DISCLAIMER: Law & Order: Trial By Jury & Law & Order and all their characters are
property of NBC and Dick Wolf.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: First and last lines of all the ficlets written by the ever brilliant flying_peanuts. My eternal thanks. These are all of the vignettes of Serena Southerlyn and Tracey Kibre that I wrote for even_angels_. They are little glimpses of an ongoing life, set in between, or after, or at the same time as my Between Bombay series featuring the same two. Take your pick. Except Breathe Me, which really should be part of the series, say as part number six, but gets ahead of itself. Oh, well. Enjoy. I don't know that anyone will even care to read these, but I was encouraged by racethewind10 and since I have nagged and threatened her all week, it seemed only fair.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
I whispered my goodbye to the sunset-makers. I pulled the edges of my sweater tight across the front of me, a thick cotton straightjacket, the sleeves too long, covering the thin bones of my wrists, enclosing my fingers. Standing on the postage stamp balcony of my apartment, I watched as the shadows slipped through the already shadowy streets of the city, making their way covertly across the dully reflective waters of the Hudson, skimming past lonely tugboats, racing fruitlessly with the slender shoots of sculls barely glancing along the surface of the river.
I thought of taking a walk, but somehow the energy required to put on my shoes and find a coat were more than I could manage. Besides, the last time that I went walking, I found myself making the trek up 51st, to St. Bart's. I don't know why. God knows, God doesn't figure into my life much these days. Habit maybe. Or curiosity. Or some remnant of that great incapacitator, hope.
The front of the church was lit up like the facade of Macy's, with a huge banner proclaiming, "Explore St. Barts"; as if faith and religion had suddenly become no different than the paintings at the Met, or the monkeys at the Bronx Zoo. Come in and see our candelabras, our stained glass windows, the careful workmanship of another century. Come in and see the way the hypocritical penitent behave in their natural habitat. I had to chuckle. At least they were being honest.
A fresh chill snuck along my spine and I beat a hasty retreat to the relative warmth of the living room, any thoughts of a walk firmly banished. I thought about calling you, asking you if you wanted to come over for a drink, or even take-out, but I couldn't. I picked up the phone a couple of times, even went so far as to dial the first six digits of your number, but I could never push that final button. The last thing that I ever wanted was to become someone you pitied.
It wasn't as if I had some claim on you, beyond the right to kiss you senseless, to catch your bottom lip between my teeth. That I had any entitlement beyond pushing you back on the cool sheets of my bed and taking you, slowly, reverently, feeling you tighten around my fingers as you threw your head back, one hand clutching the sheet, the other in my hair. Your body was always fair game. It was your heart and mind that had never belonged to me.
The thing was, I knew that if I called, you would come over. Knew that you would say all the right things, make all the right gestures. Threaten to march into Branch's office. Even threaten to quit yourself, even though both of us would have known it was merely a generous bluff. Play the part of the supportive girlfriend perfectly.
But you weren't. My girlfriend, that is. My lover, yes. Perhaps, in moments of shared amusement, even my friend. Nothing more. We had sex on a regular basis. I believed that you cared for me, in your way. But you were never going to make a declaration of undying love. Never ask me to move in with you. Never introduce me to your family. Or even your friends. Never hold my hand as we strolled through the park on a warm Spring evening.
So I didn't call.
Pride, that was all it was I suppose. Like when I ran for president of the sixth grade and lost. I didn't tell my parents for a week, not until I could muster the nonchalance to pretend I never cared and only ran because Mrs. Gibbs had asked me. A week of enduring what I imagined were the looks and the snickers in the hallway. Well, at least this time, I didn't have to worry about actually seeing the pointing fingers, the whispers as I walked by.
Besides, the only looks that I worried about were yours. So I didn't call.
I was still awake at one, lying in bed, staring at the horizontal slats of light from the window blind that fell on the opposite wall. One slat was wider than the others, where the cat broke off one end in her quest for a view of the ledge outside, a favorite roosting spot for an exceptionally robust example of pigeon. The feline in question was curled up beside me, paws and whiskers twitching away. Perhaps in her dreams she managed finally to capture the fat bird. I envied her the sureness of her fantasy.
In the silence of the apartment, the rapping of knuckles on the door sounded eerily like the pounding of a gavel. Or maybe I was simply dreaming.
You were still wearing the red suit that I saw you in earlier in the day. Yesterday. You looked tired, and compassionate and a little angry.
"Why didn't you call me?" You asked without preamble, as you moved past me into the kitchen. You flipped on the light and took down a wine glass, pouring a generous amount of Cabernet, with a familiarity that hit me with a hard blow in the sternum.
"I don't know. And say what? Hey, how was your day? By the way, Branch fired me?" I asked, an edge of defensiveness to my tone that I didn't intend, but there it was.
"Dammit, Tracey. I didn't know what to say. Part of me feels disconnected from the whole thing, like it happened to someone else. At the same time, I'm so amazingly pissed at Arthur for being such a lying, hypocritical S.O.B. I'm so hurt that Jack didn't even stay to witness my dismissal, or to offer me a drink before I left. And the last thing that I wanted was for you to feel like you have to comfort me, or feel sorry for me," I blurted out, the tears that I had been holding off for hours streaming unchecked down my cheeks.
"Baby, come here," you murmured gently, setting the glass down to pull me, somewhat unwillingly, into your arms.
You smelled of perfume, and the slightly musty smell of the office, and the faint scent of exhaust and fresh air from outside. For a moment I allowed myself to be comforted, before the reality of us came back to me.
"You don't have to do this, Tracey. I appreciate it, I really do, but I don't want you to feel obliged to let me cry on your shoulder. It isn't like we're in some sort of relationship," I told you a little petulantly, my face warm and wet from crying.
I watched the planes of your face alter, become somehow softer, more malleable, your eyes seeming to grow larger. I wasn't prepared for the look of surprised hurt in them.
"I see. Well, forgive me. I was apparently laboring under the false impression that we have been sleeping together for the past ten months," you stated slowly, each syllable clipped and rigid.
"We have. Sleeping together. Having sex. Fucking. But can you honestly tell me that it meant more to you than that? That I mean more to you than that? Can you tell me you love me, Tracey?" I could almost see the words whirling at you, sharp edged dervishes cutting through the space between us and there was nothing I could do to save either of us from them.
"Yes. I can. I do." There was no challenge in your voice, just a statement of fact, and the eyes that met mine held nothing but truth. The moment hung suspended, the ticking of the clock seemed to slow to a stop. "Now that we have that little issue cleared up, let's go to bed. You have an interview at ten tomorrow."
"Interview?" I asked stupidly, my mind still caught on the not quite admission of love. "And did you just say that you love me?"
"I called a friend at the ACLU as soon as I heard what that hillbilly bastard pulled, and I got you an interview. It's more of a formality than anything," you replied, taking my hand and leading me into the hallway and toward the bedroom, flipping the light out as we passed the switch. "And, yes, I love you, Serena. I should have told you sooner, but I guess I just thought that you knew."
I didn't reply, just let you lead me to the bedroom, let you pull me close under the thick down of the comforter, my face buried in the curve of your neck. You smoothed your hand along my hair, the caress gentle, tender. Only then did I murmur a response, my words nearly lost in the darkness of the room, and the pressure of my lips against the soft skin of your throat.
"I love you, too."
And already it's the day after.
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