Several Mornings After by Sharon Bowers

Fandom: "Law & Order" and "NYPD Blue"
Rating: R for language and murder descriptions. PG-13ish for discussion of f/f encounters.
Summary: Kirkendall and Carmichael cross professional paths. Emotional turmoil ensues.
Legal Disclaimers: I don't own 'em.... I'd be much wealthier and far more smug if I did. The "Law & Order" folks belong to Dick Wolf and NBC. The "NYPD Blue" folks belong to Steven Bochco and ABC. Although I wouldn't object if they borrowed some of my plotlines for their shows.
Spoilers: Pretty much everything through 10th season L&O, 6th season NYPDB.
Note: This is a follow-up to the story, "The Night Before," and takes place about two weeks later.
Feedback: Public and private floggings welcomed at sbowers@bellsouth.net

Several Mornings After 

Sometimes the thing Kirkendall hated most about the job was the smell. Granted, she rarely saw death in any of its gentler forms-- but this morning had been a particularly unpleasant assault on even her hardened sensibilities. In a tiny one room apartment, the scents of vomit, urine and excrement had competed with the distinctive metallic tang of the blood that pooled beneath the corpse. Underneath it all was a hazy odor of burned food and rotting garbage which made her grateful she had overslept and skipped breakfast.

She and Russell had caught the case first thing-- before Kirkendall even had time to get her coat off-- and it was shaping up to be one of those days where everything happened in such a staccato rhythm that she was always two beats behind, and it frustrated the hell out of her. Now it was almost lunchtime; and here she was in the ladies room, trying to shake the stench out of her nostrils and catalogue the morning's events.

A toss of the apartment told them that the dead woman was a prostitute named Roselle Brown whose closest relative was a mother in Queens and a two year old daughter who lived with her grandmother. A brief conversation with the man living across the hall pointed them in the direction of the man they currently had in custody-- a pimp by the street name of Dreego Kool. She still couldn't get over the neighbor's blithe description of the shouts, screams, and noises he had heard the night before.

"Look, lady, those two-- they're always fighting or fucking. Usually both at the same time. One time, I saw him roughing her up in the stairwell and told 'em to take it upstairs. I got a pig-sticker shoved in my face and a warning to mind my own business." He shrugged, meeting Kirkendall's eyes with no trace of remorse. "So I did. I'm sorry she's dead, and I guess I knew it was comin' for a long time. But I ain't no hero."

That was the trouble, no one wanted to be the hero anymore. Not even the cops. To Kirkendall, it seemed more often than not she and her colleagues were just caretakers of the debris-- she spent her days sweeping bodies off the street and putting the worst offenders away for shorter and shorter periods of time. The file on their perp today was about an inch thick-- the offenses growing from petty theft to assault with a deadly weapon. He had never done more than a year's stretch for any of it. Judging from Dreego's turns in the system, Roselle's neighbor wasn't the only one who could have seen this coming.

The ladies room, as usual, was out of paper towels; so, with a grimace, she shook the water off her hands as best she could. Examining her appearance in the mirror, Jill realized with dismay her pale trousers and cream-colored shirt were already rumpled from the morning's exertions. Her service weapon hung heavily on her right hip, its gray bulk at odds with the willowy slenderness of the woman who wore it. Jill disliked carrying without some sort of concealment, but she had gotten blood on her blazer at the crime scene-- now it hung on the back of her chair until she could get it to the cleaners. Sighing, she ran still-damp hands through her hair, settling some of the ruffled strands back into place. As she did so, she noticed two new, fine lines had appeared on the bridge of her nose where her brows crinkled together. She frowned once, then deeper when she realized that was exactly where her new wrinkles were.

God, she was getting old.

"Shit," she muttered as the bathroom door opened.

"That about sums the morning up," Jill's partner, Diane Russell, agreed, a laconic smile tugging at her features.

Diane was a shadowy contrast to Kirkendall's gleaming blondness. Wild, dark curls surrounded a face that-- on any given moment-- could hold angelic innocence or frightening rage. The alarming elasticity of Russell's personality had made her an outstanding undercover officer-- but it had also given her a nasty drinking problem and a near-suicidal bent she still struggled with. Falling in love with Bobby Simone had ultimately helped smooth out some of the worst of her troubles, but his death six months ago threatened to shake her loose once again from her precarious moorings. Jill had been there through the worst of it-- through falling off the wagon again, through the nightmares, through the tears that appeared at the most unexpected times-- and her reassuring steadiness had helped Russell find a tenuous peace.

It was a clich� to say they were as close as sisters-- closer in a way, really, because they were literally responsible for each other's lives out on the street. Jill hadn't had many close female friendships; most of the women she knew growing up in Brooklyn were threatened either by her formidable beauty or by her uncanny competence. Mothers didn't want her to marry their sons, and their daughters didn't want to compete with her for dates. She countered their apprehension with a low-key helpfulness and an unobtrusive consistency. In neighborhood terms-- and decidedly unlike her mother-- Jill was "good folks" rather than "that damned woman upstairs." She genuinely liked helping people, enjoyed the challenge of sorting out problems, and the sense of making the world a better place each day.

But sometimes... on days like this... she wondered what the hell she was doing it all for.

"So how is our Mr. Kool?" she asked, arching a brow at Diane's reflection in the mirror.

"Already lawyered up."

"That was fast."

"You're telling me." Diane looked around in vain for the paper towels. "Dammit. Why don't they ever..."

Jill held up a placating hand. "I know. I know. I've got some extra I'll bring from home tomorrow."

Russell wiped her hands on her dark trousers. "You know, it's not like we're the only ones who use it."

Kirkendall shrugged, a what are you gonna do kind of motion that Russell immediately understood and returned in kind. It was the sort of short-hand partnership Kirkendall had never had before that made her teaming with Russell unexpectedly special. Folks around the 15th had been surprised that they had partnered up at all, let alone that it had proven so successful. Still, it wasn't in Jill's nature to respond to gossip-- even the nasty, backbiting kind that had tried to pit the two women against each other over their mutual attraction to Bobby. Letting go of her infatuation with the darkly handsome detective had been easy once she had seen how absolutely devoted he was to Diane. In return, she had gotten a partner she trusted implicitly and a friendship she didn't know now how she'd live without.

"PD's already makin' noise about a plea," Diane commented, drawing Kirkendall's attention back to the here and now. "I called downtown."

"Yeah? Who's catching?"

Now that Sylvia is gone...

remained unspoken. Assistant District Attorney Sylvia Costas's sudden, senseless murder still affected them all; and neither woman could yet bring herself to speak the dead woman's name.

"Dunno." Diane shook her head. "Maybe Cohen?"

Kirkendall shuddered, a mock gesture that wasn't entirely playful. Several months back she and Leo Cohen had an extremely unsuccessful affair over which he still harbored hard feelings. "I think he's on vice these days."

"I feel sorry for the girls, then." "You and me both." The women exchanged significant glances before smiling at each other wryly. "You ready to face the world?"

"Like I have a choice?"

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

"ADA Carmichael here to see a Detective Russell." While Abbie knew her resonant voice with its softly rounded vowels would be a foreign one to PAA John Irvin, she didn't expect him to be so surprised that he dropped the stack of folders he was holding. She was only wearing low-heeled pumps-- yet her eyes easily met his blue ones as they surveyed the elegant cashmere trench coat that settled gracefully on her shoulders and the dark gray suit she wore underneath. She felt him appraising the single braid that pulled her hair back, highlighting the lean planes of her face, and saw approval in his gentle expression.

What she didn't know was that for most of his thirty years on the planet, John had considered himself immune to a woman's charms-- however, at this moment he was realizing the figure in front of him was a formidable argument for reconsidering his options. Fleetingly he wondered what would happen if the ex-gay movement ever got her as a spokesperson.

It gave a whole new meaning to the term "bait-and-switch."

"Is there a Detective Russell here?" she prompted again, softly. Her lips curved slightly upward, a faint hint of amusement shining through her serious demeanor. "Oh... yes. Of course." He seemed momentarily distracted and gathered himself visibly before handing her a clipboard and pen. "Can you sign in please?"

"Sure." Resettling the leather strap of her briefcase more comfortably across her shoulder, Carmichael took the proffered items from him and scribbled her name in the appropriate places. "Here you go. Do I need a clip pass or anything?"

"Not for the detective's squad. Detective Russell should be out in a moment. Can I get you some coffee or anything?"

Her brow arched in surprise, and she favored him with a full smile. "Now I know I'm not that special. You this nice to all the ADAs?"

He flushed at the implied compliment. "Well... actually, yes."

She shook her head. "I wish they'd let you out to give lessons around the precincts." She grinned at him. "Thanks for the offer. I'd love some. It's been a long morning."

John nodded sympathetically. "I've heard that a lot today. How do you take it?"

"Strong and black."

"Coming up." He nodded at someone approaching behind her. "Here's Detective Russell now. Detective Russell this is ADA---"

"Abbie?" Diane's questioning exclamation interrupted the introduction; and, unnoticed by either woman, John discreetly excused himself.

"Diane?" Abbie studied the other woman in surprise. "You're the Detective Russell who paged me?"

"Looks like it." Diane's hands rested on her hips, a slightly disbelieving smile on her face. "You out of narco?"

"Yeah, bout two years ago. Not too long after you left. I'm Manhattan homicide now." Abbie grinned back at her old friend, surveying Diane's slender figure, the loose curls of her chestnut hair and the brown eyes free of the circles and strain that had been her constant companions in the years Abbie had known her. "Damn, you look great."

"I was about to say the same." Russell fingered the lapel of Carmichael's coat. "Very nice. A little different from that beat-up leather one you always wore in the surveillance van. 'Course I guess that's what being part of the Glamour Squad will do for you," she teased.

"Not you too," Carmichael groaned. "Gimme a break."

Russell's fingers curled around the cloth and tugged at it playfully. "Weeellll.... I guess if anyone deserves it, you do. You worked your ass off back in the day... so I might be persuaded to cut you some slack."

Abbie inclined her head gratefully with an arch smile. "I'd be much indebted to you." Placing a hand over Diane's, her eyes searched Russell's and communicated a quiet sympathy to the other woman. "D... I'm so sorry about what happened to Bobby. I wish I had been able to make it to the service."

"I know. I got your note." Diane accepted the kindness gracefully. "And the flowers were beautiful. Thank you."

"He was the goods, D. I'm glad you found him."

"Me too." They stood in silent regard for a moment, Abbie feeling the old ties snaking back around her. She had missed Diane so much over the years, but the undercover officer had been riding a one way express train to hell-- and Abbie hadn't been able to simply stand by and watch it happen. She had mourned for the loss of her friend, even more for the loss of the friendship. When she heard through the grapevine that Diane had married Simone-- a detective Abbie had worked with a number of times and respected greatly-- she had sent a prayer of thanks to whatever had been watching over Russell all these years. If anyone deserved peace, it was the woman beside her.

"Now..." She squeezed Russell's hand once more then released it, rubbing her own together in mock glee. "What have you got for me?"

"Aren't we a little out of your neighborhood?" Diane cocked her head in question.

"Schiff has us rotating through the 1-5 until he can find a permanent replacement..." Carmichael's voice conveniently trailed off.

"Ahh... Yeah... I guess that would make sense." Sylvia's death had left many voids in the lives surrounding hers, not the least of which was the DA's office. "So how long do we get your unique services?"

Carmichael shrugged. "Dunno. It was just my turn in the lineup. Could be a day. Could be a month. I go where they tell me. You wanna give me a rundown?"

"Sure. Let me introduce you to my partner first." She called over her shoulder, "Hey Jill, come're for a sec..."

In shocked surprise, she watched Russell's heretofore unseen partner approach; and had she been able to speak at that moment, Carmichael could have told Diane that they didn't need an introduction.

As if in an echo chamber, she heard "... And my partner, Detective Jill Kirkendall...." Moving automatically-- her professional composure concealing the turmoil erupting in her belly-- Carmichael offered her hand to the woman who had so abruptly entered her life two weeks ago and, just as abruptly, exited it that same night. The classic lines of Jill's face were the same, but there was a frozen smile carved into the angular features; and the hazel eyes that had surveyed her so kindly then were now filled with astonishment and worry.

Their hands clasped briefly. Jill's fingers were icy cold, and she ended the contact almost immediately. Her eyes refused to meet Carmichael's; and the detective defensively crossed her arms, retreating a half-step behind Russell's more compact frame.

Her jaw tightening at the insult, Carmichael mustered her formidable pride and lifted her chin in defiance. If Kirkendall wanted to play it that way-- it was her call. In the meantime, they both had jobs to do.

John silently approached and handed her a mug of steaming coffee. "Hope that's okay," he said, his comment filling, without Diane noticing, what would have been an undeniably awkward pause as both women regained their equilibrium.

"Thanks." She smiled gratefully at him and took a sip, hoping that the strong brew would steady her. "Now, tell me about this skel," she requested, her voice calm and even. She followed the two detectives into the squad room where Diane and Jill settled themselves into their desk chairs. Without even thinking, Carmichael perched on the edge of Diane's desk, angling herself to see both detectives while they talked. She didn't realize the long flash of leg her position afforded Kirkendall or see the flush that steadily crept up the detective's face.

Diane pulled out her notes, tossing them easily to Carmichael. "The Cliff Notes version is pimp kills one of his working girls. Neighbor across the hall heard the whole thing."

Abbie looked up incredulously "And he didn't do anything?"

"He said, and I quote, 'I ain't no hero.'," Jill responded flatly.

"Pimp got a sheet? Or a name?" "Street name is Dreego Kool. Name on his sheet is Dreego Cotiera. Been in trouble since he was a juvie."

Abbie snorted. "Dreego? Doesn't anybody call their kid anything normal anymore?" she muttered. "What's his story?"

"We haven't talked to him. He lawyered up first thing, and now Man1 is on the table."

"He offered a plea before you called me?" Carmichael's brows crept skyward.

Diane shrugged in response. "We thought it was kinda quick ourselves."

"Why Man1?" Her eyes scanned Russell's notes as she listened to the detectives.

"PD says Kool was coked up at the time and lost control."

"It was an accident," Jill said dryly.

"Yeah right, and I'm an Aggies fan." Carmichael slapped the notebook shut. "Well, we know what the PD would like me to do. What have you got for me to work with?"

"Victim's name was Roselle Brown-- eighteen years old. Had a two year-old daughter that the grandmother is apparently raising."

"We notify her yet?"

"Yeah, we had to send a car up-- she doesn't have a phone."

"How'd he do her?"

"Table leg that he pulled off a trash pile in front of their building."

"Jesus Christ-- he beat her to death with a table leg?" A low rage started simmering behind Carmichael's eyes. She had been raised to respect human life, to honor and protect it whenever she could. "You're not a bystander in this life, Abbie..." her father had always told her. "Make sure you leave this world a better place than it was when you came into it..."

"The super id'ed it as something he had tossed out that morning." Russell ignored the rhetorical question as she continued. "We had a couple of uniforms canvas the corner where most of Dreego's girls work. Seems like the word was Roselle was doing a little freelancing and not telling him."

"What'd she use the money for?"

"Drugs most likely. Looked like she had a bad habit," Jill replied.

"And he wasn't real happy about her entreprenuership."

Carmichael was silent, soaking in the facts of the case and letting them reassemble themselves in her thoughts. "He knew she was freelancing?"

"Couple of the girls heard him threaten her if she didn't stop holding out on him."

Jill interjected, "Apparently he didn't care about the extra tricks-- he just wanted his cut."

An evil smile crept across Abbie's features. "No wonder he wants to plead out to Man1. Who's the PD?"

"Edgarson."

The name was unfamiliar to Carmichael, and she shook her head. "Don't know him." She slipped gracefully off her makeshift seat and grinned at the other women. "Come on, Detectives, let's go see if we can shake this polecat out of its tree."

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

They were about to enter the interrogation room when Russell pulled Jill back a step. "Let her run this one."

Kirkendall frowned. "That's not exactly standard procedure." Even as she said the words, she wasn't sure if her objection stemmed from procedure or the fact that it was Abbie Carmichael-- acting for all the world like they'd never met-- that Russell was talking about.

"I know," Diane reassured her. "But just watch. Trust me."

Bowing to the other woman's wishes, she nodded her acquiescence and followed her partner into the room. Russell took the chair across from the perp, while she leaned against the wall in a corner by the door.

Carmichael, by striking contrast, remained standing, front and center.

Was it Jill's imagination, or did she seem to grow taller, her eyes darker, the lines of her face more menacing? She watched in fascination as Carmichael tossed her briefcase on the table with a disgusted look then threw herself into the chair at the head of the table-- explicitly taking command of the situation.

"You must be new," she said by way of introduction to the public defender.

Paul Edgarson looked nervously at the woman at the other end of the table, his eyes darting from Carmichael to Russell and then over to his client. "What do you mean?" he asked, his voice several octaves higher than when Diane and Jill had last spoken to him.

"I mean..." Carmichael leaned forward. "You put Man1 on the table before I even got here." Ignoring Dreego Kool sitting next to her, she addressed all her remarks to the increasingly distressed public defender. "So I gotta think, he must be new... because the alternative is you think I'm stupid if I'm gonna even think about taking this deal." Carmichael shook her head dramatically. "We both know good and goddamned well that I have a lock on a Murder1 for your client. He's going down, Eddie."

In astonishment, Kirkendall shot a brief glance at Diane, who winked in reply. Carmichael wasn't acting like any ADA she'd ever seen before. She was running this interrogation like a seasoned cop, and again she wondered what made Abbie choose law over law enforcement.

Edgarson rallied, gathering his papers in front of him as if that would help him collect himself enough to continue the interview. "He was under the influence of cocaine, Ms..." His voice trailed off, waiting for her to fill in the blank, but Abbie didn't oblige him.

Instead, she snorted derisively and rolled her eyes. "Oh come on. When was the last time Mr. Kool here wasn't under the influence? You'd stand a better chance of pleading impairment if he'd been sober when he'd done her. Let's be real."

"I think it's most reasonable..."

"Let me tell you, Eddie, what's reasonable. I have a Murder1 case, and let me tell you why." She rose and paced the few steps that marked the width of the room before turning back to face him. "He killed her-- that's a given. Your Man1 plea tells us that. But I also have sworn statements from multiple witnesses who stated that they knew the victim was freelancing on your boy and keeping all the change for herself."

Kirkendall arched a disbelieving eye. "Sworn statements" was a far cry from "the word on the street," but that didn't seem to stop-- or even slow down-- Carmichael.

"I have still more statements stating that your boy was heard publicly threatening to 'put that bitch's ass permanently out of work' if she didn't give him his cut of her extra earnings. That, Eddie, is motive."

Kirkendall was impressed. Abbie must have taken that from Diane's notes-- which were so indecipherable to Jill that she referred to them as hieroglyphics. Still, the harsh bite of the words spoken in Carmichael's low-pitched voice unsettled her. To her ears, it made the comment sound even more obscene.

"Then we have the lovely piece of furniture that your boy used to kill her with. Partials that match his quite distinctive fingerprints are in the lab right now. But what gives me premeditation is that he picked the thing up on his way into the apartment." Now she turned her attention to the slender man who had been sitting silently through the whole process, a smug expression on his face. "You dumb sonofabitch... you should have just ripped the leg off the fucking kitchen table in the apartment. You'd be in a lot better shape than you are now, Dre. Your PD might have even been able to sell your lame ass story. But not now." Carmichael's dark eyes raged with a barely suppressed fire that made her seem a stranger to Jill. She saw the pulse point in Abbie's throat jump in fury-- and irrationally remembered kissing that same point on the lawyer's neck and hearing her moan in pleasure.

Silence reigned in the tiny interrogation room, waiting for Carmichael's next words. She leaned down towards Kool, putting her face close to his. "You're gonna burn in hell for this, boy. See, New York finally got smart and brought back the death penalty for slime like you." His sienna eyes grew wide at the silken snarl of her words. "But you wanna know what pisses me off about this? All they're gonna do is stick another needle in your arm-- you're used to that, aren'tcha Dre-- and bingo, the ultimate high." Carmichael shook her head in disgust. "Back where I come from, they still use the chair-- and let me tell you, Dre, I would love to run 100,000 jolts of electricity through your sorry ass." She straightened once more to her full height, looking down imperiously at the public defender and his client-- who were exchanging alarmed glances. "But I guess dead is dead-- whether it's frying you in the chair, putting poison in your veins, or beating you to death with a table leg. Isn't it, Dre?" She paused, and Kirkendall felt the weight of her words settling into Dreego Kool and his lawyer. "Cop to it now and I'll ask the judge not to kill you. That's more mercy than you ever showed Roselle."

Her gaze lingered to Kool for a moment, then she turned on her heel and strode out the door.

Kirkendall counted to five before Edgarson stood up and followed Carmichael. Diane looked Jill and jerked her head at the door, indicating they should listen in as well. A uniformed officer stepped inside the room to stay with Kool as the detectives exited.

Russell and Kirkendall found the lawyers standing in the hallway, squared off like some contemporary version of High Noon. Carmichael towered over the smaller man, the lean lines of her body in its tailored suit contrasting sharply with the public defender's doughy shape and wrinkled clothes. Kirkendall glanced ruefully at her own state of disarray-- at least she had the excuse of being at a crime scene all morning.

"Murder1 and I don't go for the death penalty," she heard Carmichael say flatly.

"You don't have extenuating circumstances," Edgarson protested.

Carmichael folded her arms and arched an imperious brow before leaning down and getting into the other lawyer's face. "Then I'll make one up," she growled.

"My client...."

"Your client beat an eighteen year-old woman to death with a table leg. He was a pimp, Eddie-- he made his living off Roselle Brown's back. And he killed her over it. She was what-- sixteen? seventeen?-- when she met him. He got her hooked on his dick, then on his drugs. That girl never stood a chance.

"Look at me, Eddie--" She uncrossed her arms and held them out wide, away from her body. "I'm the voice of the people of New York City. I am everything that is good and fair and decent about this place. You're the voice of a crackhead pimp who killed an eighteen year-old girl. You think if we both go in front of a jury that I won't win?"

A defeated slump of the public defender's shoulders indicated Edgarson's surrender. "Murder2-- ten to fifteen," he offered.

Carmichael shook her head. "Murder2-- fifteen to twenty five and he does every goddamned minute of the twenty five." The fire in her dark eyes snapped angrily at him. "Take it, Eddie. It's a gift."

Edgarson sighed heavily. "All right, I'll sell it to him."

"You do that." Carmichael nodded. "I'll have my office draw up the papers."

"And my name is Paul," he muttered darkly.

Abbie shrugged dismissively, "Whatever."

She waited until the public defender re-entered the interrogation room before taking a deep breath and closing her eyes. When she opened them, her face seemed to reassemble itself in front of Jill's disbelieving gaze-- settling back into the graceful lines and charming smile of the woman she had met two weeks ago.

The rapid change discomfited Kirkendall, almost more than the unexpected presence of Carmichael herself. Jill had tried to push her encounter with Abbie away, even going so far as rekindle a tenuous relationship with Don, her ex. Still, however, memory of the Texan's hands and gentle mouth roamed at will through Jill's thoughts and body. Eerily disturbed by all she had just witnessed, she followed slowly behind Diane and Abbie as they returned to the squad room.

"Hoo boy, that was fun," Carmichael chuckled.

Diane shook her head incredulously, smiling at her old narcotics comrade. " 'I am the voice of the people of New York City...?' Oh my god." She laughed. "I thought you were going to break out into the Star Spangled Banner for a minute."

"Yeah, I saw you back there, trying not to laugh."

"You're lucky I didn't fall on the floor and start howling. Abs, that was inspired."

"Drama gets 'em every time." Abbie shrugged. "Besides, the guy was a putz. I can't believe he thought that Man1 would fly."

"Might have with another ADA," Jill suggested, not sure what she thought of the performance in the interrogation room. It was powerful, all right-- there was no doubt about that-- but Kirkendall had the same uneasy feeling in her gut as she did when Sipowitz talked about tuning a perp up.

Carmichael turned to face her, an inscrutable expression on her features. "Might have," she finally agreed. She held Kirkendall's eyes for a moment longer, until Jill could physically feel the warmth of Abbie's gaze touching her skin. "I..." Carmichael began, but stopped herself with a brief shake of her head. "I need to go introduce myself to your Lieutenant. I'm sure he doesn't appreciate strange women running around his squad room. Is there anything else I can do for you detectives?"

Diane raised her coffee mug in salute. "Nope, you've done our job and yours. I say it's time for lunch. Want to join us?"

Abbie smiled softly. "No thanks, D. I've got a mess of depositions I have to review and a staff meeting at three. Can I take a raincheck? Maybe we could have dinner one night instead?"

Jill wasn't sure, but-- hearing Abbie invite Diane to dinner-- she might have felt a pang of jealousy nibbling on the lining of her stomach.

"I'd like that. It would be nice to catch up with you." A palpable connection existed between the two women, strong even after all this time; and Jill couldn't help but wonder what still bound them. Her eyes narrowed as Diane placed a hand on Abbie's arm. "I've missed you, Abs." Her voice was low and intimate; and Kirkendall forced herself to walk away, but not before she heard Carmichael's equally quiet reply.

"Works both ways, D. Works both ways."

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

Jill busied herself at the file cabinet as Russell returned to her desk, a bemused expression on her face. "That was something," Kirkendall commented, watching her partner for a reaction.

Russell twisted slightly in her chair. "That's right, you've never seen Abbie in action before." She grinned. "When we were both in narco, all the cops used to fight over whose cases she'd ride. If Carmichael was your ADA, you didn't have to worry about having your case kicked because all your i's weren't dotted or your t's crossed. That girl could word a search warrant or wiretap request so tightly that I don't even think F. Lee Bailey could break it. She never balked at anything-- I can't tell you how many hours she spent in the surveillance van, talking to me through a wire, coaching me on exactly what the perp had to say so we could go in.

"I remember once, she drove up to some isolated hunting lodge upstate where the only judge who could sign off on the damn warrant was spending the weekend. She shows back up at the surveillance house at like three in the morning, mostly frozen and cussing up a blue streak because the heater in the rental car stopped working halfway up the mountain. Every cop in the house gave up their jacket so we could get her warm-- she wouldn't leave, wanted to be there when the bust went down. 'I gotta make sure you guys don't fuck up my warrant...' she said. But we all knew it was because she had seen us this far-- she just wanted to see us home." Russell shook her head at the memory. "She had a conviction rate you wouldn't believe-- and not because she made deals, but because she worked her ass off with us to build cases that the defense lawyers couldn't break. She's the best ADA I've ever seen-- part cop, part lawyer, completely devoted to what she's doing. I'll tell you, I'd rather have two of her than two dozen Cohen's."

The admiration, respect, and affection Diane had for Abbie Carmichael shone through her eyes and echoed in her words, and Jill felt a sudden tightness in her chest. "Sounds like you were friends."

"We were," Russell replied faintly, a somber melancholy creeping into her expression.

"What happened?" Even though Jill really didn't want to know, she couldn't stop herself from asking.

Diane's eyes flickered to the tall lawyer standing just inside Lieutenant Fancy's office and then back to her partner. "It's a long story," she said finally. "And not one that I should be telling in the House. Let's just say it wasn't one of my finer hours. And I lost a very good friend because of it."

"Seemed back there like she was willing to let you make it right," Jill offered diffidently.

"I hope so, Jill. She's one amend I haven't been able to make yet."

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

Abbie paused momentarily to collect her thoughts before knocking on Arthur Fancy's open door. The adrenaline rush from the interrogation room deal was still pumping wildly through her blood-- but she had scared herself in there.

She didn't know if it was the pleasurable shock of seeing Diane again or her anger at Kirkendall for her silent insults or the sheer brutality of the crime Kool had committed-- maybe it was just some bizarre combination of all three-- but she had landed with both feet on Dreego Kool and his lawyer. It was just blind, dumb luck that she had been able to intimidate Edgarson into making the deal. If McCoy had seen her in that room, he would have drawn and quartered her-- and she would have deserved it.

Carmichael always played it fast and loose, and she danced a delicate tango at the bounds of constitutionality more often than not. She'd learned the talent early on in narco from the undercover cops whose daily lives blurred the lines between the good guys and the bad. Their lessons taught her that while most people may understand the law as simply black or white-- those two colors were in fact made up of thousands of shades of gray.

In the gray was the place where her decisions had to be made. She'd developed an uncanny sixth sense of pushing the boundaries, treading the right lines to come up on the winning side-- but that sense was now telling her that she had gone over the wall with this one. "Shoulda coulda woulda..." she muttered to herself. It was a done deal, and she'd come out heads up, but she knew the acrid memory of her behavior would leave a sorry taste in her mouth in the days and nights to come.

"Lt. Fancy?" She rapped twice on the wooden door frame.

A handsome African-American man looked up from the stack of papers that littered his desk. Awareness gleamed from his dark brown eyes; and as he smiled tentatively at her, Abbie found herself smiling back. "Can I help you?"

In an easy glance, she took in the muted burgundy tie hanging loosely from his collar, how it complemented the cream-colored shirt whose sleeves were neatly rolled up. He had that tidily askew look she recognized as the result of long hours of keeping up with the paper tidal waves that law enforcement produced. She had been swept under herself many times. "No, not really. I'm just stopping by to introduce myself. I'm Abbie Carmichael from the DA's office-- I just caught a case that a pair of your detectives called in, and I think this is my first trip to your neighborhood." She grinned at him. "I don't know how often I'll be up here, but I wanted to stick my head in, so in case you see me traipsing through your House, you'd know that I was one of the good guys."

"I appreciate that Ms. Carmichael." He stood and accepted the hand that Abbie offered with a pleasantly firm grip. "You said you haven't covered the 1-5 before. What's your usual territory?"

"Technically Manhattan homicide, but I deal a fair amount with Cragen at the SVU too."

He whistled softly, his eyes reappraising her. "That's a fast track." She was used to this, the intellectual double take they all did when they did the math and realized she had to be a whole lot smarter than her good looks first led them to believe.

"They do keep me running," she replied, ignoring the surprised arch still on his brow. Carmichael glanced at her watch and bit back a groan. "Speaking of which, I'm already running late-- again. Anyway, Lt. Fancy, it was good to meet you. I hope we'll get to see more of each other."

"Good to meet you too, Ms. Carmichael. You take care."

She turned to leave the lieutenant's office; and, seemingly of their own volition, her eyes immediately sought and found the seated figure of Jill Kirkendall. The squad room was mostly deserted at this hour-- the detectives either at lunch or still out on a case-- and she wondered why Jill wasn't with them. Abbie's heart thumped painfully against her ribs, sending fitfully roiling blood coursing through her veins. Had someone asked Carmichael her name at that moment, she was sure she couldn't have told them. She was simply a mass of churning emotions that had no beginning or ending. Attraction, anger, pain, and desire all warred within her, and the professional pragmatist in her knew the situation couldn't continue. She had been out of control in that interrogation room, and Carmichael couldn't let it happen again. She wouldn't get lucky twice.

"May I have a word with you, Detective Kirkendall?" Abbie asked quietly. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw John Irvin lift his head at her words. "About the case," she added for his benefit.

"Sure," Kirkendall replied, her easy tone belied by the tension in her body as she stood. "We can talk in the conference room." She led Abbie down the short corridor and followed her into the room. "Diane's still at lunch, if you need..."

"It's not really about the case," Abbie interrupted softly and closed the door behind them. "I've found that PAA's know way too much about everything that happens in a squad room. I didn't want to give yours any fodder for discussion."

"Oh..."

"Look, I wanted you to know that I got here by accident today," she said briskly. Keep it quick, keep it professional, let her know that it's all about business. "Like I told D, with Sylvia gone we're sort of having to play it as it lays at the DA's office. That means I may be back from time to time." When there was no response from Kirkendall, she rubbed the bridge of her nose in agitation and silently counted to ten. "When you saw me this morning, you looked at me like I had six arms and two heads," she said, unable to keep all the anger from creeping into her tone. "People like Diane and your PAA will pick up on that. You need to know when I come here, I've got a job to do. Nothing more."

"Meaning?" Kirkendall's arms were folded tightly about her chest again.

"Meaning, I..." Carmichael shook her head, as the composure began to drain from her body. This wasn't going even remotely like she had hoped. "Jesus, Jill..." Kirkendall had seen her stripped of the professionally-composed veneer that protected her from the prying eyes of everyone around her-- and now she keenly felt its loss, too aware of the naked emotion on her face. "I'm sorry, okay?"

It was all she could manage.

"Sorry...?" Jill echoed, confusion clouding her hazel eyes.

Abbie took a steadying breath, knowing it was now or never. She had to get out of this room soon before she made a complete ass of herself-- as if she hadn't already. "The other night. I'm sorry..." Her eyes dropped to the floor as she remembered the hours they had spent together. She had been so sure of the connection between them-- of their conversation over dinner, of the way Jill's body fit against hers and the quiet sighs that welcomed her mouth when they kissed. At the time, Abbie would have bet her life that Jill had wanted her and felt the same things. For a night, Carmichael allowed herself to live a fantasy of warmth and surrender as she slept in Jill Kirkendall's arms. When she had awakened, she realized the fantasy was hers alone-- and for that, for misusing this woman's tenderness-- she owed Jill at the very least an apology.

"You're sorry..." Kirkendall said slowly.

"About everything," she answered, her words tumbling over each other. "About taking advantage of your offer of friendship and misinterpreting the way..." She flushed, thinking about how easily the length of her tongue had slipped into Jill's mouth. "Just... everything. I'm sorry," she repeated. "I was wrong."

Abbie had yet to meet Jill's eyes since she began her garbled apology. She wasn't sure what she was expecting by way of a response, but the last thing in the world she could have predicted was the gentle feel of Kirkendall's warm hand cupping her cheek. "Abbie..." Her voice sounded strangled, as if Jill were having as hard a time speaking as Carmichael herself. She closed her eyes, not wanting to see the compassion or-- worse yet-- the pity she knew had to be written all over Kirkendall's face. "Look at me..."

Look at me...

the same words that had started it all that night... "I get into trouble when I do that," she mumbled without thinking.

A low-voiced chuckle wound a delicious path through her ears. "You won't this time, I promise."

"Believe me, I know that," Abbie muttered derisively, but she lifted her head anyway-- and saw not pity or revulsion, but sadness and not a little regret etched into the beautiful features of the woman in front of her. Her heart lurched drunkenly into her throat, effectively stopping any breath that might have reached her lungs. "Jill..."

"You weren't wrong, Abbie." The fingers that had been tracing the curve of her cheek fell away, and Jill retreated once more, folding her arms together once more and leaning against the edge of the conference table. "But I can't..." Now she dropped her own head, the same loss for words that gripped Abbie seizing her. "I'm not..."

"Available?"

"Catholic."

"You're not Catholic?"

"I am."

"Available?"

"No, Catholic."

"Ah..." Carmichael nodded slowly, her mind finally beginning to wrap around their stutter-stop conversation. Keeping her posture casual to hide the growing exuberance in her belly, she mimed Kirkendall's pose-- crossing her arms and leaning against the door. "You go to confession?"

"Today?"

"Over this."

Jill hesitated. "No."

"My Daddy's a Southern Baptist, and Mama-- well, she always said she didn't hold much truck with preachers, that they always told you to do one thing while they went out and did another. So I'm kinda ambivalent on subject myself," Abbie said conversationally, addressing Jill as she would a wary witness on the stand. A realization was dawning for her, and she wanted to lead Jill there, but the detective had to make the connections herself, come to the same conclusion of her own free will-- or it wouldn't work. "But I have a friend-- she's Catholic. And she told me once that you're not supposed to go to confession until you really repent what you've done. That otherwise it doesn't work or something. I dunno. That true?"

"Pretty much."

"And you haven't been yet."

"No..." Jill shifted slightly, her expression elegantly telling Carmichael she knew what the lawyer was up to and that it was probably time for her to ride off into the sunset.

For now at least.

Gathering her briefcase and slipping it over her shoulder, Abbie paused with her hand on the doorknob for one last closing argument. "Food for thought, isn't it?"

Epilogue

Jack McCoy tucked his motorcycle helmet under the arm holding his attach� case as he pulled the door to his office shut. Wearily, he rolled his neck in a slow circle, wincing at the number of pops and cracks he felt. "I'm getting too old for this," he remarked conversationally to the young paralegal who had been helping him finish up some briefs that were due in the morning. "We the last ones here, David?"

David shook his head. "I think Ms. Carmichael is still at it." He laughed, "Boy, she was in a good mood this afternoon."

"What do you mean?" Jack stopped, intrigued by the offhand comment. While Abbie's mood could generally be summed up as intense, there rarely seemed to be anything personal that influenced her for better or worse. At least at from what he had seen.

"I was Xeroxing some papers earlier-- you know the copy machine's not too far from her office, and I heard her singing."

McCoy's eyebrow crept skyward. "Singing?"

"Yeah, damnedest thing. Sounded like she was making up court room lyrics to Bonnie Raitt tunes. They weren't too bad either. I liked 'Are You Ready for the Thing Called Jail?' the best. She's got a nice voice." David shook his head, still smiling over the sight. "You wouldn't have believed it. Anyway... good night, Mr. McCoy."

Jack stared down the corridor long after David had vanished into the elevator. Curious, he glanced towards Carmichael's office, seeing the light pouring from its open door and faintly hearing the sound of music that resolved itself into an old familiar Patsy Cline song as he approached. Sure enough, Abbie's pleasantly raspy drawl carried the quiet melody, without altering any of the lyrics this time.

Through the open blinds of her office, he noted that she had changed into a pair of comfortable-looking Levis and a rumpled long-sleeved, button-down shirt whose vibrant green color contrasted sharply with the usual subdued blacks and grays that she usually wore. Her hair was loose around her shoulders, and her bare feet were propped up on the desk in a kind of casual display that he hadn't seen from her before. To McCoy's exhausted eyes, she looked impossibly young, impossibly beautiful-- and not for the first time, he wondered what drove her.

"You just gonna stand there staring at me all night, or is there something I can help you with?" She hadn't turned around to address him, but Jack could see a faint smirk at the corner of her mouth.

He nodded at the radio perched precariously on a stack of open law books. "I never figured you for a Patsy Cline fan."

She spun in her chair to face him, gesturing at the radio and then her well-worn attire. "I guess I'm just expressing my cultural heritage. What can I say, Jack-- sometimes I just need to be a redneck." A lazy, raffish grin spread across her face, lightening the dark intensity of her eyes and permitting McCoy a glimpse into a woman he hadn't really ever met before.

"So this is what we have to look forward to if they ever institute casual Fridays?"

"Riiiiggghht. I don't think so." She spun back to the files on her desk. "Seriously, though. Anything you need?"

He shifted in the doorway, not wanting to lose the shimmer he saw in Abbie's eyes, but ill-equipped to keep it there. "Adam told me you agreed to cover the 15th for the next month while he sorts it out," he said at last, falling back into the brusque indifferent tone that was the hallmark of their conversations.

"Yeah, so? I've got some wiggle in my schedule-- I thought I'd do him a favor."

"'Wiggle?'" he repeated. "How do you figure that?"

Carmichael spun to face him again, tossing her pen onto the desk where it landed with a clatter. "Well... Ferguson was continued again, Davis decided to plead out, and Lewis got kicked this morning. More importantly, my winter basketball league just finished up and the pick-up games don't start until the weather gets a little warmer." She shrugged. "Ergo, a little wiggle." Her gaze hardened, taking on the confrontational edge that he knew well. "That meet with your approval, McCoy?"

"I'm just concerned that you might be...."

"Jack," she interrupted him quietly, taking a deep breath and offering her hands in surrender. "I'm in a really good mood tonight. I'd like to keep it that way, okay?"

His mouth dropped open in astonishment.

"I don't want to argue with you over this. I promise if I get too jammed up, I'll ask for help. Deal?"

It was as conciliatory a tone as he had ever heard from her, and he couldn't refuse the overture in her eyes. "Deal." He nodded his head in agreement, smiling in spite of himself. "You going to be here much longer?"

She grinned at him again. "Nah, maybe an hour or so. Now you get home, old man. Leave the midnight oil to us young turks."

He didn't have the heart to tell her she was the only one left in the building. "Okay, okay. I'm know when I'm not needed. Good night, Abbie."

"'Night, Jack."

He lingered for a moment longer, studying the strong slope of her shoulders, then slowly turned and made his way back down the hallway. As he walked towards the elevator, he heard Abbie's voice, singing with Patsy Cline once more.

I go out walkin after midnight... In the moonlight.. just like we used to do. I'm always walkin after midnight... Searching for you...

FINIS

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