DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Trial by Jury, Law & Order and all characters are property of NBC and Dick Wolf. No infringement intended. Joan and Sally are mine. :)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This one has been sitting on my hard drive for months. I dusted if off at Ralst's request for a TBJ fic. Special thanks to the very lovely Deb for the beta.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To darandkerry[at]yahoo.com

The Presiding Judge
By Ann


Music boomed from strategically placed speakers of a popular downtown lesbian bar and blasted over the heads of patrons loitering near the doorway. The sensuous, almost hypnotic beat spilled out onto the sidewalk but wasn't really necessary on this particular evening to draw in passers-by. It was Friday night and the bar was packed to the rafters as working women crowded into the establishment to unwind from their hectic week. Some raised their glasses in celebration of the end of a successful week, while others simply downed their drinks and motioned the bartender for another, grateful that their horrible five days had finally come to an end. A few could care less how their week had gone and had come strictly to socialize, hoping that they'd find someone to take home by the end of the evening.

An attractive redhead sat on the stool closest to the door, her shapely legs crossed and her foot resting on a brass rail that ran the length of the bar. She kept an eye peeled on the entrance, and her face lit up when she spotted the blonde she'd been waiting to meet. "Serena! Over here!"

Serena Southerlyn's head swung around, and she nodded and waved at the other woman as she veered toward the bar. Edging around a brunette, she then squeezed between two blondes and sidestepped another before she finally stepped free from a group of inebriated women who'd hovered near the door to check out the new arrivals, as if their proximity to the entrance alone would gain them some sort of advantage over the rest of the patrons.

"Jeez, what's tonight? Free drinks?" Serena grumbled and slid onto the stool next to her friend. "I told you we should've gone somewhere else tonight." She truly loved this bar, but she really hated it on Friday nights. She'd practically been fondled twice when she'd fought her way to the barstools.

"You love all the women drooling over you and you know it," Karen Watson, Serena's friend and administrative assistant, said teasingly as she slid a Mojito closer to the blonde. She'd taken the liberty of ordering the first round, figuring her friend would be in need of something right away.

Serena's eyes locked on the sprig of mint and the lime hooked over the edge of the glass and instantly brightened. "No, I don't," she said, curling her fingers around the chilled glass and pulling it closer. "But this will make up for the bruise I'm probably going to have on my ass. One of those women actually pinched me." She wrapped her lips around a red straw and sucked in a generous amount of liquor. "Ahh, yeah, this will definitely help."

Karen laughed and took a sip of her own drink, barely swallowing before she suddenly remembered something that she knew would be of interest to her friend. "Hey, you're never going to guess who's here," she challenged teasingly and grinned down at the umbrella that floated in her drink to keep from glancing in the direction of the person in question. "And looking like something that the cat dragged in."

Serena panned the room, her lips still firmly attached to her straw as she drew in more of the refreshing drink. She quickly spied a couple of women she'd hoped to never see again and made a mental note of where they were and what they were wearing before moving her gaze to the other side of the room. She was just about to ask Karen the identity of the mystery woman when she spotted a familiar form slouched forward on a stool and leaning heavily against the rounded edge of the bar. Karen was right, too; the other woman looked like she hadn't slept in over a week.

"Save my place, I'll be back," Serena said around her straw as she pushed to her feet and adjusted her purse strap on her shoulder. Seeing an opening between a highlighted blonde and a jet black dye job, she gripped her glass with one hand and her purse with her other and shot forward, turning sideways and easily slipping past the chatting women on her way to a clear path that led to the end barstool where a brooding brunette continued to stare down into her drink, not even looking up when Serena came to a stop right next to her.

"Damn, Tracey, you look like hell. What happened? Kelly finally leave you?" Serena asked as she edged in on the other side of the ADA, finding an open space between Tracey's barstool and the wall and settling in. She sipped on her drink and readied to listen to her friend rant about something or other, more than likely another technical loophole in the justice system that had cost her a slam dunk win.

Tracey visibly flinched but kept her eyes on her almost empty glass. "As a matter of fact, she did," she said gruffly, her voice wavering slightly at her words despite her intent to sound nonchalant. It was the first time she'd actually acknowledged their break-up aloud, although it had certainly occupied every one of her thoughts ever since Kelly had walked out five days ago, having timed her departure perfectly with an already planned week's vacation to visit her ailing father.

Serena's eyes widened in surprise, and she blindly set her glass on the bar. "Oh shit, Tracey. I'm sorry. I had no idea." She reached out and eased a hand to her friend's shoulder, squeezing slightly before quickly withdrawing, knowing full well how much Tracey hated to be coddled. "What happened?" Serena asked gently and watched the other woman's reaction carefully. Tracey would ignore the question completely, blow it off - perhaps even point out that Serena of all people should know that she wasn't really the relationship type of person and how she'd grown tired of being tied down - or not so politely direct Serena to 'fuck off'. Serena was betting on the last possibility.

A half-sigh, half grunt was barely heard over the din of chatting women and loud music and only because Serena had been paying such close attention to Tracey's response. If Tracey was going to actually talk about the breakup, Serena damn sure planned to hear everything the other woman had to say.

She'd always believed Tracey when they used to lie in bed together after a long 'friends with benefits' encounter and talk of relationships and how the other woman really wasn't 'partner material'. But that was long before Kelly had come along. Kelly had managed to break through every one of Tracey's defenses.

"C'mon, let's find somewhere quiet," Serena said, leaning forward and speaking directly into Tracey's ear. Reaching inside her purse, she grabbed some bills and tossed them onto the bar and, taking one final swig of her drink, she set her glass down and took Tracey's elbow. There was a smaller, much more intimate bar a few blocks away that had booths that would allow them the privacy they'd need.

Mouthing a quick apology to Karen, Serena slipped her hand into Tracey's and tugged the other woman toward the entrance, past the jumbled mass of women at the door, and out into the street.

"Okay, spill," Serena said bluntly the instant their waitress turned to leave after serving their drinks. She'd been as patient and polite as possible on their walk over and even during the silence that ensued when she and Tracey had been seated and ordered their drinks.

Wordlessly, Tracey lifted a nearly overfilled glass to her lips and very carefully sipped the amber-colored liquid. She didn't plan on spilling anything this evening.

"Oh no," Serena protested. "You're not going to clam up on me now." She hadn't stayed quiet just to be shut out. She'd watched the play of emotions dance across Tracey's face and had spotted the moment her friend had decided not to share any more details concerning her relationship, or, seemingly, her lack of relationship, with Kelly. "We're going to figure out a way to fix this."

Tracey head snapped up, and she slowly lowered her drink to the table. "We're not going to do anything," she replied, her voice hard and commanding. "It's over. She broke things off and then went to visit her parents. End of story. Let's just leave it at that." She glared across the table and dared Serena to oppose her decision. She really should have known better.

"Yes, we are going to fix this," Serena said just as firmly. "I'm not going to sit idly by and allow you to give up the best thing that's ever happened to you just because you're an obstinate old fool."

Tracey bristled in her seat and she gripped her glass tight enough to threaten its structural integrity. "I may be stubborn at times," she hesitated briefly at Serena's sardonic chuckle but pressed on with her point. "But I'm not being obstinate about this. I'm being realistic. Kelly deserves better than me."

Serena eased an elbow onto the table and rested her chin on her fist, settling in comfortably to what was likely to become a rather lengthy debate. She studied Tracey's rigid posture and vise-like grip on the double old-fashioned glass and opted for a simple counter response. "Why?"

"Why?" Tracey parroted, only with a much more disdainful tone. "You need me to cite examples?" The two women could easily be mistaken for opposing counsels arguing their case. And that was exactly how one particular and very highly qualified passer-by interpreted their standoff.

"Role-playing, counselors?" Judge Lena Petrovsky asked with a healthy dose of sarcasm. She spotted only two glasses on the table and glanced around the bar. "Where's Ms. Gaffney? I'd think you'd be in need of a judge and jury for your scenario."

Serena bit down on her tongue. If what she'd suspected had happened and Tracey had indeed pulled a typical Tracey-like stunt, Kelly had already played both judge and jury, but Serena had to wonder how much of a defense Tracey had put up to save the relationship. Judging from the outcome, it hadn't been much of one.

"She's not here," Tracey stated the obvious and raised her glass to her lips. She downed most of the liquid and turned her attention back to the judge as an idea took shape. "Serena and I were just finishing up our conversation, would you care to join us? I'll even buy the next round," Tracey offered with a smile that didn't quite reach her dark eyes. The last thing she wanted to do was make small talk but, if it kept Serena off her back, she'd gladly indulge in conversation with the judge.

"I'm here with friends," Lena said and gestured over her shoulder. "You're welcome to join us, if you'd like. I'm sure they'd enjoy a free drink." She smirked as she watched the two ADAs tilt their heads and look toward the back of the room just as Liz Donnelly threw her head back and laughed at something Alex Cabot had said. Olivia Benson grinned slightly at the humorous exchange and took another swig of her beer.

"Not on your life," Tracey muttered under her breath. Small talk was one thing, holding her own against the likes of Liz and Alex was something completely different. "Ow," she cried and reached down to rub her shin. She glared across the table at Serena and cursed the other woman's sharp-toed shoes.

Lena frowned and leaned closer to the booth. She'd not been able to catch what Tracey had said, but the ADA's pained cry had clued her in that she'd missed something. "Was that a yes, counselor?"

"Actually, it was a maybe later," Serena chimed in before Tracey said something that might incur Lena's wrath, never a good idea when it was highly possible that Lena would be the presiding judge in Tracey's next case. Not that Lena wouldn't be fair on her rulings, but the other woman had a tendency to be overly snarky when she was upset with either counsel.

Lena narrowed her eyes and studied Tracey. Something was definitely going on; something serious by the way Tracey was fiddling with her glass and avoiding eye contact. One thing Tracey Kibre rarely let show was her upset or nerves but both seemed evident tonight. "Well, we'll be here for a while longer if you decide to join us," she said, letting Tracey off the hook. "Have a good evening, ladies." Directing a firm nod toward Serena, the judge turned and headed back to her friends. She'd keep an eye on Tracey and intervene again, if she thought it necessary.

Serena barely gave the older woman time to walk away before she jumped back into the conversation. "Tracey, tell me what you did to drive Kelly away."

"It's more what I didn't do," Tracey said with a sigh as she took another sip of her drink.

Okay, Serena thought, now we're getting somewhere. Aloud, she asked, "So, Kelly asked you to do something and you refused," she surmised, having actually been on the asking and turning down end of a Tracey encounter numerous times in the past, although her requests of Tracey had almost always been about her asking Tracey to go somewhere and… "Oh my God, she asked you to go with her to her parents."

Tracey winced and swallowed hard. She quickly lifted her glass to her suddenly parched lips and welcomed the burn of the liquor as it made its way down her throat. She could still see the wounded expression on Kelly's face when she'd told her lover that she was too busy to take a week off work and had then asked, in typical Tracey-like straightforwardness – otherwise known as cutting sarcasm - how exactly Kelly intended to explain to her parents why Tracey had come along in the first place.

"She wanted to tell her parents," Serena found her voice again. "She wanted to introduce you to them," she paused and lowered her voice, "as her partner." Yep, that would do it, Serena kept to herself. Forcing Tracey into a corner never worked, even if the someone doing the pushing was Kelly.

Tracey looked directly at Serena for the first time that evening. Dark eyes, usually hard and demanding, softened and filled with moisture. "I said no," Tracey whispered softly. "I was scared and didn't know what to do. I fucked up big time."

Serena reached across the table and took hold of Tracey's hand. She squeezed gently. "We're going to fix this," she promised as Tracey just shook her head back and forth. Nothing, in Tracey's mind, could ever fix what she'd done.

Across the room, Lena Petrovsky half-listened to her lover's story about the latest case that had come across Liz's bench as her eyes zeroed in on a booth near the entrance.

"I can't, Serena. She doesn't want to talk to me," Tracey tried to explain to her friend for what seemed like the hundredth time. She swirled the swizzle stick in the drink she'd been nursing and wished that she'd just gone straight home instead of heading to the bar after work.

"She will if you call her, Tracey," Serena assured – again – as she fumbled in her purse for her cell phone. "If you're worried that she won't answer when she sees your name on the display, use mine." She handed the phone across the booth.

Tracey stared at the cell. "You think she'll answer a call from you?" She couldn't keep the sarcasm out of her tone. Kelly wasn't stupid; she'd know Serena would be calling on Tracey's behalf. "And, even if she did, do you think she'd stay on the line long enough for me to tell her that I'm nothing but a scared… um, what did you call me?" she paused in thought, "Oh yeah, nothing but a scared, obstinate old fool?"

"She might," a soft voice said as Kelly moved out of the shadows and stepped closer to the table. She offered a smile to Serena and then turned her attention to the other side of the booth. "Hello, Tracey." Tracey sat frozen in place.

Serena looked from Tracey to Kelly and back to Tracey again. "Um," she said, completely flustered. She'd been so intent on talking Tracey into calling Kelly that she never saw Kelly walk into the bar. "I think I'm going to take Lena up on her offer." Scooping up her purse, she slid from the booth. "You two have a good evening." She glanced over at Tracey as she pushed to her feet. "I'll talk to you later, Tracey." She hurried away as quickly as her feet would carry her.

"May I sit?" Kelly asked and motioned to the seat that had just been vacated. Tracey just bobbed her head up and down, afraid that if she spoke, Kelly would disappear. She watched her lover slip out of her coat, fold it neatly, place it on the seat, and gracefully sit. It was such a simple act and one Tracey had taken for granted; she believed Kelly would always be there. "So," Kelly leaned forward and said, "you were saying?"

On the other side of the bar, two sets of eyes – one coal black and one ocean blue – watched the action play out in the booth as Tracey pushed her drink aside and folded her shaky hands together. Serena noticed the smug look in Lena's eyes and snorted. "How'd you know Kelly was back in the city?"

"I didn't know she'd left," Lena replied matter-of-factly. She watched Kelly reach out and cover Tracey's hands. "Figured it was worth a shot."

"I guess I should have thought of that," Serena said, quietly chastising herself for insisting that Tracey call Kelly instead of just calling the younger woman herself.

Lena just shook her head. "I'd imagine that you were too busy trying to talk some sense into Tracey. Not an easy feat," she said in reassurance.

"True," Serena replied with a light chuckle. "I just hope they can work this out. They're like oil and water, but damned if they don't mix."

"I think everything will be just fine," Lena said with a smile as Tracey leaned in to meet Kelly halfway. She watched Serena out of the corner of her eye. The other woman seemed happy, yet there was a sense of sadness surrounding her. Lena sized up the situation.

"Serena, why don't you call that assistant of yours to come join us?" She motioned toward a giggling Alex and a guffawing Liz. "I think those two have settled in until closing."

Serena gave Kelly and Tracey one last look. "Maybe I will," she said as she reached into her purse.

Lena smiled around the rim of her glass. Who knew presiding outside a courtroom could be so much fun?

The End

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