Five Things that Never Happened to Alan Shore
A/N: This was written mainly with canon from "The Practice" in mind, and with the goal of making each scene something that could have happened, rather than something largely AU. Feedback is, of course, appreciated.
He called from the office, because a call from home would have invited an entirely different conversation, one he wasn't ever interested in having.
He didn't call. The dial tone hummed, hypnotic, in his ear, bringing upon a much-needed mental numbness that continued until even the phone lapsed into silence. He hung up; the clatter of phone against receiver just as satisfying as it would have been had he made the call.
Then he leaned back in his chair and took inventory: books, low lighting, a watch with the big hand at seventeen and the little hand hovering over four, and a clenched feeling in his stomach that always prompted a quick prayer for another couple years before the ulcer developed.
Automatically, he went to his wallet, flipping through its contents until his hands met with the haggard texture of a business card worried half to death by the habit of turning it between nervous fingers.
Flinging the card onto the desk without giving it a second glance, he reached for the phone and jabbed in the number.
"Young, Frutt, and Berluti. How may I help you?"
He sighed, lifted a pencil and toyed with the notion of etching his name into the desk's soft mahogany surface. 'Alan Shore was here.' Instead he attempted to balance it by the point—it toppled in tandem with an impatient clearing of the throat on the other end of the line. "Sir? Are you there?"
"Oh. Yes. I'd like to speak to Ellenor Frutt, please. I'm a friend of hers," he maneuvered the words around the lump in his throat, each sentence choppier than the first. There was a pause; he replayed what few syllables had been spoken, wondering if there was a giveaway moment when guilty friends begging in a favor stuttered.
"Yes?" In the wake of her voice, brusque, professional and reassuringly familiar, he fell silent.
"Ellen—"he'd started when she sighed, exasperated, into the phone, and he laughed. Trust Ellenor to adopt the attitude of a short-tempered customer hounded by telemarketers.
Smiling to himself, he rose to his feet. "You recognize my laugh." Abruptly conscious of the tug of the phone cord, he collapsed into the chair once more. "Yes, I mean."
"Are you all right? You don't call..." she had the sense to trail off before he could congratulate her on the dead-on impression of his mother.
"I haven't murdered anyone. Don't worry."
"What have you done?"
It had seemed, song, dance, and potential emotional trauma of actually dialing her number notwithstanding, deceptively simple. "Nothing," he stammered out, suddenly recalling that equating simple with easy had gotten him into this in the first place.
Silence on the other end; even the exasperated sigh had vanished. Very little in the life of Alan Shore ended with silence. Voices were raised, insults were exchanged, threats were made and made good on. Silence wasn't a prelude to absence. It was absence. He swallowed. "Ellenor, say something."
"You need a favor."
It wasn't fair. It shouldn't have been possible to miss someone while you were still on the phone with her. "No. Not a legal favor," he amended. "I wanted to speak to you. No catch."
"We haven't spoken in months." That typical note of incredulity his friends managed to hit whenever he called. He wasn't sure which it made him feel guiltier about: not calling, or not having concocted some hopeless scheme to justify doing so when he finally got around to it.
"I missed you. How's Zoey?" They'd met for dinner nearly half a year ago. Over chicken, she'd teased him about his corner office and expensive suits, reprimanded him for betraying those ideals of his that had survived law school. She'd finally gotten the lighthearted tone down, he'd noted happily, reminding her that he was practicing law now; what had she been up to?
"She's fine. She just got over a cold. I'd ask about your girlfriend, but I'll bet you remember her name as well as I do."
Audrey. Probably. He gave that the wry chuckle it deserved and faltered back into uncomfortable silence. "What are you working on?"
"Right now, Alan, I'm trying to get an old friend of mine to explain why he's suddenly decided to give me a call."
One of these days he needed to dispense with the perceptive, intelligent friends. "I missed you," he repeated quietly, closing his eyes for a brief moment. On television, police officers who'd been dismissed from the force hefted cardboard boxes brimming with personal belongings, wedged their way through former colleagues in the middle of the day, then went off to close the case on their own.
He could clear the surface of his desk with a sweep of his arm. He'd done it before, under more pleasant circumstances, a memory he allowed to bleed into his consciousness as he continued. "I've been fired. I embezzled. Allegedly. There's a chance I'll go to prison." He took a deep breath. "In no particular order."
He heard an echoing sigh on the other end and waited for that tiny final click abandoning him to the dial tone. "There's a very real chance I'll go to prison."
"Alan." The word was clipped, matter-of-fact. That meant he wasn't getting a lecture. Up until that moment he hadn't realized he'd been wanting one. "If this is a joke—a very bad joke—you have three seconds to tell me."
He counted them out under his breath, although he might as well have done it aloud. After he'd repeated the process, this time tailing each word with "Mississippi," he cleared his throat. "It's not a joke."
She didn't say anything. He wondered if she'd closed the door to her office once she'd learned it was him, shut it carefully and precisely in order to keep everything quarantined to this one phone line.
"This isn't going as well as I'd hoped. Could you put me back on with that receptionist? The one with the sultry English accent."
"There's a way out of this, Alan. We can get you out of this."
That made him laugh; lawyerspeak without the logic or the Latin. Any conversation with a client could be distilled to just that: we can get you out of this. "I know. Always. That wasn't why I called." He swiveled to face the window, phone cord looping over his however-many-hundred dollar suit. He'd always enjoyed the view, the way distant cars seemed only to creep along.
"Then why?" He didn't answer, peered down at the sidewalk below, giving her a moment to consider. "You don't want to get out of it." A dog trotted by, leashless, followed several seconds later by its owner. Someone ought to call the police.
"I called..." He swerved back to the desk and imagined his friend the last time they'd seen each other, her happiness never quite masking that ever-present glint of worry beneath everything. "I called to say hello." He waited for a derisive snort, a snappish comment, some rendition of his name to remember her by. He waited until finally she began to speak. "Hello, Ellenor," he cut her off.
Then he hung up.