mallory says, clearly surprised.

Angie just grins. “I’ll offer them Mallory instead?”

“I suppose,” Mallory says.

“Wait,” Brenda says. “Wait, no. I’ll take the preliminary meeting.”

“What?” Mallory says. “What happened to him kissing your butt?”

“That was unprofessional,” Brenda says. “One meeting can’t hurt.”

Brenda has absolutely no intention of helping Will, but she is curious to know who he’s afraid of as a potential successor. Will Pope has been a middling Chief of Police at best and everyone knows that. Still, it’s easier for the Mayor to reappoint a sitting Chief than to oust them and select someone new, unless someone new is a real star.

Maybe a star is out there. Maybe she can create one from scratch with Sharon’s help.

Brenda meets Will on a Friday and she is surely his last appointment of the day. She wears a tight dress, a high heel, curls her hair, does her makeup using several of the tricks Charlie had taught her along the way. Her skin is looking better than ever with all of the free, high-end skincare that Charlie provides them. She knows when she breezes into Will’s office that she looks great.

“Brenda!” he says. “You… seem to be doing… well!”

“I am, indeed, thank you Chief Pope,” she says. “Though I must admit I was surprised when you reached out to our little agency.”

“I, myself, was surprised you’d gone private sector,” he says. “Never took you as a consultant.”

“Well, turns out I’m good at that, too,” she says, forcing a cheerful laugh.

How many times had she railed against him in his office? Been hauled in to be dressed down for doing her job? And now she’s sitting across from like they’re old friends. And Will, old, stupid Will still can’t see that just beneath the surface all she has simmering is pettiness and anger.

He laughs along with her.

“So,” she says. “Five years went quick.”

“It did,” he says, leaning in. “Boy, it did.”

“Not ready to throw in the towel yet?” she asks.

“No, no,” he says. “I still have a lot of things I want to accomplish. A lot of good work to do.”

“I can’t remember a chief that didn’t sail through to his next term,” she says. “What’s got you spooked, Will? Or rather, who?”

He leans back, gives her a very obvious once over. “It’s hard to have this job and stay popular. People tend to think that getting it in the first place is a popularity contest and that’s somewhat true, but keeping it… keeping it is the real popularity contest. I don’t want to mess it up by assuming I’ll sail through.”

“I’ve never much cared about bein’ popular,” she says. “Why on earth would you ask for me?”

“Popular or not,” he says. “I know your work. I know your brain, Brenda. I know you. Intimately.”

She has to work not to cringe.

“If anyone can get me through a tough time by sheer scheming alone, it’s you.”

“Mmm,” she says.

She gets him to give up three names. She knows right away that one is no threat at all. The other two, she’ll need to research more.

“I’ll have my office send over a fee sheet,” Brenda says. “I’ll try to see if we can fit you into the schedule!’’

“Thank you, Brenda,” Will says. “Really. I’m glad after all these years we can find a way to work together again.”

“We’ll sure see!” she says, dripping with false cheer.

“It’s late,” he says, glancing at his watch. “I haven’t eaten since… I can’t remember when. We could, I don’t know. Grab some dinner?”

“Oh Will,” she says. “That sounds so nice but I have a date with Captain Raydor.”

“You have a… Sharon Raydor?” he asks. “I didn’t know you were still friends. Were ever friends. At all!”

“We are!” she says. “The best of friends, in fact.”

“Huh,” is all he can manage.

She meets Sharon downstairs in the murder room. It’s late enough that most of the people are off the floor, but she can see Buzz working with some of his equipment and Provenza still at his desk, squinting at something in the yellow light of his desk lamp.

She has to ring the buzzer to be let in. Provenza grins when he sees her. He shuffles over, opens the door for her.

“A sight for sore eyes, always,” he says.

She hugs him and he feels bonier than she remembers, shorter too. They’re all getting old, now.

“So good to see you,” she says.

She even hugs Buzz.

“You don’t have to be a stranger, you know,” Provenza says.

“Oh, well,” she says, tucking her hair behind her ear. “It’s always strange to… I don’t know. I don’t want to make anyone feel weird.”

“I think it’s been long enough that the weirdness has passed,” Provenza says.

They’ve made enough of a commotion that Sharon has noticed her arrival and emerges from her office while slipping back on her blazer. The little emerald Brenda had bought her sparkles prettily at the base of her throat.

“How’d it go?” she asks as she crosses the room.

“Fine, fine,” Brenda says. “We can talk about it over dinner.”

And here, Sharon does something unexpected. She leans in and gives Brenda a small peck on the lips.

Sharon has been adamant about Brenda not being her secret and here she is, putting her money where her mouth is. It’s not a secret that Brenda has moved in with Sharon, in fact they’ve had Julio over for dinner in the last month and he could see for himself that Brenda had fully relocated. They’d even talked about Charlie and her career and how that house had become a staging area for her online life.

But Sharon never flaunts her personal life, never involves her staff in things that don’t concern them. It’s a big step for her to acknowledge openly that Brenda is her partner, even if only in front of Buzz and Louie Provenza, who surely already know.

“Good to see you, Chief,” Provenza says as they’re leaving.

“I’m not the Chief of anythin’ anymore, Lieutenant,” she reminds him.

“You’ll always be the Chief to me,” he says.

oooo

Brenda reaches out to Assistant Chief Beatrice Deluca, who runs the Support Services branch. She’d started as a beat cop, had risen to the rank of Captain in the Hollywood division, and had worked her way up to Assistant Chief the old fashioned way, with hard work and dedication and true loyalty to the LAPD.

Sharon’s task of finding a viable female candidate remains evergreen and all the things that had worked against Brenda as a candidate five years ago - her being an outsider, having a high risk for violence job, her prickly personality - aren’t an issue with Assistant Chief Deluca. Sharon vets her as quickly as possible and as under the radar as she possibly can.

Brenda drafts up a fee sheet with numbers so impossibly high that Will could never get it approved or pay out of his own pocket and then she reaches out to Assistant Chief Deluca and offers to help her.

For free.

Neither Sharon nor Brenda really believe that they can unseat Pope, but it’s sure going to be fun to try.

“We could do this for you, you know. One day,” Brenda mentions.

“I’m a Captain,” Sharon says. “And I’m going to be a Captain until I retire. Captains don’t jump to Chief and I don’t have a lot of ‘one days’ left.”

“Still,” Brenda says. “You’d be good.”

“Ha,” she says. “You just like me, that’s all.”

“Oh,” Brenda sighs. “That’s true.” She leans in, pushes a stack of files out of the way, and kisses Sharon until Sharon decides maybe their work can be done for the night.

oooo

At church on Sunday, the priest announces the passing of Dorothy Northcott and Brenda feels so sad about it, so empty and bereft.

Sharon is confused about it, asks if Brenda had ever even met Dot Northcott. What had become a turning point for Brenda in her friendship with Sharon is something Sharon doesn’t even remember.

“I did!” Brenda says. “Once. And she knew before we did that we were more than just friends. It was something I could barely acknowledge myself and she could see it all over us just plain as day.”

“Oh,” Sharon says.

“I want to go to the service,” Brenda says.

“Of course,” Sharon says. Brenda can tell she’s still a little confused at Brenda’s vehemence about it. Maybe Brenda is too. She really didn’t know the woman, but anyone who could make Brenda feel something other than sadness at that particular time in her life deserves an hour out of Brenda’s day.

There’s just been so much loss, it feels like, even though Brenda knows she’s not exactly rational when it comes to thinking about death. Still, it feels like the moment she recovers from someone she loves passing - her mama, her daddy, her husband - another body isn’t long behind them. It’s a part of getting older, obviously, but not one she felt she was prepared for.

And someday Sharon will die.

Isn’t that what really scares her?

Sharon is already past sixty and as beautiful as she is, it’s not like Brenda can’t see time marching across her. She can see it in her gray roots, in her failing eyesight, in the soft, crepey skin of her inner arm. No amount of fancy serums from Charlie can stop time.

Plus, Sharon is still out in the field, she’s still dealing with suspects and murderers and criminals. How many times did someone take a swing at Brenda? A shot? Show up in her house?

The irony is that she understands Fritz better now than she ever did when he was alive. She understands now that he really had loved her, even though they never were a perfect match. It’s tempting to harp on Sharon to retire, to offload the dangerous stuff to her team, to stay home every once in a while but she doesn’t because she’s not a hypocrite and the job is important and if Brenda wasn’t forced to give it up, she never would have. She won’t ask it of Sharon either.

On the day of the service, Sharon zips up the back of Brenda’s black dress, runs her hand down her spine.

Lifts her hair and kisses the nape of her neck.

Time for one more funeral.

oooo

To say that Chief Pope is upset would be an understatement.

The union has to come to Sharon’s defense because Will tries to both fire her and demote her in his rage.

He storms down to her office, berates her in front of her staff. Does his utmost to humiliate her.

Brenda knows this because Flynn calls her as it’s happening, which she truly appreciates.

“Call her union rep,” Brenda instructs.

Sharon calls her when it’s over, her voice calm but cold.

“He tried to do this the last time, too,” Sharon says.

“Last time?” Brenda asks.

“Yeah,” Sharon says. “When it was you.”

She sounds like she has a headache.

“Of course, he wasn’t Chief of Police, then,” Sharon says. “Packs a little more punch this time.”

“And you were Internal Affairs,” Brenda points out.

“Yes, that came with a shield that sometimes I miss,” she admits. “Anyway, he can’t fire me for doing my job, no matter how mad he is.”

“I’m gonna come down there,” Brenda says.

“No, you don’t have to-”

“I’m going to,” Brenda says. “I’ll be there in an hour.”

“He might see you,” Sharon warns. “He’s on the warpath.”

“Let him see me,” Brenda says. “I hope it strikes terror into what little heart he has left.”

Brenda’s been working from home today, but she makes it to Sharon in about 55 minutes. She’s got on a suit, full makeup, high heels. She wants to look a little scary, just in case.

She’s on the visitor’s list so she just has to sign in to get a badge and ride up to the 9th floor. She can see everyone huddled together when she arrives to the glass door of the murder room. Sharon is rubbing her forehead; Provenza has his hand on her back.

She’d been so sad to leave this team behind, this job, this life, but the fact that Sharon has them now warms her all the way up inside. She could cry, she really could.

Amy notices her first and rushes over to let them in.

“Thank you,” she says. “She doin’ all right?”

“I think so,” Amy says. “Assistant Chief Deluca had her meeting with the Mayor today.”

“Well that makes sense, doesn’t it?” Brenda says.

“What are you two whispering about?” Sharon calls.

“Nothing, ma’am,” Amy says and resumes her place in the huddle.

Brenda walks up to them all, sidles up to Provenza’s other side and nudges him gently.

“Catch me up,” she says.

“Chief Pope was a real A-hole,” he says.

“I meant something I didn’t know,” Brenda says.

Sharon snorts.

“He wouldn’t be so mad if Chief Deluca didn’t have a real chance,” Tao points out. “Whatever you two are doing, it seems to be working.”

“Never thought I would outlast the Pope,” Provenza says. “But now, it’s my only dream.”

“I think we should pay Chief Deluca a visit,” Sharon says to Brenda.

“I agree,” she says. “Lieutenant Flynn, what did the union say?”

“I told them what happened,” he says, shifting his toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. “They said they can probably handle everything with just a phone call to the Police Commissioners. Didn’t even think they needed to send someone down.”

“That’s the one good thing about Will Pope,” Brenda says. “He never could stay out of his own way.”

In the elevator, Brenda says, “Are you really okay?”

“Me?” Sharon says. “I feel fine. Great, actually.”

“Really?” Brenda says. “It’s okay if he shook you up a little.”

“Brenda, I think… I think we may have done it,” Sharon says. “A female Chief of Police! I mean, I know you were more in it for spite, which is a good reason in this case, but I’ve been dreaming of a female Chief for… for years.”

The elevator opens. Sharon takes a deep breath, smiles at her. “I’m okay, I promise.”

They walk down the hall with purpose. Brenda has been to this office a number of times to talk strategy with Assistant Chief Deluca. She really is the perfect candidate. Healthy, eight years younger than Will, extremely intelligent, compassionate, charismatic, dedicated and attractive, which helps.

“She’s you, but nice,” Sharon had said during her initial vetting. “And not southern.”

“Been expecting you two,” says Deluca’s administrative assistant, Delores, with a smile. “She’s on the phone with the Mayor.”

“Has Pope been here?” Sharon asks.

“Not yet,” Delores says. “He get to you, Captain?”

“He sure tried,” Sharon says.

“She’s made of sterner stuff,” Brenda whispers.

Delores chuckles. “Between you and me, if he’s got a brain in that bald head of his, he’ll stay off this floor all together.”

“A big if,” Brenda says.

Delores looks at her phone to check if Deluca is still on the line and then cranes over her desk to look in the narrow window of Deluca’s office. She must like what she sees because she lets out a low whistle.

“A woman Chief of Police,” Delores says. “Can you believe that? Praise the Lord!”

Sharon reaches out and squeezes Brenda’s hand.

When Brenda looks over, Sharon’s got tears in her eyes.

oooo

Three days later, they watch Will’s retirement announcement together in Major Crime’s high tech conference room with Sharon’s whole squad and a bottle of champagne that Brenda had smuggled in. They drink it out of paper cups.

Brenda feels wide awake, feels alive, feels like the sun is rising inside of her after months and months of winter nights.

Everyone cheers when Will says he’s retiring effective immediately and Sharon swoops around, envelops Brenda into a big hug, squeezes her tight.

“Thank you,” Sharon murmurs.

“Oh, Captain Raydor,” Brenda sighs, feeling emotional, a little choked up, all full up with love. “No, thank you.”