She took the stairs instead of the elevator. She needed the extra minutes to sort through what had just happened and try to find a way to explain it to Pollack. Perhaps there was no explaining. They had almost kissed, but it was out of need and fear, not love. No, not love. Woody had made that all too clear, and more than once.

Still, she wondered for a fleeting moment what might have happened if Pollack hadn't interrupted them.

Pollack was waiting for her when she reached the room, standing with hands on hips. She set her room key resignedly on the bedside table and waited for the onslaught of accusations.

"Well? Would you mind telling me what that was about?"

She sighed. "I was helping a friend. His emotions were raw, and he got carried away. It didn't mean anything." She couldn't resist adding sharply, "I didn't know you'd be lurking in the doorway."

"Thank goodness I was."

"And why were you down there, anyway?"

"I woke up, and you were gone. I was worried."

She shook her head and faced him head on. "No, you weren't. You just wanted to sneak around." She felt her emotions turn from shame to anger at Pollack for once again keeping tabs on her. "Why did you really come here? Was it to spend time with me or to spy on me? Are you that jealous?"

"Jealous? God knows you've given me every reason to be jealous, Jordan. Every time there's a crisis, you run to him. Every time he's in trouble, which seems to be every other day, you fly to his side to defend him. Your car breaks down, who do you call? No, not your boyfriend. You call the guy who dumped you."

She drew in her breath suddenly and felt as if she had been slapped. "What did you say?"

He looked at her calmly. "All this time I was threatened because I thought the two of you had actually had a relationship. But you didn't even have that. You've never even so much as gone out on a real date, have you?" There was nothing cruel in his voice. He was simply an investigative reporter reciting the cold facts. "I did some checking around. Turns out you and the boy detective have had some kind of on-and-off mating ritual for years."

The betrayal stung. She fought back tears.

"Then he gets shot and throws you out of his hospital room, and you've barely spoken since."

"How could you spy on me like that? How could you? Don't you trust me?"

"The question is why should I trust you? You lie about where you've been, you make excuses, you go out of your way to see him, and every time I turn the corner you're in his arms. You love him, Jordan. You can lie to me and every one else all you want, but surely you can't lie to yourself. You love him. Don't you?"

She stood looking up at him in the thick silence. Her heart pounded. He was angry, and he had reason to be. She knew she could lie to him, reassure him once again that she didn't have feelings for Woody. She could put this off for weeks, months. But she knew somehow that it was inevitable. She nodded her head slowly and said, "Yes."

His face did not change, as if what she had said held no surprise for him. She thought she would feel shame and regret when this moment finally came, but instead she felt nothing but a flood of relief.

When he finally spoke, his voice was calm. "I'm going to do you a favor, Jordan. I'm leaving."

She struggled for words. "Yes, sure...that's maybe for the best. We probably need some time apart."

"You don't understand, Jordan. I'm leaving. I'm going back to Boston to your apartment to get my things. I'll leave the key when I go."

"Pollack, wait. We should talk."

He had pulled his suitcase from the closet and was hastily throwing his things in.

"There's nothing to talk about, Cavanaugh," he said wearily.

She knew, of course, that he was right. She sat on the edge of the bed, saying nothing while he finished his packing.

"Well," he said with finality. "Goodbye, Cavanaugh."

She rose and stood awkwardly in front of him. "I'm...sorry, J.D." It was all she could think to say.

"You told me you would run someday. I just didn't think it would be back to Woody." Then he shook his head. "No, that's wrong. I knew from the beginning I didn't stand a chance. So, here you are again. You and Woody dancing circles around each other. Is this what you really want?"

He looked at her sadly, and she found she could not respond. Without another word, he was gone.

XXXXX

The initial relief she had felt faded quickly . She tried to sleep but couldn't. She wandered around the room and stared out the window for a long time, looking down into the parking lot. The light snow had begun to cover the space where J.D.'s car had been.

She curled up on the bed finally and turned on the TV, anything to distract her. She flipped through the channels until she came across a familiar scene in black-in-white: people dancing the Charleston in a high school gymnasium while the floor opened up beneath them to reveal a swimming pool.

She smiled to herself. Ir's a Wonderful Life. She hugged her knees to her chest and sat silently watching as the movie unfolded. There was Bert the Cop and Ernie the Cabbie crooning to George and Mary under their bedroom window, George plunging into the river to save Clarence, and Zuzu's crushed petals, all of the images blurred by the puddle of tears in her eyes.

There was a small noise at the door. She thought it was J.D. for a moment, but no. His car was gone. She rose and looked through the peephole. Woody was standing there, pacing nervously in front of her door. She opened the door a crack and let him speak first.

"Hi..." he began in a hesitant voice. "I wanted to apologize. I thought I should tell you that I..." He stopped then and frowned. "Jordan, what's wrong? Are you all right?"

She opened the door slightly so he could see inside to where George Bailey was joyously discovering that his lip was still bleeding. "Fine, I was just..." She motioned to the TV.

His mouth turned up into a bashful half-smile. "Oh, yeah...I love this movie. It always gets me choked up, too." He took a tentative step past her and craned his neck around the door. "I just wanted to try and patch things up. Where's Pollack?"

"He's gone. Back to Boston."

Woody's eyes widened slightly. "Oh...I'm sorry, Jordan. I shouldn't have done that...downstairs. It was wrong. I never meant to cause any problems between you two."

She shrugged. "It's okay, Woody. It was over before then."

"Oh," was all he said. She looked over at him, and a small smile was tugging at the corner of his mouth.

"You bastard..." she said in an exhaled breath.

He cut his eyes over to hers. "What? Me?"

"Yes. This is what you wanted all along, wasn't it?"

"What are you talking about?"

"I just hurt someone I cared about. Because of you."

"Hey, I apologized, Jordan. I'm sorry if I caused any problems with you and...him."

"No, you're not. You're not sorry. Under the mistletoe at the Christmas party, showing up at my door the next morning at 6AM, all that macho alpha-male crap with you and J.D? You couldn't stand that I was with him, could you? You don't want me, but you don't want anyone else to have me, either. Is that it? Well, you got your Christmas wish, Woody. Pollack's gone. Happy?"

"This is crap, Jordan," He turned to head towards the door, but she cut him off. She was not finished. She had felt many emotions toward Woody in these last months, but she had never allowed herself to feel anger, and it all came boiling to the surface.

"So, was that part of your plan downstairs, Woody? Were you going to kiss me?"

"Stop, Jordan." He tried to turn away from her, but she blocked his path.

"Just how far were you going let it go before you told me it was all a mistake? Were you going to whisper sweet nothings, sweep me off to your bed, and then throw me out? Is that how you get your kicks these days?"

"You don't know what you're talking about..."

"What's the big turn-on? Do you just like seeing me miserable? Do you hate me that much?"

And then she stopped, feeling as if the breath had been sucked out of her. It was dizzying. She felt herself stumble backwards, and her hands flew out to steady herself. A small laugh escaped from her lips, and Pollack's words rang in her ears.

Love is like malaria...

"I'm an idiot," she said half to herself. Woody cocked his head. "I can't believe I didn't figure it out..."

"Figure what out?" he said, but his voice shook like someone who had just been discovered.

"All this time, I thought you hated me. You threw me out of your life, and I really thought you hated me. How could you let someone you love walk out of your life like that?"

"You don't know what the hell you're talking about, Jordan."

"You love me. And that's why you couldn't stand to see me with Pollack. Because you still love me."

"That's bullshit, Jordan." He strode past her and stood with his hand on the doorknob. She followed him, not letting him go so easily.

"You do! You've never stopped. I meant all those things I said to you in the hospital, Woody. Every last word. I've been honest with you. Unlike you, I haven't been lying for the past six months."

He whipped around to face her then, and his face twisted with rage. The words erupted out of him. "I don't love you, Jordan! Do you hear me? I don't!"He took her shoulders in his hands and shook her. "I don't love you. And we're not going to live happily ever after, so get it out of your head. It's not going to happen. Not now, not ever. Do you hear me? I don't love you. I. Don't. Love. You."

She had begun to cry again at the volcanic force of his anger. "Woody, stop..." she managed to choke out.

"I don't love you. I don't." He gripped her arms and shook her again. "I don't!" And then his face softened. One hand flew up to her cheek and brushed at her tears. "Oh, Jesus, Jordan..." he whispered, and he covered her face with kisses. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. God, I love you so much." He folded her into his arms with her head on his chest. "I love you, Jordan. I love you."

She felt him ease her onto the bed. He spooned himself around her as her tears subsided.

"Why? Why did you throw me out of your life?" she finally asked quietly.

He paused before he spoke, still stroking her hair. "It took me almost dying for you to say you loved me. I kept thinking what I'd have to do to top that. Would it take a crisis to bring you back every time you lost interest?"

She rolled over onto her side and looked up into his eyes. "I'm Irish stubborn. You of all people should know that once I make up my mind, there's no changing it."

He moved a damp strand of hair from her cheek. "I know," was all he said for a long while.

Drained of all emotion, she had begun to feel drowsy. He was humming softly, and she mumbled something to him. She was aware that he had turned off the TV, and then she heard the thump of his shoes as they dropped to the floor. He was next to her then, pulling the comforter around her as she drifted off. The last thing she remembered was his arms slipping around her and his soft, whispered, "I love you."