DISCLAIMER: All characters of "Law & Order" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" are the sole property of Wolf Films and Universal Television. No copyright infringement was intended -- just borrowing them to feed the imagination! No profit is being made from this fiction. All other original characters created and owned by the author.
FANDOM: "Law & Order", "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"
PAIRINGS: Abbie Carmichael/Original Character; Alex Cabot/Olivia Benson
RATING: M for language, themes
SPOILERS: Just a small one related to Jack McCoy and his past.
OTHER NOTES: Everything in between asterisks are Carmichael's thoughts. By no stretch of the imagination is the author of this story an expert on New York State law or the New York Police Department. To SVU fans... yeah, yeah, patience, friends... Alex and Olivia ARE involved in this story... read on!

The Path of Most Resistance
By Saxony

Chapter One

*I'm glad we have another female joining the team. I was feeling a little lonely as one of the few female ADAs in this place -- of course, there's always the big boss, Nora.*

"I'd like to introduce to you the newest member of our team, Kelly Jordan. She comes to us from Williams, Morris and Spencer. I'm sure you're all familiar with that firm," Manhattan District Attorney Nora Lewin said with an amused smile. She was, of course, referring to the fact that a number of the attorneys in the room had prosecuted against lawyers from the well-known firm.

*No wonder she looks familiar. She's probably defended a case or two against our office.*

"Ms. Jordan has defended against us -- and beaten us, might I add -- in a number of homicide and narcotics cases. I am especially pleased she has decided to join the good guys," Nora continued with a smile directed at the new ADA.

*Sounds like Nora thinks she's good. She looks so young. Cute too. CUTE?!?! Abigail Carmichael! Where did that come from?!? STOP IT NOW. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO DO THIS AGAIN.*

Sitting in the boardroom for a briefing, Assistant District Attorney Abbie Carmichael was unhappy with the sudden teenage-like revelation she had of the new ADA. The last time she was attracted to someone at work had resulted in disaster. Still, she fiddled with her pen as she listened to Nora, all the while stealing glances of curiosity at the newest member of the team.

"And of course, we are sad to see Jack leave us," Nora said, peering over her glasses at Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy.

Jack had suddenly announced his departure only the day before, to the shock of Abbie and the rest of the DA's Office. He had decided he had had enough of prosecuting criminals and before his time, decided to retire from practice.

"Jack, however, won't be leaving law entirely. With his new position at Stanford, he'll be responsible for influencing the minds of the next generation of attorneys -- God help us all." Laughs circulated the room at the DA's good-natured jibe at Jack. "His last day will be on Thursday, after which he'll be going on a vacation before he heads off to school -- so to speak. In his honor, there will be a dinner and social planned for Thursday night at Rondella's. All of you are invited -- including you, Kelly. Rhea," Nora continued referring to her executive assistant, "Has placed all of you and a guest on the list. Please confirm with her if you will be attending."

After Nora had finished with the briefing, many of the attorneys stayed in the room to welcome the woman named Kelly Jordan and to give well wishes to Jack.

"Jack. When I finally get here, you're leaving," Kelly said to the departing Executive ADA. She flashed him a brilliant smile and shook his hand.

*She knows him? Great smile...*

"Kelly, welcome aboard. It is indeed unfortunate that we won't get to play in the same sandbox together," Jack responded, clasping Kelly's hand just a little too long. "If I had known..." he said charmingly.

*Jack McCoy flirting again. No surprise there. He probably would've stayed if he knew she was joining the DA's Office. Mind you, I can't blame him, she IS a looker.*

"Well, maybe next time. Good luck, Jack," Kelly said, with the brilliant smile still on her face.

Nora, who had been standing by the newest member of the team, beckoned the silently observing Abbie to where they were standing. "Kelly, I'd like you to meet Abbie Carmichael -- ADA, homicide prosecution."

"How do you do?" Abbie offered, extending her arm out to shake the new ADA's hand.

"Nice to meet you, Ms. Carmichael," Kelly replied, giving the ADA a warm smile and noticing instantly that she was face-to-face with a startlingly beautiful woman.

"Please, call me Abbie. Welcome aboard. If there's anything I can do to help you settle in, please let me know," she said in a gentle, almost husky southern drawl.

"Thank you for your kind offer."

As a few others came to greet Kelly, Nora pulled Abbie aside, letting her know she wanted to see her in her office after they were done.

"I know she's not Jack, but she's good," Nora assured Abbie, who was sitting in a chair across from the DA.

"Nora, I can handle the caseload on my own."

"I know you can. But I don't want you burning out by trying to do it yourself. Abbie, this isn't about whether or not I think you can handle it. I know you can. But you're human and I don't think you can work sixteen hours a day, seven days a week to keep up -- which is exactly what will happen if I let you work on your own."

Nora knew why Abbie was resisting. She was incredibly independent and hated relying on anybody. It took the young attorney some time to get used to working as a team with Jack. Eventually, she did, and as a result, Jack and Abbie had made a formidable pair in the courtroom.

Nora sighed. She realized that the best approach with the younger attorney when she was in resistance mode was straightforwardness. "Abbie. All I'm asking for is a little patience through this change. Bear with me, okay?"

Abbie's face reflected resignation. She knew this tactic of Nora's and also knew that when her boss had to use it with her, Abbie wasn't about to win the battle. "Okay." Pausing as she pondered a thought, she then said, "So does she know?"

"Actually, no. I wasn't expecting Jack's departure so soon. Hell, when I hired Kelly, I didn't even know he was going to leave. She's young, but she's very, very good. Reminds me a little bit of you -- that whole youthful brilliance thing you both have going for you."

Abbie smiled at Nora's compliment. "So when do we start?"

"Well, I need to talk to her first. I wanted to make sure it was okay with you before I even proposed it to her."

"Thank you for your consideration," Abbie said, genuinely appreciating the demonstrated respect her boss had for her -- a boss known for not holding rank and privilege in high esteem in the DA's Office.

"And if my conversation with Ms. Jordan goes well, as I expect it will, I hope that she'll be able to spend time with both you and Jack before he leaves." She paused to look intently at the attorney in front of her, seeing something of distractedness in Abbie's expression. "You're going to miss him, aren't you?"

Abbie chuckled. "Judging by some of the all out arguments we've had, one would think I was glad to see him go. Alas, I'm really going to miss him. Not only did I learn a lot from him, he and I became very good friends." She sighed. "I hope we stay in touch after he leaves."

Nora smiled. Under Abbie's tough-as-nails courtroom demeanor, the Texas-born woman was very endearing.

"Thanks for being here, Kelly. Nora made a good choice in bringing you in to work with Abbie on our cases -- we have a few doozies in our caseload. Abbie can handle them, no doubt, but with the caseload we have, it's good for her to have a partner to plough through the pile."

Kelly regarded Jack McCoy with a genuine smile -- and understanding. She heard the rumors as to why he was leaving the DA's Office. Rumor had it that Nora had come down hard on him for losing control in the courtroom in a vehicular homicide case prosecuting a drunk driver, after which he took a long, hard look at himself and decided that it was time to move on. Kelly knew what it was like to lose someone so tragically the way Jack had and in some ways, understood his need to reexamine his life.

Detaching herself from her mental segue way, Kelly focused on the face of the veteran prosecutor, noticing the tired lines in his face. "Jack, I could never replace you... and... I have no doubt of Abbie's ability to take on the caseload. I've heard of your work, Abbie. You have a very good reputation," Kelly complimented, leveling an earnest gaze at the other attorney. "I'm looking forward to working with you."

Abbie appreciated Kelly's obvious easygoing attitude towards the new partnership. "Thanks. And I look forward to working with you as well." A feeling akin to relief wove through Abbie's being, reassuring her that the independent woman would be paired with someone who gave no appearance of possibly being commandeering or controlling of their caseload.

The three attorneys spent most of the afternoon reviewing details related to different cases until Kelly had excused herself, citing another meeting to attend to.

"Jack," Kelly said, shaking his hand. "I'm sorry I won't be able to make Rondella's tonight. Good luck. You'll be missed around here -- I'm sure," she said as she glanced at Abbie with her last statement.

"Thanks. Good luck with your work here." He looked over at Abbie and said amusedly, "And good luck here with Carmichael."

"Very funny, Jack," Abbie replied dryly, shooting daggers at him with her eyes.

"Abbie, thanks for the time. I guess I'll see you tomorrow," Kelly said.

After Kelly left, Jack said to his partner, "So what do you think?"

"About Kelly?" Abbie confirmed, ensuring she understood what Jack was asking. She started thinking about the beautiful dark-haired woman who was about to become her work partner. *I could think of a lot of things... cute, competent, attractive...*


Deciding against iterating what she really thought, she said, "She seems sharp and on first impression, she has a good personality. Although it's too early to tell, my instincts tell me it'll probably work." Abbie paused to give Jack a smirk and then said, "Of course, no one can replace the great Jack McCoy."

Jack ignored Abbie's poke. "Nora really likes her -- says she's a star. That's why she worked hard to bring her to our office when she first heard the rumor that she was unhappy with her firm. I've also gone up against her -- when you were still with narcotics -- and she's very competent in the courtroom. She beat me, and she's beaten Reynes and Gomez too. And a few others in our office. She's good, believe me."

"I can see why Nora wanted her on our team. She's that good, huh?" Abbie posed thoughtfully.

"Hey..." Jack iterated gently, instantly sensing the meaning behind his friend's question. "Nora thinks you're a star too. If she didn't, she would have assigned an Exec to you and not an ADA. She trusts you to run with this stuff. She brought Kelly in because every good attorney needs a good co-chair." He paused to let Abbie digest what he had just said. "Abbie, I know you've lived in my shadow for our three years together, but you've proven to be one of the best attorneys I've worked with, and I've been open with my opinion about that. But now I'm leaving and now is your time to shine -- and I know you will."

Abbie gave Jack her best smile and gave him a hug. "Thanks, Jack. That means a lot to me."

Not wanting the moment to be too serious, he replied, "Now don't you be giving that lovely Ms. Jordan as many gray hairs as you gave me."

"So I understand you know Alexandra Cabot," Abbie said, referring to an ADA with the Sex Crimes Unit.

"Yes, we went to law school together." Kelly looked up from her work to give her new partner a curious look. "You know her?"

"Yes, we've collaborated on a number of cases. I enjoy working with her -- she's a good attorney. We socialize on the odd occasion... you know a dinner or two or tickets to theater -- when our schedules allow. I was talking to her earlier in the day and had mentioned your name. She said the two of you were friends."

In fact, Alex had laughed when Abbie mentioned that this new young gun was going to be her partner. Alex had said the two had played intercollegiate volleyball together and had basically helped each other survive law school. She also mentioned the fact that Kelly had always proclaimed that she would never do public practice and thought it ironic that they were now playing on the same team.

Kelly nodded. "Alex and I are old friends, and yes, she is a good attorney. One of the best ones I've been up against -- in my old defense attorney days, of course. We still socialize outside of the courtroom -- even though when we got out of law school we took very separate paths," she finished with a chuckle.

"And now you're on the same paths," Abbie responded with a laugh. "I think that's great that you two have stayed in touch post-law school. That's a rare thing in our circles. Anyways, Alex is a good person -- I quite like her." She then looked at the document in her one hand, while subconsciously running her other hand through her long dark hair trying to refocus on their work. "So what do you think about getting Hansen to plead to Man One?"

Kelly chewed on her pen thoughtfully. "Well, he knows we have three witnesses, and his blood alcohol level was low enough for us to prove he wasn't totally incoherent and could still demonstrate some semblance of thought process. But... we know that his lawyer will try to use his kid's death as a reason for his lack of attention on the road. I'm not sure we can convince a jury not to be sympathetic, to be honest. We could start with Man One and see if it shakes out to Man Two."

It was Abbie's turn to think. *Damn.* Kelly was probably right. She wanted to nail this guy with a tougher sentence and a stray thought caused her to wonder if the conversation would be different if she was having it with Jack. "Okay." She looked up at Kelly and smiled. She had noticed Kelly's habit of chewing her pens. In fact, she thought she had seen her new partner go through at least three pens since sitting down that morning. It was kind of cute. *Cute?!? Don't even go there, Abigail Carmichael. You work with her!* In fact, for some odd reason, she couldn't help but throw glances at Kelly's way all morning. The other attorney had an indescribable allure. Undoubtedly, Kelly was very attractive and she carried herself with an air of confidence without exuding arrogance. Abbie liked confidence in women. She also noticed a number of cute quirks Kelly had -- including her pen chewing habit. *Cute?!? Stop that Carmichael!*

"Something wrong?" Kelly inquired, catching Abbie staring at her.

"Uh, no. Just thinking." *Damn. Caught.*

"Okay," Kelly said simply as she looked down at her papers again. "What about Jackson?"

"Definitely Murder One," Abbie replied, re-focusing on her work. "Nora will push for that. The victim was a witness to a crime and we won't have any problem proving he was murdered because he could have offered testimony against the suspect. And the suspect fled the scene of the crime."

"Okay. And Hong?" Kelly asked as she tossed the previous file to the other side of the table to look at the next one in their huge pile.

"Hmmm. Tougher one. We'll be expected to go after Murder One, although Murder Two is likely, even though intent was there and flight occurred. We just need to make sure we build that case solidly, and I don't expect there to be a plea bargain."

"Okay," Kelly replied simply while still perusing her documents and chewing on her pen.

Abbie gazed over at the other woman. "Are you always this accommodating?" she asked jokingly.

Kelly looked up at her, took a moment to understand Abbie's meaning and when she did, her expression changed and she deadpanned back, "Well, only if you're always this logical."

"Are you being a smart-ass with me?" Abbie accused coyly.

"Wouldn't think of it," Kelly answered straight-faced.

The two women didn't break eye contact for several moments until Abbie broke into laughter. "I think I'll like working with you, Jordan."

Kelly settled an intent gaze on the new partner she was quickly coming to like and then gave her a grin. "I hope so, because I'm starting to like you too -- Carmichael."

The women laughed again and settled back into their work banter.

"So do you have time for a bite to eat?" Abbie asked, stretching her trim frame out on the chair she was lounging on. The two attorneys had stayed late to shuffle through a very heavy caseload. It was eight-thirty when Abbie noticed her stomach growling.

"I suppose we should call it a day, huh?" Kelly mumbled as she ran her fingers through her shortish dark hair, producing a gently tousled look.

*Okay. That's a good look. The 'just out of bed' look. Christ, Carmichael. You're going nowhere near her bed.* "Yeah. My brain is fried. We went through a lot today."

"Yup, we did. Thanks," Kelly added.

"For what?"

"For all of this extra work we're doing to get me up to speed. I know it's not easy to break in a new partner."

"Not a problem. How about you make it up to me by buying me supper?" Abbie said teasingly, not at all expecting her colleague to take her statement seriously.

She was surprised when Kelly accepted.

"You're on," Kelly replied thinking that she liked the easy-going confidence of this ADA. In fact, she had noticed that it didn't take long for them to become comfortable with each other. Without preamble, they had fallen into a natural rhythm with each another, making their first day go very smoothly.

"So how long have you been with homicide?" Kelly posed as the two women were enjoying their dinner.

"About three years. I came from narcotics prosecution," Abbie replied.

Kelly let out a low whistle. "You've moved fast, Carmichael. Already taking on the caseload of a senior attorney -- yet you don't look old enough to have been around for a long time. No offense or anything," Kelly added.

"None taken. I got into the DA's Office right out of law school and, well, I guess I've done okay," Abbie replied, quite accustomed to people's remarks about how young she was relative to her seniority within the DA's Office.

"I'd say you've done more than just okay."

Abbie regarded her new partner, whose face also reflected the same kind of youthfulness as hers. "Hey, what are you talking about? You seem to be about my age and I know you have the reputation equal to a competent, experienced attorney. The rumor around our office is that you've beaten half of our senior attorneys in the courtroom. One would say you've done well for yourself too."

Kelly chuckled. "Yeah, I guess I've done okay, but I think it's easier for lawyers to prove themselves early on in their career when they're in private practice. In a law firm like the one I was in, no one's sacred when it comes to not keeping up with the pack, so someone like me had a lot of opportunities to prove myself a good lawyer."

"And you've done well. The firm you were with has one of the best reputations in the country." Abbie paused and thought to herself that she just had to ask. "So do you mind me asking how old you were when you started practicing?"

"Let's just say, young enough."

Abbie smiled at the other ADA's unwillingness to disclose age. She, too, carried the same policy. People in general used age much too quickly to judge competency, often equating youthfulness with lack of ability. "So some kind of child prodigy, huh?" she offered out with a chuckle.

Kelly laughed. "If that's what you call it."

"You were recruited, weren't you? I mean by your last law firm."

"Yeah. Before I graduated. Guess I was lucky."

"I'm sure it was competence and not luck. Good for you, Kelly," Abbie said, realizing her respect for her fellow attorney had just grown two-fold. "Where did you do your schooling?"

"Columbia for my undergraduate and Harvard for law school."

Abbie chuckled. "Why am I not surprised you went to Harvard? Although I have to say, Columbia isn't one of Harvard's biggest feeder schools."

"I suppose not, but it was my parents' wish that I go there. You know, 'got to have a kid with a Harvard education' syndrome. How about you... how did you track?" Kelly queried with genuine curiosity.

"Undergraduate from Texas State, and graduated J.D. from the same."

"Ah. That explains the accent. Texas." In actuality, Kelly liked the gentle southern drawl of her colleague. There seemed to be a soothing quality to it.

"So why private practice then?" Abbie asked.

"Hmmm. Sometimes life's circumstances cause people to take certain directions. That was the case with me."

Eyeing her company and catching the vagueness in her answer, Abbie asked, "So... why the DA's Office now?"

"Quite honestly? I wasn't receiving any satisfaction out of defending criminals. I know the money is better with private practice, but I'm not in it for the money," Kelly stated matter-of-factly.

"I know what you mean. I'm prosecuting for the same reason you just stated." Abbie paused before she added in an altered tone, "My way of finding justice against the bad guys."

Kelly regarded the ADA and somehow felt that there was a more significant meaning to the statement she had just heard from the other woman. "Would I be wrong by saying I sense a deeper conviction behind what you had just said?" she asked gently.

Abbie was slightly startled by Kelly's gentle probing. She wondered how her colleague had picked up on that so quickly, but she wasn't ready to talk about it. "Perhaps one day we'll talk about it, but not now, if you don't mind."

Kelly held Abbie's eyes and nodded. "I apologize if I overstepped my boundaries."

"No. Please, no apology necessary," Abbie insisted. She added, "I'm just surprised you sensed that."

Kelly, wanting the awkward moment to pass, gave Abbie a smile and lightly joked, "Must be my muse."

Abbie returned the other woman's smile and with an arched eyebrow, replied, "Well, tell your muse good work and we'll chat later."

The two women enjoyed spending dinner getting to know each other and had come to the realization that they were going to make very good working partners. Conversing and laughing as if they had known each other for a lot longer than they actually had, they talked of everything under the sun, except for law and work.

"Thanks for dinner, Kelly," Abbie said, as they stood outside waiting for cabs. "I really enjoyed taking a little down time to get to know a little bit more about you. I think working with you will be great."

Kelly gave her a sly smile and ribbed, "So are you saying you've already forgotten about McCoy?"

With a laugh, Abbie replied, "Naw. He'll always haunt me. Seriously? Jack's good. We may not have always agreed upon everything, but I've learned a lot from him. It's just that it'll be nice to work with someone different, that's all. You know what they say -- a change is as good as a vacation."

As a cab pulled up, Kelly let Abbie take the first one. "See you tomorrow, Counselor," she said as she shut the door behind the other attorney.

Sitting in the cab as she headed home, Abbie used the time to reflect upon the evening. Indeed, she did enjoy her time with Kelly and had found herself intrigued by the other woman. She had also found herself laughing abundantly at her new partner's wit, realizing that it had been quite some time since she had last smiled that much and had enjoyed someone's company so immensely. Kelly was indeed captivating company and it was more than evident that she really clicked with her. She sobered and realized that the last time she had started to feel like this, it had cost her her heart.

"Is that all you're having for lunch?" Abbie chided as she walked into Kelly's office, noticing a container of carrots on her partner's desk. "No wonder you're so thin." Realizing she had just barged into her colleague's office without knocking, she added, "Uh, sorry. The door was open."

"For you? My door's always open," Kelly said, flashing Abbie a brilliant smile.

*Don't do that.* That particular smile had become a weakness of Abbie's. "Ready?"

"Yup," the other ADA replied as she got up out of her chair behind her desk with a pile of file folders in her hand.

The two attorneys settled into work on a particularly hard case after having won their first trial as a pair that morning. With the win of the morning forgotten, the two women quickly fell into a natural work rhythm.

"Damn," Kelly muttered under her breath.

"What?" Abbie posed, looking up from her notepad. Kelly had sprawled her trim, athletic frame on the leather couch in her office, shoes kicked off and a pair of dress pants on instead of the skirt she had worn earlier in the day.

"Forgive me -- but I'm still trying to catch up with where you and Jack left off with some of these details. Jack had written here that the kid couldn't confirm Briscoe's report that his mom had left the house. But then I look at Briscoe's report and he says that the kid had been there all day. Doesn't it make it obvious that the kid should have known if his own mom left him alone?"

"No. When we talked to the kid again, he said that he had been on the computer in his room the entire day. Sorry -- I have the second interview transcript here," Abbie said, tossing it over to Kelly just as the telephone rang.

"Jordan speaking," Kelly pronounced after scooting off of the couch to answer the phone. "Hi."

Abbie instantly noticed the change in Kelly's demeanor upon hearing a voice on the other end of the telephone line.

"No... I'm not sure... I expect it to be a late one... Yes... No. It's just that... Okay. I'm sorry..." She sighed, ran a hand through her hair and then said, "It's been a long day... Okay... That'll be good. I'll call you later."

Kelly put down the telephone receiver and rubbed her temples with another sigh.

"You okay?"

Kelly looked up from her desk. "Umm. Yeah."

"That sounded convincing. Is there something I can do? Do you need to talk?"

Kelly smiled slightly. She appreciated her partner's concern, but had no wish to talk about it. "How about you take a rain check on that. Maybe some other time, but thanks for asking."

"Okee-doke." As much as she wanted to pry, Abbie backed off.

The two women finished their afternoon prepping for the next day's start of a new trial. Abbie had noticed that Kelly had withdrawn into her own thoughts after she had received the telephone call -- the easygoing nature of the ADA disappearing. Instead, Kelly spoke only of business for the remainder of the afternoon, their usual banter abandoned.

"Hey," Abbie prodded, before leaving Kelly's office for the evening. "Try to have a good one tonight, 'kay?"

Kelly gave Abbie a warm smile -- the first one since the telephone call. "Thanks. You too."

"So how's life away from the courtroom?"

"Slower," Jack chuckled with a lop-sided grin.

Abbie and Jack met for drinks that night after she had finished work for the day. It was the first time the two had gotten together since Jack's going away dinner at Rondella's.

"You look relaxed," Abbie remarked, appraising Jack's seemingly serene demeanor.

"I feel relaxed. So how about you? Miss me?"

"Of course I miss you. But not because Kelly's doing a bad job. I just miss you," the younger woman admitted.

Jack smiled inwardly. Abbie was known as the ice queen in and around the courts, but over the last few years, he had been privileged to get to know the gentler side of her. Oh yes, indeed, he had been attracted to her when he had first met her -- who wouldn't be? She had been the first woman he had been attracted to since Claire's death, in fact. However, after a year of his insistent pursuit of her, Abbie had finally had enough of his advances and straight out told him she was interested in women and not men. Once he got over the shock of her revelation, they had, instead, become good friends. Although he was jibed by his male colleagues who thought he had lost his touch since he had been successful in bedding most of his ADA's of the past, he did keep her secret and simply told them that he wasn't ready to move on from Claire.

"So how is Ms. Jordan doing?"

"She's great. In fact, she's more than great. She's as good as everyone had said she was when she first started. Now I know why Nora worked hard to lure her to the DA's Office. And... we make a good team," Abbie admitted, almost sheepishly.

"I would never have guessed that Abbie Carmichael would actually get along with a new partner," Jack laughed.

"Hey. That's not fair," Abbie protested. She leveled a gaze at her ex-colleague before she posed, "So I've been meaning to ask you. The first day Kelly appeared in our office, you looked like you knew her from before. Did you?"

"Yeah, we've actually been on the opposite sides of the aisle a couple of times. Got to know her from that. After the second trial, we went out for drinks. She's fun," Jack answered, alluding a little too mysteriously.

Abbie eyed her friend with suspicion. "You went out on a date with her? Jack, why am I not surprised?"

Jack laughed again. "No, I'm just pulling your leg. We did go out for a few drinks, but I would hardly call them dates. Just a few friendly get-togethers, that's all. But after a few times, we never went out for social drinks again."

"Why not?"

"I'm not sure. Just never got around to it, I guess. I did see her around some lawyer type socials though, but that's about it.

"So... did you ever meet a husband or boyfriend of hers?"

"I'm not sure if I ever did." A pause permeated the air. It was Jack's turn to eye his company suspiciously. "Abbie? Why are you asking me this?"

"Well, um, just trying to get to know my new partner, that's all," Abbie muttered a little too defensively.

Jack knew Abbie better than that. "Abbie..." he warned. "I hope you're not interested in her. And I mean romantically."

"Aww, Jack..."

"Don't aww me, Abigail Carmichael. I know you too well. You're interested in her, aren't you?"

Abbie avoided eye contact with her friend. "Well, I'm not sure. We get along really well, that's all."

Jack sighed. He had seen this before. "Abbie, may I remind you that the last time you got involved with someone you worked with, it got you into a whole lot of trouble and heartache, not to mention that she very well-near outted you at work if I hadn't talked to her?"

"I know."

"Talk to me, Abbie," Jack urged sternly.

"I couldn't help it if Kim was straight." In fact, Kim was too straight. Abbie had gotten involved with an Executive Assistant District Attorney from narcotics prosecution, and had realized too late that she was Kim's six-month bi-curious experiment. After Kim broke up with Abbie, citing that she had realized she wasn't interested in women, the work environment became too difficult for them. They couldn't be around each other, and when they were, neither of them was focused. Kim eventually left for private practice, but the damage to Abbie's heart had been done.

"Kelly could very well be straight too," Jack reminded her gently. "Just be careful, Abbie. I don't want to see you get hurt again. Especially in the office."

"I know," Abbie sighed again. "You don't have to make your point. It's just that we really click. And I mean outside of the office too."

Jack became slightly alarmed. "You two have spent time outside the office? So soon?"

"No worries, Jack. I haven't jumped her bones yet, if that's what you're wondering. I do have class you know," Abbie chided. She gave him a stern look and then continued. "No. We've just gone for drinks, dinner and movies and such. Just plain old hanging out with each other -- but we really, really connect."

"Do you know if she's gay?"

"No. In fact, the strange thing is every time I try to broach the subject of relationships, she veers off in another direction of conversation. She's very good at that. I guess that's why she's a lawyer," she chuckled.

"Her relationship status shouldn't matter to you. You shouldn't even be going there in your head. You're her work partner."

"And that's stopped you before?" Abbie accused none too lightly.

"Well... I... uh... That's different," Jack replied weakly.

"Uh-huh." She stared him down with an expectant look on her face.

She had him. Jack sighed and met the amused gaze of the woman sitting across from him. "Okay, okay. So it's not different. But I'm me and you're you."

"What in the hell is that supposed to mean, Jack?" Abbie asked with exasperation in her voice.

"I'm older than you are and have had more experience with complicated relationships."

"Oh, Jack. You're losing your touch already. That was SO not convincing," Abbie laughed.

"Fine. I just don't think you can afford another situation like the one you had with Kim, that's all."

"I know, Jack. For the third time -- I know."

"I thought you were dating someone -- Jasmine or something like that," Jack questioned.

"That didn't work out. Nor did Karen and most definitely not Chandra."

"Boy, you do get around, don't you Carmichael?" Jack teased.

"Bugger off Jack. It's just that I haven't met anyone I've been terribly interested in and I won't settle for less than what I deserve."

"You remember that, okay?" Jack said, re-emphasizing Abbie's last statement. "Don't settle for less than what you deserve -- which is a whole hell of a lot."

"Thanks, Jack. Your sage counsel is taken under advisement," Abbie sighed. Again.

Chapter Two

"So why New York? You could have had any law firm you wanted -- I'm sure."

Abbie and Kelly had gone for a long walk on the boardwalk after dinner -- both feeling a little restless from a very tough day. Abbie thoroughly enjoyed spending time with Kelly, especially the times when they just walked and talked -- something, she noticed, they had done frequently as of late.

"Mmm. My parents lived here," Kelly replied idly, as if in remembrance.


"Yeah. Lived. They died three years ago in a car accident."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Abbie apologized, not quite sure how to respond.

"Me too." After a number of emotions flitted across her face, Kelly then continued. "You're probably right; I could have gone anywhere, but I was close with my dad and I wanted to be near him. We had a great relationship." Not wanting to talk more on the subject, she then asked, "What about you? Why New York instead of the great state of Texas?"

"I needed a change. I had grown up all of my life in Texas and felt a great need to see and experience something different."


"And what?" Abbie asked, slightly confused.

"And are you experiencing something different?"

She thought for a moment before answering. "Yes. Yes I am. I have to say that I'm a very different person here in New York than when I was in Texas. I feel free to be who I want to be here. I can't say that I felt that back home."

Kelly regarded her friend curiously. "There is something to be said about feeling comfortable in your own skin."

"Yeah... that's it. Here in New York, I feel comfortable in my own skin..." Abbie mulled over the new phrase that Kelly had just introduced to her.

Kelly stopped to lean on the concrete rail overlooking the water. "I love watching the boats coming in and out of the docks at night."

"Something very peaceful about it, isn't it?"

Kelly glanced over at her friend. "Is that what you look for, Abbie? Peace?"

Abbie gave a momentary look of surprise in response to the other woman's unusual, but direct question. "Are you picking up on something about me?" she asked without defensiveness.

"Can I be honest?"


"Ever since that first night we had dinner and you made a remark about work being your way of finding justice, I've sensed something lurking in you just beneath the surface. Something that's happened to you..."

The brunette attorney shook her head slightly. "You're very astute, Counselor. I didn't know I was being watched." Again, her remark was without defensiveness.

"Sorry," Kelly apologized, looking down at her hands, thinking that she had offended the other woman.

"Don't be. It means a lot to me that you've noticed." Abbie expelled a slight sigh. "Kelly, I don't want you to be offended. You're right. But I just can't talk about it now. I hope that's okay," Abbie said, giving Kelly a reassuring squeeze of the arm in hopes that the other woman would be okay with that answer. "It's not you. It's me."

Kelly nodded, clearly not offended. "I understand."

"Do you?"

"Yes." It was Kelly's turn to sigh. "Sometimes things happen in life that change us immeasurably. I think that something's happened to you that is exactly that. And sometimes it takes a whole lot of time to be able to talk to someone about what had happened to change us so immensely. It doesn't mean we don't want to talk about it, but the timing may be such that we just can't talk about it. No matter how hard we try."

Abbie looked at Kelly with marvel. For someone so young, Kelly continued to surprise Abbie with her understanding of life -- and perhaps of her. "Thank you for understanding and not taking it personally. I like you Kelly, and I think we have a wonderful connection, but I struggle with things that aren't necessarily easy to share with people. Thanks for not holding it against me," Abbie said with sincerity.

"Just know that if you ever want to talk, I'm here, okay?"


"And Abbie?"


"We do have a pretty cool connection, don't we?"

Abbie gave the other woman an affectionate smile in response.

Nora Lewin had thrown Kelly and Abbie another case late in the day, much to the chagrin of two already very busy ADA's.

"I guess she thinks we're that good. Another one to the pile," Abbie muttered.

"So who's representing Wheeler?" Kelly posed as she chewed on her pen absentmindedly.

*I love that habit.* Abbie flipped through the newly acquired file and found her answer. "Funny you should ask. Some lawyer from your ex-law firm. The guy's name is Johnson."

Kelly dropped her pen on the floor.

*I guess she won't be chewing on that one again.* "You okay?" Abbie asked after retrieving Kelly's pen for her.

"Umm. I think you should know. I know him."

"Of course you do. You worked together, didn't you?" Abbie asked, curious about Kelly's obvious statement.

"Yeah. Well, no. I mean yeah, we did. But that's not it."

Now Abbie was really curious. Kelly was flustered. "Kell -- straight out with it. What's going on?"

"Umm. He's my fiancé."

It was Abbie's turn to drop her pen. "Oh." *'Oh' what? 'Oh' that the lawyer we're facing off against knows her inside out? Literally? 'Oh' that she's attached to someone? 'Oh' as in why didn't you tell me before? 'Oh' that they're sleeping with one another? Or 'Oh' that I'm so disappointed?* Abbie regained her composure. Somewhat. "I, uh, never knew you were engaged. You don't have a ring on you're finger."

"Um. You know me. I'm pretty private about my... well... um... private life. And I don't wear the ring because it's, shall I say, too distracting for people around me."

"What do you mean distracting?"

"It's five carats."

"Oh. I see. That would be distracting."

Silence pervaded the room.

"If you think it's a conflict of interest, I would understand if you seek another co-chair for this case," Kelly offered weakly, breaking the silence.

Abbie contemplated how to respond to her partner, a thousand thoughts running through her mind. *Focus, Carmichael.* "Well, it's not unusual for... uh... partners... to be on opposite sides of the aisle. It's happened before. And I know your integrity wouldn't let your personal relationship with him interfere with your work. Do YOU have a problem with it?"

This time it was Kelly who needed a few moments before answering. "No, I don't think so."

"Kelly, that didn't sound convincing."

"It's not that I wouldn't keep professional objectivity... it's just that..."

When Kelly didn't finish her sentence, Abbie prodded. "What, Kell?"

"Well, I'm not sure how to put this."

"Just tell me," Abbie prompted, beginning to lose her patience. Or maybe she was subconsciously upset that she had just found out Kelly was attached to somebody.

"I'm not sure I really want to work with him."

*Not the answer I was expecting.* "Um, okay. Can I ask... No. Well, you're not working with him, you're working against him." *Oh. That was profound, Carmichael.*

"I guess."

*Equally profound, Jordan.* Abbie only blinked back at her partner. "Can I ask why you might not want to work with someone you're engaged to?"

This time, Kelly took a long moment before answering. She looked at her watch and then said, "We've worked really hard all day. Why don't we finish up here? That Wheeler case can wait 'til tomorrow morning, right?"

Abbie looked confused. "Well, yeah. We can't do much with it today, but..."

Kelly sighed and started to rub her temples as she heard her stomach growl. "Tell you what. Let's go for a bite to eat and I'll answer your question."

Abbie wasn't going to refuse. This might be the only time Kelly was going to talk about her relationship. "Okay."

"Chris and I have been engaged twice, actually," Kelly began after the waiter set their food on the table. "I met him at a recruitment function when I was at Harvard. The firm had sent him to scope out their next generation of lawyers, but little did they know he would end up scoping out a new girlfriend." She let out a chuckle. "We met, started dating... even through my last year of Harvard... and voila. I ended up in New York."

"So you had another reason besides your dad to come to New York," Abbie stated as she settled back into her seat to listen to Kelly's story.

"Yeah. Much to my parents' chagrin. They weren't impressed with me when I first met him. I was twenty-two and he was thirty-two. They felt he was doing a little bit of cradle robbing. Hell, I wasn't even out of law school..."

Abbie waited to see if Kelly would continue, and when she didn't, she said, "You mentioned that you were... I mean are... have been... engaged twice." *Were? Are? Have been? This could get confusing.*

"Mmm. Yeah, I broke the engagement off once. About four months after we first got engaged. And, well, eight months ago, we decided to get engaged again. We don't have a date set though..." Kelly finished with her voice trailing off.

Although Abbie silently pondered the possible reasons that prompted Kelly to break the engagement in the first place, something else was bothering her. "Can I ask you something pretty pointed?"

"Of course."

"Why have you never said anything to me about Chris? We've been working and socializing together for almost two months," Abbie said, trying not to sound hurt.

"In all honesty? I wouldn't have known what to say to you about it the last two months. Sure, we're engaged, but that's about it. Nothing to talk about."

"You don't sound excited or happy about all of this, Kell."

"That obvious, huh?"

"Do I need to answer that?"

Kelly sighed. "Guess not. It's not about happiness. I don't think." She struggled with her words. "Chris is a good man. He's sweet, kind, generous, intelligent, ambitious, good-looking -- you know, the works."


"But... I don't know. That's what I've been trying to figure out the last couple of months -- which is why I haven't talked about him since I've known you. Sorry, Abbie."

"You don't need to apologize. Frankly, it's probably none of my business and you're not obligated to tell me about all the details of your life." Abbie had hoped she didn't sound defensive, but it was the truth.

Unsure of how to respond to the slight hurt she heard in her friend's voice, Kelly remained wordless as she picked through her plate, sinking deeper and deeper into her own thoughts.

Abbie mirrored the other woman's silence, eating her dinner as she sifted through her emotions. She pushed down the sulkiness threatening her mood because Kelly had left her in the dark about her relationship all this time. It took several minutes before she focused on the other woman and noticed the distracted expression on her face. *Hell. Maybe she needs to talk about it. Try to put your feelings aside and reach out.* "Kell, why are you with the DA's Office?" Abbie asked, thinking that the question was a good place to start.

Kelly, relieved that her companion wasn't going to shut her out, said, "Are you asking me if Chris has anything to do with my decision?" When Abbie nodded, Kelly continued. "Yes. And no. Yes, because it was getting to a point where we couldn't work together anymore. Some of our issues were cropping up at work, and since he was the more senior attorney in the law firm, I was the one who decided to leave. But it wasn't just him. Frankly, part of my problem -- and maybe my reaction manifested itself in me taking it out on Chris -- was that I got tired of defending people who I knew were guilty. And the sad thing was that I was winning most of my cases and they were getting off scott-free. I couldn't do it anymore. So, I let Alex know I was looking to make a move... and..."

"And she told Nora. That's how she found out you wanted to leave your firm."

"Yeah, something like that."

"Back to Chris..."

"Back to Chris." Kelly took a moment to reflect and then continued. "Chris became threatened by my success with the firm. In fact, he began to resent the fact that I was winning more cases in a year than he was. He's an okay lawyer, even good. But I hate to admit it -- I'm better than he is."

"Why is that a bad thing? Kelly, you're not the arrogant type. So what? You do better in the courtroom than he does. It's not your fault, and he shouldn't resent you for it." Defiance marred Abbie's voice.

"Well, he does. And when we get married, he's hinted that he wants me to quit," Kelly said quietly.

"He has no right to ask you to quit."

"I'm not sure I want to. But, if work is going to create tension in our relationship, I'm going to have to decide if it's worth it."

"I can't believe you're even considering it. You surprise me, Kelly."

Kelly had stopped eating, having lost her appetite. At first, she had thought that talking about her relationship issues with Abbie would help her. Instead, talking about it had caused the truth to become more apparent, and the truth was beginning to look unpleasant. "What am I supposed to do, Abbie? I'm marrying this guy."

Glancing at the half-eaten food on their plates, Abbie realized both of them had little appetite. "Let's get out of here. We're not going to finish our dinners so we might as well go for a walk."

Kelly only nodded in agreement.

Kelly and Abbie walked along the streets of lower Manhattan making small talk for the first half-hour, wandering aimlessly without a destination in mind. Abbie had suggested going for a walk because in her experience, it seemed to be the time and activity that she and Kelly had connected best, and for some reason, she needed that connection now. And she knew Kelly needed it too.

"Kelly, you talk about marrying Chris as if it were a definite, but you don't sound like you're very happy about it."

"I admit I sound a little off about this."

"You sound a little more than just off. Tell me why you're marrying him?"

"It may not sound like it, but he's a good man. He may be a little jealous of my success, but I have to believe he'll get over it. That's why I left the firm. I thought the time away from being with him in a professional environment might do us some good." She walked on in silence for a bit, her steps feeling heavy. "Chris and I got engaged shortly after my parents died. It felt like the right thing to do. After my parents died, I felt a strong need to get on with my life and to take care of things I deemed important in my life. At that time, Chris and I had been together for four years and we felt it was time to solidify our relationship -- so we got engaged." She paused as if reaching for a memory. "Abbie, he was so there for me when my parents died. He was safe, he was a rock and he was just there. He also supported me in getting on with my life -- including helping me with regaining focus on my work. It was then that I realized I wanted to be with him for the rest of my life."

"And now?" Abbie posed quietly. This was no longer about her crush on her colleague. She was now very concerned that Kelly was using the past to blind herself to the present.

"Honestly? I don't know. I know what you think. The guy back then doesn't sound like the guy who now wants me to quit law, is jealous of my success, and... well... I guess he is different. But I have to in my heart believe that the man I knew back then is still here today."

Abbie nodded. And frankly, she had to agree with Kelly's hope -- if reluctantly. If everyone just gave up on love after a bump in the road, there would be no love at all.

Kelly continued her monologue when she saw Abbie only nod in response. "I've invested too much of myself and my life to just give up. In the end, if I find out that Chris and I aren't meant to be, at least I know I tried."

"What about practicing law? Are you willing to give that up?"

This time, Kelly hesitated. "I'm not sure I am."

Abbie refused to walk on eggshells around her on this subject. "Is he worth giving up law for?"

Kelly didn't answer.

"Kell. I've seen you in the courtroom. I've seen you face off against defense lawyers; I've practically listened to you everyday about your philosophies and views on justice; and you're passionate about what you do. In fact, it seems, sometimes, that law is your life. How can you even consider giving that up simply because your husband-to-be wants you to? Are you really that in love with him?"

Abbie knew the answer. Kelly's silence spoke volumes.

Abbie softened her tone and continued her monologue. "A very good friend lectured me about love a few weeks ago, because he was worried that I would get hurt if I got involved with a particular person." Abbie saw Kelly throw a curious glance her way, probably because she had never spoken of any romantic interests in all the time they had known each other. "You see... he had caught on that I was interested in someone who might not reciprocate my feelings. He said that I should never settle for less than what I deserve." She paused for effect and held Kelly's eyes. "You too, Kelly Jordan. You deserve nothing but the best -- so don't settle for anything less than that."

"Chris, I'd like to introduce you to Assistant District Attorney Abbie Carmichael," Kelly said, her professional facade in full force. "Abbie, Mr. Wheeler's defense lawyer from Williams, Morris and Spencer, Chris Johnson."

Abbie noticed that Kelly was avoiding full eye contact with Chris. "Good to meet you, Mr. Johnson."

"Please, call me Chris," Kelly's fiancé responded, flashing Abbie a charming smile while shaking her hand.

*Okay. So he IS good looking. Even I can see that.* "Please, have a seat," Abbie offered, pointing to a seat across the table from the two Assistant District Attorneys.

"So that we can't call a mistrial or conflict of interest on anything, I want to make sure you understand upfront that Kelly and I are engaged," Chris stated with ease, directing his comment to Abbie.

Abbie forced a smile. "Yes, I am well aware of that."

"Chris, Abbie and I have discussed this briefly, and strongly agree that my engagement to you will not cloud my judgment nor affect my ability to prosecute your client," Kelly pointed out matter-of-factly.

*'Briefly?' 'Ability to prosecute?'* It wasn't that Abbie didn't appreciate Kelly's effort to be factual, but after their conversation the previous night, she wondered why Kelly seemed to be outwardly brazen about the issue.

"Look, let's get to the point," Chris started, clearly put off. "All you have on Mr. Wheeler is a witness who could be certified, another witness whose credibility is questionable and a gun with no prints."

"Actually, we have a gun with no prints -- but is traceable to the owner, who happens to be Mr. Wheeler. The gun was found in his residence and..." Abbie continued, as she tossed Chris a document, "...New York's finest just gave us this."

Chris read the document. "What? A cloth with trace evidence of gunpowder from his home? It could mean anything," he said a little too smugly.

"Yes. Exactly." It was Kelly who spoke up. "Which means it could indicate he used that cloth to wipe the gun. We also found in his possession matches from the restaurant the victim was last seen in. Not to mention that the host of that restaurant could place Wheeler there the same time the victim was there -- it's in their reservation book under the name Wheeler... might I add not too bright on his part. Finally, we know that they were both in that restaurant approximately two hours before the victim was found D.O.A. And if I have to bring in all one hundred or so patrons dining there on that night to I.D. him, then I will."

"You expect me to believe you can win on circumstantial evidence?" Chris asked in an attempt to dismiss the evidence placed before him.

"You know I've won with less."

Abbie threw her partner a glance and mentally checked her own hearing, uncertain if she had really heard what Kelly had just said. After their talk last night, she didn't think Kelly would do anything to make her sound better at the job than he was. But she had done just that.

"We also have the fact that he fled from two uniformed police officers when he saw them. And you know how that would look to a jury."

"You're looking to bargain, aren't you?" Chris asked.

"Well, it would save taxpayer dollars if we did," Abbie offered dryly.

"What are you offering?"

"Eighteen to twenty-five," Abbie replied.

"You've got to be joking."

"Well, it could be worse. It could be twenty-five to life because we have flight and possible motive," Abbie added.

Chris sighed. "All I can do is take this to my client," he muttered as he got up from his seat.

"Let us know," Abbie said as she got up to see Chris out the door.

Chris then looked at Kelly and said, "See you later tonight?"

"I'll call you when I'm finished here," she replied coolly.

He nodded and then said to Abbie, "Nice meeting you, Ms. Carmichael."

Abbie only nodded back.

When he left, Kelly said, "I hate it when he does that."

"Does what?"

"Switches to relationship mode when we're in a professional situation. He knows better than to ask me in front of colleagues if he'll see me after work."

"I see."

"Look," Kelly said tiredly, "I need to go see a suspect at the 2-7. I'm a little late. Can we talk later?"


When Kelly left her office, Abbie sat at her desk and replayed the meeting in her head. Chris didn't seem to be incredibly special. Sure, he was good-looking, and even if Abbie preferred women, she certainly wasn't blind to good looks. In actuality, Chris seemed a little arrogant. Or maybe she was just being biased. Still, she couldn't see anything that would make Kelly trade her successful law career for a marriage to a seemingly non-special guy. Mind you, the meeting was a brief one, and Abbie wondered if it was fair for her to make judgments based on so little time spent with the man in question.

She let out a sigh. *Straight women. I don't think I'll ever understand them.*

"Sorry, Kelly... I have to call it a day," Abbie said as she glanced at her watch.

Kelly looked up at Abbie in surprise. "Hot date?" she joked.

"Um, sort of," Abbie replied hesitantly. An old flame had called her for drinks that afternoon and for some reason, she felt like she was in the mood to accept her offer.

"Good for you, Abbie. Don't do anything I wouldn't do," Kelly joked. "Which isn't a whole hell of a lot," she added with a devilish look in her eyes.

"You are so bad, Jordan. What about you? What are you up to tonight?"

"I'm going home, opening a bottle of wine and popping in a movie," Kelly answered. "I need some chill time."

Abbie wondered if Chris was a part of her plan. Shrugging the thought off, she said, "Well, have fun."

"You too."

After a night of peace -- the first one in a long time, Kelly had come back to a day like the one she was currently experiencing.

"Can I see you in my office -- alone?" Kelly demanded in an even tone but with anger in her eyes.

Abbie knew it was a signal for her to leave Chris alone with one very ticked-off co-chair. The meeting had not gone well, which was an understatement. Chris had been showboating and had argued with Kelly on every point -- even around trivial things. Indeed, a defense attorney was supposed to do just that -- negotiate -- but it was clear that Chris was being overly aggressive in order to prove himself a better lawyer than his fiancée, and frankly, Abbie felt he had wasted everyone's time.

*I still can't see what it is she sees in him.*

"What in the hell are you trying to prove?!?" Kelly spit out after she slammed her office door shut.

"What do you mean?" Chris asked, pretending not to understand.

"You're being incredibly disrespectful to Abbie and to me with your game-playing."

"What? I'm doing my job. I'm representing my client to the best of my ability."

"By arguing at every point about things that clearly have no basis of truth? Chris, you look like you're arguing with us for the sake of arguing and not to prove fact! If you want to waste our time, then let's forget trying to bargain and let's just go straight to trial. I'm ready. Are you?" a defiant ADA challenged, her eyes simmering with anger.

Chris sat down on the couch in Kelly's office. "What do you want me to do?"

"For starters, it doesn't take an amateur to see that you don't have a case and that your client is better off plea-bargaining than going to trial. Believe me, Chris, if we go to trial, I'll push for twenty-five to life -- and I will make sure I win," she said with a dangerous tone. "And you know I can win."

"Is it always going to be about you beating me?" Chris posed in a low voice.

"No. It's not always about that -- and it never has been about that. I'm just doing my job and I always have, and I can't help it if I do my job well. You have to stop resenting me for that."

"I do not resent you for that," he argued back.

"You've got to be kidding me, right?"

He could only stare back at his fiancée, and as he regarded her and saw frustration on her face, he suddenly recognized that what was happening between them had nothing to do with their current case. Averting his eyes to his feet, he put his head in his hands. After staying silent for a moment, he quietly said, "What's happening to us, Kelly?"

She had him. She knew she had him and she didn't like the feeling of it. She plopped onto the couch next to him and started to rub her temples.

"I thought this would get better after you left for the DA's Office."

"I don't know, Chris. Obviously it hasn't."

"I'm losing you, aren't I?"

And that hit her hard. Maybe it was the way he said it -- in the most sincere, realizing, gentle tone. Maybe because he had just sounded like the old Chris. Or maybe because deep down inside, she knew that he might be right.

"I... maybe... I don't know. I just don't know if I can answer that."

Chris looked up at Kelly and saw a tired face and knew he was the cause of her weariness. "I've felt so distant from you the last few months, and I don't mean physical space -- although there's some of that. I thought maybe you've needed the space, so I haven't pushed you. But now I'm afraid that by not pushing you, I may be losing you," Chris said, taking Kelly's hand.

She didn't pull her hand back. Instead, she squeezed his in return. "Maybe you're not losing me. Or maybe you are. But if you are losing me it's because I've felt that I was losing you."

"What do you mean by that?"

"I miss the gentle you. I miss the Chris that supported me through finishing law school and the Chris that helped me get back on track when my parents died. And I really miss the Chris that was as happy as I was with every case that I won. I miss the Chris, my fiancé and husband-to-be, that loves me for everything that I am and will be."

Chris didn't respond. He stared at their clasped fingers.

"Do you ever wonder why you can't get me to agree on a wedding date?" Kelly asked when her fiancé remained silent.

"Yeah, but I've been afraid to ask."

"It's because I don't want to marry you if I've lost you," Kelly stated quietly and simply.

"Is that why you're not wearing the engagement ring?"

Kelly half smiled. "Sort of. But mostly because I don't want jurors to see me with a five-carat rock on my finger. Somehow that seems inappropriate," she said wryly.

Chris chuckled and smiled for the first time since the beginning of their private conversation. He then sobered again. "Have I been that insensitive?"

"Yes. But maybe I have been too. I have to admit that I've been struggling with the concept of us -- and frankly I'm stuck."

After a moment of silence, Chris asked with uncertainty in his voice, "What should we do?"

This time, Kelly let go of Chris's hand and got up from the couch. "I've been thinking about a little time and space."

"Are you saying you want to break the engagement?" Chris asked with panic in his eyes.

"Well, I... no. That's not what I'm saying. I think maybe we should take some time off from seeing each other, and decide if we can find our old selves again -- if it's possible. The old Chris and the old Kelly."

"The old Kelly, huh?"

"I have to admit I haven't felt like myself in a long time. Maybe a year, or more. Who knows? I just know that I don't feel..." she struggled with the words. And then it came to her. "...I don't feel good in my own skin. Chris, I used to laugh a lot more and I used to be more irreverent. I used to be in love with life -- and somehow I'm not feeling that anymore. Maybe the reason why you and I aren't doing well is that it has nothing to do with you and I as a couple but it might have something to do with each of us as individuals."

Chris thought for a moment and then asked, "How long?"

"As long as we need, I guess. I'm not sure setting a deadline is a smart thing for us to do. If we're worth saving, Chris, we need to take the time to do it."

"And if we can't find our old selves?"

"Then we cross that bridge when we get there."

"So what does this mean... we can't see each other?"

"That's the point," Kelly said. She then realized how she had just sounded and so softened her tone. "I just think you and I have a lot of thinking to do. I need to think about what I want and I really believe in my heart that you have to do the same. I think we both have to decide if we'll be able to find that happiness we once had -- because we're not happy now. We can't do that objectively if we're around each other."

"Can we talk to each other on the telephone once in awhile -- to say hi?"

"I would like that."

"Me too."

"So what do we do about the case?" Chris asked.

"How about we start by talking more realistically about a plea bargain?"

"Okay. And I'm sorry I put you and Abbie through hell this afternoon."

"Hey -- now that's sounding like the old Chris I know and love."

Chris smiled. She had used the word love. He could only hope that he could keep it that way.

"I don't know what you said to him, Kelly, but that was an entirely different defense lawyer just now," Abbie said after Chris left. They had finally agreed upon a plea-bargain -- and Chris had done it without his earlier aggression and arrogance.

Kelly didn't answer. She only nodded.

*God she looks tired.* "Um. How did it go in your office?" Abbie ventured.

"As best as can be. We've decided to take some time away from each other -- at least for a little while."

If Abbie was surprised, which she was, she tried not to show it. "How are you doing?"

"I feel like shit."

"Oh." *There's that 'oh' again, Carmichael.* "Is there anything I can do? Do you want to talk?"

"Thanks, Abbie. Honestly, I'm all talked out." Pushing off thoughts of Chris, she said, "Enough about me. How are you doing? How was your hot date last night?"

"Not so hot," Abbie chuckled. In actual fact, she had enjoyed spending time with Janice, but had also realized why she wasn't dating her anymore. "I'm not sure I should be in the dating game."

Kelly was glad to focus on someone else other than herself or Chris. "Why not?" she asked curiously.

Abbie smirked. "You know... don't have time, energy, desire, so on and so forth. Anyways, there's no one out there for me -- at least not anybody who's available."

"Carmichael! How on earth could that be? You're gorgeous, successful, intelligent, funny, caring, and did I say gorgeous? And... do you want me to go on? I find it hard to believe there's no one out there for you!" Kelly exclaimed.

Abbie startled with Kelly's compliments. "Uh, thanks. I, um, well I may be all of those things you just said but I'm incredibly picky about who I want to be in a relationship with."

"Can't blame you," Kelly sighed.

Abbie knew her partner's last statement and her pronounced sigh indicated that she had sunk back into thinking about Chris.

"Hey, why don't we call it a day? No offense or anything, but you look pretty tired," Abbie said.

"I feel tired... but alas, I have plans tonight."

"You do?"

"Yup... Alex and I are heading out for a long overdue dinner."

"Sounds like fun. Say hi to her for me, okay?"

"For sure."

Part Three

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