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SPOILERS: for up until the end of season 4.
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No Man's Land
It starts a few months after Alicia leaves Lockhart-Gardener.
It's another case for ChumHum - the brief is to squash an upstart tech company, using whatever means necessary.
There's no particular merit to the case they've been asked to bring. It's pretty much purely to run a potential competitor out of business before they can become a problem.
At one point, this might have given her pause.
At one point, she might have tried to refuse the case.
At one point, there might have been a dull ache in the part of her that knew she used to be *better* than this.
Now, all she can muster is some weary resignation that she can't even feel that any more.
In the new business, she's one of the bosses now. And that means having to make the hard decisions and not looking back.
Still, the temperature in the courtroom seems to drop precipitously when the door opens and, instead of the cut-rate lawyers the company had managed to muster for the negotiations, Diane walks in like a blonde-haired herald of fimbulwinter.
It's the first time she's seen Diane since the split, and the cold look she's given before Diane turns her head a little, to ignore her entirely, lets her know in no uncertain terms that their differences have *not* been forgotten and *not* been forgiven.
Suddenly a case that had been certain, if laborious, looks like anything but.
'New lawyers L-G' she texts Cary.
'Fuck' is the ever-eloquent response. 'Want backup?'
She steals a glance at Diane.
They can't afford to lose this case, and the opposition have to know this. Suddenly, the statements and documents she has lined up look like far too slim a shield between her and Diane's icy rage.
'Sure' she texts back before standing to make her opening argument.
She's going to need all the help she can get.
It's almost a relief when she sees Kalinda enter the room, mid-morning.
Not because Diane needs any help - she's been hammering on them quite enough already.
Alicia's never been good at letting things go.
And Kalinda's something still the same, something familiar. Something from her second (or is it third? fourth?) life.
She still has that look of calm inscrutability on her face.
It's like the last months have just passed her by.
And, even though she's undoubtedly here to put further holes in Alicia's case, she can't help feeling somewhat soothed.
Because there's a still a part of her that associates 'Kalinda' with 'making things better'.
In the courtroom, of course.
There's been nothing outside of that.
Not for a long time.
But perhaps that's the reason she seeks her out during the recess for lunch.
Kalinda sees her coming, of course.
"Alicia," she says neutrally, her face its mask-like best.
"How have you been?" Alicia asks, trying for a smile. Trying, but it doesn't quite feel like the expression fits.
Kalinda looks at her for a moment. "Fine?" she says, the rising of her voice making the word more of a question than a statement.
But if Alicia has an answer, she doesn't know what it could be.
Why had she come over here? What could she have been hoping for?
It's not like they had been friends.
"Can we catch up?" blurts out of her mouth anyway, leaving her with a faint sense of being betrayed by her own body parts.
Kalinda's expression... shifts, but not in a way Alicia knows how to quantify. "Not here," she says, glancing over Aliciaâs shoulder, towards... Diane's chill figure. "It wouldn't be... politic."
"Of course. Um," Alicia says, just managing to refrain from wishing her good luck. "See you around?"
"Sure," Kalinda says, because *of course* she will. Alicia doesn't need to know her anywhere near as well as... she used to? to realise that Kalinda is laughing at her.
She manages to leave without sweeping off offendedly.
But it's a near thing.
Even after months away, Kalinda can still get under her skin.
"I saw you speaking to Kalinda," Cary says.
"Yes?" she responds, managing to keep the edge from her voice.
"Be careful," he says, a little cautiously, which tells her that she wasn't as successful in that as she'd like. "She has a way of... using people."
He has a slightly haunted expression in his eyes, so she doesn't pry.
Still, it's probably that comment, more than anything else, which prompts her to actually text Kalinda.
'When and where would be more politic?'
It's a bar.
Of course it's a bar.
It's always a bar.
That much, at least, hasn't changed.
Kalinda, as ever, is at the bar, drinks waiting in front of her.
"Hey," she says, and Alicia feels something letting go inside of her.
"I'm not going to discuss the case," she says.
Kalinda nods, once, and draws an imaginary line around the both of them. "This is a job-free zone," she says.
There's a careful quality to her tone, and Alicia peers at her more closely. "How many drinks have you already had?"
Kalinda looks up at her, half-lidded. "I wasn't sure when you'd get here."
'If' goes unstated, but is all the louder for it.
But it's something, it's definitely something and Alicia sits down on the stool next to her. "Well, I'm here now. How many do I need to have to catch up?"
Kalinda smiles, slowly. "I'll let you know when you get there."
The evening doesn't so much flow, as lurch between stopping and starting. There are so many topics that they can't discuss, and so few that they can that they still share...
But it gets smoother towards the end.
Or maybe that's just the alcohol lubricating things.
Alicia spends the cab journey back alternating between 'yes, she'll do this again' and 'no, this was a really bad idea' like a metronome.
Finally, as she gets home and collapses in bed, she makes up her mind.
It's a decision she'll leave for the future.
It happens again.
About a week later, after the case has been ambiguously won, by the skin of their teeth (and Alicia is still uncertain how she feels about that), she gets an itch, to get away from home for an evening.
The thing is-
Alicia's never been good at letting things go.
And, well, the thing with Peter...
She couldn't stay angry at *him*.
He's the father of their children.
And she *needed* him. For them.
But she couldn't be truly angry at Amber, at an amorphous figure she'd never really met.
So, the... revelation when it had come...
After the initial shock...
Had almost been... useful.
She could be angry at Kalinda, in a way that she could never be towards Peter.
She's never been good at letting things go.
And as long as Kalinda was around, she didn't have to.
No matter how things seemed to be healing, on the surface.
If she needed to, she could always take hold of that fiery coal.
And remind herself that if she was angry, she had a *reason* to be.
But now that Kalinda's been gone...
She finds it increasingly difficult to blame her with the increased distance.
And all that anger...
All that anger that she *can't* direct towards Peter (but she can't let go of, all the same)...
Peter feels it all the same.
She just needs *out*.
For a night.
And maybe an evening with Kalinda will help the burning find its proper place once again.
This time she stops in the entranceway, and just observes Kalinda for a moment.
She doesn't feel angry, just a kind of dull melancholy.
This was something they once had, just the two of them against the world.
It's mostly gone now, shattered by secrets and guilt and recriminations and distance.
She wonders if it's even possible to rebuild.
She wonders if she actually wants to try.
She gets an answer as she resumes her approach, as Kalinda seems to sense her presence and turn around, a tentative almost-smile on her lips.
She feels... better.
At least a little.
And she does want to try and rebuild bridges.
At least for tonight.
It happens again.
And, soon, the meetups become the best part of her week.
A place where she can escape the demands of a start-up law firm, from clients who always want more, want her to compromise more, from the internecine squabbles of the other lawyers as a pecking order is slowly, painfully established, from the political demands that Peter's office exerts upon her not to take unpopular cases, from the stress of knowing that Lockhart-Gardener is always out there, waiting for any mistake to swoop down and claim their clientele.
It's a place where there are never any demands made of her.
It's a place where she can simply *be*.
And, somewhat to her surprise, it's a place where she can find renewed delight in the company of one Kalinda Sharma.
Alicia may not be very good about letting things go, but, apparently, with time and distance, she has managed this one thing.
And she feels so much better for it, able to enjoy Kalinda's wit, her masked smiles, her very presence, without the anger or even the feeling that there *should* be anger.
And she almost, *almost*, manages to forget who Kalinda works for.
Until she can't.
"I thought this was supposed to be a simple case," Alicia says, her eyes flicking back and forth between Cary and the unfortunate first year who had been handling it.
It hadn't been a big thing, hardly important at all, but there had been a connection to Colin Sweeney.
Important or not, she can bet that he's going to bring it up next time they meet.
Important or not, it makes them look less competent, less able and that is *not* something they can afford at this juncture.
"Lockhart-Gardener managed to sneak a spoiler in there," Cary says mildly.
She blinks. "What? But they weren't even the lawyers in this case." Unless they'd managed to pull a substitution again. But *surely* she'd have been at least informed if they had.
"Kalinda," says Cary. "Apparently partway through the trial, she handed the opposing counsel something."
"It's not the first time, either," says the first year nervously. "Some of the other first years have seen her around in their cases."
How? is her first thought.
How could this happen?
Logic comes up with an answer quickly enough.
They're too small and too overstretched, with too many new hires. Too many people who wouldn't know Kalinda by sight.
How? is her second thought.
How could she do this?
All too easily, her more pragmatic self answers. If their fledging company folds or if they suffer enough losses, Lockhart-Gardener has a good chance of reclaiming their clients.
It's the same strategy as before, only cheaper.
They don't even have to pay for Diane or Will's time.
And Kalinda... Kalinda is a professional, no matter what else she may be.
Cary makes a shooing motion and the first year scuttles out of there.
"You're the person who knew her best," he says, softly, sympathetically. "Is there anything you know, anything we could use against her, to make her back off?"
Is there anything she knows?
Oh, she knows entirely too much about Kalinda Sharma.
Can you really betray her? her all-too-small conscience whispers.
Like she betrayed you? her anger answers.
Put like that, it seems so easy.
Alicia makes up her mind, opens her mouth and answers.
Alicia arranges to meet Kalinda that night.
By the time that she reaches the bar, she's *fuming*.
She marches straight over to where Kalinda is sitting, relaxed as ever.
"Is this what your job is nowadays? Tearing my firm down?"
Frankly, she's impressed that she manages to keep her tone as level as she does, though her words would freeze nitrogen.
Kalinda tenses for a moment, before easing into something that resembles resignation.
"You always knew who I work for," she says, not looking up at her, not engaging her.
Unwilling to face Alicia's righteous wrath.
But, despite her words, she doesn't sound unapologetic or defiant.
She mostly just sounds tired.
And Alicia *knows* tired.
Somehow, that takes a little of the wind out of her sails, and she sinks onto the stool next to her.
And Alicia *had* known, but... "You couldn't tell me? All the time we've spent together, and you couldn't so much as slip me a word?"
Kalinda finally glances at her, before looking away again. "We didn't talk about work. You seemed to like it that way." There's an almost wistful tone to her voice, and Alicia can't help wondering what Kalinda is escaping.
Because she can't be sentimental enough that working against people who used to be her colleagues would actually bother her.
Still, Alicia has never been good at letting things go.
This is something that she can't let go of.
And nowhere near so easily.
"There's a difference between not talking about work and..." She waves a hand in the air, belatedly wishing it was a fist instead.
"It's my job," Kalinda answers, before draining the glass in front of her, and signalling for a refill. "It's all my job seems to be these days."
Alicia finds a bitter irony in that. "They've got you working full time shadowing our first years?"
How the mighty have fallen.
"They've gotten a new in-house for their *actual* cases. And it's not just first years. I've just been... more circumspect with the others."
People who might know her.
The next logical thought is like a blow.
"You've been spoiling my cases too?" she says, almost whispers.
It's *completely* logical.
Somehow, even when fuming over this (latest) betrayal, she'd never even considered *that*.
There's a flash of... something in Kalinda's eyes, before she shakes her head slowly. "Diane and Will have begun to ask questions about why I can never find anything on your cases."
Alicia sags, even though she can't understand why she's feeling so relieved.
She had known who Kalinda had worked for.
She couldn't have reasonably expected that Kalinda would treat her any differently.
But she had.
And that makes her next sentence that much easier to say.
"Cary and the others have begun to ask questions about what I know about you." At Kalinda's wide eyed look, she shakes her head. "I didn't tell them anything either."
And somehow, somehow, the anger is gone.
And, really, it should never have been aimed at Kalinda in the first place.
She reaches out, rests her hand against Kalinda's arm. "You need to get out of there. You *do* realise that they're getting ready to fire you?"
It wouldn't have taken a genius to realise that Kalinda had known about Cary ahead of time.
And, from what Kalinda has told her, Alicia isn't the only one who hasn't been forgotten or forgiven.
Kalinda gives her a cynical smile.
"For some reason, the other established law firms seem unwilling to entertain my applications. And your firm, well..." she shrugs.
Alicia can't say that she's wrong. After the latest news, the lawyers at her firm would prefer to crucify her rather than work with her.
"So what are you going to do?" she asks quietly.
Kalinda closes her eyes briefly, then opens them again. "Leave. Find my feet somewhere else." She gets up. "Not sure why I haven't already gone, really."
And yes, *yes*, that makes far too much sense.
Why *would* Kalinda stick around?
What possible reason would she have for sticking around?
And why does Alicia feel almost... desolate at the thought?
"You've got to do what you think is best," she manages.
There's a moment when Kalinda just looks at her.
Then she nods.
"It's decided then. Your lawyers won't have to worry about me finding things out anymore."
She gets to her feet and looks down at Alicia. Then, with a casual ease, without so much as changing her expression, she bends down and kisses her languorously.
And all Alicia can do is look up at her, panting, flushed, utterly speechless.
"I'd always wondered what that would be like," she murmurs, not looking at all displeased by her experiment.
"What *was* that?" Alicia asks, finally managing to reacquire some kind of control over her mouth again.
Even though, yet again, those don't seem to be quite the correct words.
She has no idea what the right ones would be, however.
"A kiss, Alicia," Kalinda says, with an expression that clearly adds 'Do keep up.' "It's been..." she contemplates for a second. "Nice," she finally adds smirking. "Goodbye," she says, then turns and calmly walks towards the door.
Leaving Alicia, in her chair still.
Fuming at the *cheek* of the woman.
And yet, the thought that keeps on going through her mind is that Kalinda said 'Goodbye. 'Not 'See you around' or a thousand other things that might imply this is something other than an end.
And, really, that's what decides her.
Still angry, still uttering silent swearwords that she would *never* allow past her lips, she gets to her feet, in hot pursuit.
Because if there's *one* thing she knows...
It's that Alicia isn't good at letting things go.
And she'll be *damned* if she lets Kalinda change that now.
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