Maura was frozen in shock. She had experienced this hallucination before; she saw Jane all the time on the street, in the face of a random stranger. One of her forced leaves from work had been the result of a murder victim who was Jane’s spitting image; Maura’s mind had shut down on seeing what she thought was Jane’s lifeless face.
But this time was different. Whenever she had seen Jane in the past, she had looked the same; happy, healthy, laughing, brightening the day of everyone around her.
This Jane looked like she had been through a lengthy, prolonged ordeal. Her beautiful hair was gone, replaced with clear signs of years of abuse. Her bare arms showed signs of bruising and healed scars. Her clothes were ragged, hanging off her skinny frame as well as being torn and dirty. Her skin was filthy, as if she had been living outside for weeks, if not months.
Maura was jarred out of her trance when she saw tentative movement. A familiar scarred hand was reaching towards her. She couldn’t move as the hand settled over her bruised cheek, the touch gentle as it probed the injury site. She inhaled sharply at the sensation of fingers on flesh; there really was someone in front of her. She was real.
Maura continued to look into those familiar eyes, seeing a question forming there as the hand left her face.
Finally she found her voice. “I…I fell. Jane….”
Maura realised they were standing on her front step and it was getting cold. “Come inside, please.”
She reached behind her to unlock and open the door, not wanting to take her eyes off Jane in case she disappeared. She slowly reached out a hand towards Jane, who allowed her hand to be grasped. Maura pulled gently, guiding her inside. Maura felt Jane’s muscles tense as she closed the door, only relaxing when she turned the lock and checked it. Jane looked extremely skittish, but she allowed Maura to pull her into the kitchen, her eyes remaining fixed on Maura’s face the entire time.
Maura let go of Jane’s hand, moving to turn on the light. The bright glare seemed to unsettle Jane further, but she didn’t move away. Maura decided to sit down on one of the stools before her shaky legs gave out, pulling another stool out for Jane as she did so. Jane didn’t move, continuing to stand away from the counter and stare at Maura questioningly. Jane still hadn’t spoken a word.
Maura knew she needed answers, but spoke gently to try to calm Jane down. “Jane, where were you? I thought you were dead; we all thought you were dead. We never found your body, but when we couldn’t find you….Where were you? What happened?”
Jane’s expression became confused, as if she didn’t understand Maura. She didn’t move from the spot where she was standing, continuing to stare at Maura long after it would be considered polite to stop.
Maura frowned in frustration. “Jane? Can you understand me? Please, I’ve looked for you for so long, I need to know where you were! Why didn’t you contact me? I needed you and….”
Jane was still staring, but her eyes were full of agitation and confusion. Maura realised she looked like she was about to run. She knew she couldn’t risk that; she’d only just found her again.
Maura took a deep breath. Answers weren’t important right now; she needed to start thinking like a doctor. “Are you hurt? Are you injured anywhere?”
Jane didn’t react, her expression relaxing back to a more neutral gaze.
Maura decided to be less hesitant. She got up from the stool, her training shoring up her frazzled emotions and allowing her some clarity. “Come on, let’s get you changed and clean.”
Jane silently allowed Maura to lead her to the bathroom. She waited patiently while Maura ran a warm bath, not moving from where she had been positioned or shifting her gaze. Maura felt like Jane was trying to memorise her face, or remember it, she wasn’t sure which. It had seemed like Jane remembered her, but now Maura wasn’t so sure. She wasn’t acting anything like the old Jane, or like a fully functioning human at all. Apart from following Maura home she hadn’t shown any independent action at all. This became awkward when it was apparent Jane wouldn’t be taking her own clothes off. Maura repressed her feelings of embarrassment at seeing Jane without any barriers, burying them under her professional mask and setting her mind to the task ahead.
Jane passively allowed Maura to pull off the filthy clothes she was wearing and move her into the bath. The water discoloured instantly, the dirt and filth on her skin seeping off into the clear liquid at an alarming rate. Maura allowed Jane to soak for a moment before pulling out the plug and starting fresh water flowing in to replace it.
Maura found herself needing to hold in a sob when the dirt started to fall away, revealing the condition of the body underneath it. She could see multiple surgery scars on her abdomen, her shoulders, her arms, her legs, her back and neck. There was barely any part of the revealed skin which was clear of marks. Maura could see several places where there had been something implanted under the skin; alien intrusions distended the fragile flesh into foreign shapes. Jane didn’t appear to be malnourished, but her body had changed subtly, gaining more muscle while losing some of its softness. Her previously lanky body now looked dangerous and capable, although her manner was so passive it was hard to imagine how she could cause anyone harm.
Maura blinked back the tears that threatened to fall when she realised Jane was still staring, her eyes crinkled in confusion. Not wanting to upset Jane, Maura got her emotions under control and busied herself carefully cleaning off the exposed skin with a wash cloth. She was as gentle as possible, not wanting to irritate any of the wound sites. Some had been expertly repaired, but others looked as if they had been left to heal unassisted, leaving ugly puckered scars. Maura was desperately trying not to speculate about the procedures Jane must have endured to end up with the scars that laid out her pain like a roadmap. The agony she must have gone through….
Finally Jane was clean. Maura prompted her to stand and carefully wrapped her in a towel, rubbing her arms carefully. Jane continued to stand passively, neither assisting nor protesting. Her eyes continued to stare through Maura, giving nothing away.
Once Jane was dried, she led her into the bedroom. Maura would be embarrassed to admit to anyone how many items of Jane’s clothes she had held on to after her disappearance, but they would come in handy now. She quickly located a pair of sweats and a jersey, getting Jane into the clothes with no resistance. Despite the familiar attire, Jane looked nothing like her old self.
Maura couldn’t take Jane’s silence any more. “Jane, please give me something to work with! Anything! Please?”
Jane looked confused again. Maura moved closer, touching Jane’s face gently. “Please, do you remember who I am? Do you remember anything?”
Still nothing. Jane didn’t react to the hand on her face, she just continued to stare.
Maura huffed in defeat, not quite knowing where to go from here. Her first thought was to call someone, to tell them that Jane was back, but she didn’t know if that was the right thing for Jane.
“Do you want me to call someone? Your mother? Your brothers?”
Jane didn’t react again.
Maura threw her hands in the air, fighting the urge to cry from frustration and fear. Whatever had been done to Jane had obviously traumatised her, and Maura didn’t know what to do about it if she couldn’t get Jane to react to anything.
“Okay, we’re going to go downstairs and eat something. Okay? Do you understand?”
Maura moved towards the door, not pulling Jane this time. She wanted to see if she could get Jane to follow under her own steam. After a few long moments of frowning and confusion Jane got the idea and started following, her steps quiet and reserved. Maura noted the change in Jane’s gait worriedly; Jane had always shown her personality in her bold swagger. This subtle change in body language spoke volumes about her experiences, as did her continued silence.
Jane watched curiously as Maura prepared an easy meal for them both. She moved around the kitchen surely, trying to make Jane feel comforted by the return to their old routine. Unfortunately Jane wasn’t participating, which made Maura feel like she was forcing things, but she didn’t know what else to try.
Maura plated up their meal, a simple salad, and grabbed some cutlery, walking over to sit on the couch. Jane trailed after her hesitantly, standing awkwardly next to the couch. Her eyes were asking Maura what to do.
Maura decided to be more forceful; she was tiring quickly of her gentle approach and her frazzled emotions had diminished her patience. She put her hands on Jane’s shoulders, pushing her firmly towards her usual seat. Jane looked alarmed, finally tearing her eyes away from Maura to assess where she was being directed. When the back of her legs found the edge of the couch she put her hands out as if to balance, her legs bending awkwardly. She fell into the seat, making it seem like she didn’t really remember how to sit. She looked bewildered, her eyes and hands frantically exploring her new location before she slowly relaxed.
Maura watched the whole debacle with contemplative eyes. When it seemed like Jane was settled and wouldn’t jump up she carefully handed Jane her plate and cutlery. Jane grasped the offered items but didn’t seem to know what to do with them. She looked at them appraisingly before looking back at Maura, more questions appearing in those expressive eyes.
Sighing in resignation, Maura guided Jane to place the plate on her lap, positioning the fork in Jane’s hand and guiding it to the salad. After spearing a mouthful she guided the food towards Jane’s mouth, nudging her lips with the food until her mouth reluctantly opened. Maura took the opportunity to check Jane’s mouth for injuries; her tongue looked pale but intact, her teeth were still there, there was no sign of blood. It seemed as though Jane’s silence was by choice rather than by physical impairment, although Maura couldn’t be sure unless she performed a more in depth examination.
Maura guided the mouthful between Jane’s teeth, hoping her natural instincts would take over from here. Thankfully they did, with Jane biting down on the mouthful and starting to chew normally. Maura sighed again, this time in relief, and moved to her own plate. She started eating, watching Jane carefully to ensure she didn’t choke. They sat in strained silence while they finished their meal, neither able to look away from the other.
Maura’s mind was spinning. She had thought Jane was dead for four years, and yet here she was. It obviously hadn’t been Jane’s choice to stay away; her body showed signs of captivity, abuse and possibly experimentation. Her mental state was impossible to gauge unless she started talking, but she clearly wasn’t the same woman. Maura didn’t know what to make of this turn of events, where they would go from here, or how to feel.
She did realise though that underneath all the stress and confusion she was ecstatic that Jane was alive. She had missed her friend terribly; her life felt like it was over as soon as Jane wasn’t in it. She had tried to rebuild her life and move on in as many different ways as she could, but nothing had ever worked. She knew she needed Jane, and she was going to do whatever she could to help her friend find herself again.
Maura busied herself with cleaning up the dishes. She washed them by hand, wanting a few seconds alone to compose herself. She didn’t hear Jane move, and was momentarily grateful that Jane didn’t seem to be capable of moving around without instruction.
Maura almost jumped into the sink when she spun around to find Jane right behind her. Jane looked apologetic as Maura put a hand to her chest, breathing heavily as she tried to calm down after her fright. Jane watched worriedly as Maura’s breathing grew shorter and more panicked, her hand gripping the edge of the sink for support. It seemed her nerves had reached their breaking point and she was heading for an anxiety attack.
Maura suddenly felt a hand on her arm, gently grasping her wrist and pulling it away from her chest. She looked back at Jane, finding sympathy and sanctuary in those deep eyes. Her breathing calmed without her realising, her body subconsciously responding to Jane’s presence with a feeling of safety and comfort. Without permission Maura suddenly moved forward, wrapping her arms around Jane tightly.
“I missed you Jane, I missed you so much.”
Jane didn’t tense or react badly, her arms hanging awkwardly before one moved to return the hug weakly. Maura closed her eyes and allowed a relieved tear to fall, her restraint almost at its limit.
Finally she pulled back from the hug, hurriedly wiping her eyes and smiling hesitantly at Jane. Jane was still looking at her with a contemplative expression, her gaze shifting to the bruise on Maura’s cheek.
Jane’s hand moved up to gently touch Maura’s cheek the same way that it had on the front step. Maura hadn’t realised she held something in her other hand until Jane raised the empty wine bottle that she had left on the floor after last night’s binge. Maura flushed in embarrassment when she realised Jane must have deduced the cause of her ‘fall’.
She swung her eyes away from Jane’s questioning stare, taking the bottle and moving to the recycling bin to dispose of the evidence. She moved back to Jane, trying to work out what to say. Jane was still obviously waiting for an answer, her eyes becoming more insistent the longer Maura dithered.
Maura took a deep breath. “It was the anniversary of your disappearance yesterday, Jane. I just wanted to forget for a while. It didn’t really work; I’ve never been able to forget about you, not even for a day. Our lives were just too entwined, and when you were gone my life just didn’t work anymore. I tried to move on, I tried to make other friends, but I just couldn’t. You’re irreplaceable Jane.”
Jane listened intently, her gaze growing more intense as Maura explained how she felt. She seemed to think it over, then pulled Maura into a hug, a proper hug that comforted and reassured like the ones they used to share. Maura couldn’t resist a sob this time, and continued as she felt Jane’s hand rub reassuringly over her back.
They remained in their embrace for many minutes, both needing the contact. Maura inhaled Jane’s scent, noticing that it had changed. It somehow seemed more artificial, like there were industrial chemicals mixed in with the normal smell that Jane had always had. She was worried by the change; since Jane had bathed the scent had to be intrinsic to her rather than a remnant of an external factor, which must indicate some changes in her basic chemical makeup, and Maura couldn’t begin to hypothesise the implications.
As Maura pulled away she stifled a yawn. It had been several hours since Jane had turned up on her doorstep, and the overwhelming emotions of the day had exhausted the doctor. Jane gave her a concerned look before moving back towards Maura’s bedroom, looking back demandingly. Maura smiled; it seemed like Jane was regaining some of her autonomy and acting more like her old self, even if she was expressing the sentiments differently. If this inability to speak continued Maura couldn’t wait to see how she watched a Red Sox game.
Realising her fatigue was making her thoughts skitter into silly places, Maura moved with Jane to her bedroom. She indicated for Jane to wait and went to her closet, changing into her sleepwear. Jane stood patiently while Maura went through her nightly bathroom routine, which had shortened significantly since the last time Jane witnessed it. Maura was met with another questioning look as she left the bathroom.
She glanced back at the bathroom, understanding the question. “I don’t really have the patience for all the ridiculous products I used to use. I don’t see the point anymore; I’m not really the social butterfly I used to be.”
Maura saw more of the old Jane in that moment than she had all night when one of her patented ‘really’ looks crossed her face. Maura couldn’t help the bark of laughter that burst from her lips, a genuine smile invading her face at the same time. “Oh shush. Let’s go to sleep, we’ll figure this out in the morning.”
Maura moved to her usual side of the bed, indicating that Jane should get into hers and pulling back the covers for her. Jane looked confused again, carefully watching what Maura did before copying her motions and getting into the bed. She looked awkward, similar to when she had sat down before. It was as if she hadn’t sat or laid down in so long that she had forgotten how.
Maura reached for the light before reconsidering. “Do you want the light left on?”
Jane looked unbothered, so Maura switched it off and settled onto her pillow. Her hand snaked out and found Jane’s, their fingers twining together. Maura smiled at the familiar comforting sensation and drifted off into sleep.