DISCLAIMER: All Law and Order characters—god help them—belong to Dick Wolf and NBC. I intend no copyright infringement and I'm not making any money from this story.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: A sequel of sorts to my story What the Easter Bunny Brings but more focused on one pairing in particular. It's not absolutely necessary that you read the other story first, but this might make more sense if you at least read parts 3-5. The title is from an Ani Difranco song of the same name.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FANDOMS: Law & Order / Law & Order: TBJ.
PAIRINGS: Serena/Kelly

Falling is Like This
By tremblingmoon

Part 3

Kelly needed to relax. At least, that's what Tracey had concluded after a week of watching her partner grow increasingly frustrated, fighting distraction and restlessness at every turn. Besides, she was becoming uncharacteristically cranky and sarcastic, and Tracey, thinking that she'd like to reserve that sort of behavior only for herself, was eager to restore in her colleague the even-keel, compassionate, down-to-earth temperament she had come to cherish and admire.

That's why she decided to take Kelly to dinner: they'd gone for meals before—quick lunches with paperwork, an occasional dinner here and there on the spur of the moment after a hard day in court—but Tracey had never simply asked "Do you want to have dinner with me tonight?" without pretense of work or convenience. But this week Kelly obviously needed some cheering up, and, if they weren't technically friends already (by word or deed) their synchronicity at work had demonstrated a relationship so close to friendship that it might as well be.

Truth be told, although she might only admit it under severe duress, Tracey was developing a distinct fondness for her pretty blonde partner. Kelly wasn't really her type—wouldn't have been her type even in her college days when, for a while, women had been all she could think about—but there was enough attraction mixed with friendly affection that Tracey felt anchored to the blonde in a way that surpassed mere coworker status. Kelly was charming and gorgeous and just fiery enough to hold her own against Tracey's acerbic wit and occasional dogged determination to win at all costs. Tracey loved that Kelly fought back, loved their fluid partnership, and yet Tracey had lived long enough to know better than mess up the most fantastic working relationship of her life for something that would never be more than a lust-filled moment or two in the coatroom or on her desk, tempting as the thought may be.

Hesitation hung in Kelly eyes when Tracey asked. The blue of her irises shifted noticeably in color, growing momentarily darker before reverting to their normal, maddening ice blue.

"Just some dinner, Kelly. Don't worry, I won't bite." Tracey grinned disarmingly and simultaneously maintained a tone of utter practicality, the logic of her suggestion hanging heavy on her lips. "You need to relax, I need to eat. Seems like the perfect arrangement."

Kelly cocked her head slightly, a smile tugging at her lips. She seemed vaguely amused and maybe even charmed by Tracey persistence, and so the wily brunette went in for the kill.

"We can even go to Angelo's afterward," Tracey coaxed, dangling the possibility of dessert—tiramisu, to be exact; the most perfect tiramisu in all of the city, Kelly had once professed—like a carrot before the ADA. "My treat."

Kelly's resolve broke quickly after that; she held Tracey's gaze for half a second before nodding eagerly.

"You know me too well."

"No, I just know that there are some things to which you can't say 'no.' Like dessert. And probably kittens, too, right?" Tracey teased, feeling somewhat smug.

"Dessert, yes," Kelly laughed easily, the first lighthearted sound Tracey had heard from her partner in over a week, and walked slowly towards the elevator at her boss's side. "But I'm more of a puppy kind of a girl."

The restaurant was perfect and Tracey's favorite. It was warm and sensual, while maintaining a comfortable atmosphere that was neither sterile nor overly romantic. And while it was a little pricier than a usual "business" dinner would warrant, Tracey felt like indulging herself and her assistant tonight. Kelly's slow, soft smile as she took in the décor more than made up for the few extra dollars spent on a meal.

Eating her dinner slowly, and chatting amicably—after a few early awkward moments, they had fallen into their usual easy banter, trading strange workplace experiences and skimming the surface of their personal lives—Tracey wondered what had her normally passionate, but not easily rattled, partner so shaken. Normally so direct, Tracey hesitated to ask, not wanting to shatter the fragile aura of happiness that seemed to hover around Kelly for the first time in weeks. Eventually she'll probably say something, Tracey reassured herself, focusing on Kelly's eyes and listening intently to the blonde as she laughingly recounted tales of childhood misdeeds and misadventures.

Tracey saw her first. The tall, slim blonde hesitated in the doorway, and then stepped forward slightly to peer curiously over the hostess's shoulder. The hostess, a slight redhead, playfully admonished the ADA for peeking before shaking her head slowly and gesturing at the bar. Obviously, ADA Southerlyn was meeting someone, her smooth smile and small touch of thanks on the redhead's shoulder far more subtle flirting than the youthful hostess had herself exhibited. Raising her eyebrows, Tracey focused her gaze back on her companion.

"Apparently this place is popular with our kind tonight," she joked, gesturing in Serena's direction with a wave of her hand.

Just at that moment having slipped the last bite of her linguine limone in her mouth, Kelly, still chewing, turned to follow Tracey's line of sight. As her gaze made contact with the lithe form of ADA Southerlyn, walking towards the bar, Kelly almost choked. Slightly concerned, Tracey leaned forward and patted her companion's back.

"You okay?"

Kelly was staring, unresponsive. And while she quickly overcame her choking fit and, now, seemed to breathing, though somewhat shallowly, Tracey was sure Kelly was far from all right. And then, Serena glanced over, her eyes met Kelly's and Tracey could have sworn she felt the heat in the restaurant shoot up at least five degrees.

The air fairly sizzled with tension as Serena turned slowly on her heel and approached their table, her steps measured—as if she were trying, with some difficultly, to cover for what was actually something closer to hesitancy than control.

"Serena," Kelly spoke first, and Tracey's eyes shifted to her partner. She watched her assistant take a long breath, as if she had just said much more than the one word that had slipped between her lips. "I've been meaning to call you."

"Me too," Serena sighed softly, her eyes apologetic and holding Kelly's gaze for several, long seconds.

Almost visibly shaking herself, Serena's turned to smile tightly at Tracey, "ADA Kibre, we've met before, but it's been a long time."

A woman of polite and genteel stock, Tracey, of course, invited Serena to join them instead of waiting at the bar. Probably, she mused later, one of the worst decisions she had made in a while. The conversation, what little of it there was in the next ten minutes, was incredibly awkward. They talked haltingly about work and the office, but Serena was obviously frustrated and upset, Kelly off-balance, and the anxiety level was literally making Tracey fidget in her seat, continually crossing and uncrossing her legs.

Sure, these sorts of situations made funny scenes in sitcoms and could even be a bit arousing in the right circumstances, but Tracey was beginning to feel uncharacteristically uncomfortable around the two ADAs. Especially Serena—Tracey could sense her thinly veiled animosity, maybe even jealousy, and that went a long way towards conforming her suspicions. The sexual tension that gathered like fog, heavy and overwhelming, around the table was so thick that Tracey felt the puzzle pieces of Kelly's recent distraction and melancholy click into place in record time. In fact, she was almost surprised, considering the tension in the room, that the table napkins hadn't yet burst into flames and sent all the other patrons running for their lives. One more minute of this, and I'm going to have to hose them both off, Tracey mused.

Tracey was trying to come up with excuses for leaving as quickly as possible when, with ridiculously impeccable timing—the scenario seemed so staged that Tracey had to resist the urge to look around for cameras—her cell phone began dancing frenetically around the table, the vibrate function doing little to quell its intrusiveness.

Tracey picked up the phone with a snap, like she was practicing for a quick draw shootout and her life depended on it.

"Kibre." Both Kelly and Serena's heads swiveled her way, as if they had only just remembered her presence. She waved a hand at the two blondes in apology.

It was Hector, but nothing important. He just wanted to clarify a few points before re-interviewing a suspect over the weekend. Still, not one to ever overlook or underestimate a gift horse, Tracey decided to take her chance. Listening intently and feigning shock and concern, she stood up quickly, drawing four twenty dollar bills blindingly fast from her purse and tossing them on the table. She began to talk over Hector as she slung her bag over her shoulder, hoping the urgency in her voice was at least marginally believable to the fellow attorneys eyeing her in bewilderment.

"All right, I'll be right there. No, don't worry, it's fine. Don't move. Twenty minutes, okay?"

Tracey forced her face into what she imagined was a viable facsimile of an apologetic frown—mixed with some frustration and a healthy dash of concern—and turned towards the other women. She rested her land lightly across the mouthpiece of her phone before she spoke.

"I'm sorry. My aunt…It's a bit of an apartment emergency…" Wisely (Tracey would applaud herself later), she didn't risk trapping herself in a lie by saying anything further, and instead tilted her head to make direct eye contact with Kelly, her gaze softening slightly.

"I owe you dessert, okay? I won't forget."

She nodded politely at Serena and turned on her heel, making a hasty exit. Fighting the urge to look back at the potential train wreck she was leaving behind, Tracey walked out of the restaurant and lifted the phone back to her ear, immediately humming with Hector's laughter.

"What was that all about?" His voice crackled through the phone, and Tracey grinned.

"Well Hector, maybe, if you're good, I'll tell you about it some time," she teased, "but, for now, let's just say you bailed me out of a very awkward situation and I certainly owe you a drink."

Tracey strode quickly to the curb and hailed a cab, saying good night to Hector on her cell and giving the driver her address in one seamless utterance. She wondered, lips twitching from a smile into a smirk as the taxi wove its way into traffic, how long it would take Kelly and Serena to wipe those stunned looks off their faces and start making good use of her abrupt departure.

To Be Continued

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