DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Trial By Jury and all characters are property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I am taking all kinds of liberties with the character backstory/biography. Because I can ;)
SEQUEL: of sorts to Worthy, First Chair and Neapolitan.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Just Be Close At Hand
By EponinesGhost

"Tell me something no one else on the planet knows about you ..."

Kelly was wiggling her toes and stuffing cotton balls between them when Tracey sprang the topic on her. They had just finished painting each other's toenails -- Tracey's were now Fifth Avenue red ... Kelly's, Prom Night pink -- late on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. Holding her feet upright, balancing somewhat on her heels, knees drawn up in front of her, Kelly smiled over at Tracey. Her partner was sitting cross-legged near the headboard, her pedicure already dry.

"Something no one else knows ..."

"Yeah ... indulge me."

Tracey was brushing her hair, making Kelly momentarily jealous. She loved to do that. Tilting her head thoughtfully, Kelly leaned her weight back onto her hands. "I'm thinking ... give me a minute ..."

As long as she had that adorable look on her face, Tracey was willing to give her much longer than that. Her lips twitched as she took in the furrowed brow, watched the gears practically turning inside, the way she nibbled her lower lip. Soon her observation was rewarded by an expression that could have been accompanied by a cartoon light bulb switching on over Kelly's head. Tracey quirked her eyebrow up and waited.

"I've got one!" She grinned at Tracey, her eyes bright. "When I was a little girl ... I was absolutely obsessed with the movie 'Escape to Witch Mountain.' I was positive that my parents weren't really part of my biological family and that I had to locate and return to my true relatives. I drove my folks crazy for the better part of a year begging for a puppet theater like the one in the movie." She laughed musically, staring at something far away. "I even made my own StarCase ... OH! And I spent hours and hours trying to communicate telepathically with our animals." She shook her head wistfully, chuckling again at the images she saw in her mind. When she met Tracey's eyes again, the deep blue in her own sparkled with amusement. "You have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about, do you?"

Enchanted by the rush of Kelly's memories, Tracey answered honestly. "None whatsoever."

Braced on one hand now, Kelly waved her fingers dismissively. "I know ... I know ... it's silly. Probably not what you were after ..."

"It's not silly at all." Tracey couldn't verbalize how much Kelly's unabashed childhood revelation touched her. For the few moments that she had been reliving the past, Tracey could see the little girl Kelly had been. She was possessively grateful for that.

"It's personal ... and that's exactly what I was after ... thank you." She set the brush on the nightstand. "How old were you then?"

"Oh, about seven ... maybe eight." Kelly was not entirely back in the present.

Letting herself drift as well, Tracey murmured quietly, "Eight. That's how old I was when I saw my first dead body."

Not quite sure she had heard correctly, Kelly peered quizzically at her. "Like in that movie with the four little boys ... what's it called ... 'Stand By Me'... ?"

Tracey looked at her hands. "No ... nothing like that ... it was my mother's." Her voice was subdued but unemotional.

Stunned and suddenly at a loss, Kelly sat up. "Trace ..."

"It was at Mueller's Funeral Home, in the neighborhood. My father ... took me there ... before the service." Her fingers twisted slowly, randomly. "It was supposed to be my chance ... to say good-bye." She sat nearly motionless, save her hands ... her voice flat. "We went in alone before the visitation ... the ... casket ... was open." Tracey glanced up, her eyes clouded. "She didn't look ... they always say ... she didn't look like she was asleep. She looked stiff and odd and ... dead."

Kelly could feel the sting of tears behind her eyes. She wanted nothing more than to crawl over to Tracey and pull her into a tight, comforting embrace. But she could sense that Tracey was on a tremulous edge ... and that she needed to continue. She hugged her arms around her knees and willed Tracey to feel the support she was sending.

"I don't remember crying. Not that day. Shock, I suppose." She stared at her lap, her fingers moving again. "I think I cried myself to sleep every night for a week afterward, though. Once I was sure he was ... out. I'm not sure what made me go downstairs that one night ... I remember thinking that I missed 'normal' so much ... and before ... she ... before, it had been normal for him to sit in the den and smoke cigars ... while he was working, whatever he was doing." Tracey studied the back of her hand. "I thought if I could just go in there and light one ... it would be almost like ... " She shrugged. " I crept down the stairs in my pajamas ... so certain that he had turned in for the night ... "

Sitting so still that she was hardly breathing, Kelly could almost picture her ... tiny, lonely ... heartbroken. Her own heart ached for Tracey ... then and now.

"... I had just opened the humidor and was lifting out one of the cigars when he spoke ... his voice was slurred but somehow firm. I froze ... scared out of my skin that I was caught ... but that was nothing. It wasn't until I turned to face him that I was truly afraid ... " Tracey's voice dropped to just above a whisper. "He was crying. I had never ... he had never ... tears were running down his face. Even when I had turned on the desk lamp, I hadn't seen him lying there on the sofa ... sprawled really ... he was a mess ... there with his bottle and ... I had assumed he was in his room, shut away ... " She blinked slowly. "He was talking to me without really talking to me ... in his own world ... he didn't seem to notice that I had one of his cigars clutched in my hand ... or that it was the middle of the night ... he just ... kept asking, 'Why? How could she leave me alone?' ... anguished, over and over again. And I wanted ... I tried to ... 'Daddy, I'm here ... you're not alone...' But he didn't ... hear me ... "

As she followed the path of the first tear down Tracey's face, watched it's tiny splash against her forearm, Kelly was unsure if Tracey even knew she was crying.

"He was holding her picture ... the one that always sat on his desk ... and ... and ... he was talking to it too ... getting more and more worked up ... almost ranting ... angry at her ... cursing ... " Her fingers tightly clasped now, Tracey seemed to shrink into herself. "I didn't want to listen any more ... hear those things ... but I ... couldn't move. Then ... he slammed the picture to the floor .. smashing it ... glass everywhere ... After that ... it was like he saw me ... really saw me standing there for the first time. He yelled for me to go to my room, go to bed ... turned his back to me, facing into the sofa ... and just ... shook with sobs. It was ... so awful."

"Tracey ..."

"I tiptoed over to him ... trying to be careful of the glass ... trying to ... comfort him ... but he shoved my hand away and roared, 'Dammit! Go to your room!' ..." She flinched as if she heard it again. "Quickly I bent and picked up the photograph ... wiped the small shards off of it ... and ran. All the way up to my door ... like the devil himself was chasing me. When I got there I realized I still had the cigar ... and several cuts on the bottoms of my feet." Absently, she rubbed her soles. "I went to the closet and found a shoebox that I kept ... treasures ... in. Special things that I wanted to keep secret ... private. I put the picture and the cigar in there and hid it under my dresser. My Aunt Sofia moved in with us the next week. All the other pictures of my mother disappeared. Aunt Sofia had never liked her ... we never talked about her, ever. He ... was gone a lot ... and distant ..." Tracey drew a long, shaky breath. "So ... the thing nobody else in the world knows ... except for you ... is that I still have that shoebox."

Even though her vision was blurred with unshed tears of her own, Kelly could see the pain etched on Tracey's face. She moved next to her, drawing the brunette into her lap, wrapping her arms around her, rocking slightly. Kelly couldn't stop kissing Tracey's temple, the top of her head. Her throat was nearly swollen closed, but she longed to murmur the words that Tracey had probably never heard enough ... her hands caressed and stroked steadily ... trying to convey the same message.

They hadn't said it to each other yet ... although Kelly knew she would, knew she did. She wished she'd already declared it, so that she could repeat it now ... over and over and over until the pain had eased. But she couldn't ... not tonight ... Tracey would never believe it was not out of pity, had not been manipulated. She'd be angry and resentful ... and that was definitely not the reaction Kelly wanted. Or the blessing Tracey needed.

Crumpled against Kelly's shoulder ... sheltered in her arms ... Tracey let the tears flow unchecked.

God she loved this woman.

The End

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