REFLECTIONS

The empty desk across the hall from his office was disarming. Everyone passed by it with a lingering glance, knowing what had transpired to grant her removal from it. There wasn't a single person in the building who hadn't heard about Claire's misfortune, an event so traumatic that it had removed her from work detail for two weeks. Those two weeks had been the longest of his life. McCoy had spent them in a virtual state of distraction, constantly arguing with his appointed second chair and finding that he missed her desperately. He had stayed with her that first night, had known emotional anguish when he looked into her lifeless eyes. Claire had been in shock for several hours, before gradually returning to the world around her. She had fallen asleep in his arms, and he had sat there holding her, staring into nothing and wondering what might have happened, thanking God that it hadn't happened, in that empty warehouse.

McCoy was not surprised when Adam Schiff waved him into the office. His boss seemed to be keeping a close eye on him these days, no doubt concerned what personal influences the recent case would have on his work. Leaving his files on his desk, and loosening the top button of his collar, Jack stepped through the door and at Adam's instruction, closed it. Adam was a soft soul at his heart but rough around the edges. No one would think to look at him that he could drive a hard bargain, but he had been a formidable attorney in his day, and kept an iron fist on his department, determined to live up to his reputation.

"The police finally have enough to convict Ben Grantlund. I considered giving it to Kibre, but she's not familiar with capital cases. I want you and Miss Kincaid to take it."

He knew the case well, had been monitoring it from a distance. Van Buren had even called him down to the precinct, to watch the interrogation through the one-way glass. Ben Grantlund was accused of a case so horrific that they had attempted to keep the details out of the press. One of Jack's dark eyebrows lifted, and his brown eyes obtained an incredulous expression. "Adam, don't you think, considering the circumstances, this might not be wise on her first day back?"

"Claire Kincaid is a District Attorney," Adam said, sinking into the chair behind his desk. It was littered with open case files and law books, for he had spent much of the morning cross-referencing cases for assignment. "If she can't handle it, we need to know now."

His tone implied there would be no argument, but the aggravated motion that accompanied Jack McCoy leaving his office implied his orders were not well received. McCoy was obedient, but occasionally insolent, a trait that had earned him a number of reprimands in court. His youthful nature, his driven desire to win, made him a formidable and harsh attorney in the courtroom, but beneath the hard edges was a sensitivity he attempted to conceal from his peers. No one bothered him as he stalked across the hall and closed his office door. When he emerged an hour later, as the elevator doors opened and admitted the slender form of his assistant, there was nothing but confidence in his stance. He was not sorry to have landed the case, because it hit close to home and wanted to see the man behind bars the rest of his life, if not strapped to a gurney with a needle in his arm. But he knew that recent events had made Claire sensitive, that this might not be the wisest case for her to handle her first week back. He attempted to keep these concerns out of his features as he strode toward her, a hint of a smile lurking at the corners of his mouth.

Claire felt relieved to see him, to escape the lingering stares of her colleagues as she walked gracefully down the hall, her brief case held loosely in one hand. It was a relief to return, to see the sunlight dancing across the polished floors, to pass the potted ferns and gather her messages from the secretary at the desk. More than one voice welcomed her back, but it was Jack who was the most glad to see her. There was concern behind his eyes as he walked with her to her office, but affection in the softening of his voice as he said, "It's nice to have you back."

She smiled, and he saw some of the old Claire in her again. The first several days after the incident had found her in an emotional frame of mind, but Claire was a fighter. She had never bent beneath her father's intimidation, or the men she worked with, and refused to allow one man, living or dead, to regulate her life. There was still that sense of insecurity whenever she entered her apartment; a natural turning of her head to reassure herself no one was there in the hall as she took out her keys to unlock the door, but she was no longer afraid. She would not let fear control her.

"I don't know how you managed without me," she quipped, resting her things on the desk.

Jack stood in the doorway, leaning against the jam, hands in his pockets. It made him look even taller than his natural height. "I never realized what an asset you were in the courtroom until they saddled me with Ramsey," he said dryly. "Pray you never have him as second chair in one of your cases, Claire. His incompetence astounds me." He straightened. "Adam wants to see you in his office. Then it's off to Rikers, to stare down another criminal in the hopes of a plea bargain. I'm not so sure you'll still be glad to be back by the end of the day."

They exchanged a knowing smile, and she shrugged off her outer coat and hung it up as he left. Then taking a slight breath, she crossed the hall and knocked on Adam's door. His gruff voice bid her enter and she disappeared. McCoy turned back to the trainee holding out a document for him to sign, and examined the sheet without any true comprehension. It was a few minutes before she reappeared, her features slightly flushed but determination in her walk. McCoy paced with her to the elevator and as they were going down, alone in the golden box, he said softly, "Are you going to be okay with this? I can debrief him on my own."

"I read the case file. I want to be there."

Claire deliberately avoided looking at him as the elevator doors opened and let them out on the ground floor.