Fandom: NYPD Blue, Law & Order
Rating: We're still in PG-13 country, I think.
Summary: Carmichael is forced to deal with a date rape case as she and Kirkendall try to find some time together.
Disclaimers: I don't own them. See Dick Wolf and Steven Bochco if you want to argue about it.
Spoilers: General season spoilers on Law & Order. Through "The Man With Two Right Shoes" on NYPD Blue.
Further note on that point: With Andrea Thompson's recent announcement that she will be leaving the show at the end of the season, obviously I'm going to have to go into deep denial if I want to continue this fanfic series. So, for those of you who do watch NYPD Blue, I plan on following the series (as far as Jill is concerned) through the events of "Stressed for Success" episode. (Wasn't that neat how I didn't give anything away?) For the other characters (like Diane, Sipowicz, Sorenson, et all) I'll try to continue to follow the season insofar as it doesn't concern Jill. Is that fair?
Note: This is the fourth in the "Days and Nights" series. And I'm pretty sure that if you haven't read the others you might be kinda lost, but maybe not.
Feedback: If you shoot at me, I will duck and return fire from sbowers@bellsouth.net .

Days Like These

| Part 1 | Part 2 |

Like most young prosecutors in the District Attorney's office, Carmichael spent a relatively small amount of time in court when compared to the time she spent involved in the investigative legwork that formed the backbone of all criminal prosecutions. In a lot of ways the differences between her investigations and those of the police were very similar to those between a trial jury and a Grand Jury. Used for indictment purposes, the Grand Jury only had to consider whether it was likely the suspect had committed the crime. The trial jury had the burden of weighing all the evidence and deciding on the suspect's actual guilt or innocence. In other words, being mistaken for a cop was sort of understandable, but her questions picked up where the detectives' usually left off.

It also meant that she had to spend a lot of time saying, "I know you've already spoken to the police, ma'am. But I'm with the District Attorney's office, and I really need to talk to you."

Which is what she found herself saying to a slightly irritated and rumpled Janie Turner at the Manhattan office of Young & Rubicom. The young woman had a shock of jet black hair that stuck out wildly in all directions-- aided, Abbie noticed, by some unidentifiable hair gel-- and intent blue eyes that studied her warily. Her stocky build wasn't flattered by baggy khaki slacks dotted with what looked like copy machine toner or the lime green T-shirt bearing the sickly Poison Control icon Carmichael remembered from her youth. "District Attorney, huh? Guess that explains why Davie's not at work today. Yeah, you can talk to me. Come on in."

Turner's "office" was even smaller than Carmichael's, jammed with a desk and chair for the writer and two more uncomfortable-looking guest chairs that Abbie eyed uneasily.

"Who's the man in black?" Turner gestured at the lanky and glowering frame hovering behind Carmichael.

"This is Detective Munch-- he's with the Special Victims Unit working on this case. You mind if he joins us?"

The look that Turner shot Carmichael plainly said, "Do I have much choice?" but instead of saying anything she merely shrugged elaborately and fell backwards into her chair. "I can't help you."

"Just talking to you helps," Abbie countered, not really sure how to play this woman. Janie seemed almost hostile towards them, yet according to the background files there was no love lost between the copywriter and the account executive. Still, she had called Byers, "Davie," which indicated a certain degree of familiarity.

Turner snorted. "Whatever." She leaned back in her chair and continued to study Carmichael appraisingly. Her eyes narrowed in recognition. "I know you," she said decisively. "You're the one who put those queer killers away." Turner smiled, revealing a crooked charm beneath the attitude. "I would have fried those sorry bastards, but at least the motherfuckers are never getting out of jail. That was very cool."

Carmichael shuddered lightly at the obscenity-laced praise. "Thank you."

"You going to the memorial service?"

Turner was asking about the upcoming protest/vigil/memorial service that Lorraine Fitzgerald and some of the city's queer leaders had organized in Stephanie Pruitt's name. Taking over her dead lover's seat on the board of the city's Gay Youth in Crisis Center had seemed to give Lorraine a new purpose in life-- one she jokingly blamed on Abbie, who had talked her into taking the seat in the first place. Lorraine had actually conceived the idea for honoring Stephanie's memory while sitting in Carmichael's office one evening and had even talked the attorney into speaking at the service. The event, however, quickly began taking on a life of its own. Like Brandon Teena and Matthew Shepherd before her, Stephanie had joined the unwilling and unfortunate pantheon of queer martyrs whose deaths seemed to resonate with something deep within the American consciousness. As more and more attention became focused on the event, Abbie had bowed out of her formal role in it. She assured Lorraine that as a private citizen she would be there, but her already public role as an ADA precluded her involvement on such a prominent scale.

The question took Carmichael aback, though she didn't really know why. "Um... yes, I'll be there."

Janie nodded a moment longer, as if deciding something. "Cool. What you wanna know about Davie and Tara?"

It was as if some internal hurdle had been overcome, a silent test passed-- and Carmichael wasn't about to question her good fortune. "What was your working relationship with Mr. Byers?" It was an open ended question meant more to get Janie talking and comfortable rather than to glean any real information.

Turner answered without preamble. "Davie's an asshole. But you kinda have to make allowances for that. Account service people deal in bullshit all day, so it's like an occupational hazard. You just learn to ignore the smell. But as far as assholes go, he's not too bad a one to have."

"Meaning you like him?"

"Everybody likes him. He's not my favorite guy on the planet, but I could name ten people like this--" she snapped her fingers-- "That I dislike more."

"So you guys hung out occasionally?"

"Yeah. I guess. A bunch of us would go to Hardwick's or something. He liked to run with the boys, though." Janie chuckled darkly. "For obvious reasons that didn't appeal to me too much. We did have similar taste in women though," she reminisced. "We dated the same girl once."

Behind his smoked glasses, Munch's bushy eyebrows rose.

"Not at the same time, you perv," Janie answered his unspoken question.

"Davie did date around, though?"

"If it had a snatch, Davie hit on it. As far as I heard, however, he did know the meaning of the word 'no.'"

"And Tara?"

"What about her?"

"Is she part of the gang?"

"Nah, not really. I think she might have come out with us once, maybe twice before."

"Was Davie part of those crowds too?"

Janie offered up her hands. "Who knows? This is a big agency, Ms. Carmichael. And it's just like high school. There's the in crowd, the in-between-crowd, and the lepers. As far as I knew, Tara didn't hang with any of them."

"Davie said some folks thought she was queer."

"Not," Janie snorted. "I don't know what Tara was into, but it wasn't girls."

"How do you know?" Munch interjected.

The copywriter grinned at Abbie, curling a single eyebrow upward. "Oh, you know we queers can sniff each other out. And Tara didn't have the scent." More seriously, she added, "Tara kept to herself. I think mostly because she liked it that way. She did a hell of a job in production, even came to me a couple of times about the kerning in some of my ads. Noticed everything."

Something in Janie Turner's narrative kept distracting Carmichael, and it took her a minute to locate its source. "You keep talking about Tara in the past tense. As if she's dead."

The expression on Turner's paunchy face was unidentifiable, but vaguely sympathetic to Carmichael's probing eyes. "As far as this agency's concerned, she is."

---------------------------------

Their conversation with Donna Ellory didn't fare much better. Except Munch was perpetually distracted by Ellory's insanely long legs and the woman's annoying propensity for crossing and re-crossing them at startlingly short intervals. Her account of the evening with David Byers and Tara Wheeling was, to their chagrin, very similar to Janie's. Yes, Tara had a lot to drink, but then again they all had. No, Davie didn't seem any more touchy-feely than normal-- and certainly less so than the oversexed Keith, whom Donna had been forced to cool off by dumping a pitcher of beer into his swollen lap. "Then Janie and I left. I really can't tell you what happened after that."

"Did Tara seem to be enjoying his attention?"

Donna ran an elegantly manicured hand through her professionally-streaked blond hair. "I guess. She wasn't falling all over him, if that's what you're asking. She just seemed... interested... in what he had to say. All of us, really. Tara had this way of making you believe that she was really listening to what you were talking about." She pursed her lips and smiled awkwardly. "That's rare in this business-- and very attractive. Creative and Account Service assholes sometimes forget that we're not always on a pitch."

"Was Davie pitching to Tara?"

"Probably. It was a weird combo, though. Tara's so serious and Davie's... well, Davie's not."

"Sounds like you like Tara."

"Yeah, I guess I do. Wish I had gotten to know her better."

---------------------------------

In unmarked police sedan, Carmichael studied her notes. "What a line from a yearbook." Abbie slumped in the uncomfortable vinyl seat, letting her head fall back against the head rest.

"It's the doomed fates of the faceless masses. Those who out of fear or either some misplaced sense of dignity have no urge to draw attention to themselves by beating their breasts and shouting 'ME! ME! ME! ME!'" Munch looked at Carmichael out of the corner of his eye. "Such ignominy will never befall you."

Without turning her head or opening her eyes, Abbie replied dryly, "Don't think just because you used big words I don't know that I've been insulted."

Munch merely smirked in reply.

"We've come up with absolutely nothing. It's still his word against hers."

"So he was an asshole, but apparently not a slime."

"I don't get it. Date rapists don't just do it once. And somebody as smooth as Byers has probably been getting away with it for a long time. There has to be somebody somewhere."

Guiding the car through the Wednesday afternoon start-stop traffic, Munch shrugged. "Even if there is somebody, it's a crap shoot if the judge would let something like that in."

"Yeah, but it might make him cave to a deal."

"There is one other option, you know."

"What's that?"

"It wasn't rape." He held up a hand to ward her off. "Don't castrate me just yet. I'm with you, but playing devil's advocate, you gotta look at both sides. I know that Byers gave Stabler a hand job in his statement, but that doesn't make him a rapist. But maybe he was afraid the real truth would make him look like one. Maybe he did con her into getting upstairs, maybe he talked her into taking her blouse off, re-enacting the seduction scene from Dirty Dancing-- or whatever it was that got it started. But once it got started, it was just that-- bad sex."

"Will you listen to yourself, Munch? Bad sex? Weren't you in the room when she made her statement? She said no-- twenty-two times. And twenty-two times, David Byers ignored her. That makes it rape."

"What about the evidence, Carmichael? No damage to either her clothing or the apartment. No lacerations, no abrasions. Rape kit came back positive for semen and sexual activity, but the docs said that the vaginal bruising could have just as easily been caused by a lack of lubrication as force. She wasn't aroused."

"Of course she wasn't aroused," Carmichael retorted. "She was being raped."

"Or else he didn't turn her on."

"Sonofabitch!" Her eyes snapped flames as she glared at the detective. "I cannot believe you just said that, Munch."

"I'm making a point here. If we can't find anything else-- and it's looking like we aren't-- it's gonna be his word against hers. And which lawyer can break the other's witness down faster. I know you did a good job on him in the interrogation, but he didn't break. Not even close."

"Which is why I'm trying to push him into a deal."

"All due respect, Counselor, but if he didn't take a deal right after you tripped him up on his original statement-- he's not going to."

Rubbing the back of her neck wearily, Carmichael nodded exhaustedly. "I know."

"So what are we going to do?"

"Talk to more people, I guess. The bar-- it's called Hardwick's, I think-- isn't too far from here. The evening shift should be coming on soon. We could--" Her words were interrupted by the shrill bleat of her cell phone. "Carmichael," she said into the phone.

Munch had been heading towards the bar all along. Now, in front of the tidy pub, he edged out of the traffic and pulled over, flipping the police visor down on the windshield. He'd known that Carmichael would want to come here, regardless of how well or poorly the case against David Byers was shaping up. Loose ends were not something that Abbie Carmichael trafficked in.

"Friday?" she was saying into the phone, a slightly incredulous tone in her voice. "No... no, that's... of course, I can. Of course, I would love to..." Then Carmichael chuckled-- a languid, rich sound that sent shivers of nervous sensation tricking into parts of his anatomy that Munch would rather have not concentrated on at the time. He couldn't resist sneaking a glance at the attorney and was astonished at the transformation he saw.

Abbie Carmichael was a beautiful woman-- anyone who looked at her knew that. Munch, however, had always associated her beauty with a sort of Arctic austerity, in spite of her dark coloring. He could admire pictures of the frozen tundra, but it didn't mean he wanted to live there.

This woman beside him now, however, was shockingly warm and supple-- as if the lines of her body had been completely altered. The Southern burr in her voice was rougher than he'd ever heard it; but her tone was unmistakably intimate, despite her innocuous words.

"Just pick me up at eight at my apartment. You remember...? Yeah, that's it. No... No..." A ripple of laughter left her throat and crawled up Munch's spine. "Leave everything to me. Just... wear something gorgeous. Yeah..." An almost imperceptible hesitation. "Me too..." More thrilling laughter. "You're absolutely right. Okay. See you then." She snapped the phone shut, her features returning to their formerly implacable exterior. The faint glimmer in her eyes, however, wouldn't be suppressed. "Shaddup," she growled at him before throwing the passenger door open and striding confidently into the bar, aware the whole time that had been his destination.

Upon entering the bar, they learned that waitress who had worked the Y&R table wasn't due on for another hour. With the bribe of a beer for Munch and a Jack Daniels for herself, Abbie convinced the SVU detective to wait with her. Carmichael glanced at her watch, mentally encouraging the woman to be early. She had been out of the office all afternoon and didn't relish the thought of what waited for her upon her return.

Lost in her own thoughts, she didn't notice Munch's steady appraisal, or the faint smirk that curled on his lips. "Drink that kerosene often?"

The question startling her into attentiveness, Abbie shook her head. "Come again?"

He pointed at the amber liquid in her glass. "You and the hard stuff-- you fooled me. You seem more like a wine spritzer kind of girl."

Carmichael shot him a look intended to melt steel, or at least the annoying black plastic of Munch's ever-present sunglasses. "They don't have wine spritzers where I'm from."

"Oh yeah, that's right. I forgot. Your relatives were survivors of the Alamo or something. Right?"

"There were no surivivors of the Alamo," she replied darkly.

"Whatever." He waved her comment away. "So tell me, that phone call mean you and McCoy finally stopped arguing and got down to business? Because, I gotta tell you, I've got about six more months before we reach my date in the pool. I was hoping you were kinda holding out on him. But judging from the sound of your voice on that call, I think I'm out fifty bucks."

"Me and McCoy?" Her exclamation was hoarse, strangled as it was by the rest of the stiff Jack and Coke she was swallowing. Hastily, she motioned to the afternoon bartender for a refill. She had heard about McCoy and his predilection for the young, pretty assistants who populated his office-- but Abbie had honestly believed that because of the obvious friction between her and the EADA, the gossip mill would have passed on that particular warhorse of a rumor.

Apparently not.

"Begging Jack's pardon," she muttered, regaining her sense of equilibrium. "But ewww...."

Munch snorted into his microbrew. "Ha! I knew it! At least that means I still have a chance in the other pool."

"What other pool?" she asked, her voice low and dangerous.

"The what-team-does-Abbie-bat-for pool." He snickered. "The gossips are completely buggered up. Since you're tighter than Fort Knox with information, they didn't know which pool to start-- so they've started one of everything."

Carmichael buried her face in her hands. "Please tell me these pools are metaphorical."

"No such luck, Counselor. There are some serious bucks being wagered on all sorts of details about your personal life. So if you have any inside dope you want to share with me...." He trailed off suggestively.

"Bite me, Munch."

"Don't tempt me."

She glared at him.

"Oh come on." Seeing she wasn't going to budge, Munch shrugged. "Okay, let me tell you what I've deduced from my stellar detective-like instincts. You and McCoy are a no-go-- which, I have to say, is a first for poor Jack-- no wonder he yells at you so much. Judging from that phone call, I'd say you and I bat for the same team, or at the very least you're a switch-hitter-- like Pele on his last game. You know where he played a half for each team."

"You're mixing your sports analogies, Munch."

"Don't stop me," his words rode right over her. "I'm on a roll. How have I arrived at this conclusion, you might ask? One simple word." He looked at her expectantly.

Silence.

"Aren't you gonna ask me which word?"

"Aren't you going to tell me whether I do or not?" she shot back.

"You have a point. Okay-- gorgeous."

"Beg pardon?"

"Gorgeous. You told the person on the other end of the phone to wear something gorgeous. That's not something you'd tell your average strapping Marlboro Man."

"Maybe it's not the Marlboro Man. Maybe it's some other guy."

"Abbie..." He looked sternly at her. "I can't see you with some nebbishy lawyer-type."

"I am a nebbishy lawyer-type," she protested.

"No-- you're not. Actually, now that I think about it-- you are the Marlboro Man. Just in nebbishy lawyer-type clothes. You've even got that oh-so-dashing cleft in your chin." He cocked his head to look at her more closely. "You know-- cut your hair, you could be Montgomery Clift. This ADA gig doesn't work out for you-- there's a great future as a drag king just around the bend."

"Munch, you're giving me a headache."

"Then have another drink, I'm just getting started. Come on, I mean, when am I ever going to get this chance again?"

Abbie narrowed her eyes.

"My point exactly," he nodded. "Now, what can we deduce about the lady in question? Well, obviously you're very into her-- I mean, really Carmichael, is it smart to be that so apparently eager?"

"I wasn't..." she started.

"And the whole thing is just getting started, because you were definitely surprised by the invitation."

"It isn't...."

"But she knows where you live. Hmm...." Munch drummed his fingers on the bar. "Now that has to be the most interesting aspect of this scenario. I wonder how..."

"You guys waiting for Erika?" the bartender mercifully derailed the detective's train of thought. "She just got in. If you want to go over to that booth over there, I'll send her over."

"Thank you," Carmichael replied gratefully, picking up her drink and moving to the indicated booth.

"So what are you going to wear?" Munch called over her shoulder. "We really should discuss this..."

---------------------------------

"So did you decide on what you were going to wear yet?" In the bathroom mirror Russell eyed her partner with an ill-concealed grin matched by Kirkendall's own. Their conversation the night before had opened up a lot of previously hidden places in the women's souls, and Diane found she was enjoying this more intimate aspect of their partnership.

"I think so, but I've never had the courage-- or the occasion-- to wear it before. I just hope I can still fit into it." She patted her hips ruefully. "Turning forty is hell."

Russell chuckled. "Well, I've still got a few more years, but if I can make it looking as good as you do, I'll be more than happy."

Jill shot Diane a grateful look and finished washing her hands, her face turning thoughtful. "Last night, I'm looking in the mirror, and all I can see are the stretch marks and the five extra pounds from last Thanksgiving that turned into ten extra this Christmas. Not to mention that lately my hair looks like I stuck my finger in a light socket." She threaded her hands through the locks in question. "What's up with that?"

"You just need a trim. John can do it for you. He cuts Andy's hair."

"PAA John? Gay John?" she asked incredulously.

"Yeah, believe it or not. Why don't you ask him to do it during lunch? I'm sure he'll be thrilled. And that way you're all tidy for tomorrow evening."

"Great, you think he can trim my hips and thighs while he's at it?"

Russell studied her partner more closely, noticing the worried lines creasing her forehead. Never in the three years the women had known each other had Kirkendall even mentioned her own appearance. Not that Russell hadn't heard extensive commentary about her partner's attributes from everyone else in the 1-5. Diane had interpreted this silence as the quiet confidence of someone who was at peace with her genetic gifts and the effect they had on the men around her. Maybe she was, Russell realized, but Abbie Carmichael represented a whole different ball game. "What's wrong, Jill?"

"It's just... I don't know." Kirkendall shook her head and then smiled at her partner ruefully. "Admit it, Diane, she's about as close to physically perfect as you can get and still be human."

Not needing to say who she was.

"She's too thin," Russell commented idly, suppressing her desire to ask just how closely Jill had gotten to look. In their conversations with her, neither Jill nor Abbie had said exactly how far things had gone. But judging from her partner's apprehension and Carmichael's own almost damnably honorable nature, Diane guessed that it couldn't have gone too far.

"She runs too much and doesn't eat enough," Kirkendall replied dryly. "I should have that problem."

"Jill--" Diane faced her partner squarely. "Heads turn when you walk down the street-- you know that. And as far as I'm concerned, you are absolutely one of the most beautiful people I have ever seen."

Kirkendall hung her head and refused to meet Diane's eyes, an unusual blush coloring her features. "I..." Her voice was almost a whisper. "She's so amazing. I just want to be beautiful enough for her."

"Oh baby..." An unfamiliar thickness lodged in Russell's throat, and she reached for Kirkendall's hand. "You know she's not about that," she said softly, recognizing in her friend's eyes the almost overwhelming desire she herself had felt to be worthy of the look Bobby's eyes.

"I know," Kirkendall murmured. "If I had two heads and six arms... that wouldn't change how she feels about what's happening between us." Now she raised her eyes to meet Diane's. "That's part of what scares me so much."

---------------------------------

"And nobody can confirm either version of the events?" Adam Schiff looked skeptically at his prot�g�s, both old and new. McCoy sprawled in his usual chair opposite Abbie's desk, while Carmichael leaned back in her own chair, arms folded loosely across her chest and one low-heeled pump bouncing lightly against the plush gray carpeting. On his way out to lunch, Schiff had seen them-- grim-faced and weary-looking-- through the open doorway of Carmichael's office and had stopped in for an impromptu status check on their cases. What he had heard hadn't pleased him.

"Co-workers say that Byers hit on everything that moved, but wasn't known for staying around where he wasn't wanted. He's gone out with a couple of women in the building, but when they broke it off-- he didn't come around again. Tara wasn't very well-known, but professionally at least she was well-thought of," Carmichael summarized tersely. "The folks they went out with that night say that nothing unusual happened-- aside from Byers' friend getting a pitcher of beer dumped in his lap, but even that apparently isn't too uncommon. Their waitress said they were all pretty trashed, but she didn't notice Tara cozying up to Byers or the reverse."

"Sounds like you don't have much of a case."

"I'm not turning this guy loose, Adam."

"Then make a deal."

"He won't take one."

"What did you offer?"

"Rape 2, 3 to 6-- right after I talked to him."

"Maybe you offered too soon," he said.

"No," Jack's voice interjected. "The statement he gave Abbie contradicted his earlier one to the detectives. If he was going to deal, it would have been then. She timed it right, even had Byers's attorney convinced."

"So what happened?"

"Guy's smarter than we think."

"Or it didn't happen."

"It happened," Abbie's voice again, stronger now.

"Then find something to prove it. Or make a deal and put him away." With a last stern look, he replaced his hat and ambled back down the hallway.

"That was productive." Abbie slumped wearily in her chair and eyed McCoy, smiling crookedly. "Thanks for backing me up there."

"You did the right thing on the deal. It's what I would have done."

"Ah, but those aren't necessarily the same thing, now are they?" she replied archly, only a slight glimmer in her eyes betraying the tease.

McCoy shrugged diffidently, the upward curl of his lips barely visible. "You've only got another twelve hours before he has to be arraigned or released. What are you going to do?"

"What am I going to do?" she echoed as Munch strolled into her office. "I'm going shopping."

---------------------------------

It was unusual to say the least, Abbie reflected, as she trailed after Munch's skinny form through the evening wear department of Bergdorf's. Okay, make that downright surreal... she mentally corrected, watching him critically eye and then dismiss a number of dresses, any of which would have probably suited her purposes. For some reason, the inscrutable fortysomething former Baltimore-homicide-now-New-York-based-SVU-detective had appointed himself her unlikely fairy godmother, although it probably wouldn't do to let him hear her say that.

"Black," he was mumbling to himself. "We need to put you in basic black."

"That's a surprise," she replied dryly, "Considering who I'm talking to."

"Am I the only one who's worried about this?"

"What's to worry?" Though there were more butterflies in her stomach than even she would admit to at this point, and the sardonic look on Munch's face called her on the fib. Things had been so hit-and-miss with Jill that a part of her had really believed they would simply go on catching minutes and lunch hours out of their days until the other woman finally lost interest and told her thank you, no.

Of course, Diane Russell had put a stop to that.

The thought of her old friend maneuvering to carve out some time alone for her and Jill was a sweet one, although she didn't envy Russell the hell she had probably caught from Kirkendall for interfering. Russell had indicated more than once that Jill seemed to think of her partner as a younger sibling, someone to look out for and offer a comforting shoulder to in times of need-- but so far it hadn't worked both ways. Diane's playing Cupid could have seriously backfired. Still, Jill had called her and had asked her out for Friday, Carmichael mused, so she couldn't have taken Russell's meddling too badly.

Could she?

"Hey! Hey you!" Munch was snapping his fingers in her eyes, trying to bring her out of the reverie into which she had fallen.

"Stop it," she snapped, grabbing the hand in from of her face and squeezing on the fingers.

"Ow!" he protested, snatching his injured digits back and rubbing them gingerly. "There's no cause for physical violence here."

"There is when you do that."

"The sales clerk had been talking to you for five minutes. We thought you were catatonic."

"Just thinking about the case."

"Yeah right. The case you're taking out to dinner tomorrow night. Sure." He thrust three black cocktail dresses into her hands. "You want to try these on."

"I do?"

"You do," he confirmed, pushing her towards a vacantly-smiling, large-toothed clerk standing by the dressing rooms. "Come out and show me each one."

"Munch, reassure me here. This is not some Victoria's Secret fantasy of yours gone kinky, is it?"

"Just think of me as your best girlfriend." Seeing Carmichael's faint coloring at his inadvertent pun, he added. "Not that kind of girlfriend." He paused, considering. "Not that I would mind if it were." He cocked his head. "Maybe I should try on the dresses."

Silently, Abbie rolled her eyes and fled to the soothing decor and relative sanity of the dressing rooms.

Once there, she considered each of the dresses he had picked out. For a self-described conspiracy freak, Munch had surprisingly good taste. Each dress was of a different classic cut, black, and with discreetly short hemlines that managed to both flash a fair amount of leg and leave plenty to the imagination. All in all it wasn't what she would have expected the SVU detective to pick out-- that was something along the lines of a lime green tube top and spandex biker pants. So, with little reservation, she slipped into the first one.

---------------------------------

"Hey John..." Kirkendall leaned hesitantly on the corner of the PAA's desk. "You got a minute?"

The young man nodded instantly, a pleasant-- if somewhat confused-- expression on his face. "What can I do for you, Detective?"

Jill jerked an awkward thumb towards the locker room. "Can we talk in here?"

His unease grew. "Certainly."

------------

"Strapless doesn't do it for you. With those shoulders, you look like a linebacker," Abbie glowered at him, but Munch only leaned back regally in the plush visitor's chair and crossed his legs. "Try the next one."

------------

Jill shut the door behind them and glanced around nervously, not really sure what how to ask. She had always walked a fine line on the Job, resolutely keeping as much of her private life out of the squadroom as possible throughout her whole career. Mostly because Don had been such a loose cannon that she had never felt comfortable forming friendships that extended beyond the safe confines of the House. It wasn't easy to admit that your ex was a skel of the lowest sort, even harder to admit that you had a weak spot for him that-- until recently-- wouldn't seem to die. "I need a favor."

The expression in John's eyes told her that he sensed her fretfulness and was trying to make this as easy as possible for her. "If it's in my power."

"It's nothing big-- and if you can't-- it's no big deal. I understand."

"Well..." He hesitated. "I won't know if I can't until you tell me what it is."

------------

"You look like the bastard love child of Gomez Addams and Angelina Jolie," Munch proclaimed, wincing at the high collar and long sleeves of the next dress. "But you might want to keep that in mind for next Halloween."

-----------

Jill laughed tentatively. "Um... it's just that... well, I heard that... sometimes, you know... you um... cut..." Her voice trailed off and she half-gestured towards her head.

"Hair?"

"Yeah."

"And you were wondering...?" He looked expectantly at her.

"I've got this thing tomorrow night..."

Comprehension dawned in his pale blue eyes and a delighted light flickered there. "I'd been honored." He stepped slightly forward, smiling eagerly. "You only need a little trim. May I?"

------------

As the third dress was rejected with equally alarming alacrity, Carmichael considered calling the whole expedition off when a dress of a different sort caught her eye. A lazy smirk curled around her lips as she examined it.

"Let me see that one."

------------

"I have all these cowlicks unless I keep my hair long," Jill complained good-naturedly. "But between keeping up with the boys and the job, I don't have time to fuss with it."

"So you just wash it and go," John nodded understandingly, all the while apprising Jill's blond locks from every possible angle.

They had fetched the low stool that John and Andy used for the other detective's trims, along with John's styling gear. Now Jill found something oddly soothing in the quiet murmurs the PAA made as he spritzed the back of her hair in preparation. "Pretty much," she agreed. "Run some gel through it, and that's the extent of my fashion statement."

"Just a suggestion? When you want to go for something softer--" Their eyes met in the mirror. "Leave the gel out. You have one of those little round brushes?"

Jill nodded.

"Comb your hair downward and curl the ends under. One reason your hair's gets spiky is the gel."

"But it's so fine, it just sticks to the sides of my head if I don't put something in it."

"Maybe a light mousse, then. It will give you some body, but won't shape the hair too much. I have some terrific samples you can try." He grinned conspiratorially at her. "A friend of mine's in the business."

"That'd be great," Jill found herself replying enthusiastically and couldn't help but laugh. "Would you listen to me?"

John only gave her a questioning glance.

"I haven't been this interested in the way I looked since I was about sixteen and getting ready for the prom."

"Nothing wrong with wanting to look nice," John soothed, then added, "Not that you don't always." He smiled shyly. "I know I've never said anything to you-- or Detective Russell for that matter-- because I don't think it's appropriate in the station house, but I've always thought that both you and Detective Russell carry yourselves with tremendous style."

The earnest comment elicited a blush from Kirkendall's pale cheeks. "Thank you, John. That means a lot."

"May I ask what's the special occasion you're getting ready for?"

She hesitated, then shrugged. "It's nothing... just... a date. I feel kind of stupid being this..."

"Excited?"

"I'm too old to be excited over a simple dinner."

"No, you're not," the younger man scolded. "You're never too old for something like that. Besides," he continued, trimming the hair on the back of Jill's neck into a neat line, "It's just your body's way of telling you that this is someone special."

------------

"Oh. My. God."

A smug brow arched elegantly in response to the declaration. "I take it you like this one."

"So much so I'm gonna have a heart attack. That dress on you, Carmichael..." his voice trailed off.

"Yeeesss?" she purred.

"Oughta be illegal. In fact, I'm sure your Daddy would definitely not approve."

"Then it's a keeper?"

"Oh yeah."

Abbie stood in front of her appreciative audience of one for a moment longer, reveling in the sensation of the smooth fabric against her skin. Everything about the dress was simple-- from the two-fingers' width straps that caressed her shoulders to the curving neckline that showed just a hint of the swell of her breasts. The rich wine color was accented by a subtle pattern running down the length of the dress in an even deeper shade of maroon. It clung appreciatively to her hips and thighs, ending demurely at mid-calf. The salesclerk had thoughtfully provided matching pumps that added another two-inches to her already impressive height. She now topped the six-foot detective by a good inch. "You think I need some earrings?" she asked her still-gaping sidekick.

"I think that body your wearing is accessory enough. Dammit Carmichael, is that what you've been hiding under those crappy suits of yours?"

"So-- no earrings?"

He cocked his head appraisingly. "Maybe some small hoops or something," he conceded. "But no necklace. Your d�colletage is distracting enough."

------------

"John--" Kirkendall hesitated, wanting to ask the question she had been asking herself ever since she had first laid eyes on Abbie Carmichael. "Ask you something?"

The PAA smiled understandingly-- knowingly, Jill thought.

"I mean, I completely understand if you don't want to answer."

He only continued to smile.

"How did... I mean... you know, when did you first realize you were gay? What brought it on?"

He chuckled. "You make it sound like a head cold."

Instantly Jill dropped her eyes. "Never mind." She shook her head. "Just forget it."

John looked closely at the formidable detective he'd come to know over the last year. Jill Kirkendall remained very much an enigma to him-- as she did to most everyone in the squad except for Detective Russell. He knew she had two young sons and a worthless ex-husband, but beyond that, she was silent about her life outside the House. Personally, he thought that she and Detective Russell would have made an absolutely stunning couple-- they certainly had the chemistry for it, whether they knew it or not. And experience had taught him that people didn't generally ask the "gay" question unless they had some questions of their own.

Maybe Jill Kirkendall wasn't as oblivious as he thought.

Hesitantly, he placed a long-fingered hand on her shoulder. "I was only teasing," he said softly. "Honestly, I can't remember a time when I wasn't. I was the original sissy-boy growing up, and things haven't really changed that much."

"You took a bullet trying to save Sylvia's life," Jill corrected. "That's not exactly the textbook definition of a sissy."

"Anyone would have done the same," John demurred. Now it was his turn to blush. Although everyone at the 1-5 had assured him otherwise, he still felt responsible for the events leading up to the death of Andy's wife, Assistant District Attorney Sylvia Kostas. So many should haves and could haves still filled his thoughts that he frequently exhausted himself trying to keep track of them all. But the fact of the matter was, he couldn't change any of it now.

And the look in Detective Kirkendall's eyes told him exactly that.

"Anyway..." he said briskly, fluffing Jill's hair-- more to keep his hands busy than anything-- and returning to their original subject. "I guess I've always known."

"So..." Jill hesitated, "You feel you were born this way?"

Seeing where she was obliquely headed, John hid a smile. "I do, sure, but I know lots of people-- men and women-- who were in straight relationships for a long time before they got involved with someone of the same, ah, persuasion."

"Were they happy before, these people?"

"Some yes, some no. Just like everyone else, I suppose." He smiled in reflection. "One friend of mine, he says that he's completely straight-- except he fell in love with his best friend, who just happened to be a man and gay. They've been together almost ten years now."

"You don't think your friend was just hiding from the truth about himself?"

"Who knows?" John shrugged. "I certainly don't think he does. What it comes down to-- at least for me-- is that love is love. It's a clich�, but a true one, I think. Does it matter what labels we put on the bodies of the people we fall in love with or those we put on the relationships themselves?"

"Maybe we're just trying to understand ourselves and the people around us," Jill offered.

"Maybe," he hedged. "But maybe the people who are so quick to put labels on other people are usually doing it out of spite. Or fear. Take Detective Russell's friend in the DA's office, Ms. Carmichael." John was so intent neatly parting Jill's hair that he almost didn't feel the slight start in the older woman's body. The tremor lasted only a second, and a dawning thought crept over the horizon of his mind.

"What about her?" Jill prompted.

"Well, ever since the Pruitt case, I've heard some of the... uh, less-charitably-inclined officers refer to her as that dyke DA."

"In our squad?" Her hazel eyes clouded, and John knew that whatever had just occurred to him about Detective Kirkendall and the darkly attractive lawyer was probably pretty on-target.

"No," he hastened to assure her. "Nobody in the squad. But some uniforms..."

"Which uniforms?" she barked.

"Well... mostly that Laughlin fellow..."

"The one who's just moved to Anti-crime?"

"And his cronies," John confirmed. "But you see where I'm going," he hastened to add, fearing for Office Laughlin's personal safety should he recount exactly what he had heard the man say. "She stepped up to the plate-- publicly-- and said that terrorizing someone because they were gay was not acceptable. For that-- and because she curtly turned down his rather Neanderthalian pass-- he calls her a dyke and feels like a big man."

"Somebody needs to have a word with him," Kirkendall said grimly.

"That's not the point," he persisted. "I'm sure you've had similar things happen-- and the people calling you names weren't trying to 'understand' a single thing about you. In fact, they knew nothing about you. They were trying to get back at you and feel better about themselves. In our world-- the words dyke and fag are ways to do that. And it's ten times worse when you really are gay-- when you're told who you are is dirty."

"So why set yourself up for something like that?" Jill asked in a wondering tone, almost to herself.

"All done," John proclaimed, putting the finishing touches on Jill's hair and not replying to the rhetorical question.

Kirkendall smiled at him in the mirror, letting the subject go. "It looks great, John. Thanks so much."

"My pleasure." He gathered his things together silently while Kirkendall replaced the stool they had used. Only when the detective was about to leave the locker room, did John speak up. "I know this is none of my business, Detective Kirkendall, and I apologize in advance."

"What is it, John?"

"It's only a date," he said softly. "It doesn't have to change your life."

A painful smile twisted over half of Kirkendall's strong face. "I think it already has."

---------------------------------

"You want to tell me what's going on?" Carmichael's words were deceptively calm; but from his vantage point behind her, Munch could see the tense ripple in the lawyer's shoulders. After the successful conclusion of their shopping expedition, Carmichael and Munch had dropped by Tara's Young & Rubicom office-- only to be told that Ms. Wheeling had tendered her resignation, effective immediately.

Now the pair stood in awkwardly in Tara's apartment, amidst the debris of a life interrupted and shoved rudely into a packing box. "What's to tell?" Tara said, not looking at Carmichael. "McCann-Erikson in Atlanta offered me a Senior Production slot. I'll be working on Coke and the Atlanta Hawks. For about twice as much money as I'm getting from Y&R."

"Kinda sudden, isn't it?" Abbie remarked.

"They've had a standing offer for about six months. I'd always turned them down before but now..."

"Why now?"

"There's no reason for me to stay here. I can't work in the same building..." She gestured lamely, her voice trailing into nothingness.

"He'll be in jail soon."

"Will he?" Tara trained unwavering brown eyes on the district attorney. "Detective Stabler told me you haven't charged him yet. You're still holding him on 'suspicion of rape.'"

"We're in the process of gathering evidence to present at his arraignment," Carmichael hedged.

"But there isn't anything, right? Just my word against his. That's what Keith said."

Abbie's anger tightened. "Byers' friend, Keith?"

"Just a friendly visit-- he said." Tara folded her arms tightly across her chest, a tremor running through her slender body. "He wanted me to reconsider what I had told the police. Said that everyone in the agency knew, people were starting to take sides-- that it was bad for morale and really hurting Y&R's image. People in the industry were starting to talk."

Carmichael remained silent, but her glance must have given away her thoughts, for Tara's own expression hardened.

"Look Ms. Carmichael-- no matter how big New York is-- the advertising community here isn't. Everybody knows. It may not seem like much, but I love what I do-- and I can't do it here any longer."

"If you run everybody will say he's right," Abbie said softly.

Tara winced at the quiet words, but resolutely shook her head. "People are saying that already. Isn't that why you're so hard at work trying to find something other than my word? Something people will believe."

"I believe you."

"But you're not a judge or a jury."

"Don't worry about the judge and jury."

"I'm worried about my life. I have to take care of myself."

"Oh, and moving hundreds of miles away from everyone and everything you know is taking care of yourself? Sounds like that's the last thing you're doing," Carmichael retorted, half-aware that she was overstepping her prosecutorial bounds, but unable to stop herself.

The compassion underlying Carmichael's angry words didn't escape Tara's notice, and she smiled half-heartedly. "It's okay-- I mean, the Rape Crisis Center has already put me in touch with someone... to talk to... down in Atlanta. And I do have some friends down there-- it's where I'm from originally. That's why I didn't take the job for so long-- hometown girl and all-- wanted to go to the big city and make it." The momentary brightness in her eyes faded. "Looks like that didn't happen."

"This isn't your fault."

"I know that," Tara affirmed. "But for me to stay up here and fight it out-- it's not worth what it would cost me--" She tapped her chest. "Here. I just want to put myself back together and get on with my life."

"He'll walk."

"I know."

"And he might do it again," Carmichael added, knowing that it was a low blow. She felt Munch wince, but Tara remained steady.

"You don't think I've thought about that? About how he's probably done it before too? I've read all about these date rapists. Isn't that what you call them? But I can't, Ms. Carmichael.... I just can't..."

The break in her voice was barely perceptible, but it shot through Abbie like a swift, unmerciful lance. She reached out as if to touch the girl, but the gesture was stillborn. The two women remained apart, separated by the ghost of a pain and one newly born. "You take care of yourself, Tara," she said finally, realizing that further conversation would only be more hurtful and just as ultimately pointless. Carmichael pulled a card from her briefcase and laid it on top of a pile of mail. "If you need anything, anytime, call me."

Only when the door shut firmly behind them, did she look at Munch. Lines of compassion were etched into the normally-shuttered face of the detective. "There goes our case," she remarked as they stepped onto the elevator.

"You still have discretion to prosecute. Technically, you're prosecuting a crime against the state."

"Right, and have to subpoena the victim? Not likely. Oh well, we can always hope that the bastard gets hit by a bus."

"Ah, the neverending circle of life. Karma and all that? You don't strike me as particularly Buddhist, Carmichael."

"I'm not, but I was born and raised a Southern Baptist. Brimstone, hellfire and all the trimmings. I believe in divine retribution. And if anybody has it coming, it's David Byers."

Epilogue

The weariness that had settled on Abbie's shoulders as she talked to Tara still weighed heavily on her the next morning. She hadn't slept much the night before, and had picked up the phone about a dozen times to call Jill, just to hear her voice. Thinking better of the action-- and of their plans for the following evening-- Carmichael had instead opted for a shot of Jack Daniels and a hot bath that hadn't done any good.

McCoy found her sprawled in her desk chair, idily contemplating the ancient water stains around the air ducts in the ceiling.

"I hear we're kicking David Byers."

"Yeah. There's no case."

"She recant?"

"She walked away. Decided that saving her sanity was more important than fighting a battle she didn't think she could win."

"It would have been close either way."

Wearily rubbing her eyes and then closing them against the harsh brightness of the florescent lights, Abbie shook her head. "I just keep thinking maybe there was something more I could have done. Could have found."

"You did the job right, Abbie."

"I could have done it better."

McCoy laughed, a wry smile painting his craggy features. "There are many ways to describe how you do your job, Carmichael-- half-hearted isn't one of them. You can't win them all."

"I wanted to win this one."

She had told Adam Schiff that sometimes survival was the best justice you could ask for-- and it was true. Back then, she'd had no choice but to walk away, to rescue the shattered pieces of her psyche. But in the darkest part of herself, in the depths of things she would never admit to in the light of day, she had never forgiven herself. She had betrayed her own soul-- had let them tell her that she was wrong. And by her silence, she told herself the same thing every single day of her life. She hadn't lied when she told McCoy that she didn't blame herself anymore-- the rape wasn't her fault.

The silence, however, was.

FINIS

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