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Living Proof
By Demeter


By the time I make it to Claire's office, it's only 11 AM, and already I want to throw something against the wall. Preferably Milton James who is being charged with multiple murders and had the gall to make insinuations about my friend. He knows he won't get off this time; his organization dealing in drugs and weapons has been literally shattered.

Still, that man has me on edge. Maybe because even faced with the death penalty, he still conveys an air of superiority. He knows how to get to people, and it's not hard to figure out how that particular case got to me. Just take a look at my life.

I lean back in the armchair with a tired sigh, prompting a concerned gaze from Cindy. It makes me smile. She's just always so observant; I never manage to evade her radar. Not that I'd want to, I know.

"I've got to be back in court in ten minutes," Yuki speaks up now. "What happened?"

Claire straightens her shoulders. "You all better sit down. There is a new development in the James case."

"Pardon me?" I say, frowning. "I just saw him. How can there be--"

"Trust me," Claire says grimly. "It's good. He will be gone for good."

I can tell from the confusion on Cindy and Yuki's faces that they know just about as much as I do – which is nothing. James has evaded us so many times, bribing, blackmailing and killing witnesses; that lucky streak is badly needed. I'll believe it once the ink is dry on the verdict.

"You know that how?"

"Because of me. Hi, girls."

I spin around at the sound of the quiet voice, certain that this is one of too many familar nightmares. Claire is not surprised. My God. She knew. Cindy is very still, the shock evident in her expression and posture. Yuki just looks confused.

Leaning against the door frame with a wistful smile, there's Jill Bernhardt whom I've believed to be dead for nearly five years.

"You knew! All those years you knew, and you didn't tell me? What kind of friends does that make us?"

My words are meant to hurt, and they do. Claire's eyes are bright, but I can't help it, all the pain and confusion that's been building up to this moment has me needing a target, and she's my best bet at the moment.

"I couldn't. Please, understand," she says. "James had moles in the department, you saw it yourself. They were watching you, all of us. We couldn't take a chance."

"Does Jacobi know?"

She shakes her head. I keep pacing, my memory going back to one of many horrible moments. "I was there!" I yell at her, not caring if anybody overhears. "I was there for the Goddamn autopsy!"

"That's why they had me in on it," Claire says quietly. "Obviously, that wasn't Jill."

"But..." I can't speak, I can't even think anymore. Cindy had written an obituary. I remember her obsessing over each word until it nearly drove her insane. Jill's alleged death had uprooted me; I can only see now how much, rash decisions made privately and professionally. "How can I even trust you now?"

"I understand. I hope that you will understand some day that I had no choice. It was the only way I could protect you - and Jill."

"You told Ed?"

Tears are streaming down her face now, and part of me is mortified. Claire Washburn never breaks down. "I told no one."

Five years of carrying the burden of the secret. Five years of lying to us. "I can't deal with this now. I'm sorry." I turn to open the door and flee, nearly running into the subject of our conversation.

"God, Lindsay. I missed you so much."

If I say anything now, I'll never stop crying today, so I just hug her back tightly. We've retreated to the break room while Claire gives me some distance, Yuki has quietly retreated to the background, and Cindy is probably working on the story of Jill Bernhardt's miraculous resurrection.

"What happened to us?" she asks wistfully, and this time, I have my answer ready.

"You finally got rid of that husband jerk of yours, and then you died on us, that's what happened."

Jill sighs. "Don't be so hard on Claire, okay? It was touch and go all the time. I had to change safe houses and identities twice. The danger was real."

"I get that. It's just... damn it." I wipe my face angrily, and with a smile, she hands me a tissue.

"I hear you found a temporary replacement," she says, her voice even and non-judgmental.

"Yuki? Well... yes, temporary."

"And that you're about to get married."

It's my turn to sigh. "Is it a bad sign when you need to take your time to think about it?"

Jill shrugs, evading the question. "How has Cindy been?" she asks instead.

"Cindy's a riot. She's sleeping with my partner," I say grimly, for a moment forgetting that I am talking to a woman over whose death I've been grieving, and that I should be very thankful and love the world and just... shut up. Whatever's between Rich and Cindy, it's none of my business.

Jill's eyes widen. "That's a surprise." She takes a long drag from her cigarette. Jill didn't smoke before, but I think I'd start on the day of my rebirth, too. "You know I always thought that you and Cindy..." She lets her words trail of, leaving me uncomfortably uncertain with what she was about to say.

"What about Cindy and I?" Don't I know the answer already. Haven't I fooled myself into thinking this has nothing to do with my hesitation to accept Joe's proposal?

"You always had this... chemistry. That you could be more than friends." Jill chuckles. "I'm sorry, Linds. I've been so lonely these past five years, it seems I'm in severe withdrawal for some girlish gossip."

"You're delusional," I state firmly, trying to ignore that my heart is beating faster even at the thought. "Cindy, she... drives me crazy."

Jill grins. "Exactly my point."

I roll my eyes, but secretly I think that I might start to believe in second chances again. I've got living proof.

The End

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