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Hey Ma

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Hey Ma

 

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Jane could feel her pulse in the fluorescent lights breaking through the slits of her eyes. It smelled like antiseptic and single-use plastic and she still hadn’t looked around, but knew where she was. She always ended up here.

Like most of her decisions, there wasn’t longevity of thought behind what she had to do. Jane was a simple person, and was frustrated, angry even, when other people hesitated when the right choice was so obvious. There was only one choice, the best choice, and when it came to Frankie of course she had to take it. Reach up, grasp the gun, pull and shoot. Pull, pull down. Shoot. Her gut was nothing. The loser behind her was nothing. There was no other choice.

“Frankie...” she moaned.

“Shh,” a voice responded, and of course Jane had to smile, the slightest curve of her lips flattened against the pain. She’d know that shusher anywhere.

“Hey,” Jane rasped, almost her normal rasp, and opened her eyes. Maura gazed down at her with a mixture of concern, fear, and an edge of irritation.

“Don’t, Maur, please,” she pleaded, eyebrows pushing up as she rolled her head to the side. “I can’t take it right now. Ugh, I feel like shit. Is there any water around here or do I need to put an APB out on a nurse?”

“Do you want ice?” Maura said, her voice steady and strong.

“Yeah, thanks,” Jane replied.

“I’ll be right back,” the ME said, leaving for a few moments before returning with a Styrofoam cup, white bendy straw sticking out from the plastic lid.

Jane accepted the cup, sucking down a couple mouthfuls of cold water with grateful gusto. The pinch in her wrist as she took the cup drew her attention to the IV in the lower portion of her forearm. It made her skin crawl and she near-choked as she fought the urge to rip it out.

“Slow,” admonished Maura. “Your guts have been through a lot. Don’t guzzle. Just sip.”

“Nothing they didn’t deserve,” Jane coughed and attempted humor as she always did, deflection letting Maura know more than anything else that the detective was alright.

“Hmm,” Maura intoned in acknowledgement, just shy of agreeing with her.

“Hey, where’s Ma?” Jane asked. “Tommy?”

“Tommy’s on his way. It took a while to get in touch with him,” Maura said. “Your mother is with Frankie.” Jane’s first thoughts roared back to the forefront of her attention at that. Don’t rip it out, don’t fight. Don’t run.

“How is he?”

Maura put the water cup on the table.

“How is he, Maur?” Jane’s voice pitched up into a near-whine. Fuck the needle.

“You know I can’t lie to you, Jane.” Maura began. Jane felt herself fold inward. “It’s going to be touch and go for a while. He’s alive, and that’s the best news I can give you right now.”

“Idiots,” Jane grumbled, her frustration masking how close to tears she was.

“Jane, you know—”

“And how are we feeling Miss Rizzoli?” a nurse entering the room cut Dr. Isles off mid-sentence, the swish of the metal curtain rings over the curved privacy bar set in the ceiling punctuating her question.

“It’s Detective,” Maura said, not turning. Jane held her gaze, grateful, a shimmer of a tear holding steady above her lower right eyelid.

“I see, Miss...” the nurse continued, somehow worsening her fate.

“It’s Doctor,” Jane’s voice was low, but could still be described as a bark. “Dr. Isles.”

Maura turned to face the mint-green scrub clad woman, now arrested in her forward momentum and looking as though she had a small air bubble trapped behind her lips. She avoided eye contact with either of them.

“I uh, came to see if Detective Rizzoli was awake, and check her incision site,” the nurse dared.

“Go right ahead,” Maura stepped away from Jane’s hospital bed. “I am not here in a professional capacity. I did provide her with some water a few moments ago but otherwise NPO since she has come around. To my knowledge she has not yet passed flatus.”

“Maura!” Jane grunted through closed teeth. The nurse stopped in her tracks as she approached Jane’s bed.

“I see you two know each other well,” she began.

“Look, what’s your name?” Jane asked her.

“Tasha.”

“Okay Tasha, here’s the deal,” Jane continued. “Come do what you need to do and then give me some extra antibiotics or whatever because I need to put a rush on this healing thing, got it?”

“Jane,” Maura started.

“And you don’t get to butt in right now,” Jane shot at the ME, slinging her head to the side. Her newfound consciousness rebelled at the motion and she closed her eyes to keep the room from spinning. “Speaking of butts, you’d know if I farted, so you could just say I hadn’t. ‘To my knowledge...’”

The nurse was chuckling now as she pulled back the dressing on Jane’s surgical site with a gentle but efficient touch. Maura was keen to look over Tasha’s shoulder even from a distance. The skin around the stitches looked red, and the surrounding area had a stippled bruise migrating outward in all directions. It was ugly. There was not, however, indication of infection at this point. Tasha tucked the gauze back in place and began to back out of the room.

“I’ll be back soon,” she promised, just about spinning on her heels to leave them.

“I bet she will,” Jane tried to laugh, but felt heavy. Like her bones were sinking out of her skin, through the sheets, through the floor, through the earth. The needle tethered her to reality.

“Maur—” her eyes flicked toward the ME, less control in her gaze than the doctor was accustomed to seeing.

“I’m here, Jane,” Maura said. She reached for the detective’s hand, the long bones encased in warm skin, defiant beyond all reasonable efforts to die. It was decadent, like stealing what shouldn’t be allowed and getting away with it, holding this hand. “Let go. I’ll be here.”

“’M sorry Maur,” Jane’s eyes were losing the battle. “I didn’t mean...” Her throat worked, the sips long forgotten.

“I know.”

***

“I don’t know, honey,” the corner of Angela’s mouth worked while she studied Maura. “You look tired, you should head home. Janie’ll be okay for a few hours. Go get some sleep.”
“Will you come to her?”

Angela sighed. It couldn’t be easy for her, Maura had to admit. But it should be so easy. It was clear what Jane was trying to do, even though her methods were... unorthodox.

“Like I said, I don’t know,” the older woman repeated. “I’m a little ticked at her right now, for reasons that should be obvious to anybody but her. That girl will be the death of me.” The bags hung beneath her eyes like small craters.

“Or the death of herself, huh Ma?” a familiar voice husked over Maura’s shoulder. Surrounded by Rizzolis, even a hospital hallway could seem like home.

“Tommy!” Angela fluttered a hand over her mouth before lunging forward and pulling her youngest into a crushing hug.

“Easy, easy!” he spluttered. “I’m the only one you ain’t got hurt right now, Ma! Don’t put me in a room here!” She pulled back and looked him in the face, mouth agape.

“This one here with the jokes...” she began, stepping to the side as a nurse made her way into Frankie’s room. She tracked the arrival with singular focus. “I better go in, see if there are any updates. You kids behave out here.”

“Angela,” Maura tried one last time.

“Not now, honey,” the older woman’s tone was kind, but her face told Maura to drop it. She turned and followed the nurse into the room.

“Hey Maur,” Tommy said, pulling the ME into a tight hug of her own. Having held herself together until this moment, the strong arms holding her close were so reminiscent of Jane’s, and she sagged into his embrace.

“Shh, easy,” he murmured in her ear. “Easy.” Maura didn’t realize she was crying until he shushed her again.

“Let’s go sit down for a minute, okay?”

Maura could only nod and allowed herself to be led to a set of turquoise vinyl-covered chairs. A snack machine hummed next to them. He gave her a white hanky from his rear jeans pocket, and the old-fashioned nature of the gesture made her smile despite the moment.

“You alright?” he asked after she’d dabbed at her eyes and taken a few deep breaths.

“I’m fine,” she said. “I will be fine.” She stared at the thick wooden hand railing that bordered the wall across from where they were seated. So many hands gripped it while patients regained mobility following recovery from surgery. The curved wood at the top had lost its finish where oils had eaten it away. Tommy’s hand on her forearm pulled her from where her thoughts tracked with no destination.

“You sure?” he asked. “Why don’t you tell me what happened?”

“Oh, typical Jane,” she laughed, a cold, hollow shell of her normal joy. “Hostage situation at BPD and because of the standoff Frankie was deterioriating... your brother had been shot—”

“Frankie was shot?” Tommy’s voice pitched. So much like Jane.

“Yes, but not... what did they tell you, Tommy? When they called?”

“Just that Frankie and Jane were hurt and I needed to come.”

Maura sighed. “Probably for the best, until you got here.”

“So, go on, Maur. Frankie took a bullet?”

“No,” Maura swallowed. She looked around, seeing a vending machine that sold beverages a few paces down the hallway. “I need a drink.”

“Me too,” Tommy mumbled.

“I’ll be right back,” the ME said, ignoring Tommy’s meaning. She bought two bottles of water and returned, handing him one.

“Thanks,” he allowed, twisting the plastic cap and guzzling half in one swig. Maura sipped her bottle with more decorum and arranged herself back in the well-used chair, one red-soled heel tucked behind the other.

“Frankie was shot, but he was wearing a bullet proof vest,” she continued at last. Tommy’s reserve was admirable.

“Oh thank God,” he exclaimed, closing his eyes and rocking his head back against the wall.

“But,” she continued.

“What do you mean, but? That saves ‘em, right? That’s why Janie tells Ma never to worry,” he ran a hand through his hair. Angela’s response made more sense with this information.

“Well, it did save your brother’s life,” the ME continued. Her chest itched. “But it almost killed him too. In fact, he’s not out of the woods yet.”

“What?” Tommy’s head snapped back to look at her, irises constricting. “How?”

“He was shot at close range, several times,” Maura responded, clinical, methodical. Safe. “The vest kept the bullets from puncturing his skin, but it was still like... being hit with a sledgehammer repeatedly. He has a lot of visceral damage, internal hemorrhage—”

“English, Maur,” Tommy begged. “Remember, I’m not smart like Janie.”

“He’s bleeding on the inside,” she corrected, tone soft. The silence stretched. The machines in Frankie’s room beeped soft tones, an arrhythmical counterpoint to their own circle of quiet. She reached to him, touched his jean-clad thigh. “You’re not dumb, Tommy.”

“Yeah, well,” he sniffed. Took another big swig of water and twisted the cap back on until the bottle crinkled with the effort. He coughed a little and worked his jaw, masseter muscle jumping, and Maura knew the reflex for what it was; a stopgap against his lacrimal gland activation.

“So, uh,” he went on. “What happened to Janie?”

“Your sister was impatient with the resolution of the hostage situation,” Maura continued. “Frankie’s condition was deteriorating and despite providing the limited care that I was able in the morgue, it was not enough.”

“Who were the hostages?”

Maura stared at the rail. So many hands. “We were, Tom.”

“Jesus, Maur,” he bared his teeth. His eyes swam then searched for hers. “So what’d she do?”

“We got out to the front of BPD and the armed man who had Jane was too close—Korsak and Frost couldn’t fire. They couldn’t risk shooting her.”

“Jesus,” he repeated.

“So she did it herself,” Maura finished.

“Did what?”

“She shot herself, with his gun.”

“What?”

“I think she thought it was the only way to get the situation to resolve, to get medical personnel in to where Frankie needed help,” Maura’s eyes were closed now. The scene played over and over, she knew it as a classic hallmark of post-traumatic stress disorder even as it was happening, the twin track in her brain played back against the images that she couldn’t stop. “I was there, I—”

She both expected it and didn’t, and didn’t startle as Tommy pulled her against him. The stiff wooden arm of the chair digging into her side was the only thing grounding her to the moment. It hurt, and she leaned into this worn wood harder, her own small piece of the collective. He shushed her again but she didn’t cry this time. The grief of what might have been occluded even sorrow for what was.

“Janie’s gonna be alright, doc?” The diminutive made her smile, easing from his lips.

“She will recover,” Maura managed.

“Alright,” he answered. He rubbed her back, then patted it. She knew well enough to draw away at that moment, though she could have drowned in his concern. “Hey Maura, I should get in and see after Frankie,” he continued. She could only nod. “I’ll be down to Janie’s room in a minute.”

Maura watched him stand and walk into Frank Jr.’s bedside, the door closing behind her. She hadn’t been able to go in yet. She didn’t know when that would happen. Jane needed her, and she’d not been able to... Frankie...

Her thoughts tumbled. Jane’s knees buckled in her mind’s eye, Frankie struggled for breath. The lights were low. Her eyes flicked back to the rail, finish gone. She stood up for a moment and slumped back down, eyes closed, eyes open. The rail grounded her like it had so many others, back and forth in the light of the fluorescent rectangles overhead as her lashes blinked closed again and again.

***

Jane woke some time later to the good doctor half slumped over her hospital bed, the shorter woman’s smaller hand secure in her own. Maura looked like hell, which was still a good deal better than Jane felt. The detective lifted her other hand and stroked the dark blonde hair, beautiful even in the disarray and lack of styling.

“Jane,” Maura gasped, vowels distorted as she pulled herself backward from a deep sleep. She sat up at once, and the detective closed her hand tighter around the ME’s in reflex.

“’m here, Maur,” she rasped in response. “I’m awake.”

“That’s good,” Maura replied, extricating her hand from Jane’s own. She smoothed her dress, still the one she’d had on at BPD. Jane realized she’d not gone home yet. The way the morning light measured the tile floor in slits told her another day had passed. Was it the first day? Or the second day? Didn’t matter. Too doped up for it to matter.

“You need to get out of here,” the taller woman said. “Go home, get some shuteye, take a shower in that big bathroom of yours—the water pressure here sucks.”

Maura smiled at her, holding the back of her hand—the one that Jane had just released—to her mouth. The smile was not without pain though, tears threatening to spill from hazel eyes. The harder the ME fought it, the more hives began to bloom on her upper chest and neck.

“Hey sis,” Tommy saved them both from the doorway. He was holding a little bouquet of flowers from the hospital gift shop.

“Tommy, hey,” Jane said, attempting to sit up a little better. The pull in her side at the movement made her wince. Maura took it in and said nothing, knowing the detective’s pride would make her brush off any concern in the best of cases.

“I’ll leave you two for a bit,” the ME said, voice soft and ringing hollow. Jane registered it but juggling them both was beyond her ability in her present state.

“Yeah, Maur,” Jane agreed. “Head home for a while. I’ll see you.”

The medical examiner nodded and hid her face behind a curtain of unkempt hair, gathering her purse from the floor.

“Rest when you can,” she called, surprised with how even her voice sounded. “See you, Tommy.”

“Oh, bye Maura,” he offered, his wiry frame ambling past hers. The Rizzolis all had this, an innate comfortability in their skin no matter the situation. Maura would be envious if she wasn’t just grateful to be a part of them now. The thought rolled over her in its clarity, unexpected and full. She did feel that way, it was undeniable. She flushed as she walked into the elevator and punched the square, white button with a well-manicured finger. Why didn’t Jane feel the same way about her? Why was she willing to shoot herself in front of everyone for Frankie’s sake? And no thought for her. She hadn’t tried to think it, but all the same Maura felt shame roll over her like a weighted wave, across her shoulders and down her back. It made her body hunch and her breath feel hot in her lungs.

“What is wrong with me?” she mumbled as she walked out of the front of the hospital. She’d ridden in the ambulance with Jane, and now remembered she didn’t have a car. Taxi, she thought, approaching the aggregate of a few people on the curbside also waiting near a stand. Some indigent, some homeless, some old. None with anyone to take them where they needed to go. After waiting through the line it was her turn, and for all her money, she was just one of the same, climbing into the backseat of a yellow cab worn down, the handle on the inside of the door with finish peeling away from all the hands who had held it before.

She stared at the dull stipples in the shiny faux leather material until her phone rang.

“Dr. Isles,” she answered, crisp and professional as any time she’d ever answered it. She still had a grip on her work, and it was a strong grip.

“I see,” she continued. “Can you FaceTime with me, Susie?”

Her phone chirped and in a moment Maura was looking at another body on her table. Cadavers didn’t care about her, and it was oddly comforting.

“No, don’t call Pike,” she instructed. “Thanks for getting him laid out. I’m on my way.”

She ended the call and then called up to the driver to alter his course. The car turned and she watched the tall stone residential buildings they’d been navigating close to her home change back into the taller still glass and metal high rises of downtown.

“I wanted a bath,” she said to no-one.

***

“I’m real proud of ya, Janie,” Tommy said after they’d talked about the Sox and their parents’ fighting getting worse. Jane didn’t bother to ask if Frank Sr. was at the hospital; if her Ma was with Frankie, she knew he wouldn’t be. “You’re a hero, but don’t let it go to your head.”

“So the story goes,” Jane said, grimacing. “So the story goes. You know I didn’t have a choice though.”

“It was Frankie, ‘course you didn’t have a choice.”

“Tell Ma that.”

“You should,” he said to her after a pause. Jane made a sound between a scoff and a growl.

“How’m I even supposed to?” she argued. Her side burned and it made her petulant. “She won’t come see me.”

“You might have to call her, sis,” he suggested, biting at a thumbnail, looking down at it, biting again. Old habit of his from childhood, it was rare to see it now. Good thing, her subconscious rumbled on, whether she wanted to think or not. Meant he wasn’t drinking. The lights overhead seemed loud and she was tired again.

“I’m tired, Tom.”

“Mopin’ about it ain’t gonna make it any easier,” he was gentle about it at least.

“When did you become my shrink, huh?”

“I learned a thing or two in the program I guess,” he allowed. “Not everything that happened to me in prison was bad.” She smiled at him, genuine, even with pain beginning to cloud her eyes and compete with the exhaustion there. She was proud of him, and they both knew it. Words would only cheapen it now. He glanced at the clock on the wall, eight-thirty.

“Shit, I gotta go, Janie. I’ll come by later?”

“Sure thing little brother,” Jane patted his shoulder when he reached down to give her an awkward, one-armed hug. Her wince was hidden from his view. “’s not like I’m goin’ anywhere.”

He grinned and gave a sort of huffed laugh before turning and leaving the room. Her face went slack at the same moment. She waited until she was sure he was out of earshot then hit the intercom button. A voice crackled back from the nurses’ station.

“Tashaaaa,” she moaned. “You got any horse tranquilizers out there?”

***

Maura didn’t have time for a bath. She was running on fumes, knowing that she shouldn’t be dipping into the Y, weighing organs, blinking blearing eyes looking for internal damage that would determine a cause of death. She trusted the work though. It was a cradle for her, not a deathbed. She worked in reverse, backing out, sewing the chasm back up, standing next to a shell while the living looked on in grief from the other side of the glass for the identification. It could be her. She knew it could.

The finish was worn by many hands. It all ran back and forth like a tape behind her eyes, the bar on the door she touched every day, the fall, the scream that belonged to her. Nothing else in the scene did.

***

Her mouth was dry and the light was harsh. Everything seemed in and out—how many days had it been?

“Ma,” she rasped. A hand, already in her own, she realized. She felt it squeeze and knew it was Maura, not her mother. The bones too delicate, made for handling small, exacting instruments with a deft touch, not lifting heavy pots, pushing mop handles or swatting boisterous kids. She heard a sigh.

“Hey,” her voice was like old paper sliding against itself.

“Hi,” the ME responded. Her hand squeezed again, a balm settling into all of Jane’s cracks. The hand retreated, she heard the tick of stilettos move away and then return. A bent plastic straw settled against her lips. Jane sucked, her throat protesting with an initial sharp prick until she got a couple of good swallows in.

“Ugh,” she spluttered, pulling her eyelids apart. “How do I somehow feel worse than... whenever it was before?”

“Healing is a complex process, Jane, both at a cellular level where it—”

“Shh,” begged Jane. “No facts, Maur. My brain feels heavy.”

The doctor put the cup back on the nearby table, only one of the corners of her mouth turned up. She took Jane’s hand back with both of her own, rubbing the palm, chafing the fingers, dipping into the scar. She didn’t know if Jane could hear it, or if she could stand to say it. This was what she could do.

“Feels great,” the detectives eyes slid closed again, this time in pleasure.

“Probably the morphine talking,” the doctor reasoned.

“No,” Jane refused the demur. “You always feel good to me.” Maybe it was the closed eyes that brought on the honesty. Maybe it was the pain. Whatever the reason, Maura was grateful Jane wasn’t looking at her, couldn’t see the tears that welled up in the corners of her eyes. The way her mouth bunched and her head turned away. She gulped it all down, the feeling and the resistance to it, the way Jane talked to her now. Like a hungry person, like a starving one. She tucked her chin and let her hair fall forward. Her fingers stuttered against Jane’s palm but held on. This feeling, like being torn in half and finally having something worth tearing for, she’d wanted it her whole life. Wanted Jane, she knew.

“Hey have you seen my Ma? Frankie?” Jane’s head lolled back over toward her and she blinked her gaze open again. Maura hoped the gaze was medicinally clouded enough for her face to escape scrutiny.

“What’s wrong with your face, Maur?”

The doctor barked a sound between a laugh, hiccup and sob. No such luck.

“I think I’m just tired,” she allowed, giving them both an offramp.

“Tired of my shit, probably,” Jane’s head lolled back, cruise control engaged. “Like everybody else is.” Maura’s hands continued to chafe long, slender fingers. The only lifelines she felt like she had left. She couldn’t even refute the detective, because in truth she was tired of Jane’s shit. Or, she wanted the shit, and everything else too. Her mind felt heavy, too. Dark brown eyes sought her out through the haze.

“’m sorry, Maur,” the detective laid herself bare. “You didn’t deserve... to see that.”

“So it would have been okay if I wasn’t there?” Maura balked. Too late to call it back, even if she wanted to. Even if. She dropped Jane’s hand, curled her shorter fingers around the bar of the hospital bed for stability as her body swayed. Maybe the Louboutins had been a bad idea.

“C’mon,” Jane whined, winced. “That’s not what I meant.” The ME almost didn’t have the heart to hold her to account like this, as fragile as the detective was.
When was the doctor allowed to be fragile?

“I thought I was watching you die,” she blurted, light brown hair once again obscuring her face as her head tipped forward. It was too recent, too raw, to say to Jane’s face.

“I’m—”

“No,” Maura continued. “You’re right. It’s not what you meant, and I didn’t deserve it, but neither did you.”

They both breathed in the space between where words could dwell. The machines monitoring Jane’s body chirped and cycled. A nurse—Tasha?—walked by in the hall.

“I can’t lose you, Jane, I can’t—”

“You won’t, sweetheart.” It slipped out. Maybe if they both ignored it, it would be recycled along with the air in the room. Maura looked up and her eyes were unclouded. She stared Jane down.

“You are my family.” The ME’s words were clear, her meaning was clear. She didn’t have Jane’s family. She didn’t even have Jane. But she was staking a claim, choosing to make things so just by saying them. Jane nodded at her, holding on to the moment even though fatigue and the morphine drip were pulling her back towards unconsciousness by her ankles.

“You are my...” Maura shook her head. “It could have all gone in a minute.” Jane’s head tipped to the side, her mouth sagged in remorse but not regret.

“Baby.” Another one. How many could they let go? Maura’s hands tightened on the rail. Her calves shook, heels wobbled.

“Don’t, Jane.”

Lips pressed into a thin line below dark eyes that still seemed to be talking.

“I need to go for a walk, okay?” small hands released the rail to swipe at hazel eyes. “I will return soon.” Jane let her, watched her go. Maura eased through the door and didn’t look back.

***

The medical examiner hauled in lungfuls of air once she made it to the street. Boston smelled sour against the sterilized environment she’d left behind, but she could breathe better here. She sat down on the bench just beyond the doors, mental apologies given to her Toccin minidress. Nobody would look at her if she cried here, she knew. She could blame it on the haggard looking man on the other end of the bench, chain-smoking what smelled like unfiltered cigarettes. Do they even sell those anymore? Are they legal? Does he roll them himself? Her mind searched for any restless thought to chase.

What was Jane saying to her up there? Damn her with the casual terms of endearment that Maura absolutely wanted to hear. Needed to hear from her, needed to feel more than just a gun-calloused hand. Damn the gun callouses, that turned guns on herself, that blew through the body that they both needed—

“You alright, lady?” the haggard looking man’s voice was surprising. Soft. Maura did a thing with her head that was between a nod and a wag.

“You want a smoke?”

Maura smiled and shook her head this time.After another couple of drags on his he crushed it with a worn heel and shuffled off. She wrapped a stiff hand around the edge of the bench and realized it was sticky; her dress was likely ruined. She laughed, she cared about it so little. Enough money to buy every dress she had over again and not notice, and it had never mattered less to her than it did now. She never tried to make it an issue, but she knew it was. That it divided her from others, from Jane, from Angela, though they were the constant recipients of her generosity. Might as well consign it to a hole in the ground for the good it could do her now.

A tear tracked down her face and she regretted for a moment not taking a cigarette.

***

Tasha saw her walk past later, close to dinnertime. The light slanted to the floor in amber wedges from the doors left open to empty rooms.

“Dr. Isles?” the nurse called from the station. Maura reached out a hand to the wooden rail to steady herself as she stopped.

“Yes?” Maura answered.

“Your detective is asking for you,” Tasha told her, expression inscrutable. Maura nodded to demonstrate she understood, then continued to Jane’s room, hand still passing over the memory of countless others.

Jane’s door was cracked, though no overhead light streaked the hall. Maura let herself in, expecting to see the detective asleep as she had been for much of the last couple of days. Jane was instead gazing out the window, but turned her head to the ME as soon as she heard the tick of Maura’s heels.

“Hey,” she rasped, though it sounded more like her normal rasp to the doctor’s ears.

“Hey,” Maura offered in return, now unsure about how closely she should approach Jane’s bed. How closely she should approach Jane.

“C’mere,” the detective urged her, holding up a hand, reaching for Maura’s. Guess that answered that question. They just stared at one another for a moment, both wishing they were anywhere than a hospital room.

“I’m sorry,” Jane enunciated, clear and slow. The ME opened her mouth as if to speak, but Jane beat her to the punch.

“Hear me out, okay?” Now Maura could see the shimmer in her eyes, the waver of the lip against her straight white teeth. “I get to do a lot of things. I have gotten to do a lot of things. And I’ve not had to think about anything other than, is this the right decision, or the wrong decision.” Her other hand formed fingers into a blade and she sliced through the air.

“And I need to start thinking about it,” she spoke in a rush, as though she’d rehearsed this and needed to get it out before either of them interrupted. “Because I need you to know I’m thinking about you. I need you, Maur.”

“Jane,” Maura breathed, feeling her breath, her blood, her everything drain to the lowest points of her body before puddling out onto the floor. She threw her head back, jutting her chin out and letting her air come in through a little o. Her eyes crawled up the window to the wall above. “I can’t—”

“Can you try?” Jane pleaded, and now before Maura realized what was happening, her hand was being drawn to those brave lips, against the tremulous air wavering to escape, the anxious hope hiding behind the confidence Jane always wore like a second, lanky skin. There was nothing else in the room to see.

“Of course, Jane, I—” and she was leaned all the way forward now, pressing her lips to Jane’s forehead with reverence; firm, as one would venerate a relic. Something precious, holy even. Her mouth skated over eyes, lashes dampened with their closing, brushed the transverse nasal crease, nasolabial fold, and bumped down further to press against Jane’s own.

“I want it all,” she blurted, mouth against mouth. Grateful she hadn’t smoked after all.

“Mine,” Jane uttered at the same moment, and they laughed together, sharing air. Maura pulled back far enough that neither of them were looking cross-eyed.

“It’s a lot to wrap my head around,” the ME confessed. “But the number of times I’ve run this moment through my mind... especially the last two days. Especially while I watched you fall...” She broke off and lowered her gaze, unable to stay that flayed for Jane.

“No way,” the detective countered. “Don’t hide away from me. I want all that mind, Sugar.”

“Sugar?” Maura was a place between delighted and incredulous.

“Honey? Baby?” Jane’s smile dazzled. “It all sounds right to me right now.”

“Definitely the morphine talking,” the ME pronounced, leaning back and with great resolve resisting the detective’s pout. She settled for a hand massage again.

“Get some rest,” she prodded. “I’ll be here.”

Within seconds, the stamina Jane had blown through for their sparse conversation was exhausted and she was out. The doctor pulled a chair close and smiled at Tasha when she came in, exchanging a brief, clinical conversation regarding her friend—whatever else she was now, this certainly was true—and progress. No effort was made to hide their intertwined fingers, and Maura relished the little thrill of pride that ran up her back when it was clear that the nurse had noticed. The next time Tasha returned, they were both out, and the ME was grateful to wake with a warm blanket placed over her and two fresh water cups sitting nearby for them both.

Jane stirred, not yet awake.

“Ma,” she mumbled, then again, pleading: “Ma.”

Maura’s heart felt like it was breaking. Her phone vibrated in her pocket and she was surprised to see a text from Tommy.

“Frankie’s awake,” it said. “Janie should call Ma.”

“Is she here?” Maura managed with her left hand after some moments. It would be far more practical were she and Jane to hold their non-dominant hands, leaving a more dexterous grip for other tasks, should they continue to hold hands in the future. She felt sure they would.

“yeah”

“I’ll suggest that to Jane when she’s next awake, send,” Maura had switched to voice-to-text, hoping she was not loud enough to wake Jane.

“Ma? Who’s awake?” Jane mumbled, incoherent.

“I’m here,” Maura said, standing and smoothing her rumpled, stained dress without thought.

“Don’t worry about it, Sugar,” Jane hadn’t even opened her eyes but had heard, or just known, what Maura was up to. “I’m sure your dress looks better than mine.”

“Hmm,” Maura allowed. “You know, I don’t really care about it, I’m realizing. Yours was intended for sleeping in hospitals all night, however.”

“Thanks for staying, Maur,” Jane sobered. “You didn’t have to.”

“Yes,” the ME replied. “I did.” Without much thinking about it, she brought Jane’s hand to her mouth and kissed the palm, centering her lips long-devoid of shade over the raised horizontal scar. Just enough pressure to ease them both.

“I don’t like being here but I like that,” Jane said, catlike. “You do that to all your patients, doctor?”

“Well, considering they’re dead—”

“Nevermind, morphine talking, don’t answer that,” Jane butted in.

“The tissue on many of the deceased I see isn’t conducive for—”

“Lalalalala,” Jane yowled, “I can’t hear you.”

“Okay, what kind of party do we have in here?” Tasha announced as she rounded the corner with her cart.

“Tasha, do you know all of Dr. Isles patients wind up dead?” Jane’s eyes twinkled. The nurse again stopped halfway across the room, looking to one woman and then the other.

“They start that way, too,” Maura finished.

“I’mma head out,” the nurse turned heel and butted her cart back through the door. “You ladies are something else.”

Jane and Maura somehow lasted until Tasha had departed before bursting out laughing, Jane’s cut short by a wince and press to her side.

“Too soon, dammit,” the detective muttered, biting the corners of her mouth to keep herself serious.

“You know, Tommy just texted me,” Maura brightened, figuring since Jane was in a good mood she should take advantage and push the detective a little.

“Oh yeah? About what? He in trouble?” Jane became guarded, wary. She was no longer fighting humor.

“No, he wants you to call your mother.”

“Well, I don’t see why it’s always on me to be the bigger person here,” Jane grumbled.

“It’s not fair,” the doctor gave her room. Grace. Jane could almost feel it like a warm blanket, pressing in on her. Maura was too damn good for her. She needed to work as hard for this as she’d ever had to work for anything.

“Be that as it may, she’s still your mother, Jane,” Maura said after a moment. Two separate thoughts, no reciprocation implied.

“I know,” the detective’s voice was small. “Okay.”

Maura felt a fierce pride and protectiveness well up in her, abrupt and wild.

“You’re so strong, Jane,” she whispered, leaning close to the taller woman. “You’re the strongest person I know.” She pressed another warm kiss to the detective’s mouth, willing her to readiness.

“Alright, let’s see what she says,” Jane said as they parted. “See if she’ll see me.”

“Okay,” the ME agreed. “I’ll dial.” After a few rings, Angela’s voice answered and she sounded more tired than Maura had ever heard her.

“Hi, Angela,” she kept her voice light, pleasant. “I have someone here who wants to talk to you.” Jane took the phone out of Maura’s hand, lolling her head back against the pillow as she raised it to her ear.

“Hey Ma.”

Maura could hear hysteria on the other end of the line. Jane cooed to her mother, calming them both. Her eyes tracked over to Maura’s and held, a lifeline against Rizzoli drama, but one that enabled her to swim further into the riptide.

“Hey Ma, hey,” Jane repeated. “Ma. I’m okay.” More anguish, and it was all Maura could do but not head down the hall to the elevator and shake sense into the older woman. She couldn’t, though. She had been there too.

“How’s Frankie?” Jane smiled at her as Angela must be relaying his improvement, that he was awake. “Let me talk to ‘im.” Another pause. Her voice dipped low. “Let me talk to him, Ma.” And now every hint of tension uncoiled from Jane, springs wound tight that Maura hadn’t even seen.

“Hey little brother. No, don’t say anything, get some rest, okay? You’re gonna be okay, Frankie. I’ll come see you soon.” Jane bit her lips, keeping her voice even.

“Okay Ma. Thanks, okay? You know, I’m in room 422 if you wanna come by. Yeah, Maura’s here. She’s been here. I think she’s gonna stay, so come see us, okay? I—I’d like for you to. And I need to tell you something else,” she looked at Maura, who felt the hives creep up her chest. Looked at their hands, held like so many in this place where death and life walked close together with the finish worn all the way down. She’d wanted this, wanted it her whole life. “And I’m sorry. Yeah. Love you too.”

The detective returned Maura’s phone and closed her eyes. The ME had finished putting it back in her purse when there was a knock on the door.

“Hi honey,” Angela whispered.

“Hey Ma.”