Title: Thin Skull
Rating: NC-17. It's the pesky language and sex quotient that always throws me into this particular bracket.
Pairing: Sam/Abbie… Yep, this is a Popular/Law and Order cross-over. Doesn't make any sense you say? Maybe, maybe not.
Archiving: Someone actually let me park my stuff on their page. Can you believe it? It's at www.realmoftheshadow.com/harper.htm. Though I can't imagine this to be true, should anyone else want this, please drop me a note and ask.
A/N: In my mind, Abbie never left to take the job at the US Attorney's office, which is why you'll still find her slugging her way through as an ADA. I've aged them both a bit to make this storyline work, but don't have any content in here that makes it one of those "futuristic" pieces. I'm of the opinion that things won't change so drastically in the next five or so years that I'll be horribly embarrassed then that I didn't put in a flying car. This is un-beta'd, so there are undoubtedly mistakes. Its also first person POV, and the speaker is designated at the start of the section. Sorry about any horribly off tense changes you might find. If you'd like to provide feedback, I'd love to receive it. Xfjnky2@yahoo.com.
Do you believe in love at first sight? I don't… well, not really. Whatever I do believe in apparently doesn't cover what I'm in, though, because I can't find words to explain it. In lust? In like? In desire? All of those are probably true. Certainly I lust, can almost feel my pupils dilating and my body reaching that heightened sense of awareness that marks my arousal every time I see her. Its more than that though. Throw the like in there, and you have a much clearer picture. This isn't a simple case of hormones run amok. No, I can honestly say that I like this woman, because she's smart, she's witty, she's interesting. Desire? It seems so intertwined with lust, yet is different. The desire I feel wraps around my guts and pulls, keeping my thoughts trained on her, my dreams filled with her.
Some might call it a crush, but how gauche and teenage angst-ish does that sound. I've long since passed the stage where I develop crushes, haven't I? But in absence of any indication from her that the interest is reciprocated, I suppose that's all I have. Besides, the only grown-up equivalent of crush that I can think of is obsession, and that smacks too much of mental instability for me. I'll settle for crush. It's the only way that I can explain my behavior, after all. Each day brings a visit to her office, hoping that she's in and that she has the time to chat. It's the only thing that explains the horribly embarrassing fact that I bought her a gift, a small something that I presented with stumbling explanations, simply because I liked the thought that she would have something I gave her near. A little stuffed shark, plush and velvety soft, that sits beside her computer. I told her that I saw it and thought of her, and she smiled while I blushed. But I checked the next day and it was there, and I felt a little ball of warmth and happiness settle in the pit of my belly.
Its hopeless, I know. She'll never really notice me, and even if she did, I don't think that things would change. After all, she's beautiful and successful and so very intelligent, and I doubt that I'm little more than a kid to her. If I were her, I probably wouldn't take me seriously either. Besides, I'm sure that she doesn't lack for company. A woman who looks like that never would.
That doesn't mean that I can't continue to worship her in private though, that I can't continue my little daily visits. One day she'll figure out that she's the only person I stop in regularly to see. She'll figure out that any information that I get from her I can get from other sources. Or maybe, she'll just get tired of having to take time out of her day everyday to deal with me. Until then, I'll pretend that one day I'll find the courage to ask her for more.
It's almost one o'clock, and if recent history is anything to go by, I should see that little reporter sometime soon. Every day she comes by, though some days I'm not here. I only know that she's here then because the others tease me about it, about my little groupie. They give me status reports, right down to the hangdog look on her face when I'm not sitting behind my rather unimpressive desk. They've noticed her seeming fascination with me. In fact, my co-workers were the first to bring it to my attention. Complete and total awareness of my surroundings has never been one of my greatest skills. Some might say that it borders more on obliviousness.
She gave me a gift the other day, a little plush shark. I had to laugh about that. I know what they say about me behind my back. Some feel that I'm a little overzealous on occasion, that I let my desire to see justice blind me to sympathetic circumstances. Its not true. I realize that we're all products of our environment, but there are plenty of people who manage to rise above that, and I'm not about to give criminals more sympathy than their victims receive. That doesn't mean that the sentiment behind the toy wasn't unexpected, if a little off-target. I suppose its hard to find a stuffed hangman's doll though. A shark is probably as close as she could get.
Its flattering really. I've got to be at the very least ten years older than her. What she sees in a rather boring, rather staid, rather ancient attorney like myself I just don't know. I sincerely doubt that I ever will either. This might all be a stroke to my ego, but I have no desire to become a cliché, a cradle robber. Besides, someone would have to make a move for it to even hint at being something more, and that someone is most definitely not going to be me.
Its been at least two weeks since I saw her last. Well, spoke to her actually. I'd seen her almost every day, striding through the courthouse looking like a barely caged animal in those somber suits that she insists on wearing, charming the twelve men and women of the jury into seeing things her way. It was a big case, and she was first chair, finally able to put her considerable talents to use.
Ever since I'd first seen her, I'd followed her career. Skulking around the courthouse, I managed to dig up all of the relevant scuttlebutt. People loved to talk about her, spilling what few secrets they knew with little inducement. I heard all about her workaholic tendencies. Not only did she handle her caseload over at the DA's office, but she also loaned herself out to the Special Victim's Unit on occasion, fitting those cases into a schedule already jammed full. I was surprised to find that most didn't have nice things to say about her. Sure she was a great attorney, but she was so severe, so cold, they said, only cracking a smile when she knew she had somebody's balls nailed to the wall. For a long time she'd taken a backseat to Jack McCoy, the original chosen one, but as he continued to drink himself into depression, she managed to come into her own, taking more and more big cases and getting results.
I never really listened to the bad things that they had to say about her, but I did start to look a little closer. After a while, I came to realize that she wasn't completely happy. I mean, she was content, I suppose, completely comfortable moving among the worst that society had to offer. She wasn't afraid of the criminals she prosecuted. She seemed to like her job well enough. I guess that she might have been lonely, but the thought of someone like her alone was an anathema to me, and I rejected that rather ludicrous postulation.
Watching her in the courtroom left me in awe. She had a beautiful voice, deep and whiskey smooth and tinged with a hint of the South. Alternately intimidating and conciliatory, she could wind jury members and judges alike around her little finger. Its no wonder that I was lost to her as well.
But, like I said, I hadn't really seen her around in a while. The case she was working on was complex and extremely public. When an elected public official murders someone it always is, I suppose. It had certainly created a furor in the city, all of it focused on the main players, and she was the archetypal figure of good in this little equation. Which was why I was surprised to see her here tonight, of all places.
I'd been coming to this bar for months now. Law enforcement types liked to hang out here, and it was a great place to get an inside scoop. I was nothing if not ambitious, and one day I was going to dig my way out of writing page 14 fillers and crime reports. Out of all of the times I'd been here though, I'd never seen her and hadn't really ever expected to. It didn't seem like her sort of place, as blue collar and rough and smoky as it was. I imagined her more as an upscale kind of girl who drank top shelf martinis in the company of smartly dressed stock brokers and legal sharpshooters. So to see her slim, straight shoulders hunched over, fingers wrapped around a long-neck, was something of a shock. The spaces on either side of her were empty, though I imagined not from lack of trying by the majority of the male occupants of the bar. A few rather sulky looks directed her way gave me a heads-up on who some of the rejected ones must be, and I couldn't help the small smirk that crept across my face.
Despite the fact that I knew she obviously wanted to be alone, I couldn't help myself. My feet were moving without my permission, bringing me closer and closer until suddenly I found myself standing to her right, nearly obsidian eyes turning from their contemplation of the beer label she had shredded into a thousand pieces on the bar to look at me warily.
"No comment," she said succinctly, and for a moment I was confused. Then the import of her words hit me, and I could feel the frown pulling at my lips.
"I'm off the clock the same as you," I replied, unable to keep the reply down to anything less than scathing.
"You people are never off the clock," she muttered, and I wondered where the woman that I had let myself dream about for the past few months was at because this sure wasn't her.
"No need to take your bad day out on me." Ah hell, it sounded like I was sulking. Which, I suppose, I was, but I didn't want her to know that.
With a long-suffering sigh, she turned in her seat, fixing me with a piercing gaze. Those dark eyes traced down my face, down my body to my feet and back up again, and I couldn't help but wonder if her examination had found me lacking.
"So what exactly are you doing over here?" that low voice questioned, and I found myself searching my brain for some plausible reason.
"You looked like you needed a friend," I offered, then winced internally. How stupid did that sound.
"Trust me, my night has certainly not been lacking in offers of 'friendship'," she drawled sarcastically. "You've come to add yours to the pile, I suppose."
Well, that had stung. I'd had enough. My fantasy was cracking up before my very eyes, the hard steel of her voice providing the hammer. For some reason, I guess I'd expected more from her than the alpha bitch façade, the hurtful words. Foolish to base those expectations on a relationship that had never existed outside the confines of my mind, I know, but still it hurt to have all my hopes shattered by her careless words. For a moment, I actually thought that I might cry, but that would be too embarrassing for words. So instead, I straightened my shoulders, apologized for bothering her, and retreated to my own darkened corner of the bar to wallow in self-pity.
Well shit. I'm nothing less than a total and complete asshole. I couldn't have acted worse had I actually stood up and kicked the poor girl. The hurt that I saw flash through those chocolate eyes in the moment before she threw up self-protective walls and told me in that calm and collected voice that she was sorry for disturbing me sent a curl of unease through me. It wasn't her fault that I'd had a bad day, and I shouldn't have taken it out on her, if for no other reason than I knew that she fancied herself half-way in love with me.
Part of me just wanted to sit there. This would undoubtedly stop the little visits, and I wouldn't have to worry about my colleagues teasing me about my jailbait admirer anymore, but I just couldn't do it. So, calling the bartender over and ordering a couple more beers, I made my way over to where I could see her sitting, strong chin jutting out and unseeing eyes focused on the wall in front of her. Sliding my peace offering on the table, I slid into the chair at her left, wondering anew exactly what had prompted my little excursion over to her table.
"Look, I'm sorry. You're right, I've had a horrible day, but that doesn't give me any right to take it out on you," I offered in my most contrite tone. Her head had whipped around at the sound of the clink of the bottles on the table, and now those eyes that gave away far more than I suspect she realized were trained on me.
"Look, you didn't have to come over here and try to make amends," she muttered, and I realized that I had interrupted a full-blown self-pity party. "I'm probably just a joke to you anyway."
This had all the makings of a conversation that I just didn't want to have, but short of getting up and going back over to the bar, there wasn't really any way that I could avoid it. Running away with my tail between my legs wasn't an action that was in my repertoire anyway, so that left me sitting here, desperately racking my brain for the appropriate way to deal with this. Silence appeared to be the only thing my stellar imagination could come up with, so I stuck with it. Luckily, she didn't notice, and filled the void between us.
"I mean, honestly, what was I thinking? You haven't ever noticed me before, why would you now? And why would you anyway," she scoffed, and I winced. "A beautiful woman like you… it was foolish of me to think that maybe I could… I don't know…"
She trailed off, and I figured that pretty soon my silence ploy wasn't going to cut it anymore. I honestly hadn't expected her to make this conversational foray though, and wasn't prepared to deal with it. What do you say? Yes, I've noticed you. Who wouldn't notice you? Beautiful, young, earnest, and obviously fixated on me. All of those things bring you quite firmly onto my radar.
"So anyway, thanks for the gesture, but I won't bother you anymore," she added forlornly, and I once again felt like a complete and utter ass.
"Look," I said, surprised at the hesitance in my voice, "do you want to get out of here? Go somewhere where we can talk?"
She looked up at me in surprise, nodding quickly as if she was afraid I'd take the offer away, and it hit me that not only did I not know where we could go, but I didn't know what exactly it was that I was planning on saying to her when we got there. But, I'd made the offer and there wasn't really any way that I could back out of it now, so I stood, cocking my head to the side as I waited for her to follow. A quick trip to the bar to settle up my tab, and we were suddenly outside, the waning New York heat seeping through my clothes quickly, despite the cooling effect of nighttime. There was a little diner up the way a bit, and I could tell from the neon sign in the window that it was open, so with a careless flick of my hand, I pointed to it, indicating that we should head on over.
The place was fairly busy, a light tinge of grease coating the air, and I took a deep breath, enjoying the sense of nostalgia that washed over me. Diners were supposed to smell that way, like someone had dipped them in a Fry Daddy, and waitresses were supposed to know what you wanted to drink before you even sat down. Well, that's the way they had been back home, but I had yet to find a place here in this city that could do that for me. At the very least, I could surmise that the food would be good and unhealthy and that the coffee would be hot, which was enough for me.
There was an open booth in the back, and I wound my way through the maze of tables littering the floor until I was standing in front of it, painfully aware of the dark eyes focused intently on my every move. We'd just settled in, and I had just come to the conclusion that I was going to have to say something to get the conversational ball rolling, when I was saved by the appearance of a tired looking waitress, order pad clutched firmly in hand, pencil poised impatiently over the paper, awaiting our reply.
"Coffee," I barked out, hearing my companion order a water. Back home I would have asked for sweet tea, but they just don't make it right up here. Hell, they just don't make it right anywhere other than the South, personal biases aside.
I figured that since I was here that I might as well eat. Lunch seemed like a long time ago, and my stomach rumbled loudly, echoing that thought. I was right about the menu… nothing but a series of heart attacks waiting to happen served up on a platter with a side of fries. I took my burger well done, with cheese, mustard, pickles and tomato. Normally I would have asked for onion as well, but then again, normally I ate alone.
The waitress looked expectantly at my companion, who seemed to have settled on some kind of salad with dressing on the side, and I shook my head. Salads were fine and good, but I'm of the opinion that when you have the opportunity to order something with a little more kick to it, you should take it.
"Look," I said after the waitress had departed, knowing that if I didn't start talking now that this was going to be one of the longest meals of my life, "I really am sorry that I snapped at you back there. Its just been a long, unpleasant day."
"Yeah, I saw the way the defense attorney tore apart your medical examiner's testimony," she commented, chewing nervously on her lush bottom lip. I was a bit surprised, unaware that she was there watching me. Should have known though, that she would be.
"I should have been expecting it. Hell, I was expecting it. I just thought that he'd be a better witness than he was. But when John," I said, referring to my opposing counsel, "lit into him, he just crumbled right there in front of my eyes. Luckily, I don't think that he was the cement to my case."
I paused, realizing what I was doing. "Actually, I probably shouldn't be talking to you about this. Don't want the prosecution's strategy to wind up on the front page."
I'd hurt her again with the words, but I couldn't help it. Part of it was frustration… all that time spent prepping the already nervous ME apparently shot to hell because all it took was a little antagonistic push by my opponent, and he'd turned into a stuttering, unsure mass right there on the witness stand. It felt so good to vent that I forgot for a moment who I was talking to, but I knew I couldn't do that. Off the clock, my ass. Reporters were always digging for a quote, and hopefully I hadn't just handed one to her on a silver platter.
"Look, I've already told you that I'm not looking for a story," she said earnestly, pouting. It was an adorable pout, and I couldn't help but be utterly charmed by it.
"That's right," I drawled slowly, watching her cheeks slowly flush. "You're looking to be my friend, aren't you."
"If you're just going to torment me, then I might as well go ahead and leave," she said huffily, and I backed down. It wasn't nice of me, teasing her like that. Especially not in light of her little crush.
"I'm sorry," I said, repentant, and even to my ears it sounded like I meant it. "I'll stop teasing with you, I swear. No need to get upset."
"Look," she said, biting nervously at her bottom lip once more, "you're obviously very aware of the fact that I'm… well… attracted to you."
I nodded. No sense in denying it. I wouldn't say that being able to hide her feelings ranked right up there at the top of the list of things she was good at.
"You're probably just here right now because you feel sorry for me, but since you're here… Do I have any chance? Any chance whatsoever?" she blurted out, and I couldn't help but be impressed. It had to be nerve-wracking to put things out on the table like she had, and I could tell from the scared look in her eyes that she was perhaps wishing now that she hadn't done it.
"How old are you?" I couldn't help but ask. It had been on my mind for a while now, and using the question to delay answering hers wasn't necessarily a bad plan in my book.
"Twenty-three." Christ, it was worse than I thought. I was a good twelve years older than she was. Hell, I'd probably been graduating from high school the same time she graduated from kindergarten.
"You're not going to tell me that I'm too young for you, are you?" She was talking again, a bit of steel in her voice this time. "Because, if you don't want to go out with me, don't want to have anything to do with me because you don't like me or you're not attracted to me, then fine. Just don't hide behind some bullshit excuse that I'm too young for you though."
I laughed at that. I couldn't help it. "We've got nothing in common. What you see in some old clunker like me, I just don't know."
"What's not to see? You're beautiful, incredibly intelligent, extremely sexy, and normally, when you're not grinding me into the ground like you are now, you make me laugh," she said, those dark eyes so serious that I felt myself being drawn to them.
"What makes you think that I'd be interested in dating another woman?" My voice had gone all scratchy, and I cursed inwardly. I couldn't help it though, looking across the table at her elegant features, getting pulled in by her vulnerability, letting my ego bask in her complimentary words... some part of my brain had jumped straight to seduction phase, and I had to struggle to keep it in line.
"Rumor has it that you've done it before."
"Rumor, huh?" I asked, a brow arching in surprise. I wasn't aware that anyone had been keeping tabs on who I did or did not choose to spend my off hours with. "Just where have you been picking up these rumors?"
"Afraid I can't tell you that. Journalistic integrity, and all that," she smirked, and I opened my mouth to let her know that she'd promised me off the clock when the waitress showed up, plopping down our plates with a grin.
"Anything else I can getcha right now?" she asked, already starting to move away.
"Not right now," I replied, before remembering that I wasn't by myself. A quick look over to my companion indicated that she seemed fine as well, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Months of eating alone tended to erode my grasp on the social niceties.
After depositing a quick dash of salt on my burger and a river of ketchup for the fries on my plate, I dug in. The food was good, and I was a lot more hungry than I had realized. Eating took precedent over talking, and it wasn't until I finished up about fifteen minutes later that I turned my full attention once more to the girl sitting across from me, watching with a lazy smile as I popped the last bite of french fry in my mouth.
"You never did answer me," she said, and I tried to wrack my brain to remember what I hadn't answered. Unfortunately, nothing was forthcoming.
"Huh?" Yep, that's why I became a lawyer. I was nothing if not eloquent.
"Was the rumor mill right?" I couldn't help the slight flush that I felt creeping up my cheeks at her direct stare, and broke eye contact, reaching for my cup of coffee. Unfortunately, it was empty, and with nothing else to distract me, I was forced to turn my attention back the question at hand.
"Perhaps." There was nothing better than prevarication, and I wasn't above using such tactics when my own behind was getting close to the fire.
"So perhaps I have a chance?" Damn, but she was persistent. There were so many good reasons for me to say no. But, looking over at her, seeing her nervousness in the twitch of an eyelid, the bite of even white teeth on a ruby red bottom lip, I just couldn't do it.
"Perhaps," I said on a sigh, charmed by the bright smile that slid across her face at the words while simultaneously wondering what I had just let myself in for.
Okay, so she hadn't exactly said yes. Perhaps wasn't so bad though, and when we'd parted ways out in front of that greasy little diner, I'd been able to reach up, sneaking a light kiss to one impossibly smooth cheek before she could move away. The fact that she hadn't done more than arch one of those beautifully sculpted eyebrows in my direction before shaking her head was heartening. So heartening, in fact, that here I was, waiting outside her office in hopes that she would stop by before heading into court this morning. I had a Black Chai Latte sitting on the bench beside me, still steaming in its styrofoam container, because I needed some excuse. It was a flimsy excuse, but it'd have to do under the circumstances.
The fast clip of heels on linoleum alerted me to the fact that someone was headed my way, and I straightened up in my seat, trying to adopt a nonchalant posture even though there really was nothing nonchalant about sitting outside of her office at 7:00 in the morning waiting on her. Actually, it was a bit more stalker-like than anything else, but I refused to listen to that particular part of my brain.
"Good morning," I said, watching in amusement as her head jerked up from an intense contemplation of the papers in her hand, startled eyes coming to fixate on me.
"Uh, good morning," she rasped, her voice still early-morning rough, and I shivered at the tone. "I, uh, didn't expect… What are you doing here?"
Wordlessly, I handed her my offering of caffeine, suddenly wondering if the idea that had seemed spontaneous and romantic when I had meticulously planned it the night before might seem a bit scary in its actual implementation.
"Just an attempt to start this day off right," I said, cursing the shy tone in my voice.
"That's… thank you." I could tell by the confusion in her eyes that she wasn't quite sure what to make of this, and I stood quickly, suddenly wanting nothing more than to just get out of here, to escape the awkward mood that had settled over us.
"Look, I…" I started, trailing off when I realized that I didn't really have anything to say. My eyes flitted from her face down the hall to the elevator, and I wondered just how to extricate myself from this nightmare of my own making. What had I been thinking?
"Yes," she said suddenly, decisively, and I could feel my brows lowering in confusion. It was almost as if she were answering a question, but I knew that I hadn't asked one.
"Huh?" Wonderful. That's why you write for a living, Sam. Gotta love your ability to articulate.
"I'll go out with you." She said the words slowly, almost as if she were a bit amazed that they were being spoken in the first place.
"You will?" Well, who knew that the making-a-complete-and-utter-fool-of-myself plan would work. Perhaps I should have tried it before.
"My case should go to the jury by Friday. I could do something Saturday night." She sounded a little more sure of herself this time. I could feel myself nodding vigorously, and realized that soon I'd have to verbalize something or else she'd think I had some strange form of Tourette's.
"Wonderful. Superb. Amazing. Lovely." I was babbling now, and had to resist the urge to clamp a hand over my mouth to get it to stop. "I'll… what should I do? Should I pick you up? Should I meet you somewhere?"
She laughed, her face breaking out into a warm smile that I couldn't help but return. "Here's my number," she said, scrawling something on the back of a small white card that she pulled out of the leather organizer that she carried. "Give me a call Friday night and we'll figure something out, okay?"
"I… Wonderful." I really was going to have to do something about expanding my vocabulary. "I'll just do that. Call you, that is."
"I'll talk to you then, alright," she said, the hint of a smile still coloring her voice. She was walking away now, headed for her office door, and I couldn't resist saying just one more thing.
"Good luck today. Not that you need it or anything."
"Thanks, I appreciate that," she said dryly, and I slowly started to back away, watching her as she made her way into her office, depositing the latte I'd gotten her on her desk before settling down into her chair. When I couldn't justify looking any longer, I turned around, heading toward the elevators with a wide smile on my lips.
I had a date. I had a date with her. That was… terrifying. What were we going to do? I had to come up with something. Dinner? That sounded like a good idea. But where could we go? My junior reporter salary didn't allow for many extravagances. Besides, wouldn't Cosmo say that I didn't want to do anything cliched, that I would want to find something unique and romantic, something to make me stand out? Still though, I'd have to feed her. You can't not feed a date. Not unless you don't want a second date, that is.
I could figure this out. Hell, I was a wannabe investigative reporter, wasn't I? Surely I could put those research skills to some good use.
I can't believe that I told her I'd go out with her. She just looked so sweet and so nervous and so cute, sitting there watching me with those hopeful brown eyes. And I gave her my home number to boot, told her to call me, and now here I was, staring at the phone, anxious and reticent all at the same time. This was a potentially huge complication that I just didn't need in my life right now. Things were finally getting settled, and after more long years of hard work than I wanted to contemplate at the moment, I finally felt like I was getting the recognition that I deserved. I'd finally stepped out of Jack's shadow, finally started pulling some of the more important cases. Agreeing to go on a date with someone who was approximately one-third my age probably wasn't the wisest thing that I could have done. But, I had, and now I had to go through with it.
The shrill ringing of the phone startled me, even though I'd been listening for it. Not wanting to seem too eager, I waited until the third ring to pick it up, letting a slightly breathless note creep into my voice as if I'd had to run to catch it.
"Uh, is this Abbie?" Well, it was her. Think quick, Carmichael.
"Yes." Good, keep things near monosyllabic. Maybe that'll discourage any in-depth conversations.
"This is, uh, Sam. You know, of pre-dawn latte fame." She was so nervous that it was endearing, and I could hear my inner self sigh at this observation. Words like endearing and cute had no place in this little equation. They'd only end up getting me in trouble.
"Strange coffee you brought me," I said because it had been on my mind since the other day, momentarily forgetting that I didn't want to engage in conversation.
"Oh. I guess that's because its not coffee. Its tea, actually." Ick. I made a face at that. All these people drinking hot tea, and now I'd become one of them. Still though, it hadn't been half bad. Not that I would admit that to just anyone.
"It was… interesting." There, that didn't betray my iced tea roots, and was slightly complimentary to boot.
"Glad you kind of liked it," she said, and I could hear the smile in her voice. "So anyway, I was calling about tomorrow. Hope you haven't changed your mind."
Ah, it was such an opening. All I had to do was give voice to my reluctance, to my hesitance, and then I wouldn't have to spend a potentially awkward evening with her.
"No, I haven't changed my mind." I grimaced even as I said the words. Might as well go ahead and paint my belly yellow.
"Great. I thought that maybe I could come pick you up around 5:00. Or, we could meet somewhere, if you don't want me coming to your house. Whatever you want."
I considered my options briefly, then decided to gather more information before I made a decision.
"Where are we going?" Ah hell, I hope I wasn't supposed to be the one making the plans. Technically, she had asked me out, and that should really absolve me of any plan-making responsibilities, but you never know.
"Oh," she said, hesitating a little. "Well, it's a surprise, actually."
"How would I know where to meet you if our destination is a surprise?" I was teasing her a little, but couldn't help it. She'd sounded so flummoxed, as if my asking had completely thrown her plans for a loop.
"Well, wherever you'd meet me at wouldn't really matter, since we're not going anywhere in the city." She sounded a little more confident now. I was a little perplexed myself. Not anywhere in the city? Where was there to go if it wasn't in the city?
"In that case, you might as well pick me up here." And before you know it, I was rattling my address off. Great Abbie… she's already staked out your office at the crack of dawn. Why not tell her where you live too? That'll make her stalking circuit complete.
"What should I wear?" I didn't know how to dress for the mysterious, surprise, not in the city place that we were going.
"Oh, just something casual. Jeans would be fine," she said blithely, and I rolled my eyes, glad she couldn't see it. That's what you get for going on a date with someone barely out of her teens, I berated myself mentally. What were you expecting? Le Cirque?
She lived in a fairly nice part of town. The front of the apartment building wasn't anything fancy, but I could tell from the tasteful dark wood doors and the plush carpet beneath my feet that her place was quite a few steps up from mine. Apparently prosecutors did okay for themselves.
She lived on the eighth floor, and it wasn't long before I found myself standing in front of her apartment, trying to find the courage to knock. I was incredibly nervous now, wondering if I looked alright, if she'd be pleased with my plans for the night. This was the first time I'd ever really dated someone that I wanted to impress. Wait, that didn't quite come out the right way. Of course you want to impress pretty much anyone that you go out with, but she was different.
I looked down at my outfit. Just a simple pair of jeans and a fairly tight red spaghetti strap tank top layered over a black one of the same. Suddenly I felt underdressed, and a bit childish in these clothes, wondering if I should have picked something different, if I should have made plans that would have found me in a sleek black dress. Something, anything, that wouldn't emphasize just how different we were. But, short of driving all the way back to my apartment, there was nothing I could do about it now.
Taking a deep breath, I knocked lightly on the door, ears straining to hear any noises from inside. The harsh clomp of shoes on hardwood preceded the sound of a lock turning, of a chain sliding out of its holder, and suddenly she was standing there in front of me.
I'd never seen her in anything but one of the suits that she always wore to work, and for a moment I just stared, speechless. She'd apparently taken my suggestion to heart, and was wearing a pair of faded jeans. They were so old that they molded themselves to her, tracing down long, long legs before draping over a pair of scuffed brown cowboy boots. A soft looking white cotton Oxford was tucked into them, a thick brown leather belt that she didn't really need at all draped around slim hips. She'd rolled her shirtsleeves up in deference to the heat, and my eyes caught on the exposed tanned flesh of her forearms. It took me a minute to realize that I was staring, but when I did, I jerked my head upward quickly, meeting amused near black eyes with my own.
"Hi," I said, my voice almost whisper soft. She was beautiful, and suddenly I felt awkward, like the proverbial ugly ducking standing here in front of her. That long sable hair was tumbling over her shoulders like a silken cape, and I wanted to run my fingers through it, to see if it could possibly be as soft as it looked. "You look amazing."
A crooked smile spread across her face at the words. "Thanks. You don't look so bad yourself."
I could feel myself blush at the words. I just knew that anything I said at that moment would come out in a stammer, so I kept quiet, just soaking up the compliment. For a moment I stood there, entranced, until I realized that she'd probably been lounging in her doorway for at least a minute.
"Uh, are you ready to go?"
She was pulling the door shut, the rasp of a key in the deadbolt securing it even as I said the words. After a moment, she turned to look at me, dark eyes inquisitive.
"So, do I get a hint now? Gonna divulge our mysterious destination?" Her cheeks creased as the parallel slash of dimples appeared, and I willed myself not to walk into a wall.
"Counselor, have you ever been to Goshen?"
Goshen? The word just sounded spooky to me. Didn't they have an X-files episode set in somewhere called something like Goshen? That didn't bode well in my mind. Anyplace that might have been strange enough to require the presence of the all-powerful Scully did not make for a prime date location.
But, here I was, sitting in her little car, headed out of the city. She'd turned the radio on, clicking the dial down until I could barely hear it, and I could tell that she wanted to ask me something but wasn't quite sure how to start a conversation. So, I did it for her.
"You went to Columbia, didn't you?" There, get her to talk about herself, and hopefully it wouldn't be too long until we get to wherever this Goshen place is.
"I did," she replied, her voice measured. "My Mom wasn't too incredibly happy with the idea, and doesn't really like me living here in New York, but I wanted to go to the best school."
"Oh, are you far from home here?" That's it. You've done millions of client interviews over the years. Just keep asking questions.
"You could say that," she remarked, her voice wry. "I'm originally from L.A."
"Really. I never would have guessed." And I wouldn't have, really. Not that I'd ever really stopped to wonder about where she was from, just assuming that she hailed from somewhere in the area. But, come to think of it, her accent was a little off. For someone like me, who is clearly aware of just how different I sound compared to all the Yankees I work with, that should have been apparent from the start.
"That's understandable. I'm not blonde, not particularly tan, and don't use like every other word," she muttered, and I barely held in a chuckle.
"Why didn't you go back after you graduated. Surely working for the Los Angeles Times would be just as good as working for the New York Times," I observed, intrigued now.
"No particular reason. I guess I just wanted to show them all that I could do it, that I could make it. Not that churning out grunt work is a major accomplishment, but I'm sure that with a little bit more time that you'll see my name attached to stories that you might actually be interested in reading," she said with a smirk, cutting dark eyes my way.
"Everybody's gotta pay their dues," I said, as if she weren't already well aware of that particular principle. "It took me years to finally get to where I was first chair on more cases than I wasn't."
"You're a brilliant attorney." Her voice was so earnest that I found myself blushing at the words. Not that I hadn't heard them before. People generally didn't find fault with my work, unless they were one of the ones that labeled me as a tad overzealous.
"Thanks," I said dryly, hoping that she hadn't seen the color in my cheeks.
"You're not from here either," she said suddenly, as if it were something that she had been thinking for a while and just couldn't hold it back anymore. "Texas, right?"
"More grist from the rumor mill?" I couldn't help but tease her just a little bit. "Or did the boots give it away?"
"Rumor mill," she admitted with a little grin. "Though those are the most authentic looking cowboy boots that I've ever seen."
"They oughta be. Why, I daresay that they've even been in the presence of real live cows." And that made them old, because I hadn't been home in longer than I could remember. "When do I get to find out what's so fascinating about Goshen?"
"Well, I imagine that'll be when we get there."
By the time we got to Goshen, I'd managed to drag out most of her story. Her mother had married the father of her high school archenemy, thus making them step-sisters. The feud had eventually died down, especially after their little sister was born. MacKenzie MacPhearson McQueen. The fact that she'd picked out that name made me a little leery. I was dealing with someone of questionable taste obviously.
We'd parked amidst a sea of cars in a lot that was little more than gravel. In the waning light, I could see neon and large metal structures. The sound of screaming filled the air, and there was little that I could do other than shake my head in wonder. She'd driven me an hour and a half out of the city to go to the fair.
I followed along dutifully behind her though, wondering if I'd be destined to spend my night trying not to throw up on rides of questionable safety and carrying around cheap stuffed animals that she paid too much to win. But, we moved right through the ticket gate, straight through the heart of the fair, with its scent of cotton candy and hot dogs and caramel apples hanging heavy in the air, toward the back. I could see a ring of bright lights, hear the tinny voice of an announcer, and suddenly we were moving through the gates toward a set of portable bleachers.
A rodeo. She'd brought me to a rodeo. I didn't know whether to laugh or to think it was the sweetest thing anyone had done for me in longer than I could remember.
"Its, well… supposed to be a little taste of home. Not that I want you to think that I've stereotyped you or anything…" she was babbling again, but I stopped her, pressing a finger against her soft lips.
"Its great," I said, and I meant it. For a little while, I could almost pretend that I was back home, the smell of freshly churned dirt mixed in with the musk of animals teasing my nostrils. There were cowboy hats everywhere, highlighting a plethora of plaid, and I could see the rodeo clowns racing around the corral, getting everyone hyped up and ready for the riders.
"You know all it needs to be perfect?" She tilted her head, contemplating my question. I decided to spare her the effort. "A beer. Come on, lets go find one."
That was how I ended up sitting on hard metal stands, working on my second hot dog, washing it down with the Bud Light they'd poured in a large plastic cup for me. Apparently bottles were dangerous things to have around a bunch of potentially drunk cowboy wannabes. As an attorney, I had to think it was a good idea.
The lights drew bugs, but I didn't mind. It reminded me of everything good about my childhood. Long nights at the ball fields spent watching my brothers play, football season and the madness it brought with it in a state that revered the sport as second in importance only to religion, and hot July nights spent lounging on the front porch wearing little more than my undies, nursing a tall glass of sweet tea and listening to the music of the crickets. Taking in a deep breath, I realized I was happy, content to be away from the bustle of the city.
Once she got over her nervousness, Sam was pretty easy to talk to. At the very least, she listened to everything that I said as if I was the most important person there was, and I had to admit that it was flattering in the extreme. My drawl became more and more pronounced as the night passed, and after two more beers I probably sounded like I'd never left Texas at all.
As I explained the intricacies of the rodeo to her, I felt myself relax, comfortable now in her presence. I was thrilled that they had bull-riders at this show. Sometimes it was only roping and barrel racing, but watching the riders hanging on to an ornery bull, free arm flailing as they bounce up and down, is probably my favorite. It takes guts and skill to be able to do that. No way I'd ever put myself voluntarily on the back of a beast like that, at any rate.
All too soon it was over, and I released a wistful sigh as we made our way through the queue of people leaving. For a moment, I was tempted to reach out and take her hand, winding my fingers through hers as we walked, but I held back. It was too soon and too public, and I didn't want to give her the wrong idea.
"Wanna go on a ride?" she asked, her voice light, happy.
Looking around at the screaming kids revolving around in little cars at a speed that would certainly not be wise for me to travel at considering I'd just eaten food that came from the fair, I merely arched a brow at her in response.
It took a little bit of persuasion, but soon I had her sitting beside me as the ride operator buckled us into a seat on the Ferris wheel. After buying the tickets, I'd stopped off for a cone of bright pink cotton candy, and was happily pulling it off in bits, popping the airy sugar in my mouth.
"You know," I said, leaning in closer to her as we began to ascend slowly, "my folks took me to the fair once when I was little. I begged all night for them to get me some cotton candy, pink because I was sure it tasted better than all the other colors. Finally they did, probably because they were tired of hearing me whine, and I was right… it was some of the best stuff that I'd ever tasted. I'd eaten probably half of it when I dropped it, getting dirt all over one side. Mom wanted me to throw it away, but I wouldn't do it, carrying it all the way home with me even as she told me it wasn't good anymore. I didn't listen though, and when we got back to the house, I headed straight for the bathroom, turned on the water in the tub, and proceeded to try and wash it off."
The sound of her laugh ringing through the air was like ambrosia, and as I felt the Ferris wheel stop with a jolt, trapping us at the top, I turned to her, more interested in the sharp lines of her profile than in the city laid out below us.
"Of course, it melted, running down the drain in a stream of pink tinged water. I cried and I cried, begging my Mom to fix it, to get it back."
"Did you really?" she husked, turning laughing dark eyes my way. "I can just picture it."
"Sure did," I replied lightly, tearing off a hunk of the sticky sweet stuff, offering it to her. Smirking slightly, she took it between her teeth, soft lips brushing past my fingers. Suppressing a shiver at the feel, I moved quickly, leaning in to brush my lips against hers lightly, just a barely there touch of skin on skin.
"Funny. Tastes even better than I remembered," I said as I pulled away, almost afraid to meet her eyes.
"Really? Maybe I need to try it again."
My breath hitched in anticipation at the words, and then suddenly her lips were on mine once more. The soft swipe of her tongue on my bottom lip drew a ragged groan from deep in my throat, and I let the cone of cotton candy I was clutching fall carelessly to the ground, my newly freed hand reaching out to brush the back of my knuckles over her cheek. I had just deepened the kiss slightly, wanting to taste more of her, when the harsh jerk of the Ferris wheel returning to life broke us apart. For a moment I looked at her, our faces so close that I could feel the hot pant of her breath on my tingling lips, until I knew I had to say something.
"You made me drop my cotton candy again," I teased, a little intimidated by the intensity of the moment. Her lips had been so soft under mine, the velvet rasp of her tongue driving me wild with only a light touch, and the taste of her still clung teasingly to my flesh.
A soft smile creased her face as she looked down to my now empty hand.
"I'm laying the blame for that one squarely on you," she drawled, pulling back to rest comfortably against the seat, her eyes leaving mine to survey the area around us as we started to descend.
After a moment of tracing the lines of her profile, I took a deep breath, preparing myself, giving myself courage. I was nervous, and I knew that I was probably going to be putting her on the spot, potentially subjecting the both of us to an unbearably long car ride home if her answer was no, but I just had to ask. "Will you go out with me again?"
I could see the muscles in her jaw working as she thought, and slowly, as time began to stretch out, I felt my stomach begin to drop and my shoulders begin to slump slightly under the weight of rejection. This had been my one chance to get beyond her reservations and apparently I'd blown it.
"I…" Her low voice seemed painfully loud against the garish backdrop of carnival music, and I closed my eyes, steeling myself for her answer. "Yes. I will."
"You will," I repeated dumbly, turning slowly in my seat to look at her once more, catching the hesitation, the lingering question in her eyes. Whatever mental debate she'd subjected herself to obviously hadn't given her the clear-cut answer that this was the right thing to do, but I was fine with that. As long as she didn't give up too soon, then I knew I could make this work.
We'd been in the car for about a half an hour when I heard her words trail off, heard her breathing even out as the soft hint of a snore emerged. When I looked over, her head had fallen to the side in sleep, and I felt the ghost of a smile cross my face. She looked younger in repose, the bright slashes of light from street lamps giving me a good view of her in the alternating light. I wasn't angry or offended that she had apparently fallen asleep on me. After all, I knew that she had to have been working herself to death over her last case, so I was fairly certain that it wasn't a reflection on the company. Besides, it gave me an opportunity to watch her unnoticed.
Turning up the volume on the radio just a little, I hummed along to the music as I made my way back to the city. Luckily, I remembered how to get back to her apartment, and didn't have to wake her until we were sitting outside. I turned the engine off, pulling the keys out of the ignition before taking just one more moment to study the lean planes of her face. Then, with a bit of a sigh, I reached over to poke her awake, hating that I had to do it but fairly certain that she wouldn't want to spend the night napping in the front seat of my little car.
"Abbie," I said softly, not wanting to startle her. Her eyes blinked open at the sound of her name, fluttering softly as she pulled herself back into awareness. Realizing with a jerk where she was, she shot up in the seat, one hand coming up to push her long hair back from her forehead as she turned to me with a sheepish smile.
"Sorry about that." There it was again, the sandpaper roughness of sleep in her voice, and I hoped with everything I had that I wouldn't melt into a puddle right there in the seat. "Didn't mean to fall asleep on you."
"I imagine that you've been missing out on a lot of sleep lately, what with the trial and all. Which, you'll notice, I didn't ask you about once tonight." I kept my voice light, not wanting her to feel bad about her little faux pas. It seemed to work.
"Yeah. Things have been rather draining." She was stretching as well as the limited confines of the cabin of my car would allow, and I let my eyes trace over her movements, half-hidden in the darkness.
"Let me walk you up." I didn't want this to turn into a half-hour long car conversation that would end awkwardly when we both realized that we didn't have anything more to say, but didn't know how to formulate our departure after the passage of so much time.
"You don't have to," she demurred, reaching for the door handle. I was quicker though, and was out of the car and around to her side before she could even fully get out.
"What kind of date would I be if I just let you off at the curb?" I asked, a mischievous twinkle in my eye. She apparently decided that it wasn't worth an argument, because she merely shut the door behind her, moving into step beside me as we headed for the front door of her building.
A few minutes later, we were standing in the foyer, headed toward the open elevator doors, and I now found myself faced with a quandary. Should I kiss her good-night when we got to her apartment? I know that we'd already shared one kiss that evening, which might prompt me to believe that it wouldn't be beyond the bounds to hope for another one, but I didn't want to seem too presumptuous. A hug? No, too self-help book reassurance like for me. A handshake? If we had just finished up a business meeting, perhaps.
The ping of the elevator told me that I was going to have to decide quickly, and as I followed her down the hall, I tried to list the various pros and cons of each particular action.
"I had a really good time tonight." I was startled out of my thoughts by the words, and when I looked up, I realized that we had made it to her door.
"I did too. Thanks for agreeing to go with me, and for not freaking out too much when you realized I was taking you to Goshen." I was going for light and witty here, but I'm not sure if it worked.
"It was sweet." She leaned in after the words, placing a quick little kiss on the corner of my mouth, and I couldn't help but smile. I knew that she had said good-night, and I was faintly aware that I had echoed the words back to her, but my mind wasn't working on all cylinders, so I wasn't sure. Yeah, the kiss back at the fair had certainly had a lot more heat, but this one came entirely from her with no provocation on my part, and that gave me hope.
I was half expecting her to be sitting out in the hall waiting on me when I got to work this morning, but she wasn't, for which I was glad. Now though, it was getting near the time that she usually made her rounds of the office, looking for little bits of information that she could use or gathering quotes for other stories, and I wondered if she'd stop by today. Not that I was anxious to see her, mind you, just wondering.
As if conjured up by my thoughts, there she stood, one hand poised to knock on the doorsill when I looked up, alerted to her presence by the shifting shadows across my desk. Unbidden, I felt a smile creep across my face at the shy look she was sporting. Motioning her in, I noticed that she was balancing a couple of styrofoam cups in her other hand, and wondered if she thought she now had to come bearing gifts every time she saw me. Oh well, I wouldn't complain too much. Even if it was hot tea, it had to be better than the swill that they tried to pass off as coffee around here. You'd think that after years of nursing himself through hangovers, Jack would be able to get the mixture right. Of course, his little fondness for alcohol could be the reason behind why the stuff tasted more like sludge than Folgers.
"Since it got such an enthusiastic review last time, I thought I'd bring you another," she said, setting the cup down off to my right on my desk.
"Have a seat," I said, gesturing to the hard wooden chair that sat opposite mine. "Thanks, by the way."
"I feel like you're about to offer me a deal, like they do on TV," she joked, shifting uncomfortably a bit on the less than accommodating seat.
"A deal? I'd have to see what you had to offer me first, before I even thought about putting any deals on the table." I let the hard, aggressive tone that I used with perps slip into my voice, eyes glinting with humor as I noticed her squirm under my steady gaze.
"Dinner. In civilization this time, I promise. And, no hot dogs. Have I got anything worth bargaining over?" She was getting a bit flustered, and I decided to back down. Really, it seemed I had a bit of a sadistic streak when it came to her, alternately teasing and tormenting.
"Actually, I was quite happy with the hot dogs," I admitted, and it was the truth. Fancy dinners and expensive restaurants were all well and good, but sometimes it was the thought behind the gesture that meant more than anything. The knowledge that she had gone out of her way to find something out of the ordinary, that reflected my background and possible interests, was worth more than an overpriced piece of chicken.
"Tomorrow night then? I'll try to find an acceptable hot dog substitute." She had the cutest grin, those full lips parting in a perfect Cupid's bow. Suddenly uncomfortable across the broad expanse of my desk, I stood, moving around so that I was standing in front of her, leaning back against the hard wooden surface of my desktop.
"Should I wear my boots again?" I could instantly see the effect my lowered voice had on her. Pupils dilated, nostrils flared, and her lips parted slightly, all in response to a little drop in inflection. It was nice to know I still had it.
"You can wear anything you want," she replied, pushing herself up out of her chair, her body unconsciously swaying close to mine. For a moment I was afraid that she was going to try and kiss me here, and I willed myself not to panic. But after a moment, she backed away, eyes still locked with mine.
"Abbie, have you heard anything new on the Atkins case?" The words from the door startled me, and I looked over to see Jack striding through it, head buried in the case file that he had in his hand. He glanced up when I didn't respond immediately, and I could tell by the amused quirk of a shaggy brow that he noticed the closer than strangers stance between Sam and myself, the slowly dissipating layer of tension draped between us. "Oh, I wasn't aware that you had someone in your office."
"I appreciate the tip, Ms. Carmichael." I smirked at the words, bad lie that they were. It was a good thing that she wasn't an actress. Not with those less than stellar skills.
"No problem." If she was going to initiate the poorly executed cover-up, who was I to blow it for her. I watched her beat a hasty retreat before turning to Jack, arching a brow and pursing my lips at the shit-eating grin on his face.
"So, Abbie… I see you're taking our policy of cooperating with the media seriously." I barely restrained a snort. That thinly veiled little gibe let me know that I'd be taking some teasing for this one. "Although I'm curious about what tip it was, exactly, that you had to share. I wasn't aware of any particularly newsworthy cases on your docket."
"Leave it alone, Jack." I imagined that if everyone else in the rumor mill had heard who I preferred for my after hours company, then he had as well. It might have been giving him a bit too much credit, but the lack of surprise that he was showing after viewing that little scene seemed to indicate as much.
"Leave what alone? I'm just happy to see that I'll be able to hand over my title of dirty old man to a worthy successor." He was chuckling now, no doubt spurred on by the ominous look I could feel spreading across my face, and I wondered if the new DA would mind if I accidentally popped Jack in the nose.
"I'm in no danger of usurping that particular throne. Now what were you saying about the Atkins case?" Hopefully I could pull him back on track, but from the way he kept erupting into little spates of laughter, I could only surmise that we were permanently derailed.
"God, Abbie, I've got that hand it to you. Even I've never been linked with a co-ed." Apparently he wasn't ready to give this up. Well fine. I'd act like it didn't bother me, and it would be a non-issue.
"She's not a co-ed, Jack." Okay, so maybe the hint of hostility in my tone didn't exactly jive with the 'not bothering me' approach I was shooting for.
"Oh, I see. So tell me, how long has she been out of college, Counselor." New DA be damned, I was going to haul off and hit him here in a minute.
"She graduated last year," I growled. That sent him off into another fit of laughter, and I sighed, rolling my eyes.
"Look," I said with a feral smile, deciding to go on the offensive, "its not my fault that they don't pay attention to you anymore. Face it Jack, you just can't compete. What can I say? Maybe it's the accent. Or, maybe its just because I'm better looking than you."
He looked up at that, a bit shocked by the words. One glance at my face initiated another round of laughter though, and I seriously considered leaving him sitting there alone in my office until he got over it.
"I'll give you that one, Abbie. Gotta toughen up a little though. If you can't stand a little teasing…" He trailed off, those thick brows shooting up his forehead in one of his trademark goofy looks.
"Seriously though." Jack was one probably one of my best friends here, outside of all of the little in-fighting our clashing ideals brought about, and I really wanted another opinion. "What do you think of her?"
"Well, she's attractive. Definitely hung up on you. I say go for it. Nothing wrong with having a little bit of fun, a life outside of the office. Lord knows you need one." I wasn't sure whether to be comforted or offended by that, so I chose to be comforted. At the very least, I tried to take it in the spirit in which it was intended, which I surmised to be along the lines of a friend offering semi-helpful advice.
I nodded thoughtfully, letting silence fall over the room for a second as I appeared to contemplate. Then, tired of sharing and caring time, I pulled out the Atkins file, going over the list of new developments that I'd received from the police that morning.
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