Disclaimer: "The Division", "CSI: Crime Scene Investigators," "Birds of Prey," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," the characters, and situations depicted are respectively the property of Lifetime Television, Kedzie Productions, Viacom Productions, and Paramount [The Division]; Jerry Bruckheimer Television, Alliance Atlantis, and CBS Productions [CSI: Crime Scene Investigators]; Tollin/Robbins, DC Comics, and Time/Warner via the WB [Birds of Prey]; and Wolf Films, Universal Network Television, and NBC [Law & Order: SVU]. This piece of fan fiction was created for entertainment not monetary purposes and no infringement on copyrights or trademarks was intended. Previously unrecognised characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author. This site is in no way affiliated with "The Division", "CSI: Crime Scene Investigators," "Birds of Prey," "Law & Order: SVU," Lifetime Television, CBS, the WB, NBC, or any representatives of the actors.
[Please do not fold, spindle, or mutilate. Thank you. Shatterpath]
It was the damn phone that woke me from the soundest sleep I’d had in a lifetime. Groping blindly, I found the cell and pressed it to my ear without opening my eyes. “De’renzo,” I slurred out habitually.
“Inspector? Are you and Exstead playing hooky or are you holding her hostage?”
Ah shit, the Captain sounded annoyed. Still far too boneless to open my eyes much less panic, I decided that the only thing I had the energy for was the truth. “Ss…sorry, Cap’n. I hurt… my shoulder yes’day and told Nate not t’tell. ‘M sorry. Jin was late tryin’ t’ help me sleep.”
“Do you need a doctor?”
A sharp flash of pain in the arm holding the phone made me gasp and drop it. Trying to cover my slip, I murmured, “’m sure Jin’ll take me if needs to.”
The body at my back finally stirred in response to her name, snatching up the cell and pressing me flat again. “Stubborn here is in more pain than she’s letting on, Captain. I think it’s just bruising, but if she’s still hurting once she’s good and awake, I’m taking her keys and heading for the nearest doctor.”
There was a long, pregnant silence where the situation sank in. Ever so faintly, I heard the Captain drawl out, “ooookay. You do that. Oh, and Jinny?”
“Yes Captain?” She said hesitantly.
“While I’m glad you’re taking the hands on, personal approach, I’d hope you don’t make a habit of it.”
And following that zinger, there was dial tone. I saw Jinny hold the phone away from herself until the device hovered in the corner of my eye. “Well,” she said in an amused and strained tone of voice. “That was a few miles past embarrassing.”
All I could do was moan in agreement and settle deeper into the mattress.
Of all the asinine, stupid things…
What must Captain McCafferty be thinking? CD answers her phone, obviously having been woken out of a sound sleep and I grab it from her before blithely start chatting away. On the humiliation scale, this was right up there with being caught making out by your parents. Groaning, I pressed down into CD’s warmth and sighed gustily. Odd vibrations shook her for a moment, the sensation turning into a low, breathy chuckle. “S’ not funny,” I grumbled with no venom to it.
“Nope,” she agreed placidly, her hand once again stealing into my hair to rub my scalp.
“Are you always like this in bed?”
Yep, it had been my voice that had tactlessly asked that suggestive question. I was abruptly aware of her body pressed against me from crown to toes, smooth and warm. “Meanin’?”
“Umm… warm, funny,” I knew I needed to shut up as my voice went dry and husky. “Soft…” This had to stop and my sarcasm rose up to protect me. “Doesn’t really fit your work image.”
“Fla’rer,” CD murmured, still sounding half-asleep and half-drunk.
“Don’t get used to it. I prefer to be a pain in the ass. How’s that arm?” Rolling away enough for CD to shift onto her side, my body instantly objected to leaving her heat. “The bruising doesn’t look any worse. How’s your neck?” Like a sun-lazy cat, CD shifted onto her side, snuggling her warm skin against my all-too-thin clothes and sighing. When she turned her head, the most amazing explosion of popcorn noises rattled up and down her neck. Followed by her gasp and my wince. “Ouch. You okay?”
Eyes watering, CD went limp against me, skull heavy on my arm, her damaged limb cocked at an uncomfortable-looking angle. So I tugged her elbow into her gut, leaving my hand there in a half-embrace. “I think,” CD suddenly whispered in the clearest tone I’d heard her use all morning. “I actually feel better now.”
“Good,” I murmured inanely, utterly distracted by her naked body sprawled against me, her relaxed mouth only inches away, those lazy eyes watching me closely. “We should get up… see if your arm is… okay.”
Oh, I knew I was playing with fire… but it was captivating to watch the myriad of emotions flash through Jinny’s eyes. There was this primitive, sensuous side of my personality that got loose when I was in this bed. I didn’t understand it, but it was always very relaxing. Like a predator at home in its secure cave, this was the place where I could let the walls down, my safe haven. That lazy predator was snarling at my common sense to go the hell away. Unfortunately, it was losing the battle and I began to realize exactly where I was and what I was feeling. That cynical mouth looked delicious right now, soft and half-smiling like she didn’t realize she was doing it. Not to mention the heat burning through the thin barrier of her clothes.
“Yeah,” I murmured suddenly and curled up to carefully sit on the edge of the bed. There had been no mistaking the flash of hurt in her crystal blue eyes. Flexing my hand and elbow experimentally, I felt the dull pain contrasting with my embarrassment and need. “Still sore, but most of range of motion seems intact in the lower arm.”
“Are you going to need a doctor?”
“I have no idea.”
The bed shifted as she climbed off and a moment later my robe settled over my shoulders. Jinny crouched to look me seriously in the eye. “Will you tell me if you do? Please?”
All I could do was nod and watch her walk out. There was pain in her eyes, in the stiffness of her shoulders and the curve of her spine. And I had no idea how to fix it.
After a few long, quiet hours, I decided that I really needed to go back to my destroyed apartment and see what was salvageable. Since I’d washed most of my clothes and sent the damage estimates off to my insurance agent, that’s all that was left to do. My limited wardrobe was truly pathetic now. A while ago I had inquired to CD’s state of health and she’d snarled quite dramatically at me. That was my cue to get the fuck out of Dodge and had immediately called for a cab. As though conjured by my thoughts, CD appeared in the entrance to the hall, looking pale and sorrowful.
“I’m sorry I snapped,” she whispered.
“Yeah, well,” I hemmed awkwardly. “It’s been weird having me here, so it’s okay. Call if you need me. I gotta go get my place picked over and I can’t put it off any longer.”
And bolted from the building with most of my scanty belongings in hand.
With the memory of CD’s hurt and confused expression burned into the back of my eyelids and the feel of her body branded into my nerves, I threw myself into slogging through my ruined belongings with a vengeance. It was horrible and overwhelming and numbing. There was some clingy, muddy substance only slightly less awful than tar caked thickly on every surface from the waist down. The few things that might be salvageable were shoved unceremoniously in my handsome old Honda Civic.
The voice took me by surprise so I turned slowly to see a shadowy figure creeping into the glare of the work lamp. “Magda,” I intoned softly, my voice as empty as my feelings were at the moment. Too much had happened too fast and I was unable to adapt. Then the familiar and secretly welcome sympathy shone in her eyes and I felt the sobs well up, no matter how hard I fought them. There had been too many shocks to my system in to short a time and this woman was my safe zone. My best friend. My confidante. My partner.
And she just might be disgusted and distrustful of the feelings I could barely suppress.
My growing attraction to a woman.
Great tears welled up in Jinny’s over-bright eyes and I didn’t hesitate to go over and wrap her in a strong hug. “Oh mija I’m so sorry I wasn’t here for you. So sorry.” Jin only clung to me like a drowning woman and let it pour out of her on the waves of great, heaving sobs. A moment or an eternity could have passed until footfalls on the steps made me wave frantically in a ‘get back’ motion. Gabe, bless his heart, took the hint and quietly backed out. That left me to stroke Jinny’s disarrayed hair and murmur soothing nonsense. The fact that most of it was Spanish was unimportant. “You’ll be okay, Jin. I won’t let anything happen to you that I can’t help. Okay?” For a long moment, I thought she hadn’t heard me, and then she nodded jerkily. The suffocating grip around my ribs didn’t loosen an inch, but her breathing did start to steady.
“Mag?” She whispered like a frightened child. “I need to get out of here. Please.”
In a whirlwind of motion, Gabe had been put in charge of getting Jin’s car back to our apartment while I bundled her into my Saturn. There was a quick kiss for the man unexpectedly back in my life and a hug for a concerned Ben. “Meet you at home guys.”
The drive was silent; Jinny huddled in her seat like a frightened child. While I was dying to know what was running through her head, I held my tongue. When it did finally come, it started out a trickle. “Mag?”
“I can trust you with anything.” It was a statement as much as a question and I sensed the coming flood. “Somethin’s… changed.” And the floodgates opened. Hoarse and rattled, the story of the flood, CD’s rescue and Nate’s help poured out of her. The terror and helplessness of finding her personal space violated so unexpectedly, the haven she’d found with our blonde coworker. Then she froze and I made an abrupt decision and pulled into a nearby parking lot. Eyes as wide as any trauma victim, I knew she was close to panicking.
“C’mon, I’ll buy you a coffee,” I offered and smiled softly. “Give you a chance to breathe before you have to deal with a clingy Ben.”
With a hot mocha in her hands, Jinny almost smiled. We settled into a corner of the shops outside tables and watched the passing late-afternoon crowd. Unfocused blue eyes stared out at the distant bay. “Did you ever wake up in the morning and realize that the person in the mirror wasn’t who you thought she was?”
There was no real response to that and something that felt like dread crawled up my spine. My nod seemed to be enough; the blue eyes flickering to me and then back to the wild blue yonder. “I started…” A nervous raking of her fingers through the black hair and Jinny cringed into herself. What on earth could be so traumatic? I was ready to scream with nerves and frustration. “I’ve started having… feelings… for CD.” My expression must have reflected my shock, because Jinny flinched like I’d punched her and ducked behind her hair in a protective gesture. “Serious stuff. I think… I think… I dunno what I think.”
Several things flash-fired through my brain in rapid succession. This was the stress of sobriety talking, years of a fucked up view of life. It was living with her mother dead at the tender age of sixteen. It was the pressures of the last few days and our dangerous job. It was CD’s constant proximity. It was…
Then those sky eyes met mine, Jinny’s warm, tortured soul reflecting crystalline in their depths.
It was the truth.
In a moment, my brain stopped running in crazed circles and I reached out to grab her arm. “Go on.”
And with a strangled sob/sigh of relief, Jinny unloaded her soul.
Where it came from, I’d never know. Fingers wrapped almost crushingly tight around the strong paper cup, I told the tabletop everything that had happened since CD had shown up to help bail me out. The fantasies, the feel of her body against mine, the burn of her clear eyes into my soul. And all through the storm, Magda kept that anchoring hand on my arm to lead me back to her.
At long last the floodwaters began to recede, leaving me utterly exhausted in their wake. Too tired to fight it, I slumped until my forehead rested on Magda’s knuckles. Her other hand touched my hair, stroking soothingly and I let the tears flow silently. I don’t think I’d ever cried so much in my life, like I had these past few days. Not when my mother died, not when I suffered endlessly through sobriety being forced upon me, not in the AA meetings where I regrouped my strength.
“You’ll be okay, mija,” Magda calmed me softly, and I sobbed brokenly.
I was still mija. There just might be a God yet…
It had taken some effort to get the punch-drunk Jinny back to the car, where she passed out cold the moment she was seated. I actually had to click her seatbelt into place. I knew I was in a state of shock as I numbly drove home. Whatever the hell I had expected Jinny to say, being in love with CD DeLorenzo hadn’t even been on the list.
At my apartment, I managed to get a barely conscious Jinny into the apartment and into my bed. I’d take the couch and send Gabe home tonight. Neither of my boys made a sound as we stumbled past them, but only watched with worried eyes. After pulling off Jin’s shoes and settling her under the covers, I wandered back into the living room, droopy with exhaustion.
“Mamacita,” Gabe hummed softly, wrapping long arms around me. “Everything okay?”
“I hope so. She had one of those days.”
“I saw that apartment, it was awful.”
“There’s more, but I can’t talk about it.”
“I understand. Would you like me to take Ben tonight?”
“Would you tiamo? Thank you so much. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Ben was worried, but he let it go with reassurances that tia Jinny would be okay. That left me staring indecisively at my cell phone in the heavy quiet of my apartment. Finally, I took a steadying breath and hit the speed dial.
The phone ringing nearly scared me to death, but at least got me away from pacing nervously. “DeLorenzo,” I growled harshly into the little device.
“CD? It’s Magda.”
Not who I was hoping for, but I reined in my raging emotions. “What can I do for you?”
“Jinny’s here. I thought you should know.” Relief so strong it made me dizzy rushed through me with a roar. Then I abruptly realized that Jinny’s partner was calling me to let me know she was okay. “The apartment had her really upset and she’s sleeping it off.” Jinny was upset? The pain in my chest caught me off guard. When the hell had she come to mean so much to me? Was I imagining that odd note in Magda’s voice? “I think she’ll be okay. Just… upset by what’s been going on, y’know?” There was no mistaking it; there really was an odd note to her voice. Years of crime investigations subconsciously kicked in to analyze. Magda was uncomfortable… and hiding something. Could it be what I thought it might be? Terror and hope tied a knot in my throat that left me mute for long moments as tears pricked at my eyes.
“Thank you,” finally grated up from my chest with a physical pain that cleared my head. Good Lord, but that raven-haired minx had me so knotted up I couldn’t think straight. “Tell her…” I should stop, should rein this in, should at least make some last ditch effort to preserve my dignity. Aw, fuck it. “Tell her I miss her.”
“I will,” Magda whispered. “Take care of yourself, okay?”
But I knew I wouldn’t be sleeping tonight.
A long time passed while I stared soundlessly at my phone. My world had been altered in these last few hours. Jinny was in love in CD, and it was glaringly obvious that the feelings were anything but one sided. I was horrified by what might happen to them. The thin blue line was a hard life, with old and well established codes both spoken and unspoken. A sobering series of worst-case scenarios ran through my head. Prejudice, discrimination, biases… hate-crimes. A shudder ran down my spine as my brain oh-so-helpfully supplied a graphic set of fearful settings. “Stop it,” I muttered to myself, digging the heels of my hands into my eyes to chase away the images. Slumping down onto the couch, I willed it to all go away.
An innocent, familiar perusal drew me from slumber and I woke in surprise. “Jeez-us, Jinny, you scared me,” I groaned and relaxed back into the couch. From her seat on the edge of the coffee table, Jin smiled thinly.
“I couldn’t sleep anymore. Wanna trade?”
“No, my adrenaline’s up now. What time is it?”
“Little after four.”
“Boy, good thing we’re used to crazy hours,” I snorted and climbed to my feet, squeezing her shoulder before I walked into the kitchen. “I’ll get coffee and you can talk to me.”
When I returned to the living room, Jinny had curled into a protective ball with my blanket tucked under her chin. “Thank you,” she murmured softly and held the cup in her hands. I flopped down next to her and felt her knees press into my thigh. We needed to clear the air, and reestablish the bond between us despite this new information.
“I spoke with CD,” I said in my gentlest tone, but Jinny’s head snapped up anyway. “She misses you.” It wasn’t easy to meet my partner’s eyes, but there was so much that had to be said. “I can’t say I understand, Jin.” She flinched again, eyes glassy and I quickly patted her leg. “But I promised once that I would stand by you.” Our gazes met and I was reminded what she meant to me. Deeper than sisterhood, stronger than any love affair, thicker than blood, Jinny Exstead was my partner. “I will always stand by you. Always.”
Okay, I knew work was going to be a little weird. Well, I had no idea just how weird it could really be. Oh, on the surface nothing seemed too out of order, but simmering just beneath…
It was too quiet, like all of San Francisco was holding its breath in anticipation of what was going to happen. I had no idea what was headed my way, but I’d never be able to get out of the way. Unable to sleep, I’d been at work before the sun was a rosy blush in the night sky. Restless and irritable with my sore arm and lack of sleep, I barely acknowledged the ‘good morning’ from my partner, my boss and young Raina. Undoubtedly, they were staring at me like I was an alien or something. While I had never been the friendliest person in the Division, I was rarely flat-out rude. Then I felt it, that tingle of hyper-awareness that skirted across shoulders and spine and ran a tickling feather along the inside of my skull. My head snapped up to meet that fathomless blue gaze.
For a breathless eternity we stared at one another, burningly aware of one another and our companion’s curiously. Then the Captain barked my name and the spell was broken.
“Sit down,” McCafferty told me, gesturing at the twin chairs in front of her desk. Long moments passed while she studied me calmly until I had to consciously fight the urge to squirm. It was such an old, established trick that still worked so damn well. Dammit. “Your arm?” Finally drifted quietly through the air between us.
“Fine, just sore. I’m sorry I didn’t say anything, but it was sheer stupidity on my part that I got hurt in the first place.” It was more honest than I was accustomed to and certainly more than she was expecting. I had never been much for admitting weakness and that was a fault I was only just beginning to recognize. I’m… I’m sorry for the chaos of the last few days, Captain.”
“Oh, I have a feeling it’s not over yet,” she drawled gently and flashed me a smile. “Just don’t do anything stupid and be very careful. That’s all I, or anyone else, can ask of you. Now,” her tone was suddenly businesslike and I swallowed my raging emotions and focused. “There appears to be some kind of off the wall missing persons case I want you to look into.” And I was back in the game plan.
When the door to the Captain’s office opened again, I knew by the focused look on CD’s face that any conversation was going to have to wait. Jinny visibly deflated at her desk, burying her nose in whatever she was doing. It was hard to watch. But this was neither the time nor the place and we all knew it. So CD and Nate left with nothing more than loaded glances.
Some time must have passed as the day grew warm and my stomach started growling. Then I noticed Raina eyeing Jinny with an odd combination of curiosity and amusement. Chin propped in her hands, the younger officer was fixed on my partner, who was totally oblivious. In fact, Jinny seemed pretty unaware of her surroundings. There was something raw and vulnerable on her face as she stared sightlessly at her hands toying with a pen on her desk. Finally Raina sighed heavily and Jinny finally seemed to come back to herself. “Boy, I wish I had somebody to put that expression on my face. Downright romantic,” Raina spoke softly, almost longingly. In all my time working so closely with Jinny Exstead, I had never seen her turn red. From the doorway of her office, the Captain chuckled and we all jumped.
“And whoever it is,” McCafferty said pointedly, as though she already knew. “You should keep them. No matter what.” She chuckled shortly, her expression mischievous. “If nothing else, it’ll make the rest of us jealous.”
It had been two days since that strange teasing I had received at the wit of the Captain. I’d swear she knew how I felt and was encouraging me to go for it. CD and Nate had barely been around, run ragged by some local artist sensation that had vanished with out a trace. Yet every time she was near, it was like heat on my skin. And my dreams? Woo boy… Puberty all over again. There were some hotspots in my psyche that were erotic landmines. All I had to do was close my eyes and I could see the sensual landscape painted by my need and desire. Those flashing blue eyes that missed so little, the way she would watch me with that riveting combination of fierce need and crippling vulnerability. I knew how she felt and knew that something was going to have to give. And it wasn’t just the physical attraction. It was the closeness and safety that I felt with her, so like my relationship with Magda, but with all these frightening and fascinating layers. Oh, hell yes she scared the hell out of me.
But I liked it.
Since I was still sleeping on Magda’s couch, we had taken to hanging out at that same coffeehouse where she had taken me before I broke down. Far from being embarrassed about that incident, it was a relief to be so honest and open with her. Part of me railed about the closeness, the possibility of getting hurt, of having my trust violated again. But I knew that voice, it was the one that drove me to drink, to push away people that cared about me, and I was through listening to it. When Magda’s interference had sent me to rehab to clean up, the process had begun. The healing. This acceptance of my attraction and Magda’s unexpected encouragement had completed another kind of healing and I felt stronger and surer than I ever had before.
Except that I was still terrified to approach CD.
It was the same fear every human being feels as they draw closer to someone they really care about. That fear of rejection and humiliation and feeling your bloody, broken heart in your chest. No one was good at this and I was in worse practice than most of my peers. So I watched and waited.
When we had found the punk alive and scared in some isolated cabin in the woods, I was ready to beat him senseless. High strung to the point of being manic, I knew that I needed to get some shit off my chest or I was going to explode. Or have a heart attack at thirty-three. Not really what I wanted on my tombstone. So I walked out into the clear sunshine and flopped down onto the porch. The local police could process the freaky little tweaker, because I was done with him. My job had been to find him and I had wasted three days of my life doing just that.
Head hanging between my raised knees, I heard footfalls approach, hesitate, then the crackle of cartilage as Nate squatted beside me. It was a relief to know him that well, to know that those footfalls were my partner, who I could trust with my life. After losing Paul and then Angela bailing on me, my trust was a coiled, hissing snake. Then Nate did something totally unexpected.
He put his hand on the back of my neck.
It was a comforting and sweetly intimate gesture that brought tears to my eyes. When I had met the sarcastic, bouncy man from vice, never in a million years did I think I’d become so dependant on him. Never thought we’d make such a great team. Now, Nate had seen me in tears a couple times and he’d tried his damnedest to prop me up through some really rough shit. Looking back, I realized that he had succeeded admirably and I had done little to thank him or make him feel welcome. When I raised my head and let my feelings show on my face, I could see that he understood. Without a sound between us, that gentle hand on my neck tugged lightly at me until I rested my forehead on his strong chest. In that comforting, undemanding half-embrace, I found a safe haven for an eternal moment that let me gather myself into something resembling normalcy. And it had never felt so good or so solid. A fierce, thankful grip on his wrist was my signal to lean away.
“Thank you,” I whispered around the lump in my throat. Nate grinned fondly and plopped himself down next to me in the dusty gravel.
“You’re welcome. This is a gorgeous spot, huh?”
It was. Low, rolling hills that fell away into the distant Pacific, the sun sinking low in all its Technicolor glory. We sat there in a comfortable silence as the sky put on a terrific lightshow for us and the breeze grew cool and playful. In this peaceful place, I realized that I had to be honest with him.
“This is gonna sound crazy,” I hedged, not quite sure how to bring the subject up. I’d been running myself in ragged circles for what felt like months and wasn’t quite certain how to verbalize. “But I think I’m gay.”
For a long moment, Nate gave me a strange, level look that was halfway between ‘duh’ and ‘ohmigod’. Then his eyes rounded comically and he grinned like a madman. I couldn’t help myself and laughed; a great, liberating howl of a laugh that burst out of my wounded soul like an animal freed from a trap. And Nate was right there, laughing with me, arm around my shoulders. We were going to be okay, my partner and I. We were gonna be okay.
I had recognized that look of sheer terror in CD’s eyes the moment it finally revealed itself. Something had been eating her alive this past week and I had been dying to do something, anything. It was that look people get when they’re told a loved one was killed suddenly and unexpectedly, or that they have an incurable disease or they narrowly cheat a violent death. Sort of a long-term state of profound shock. And then she tells me she’s gay? My relief was palatable in my mouth. In the high-stakes game of life and death it was very far down on my list of ‘oh shit’. Her trust was a precious, invaluable gift. Something I would treasure the rest of my life. There was something complicated and compelling about this woman of few words and few confidences. I had earned her trust and would do nothing to damage that. I’d rather shoot myself. The laughter had been the best kind of therapy, or voices booming out over the quiet landscape as though trying to make the distant ocean share in the moment. Once we had wound down, I gave her shoulders a squeeze and climbed to my feet.
“C’mon,” I chuckled and offered a hand. “I’ll buy you dinner partner. I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.”
And the woman who an hour ago would have seen my offer as a challenge to her strength, placed her hand in mine and let me pull her to her feet. It was a profound moment for me, that tangible proof of her trust in me. We left the strange place where we bonded behind without a second glance, but took the important lessons with us.
In some weird little town an hour outside of San Francisco, we spotted a greasy spoon and headed in. With burgers and fries and hot coffee to sustain us, we settled into a comfy quiet. Once we’d killed the majority of the calories, I gave CD a measuring stare that she returned blandly. But I’d grown very adept at reading her eyes over the months of working so closely with her. She had the kind of eyes that poets moon on about, deep and clear and expressive, the color of cloudless summer skies. Oh, she could flatten them into a glacial glare that was frightening if necessary, but even then I had learned to read her subtitles. Humor glittered there now and that encouraged me. “So, tell me what’s going on with Jinny.”
Honestly, I expected her to clam up into the aloof Inspector she always was, and the closeness of the afternoon to be a pipe dream. But she sighed and rubbed her eyes wearily before answering softly, “I wish I knew. Those couple of days she stayed with me was like something out of a dream. God, I miss her so damn bad.”
You could have knocked me over with a feather, I was that damn shocked. Then I realized that I better get with the program or lose the precious gift I had been given in her trust. “That good, huh?”
The lightly teasing tone got her to look up again and my grin deepened at the shy embarrassment in her gaze. “Yeah. It was like finding that piece you’d been missing all along. No wonder I’d always had such shitty taste in men.” I laughed and she smiled along.
“So you two have been dancing around each other for what, a week now? No wonder Magda looks so unnerved. Jinny must be driving her as nuts as you’ve been making me. CD, listen,” I needed her to believe me and reached out to grab her forearm in a strong grip. “I’m more than a little shocked by all this, but I’m here for you. I know I tease and I’ll keep doing it, but I’ll support you no matter what, okay?”
Damn, I liked getting that soft expression; it was a great look on her. “Okay. You’ll never know what it means to have you stand by me Nate.”
“Power of two, CD. Always remember that.”
The next morning I felt like I had one of those ‘emotional hangovers’. The kind that leave you dry-mouthed and headachy with you emotions knotted up in your throat until it hurts to breathe? Yet at the same time it’s as though you’ve unburdened your soul and that suddenly you have wings? I lay sprawled naked in my decedent bed and thought about the upheavals I’d been through lately. And all the pondering in the world made me realize one glaring fact.
I wanted Jinny Exstead.
Not just as a lover, though I needed that too, but in all ways. I needed her strength and her weaknesses, her smart-assed humor, that half-smile that showed what she was thinking. I needed the hard-eyed cop and that fright that I saw flashed my way periodically. I was as hopelessly in love with her as I could possibly be without her right here.
As if on cue, my phone shrilled beside the bed.
For a long moment, I seriously considered ignoring it, but common sense won out. Snatching up the receiver and rolling onto my back until the cord pulled taut, I tried to speak my name as coherently as possible. “DeLorenzo.” There had been no need for the formality as I instantly recognized the squeal of delighted laughter on the other end.
“Hi Candy! How have you been? Did you like the movie?”
Only one living human being could get away with calling me ‘Candy’ and I was ever so happy to hear her voice. “God I’m glad to hear from you Court.”
“Hey,” she suddenly went serious. “What’s wrong babe?”
And I told her everything. About Jinny and finally accepting Nate and the crazed feelings running rampant through my awakening heart.
“Wow,” she finally breathed in awe. “I have got to meet this woman. I am so damn happy for you, Candy!”
My laughter rushed from me and I curled up on my side to spend the morning with my baby sister.
It was noon before a weary, but happy, CD dragged into the Division with a soft smile playing around her mouth. I really needed to see what my partner saw. I needed to understand this attraction I just didn’t understand. There was no doubt that she was attractive in a rugged, hard-edged feminine kinda way. But there was a tenderness lurking in the corners of her eyes, gentle humor in the curl of her mouth. In those subtle clues I could see what had attracted Jinny so powerfully. This was a woman who was tough and tender, who would hug you or kick your ass as the situation warranted; a perfect match to Jinny’s damaged and strong soul. CD would take no shit from my partner, but she was sensitive enough to be loving too.
In a split second I had made up my mind, leaping to my feet and grabbing my coat. Both Raina and Jinny were startled by my sudden burst of movement, the latter growing horrified as I pounced on CD. “You look tired CD, let me buy you a cup of coffee across the street. Back in a few.” I bodily shoved CD out the door as Raina gawked at my ballsiness and Jinny stared round-eyed.
“Jeez Magda, what’s up?” CD half-chuckled as she glanced down at me, pushing on her back like a stubborn mule.
“We need to talk.”
That chased off the easy humor, her smile turning half-hearted. “No good conversation starts with ‘we need to talk’.”
I didn’t speak again until we reached the Seattle’s Best booth across the busy street, and then I only asked what she wanted, grabbed the two cups after tossing the guy a ten and led the way to the little park on the corner. We sat side by side on a chilly cement bench and I tried to figure what the hell I was supposed to say.
“This is about Jinny?” CD finally asked quietly. “I suppose I’m dead wrong and should drop it now, huh?”
God, that sounded like it hurt to verbalize. “No, I was actually trying to figure out a way to tell you to go for it.” That got a comedic double take. She was a smart cookie and surmised quickly that if Jinny had told me, her straight, getting-married-soon partner, then this was serious. Her wide-eyed expression of realization made me turn my head and glare at her squarely. “I don’t pretend to understand any of this, but you just do something for her. Something I’d never expected to see with all she’s been through. I mean, you understand her, you know her, you’re a good compliment to her strengths and weaknesses.” For a moment I couldn’t look into that bright gaze and glanced away before returning my glare, now amped up to hot and glowering. “But so help me God if you hurt her…”
Absolutely, utterly serious, CD nodded in understanding and we sat in a silence that bled from tense to easy. This just might turn into a friendship that I could enjoy too.
Utterly floored by Magda’s revelations, I meekly followed her back to the office and sat at my desk to try and catch up with my paperwork. Nate had arrived while I’d been off with Magda and I could feel his curious gaze on me. His and Raina’s and Jinny’s and the Captain’s. This was like being in high school again, the tall, poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks trying to fit in with the rich and white-collared. But I studiously refused to meet anyone’s eyes, knowing that I was far too raw right now to deal with just about anything.
The afternoon was quiet and uneventful until Nate got ‘the phone call’. Oh, there was nothing interesting about it until his voice took on that almost squeaky kid-on-Christmas-morning quality. “Seriously? That’s great. Yeah, I’ll be over tonight with a trailer. No, pleasure’s all mine. See you then.” Our eyes met and I couldn’t help but smile in empathy to his excitement.
“Dare I ask?”
“I’ve been trying to buy this ’57 Jag from this guy in Berkley for months now. That was it, I got it!”
“All this for an old car?” I scoffed and he looked like I’d kicked his puppy. Courtney had been the one with the magic touch with cars, not me.
“That’s not any ‘old car’,” Magda scolded me as she rolled her chair closer. “You seriously just bought a ’57 Jag, Nate?”
“God, this thing is sweet,” he gushed and the conversation suddenly took on that other language I’d never understood. It was very closely related to good ole proper American English, but little of it made sense to those that weren’t rabid car aficionados. Despite my need to keep some kind of distance, my gaze was helplessly drawn to Jinny’s azure eyes so close. Amused by our partners, a grin danced around her mouth and I was utterly overcome with the insane need to kiss her, to know what she felt and tasted like. In an instant her eyes went smoky and I could imagine the look on my face must be mirroring that hungry expression. Everything else fell away in those breathless moments, our gazes like physical caresses in the space between us.
It took something light and bouncy ricocheting off my shoulder to break the trance. Flushed with embarrassment, I jerked my head around to see Magda and Nate grinning in evil amusement at us. “You gonna come help get this sweet thing or not?” Magda asked for what sounded like must have been the third or fourth time. My blank look made her laugh, Nate’s grin widening. “The car CD. Nate’s new old car?”
“You only want me for my SUV,” I managed to fire back and they both dissolved into chuckles.
Tired of the giddy excitement of the car buffs, Captain McCafferty threw us all out just an hour later, telling us to have fun and to expect a phone call if anything came down the pipe. I had a grubby change of clothes in the car and followed Nate to his place so he could drop off his Dodge and clamber into my Durango after hooking a battered old flat trailer to the rear end. “I really appreciate you doing this for me.”
“You’re so excited, I could hardly say no,” I teased and headed for Magda’s place. I wasn’t certain that Jinny was coming along, but since she was staying with Magda, it was a good bet. So this would be some kind of test for us. When I turned the corner I recognized both women waiting at the curb with a smaller figure holding their hands. “Hey, that’s Ben,” I told Nate in delight. I hadn’t seen the boy in a very long time. “Hey,” I called out and they scrambled to get in while I held up traffic. “Good to see you again Ben, how have you been?”
“Good,” Ben responded politely as he climbed into the big car with his escorts. “Mom says that Mister Basso found a neat car that I gotta see.”
Us girls filled the car with laughter as Nate winced and twisted in his seat to introduce himself to Ben. “Call me Nate, pleased to meet you Ben. You holding up okay with both your mom and Jinny around all the time?”
The boy was immediately taken with my partner, chattering happily at the only other male in the SUV. Conversation flowed easily among us, with the notable exception of Jinny and I. “This is a really neat car, CD,” Ben gushed happily at me at one point and I grinned in the rearview mirror.
“It’s something I’ve wanted for a long time and decided to finally go for it.” The double-edged comment was not lost on the adults.
“Why’s your name CD?”
Ah kids, no tact at all, bless their little hearts. “It’s my initials,” I sighed as I realized I probably couldn’t get out of this gracefully. Ben said nothing, but I could feel his anticipation and curiosity burning into the back of my skull. Probably learned the trick from his mother. When someone’s reluctant to ‘fess up, you wait them out. I spared a quick glare for my smirking partner before giving into the seven year old. “It’s stands for Candace Dorothy, but don’t you dare make fun.” That mocking threat of course set him into peals of laughter.
“Why doesn’t anyone call you Candy?”
“Because I’d shoot them,” I deadpanned and the whole car erupted. Ah well, there were worse reasons to humiliate yourself in the company of friends than their laughter.
I’d only come along because mother and son had begged me. That and I really wanted to spend some more time in the presence of my obsession. My eyes traced over the blunted lines of her body under the flannel shirt, her competent hands on the wheel. I wanted those hands on my skin, wanted her smile filling my vision, wanted her love and humor focused on me. That startling last thought consumed me until we came to halt and the engine died. “C’mon Jinny,” Ben begged me and tugged at my hand to get me to follow.
It was a car. One that rated a few pegs above ‘hunk of junk’ in my book, but Nate was gushing on and on to the elderly man with the keys. Magda ran a practical eye over the clunker while Ben held my hand and mimicked my skeptical expression. “Oh don’t look so sour-faced papi, mija. This thing is a classic and its body is in good shape, that’s all that matters. Now go help CD back the trailer up.”
“Yes ma’am,” we muttered in stereo and laughed.
It was a test of skill and patience to get the trailer lined up with the Jag at the bottom of the curved driveway. By the time that was finally accomplished, CD was looking fairly pissed off. She stalked past Ben and I to roughly yank the ramps down. I felt her frustration like a tangible thing and wanted to do something. So I gave the bored Ben a tug and stepped over to her. A light hand on her arm brought those burning eyes snapping around and my breath strangled in my throat. It had been a few days since I’d been in her personal space and the intensity of it still floored me. Everything else was forgotten as I stared into her pale eyes. Close enough to feel her heat despite the hot evening, close enough to feel the brush of her body against my loose clothing, close enough…
CD’s blue eyes filled my vision, paralyzed me like a hungry cobra on a mouse. To save my sanity, my eyes fluttered shut and let my other senses focus on her, the gentle brush of her nose against mine, the feathering of her breath over my mouth. I wanted her so bad I could taste it, parting my lips to draw in her breath, so damn close to mine. The shocking, silken brush of her lips in the briefest of touches, the sensation electric…
“Hey!” Startled like a gunshot, we jerked apart at Magda’s shout. She was amused and annoyed, that much was glaringly obvious. “You two gonna help us push this thing or what?”
Red-faced beneath Ben’s fascinated gaze, we meekly complied. I had utterly forgotten the boy was still clinging to my right hand. His mother gave me a penetrating look that made me feel painfully self-conscious. That near-kiss with CD had left Ben with all kinds of questions and now Magda was going to have to deal with his curiosity. “Sorry,” I murmured as Nate called Ben over the Jag’s driver door. For a moment Magda continued to glower before she gave in with a sigh.
“You two better start dating now, so I don’t have to explain to him what that was all about for no immediate reason.”
Shock rooted me to the spot at the teasing and Magda just grinned wickedly. What followed was possibly the most strenuous act of physical labor that I’d ever been asked to perform.
With Ben keeping the car pointed up the narrow ramps, we four adults put our backs into it. Easier said than done, as the Jag was rusty enough to be a pain to move added to the twentyish degree angle of the ramps. Small car or no small car, the damn thing was heavy. With Magda at the open driver’s door to keep Ben on track, the rest of us planted our six hands on the Jag’s rear end and got her moving. It was a relief to have Nate in the middle to at least attempt to keep me focused on the task at hand and not CD. But I could see her straining in the corner of my eye, and I could hear the noises she was making.
There was a fearful moment when the Jag suddenly lurched off to the right because Ben had pointed it at a weird angle and it was about to jump track. It took some straining to let the car roll back safely and then shove it back up until it settled onto the trailer.
“Damn you Basso,” I griped as we all collapsed at the bumper. “You so owe us for this.”
“Dinner?” He offered hopefully, panting just as hard as we were.
“That’s a good start,” CD laughed and ran her hands through her sweaty hair
I was lucky enough to get away with running to the grocery store to splurge on enough barbeque food and drink to feed an army. Some fancy apple cider and plenty of soda for Jinny and Ben, a six-pack of that weird microbrew for CD and a couple of wild guesses that I liked and hoped Magda would too. Was her fiancé coming over? By the time I got back to my Dodge, I was hoping a case with some overtime would drop in my lap.
With the car half empty, headlights stabbed across my open garage and I felt that old thrill of wondering if it was danger. Nope, it was just Magda and her entourage. I shoved a bottle of virgin cider at Jinny, shook Gabe’s hand and sent Ben scampering for the tiny backyard of the little house I’d inherited from my folks. Soon we were all talking and laughing, Ben rough housing with my wiry old mutt, Boomer. But I was well aware that my partner hadn’t showed. Magda seemed bothered and Jinny looked downright wounded.
So, I stuck my nose in where it may or may not have belonged. As the third ring trilled in my ear, I found myself chanting to myself, “c’mon, CD, c’mon.”
“What, you don’t have me on speed dial?”
“Nope, I usually have you close at hand. You know how I hate these things Nate.”
“So, you gonna show? It’s not the same without you here.”
“After what happened at your car buddy’s house, I’m not sure I should.”
A glance over at Magda’s fiancé made me wonder if he had any clue. It occurred to me that it was odd that Ben had asked no questions. “Shit, CD, you should… I don’t know what you should do. I think we’d like your company, but Gabe and Ben are here, so…”
“And that will make everything so much more comfortable,” she drawled sarcastically and I winced.
“Tell you what. Give me a few minutes to see if he’s cool and I’ll call you back.”
“What? Nate!” Ignoring the alarm in her voice, I hung up and shoved the phone back into my pocket. That would either send her running here or I’d find some way to breech the subject of homosexuality. This should be fairly nerve-wracking…
There was an odd look on Nate’s face when he came back to the backyard. My questioning glance made him look indecisive before approaching. “CD’s not sure she should come over,” he confessed quietly and gave my arm a squeeze. I felt sucker-punched. Before the feeling could send me spiraling too badly, there was a tug at my empty hand.
Ben looked up at me earnestly. “Is it ‘cause you and her kissed?”
Woo boy, outed to the fiancé by the son. Lucky me.
There was an odd expression on Gabe’s face and Magda looked like she was gonna swallow her tongue. Figuring I was in too deep now to back off, I knelt down to look Ben right in the eye and prayed I didn’t screw this up. “Yeah, that’s it exactly. See, I like CD. Not just the way I like you and Nate and your folks, but…”
“The way mom and dad like each other?” He surmised with grave understanding. My next words seemed almost redundant.
“Exactly. But there’s a lot of people that don’t think that’s right, for two girls to love each other.”
“You love her?”
He’d caught me again in that glaring searchlight of honesty. God, I sucked at this, but when Magda moved to interfere, I raised my hand. “I don’t know Ben. We haven’t really had the chance to find out.”
Ben smiled cheekily and gave me a big hug that warmed me through and through. “She’d be crazy not to love you. You’re the best tia.” And that was it as he went to go pounce on the dog again, his curiosity satisfied. I was too shaken to stand, feeling Gabe’s hard stare on me like a physical pressure. This would be fun. While we weren’t pals or a direct part of one another’s lives, we were connected through Magda and Ben. I suddenly very much felt like the opposing team.
And wanted a drink so bad I could taste it.
Sobriety was hell.
Furious at Ben putting Jinny on the spot like that, I knew he wouldn’t understand why I was angry and instead focused my damage control instincts on Gabe. A glance had Gabe following me; another had Nate’s permission to go inside. Knowing I’d screwed up with Gabe in the past, I stopped in the living room and faced him, gesturing that he should go first.
“Did I hear all that right?”
Oh, he definitely hadn’t been expecting that and his shock turned back into hardness. “And she’s been living under your roof all week? What…”
Livid, but determined to be a semi-reasonable adult about this, my eyes narrowed and my voice was low and tight. “Don’t you dare go there Gabriel. She’s my partner and I don’t care who she loves or who she sleeps with, and neither should you. It’s none of our business and I thought she handled Ben’s question very well.” Gentling, I moved to stand close to the man I’d been through so much with. “Tiamo, I don’t understand it any better than you do, but that doesn’t matter. Jinny won’t do anything tacky and I’ll talk to Ben about being careful about who he talks to about this.”
Frustrated, but gentling, Gabe raked both hands through his hair and sighed. “You’re sure? This is a shock.”
“Now you know how I felt a few days ago. Now, we go out there and act as though nothing happened, agreed?”
I was going to kill him.
Some long, drawn out torture that would involve something that my rattled brain wasn’t capable of wrapping itself around at the moment. In a record sixteen minutes I made it to Nate’s neighborhood, remembering the area clearly from my old days as a beat cop. It was sheer, stupid luck that I hadn’t been pulled over by a fellow police officer for driving like a maniac. Crashing through the side gate, the little party jumped in shock and stared at me. In those long moments I realized that something had shifted, some subtle perception in all of their eyes. Jinny was exhausted in more than just body, her long week obviously catching up with her. I knew how she felt.
“Hi CD,” Ben called out. “Have you met Boomer?”
“Yeah, I have,” I answered automatically and warily moved to the boy’s side. “He’s a great dog.”
“Just so you know, I asked. Nate didn’t say anything. And you should try loving Jinny, she’s the best.”
I had seen and done a lot in my thirty-three years. Come from a rough, poor background where I’d had to fight for every scrap and carved out a future for myself in a tough career, had started accepting my attraction for another woman. But Ben absolutely floored me with his perception and bluntness.
“Sorry,” Magda was suddenly apologizing and I smiled, shell shocked, and waved it off.
“No, that’s okay, Thanks Ben, that’s exactly what I needed to hear.”
And, utterly ignoring every other living thing but Jinny, I went to her and wrapped her up in a warm hug. The rightness of the way she felt was not lost on me, nor the way her eyes darkened as she brought her hands up to rest on my upper arms. “I’ve missed you Jinny,” I whispered hoarsely and there were honest-to-god tears in her eyes.
“Yeah, me too.”
One hand snaked up to curl around the back of my neck and gently tug me down. While I may have initiated this first hug, she got the credit for the first kiss. Cool in the evening heat, her lips pressed to mine, curious and tender. A series of quiet touches, the slide of soft skin, the tease of breath and wet heat. If not for our audience, it might have gone further, but I was perversely grateful to have to keep things calmer than my hormones were jangling for. Otherwise nerves and fear might have sent us both screaming for the hills.
“Told you so,” Ben smirked.
I honestly couldn’t remember ever being giddy before. Not sober anyway. But that was exactly how I felt with CD this night. After that gentle embrace, we’d stuck close. A touch here, a glance there, her hand in mine. At one point, she’d even managed to strike up a conversation with Gabe that occupied them for a good half hour. And when she stepped away, actually earned a smile and a handshake from him. I was jealous. I’d be lucky to get quiet tolerance. Arms stealing around me from behind made me jump and melt into their growing familiarity.
“He seems nice,” CD hummed in my ear, nuzzling me seductively.
“He is,” I agreed breathlessly. “But I’m not sure he’s ever gonna like me.”
For a long time we stood off in the darkness, swaying together in the warm quiet. Then her head started growing heavy against my shoulder, her body leaning heavily into mine. “You’re tired,” I stated unnecessarily and she woke from her half doze with a start.
“Yeah,” CD murmured and let me go to step back and rub her forehead. “Haven’t slept well without you.”
Oh, how I loved these bursts of sleepy honesty. A tug on her shirt made CD lean over and accept my gentle kiss. “Wait right here.”
Ben was long since asleep and the other three adults were still chatting merrily around what was left of the campfire. “I’m taking CD home,” I told them quietly and braved the long looks. “She’s just about unconscious and we have some stuff to work out. I’ll call you in the morning Mags. Thanks for dinner Nate, and I’ll see you soon Gabe.”
There were murmured ‘goodnights’ as I fled from them and my own nervousness. CD wordlessly obeyed my push to the SUV and only hesitated a moment before handing over the keys when I imperiously held out my hand. Before I was out of Nate’s driveway she was out. It was a good thing I remembered the way back to her complex and the gate clicker was clipped to the sunshade. During the drive, I couldn’t resist the occasional glance as though reassuring myself that this was really happening. Peaceful and relaxed in sleep, CD took on an angelic quality that probably would have annoyed her if it were pointed out.
At the apartment, I gently shook CD’s shoulder until she woke with a start. “Wha…”
“Relax, we’re home.”
The choice of words didn’t hit me until after I’d shooed her off to bed and was standing in the shower.
They echoed through me as I finished washing, dried myself off and stood at the threshold of her bedroom. Sprawled boneless atop the decadent bedding, CD had collapsed in just such a way that there was enough room to wiggle my smaller body into her loose embrace.
And, after finding some oversized pajamas, that’s exactly what I did.