DISCLAIMER: Cold Case and its characters are the property of Jerry Bruckheimer and CBS. No infringement intended.
CHALLENGE: Written for Passion & Perfection's Big 5000.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

What If?
By mirage



It was a cold clear night, the first signs of a close winter already showing. Secured by trees and bushes two girls were sitting next to each other on a tree stump, driven close to each other by affection and the cold. They watched the winter constellations, their note pads placed on the laps as they took notes of the stars for their homework. They were talking lowly, their voices barely noticeable over the soft rustling of the red and golden leaves above them.

A falling star crossed the sky as the smaller one snuggled into her companion's embrace.

"Make a wish," her friend whispered, her breath visible in the moon lightened night.

The redhead looked up and bit her lower lip, watching the other girl closely. Then she smiled with confidence. "Don't need to. I already have you."

Her girlfriend answered her smile with one of her own and lowered her head till their lips met in a kiss. When they parted again the blonde reached out with her glove covered hand to caress the redhead's cheek. "I love you."

"I love you too." The redhead reached up to kiss her girlfriend again, but the other girl pulled back. "What's wrong?" she asked concerned, only registering now the grave expression on her girlfriend's face.

"I want to tell them."

The redhead pulled back in shock. "You can't be serious, Beth." She jumped up, her forgotten note pad falling to the ground. "We talked about it."

"I know." Beth lowered her head. "But I changed my mind."

The redhead just starred at her. "Why, why now? Why can't you just wait?"

The blonde shook her head. "Because I'm tired of hiding. I can't go on, pretending I'm something or someone I'm not." Her hand went to her chest and she pulled her scarf off. "I feel like I'm suffocating. I want to hold your hand while walking down the hallways. I want to go to prom with you as my date. I love you and it kills me that I can't talk to anyone about this."

Her girlfriend kneeled down in front of her, grasping the hands that still held the scarf. "We can have this, all of it. Just not here and now. One more year and we'll go to College. We'll get away from here and can do all the things you want, hold hands, go to parties together, we can room in together, we can even join some lesbian group. We do all the things we talked about, I promise." She searched Beth's eyes, pleading with her as she tightened her grip on her fingers. "Please, just one more year. That's all I'm asking of you."

Finally Beth's blue eyes met hers. She was crying. "I'm sorry, but I can't."

Peaceful was the first association that came into Lilly Rush's mind as she reached her destination, one of the neat, white houses that populated Philadelphia's suburbia. She stepped out of her car, the first warm rays of spring sun shining on her face. For a moment she closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, smelling the sweet scent of flowers and blossoms and allowed herself the illusion that suburbia promised.

She opened her eyes again when she heard the opening of a door, realizing that her arrival had been noticed. Lilly looked at the tall redhead as the other woman stepped out onto the porch.

"Detective Rush." Dr. Julia Simmons defensively crossed her arms over her chest. "Should I call my lawyer?" It was evident that she was still angry about their last encounter when Lilly had questioned her at the department as a suspect.

"No need to." Lilly shook her head and stepped closer, stopping at the first step of the stoop. "We found out what happened."

Julia Simmons' blinked and it took her a moment to understand the meaning of Lilly's words. "Who did it?" she finally asked, the earlier anger now lacking.

Lilly looked around, noticing a woman across the street who was watching them. "Maybe we should," she started, but the redhead cut her off.

"I don't have anything to hide." Julia Simmons smiled sadly. "Ever since I moved here they're gossiping; nothing will change that." She looked above Lilly's head, waving at her neighbor. Lilly followed her gaze, seeing how the other woman returned the wave with a false smile before she retreated into her own home and soon enough one of the curtains moved slightly.

Julia shrugged, obviously already used to her neighbors' behavior. At least on the outside she didn't seem to care. "I'd like to stay here." She took a deep breath and involuntarily Lilly followed her example, the sweet scent of spring flowers filling her nostrils.

"Are you sure?" Lilly asked, giving the other woman the chance to change her mind, but Julia just nodded, her arms crossed protectively around herself.

"I think I'll need fresh air for what you're going to tell me." The redhead shivered slightly, her dress too thin for the spring sun. Lilly took the few steps to stand next to Julia and shrugged off her jacket, placing it around the other woman's slender shoulders. "So it wasn't suicide?"

"No, it wasn't."

Julia Simmons had never believed the official explanation, trying to find someone who would listen to her. It had taken her 18 years till she found that someone in Lilly Rush. "I told you she was afraid of heights. She would never have gone to the old railroad bridge on her own."

Lilly held her gaze when she delivered her next information. "She went there with Robert Hawkins."

Julia paled and leaned against the banister as she slowly slid down to sit onto the first step. In disbelief she looked up at the detective. "But Robby was her friend. They even went out a few times before we became a couple. He would never..." she trailed off.

"He didn't do it on purpose." Lilly sat down next to her. "It was an accident."

"What happened?"

"Beth was upset when she met Robert. She had had a fight with her parents earlier."

Julia nodded, she knew that much, the fight with her parents had been the official reason for her assumed suicide. "I never believed she would commit suicide because they wanted her to go to another College."

"They didn't fight about the College. Beth told her parents that she was gay."

"She told them?" Julia asked surprised. "They never told anyone." She frowned when she realized why. "Their good reputation was more important than their daughter." The redhead closed her eyes, taking a deep breath, but the anger was still there when she spoke again. "Even when she was dead they were more interested in it than in finding out what happened to Beth."

"They were ashamed." Lilly tried to explain, but the other woman interrupted her.

"Right," Julia snorted. "A gay kid is the worst thing that can happen to parents. Parents should protect their children not judge them."

"They aren't ashamed because she was gay. They thought she committed suicide because they couldn't understand and didn't support her. They were ashamed of their actions." Lilly had talked to them, had seen the pain and guilt they had lived with for the last 18 years; it was the same guilt and pain she saw in Julia Simmons. "You're on her side. You didn't believe it was suicide and you never gave up." Lilly reminded the other woman.

"She would still be alive if I had been on her side when she needed me, but I was too afraid to give up my comfortable life."

"You were sixteen. A child."

"She wasn't too young to die." The laughter of children interrupted them and the two women looked up to see two small boys on their bikes passing by. It was a sad thought, but both knew that no one was too young to die.

Julia tore her gaze from the boys to direct it once again at Lilly, her clear green eyes boring into the detective. "What happened then?"

"It was a coincidence she ran into Robert. She was upset and he offered to take her in his car wherever she wanted. She told him she wanted to go to the bridge because she had already faced her greatest fear that night she could face her second one too. He took her there and they talked."

"About what?"

"About love. He doesn't remember exactly what was said, only that she asked him if he thought love was worth risking everything, even friendship and family. He didn't understand what she was talking about. He thought that she was talking about him. He only realized his mistake when he tried to kiss her, but she pushed him away, telling him she loved someone else." He still didn't know whom Beth had talked about that night, but Lilly had known immediately. "She loved you."

There were tears glistering in Julia's eyes, but she refused to look at Lilly, her gaze directed at the now empty street. "Some guys had mocked him earlier, telling him that he was gay, because he never had a girlfriend."

A sound escaped from the other woman's throat and she shook her head as she lowered it to prevent Lilly from seeing the emotions that played out on her face. But Lilly didn't need to see her face to know. "He tried to kiss her again and they had a fight, he pushed her and she lost her footing."

She touched Julia's knee, squeezing it when the other woman didn't pull away.

They sat there for some time, Lilly's hand never leaving the other woman's knee as she occupied herself with watching the garden, giving Julia the time to cry for her long dead girlfriend, for the justice and truth she finally had found. A soft wind had come up, playing with the colorful flowers, mingling red, orange and lilac.

"You like it?" Julia's words startled her.

"It's nice." Lilly answered. She had given up on plants. The ones that had survived her irregular watering schedules had fallen victims to her cats.

The redheaded woman laughed softly, her voice still raw from the earlier crying. "I know, it's so..." she searched for the right words, finally settling on "domestic."

"No, " Lilly shook her head. "it's peaceful."

Julia looked at her, trying to figure out if it was just a regular compliment or a true statement. "It helps me to unwind after a rough shift, to ease off the stress and occupy my mind. But I can't forget her. I think of her every day." The redhead sighed and slid her hands over her tights to her knees, hugging herself. "She's my first love."

Lilly nodded knowingly. Her first love had haunted her for years before she had been able to find closure at a hospital room.

"We had all these silly dreams you have as a teenager, saving the world, fighting diseases and injustice. A doctor and a lawyer." There was a sad glint in Julia's eyes, one of unused possibilities, of 'what ifs' that could never be answered. She had fulfilled her part and became a doctor and still she didn't feel like she had accomplished anything.

"Your plans were better than mine." Lilly interrupted her dark thoughts. "I ran away with a guy on a motorbike." The revelation had the desired effect when it elicited a smile from the other woman that Lilly answered with one of her own.

"What happened?"

"I grew up, he didn't." Lilly winced, realizing that this was true for both of them; only her first love was still alive.

Julia seemed to conclude the same. "Did you have a chance to say goodbye?"

Lilly remembered their last conversation, how close she had been to give in once again. "Yes." She finally answered.

"I never got to say goodbye." There was regret and sadness in her voice and it touched something deep inside of Lilly, knowing these feelings too well. Images of her father, her mother, of former lovers that had left her without her even realizing until it was too late, filled her mind with regret.

Lilly looked up to find Julia Simmons' eyes resting on her, her intense gaze piercing into her. A blink of her eyes and the expression was gone, replaced by a something Lilly could only describe as relief. "Maybe now." The redhead muttered to herself with a slight nod.

A clear and bright laugh escaped Julia's throat as she threw her head back and closed her eyes. She took deep breaths like breathing for the first time and savored the sun on her face. Lilly used the time to watch the woman next to her closely, marveling at the play of colors of Julia's hair in the sun. It was the first time she saw her carefree and relaxed and not ready to start a fight.

Suddenly her eyes opened again and she looked at Lilly, causing the detective to blush, ashamed of haven being caught.

"Thank you, Detective." Julia whispered. Her hand reached out to rest on Lilly's cheek and the blonde found herself leaning into the touch without thinking.

Julia leaned forward and for a second that took her breath Lilly thought the redhead might kiss her. Even the soft touch of her lips against her cheek was enough to quicken Lilly's heartbeat and for a moment Lilly allowed herself the thought about how it would be to kiss Julia Simmons.

The moment was gone as quick and Julia Simmons was already up and about to go to her front door. She stopped when she remembered that she still wore Lilly's jacket. Her eyes fell on the inlay as she shrugged it off. "Leopard?" she asked with a smirk as she handed the jacket back. "You don't stop to amaze me."

With that she retreated into her house, leaving Lilly Rush behind on the steps to her house, wondering about a whole set of new 'what ifs'.

The End

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