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By EponinesGhost

Part 1

The words were beginning to swim on the page in front of her. Freakishly, she was aware of it and unaware of it at the same time. It was almost as if she were analyzing the exact progression of her exhaustion and fatigue from the inside out. Somewhere from far away and deep within she told herself to blink rapidly, to try to shake it off. She was turning that thought over and over when the double-time crash startled her out of her funk -- and out of her chair. As slow as her mind had been moving before, adrenaline rocketed through her body poising her for fight or flight ...


Kelly's hand was on her shoulder before she could move or answer. The concerned blue eyes searched hers and she was oddly aware of how adorable the one raised eyebrow looked before she regained control of herself. She exhaled deeply. "Damn, you scared the hell out of me."

"I'm so sorry ... I .. the door swung faster than I had intended and those books must have been barely balanced on the edge of the desk ..." Kelly dropped down again, adding two more volumes to the one she held against her already. "I saw the light on ... just wanted to see if you needed anything ... like a heart attack, evidently." Standing, she shook her head quickly, blonde hair swaying as she rolled her eyes comically. She placed the law books in the very center of the desk near the door with an emphatic "plop."

"Actually, that wake up call was exactly what I did need. If you hadn't caused that little avalanche just now, I might have been nursing the sorest neck EVER tomorrow morning ... well, the sorest since the last time I fell asleep slumped over my closing prep." Her hand slid almost unconsciously up under her dark tresses, rubbing absently at the spot as she remembered.

"You do that far too often, ya know. Fall asleep here." Kelly watched the fingers move against the porcelain skin, slightly lifting the soft curls, and silently wished she had come in just a little bit later. Had gotten to see the vulnerable expression on Tracey's face as she slept, the professional mask she almost always wore absent for just that short amount of time. Had slipped her own hand under the dark mane, fingertips gently massaging .... Now it was her turn to blink rapidly to try and clear her head. Tracey quirked her own eyebrow up.

"Yeah, well ... " Her voice trailed off as she turned back to her work. As awake as she was now, she couldn't bear the thought of sitting back down in her chair and tackling any more of the casework. "It pays the bills." She began stacking folders briskly ... already thinking about how she'd start fresh in the morning.

"That's not why you do it and we both know it." Kelly joined her at the desk, gathering up papers and books, placing certain items in Tracey's briefcase. They had long since stopped needing to speak to work effortlessly together.

Finishing her clean-up and snapping her briefcase shut, Tracey shrugged on her blazer. "Yeah, I do it for the incredible perks." Her eyes followed the line of Kelly's hip to the slit of her skirt. She had gotten rather good at such unobtrusive observations, but she allowed herself a beat longer than usual because of Kelly's current posture. The blonde was leaning quite far over the desk to retrieve one last document and the form-fitting skirt was even more flattering than usual. Tracey grabbed her coat from the rack and cleared her throat. "I'm just going to drop this ..." she nodded to a file in her other hand "on Salazar's desk and I'll walk out with you."

"I'll get my things."

Kelly was sure that no one else present in the courtroom could tell that Tracey was nervous. She was in full command of the jury and the gallery. Hardly an eye wavered from her as she wrapped up her remarks. She held them with her silence and presence for a few seconds more before she signaled a subtle "at ease" with her body language and expression. But Kelly heard the small hiss of breath escape as she settled, outwardly calm, into her chair again. Saw the slightest twitch in her right hand as she smoothed it over her legal pad. She wished she could cover that hand reassuringly, but she settled for an encouraging nod. She wrote, "That sealed it." on her own pad and angled it toward her partner. She underlined it as Tracey read, and was pleased to see the relief in Tracey's eyes for a split second. They both faced forward as the judge charged the jury and prepared for the chaos that would erupt when court was adjourned for the deliberation. As they stood, heads moving closer together, Kelly murmured, "Excellent job, Trace."

"We'll see, won't we?"

"The sooner the better."

"I'm starving ... wanna wait at Chulo's?"

Kelly stifled a grin. Her own stomach was going to be in knots until the verdict was read, but Tracey could eat any time, anywhere. Her metabolism had to be as aggressive as her cross. "Sure. You're buying."

"I'm buying? What happened to 'excellent job, Trace'?"

"You did an excellent job, but that's hardly an exception worthy of a reward. Besides, it's not like you did it alone." Kelly was bantering, barely giving a thought to the words she was choosing, but she felt Tracey's hand on her arm.

"I know that." Tracey's face was serious. "I don't tell you or anyone else enough, but I know I'm not the Lone Ranger out there. I'm grateful for that every day, on every case ..."

Kelly was shaking her head before Tracey could get the words out, "I wasn't ... I didn't ... I am NOT fishing for a compliment!"

"Too bad, counselor, you're getting one. And whatever you'd like at Chulo's." Tracey flashed her a winning smile.

"I don't like anything at Chulo's ..." she grumbled as they pushed through the courtroom doors.

There was a sharp knock on the door just as the champagne glasses clinked together. All heads swiveled toward Arthur Branch as he leaned into the room. "That's the way to get things done, people. Congratulations." He made eye contact with Tracey. "Good work, Scooter." He winked almost playfully and was gone before she could do more than sputter. Ravell and Salazar struggled to keep their faces neutral, but Kelly laughed openly. Tracey's mouth opened and closed a few more times before she straightened her back and tried to stare them all down.

"Not another word." She ordered sternly.

"Sure thing ... Scooter." Ravell exploded in laughter. He and Salazar ducked and cowered in mock horror as she stepped toward them. "We're going, we're going!!!"

Kelly held her hand over her mouth, trying in vain to stop her giggles. Tracey looked at her helplessly, hands flailing. "Why in the world would he ... "

"He's very fond of you, obviously."

"Sure has a strange way of showing it." Still, Tracey was wearing a hint of a smile as she downed her champagne. "I haven't heard that in years." She shook her head as she settled on the edge of her desk, stocking-clad feet planted in the center of her chair. "When I was first assigned here, I thought he was Satan. His every action, every word, hell, every look showed that he thought I was beneath contempt. He challenged every opinion I gave, dismissed my suggestions, treated me like a child. That's when it started ... the whole nickname thing. First, I was 'Missy.' God, I hated him." Tracey ran her hand through her hair, her eyes far away. "I hated coming to work every day. When I'd had all I could take from him I tried to transfer. He heard about it and stopped by to wish me well. 'Hope things are easier for you on the bunny slope, Sugar.' Bastard." She laughed at Kelly's aghast expression. "I almost hit him."

"You should have." Kelly had always been charmed by Branch, but there was a limit.

"He was testing me. Trying to gauge whether or not I had what it took to make it, run with the wolves. I almost failed that test." She looked at Kelly thoughtfully. "Then one day, I lost it ... went off on him ... told him everything I'd ever thought about him, that I wished he'd go fuck himself till he dropped dead, " her chuckle was light and musical. Kelly was fascinated. "He roared with laughter. Not the least bit offended. Grabbed me by both shoulders and said, 'Now that's what I'm talking about! That's why you're here! Give 'em hell, Scooter!' And I had passed. We've had some great laughs over the years about those times." She pushed off the desk with both hands. "Let's get out of here."

Kelly tried to hide her disappointment. She would have liked to stay and see more of this side of Tracey. "Of course, I don't want to keep you ..."

"Keep me?" Tracey looked confused. "I thought we might move this conversation somewhere more comfortable. We've both been in this office far too much the past few weeks."

She was pleased to see Kelly's face light back up. "As long as it's not Chulo's, I'm in."

Kelly felt strangely off-balance. It wasn't as if she'd never been in Tracey's apartment before. She had been -- on many occasions. It's just that she had never been there for NO reason. Just as they wordlessly communicated throughout the day, the two women had somehow exited the cab in front of Tracey's place and gone right in. They prepared a salad and some bruschetta as companionably as they did nearly everything else. Kelly smiled at how natural it seemed to fix dinner with Tracey. They truly had become a team, as cliché as that sounded, even in her own thoughts. And the light mood that had begun back at the office held throughout dinner. A few glasses of wine probably helped. She smiled to herself and Tracey seemed to read her thoughts.

"This is nice." The brunette's eyes sparkled over the rim of her glass.

"Yes, very." Kelly nodded. She wanted to say so much more, but couldn't seem to form the words. "Thanks, Trace."

"For getting you to help make dinner? That's hardly worth a thank you. But you are most welcome." She set her empty wine glass down and tossed her napkin in the middle of her plate. "Speaking of what things are worth ..." She paused. Kelly titled her head slightly, puzzled but listening intently. "Earlier this week, you said something along the lines of my performance 'hardly being an exception worthy of a reward,' if I'm remembering correctly ..."

Nodding, Kelly began, "Yes, that's right, but you knew what I meant ..."

"Shhhhh" Tracey held up a finger to halt Kelly's explanation. "Let me finish."

Kelly grew silent again, watching Tracey's face as she spoke.

"I was wondering about that statement, beyond what I knew you meant." She smiled into Kelly's eyes. "I was wondering what it would take to be exceptional to you. What I would need to do to be worthy of a reward from you ..."

The tone and timbre of Tracey's voice was having a hypnotic effect on Kelly's body. She felt flushed and warm, yet chilled. She could feel goosebumps on her arms as she thought of how truly exceptional the woman across from her was. Her mouth was dry and she unconsciously licked her lips. And she had forgotten to breathe.

None of this was lost on Tracey. "I think I could earn it, Kelly. If I really tried." She watched the color creep up the blonde's neck and cheeks, watched her breath catch, then start somewhat irregularly. It was such a rush to know that she could command that reaction. And she wanted more.

Kelly licked her lips again, struggling to speak, "You don't have to ... there's nothing you could do ..." She heard herself and cursed inwardly that she might be sending the wrong signals. "I mean, God, Tracey. You're perfect." It was said so simply, so raw and honest, that it was Tracey's turn to feel breathless.

Damn. She wasn't expecting that. To feel powerless like this, even for one moment. Blinking, she spoke quietly, her voice somewhat husky with emotion now. "So I shouldn't even try? You don't want me to try ...?" Her heart nearly stopped beating as the question hung in the air for an eternity.

Oh God. Kelly knew the question went beyond the original conversation now. She knew exactly what Tracey was asking, she could feel it in every cell of her body. She wanted to scream, nod, anything to answer YES, but she was paralyzed. In her wildest dreams and fantasies she had never expected this to happen for REAL. Her heart pounded in her throat and she pleaded with her eyes for Tracey to see the answer there.

Part 2

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