DISCLAIMER: Los Hombres De Paco and its characters are the property of Antena 3. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: And, per usual, thank you to disturbed_muse, random_flores, and lysachan. You guys rock!
SPOILERS: For LHDP, just the Pepa/Silvia relationship. For HC, through 16x17 (the season 16 finale).
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Maybe We Are Both Good People
(Who've Done Some Bad Things)

By mightbefound


Water's so much colder
I was lasting longer
Ever since you went away
Having a different point of view
Doesn't make it right for you
To decide that you don't have to stay
Now please don't leave me

I'm caught in the middle
It pulls me down to places no one goes
So you need to find out
If there's a chance for us
What a difference it makes
Waking up here without you
Baby, we can make this right

This heart cannot erase you
After years replace you
Don't you think that's kind of sad?


"It's an hour into the party, and Maca isn't here yet!" Teresa exclaims. The small crowd of doctors and nurses clustered around her almost uniformly turns to Esther. "Esther, do you know where she is?" Teresa, as always, manages to sound both casual and incredibly nosy.

For her part, Esther scowls, hating that Maca is late, that she does not, in fact, know where her ex-wife is, and that these two facts combine to bother her far more than they should.

At least Vero is here and looks as clueless as I do, she thinks, and feels a rush of satisfaction. (Vero does, in fact, look very discomfited. She obviously does not know where Maca is, either. And she looks annoyed that no one asked her.

Point to Esther.

After all this time, Esther still cannot conquer the urge to be petty toward the other woman in her thoughts. Then again, they are her thoughts. She does not have to.)

"No, I don't, Teresa, but don't worry. I'm sure she'll be here." Esther holds up a placating hand. "The last time we spoke, she said she was coming back early from her vacation to be here. Stop obsessing!"

She waves a hand at Teresa, and Teresa makes a face but obligingly turns away, continuing to hold court.

Left alone, Esther sighs, deflates a little. She feels ridiculous. She spent three hours picking her outfit, applying her makeup, getting dressed. All because Maca was (finally) returning from her four-week "vacation" in San Antonio.

(Esther hopes the MS treatment was effective. She hasn't talked to Maca in seven days and four hours, has not talked to Maca about anything more than their children in almost five weeks, and she hates that she could probably count the minutes, too. Maca has not called Claudia recently, either; Esther has already asked.)

She hates that she is all but watching the door for Maca; she has spent enough time doing that at the hospital! She hates that she is nervous, that she is almost twitching in anticipation. She missed Maca, yes, but this….She hates that deep down she can't wait for Maca's cool lips to be on her cheeks, for Maca's arms to be around her.

She hates that she has been ignoring Bea, or worse yet, treating Bea like Maca treated her when choosing between her and Vero. After that whole mess, she swore she would never be like that, be that person, and yet.

What she really hates is the way everyone is watching her like Maca is going to magically appear out of thin air, they will profess their undying love for each other, and then start making out in the middle of the dance floor. It's not as if everyone who works at the hospital hasn't already caught them kissing at one point or another; really, is it too much to ask that she and Maca get some privacy at some point? Or that people stop trying to shove her and Maca back together?

Making an annoyed noise, she goes back to listening absently to Teresa, lingering on the outskirts of the group, and takes a long swallow of her beer. She has allowed Maca and the whole situation to put her into a sulk (not that that's a new development), and for a variety of reasons it will not do. She pastes a polite smile on her face and turns to start a conversation with Claudia, who is looking at her with a little too much concern.

It's going to be a long night.

It's funny, Maca muses as she straightens her dress, applies the last of her mascara, and checks her appearance in the mirror. Esther once told her that when Maca looks at her, Maca makes her feel like she's the only person who exists. The only person Maca can ever see.

(It's not an inaccurate statement, to be fair. Even now, even after everything, Maca knows that when she walks into the ballroom, Esther's will be the first face she sees, and she will scrutinize it to see how Esther has been these last four weeks, how she is doing, before she even glances at anyone else.)

It's funny because Maca has always felt the exact opposite. She knows Esther looks at everyone; Esther may not always know what to do with the information she takes in, but she sees everyone, is aware of so much. She is certainly more perceptive than Maca herself. Maca has always felt special because Esther looked at everyone else and then narrowed her look to just Maca. Because she made the choice to focus her everything on Maca.

Unfortunately, Maca thinks with a touch of dread, given their last meeting, Esther will certainly not tune out everyone else tonight. Including—especially—the brunette standing behind her.

This is not how she originally envisioned tonight going.

"Ready?" Pepa's voice is amused. Maca turns and scrutinizes her old friend and date for the night.

Pepa Miranda is, of course, beautiful. Stunning, gorgeous, amazing in her black cocktail dress. She has lightly curled her hair and applied a particularly vivacious shade of red lipstick. The dress exposes most of her shoulders and upper back, and her creamy skin seems almost to glow. Maca knows she's being such a man, but she can't stop herself from looking Pepa up and down, eyes slightly wide.

Maca has always been pretty sure that Pepa rolls out of bed looking better than ninety-six percent of all women. When she makes an effort, Maca thinks the percentage ups to ninety-nine point eight. It is not often that Maca feels pedestrian next to anyone, but Pepa definitely makes her feel like the Beast of their relationship.

(She wonders if this is how Esther, with her insecurities, has always felt when she stands next to Maca. She suddenly feels she understands her ex-wife so much better. At least with Vero, this particular problem never came up.)

"Maca?" Pepa is gently holding her chin now. Concern swims in her eyes. "Are you okay?"

"Joder, no!" Maca explodes, and Pepa drops her hand as she tilts her head back, laughs loudly. Maca scowls and continues.

"I feel overdressed, my gown is beautiful but not comfortable, my bra itches, I have not seen my children or my friends in four weeks, and I am wearing a wire. A police wire. I am fucking nervous, Pepa!"

Pepa laughs her fool head off through most of Maca's rant, but at the last statement, she sobers.

"I know, Maca," Pepa says, and she takes Maca's hand, squeezes. "I know. But everything is going to be okay, eh?" A smile blooms on Pepa's face. "I promise."

Maca sighs, deflates.

"Sí, sí, sí," she mutters, and glances away. "I know."

"Chicas, ready?" Silvia asks, opening the door, nose buried in a file. Upon seeing her, Pepa perks up immediately. A gentle smile crosses her face, and her body relaxes, becomes much more open.

"Claro que sí," she responds, and Silvia looks up. Her expression softens, too, and she and Pepa gaze into each other's eyes for a moment.

Maca can't help faintly smiling, looking away. They are adorable, the two of them. They are very much in love, and Maca is happy for Pepa. When she hooked up with Silvia, Pepa finally found what she was looking for, all those wild years in Sevilla. Now she is different. Calmer, more centered, more complete.

They inspire her. They make her think maybe….

She chances a look at them, and they're still staring at each other, although Pepa's smile has grown slightly wicked and Silvia is blushing a little. Maca's smile turns wistful. She wishes she (still) had that. But she doesn't, and she knows she doesn't have anyone to blame but herself.

She lives with the consequences of her decisions every day when she wakes up to an empty bed.

Silently, Maca removes her wedding ring from her purse, threads it through a silver chain, and fastens it around her neck. It is small, and unobtrusive. She can't decide if it feels like an albatross or if it feels like, well, hope.

(And when did she turn into Madonna?)

Finally, a flustered Silvia breaks the eye lock. "Bueno, then let's go," she says, and walks away.

Pepa turns to Maca, touches her shoulder. Her face has become deadly serious. "Remember what I said, Maca. Above all, if bullets start flying, get down and get yourself out. Don't worry about Esther, or Vero, or anyone. I'll take care of them. You just take care of you. I'm not losing you, too." Her voice has softened.

Maca stares at Pepa. "Hombre, you are not helping," she mutters, and sighs as Pepa laughs again and takes Maca's arm, gallantly leading her to the limo. Just before they get in, Maca pauses, turns to face Pepa. Her face is set.

"First, we have a stop to make."

During a lull in the conversation (Esther has long since given up and joined Teresa's circle), Esther gratefully accepts her third beer of the night from Carlos. She takes a sip, sighs. This gala had been the idea of some idiot administrator, a stupid idea for a fundraiser, and the entire hospital staff is bored stiff. They are about to dig into another round of appetizers and drinks, and she is starting to actually worry about Maca, when….

"Maca Fernández Wilson y Pepa Miranda!"

Esther turns.

Maca is descending the staircase. She is in a black dress. Her hair is up. She is the most beautiful woman on the earth.

She is on the arm of an amazingly gorgeous woman at least ten years younger than her. A skinny (almost anorexic, Esther thinks grumpily) woman with high cheekbones and dark hair and flawless skin and liquid black eyes and supermodel good looks. Both are smiling, and Maca turns her head to hear the woman's whisper, to say something back. It almost looks as if the woman brushes her lips over the corner of Maca's jaw.

They make a stunningly beautiful couple.

The whole time Esther has been sitting here, worrying and nervous and anxious and anticipating and lying to herself about it, Maca has been with this woman. Probably in a limousine. With lots of expensive alcohol.

Esther turns around and chugs the rest of her beer.

"Everyone is staring at us," Maca whispers to Pepa. And it's true. The entire fucking hospital is staring at them. She tries to ignore the way the men are drooling. She is less successful at ignoring the way Vero is staring at her in a way that suggests she is both the sexiest woman on Earth and that she killed Vero's dog. It makes her feel too many conflicting emotions (the biggest one being that crushing sense of guilt she can never avoid anymore when she looks at the blonde coupled with the desire to fix things and the knowledge that she can't), so she looks away, looks for Esther. She had caught sight of her for a brief moment, earlier, and her ex had had a frozen look on her face.


"Esther looks pissed," Pepa helpfully points out.

Maca looks at the back of Esther's head, resists the urge to sigh and/or punch Pepa's arm. It's going to be a hell of a night, she thinks.

"Oh, by the way, there's a few things I forgot to tell you," Pepa says, and Maca almost chokes on her next breath. She takes a quick glance at Pepa, catches her profile out of the corner of her eye. Pepa has that photogenic smile firmly pasted on. Maca makes sure her own smile is firm as well.

"What?" The panic is slightly undignified, but given the circumstances, she thinks she can be forgiven.

"Two things." Pepa elegantly puts her hand on the rail, assisting Maca in making the gentle turn on the staircase. They have been practicing their six-inch stiletto-ed descent for two days, and it goes flawlessly. "Apparently Javier has been fucking up the entire hospital. And Héctor has been even worse as ER director."

Maca's smile becomes more genuine (and a tiny bit savage), even if she is sad for Héctor. She feels badly for him—everyone knew he had not wanted to be ER director, that his promotion had been Javier's direct attack on Maca, and he has apparently become collateral damage in their battle. Maca is Wilson enough to feel vicious pleasure at being vindicated, even if she regrets it came at Héctor's expense.

She feels nothing but satisfaction and triumph with regards to Javier, however. Maca had warned him—warned everyone—and after everything, now that the tatters of her personal and professional life have had a little time to heal over, it feels good to be proven right. To win at something. She's not sure when the sweet boy she used to know died and left this arrogant, petty man in his wake, but she's past the point of caring.

A la porra, Javier.

"The other thing," Pepa continues conversationally, and there are five steps left, "is that although they haven't broken up, Esther and Bea have been having problems. They've moved all their stuff out of each others' houses, and they had a rather public—and angry—argument in the lobby a week ago. Esther hasn't looked too happy for a while now."

Maca's smile falters, barely holds as she processes. She almost misses a step, but Pepa's guidance is flawless. Her eyes widen and her head whips around to Pepa (who is laughing silently, Maca can tell, that bitch), and she doesn't care what it looks like.

"What?" she repeats. It's not exactly what she was hoping for, but…. Her voice is hopeful, too hopeful and too interested and too alive, and she cringes to hear it. She sounds so fucking needy. Pepa stops laughing, gives her a quick squeeze that is probably not visible to anyone else.

"Not now," Pepa whispers as they hit the bottom step, and Maca realizes she is right. Maca turns and plasters a smile on as the first of the hospital administration vultures starts to circle.

She is going to kill Pepa, she decides.

As Maca and the woman—what was her name, Pepa? What a stupid name—hit the floor, Maca loses her compsure for a brief second, gives Pepa a wide-eyed look. Esther wonders if Pepa has shocked Maca by suggesting something they could do later in the night, and she wants to claw Pepa's eyes out. As the hospital administrators cluster around Maca, Esther looks at Vero. Vero looks at her. She knows that, bizarre as it is, they are in agreement at this particular moment.

Whoever this woman is, they hate her.

"I'm going to get us a drink," Pepa murmurs in Maca's ear, giving her a squeeze as she detaches. She makes sure to play the display up for all it's worth, letting her lips brush Maca's ear, her hair drape over Maca's gently, her fingers linger and glide over Maca's forearm. Maca doesn't miss a beat, but the man talking to her stutters, stumbles badly.

Pepa moves away, smirks. She knows Maca is smirking on the inside, too, however annoyed with Pepa she might also be. But Maca is a Wilson, and has flawless self-control when she wants to. Her face remains impassive and attentive.

Still, Pepa sighs as she walks to the bar. She has developed a conscience recently (and, of course, it sounds like Silvia, like the stupid lecturing/scolding tone Silvia mastered at thirteen and that, like wine, has only developed with time), though she's not quite sure how, and now her conscience is poking at her, telling her that teasing Maca like this—that, if Pepa's instincts are right (which they always are), torturing Esther and probably Vero while she's at it—isn't very nice.

Too bad Pepa isn't very nice. She smirks again. She wonders what Silvia would have to say about the matter….

Arriving at the bar, she mutters "champagne" and flashes two fingers at the bartender. She leans against the bar, waits. Her mind goes back to almost four weeks ago.

"So what happened?" Silvia asked.

Pepa and Silvia were curled together on the sofa, Maca in the armchair facing them. They had already polished off two bottles of wine after dinner, and Silvia was almost, almost drowsing off against Pepa. (Well, had been, anyway, before she got entranced in Maca's story.) It was unbearably cute.

"Well, I drank a lot of wine, and then I left the date and went to Esther's apartment," Maca said. A chagrined expression crossed her face, and Pepa thought that right now Maca—with her hair down and almost a bottle of wine in her—was as accessible, as unguarded as she had ever seen the other woman. Certainly it was as open as she'd been since Alejandra died.

Ah, Alejandra.

"She was great about it," Maca admitted. "She told me to go and everything. I made sure to pay for dinner."

Pepa snorted, readjusted Silvia against her. "Like you wouldn't have anyway, rich brat." She winked at Maca. She swore Maca almost, almost stuck her tongue out at her. But that was too undignified for a Wilson, apparently.

"Anyway," Maca continued with a repressive look at Pepa, "I went to Esther's apartment. I told her.…" She faltered. Maca held up her drink and stared into the depths of the glass. Pepa cocked her head and Silvia picked hers up too, although she burrowed closer to Pepa.

"I told her that I love her. That I'm in love with her. That despite everything, I never stopped being in love with her, and I don't think I ever will. It's not possible." Maca's voice was quiet and reflective, but there was an underlying thread of happiness there. Pepa smiled gently. Maca had finally, finally put her heart on the table, laid it all out there. Now, Pepa thought, even if Esther was stupid enough to reject her and break her heart, devastate her, Maca could finally make a clean break, have a new start.

If, of course, she could get over the heartbreak. Pepa thought Esther would have to be an idiot—anyone would, really—to reject Maca. But still. Stranger things had happened. Elvis might be alive and partying with aliens somewhere.

(Pepa has never met Esther, so maybe that was not fair. But anyone who would toy with Maca's heart was in Pepa's book an idiot, and someone Pepa vehemently will not like. Pepa, for better or worse, has always been loyal.

She knew Maca would defend Esther to the death about that characterization, would point out all of Esther's good qualities and shift most of the blame for their disintegration onto herself. But the beauty of being a good friend is that you don't have to be rational. You don't have to be fair. You can unabashedly take your friend's side.

And Maca looked like she needed a friend.)

"I said I knew it was a little—okay, a lot—late. And that I was sorry for that…sorry for all of it. I told her that I know we can't fix things right away…I don't think either of us wants to. We both know it takes time. But I want to try. Because every time I see her with someone else it feels like I've been punched in the stomach and I want to kill whoever it is. But I also said that I know now it's not just up to me, it's up to her, too. And I said that I guess she has a choice to make. That she doesn't have to rush, because I understand. And that she should take her time because I'll wait. I'll wait however long it takes. And because…because I had a choice, too, lots of them, and I chose wrong every time."

Maca finished and was almost crying. There was a pregnant pause.

"And then you said you were leaving for San Antonio for four weeks," Pepa inserted sardonically, lightening the mood, and Maca snorted and Silvia pinched her. Hard. Pepa yelped, and they play-wrestled for a few moments before they calmed. Maca was looking at them, highly amused.

Amused, and, Pepa thought, maybe a little wistful.

"Sí," Maca said with a sigh, swiping at her eyes. "But Javier was being a bastard, and Claudia offered this experimental sclerosis treatment, and I had so much vacation saved up, and I wanted to give Esther time and space. I didn't want to pressure her or make her feel uncomfortable. So it seemed like the perfect time to go. And I talked to Cruz and Claudia about it, and they both agreed that it was a good idea."

"And Vero?" Silvia asked for the first time. There was a thread of insecurity in her voice; Pepa wondered why. She tightened her hold on Pepa, and Pepa pressed a kiss to the top of her head, gently nuzzled her hair.

Maca sighed. "She knows where she stands with me." Neither Silvia nor Pepa had to be a cop to hear the fission of unease underneath her surety. "She wanted me to move with her to a new hospital, in Valencia. Start a new life with her. I said no."

Pepa arched an eyebrow. "You don't sound sure," she remarked.

Maca flashed her a wry look. "I didn't say to her 'no, I'm not moving with you, get out of my life,' no," she said dryly. Silvia and Pepa snorted. "But trust me, hombre, Vero got the message."

"Are you okay with that?" Silvia asked. Her fingernails gently scratched Pepa's belly. Pepa resisted the urge to purr.

Maca considered for a moment. "Yeah, I am," she said, and sounded surprised. She held up a hand to shush them before they could speak, considered for a moment her words. "Don't get me wrong, there is a part of me that will always care for Vero," Maca clarified, plainly seeing that Silvia and Pepa were not convinced. "I love her as a friend, and I will always want her to be happy. And if I can help her be happy, I'll do it. I owe her that much. But I can't…I don't see a future with her, and I don't love her the way I love Esther. I don't love her the way she wants me to, the way that would let me pack up my life here and move. I don't know that I love her at all." She bites her lip, and Pepa feels her heart go out to the doctor. She sounds incredibly guilty. "I love how she makes me feel, and I love that she loves me. And she is a great friend. But I don't love her."

"You love Esther enough to pack up and move if she said she was going to?" Pepa said, and it was half a question, half a statement. She didn't know their whole history, but she had a good sense of how her old friend felt about Esther, and she was pretty sure she knew the answer.

"Of course." Maca's voice was choked and low. She looked away. "It wouldn't even be a question."

Silence for a few minutes. "Well." Silvia sighed, reluctantly untangling herself from Pepa. "Let's hope Esther chooses right."

"Yeah," Maca echoed softly, and her gaze was distant.

Later, Pepa and Silvia were again curled together. Pepa was on her back, Silvia draped across her, the redhead's ear pressed to her chest, listening to her heartbeat. Silvia's fingers idly traced the small scar high on Pepa's ribs.

"Pepa," Silvia said, pressing a sweet, sweet kiss to Pepa's chest.

"Hm?" Silvia smiled at the low rumble, licked where she had just kissed. Pepa shuddered, laughed, tangled her fingers with Silvia's. But Silvia was serious, and she propped herself up on one hand, using the other to gently stroke Pepa's side.

"Maca seems really together right now," Silvia said, and Pepa had to once again marvel at this beautiful, extraordinary woman who had somehow decided that Pepa was worth loving. Silvia had met Maca only a handful of times, knew her solely as Pepa's friend, one whom Pepa had lost touch with for a few years. And yet she was great. She didn't ask if Maca was one of the forty (although she could have, and Pepa almost wishes she had; ironically, Maca was not), and she didn't even ask how Pepa knew Maca. All Silvia had needed to know was that Maca was someone Pepa cared for, and she had accepted Maca into her heart, into their life. It was…humbling.

Pepa knew the tenderness was showing in her face as she gazed at Silvia, because Silvia was looking at her quizzically, nose crinkled slightly. She surged forward and kissed Silvia passionately.

I love you, Pepa thought, and she pulled Silvia tighter against her as the kiss ended. She wanted to pull Silvia into herself and never, ever let her out. Silvia brushed Pepa's bangs back, and they breathed together for a moment before opening their eyes, gazing at each other.

"Pepa…she's trying to play it off, but Maca's going to be devastated if Esther rejects her," Silvia said quietly.

Pepa shut her eyes. "Yeah." It was barely more than an exhale.

"Well, then." Pepa opened her eyes, thrown by Silvia's tone. Silvia's eyes were determined, her vice bright, her face open. "We'll just have to make sure that doesn't happen."

Pepa cocked her head, looked at Silvia. Then she burst out into laughter, wrestled her lover down among the sheets.

That is why she loves this woman.

Then they were embracing in a different way, and Silvia's mouth was open under hers, and her body opened and shuddered under Pepa's touch, and thoughts of Maca and Esther and the rest of the world faded away.

Pepa shakes herself away from the memory as the bartender places two drinks down in front of her. He gives her a speculative look, and she realizes she is grinning like an idiot.

Wipe that look off your face, Pepa, you're undercover, Silvia scolds again, and Pepa has to smile as she turns around.

Hm. Interesting. Maca is standing, talking to two men Pepa identifies as super head honchos of the hospital. They are obviously discussing something important, and do not want to be disturbed. Javier is lurking around them, plainly trying to insert himself into the conversation, or at least hear what they are saying.

The rest of the hospital is doing a piss-poor job of hiding the fact that they are staring at Maca, the men she's talking to, and Javier's attempts to eavesdrop. Pepa shakes her head. The group includes Vero, who is watching carefully, and Pepa wonders if the blonde thinks Maca is going to reconsider going away with her. The group also includes Esther, and she is particularly bad at disguising the intense interest in her eyes. Her body language indicates anger and curiosity and satisfaction and a certain…guarded openness, as strange as that sounded.

They are almost as bad as Curtis and Quique, Pepa muses distractedly, and wonders what she should do while Maca talks with the bigwigs. She doesn't want to be just the loser date standing by the bar; Pepa has her pride, after all. Something is nibbling on the corners of her mind….

Then it hits her.

Silvia swears up, down, sideways, and to God, that the worst thing about Pepa Miranda is her irresistible instinct for mischief, for causing trouble. When she levels this charge, Pepa usually blows it off, refutes it with many laughs and tickles and teases and kisses. It's not real trouble, she claims. She just likes to stir the pot a little.

Sometimes, though, Pepa has to admit that Silvia is absolutely right about her.

She is a born troublemaker.

Time to stir the pot.

Out of the corner of her eye, Maca glimpses Pepa heading toward the hospital staff. She is on a vector straight to Esther, and she has that look on her face that screams Trouble. Most likely for Maca.

Joder. This is the last thing Maca needs, considering she is currently schmoozing the top hospital administrators, trying to maneuver around Javier, see if there is a way she can take back hospital director, or at least ER chief. See if it is even worth trying.

She can't get away from the conversation, not with Javier circling about. Frustrated, with a sense of impending doom, Maca turns back to her conversation and hopes she can end it soon.

"Hola, todos," Pepa says, making sure to flash her brightest, most charismatic smile at the assembled doctors and nurses. She cranks her sex appeal up several notches. There is almost a thud as about three-quarters of the jaws hit the floor, and Pepa smugly grins inside.

Silvia must have seen that on the video…that means we'll have a happy night, she thinks, but for once focuses on something not Silvia and/or sex.

This is going to be so much fun.

"My name is Pepa Miranda, Maca and I are old friends," she says. Her hands are full, but she leans her hip on the chair of the old woman that just had to be Teresa. Makes sure her hip is cocked in an easy, sexy way.

Everyone is staring.

Pepa loves it.

"I just wanted to come over and introduce myself," and she makes sure to flash another bright smile at Vero and Esther. Vero looks suitably flummoxed for a moment, but regains control of her expression quickly, and shoots Pepa a challenging, interested look.

Ehmmm. Impressive.

When she got to Esther, her eyebrows almost, almost shoot up. Esther hasn't been charmed, or turned on, or amused.

In fact, she looked like she is going to kill Pepa.

I am in more danger from her than the mission, Pepa thinks dryly, but it is enough to get her head back in the game. She lets her eyes crinkle as she says, "Maca has told me so much about you all, I really wanted to meet you."

"And how do you know Maca?" Teresa asks. Pepa has to fight a wolfish grin. The old woman is doing her work for her.

"We're old friends," Pepa says easily, focusing on the older woman and pushing down the pang of regret she always, always feels. Ah, Alejandra. "We originally met through a friend in Sevilla, Alejandra. She gave Maca the ring she always wears on her right hand—you know the one, yeah—about, oh, eight years ago now. But we fell out of touch for a while. We've only reconnected recently." She flashes her supermodel smile again and kicks herself for mentioning Alejandra. She doesn't know why she did that, and she knows it's going to lead to trouble for Maca. Maybe my troublemaker drive is kicked up a little too high, she thinks ruefully.

(The best part of this story is that it's all true. Pepa doesn't have to keep track of any minor lies. It's always been something she struggles with; it's definitely the weakest part of her game as an undercover cop. Silvia keeps telling her to invest in a notebook….)

"How did you find each other again?" It is Claudia, trying to be polite, but her eyes are flickering between Pepa and Maca so fast Pepa is concerned she's going to have a seizure, and Pepa chokes down a laugh. She chances another quick glance at Esther. She thinks she can hear the nurse grinding her teeth.

Pepa gives a little laugh and takes a sip of champagne. "Would you believe in a coffee shop? I've been in San Antonio about a year and a half now, and we literally bumped into each other a few weeks ago. I spilled my coffee all over her shirt." She lets a rueful, amused expression cross her face. "Maca hasn't changed at all, huh? She didn't let me pay for a coffee or to have her shirt cleaned or anything. She insisted on taking me out to dinner instead, to catch up."

(More truth. After they'd gotten over Alejandra's memory still standing between them, they'd both been overjoyed to run into each other on Maca's first day in San Antonio. Pepa's just not mentioning that she had been with Silvia in the coffee shop, that Maca had invited Silvia to dinner, too, and that Maca had spent the night giving Pepa discreet thumbs-up when Silvia wasn't looking. Too bad Silvia hadn't seen; she would have blushed the cutest shade of red, Pepa just knows.)

Pepa notes with satisfaction that Esther has progressed from looking pissed to looking supernaturally calm, which equals more pissed. Vero just looks like she bit into a bitter fruit, which is fine with Pepa. Vero's not her main objective tonight, and while she can feel badly for Vero—she is a cop, she knows how to read between the lines, and though Maca has not fleshed out all the details she perceives enough to surmise that Maca has not treated Vero honorably or well—there is a limit to her compassion.

Vero had been the one, after all, who initiated an affair with a married woman, who demanded that that woman leave her wife, who should have known better than to give her heart to someone who couldn't give her own in return.

Not that she should take the blame for everything that happened, mind. Maca is willing (too willing) to shoulder it, and Esther is at fault, too. Pepa wouldn't normally be as charitable to Esther as she is to Vero, but she senses that Esther is the key to Maca's happiness, and all Pepa has ever wanted for Maca is for her to be happy.

Like she herself is with Silvia, she thinks, and smiles.

"I hope that's for me."

Maca's voice cuts in, returns her to the ballroom, and Pepa half-turns to see her date striding determinedly toward them, Wilson mask firmly in place. Her eyebrow lifts as Maca slows down beside her.

"It is now," she answers dryly as Maca wraps her fingers around the glass. Maca snorts.

"Bad talk?" she murmurs for Maca's ears alone as the other woman pulls the glass away, presses a kiss to Maca's cheek, slides her arm smoothly around Maca. Maca takes a long draw of the champagne, stiffens for a moment, then relaxes into Pepa's light hold. Pepa can tell, though, that Maca still wants to kill her.

"Good, actually," she says softly back, and Pepa makes a show of chuckling, looking away. Maca sips at her champagne again—a more sedate sip this time—then refocuses on the hospital staff and smiles. It looks carefree, but Maca is shaking a little.

"It is good to see you all," Maca says, and the sincerity and warmth in her voice is unfeigned. "How have you been?"

Claudia shrieks and jumps up and grabs Maca in a bear hug, and right behind her are Carlos and Teresa, and Vero follows slowly, and Maca breaks into the first real smile Pepa has seen from her all night.

This, Maca decides, might be the most surreal moment of her life. She's had a lot of them, but this one just might take the cake.

She is wearing a police wire under a very expensive dress, standing in the middle of a ballroom, attending a fundraising gala for the hospital. She is with Pepa, who she has barely seen since Alejandra died and who she literally bumped into in a San Antonio coffee shop a month ago. Pepa has an arm around her and their cheeks are almost touching. She is smiling (strained) and gamely trying to make small talk with Teresa and Claudia as the whole hospital stares at them like they all have six heads. (Díos, you'd think they'd never seen two beautiful women together before, that they have been walking around the hospital with blindfolds for five years—but even that is impossible, given the number of times she has been walked in on in the damned hospital.) She has been on vacation for four weeks, and noe the new hospital administrators are making overtures toward bringing her back as at least ER chief, if not hospital director.

And through it all, Esther and Vero are staring at her like they want to kill her.

Well. Esther is glaring at her, and Maca is surprised she is still in one piece. She knows what her ex must be thinking, must be feeling, and herself feels nauseous. Vero, on the other hand, is staring at Pepa, pointedly not at Maca, and Maca is not at all sure what the look in Vero's eyes is. She hopes Vero isn't attracted to Pepa. Maca will feel horrible if she is again responsible (however indirectly) for getting Vero's heart broken.

They have finished discussing general hospital business, and Maca is starting to fidget as she has come to the end of what she can talk about while Esther and Vero are maintaining a frigid silence and everyone is staring at them, when thankfully—

"Maca, let's go!" Pepa puts her glass down, and Maca quickly revises her opinion of the life-saving music.

"What?" she asks dumbly as Pepa grabs the glass from her hand and puts it down on the table.

"Let's dance!" Pepa takes her hand and gives it a healthy tug. Maca, on six-inch heels, has two choices: to stumble along gracefully and try to make it look as if she is smartly pivoting, or fall on her ass in front of her colleagues. She chooses the option that will do the lesser damage to her dignity, but her face still burns as she hears the snickers behind her.

(She never danced with Vero, danced only a handful of times with Esther. Her stomach twists even more.)

"Pepa!" she hisses, catching up. Her voice is outraged. "This is a waltz. Do you even know how to waltz?"

"Claro que sí," Pepa responds. She has the gall to wink at Maca.

Maca arches her brow. "Oh?"

"Yeah, Silvia made me start lessons. I think she thinks she's really sneaky, but I know she just wants me to be able to dance at the reception when we get married," Pepa confides, and Maca has to blink, and snort, and calms some. How can you stay angry in the face of that? "But I've missed my last two lessons. I need the practice." And then they are in the center of the dance floor. Alone. Pepa lifts her arms.

Maca panics.

"Pepa, I do not like dancing," she hisses as she automatically slides into her position, puts her hands on Pepa. She pastes a smile onto her face, notices with no little resentment that Pepa is relaxed, even looks to be enjoying herself. Her smile is not forced.

"Relax, just let me lead," Pepa murmurs back, counts, and away they go.

Maca knows how to waltz, of course; she thinks her parents taught her the movements as soon as she learned to walk. Consequently, she has never forgotten the steps, and it is one of the dances Maca is best at. The first three turns are not as bad as she fears, and she starts to relax.

She knows that they must be a graceful, blindingly beautiful couple.

Well, this is just going to put all Esther's insecurities to rest. Maca can hear the snarl in her own thoughts.

"That's it, that's right," Pepa praises softly as their bodies move closer together, start to flow in a natural rhythm. "Nice job."

Then they are whirling around each other. Maca catches sight of a scowling face, and it hits her like a punch to the stomach.

"Why are we dancing?" Maca snaps as she jumps and Pepa lifts her. "Hombre, are you trying to screw me with Esther?" Pepa's smile freezes for a moment, becomes gritty. Maca feels a twinge of guilt. She hadn't meant that, really. Alejandra has been gone for a long time; Pepa has always been a friend, and Maca knows Pepa just wants her to be happy.

Maca doesn't apologize, though. She never does.

"I'm trying to make her realize that if she tries to treat you like you treated her, just to get back at you, the two of you might lose each other for good," Pepa comes back. Maca winces at the implied rebuke, but is also surprised at Pepa's tone. It is calm and rational. (Well, mostly.) Not at all angry or defensive.

Silvia is definitely having an influence on her.

"I also wasn't kidding when I said that I need the practice. It's amazing how much missing two lessons sets you back, and Silvia will kill me if I step on her again." Maca bites back her guffaw, tempted to kick Pepa—or at least step on her toes.

"And," Pepa adds as they whirl around cheek-to-cheek again, and her voice is lower than low, "I need a reason to survey the ballroom. Something is going to happen soon."

At that reminder of the reason Pepa is here with her, and at the shift of the police wire under her dress, Maca swallows hard, feels the adrenaline thunder through her veins. She springs a little harder into the next jump, and Pepa gives her a concerned glance.

"Easy, easy," she said softly, and smiles. "Save some energy for the bad guys, eh?"

All Maca can do is nod and jump again. The adrenaline is making her shaky, and she hates being on display like this.

They are quiet after that. Maca concentrates on the moment, tries to let herself enjoy the dance. She is aware that Pepa's attention is not on her, that Pepa is, in fact, alertly scanning the ballroom.

It scares her. She steps closer to Pepa. Pepa pulls her close for a moment, kisses her forehead.

Maca doesn't bother to look over; she just knows that everyone saw that particular moment.

It's the way her night is going.

Finally, finally someone has the decency to come join them on the dance floor, shielding them from the eager eyes of the hospital staff. Javier's face whirls past her own, and she makes a discontented, annoyed noise. Now she has to be grateful to the pig, she realizes, as more couples join them.

Mercifully, the waltz ends.

The tango begins.

Pepa and Maca lock eyes. Pepa waggles her brows.

"No," Maca hisses, but it is too late. Pepa has grabbed her hands and they are preparing to dance again.

"Pepa!" Maca snaps, but then the dance is starting, and they are moving together again. They dance well together, and the rest of the crowd falls back, exposing them to the sight of the hospital staff again. Maca has to admit, the two of them have easy chemistry. If things had been different, so different, they might have explored it at some point.

They are sizzling together.

Ten seconds in, Pepa suddenly whispers, "Silvia, we need you guys to move in now."

It takes a moment for Maca to track, seeing as Pepa had appeared to be talking down her cleavage. That was distracting, but her mind catches up to her ears, and her eyes get bigger.

Fifteen seconds more. Maca and Pepa are staring at each other and there is a look in Pepa's eyes that Maca does not like. Not at all.

"Silvia, ahora," Pepa whispers again. They wait.

But they only get through ten more seconds of the tango before Pepa's eyes widen.

"Maca, we need to get out of here and into the bathroom right now," she snaps, voice still low.

Maca feels the adrenaline come back, multiplied by a thousand.

"What?" she asks. But Pepa is shaking her head, already moving purposefully. She drops her hands away from Maca's body, takes Maca's hand in her own, starts marching.

"Follow my lead," she whispers.

Her grip on Maca's hand almost hurts.

Maca's heart is pounding.

They stop dancing. The musicians falter for a moment before picking up the beat.

The crowd has started to talk in a low buzz.

Suddenly, Pepa has tugs Maca close. (It is the second time Pepa has almost made her fall on her ass tonight, Maca thinks crossly.) And then Pepa—

Pepa is nuzzling into her neck, pulling her close, smiling in a way that lets everyone know she wants to take Maca to bed. Right now. Her hands start stroking Maca's arms, sides.

"Maca, play along," she grates out, though her smile doesn't falter. Maca sees the seriousness in her eyes, takes a deep breath, and forces a grin, lets herself reciprocate the gentle caresses. After a moment, Pepa takes her hand, starts tugging her out of the room. Maca throws an abashed look back, tosses "we'll be back soon" over her shoulder, and turns fully to follow Pepa out the door.

She feels Esther's eyes on her and feels like scum.

Esther watches Maca and Pepa walk out—no. She watches that, that hussy put her hands all over Maca, watches her nuzzle into Maca, the seductive intent clear in every movement, doubtless in every honeyed word she is speaking.

She sees Maca lean back into her, sees her toss a quasi-apologetic look back at the rest of the room before they walk out together, almost skipping.

She feels numb, strangely detached.

She feels like a fool. She had thought that Maca meant it this time, had thought—

She should know better than this, by now. She should know by now not to put her faith in Maca.

Under the table, Teresa puts a hand on her knee and squeezes. Her eyes are compassionate, kind. Claudia, passing by on her way back from the bar, touches her shoulder softly.

Esther looks away and tries not to cry.

"Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, Pepa." Maca is already swearing as Pepa shoulders open the bathroom door. "What the fuck were you thinking? You did that in front of Esther and everyone I work with!"

This needs to be fast. Things are happening very quickly in the ballroom.

"You don't have to call me 'God,' don't worry," Pepa says absently as she checks every stall. Empty, the bathroom is empty. She grabs the chair from the corner, turns around.

Maca's eyes are blazing. Her hands are on her hips.

Pepa doesn't have time for this. She is energized, shaking, and her instincts are screaming at her to get back to the ballroom as soon as possible.

Her mental countdown starts. She has far less time than she would like.

"Here," she fishes her cell phone out from one of her garters, tosses it at Maca. "Call the number most recently dialed. Silvia or Montoya—you remember him? Yeah, good—Silvia or Montoya will answer. Tell them that Gutierrez' men are making their move, and I'm going to go bust it up."

Maca blinks as she catches the phone. "Shouldn't the wire…?"

Pepa shakes her head sharply. "Something must be interfering with it. They would be here by now if they heard through the wire. I have to go back to the ballroom." She can see the thought run across Maca's brain: 'So I wore this wire for nothing?' Pepa shoves the small chair under the door handle, locking it.

That done, she reaches under her skirt, unties her other garter belt and comes up with a handgun. She holds it in her left hand and walks to the last stall.

"What?" Maca asks, and Pepa looks up, realizes that Maca isn't moving, has (unfortunately) started to process instead of just reacting. Damn Maca's fast brain

Maca's eyes are wide and her knuckles are white around the phone.

"Maca," Pepa says gently. But Maca cuts her off.

"Those men—those men are in there." Pepa suddenly feels horrible. Maca is a civilian, and not at all trained for this, and she has been dragged in here because of Alejandra, because they are old friends, because it was easier for Pepa to infiltrate the party with some sort of cover and Maca fell into her lap, almost literally.

"Pepa, you left Esther and Vero and Claudia and everyone in there with those men." Maca is furious, shaking now, and Pepa. Does. Not. Have time for this.

So instead she goes to the toilet, takes the cover off. There is another handgun taped to the inside of the porcelain. She pulls it out.

"Don't you dare ignore me," Maca's low growl comes form behind her. A hand spins her around, and Pepa resists the instinct to smack Maca's hand away. Barely.

Maca isn't done. "You told me that by doing this I would be keeping everyone safe," and she suddenly sounds defeated. "You told me that we would save lives. You told me I'd be helping protect everyone. Protect Esther." A horrible expression is growing on her face.

Goddammit. No time.

Pepa puts both guns in her left hand, uses her right to cup Maca's jaw.

"Maca," and her voice is gentle and calm. She meets Maca's eyes.

"Call the number," she says softly. "I'm going back in there. I needed the second gun and I needed the element of surprise. I'm going to go take care of them."

Maca bites her lip, nods.

"And I need you to stay in here and put the chair under the doorknob after I'm gone." Maca's head is shaking before Pepa finishes.

"No, no, Esther is in there—"

"And she's going to be okay," Pepa finishes. "But I need to go concentrate on keeping her safe, okay? I need to make sure your friends are okay. I can't be worried about you too."

Her mental countdown hits zero.

go go gogogo GO.

Her jaw firms. "I have to go, Maca." There is steel in her voice. Maca straightens instinctively. "Make the call. Lock the door behind me and don't open it unless it's me or Silvia on the other side."

Maca nods, and Pepa slips through the door.

Esther bites her lip and manages to not cry or whimper as the man tightens the cord around her wrists. He finishes her, ties Teresa on the end of the line, and goes back to confer with his cronies. There are seven of them altogether, and they are armed to the teeth.

Once he is gone, Teresa scooches closer until their shoulders are brushing. Esther can see that Teresa is terrified, and leans into her for solidarity. A tear slips down Teresa's cheek.

Talk about awkward, she thinks. Vero is on her other side. The glance at each other, decide that barely touching is just fine for them, and look away. But Esther can feel Vero shaking, and after a moment, leans against her. Vero looks surprised, but doesn't shake her away, and Esther has to admit the warmth of the other woman on her side is comforting.

Esther thinks about her children. Bad idea. She wonders if she will ever see them again, and as tears pool in her eyes she wrestles her mind away from them.

The only thing that makes her feel better is that Maca and Pepa haven't returned from wherever they went. (What is it with Maca and public spaces, anyway?) She is safe. She is not in danger. The children will have at least one mother, and Maca is going to be okay.

Then again, she realizes with horror, Maca and Pepa might wander back in at any minute. And the men with the guns are so on-edge that they might just start shooting at anything that comes through the door….

Esther shuts her eyes, rests her chin on Teresa's hair, and prays to every god she has ever heard of.

Pepa sneaks around the corner. She doesn't believe that the men have spread beyond the ballroom, but it doesn't pay to take chances. Not now that she has something to live for, but she pushes down thoughts of Silvia. She can't get distracted. Not now.

She glances around the next corner, and her blood freezes. The hospital staff and administrators are all handcuffed, spread in single file across the left wall, an armed guard in front of them. In the middle of the ballroom, she sees a man working a video camera. In front of him, against the far wall, Javier is on his knees surrounded by three men.

One is cocking a handgun.

Maca might not like the bastard, Silvia might yell at her for putting herself in danger, but Pepa didn't sign up to be an undercover cop to sit by and watch someone be executed.

Besides, the Silvia in her head is quiet for the moment.

Pepa moves, running through the doorway, taking a moment and her shot. She fires both guns, and two of the men surrounding Javier go down.

They don't get back up. She keeps running, sees another man out of the corner of her eye, sees the other men bring up their guns but it's going to be too late, she's too fast.

She targets a third. Fires. Slides like a soccer player, feels her hair move in the breeze of the bullets, springs up again.

"FREEZE! POLICÍA!" She fires again.

As she dives to her right to avoid a hail of bullets, Pepa can't help but smile.

Maca hangs up the phone and sighs. She considers for a moment, then shoves the cell down between her breasts. The cops were 'coming,' Silvia had said, they had gotten Pepa's initial whisper into the mike but were running into trouble. Something about reinforcements and more opposition than they'd thought and unexpectedly locked doors and and and.

(She'd also cussed a blue streak at the news that Pepa had gone off on her own. Either Silvia is going to kill Pepa, Maca thinks, or they are going to have great sex tonight.)


She stares at the door, bites her lip. Looks away. Looks back.

Pepa is going to kill me, she thinks as she slips out the door. After a moment of thought, she takes the chair.

Esther can't believe her eyes. That woman that Maca is here with has just come flying through the door, shooting guns at the men who have taken them captive and screaming "police." She shot two of them, then one more. Their blood is pooling, spreading across the floor like a weed. She's fighting hand-to-hand with the others, now, and Esther winces as Pepa punches and a tooth goes flying along, with red saliva.

It is brutal. Esther feels like vomiting.

Three of the men are down—make that four, and she winces as she sees the spray of blood and hears the man hit the floor—and Pepa has closed with the other two men. At least Javier had the presence of mind to worm on his belly over to the rest of them. Teresa whimpers as Pepa ducks, lashes out and smacks one of the men on the forehead with the butt of her gun. He goes reeling back.

Where the fuck is Maca, Esther wonders desperately, and then she sees the other man, the one Pepa hasn't, creeping up behind her. Pepa is winning against the man she is facing, but it is not going to be fast enough.

She opens her mouth to shout a warning.

Maca almost falls coming around the corner, moving as fast as she can while holding the chair. She pauses briefly in the doorway.

In slow motion, she sees Pepa smash one man in the face, turn her attention to the other. Sees her fighting him hand-to-hand, sees that she is going to win, sees that Pepa doesn't see the man creeping behind her.

Not again.

Maca runs as fast as she has ever run in her life (Wilsons don't run, she hears an echo of her mother in her head, and Christ she should have taken off her heels but Wilsons don't do that either), and uses the muscles developed by picking up Pedro (who seems to grow every day) to lift the damn chair high in the air, to bring it down on the head and back of the man behind Pepa as hard as she can.

He goes still. He crumples. His fingers open. He lets go of the knife, the gun. He falls to his knees slowly, then topples over. He looks like a marionette whose strings have been cut.

He hits the ground. He does not stir.

Maca drops the chair. She is frozen. All she feels capable of doing is staring at his body.

"Maca, MOVE!"

The sudden bellow from Pepa whips her head around, and her eyes widen. There is a man with a bloody forehead standing not even a bodylength away from her.

He is much bigger than she is.

He swings an arm, and a fist connects with her cheek, the side of her nose. Agony arcs through her head, and she hears a crunch, feels something crumple, feels her head whip to the side.

The rest of her body follows, and then—

She cries out. Her world swims as she backs up a step, and her heel slides and her ankle twists on the body of one of the men and she is falling and the world is tilting, and she swears she sees Esther's face—

Her head hits something, and starbursts explode, and the world goes black.

Esther hears someone screaming Maca's name like their heart is being ripped out of their chest.

It takes a long moment to realize she is the one screaming.

"MACA!" Pepa yells. She saw it from the corner of her eye, saw Big Ugly punch her, saw her get tangled in the body of one of the other goons, saw her fall, heard the crack of her head against the wall.

Can't worry about that now.

"Aaaaugh!" It is her turn to yell as Uglier pulls a knife from nowhere, slashes her forearm. She feels Big Ugly moving in behind her, and she leaps to the left, throwing herself into an awkward somersault, landing on her bad forearm, growling with the pain. She's up, then, shedding blood and momentum, and she skids and fires and with perfect aim nails Big Ugly and Uglier. They fly backward in unison.

Absurdly, Pepa wants to giggle. It looked like a weird dance. She feels like she's in a movie.

Then she's on her feet, left pointing guns at an empty room, while Esther screams for Maca.

"Pepa!" Her head whips to the side and she almost fucking shoots Paco before she realizes it's him. She wonders why he's here—he hadn't been in on the op—then files it away as irrelevant.

"Christ, Paco, where have you been?" she almost screeches at her brother. "I could have used you ten fucking minutes ago!"

"I'm sorry, they had many more guards than we were expecting and the doors were locked." He holds up a placating hand as Sara and Quique and Curtis file in after him. He stoops to check the pulse of one of the men. He grimaces. "Dead," he proclaims, and Pepa groans. That means paperwork.

"Silvia's on her way, she—"

"Would someone please look at Maca?" Esther's agonized shout drowns out whatever Paco had been about to say. His mouth drops open in surprise. There is a question in his eyes.

"Her kind-of wife," Pepa mutters as she brushes past Paco to get to Maca and ignores her brother's befuddled look. Her arm is throbbing, she's bleeding everywhere, and she's so not up to explaining "her ex-wife who she's kind of got a thing going with still."

Maca isn't moving. Pepa stops breathing.

She falls to her knees beside Maca, breathes for a moment, and reaches out unsteadily to take her pulse. She feels a beat, a little weak but steady, and sags in relief. She couldn't have taken losing Maca, not like this, and suddenly she flashes back to when Alejandra—

At her touch, Maca whimpers a little, moves a tiny bit. Pepa can't stop herself from tenderly combing Maca's bangs back. A broad smile stretches across her face, and she looks over her shoulder.

To a man and testifying to how beloved Maca is, the entire hospital is watching her closely. Vero is biting her lip and trying not to cry. But no one is more focused on her than Esther. She is not crying, but her eyes are locked on Maca's body.

If looks could heal, Esther would be Jesus right now.

"She's alive!" Pepa calls out joyfully, and a cheer goes up from the captive doctors. Vero shuts her eyes and Esther sags in relief. Pepa sees tears finally slip down her cheeks as Teresa next to her gives her the closest thing to a hug they can manage.

She turns back to Maca, runs her hand gingerly over her ribs, her skull. "Maca is—"

"Fine," and it's surprisingly strong and loud for someone who was unconscious twelve seconds ago. "I'm fine," Maca repeats, and pushes herself up with a long groan, rests her back against the wall. Pepa winces when Maca raises her head.

Her face is a mask of blood. It's running freely from her nostrils, from a cut on the bridge of her nose. Pepa's pretty sure Maca's nose is broken. But Pepa can't stop smiling.

She swears it's the best Maca has ever looked.

"Did I kill him?" Maca asks dazedly, tortured, and Pepa shakes her head.

"He's breathing," Pepa says, and it's not a lie; she can see his chest move from here.

Maca exhales, and Pepa can see the relief in her eyes.

"Come here, let's get you up," she says, and all but hauls the dazed Maca to her feet. She's got a concussion, Pepa realizes, mierda.

She looks around, spots the mangled remains of the bathroom chair, snorts, then focuses on a table with chairs that is very close to where the hospital staff are still bound.

"Pepa, I think I have a concussion." Maca's voice is thin and high and nasally. She is wavering on her feet, favoring one leg, and Pepa holds her supportively.

"Come on," she says, but they only make it two steps before Pepa realizes that Maca won't be able to make it across the room.

"I told you to stay in the bathroom, tonta," she whispers teasingly, and Maca groans. Pepa just hopes she doesn't throw up. "Next time listen to me, eh?"

She looks around. The rest of her precinct-mates are occupied with trying to keep the kidnappers alive. Sara and Paco are talking to one man, low and furious, in the corner. They do not look like they want to be interrupted.

Great, Pepa thinks. She sighs.

"Maca, hold on."

"Wha—" Maca's question is cut off when Pepa hoists her into her arms. Pepa grits her teeth. Her arm hurts like a bitch, the flex of muscle sends a new wave of scarlet coursing down her arm, and now all the aches and pains of a fistfight are starting to hit her.

It is the longest fifteen steps she has ever taken.

Esther keeps her eyes firmly trained on Maca as Pepa carries her forward, deposits her gently into a chair. Maca sags back, and Esther is worried. Maca looks so—listless.

She is in love with Maca still. It hits her like a bolt of lightning. She has never stopped loving Maca. It doesn't matter if Maca is sleeping with this woman. It doesn't matter if Maca is sleeping with Vero. It doesn't matter if Maca is sleeping with Azucena, or half of Madrid. Esther would—will—take her back in a heartbeat.

Then Pepa moves, and Esther cannot help but gasp, and she feels Vero exhale sharply beside her. Maca's face is covered in blood; it's dripping down her face, onto her chest and dress and necklace. Her nose is most definitely broken.

Pepa is crouching by her side, apparently unconcerned with the fact that her forearm is gushing blood all over the place, too. That's going to need stitches, the professional side of her brain notes, deep and very long, she'll be lucky if no tendons are cut. Pepa is talking softly to Maca, a hand on her knee; Maca has her head down, shaking her head, breathing shallowly and fast. She looks confused, and dazed, and dizzy, and it is obvious to anyone with any medical training that her head is spinning and her vision is not right.

Vero makes a choked sound beside her.

"She must be concussed," Teresa notes worriedly. Esther makes a face.

"Sí," Esther whispers. She cannot remember ever being so worried for Maca before; the closest, perhaps, was when the then-pregnant Maca had been pushed to the floor by a crazy father. That worry didn't approach this, didn't even come close. They silently watch Maca and Pepa for a few more moments when—

"PEPA," the roar comes from the doorway, and they all look up.

A redhead is standing in the doorway. Color is high on her cheeks. She looks absolutely irate. (She reminds Esther of Cruz, just a little.)

Pepa has gotten to her feet, turned to face the door. Her face has an odd mixture of emotions, but Esther is puzzled by the little smile. Clearly this is a boss about to ream her out….

The redhead comes sprinting over, and without breaking stride throws herself into Pepa's arms. Pepa picks her up, spins her around, and they are kissing, holding onto each other like there is no tomorrow.

All Esther can do is stare as, for the umpteenth time tonight, her world is radically thrown off its axis.

After twenty seconds, Maca cracks an eye. Pepa is still holding Silvia up in the air as they kiss furiously. Silvia's got a hand on Pepa's shoulder, the other tangled in her hair.

I'm impressed, Pepa's arm must be screaming with that cut, Maca thinks. She hazily notices the embarrassment—and avid interest—of the hospital staffers, and clears her throat loudly. No response.

Ten seconds more, and Maca can't help from rolling her eyes. She hopes she was never this obnoxious with Esther or Vero. "Hola, Silvia!" she practically shouts, and Pepa gives her the finger. She laughs, then wishes she didn't as pain makes her shut her eyes and lean back, breathing deeply as she concentrates on not gagging.

It does the trick, though, as Pepa gently lowers Silvia to the ground after a few moments. They embrace, the redhead wrapping her arms around Pepa as tightly as possible as they whisper, foreheads touching. Pepa is holding her so tightly, too, and bleeding all over her clothes, but it is obvious Silvia doesn't care. Maca can't help but smile.

Esther watches Maca watching Pepa and the redhead. She sees no jealously or possessiveness, only happiness and a touch of envy.

She's envious, too.

She also takes note of Maca's necklace. She cannot be sure, she didn't look this closely earlier, but she thinks she sees a ring on the simple chain, and her heart beats faster.

Then Maca looks up, at her, and though Maca's eyes are not focusing she swears time stops as they look at each other.

"Maca, Maca," Silvia chatters, "what did Pepa do to you?"

Pepa makes an offended face, and Maca smiles. "We can't take her anywhere," she agrees. Silvia's light fingers across her nose still make her gasp in pain, and though her eyes are slitted she definitely sees Silvia wince. Her eyes close fully. She is having trouble staying alert, remaining conscious, but that twinge definitely woke her up.

"Broken for sure, but I can set it," Silvia announces firmly.

"Eh, brat, they broke your nose," Teresa calls in a teasing voice, and Maca turns her head, opens an eye to look at Teresa. "You're not going to look so good anymore."

"It adds character," Maca shoots back, and gives her best mock-snooty look in return. "Besides, the rest of me more than makes up for it."

They all dissolve into nervous laughter, which turns into one howl of pain and many sympathy winces when Silvia grabs Maca's nose and yanks it into place.

Maca's face is screaming. So is Maca, for that matter.

"Jesus Christ Silvia, what the fuck are you fucking thinking, at least give me some fucking tequila next time—" Maca starts swearing when she can talk again, when she has fought back the tears. She sees the surprised looks on the faces of the hospital staff, and she rolls her eyes inside. They think she is such a prim and proper Wilson.

"Hey, Maca, shut it, okay? It's better than waiting for it, I promise." Silvia finally cuts in. "I'm going to give you a local and stitch your nose." She pulls gloves on.

"No," Maca says. She knows it's childish, but her head hurts and she can feel her ankle swelling and tonight has sucked and she wants Esther and her kids and a big fluffy robe and her bed. Maybe a hot bath, too. Maybe even Esther in the bath…. She puts her hand over her nose and glares. Pepa stifles a snort, and Maca glares at her, too, for a moment before returning to Silvia. "You're not getting near my nose again."

Silvia arches a brow. "I am more than qualified to put a few stitches in."

Maca gives her a look. "Are you going to do them the same way you set my nose?"

This time Pepa doesn't even bother to hide her cackle, and Silvia and Maca both glare at her before returning to each other.

Silvia folds her arms. "Yes."




"Maca, please," Esther's soft voice intercedes, and Maca's eyes immediately dart up to her. "Let her stitch you up. You need it, you're still bleeding."

Esther's eyes are warm with care, and Maca stares dumbly into them. She knows they are being obvious, so incredibly obvious, but she can't stop. She tries to say something, but no words come out.

Finally Maca nods, looks away. Silvia holds her chin in her hand and cleans her face off gently. The amount of blood Silvia wipes away is actually impressive, and she's sure there's more left on her face. She lets Silvia poke her with a needle, closes her eyes while Silvia stitches her nose.

While she is stitching, Silvia lectures Pepa: about how stupid she is, how reckless, how she almost got herself killed, how Maca got hurt, how it would serve her right if Silvia doesn't use anesthesia on her arm, how she's Dirty Harry, how she better file this damn report on time…. Pepa keeps a straight face whenever Silvia turns to look at her, but she is silently dying of laughter when Silvia is not. Maca can tell Silvia knows it, too, and doesn't truly mind. The only serious moment comes when Silvia tells Pepa she doesn't want to have to identify her body. Her voice falters. Pepa slips over to her, touches her hips, gently kisses her shoulder before retreating.

It drags on forever, and when Silvia is done Maca all but pushes her away. She pouts.

"Lo siento, Maca." Silvia curves a gentle hand around her jaw, gives her a regretful look.

"Vale, vale," Maca says, and Silvia smiles at her. She smiles tiredly back as Silvia steps back, turns to Pepa and wags her finger.

"Now you," she says, and Pepa is surprisingly docile (though smirking still) as she settles in the chair next to Maca, holds out her arm. Silvia has her do several exercises; apparently there is no structural damage. Silvia starts stitching her up, and Silvia's scolding and Pepa's banter fade into a low hum. Maca's face has finally stopped throbbing, and she feels like she's floating, and her eyes drift closed.

She is dancing on the edge of a teasing gray when—

"Maca!" Silvia's shout jerks her head up. Silvia is crouching next to her. She looks worried. Beside her, Pepa is efficiently wrapping a bandage around her forearm. Maca is distantly impressed with how neatly Pepa can do it one-handed.

"What?" Maca feels fuzzy all over.

"Maca, cariño, you need to stay awake," Silvia says gently, putting both hands on Maca's knees. "We think you have a concussion. You can't fall asleep, you need to stay with us, okay?"

Maca nods. "You need to talk to me, then," she says, and her tongue is clumsy. "I can't do it without something to distract me."

Silvia nods. "Vale," she says, standing up. Pepa comes over to whisper to her for a moment, and Silvia's face darkens. Pepa turns to the hospital staff, who are—Maca notices—still tied up. Shouldn't they be untied by now?

"We're still checking to make sure the kidnappers didn't attach explosives or anything like that to your restraints," Pepa addresses the hospital staff, as if in response to Maca's thoughts. The whole group laughs as Teresa gets an abashed and horrified look on her face, and Esther squirms away from her, laughing. (Esther and Vero are leaning together in a weird facsimile of cuddling. I must have a concussion, Maca thinks, and wonders if the world is about to explode.) She realizes she missed something and shakes her head. She needs to stay focused. Pepa is still speaking: "The bomb squad should be done in a few minutes. Silvia and I need to go talk to the other officers. You all need to talk to Maca until we get back, vale? Make sure she doesn't black out again."

"It was more of a gray," she can't help muttering, and Pepa laughs and kisses her head.

"Tonta," she whispers, and she and Silvia walk over to join the other cops.

Suddenly uncomfortable and aware that she will probably say something really stupid and far too revealing, Maca shifts, shoots Claudia a pleading look.

And Claudia, the dear, obliges. (Maca thinks that if Cruz were still here, she would have a hard time picking which is her better friend.) She asks questions about San Antonio for a solid ten minutes, and without ever uttering the words Maca manages to reassure her (and Esther) that the MS treatment went very well.

Finally, though, she runs out of inventive things to ask, and as they're loading up for another conversational sortie Javier breaks in.

"Maca, tell us about how you met Pepa. She said you met through a woman named Alejandra and that she gave you that ring?" He nods at Maca's right hand, and all Maca can think is that she could cheerfully murder Pepa right about now. "You two seem so different, I'm curious about who brought you together."

Maca freezes. She's not sure if Javier is trying to be conciliatory or a dick, but his question hits her like a punch to the gut, and she sucks in a deep breath.

"It's a boring story, Javi." Her voice is calm, too calm. The heads of half the doctors and nurses jerk up sharply. Esther and Vero stare at her, identical furrows between their brows.

"Come on," his voice is cajoling, and Maca wonders if he really can't see that she wants to slug him. "There must be something there."

"Shut up, Javier," Fernando breaks in, his voice tight. Maca is suddenly, overwhelmingly grateful to her old mentor.

Then again, he had been there. He had known Alejandra, not well, but enough to know that she was someone Maca cared for. He had seen what Maca had gone through after she died.

She feels like she is drowning.

"Good news, we should be getting you out of those shortly," Pepa breaks in, walking back over with a glass of water. She falters as she sees the look on Maca's face. "What?"

"We were just asking about Alejandra," Rai pipes up, and Maca thinks that she is going to fire him. She feels Pepa exhale hard beside her, like she just got punched, too. Something awful is clawing its way up Maca's throat. "The woman the two of you met through, right? She won't tell us anything about her."

Pepa puts the glass down hard.

"She and I were friends, okay?" Maca finds herself on her feet and although the world is still tilting alarmingly (this is like being hung over, but without the fun and great sex beforehand, she thinks sourly), she has enough left in the tank to shoot a killer glare at Rai. He instinctively flinches back. "That's all. She was a girl we used to know."

Then she lurches away, staying on her feet more through willpower and sheer momentum than anything else. She finds herself at an open window. The cool breeze feels good against her face. She breathes deeply of the fresh air, places her hands on the windowsill, and puts her head down.

Pepa, absolutely furious, rounds on the doctor—Rai, she thinks, she's pretty sure she remembers his picture—the moment Maca staggers away. He flinches away, and his eyes widen as she stalks over to him.

"If you value your body parts," Pepa drops her eyes, letting him know exactly which parts she means, and he gulps, "don't mention Alejandra to her. Ever again."

She is so furious she doesn't care what Esther or Vero or anyone makes of this.

She spins on her heel and walks away, over to Maca. Silvia catches her eye from across the room, and sees that something is wrong, but Pepa shakes her head slightly. Silvia, worried, nevertheless turns back to her conversation.

Ah, Alejandra. The elephant in the room she and Maca never speak of. Her steps slow as she remembers, as she approaches Maca.

Alejandra had been Pepa's first partner on the force, when she had been just graduated from the academy and still so wet behind the ears. Her mix of an easy-going demeanor, veteran leadership, practicality, and humor had melded well with Pepa's freer spirit and youthful idealism. It was through her that Pepa had initially met Maca; she's not sure how long they had known each other, but it had already been a few years, certainly since before Maca's internship (and she had been a second-year resident by the time Pepa knew her) in the main hospital of Sevilla.

At first she had thought they were rather close, even for best friends. Maca had no time for anyone else, male or female, when Alejandra was around, and vice versa. But they didn't share an apartment, and at first Pepa didn't understand why.

Neither Alejandra nor Maca dated at all, either, during the year or two they all had together, as far as Pepa knew. She has always secretly wondered if Alejandra was the impetus for Maca really admitting to herself that she was gay, for Maca exploring herself and coming to grips with her own sexuality. Because Pepa saw them evolve from best friends into something…more. They never spoke of it, never acted on it; as far as Pepa knew, they'd never even really kissed. But there was more there, it was in their eyes and their smiles and their voices, and while she knows Maca loves Esther with every fiber of her being, she will always hurt for everyone involved for what could have been.

The closest they came…she remembers walking into Alejandra's apartment one night, and the two of them springing apart on the couch. Alejandra's sock on her arm had been harder than usual, and later, a still-drunk Alejandra told her they'd been smashed and she'd been only centimeters away.

She remembers the last day. Alejandra had been so excited because she and Maca had reservations at one of Sevilla's top restaurants for later. They were going out for dinner, just the two of them, and although Alejandra had never voiced her hopes (at least not to Pepa), by this point Pepa knew her well enough to see the sparkle in her eye, the bounce in her step. Tonight is going to be the night, she remembers thinking, and being overwhelmingly happy for both of them.

She remembers trailing Alejandra into the store and straight into the middle of a botched robbery. She remembers Alejandra, head turned to respond to something Pepa said, opening the door, walking through. She remembers coming in right behind her, and the way the robber already had his gun out, the way he brought it up even as Pepa yowled. The way Alejandra's head came around to the gunman but late, too late, the way Pepa tried to tackle Alejandra to the ground even as she heard the reverb of the gun.

She remembers the smell of blood, the feel, as the warm crimson wave washed over her and Alejandra went slack under her.

She remembers the look on the man's face when she emptied her clip into his body. (It had been the first man she'd ever killed, and she thinks that twenty of her forty came in the month or two after the funeral.)

Pepa has always blamed herself for talking to Alejandra so that the woman's head had been turned back while she walked in. She has always blamed herself for not tackling her partner sooner, faster, for not having better reflexes. It's why she pushes herself so hard now, why she spends hours in the gym and ignores the question on Silvia's face when she comes home so sore she can barely move.

Pepa refuses to be the reason Silvia gets killed. She makes sure she always goes through the door first.

She remembers riding along in the ambulance with Alejandra. She was bleeding, too, a cut on her neck and a jammed shoulder. She remembers staring at Alejandra as she lay there, so pale under the oxygen mask, and thinking stupidly but tonight was going to be the night.

She remembers meeting the doctors at the hospital, looking up and her stomach falling through the floor when she saw Maca in her green scrubs. Maca had been frozen, looking down at Alejandra, before she'd snapped into motion, assisting the paramedics and the other doctor, sprinting into the OR alongside Alejandra's body.

Pepa hopes she never sees that look ever again.

She remembers wondering why a pediatrician was in on an adult surgery as other nurses took her away, cleaned and dressed her neck, fitted a sling for her shoulder. Pepa had found out later there had also been a major traffic accident that day; Maca had had no choice but to assist in adult surgeries.

She remembers ten hours later, waiting impatiently in front of the OR. Maca had come out, was hugging herself. She remembers asking Maca anxiously, and she remembers Maca's broken answer:

"She's alive, but she's brain-dead and on a ventilator. She slipped into a coma four hours ago. She's not going to wake up, and if we take her off the ventilator, she's going to die within minutes."

She remembers reeling back, blinking and numb, and the way Maca had slid down the wall, put her head in her hands, and started to cry.

She knows Maca has always blamed herself for not saving Alejandra, for not being able to do more. She tried her damnedest, though; Pepa remembers overhearing a conversation in the cafeteria, two nurses marveling at Maca's determination, her steely, demanding attitude. Any other doctor, they said, would have let the woman die after five hours. Maca kept trying. The only way Maca could have saved her was if she was the Second Coming.

Too bad that's what Maca expected of herself.

Pepa remembers when they finally ended it. Maca had insisted on flipping the switch herself. "Maca, you can get someone else to do it," Pepa had said, and hadn't said 'don't do this to yourself.' But Maca had insisted. "I'm a doctor, I'm her doctor, and I have power of attorney," and Pepa has never seen Maca look so defeated, so horrible, since. "This is my responsibility." She'd pressed a gentle kiss to Alejanda's forehead, flipped the switch. When Alejandra flatlined after a few minutes, Maca calmly, so calmly, called the time of death and walked out.

Pepa found her in a storage room, curled into a ball, retching and sobbing.

She remembers the funeral, the way all the cops had talked to Maca as if she were a grieving widow, and no one thought twice about it.

She remembers the way Maca retreated into her cold family, her cold formality, after that, the way she threw herself at many women, the way she met and had an affair with Azucena, the way she got engaged to a man she did not love. Not that Pepa had any right to judge; she'd been sleeping her way through half the lesbian bars of Sevilla at the time, and they had both been too locked into their own pain and guilt to recognize or help with the problems of the other.

She knows they stopped talking because they both blamed themselves, and always will; there was a time when they could barely look at each other, the guilt was so overpowering, and they had let themselves fall out of contact because they had needed to escape. She knows they will never forgive themselves, but she thinks now the scar is faded enough that they can be friends again without the guilt choking them both.

And finally, Pepa knows why she bumped into Maca four weeks ago. Pepa is not religious, but she does believe in something, and she knows things happen for a reason.

Like making out with your sister-in-law in the middle of a crowded dance floor, in front of both your families and two hundred guests and an orchestra.

Like trailing a man back to the city of your birth and deciding to follow him into a warehouse.

Like taking a chance and kissing a redhead in a dimly lit bathroom.

She settles beside Maca, against the wall, looking out at the crowd, looking at nothing. Esther is watching them like a hawk, and Silvia is not much better. She and Maca do not look at each other. Pepa focuses on a point far away.

"They're going to ask me who she is, and why I never mentioned her before," Maca mutters after a moment.

"Yeah." Silvia would, too.

"I don't know what to say." Maca's voice is steady. "Because I don't know what she was to me. And they—Esther's going to ask if things would have been different if she'd lived. And I won't be able to answer right. Of course things would have been different. I would be different. I wouldn't be the person Esther fell in love with if Alejandra hadn't died. Everything that happens changes us, makes us who we are."

Pepa has to agree. Alejandra's death had altered much, so much, for both of them.

She thinks Maca is very different now than when she left Sevilla. Older, more tired, more cynical, more mature, more self-possessed. But not all change is bad. Such is life.

"They're going to ask me if I still love her." For the first time, Pepa moves, turns her head, tilts it to Maca.

"Do you?"

Maca snorts, still looking down. "As a friend, yes, always. As more…I told you, I don't even know what she was to me. I try not to think about it, really."

"Does Esther remind you of her?"

Maca smiles softly. Pepa can't see her face, but it's in her voice. "Only in the way they both make me feel."

Pepa nods. "I think I scared Rai," she says, and gets a bark of laughter from Maca.

"Good. He deserved it."

They are quiet for a moment.

"Alejandra would be okay with this. More than that, she'd want you to get back with Esther. You do know that, right? She'd want you to be happy, however that happened."

Maca flinches. Her muscles tense for a moment. "Yeah, I know," she finally sighs, and pushes up, straightening her back. "I do know that."

You just needed to hear it, Pepa adds, then jumps forward as Maca sways again.

"Mierda," Maca gets out, and Pepa shakes her head.

"You're coming home with us tonight."

Maca flashes her a laughing look. "Don't let Silvia hear you say that."

Pepa smirks back. "Who do you think is going to be on your other side," she asks, and she can almost feel Maca rolling her eyes.

By the time they (very) slowly make it back over to the hospital staff (Pepa doesn't want to burst her stitches and Maca adamantly refuses to be carried again), Maca's vision is swimming and the hospital staff have all been released. They're still sitting in a row, though, as the agents check their identities and try to discover who authorized Gutierrez' men to get in.

Maca is sitting on the table when "Hola, chicas!" comes from behind them. Pepa resists the urge to groan. She forces a smile before turning.

Montoya is there, a bright smile on his handsome face. "Pepa, your brother wanted me to give this to you," he said, and hands her a folder. Pepa groans. Paperwork. Then his attention shifts.

"Hola, Maca," Montoya says, and gives her an adoring smile.

Maca, not sure whether to laugh or cry, just smiles tiredly at him. "Hola, Gonzalo," she responds, and his smile kicks up a notch.

"Do you want me to bring you something? I can bring you something. Anything you want, it's on me," he says, still smiling. Pepa can hear the choked giggles from behind her. Apparently the clueless straight guy hitting on the gayest of lesbians is the tipping point for most of the hospital staff, where terror turns into utter hysteria. She wants to laugh, too, just because Montoya has the worst luck or the worst gaydar in the world.

In the history of the world.

She glances behind her quickly. Vero is snickering, and Esther looks like she's torn between laughing hysterically or jumping Montoya later, and not in the sexy way.

"Montoya, we're good," Pepa said, walking over and taking his arm, tugging him away. She lowers her voice, watches Sara checking the last ID. "Could you tell Silvia we're taking Maca home tonight, though? She needs to be watched."

Still beaming, he nods and turns to go. "Let me know if you want me to stay, too," and Pepa has to swallow her laugh quickly. She nods and he turns. "Adiós, Maca," he tosses with another lovesick smile, and Maca just waves at him. She glances at Pepa. They both bite their lips.


Maca settles down into a chair, and Pepa has to laugh as almost every doctor and nurse in the damn room, regardless of specialty or rank, comes by to surreptitiously inspect her.

(Except Javier and Esther. Pepa sees Maca's shoulders slump and can guess whose absence she's noticing. Even Vero's kiss to the forehead and squeeze of her shoulders don't perk Maca up. Then again, from the way Esther looks when she sees Vero with her hands on Maca, perking up at that particular moment is probably not a good idea for Maca if she values her life. Or sex.)

Maca is impatient and prickly, though, and finally Maca loses it. "I'm fine!" she snaps at Claudia, who has come over to her for the fourth time, and Pepa has to muffle a giggle.

"For someone who spends her life poking at people, you don't like to be poked at," Pepa says conversationally, and Maca shoots her a dirty look.

"I don't poke at people who are fully capable of diagnosing themselves," she says primly.

"Maca, we need to get you an x-ray and a CAT scan and an MRI. The redhead may be a forensics inspector, but she's not a doctor—" Claudia starts, and Pepa flares up, crosses her arms, shaking her head as she shoots Claudia a hard look, jaw firming.

"Silvia does have a medical degree, actually. She's more than capable of putting a few stitches in and straightening a nose," she snaps in Silvia's defense. She glares, fists balling.

No one insults her girl. Especially not some woman Silvia could probably run laps around.

(Not that Pepa's biased or anything.)

"Claudia, it's okay." Maca puts a hand on the other woman's arm. "You can feel for yourself that it's back in place. There's nothing more we can do for it. And…any other tests…can wait a day or two." Claudia feels her nose, has to admit with a grimace that Maca is right. Pepa sends her a (probably obnoxiously) triumphant look.

Silvia walks over, tucking some papers into her bag. "Ready?" she asks Pepa, who nods and hoists Maca to her feet. Christ, you'd think Montoya would want to come over now and carry a hot woman to the car, Pepa thinks grumpily as she ends up supporting most of Maca's weight again.

"Wait, what?" Claudia demands, and Vero and Esther and Teresa drift over. Claudia's arching an eyebrow. Vero puts her hands on her hips.

"Maca, no. You need to be in the hospital," Vero says instantly, and Maca shoots her an annoyed look.

"No," she shakes her head. She has the bulldog glint in her eye. "I'm fine. I just need to be watched, and these two will be up all night anyway. I don't want to inconvenience anyone else."

"And at the precinct you'll get lost too easily, or you'll curl up for a nap and people will just think you're tired," Teresa argues, and Pepa resists the urge to groan; when did tonight become a sideshow? "I see it all the time at the hospital. No, Maca, it's better if you go to the hospital."

"Actually, we're not going to the precinct," Pepa cuts in. "We're going home. Don Lorenzo wants these forms," and she waves the thick folder at them with a grimace, her tone turning the word into a curse, "filled out by tomorrow morning. We'll be up and drinking coffee all night." She snickers suddenly, inappropriately. "Maybe Maca can avoid spilling it on me this time."

They all glare at her. "What?" she shrugs, and there is a collective eye roll before they turn their attention back to Maca. Silvia pokes her. Pepa pokes back. They fight smiles as they listen.

Claudia's turn again. (Esther is just gazing at Maca, face tilted, and she looks contemplative.) "Maca needs to be with us," Claudia argues. "She needs to be with people she knows, who know how to take care of her." Teresa and Vero nod.

Silvia interrupts, then. "Maca knows us, she's known Pepa longer than she's known any of you. And I'm a fully accredited doctor, and perfectly qualified to take care of a concussion. We can always call the SAMUR if there's a bigger problem." Pepa can tell from her tone that she is a little insulted. She slips a comforting arm around Silvia, feels the redhead nestle into her, bristles at Claudia.

These doctors are pricks.

Pepa all but bares her teeth at the doctors, and Claudia's temper finally snaps. (If Pepa was in a better mood, she would let the doctor slide—she knows Claudia is just worried about Maca—but she's cranky and her arm hurts and she wants some ibuprofen and a shower and Silvia naked. Order negotiable.) Claudia is shaking her head. "If you think I'm letting her go home with two people I don't know and who are responsible for getting her hurt in the first place—"

Oh, she didn't.

Pepa springs to her full height, shakes off Silvia's restraining hand, and gets in Claudia's face. "And if you," she pokes Claudia in the chest, "think I'm letting her go home with someone I don't know and who could have been responsible for those men getting in here—"

Claudia almost snarls. "I would never, Maca is my best friend—"

"What if she comes with me?" Esther cuts in. She is gazing at Maca, and Maca is gazing at her, and it is obvious they see no one else. Esther finally breaks away and, flustered, looks up at Pepa. "She still needs to see the kids, after all."

"She already has," Pepa snaps, still focused on winning the argument (another thing Silvia always bitches about, her insane competitiveness), and doesn't even realize her faux pas until Silvia elbows her. Hard.

Esther's mouth drops as Pepa realizes what she said. Mierda.

"You already did?" Esther demands, and her voice is rising. She swivels to stare at Maca, and there is nothing tender in her eyes just now. "They're at my apartment, Maca. You just dropped by and went to see them before the dinner. Without telling me."

Maca shuts her eyes. "Yes, I did," she confirms. Pepa can see that she is fast losing strength. "It's why I was late. I knew—" Maca falters. She clears her throat. "In case something happened tonight, I wanted to make sure I saw them."

Esther's face crumples. All the fight goes out of her.

"Besides," Maca adds, and opens her eyes again. "I don't want them to see me like this." She makes a face, looks down at herself. "I think I'd just scare them."

"I don't think that's true." Esther contradicts her, and there is another loaded nonverbal conversation. This time, it's Maca that breaks the gaze.

"Pepa, Silvia." Paco has walked over. "You need to come see this." His face is grim, and Pepa and Silvia glance at each other, nod, and start away. Pepa stops for a moment, though.

"You are not going anywhere," she chastises Maca, and shoots a nasty glare at Claudia for good measure. "You're with us tonight, and I'm speaking as a police agent and a government official." Silvia starts snorting with laughter, and Pepa clears her throat to cover the sound. "By the way, don't be mad at Maca for tonight, eh?" It's directed toward everyone but Maca, and Maca's eyes flash and spark at her own. Pepa doesn't look at her. "We swore her to secrecy about all this. It was a matter of national security." (That is only slightly an exaggeration.) "Her options were to come as my escort, sit in the truck and watch, or sit at home and know nothing."

She gives Esther a meaningful look, and walks away.

Maca shuts her eyes again as Pepa and Silvia saunter over to the other cops. She can't take much more of this.

She takes a deep breath. She hears footsteps pass her, feels a touch to her shoulder that she knows comes from Vero. When she opens her eyes again, the others are clustered by the hallway door and only Esther is in front of her, gazing at her in that way—

Maca's breath catches. Esther has always looked at her like that. Even in the worst times, when Maca was cheating and Esther knew, she had looked at Maca like Maca hung the stars and the moon.

The first time they made love after the reconciliation was actually the night Maca took Esther home. Esther had been in the hospital a week, and Maca had been frantic and riding an emotional rollercoaster, and poor Pedro didn't know what to think.

Maca finally got the boy down and settled, and walked down the hallway and into their room, paused in the door.

Their room.

Esther was already sitting on the bed changing, and Maca heard her gasp as she apparently moved her arms a little too high. She fell back to the bed, wincing.

"Esther, are you okay?" Maca was there before she was conscious of moving. Instinctively, her hand dropped to Esther's belly, probing gently.

"I'm okay, Maca, I'm okay," Esther said with a game smile. She wasn't fooling Maca, though; she has never been able to. "The girl kicks very hard and I'm still sore. It's nothing, Maca. I promise."

Maca's face twisted, and she put her palm on Esther's jaw. "Sure?" she asked, and Esther nodded, hummed.

Then Esther looked at her, and her heart was in her eyes, on her face.

When Esther looked at her like that, she felt like she was dying. Like she was drowning, and Esther was the only thing afloat in her world, the only thing to clutch onto.

Maca suddenly realized that they were very, very close. She had a hand on Esther's belly and a hand on her jaw and she was staring into her eyes and it was as close as they had been since the accident and she almost stopped breathing.

Before Maca knew it, they were kissing, so familiar and so good, and she was easing Esther down onto her side. Esther was already shirtless, and her hands were under Maca's shirt, moving like wildfire. Esther paused, and Maca knew that her sensitive hands had run over Maca's too-prominent ribs, felt how skinny Maca had become.

She cracked her eyes open. Esther was staring at her like she wanted to cry. Maca captured her in a fierce kiss, instead, and Esther undid the fly on Maca's jeans, eased the button open, slipped her hand in.

Maca groaned. It's been too long, she thought as Esther touched her knowingly and her hips bucked. This was fast, so fast, but she thought she might die if they waited.

She gasped, groaned into Esther's mouth as her wife caught her in a fierce, desperate kiss.

She didn't think it would be like this, she realized as she panted, twisted under Esther's determined hand and tongue. She thought it would be—different. Tentative, maybe. That she might not be able to do it, would be disgusted. That it would feel…wrong. Soiled.


Instead, she gave herself up with a deep, almost-pained moan, and bit Esther's shoulder as she came, and realized that the desire for vengeance hurts the revenger more than the one they are trying to punish.

It wasn't the best sex they had ever had, but Maca woke up in the morning and, for the first time in a long time, felt clean and whole and new.

Maybe love really could conquer all.

"Maca?" Esther's hands cupping her face. She wrenches her attention back to the present. "Are you okay?"

"Sí, sí, sí. Don't worry, I'm not going out on you again," Maca answers with a tired smile, knowing that she's probably not fooling Esther, either. She's also aware that she is probably wearing what Esther refers to as her puppy dog eyes. Esther's face softens. She gets caught in Esther's eyes again.

They look at each other with so much to say and no bravery to say it.

"Who was Alejandra?" Esther asks, almost out of the blue, and Maca fights back a groan.

"She was…an old friend. She died," she says. Feels her eyes welling up, glances away. Esther's thumbs come up to wipe away her tears, and Maca sucks in a deep breath.

"She sounds like she was important to you," Esther says softly, and Maca nods.

"She was." She looks at Esther. Esther is looking down, away, and she is not asking. She is not jealous, either, but….

If there is one thing Maca has learned it is how to compromise, to meet halfway. How to bend for someone she loves.

"I'll tell you about her, if you want," Maca offers. Esther's head comes up and she smiles the smile Maca so loves. "Not now. But…some other time. I'll tell you about her."

"Whenever you want. It's a date," Esther says, and they smile at her choice of words, and stare at each other again.

So much.

Maca opens her mouth, realizes she has no idea what she is going to say, closes it.

Another pause.

"Maca?" It is almost a whisper this time.

"I'm so in love with you," spills out before Maca is conscious of what she is saying. They both blink, rear back a little, startled by Maca's overt declaration. She feels her face heat. Thank God she has the concussion to blame. Her eyes drift away, over to where the other doctors are talking. She starts to put her armor up, the barriers that keep her from being vulnerable to the world. "I'm sorry."

"I'm in love with you too." The walls come tumbling down and Maca whips her head around, fights away the colors flashing in front of her eyes. It was barely a whisper, she wonders if she imagined it. But oh, Esther is smiling now, and meeting her eyes, and she knows she heard it. She feels a smile creasing her own face.

Their smiles are different now. Sadder, more tired, with regret and hesitance and memories behind them. They won't ever go back to the same bright grins they used to share, Maca knows, before Jaime, before Esther's first pregnancy, before Vero. Back when their love was shiny and new and they were madly enamored with each other and Maca felt like she could conquer the world if only Esther was at her side. Or at least save the life of every child that entered her OR.

Maybe that's okay, though. Maybe they'll be okay someday. Maybe they're not stronger, maybe they're not even better people. Maybe they'll have some fights, some real doozies. Maybe they'll always, forever, in their inner, most locked-away feelings, be a little resentful, a little jealous, a little bitter, a little angry. But they have learned; they are different. They can get by these things now. They will never make the same mistakes again. Esther has learned to be stronger than she ever thought possible, and Maca has learned how to be alone, to bend, to ask for help. They have learned how to put blame aside.

Life is in the moving on, and as long as you learn from your mistakes, you are alive and growing. You are okay.

"When I saw you in danger tonight, I thought…I was so jealous when you walked in with her." Maca bites her lip. She is going to have to be careful about how she lets Esther and Pepa interact at first. Silvia is definitely a must. "I thought you lied to me again. I was angry…hurt."

Maca winces. Esther shakes her head, reaches out to touch her cheek. Her voice hitches.

"But I didn't…when I saw you hit your head and you weren't moving I thought, I thought you were dead. I thought you were dead, Maca, and all I could think about was how stupid I was—"

"How stupid I was," Maca croaks.

Esther tilts her head, acceding. "How stupid we both were, and how much time we've wasted, and the way your face lights up with the children, that you have MS, that I could lose you, and Maca, I love you. I never stopped loving you, not through everything."

They are silent for a moment, digesting, processing.

"If we do this…if we start over, we start over clean." Maca wishes her voice was not quite so raspy. She has no idea how she is able to have this conversation now, when her head is swimming and her vision still blurry. (Then again, it's just like being drunk, and she has always needed alcohol in situations like this.) "No blame. No guilt. We talk about things, but we deal with them. Nothing but you and me, in a place and time of our own."

Esther smiles again, nods.

"You're wearing your ring." Esther's wondering voice echoes in her ear, and her finger touches the ring gently. Maca swallows hard.

"Yeah, I'm surprised more people didn't notice and say something," she says, and Esther makes a disapproving noise.

"I think they were looking at something else." Maca grins. Esther's voice is dry but not jealous, and Maca thinks that maybe Esther has learned that just because women (or men) are looking at her, it doesn't mean she's looking back.

She thinks of Vero, thinks of how justified Esther would be to think the opposite, and sobers. She takes Esther's other hand. Esther is still playing with the chain around her neck. Maca glances down, and her heart melts a little. Esther is carefully wiping off all the blood off her ring, face scrunched in concentration.

"When did you start carrying it again?"

"When I left your apartment, I went right home and put it in my purse," Maca whispers, too honest but unable to stop. "I never should have taken it off."

They gaze at each other for a long moment. Maca feels her face opening, becoming vulnerable.

Esther's face twitches. She leans in, and Maca does, too. She tilts her head. She closes her eyes. Their breaths mingle.

She sees the future stretching out before them.

No. They're going to communicate. They're going to talk, this time.

They're going to get it right.

Maca puts two fingers to Esther's lips, feels a bittersweet smile grace her lips. She opens her eyes. Esther is looking at her, and she looks hurt.

"No, cariño. Not like this," she whispers.

Esther's eyes ask the question.

"We're not starting like this," Maca shakes her head, leans back. Her smile now is pure sadness.

"What do you mean?"

"Have you broken up with Bea?" Maca asks in response, and Esther pulls away. From the look on Esther's face, Maca knows the answer. Maca's face falls, too, and she looks off to the side.

"We're not good people when we do this, Esther," she finally sighs. "I don't…like myself because of what I did to you. To you, to Vero, what you did to me. We're not going to do it to Bea. It hurts too much. Maybe this is hypocritical—okay, it's very hypocritical—but it's not fair, and I don't want that anymore. I don't want that to be us. We're not going to do this anymore."

She takes Esther's hand again.

"If we start over, I want it to be fresh. I don't want us to start like that. I don't want that hanging over us. No guilt, no anger, remember?" She shakes her head, determined and sure now. She blames it on the concussion.

"We're going to do this right, Esther. We're going to do it right. We're going to be better this time."

She kisses Esther's hand gently. She is sure her puppy dog eyes are in full effect.

Esther smiles sadly. Touches the side of Maca's neck, where her pulse is pounding.

"I understand." Esther's eyes are glittering with tears, and Maca aches that she caused them. "Just give me time, Maca. Just give me time."

Maca bites her lip, makes a wry face. "I can do that," she whispers. "As much time as you need. Just…give me a call when you've figured things out. Call me when you're ready." She steps back a step, lips twisting ruefully for a moment. Their eyes lock again, and they are smiling, suddenly, and it is pure sunshine.

"Oy, Maca!" Their heads turn at Pepa's yell. She is standing next to the door. Silvia has a hand in Pepa's jacket pocket, and their hips are tilted towards each other. "Ready?"

"Sí, sí," Maca calls, and she turns back to Esther. Her smile turns incandescent, she can feel it.

"I'll call you tomorrow and come by and see the kids?"

"Sí," Esther says. "I would like that very much." She is smiling softly.

Maca lets out a happy puff of air, shifts. "Vale," she says. She laughs, looks away. "I need to go before they come over and drag me. Tell everyone else I said good night and I'll see them soon."

"Yeah," Esther says gently, and there are stars in her eyes. Maca feels love well up within her.

"Good night," she says with a soft smile, and touches Esther's cheek. Esther smiles back.

"Good night."

Maca grins and turns and doesn't look behind her. She limps across the room—really, once she got used to it, walking in a spinning room on a bum ankle hasn't been too bad—accepts the arm that Paco offers and her coat from Pepa. Pepa is smirking and looks like she wants to say something, but Silvia elbows her—hard—and she miraculously stays quiet.

She is still smirking, but Maca finds that she doesn't care so much. She's smiling, too.

Maca shrugs her coat on, walks out clutching onto Paco. Pepa and Silvia pace behind them, and Silvia gasps as the cold hits her. Pepa slings an arm over Silvia's shoulders, pulls her close, Silvia puts a hand around Pepa's middle, and they are walking and laughing and chatting and leaning into each other like nothing exists but the two of them. Pepa pulls Silvia in for a quick kiss, and soon they are all but making out as they walk. It's impressive that they don't trip.

Maca can't help but throw her head back and laugh, taking deep breaths of the cold night air. The stars are beautiful.

She is alive.

She is okay.


The best thing about tonight's that we're not fighting
Could it be that we have been this way before?
I know you don't think that I am trying
I know you're wearing thin down to the core

But hold your breath
Because tonight will be the night
That I will fall for you over again
Don't make me change my mind

Or I won't live to see another day
I swear it's true
Because a girl like you is impossible to find
You're impossible to find

This is not what I intended
I always swore to you I'd never fall apart
You always thought that I was stronger
I may have failed, but I have loved you from the start

Ohh, but hold your breath
Because tonight will be the night
That I will fall for you over again
Don't make me change my mind

Or I won't live to see another day
I swear it's true
Because a girl like you is impossible to find
It's impossible

So breathe in so deep
Breathe me in, I'm yours to keep
And hold on to your words 'cause talk is cheap
And remember me tonight when you're asleep

Because tonight will be the night
That I will fall for you over again
Don't make me change my mind

Or I won't live to see another day
I swear it's true
Because a girl like you is impossible to find

Tonight will be the night
That I will fall for you over again
Don't make me change my mind

Or I won't live to see another day
I swear it's true
Because a girl like you is impossible to find
You're impossible to find

The End

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