Twenty Four Seven
For the past twenty-four hours, people had been asking Abbie Carmichael what the hell she had been thinking. Now, at last it was her chance to ask the question.
The secretary had done a double-take when he looked up to find Abbie's lean frame looming over the slab of marble and glass that passed for a reception center and asking to speak to the channel's highest-profile reporter in a tone of voice that boded well for no one. As quickly as decently possible, he had handed off Carmichael's furious glare to Christienne Turner, anchor of WST news and host of New York Now, his penchant for gossip overwhelmed by the lawyer's angry vibe. Carmichael and Turner had first crossed paths at the scene of Stephanie Pruitt's murder, and their professional relationship had unfolded from there. Abbie didn't know the other woman well, but she had respected what she had seen thus far-- even to the point of falling into the habit of flipping the little 7" TV in her office to WST to catch Turner's broadcast. Now she felt ambushed and betrayed.
Sunday's edition of New York Now had focused on Stephanie Pruitt's murder-- more specifically the memorial service originally organized by Stephanie's lover, Lorraine Fitzgerald, and co-opted by the HRC and Equality Now into an impromptu queer rally. During the event, Lorraine had asked Abbie to say a few words. To her own astonishment, Abbie found herself saying yes.
And what words they had been. Carried away by the spirit of the gathering, not to mention her newly blossoming relationship with NYPD detective Jill Kirkendall, Abbie had spoken passionately about stopping the violence and stepping out of the shadow of difference. In short, she had challenged them all to change the world.
New York Now had opened its Sunday show with a clip of Carmichael speaking; and, for Abbie, the chaos had rolled from there.
Turner blinked twice in surprise at her unexpected visitor, then her eyes narrowed as she studied the woman in front of her. Outrage was etched into every line on Carmichael's face-- though there were precious few of those-- and her sienna eyes sparked with barely suppressed anger. Her hair was braided back tightly, sweeping the dark curls away from a face no one-- man or woman-- could stop themselves from looking at twice. The sleek outline of her cashmere coat parted to reveal severe black suit whose simplicity only complemented the dramatic lines of her face and body. It was a wicked contrast to the last time she had seen Carmichael-- when the lawyer had been leather-jacket cool and jean-clad casual, her hair loose and wild about her shoulders as she stood behind the podium on Saturday night. Everything about Abbie Carmichael then and now screamed presence; and Turner idly wondered if the other woman had any idea of her impact.
"What in God's name were you thinking?"
The question brought a frown to Turner's face, and she regarded Carmichael once more. "I was thinking, it was a hell of a piece of footage. And a hell of an important story."
"You had no right to air that. Especially without talking to me first."
Turner snorted derisively at Carmichael's apparent naivet�. "Do I need to point out that it was a public gathering you were speaking at? In case you hadn't noticed, you were talking to almost fifty thousand people. You're a public figure. What you said was news."
"I'm not!" Abbie protested. "And I wasn't speaking in a public capacity. I was there as a friend to Lorraine Fitzgerald. That's all."
"You're an ADA who was talking about the need to stop gay bashing in this city. It's something that's needed to be said for a long time, and you're the only one who's had the balls to do it."
"I'm not usually on a first name basis with people who gobsmack me."
A curl of a smile edged onto the reporter's face. "Gobsmack? That a legal term?"
The stern visage of Abbie's face relaxed minutely, almost in spite of itself. "Gobsmack. Poleax. Bushwhack." Then her features hardened once more. "Ambush."
"How was it an ambush?" Christienne leaned forward, genuinely confused. "You weren't exactly whispering into someone's ear Saturday night. You had to have known the press was there. Hell, Equality Now practically dragged every affiliate they could get their hands on to the rally."
"Memorial service," Abbie corrected. "It wasn't a rally. Lorraine just wanted Stephanie to be remembered."
"Maybe it started out that way, but when the professional queers got involved..."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. It turned into a circus." An unexpected weariness crossed Carmichael's face, momentarily startling Christienne. The attorney shook her head and dropped tiredly into the chair opposite Turner's desk. "I shoulda known better," she muttered, dropping her head and rubbing her eyes.
"Don't do that," the reporter remarked automatically.
She gestured at Abbie's eyes. "You'll smear your mascara. Took my makeup lady years to drill that into me."
"I don't wear mascara."
"Then I can honestly say that I hate you."
Both women laughed at the conversational non sequitur, the tension relaxing between them. Christienne knew Abbie wasn't angry at her, not really; but with her actions this weekend, the attorney had inadvertently tucked a loaded political football under her arm and run with it. She didn't blame Carmichael in the least for needing to vent. Leaning back in her chair, Christienne buzzed for some coffee and examined her visitor with a tilt of her head. "If I may be so bold, what were you thinking Saturday night?"
Abbie regarded the reporter suspiciously. "You planning to use my answer to lead off the 6 o'clock 'cast?"
"Off the record, I promise." Turner spread her hands in supplication. "Look, I'll admit, I was surprised as anything when you bounded up on that stage. Personally, I thought you had too much invested..." she hesitated, choosing her words carefully, "In the system... to rock the boat like that."
"The closet," Turner clarified bluntly, not wanting to waltz around the subject now that they had gotten to it. "You're queer, right?"
Something angry flashed in Carmichael's eyes, and Abbie shook her head curtly. "My sexuality has nothing to do with anything in the DA's office."
"I'm not in the closet."
"It's just that nobody knows you're gay, right?"
"I don't see you hosting any pride parades."
"Then you must have missed last year's. Come to think of it, I don't recall seeing you there." Turner grinned rakishly and snapped her fingers. "But I'll bet you were probably working."
"You're telling me that you're out and about?"
"Yup, and it's why I'll never anchor a network newscast. But I made a choice a long time ago about who and what I was. If drugs and booze hadn't killed Jessica Savitch first, the rumors would have. And she's not the only one. I didn't want to live like that. Personally I think an African-American dyke anchoring the six o'clock 'cast for the biggest independent station in the nation's number one market is pretty radical." Tienne shrugged. "But that's just me."
"What does this have to do with me?"
"Oh come on, Abbie, you're a political animal--"
"I'm not!" Carmichael interrupted her emphatically. "I'm a lawyer whose job is to prosecute criminals. I put bad guys in jail. That's all I do. My bosses are the politicians."
"And you just do what you're told."
"Sheeyah, right. You don't believe that and even if you did, I bet the number of phone calls you've had in the last twenty four hours have disabused you of that notion. Why else would you have come screaming over here first thing this morning? You haven't even been to the office yet, have you?"
"I think I'm afraid to," Carmichael conceded wryly. "It's going to be a zoo. And the reason I came screaming over here is because you could have given me a heads-up about the show. I deserved at least that."
Turner ducked her head in embarrassment. "You're right. I'm sorry."
"Why didn't you?"
"Would you believe that I didn't want to give you the chance to talk me out of it?" Carmichael stared at her in astonishment, and Turner just let the silence between them be filled by the quiet sounds of the newsroom outside. When she realized that Abbie was truly shocked into speechlessness, she elaborated. "Look, Carmichael-- I like you. You're whipsmart and have a fabulous sense of style. In and out of the courtroom." She nodded at the other woman's inquiring glance. "Yeah, I've sat in on a few of your cases lately. Adam Schiff is no dummy-- anybody he hand picks to assist his golden child McCoy is worth watching. Word around town is you're a rising star who can go the distance if she's careful." Tienne smiled and waved her assistant in with the coffee. She waited until the young man had finished and left the office before continuing. "Except you're not careful-- McCoy decides to take on the Mulroney family and leaves you all the scut work, thereby ensuring their enmity should you decide to run for any office in New York. You get in the face of one of the biggest mob bosses in city and tell him his son's only 'half a chip off the old block' when he tells you his boy isn't a killer. You ride most of the SVU cases no matter the jurisdiction, even though you're technically a Manhattan DA. Shall I go on?"
Carmichael's mouth opened, then closed, then opened again. She seemed on the verge of speaking, but thought better of it, instead grasping her coffee mug and inhaling the strong aroma. "Boy," she said at last, "You believe in doing your homework, don't you?"
The reporter snorted. "Homework? Hardly. That's just off the top of my head." It occurred to her to mention that she also knew Abbie had practically chucked the Constitution out the window when it came to squeezing a confession out of the men who had killed her ex-lover; but she wasn't certain she wanted to be the one to tell Carmichael that, in certain circles, her closet had glass doors.
"That thing with the mob boss. The only people present were--"
"Cops and lawyers," Turner interrupted. "And let me tell you, that particular off-the-cuff remark is legend." She regarded Abbie once more. "But I bet you don't get out much."
Abbie shook her head, smiling wryly. "I guess I'm too busy becoming legendary to pay much attention."
"That's what I like about you. Unfortunately, I wish you were a bit more conniving."
A pair of eloquently arched brows implored her to continue.
"Then stuff like what happened to you Sunday wouldn't happen. Look--" she paused. "Can I call you Abbie?" At the counselor's brief nod, she continued. "I know that you weren't thinking when you got up on that podium Saturday night. But what you said..." Tienne shook her head in a combination of awe and disbelief. "It was amazing. I've been a reporter for almost fifteen years, and that night I found myself feeling something I never thought I'd feel again. And believing things I thought I'd never believe from someone standing in front of a bank of microphones." She leaned back in her chair and considered the woman opposite her anew. "You held fifty thousand people in the palm of your hand-- they were breathing in every word you said to them; their hearts were pounding to make it real. You can't tell me you didn't feel some of that."
Abbie ducked her head at Turner's words, remembering the rush of hearing the roar of those voices greeting her words. The cheers and cries. The raised hands and flushed faces. That night no one had believed in her words more than she, and no heart had beat faster than her own. Yet, this morning she was left with a trampled aftermath of angry condemnations and brusque demands for explanation. "I feel like a one night stand," she muttered, not quite realizing she was speaking aloud.
"Interesting analogy. Do you feel used?"
"I'm not sure what I feel. There are a lot of people unhappy with me right now."
"You heard from Lorraine yet?"
Abbie shook her head. "She and some friends were heading up to the Cape this weekend to scatter Steph's ashes. I doubt she's seen anything about it."
"Probably not," Tienne agreed, not adding that if the networks had picked up WST's feed, then Abbie's prominence could quickly become national. Especially once the gay rags got a look at her. In a sense, the poor woman didn't stand a chance. "Has anybody said anything good about Saturday?"
Carmichael's eyes dropped to the floor and replied with a brief shake of her head.
"What about your girlfriend?"
Sienna eyes met hers with shocked amazement.
"You do have one, right?"
Abbie's mouth opened, then closed again before shaking her head once more. She didn't know what to call Jill; and considering she hadn't heard from the other woman, she wasn't quite sure if Jill wanted to call herself anything at all in relation to Abbie. The NYPD detective not only had a squad full of old-school shiftmates, but two curious and growing sons. Not to mention a bastard of an ex-husband who would probably figure out a way to make Jill's life miserable if he found out about them.
Tienne whistled low in her throat, wondering silently if Abbie realized she had just become one of the most eligible gay women in the country. "Well, look, let me be the first to congratulate you. You said a mouthful Saturday night."
"It's just another story, right? It will die down within the next day or so."
"You want me to blow sunshine up your ass or tell you the truth?"
Abbie closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose, wondering vaguely why her life didn't have a rewind button.
"Yes, it will pass," Tienne was telling her. "But not right away."
"This is New York. Don't tell me there's nothing more important going on?"
"More important? Absolutely. More interesting? Maybe. More juicy? Definitely not. And like it or not, you're going to be front and center for the duration."
To John Irvin, the 115th precinct's civilian aide, Spring was absolutely the most lovely time of the year. Warm weather meant short sleeves, more comfortable clothes, and a generally sunnier disposition for everyone. Yet, this morning, he watched with a sinking heart as Jill Kirkendall silently entered the detective's squad room with only the curtest of nods to him and nothing at all for her shift mates. Ten minutes after checking the board she left again, telling the aide only that she was out on lost time.
Lost time was an amorphous, but incredibly crucial, thing in a plainclothes detective's world. The oftentimes errant hours and unceasing demands of cases frequently made getting away for some of life's other realities difficult. Lost time enabled a catching detective to slip out of the squad when it was slow and take care of personal things while technically still being on-duty.
John did a double-take as Jill passed him on her way back out of the door, mostly because in all the years he had worked as a PAA, he had never seen Detective Kirkendall take lost time. To him, every aspect of her life had heretofore seemed meticulously planned out-- he guessed it had to be, mostly because of the twin burdens of being a cop and raising her sons alone. This morning, however, she appeared vaguely distracted, disheveled almost, in a way most unlike the detective; a dark look clouded her normally clear eyes and the clean lines of her face were etched with exhaustion.
Everyone in the squad knew that Jill had plans the previous Friday night, but he suspected he alone-- and maybe Detective Russell-- knew that the date had been with Assistant District Attorney Abbie Carmichael. His eyes briefly flew to Russell's and away again, not wanting to presume to intrude upon the two detectives' friendship, but he was genuinely concerned about Detective Kirkendall. She had seemed so hopeful the previous Friday afternoon, her face alight with a genuine happiness that he hadn't ever seen from her before.
"Guess we don't need to ask how Kirkendall's date went." Andy Sipowicz's gruff words bluntly voiced what everyone was thinking; and though John winced at the indelicacy of it all, he still wanted to hear the answer. "The guy a hump or what?" Andy continued, directing his question at Sorenson.
Danny shrugged, his gaze not meeting Andy's and instead focusing on meticulously rearranging the position of his stapler and tape dispenser. "I didn't see the guy," he hedged, studiously avoiding Russell's glare. Hoping to score some points with the recently widowed Diane by doing a good turn for her partner, Danny had taken Diane and Jill's sons to a Mets game. Unfortunately, Frank-- Jill's oldest boy-- had picked a fight with another twelve year old and ended up with a bloody nose. And if that weren't bad enough, the hot dogs that Kyle-- her youngest-- had scarfed like there was no tomorrow came right back up. At Diane's suggestion, Danny had scampered out of the apartment with almost indecent haste and hadn't had the chance to meet Jill's mysterious suitor.
"Well?" Sipowicz looked expectantly at Russell who ran a hand through her curly dark locks in exasperation.
"Give it a rest, Andy."
Muttering something under his breath about it figuring Kirkendall would hook up with a loser, Andy grabbed his mug and disappeared into the coffee room.
Diane shot an irritated glance at his back and returned her attention to the 5's she let pile up Friday afternoon. The truth was, she didn't know what had happened Friday night-- but when Jill let returned home, Abbie Carmichael was nowhere to be found and Diane had never seen her partner so angry.
"15th precinct," John's light tenor answered the phone pleasantly, but his eyes darted wildly over to Russell, and she frowned at the expression on his face. "Um... wait one moment." He punched the hold button and swiveled to face her. "Detective Russell, I think you might want to take this one."
She started to ask him who it was but stopped at the rapid shake of his head. Frowning, Diane punched the blinking line. "Detective Russell here. How can I help you?"
"D?" The confusion in Abbie Carmichael's husky contralto was more than evident. "I asked to speak to Jill."
Diane glanced quickly at John who blushed and looked away. Oh... Somehow, their PAA had managed to put two-and-two together and come up with Jill and Abbie-- not a bad bit of detective work considering no one else in their squad had come up with the same answer. "She's taking some lost time." Ducking her head and lowering her voice, she added. "To tell the truth, I was hoping she was going to talk to you. What the hell happened?"
"Is she mad?"
"I think I can safely say that if she were any madder, gunfire would be involved."
"Christ..." Abbie swore softly under her breath. "That's what I was calling about. I had no idea that WST was going to air that footage. Hell, I didn't even know they were shooting it."
"What are you talking about? What footage? What did you two do Friday night?"
"Friday night? I'm talking about Saturday night and Sunday morning."
Russell couldn't help the surge of heat to her face at the implication. "You two saw each other... over the weekend?"
"No--" Carmichael's exasperation bled through the line. "I haven't heard from her since Friday night. I figured she was mad at me because of New York Now. My ass has been chewed off by about half the DA's office for, how can I put it? My rash and ill-spoken words."
Diane shook her head, although the gesture was lost on Abbie. "You have completely lost me. Start from the beginning."
"Stephanie Pruitt's memorial service was Saturday night. I went, got hauled up on stage, and said some stuff that ended up being the lead on Christienne Turner's Sunday news show."
"What exactly did you say?"
"Well... basically that we all needed to get our asses in gear and do something about hate crimes."
"Yeah." Abbie sighed. "I've got a meeting in fifteen minutes with Schiff. It's not going to be pretty."
"You going to have a job when it's all said and done?"
"Who the hell knows? Probably. Even if Schiff wanted to fire me-- which I don't think he does, maybe beat me a little, but not fire-- politically it wouldn't be a smart move. He'd wait at least until the Advocate people left town."
"Politically?" Diane echoed. "Since when have you started thinking about things politically?"
"Apparently I haven't been."
"Therein lies the problem," Diane finished for her.
"You got it." Abbie paused, and Diane could hear her moving around her office followed by the shutting of a door. "So... what's this about Jill being mad Friday night?"
"I don't want to pry..."
"D, at this point it sounds like you know more than me. When I left her at her doorstep Friday night, she was fine." The attorney chuckled. "As a matter of fact, I thought she was more than fine."
"So you brought her home."
"Yeah, after she checked in with you guys, she said something about there being blood and vomit involved so she'd best get home. We shared a cab back to her place, I walked her to the door, and she said she'd call me over the weekend."
"You want a play-by-play of the goodnight kiss?"
"You didn't fight? Argue? Anything?" Diane asked instead, ignoring the all-too-ready visual her mind conjured of her two friends tangled in a passionate embrace.
"NO!" Abbie barked, then sighed. "You're beginning to scare me, Diane. I..." A hesitant tremor laced her words. "I don't understand what's happening here. We had a great time at dinner; and afterwards, we talked... She said I was doing everything right..."
The bewilderment in Abbie Carmichael's voice made Russell want to reach through the phone and wrap her arms around her friend. Her past with Abbie was still tender territory for them both, but the ties binding them-- even after all these years of separation-- were strong. When Abbie unexpectedly came back into her life just a few weeks ago, Diane had been astonished to learn that she and Jill knew each other, even more so to discover that the context of that acquaintance was romantic. Somehow, she had found herself in the unlikely position of nurturing this even unlikelier relationship. "I'm sure you are," she counseled, at a loss for what to say.
The tinny sound of someone knocking on Carmichael's door echoed through the line. She could hear Abbie's distracted response, and when the attorney returned to the phone, her tone had shifted to the professional and impersonal. "I'll have to get back with you on that, Detective Russell. Thanks for the information."
"I'll talk to her..." she began.
"That's not necessary. I can handle it from here. Thanks again."
An abrupt click, and Diane was left listening to an empty line. She returned her own phone to its cradle, shaking her head slowly. Jill Kirkendall had been her partner for three years, but it was only in the past eight months-- during that unbearably bleak time following her husband's death-- that her friendship with Jill had become one of the foundations upon which she began rebuilding her own life. How many times since Bobby's death had she reached out and found Jill unconditionally there for her? She had taken the other woman's strength and grace for granted on so many levels; and now that she was beginning to see the cracks in her partner's stoic facade, Diane was afraid.
The rustle of a newspaper drew her away from her musings, and she glanced up to see Greg frowning in her direction.
"Hey Diane?" He ambled over to her desk, folding the newspaper neatly into quarters. "Isn't this your friend in the DA's office?"
Diane glanced down to see that Medavoy was indeed pointing to a grainy black-and-white photo of Abbie Carmichael and couldn't help but smile at how good her friend looked, despite the poor reproduction. The picture had apparently been taken at Stephanie Pruitt's memorial service; and in it, Abbie's expression was a familiar combination fierce determination and unyielding conviction. Unfortunately, the headline that ran beside the picture wasn't nearly so flattering.
"Manhattan DA Blasts Cops Over Hate Crimes"
"Don't she know she's supposed to be on our side?" Medavoy looked genuinely confused as Diane snatched the paper out of his hand.
Behind her Sipowicz snorted derisively. "Figures. I heard Laughlin askin her, you know, if she was one of those female-liking-type-females."
"Shut up, Andy," Diane snapped without thinking.
He raised his hands defensively. "Hey, it wasn't me put the question to her. But I gotta tell you, I didn't hear her denying it, either."
"You lookin to get something thrown at you?" She whipped around in her chair and glared at him. "Or you just trying to chap my ass?"
Andy ran appraising eyes over her and decided to push his luck at little. "You're already looking pretty raw there, Russell. Want to share how come?"
Diane's dark look told him that the conversation was one comment away from going too far, and he was grateful that Medavoy pushed it over the brink and not him. "Come on, Diane-- she's pretty good looking. I bet if anyone could make you switch teams, it'd be her..."
The words were no sooner out of Greg's mouth than Jill strode back through the door-- looking, to Russell's concerned eyes-- half a world away and about ten years older. "Am I missing something?" The cool tone in Jill's voice indicated to Russell's sinking heart that she hadn't, in fact, missed a thing.
Medavoy handed her the newspaper, a conspiratorial gleam in his eye. "We were just wondering what Diane and her good 'friend' were getting up to these days. Apparently they go waaay back," he teased. "What do you think? Do they make a good couple?"
Jill glanced at the paper and handed it back to Greg with a mild shrug. "I'm not the right one to ask."
As she passed, a distinct chill that wasn't from the half-open window across the room rippled across Russell's shoulders, and an uneasy silence settled over the squad. Jill was, in many ways, the most even-tempered of all them; and the tall detective so rarely appeared out-of-sync that any change in her unflappable demeanor was alarming. Their collective eyes not-so-discreetly followed Kirkendall's progress across the squad and into the locker room, unspoken questions hovering ominously in all of their thoughts. Russell glared at Medavoy until he threw the newspaper away and slunk back to his desk; then she then took a deep breath, counted to three, and followed her partner.
"I'm sorry about that," she said, shutting the door behind her and flipping the lock. Jill was standing over the sink, splashing water over unnaturally pale features. Her eyes briefly met Diane's in the mirror then flickered downward once more in contemplation of hands that trembled almost imperceptibly. Diane couldn't remember ever seeing Jill this close to being so visibly undone; but even as she watched, Jill began pulling herself back together, reinforcing the barricades that protected what Russell had only recently discovered was a very fragile soul.
"It's none of my business."
It was absolutely the last thing she expected Jill to say. Nonplused, Diane leaned against a row of lockers and crossed her arms. "I'm a little lost here. You wanna clarify what exactly isn't any of your business?"
"Your honking, elephant-sized past with Abbie Carmichael," Jill replied acidly, turning to regard Russell with dangerously flat eyes. "Whatever it is-- it's none of my business."
Diane arched a wry brow, thinking that-- of all the times she might be expected to explain the complicated little bit of history between herself and Abbie Carmichael-- this might possibly be the worst possible moment to do so. "You're right, it isn't."
"Then why are you apologizing?"
"Because I thought what Greg said might have hurt you."
"Don't worry about me getting hurt."
"Isn't it time somebody did?"
"I'm not my kids, Diane. I don't need a baby-sitter."
"How about a friend then? You sure as shit look like you could use one of those."
Turning her back on the entreaty in Russell's eyes, Jill snapped off two paper towels from the roll on the sink and dried her hands briskly. Running her long fingers through the tousled cap of blond hair, she studied her reflection in the mirror and shook her head softly. "You looking out for me, Diane? Or your good old friend Abbie?"
Diane's head snapped back as if Jill had physically struck her. "You're not serious."
Jill shrugged and started to walk towards the door. "It doesn't matter anyway. There is no me and Abbie."
Reaching out and snagging Kirkendall's arm, Diane stopped her from leaving the room. To Russell's surprise, Jill allowed the contact-- but her eyes remained wary. "I don't believe you," Russell challenged quietly.
"I don't really care."
Her frustration mounting, Diane sought some way to scale the wall of reserve that Jill kept around her emotions. "What did she do Friday night that was so horrible? Take you out for beef jerky and a porno flick?"
The absurdity of the image managed to punch through even Jill's steely exterior, and the tension in Kirkendall's face collapsed in undignified laughter. "Not exactly," she said dryly.
"Then what gives?" Aware that her hand was still on Jill's arm, Russell towed her over to the wooden bench that ran between the sets of lockers and settled them both on it.
"It's just..." Jill paused and exhaled a sigh carrying the weight of too many sleepless nights on it. "Why torture us both-- when in the long run it's going to be better if nothing had ever gotten started?"
Suddenly realizing there was a whole lot more going on here than mere second thoughts, Diane took Jill's hands in hers. "I think it's a little late for that."
"I know," Jill replied bleakly.
"You care about her." Not a question.
"I can't be involved with her. The boys... The Job..."
Russell's heart wrenched at the desolate expression in Jill's hazel eyes. But there was something more... a fear... that hadn't entered into any of their previous conversations about Abbie. "That sonofabitch," she whispered, realizing what else lay behind Jill's facade. "How'd Don find out?"
Jill didn't bother to evade the question. "He was waiting outside when I got home. He saw her... us... kissing." Her voice broke quietly over the last word, her head dropping. "I had a gun," she said so softly that Diane almost didn't hear her. "But... Maybe I should have."
"Did he threaten you?"
"He threatened to take the boys away."
"Jill, he's bust waiting to happen. No court in the world would..."
"He could make the boys hate me," Jill interrupted. "It wouldn't take much-- Frank's halfway there now. And the Job..."
"Nobody in the squad would..."
"Shoot me?" Jill's head snapped up, her eyes filled with an adamantine glitter. "Probably not, but that doesn't mean nobody on the Job would. We've both heard the stories, Diane. It's hard enough going through doors worrying about the bullets coming from in front of me. If I have to worry about what's coming from behind..."
Diane wanted to contradict her-- but the truth of the matter was, Russell had been a cop too long to think Jill's fears were completely unfounded.
"And the idea of being some masturbatory fantasy..."
"You should be used to that," Diane replied automatically with a smile.
She was rewarded by an answering grin from her partner and a wry shake of her head. "There are just some things I'd rather not know."
Diane squeezed the cool fingers that were interlaced with her own. "Seriously though... All of this... is it worth giving up someone you might want to spend the rest of your life with?"
The question hung between them, suspended on all of Jill's doubts and hopes, until Jill shook her head. "I can't answer that right now."
"Will you think about it?"
Jill opened her mouth to reply, but a discreet knock on the locker room door interrupted her. "Um... Detective Kirkendall..." John's hesitant voice filtered through, becoming distinct as Jill crossed the room and flipped the door open. "I hate to interrupt," As if the look on his face wasn't enough to tell her that. "But it's the Sergeant from the 13th. He says it's very important."
Jill and Diane exchanged quick glances, Jill's eyes filling with dismay. It was a call they'd been expecting, and a tight bundle of empathetic dread coiled in Russell's stomach.
"Can you put it through to my desk?" Kirkendall requested calmly.
John nodded and swiftly returned to his station, waiting until he saw Jill pick up the receiver to transfer the call. Diane stood close to her partner, instinct telling her to wrap a reassuring hand around Jill's arm, but too-aware of the curious eyes of her shiftmates to do so. Kirkendall wasn't one for bringing personal business into the squad, and instinctively Russell knew that her gesture of support would lead to inquiries that Jill wouldn't want.
"Okay, thanks Sarge. I understand. Yeah, tell him I'll be down shortly. Right. Okay." Jill held the receiver in one hand, while the other rubbed her forehead wearily. "Got it. Thanks." She returned the phone carefully to its cradle, as if afraid of what she might do if she relaxed the tight hold she had on herself. She met Diane's eyes once more, and the sorrow Russell saw there threatened to swamp her own composure. "They picked him up two hours ago."
"Tell me you're not seriously going down there."
"Sarge says he won't shut up about how his wife is on the Job."
"You have to walk away from this, Jill. He's just going to try and drag you down with him."
"Like he doesn't already have the power to do that?" Jill hissed. "All he has to do is start spouting his mouth off about how I gave him the heads up and I'm cooked." She leaned closer to Diane, dropping her voice. "I have to go see him, make sure that he knows to keep his mouth shut unless he wants both his kids' parents in jail."
"He doesn't give a damn about his kids," Diane retorted, then paused and added. "Or you."
Jill blanched at the blunt words, but nodded curtly nonetheless in acknowledgment. "I know. But I have to try."
Knowing nothing she could say would be reassuring, she discreetly squeezed Jill's hand and tried her best to smile. As Jill left the squad room, a quiet presence joined Russell in watching Kirkendall's departure. With a growing sense of trepidation, Diane turned to face her lieutenant.
Arthur Fancy's handsome face was lined with concern. "Anything I should know about?" he asked softly.
Diane pressed her lips together, her desire to protect Jill warring with her impulse to confide in Fancy. "Nah... Jill's just having some... well, an off day."
A pair of skeptical brows arched. "Sounded like more than that to me."
"Boss, it's okay. She'll be fine."
A flash of irritation crossed Fancy's features, gone as quickly as it had come. "I'm not looking to jam Jill up," he murmured, brown eyes intent on her. "But if there's something I should know, you better tell me so I can get busy saving her job."
"Don's a collar."
"I figured that much out."
"Yeah, well... the long and short of it is that Jill knew and gave him a heads up that the Job was watching him."
Fancy sucked in a deep breath at the news. It was as close to seeing him rocked as Diane could ever recall. "What was she thinking?"
"She was looking out for her boys."
"IAB isn't gonna see it that way."
"So Don needs to keep his mouth shut."
"Even though giving up Jill could get him a walk? Skel like him won't pass up a deal like that."
"Give him a better deal."
"Got any suggestions?"
Diane paused for a minute thinking. "The ADA that's been covering up here--"
"Carmichael? I met her a few weeks back."
"She spent a lot of years in Narco, still has the connections with the guys up there. So maybe..."
"Maybe she knows somebody who would be interested in what Don has to sell," he finished for her. "What about Jill?"
"Abbie's a..." Diane paused. "A friend," she finished. "She'll find a way to keep Jill out of it."
"You've had a shit morning."
Jack McCoy strolled into Abbie Carmichael's office without knocking and lowered himself into the uncomfortably upholstered chair opposite his assistant's desk. Carmichael took in his perpetually rumpled hair and suit with a scowl, thinking to herself that a pep talk from Jack was the last thing in the world she needed, not to mention the last thing she was likely to get. "Was there something you needed?" she asked, ignoring his opening salvo. Usually she liked to give as good as she got with McCoy, but today going ten rounds with him was not on her agenda. The endless dissection of her actions at Stephanie Pruitt's memorial service had eaten up most of her day, and only now-- well into the downside of the afternoon-- was she actually getting to the work that had been steadily piling up on her desk in her absence.
"Actually, I was just checking to see if there was anything you needed," he replied easily.
"Jack..." she began.
He held up a hand. "I come in peace, soldier."
"You sure about that?"
"No weapons here."
"Even the verbal kind?"
"Why do I find that staggeringly hard to believe?"
He looked taken back for a moment, then shook his head. "You really don't think much of me, do you?"
"Only returning the favor."
"And I thought you shot from the hip before, but this Pruitt thing seems to have opened you right up."
"Back to my question... What to do you want?"
"How are you holding up?"
"You mean in the face of Schiff jerking me off SVU, covering the 15th, and basically keeping me from doing anything other than your scut work? Frankly, I'd say I'm holding up considerably well-- I didn't chuck a paperweight at him and wasn't escorted out by security."
"He said you were pissed."
"That's putting it mildly."
"It's not him," Jack began. "It's just..."
"I swear to god, McCoy, if you say it's just politics, I will chuck something-- most likely you out the window-- my job be damned."
"He believes in you." Jack looked at her soberly. "More than I do-- did, actually. Lately, however, you've made me think twice."
"Happy to hear that."
"Can you get outside your self-righteous anger for two minutes and look at it from everyone else's point of view?"
"Which point of view would that be? The one that dictates you cover your ass before saying or doing anything?"
"How about the one that says you don't bite the hand that feeds you?" Jack snapped. "This city's been teetering on the brink of real violence for months now. Diallo was just the beginning, and everything's that come after it has only added to the tension."
"And you think some pissed off drag queens might just push us all over the edge?"
"Ever hear of Stonewall?"
"Yeah Jack, as a matter of fact, I have. And despite what happened thirty-odd years ago, it remains that people in this city get attacked and beaten just because they're gay. And sometimes they even get killed, like Stephanie Pruitt."
"And you did your job and put her murderers in jail."
"Bully for us, the fucking system worked this once." She tossed her pen angrily on the stacks of paper that littered her desk and shoved chair back. "But what if Stephanie Pruitt had been some butch dyke from down in the Village whose lover wasn't rich and photogenic? Would we have paraded her parents in front of the press? Or what if the Gay and Lesbian Coalition hadn't been in town? Would Schiff have dispatched me from the get-go to be all over this? The point is not that I put her murderers in jail-- it's that Stephanie died in the first place.
"Guiliani can put on as many dresses as he wants and march in every Gay Pride parade for the next fifty years, it's not going to change the fact that cops still look the other way on gay bashings and prosecutors routinely plea bargain out the few that do get that far in the system for way less time than they deserve."
"And you felt the need to shout this out to fifty thousand people in front of a dozen television cameras?"
"That piece of news isn't anything they didn't already know," Abbie retorted. "What floors me is that this office is acting like it's news to them. It took me most of the day to figure it out, Jack, but I'm being punished for airing the DA office's dirty laundry." She regarded Jack's astonished expression wryly. "My only regret is that I did it inadvertently."
"I never said a damn thing about the cops or the DA's office. That was all Christienne Turner's spin on New York Now. All I said was that we all had to stand together and stop watching from the sidelines. Until Sunday morning and all the phone calls started, as far as I was concerned the only thing I had done was out myself."
"Out yourself?" Jack echoed faintly, looking slightly pale.
In spite of her horrible day, a smile began to spread over her face. This was beginning to turn sickly fun. "Oh..." she chuckled darkly. "Don't tell me you didn't already know."
"Um..." He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "That is... ah.... it never..."
"Occurred to you that someone like me might be gay?"
"Well... now that you mention it..." He blinked twice and peered at her intently. "The possibility never even crossed my mind."
"Then you need to broaden your horizons, big boy."
"But you never said anything."
"That's because my personal life doesn't belong in the office. Just as it wouldn't belong if I were straight."
"So, what's changed?"
"My talking about gay issues is suddenly bringing my personal life into the office?"
"No, but telling me you just outed yourself is. Why are you saying something now?"
She pondered the question for a moment, then shrugged. "Because I could be Stephanie Pruitt. Hell, I am, except that I'm not as lucky to have somebody like Lorraine in my life." Jill Kirkendall's face flickered through her mind briefly, and she smiled at the image and the hope she still bore for their relationship. "Lorraine said something to one of the detectives on the case-- wondering if she could have stopped Stephanie's murder by shouting from the rooftops about hate. And it started me thinking about my own silence. And what it means to the rest of the world-- not just to me."
A quiet knock at her door filled the thoughtful lull that had fallen between Abbie and her boss, and she looked up to see a distinguished African-American man standing in her doorway. It took her a moment to place his face, but then she smiled in recognition and not a little confusion. "Lt. Fancy? From the 15th right?"
He returned her smile with one of his own, the corners of his eyes crinkling with the gesture. He had a kind face, and Carmichael remembered both the instant liking she had taken to him and the esteem in which Diane and Jill held him. "Hi, Ms. Carmichael. I'm sorry to drop by without calling... I hope this isn't a bad time." His glanced shifted to McCoy and then back again.
"Not at all, lieutenant." She gestured at Jack who rose and offered his hand. "Jack McCoy, this is Lt. Arthur Fancy from the 115th. Jack's the EADA here."
Fancy returned McCoy's handshake with a warm smile. "Good to meet you. Your Ms. Carmichael here has been a real pleasure to work with."
"A pleasure that's unfortunately about to come to an end," Abbie muttered.
Fancy looked startled. "Why's that?"
"Long story," she said. "Unless that's why you're here."
"Can't say that it is."
"Well then..." She turned to McCoy, who had shoved his hands in his pockets and was looking expectantly at her.
"I believe that's my cue," Jack said easily. "Abbie... I'd like to continue our discussion later." He paused, at a loss, then shrugged. "Lt. Fancy, good to meet you. If there's anything my office can do for you, don't hesitate."
"Thanks, Mr. McCoy, I'll keep that in mind." Fancy waited until Jack disappeared down the hallway before looking at Abbie. "You mind if I close this?"
Carmichael arched a brow in curiosity, but shook her head. "Not at all. What can I do for you?"
Fancy settled himself gingerly in the seat McCoy had just vacated, looking distinctly uncomfortable. "I'm not sure where to begin, but Diane Russell suggested that you and I might have a conversation."
"Is D okay?"
He smiled at the immediate concern in Abbie's eyes. "She's fine."
"So this is about...?"
"Jill Kirkendall, Diane's partner." Despite everything she had said to Jack earlier about reconsidering the implications of her silence, the bottom of Carmichael's stomach resettled itself somewhere in the middle of her larynx. Seemingly oblivious to her sudden discomfort, Fancy continued. "Even if you're not able to... Well, I'd just like to know that what I'm going to say stays between us."
It took Abbie all of ten seconds to put it together. "What kind of jackpot is her ex-husband trying to drag her into now?"
"You know Don Kirkendall?"
"I've never had the joy of meeting the sonofabitch, which is probably a good thing for him."
Half a smile creased Fancy's face. "Russell said you were a friend."
"I am. Now what can I do to help Jill?"
Briefly he outlined the situation as he understood it and waited for Abbie's response. Despite what Russell had said, he had been hesitant to involve the ADA in the situation. From everything he had heard about Abbie Carmichael, she was on the fast track at the DA's office and probably wasn't looking to get involved in something that might very well turn out badly for all of them. In the end, however, he hadn't had much of a choice. To try and muscle Don into keeping his mouth shut about Jill, he had to have something better to offer; and Carmichael was in a position to make that happen. Now, looking at the wary dark eyes and the exhaustion plainly on her face, he worried that maybe he had made the wrong decision.
Carmichael sighed heavily and rubbed one eye with the heel of her hand. Reaching behind her, she tugged loose the tight braid that held her hair bound and shook the dark locks free. "You have a minute?" she asked him. Growing more anxious the longer she didn't reply directly to his response, Fancy only nodded. "Great." She picked up her phone, punching a rapid series of numbers and leaning back in her chair. "Greg? It's Abbie Carmichael," she said into the receiver, her tone light and breezy-- as if millions of miles away from the weight pressing so heavily down on her shoulders. "How you been?" She chuckled, a rich throaty sound that-- even though it wasn't directed at him-- sent ripples of heat throughout Fancy's body. "I know, I know... I get to go to Manhattan and forget all about you guys in the trenches. Ha. Right. No, really... Actually, that's why I'm calling. To do you a favor." More laughter. "Not that much of a favor... You wish. Seriously though. I've got a guy that the 113 snatched up, wants to roll over on those Peruvians I know you've been so hot and bothered over." Pause. "I don't know why they haven't called you. I only got in on it by accident. Guy's ex is on the Job, so I thought I'd make a phone call... No, she's not... IAB? Naw, Greg, I told you, I'm doing you a favor not fucking your life beyond repair... Look, let this guy roll, stuff him in the Program and sit on him." Another pause, longer this time. "Trust me, Greg. You want to do this... Yes. Yes... Absolutely. I'll do that... Your POC will be Arthur Fancy from the 1-5. Perfect. I appreciate it, Greg. Thanks. Bye now." She put the phone down, a satisfied grin illuminating her starkly beautiful face. "It's a done deal, lieutenant. Now all you have to do is get him to flip."
Putting the department-issued Vic into park and turning the ignition off, Jill sat in the cocooned space of the car-- the daily buzz of street traffic muted by the rolled-up windows. After she had left the 113th, she had driven the city streets aimlessly, in a state of mental blindness. Now, in front of her own precinct house, all the things she hadn't been letting herself think about since she left Don flooded her mind in a swirling cacophony of pain.
Diane had been right-- Don hadn't cared about her or the boys, but he had been more than willing to use them all as leverage to get himself out of yet another mess of his own creation. Jill knew that it would kill Frank and Kyle to see their father behind bars; and as much as his sorry ass deserved to deserved what, by rights, ought to be coming to him, Jill knew deep inside that she would call in every favor she was owed to cut Don a deal.
"I can't do time, Jill..."His refrain echoed in her thoughts, trying to own her now the way he had owned her when they were married-- but another, quieter murmur cut against the grain of Don's possession, as it had from the minute she had first stepped into the holding cell.
"Tell me when I can see you again..."The voice was raw, resonant with passion and imbued with all the respect and concern she had never heard from the man who had sired her children. The memory of Abbie Carmichael's reverent touch ghosted against her face, long fingers sparking warmth against the cool Spring evening. Jill's eyes fluttered shut, the vision of city lights carving auric lines along the planes of Abbie's face clear behind her closed lids. The attorney's sandalwood and spice scent was as fresh in her nostrils as it had been three nights ago; and she remembered Abbie burying her head against her shoulder and the smooth silkiness of Abbie's hair tangling in her fingers.
Jill snapped her eyes open, the realization of what she had lost a painful slap, and shook her head at her own foolishness. Opening the door and climbing out of the car-- exhausted by a day where she hadn't done any actual detective work-- all she could wonder was where the hours had gone. The few steps into the precinct house and the longer flight up to the detectives' floor seemed insurmountable. Resolutely, she made her way up each one, clasping the railing as though injured and weak.
The squad room was quiet as she entered, the 4-to-12 swing having already come on and her shiftmates departed. Diane was still there, however; and she looked relieved to see her partner crossing the threshold. "I was starting to get worried."
Jill tried to force a smile; but the movement threatened to undo her completely, and she surrendered the effort before the tears spilled over onto skin. A quick glance told her that Lt. Fancy was still in his office-- waiting for her, no doubt-- and she gave a quick toss of her head. "I have to see the l-t."
Diane rose quickly, stepping between her and Fancy's office. "Come talk to me first."
"Diane... I'm Don's only chance, and he's not going to let me get away..." she began.
"Let's go into the locker room." Diane tried to herd her towards the door, but Jill stepped around her.
"I have to talk to Fancy. I'm not going to jam you or anybody else in the squad up because of this..."
"Don's going into the Program," Russell blurted.
"What?" Dumbstruck, she stared at her partner. "When..?"
"He flipped on the Peruvians."
"Fancy put the fear of God into him." Russell bit her lip, hoping that Jill would just accept the good news and let the rest lie; but as she suspected, her partner would have none of it.
"All due respect to the l-t, but where'd he get the juice to make this deal?" Kirkendall looked at her partner sharply, too aware of the limb Fancy had just climbed out onto on her behalf. "Isn't anybody curious about why a plainclothes lieutenant is suddenly so interested in helping a skel like Don?"
Russell sucked in a deep breath and replied, "Because Abbie Carmichael hooked him up with a Narco prosecutor who's had a hard-on for these Peruvians for months."
"The Narco guy doesn't give a shit about who Don's ex-wife is or what he has to say about you. He just wants courier routes and connections," she filled in hurriedly.
"Fancy went to Abbie Carmichael..."
"Yeah." Diane crossed her arms, not liking the deathly-pale cast of Jill's skin or the eerie calm in her voice.
"Because you sent him to her."
"I told him she had some juice, yeah."
Graveyard silence in the squad room.
Then Jill roared, "ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FUCKING MIND?!?!?!!?!"
In his office, Fancy's head jerked up at the sound, and he instinctively rose to see what was going on. Diane spun Jill around, propelling her bodily into the locker room and slamming the door behind them both.
Violent shudders wracked Jill's tall frame, and Russell was astonished to find that she, too, was shaking badly. In all their years of partnership, she had rarely heard Kirkendall raise her voice-- and never in that timbre of rage and certainly not directed at her. Jill wrapped her arms around herself protectively, and stared at her partner. "What were you thinking?" Her voice had returned to its normal pitch, hoarser now, but calm. "You shouldn't have dragged her into this mess, Diane. It's bad enough that Fancy stepped in, but..." Tears choked her throat; and she twisted her head away, unwilling to let Diane see her cry.
"Abbie's your friend..."
"No!" Jill snapped, wiping savagely at her eyes and glaring at Russell. "Abbie's your friend. Whatever's going on between her and me... it has nothing to do with just being friends."
"You don't think that makes her want to look out for you twice as bad?"
"And what happens when Don puts her name to the face he's already seen? You think he won't try to use that?"
"Abbie's nowhere near the case, she simply hooked Fancy and the prosecutor up."
"There's no such thing as simply where Don's involved," Jill reminded her. "If she cares about me as much as you say and he makes the connection... He'll fuck her over just to watch me bleed."
"He's got no power over her."
"Thanks to you and Fancy, he does now."
It only occurred to Carmichael after she pushed through the door of Smitty's that coming into the cops' bar might not be a particularly clever idea, and the number of dark stares she was on the receiving end of only confirmed her suspicion.
"Hey, Carmichael! Get your ass over here!"
Abbie's head snapped around and spied the very welcome sight of SVU detectives Olivia Benson, her partner Eliott Stabler, and John Munch. The trio waved her over in defiance of the ripples of discontent undulating through the bar. She slid into the booth next to Benson and was gratified to feel the detective's hand find hers under the table and squeeze it in support.
"First round's on me," Elliott offered, calling a waitress over with a jerk of his hand.
"Jack Daniels, neat," she responded to the inquiring tilt of the woman's head.
Munch's brows shot up in surprise. "That bad?"
"What do you think?"
"We've only heard bits and pieces," Olivia answered. "What the newspaper said."
"The newspaper and Christienne Turner have managed to almost sink my career."
"You might have helped a little there," Munch observed. Abbie shot him a glowering look, but he only stared back defiantly. "Come on, Abbie, admit it. That was the photo op from hell."
"I'm not debating this with you, Munch."
"What's to debate? You put yourself in a position where what you said-- which I wholeheartedly agree with, by the way-- could and would be deliberately whipped by a sound-byte hungry press into a frothy delightful concoction that your average man-on-the-street would swill without stopping to think twice. The result is, your ass is in a sling and we have to break in a new ADA for the unit."
Abbie's head lifted from her brooding contemplation of the drink just placed before her. "They assign somebody already?"
"Alexandra Cabot," Benson answered. "You know her?"
"Heard the name," Abbie shrugged. "She's pretty new to the office from what I understand. Never met her. Of course that explains why she left me a voicemail tonight. I guess she wants to transition the cases."
"It sucks to be you. Glad I'm not."
"Munch, do you just have an overwhelming desire to kick me when I'm down?"
"I'm on your side, Counselor, in spite of the fact that your little memorial service stunt was incredibly dumb. That said, I don't think we should be punished because you were dumb." He paused, then added with a grin. "Did you at least impress your new girlfriend?"
Abbie momentarily contemplated throwing the drink in her hand in Munch's face, but decided its medicinal effects on her frayed nerves were more important. Shuddering lightly as the harsh liquor burned its way through her system, she shook her head. "Nope."
"Figures you'd be dating a closet case. She on the Job?"
Aware that Benson and Stabler were watching their exchange with rapt fascination, Abbie sighed. Olivia knew about her-- they'd carried on a rather mild flirtation throughout their entire acquaintance-- but Elliot, he was another matter. Judging, however, from the benign expression on his face; the whole thing didn't seem to disturb him too much. "You just don't quit, do you?"
"Where would the fun in that be?"
"Give it a rest, Munch, I'm not gonna tell you who I went out with Friday night." The words were no sooner out of her mouth than Diane Russell pushed through the door of the pub. Her eyes scanned the crowd momentarily before finding Abbie's dark head and making her way towards their table.
"Hey, Abs... You got a minute?" Russell looked uncharacteristically tense, her hands tucked into the back pockets of her slacks, revealing a slender waist and the bulky service revolver on her hip.
"I think that question was just answered." Munch snickered quietly.
Hearing Munch with only half an ear, she stood and put a concerned hand on Russell's arm. She pulled Diane out of the way of traffic and found them a booth tucked in the far corner of the bar before asking, "What happened? He not make the deal?"
"Oh, he made the deal all right. But Jill's freaking about it."
"Because Fancy made an end run around her?"
"Because you gave Fancy the juice to do it."
Rubbing her face wearily, Abbie sighed and accepted the drink Munch sent over as a peace offering. "Dammit," she murmured. "I asked Fancy not to tell her I was involved."
"You wanna tell me how she found out?" One look at Diane's face, however, answered the question. "Aw, shit, D... Why?"
"I'm not going to lie to Jill."
"Since when?" Abbie shot back.
"She deserved to know who helped her out," Diane continued as if the attorney hadn't interrupted, ignoring the barb.
"Great, and now she probably thinks she owes me. Goddammit. Diane, I want her, but not like that."
"I'm surprised you want me at all." The voice was low and thready over her shoulder, hoarse with tears and recriminations but imbued with a courage that threatened to break Abbie's heart as she listened.
"Jill..." Half-rising from her seat, she twisted around to see the woman who had been constantly in her thoughts during this long, godawful day. She had never seen Jill look so tired, so defenseless-- the proud arc of her neck bowed and the broad shoulders slumped tiredly. Yet, despite the defeat etched into the elegant lines of her face, Jill Kirkendall was absolutely the most beautiful woman Abbie had ever seen in her life. Tongue suddenly thick in her throat, Abbie struggled to speak. "I didn't think..."
"You want to get out of here?"
Glancing back at Diane who nodded quickly in understanding, Abbie inclined her head in acceptance and finished sliding out of her seat. Silently they threaded their way through the thronging pub, one of Abbie's hands lightly resting on Jill's elbow, guiding her through the crowd and out into the newly-arrived darkness. Beneath her fingertips, Jill trembled imperceptibly-- whether from the day's events or from Abbie's presence, the attorney didn't know.
"I've got an unmarked," Jill said softly, the words muffled against the swooping traffic sound of tires on damp pavement. Sometime in the evening it had begun to rain, and Abbie only now noticed the droplets clinging to Jill's blazer and dampening the brightness of her hair. The breeze fluttered gently against Abbie's face, blowing stray sparks of cool rain against skin she hadn't known was warm.
"We could walk," Carmichael offered. "If you don't mind the mist."
"It's kind of a hike to your place from here, isn't it?"
Startled, Abbie regarded her companion archly. "That where we're going?"
"We need to talk," Jill replied evenly, though a hard swallow gave lie to her calm. "And I don't want to do it in a bar.
The rain had only intensified by the time they arrived at Abbie's apartment building, and the damp clung tightly to their skins when Abbie finally unlocked the last of the deadbolts protecting her home from criminal encroachment. It occurred to her to apologize for the mess the apartment was in, but a single look at Jill's unseeing stare reminded her uncomfortably that this wasn't exactly a social occasion.
"Want something to drink?"
"Sure," Jill replied distractedly, walking the length of the living room and pausing by the floor-to-ceiling windows. "Whatever you're having is fine."
Carmichael shot the detective a surprised look, then gave a mental shrug. Her only concession to the unusual request was to pull the bottle of Glenlivet from under the counter instead of the Jack Daniels. Jill's day had been hard enough without adding the corrosive pain of Tennessee whiskey to the mix. Joining Jill by the window, she silently handed a tumbler filled with ice and a healthy slug of scotch to the older woman.
"I guess you know all about it now," Jill murmured quietly, her eyes still on the bustling activity of the city streets below.
"I know Don got himself into some kind of jackpot and dragged you into it."
"I'm not a wrong cop."
"I never thought you were."
Ducking her head down as if afraid to witness whatever was in Abbie's eyes, Jill took a long draught of the scotch and shuddered delicately as it went down. "I don't necessarily want to know what you think."
"I think you did the wrong thing for the right reason."
"You don't know the half of it."
"Jill..." Abbie began, but was brought to silence by the unfathomable pain clouded in the hazel eyes that gazed at her.
"He knows about you," she said into the dimness. "He was there Friday night... watching."
"It doesn't matter."
"You don't get it, Abbie. He'll use this."
"What would be Don's upside? He's already getting a walk and a free new life-- isn't that enough?"
Jill's laugh was the most bitter, cynical sound Abbie had ever heard in ten years in the courts and on the streets. An angry grimace twisted across her lips as she shook her head. "Don doesn't need an upside. And if there's one thing I've learned about that man in thirteen years is that nothing is ever enough for him."
"Greg won't be asking the kinds of questions that will give Don an excuse to talk about me-- if I cared." She looked closely at the woman who had come to mean so much to her. "It sounds like you do."
"I'm a cop, Abbie. I have to care. No matter how many support groups the NYPD has, all it takes is the wrong person watching your back one time..." She took a shuddering breath, exhaling heavily. "And I haven't even mentioned the boys... I don't know if they're old enough to understand. I don't know how I could begin to explain to them what's happening to me." A shaky laugh. "I don't even know if I understand it myself."
"That only matters if you don't want to let go of us."
Jill turned away again, her forehead resting now on the cool glass. "I want to let go." Her words were muffled in the suddenly too still silence, and the wrench that jerked Abbie's heart from her chest also threatened to take away her breath. Another deep sigh, and a resolute squaring of shoulders that Abbie almost missed as she turned away. A tentative hand on her shoulder gently stopped her flight. "But I'm not."
Jill's fingers slipped down Abbie's arm, finding a slender hand and entwining the fingers around her own. "This afternoon I'm standing outside this jail cell, waiting for him to demand that I throw my career, my life, away to save him again-- and all I could think about was you." Sitting her glass on the window ledge, she brushed the loose tendrils of Abbie's hair and traced the shape of her face in the shadows. "The way you've never stopped respecting who I was and what I wanted. The way you listened to me talk and never asked for anything more than I was able to give. I'm looking at the man I thought was going to spend the rest of my life-- and it was like I was seeing him for the very first time. Him. Not what I wanted him to be for my own sake or the boys'.
"And he hates me for that-- seeing what he's become-- maybe what he always was, I don't know. I could see it in his eyes, and I knew in that instant that he couldn't hurt me anymore. Even though he won't ever stop trying. What terrifies me, though, is that he could hurt the boys-- twist them the way he's been twisted. Or Diane for being my friend through all this." Releasing Abbie's fingers, she took the attorney's face in both her hands, pulling the dark head against hers. "And when I found out that you helped Fancy hook him up in the Program, I realized he could hurt you too. Abbie... if that happened..."
Jill's exhalation fed the hitches Abbie's own unsteady breathing, her lips so close only a heartbeat separated them. "The worst thing he could do to me is take away what happening between us."
Focus on lips now shaping into a smile. "You think so too?"
A gentle kiss-- like the ghost of the sweetest memory Abbie ever had or the tendered promise of a whole new life to come-- brushed over her lips. Her world was stripped away to two things-- the touch of Jill's mouth against her own and the delicate pressure of Jill's hands cupping her face. She surrendered to the inexorable need to draw Jill to her, arms sliding around a trim waist and rendering the distance between them nonexistent. Her mouth opened in reply to the question Jill's lips shaped, falling into the heady feeling of the woman in her arms.
The length of that graceful body pressed against her own scorched away the hesitation and fear that had scarred over Abbie's soul. She knew in that moment, at least for her, there was no going back. If Jill chose to walk away now, Abbie wouldn't escape from the devestation that would follow. Gasping for breath as their mouths parted, her eyes seized Jill's and wouldn't let them go. "Come sit with me." Taking Jill's hands in her own, Abbie led her to the overstuffed leather couch and settled them both on it. As much as she just wanted to wrap Jill around her, tomorrow morning and its consequences be damned, she knew it would only serve them both ill to do so. "He's going to reach out to you again, once he gets settled in the Program."
"Diane said the same thing. And as much as I wish you both weren't right-- I know that's what he'll do."
"Have you thought about what you're going to do?"
"My first instinct is to grab the boys and run," Jill confessed. Abbie nodded, despite the hammer punching at her heart with the words, and waited for her to continue. "But I don't want to be looking over my shoulder the rest of my life."
"If you came clean with IAB, how much of a jackpot would you be in?"
Jill sucked in a deep breath, realizing what Abbie was asking her and what kind of trust it would take on her part to answer. "Too much to think about doing it."
"Fair enough," Abbie nodded, mind racing. "You do realize that one of the investigators from the DA's office will be sniffing around just because Don's a skel and you're on the Job?"
"Yeah, I pretty much figured."
"Do I need to tell you to keep your mouth shut?" Kirkendall flinched at the harsh tone of the attorney's voice. "I'm serious, Jill. Because it's the Program, IAB will only get involved if the investigators recommend it. You can't give them anything to make them want to do that."
"I won't lie."
"What is it with people and lying today?" Abbie shot an exasperated hand through her hair. "I'm not telling you to lie. As an attorney and officer of the court I couldn't do that. But I am telling you not to give them any unnecessary ammunition."
"And what do I say if they ask about the heads up I gave Don?"
"Greg doesn't want to know about the heads up, so he's not going to ask him about it. Greg Mulroney is interested in-- and has only been interested-- in one thing for the last eighteen months. And that's nailing these Peruvian dealers that your ex got himself hooked up with. Greg figures that the Peruvians are moving up the food chain now that Escobar is dead and his cartel out of the picture. So all he wants to hear about are Peruvians. And all he wants his investigators concentrating on are Peruvian connections. Now-- do you have any?"
"No." Jill's answer was firm and unhesitating. As dirty as she felt because of Don's machinations, she hadn't sunk that deep.
"Good. Then you don't have anything to worry about from the investigators."
Jill leaned back on the couch and crossed her arms. "You've given this some thought."
"Fancy's visit rattled me," she confessed. "So I did some thinking. Put myself in Greg's shoes and asked myself what I would do in his place. One thing that works in your favor is that Narco cases are by and large circumstantial things. Pyramids of evidence created out of conversations between skels and the word on the street. A wiretap here, an undercover agent there, a flip tucked away somewhere. But by creating such a huge mountain of all these things which are, in and of themselves, not particularly huge-- Narco makes their case. Don's one of those pebbles in the mountain. He links the drugs to the Peruvians and the Peruvians to the street. Now if Greg lets him start spouting off about you... suddenly it becomes a huge police corruption scandal and the Peruvians get out from under the mountain because once the police are corrupt, the evidence becomes corrupt and who can you believe? So trust me, Greg doesn't want to hear the words my wife the cop helped me and he sure as hell doesn't want IAB to get involved. The media would be on it instantly-- that place leaks like a sieve."
"So I sit tight and wait for them to come to me. Answer what I have to, but don't offer up too much information."
"Is this what you did for Diane?"
The question came out of nowhere, and it whipped Abbie's head around from where she had turned it to contemplate the city skyline. "Do you really need to know the answer to that?"
"Earlier today I told Diane it wasn't any of my business-- your past together. And it isn't really." She paused, searching for words. "I guess I need to know if there's anything between the two of you that I should be afraid of."
Wordlessly Abbie pulled the detective closer and captured Jill's lips in her own. Instinctively, Jill's lips parted to accept the kiss, and they lost themselves for a moment in the overwhelming feel of their connection. "What do you think?" she murmured, her voice a contralto burr.
"I think you didn't answer the question."
"No, Jill. A thousand times, no."
"I'm holding you to that."
The attorney chuckled deeply, wrapping her arms around Jill and holding her tightly. "You go right ahead, detective. Hold me to anything you'd like. But preferably yourself." She buried her head on Jill's shoulder, pressing soft kisses down the elegant length of her neck. "Where are the boys?"
"Staying the night with the sitter," she murmured into Abbie's ear. "I couldn't face telling them tonight about what had happened with their father. I need to find some way to make them understand what's going on with him before he fills their heads with his lies. And I needed to see you, to make this... us... real someplace other than in my head."
"Meaning...?" Abbie asked quietly, aware of the rapid increase of Jill's pulse against her lips, and the detective's suddenly ragged breathing. She lifted her head, searching out verdant eyes with her own.
To her credit, Jill didn't falter, though her face flushed darkly as she returned Abbie's gaze unflinchingly. "I want you."
"And in the morning?"
"You won't wake up alone. Not again. Not this time."
It wasn't a promise of forever, but then Abbie hadn't been expecting that. It was, however, a promise; and maybe best either one of them could do at the moment.
Her skin was even more perfect than Jill had imagined it. She stood in awe as each piece of Abbie's clothing fell away to reveal smoothly muscled limbs bathed in a burnished glow. It was as if the sun's glory had been tamed, turned human; and her retinas burned with the power of the vision before her. Her fingers flexed to touch the warmth of the body being offered-- but still she stood, transfixed by the supple curve of Abbie's small breasts, the delineated expanse of her abdomen, the thundercloud of dark hair brushing her shoulders.
Mouth dry, swallowing hard against the knife-edged hunger in her throat-- this was a road whose length she had never traveled.
To look at a woman's body-- especially this woman's body-- and say, I want, I need...
A vocabulary she had never imagined acquiring, a language not her own; but didn't the wet keening longing in her body establish her residence in this geography of desire?
The spread of fingers across rib cage. A hissed intake of breath. Following the regal line of waist, the surprising curved flare of a hip-- thoughts of Abbie always invoked visions of lines and angles, linear paths; not the winding curling paths of this new homeland. Thigh muscles, tense and developed from long runs away from demons whose names she didn't know. There would time, though, for all of that, Jill promised herself. Time, a luxury she had never taken-- lost or otherwise-- found now in the heady sensation of skin beneath her hands.
Down, falling now, unbelievably long legs unfurling across a mattress sheathed in dark blue. Gold and indigo-- royal colors-- stars against the night sky in a city whose lights kept its denizens from seeing heaven. No danger of that here, Jill realized, she could just reach out and touch it.
Stretching the bunch and press of arms as she lifted them over Abbie's head. "Will you?" the whispered question invoking the ritual... beginning in the arch of Abbie's back against Jill's fully clothed skin. She stopped a moment, kicked off her shoes and shed the heavy belt that secured her service weapon. Safety on, it slipped to the hardwood floor beside the bed, a dark bundle against the pale rug.
Marveling at the grace granted her to touch this magnificent creature, the fear gripped her-- trembling hands, nervous, not knowing how to please and wanting it so badly she couldn't speak.
"Just touch me..."
The murmured benediction saved her from paralysis, and she knew there was no agenda here or performance. Only pleasure and the gift she could make of it to the woman who moved her so exquisitely.
There had never been another like it. No one in the scattered history of eternity had felt this, Jill believed, they couldn't have or they would have gone mad from its loss. Parochial memories of gates, gardens, apples, snakes all banished now as her lips tasted what her upbringing had branded as forbidden.
Her mouth on Abbie's breast, a groan not from her throat, a rowling need in her stomach, hands in her hair-- guiding, urging, demanding, leading her on. This was extrasensory perception, not the prescient prediction of events yet to come, but the knowledge imbued upon her senses to wring this pleasure from this woman's body.
"Let me see you..."
Fingers reaching for her, their legs tangled as their lips were, cloth slithering away from her skin.
Shy now, ducking her head, lest her lover's eyes rest upon her and find her wanting.
"Look at me, Jill..." Fingers gracing her chin, lifting it proudly to see a gaze as profoundly moved by what she saw as Jill was by her own vision. "So beautiful..."
That was it, the language she had been seeking, and she smiled in almost beatific understanding. "That's what I wanted to tell you." Her voice, hesitant and awkward as though years had passed in a desert of longing.
"You have," Abbie smiled, gathering Jill's hands in her own. "With these." Reverent kisses placed upon burning palms. "And these." More kisses for thirsting lips, escalating the molten twisting in her body.
Slacks in a rumpled heap on the floor, silken undergarments cast away, just the smooth glide of skin on skin. Mouths opening, seeking, speaking a pagan language.
"Come inside me..."
Reaching, parting, folding open against the secret. What she had known before didn't matter, couldn't matter in the face of the wet slick heat in her mouth, on her fingers, against her belly. Gasping-- spiral up-- hanging from an impossibly delicate precipice, flinging herself off with the born confidence of one who knows she will never die.
Falling to rest in the secure embrace of Abbie Carmichael's arms.
Abbie reached blindly for the phone in the pre-morning dimness. A lithe body rested against her own, and she couldn't stop the smile of pleasure breaking across her face at the sight of the blond head resting on her stomach. Her movement dislodged Jill from her perch, and she grumbled somnolently, tucking her head against the warmth of Abbie's back. "'Lo?"
Sleep muffled her hearing, but she recognized the taut concern in Diane's voice. "D? What's wrong?"
"Is Jill there?"
"Spending the night with someone. Diane, you wanna tell me what's going on?"
Another pause. "Don's in the wind."
Abbie sucked in a tight breath, sleep shocked from her system. "How the hell did that happen?"
"Apparently they stashed him in some fleabag with a cop-- name of Denby-- more interested in getting his load on than watching Don. He just walked out the door when Denby passed out."
"He may make a grab for the boys."
"And do what with them? If he's in the wind, he's booking outta town."
"We can only hope, but Abbie, if I know anything about Don Kirkendall it's that his reach always exceeds his grasp and he doesn't care who he takes down in the process. Watch yourself." Diane hesitated. "Especially now... that things with Jill and you are turning out."
"I will, Diane, thanks."
She replaced the receiver in its cradle and turned to look at the woman sleeping beside her. She felt herself branded by Jill Kirkendall's touch as surely as if she bore the marks to prove it. Jill had touched something in her that no one else had, something that she had never even dreamed was there. Now, irrevocably it belonged to this extraordinary woman, and she could only hope that Jill would treat her gently in the aftermath of everything that was to come.
"Jill..." Hesitantly, achingly, she brushed a stray lock of hair from Jill's forehead. The older woman sighed in her sleep, her eyes beginning to flicker as her body began to push free of the grip of its slumber. "Jill, honey, wake up. There's something I have to tell you...."